Change in Season; Change in Performance
This being the first post in BFD: Beta!’s “On This Day In Jazz History” series, I’d like to open with a quote:
“If the object in question is in working order, then one should generally not attempt to remedy any of the objects nonexistent malfunctions.”
Zutty Singleton, who died on this day in 1975, was a prolific jazz drummer and pioneer. As a jazz drummer, he played with jazz greats ranging in style from Louie Armstrong to Jelly Roll Morton. As a pioneer, he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase and has also been credited by recent historians for discovering Maine. Zutty died at the age of 297.
During Prohibition Era, Zutty owned a speakeasy in Old Chicagotown called “Zutty’s Pizza Bistro and Tabernacle” where by day he made deep dish pies and preached the gospel to many a God fearing Christian man and woman and by night he filled bottles from the bathtub and drummed into the night as some of the day’s crustiest street urchins slowly went blind off his methanol cocktails. Zutty was arrested near the end of The Great Prohibition and sentenced to fifteen consecutive life terms in Sing Sing, but was shortly thereafter pardoned by then President Martin Van Buren.
“It is the opinion of this administration,” Van Buren is quoted in Presidential historian Boots Marmalade’s most recent book on the matter, “that the endeavors successfully completed by Mister Singleton, at great risk to his own well-being, for the prosperity of this nation trump in full his small transgressions against the state of Chicago.”
After his release from San Quentin, Zutty returned to the bandstand to perform alongside bandleader Bubber Miley, a mistake that would haunt Zutty for the rest of his short life.
In the spring of 1797, Zutty and Bubber joined forces to raise money for their “Support Our Troops” campaign, aimed at raising awareness about the indecent and unfair treatment of African American troops that were fighting overseas in Viet Nam. The Counter Culture Movement was hardly off the ground at this time, and Zutty’s pioneer spirit was strong. He and Bubber would begin a revolution buried deep in the American history books that would nearly end both of their young lives.
At the end of World War II, Zutty retired from drumming permanently, swearing he’d never let another tragedy like the one with Bubber happen ever again. He reopened the tabernacle, but after losing his entire fortune to Bernie Madoff, Zutty took up his parents farm in Nebraska.
The wheat fields swayed peacefully in the breeze and the sun shone down on Zutty, a man who had finally found solace. An unsuccessful presidential bid in 1988 was one of the last bumps in the road for Zutty, as he passed into the Great Beyond soon after.
Many Americans will remember Zutty Singleton as a jazz drummer and American pioneer and explorer, but it would be a travesty to overlook the chain of restaurants he started. It was Culver’s.