Today is the 67th birthday of bassist Ray Drummond, whose huge sound, harmonic acumen and unfailing time feel have made him one of the major practitioners of his instrument since the end of the ’70s. To mark the occasion, I’ve posted the unedited proceedings of a DownBeat Blindfold Test that he did with me either in late 2000 or early 2001.
Ray Drummond Blindfold Test:
1. Oscar Pettiford, “Tricotism” (Bass, Bethlehem, 1955/2000) (5 stars)
It’s obvious that it’s “Tricotism” in one of its versions. O.P. Oscar Pettiford. I already know it’s 5000 stars. O.P. is in the school, the great tradition of Jimmy Blanton; Oscar Pettiford, Paul Chambers and people since then who have adhered to this tradition. The melodic articulation. He’s trying to play like a horn. He’s expressing himself, telling a story, and it’s a very articulate story. He seems himself as a melody player in the same way that a saxophone or trumpet player would. Plus he’s got great time, his walking is strong. Ray Brown comes from this same approach to the instrument. Serious bass playing. To me this is the main stem, the trunk of the bass tree. All the branches come from this tradition, and every bass player has inherited this. Blanton and O.P. and Ray Brown are three of my particular heros that I learned a lot from just listening as I was coming up, as a musician as well as a bass player. That articulation! Just a wonderful player. It’s O.P.! God is in the house. I hadn’t heard that version.
2. Marcus Miller (all instruments), “Tracy” (Who Loves You?: A Tribute To Jaco Pastorius, Concord, 2000) (5 stars)
This is Jaco Pastorius. It’s not? But it’s his tune. He used to play this; I don’t remember the name. The only person I can think of who gets into textures like this who’s an electric player is Marcus Miller. That’s the first guy that comes to my mind. He’s the only guy who has that kind of talent. It’s just good music! He’s playing all the instruments? That’s even better. He gets five stars anyway, in my book, because he’s such a musical talent. He’s a great bass player, but he’s also a great musician. Once again, going back to O.P., who was a great musician, not just a bassist. Marcus has that sound. It’s a little harder to catch, given the sound of the bass guitar. I wouldn’t think I’d pick up on him, because I haven’t been listening to a lot of Marcus’s own projects. Last time I saw him he was producing a David Sanborn record. I haven’t seen him play in years.
3. Rodney Whitaker, “Whims of Chambers” (Ballads & Blues, Criss-Cross, 1998) (Paul Chambers, composer; Whitaker, bass; Stefon Harris, vibes; Eric Reed, piano; Ron Blake, tenor sax) (3 stars)
At first I thought it was an older recording, but now as I listen to it I realize it’s a bunch of younger guys. I have to figure out who they are. It’s a P.C. tune. But it’s definitely not P.C. What the whole band is doing sounds a bit superfluous; as a producer I’d have to tighten it up a little by snipping out some of what I would consider self-indulgence. The point is to tell your story, and there’s no reason to have extraneous stuff in your recording. I think part of the problem is that the compact disk has allowed everybody to become a lot more self-indulgent. They’re good players. Younger players. [TP: How can you tell they’re younger players?] I can tell they’re younger because the tonal universe is broader than you would normally hear from the mainstream players of the ‘50s and ‘60s. I don’t know which young bass player this is. I know it’s not Christian McBride. It could be one of half-a-dozen guys. The problem I have is to try to hear guys’ different sounds. Like I say on my web-site, getting your own sound and projecting your own voice is not one of the paramount values that a lot of younger jazz musicians today are going for. When I came up, I was kind of the last of the generations of musicians who had been counseled, “No matter what you do through your musical life, if you really want to play, acquire a voice.” You have a voice. Understand it. Play through that voice and project that, and understand that that’s you. Even if your articulation never gets to be too hot, or your choice of tunes or your knowledge or whatever, if you never pursue a career… I can tell you about many musicians all over the world, the guy might be a doctor or a scientist, and yet he has this gorgeous tone. Can’t play hardly anything, he can’t improvise, he can barely play a section, but the guy gets up and plays one note — and you say OH!!! Because he’s got this sound. In music schools especially, I guess, nobody is teaching people to acquire their own voice as the basic value, as something even more important than getting all over your instrument. to me that’s much more important than being able to run up and down the bass or the saxophone or drums or whatever. Having that sound. Some people play a couple of notes and you say, “Ah, that’s such-and-such” and “that’s such-and-such.” [TP: There isn’t one of these musicians you could say that about.”} Well, I’m listening, and I think I know…I probably know every one of these guys. I probably have even worked with some of them. But somehow I can’t get that sense. I’ll give it 2-1/2 stars. The musicianship is excellent. For me, a little self-indulgent, which brings the star level down. But in my opinion, I just don’t think that there is much personality as these players actually have. So the producer didn’t quite get what I think is necessary to show off the musicians. It was on the generic side.
4. John Lindberg, “Hydrofoil (For Fred Hopkins)” (The Catbird Sings, Black Saint, 2000) (Lindberg, bass; Andrew Cyrille, drums) (four stars)
It’s definitely post-Ornette style avant-garde playing, but I have a feeling it was recorded in the ‘80s or ‘90s as opposed to the late ‘60s or ‘70s. To tell you the truth, I really haven’t listened to a whole lot of these guys. I’m not familiar with people like William Parker. I’m not saying that’s who this, but I’m saying I haven’t been paying attention to guys like that, because I’ve been out of that loop for a long time. when I was coming up as a musician in California in the early ‘70s, there were a fair number of opportunities to heat that kind of music, and I did some gigs like that as well. So I’m not from that school that tries to debunk anything or thinks this is not as creative or as important or as difficult to play as any other kind of music. I like this music. I wouldn’t want to play it myself as a steady diet, but certainly for contrast. I won’t take any guesses. I like the drummer. Barry Altschul comes to mind, for whatever reason, just from the sound of the recording; the cymbals sounded like ECM. That’s I said Barry Altschul, because I know they recorded him like that. But they recorded that kind of music in the ‘70s and they haven’t been recording that kind of music in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and this is recent. I’d give it 3-1/2 to 4 stars for the energy and execution. [AFTER] I haven’t heard John Lindberg in a long time. He was a good player with the String Trio, but it was much more “inside” than what I heard here.
5. Christian McBride, “Move” (Gary Burton, for Hamp, Red, Bags and Cal, Concord, 2001) (McBride, bass; Burton, vibes; Russell Malone, guitar) (4-1/2 stars)
The first thing that comes to my mind is… It feels like Ray Brown, but I don’t know if it is. Yeah, it’s Ray Brown. It’s got that feeling. He’s the only one that pushes it like that. They played this Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool. “Move.” But let me listen more, because there are a couple of guys who might… I’m going to make a decision when I hear the solo. It’s got to be Christian McBride, because that’s the only other person… We heard all the Ray stuff in the beginning there. But this is Christian McBride. I have to say that straight-out. I speak about inheriting the mainstream tradition, Jimmy Blanton and how Jimmy Blanton affected O.P. and Ray Brown and the younger guys like Paul Chambers, and he obviously affected Ron Carter, then post Ron Carter you get players like me, Rufus, George Mraz, a whole raft. And this young guy here, Christian McBride, really likes what Ray does. That’s Russell Malone there. I don’t know who the vibraphonist is. The configuration reminds me of Tal Farlow, Mingus and Red Norvo. Is this a tribute to that? But they didn’t play like this. They had another thing happening. Probably Stefon Harris. But if not, I don’t know who it is.. For the musicianship… It swings. I can’t give it 5, but definitely 4-1/2. It’s not at the same level as the O.P. [AFTER] Gary Burton? I’m very impressed, because I did not know that Gary Burton had inherited so much Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo.
6. Dave Holland, “Jugglers’ Parade” (Prime Directive, ECM, 1999) (Holland, bass; Chris Potter, saxophone; Steve Nelson, marimba; Robin Eubanks, trombone; Billy Kilson, drums) (5 stars)
It’s Dave Holland with Robin Eubanks, Chris Potter, Steve Nelson, Billy Kilson. It has the different rhythms and they’re right on it. I caught them last summer live. We ran into each other at the Northsea, but nobody could listen to anybody, and then we saw them in Munich — we came in a day early and they were working downstairs. Dave and I are the same age, and I’ve been listening to him since the late ‘60s. The first I met him was a the Both/And in San Francisco in 1970, when he was playing in Chick Corea’s Trio; ECM had just been formed and they were selling “A/R/C.” I had bought my copies of Chick’s solo improvised records and “A/R/C” from Chick there in the club, and that’s when I first met Dave. I really enjoyed what he was doing. That’s the first time I met him. But the first time I heard him was in Miles’ band, at a concert they did at Stanford University in 1969. And I was familiar with him from “Bitches Brew,” which is the first time I heard his name. He’s got his own sound. Again, he’s from that era where older guys would say, “Get your own sound, boy!” Because that’s as important as anything else you’re going to do as part of your musicianship. When I heard this band last summer, it was just a delight to listen to. Dave’s got a whole concept. It’s him! He’s been playing this way all his musical life. All the projects he’s been on, from Miles to now, it’s a concept that’s been Dave. His voice and the message, the story that he tells, and that story has just gotten deeper and deeper and deeper. I can’t say that about every musician that’s out there. It’s the kind of thing that gives me a great deal of inspiration, that there’s a fellow bassist who is also a contemporary age-wise… I would never want to play like that, but I love to hear that. It gives me a lot of ideas as a composer. It’s just very inspirational. 5 stars. It’s definitely on the same level as that O.P. piece. Yay for Dave!
7. Red Mitchell-Hank Jones, “What Am I Here For?” (Duo, Timeless, 1987) (5 stars) (Mitchell, bass; Jones, piano)
[IMMEDIATELY] That’s Hank Jones. From the first notes. Even though that’s a Rudy Van Gelder recording, that’s Hank Jones’ piano with Hank Jones playing it. Hank and Red Mitchell. Red Mitchell. Talk about someone with a concept, someone with a voice and someone with a great deal of… If you want to just someone by the content of their character, boy, you’ll never go wrong with Red Mitchell! That was one serious musician. We miss him a lot. He had a way of playing… Of course, he strings his bass totally different than the “traditional” way that basses are strung, giving him another kind of approach as part of the concept. Because he used to play bass the same way everybody else plays it, and then he changed his tuning in the mid-‘60s for whatever reason. There are a lot of reasons advanced. Two consummate masters. Five stars. You could listen to this all night and sip a few cognacs and pretend we’re back at Bradley’s again, back in the day. They used to play together several times a year at Bradley’s, and it was always a treat to hear them. Oh, would we could do such a thing today! It would be wonderful to have that inspiration again. One thing about Red Mitchell is that he could play with anybody, and I think a hallmark of a great musician, not just adaptability, but the ability to project that personality in such a way that you do interact with other musical personalities. And the strongest ones, in my opinion, are the ones who are able to interact with one another using their own personal voices and their visions, and they wind up weaving a story together. That’s what they did here.
8. Barre Phillips-Joe Maneri, “Elma My Dear” (Rohnlief, ECM, 1999) (Phillips, bass; Joe Maneri, tenor sax) – (3 stars)
I have no idea who the musicians are. Again, for me it’s like post-Ornette. Well, that’s not fair, because Ornette is not the one who unleashed this. I don’t get the sense of composition. I get the sense of interaction of two musicians, as if they just went in and did whatever they did. This is part of a larger piece or concept? That’s the feeling I get. But it didn’t to me as if it was anything other than the two guys interacting with one another, that there wasn’t any kind of motif, or maybe there was a color that was trying to be established. I’m relatively open-minded about the process, but in terms of the execution of this one I’d have to say 2-1/2 or 3 stars. The musicianship definitely is good. The guys know something about their instruments in the colors they’re trying to create and that sort of thing. But I feel a bit lost because I’m not sure about the context in which they’re trying to place it. That’s the only reason that I can’t give… I’d give a qualified 2-1/2 or 3 stars. But I feel a little lost as a listener. [AFTER] I’ve never met Barre Phillips, but I’ve heard his name for a number of years. And he’s definitely somebody who’s a trouper from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Obviously, there’s no question about musicianship and that sort of thing. But as a listener I felt lost. You told me about Joe Maneri and his microtonal concept, so obviously there’s a context for what this was about. I think you need to be more informed to be able to understand what’s going on here.
9. Michael Moore-Ken Peplowski, “Body and Soul” (The History of Jazz, Vol. 1, Arbors, 2000) (Moore, bass; Peplowski, clarinet) (4-1/2 stars)
Obviously, it’s “Body and Soul” in a clarinet-bass duo. As far as the performers, that’s a tough one. The clarinet player is a serious clarinet player, like Eddie Daniels or… It’s not Paquito. But Eddie is the guy who comes to my mind because of the sound. Ken Peplowski also has a sound like that, but I’m going to say Eddie, even though I’m probably way off the mark. It’s somebody that really is deep into the clarinet. The bass player is really lyrical, and the only guy I can think of…. I don’t know how these guys have played together… I’m sure they have, but I’m surprised to see them on a record. Michael Moore is the bass player. Michael is the only one that…he’s got that… It’s Michael! It’s hard to explain. It’s his sound and his concept. He’s a player like Red Mitchell because he’s very lyrical in his approach, the way he plays the melody. I’ve never heard him play with the bow like that. I’ve always loved Michael. Again, to go back to Bradley’s, Michael played there often. 4-1/2 stars [AFTER] I’ve had the opportunity to play a couple of times with Ken, but I really didn’t get into his clarinet playing until just this past summer when we were all in Japan and I got to hear him play clarinet every night. I said, “Oh my goodness!” Ken is a serious clarinet player as well as a marvelous saxophonist. The beginning was lovely, the way they wove a duet out of tempo together stating the melody and creating the improvisation around the melody and that sort of thing right in the beginning for one full chorus.
10. Ray Brown Trio, “Starbucks Blues” (Live At Starbucks, Telarc, 2001) (Brown, bass; Geoff Keezer, piano; Kareem Riggins, drums) (5 stars)
Look out, Brown! Signatures. Well, we talked about Ray Brown earlier. But there’s no mistaking him. The fact is that Ray Brown has his voice, he has his stories, and he’s been playing like this for almost 50 years at this point. The first time I ever heard Mr. Brown live was as an undergraduate in college in the mid-‘60s with the great Oscar Peterson Trio with Thigpen. They came down to Shelley’s Manne Hole, and I’d be down there two or three nights a week if they had a two-week engagement, just to listen to this trio and this wonderful bass player, this incredible master. Oh, my goodness, that’s almost 40 years ago. And Ray hasn’t lost anything. He’s gotten even more… Not just the maturity, but your voice deepens as you age, especially if you allow it to be. He’s just such a consummate player, such a grandmaster. Every time you hear him, it’s such an inspiration. Five stars. You’re talking about somebody who’s been the central part of mainstream bass playing for a very long time, and still waving that flag and carrying it for all intents and purposes… I hope as many people as possible will see him while he’s still here with us. Because we’ve lost so many people and it’s so great to have one of the grandmasters still able to do that thing that only they can do. God bless Ray Brown. [LAUGHS]
11. Fred Hopkins, “Mbizo” (David Murray Quartet, Deep Rivers, DIW, 1988) (Hopkins, bass; Murray, bass cl.; Dave Burrell, piano; Ralph Peterson, drums)
I don’t know who this is. It’s funny, because I get this picture of Cecil McBee in my head, but it’s not Cecil; it’s just somebody who would like to play like Cecil, but hasn’t figured out, in my opinion, how to sound like that. It’s not Cecil. Right? Whew, good. But as a bass player, this player is chasing another kind of a value. There’s a lyricism I think the bass player is trying to get to that he hasn’t figured out yet. Part of it has to do with his articulation and his intonation. But that’s part of what he’s trying to do. Oh, wait a minute! That’s David! Damn. That’s David. Is this Fred on here? Fred. That’s who it is. It is Fred. It’s David and Fred and…it could be Andrew. I’ll take a stab and say Andrew. The piano player might be Dave Burrell. I probably missed the drummer. I’ll stick with Andrew, though I’m probably wrong. Oh, it’s Ralph. Yeah, he’s trying to play like Andrew. He plays more like Andrew than he plays like Blackwell. Four stars. The thing is, I loved Fred. I really did. But the thing is, there was a kind of lyricism he as trying to get to that I never thought he quite got to. But what a talent. And what an unrealized talent! There were certain kinds of things that I know Fred wanted to do musically that he was not given the opportunity to do. I think that he was not only underappreciated while he was alive, but I think a lot of people are still asleep as to what he was up to as a musician. He was amazing.
12. Wilbur Ware, “Woody ‘N You” (Johnny Griffin Sextet. Riverside, 1958) – (5 stars) – (Ware, bass; Johnny Griffin, ts; Kenny Drew, p; Philly Joe Jones, d.)
There’s only one Wilbur Ware, just like there’s only one Ray Brown. It’s marvelous. I’ve not heard this with Griffin, so this is probably something from the Riverside days. There are several versions of this tune is on Sonny Rollins’ “Live At the Village Vanguard,” from probably around the same time, and Wilbur takes some solos on that, too, with that sound and that concept. Again, he’s got his own way of telling a story, and it’s very effective. He was a good player. Kenny Drew? Sounds like him. Sounds like Kenny Drew playing. Art Blakey, Wilbur Ware and Johnny Griffin. Marvelous date. Five stars. I have got to give it up! [AFTER] I was going to say it could be Philly Joe playing his Art Blakey shit, but you know… It had that Art Blakey thing in the beginning. But now it’s definitely Philly Joe. Kenny Washington will probably kill me for mistaking Philly Joe Jones for Art Blakey.
13. Peter Kowald, “Isotopes” (Deals, Ideas & Ideals, Hopscotch, 2000) – (Kowald, bass; Assif Tsahar, bass cl.; Rashied Ali, drums) – (3 stars)
Again, we have an example of textures. Obviously notes, too. But we’re talking about textures and moods. Colors. At this point we’re into ostinatos. Again, this is a hard one to rate. All the example of “freer” music, if you want to call it that… But he’s using a great deal of the resources available for color… But it’s funny, because we always think of this kind of playing as so different than mainstream playing. And yet I would submit… This is where a lot of bass players are asleep on Mingus. Of course, this is not Mingus, so I’m not going there with this. On “Money Jungle,” Mingus used those kinds of techniques, a lot of colors, where traditionally bass players play something else, something a little more “traditionally”-based. This person has a lot of ability to play in this context. It would be interesting to hear whether this person is into notes as well. I’m not sure this person is. But again, there’s a different approach to lyricism here, because it’s more about colors and impressions and mood creation and that sort of thing. Ah, it’s a trio, with bass clarinet and drums. Whoever this bass clarinet player is, this person loves Eric Dolphy! We heard David playing earlier, and there’s some Eric in him. I mean, he can’t help but be affected by Eric when he plays bass clarinet. But this person in particular seems to have a real affinity for Eric. It’s the same kind of rhythmic phrasing. That’s definitely where David and Eric part, in the rhythmic phrasing. Some of the concepts that David uses are similar in terms of how they approach the bass clarinet. But Eric could have done something like this, too. As for the bass player, I’ll say it’s Alan Silva. But I have a feeling that this is later, probably recently, so I’ll have to back off it. I’ll give it 3 stars. For my taste, it gets a little self-indulgent. Okay, you started a story. Now, what happened? Where’s the story? The story has a beginning, a middle and an ending. And we did. On the one with David, with Fred, obviously there were some stories being told. You may not exactly understand how everybody’s getting around it, but there was something being said there. Here I thought they were saying something, but then it drifted off.
14. Charles Mingus, “Mood Indigo” (Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Impulse, 1963/1995) – (5 stars) (Mingus, bass; Jaki Byard, piano; Walter Perkins, drums; Eddie Preston, Richard Williams, trumpets; Britt Woodman, trombone; Don Butterfield, tuba; Eric Dolphy, Dick Hafer, Booker Ervin, Jerome Richardson, reeds & woodwinds)
That’s the sound of Duke. The pianist even sounded convincingly like it could have been Duke. That was my first impression. Of course, this is Charles Mingus with “Mood Indigo.” There’s only one guy who played like Mingus. Of course, we know him. Listen to the lyricism and technical ability. And he had a different way of… He just did what he did. And a lot of bass players will not give it up to Mingus as a bass player. If you ask them what is the contribution that Charles Mingus made in the music, the first thing most bass players say is his composing, and they think of him as a composer and they don’t think of him as a bassist. I can’t tell you how many guys actually respond that way. It really used to surprise me once, but now I’m not. I think it’s because Mingus is so individual. Charles Mingus was so strong and had his own… He just would play anything at any moment. And I think for some bass players, it kind of disturbs them if you’re not playing a traditional part… [LAUGHS] Mingus had such a fertile imagination musically, so he could do anything. Five stars. Jaki Byard. Boy, that’s another soul we miss that we’ve lost. One of the grandmasters.