Ted Curson's Chinchillas in Heat

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Chinchilla in heat
Here’s the gang at KCRW that night, circa 1977: saxman Nick Brignola third from the left; Ted Tanaka from Seabreeze Records; me in the middle beside Ted Curson; bassist Monk Mongomery; and drummer Dick Berk to my right.

Ted Curson (b. 1935–2012) was a Philadelphia-born jazz trumpeter who played with Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Max Roach, and Dizzy Reese among others. As a young turk of the 1960s jazz avant-garde, he also recorded several albums of his own.

Ted visited the station shortly after I started at KCRW, probably around 1977. I had already met him, though he probably didn’t recognize me. I used to frequent an underground left-bank Parisian jazz boïte called, Le Chat Qui Pêche (The Fishing Cat), when I lived there in the 1970s. Ted led the house band with pianist George Arvanitas and others. I have fond memories of nights spent listening to the music in the smoke-filled club on the Rue de la Huchette. Many famous jazz musicians performed there: Chet Baker, Eric Dolphy, Jackie McLean, Lucky Thompson, and others. The club was started in the mid-1950s by one Madame Ricard, a member of the French Resistance during World War II and an ardent lover of American jazz. The club is no longer there—it’s since been replaced by a restaurant of the same name.

Anyhow, Ted came by the station that night, probably after a local gig. My show back then was called, View from the Bridge, a vamp on the title of Sonny Rollins’s 1962 album. At the time, KCRW was located on the John Adams Jr. High School campus. Our studio was equipped with a huge—now antique—26,000-watt tube transmitter that had to be housed in the room next to the control studio. We had a terrible signal then that faded out at Robertson Boulevard—it’s funny to think of that now. (Notice in the old photo above that there isn’t even an area code on the sign with KCRW’s telephone number because area codes came later.)

Ted Curson delivered a witty little salvo that could have been the punchline of a funny joke. I asked him if it was tough to earn a living as a jazz trumpet player. He responded by saying, “Yeah, it’s hard, but I got some good bread coming…I got me some chinchillas in heat!!!”

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