Category Archives: DownBeat

For Denny Zeitlin’s 76th Birthday, An Uncut DownBeat Blindfold Test From 2005, My Liner Notes for the 2000 Release “As Long As There’s Music,” and Our Interview for that Liner Note

The magnificent pianist Denny Zeitlin turns 76 today. I first had an opportunity to encounter him whenwas asked to write the liner notes for his 2000 release (1997 recording) titled As Long As There’s Music, a trio date with Buster Williams and Carl Allen. Five years later, he agreed to sit with me for a DownBeat Blindfold Test. I’m posting Blindfold Test first, then the liner note, then our complete interview, in which Dr. Zeitlin offered a lot of interesting information about the Chicago scene in the ’50s, among other things.

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Denny Zeitlin Blindfold Test (Raw):

1.   Ben Waltzer, “The More I See You” (from ONE HUNDRED DREAMS AGO, Fresh Sounds, 2004) (Waltzer, piano; Matt Penman, bass; Gerald Cleaver, drums)

Immediately when that track starts, I get the feeling I’m in the hands of a really good bebop player. Really sinuous lines, great time feel, the group is very much together. Then it goes into a very interesting statement of the head. I’m trying to remember the name of that standard. Is it “The More I See You”? Really a very charming treatment of that. Then some very good, solid blowing with single lines, right hand lines that are always crackling and popping along, and the rhythm section is very much together. This pianist, at least on this cut, is using his left hand primarily as a comping instrument, and some very interesting ostinato figures begin to emerge towards the end of the piano solo, which get repeated at the very end, and it sort of transmutes into an Afro-Cuban vamp at the end, which is a very nice way to end this tune, with a kind of surprise chord at the end. Overall, it was really nice to listen this really crackling trio. It seems to me this pianist is somebody who has listened a lot to Bud Powell, and is probably in the next generation. This could be somebody like Kenny Barron or someone else of that ilk. I liked it a lot. 4 stars. [AFTER] I don’t know these cats, but they sound very good. Very solid. Very much out of that tradition.

2.   Eddie Higgins, “Someone To Watch Over Me” (from HAUNTED HEART, Venus, 1997) (Higgins, piano; Ray Drummond, bass; Ben Riley, drums)

That was the old standard, “Someone To Watch Over Me.” It begins with a quite dramatic rubato introduction. The pianist obviously has a very nice touch. He chooses to play this piece with a minimum amount of reharmonization, at least at the beginning of the cut, moves into a stride-like treatment, sort of more old style treatment of this tune, with bass and drums staying very much in the background but certainly supportive, and several choruses of working with the changes of the tune. Overall, there’s an elegant, relaxed feel about it. I enjoyed the nice, Tatumesque series of changes coming out of the final bridge before the last statement of the melody. I could tell as the piece was developing, particularly the improvisation, that this was a pianist who was holding himself back a little bit, which makes me think about the context of a recording or perhaps some restrictions placed by the record label.  I would give it 3½ stars. I’ll probably be embarrassed to find out who it is, but I don’t recognize the player. You don’t know sometimes how much a producer, for instance, really gets into a recording session, or how an overall thematic approach to an album concept does. What I remind myself, and I wish listeners would keep in mind is that when they hear a cut from an artist’s CD, they’re getting a snapshot of what that artist was thinking, feeling and doing at that time. It’s not necessarily a statement about who he or she is musically in some global way at all. It’s merely a snapshot. [AFTER] Well, I’ve always enjoyed Eddie’s playing very much, and I’ll give myself credit for recognizing the touch. That’s something I’ve always been most drawn to in Eddie’s playing, is the touch. [Any recollections of him from Chicago days?] Yes. Eddie was one of the players who was established on the scene when I first started to play back in the ‘50s. He was very encouraging to me and opened some doors in introducing me to people, and has always been a fan of my playing, and I’ve always really admired his playing very much. He’s wonderful behind singers, too. A marvelous accompanist.

3.  Robert Glasper, “Rise and Shine” (from CANVAS, Blue Note, 2005) (Glasper, piano, composer; Vicente Archer, bass; Damien Reid, drums)

Wow, I really loved that cut. It was quite a journey. A wonderful piano player with great command of the instrument, and time and shapes. I loved the tune and the arrangement and the overall feel of this trio. You get the sense that this is a trio that’s worked together a lot. Very integrated and very interactive, and I love the different time signatures and their way of working with it. The solo consistently built and was intriguing and swinging throughout. Initially, I felt quite confident it was Brad Mehldau, and then towards the end some of the developments and figures were things I’ve never heard Brad do. Which doesn’t mean that he doesn’t do them. Just the cuts I heard didn’t have some of those things, and the recorded bass sound was a little different to the way his trio usually sounds. But I thought this was a terrific cut. 5 stars. My best guess would be Brad Mehldau, but I have a hunch it’s somebody who’s listened to Brad a lot, maybe some younger cat or someone contemporaneous with him. [AFTER] I’ve heard his name, and I know he’s done an album for Blue Note. People are talking about it. I have not heard him play. Terrific, I think.

4.   Andrew Hill, “Malachi” (from TIME LINES, Blue Note, 2005) (Hill, piano, composer)

That’s a very atmospheric mood piece, with a very unusual use of the sustain pedal, creating clouds and then abrupt disappearance of them, and new sounds appearing. It was almost entirely in one mode, which certainly sustains the atmospheric mood, punctuated by unusual use of dynamics with adjacent notes sometimes quite different in intensity, and occasionally punctuated by this little three-note motif, and then at the very end finally shifting the mode into a minor ending. Interesting atmosphere. 3 stars. I have no idea who it is. It’s someone seemingly coming out of a rubato classical tradition. [Any sense of it coming out of someone’s sustained body of work over the years? An older player? A younger player?] I would say that this is an older player. This does not strike me as a younger player’s work. It sounds to me like somebody who is steeped in the classical tradition, certainly has an understanding of how modes and atmospheres work, and… I don’t know much more to say about that. [AFTER] I always enjoyed Andrew very much. He’s one of the players who was playing actively at the time I started playing in Chicago. He always had a very original, unusual concept. Now knowing that it’s Andrew, and I could rewind the tape in my head and understand how it would be him. But I’ve never heard him play a piece like that. I’ve always heard him play much more angular kinds of things, either with a trio or with larger groups. But he’s certainly one of the original players, a real force in the music.

5.   Chris Anderson-Charlie Haden, “Body and Soul” (from NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART, Naim, 1997) (Anderson, piano; Haden, bass)

That’s one of my favorite tunes on this planet. I seem to never get tired of playing it or hearing it. This was a very relaxed, languid reading of this piece with a pianist whom I certainly don’t recognize off the bat, accompanied by I believe Charlie Haden. If I’m correct about Charlie, I know he also loves “Body and Soul.” I think he even did a project once with a whole bunch of piano players or maybe other instrumentalists playing “Body and Soul.” I never heard the project, but he was always talking about doing it, and I’ll bet this well could be a cut from that project. I don’t recognize the pianist. I’d say it’s a pianist who was probably actively playing back in the ‘50s. It was very relaxed, and I enjoyed it. Clearly, they just got together and just played it. It was like they jammed on this tune, and it had a very relaxed feel. 4 stars. [AFTER] Is that right? Wow. It didn’t sound like Chris. Knowing now that it was Chris, I’d say a little bit of the halting aspect to the right hand lines reminds me of some of the searching way that Chris would go at it. But what doesn’t tip me off to Chris on this particular cut is that he usually had such unusual harmonic progressions and voicings that he would bring to a tune. This piece doesn’t strike me as what’s the hallmark of Chris Anderson’s really quite innovative approach to jazz voicing. [What was the nature of his influence on you, or someone like Herbie Hancock, people who came under his spell during the late ‘50s in Chicago?] He was a legend in Chicago. Bobby Cranshaw first told me that I had to hear this cat play. When I first heard him, it was wonderful to hear the unusual ways he would put voicings together. That’s really what I think his contribution was. He himself was profoundly influenced by Nelson Riddle. He was very interested in the effects of doubling notes and not doubling notes. He was often very careful not to double certain notes. I remember grabbing this guy and saying, “Chris, you’ve got to show me how you voice that chord,” and I’d be sitting there writing down stuff and trying to figure it out. A lot of players in Chicago were doing exactly the same thing, because he really had a lot to offer.

6.   Fred Hersch, “Bemsha Swing” (from THELONIOUS: FRED HERSCH PLAYS MONK, Nonesuch, 1997) (Hersch, piano; Thelonious Monk, composer)

That was an interesting approach to “Bemsha Swing.”  I feel an affinity for that tune, having just recorded it myself as a solo pianist, and it’s always so interesting to hear what other people do with it. This pianist took it in a very different direction, dealing with a lot of the fragments of the melody, and it was played in a very spare way. It sounded to me like someone who has quite a bit of a classical background. I liked the originality of some of the figurations and way of approaching the tune, which I thought breathed some freshness into this. 3½ stars. No idea who it might be offhand. [AFTER] I love Fred’s playing, and I wouldn’t have picked this one out. Monk is so marvelous, because not only was he unique in the universe, but his compositions are springboards for so many players and improvisers to take things into their own realm. I don’t think the idea is to be “faithful” to Monk (I don’t think he would have wanted that), but rather than you could use these pieces as wonderful launching pads. So I’m always interested to see what other players do with Monk, and I’ve always found his compositions to be really inspirational. I think I started playing some of his stuff in high school. I heard some of the Blue Note things that I liked. Another album that really appealed to me was called Nica’s Tempo, a Gigi Gryce album on Signal. Half the album was Monk, Gigi Gryce, Percy Heath and Art Blakey, and they had things like “Gallop’s Gallop” and “Brake’s Sake.” I loved those pieces, man. And I loved the early Blue Note stuff, which I heard in high school. [Did you have to figure out fingerings and ways to play them? Was that part of the pleasure, too?] Sure. You had to figure out how to negotiate them. But I guess in some ways, more even than physically playing his tunes was the inspiration his compositions and improvisations gave to me to be able to take my own work into different spaces. I think that’s generally been true of how I’ve assimilated music. It hasn’t been so much that I’ve wanted to play a lot of the pieces of other jazz musicians, although I do and I’ve recorded, but even more, their gift to me is what I can do, and then take it in terms of my own compositions and improvisations. The same thing is true with the influence of the classical composers on me when I was growing up. I was always drawn much more to the modern people. Initially I made a big leap all the way from Bach to the impressionists and beyond. In more recent years, I’ve sort of been drinking in the period in between with a great love for Rachmaninoff and Chopin and lots of other people. But I was tremendously drawn to Ravel and Bartok and Berg and people like that, and then, of course, George Russell, when I heard him in high school, knocked the top of my head off. [Were these things in the air in Chicago at all? Do you think that you and generational contemporaries were listening to similar music and affected by similar strains?] I don’t know. I don’t remember talking to people a lot about, for instance, what classical composers they were listening to. We would talk a lot about records that had come out or players we liked in the jazz genre. But I had come up studying classical music throughout grade school, and had always loved these more modern people. But again, I didn’t have a tremendous interest in keeping up a classical repertoire and performing classical pieces. I wanted to use that material in my own music. That’s always been the way I’ve been built. [I’m also interested in the common strains? A Chicago school of piano playing?] I’m trying to think. I don’t remember having conversations with Chicago pianists about classical music very much. I remember talking to Chris Anderson a bit when he was talking about Nelson Riddle. He certainly loved the Impressionists and the voicings of those players. But I don’t remember talking about Classical music with the Chicago cats.

7.   Craig Taborn, “Bodies We Came Out Of” (from LIGHT MADE LIGHTER, Thirsty Ear, 2001) (Taborn, piano; Chris Lightcap, bass; Gerald Cleaver, drums)

That was another piece that really takes you on a journey. I thought it had tremendous hypnotic drive to it, a very skilled pianist. I enjoy very much overlaying different time signatures against each other and asymmetric figures that crash through and drape over barlines, and this pianist enjoys doing that kind of thing, too, so I feel a kindred spirit with that. There was just a wonderful roiling feeling to it all the way through. The drummer was just terrific. Very enjoyable. 5 stars. Don’t know who that is, though. [AFTER] Don’t know him. Terrific pianist.

8.  Herbie Hancock, “Embraceable You” (from GERSHWIN’S WORLD, Verve, 2000) (Hancock, piano)

Boy, what a beautiful journey through “Embraceable You” that was. Gorgeous recording in terms of sound. The pianist has a beautiful touch. Now, these are the voicings that I would have expected from the Chris Anderson cut. If Chris were physically in better shape, I’d say this could be Chris, but he rarely was feeling physically well enough to be able to play at this technical level. As you know, he had ostogenesis imperfecta, and was always nursing injuries. It was amazing that he could play at all, given what he was dealing with. This was just a beautiful rendition, I thought. The rubato treatment. Beautiful and unusual reharmonizations throughout. Lovely surprises. You feel the pianist searching, taking his or her time with this piece. Going for not the easy answer. Some of the modulations I thought were heartbreakingly beautiful, and the improvisation using fragments of the melody rather than feeling that they had to be worked through in terms of the actual structure of the tune per se. Beautiful playing. 5 stars. I have no idea who it is. [AFTER] Herbie? Wow. Beautiful. It’s gorgeous, and I’ve been a big fan of Herbie’s playing over the years. We had only a nodding acquaintance in Chicago. We got to know each other better when I was out on the West Coast and he would come through with Miles. We used to get together and do four-handed duets on my piano, and we’ve enjoyed each other’s  work a lot through the years. I am hoping, if Columbia ever releases a CD of this concert that was done in honor of Conrad Silvert back in the ‘80s… Herbie and I did a two-piano duet on “Round Midnight” which I would love to see included. I thought it was something really special.

9.  The Bad Plus, “Flim” (from BLUNT OBJECT: LIVE IN TOKYO, Sony, 2004) (Ethan Iverson, piano; Reid Anderson, bass; Dave King, drums)

Certainly very different from anything you’ve played for me so far today. This is a melding of Pop and Rock and perhaps even Folk elements. Aspects of it remind me of the Bad Plus, but it doesn’t have the fire and the drive that I typically associate with their playing – at least that I’ve heard. It makes me wonder about a group that I haven’t yet heard, but I’ve heard about – whether this could be E.S.T.  Certainly the group was using these very simple motifs, and just laying them down very repetitive, I think trying to establish a hypnotic groove on those terms. It certainly seemed like it’s played by people who know how to play their instruments, and it’s just a question if one is drawn to this kind of thing. For my own personal taste, 3 stars. [AFTER] I thought it could have been screaming Europeans! I haven’t heard E.S.T. Do they sound like this at all? [They sound very Nordic – folk music, club beats, classical harmony] I heard them last year at IAJE, and I loved them. I thought what they did that night was terrific. But this didn’t have the balls.

10.  Edward Simon, “You’re My Everything, #1” (from SIMPLICITAS, Criss-Cross, 2004) (Simon, piano, composer; Avishai Cohen, bass; Adam Cruz, drums)

Nice treatment of an old standard, “You’re My Everything.” A pianist who obviously has a realized style, a very sumptuous, relaxed sound. Nice voicings. The whole group sounded very relaxed. There were some nice reharmonizations on the head. The bass player is terrific; took a couple of excellent choruses. Then the piano solo was interesting, had a great relaxed feel to it, some moments of nice right hand-left hand interaction. When they finally got into walking on this piece, there was a really good groove, and a very nice feel to it. I liked the way the head was approached at the end in a kind of loose way, and then they moved into this eighth-note vamp at the end which was very relaxed and had some interesting piano figures on it. Overall, a very satisfying cut. 4½ stars. [AFTER] Don’t know him. Never heard him. Nice player.

11.  Renee Rosnes, “Miyako” (from The Drummonds, PAS DE TROIS, TLE, 2002) (Rosnes, piano; Ray Drummond, bass; Billy Drummond drums; Wayne Shorter, composer)

That was “Miyako” from my favorite living composer, Wayne Shorter. A very nice treatment, verging into the more dramatic ways of approaching the piece. The pianist had very, very nice voicings and command of the instrument. A very graceful style. It sounded more like Herbie to me than anybody. I doubt you’d play two tracks from the same pianist in the same Blindfold Test, but it’s somebody who has certainly been very influenced by Herbie. The bass player sounded like he was influenced by Charlie Haden, but also played very well. I thought the whole feel of the piece was very satisfying. 4½ stars.

12.  Eldar Djangirov, “Maiden Voyage” (from ELDAR, Sony, 2004) (Djangirov, piano; John Patitucci, bass; Todd Strait, drums)

A furious, tumultuous version of “Maiden Voyage,”  played by a pianist who I think must be Eldar Djangirov. I’ve never heard his recordings, but I did hear him live last year at the IAJE Convention. He’s a young man with obviously prodigious talent and technique, and hopefully he’ll stay healthy and have all the exposure he needs that will nurture his talent, and that more and more what will emerge will be his true voice, his true center. Right now, I think he’s facing the problem that almost all young jazz players face, particularly if they’re as gifted as he is, of becoming an editor of one’s own materials. There’s a tendency to want to put everything into every piece that one can do and that one knows. There’s a gravitational pull to do that. It can be very seductive. I think time will tell, and with this kind of talent he’s got a brilliant future. 3 stars.

13.  Ahmad Jamal, “I’m Old Fashioned” (from AFTER FAJR, Dreyfuss, 2004) (Jamal, piano; James Cammack, bass; Idris Muhammad, drums)

That was Ahmad Jamal playing “I’m Old Fashioned,” or somebody who clones himself after Ahmad. I enjoyed it tremendously. I will assume it’s Ahmad, and so make comments about him and what I think his music has meant particularly to the whole trio tradition. Coming up in the ‘50s in Chicago I had a chance to hear him, and his use of space and the way of floating over the time and getting that kind of groove. The groove on that piece was very typical of the kind of groove that Vernell Fournier and Israel Crosby would get with him back in the ‘50s when he was playing these kinds of pieces. There was always this wonderful sense of drama and surprise in his playing. He, too, had been influenced by Chris Anderson and had gotten some very unusual ways of reharmonizing and voicing chords I think at least partly from Chris. He certainly is an original and has his own thing. It’s a pleasure to hear this. I’ll be embarrassed if it’s somebody cloning himself after Ahmad, but that I think is worth 5 stars.

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Liner Notes, Denny Zeitlin, As Long As There’s Music:

On As Long As There’s Music, pianist Denny Zeitlin, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Al Foster, who boast more than one hundred years of combined professional experience, embody the principle of the trio as an equilateral triangle.  Addressing a varied program of interesting Songbook and Jazz standards plus a few pungent originals, Zeitlin, guided by unerring melodic radar, ingeniously reimagines his material, reharmonizing and orchestrating with spontaneous elan, maintaining peak focus and flow throughout the recital, deploying towards unfailingly musical ends a prodigious technique that Marion McPartland, referring to a duet they played last year on her NPR “Piano Jazz” show, described as akin “to a tidal wave washing over me.”  Williams and Foster anticipate Zeitlin’s postulations, responding with laser quick precision, nuanced musicality and relentless swing; if you didn’t know that this was their first-ever encounter, you’d swear they’d shared bandstands for years.

Zeitlin is a psychiatrist with a large private practice in the Bay Area.  He also teaches at the University of California and lecture-demonstrates on the psychology of improvising.  So he can speak with some authority on the interpersonal dynamics of trio playing, of which this session might serve as a textbook.  “You always hope for a merger experience with your partners, which can be complicated in a trio,” he remarks.  “If things go extremely well, three people can feel that the music is just emanating from the stage — it’s hard even to know for sure who is playing what.  When my own personal creative forces are at their height, I have this feeling of merger.  I also have it when I’m doing my best work as a psychiatrist, a sense of inhabiting the world that my patients are talking about.

“If I had been a surgeon, I can’t imagine how I would infuse my three-thousandth appendectomy with new excitement.  As you do psychotherapy, as much as it’s true that you hear common themes in the human life cycle that endlessly repeat, every person’s experience and presentation of this is unique, so that it really never gets old.  In my psychiatric office, I am the accompanist.  I am trying to help the patient tell their story.  My function is to help them feel it’s safe to go into areas of their life they might not otherwise be able to investigate.  The role of accompanying another soloist on the bandstand is parallel.  The biggest difference is that I often solo for long periods of time on a stage, which I’m not doing in my office with patients.”

Now 62, Zeitlin is no stranger to jazz connoisseurs.  His five mid-’60s trio albums for Columbia won widespread acclaim, resulting in two first place finishes in the Downbeat Critics Poll.  He spent the ’70s focusing on a pioneering integration of jazz, electronics, classical and rock, culminating in the 1978 electronic-acoustic score for Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. He concertizes internationally, working with bass giants like David Friesen, Charlie Haden, and John Patitucci, appearing at one point or another with John Abercrombie, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson, the Kronos Quartet, Pat Metheny, Tony Williams, and Paul Winter.

That said, most Zeitlin devotees probably don’t know much about his formative years, when he encountered the blend of cultural influences that shaped his sensibility.  It started at home, in Highland Park, a suburb north of Chicago. His mother, Rosalyn, was a speech pathologist and “fairly decent classical pianist,” while his father, Nathaniel, was a radiologist “who couldn’t read a note but could play the piano by ear.”  As he puts it, “I bilaterally had both fields — medicine and music — from day one, and always an atmosphere in the home that seemed to say people can follow their muse, that it doesn’t have to be either-or; from very early on I had a sense that I was going to be involved in some way in the two fields.”

Zeitlin remembers traversing the keyboard at 2 or 3; soon after he began “picking out little melodies and improvising.”  Formal instruction began at 7 or 8.  He recalls: “I always had a hunger for unusual sounds and combinations and dissonance.  I loved the Impressionists, particularly Ravel, and was tremendously excited by composers like Prokofiev, Bartok, Stravinsky and Berg.  I started to listen to jazz around eighth grade.  One night my music teacher brought to a lesson a recording of George Shearing playing ‘Summertime’ and I was knocked out.  Here was this guy who obviously had a Classical background and technique to burn, and what was this music he was playing?  I wanted to learn about this genre!  She began bringing Art Tatum albums over, and that was it.”

As a high school freshman Zeitlin formed a piano-guitar-drums trio called the Cool Tones for which he composed original music informed by the cutting edge of the zeitgeist.  He cites as early influences Bud Powell (“his power and angularity and originality spoke to me”), Billy Taylor (“he had consummate taste and such a beautiful touch; I was particularly drawn to the power of his ballad playing”), Lennie Tristano (“his harmonic conception and rhythmic subtleties with the line of a solo”), Dave Brubeck (“I thought he had his own thing and followed it with tremendous conviction”), and Thelonious Monk (“an utterly quirky genius full of endless surprise”).

Zeitlin began to partake of Chicago’s raucous jazz scene as soon as he could drive, hearing headliners and “resident greatness” at North Side institutions like Mr. Kelly’s and the French Poodle, hanging out in South Side rooms like the Beehive and the Stage Lounge until 4 or 5 in the morning.  By his senior year he was jamming with hardcore Windy City progressives, forming relationships that deepened as he pursued pre-med studies at the University of Illinois, in downstate Champaign, where Joe Farrell, Jack McDuff and Roger Kellaway were among the local talent.

“My parents knew I was utterly galvanized by this, that it was so deeply embedded in my psyche that it was important to encourage and allow this to happen,” Zeitlin explains.  “They had a tremendous amount of trust in me; that I wasn’t, for example, using drugs or having problems with alcohol, that I could be around that subculture without being involved in it.  And indeed, their trust was not misplaced.  I was able to take this opportunity of a priceless many-year informal apprenticeship in the music.  In those days there were no formal jazz schools.  This was the way one had to learn it.  I would collar somebody like Chris Anderson after the gig and say, ‘Man, sit down with me for a minute here; how did you voice such-and-such?’  By osmosis I tried to absorb as much of this art form as I could, and generally, I found musicians were gracious and willing to show me stuff and to give me a chance to play.”

By 1954, Zeitlin’s influences, as he puts it, “rapidly became non-pianistic.”  He honed in on Miles Davis’ “incredible sense of pulse and melodic elegance, never a wasted note, never a cliche, always pushing the edge.”  He was fascinated with the roles of drums and bass, particularly Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Percy Heath and Paul Chambers — he took up the instruments enough to do some gigging both in high school and college.  He analyzed the harmonic system John Coltrane was developing circa 1959-60, and analogizes the experience of hearing Coltrane as “like being shot out of a cannon, being at the center of a cyclone; I was tremendously drawn towards what some people have called his vertical chromaticism.”  He fell in love with the free improvisation aesthetic of the Ornette Coleman quartet; “I’d enjoyed free improvisation since I was 2 or 3 years, and here were guys making a whole life out of doing it in jazz.”

While Zeitlin attended medical school at Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore, he “had carte blanche, whenever I could sneak away, to come and sit in at the North End Lounge,” owned by the father of saxophonist Gary Bartz, where he played with musicians like the younger Bartz, trombonist Grachan Moncur and drummer Billy Hart.  In 1963, while attending Columbia University on a fellowship, he met composer-theorist George Russell — “We hung out, talked about music, played with each other; he was tremendously encouraging to me.”  During that time, Paul Winter, a Chicago acquaintance, “dragged me kicking and screaming to meet his producer, John Hammond.  I played a few tunes for John solo piano, and he startled me by saying, ‘Hey, I’d love for you to record; you can play whatever you want and use whomever you want.’”

Consider this complex matrix of experience as you listen to the assorted treasures — they’re primarily first takes — on As Long As There’s Music.  The title could serve as Zeitlin’s raison d’etre.  “I try to get to the piano every day,” he states, “not so much out of a sense of duty to the instrument, but that I am called to it.  Because I have played for so long, I have a certain technical base that endures even during periods where I’m not able to play as much as I would like.  I was never drawn to technical exercises.  I garnered new technical skills by pushing myself to play classical pieces somewhat beyond my current technical capability.  Now when I practice, I usually just improvise, sometimes with an ear towards possible composition.  Doing that keeps my fingers lubricated, and it nourishes my soul to be with music.  Every time I sit down at the keyboard I remind myself of how profoundly grateful I am to be able to play.”

The title track, which Zeitlin first heard on an early ’50s George Shearing quintet side, is a favorite of the bassist Charlie Haden, who Zeitlin met when the pianist arrived in the Bay Area in 1964 as an intern at San Francisco General Hospital.  Haden was on two of Zeitlin’s early Columbia LPs, and they recorded a duo version of the song on a 1983 ECM album.  On this version Zeitlin shifts the piece into waltz time, employs a bit of organic reharmonization, Foster articulates barely perceptible shifts in tempo and dynamics, Williams nudges the pulse along with subtle accents, and the trio rides out with a polyrhythmic dialogue on a sweet vamp.

Zeitlin notes: “The challenge of a standard is to be faithful to the original spirit of the piece, but find an approach that might breathe fresh life into it.  You can reshape it structurally, but most often you may want to reharmonize it, which can seduce you with its possibilities.  At its worst it becomes an exercise in how clever the musician can be.  Often, the tune gets lost, or becomes so cluttered that it becomes a logjam of material.  I try to keep those pitfalls in mind, but allow myself to see what new directions the tune might take.”

Zeitlin conceptualized “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “The Man I Love” for a Gershwin concert celebration a few months before the session.  On the former, after the trio serenely states the head, Zeitlin plays solo piano with a bit of stride and a nod to Art Tatum, which cues an increasingly intense piano-drum duet, which leads to a double-time trio section that evokes the essence of Bud Powell.  After Buster Williams’ spot-on solo, they transition to the original medium-tempo head statement.

The latter tune, which concludes the album, opens with a brief free piano improvisation which sets a mood, before a rubato melody statement that brings in the trio, which springboards off a vivid vamp into ever-escalating improvisational adventures.

Is the consummately lyrical Zeitlin a lyrics man or is he inspired by a song’s musical content?   “It’s more of the latter,” Zeitlin responds.  “I know many musicians feel it’s crucial to know the lyric — almost ‘How could you not know it and play the tune?’  But in fact, most of these tunes are written music first, lyrics second, and my allegiance is to the composer.  Now, the lyrics of some tunes end up embedded in my psyche, and I find myself hearing fragments of them.  Certainly I hear a lot of Sinatra in my head when I hear any tune that he’s recorded because I’m so totally taken with him.  Favorite female vocalists whose lyrics stay with me over the years have been Sarah Vaughan, Jackie Cain and Elis Regina.”

Add to that list Billie Holiday, the inspiration for “For Heaven’s Sake,” which Zeitlin played for years in solo, duo and trio contexts, but never recorded.  His reharmonized interpretation, framing a delicate Buster Williams solo, evokes the inherent tenderness and yearning in the melody.

“There and Back,” the first of two Zeitlin originals, moves back and forth between walking jazz time and a straight-eighth, funky feel, while “Canyon” is a clever “minor blues-oid construction.”  “I’ve always perceived improvisation as being spontaneous composition,” says Zeitlin, whose best-known piece is “Quiet Now,” which Bill Evans recorded numerous times.  “I hope my improvising imparts a sense of a journey, a feeling of inevitability about how it proceeds, that it isn’t just a hodge-podge of possibilities or a pastiche of colors or novelty for its own sake.  I often think of my pieces as roadmaps that we can loosely follow to get from one destination to the other, with some interesting roadblocks and detour signs along the way that challenge me and the musicians.”

Zeitlin heard Barbra Streisand sing “I’m All Smiles” on her ’60s People album; the trio plays it straight in a relaxed version that brings out all the beauty of the melody.

“Cousin Mary” continues a long line of Zeitlin interpretations of John Coltrane’s “Atlantic period.”  Zeitlin reharmonizes the head and drives hard-edged right into the blues; he sounds like a playful dancer, deconstructing the harmonic structure with wit and imagination.

There’s an elegant reading of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Triste,” and a heart-on-the-sleeve version of “I Fall In Love Too Easily” that Zeitlin describes as “a real organic journey.”

The same could be said for the entirety of As Long As There’s Music.  “I organized the arrangements to explore different things we could do as a trio,” Zeitlin concludes.  “I was hoping to see how deep and how broad we could go in this weekend we were going to play together.  I felt there was some special chemistry here.”

* * * *

Denny Zeitlin (For As Long As There’s Music) – (9-16-00):

TP:    Let’s talk about the circumstances of this record.  You haven’t recorded with a trio for 10-11-12 years.  What’s the most common configuration in performance, solo, duo, trio?  Are they all equally…

ZEITLIN:  In some ways they are yes.  Over time they’ve been pretty balanced.  Rarely I’ll play in a larger context, maybe a quartet, but it’s typically more of a solo, duo or trio setting for me.

TP:    Perhaps you could state in a succinct way the different experience of performing in each media, how each creates a different space for you.

ZEITLIN:  The solo playing offers the unique challenge of having to create all the music oneself.  I’ve always thought of the piano as a symphonic instrument, so it gives me an opportunity and a challenge of trying to paint with all the colors of the orchestra as best I can, using the piano.  It also offers me complete freedom as to where I might take the form from moment to moment.  I don’t have to really be concerned by the forces that might be mobilized by the other musicians on the stage.  In some ways that’s a plus as a soloist.  Out there all by myself, I can take it wherever I would like.  On the other hand, you can argue that I miss out on all of the input that another or other musicians would give me.  So there’s always positives and negatives to these situations when you compare them to other possibilities.  But just in and of itself, the solo situation is a marvelous one for me in that I do get a chance to take the music wherever it might want to go from moment to moment, and that I have this kind of unique possibility for producing all of it myself.  In that setting, on a psychological level, the kind of emotional connection I’m making is to the music and to the spirit of the music, and then to the audience in the sense of reaching out with this music to I guess what Stravinsky used to talk about as “the hypothetical Other” — the perfect audience person.  And I’m hoping there’s at least a few of them out there in the actual audience.  I’m sending the music out there in the hopes that the people will try to reach out and meet the music halfway.  When that happens, it’s a very palpable experience for me, and at its very best I end up feeling like I’m just a conduit for the music, and that we’re all in the audience listening to what’s going on.

TP:    Now, the duo situation I would presume has a somewhat different dialoguing quality.

ZEITLIN:  It does.  And it still contains the complement of sending the music out and hoping for a merger experience with the audience.  But in the duo setting, I’m hoping for a merger experience with whomever is my musical partner up there.  Since typically it’s been bass, although I do duets with David  Grisman, and I’ve played duets in the past with Herbie Hancock, with John Abercrombie, with Marion McPartland… It’s the most transparent kind of group playing, as far as I can see.  With just two people up there, there is a tremendous kind of interpersonal nakedness, which at its best can lead to some very special music.  It doesn’t have the complexity, in some ways, of a trio, but in some ways it has more freedom in that there is maybe more opportunity to take the form in different directions from moment to moment, because there could be a greater possibility that two people will be in synch than three.  And particularly with bass and piano, with no drums, there is a lot of opportunity for a certain kind of subtlety and nuance to be heard that might otherwise be covered sometimes, at least, by drums, no matter how sensitive a drummer might be, and very subtle shifts in timbre can be heard and perceived.  So I think of the duo situation more like a kind of group chamber music of a sort. And it’s a very exciting form, and I’ve enjoyed that.  I’ve done a lot of duo playing over the last 15 years with David Friesen; we’ve recorded a number of albums together, and that’s been a very special experience.

In the trio it gets more complicated.  I think we still have the opportunity and obligation to attempt the merger with the audience, but now we’ve got three people…if things are going extremely well, three people who could somehow have a kind of merger experience where we all feel that the music is just emanating from the stage, but it’s hard to even know for sure who is playing what.  I think when my own personal creative forces are at their height, I have this feeling of merger.  I think it’s also true when I’m doing my best work as a psychiatrist.

TP:    That you have a sense of merger with the patient.

ZEITLIN:  Yes, with the patient and with the material, a sense of really inhabiting the world that they are talking about.  I am hoping to achieve some measure of that in the musical setting as well.

TP:    Hopefully what a writer would wish to achieve with his subject.  Empathy.

ZEITLIN:  It’s empathy and also the flow experience, that Mihalyihas Csikszent has written about.  He’s written about a dozen books, starting in 1976, about the flow experience.  What’s the essential fun in Fun, and what is it that particularly will call people to do activities that don’t seem to have tremendous external rewards.  He over a period of time delineated the characteristics of the flow experience, which are things like utter concentration without being aware that one is particularly concentrating, an altered sense of time, a sense of tremendous internal rightness about what’s going on, a process orientation rather than a content orientation, the merger experience with the activity and often ecstatic feelings about it.  Those are parts of the flow experience, maybe not an exhaustive list of the components of it.

TP:    Had you ever worked with this particular configuration before?

ZEITLIN:  This was a first time experience.  One rehearsal the day before.

TP:    You sound like to me like you’d been playing together for ten years.

ZEITLIN:  I thought there was a special rapport that immediately generated with these guys.  I had loved their music for years.  I first heard Al with Miles years ago, and I heard Buster even earlier when he was with Herbie, and I had always hoped that someday I might get a chance to do a project with them.  In fact, Todd asked me to do a little personal liner for the album, and I mention that.  I’ll send you those few paragraphs.  I go into it, that I’d always hoped to do a project with them.  So when this came along, when Todd called me about doing this trio album, I thought immediately of them, and I was delighted that they were available and it turned out that they were both familiar with my music and had liked it, so that we approached it all of us having a good vibe about what we’d heard earlier in each other’s music, and I think considerable excitement about what we might do together.  Sometimes studio sessions can sound fairly mundane or just workmanlike, or people get together and the music is good and whatever.  But I felt there was some special chemistry here.

TP:    You’ve done a lot of live recordings.

ZEITLIN:  Yes, and I generally prefer the live setting for a recording, because I think it helps get people into that flow experience, that the presence and challenge of an audience can pull more for that sort of merger experience and a higher level of excitement.  So a studio poses a challenge of can you tap into this somehow.  I thought all the ingredients were present in this setting.  This was Clinton Studio A.  I’d never played there before.  I thought the room had great feel.  It was one of the best Steinway Grands I’d ever performed on.  It was impeccably maintained.  It was as if I had sat down at the piano and played a few notes, and the piano said to me, “We can do anything you want.”  Sometimes one gets a personal sense of connection to an instrument.  It’s interesting that almost everyone else carries their instrument with them wherever they go, so they develop I’m sure a much more intense personal attachment and connection to the actual instrument.  I am at the mercy of what’s at every venue.  So there’s always some anxiety, despite reassurances, as to what I am going to run into, whether it’s a performance or a recording.  This just happened to be an almost miraculous Steinway, one of the top 3 or 4 pianos I’ve ever played in my life.  The studio had a whole cupboard full of almost antique treasures, of tube and Neumann microphones, which are just gorgeous.  They gave that wonderful warm sound to the piano.  It’s I think a really extraordinarily excellent piano-sonic recording.  And the way it was set up, the earphone mixes were excellent, so I could hear everybody.  And Todd is a wonderful guy to work with.  He was sensitive, he was helpful, but totally non-intrusive.

TP:    Here’s the way I want to approach the note.  It’s a program that refers to a very wide span of material, and it’s consistent with… I’m afraid I really don’t know your ’60s music or the electronic things you did in the ’70s, but it seems that in the last 15-20 years a lot of your performance has been about including the dynamics of your whole range of experience.

ZEITLIN:  Yes, I think that’s very true.

TP:    I would like to take you back a little bit into your influences in conceptualizing the sound of a piano trio.  I’d like you to talk about each of the tunes and the associations those tunes had for you, and a bit formally about how you approached those tunes.  And I would like to go into a little biographical detail about your formative years, which I haven’t read in any of these notes.  So let’s go back to the boilerplate things, and take it into something specific and informative about how it inflects on this record.  You started playing at an incredibly early age.

ZEITLIN:  I started when I was maybe 2 or 3 years old.  I do have memories of sitting on the lap of whichever parent was playing the piano, and putting my little hands on their hands and going along for the ride kinesthetically before I could even play a note.  I had a sense of what it was like to traverse a keyboard.  Then I started just picking out little melodies and improvising, and I think very wisely, my parents held off formal instruction, so that I think I was 7 or 8 before I really had a hunger to start studying music and learning how to read notes.  I was composing and improvising for some years by then.  They sensed that I just needed space and time to explore that.  It was I think a very important decision on their part.  My mother turned out to be my first music teacher.  She was a fairly decent classical pianist and also a speech pathologist, so she brought both medicine and music from her side.  And my father had a very good ear, couldn’t read a note but could play the piano by ear, and he was a radiologist.  So bilaterally I had both fields from day one, and always an atmosphere in the home that seemed to say that people can follow their muse, and it doesn’t have to be either-or.  I think from very early on I had a sense I was going to be involved in some way in the two fields.

TP:    Your first influences were classical, obviously.  When did you start to become aware of jazz?  And more specifically, when did you start to become aware of the notion that there were improvisers who articulated specific voices.  Improvisational personalities.  Let’s say the difference between Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk and George Shearing, presuming those are people who are part of your matrix.

ZEITLIN:  I think it was really in eighth grade that I started to listen to jazz and really notice jazz.  Certainly I had heard the music.  But prior to that I was studying Classical music, always drawn much more to 20th Century music and the Impressionist.  It’s as though I took a leap from Bach, whom I always loved, all the way to the Impressionists and beyond.  I always had a hunger for unusual sounds and combinations and dissonance, and tremendous excitedly by composers like Prokofiev and Bartok and Stravinsky and Berg.  I loved the Impressionists, particularly Ravel.  This music just really always touched my soul.

In eighth grade I remember my music teacher brought a little 10″ MGM LP to a music lesson one night, and the title of the album was You’re Hearing George Shearing.  I remember hearing that; the first piece I ever heard him play was “Summertime,” and I remember being just absolutely knocked out, that wow, here was this guy who obviously had a Classical background and technique to burn, and what was this music he was playing?  The rhythmic drive on that album with other instruments… Boy, I just wanted to learn about this genre.  So she began bringing other albums over, listening to Art Tatum, and then I was in…

TP:    You had a hip piano teacher.

ZEITLIN:  Oh, she was great.  She couldn’t play jazz, but she was absolutely wide-open to anything I wanted to do.  It was a great-great blessing.  When I got into my high school, in my freshman year there were a number of other fledgling jazz musicians, and I formed a trio with drums and guitar… I still remember.  We called ourselves the Cool-Tones!

TP:    This was around 1952 or so.

ZEITLIN:  This would be ’52.  I started listening to Bud Powell.  The first trio I ever heard live, in terms of a touring band, was the Billy Taylor Trio, and I remember being tremendously excited by what he was doing and touched by his music.  I felt he had consummate taste and such a beautiful touch.  I was particularly drawn to the beauty of his ballad playing, and I loved everything he did.  Bud Powell’s power and angularity and originality spoke to me.  Lennie Tristano’s harmonic conception and the subtleties of what he would do rhythmically with the line of a solo.  I really was drawn to that.  I liked Dave Brubeck a lot.  I thought he had his own thing, and really followed it with tremendous conviction.  I continued to listen to George Shearing.  Certainly Thelonious Monk I liked a lot.  Those were the very early pianistic influences.

TP:    So you were very much in tune with your zeitgeist of your time, in many ways.  This is what the cutting edge was in 1955-6-7.  And you grew up in the north suburbs?

ZEITLIN:  Yes, I grew up in Highland Park.

TP:    And when did you start partaking of music as beyond your immediate milieu.  You mentioned it briefly before, that at a certain point you started going into Chicago quite a bit, and specifically the South Side scene.

ZEITLIN:  I started going into the city to hear music when I was a freshman in high school, because I was tall and in a dark room I could pass.  But I didn’t actually start sitting in until I was a senior in high school or something like that.

TP:    So there’s the Beehive, the 63rd Street strip…

ZEITLIN:  Yes, the Stage Lounge I remember.  Then there were places like Mr. Kelly’s, the French Poodle…

TP:    How much hanging out did you do?  You did get into medical school eventually!

ZEITLIN:  I did, I did.  But in my spare time, I would just carve it out.  I was immersed in this music, listening to it, rehearsing, going to jam sessions, listening to great musicians.  And there was fortunately a tremendous amount of resident greatness in the Chicago area, as well as people who would come through, traveling headliners that I would get to see.  It was marvelous…

TP:    Were you paying attention to Ahmad Jamal during this time?

ZEITLIN:  Yes, I liked Ahmad very much.  I wouldn’t say he was as much of an early influence as these other people I mentioned.

TP:    There are a lot of orchestrative things you do within the dynamics of this record… Well, I guess his impact was so pervasive on the sound of contemporary piano trios…

ZEITLIN:  It’s sometimes hard to… You get immersed in a form, and you listen to dozens and dozens of players, and you get… To some degree, we’re influenced by everything we hear.  What you hope is that you integrate it in a way and that you have something personal to offer, that you develop a personal voice.

I had a chance fairly early on to play with some really fine players, like Bobby Cranshaw, the bassist, and Wilbur Ware, Walter Perkins, a great drummer, Ira Sullivan, a marvelous trumpeter and tenor player, Nicky Hill, Johnny Griffin.  Really excellent players.  So all through college I would come up, frequently on weekends, and go to jam sessions and play with these guys, play gigs… Also, there were very good players at the University of Illinois, where I was an undergrad.  Joe Farrell, whose real name was Firantello, was there, and we used to play together a lot.  Jack McDuff was living down there at the time, playing bass as well as organ, and Roger Kellaway was around.  He also played very good bass, as well as piano.  I feel everywhere I’ve gone since high school I’ve been fortunate to find excellent musical opportunities to keep the juices flowing while I was studying either premed or medicine.

The same thing happened when I went to Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1960.  Gary Bartz’s father had a jazz club called the North End Lounge in Baltimore.  I used to go sit in with Gary and some other great cats who… I remember a couple of times Grachan Moncur was down there, and Billy Hart was a resident drummer.  I had a carte blanche invitation, whenever I could sneak away from medical school, to come and sit in.  It was just great fun.

Then in 1963, I stumbled really into recording.  I’d had some inquiries and nibbles early on, and really had some resistance to the whole idea of making a record.  I’d heard so many stories from musicians about how record companies ripped them off, subverted their musical identities, etcetera, etc.  And I figured, “Look, I’m going to be a doctor; I love this music; I can keep it pure; I’ll just play; I don’t really care about particularly a public career.”  Then I was in New York on a fellowship at Columbia in 1963, and Paul Winter, who had been at Northwestern for a number of years and had heard me play and had always liked my playing, he had been recording for Columbia for a year or so, and he dragged me literally kicking and screaming to meet his producer, John Hammond.  I played a few tunes for John solo piano, and he just loved what I was doing, and startled me by saying, “Hey, I’d love for you to record; you can record whatever you want, you can use whomever you want” — carte blanche.

TP:    Was what you played within the tradition or in the framework of stretching out?

ZEITLIN:  Both.  John was a marvelous guy with tremendously broad tastes, and he was as good as his word.  He wanted me to get my feet wet with recording by being the featured pianist with Jeremy Steig on Jeremy’s first outing for the label, which was in 1963.  That was a lot of fun.  I remember that session as being a ball.  Ben Riley was on drums and Ben Tucker was on bass.  I thought the chemistry was great among the four of us.  Then what followed were four trio projects for Columbia over the next handful of years.  Out here in California I was able to hook up with Charlie Haden and Jerry Granelli, and we were a working trio for 2-1/2 years and did an album and a half together.  Then I played with some other cats in a trio, and we recorded most of the last album I did for Columbia, which was called Zeitgeist, actually my favorite of the whole series.  That came out in 1967.

By that time, I’d been listening to quite a bit of Rock-and-Roll and some of the avant-garde electronic music, and I was interested in a lot of what was happening in modern Classical music, and I was getting restless with what felt like the limitations of the acoustic piano sound.  I wanted to be able to bend notes, I wanted to be able to sustain notes like horns and guitar players could.  So I really withdrew from public performance for over a year or so, and tried to do some R&D as to what was available, and I hired engineers to build me sound modules…

TP:    Boy, were you in the right spot in 1968.

ZEITLIN:  Well, a lot was starting.  But this was before you could walk to your corner grocery and come back with a Moog synthesizer under your arm.  This was the era where you take wires and you patch together a sound, and it probably takes you five minutes to do the whole cascade, and then you get one note.  You don’t get two notes.

TP:    It’s fascinating because you’re in on it from the beginning.  It’s as though someone presents something to you, you work with it, then they present something else, you can work with that, and it’s all fresh and new and un-cliched.

ZEITLIN:  I’ve always been drawn to new ways of trying to express myself.  I am attracted to the idea of stretching.  I have never been an either-or type of person.  I’ve always been a both-and type of person.  I think you were quite correct when you talked about the breadth of what I try to do.  For me, there’s no reason why there have to be artificial boundaries between Classical music, Rock, Funk, Jazz, Folk music, Electronic music.  There’s no reason why one has to, in some a priori way, say that some are off-base for others.  There is material in all of those forms that called to me.  Why not try to have a musical palette to paint with that can use all those colors?  That’s what I’m drawn to.  So I was just excited at the prospect of what I could do with electronics.  So I got people to build the various things for me, and sound-altering devices and foot switches and pedals.  A lot of it was totally customized at that point.  Gradually I developed what looked like a 747 cockpit of six or seven keyboard instruments, along with the acoustic piano and miles of cords and banks of flip switches that were more complicated than a B-3 pedal box.  It would take 6 hours to tear this down from my studio at home, take it to a local gig and set it up, play the gig, and then another 6 hours to undo it.  And for several years I did this.  There was a ten-year period, from ’68 to ’78, when I really was involved in this electronic-acoustic integration of all of these forms.  I found musicians who were willing to go on that exploration with me.  People I played with predominantly during that period were George Marsh on drums and Mel Graves on bass.  That’s when I did Szyzgy and the album Expansion, which was the first album of this kind of music.  When I wanted to make a record of it and queried some record labels at the time, I got a lot of responses back saying, “Gee, Denny, honestly we love this music, but we don’t know how in the world we would market it.  We wouldn’t know what conduit to put it through marketing-wise.”  So I ended up starting my own label, called Double-Helix records, to even put this out, and I sold out the first pressing.  Then there was a local, very avant-garde label called 1750 Arch Records which expressed an interest in taking it over, and I was delighted.  Because being an administrator and packing up LPs is not my idea of a good time.  So they took over Expansion, and then I did Szyzgy for them and also a solo piano album of totally free improvisations called Soundings which was released in ’78.

’78 really marked a turning point for me again.  I had an opportunity, again just by luck, to score a major motion picture film…

TP:    The remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

ZEITLIN:  That’s right.  Philip Kaufman was a Chicago guy, and he had heard me play and had it in his head that some day he wanted me to do a jazz score for him.  So he called me in in ’78, I guess, or maybe it was late ’77, when he was in the process of getting ready to shoot this film, and asked me whether I would be interested in doing it.  It sounded great to me.  I love science fiction, and I’d always hoped some day I would get a chance to score a major film but figured it was really unlikely.  Because to get that, typically, you live in L.A., you pound on doors for ten years, then you’re given maybe a dozen first projects where the budget is for a kazoo and a harmonica, and maybe if you’re lucky and play enough political games, about five years later you’ll get to score a major film.  So all of a sudden this back door seemed to be opening, and I was very excited about it.  But then it looked like it wouldn’t happen, because Philip’s idea about the film shifted, and it looked like he was going to need an 20th century avant-garde symphonic score.  I had no established credentials for this.  So I had to convince him and his producer that I could do it, and I sold them on it.  And it took some selling.  It was one of the more exciting and challenging experiences I’ve ever had, to be able to write for a symphony orchestra, plus do all of this electronic stuff.  I had the prototype of the Prophet-10 voice synthesizer.  It hadn’t even been released for sale, I believe, at that point.  I remember it wouldn’t even stay in tune for more than about 10 or 15 minutes.  I had to turn it off, let it cool off, and then reboot it.  But for studio work I could use it.  And it had some marvelous capabilities.  I did small group stuff.  I had Eddie Henderson come in, and Mel Martin recorded some things with me.  So I had a chance to do virtually everything I loved to do, plus this whole new experience of writing for a symphony orchestra, and going down to L.A. and having this orchestra play, taking the 24-track tapes back to San Francisco and overdubbing on that, and going back to L.A.  It was an exhausting 10-week project.

TP:    At this point you’re 40 years old and you’re always a practicing psychiatrist.

ZEITLIN:  Yeah.  I started my psychiatric practice in 1968, after finishing a three-year residency at the Langley-Porter Psychiatric Institute, which is part of the U.C. Medical Center in San Francisco.  I’ve been on the clinical faculty since ’68, teaching residents how to do various kinds of psychotherapy, and had a private practice.  So at this point, in ’78, I’m ten years out into practice, still teaching at the university, and having this marvelous opportunity to score this film.

TP:    Are you one of these people who needs 5 hours of sleep?

ZEITLIN:  Actually, if I can get 8, I’m delighted to get 8.  But I can get along, at least in short bursts, on less.  This was a particularly challenging period.  I remember I cut back on my practice 50% for five weeks, had a lot of advance planning so nobody got into any trouble, and I had coverage and everything.  But I do remember after this project was over, it had been very exciting, but so arduous.  I was working 18-19 hour days.  My wife would come down and literally peel me off the piano stool and deposit me in the hot tub to stretch out, put me to bed for a few hours, and I’d get up and do the thing again.  As exciting as it was, after all that, and then having to deal with the politics of Hollywood, which almost involved me having to sue the studio in order to get paid my money, I said to myself, “I’ve had my one experience, I’m very lucky, I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.”  I had some other offers, and I just shined them on.  I never wanted to do it again.

I was very grateful for the opportunity and very pleased that I was able to have a soundtrack album from it, but it did represent a turning point to me in that I wanted to get back to the purity of acoustic music, and I really haven’t done any major projects with electronics since.  I’ve just been focusing on the acoustic piano and acoustic situations.  What I found, to my pleasant surprise, was that all the years of playing other keyboards and dealing with electronic instruments and synthesizers had opened my ears in some way that I was able to get a lot more nuance out of the acoustic piano than ever before.  So that was an unexpected dividend.  A lot of people have had just the opposite experience, that playing multiple keyboards with different degrees of heaviness of touch, messes up their acoustic piano playing.  But I didn’t have this experience.  So since 1978, I’ve been focusing primarily on solo, duo and trio playing, with an occasional quartet of acoustic music basically.

TP:    It sounds that at a certain point you got very much into John Coltrane’s harmonic system circa 1959-60-61, and you also deal quite a bit with Ornette Coleman’s music.  Could you talk about the impact of that hypermodernism, if we can call it that, on you at the point when it was coming out?  Non-pianistic influences obviously.

ZEITLIN:  That’s a good question, because very rapidly, the major influences for me became non-pianistic.  I think most players start off with their major influences being on their own instrument, but they may then branch out.  Not inevitably, but I think it’s a natural tendency to broaden one’s horizons.  For me it really ended up that the major influences, if I had to look back, were non-pianistic influences.  Miles, Trane, Ornette, George Russell.  Those would be absolutely tops on my list.

Miles’ incredible sense of pulse and melodic elegance, never a wasted note, never a cliche, always pushing the edge.  I was tremendously drawn to him.

Coltrane, it was like being shot out of a cannon, listening to him.  He was totally ripping the fabric of jazz apart.  Sometimes I’d listen to him and feel like I was watching a terrier shake a rat.  It was incredibly exciting music.  It was like being at the center of a cyclone, listening to Trane in his exploratory earlier period, his harmonic period when he was developing what some people have called a kind of vertical chromaticism.  I was tremendously drawn to that.

George Russell’s writing and ways of thinking about music were tremendously important to me.  I never formally studied the Lydian chromatic concept of tonal organization.  But in 1963, when I was a resident at Columbia University for this fellowship (that’s when I met John Hammond), I also hung out with George, studied with him, and it was more a kind of mentorship.  We would hang out, talk about music, play with each other.  He was tremendously encouraging to me, and I think I could make a remark…

I think it’s often notable when people talk about their careers, that there are nodal points where the encouragement of a valued mentor or authority is extraordinarily helpful.  I remember three points in my career where this happened.  The first was Billy Taylor.  He came out to the house with his trio when I was probably a sophomore or freshman in high school, invited by my parents.  We had dinner, and my little fledgling trio played for them. [END OF SIDE] …[he said] there was no reason why I couldn’t do both of them, and talking about the hard life of a full-time working jazz musician.  So his encouragement was priceless.

Then I remember George’s encouragement in 1963, before I even began to record.  Then after I made my first trio album for Columbia, called Cathexis, I had read a Blindfold Test that Bill Evans had done for Downbeat where they played a track from Flute Fever, the first album I did with Jeremy Steig, and he was very complimentary about my playing.  So I figured, well, I’ll give Bill a call and I’ll see if he’s willing to listen to this record and give me a critique and see if he has any suggestions.  I went over and met him for the first time, found him utterly gracious, a gentle man, totally noncompetitive.  He was very secure in his music and didn’t have any trouble being generous to somebody else.  Basically what he told me was, “Look, I don’t have any suggestions other than just keep doing your thing — follow your music.”  That was extraordinarily helpful and encouraging to me at that point, too.

I think of those three guys at those points in my life as being very important moments.

TP:    Finally, the impact Ornette Coleman had on you at the time.

ZEITLIN:  When I first heard Ornette, I just loved that music.  I was in college at the time.  I think the first thing of his I heard was The Shape of Jazz To Come, and I just thought that was marvelous stuff.  I’d always enjoyed since I was 2 or 3 years old free improvisation!  So here were guys doing it in jazz and making a whole form, a whole life out of it.  I thought it was terrific. TP:    Is there anything within what I was talking about that you felt I neglected?

ZEITLIN:  I think we covered a lot of ground.  Just thinking in terms of all the parameters of what would be useful selfishly to me in a liner note, I would hope, though it’s always nice for an artist to imagine that everybody who will buy the album knows who he is, there hopefully will be some people who may hear me for the first time on the air, and say, “Gee, I’d like pick up that CD” and they get it… So if you would be willing to establish some of my credentials in context of the liner notes, the stuff that’s highlighted in the third paragraph of the bio.

TP:    Last night I did a search on you, and two things popped out.  One thing was a blindfold test that Leonard Feather did with Thelonious Monk.  Monk wasn’t listening to anything anyone was playing unless it was an interpretation of Monk, and at the end of the Blindfold Test he played him “Carole’s Garden.”  This was after Monk had pointedly gone to the toilet while Leonard Feather played an Oscar Peterson trio thing.  Monk was listening and said, “Yeah, that piano player knows what’s happening!  He’s a player!  He’s on a Bobby Timmons kick, and that can’t be bad.”  Then I noticed a Marion McPartland interview where she said your technique in playing was so fantastic when you duetted that she felt like a tidal wave was washing over her.  She’s a very gracious person, but not prone to compliments such as that.

How much time do you have now and how much need do you have now to practice?  Is technique something that’s innate in you from having played the piano for so long?  Do you have to practice a great deal to keep up your technique?  If so, how do you find the time to do that?

ZEITLIN:  I do try to get to the piano every day, not so much out of a sense of duty to the instrument, but I am just called to it.  I want to get my hands on the keyboard and I want to get into music.  Because I have played for so long, I have a certain technical base that endures even during periods where I’m not able to play as much as I would like.  I’ve never been drawn to the playing of technical exercises.  I think the way I build whatever technique I had initially was from always pushing myself to play classical pieces that were somewhat beyond my current technical capability, and the act of trying to get those pieces together helped me garner new technical skills.  Now when I go to play, usually I’m just going to improvise, or with an ear towards possible composition.  Very often when I play I just have a tape recorder rolling in case something comes up that I’ll want to refer to later.  I want to be free from the tyranny of having to remember everything I play in case I want to notate it later, and so the tape recorder takes care of that and I can let the music flow as best I can and just sort of get out of the way.  Doing that certainly keeps my fingers lubricated, and it really nourishes my soul just to be with music.  Every time I sit down at the keyboard I remind myself of how profoundly grateful I am to be able to play.  And I think that kind of attitude has also helped me at moments where I am in danger of being derailed by intrusive thoughts of some kind.  Let’s say getting ready to play a concert, and I’m on the road and begin to think about, “Gee, did I really make that plane reservation” or “Did I pack such-and-such?” or “What about my passport?”  I start getting bothered by this things.  I just gentle myself out of that by reminding myself of, in fact, how grateful I am to be able to play.  So it becomes kind of an internal mantra that I will invoke at times when I could be distracted.  This could even happen at a millisecond of playing, in the moment of improvisation.

I think it’s a challenge all improvisers face, is how do you stay in the zone?  It’s certainly a challenge that athletes face and write about.  I’ve played tennis for many years and follow the sport, so a lot of my observations of the parallels of sports and improvisation came from playing tennis and watching tennis and listening to tennis players in interviews talk about their game.  The challenge of staying in that flow experience, or, as Arthur Ashe put it, “being in the zone,” is a tremendous one.  And how do you wipe away your memory of the stupid shot you just dumped into the net at an important point in the match?  How do you make this next point absolutely new?  The same thing is in the line of improvisation.  If I stumble for a moment, if I find myself playing an alternate idea rather than what I was reaching for, am I going to get involved in some self-castigation or a burst of embarrassment, or will I allow myself simply to let it go and be in the moment for this next millisecond of play?  I have found at times just that gentle reminder of the gratitude of being with music has a tremendously therapeutic effect for me.  And I have found actually in my work with patients who are involved in the creative arts, particularly creative performance arts, that talking with them about that has been extremely helpful for the.  In my role as a psychiatrist, using that concept has turned out to be extremely helpful for them, because they end up actually thinking about that and using that, and it centers them in their work.

TP:    Tell me a bit about your practice.  You mentioned that a couple was cancelling… Do you do many different areas of therapy?

ZEITLIN:  Yes, I do.  I can tell you a little bit about what I don’t do.  I don’t do hospital psychiatry.  I don’t actively engage in psychological or psychiatric research.  I don’t have time for that, so I am engaged in a research group for the last 25 years that studies psychotherapy research.  I don’t work with very young children, and I don’t do any administrative psychiatry.  Long ago, I realized that if I wanted to be involved in a really organic, passionate way in two fields, I had to be realistic with myself about what aspects of those two careers I could involve myself in with the necessary dedication and intensity to get back and to be able to give what I wanted.  So I pared away these areas I just mentioned in psychiatry, and decided what I wanted to focus on was doing psychotherapy and teaching psychotherapy — that that’s where my heart really lies in the psychiatry field.  So what I do is focus on intensive outpatient psychotherapy, and work with individuals, couples, and people in groups.  On occasion in past years, I’ve worked with whole families, but I don’t do that any more.  I tend to work with people for more than a year at a time, some people for many years, if they’re really involved in in-depth explorations of their lives.  And I find it endlessly fascinating.  If I had been a surgeon, I can’t imagine what it would be like to do my three-thousandth appendectomy and to infuse it with new excitement.  But as much as it’s true that there are common themes that endlessly repeat in the human life cycle that one hears as you do this work, every person’s experience and presentation of this is unique, so that it really never gets old.  So every opportunity to sit down with a patient in my office again is a parallel opportunity for me to be grateful for the trust that this person is placing in me, grateful for the opportunity to try to understand another human being and to be helpful.

TP:    So it’s not so dissimilar from improvising.  There’s a set of forms that repeat in certain ways, but the context is infinitely different, as is the context and vibration… Not to stretch the theme too far.

ZEITLIN:  Well, I think that there are tremendous parallels.  We were talking yesterday about this merger experience and empathy, and that that and the whole idea of communication is a tremendous parallel between the two fields.  The idea of improvisation holds.  The main difference is that in my psychiatric office, I am the accompanist.  I am trying to help the patient solo in the best possible way they can, to tell their story.  At times it requires a little added embellishment, the addition of a semicolon or a couple of hyphens or placement of a period or a clarification or a sidebar.  That’s my function, is to help them feel that it’s as safe as possible to go into areas of their life that they might not otherwise be able to investigate.  When I’m accompanying another soloist on the bandstand, the role is really quite parallel.  The biggest difference is that there are times when I am soloing for long periods of time on a stage, and I’m not doing that in my office with patients.

TP:    Let’s run down the tunes one to ten.

ZEITLIN:  All right.  I haven’t given this any advance thought; this is right off the top of my head.

TP:    The title track would seem to be emblematic of your philosophy that music is a blessing.

ZEITLIN:  Yes, I thought it was an awfully nice tune to use for the title.  The first time I ever heard that tune was from George Shearing very early in my experience of beginning to learn how to play jazz.  I don’t remember what album it was that he played it with his quintet, but it was one of his early MGM albums.  I always loved the piece.  I’d never played it, except for a duo recording with Charlie haden for ECM in the early ’80s.  It was a piece that Charlie always loved, and we approached it as a vehicle for him to solo on. Then when I was getting material ready for this date, I said, gee, it really would be nice to revisit this piece in a trio context and really play on it.  It’s interesting, as many tunes as Buster Williams has played over the years (you can imagine, there’s virtually nothing he’s not heard), for some reason he had never heard this piece.  He was very intrigued getting into it, and then of course he played his ass off on it.

We had agreed there would be a little vamp at the end of this piece on a particular chord that we would use to just ride out the piece.  I remember this was just a first take, and we did it, and we got into I think this delicious end vamp where there’s all kinds of time being played simultaneously, and just being overlaid and going in and out of phase with each other, and I found it so delicious to play on.  When it was over, we looked at each other and said, “Well, we sure don’t need to play another take on this one.”

TP:    Was most of this record like that?

ZEITLIN:  Yes, that was very much the flavor of the project.

TP:    “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” has been done by numerous people, but what’s your association?

ZEITLIN:  Actually the pull to do that piece was really suggested a few months earlier, when I was asked to participate in a Gershwin concert celebration.  I sat down and thought about, well, if I’m going to do some Gershwin pieces, what would I really like to do.  So I began to approach that tune and “The Man I Love” at that point.  I always like, when I approach a standard, to accept it as a challenge to be faithful to the original spirit of the piece, but to allow myself to approach it in a way that might breathe some fresh life into it.  That often involves not only reshaping it a little bit structurally, but most often reharmonizing it.  I have felt often when musicians approach reharmonization, they can get seduced by possibilities, and at its worst it becomes an exercise in how clever the musician can be.  And often, the tune gets lost, or it becomes so cluttered with reharmonized material that it becomes almost a logjam of material.  So for myself, I try to keep those pitfalls in mind, but allow myself to just see where the tune might go in a new way.

In the case of this tune, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” I didn’t do an awful lot of reharmonization, and actually there’s relatively little.  What I did is really, in terms of the arrangement, move us through a lot of different approaches to the material.  We state the head, then I play some solo piano on it and allowed myself to cast a nod in Art Tatum’s direction, then at the end of the solo piano which involves a little bit of stride influenced material, to bring Al in for a piano-drum duet, which I’ve always loved to do with drummers, and which he got into just beautifully.  Then we bring in the whole trio.  When the bass comes in, another level of excitement is added, then we’re burning on the tune for a while, and Buster takes a great solo.  The arrangement has a kind of arch form, because as the more double-time part ends, we move back into the original approach of the head of the tune from the beginning.  So in a way, it does form a lot of arch.

TP:    I think I was thinking of that particular performance when I asked you about your experience with Ahmad Jamal’s music.

ZEITLIN:  I don’t really count Ahmad as one of my influences.

TP:    And I’m not going to try to make him one!

ZEITLIN:  But I would certainly underline the comment I made yesterday.  I’ve heard so many people, and I’ve tried to be as porous as I can, and take stuff in.  It’s one of the things I worry about when I write a new composition.  After I write it and start playing it, and it becomes familiar to me, then I start to say, “Unh-oh, where might I have inadvertently taken this from?”  I’ve talked to a lot of jazz composers who go through pangs of that and say, “Unh-oh!”  In a sense, nothing is totally original.  How could it be?  But you hope that you’ve had enough of an aesthetic filter and enough of your own voice has developed over the years that it really emerges as your own.

TP:    In your professional experience, you haven’t done very much playing for singers, have you?

ZEITLIN:  No, not an awful lot.  I don’t think I’ve ever recorded an album with a singer.  I did one album with a singer that hasn’t been released, a wonderful singer named Susie Stern who wrote the lyrics to “Quiet Now,” which is probably my most well-known composition, courtesy of Bill Evans, who just kept recording it and recording it!  It was so flattering that he never seemed to get tired of it.  He kept it in his repertoire for about 25 years.  So Susie finally wrote a lyric that I could accept for that tune, and I did an album with her where she sings, and it’s just beautiful.

TP:    I ask the question because so many pianists paid the rent by accompanying singers for long periods.  But you always seem to have had a trio thing going on for yourself and sustained it.

ZEITLIN:  Yes.  If I had been a full-time musician having to put bread on the table with it, I might have had to do a number of projects like that.  Maybe some of them I might not have liked.  But that is one of the privileges I’ve experienced because of having two careers, is that I’ve really never had to do anything musical that didn’t really call to me.  I’ve been very lucky that way.

TP:    You’ve been blessed in that way, too.  Another point in addressing the American Songbook.  Are you a lyrics man?  Are you thinking of lyrics, internalizing them, or is it more the abstract sound of the song?

ZEITLIN:  It’s more of the latter.  I’ve read a number of musicians who feel it’s somehow crucial to know the lyric, and almost “How could not and play the tune?”  But in fact, most of these tunes are written music first, lyrics second, and my allegiance is to the composer, really, not the lyricist, although certainly the lyrics of some tunes end up embedded in my psyche, and I do find myself hearing fragments of them.  Certainly I hear a lot of Sinatra in my head when I hear any of these tunes that he’s recorded because I’m so totally taken with him.

TP:    You’re a Sinatra man.

ZEITLIN:  I am a Sinatra man in terms of male vocalists.  I would say my favorite female vocalists over the years have been Sarah Vaughan, Jackie Cain and Elis Regina.  Those names pop into my head.  Probably an unusual trio of names to list together.

TP:    Billy Taylor said the same thing vis-a-vis lyrics.  Now let’s discuss “For Heaven’s Sake.”

ZEITLIN:  That’s a tune that I first heard Billie Holiday do, and I have to list her with those other three.  Of course, she’s in the top echelon for me.  That was my first experience with the piece.  I couldn’t right now tell you the lyric to that piece, but that’s where I first heard it.  That’s another tune that I reharmonized a bit, and I love to play it.  I’ve been playing it for years, played it as a solo, in duo situations, and in trios, but I don’t think I ever had a chance to record it before.  There were a number of occasions when it was on the roster of possibilities but somehow it didn’t get done.  So I was happy to get this take done with Buster and Al, and it had just the feeling I wanted.  The tenderness and yearning that’s somehow inherent in that melody and in the structure really comes through.

TP:    “There and Back” is your first of two compositions here.  It seems your two most famous compositions were recorded by the time you were 26 or 27, which would be “Quiet Now” and “Carole’s Garden.”  Is composition intertwined with the notion of improvising for you?  You mentioned that you composed some tunes back when you had the Cool Tones as a kid.

ZEITLIN:  Yes, I was composing literally at age 2 or 3.  It’s always been a part of my music, and I’ve always seen improvisation as spontaneous composition.  My hope, as part of my own personal aesthetic when I play, is that when I’m improvising there is a sense of a journey, that there is something organic about how it develops.  Ideally there would be almost a retrospective feeling of inevitability about how it had proceeded.  I don’t claim to reach that all the time, but that’s what I’m aiming at, I think, that it isn’t just a hodge-podge of possibilities or just a pastiche of colors or novelty for its own sake, but that there is something organic and a feeling of intentionality about it.

TP:    Is composing a systematic process for you, or is it more of the moment?

ZEITLIN:  Of the moment.  What happens usually is a few fragments or motifs will develop, and I’ll start working with them, and they’ll start building like crystals build in a solution.  There are rare occasions when something has just burst forth totally complete in some Mozartian fashion, but that’s rare for me.  I remember one tune that happened like that called “One Time Once,” which wrote itself as I was walking to a surgery lecture in medical school.  And there was a tune called “Brazilian Street Dance” which appeared all at once when I was working on a project for Paul Winter’s label, Living Music.  But what happens generally is that a section of a piece appears, or even a thematic idea that is like the beginning of crystallization or a seed from which a composition grows.

There’s basically two sections to “There and Now.”  The way we approach it once we’re improvising on it is that the A-section has more of a feeling of walking jazz time or more that kind of approach to it; the B-section has various kinds of funk or eighth-note/double-note feel on it.  I like the movement back and forth between those two feelings.  Harmonically the way it’s organized just happens to be a roadmap that appeals to me.  In many ways, I think of when I’m setting up pieces to be played by a group… I’m sort of setting up a roadmap that we can loosely follow to get from one destination to the other.  But there’s all kinds of possibilities for alternate routes, and I hope that they will be taken and I hope that I’ve set up some interesting roadblocks and detour signs along the way that will be challenging to myself and to my fellow musicians who are approaching the piece.  This piece has a number of opportunities like that, which I think brought out some interesting music.

TP:    I’m not familiar with “I’m All Smiles.”  Who wrote it?

ZEITLIN:  A guy named Leonard.  I think it was from a show.  I think the first time I seriously listened to that piece was on Barbra Streisand’s People album years ago for Columbia, which is my favorite album she’s ever done.  It had some fabulous arranging by Peter Mats(?).  It’s Streisand at her best.  It’s most free of the over-emotionality and stuff that she can fall prey to.  The purity of her voice and the feeling..it’s glorious.  And she sings this piece on it, and I’ve always loved it, and again, I was thinking about, “Well, what might I do for this album?”  I realized, “Well, I’ve never actually played that piece; why not get into it?”  So I did, and reharmonized it just a bit because the piece is so beautiful it doesn’t need much help.  We just approached it as a piece we could play and improvise on.  I think it unfolds in a very relaxed way.

TP:    Your “Cousin Mary” continues a line of Coltrane interpretations from that ’59-’60-’61 period of Coltrane.  I was listening to your solos on “Lazy Bird” and of “Fifth House,” which were real virtuoso turns, and I guess this one is very virtuosic, but a restrained, playful virtuosity, dancing through it and deconstructing it.  I was impressed with the ambiance of that interpretation.  Perhaps we can reprise some of your comments yesterday about your response to Coltrane.

ZEITLIN:  Well, I remember my response to the whole Giant Steps album when it first appeared; it was a pivotal album for me.  I was going away on a fishing trip where I wasn’t going to be near much of civilization for a while, and I actually went into a little record store that was near this fishing town.  I rebought the album and made a deal with the record store owner that I could park it with him, and that probably a couple of times in the next two or three weeks, while I was on this fishing trip, I would be needing to come in and hear it.  So that album was precious to me.  I’d played “Cousin Mary” before as a duo.  What I wanted to do again is certainly be respectful to Coltrane, but allow myself to experiment with the tune and its possibilities, so I did reharmonize the head, as you can hear.  Then we really approached it as a blues that you can do anything you want with, and this is what happened on that day.  There is quite a bit of deconstructing of the harmonic structure of the blues at various points in the improvisation.  I felt that Al and Buster were totally up for it.  We took it into some I thought rather unusual spaces that were very exciting and intriguing, and I thought that the overall rhythmic drive of the piece was never lost.  I liked trading sixes with Al; it just kind of happened, and worked out, I thought, very nicely.

“Triste” is a Jobim tune, a tune I first heard Elis Regina do in an album called Elis and Tom with Jobim playing and his arrangements.  I just love that album (it’s one of my all-time favorite Brazilian albums), and I love that piece.  I wanted a bossa-nova, and I’d never played this tune nor recorded it, and so we did it.  That tune I felt required no reharmonization from me.  We play it basically just as Jobim wrote it.

“Canyon” is a minor-bluesoid construction.  It has an unusual little melody the way it’s placed.  It’s a lot of fun to play.  I thought we just got into it and went on a journey with it.

“I Fall In Love Too Easily” is a ballad I’ve loved for many years.  I can’t remember who I first heard do it; I remember hearing Miles do it in the early ’60s.  But I had only started to play it in the last decade or so, in duo or trio formats.  I don’t believe I’d ever recorded it.  This is a ballad that’s full of all kinds of feelings, and I think we really took our time with it, and it unfolds and has this kind of organic feel in terms of how the improvisation developed which I am looking and striving for.  It also happened on the ballad “For Heaven’s Sake,” that there is a real organic journey.

TP:    Finally, “The Man I Love” which is iconic Gershwin.

ZEITLIN:  Again, I tried to organize this in terms of the arrangement in ways to explore different kinds of things we could do as a trio.  I was hoping to see how deep and how broad we could go in this weekend we were going to play together.  It starts with a brief free improvisation on the piano which sets up a mood, then the melody gets stated and the trio comes in and organizes around it.  There’s a big of reharmonization in the structure of the piece, and then there is a vamp figures quite prominently in this piece that serves as I think a very exciting springboard into improvisational overlays.  I get involved in doing this, and then eventually at the end of the piece a kind of climatic session where Al starts soloing over the vamp while Buster and I state it.  Then we ride out the piece on that vamp.

TP:    Is the program in the sequence you recorded it in?

ZEITLIN:  No.  I’d say that would be an extraordinarily rare event.  You  play the pieces, you see what you’ve been able to harvest, then you figure how it would be most listenable when put together.

TP:    And this is the path you’ve followed from your beginnings, a mix of interesting standards, some originals, and some of what are called jazz standards as well.

ZEITLIN:  That’s absolutely true.  I’ve always tended on these projects to program for maximum variety, to sort of reflect what I would do in a concert.

TP:    You came up in Chicago at the same time as Andrew Hill, Herbie Hancock, [Eddie Harris], many of the people you mentioned.  I’m wondering if you see any particular Chicagoistic qualities in your approach to music.  People who came up then in Chicago talk about the ethos of Chicago musicians being individuality, that stamping your own sound and making your own statement was of paramount importance if you were going to be a respected musician in Chicago.  Apparently you were up 1960.  Your bio says you played professionally there, and the people you played with were individualists of the first order.  So the impact of Chicago on who you are as a musician.

ZEITLIN:  Not having grown up anywhere else, I can’t compare it!  As you say this, I flash back to remembering that there was a lot of value placed on somebody having their own thing.  There was a lot of respect; people would say, “Yeah, he’s got his own thing; he’s really doing something different; listen too that.”  That certainly is something I can recall.

TP:    But as far as forming your ideas, this sort of just happened.

ZEITLIN:  Yes.

TP:    As a teenager, once you started being able to drive is when you started going to clubs in Chicago?

ZEITLIN:  Yes, starting at age 15.

TP:    You’d go down Lake Shore Drive to 63rd Street and hit those clubs?

ZEITLIN:  Yes, and stay there til 4 or 5 in the morning and come home.

TP:    And go to school.

ZEITLIN:  Well, that was mostly on the weekends.

TP:    And your parents were fine with this?

ZEITLIN:  Well, they knew I was so utterly galvanized by this and that it was so deeply embedded in my psyche that it was important to just encourage and allow this to happen.  They had a tremendous amount of trust in me, that I wasn’t for example using drugs of any kind or having problems with alcohol,  and that I could be around a subculture like that without being involved in it.  And indeed, their trust was not misplaced, and I was trustworthy, and I was able to take this opportunity for this many-year informal apprenticeship in the music that was just priceless.  Because in those days there were no formal jazz schools.  This was the one had to learn it.  I spent hours and hours listening  to records and rehearsing with people in high school and with other people in Chicago, and then going and listening, and trying to get chances to sit in and get pointers from people, and collaring somebody after the gig and say, “Man, sit down with me for a minute here; how did you voice such-and-such?”  By osmosis trying to absorb as much of this art form as I could.

TP:    Did you check out Chris Anderson at all during this time?

ZEITLIN:  Yes, indeed.  That’s interesting.  Very few people even know about Chris.  But when I said I would collar somebody to show me a voicing, I was exactly thinking of a couple of experience I had with Chris where I said, “Chris, I’m not letting you go home.  You’ve got to sit down.  How did you voice this thing, man?”  He showed me some stuff.  I remember just a few remarks he made to me way-way back then that were very-very helpful.  He is an unsung hero, a wonderful musical mind, and everyone who was around in Chicago then knows of Chris and speaks of Chris.  Herbie Hancock talks of Chris, and Bobby Cranshaw remembers Chris fondly.  Chris is prototypic of the kind of musician I would try to collar.

TP:    So we could call him an influence.

ZEITLIN:  Yes, he was an early harmonic influence.

TP:    And perhaps a link between you and Herbie Hancock in some ways, as the two of you are roughly contemporaries.

ZEITLIN:  I never heard Herbie play until I heard him on record with Miles.  I never met him or heard him.  But we certainly grew up around the same period.

TP:    It’s fascinating to me.  You were very young and probably one of the few white kids who would be on that scene, and hanging with some people who had serious addiction problems, like Nicky Hill or Wilbur Ware or Wilbur Campbell.  I don’t know that most people who know you know much about Chicago, or how heavy the musical scene was in Chicago at that time.

ZEITLIN:  Again, having nothing to compare, all I can say is that I felt fortunate that there was so much going on and so much excitement that generally I found musicians so gracious and so willing to show me stuff and to give me a chance to play… I can’t say that it was always that way; there are instances where you try to talk your way into getting a chance to play at a jam session and it doesn’t happen because they don’t know you.  I certainly had experiences like that.  But overall, it was a very generous spirit in Chicago.  And also, I didn’t experience much Crow Jim flavor at all — only very rarely.  I got some of that in New York when I was sitting in at some places in 1963, when I was on a fellowship.  Got a little feeling of that and a little feeling of the ethnocentricity of New York.  But I didn’t feel that in Chicago growing up at all.  I didn’t feel racial tension at all!  I very often was the only white person in some of these clubs late at night, and I had no cause to feel like I was an intruder, that there was hostility coming my way or that I was in any kind of danger.  It just wasn’t happening.

The genesis of my two careers is the tremendous support I got from my parents, Nathaniel and Roslyn Zeitlin.  One anecdote I think will give you an idea of how supportive they were to me in both ways.  When I began to really get involved in eighth grade in high school and starting to play jazz, they would go to New York, where they typically would go every year because they loved theater, and they would go to all their shows, all their plays, and afterwards, even though neither had been a jazz fan at all prior to my interest, they would go to all the jazz clubs where all my heroes were playing, they would listen to their music, and they would get these players to jot down little notes to me on cocktail napkins!  I remember one from Marion McPartland, and one from George Shearing, and one from Billy Taylor on one occasion.

TP:    Bird?

ZEITLIN:  No, not Bird.  I only got to hear Bird play live once in my life, in a very unlikely context — playing in front of Stan Kenton’s orchestra.  He was looking very dissipated.  But it was a thrill just to hear him play.

[-30-]

 

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Filed under Blindfold Test, Chicago, Chris Anderson, Denny Zeitlin, DownBeat, Liner Notes

For Evan Parker’s 70th Birthday, a 2010 DownBeat Feature

The sui generis master soprano and tenor saxophonist Evan Parker turns 70 today. I’ve been enthralled with his music for several decades now, and have had several opportunities to interact with him, initially in 1990 through the auspices of Ben Young, who organized what I believe was a ten-day festival of his music, and allowed me to participate in an on-air interview. In the early aughts, on assignment from Jazziz, I interviewed Evan and photographer Thomas Struth (it wasn’t published). Then, in the winter of 2009-10, I wrote a long profile for DownBeat framed around  a long residency at the Stone. The piece ran a little shorter than I would have preferred, and for the occasion, I’ve offered a director’s cut, a bit more lugubrious than the final copy, but more thorough.

* * * *

 Evan Parker Article, Downbeat, 2010 (Early Draft):

“I believe that when you’re playing freely with other people, it helps if you know what they’re about, that there’s a life in that relationship or set of relationships that underlines the group, that there is an ongoing discussion, as it were, or dialogue. The notion of the ideal group improvisation being something that happens once, and then you say goodbye, doesn’t make any sense at all.  You have nothing to judge it by; there’s no point of reference. It can be acceptable in a context, which has not to do with the specifics of any of those people’s work, but simply the background of the context. Of course, every relationship has to start with the first hello. But I’ve found it necessary to terminate some relationships fairly soon after they were started.  I’m trying to be wiser about all of those kind of things, and not to initiate new projects simply for the sake of working or keeping busy, but to have a reason behind it.” – Evan Parker, 2003

Forty-five years into his career as a professional improviser, saxophonist Evan Shaw Parker remains a  perpetual road warrior, pursuing a lifestyle—on the move at least six months a year, long rides in cars or trains or airplanes from one destination to another, irregular sleep and meals, less than stellar accommodations—that could wear down most artists half his age. Yet Parker, who turns 66 this year, embraces the sacrifice of itinerancy with the enthusiastic attitude of a circuit-riding preacher or union organizer of days gone by whose imperative it was to deliver the message in person.

Parker travels not to praise the Lord or organize the masses, but to find as many contexts as possible in which to present his sui generis conception of the saxophone. He drew first principles from the innovations of the ‘60s avant-garde—John Coltrane and Albert Ayler were Parker’s window into the use of multiphonics, overtones, and circular breathing—and grafted onto this aesthetic bedrock the harmonic extremities of European post-12-tone modernism, a global array of scales and intervals drawn from Herman Helmholtz’s authoritative lexicon, and independent fingering and projection techniques associated with playing the Scottish bagpipes and the launeddas, an ancient three-pipe Sardinian reed instrument. He’s refined his language with micronic precision, developing his ability to articulate and develop two or three simultaneous lines in a sort of musique concrete counterpoint.

“A lot of material is completely in the muscles and in the nervous system—there’s no effort to control it, no effort to think,” Parker told me a few years back of the way his imagination functions as he plays solo. He describes a process analogous to ars memoria, the medieval system of memorizing large systems—and also the oral traditions of preliterature cultures—by placing objects in familiar places. “I enter that room where the music is,” he said. “I can do almost anything to open the door, then I look around until my attention lights on some particular place and I know roughly where I am. I look again. What is this place about?  What is new?  What didn’t I find out the last time I was here? I stay until something happens, and takes me somewhere else.  Not really leading the music, but following it where it seems to be going.”

Even by his standards, Parker took on, as he put it, “an exceptional schedule” over the last three months of 2009, bringing his tenor and soprano saxophones to an extraordinary array of encounters. There was an October duo in Barcelona with Catalan pianist Agusti Fernandez and workshops and concerts with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton in Cannes and Paris. A two-week tour with the Schlippenbach-Lovens trio included engagements in Berlin, Ulrichsberg, Prague and Brataslava, where Parker also found time to play a recital with Alvin Lucier, a concert with the Globe Unity Orchestra, and a gig with the electronic unit Groovetronic. He guested with the out-trio Marteau Rouge in Tours, Paris, and Brussels; navigated composer-cellist-electronicist Walter Prati’s processed structures with a medium-sized ensemble in Milan; triologued  with regular mates John Edwards and Tony Marsh at London’s Vortex, where he has a monthly hit, and with keyboardist Stephen Gruen and drummer Philip Marks in Liverpool.

Prior to all of these events (directly following a 3,000-mile, 7-gigs-in-7-nights tour with extended techniques sax master Ned Rothenberg that had begun on the West Coast and ended in Montreal), Parker presided over an audacious first-two-weeks-of-October residence at the Stone, John Zorn’s Lower East Side venue,where it was evident that he listens as attentively to others as to the voices deep within him. Directly after a seven-hour drive from Montreal to New York, he launched the event with a solo recital executed with characteristic derring-do, followed an hour later by an avuncular duo with synthesist Richard Teitelbaum in which Parker, playing soprano saxophone, created instantaneous acoustic responses to Teitelbaum’s assorted burbles, birdcalls, critter onomatopoeia, virtual percussion, swoopy waves, Bachian cello, celestial harmonics, and prepared piano pings—they ended spontaneously on the same pitch.

Such energy and acuity belied whatever exhaustion Parker may have felt, and he delineated the harmonics with such precision that only the most educated ear could discern that he was playing with a stock mouthpiece, having recently left his three painstakingly customized ones on a train. But to wallow in self-pity was not an option, and Parker would carry on. Hunkered down three blocks away in a small flat on Avenue D, he took on all comers, two shows a night of one-shots with partners representing vastly different predispositions and ways of thinking about music.

In the opening section of his meeting with Fred Frith, Parker projected droll tenor responses to Frith’s Dadaesque antics on lap guitar (he brushed it as though polishing a shoe and prepared the bowed strings with a tin can and chain metal); then unleashed a jaw-dropping unaccompanied interlude on soprano before rejoining the dialogue with with vertiginous intervals and audacious unisons; then uttered a long tenor drone which Frith somehow complemented with more prepared bowed strings.

Earlier in the run, before a house so jammed that the fire marshals cleared it before they were done, Parker and Milford Graves played a five-part suite marked by incessant rhythmic modulation and dynamic ebb-and-flow. After Parker unleashed Coltranesque torrents in the tenor’s lower register in the second movement, he switched to a balladic seven-note theme that received intense theme-and-variation treatment. Graves’ slow rolling tom-toms that crescendoed to jet-force, propelling Parker into a multiphonic whirlwind. An hour later, with George Lewis on trombone, laptop, and interactive electronics with which to modify and manipulate the pitch qualities of Parker’s soprano saxophone lines, Parker—his face beet-red, his embouchure visible as a dimple-line running 45 degrees from nose to jaw—went with the flow, circular-breathing to create a feedback loop of chirps and crackles and waves.

To honor Thelonious Monk’s birthday came a few nights later,  Parker, Matthew Shipp and William Parker played an informed 55-minute abstraction of “Shuffle Boil,” interpolating other Monk fragments at various points. “If they’d jumped on the tune at the very outset, well, it would have gone another way,” Parker said two days later over a lunch of roast chicken, tostones, and rice-and-beans on Avenue C.  Salt-bearded and bespectacled, with a barrel chest and thick soccer legs, he wore a charcoal shirt, black jeans and black loafers, and carried a just-purchased copy of Robin Kelley’s new Monk biography. “But they played ambiguously in relation to it,” he continued. “The point is to do it in such a way that it’s there if you want to hear it, and not there if you don’t want to hear it. It’s raw material. It’s a free choice. When you say you’re playing freely, it also means you are free to play things that you absolutely know and things that are rather predictable.”

Parker related that for his sixtieth birthday, outcat pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, a constant associate since the latter ‘60s on such Eurocentric projects as the Globe Unity Orchestra and a long-standing trio with drummer Paul Lovens, most recently documented on Gold Is Where You Find It [Intakt], had presented him with a handwritten folio of Monk tunes, transposed for saxophone, that also contained a drawing of Parker (Schlippenbach refers to his mild-mannered partner as “The Bishop of Faversham”) topped with a Bishop’s mitre,

“I’ve since got the official book, which Steve Lacy told me was accurate, and I’ve been trying to memorize them all as an homage to Steve,” Parker continued. “When I was here as a teenager I heard his School Days band at a Bleecker Street coffee shop called Phase 2. At the end of the first set, Steve said to the audience, which must have been five of us, ‘We’d like to remind you, ladies and gentlemen, that we play requests; the band will play any tune by Thelonious Monk.’ On his way back to the bandstand, I said, ‘Mr. Lacy, I’d love to hear “Four In One.”’ He said, “Uh-HUH”—and they played ‘Four In One’!

“Since then, it’s become almost a rite of passage to get to grips with those things, to play on the structures or just use them as study material. Monk had a very rigorous approach to constructing a line, a melody, which Steve distilled in his own work—systematic combinatorics of limited interval types in order to bring out their inherent characters. There are a thousand ways to define what we mean by a fourth, a major third, a minor third. The material goes beyond scales and arpeggios—the idea is to get it to fall under your fingers in a way that you’re not simply playing from the riff book. You have to hear your way through, know what is the underlying cliche and how to disguise it. I make the analogy with the armature in a sculpture. A sculptor might use a steel frame underneath to hold the clay in certain positions which otherwise it wouldn’t hold. But it’s not the armature that’s interesting. It’s the form of the clay. Without those things it’s just…formless might not be the word, but lacking in structural integrity.”

[BREAK]

The weekend after Parker left town, in an odd quirk of scheduling, the Abrons Center on Grand Street, a half-mile south of the Stone, hosted a two-day festival dedicated to the legacy of Incus Records, the label that Parker, Bailey and Tony Oxley co-founded in 1970. After Oxley departed a few years later, Parker and Bailey—who died in 2005—served as co-directors. They ran an efficient operation, producing some of the seminal documents of European free improvisation. They split on acrimonious terms in 1985, with Parker keeping possession of his own copyrights and master tapes. Since 2001, he has been bringing back into print—along with new material by himself and various associates—on Psi, his imprint, which now boasts a catalog of over 60 items.

“It functioned quite well for a while,” Parker said. “But it’s very hard for two people to agree about everything, and we didn’t agree about everything. In fact, towards the end, we didn’t agree about anything. I wasn’t happy being treated as though I was number-two in a situation where we should be equal. So I just thought the best thing to do would be to take my ball and go home.”

This was all Parker had to say about the rift. “Derek is no longer here to speak up for himself,” he said. However, George Lewis, who was close to both, offered some observations.

“Derek was a very forceful personality,” Lewis said. “He was a little curmudgeonly, very determined and single-minded. That attracted a lot of people. At the same time, uncompromising people like that tend to have very few friends, because people can’t handle it for long periods of time. But Evan seemed to be a person who could handle that, and was able to mold things that Derek did to his own requirements. Derek was very private; part of him would be very suspicious if he thought people liked it too much. Whereas I think Evan is more comfortable with being liked. Being loved, really—people love both these guys. They were together so much that when they finally stopped being together, it was wounding not only to them, but to the larger community.”

Parker was willing to discuss the ways in which his and Bailey’s respective personalities played out in their musical production, “Maybe the most crucial difference between Derek’s approach and mine is that I’m interested in a much more adaptive language, a much more flexible sense of musical persona,” he said. “The main job is to select the relevant material, much more of the material that I use to represent myself, the music masks that I use to play behind, or through, varies with the context than Derek’s. ‘Mask’ is a much more complicated idea than simply a disguise, something to hide behind.  Think of the way masks are used in African music ritual. The mask is a particular chosen projection of identity.”

Unlike Bailey and most of his contemporaries from the first generation of European experimental improvisers, Parker chose to embrace American jazz as a lineal, if often hidden influence. “It’s just where I come from,” he said. “It doesn’t mean I don’t know about Boulez and Stockhausen and Xenakis and all those other things. But in shaping the idea of personal direction, the point that Coltrane got to, especially in Interstellar Space, is a kind of defined place. Even the idea of kind of multi-linear approach to soprano is derived from thinking about certain things Coltrane was doing on the longer solos on “My Favorite Things,” where he’s sort of hinting at two lines and keeping two lines going. There’s an enormous lack of modesty involved in thinking you can do anything past that, and you have to be aware of this. But through practice and effort and concentration on what makes your direction YOUR direction, there are some corners left to work in.”

Told that Rothenberg had remarked on his “whirling” time feel, “with a pulse that tends to breathe in a kind of ebb-and-flow,” Parker described it as his “default mode,” citing not only “the work I had to do to play with John Stevens,” the British drummer with whom he made much music in the ‘60s and ‘70s (“it was a baptism of fire”), but also “the constellation” of the New York Art Quartet with John Tchicai and Milford Graves, Milford’s duo with Don Pullen, the Coltrane-Rashied Ali duos, the Jimmy Giuffre Trio. “These were the very last bits of concerted influence, where you feel, ‘Ok, these are the materials that I must learn to deal with,’” he said. “After that, it became essential to deal with what John Stevens was doing, what Derek, Paul Rutherford, Paul Lytton, Barry Guy, and all the people associated with that first generation of London-based free improvisers were doing.”

Parker’s simpatico for the American—or, more accurately, New York—context stems from the summers of 1962 and 1963 when, by dint of a free flight enabled by his father’s position with BOAC, the predecessor of British Airlines, he was able to see his musical heroes on their home turf. Ensconced in a YMCA on 34th Street, he bought records by day and haunted clubs and coffee houses at night. In addition to the aforementioned encounter with Lacy, he heard Eric Dolphy with Herbie Hancock at Birdland, Cecil Taylor’s trio with Jimmy Lyons and Sunny Murray at Phase 2 on Bleecker Street, Carla Bley in duo with Gary Peacock.

“Coltrane was always out of town, so I didn’t hear him here, though I’d heard him in England in 1961,” Parker recalled. “But to hear Cecil Taylor before he came to Europe for the first time, to hear Dolphy and Herbie Hancock before Herbie went with Miles—I’m not going to forget those things. From that point, New York was the center of the world as far as the music I was interested in.”

[BREAK]

“I’m ready for a break,” Parker said at the beginning of February from his home in Kent, referencing his recent travels. Over a month or so of down time, he would work on “thinking about how to practice, practicing, organizing for the label and for events coming up.” Most important among the latter, he said, were several concerts with his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, a project that he has documented since 1997 on five ECM CDs, increasing the number of participants from six to 14 on the most recent iteration,  The Moment’s Energy, which includes Rothenberg on clarinets and shakuhachi, Peter Evans on trumpets, and Ko Ishikawa on sho, a reed-based Japanese mouth organ, an orchestra’s worth of real-time electronic processing vehicles. In distinction to the prior ECM dates, Parker used the studio as another instrument, remixing and realigning the  materials of the real-time version to construct a final document. It’s the latest development in Parker’s ongoing investigation of digital media as a tool to transcend the limits of what he can do with the saxophone.

“What works for a concert is not necessarily what works for a record to be played in people’s homes,” Parker said. “It’s partly to do with dynamic range, partly with what Manfred Eicher  calls dramaturgie. You don’t quite know the circumstances under which the record will be played. So the idea of modifying something in response to that is no longer a kind of heresy for me. It’s just part of the work, and if people want to discuss it and take positions for or against, well, that’s fine.”

For all the audaciousness and fire that he projects through his horn, Parker’s extraordinary chops have brought him trouble with members of the “avant-garde police,”  who have accused him of being a sort of overly technical, non-interactive Johnny-one-note more concerned with attaining individual transcendence than dialogic interaction. Bailey’s biographer Ben Watson, a doctrinaire Trotskyite, most memorably expressed this critique with the shit-sling, “the totalitarian afflatus of [Parker’s] technique steamrollers specific ambiance, turning his music into the kind of dependable commodity required by promoters and applauded by the general public.”

Lewis addressed this issue in a more nuanced way. “Derek liked to smash genres together, people from different traditions and practices,” he said. “Evan was starting to do this as well, but then he broke away from it. Now it’s reached a new level where he is content to be at the center of his own world than ever before; he’s found ways to make music that bears his stamp, music that’s him,  through the medium of improvisation. It’s not being an improviser that’s important. It’s what Evan’s music is.”

For Parker, who developed Anarcho-Socialist leanings during university days, philosophical materialism coexists in pragmatic equipoise with his investigations into the mysteries of shamanism, as he denotes with his label’s name.

“I juggle those things every day,” he said. “I’m very encouraged by current developments which are more related to finding consensus on the solution to specific problems, and less concerned with building an overarching ideology that purports to solve all problems at a stroke. Shamanism, by the way, is one of the ways that you can solve some of those small problems. It’s metaphysics, but it’s also practical. Spiritual is material, too. If you define materialism as to recognize the way things work, then we have to include psi phenomena, the things which physicists can’t explain.”

Parker himself found it difficult to explain the criteria he uses to decide what constitutes a successful performance, and what to release and not-release, either on his label or others. He had not yet found time to evaluate his massive output at the Stone, which was professionally recorded and line-mixed. “It would be crazy not to release some of it, but I want to make sure I do it properly.”

“It’s a total response,” he added. “It can be a good idea sometimes to wait a year or more before you listen, otherwise you just reinforce the memories of the struggle that was involved, which may affect your objectivity and not be at all important in the bigger picture. It’s easier to be positive about some solo thing that you feel came out well. Everything else is complicated about expectations about what other people may or may not do. All I can say is that if I think that the thing is a failure, I have no problem leaving it on the shelf.”

He remarked that he had worked for a decade on Time Lapse [Tzadik],  a critically acclaimed high-concept unaccompanied suite in which he juxtaposes unaccompanied and overdubbed solos, an endeavor he launched in 1991 with Process and Reality [FMP]. “I wanted to give John something special,” he said.  “I had to think and plan something that wouldn’t disappoint John, who I think of as a man with very high standards, both ethically and aesthetically,” Parker said. “It’s not that I would set out to disappoint anybody. But in John’s case, it’s a case of ‘Among roses, be a rose.’”

He added that he had taken similar care with House Full Of Floors,  his 2009 Tzadik release, on which Aleks Kolkowski, playing Stroh viola, cylinders, and musical saw, joins Parker, guitarist John Russell and bassist John Edwards on a pair of quartet  improvs—on the final track, the trio responds to a Kolkowski-generated wax cylinder of their playing.

“John proposed the New York event, and we negotiated the programming,” Parker said. They met in 1978, the year Parker first came to the U.S. professionally, doing 29 solo concerts in 33 days, and remained in touch ever since.

“It was a highly memorable two weeks,” he retrospected. “New York was always a special city for me, from its mythic origins to my first experiences there as a young man. Every time I come back, I get a feeling that I don’t get anywhere else in the world. There’s an incredible community of players to draw on. And John’s support for the venture allowed me to be among friends. The Stone is absolutely my kind of space, like a non-denominational chapel of music. There’s no frills. It’s a room where you can play some music and some people can come and listen.”

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For The 89th Birth Anniversary of James Moody (1925-2010), A DownBeat Feature From 2000, three Uncut Interviews with Moody, and Interviews from Six of his Colleagues and Associates

It’s the 89th birth anniversary of James Moody (1925-2010), the brilliant alto and soprano saxophonist, flutist and humanitarian, whose 65-year career in the jazz business took numerous twists and turns, all of them linked by Moody’s unending quest for knowledge and self-expansion. In 2000, DownBeat gave me an opportunity to write a feature piece on Moody, for which I conducted three interviews, all of which are included below the article, which comes first in the queue.

* * *
Compact, bearded, owlishly bespectacled, spotlit stage-center at Avery Fisher Hall, James Moody is bending back, blowing on his tenor saxophone with a vengeance as he bobs and weaves through the jagged changes of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Birks’ Works.” Moody screams in the horn’s higher register, roars gutturally through its lower depths, displacing the rhythms with dazzling panache, shaping an elegant, soulful statement that caps a succession of spot-on declamations by an honor roll of Gillespie disciples — Jimmy Heath, Jon Faddis, Paquito d’Rivera, Slide Hampton, Kenny Barron. They, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and a packed house that spans about five generations and comprises a living rainbow coalition, are helping Moody celebrate his 75th birthday.

In 1996 Moody recorded Young At Heart [Warner], a lyric recital of songs associated with Frank Sinatra; as the applause and whoops wind down, educator David Baker takes the stage to deliver an eloquent encomium that explains why the title is so apropos to Moody’s persona. Baker notes that Moody is the paradigm of a man who is “ageless, perpetually young,” that he never stands still, that “unlike many musicians who develop a personal style early in their career and perpetuate it, his vision keeps evolving.” He praises Moody’s avid predisposition to exchange information with his peers, and mentions that he is an incessant practicer who continues to follow a lifelong dictum to learn everything he can from any source. Concluding, he observes that Moody sustains an open, humane attitude to all comers, regarding “everyone who crosses his path as a child of the Creator.”

A quick scan of the program bears out Baker’s claim; the material, representing Moody’s 54-year musical journey, reflects the span of his quotidian repertoire. He showcases his dry, minimal vibrato soprano sound on a modernist Gil Goldstein arrangement of Henry Mancini’s “Slow Hot Wind,” a showpiece of his most recent album, Moody Plays Mancini. He addresses the ’60s with John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance,” and reprises a pair of iconic hits, “Last Train To Overbrook” and, for perhaps the fifty thousandth time, “Moody’s Mood For Love,” replaying his iconic improvisation with utter conviction. And he dives head-first into a challenging admixture of Gillespiana, with “Things to Come,” “Manteca,” “Con Alma” and “Emanon,” tunes that, like Moody, reveal new layers every time you hear them.

“Moody is way into altered scales, different kinds of harmonic devices, use of fourths, of pentatonics, of compound scales, of bitonals,” says Todd Coolman, Moody’s bassist of choice since 1984. “He’s aware of every so-called advanced harmonic device, he has them in his ear and he can play them. At the same time, if you want to play a blues in B-flat, he can play the traditional vocabulary as well. At heart, I think ultimately as a tenor player he just wants to be a singer of melodies.”

“I remember saying to Diz one time, ‘I wish I would have gone to school and studied music,’” Moody had recalled the previous afternoon in the sitting room of his hotel suite, the crepuscular light illuminated by gigantic bouquets courtesy of Bill Cosby and Peter Jennings. “Diz looked at me and said, ‘Moody, you ain’t dead.’ That lightbulb went on. I immediately went and bought some music books.”

Over the course of three conversations, that pithy anecdote was the only personal reminiscence I could elicit from Moody about the man with whom he toured incessantly between 1963 and 1970 and who featured him as the primary tenor soloist in the first iteration of the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra from 1946 to 1948. “There are people who elaborate, and it really amounts to nothing but a hill of beans,” Moody says. “Then there are people that say it was a relationship that I will value as long as I live, because of its importance and profoundness.”

Fittingly, Moody opened the concert with “Emanon,” a medium-tempo Gil Fuller blues that Gillespie recorded for Musicraft in 1946, on which, with one 16-bar solo, Moody established himself — along with Dexter Gordon, Teddy Edwards, Wardell Gray, Lucky Thompson and Sonny Stitt — as a pioneer in translating the vocabulary of bebop to the tenor saxophone. “Moody’s ‘Emanon’ solo was very exciting to all the saxophone players around Philadelphia,” Heath recalls. “It was different than any blues solo that you had heard, similar to what was coming out of Charlie Parker. He had the bebop sound. The way Moody accented was much faster than other saxophone players; when he played an eighth note or sixteenth note line, the accent was always on the AND, the one that was off the beat, which gave it a different kind of float.”

Moody recorded “Emanon” five years after his Uncle Louis, who was in attendance at the concert, presented him with his first saxophone, an alto; although he could read music, he was playing by ear at the time. The son and namesake of an itinerant trumpet player whom he did not meet until the age of 21, he spent his early years in Reading, Pennsylvania, and came of age in Newark, New Jersey. His mother was a jazz enthusiast, and the youngster absorbed her collection of Chick Webb, Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie records, supplementing them with pioneer deejay Martin Block’s offerings on New York’s WNEW radio. A devotee of Lester Young (not to mention Georgie Auld and Ben Webster), the 16-year-old Moody attended a Count Basie concert at Newark’s Adams Theater expecting to hear his idol, only to be confronted with the virtuoso tenor tandem of Buddy Tate and Don Byas. Two years later his mother supplemented the aspirant’s arsenal with a tenor saxophone, an act which proved prescient once Moody enrolled in the Air Corps that year.

“I was at Basic Training Center #10 in Greensboro, North Carolina, where three-quarters of the base was Caucasian and one quarter was Negro,” Moody relates. “The Air Corps was segregated (German prisoners-of-war could go downtown and eat, and I couldn’t), and they wanted the Negro part of the base to be self-sufficient, which meant they wanted you to stay on your side. I was being trained to be a soldier, and they wanted to have a Negro band. They said, ‘Has anyone here got a horn?’ I said, ‘I’ve got one.’ They said, ‘Send for it.’ They didn’t ask if you could play it. So I sent for my tenor, and luckily for me I was able to get in the band — if it had been a regular band, I wouldn’t have been able to cut the mustard. As time went by, they had the musicians from the official Air Corps band come over and help the ones that needed the help. I appreciated their help. Dave Burns and Linton Garner, Erroll’s brother, were in the band; so was Pop Reeves, who I think wrote some arrangements for Benny Goodman.”

Sometime in the spring of 1946, not long before Moody was due to be discharged, Dizzy Gillespie, in the middle of a long string of Southern one-nighters, played a concert at the base. By this time Moody had listened “over and over and over” to seminal Parker-Gillespie sides like “Hot House,” “Shaw Nuff” and “Salt Peanuts,” and was a convert. “Dizzy told me and Dave Burns that he was going to form a new band when he got back to New York, and told us to try out for it, which we did,” Moody relates. “I didn’t make it, although Dave did; Walter Fuller, the band director, said I didn’t play loud enough. I had a gig, though. I was working at Lloyd’s Manor in Newark on weekends, and my pockets had the mumps. A couple of months later I got a telegram from Dave that said, ‘You start with us tonight at the Spotlite.’

“The first night I was there, Thelonious Monk was the piano player, Ray Brown, Kenny Clarke and Milt Jackson were in the band. Clark Monroe, the manager, was a Negro, so he was probably fronting it; he dressed well and took care of business. The club was very small, and it was jammed every night; all the different people I’d heard on the radio — Coleman Hawkins, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman — would be in the audience. It was a thrill sitting there playing the music. Dave Burns showed me the line of ‘Things To Come’ just before the gig, and I played it. It was a breeze; I could read a little bit, and with time I learned to read more and more.

“We’d go on the chitlin’ circuit, what they called Around-The-World, the Apollo Theater in New York, then the Royal Theater in Baltimore, the Howard Theater in Washington and the Earle Theater in Philadelphia. If you could make it in those theaters, you could make it anywhere. Then we went on tour down South with Ella Fitzgerald, which was a drag, because you couldn’t eat in restaurants and the bus driver, who was Caucasian, had to get sandwiches for you. We played dances where there would be a rope down the middle of the hall, with Caucasians on one side and Negroes on the other side; some places had two dances, the first maybe for Negroes with White spectators, and then a Caucasian dance with no Negro spectators.”

In October 1948, Moody took an octet of Gillespians into the studio and recorded ten sides, including “The Fuller Bop Man,” “Moody’s All Frantic,” “Tropicana” and “Tin Tin Deo.” The latter two featured Art Blakey and the legendary drummer Chano Pozo, with whom Moody roomed a few times while with Gillespie in Los Angeles. “Chano had a couple of bullets in him, and some nights when he was playing he would feel good and some nights he wouldn’t. He’d tell me, ‘Moody, feel here,’ and I could feel the bullets. One time Chano cracked me up. You remember the phrase people used to say, ‘Boy, that’s some deep shit’? Chano came to me looking real perplexed, with his face kind of frowned-up, and he held his hand up high and said, ‘Moody, Moody, what ‘deep shit’?’ People were saying, ‘boy, that’s some deep shit,’ and he was looking for some deep shit somewhere. I tried the best I could to explain it to him. I’m telling you, it was funny, man.”

At a certain point it became apparent that Moody was embroiled in some deep shit of his own. On the interminable bus rides with Gillespie, he relates, “I’d be in the back, with the hoot-hounds, talking with Dave Burns; the pot-hounds rode in the front.” By 1948, he was drinking to excess, “just drug and everything — my uncle, who was living in Paris, told my mother to send me over for two weeks to cool out. I stayed for three years.”

Ensconced comfortably in his uncle’s Paris apartment near the Eiffel Tower, Moody began to blossom into the voice that defined the first stage of his career. He free-lanced around Europe at his leisure, hung out frequently at the Club St. Germain, where he once jammed with Django Reinhardt, and interacted with the likes of Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, and Bill Coleman. He got married, had a daughter, and moved to an apartment across a courtyard from Sidney Bechet. He recorded over 90 sides for a variety of labels, producing statements on a series of ballads, blues and bop tunes that remain models of melodic invention. These include a remarkable spring 1949 session with Miles Davis, Tadd Dameron and Kenny Clarke, four tunes with Charlie Parker’s working band under Max Roach’s leadership, and an innocuous Fall 1949 session in Stockholm with charts by Swedish saxophonist-arranger Gösta Thesalius on which, using a borrowed alto saxophone, Moody improvised a solo on “I’m In The Mood For Love.” It became an instrumental hit, and in 1952, when King Pleasure recorded Eddie Jefferson’s lyric to the solo, “Moody’s Mood For Love” entered the realm of legend, imprinted in public consciousness like Coleman Hawkins’ solo on “Body and Soul” and Illinois Jacquet’s solo on “Flyin’ Home.”

“When I play a song, I don’t know the lyrics,” Moody claims. “All I know is the melody, and if I like the melody, I’ll play it.” Enough people liked the melodies Moody conjured during his European stay that savvy associates back home urged him to return to capitalize on the interest. “I wasn’t going to set foot on American soil again, because I was pissed off from what had happened to me in Greensboro,” Moody relates. “But I figured I’d come back, make the money, and then go back to playing in Europe. When I got here I said, ‘I was born here; why should I let them run me away from where I belong?’ That was it.”

Moody formed a septet, four horns and rhythm, commissioned arrangements from John Acea and Quincy Jones that captured the ambiance of Thesalius’ charts, hired the ur-hipster Babs Gonzalez as his band singer, and began a grueling regimen of touring through all corners of ’50s Afro-America.

“We worked all the time,” Moody says of the band that influenced the sound of Ray Charles’ seminal ’50s unit. “The only time we were off was traveling to the next gig. In the wintertime we worked in the northern cities and in the summertime we worked in the southern cities. Like my mother would say, everything was bass-ackwards. I did all the driving; I didn’t trust anybody else. After Babs Gonzalez left, I hired Eddie Jefferson to sing with the band, not knowing that he was the one who wrote the lyrics. I told Eddie, ‘I’m going to make you the manager, you’ll have a clicker, and after you get finished singing you go and keep clicking the numbers as the people come in.’ It was the same old shit as before I left, but only smoothed over with whipped cream.”

Perhaps in response to the pressures of incessant road life, Moody became increasingly dissatisfied with his playing during these superficially successful years. “The way I came up musically was wrong, I think, from the standpoint that I thought improvising was spontaneous,” Moody reflects. “I was playing by ear, and I thought you just did it; I didn’t realize that you had to practice changes. I started drinking, because people were saying how great I was, and I couldn’t play crap. It’s like I was flying an airplane but I didn’t know what the route was. If you don’t know the changes, you’re skimming.

“My music thing started changing later, when I started trying to find out about chords and theory. I’m 75 years old, and I haven’t reached my peak chord-wise, because I’m still trying to find out how to play the changes. See, the young cats come up and they learn this from the very getgo; I mean, they can play the hell out of them. The musicianship is much better with these younger musicians. They have the books and the teachers; if you feel like you want to learn something, you can learn it, from the bottom up. If you get a good teacher, you can play real quick. If you have a bad teacher, you’ll still be scuffling, years upon years upon years.”

After a six-month dryout, Moody returned to the road for a lengthy U.S. tour on which he spent the endless bus rides not drinking, but learning the ABC’s of harmony in intense sessions with band trombonist and chief arranger Tom MacIntosh. He disbanded for good in 1962, played a succession of three-tenor gigs with Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, and finally replaced Leo Wright as reedman-flautist in Dizzy Gillespie’s quintet, the chair he held for the remainder of the decade. Newly armed with harmonic knowledge, augmented by intensive study of John Coltrane’s harmonic system, Moody brought his playing to new levels of complexity and abstraction, never losing sight of melodic underpinnings or the necessity of a humorous overview. In 1973, recently married and with a young daughter, Moody moved to Las Vegas, opting for the security of a steady job in the reed section of Hilton Hotel house band. In the ’80s, after a stint with Gillespie bandmate Mike Longo’s group, he resumed the freelance life of a solo artist; since 1985, he’s toured with a series of quartets and made the guest star appearances that jazz giants make in their golden years.

“Moody started off with a gift, and he developed it,” Jimmy Heath says. “As an ear player, he was already extremely advanced; right now, he’s one of the greatest players who ever lived. I admire his tenacity and focus. If he hears you play a lick or a sequence that he hasn’t heard, he’ll ask you what it is, and once you show it to him, man, Moody takes it into his own style and elaborates on it, turns it inside-out, and does everything possible with that idea to make it his own.

“Over the years, Moody has become so free — not in a random fashion, but a scientific freedom — that he can do anything he wants with the saxophone. His sound has gotten real smooth and mellow with his old age, like wine. It’s not harsh and brash. It’s very soft until he wants to imply these certain emotional hollers or screams. If he wants to play in a bluesy fashion, he can do it. If he wants to play in a straight bebop way without the blues or just the changes, he can do it. He has true knowledge. He is in complete control.”

“Moody is constantly searching for things that are new to him, trying to find different things to do and say,” remarks Kenny Barron, who was 18 when he first played with Moody at the Five Spot, and two years later was recruited by Moody for Dizzy Gillespie’s band to replace Lalo Schifrin in the piano chair. “It’s never ending with him. Behind all of that, there’s still his sense of fun. One minute he’s playing all these strange fourths, really looking for it, but on the other hand he plays these real humorous things. That’s what gets me, along with his energy, and the fact that he’s constantly trying to improve.”

“I need to practice!” is how Moody sums it up. “You play one horn because you like its sound, then you play the other horn because you like its sound and you want to play certain things on it, but then you play the other horn and you like ITS sound and you want to play certain things on it…finally you want to play everything on everything. So you start trying to do that, and when you look, it’s time to go to bed. Then you get up and try something else; you look, and it’s time to go to a gig.”

Asked if music keeps him youthful, Moody concludes: “Let’s say the biggest secret is God. The next secret is my mother was 86, and my Uncle Louis is 86. And not to say that you always get to do what you want, but when you’re doing something that’s fairly like what you want to do, it makes everything in your system work fairly well. And my wonderful wife, Linda, who keeps me going. Being in love helps. When you don’t have that, you kind of fade away. When you do, you kind of want to stay in.”

[-30-]

* * *

James Moody (3-31-00):
TP: In all the biographies I’ve seen it says you were born in Savannah, Georgia, came to Newark at a certain point and got a saxophone when you were 16. How old were you when you left Savannah?

MOODY: I was only born in Savannah. My father played trumpet, and he was playing with a circus band. We were living in Reading, PA., my mother and I. My father was with the band, and he didn’t come back to Reading, so my mother went down to Savannah to look for him, because that’s where his mother and father were. He wasn’t there. And while she was there, I was born. She recuperated and came back to Reading. I didn’t meet my father until he was 21. His name was James Moody.

TP: So you’re James Moody, Jr.?

MOODY: No, I’m just James Moody. And I was raised in Reading, Pennsylvania and Newark, New Jersey.

TP: Was the time you got the saxophone your first exposure to music? It couldn’t have been…

MOODY: No, it wasn’t my first exposure to music. The point is, I was exposed to music on the radio and of course my mother playing records. I’m thankful that she liked jazz, because she liked, like, Chick Webb, Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, like that — Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey. That’s the kind of music she played, and that’s what my ears became acclimated to. I’m thankful for that, because the other music was that doo-wop music, and I could have maybe come up… I don’t think so, because I always liked Music, something with some substance. And to me, that was Jazz and the so-called Pop music of the day, which was Music at that time.

TP: In Reading when you were a kid, did the bands come through?

MOODY: Oh, in Reading I was a kid. I didn’t know anything about…

TP: You weren’t taken to any of these.

MOODY: No, I didn’t know anything about the music thing at all until I was actually in my teens. Then I knew about bands coming somewhere or something, or seeing some musicians. But I had never…

TP: What early bands do you remember seeing?

MOODY: The only band I remember seeing was a group playing… Pancho Diggs in Newark, New Jersey. Pancho Diggs had a band, and his hit song was “Swanee River.” Pancho Diggs, and there was another band there led by Mandy Ross. Finally, they started bringing bands to the Adams Theater in Newark on Park Place…

TP: Ellington’s band broadcast from there, and there are other broadcasts I’ve heard from there.

MOODY: Oh, I don’t know. But I know that’s where I saw Count Basie, because I liked Lester Young, and I wanted to see Prez play. But when I got there, Prez wasn’t there, so it was Buddy Tate and Don Byas who were playing tenor. I had an alto, and I wanted to play tenor, too — I liked that. So anyway, when I was drafted into the Air Corps, my mother got me a tenor. I got a tenor. Because then, we had a couple of bucks that we could put down, I guess, to buy a horn. But my Uncle Louis got me my first alto.

TP: That’s when you were 16?

MOODY: I was about 16.

TP: And that’s around when you saw Buddy Tate and Don Byas?

MOODY: Mmm-hmm.

TP: Were you a very quick learner on the saxophone?

MOODY: Well, I wouldn’t say that.

TP: Let me just say that five years after you get your first saxophone you’re recording your solo on “Emanon” with Dizzy Gillespie. So it sounds like you were pretty quick.

MOODY: Well, I was in the band. But I had a lot to learn. I don’t know. Maybe somebody could have done it in three years. Know what I mean?

TP: Maybe so. But were you a kid who memorized a lot of Lester Young solos and Coleman Hawkins…

MOODY: No.

TP: You hadn’t done that sort of thing.

MOODY: No, I hadn’t done that. All I did was just listen to things, and I liked them, and there would be certain pieces of something I liked, and I would go with that.

TP: Because a lot of people from your generation would memorize Chu Berry’s “Stardust,” or “Lester Leaps In” or Coleman Hawkins’ “Body and Soul”, they’d learn the solos and go off from there.

MOODY: Yeah.

TP: But it was a different process with you.

MOODY: I didn’t do that. Because in the first place, I didn’t know the musical scene. I didn’t know what it was to learn music. I didn’t know how to go about learning. As a matter of fact, I used to go around asking, “What are chords?” It’s funny, because when you ask someone and they don’t know, it’s like the blind leading the blind. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to help me. It was just that they didn’t know and I didn’t know. So for the longest time, I just went not knowing. Then finally, when I got with some people that did know, then I had to start trying to learn.

TP: Was that in the Service?

MOODY: That was when I had my septet.

TP: Oh, so not until the ’50s.

MOODY: Yes, that’s when I had my septet that I started getting with the chords.

TP: I read in one of the liner notes that Tom McIntosh had a lot to do with that.

MOODY: He’s the one. He’s the one who taught me my changes.

TP: Let me take some steps here. You’re saying that you really didn’t know how to play, but obviously you did in some sense…

MOODY: I played by ear.

TP: Tell me about your Service experience.

MOODY: I was in the Air Corps. I was drafted in ’43 and discharged in ’46. I was in the Air Corps, and it was segregated at the time, and so they wanted a Negro band, and that’s how I happened to get in the band. Actually, where I was, it was BTC #10, Basic Training Center #10. So I was being trained to be a soldier, and they wanted to have a Negro band. So one quarter of the base was Negro, the other three-quarters was Caucasian. So they said, “Has anyone got a horn here?” So I said, “I’ve got one.” They said, “Well, send for it.” They didn’t ask if you could play it; they just said, “Send for it.” So I sent for my horn, and they formed a band and I was in the band. Dave Burns was in the band. Pop Reeves who I think wrote some arrangements for Benny Goodman. Erroll Garner’s brother, Linton, was in the band. And as time went by, what they did was, they had the musicians from the official Air Corps band come over and help us, the ones that needed the help, and they helped. I formed a friendship with a couple of the guys that were in the band, because they… Afterwards, when I came out and got with Dizzy’s band, I would look sometimes and they would be in the audience. We’d be playing a dance or something, and they’d be standing down front. People used to do that. It was just nice to see them again. And I appreciated their help, too.

TP: Were you playing alto or tenor in the Army?

MOODY: Tenor.

TP: A lot of musicians who were in Army bands say it was a great experience for them, they’d practice every day and their whole day would be music, and it helped form them as musicians.

MOODY: Well, that’s the case now. But at that time it wasn’t like that, because you didn’t have the Jamey Aebersold books, the David Baker books, the Gary Campbells or Jerry Cokers — we didn’t have those. So we’d just try to get a look at whatever it was and try to play that, and if you learned it, that was about the extent of…

TP: Did you hear Charlie Parker during that time?

MOODY: Oh yeah. Charlie Parker, that was it. Charlie Parker and Dizzy, that was the stuff that you listened to.

TP: Did you hear Bird when he was with McShann or subsequent?

MOODY: No. I heard him afterwards.

TP: Do you remember the first record you heard? Was it live or a record?

MOODY: It was a record. I don’t know what it was. It might have been “Now’s The Time.” But in those days, one record would come out maybe every five or six months. Now 20 million records come out every second. But in those days you’d get a record, and then finally everybody would say, “Hey, man, have you heard the latest thing by Diz and Charlie Parker, man? You’ve got to listen to this. It’s called ‘Now’s The Time.’” I said, “Wow, what’s that?” Then the next thing you know, there’s “Salt Peanuts.” That came out. They didn’t have albums; there was just one record with two sides.

TP: So you’d memorize…

MOODY: So you just listened to that and say, “Oh, man.” Yeah, you’d play it over and over again.

TP: Where were you stationed?

MOODY: Greensboro, North Carolina.

TP: Was that a situation where you could go off base and hear bands coming through?

MOODY: You could go off-base and hear… I heard Benny Carter play there. But then Dizzy came on base and played at the Big Top for us. But he played for us, because like I said before, it was segregated. That was the place where I went… I guess you know that they had the German prisoners-of-war on the base there, and they would go into town and go into restaurants and eat, and they could socialize and do whatever they wanted, eat and whatnot…

TP: The prisoners-of-war could.

MOODY: The prisoners-of-war. And they wouldn’t let me… I couldn’t go in a restaurant.

TP: Is that where you met Dizzy?

MOODY: Yes.

TP: Did he give you a phone number and say…

MOODY: No, what he said was… He was playing at the Big Top, which was a big tent where we had our entertainment. He told me and Dave Burns that he was going to disband the band that he had, and when he got back to New York he was going to form a new one. We told him that we were going to be discharged in a few months. So he said, “Well, come on by and try out for the band.” And that’s what we did.

TP: When did you get to New York?

MOODY: Well, after a few months, when I was discharged, then I came back to Newark, New Jersey, where I was, and then I went and tried out for the band. I didn’t make it. Walter Fuller, who was the band director at the time, said I didn’t play loud enough. Then about two or three months later, my mother was ironing clothes and she had a smile on her face, just a look, and I asked her “What’s happening?” And she pointed onto some sheets that she had ironed, and under there was a telegram from Dave Burns that said, “You start with us tonight” — at the Spotlite on 52nd Street.

TP: Were you gigging after the Army?

MOODY: Oh yeah. Well, I had a gig. I was working at Lloyd’s Manor in Newark on weekends, man, and my pockets had the mumps. I was making some bucks.

TP: Was it bebop…

MOODY: It was a jazz gig! Piano, bass, drums and me.

TP: But were you playing the new music, or a mixture…

MOODY: I was playing what I was playing, and what I was playing was what I liked, so whatever it was, that’s what I was doing. But it wasn’t Dixieland, for sure.

TP: So you were with Dizzy for about 2½ years with one interruption when you went with Howard McGhee…

MOODY: No, I didn’t go with Howard McGhee. I was with Dizzy, and I did a recording with Howard McGhee. I was with Dizzy up until the time I went to Paris. I went to stay for two weeks and stayed for three years.

TP: That was in ’48.

MOODY: Yes, in ’48.

TP: Within that time you were some records with Dizzy and that wonderful session for Blue Note with Gil Fuller…

MOODY: Yes, “Tropicana”…

TP: Right, and “Fuller Bop Man.” And Chano Pozo was on the date as well. I’m sure you’ve been asked these questions about 8 million times, and I’m sorry you have to deal with them again. But had you ever dealt with Afro-Cuban before being in Dizzy’s band?

MOODY: Well, Mario Bauza was the one who hipped Dizzy to Chano, and Mario Bauza was aware of the Afro-American thing, and he played with Cab Calloway. I think he had something to do with Dizzy getting in the band. So Diz always had a big respect for Mario Bauza. In the interim I think he hipped him to Chano Pozo. So Dizzy got Chano Pozo in the band, and started writing like “Manteca” and different things, and Chano would be playing on it.

TP: Was that feeling something you had an instant affinity for?

MOODY: Well, it’s another feeling. Because if you’re feeling a straight 4/4 on the drums, CHICK-A-DING, CHICK-A-DING, you know, and then you get BUNCK-GOO, BAHK-A… It’s another feel. It’s another rhythm, another feel and it’s another lesson.

TP: Was Dizzy very proactive in breaking it apart…

MOODY: Dizzy was adept at it. I mean, he just loved it. He just went for it.

TP: One thing that seems to have been maybe his most lasting contribution was his ability to convey information to other musicians in a very specific way and break down music to its primary fundamentals. How did that apply to your experience with him during those years?

MOODY: Oh, I learned a lot from it. And my wife has heard me say this a lot of times, like, “Ah! That’s what I meant.” Even now I look back at certain things, “Oh…okay.” So it was a good learning experience. And Dizzy would take the time, and he would sit down at the piano and explain what something was, or he’d beat a rhythm and say, “See, this goes with this; listen to that.”

TP: So there was an aspect of school and you were really in the forefront-cutting edge of what was going on in the music at the time.

MOODY: Well, life was a school. That’s what it was. So right along with it; that’s what it was.

TP: Paris. Talk about your time there. You went there with Dizzy for the Salle Pleyel concert?

MOODY: No. I went to Paris mainly because I had a bout with alcohol. I had a bout with alcohol, and I was just drug and everything. So my uncle, who was living in Paris at the time, told my mother, who was his sister, “Well, send him over here for a couple of weeks, just for relaxation. Maybe that will do him good.” And I went over for two weeks and stayed for three years.

TP: This is the uncle who gave you an alto saxophone.

MOODY: Yeah, my Uncle Louis.

TP: Was he a musician?

MOODY: No. He worked for the government, the civil service. He wanted to be a dentist, but he couldn’t because we never had enough money for him to go to college.

TP: Talk about the way things got set up in Paris? Someone wrote you recorded something like over 90 tunes in a few years, which seemed hard to believe.

MOODY: No. You mean when I did 11 tunes in Sweden.

TP: Some are classics, and one is a song you still have to play…

MOODY: “Moody’s Mood For Love.” No, I did 11 sides. Anders Burman… I was down jamming at the Club St. Germain one night, and Anders Burman, who is a drummer, came in and sat in and played. But he also had something to do with the Metronome Record Company in Stockholm, Sweden. So he said, “Would you like to make some sides with us?” Like, 12 sides to be exact. I said, “Sure.” He said, “Okay, I’ll send you a plane ticket; you come up and record for us.” So I went to Stockholm and I played there a week and recorded.

TP: Then you another bunch of sessions two years later.

MOODY: Where?

TP: In Sweden? Well, there are sessions from ’49 and sessions from ’51. Prestige just put out a CD with 24 sides recorded in 1949 and 1951 with the Swedish musicians. Lars Gullin is on the latter sessions.

MOODY: That was in France. What was funny was, I didn’t know that “I’m In The Mood For Love” had become a hit. And all of a sudden, everybody in France was calling me. They wanted me to record for them. And I didn’t understand what was going on, because my mother didn’t have a telephone and I wasn’t telephoning home. You didn’t do that; you’d just write cards or something. And now, when I look back, what it was, was they wanted to get a hit, too. It was a hit already. You know what I mean? So when I look back I say “Ah.” If people want you, then they want to use you.

TP: You have such a lyric style, and within the modern harmonies, and I was wondering if you were influenced by singers in the way you approach…

MOODY: No.

TP: Not at all?

MOODY: No. And when I play a song, I don’t know the lyrics.

TP: Really.

MOODY: No.

TP: That surprises me.

MOODY: No. I don’t know the lyrics. All I know is the melody, and I like that; if I like the melody, I’ll play it.

TP: Did somebody put those songs in front of you, or were the songs your choices? Like “I’m In The Mood For Love” or “Pennies From Heaven.”

MOODY: No, I set “I’m In The Mood For Love” at the time.

TP: Were you gigging throughout the three years you spent in Europe?

MOODY: No. I wasn’t doing anything. I was just living there. My uncle was taking care of me. [LAUGHS] I didn’t have to work.

TP: So you came back to the States in ’52?

MOODY: I’m not sure what year I came back, but I came back reluctantly. I say that because of how I was treated when I was in the Air Corps. But when I got to France it was different. I said, “Oh!” Because I always thought something was wrong with me, and then when I got to France and saw what was going on, I said, “Ah, I see it isn’t me; it’s them. It’s the government back here.” I said, “I’m never going back there.”

TP: What brought you back?

MOODY: Well, they kept insisting that I come. I said, “I’m not going back.” They said, “Yeah, but come back and make that money, man.” I said, “All right, I’ll come back and make the money and then go back to playing.” But then when I got back here I said, “Why should I go back when I was born here, like I’m letting them run me away from where I belong?” So that was it.

TP: So you’re back here in the ’50s, and you put together a septet, and it works with an interruption or two until about ’61 or so, a similar format. And it was very influential. One of the first pieces I did for Downbeat was with Hank Crawford and Fathead, and they both were emphatic that the sound of your band influenced the sound that they were getting with Ray Charles and what he wanted.

MOODY: Yes.

TP: I’d like to talk about how you conceptualized the sound of that band, and what you did, and that experience.

MOODY: What happened with the sound of the band, the idea came from the sound that Gösta Thesalius did in Sweden for the “I’m In the Mood For Love” date. See, we had done all the sides with the strings. So we had a couple more to do, and so we did “I’m In The Mood For Love.” So Gösta Thesalius went into the john and sat down and sketched the harmonies out, and it was one take on a borrowed alto saxophone — from Lars Gullin. Then when I came back, I had to have those arrangements done so that they would sound similar to the record. So Johnny Acea, Quincy Jones, Gene Tease, Jimmy Boyd, they wrote the music for me. They wrote it, and it had that sound. It was a good little band, too.

TP: A fabulous band. The bass player was great. John Lathan.

MOODY: John Lathan. He had good time. The first time I heard John Lathan he was in Cleveland, Ohio, playing with a band called Gay Crosse, and that’s the first time I heard John Coltrane, who was playing alto — because he was living in Cleveland at the time, playing with Gay Crosse. I said, “Man, who IS that?”

TP: You I liked him right away, huh?

MOODY: [LAUGHS] Immediately. Before that.

TP: You were in Europe when he was with Dizzy, so you didn’t…

MOODY: No, I didn’t know him.

TP: And the drummer was really swinging, Clarence Johnston. On the hottest tempos he’s swinging.

MOODY: He’s from Boston. He studied with Alan Dawson.

TP: One thing that’s so interesting about that band is that it’s as modernist as music would get harmonically at that time, but it’s also a very communicative band.

MOODY: Oh yes.

TP: One reason why you’ve been so popular and loved by people over the years is being able to blend that very serious concert attitude to music with a very communicative thing. I wonder if you could comment on that.

MOODY: Actually, I guess I must say that I was probably just fortunate. Because you see, I didn’t do anything purposely to say, “Well, I want to do this and get a hit.” I was doing it because I liked the way it sounded.

TP: I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of getting a hit…

MOODY: But that’s what most people think. They think, “He wants to get a hit, so maybe he can scream on this” or do this or that. Do you know what I mean? But that wasn’t it. It was just something I liked, and so it was done.

TP: How much did that band work?

MOODY: We worked ALL the time.

TP: Any time off at all?

MOODY: No. All the time. The only time we were off was traveling to the next gig. In the wintertime we worked in the northern cities and in the summertime we worked in the southern cities.

TP: The easy way, huh?

MOODY: Like my mother would say, everything was bass-ackwards.

TP: And you had let’s say two cars or something?

MOODY: Yes, a station wagon and a car.

TP: And Eddie Jefferson was the band manager for most of that time?

MOODY: What happened was, after Babs Gonzalez left, I hired Eddie Jefferson to sing, and then as we would play these dances, we would go and there would be a certain amount of people… Say there would be 1000 people in the dance hall, and the guy would tell us there were 300 people. You know what I mean? I got Eddie. I said, “I’m going to make you the manager, and you’ll have a clicker, and after you get finished singing you go and keep clicking the numbers as the people come in.’

TP: And did the singing evolve out of his being in the band, or was it also part of it…

MOODY: No, he was a singer, and I was looking for a singer. He was a singer and a dancer, you see, and so I hired Eddie Jefferson to sing with the band, not knowing that he was the one who wrote the lyrics.

TP: Oh, you didn’t know it.

MOODY: No, I didn’t know that.

TP: When did you find out?

MOODY: When I found out, I said, “Wow!” His girlfriend had telling me this for the longest time. Her name was Tiny. She said, “Oh my old man, he loves your music; he put some words to your music, and you’ll hear him one day.” Then when I met him, and then when he told me about Tiny and then I saw them together, I said, “Ah!” Then two and two made five.

TP: So those bands, you were playing dances, clubs…

MOODY: Dances, clubs, yup.

TP: Mostly black clubs?

MOODY: Naturally, sure. Mostly Negro clubs. The reason I say that is, what color am I?

TP: Very deep brown with probably tints I can’t even tell.

MOODY: Red tints, but not black. Right? You see what I mean? This is black, that watchband. I read a thing, the guy says, “When I was in the Air Corps I was colored, then when something else happened I became a Negro, then when I got to such-and-such again I’m black.” Know what I mean? I just like “Negro” better, even though it means black in Spanish. I prefer “Colored,” really.

TP: So throughout that period you would play for Negro audiences.

MOODY: We would play for Negro audiences, and then sometimes we would play for Caucasian audiences. Then sometimes they would have two dances. They would have a rope down the middle, and the Caucasians would be on one side and Negroes on the other side.

TP: So it was still the period when that happened.

MOODY: Yes.

TP: Did you change repertoire when you did that?

MOODY: No! We played the same things we had! Played the arrangements that we had. That was it.

TP: And you recorded so many classics during that time for Prestige and Chess. Do you ever listen back to those old records?

MOODY: To be perfectly honest with you, Ted, I don’t have to do that. If I have time, I’ll listen to somebody else — steal as much as I can get. But my wife, she collects them all. We’ve been in Europe and she says, “Wait, I want to get this!” She gets it. I say, “Honey, forget it. That’s done.” But she has the collection herself. But I don’t want to hear them.

TP: So you get to hear him play night after night and practice and the records!

LINDA: Yes, but he doesn’t really have a lot of time to listen to music when he’s home. He has so many things to do, to play catchup and do what he wants to do.

TP: So we take you through the ’50s with the Septet, and then you rejoin Dizzy in ’62.

MOODY: I’m not sure when I joined Dizzy, but I joined him and stayed for eight years.

TP: How was it the same? How was it different?

MOODY: Oh, it was different then because it was a quintet, and then we were together more. Because in the band, you’re never… You won’t be around too much together. But then with the quintet we started hanging out more together being together. It was a smaller group.

TP: So that’s when you became closer.

MOODY: Closer, yes. As a matter of fact, after a while the band was Rudy Collins, Lalo Schifrin and Chris White, then Leo Wright left and I came in and took his place. Then after a while Lalo left, and when Lalo left, Dizzy wanted a piano player, and I told him to get Kenny Barron.

TP: How did you know about Kenny?

MOODY: Well, Kenny had been with my sextet. See, I had a sextet at the Five Spot in New York. Kenny was 18 years old then. And do you know what? Out of all these years… Kenny is almost 60 now. Do you know, I’ve never heard him make a mistake? Never, ever… I mean, he’d play a solo, and each solo, no matter what it was, it would sound as if it were a painting. I’ve always said that Klenop. I always say that when I see him.

TP: Also, during those years, you were doubling alto-tenor by the late ’40s, and then in the ’50s you added flute. I’m not sure when the soprano became part of what you do. I’d like you to talk about the challenges of multi-instrumentalists. Because another thing I think people are so impressed by is your ability to project a very individual and distinctive voice on each instrument, to make each instrument sound like your main one and not just a section sound. So anything you want to say about the different instruments.

MOODY: I need to practice them! Yeah, I need to practice them. That’s about the size of it. You play one horn because you like the sound of that, but then you play the other horn because you like the sound of that, and you want to play certain things on that, but then you play the other horn and you like the sound of that and you want to play certain things on it, then you play another one and you play that, and finally you say you want to play everything on everything. So you start trying to do that, and when you look, it’s time to go to bed. Then you get up and try something else; you look, and it’s time to go to a gig.

You know, if I had $40 million, do you know what I’d do? I think I’d give a concert every now and then, but I would be in school every day, practicing, and my wife would be sitting, whatever she wanted — there would somebody just fanning her, bringing her whatever she wanted.

LINDA: Sitting down. [LAUGHS] Oh, you’re so cute.

MOODY: You know what I mean? But mainly all I would do is practice, and give a concert every now and then. And of course, I’d want to help some people, too, buy some horns for some kids and help them get by.

TP: There’s a story, I don’t know if it’s apocryphal, that you got the flute one day from someone in Chicago and played it on the gig the next night?

MOODY: Not the next night. But I got it, and then I recorded in a week or so with it. And it sounds like it, too! [LAUGHS] But I would never do that again, the way I got the flute. I bought a hot flute, and I would never do that. I guess I was young and dumb. Because when you buy a hot flute, you’re stealing it from somebody. So why do that? I’d never do that again. So I’ve asked forgiveness for that.

TP: Without asking any particular specific question about Dizzy, but when you look at the people who are performing in it, he had a huge impact on just about everyone who’s performing in it, one way or another.

MOODY: Dizzy had an impact on every musician, he and Charlie Parker, I would think. Because who do you know didn’t play with Dizzy?

TP: Not too many people.

MOODY: See that? So that’s about the size of it. And it wasn’t because somebody was pulled into him. It was that they wanted to be around him, or be in his band or something. And for me, it was a good lesson. The only thing is I wish I would have been more spongy. I wish I would have absorbed more quicker. But then you look back in that respect, and a lot of times you say you wish you would have done, so I’m going to keep in mind what Dizzy told me before. Because I never will forget, I told Diz, “Diz I wish I would have gone to school and study music, because I never studied.” And Dizzy looked at me and said, “Moody, you ain’t dead.” And a big lightbulb went on in my head.

TP: Did he tell you that during the Sixties?

MOODY: I don’t remember what year it was…

TP: Was it during that second time?

MOODY: He told me when I told him I wished I’d have gone to school for music. Ever since he told me that, you know…

TP: Let me just ask you about some of the personalities you’ve encountered over the years who my impression would be you were close to in one way or another — or don’t, if you don’t want to.

MOODY: Yes.

TP: Kenny Clarke?

MOODY: Klook was wonderful. When I joined Dizzy’s band at the Spotlite in ’46, Klook was the drummer. But I got to know him even better in Paris when I was living there, because he was living in Paris — and we played together.

TP: Any particular reminiscence about him?

MOODY: No. Just nice being around him.

TP: Gil Fuller.

MOODY: Gil Fuller was a brilliant person. He was brilliant, but he was detrimental to himself, in a way, I would think. But a brilliant man. Brilliant but…I don’t know. A little more spirituality would have been good for him, I think.

TP: Lester Young. Did you get to know him?

MOODY: I knew Lester a little bit, yeah.

TP: Because he was one of your first idols.

MOODY: Yes, he was one of my first idols. I didn’t know him to be around him all the time, but I liked the way he sounded. He was just one of my idols.

TP: Did you get to know Bird?

MOODY: I didn’t get to know him, but we had dinner together one time together in Detroit, at a Chinese restaurant. I was staying at Sonny Wilson’s Hotel, which was a Negro hotel, and when Charlie Parker and I got finished having the dinner, I drove him back… I had my car. I drove him down to the hotel on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. Charlie Parker was in this splattered white t-shirt, some blue bermuda shorts, white silk stockings that came up above his calves, and looked like black patent shoes or something. I took him down to this hotel, and it was strange to me because he got out and said, “Thanks, Moody,” and it was strange to me as he walked down this hall, as I’m looking at him, through the lobby downtown, because Negroes couldn’t stay in the hotels downtown in Detroit. So my assumption was that the gangsters said, “This is Charlie Parker and we want him to stay there,” and that’s it.

TP: That’s quite an image you just painted.

MOODY: Yeah, that was it.

TP: A couple of other names. Was Don Byas somebody you were close to?

MOODY: Don Bayez. That’s the way they called him in France. He was in France when I was there, along with Bill Coleman, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge. I got to know them all. It was nice. Don was from Oklahoma, you know — Muskogee. Coleman Hawkins, it was nice to know him. It was nice. A lot of saxophone playing going on over there, boy. Don Byas, boy, was bad! I mean, Don knew those changes, boy. Hawk knew changes, too. Hawk was like WHOO-DOOD-LOO; Don Byas was like WHOO-DOODLEOODLE… And I loved Roy Eldridge.

TP: When I hear you now on these recent records… I realize it may be totally impressionistic and have nothing to do with what’s happening. But for some reason, Don Byas is what I’m thinking of. I don’t know why.

MOODY: Well, I don’t know. Maybe something subconscious is there.

TP: It’s probably just me.

MOODY: Oh, okay. All right.

TP: So you were with Dizzy throughout the ’60s. Then you spent the ’70s in the Hilton Hotel Orchestra in Las Vegas?

MOODY: Yeah, I was at the Las Vegas Hilton.

TP: That was an economic decision?

MOODY: Well, that was an economic decision mainly because I wanted to see my daughter grow up. I had a family, and I wanted to see my daughter grow up. I didn’t want to be going on the road and… I saw her when she was born and I said, “I’m going to watch this daughter grow up.” Because I have a daughter coming from France now, she’ll be here for the party with her husband, who I didn’t see grow up.” She’s in her forties now, and the one I saw up until she was in almost her teens she’s 31. So I wanted to stay in one place, and work and come home, work and come home. That’s when I did all the shows, like Liberace, Ann-Margaret, Connie Stevens, Milton Berle, Elvis Presley, Glen Campbell, the Rockettes, the Osmonds — I played all those shows.

TP: You just played a functional section man or…

MOODY: No-no-no! I was in the Hilton Orchestra. They had 40 pieces or something, had a string section and all that, and I had a book they put the music in and I had to play my part — that was it.

TP: Did you garner anything from that musically?

MOODY: Oh, definitely. Because I was used to play with Dizzy, with big band stuff. But when you play the show music it’s something altogether different — the intonation, everything. And they tell you exactly the way it’s going to be. You look at it – BAM. [LAUGHS] Boy, it was a lesson. A good experience. If I had to do it all over again, I would.

TP: What’s the name of your daughter who’s 31 now?

MOODY: Michelle Moody. The other one is Maryvonne, and she’s in her forties.

TP: In the ’80s you did a group of records for RCA-Novus all very different, each with its own personality. Did your decision to start touring and going back on the road as a solo artist coincide with your daughter graduating high school or getting older?

MOODY: Oh, no. I was divorced. I got a divorce before she even got into her teens. I was divorced and I left again, and I started playing with a quartet. I played with the Mike Longo trio, then finally I got another group, and I’ve been doing that ever since. I recorded with RCA…

TP: Kirk Lightsey was on one.

MOODY: Kirk Lightsey was on one…

TP: Kenny was on another.

MOODY: Right. Kenny, and Tom McIntosh did the arrangements. And you know something? I think those were nice records. I think they were nice musically. I think so. But it’s a funny thing, and I’ve always said this, and I hate to have to say it. The record companies want to make the records and they want you to sell them. And it should be the other way around. They should let you make the records and they sell them, because that’s how it should be. But they think they know what sells and what doesn’t, and I’m sorry to say no one does.

TP: No one knows what sells and what doesn’t.

MOODY: No. Like, good music, I would think, would sell.

TP: You’d think.

MOODY: Sure. And you know something? I’ll tell you what sells. A little public relations and stuff behind it? Bang, it sells it. Because nothing really sells itself unless it’s in a position to sell itself. And things aren’t in that position, because you listen to the radio, you hear what people play. So I still maintain musicians should be able to make the music.

TP: Did you have that freedom on the RCA records? Those seems like pretty personal dates.

MOODY: There was a certain amount of freedom that was given to me, and I’ll give credit where it’s due. Certain things. But do you know what my thing of freedom would really be? To go in a studio with the musicians that I want, wouldn’t anyone be in there but me, them and the engineer. That’s it.

TP: Otherwise is there a vibe on you that…

MOODY: Well, then you can talk to the guys and say, “You know what? I’d like to do so-and-so. I don’t think I want it like that” or “Yeah, I like that.” And I’m a one-take person, maybe two. But when you start three takes, four takes, that…

TP: Is that what happened?

MOODY: Well, what happened is, you’re gung-ho and everything, and the second take…I mean, by the fourth take you’re talking about ho-hum.

TP: Are you still with Warner Brothers?

MOODY: No.

TP: There are two records of your own and the two-tenor thing with Mark Turner. Both are excellent and I thought you were in wonderful form. For the purposes of this article, this those closest to the fact, tell me a bit about the Sinatra record and the Mancini record. Was the Sinatra date your concept?

MOODY: Well, what happened was, they wanted a concept, so we came up with Sinatra, which was okay, because Sinatra, he was singing the good songs, so you can’t go wrong with that. Then Henry Mancini wrote good music; you can’t go wrong with that.

TP: And Gil Goldstein set up the arrangements, you came in and…

MOODY: Oh, Goldstein’s a wonderful arranger, a wonderful musician. Nice guy. My buddy, too.

TP: What are you looking for in the musicians who are in your bands? Since Mike Longo, your pianists have been Lightsey, Mulgrew Miller, Mark Copland; the bassist is always Todd Coolman for years; a bunch of drummers, including Teri Lyne Carrington…

MOODY: They all can play. They play their buns off. That’s it. Play their buns off and punctuality.

TP: Got to be on time.

MOODY: Be on time, yeah. I’d rather have a musician that didn’t play as well but could play, and would be punctual — and that’s it. Because there are no stars. The only star that I know is Jesus. I mean, you have to be on time, because no matter what it is, everything is business. Business, business, business. Then when you have your own time, you come and go as you feel like it. But when you have to deal with other people, you have to be on time.

TP: Do you keep abreast of what the younger musicians are doing?

MOODY: As best I can. As best I can. Because there are a lot of people I haven’t heard that I wish I could hear, and then you hear them and you say, “Boy, wow, they sound beautiful!” Because so many records come out. Who do you listen to? It’s like a bookstore. I mean, how many books can you hear at once? You hear this person and say “Wow!” That’s why it’s good for jazz, because you can have a whole lot of jazz clubs, because one person can’t work all the clubs at the same time. So it’s good for clubs to be there so everybody can work.

TP: Among some of the younger musicians you’ve come in touch with, who are some who’ve particularly impressed you?

MOODY: All of them. Sure.

TP: Let me phrase it more generally, then. Things obviously have changed socially and politically since you came up. But musically, how do you see the generation of musicians from the Baby Boom on? Do you think highly of the musicianship…

MOODY: The musicianship is much better with these younger musicians. Why? Because they have the books and the teachers now that really… Jamey Aebersold and David Baker, like I said before, and Gary Campbell, Jerry Coker — all of these playalongs. Not only that, the schools.

TP: Sure. You can study with Jimmy Heath or Donald Byrd.

MOODY: Right. You see? If you feel like you want to learn something, you can learn it, from the bottom up. And if you get a good teacher, you can play real quick. And if you have a bad teacher, you’ll still be scuffling, years upon years upon years.

TP: A lot of people who have written about you in liner notes from the ’50s and ’60s remark on you having self-doubt and never being satisfied with what you do…

MOODY: Sure.

TP: Is that something…

MOODY: No. I have a doubt, but it’s not a self-doubt. My doubt before was that like I was flying an airplane but I didn’t know what the route was. You see? What it is, if you don’t know the changes, you’re skimming. I might skim now, but at least I know I’m skimming. I skimmed before, but I didn’t know I was skimming.

TP: Are you saying that until you did these busride sessions with Tom McIntosh and your subsequent studies, you were sort of walking the edge every time that you played?

MOODY: Right. And I can also say that still, even at 75, I haven’t reached my peak, because I’m still trying to find out how to play the changes. See, the young cats come up and they learn this from the very getgo; I mean, they can play the hell out of them. See, I’m a little slow with them, but at least I know things that I have to learn and I’m trying to learn them. So I’m going to sound different one time or other, because I’m going to be playing some of the changes. It’s not going to be the same as not playing them.

TP: What are the advantages of being an ear player?

MOODY: How about the disadvantages?

TP: Are there any advantages?

MOODY: Well, let’s look at it this way. Like, if you’re an ear player and then you learn the changes, what was advantageous about not knowing the changes? That’s where the self-doubt is, see? You’re playing by ear, but you’re saying, “Damn, I don’t know this, and I’m scuffling. Was that it?”

TP: Another person I’d like you to say a few words about is Tom McIntosh.

MOODY: Wonderful musician. Nice trombonist, too. Wonderful orchestrator and writer, and a wonderful human being.

TP: When you had those sessions with him, how did he approach it with you?

MOODY: It was very simple. He would say, “Moody, this is a C-scale. This here is a C-Major Triad, and you flat the third here. This is a C-Minor Triad. This is a C, E, G, a B-flat, and that’s a C7. C, E, G, B, that’s a C-Major-7. C-Flat-7, Dominant-7. And he’d be telling me that… Then after I learned them I said, “Oh, boy, I got that.” So I wanted to play a song, and I’m looking at them, [SINGS REFRAIN FROM "Cup-Bearers"] I said, “Yeah, but it doesn’t sound like that when they’re playing. Because you can’t hit tonics and play. You have to start on 3rds and 2nds and 5ths. You know what I mean? And you have to be able to weave and bob and come up half-steps below and half-steps above… But at least I’ve got an idea of what it is now.

TP: Did you get hands-on instruction in that regard from Dizzy in the ’60s? Specific harmonic information?

MOODY: Hands-on?

TP: Well, by “hands-on” I mean did he sit down with you and break things down?

MOODY: Well, he told me about the minor VII-flat V chord. That was one of his things. That’s why when he wrote “Woody ‘n You” and those things… He liked Monk a lot, because Monk had those minor VII-Flat-V chords, and Diz always called them… He said, “I like to look at them as minor-VI.” [SINGS THE SOUND] Diz looked at it as a minor-VI. He used to call a minor VII-flat V a minor VI chord. He looked at it that way.

TP: Also, Zan Stewart who wrote liner notes for a reissue, talked about your having immersed yourself in Coltrane’s harmonic system.

MOODY: Oh, yes, man! [LAUGHS]

TP: You’re one year older than Coltrane. Talk about the impact he had on you.

MOODY: Well, the first time I heard Coltrane, like I told you, was in Cleveland, Ohio. He was playing alto with Gay Crosse. I heard him and John Lathan. Boy, they were playing “Our Delight,” and I said, “Man, who is that guy, because he sounds phenomenal.” And I was down the street at another club, and as soon as we finished I’d break over and run over to the other side to listen to what he was doing!

TP: But later on, when he’d developed his concept, were you friendly? Did you talk to him?

MOODY: I didn’t see Coltrane that much. But I did take him from Chicago… I think he was working at the Sutherland Hotel, and he wanted to go to Elkhart, Indiana.

TP: To the Selmer Factory?

MOODY: Right. So I drove him to Elkhart. And he was playing that stuff then, and I was saying, “What is it?” and he said, “Oh, man, it’s nothing.” And he really meant it, that it wasn’t nothin’. Then he got this soprano, and a few months later is when he came out with “My Favorite Things.”

TP: Did that inspire you to play soprano, or were you already doing it? Was the soprano the last of the instruments you added to your arsenal?

MOODY: Well, I played the soprano I guess because everybody else started playing it. So I got one, and I liked the sound of it. Because when I was living in Paris, Sidney Bechet lived across the courtyard from me, and he played soprano. But I didn’t necessarily feel like I wanted to play it at that time.

TP: Did you get to know Sidney Bechet?

MOODY: Well, I knew him, but not as a… I saw him, because he lived across the courtyard from me in Paris. Just like with Django Reinhardt; I played with him one time in the Club St. Germain, but I didn’t get to know him. But he seemed like a nice person, and so did Sidney Bechet.

TP: Talk about what it was like in Paris for those years.

MOODY: Well, in Paris it was like I could go anywhere I felt like going, and it was like you were accepted anywhere you went, as long as you acted like a gentleman. It was different, especially after being stationed in Greensboro, North Carolina.

TP: Or being on the road as a professional musician and dealing with all the bullshit.

MOODY: Being on the road, and going on the bus and having the bus driver to get you sandwiches and things because you couldn’t go in the restaurants and eat.

TP: I’d like to talk a bit about this concert. Say a bit about the different people who are appearing.

MOODY: Like what?

TP: Like, what do I want you to say?

MOODY: No… Well, you’ve got Jon Faddis. I remember Jon when he was 12 years old in San Francisco. We were working at the Jazz workshop with Dizzy. Jon came in, a tall, lanky kid, a nice kid. We liked him. I liked him from the jump. And it’s nice to see him now, doing what he’s doing. I remember Wynton when Wynton was with Art Blakey, when he first came to town. I like to see him doing what he’s doing now. Paquito D’Rivera, I remember meeting him when he first came from Cuba, and he’s doing okay. Of course, Tito Puente is my man. I’ve known Tito for a long time.

TP: In the ’50s when you were off the road, did you play with the great Latin bands of the ’50s?

MOODY: No, I didn’t. But when Jack Hooke was there, I used to play Salsa Meets Jazz, and I’d be featured down there at the Village Gate. I did some of those.

Slide Hampton, man. I call him Slick Slide, boy, because he’s got a whole lot of music under his belt, boy. He’s a wonderful arranger and trombonist. Jimmy Heath — “Section.” I’ve been knowing Section for a long time, man. Fantastic arranger and composer and saxophonist.

TP: Did you meet him as a kid in Philly?

MOODY: yes.

TP: When he had that big band which was based on Dizzy’s big band.

MOODY: Yes. And his brother Tootie and Percy.

TP: Will this concert cover the various musical situations you’ve moved into? For instance, with Paquito there, will “Tropicana” or…

MOODY: We’ll play “Manteca.”

TP: Will there be a lot of Dizzy’s arrangements.

MOODY: We’ll play “Manteca” and we’ll probably play “Emanon,” “Con Alma”…

TP: And the vocalists will do vocals to some of your solos…

MOODY: Mmm-hmm.

TP: And your own small group will play some of it.

MOODY: We’ve got Renee Rosnes, fantastic pianist. Todd Coolman, a fantastic bassist. We’ve got Kenny Barron, who like I told you, I’ve never heard make a mistake. We’ve got Mike Longo.

TP: Adam Nussbaum is your drummer these days. Helluva drummer.

MOODY: Tell me about it.

TP: I’m looking at you and I can’t believe you’re 75 years old. I might think you were 60…

LINDA: He’s going on 18.

TP: Well, 60 anyway. Is music the secret for you? Is music what keeps you young?

MOODY: Well, let’s say the biggest secret is God. The next secret is my mother was 86, and my Uncle Louis is 86. But the music… You know, when you’re doing something and you like what you’re doing… Not to say that that there are times when you do things…you don’t always get to do what you want to do. But if it’s fairly like what you want to do, it makes everything in your system work fairly well. Happiness…when you’re happy… And then especially to have a wonderful wife, to be in love, that helps, too. When you don’t have that, you kind of fade away. But when you do, you kind of want to stay in.

TP: And you’ve been married since ’89?

MOODY: Yes, 11 years.

LINDA: You have done your homework, Ted.

TP: Oh, I always do my homework.

LINDA: It’s refreshing, I have to tell you.

TP: How did you meet?

LINDA: Would you like me to tell you? We met in a club in Los Angeles called Catalina. I drove my friend from San Diego to Los Angeles so that she could hear Moody. I didn’t know who he was, had never heard him or of him or anything else. So I took her, and then the next year he came to San Diego to play and she and I went to hear him on opening night — and three months later we were married. During those three months, he was gone for a month in Africa with Dizzy doing a State Department tour. So he called me every day from the different embassies where he was. He would be out playing tennis with different heads of state, and they would say, “Oh, come and use our phone to call Linda; it’s so much easier.” And he sent me love faxes every day.

TP: So it was love at first sight.

LINDA: Well, at second sight, mmm-hmm.

MOODY: I sent her dozen roses every Monday.

LINDA: Since our first date. I still get them.

MOODY: She still gets them.

LINDA: I still get them.

TP: And there are flowers in the hotel room. There’s about a 100-pound bouquet from Bill and Camille Cosby on the coffee table in front of us.

LINDA: I’d say it’s about 150 pounds.

TP: And Peter Jennings by the TV.

LINDA: Peter and Kaci, his wife. This is from Jazz at the Lincoln Center, and that’s from the hotel, and the sales department who took care of all of the reservations for all of our friends and family who flew into town. It’s just been one big collaboration and help, and everybody’s been so kind.

TP: And how long has this concert been in the works?

LINDA: We’ve been working on it for about a year, but intensely since about last October.

TP: Are there special commissioned arrangements?

LINDA: David Baker did the big band arrangement of “Last Train From Overbrook,” and that’s a new arrangement. And Lalo Schifrin did an arrangement of “Happy Birthday.”

[PAUSE]

TP: The waiter just came in bringing champagne and a huge basket of fruit.

LINDA: The other two big band arrangements of “Slow Hot Wind” and “Young At Heart,” Gil Goldstein did those. Then several tunes Moody’s going to do with his quartet, and of course the LCJO with Wynton.

* * *

James Moody (5-20-00):

TP: In our first interview I spoke with you about your beginnings on the instrument, and I wanted to ask a couple of more questions. You said you got your first horn when you were 16, and you went to the Adams Theater because you wanted to hear Lester Young play, but instead you heard Buddy Tate and Don Byas. Were you playing any music in the years before that?

MOODY: No, I wasn’t playing.

TP: You started playing that year?

MOODY: Mmm-hmm. When I got the saxophone.

TP: Before you went in the Armed Services…

MOODY: I like Air Corps. Because when you say “Armed Services,” nobody knows where, but when I say “Air Corps” they know exactly where I was

TP: That said, were you working with people your age? Were you doing little gigs around Newark? When did you actually start playing before a public?

MOODY: Oh, I didn’t start playing before a public until I got out of the Air Corps.

TP: So was it that you were basically practicing on the saxophone, woodshedding on the saxophone, maybe playing with some friends, you get in the Air Corps and you volunteer…

MOODY: No-no-no-no. I wasn’t jamming or doing anything. In other words, I didn’t know the instrument. I learned the instrument in the Air Corps. I wasn’t jamming. I didn’t have that in Newark. They might have had it, but I didn’t know anything about it.

TP: And so you learned it in the Air Corps, and you knew some of the music by hearing it on the radio and starting to buy records.

MOODY: Right.

TP: You said you liked Prez. Who were the saxophone players that were your favorites and probably were in your mind when you were starting to formulate your vocabulary?
MOODY: You mean from the very beginning? From the beginning was Jimmy Dorsey.

TP: On alto saxophone.

MOODY: Yes. And I guess the reason for that is because in those days they had a radio station in Newark, New Jersey, WNEW, and on Saturdays there was a guy by the name of Martin Block who come on and play a half-hour or an hour of jazz. When you say “jazz,” it would be like Benny Goodman or Jimmie Lunceford or Count Basie or something like that. And I heard Jimmy Dorsey on the radio like all during the week or something like that, and then finally I heard Charlie Barnet, and I liked Charlie Barnet better than Jimmy Dorsey. Then finally I heard Rudy Williams, who was an alto guy from Newark, and I liked him better. Then I heard Count Basie and I heard Lester Young. I said, “Oh, wait a minute, I like this.” I heard Georgie Auld. I liked him. And I heard Coleman Hawkins.

But my thing that I liked at the beginning was Lester Young, because of I guess that feel he had and the swing [SINGS PREZ REFRAIN] Boy, that used to knock me out. Even though Coleman Hawkins, when I look back now, was playing more changes. You know what I mean? But that wasn’t the thing. All I knew was what I felt and what made feel good. So I heard Count Basie was coming to the Adams Theater in Newark, and so I went down there hoping to hear Lester Young, and when I got there Don Byas had taken his place. So the two tenor players were Don Byas and Buddy Tate. Anyway, that was that.

Then when I heard Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, that really put an end to everything. I said, “That’s it; this is it.” So that’s how that went.

TP: Just so I get it straight when you heard Buddy Tate and Don Byas, you had just gotten a saxophone at that time?

MOODY: No-no, no-no. I got my saxophone when I was 16 years old. I used to go and listen to… Like, if anybody played a saxophone anywhere, I would listen to it. So there weren’t that many people for me to listen to, at least that I knew of in Newark. So when the band would come to the theater, naturally I would go and listen, because it would knock me out. That’s the first time I heard Georgie Auld, was when he played with Artie Shaw. And Artie Shaw had strings in his band, I never will forget, and Georgie Auld played “Body and Soul.” Boy, that was beautiful. At the Adams. Then I liked him. Have you ever heard of Georgie Auld?

TP: Yes, I’ve heard some Georgie Auld.

MOODY: He was from Canada.

TP: And your uncle got you an alto, and then you got a tenor before you got into the Air Corps and your mother sent it to you?

MOODY: My mother sent it to me. She sent it to me because when I was drafted into the Air Corps, they wanted to form a Negro band. But at first, I was just drafted in the Air Corps, and I was in the basic training center. They were training me to be a soldier. I don’t know what they were training me to be, but the point was, they wanted to have a band, a Negro band. Because three-quarters of the base was Caucasian and one-quarter was Negro, and they wanted the Negro part to be self-sufficient. What self-sufficient meant was they wanted you to stay on your side.

TP: They wanted a segregated band.

MOODY: That’s it. And they had it. So lucky for me, I was able to get in it. Because if it had been a regular band and all like that, I wouldn’t have been able to cut the mustard.

TP: So you had a rudimentary knowledge of the saxophone at that point, and being in that band you were able to practice and work on the horn…

MOODY: Well, being in the band, what they did was, they had the men from the official Air Force Band come over and teach us. They would show us things, at least the ones that needed it. It’s funny, because three years later, after I was discharged and I was in Dizzy’s band, a lot of those guys were my friends afterwards, because they would come and see me, and said, “Boy, it’s nice to see you, Moody. Yeah, man.” Because I was with Dizzy Gillespie then.

TP: That’s why I’m picking on this subject so much. Because when you said you knew nothing about the saxophone before going in the Army, then three years later you’re taking the solo on “Emanon,” it just seems remarkable that you were able to do it, apart from your innate talent.

MOODY: Well, that’s the way it was. That’s the way it happened.

TP: When you were in the Air Corps, is that when you first heard Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker?

MOODY: Well, I think I heard a little bit of it just before I was drafted. I was drafted in ’43, and I heard something of it. Then when I got to Greensboro, North Carolina… You know, in those days the records didn’t come out as often as they do now. So when they came, everybody had it or everybody was listening to it. So I heard Dizzy and Charlie Parker good, boy, and I would listen to that stuff over and over and over.

TP: Well, their first records I think were “Shaw Nuff” and “Salt Peanuts”…

MOODY: The Dials.

TP: The Dials were in ’46 and the Savoys were in ’45. I asked you previously if you had heard Bird with McShann, and you said, “No, later,” then I asked you what the first record you heard by Bird was, and you said it might have been “Now’s the Time,” but you weren’t sure.

MOODY: No, the first time… I heard Charlie Parker with Jay McShann when he played “Hootie Blues,” and the guy was singing, “Hey, baby, don’t you want a man like me” or something like that, and Charlie Parker played the chords or something on that. That’s the first time I heard that. But I think the first time I heard him was “Shaw Nuff” or something.

TP: So that must have been towards the end of your stay in the Air Corps, mid or late ’45, just based on when the things came out.

MOODY: I suppose so, because I’m very bad with dates.

TP: Right. I’m not trying to pin you down on the dates. I’m trying to deal with your aesthetic in some way.

MOODY: Sure.

TP: Can you describe the impact Charlie Parker had on you in some specific language?

MOODY: Well, the impact was that I liked him better than any other saxophone player that I heard?

TP: And why?

MOODY: Because of what I heard. That’s why. It’s very simple. If you look at it chronologically, the way I said, I said the first one I liked was Jimmy Dorsey. Right? Then I continued on with different people, Ben Webster, you know, then Lester Young. Coleman Hawkins I wasn’t too thrilled with. I didn’t like the way he sounded. But when I look back now, he was playing more changes than all of them. But then when I heard Charlie Parker, wow.

TP: Well, he was playing all the changes, and then he had that flowing, fluid thing you liked in Prez.

MOODY: He what?

TP: His harmony was as sophisticated or more than anyone, and then he had the fluidity Lester Young had, too.

MOODY: Who?

TP: Charlie Parker.

MOODY: No, wait a minute. No, I think you’re mixed up there with it. What I’m saying is, I heard Lester Young. Lester Young wasn’t playing the changes like Coleman Hawkins. But Coleman Hawkins didn’t do anything for my soul at that time the way Lester Young did. Then when I heard Charlie Parker, he did more for me than either one of them.

TP: Dizzy Gillespie first came to Greensboro to play a concert, which is where you met him.

MOODY: He played a concert on the base, at a place called the Big Top, which was a big tent.

TP: And you’d heard Dizzy by then.

MOODY: Mmm-hmm.

TP: So you knew that sound, and that sound had captivated you.

MOODY: Oh yes.

TP: If let’s say “Algo Bueno” or “Dizzy Atmosphere” were out by that time, could you play those by the time that you…

MOODY: Heck, no. But when I got with Dizzy’s quintet and stuff, I could play it.

TP: But Dizzy heard something in you and he wanted you to play with him.

MOODY: Well, what it is is word-of-mouth, I guess. We went and tried out for the band, and Walter Fuller said I didn’t play loud enough. My friend David Burns — we were in the Air Corps together — made it. About a couple of months later I got a telegram from Dave that said, “you start with us tonight at the Spotlite.” That was it. Because they probably needed a tenor player, and Dave probably said, “Get my guy Moody.” That’s how guys get in the band. You get in the band when somebody needs you… When I was with Dizzy’s band and Lalo Schiffrin left, and Dizzy needed a piano player, I said, “Get Kenny Barron.”

TP: What do you remember about that first night?

MOODY: The first night I was there, Thelonious Monk was the piano player, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson. The club was very small, but all the different people who I heard on the radio before were there. Coleman Hawkins, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, they would be in the audience. It was a thrill sitting there playing the music.

TP: Were you rehearsing intently?

MOODY: No. We were playing! When I went, the band… It was a gig!

TP: I meant, within the big band was it a thing where you’d learn and internalize the music by playing every night, or were there a lot of rehearsals as well.

MOODY: Oh, yeah, we rehearse. You’d rehearse a tune and then play it. But that night I had to just look at the music and go from there. What it was, my friend Dave showed me the line of “Things To Come” just before the gig, so I’d play that. so it was a breeze.

TP: It was a breeze!? Because you said you were playing by ear pretty much at that time and for the next 12-13 years.

MOODY: Right. I was playing by ear, but I could read a little bit, and then I learned to read more and more. The more you read, the better you read. then when you don’t read, you get rusty, and it’s hard.

TP: The Spotlite was the club that Clark Monroe owned, the guy who had owned Monroe’s Uptown House, and that was his joint on 52nd Street.

MOODY: It was either his or he was managing it or something. He was a Negro and he probably was fronting it. I don’t know.

TP: Was he around?

MOODY: Yeah.

TP: What was he like?

MOODY: Well, he was like a Negro guy who dressed well and took care of business.

TP: Do you remember on that first engagement with Dizzy if there were large crowds and the crowds were enthusiastic?

MOODY: Oh, there were a lot of people. Every night.

TP: Were people very excited by it? Did it seem like something totally new and…

MOODY: Very-very-very excited. Everywhere we went, places were jam-packed and everything. You’d look up and you’d see Lena Horne and Ava Gardner. It was jammed.

TP: What was it like going on the road with the band in terms of the audience reaction in the provinces in the South or Midwest?

MOODY: Well, we’d go on the chitlin’ circuit, and the chitlin’ circuit was like… If you could get over in New York, you could get over anywhere. So the chitlin’ circuit was New York, the Apollo Theater, then the Royal Theater in Baltimore, the Howard Theater in Washington and the Earle Theater in Philadelphia.

TP: They called that the Around-the-World.

MOODY: Right. And if you could make it in those theaters, you could make it anywhere. Then we went on tour with Ella Fitzgerald, and we went down South, and that was a drag, because you couldn’t eat in restaurants and the bus driver had to go get sandwiches for you. The bus driver could go in the restaurants, but you couldn’t because he was Caucasian. But that was the same thing when I was in Greensboro, N.C., because the German prisoners-of-war could go downtown and eat, and I couldn’t.

TP: But the audiences were enthusiastic?

MOODY: The audiences were very enthusiastic. We played dances where there would be a rope down the middle of the hall, and there would be Caucasians on one side and Negroes on the other side. Then they’d have two dances at a place, like a dance tonight and a dance the next night. The first would be maybe for Negroes with White spectators, and then when they had the Caucasian dance there would be no Negro spectators.

TP: But you played the repertoire you were playing. You didn’t compromise on the repertoire.

MOODY: No, we played the band.

TP: In our earlier interview, you said to you went to Paris in late summer of ’48, a few months before Dizzy went and played the Salle Pleyel concert that got recorded. You were living with your Uncle Louis, who got you the alto, and you said he worked for the U.S. Government.

MOODY: Yes, he worked for the U.S. government.

TP: You said, I think, that Sidney Bechet lived across the courtyard from you?

MOODY: My uncle lived near the Eiffel Tower. But later on, when I got married, I was living in another apartment where Sidney Bechet lived across the courtyard from me.

TP: What part of Paris was the apartment you lived in when you were married?

MOODY: I’m not sure now, but it was a nice area. I forget which Arrondissement it is. Where I lived with uncle, it was Avenue Chanfoucault(?), and I could open up the veranda on the balcony and look out, and there was the Eiffel Tower right in front of me. The maids quarters were upstairs. It was nice.

TP: And Paris for you was a wonderfully liberating experience, you said, because you could just be you and not have to worry about White and Black.

MOODY: Well, the point was that I always had a thing there was something wrong with me, and I didn’t know what it was, except the way I looked. I was wondering why I was disliked so much. So when I got to Paris, then I found out it wasn’t me. I said, “Ah, I see what it is. It’s the people. It’s them. They’re going by a color thing.’ Then when I looked back at it, I said to myself, “Damn, the majority of those people who are hating me aren’t worth two dead flies and even me worrying about them.

TP: Well, you said you went there originally to cool out some because the pressures were getting to you.

MOODY: I went to cool out for two weeks, and stayed three years.

TP: I just want to talk about the music in Paris. It seems like such a rich time, because so many great American musicians were there, not to mention Django, and that’s when you did the sides that endure today. I’d like to talk about your musical evolution while you were in Europe. Do you feel like you grew a great deal musically during your three years there?

MOODY: No, I don’t think I did. What happened is… You see, the way I came up musically, I came up wrong, I think, from the standpoint that I thought improvising was spontaneous. In other words, I thought you did it, and I didn’t realize that you had to practice, you had to practice changes… I didn’t know any changes. I didn’t know. I was playing by ear. So when I came back from Europe and started trying to find out about chords and things like that, then my music thing started changing. I started drinking, because people were saying how great I was, and I couldn’t play crap. Why are they saying I’m great? I’m not great.

TP: This is after you’re touring with the septet and becoming famous.

MOODY: yes.

TP: And you felt insecure about it.

MOODY: Yes. So now, when I look back at it… I’m 75 years old, and you know, I haven’t reached my peak chord-wise, because I’m still trying to study and learn how to put things where, and trying to become a better musician. And it’s pretty good, too. Because I’ve got a whole lot to learn, boy!

TP: I guess it gives you the feeling that there’s a lot to wake up the next day to, whatever you’re going to discover.

MOODY: Not only that, but I know which way I’m going, too. Whereas before, I didn’t know which way it was.

TP: That said, could you describe the scene in Paris? Were you gigging in Paris and in Europe?

MOODY: No, I didn’t have to. If I wanted a gig, I’d take it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t.

TP: But you could if you wanted to.

MOODY: I could if I wanted to, yes. And so what happened was, like, I would just go out every night to the Club St. Germain and listen to different people. But they only had two clubs. One club was called the St. Germain, and that one was jazz, and the Rue Columbier was Dixieland. I wasn’t a Dixieland person. Claude Lutere played there all the time. That’s why Hugues Panassie and Charles Delaunay fell out, because Panassie was a Louis Armstrong freak, and Delaunay was a Dizzy Gillespie freak.

TP: Well, he was a Modernist.

MOODY: Yes. So when Panassie died, Delaunay said he was sorry that it was like that . But that’s the way it goes.

TP: You made one famous bebop session there, the “Prince Albert” session.

MOODY: Yeah, I did that with Kenny Dorham and Max Roach. I was played with Miles while I was there, too.

TP: You came back, you said, because “Moody’s Mood For Love” became a hit, and you had other popular cuts, and people told you that you could make some money here.

MOODY: That’s the only reason I came back. Other than that, I wasn’t going to set foot on American soil again. Because I was pissed off from what had happened to me in Greensboro.

TP: It sounds like when you came back, what you found in America fulfilled what you might have expected, the reasons you left, that it matched your worst fears about it.

MOODY: Well, not my worst fears. What happened was, I came back and it was the same old shit, but only smoothed over with whipped cream. And the funny thing about it is, when you look at it, you look how the government… Excuse me, Ted. I have to say this the way I have to say it. Excuse me. But you see how the government fucked up a whole race, generations of one race, fucked them up to where they had no history, they had no chance of anything, and they didn’t give them anything, they lied to them, they cheated to them, they killed them. Then when it was time for them to get paid, they lied and said that they were owed rather than them having to pay them. When you look at this, I mean, that’s a Holocaust in itself. There’s a book out now by Randall Johnson called The Debt, and America, not only America but the world owes a debt to the Negro, mainly because every country in the world has screwed over the Negro race. If you think I’m lying, how do you think systematically the Third World countries are all dark? And how do you think that all these places have diamond mines, gold mines, and they don’t have one iota of anything to show for it. They wouldn’t let them get an education, and now they want them to be educated. Negroes have been hollering discrimination for years and years. Nobody says shit. And as soon as two Caucasians said, “Hey, wait a minute, they wouldn’t let me get a job,” they say, “No, we can’t have this discrimination stuff. That’s wrong.” You see? So they have more than three or four or five standards that they go by, and you can rest assured that the Negro’s ass is always going to be at the bottom.

Frankly, I’m not angry with any individual about it, but I think the Government in America is full of shit, and it sucks because of what they do, and the Republican Party and the Democratic Party is full of shit because they don’t do shit. They only talk about superfluous stuff instead of getting down to the business and saying, “Look, we have to do right and we have to be honest.” And the first way to be honest is to give an apology to all the Negroes, and then repay them for the work that was done and was never paid for. And I’m not saying, “Give each Negro some money.” I’m saying, give them an education. Quit that bullshit about color-blind. You can’t be color-blind because you see what colors you see. They are there. Never mind the color. Just be fair. That’s what I’m saying. That really bugged me. But it doesn’t make me hate anybody. Like, Ronald Reagan. I can’t stand the son-of-a-bitch. But if I could raise my hand to make him well, I’d do it. My wife. Blonde, green eyes. You saw her. But we have the same blood type. So what’s that shit about Negro blood and White blood? That’s bullshit.

TP: Well, in this country it’s all mixed up.

MOODY: Listen, this country started this shit. It’s all over the world now. Mainly because when economics is involved, there has to be a scapegoat, and there is no better scapegoat than someone who doesn’t look like you, supposedly. But if you look… See, people don’t see the forest for the trees or the trees for the forest. But if you were to look at an individual, you would see ears, nose, eyes, hair, no-hair, if it’s male or female. But they don’t see those similarities. All they see is, “oh, look at that color.” But how many people do you say, “Oh, look at the yellow rose,” “oh, look at the white rose,” “oh, look at the red rose.” It’s “Oh, look at the roses.” Same thing with tulips or any other flower. I’m sick of all these ignorant assholes with the shit that they talk, who stand up saying one thing and meaning another thing. Look at McCain. He got up there and spoke about that flag, the Confederate flag, and said, “I think the people should take care of it.” Then later on, afterwards, when he was out of the race and he said he had to be truthful about it, he said it was wrong to have the flag up there. And it is, too. First of all, slavery was wrong, and it was wrong to fight for slavery, and I don’t give a shit who fought to save slavery. If they fought for it, they were fighting for the wrong cause. Take the fuckin’ flag down.

All of that pertains to music. Because music is a feeling. You feel what you play. You see things, you feel something and you play. No matter what you do, you do it from your feelings. So consequently, whatever it is that you feel, it comes out. But the thing with me is that my anger through music… Like, I want music to be loving. So my anger comes out in a more beautifying way. Because I want to spread love, not ignorance, like all these people that…I don’t want to say sons-of-bitches in this…

For the longest time, I can tell when they think they’re giving me the boot. Because a lot of Americans grow up thinking they’re better than certain people. So you mean to tell me if you’re this color, you’re better than them, so that’s it. Even down South, they’re like, “Oh, yeah, we taught them all we know,” and they ain’t shit.

TP: Let me ask you something. In the ’50s, it sounds like you were taking out that anger on yourself and you were drinking…

MOODY: No. The anger was coming from no knowledge.

TP: No knowledge of music?

MOODY: Yes.

TP: So in ’58, when you get out of Overbrook, and Tom Macintosh starts running down the ABC’s of harmony, it sounds almost like a new life for you…

MOODY: Of course.

TP: Then you join Dizzy in ’61. Is that when you start to accept Bahai?

MOODY: No. Dizzy didn’t tell me about the Bahai or anything. First of all, Tom Macintosh… I was out there, and people were giving me fish, and Tom Macintosh taught me how to fish, and I’ll always be indebted to him for that. If a person is hungry and you give him a fish, you give him a fish for a day. But if a person is hungry and you teach him how to fish, you’ve fed them for life, haven’t you. That’s what I’m saying. Check this out. Here’s a fish. You cook it and you eat it. Now, how are you going to get another one?

TP: You have to fish.

MOODY: There you go.

TP: I’d like you to talk about how you arrived at your faith and how it affects your music.

MOODY: When Linda and I were married, we were married at a place called Faith Chapel. That’s another thing got me, too. See, Sunday is the most racist day in America.

TP: Sunday is.

MOODY: Yeah. The White people go to their White church and Negroes go to their…because God is White and all that bullshit. And it’s a bunch of malarkey, because all of the religions come from the Far East or somewhere else. Anyway, my wife and I would go to Faith Chapel in San Diego, and when I would be sitting in the pews, the minister would be saying, “And Jesus said ‘do right,’” Every Sunday “Jesus said ‘do right.’” And I would be counting, let’s see, there are 28 women in the choir and 28 men. How many letters in that word? There are 35 lightbulbs over there. That’s what I’d be doing. Because he wouldn’t be saying a damn thing. Nothing. Then Martin Luther King’s birthday came up; they didn’t say anything about that. So one day my wife overheard me say to somebody, “I’m so sick of counting people in the choir and the lightbulbs,” and she said, “Honey, I had no idea you felt that way.” I said, “Honey, they never say anything. Nothing!” I mean, they say the same shit over and over again, which doesn’t mean anything. Suppose I see you every day, Ted, and I say, “Good morning, Ted.”

TP: “Good morning, Moody.”

MOODY: Good morning, Ted. And there we go. Shit, there’s more to that than… “Good morning, Ted. How are you? Hey, Ted, how’s the family?” Whatever it is. So my wife looked in the papers and saw there was something at the Bahai thing. So she said, “Honey, would you like to go to this thing?” I said, “Sure.” It so happened that it was a feast. We went, and when I walked into the place, right away it felt altogether different. Now, Faith Chapel, where we went, like there were Negroes, Caucasians, everything. But the vibe was a bullshit vibe, where people raise their hand, “Oh, Jesus!” and getting tears in their eyes, calling me a nigger today and then repenting, then coming back next week to…

TP: Two-faced.

MOODY: Yeah. So the thing at the Bahai place, there was Spanish people, Caucasians, just everything, and they were saying prayers in Hindu and Spanish or Persian. I said, “Wow, man.” It just felt nice there. And they didn’t have a minister. You just sat down and everybody talked. Did you know that I could marry someone because I’m a Bahai? Myself. Me.

TP: You can perform the ceremony.

MOODY: Yes. And I like that. Do you know why? Because that stuff about the minister standing up talking…man… Oh, and another thing about the Bahais is… When I went into the Air Corps they said, “What religion are you?” I said, “I don’t know. I think…” “Well, what was your mother?” I said, “I think my mother is a Baptist.” They said, “Then you’re a Baptist.” I said, “No, I’m not.” With the Bahais, a child cannot become a Bahai until the child investigates the religion and wants to become a Bahai. It’s beautiful. And the Bahais believe that Mankind is One, and Earth is one country. They had a convention at Carnegie Hall, and man, they had Bahais from all corners of the earth, and we played. I was looking out there, and I said, “Now, see, this is the way the world is.” You go to one church and you see all Caucasians sitting up there talking about “Oh, Jesus,” but they don’t want a Negro or a Chinese in there. Listen, man, the Negroes and the Chinese, they built this country. But this country and didn’t get paid for it. They promised the Negro 40 acres and a mule. Any time the Negro asks for something they say, “These black son-of-a-bitches are always asking for something. Why don’t they get out and work?” Well, shit. If they hadn’t worked, there wouldn’t be a White House, there wouldn’t be Germany, England… There wouldn’t be a lot of shit.

And that stuff about Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves? It’s a lot of bullshit. None of that stuff had anything to do with freeing the Negro. There’s a wonderful book called Forced Into Glory by Lerone Bennett. He really tells about Abraham Lincoln was a racist. He loved nigger jokes.

TP: So you came to the Bahai faith about thirty years after playing with Dizzy, if it was 1989. But you said in the earlier interview that you became much closer to Dizzy the second time around.

MOODY: Oh yes.

TP: It seems there must not be another musician who had more impact on you than Dizzy Gillespie.

MOODY: We had a wonderful relationship. It was wonderful being around him. I could talk to Diz and he could talk to me. It was just a good feeling being together; we liked being together when we were. I’d be in Sweden or somewhere, the phone would ring, and it would be Diz, calling me from Paris. When Diz was sick, every chance I could get… When I came from California, I would get a car and pick him up and take him out for a ride. It was just a good experience. Nice.

TP: He was so famous for passing on and sharing information, and I wondered what your experience was like in that regard.

MOODY: Oh, he shared information with me like that. He showed me things. I remember looking at him one time and saying, “Diz, you know what? I wish I would have gone to a music school and studied music.” And he looked at me and said, “Moody, you ain’t dead.” A light went on. That did it.

TP: I’ll conclude this conversation. But this week you’re playing with Mark Turner who is about 40 years younger than you. You do a lot of education. You made a comment in the earlier interview that musicians today are better than ever because they have access to such good education. I think that jazz music is unique among the arts because there’s a real-time interaction, real-time storytelling or narratives going on on the bandstand. They can be 80 and 20, they can be from Australia or Chicago, they can be from anywhere, and they’re still sharing a common language and moving things forward. I think what goes on this week on the bandstand would seem to bear that out.

MOODY: When you look at it, you have to remember. You have to have some musical knowledge. You can say musicians can get on the bandstand because they’re musicians, but not all musicians can get on the bandstand together. Because some people know songs that other people don’t know.

TP: So jazz is a meritocracy as well. You have to know something.

MOODY: Yeah, you have to know something, sure. Then when you get in, it’s an exchange of ideas. What’s happening is, literally I’m learning as much as I can learn. I don’t know what Mark is doing, but I’m stealing as much as I can steal or get or hold.

TP: So for you, every exchange is an opportunity to learn and take your stuff up another step.

MOODY: That’s it for me. I’ve played with Stan Getz, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon…

TP: Let me ask you about a particular week. Was there a week in Chicago around 1961 where you and Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons played a three-tenor week at McKie’s?

MOODY: Yes. It was just one of those things. Every time I looked, they threw us all together all the time. It was one of those things — bang.

TP: So it was another event within the long ride of your career.

MOODY: Yes. And you learned… I look to learn. The young kids today are very well schooled. It’s something where you have to… I’m trying to study on my own. Not only that, but I get things from Mike Longo, David Baker, Nathan Davis, Mark Turner… I’ll ask anybody a question to try to learn something.

TP: Do you listen to recordings, to music regularly apart from your practice?

MOODY: Well, I can’t say I listen to it regularly, because I don’t have regular times. But when I get a chance to listen, I do. I like to listen.

TP: Any particular area of music, or do you listen to everything?

MOODY: I try to listen to what’s going on today.

TP: In jazz.

MOODY: Yes.

TP: What have you been hearing in the last month or two…

MOODY: There are so many young musicians, that I don’t even know some of them, but they all sound good. If I go somewhere now and I hear somebody and they don’t sound good, I’m disappointed.

TP: That didn’t used to be the case.

MOODY: No, it wasn’t the case. Because people weren’t in school.

TP: So the rise of jazz education, of people being in school the past 25 years has been of incalculable benefit to jazz music.

MOODY: Without a doubt. 250,000 percent. Because whereas it would have taken somebody four or five years to start doing something, now you can do it in two years. You know what I mean?

TP: I’m being a Devil’s Advocate here. A lot of people talk about musicians of your generation having very individual sounds and very personal voices, and you can recognize someone in four notes, and that that isn’t so with the young musicians these days. Do you think there’s anything to do that?

MOODY: Let me say this. I always said when I was younger that I would never say that about a younger musician when I got older. Mainly because a young musician is like a colt. A young colt is running and ripping and dashing and darting. So the older musicians used to say, “Oh, they play too fast.” Well, see, before I can complain about anything or before I can criticize something, I should be able to emulate it. I should be able to do it. Then I have a license to say, “That’s no good.” If you say, “Why?” “Because of this.” “Can you do it?” “Yeah, here it is. Bam.” But you notice that people, they can’t do it, and if they can’t do it, then other people shouldn’t be doing it. So, man, young musicians are taking their music… Because what I hear, I hear. But because I hear what I hear…see, somebody else is hearing something else. When we’re all walking down the street together, we don’t see the same thing. The same thing applies to music. And if a younger musician is studying… Like, see, all these different rules that they’re making in music, they’re only made to be broken. Because things do not stay the same. Everything must change. And I say if the change is for the better, that’s beautiful. I think there are a lot of young musicians who are taking things, and they get the good stuff right at the beginning, and they’ve got it and they can just build up on that. It’s like habits. If you get a bad habit and then you build up on it, now you’ve got to break that habit and try to do a new one. Well, imagine the person who had the good habit at the beginning and they’re building. They’re way ahead of your ass. So the thing is for you not to be discouraged, to just go ahead and study. Study and try to get better. And quit talking about somebody, and listen for the good that everybody is doing. Because everybody can see bad if you want to, but look for good, and try to give good.

[-30-]

* * *

James Moody (8-26-00):
TP: I wanted to ask you about your current professional life. One thing is repertoire and handling a week in a club, like you’re doing now. How many tunes do you draw from with this band? Is it an infinite number? Is it a similar set every night, a different set every night?

MOODY: It’s different. What you do is you’re constantly trying to learn another tune, a different tune. But then, don’t forget, it’s Charlie Parker’s birthday the 29th of this month, and tomorrow is Lester Young’s birthday, so you would play a few of Charlie Parker’s things and a few of the numbers he was associated with, and then you’d play a couple of things you’re trying to learn. That’s how it goes. It’s constantly a learning process. If I played “Pop Goes The Weasel” every night, I would never be able to play as much as I could play on it. With a musical composition, you could play it… Say, if you were born and you could only play one number for the rest of your life, you would never be able to play everything that could be played on that composition. Do you see what I mean?

TP: Do you mean that every composition holds within it infinite possibility?

MOODY: Definitely.

TP: So when you play “Moody’s Mood For Love”…

MOODY: But hold it. There’s a difference. I don’t improvise on that. I’m playing that theme. See, if you play a theme, that’s one thing. Now, when you start improvising, the possibilities are infinite.

TP:   So in your performance, you have themes and tunes that you improvise on.

MOODY: Right.

TP: And the themes might be “Moody’s Mood For Love” and “Bennies From Heaven”…

MOODY: No-no, “Moody’s Mood For Love” I don’t improvise on. Because “Moody’s Mood For Love” was the improvisation that I did.

TP: But just like Coleman Hawkins would play “Body and Soul,” though he would play it differently, and Illinois Jacquet would play “Flying Home,” you play “Moody’s Mood For Love.”

MOODY: Yes. But the only thing is, “Moody’s Mood For Love” is a song. That melody is the same melody that I played. Whereas that was a solo that I took, and I wouldn’t play that same solo over and over again, and it became a hit and that’s what the people want to hear.

TP: Also, you play it with such conviction, that if someone hadn’t heard it before they might not have any idea that you had played it about 25,000.

MOODY: Yeah. Or maybe 50,000. I still don’t know it.

TP: But apart from those pivot points within a set, everything else is open and fluid around it for you. In other words, all the other material and what you choose to play and what you select is an open, fluid learning process.

MOODY: Well, hopefully. When I play, I’m performing and I’m also practicing. You’re also practicing, because you keep in mind to hold your mouth correctly, you want to breathe right, you want to finger the horn right, you want to play something. If you play something and it didn’t come out, you do it again. The people might not dig it, but you’re doing it. In other words, you’re trying to give the people the best you can give them, and when you’re doing that, you’re being honest.

TP: Do you find that that sort of concentration focuses you in a mood for improvising at your best because it puts you in that honest frame of mind? What I’m thinking about is how you put yourself in the frame of mind to be fresh every night, every performance after playing for so long.

MOODY: Well, after playing for so long, you want to try to play something fresh if you can. See, actually there’s really nothing fresh. What it is is just put in a different way. And after playing for so long, if you don’t know how to put something in a couple of different ways, you might as well give it up.

TP: It always has seemed to me that if you weren’t a musician, you could have made a career as a comedian because your timing is so precise.

MOODY: I don’t even like to dwell on that. Because that’s like a little icing on the cake. If I care to say something, I’ll say it. If I care not to say anything, I’d like for it to be that way, too. Sometimes I just want a musical thing going. Know what I mean? And sometimes I feel it conducive to say something. But then a lot of times, guys start writing articles about it, and they put the lines I say… It wasn’t an offense, but the point is, you gave away who the survivor was.

TP: Who the survivor was? What do you mean?

MOODY: You don’t put the two and two together? What I say is when you give punchline away, you gave away who the survivor was. You say who won the million dollars. Didn’t you hear about that show?

TP: No, I’m sorry. I didn’t see the show.

MOODY: Now two and two makes four, right? But now, if I get ready to say something or somebody is playing the number… Like, a guy that was really aware of something like that would say, “his choice of music or the compositions was very profound, I thought, and I think when you go and listen to them, hopefully you’ll feel the same way I felt about them,” rather than saying, “Well, he played ‘Mood Indigo’ and the he played ‘Jump Off The Bridge, Mama,’ and then he played so-and-so.” I’m not saying you. I’m just saying that would be good if people would do that.

TP: I’d heard most of the jokes you told at that concert before, but you still got me. So I don’t think you have to worry about giving away the punchline. Have you in this year gotten hooked up with any record label or any recording I should know about?

MOODY: No, I didn’t. But I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the Berklee School of Music, and they presented it to me at Umbria, Perugia, in Italy this year. Wasn’t that nice. Me and Dave Holland got one.

TP: Will there be any records forthcoming at the end of this year or next year?

MOODY: I don’t know. What I want to do is, I want to do something that’s James Moody. All me. I want to do it myself. I want to do everything on it. I don’t want anybody to have anything to do with it or have anything to say about it. I want to just, bang, do it and put it out.

TP: What would something that was all James Moody be that was different?

MOODY: Look at it this way. It would be different because I would be doing it. That’s what would be different. I would be doing it and I would pick who I wanted to be on it, and be able to play what I wanted to play.

TP: Can I jump back with you? In our first interview I asked you to tell me a few sentences about some of the people you’ve encountered, which segued into something else. I’d like to state some names, you tell me whatever you want. Babs Gonzalez. It seems to have been a very close relationship at a certain point.

MOODY: Babs was aware of how things went as a road manager, and things on the road. Al Cooper of the Savoy Sultans was the one who recommended Babs to me, and that’s how we got together.

TP: Do you have anything to say about Babs’ wit and verbal virtuosity?

MOODY: Well, see, wit to you is not wit to someone else, and what someone says might knock you out but it might not knock me out. So Babs was Babs, as far as I was concerned.

TP: He was your road manager for a while, then he left, and Eddie Jefferson came in.

MOODY: He left and I hired Eddie Jefferson.

TP: And you told me the story that you didn’t know he’d written those lyrics until his girlfriend told you. What year did Eddie Jefferson join you? Can you remember?

MOODY: No, I don’t.

TP: Was it after a couple of years of the septet?

MOODY: I’m not good with names at all.

TP: His first recordings with you are in ’55.

MOODY: Well, I know he joined me in Cleveland, Ohio, because I was looking for a singer. That’s when he came to join me.

TP: You got paired a lot in the ’50s and ’60s with Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt for various jam sessions. A few words about each of them.

MOODY: Oh, it was wonderful, because Jug was a helluva player and so was Sonny Stitt. Every time I came to Chicago, they always stuck me in between those two guys.

TP: Any particular anecdote about either one?

MOODY: No. We were just always playing. And it was always enjoyable. It was always a good learning experience for me.

TP: Tell me about what they call “cutting contests” or “tenor battles.”

MOODY: That term gets on my nerves. I’m so sick of that. First of all, when I’m playing music, I like to play a certain way I play. Then they want to put 20 million playing with you, “I want to hear these people together.” Well, when people are making love, they don’t ask someone else to come in there with you to help you to do that. I’m not really particular about them. If there’s a thing and somebody’s playing, and you’re playing on a stage and they hired you for something, okay. But in a club or things like that, I’d rather play with my quartet or something, and let it go at that, and express myself, and that’s it.

TP: Are you very interactive with the different musicians in your band? Do they find things to surprise you and take you in different directions?

MOODY: Well, the thing is, I never tell anybody how to play. See? That’s the very reason I don’t do it. Lots of people have ideas, and I don’t want to stifle anybody, just like I don’t want to be stifled.

TP: In your improvisations are you picking up on information they’re giving you and taking it in unexpected directions?

MOODY: In other words, what you’re talking about is, am I listening to the group. I listen all the time. I hear everything. I listen, and if it goes over my head enough times, it will come to me another way.

TP: Let me ask you about Chano Pozo. You’re about the only person I can think of who recorded with him outside of Dizzy. Were you friendly?

MOODY: We roomed together a couple of times in California, in Los Angeles. He had a couple of bullets that were in him from… He wrote a song or something in Cuba, and it was a good-seller, and he wanted his money from the publishing company, and the publishing company told him to come back at 1 o’clock, but the guy wasn’t there with the money, and when he came back at 1 o’clock there was a guy waiting there, and he shot him. So the guy shot him a couple of times, and the bullets lodged in him and they couldn’t take them out. So Chano Pozo some nights he would feel good and some nights he wouldn’t feel good when he was playing. And some nights he’d tell me, “Here, Moody, feel here,” and I could feel the bullets in him.

Another thing was, one time Chano cracked me up, because… You remember the phrase people used to say, “Boy, that’s some deep shit”? Well, one day Chano came to me looking real perplexed, and he says, “Moody, Moody, what ‘deep shit’?” And he held his hand up high as if to indicate “shit” up high. Boy, I cracked up laughing. I tried to explain it to him as best I could. But he couldn’t understand when people were saying, “boy, that’s some deep shit.” He was looking for some deep shit somewhere. I’m telling you, it’s funny, man. And that look on his face when he was saying it. His face was kind of frowned up, like… Because he really wanted to know, and he didn’t know… Deep shit! And then he had his hand raised up high, like “Deep shit!” So anyway… [LAUGHS]

TP: Subsequently, over the years, you said you played a lot of Latin gigs, guest-starring, with Machito’s band or Tito Puente…

MOODY: Oh, Tito Puente was wonderful. Tito Puente and also Ray Barretto.

TP: And being with Dizzy, who more than anyone else was responsible for bringing the rhythms of the world together in a jazz context, and people seem to be picking up on that thoroughly in the last ten years or so…

MOODY: See, there’s a difference in playing a band that’s playing [SINGS LATIN GROOVE] and then playing with a Latin band. There’s a difference in the rhythms. What the difference is, it has to do with the way the Latin people play the rhythms and sing and then the way they play the jazz, and the way the jazz play the jazz and play the Latin. There’s a big difference. I can’t be more specific about it because of the rhythms. I’m not hip to the rhythms. If I could explain it to you, I would. But I know what’s happening. I can feel it. Like, there’s a guy who falls off a building, and when he’s killed, they say, “Can you tell me what velocity he fell? Can you tell me how many miles it was and how many inches did his head bash in? I don’t know all that, but I can tell you he fell.”

TP: That’s very well put. You said in our first interview that you first heard Coltrane in Cleveland, he was playing with Gay Crosse, and then you once met him in Chicago and drove him to the Selmer factory in Elkhart, Indiana.

MOODY: To pick up his soprano saxophone. I drove him to Elkhart, and he was looking at these saxophones and so forth, and that’s when he got this soprano, and a couple of months later is when he made “My Favorite Things.”

TP: You started playing soprano in the mid-’60s or so?

MOODY: Oh, I don’t remember what the date was. But I started playing soprano late, I started playing flute late, and I started playing everything late.

TP: Someone was telling me the other day that soprano saxophones are manufactured so much better now that intonation isn’t the problem it used to be…

MOODY: I can agree with that.

TP: Do you think that’s true in general, that instruments are much better made these days?

MOODY: Yes.

TP: And you’ve said very emphatically several times that you think the young musicians are extremely equipped…

MOODY: Yes. There are more schools. As far as I’m concerned, they have a better chance than I had when I was coming up for getting their knowledge, and getting it quick.

TP: Let me ask you about John Lewis. You must have met him 54 years ago.

MOODY: I met him with Dizzy Gillespie. Monk was there one day, and then a couple of nights later John was there. We roomed together a couple of nights in St. Louis. We see each other. In fact, I saw John in Perugia. We were on a panel together. We don’t stay in touch, but when we see each other we can look back at something and think, boy, what a wonderful memory that was.

TP: Did you have other dealings with Coltrane?

MOODY: I didn’t have any other dealings with him. None at all, other than he seemed like a nice, kind guy and so on. And he was a helluva musician.

TP: But you were very taken with his ideas and the conclusions he came up with.

MOODY: Of course. His impact on the music was phenomenal, and I’m still learning from it. Like, when the guy went to the moon and he said, “One big step for mankind.” Well, Coltrane was one big-great step for music-kind.

TP: It’s Lester Young’s and Charlie Parker’s birthday coming up.

MOODY: Lester Young was one of my idols. First I liked Jimmy Dorsey, then I liked Charlie Barnet and Georgie Auld, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and them. But then, when I heard Lester Young, that did something else. There was something about that that got me, and I wanted to play like that. Then I heard Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, then I wanted to play like that.

TP: But you never forgot anything you did before. It’s just additive.

MOODY: Well, I hope not.

TP: You said when you heard Prez and Bird, you wanted to play like that? Did you memorize their solos?

MOODY: What it was, I didn’t copy any of their solos from the standpoint of transcribing them. What I did was, there would be something in a solo that I would like and I would just copy that part, and I would do it with my ear. I would listen to it, play it over and over and I’d have it.

TP: Have you always had that ability to translate what was in your ear to moving your fingers on the saxophone from very early?

MOODY: Any musician can do that. That’s not such a big deal. Like I always say, “if you can’t sing it, you can’t play it.”

TP: So if you can’t sing it, you’re not going to be a musician.

MOODY: You’re not going to be a player, right.

TP: Kenny Clarke.

MOODY: Klook was wonderful. He was in Dizzy’s band when I joined it, and in Paris I got to know him better. We played together. I remember one time either I invited them over or they invited me over… I had a son and he had a son, and they were both in the bathtub for cribs, and we had a spaghetti dinner in Paris. I remember that.

TP: It seems like in Paris you met all the people a generation older than you who were living there.

MOODY: When I was in Paris, Coleman Hawkins was there, Don Byas was there, Roy Eldridge was there. A lot of those guys were there then.

TP: Did it have an effect on your attitude towards music, just being around those guys…

MOODY: Well, it wasn’t a musical thing. First of all, I was living with my uncle. I didn’t have to work. I wasn’t working. I went over there to stay for two weeks and stayed for three years. After I found out how the people were over there I wasn’t coming back to America, because I had been discharged, and I had been on the road with Dizzy, and I saw how the racism was down South. I had experienced all of that stuff, like Colored fountains and Colored waiting rooms. The bus driver had to go see if we could get food. He would have to go get sandwiches for us. We couldn’t stay in the hotels. If we went to a rooming house, if it was two dollars, it would be five dollars when we got there. There was a whole lot of crap down South. When I got to Europe it was different, because I thought, “Why do people hate me so much? What have I done?” Then when I got to Europe I said, “Ah, it’s not me; it’s them.”

TP: But was it different for you than when you were in Dizzy’s band and traveling around and being on 52nd Street, or did you feel a sense of collegiality with the older musicians during the years before you went to Europe?

MOODY: No, I didn’t. Because I looked up to them. It was a different feeling.

TP: But in Europe you felt a sense of collegiality with them.

MOODY: In Europe it was still a different feeling. It was a little better than it was in America, but it was still the same thing. You kind of have the respect for, like, Roy Eldridge or Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas.

TP: You were at the hotel in Las Vegas for how long?

MOODY: The Hilton International for seven years in the ’70s. I did Liberace and Connie Stevens, Elvis Presley…

TP: You told me you weren’t a soloist, you were in the section.

MOODY: I was in the band. I was in the saxophone section, the woodwind section. That was it.

TP: What did it do for your musicianship?

MOODY: It made my reading very good at the time. At the time, I could read much better. It got better and better. Now my reading is slow. Because if you don’t use it, you lose it.

TP: And for the last twenty years, since about 1980, you’ve been a touring musician, either with your own band or with a rhythm section or special projects?

MOODY: Yes, twenty years.

TP: Are you satisfied with doing that?

MOODY: I’m not satisfied with what I’m doing, because first of all, I don’t have what I want, the way I want it. I would like to have a permanent group, permanent, so that I could work with it and have it like I want it, to travel with me all the time.

TP: So the band with Todd Coolman and Renee and Adam Nussbaum doesn’t go with you everywhere now.

MOODY: No, they can’t. If I could have them like I wanted to, all the time at my disposal, and I could or subtract what I wanted to from it to put certain things or something… That’s what I would want.

TP: During this year and the last few years you’ve had a lot of honors, some highly produced, elaborate tribute concerts, things like this. Is there any situation you would aspire to do that hasn’t come your way over 54 years as a professional?

MOODY: Yes. I would like to have a nice, lucrative record contract where I was the producer and I was able to do whatever I wanted to do, the way I wanted to do it, when and how I wanted to do it. James Moody. I would like to be able to do it, to show that if James Moody was able to do what James Moody wanted to do himself, James Moody would be a great success.

TP: Please talk to me a bit about your relationship with Dizzy. I know you’ve discussed this 800 million times and spoke to the guy earlier for the book…

MOODY: It’s very simple. You can only be… There are people who elaborate and it really amounts to nothing but a hill of beans, and then there are people that say it was a relationship that I will value as long as I live, because of the importance of it and the profoundness of it.

TP: Would saying more about it trivialize it?

MOODY: Yes. Because that’s it. There are times you feel like saying things, and then there are times you just want to say what you say.

TP: You said one very specific thing, about a particular harmonic figure that h wanted, and you told me twice that you were bemoaning to him that you hadn’t gone to music school and he said, “Moody, you’re not dead.”

MOODY: No. What I said was, “Diz, I wish I would have gone to school and studied music.” And Diz said, “Moody, you ain’t dead.” And that lightbulb went on. I immediately went and bought some more books, music books.

TP: In the band in the ’60s, did you do a lot of rehearsing? Your unisons are so precise. On some of them, like the “Groovin’ High” date, you sound almost as good as Dizzy did with Charlie Parker in the ’40s…

MOODY: Look at it this way, Ted. You’ve got to say this. Did you rehearse? Yes, we did rehearse. Some people can rehearse one time and get it perfect. Some people can rehearse it two times. So just say we were sufficient with the rehearsals.

TP: How many days a year would you say you worked with Dizzy in the ’60s? Half the year? 210 days a year?

MOODY: I don’t know. We worked when we worked, and we worked a lot of times just on the road.

TP: You spent a decade doing about half the year on the road with Dizzy.

MOODY: I don’t know. I’m not good at that. I’m not going to say “I’m 20 days here and 30 days off.” I’m not like that.

TP: If I say in the story that “in the ’60s Moody toured incessantly with Gillespie”…

MOODY: That would be sufficient.

TP: And that your friendship blossomed in that period in a way it couldn’t when you were with the big band, that would also be sufficient?

MOODY: No, I wouldn’t say it blossomed the way it couldn’t. It blossomed more because we were closer in the quintet.

TP: Were you close when you were in the big band?

MOODY: No. In the big band you’d be in the bus. Dizzy would be down front talking to other people. I’d be in the back of the bus, talking with Dave Burns. The bus was called… The hoot-hounds were in the back and the pot-hounds were in the front. Hoot is drink.

TP: So the drinkers were in the back and the ones who were smoking pot were in the front. Sounds like you had a lot of fun on the bus.

MOODY: Well, it depends on what the stuff did for you when…

TP: I guess you were trying to blur the reality of being on the goddamn bus.

MOODY: Yes.

TP: You’re still on the road a lot. What is it like? Does it feel like second nature? Is it something you have to endure?

MOODY: Well, it feels a little better from the standpoint that I travel first-class. There’s no other way. First class by airplane, and that’s it. Because I think I’ve earned it. It’s even better when my wife is with me. Everything, whatever I do, it’s always first-class airplane tickets if they want me. If not, don’t hire me. Because I am not going any other way.

TP: But it’s nothing like when you had your septet with the car and drove to the northern cities in the winter and the southern cities in the summer.

MOODY: I was doing all the driving. All the driving and everything!

TP: You did all the driving, too?

MOODY: I didn’t trust anybody else. And I said, “Lord, if I ever get a chance, I’m going to fix it so…” That’s where I got so I like to travel alone. Because traveling all the time bunched together and everything… I said, “Lord, if I ever… I’ll give everybody their plane ticket. You go when you want, you go when you want, and I’m going when I want.”

TP: I guess when you’re traveling with a bunch of characters in the band, it can get a little hairy…

MOODY: You get sick of the same old shit. Because there are other things going on, a lot of beautiful things going on, like the twelfth planet, stuff like that.

Do me a favor. You’ve got to put down who keeps me going, and who I love more than anything in the world. That’s Linda Moody.

TP: I may print what she said about how you met.

MOODY: Okay.

TP: I think it’s interesting how someone in their seventies keeps going, keeps stays fresh and youthful, and you said it there. It’s because you’re in love and have something to look forward to.

[-30-]

* * *

James Moody Colleagues (Kenny Barron, Jon Faddis, Jimmy Heath, Todd Coolman, Talib Kibwe, Mark Turner):

TP: Moody said that he brought you into Dizzy Gillespie’s band?

BARRON: Yeah, that’s true. When I first came to New York I wound up working with Moody, and when he went with Dizzy, which was about a year after that, I happened to run into him one day on Broadway… Dizzy was working at Birdland, and I ran into Moody, and he told me that Lalo Schiffrin was leaving, and he asked me would I be interested in the gig. And of course. I’d just gotten married, wasn’t married. So I went to Birdland to talk to Dizzy, and he hired me without even having heard me just on Moody’s recommendation.

TP: What were the circumstances of your working with Moody when you got to New York?

BARRON: I was staying on East 6th Street, next door to my brother, Bill, which was walking distance from the Five Spot, where Moody was working. I went to hear him, and since he knew Bill, he allowed me to sit in. I guess I must have made a favorable impression, because I started working with him. He had a nice sextet, with Dave Burns, Tom Macintosh on trombone, Edgar Bateman on drums, and Steve Davis on bass. Most of the music was Tom Macintosh’s, very nice sextet kind of stuff. It was mostly his music.

TP: What was he like as a bandleader? You were very young. What was his manner toward you?

BARRON: He was very gracious. Which he is today.

TP: He said he’s never heard you make a mistake in 40 years.

BARRON: Well, I have — plenty of mistakes. But Moody was very gracious, very generous, and he hasn’t changed since I’ve known him. He’s always been a very sweet person.

TP: He noted that towards the end of the ’50s is when Tom Macintosh started teaching him music theory, that before that he’d been playing more or less by ear, and that his life turned around from learning to read music. It got rid of a lot of his insecurities, and so on. It would seem to me that around the time you got with him is shortly after that process started happening.

BARRON: For me, when I first started working with Moody, he was incredible! [LAUGHS]

TP: It seems unbelievable that this guy who was playing all this stuff says that he was playing by ear and so on, but so he says.

BARRON: Yes. And even today, I can recall working not with his band, but I think during one of those tributes to Dizzy or at Lincoln Center. We were going over some music, and he kept asking me to run over the changes for him, which he didn’t feel comfortable. Which I knew wasn’t true. He may have felt uncomfortable. But he played more stuff than I could ever play! He’s still like that. He’s very humble. He’s always been like that.

TP: Had you listened to him a lot before you joined the band?

BARRON: Yes, I did. I wouldn’t say he was an influence, but he was very popular.

TP: You were growing up when the septet was big. Can you talk about how he was regarded by musicians in the ’50s and the impact of the band?

BARRON: That’s kind of when I first started listening. But everybody… Moody has always been very well-respected by his peers. I think he’s always been known for… Moody is very adventurous and a very adventurous player. Although the band he had during that time kind of a very…not almost commercial, but it was a very accessible band. They played nice music. I remember some of those records on Prestige. Actually, my sister had a lot of those records. She lived around the corner from me, and I used to go over there just to listen to her records. I remember one tune in particular, “A Sinner Kissed An Angel” where he had John Lathan on bass, Gene Keyes was the piano player, Clarence Johnston on drums.

TP: Hank Crawford and Fathead said that the sound of that band influenced the sound Ray Charles started to use, that it was influential in the way popular music was being constructed.

BARRON: I can believe it. Again, I was young then. I remember hearing some of Hank Crawford’s band when I was with Dizzy, and I’d think about some of those recordings of Moody’s, and I’d think about how Ray Charles’ band sounded. It was very close.

TP: Talk about your relationship developed with Dizzy’s band?

BARRON: We became very close. We were roommates for a while. We’d be in San Francisco. Especially after Chris White and Rudy Collins left the band, we’d be roommates a lot of the time.

TP: Was he very much a mentor to you? Kind of another older brother?

BARRON: I kind of looked at him that way. He may not have looked at me that way. But as I say, he was a very kind of person, and I very seldom saw him get upset about anything.

TP: He has a very even temperament?

BARRON: Yes. Except for smoking. [LAUGHS] And we both smoked during that time. But other than that, he always took care of his health… These are things I remember. He was very conscious of his health; although he did smoke at the time, he eventually stopped. And he was always practicing. Again, he was a very-very kind of person. Sometimes we’d work in Boston at Lennie’s on the Turnpike, and at the time I didn’t have a car. He lived in Forest Hills, and my wife and I would take the subway to Lefrak City, where he lived, and we would ride up to Boston with Moody and Allison. One time I had my baby with me; my daughter was an infant. He was always very cool that way.

TP: He said that he and Dizzy became very close during those years. Because it was in a big band before, they really hadn’t gotten to know each other that well, but during the ’60s, because of the proximity in the small group, they became quite close then, or their relationship cemented itself.

BARRON: I think that’s kind of true. They were very close. The relationship was very healthy. It was a lot of fun also. I mean, I could see that between the two of them.

TP: It was a lot of fun because they both have a sense of humor.

BARRON: Yes. And it wasn’t put on. I mean, it was really like that. And musically…I won’t say musically they were like minds, but in terms of stage presence. I think they both looked at music as being entertainment as well.

TP: The purpose of it being to communicate maybe.

BARRON: Yes. And they really did that very well together on stage. So it made it really work.

TP: Is there any particular anecdote about, say, their humor that sticks in your mind?

BARRON: I can’t think of any one particular thing involving the both of them together. Of course, a lot of it was very spontaneous. And it affected the whole band sometimes. I remember playing a matinee at the Lighthouse in L.A. Between tunes all of a sudden Chris White starts screaming, “Okay, it’s time for me to reveal my true identity,” and took off his shirt and had on a Superman shirt. Little things like that.

TP: Everybody became a comic.

BARRON: Everybody became a part of it. That’s because Dizzy’s and Moody’s sense of humor was infectious. One time we were going to San Francisco from New York, and Dizzy had on these long, flowing African robes that he wore on the plane. When we got off the plane in San Francisco, people actually thought he was an African dignitary. And Moody kind of played it up as just a valet or whatever.

TP: “Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac”, were they working that out during the time that you were in the band?

BARRON: No, that had been done before.

TP: You say you don’t know whether they were necessarily of the same mind musically. Can you elaborate?

BARRON: They certainly came from the same period. But I think Moody may have been a little bit more adventurous than Dizzy was.

TP: In terms of dealing with the up-to-the-minute stuff that was going in the music, like Coltrane?

BARRON: Yeah. I think Moody was a little more into that.

TP: I guess Dizzy was complete unto himself, wasn’t he.

BARRON: Right. Which wasn’t a bad thing.

TP: Not if you’re Dizzy.

BARRON: Right! Because there were some incredible moments that I heard during the four years I was with him, and listening back to some of the older tapes and recordings that I did with him, they’re unbelievable — the whole band. But Moody was obviously… There’s a tape from the BBC, my very first trip to Europe, and Moody played so much stuff, it’s just unreal.

TP: If you were going to describe Moody’s sound to somebody who hadn’t heard him… Well, maybe you’d tell somebody to go buy the damn record. But if they weren’t in a position to do so, how would you describe it?

BARRON: I don’t know if I could. The quality of his sound. And it depends on the kind of music. Because on the very up-tempo things his sound can be very percussive, a very rough sound, and in the kinds of things he might choose to play, a lot of strange intervals. So that’s one particular kind of sound. I mean his sound is actually…I wouldn’t say harsh, but hard. Then I’ve also heard him play ballads (I’m talking bout tenor now) where his sound is very deep and warm. It depends on the mood.

TP: Sounds like more of a blues-informed player on the more up-tempo, technically complex stuff, more vocal inflection on the notes or whatever.

BARRON: Yes.

TP: Then you continued to play with Moody on and off. You worked with him for a minute in the ’80s, I recall. Two of what I consider his best records you’re on. One is Feelin’ It Together and there’s another on RCA. How do you see Moody’s concept having evolved in the period since Dizzy?

BARRON: Well, he’s constantly searching. You can see that. Constantly searching for things that are new for him. And he’s constantly on his horn, trying to find different things to do and say. It’s just never-ending with him. And behind all of that, it’s still his sense of fun. I mean, I just saw him not too long ago at the Charlie Parker thing. As usual, he sounded great. It was him and Jon Faddis which is almost like listening to him and Dizzy. But Moody is unbelievable. And when I think about how old he is and his energy… That’s what gets me, his energy, and the fact that he’s constantly trying to improve.

TP: Is there any particular point about Moody’s persona that you would hone in on as the most salient thing to know about him?

BARRON: In terms of his music, a couple of things. His sense of adventure and his sense of humor. I really like those two things about his playing. One minute he’s playing all these strange fourths, really looking for it, but on the other hand he plays those real humorous things. He changes the sound of his horn so it sounds real old. He does all kinds of things.

TP: So he’s a wizard of the saxophone.

BARRON: Yes. In terms of his personality, he’s a great human being. That’s basically it. He’s a really great human being.

TP: Another thing is that he’s so strong on alto sax and soprano, but that he has a personality on those instruments.

BARRON: Yes, alto sax and the flute. Although he plays tenor most of the time now. When we were with Dizzy he played alto a lot more, and quite a bit of flute. For me he’s probably one of the better flute players among multi-instrumentalists. People who just play flute exclusively obviously play a bit differently than someone who plays all the reeds. But for me, Moody is probably one of the best flautists.

TP: But when you think of Moody, it’s primarily a tenor sound you hear.

BARRON: Now. That’s interesting. Again, when I thought of him years ago I always thought of alto. I don’t know why. But when I think of him now, I hear tenor.

* * *

TP: I guess you first met Moody when you met Dizzy. You’ve known him now for thirty years.

FADDIS: Over 30 years. I would say that Moody is one of the warmest people of all time and he’s also very smart. He’s really, really intelligent, and I think that’s reflected in the style of playing that he does.

TP: By “style of playing,” do you mean the consistent quest for new challenges, which seems to be the thing that animates him and keeps him going, the search for new ways of expressing himself.

FADDIS: Well, that. But also there’s a certain logic to his playing. I don’t want to say his playing is intellectual, but it’s very intelligent and logical. And he’s like Dizzy in that regard, in that he can sit down and tell you… You say, “What was that he played, and then he’ll sit down and tell you and say, “here’s what it is.”

TP: So he has the ability to break everything down into its components.

FADDIS: oh yes.

TP: He said that in the first phase of his career, he was flying blind. He said he couldn’t read music, he didn’t really know what he was doing, he was playing by ear, and it led to various insecurities, going as far to say that part of why he had his drinking problem at that time is because he felt like he was treading on such thin ice. So it’s interesting he’s developed such a comprehensively analytical (?).

FADDIS: He never really told me that! I knew he had a drinking thing, but I didn’t know that was the cause behind it. But then again, Dizzy must have heard something!

TP: He said he started playing alto at 16, didn’t really start until ’43 when he went into the Army, and he comes out three years later with Dizzy! If you had to describe his sound in some impressionistic way, what language would you use?

FADDIS: I wouldn’t say impressionistic. I would say pointillistic. I’d put it this way. It’s like that painting by Seurat, “Sunday In The Park With George” at the Art Institute of Chicago. When you look at it up close, it doesn’t look like much. It looks like a lot, because you see all these details, and it seems sort of disjointed. But when you step back, you get a much clearer picture of the connection and the great work of art that it is. To me, that’s something like Moody. Sometimes you can stand next to him for a while and almost take him for granted. But then when you sit in the audience and listen to him, you say, “Oh my God.” You step off to the side of the bandstand and say, “Oh, man, what is he playing.” Because a lot of times when you’re on the bandstand, you’re a part of the music, even if you’re not playing it. Moody is always full of surprises. But when you’re on the bandstand, you might not notice them as much as if you would step back a little bit.

TP: Is that because he makes himself blend into the ensemble in a certain way?

FADDIS: I don’t know if that’s something he does consciously or unconsciously. But I’m speaking as somebody who has stood next to him on the bandstand, and what that’s like being next to him on the bandstand.

TP: I guess you’ve been aware of Moody from your earliest years of listening, just from having been involved with Dizzy’s music so much. Can you talk about how you hear his sound having evolved from those early years to how he approaches things today?

FADDIS: Well, his sound, or his style. I would say more his style. As far as his sound, the only thing he did which I didn’t really care for was his use of plastic reed. I thought he sounded better with the wood reed. But his style has evolved quite a bit, and it’s become I think a lot more harmonically advanced, but within that development it still retains a sense of melody. It’s still melodic playing.

TP: How is it being a leader on a session where he’s a guest artist, such as Dizzy’s World?

FADDIS: It’s fun. Moody is very humble. He’s not in the practice or coming into a gig and just reading any more, as he was when he was in Dizzy’s band or when he was in Vegas for all those years, when he had his reading chops up. He’s not in the habit of doing that much any more. So when we did that Dizzy’s World thing he was like, “Oh, man, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” It’s really funny.

TP: Was he very personally supportive of you when you were young? I’d imagine you met him when you met Dizzy?

FADDIS: Yes, he and Dizzy both. But the thing that surprised is when I first met Moody… He started giving me advice the first night that I played with Dizzy, and he said, “Man, whatever you learn to play, learn how to play it backwards.’” That’s one thing he said that I can remember. One thing that felt good to me and felt very warm is that I was playing with Mingus in Nice in 1972, so at that time I was 18, almost 19, and hanging out with Dizzy a little bit backstage, and Moody was there, and he remembered me, and he gave me a hug and said, “Yeah, I remember you sat in with us at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco; how you doin’, man?” I was like a long-lost son or brother or something.

TP: So he has an embracing personality. People almost universally talking about how warm and open he is, and his penchant for sharing information.

FADDIS: The one thing about that embracing which no one really talks about. See, Moody had this cologne made up for him. Did you know that? He had this James Moody cologne. And when Moody sees you in the morning, going on the bus or at the breakfast, you get up and he’ll always insist on a hug on both sides. But when he gives you that, his cologne sort of rubs off on you! And it carries with you throughout the day. Which can be okay if you don’t carry your own. So usually if I’m on the road with Moody, I’ll avoid putting my cologne on.

TP: This is what being a jazz veteran really means, is knowing when to wear the cologne and when not.

FADDIS: Something like that.

TP: Would you talk about his relationship with Dizzy, and your speculations on what drew Dizzy so closely to Moody? Moody said that they didn’t really become close until they traveled in the ’60s.

FADDIS: Well, I wasn’t there in the ’40s. I know that in the ’60s, that’s also one of my favorite bands that Dizzy had, the one with Moody and Kenny Barron and Chris White and Rudy Collins. Moody would talk about things that Dizzy told him back in the ’40s that he is just starting to understand what Dizzy meant. That’s how deep Dizzy was. I know they must have been very close, because Dizzy was Bahai and then Moody became Bahai.

TP: Although Moody said it had nothing to do with Dizzy. It happened after he got married.

FADDIS: I don’t mean close in that he was copying Diz, but that they shared the same outlook on I guess the spiritual aspect of life. There was a book about Dizzy last year by Alan Shipton, and he asked me what I thought of the book, because they asked me to do a little blurb for the back cover, and I refused to do it. One thing he mentioned in that book is that Moody, in his opinion, during the ’60s, was just acting as a comic foil to Diz. I’m saying, “how can he say that?” Then he cites a couple of tracks on a recording where it wasn’t Moody doing the stuff! It was Chris White.

But Moody would always talk about the things Dizzy would tell him about life and about music. I guess the first time that Moody really seemed grounded and satisfied with his life is after he married Linda.

TP: He makes no bones about that.

FADDIS: I think that’s something very important with him. She provides him with a lot. He had gone through some other relationships, and he would sit down and talk to me about them and shake his head. He’d say, “Isn’t that strange?” I’d say, “Yeah, that’s strange.”

TP: I don’t see comedy as denoting any superficiality at all. I think one could say that even with you a bit because you have a penchant for broad or drier humor. I noticed at his concert in April that he was telling the same jokes he’s been telling for 30-40 years, but you still laugh because his timing is so perfect. Do you hear that humor in his playing also?

FADDIS: Oh yeah. He’s one of them cats like Picasso who can make you laugh out loud at some of the stuff does. “Oh my gosh, where did that come from?” He can really touch you deep down with I guess the subtleness of humor in his playing. It’s not a more evident type of humor, like, say, somebody like Clark Terry. It’s a little more subtle.

Call Kenny back and ask him about the blue uniforms they used to have with the piping…

* * *

TP: Let me take you back to the beginning. When do you remember meeting Moody? Must have been the first time you saw Dizzy Gillespie’s band.

HEATH: Right.

TP: Can you pinpoint it?

HEATH: It was probably 1946. I think they came to Philadelphia, and Moody was in the band. If it wasn’t ’46, maybe he can correct me. But I remember we invited the whole band down to my mother’s house. John Lewis was playing at that time.

TP: Was Kenny Clarke the drummer?

HEATH: Yes. We invited them all down to the house, and a lot of the band members came, Moody and Dave Burns… I don’t recall everybody that was there. But that was my first time to meet Moody.

TP: I guess he’d done the “Emanon” solo then.

HEATH: In Philly we had heard the “Emanon” solo, and all the musicians around Philly were crazy about the Dizzy Gillespie band, period, and the new music, Bebop, and the solo was very exciting to all the saxophone players around home.

TP: Let me ask a moron question. Why was the solo exciting at that moment in time?

HEATH: Well, Moody played very fast on tenor. He doubled up. And the solo was different than any blues solo that you had heard, similar to coming out of Charlie Parker and the bebop sound. He had the bebop sound.

TP: So along with Dexter Gordon…Moody and Dexter Gordon and Teddy Edwards were the first who articulated that on the tenor sax.

HEATH: And Sonny Stitt. He was one, too.

TP: Then your first acquaintance with Moody is 1946; you’ve known him 54 years. I would imagine you kept in fairly close touch with him over the next few years.

HEATH: Oh yes.

TP: What do you remember about his manner and his personality as a young man?

HEATH: Moody has always been a very nice person, and everybody knows that. He was very interested in learning as much as he could about the music. He actually was basically playing by ear at that time when he played “Emanon.” Later on, when he had his group with Johnny Coles and Tom Macintosh, some of the people like that convinced Moody he had to learn his changes and play by changes. I don’t know why…

TP: Moody says he’s eternally indebted to Tom Macintosh for that. He says that before it was like flying blind, and it caused him all sorts of anxiety and inner turmoil.

HEATH: Well, there were things within himself he couldn’t do. Because if you don’t know the insides of the music and the changes, there’s a limitation put on what you play. As a player by ear, he was already so far advanced, it didn’t take much concentration — but I guess it did. It took a few years. Because Moody began to play so good by changes, until… He recorded one of my songs in a later year, “A Sound For Sore Ears,” which had kind of difficult changes, and man, he ate that stuff up then! Because Johnny Coles and Macintosh were… Particularly Macintosh. He was a schooled musician from Juilliard. He was a writer, and he knew a lot about the harmony. And when Moody decided that he was going to do that, the result is obvious, that he is one of the greatest players who ever lived — now. Moody, right now.

If he hears you play a lick or a sequence that he hasn’t heard, he’ll say, “What is that, Section?” He calls me “Section.” We call each other Section from playing in reed sections together over the years. If he hears you play something and he asks you what that is, once you show it to him, man, Moody takes it and takes it into his own style and elaborates on it, turns it inside-out, and does everything possible with that idea to make it his own. I know on one occasion, Moody and I made a record with Bags. The record is called Big Bags for Riverside. Tadd Dameron wrote half of the music on it and Ernie Wilkins wrote the other half. It’s one of the greatest big band records I’ve ever been a part of. The reed section was wonderful. What I was getting to is the fact that on some of the things someone was playing lead alto, but then on Tadd’s arrangement on “Round Midnight” Bags asked Moody to play the lead. And man, that is one of the most beautiful sounding lead performances that I’ve been involved in. And he’s playing alto. But Moody mostly played tenor all of his career. But that was one experience, and the others are numerous.

TP: Let me take you back to the ’40s for a second. You came in Dizzy’s band after Moody had moved to Europe.

HEATH: Right.

TP: Were you in actually to replace Moody?

HEATH: No. I didn’t replace Moody because I was playing alto. Coltrane and I played alto in the band. Jesse Powell was one of the tenor players, and Rudy Williams, known as Bones, and then Paul Gonsalves was in the band.

TP: Where I was going with that is that Moody is just one year older than you and Coltrane. Did he seem much older to you at that time, or was he musically that much more advanced, or was it just a matter of circumstance?

HEATH: He was advanced because he was around Dizzy. He was in the first big bebop band that recorded. So that made him a person for us to idolize, in a way, because we…

TP: You aspired to that.

HEATH: Yeah. We had never gotten to the point where he was.

TP: Do you have any memories from your perspective at that time of the relationship Dizzy and Moody had in the ’40s, of their interaction, or is that something you just don’t know about?

HEATH: I just know that Dizzy really dug Moody. Of course, in the long career that followed afterward, you can’t separate Moody from Dizzy.

TP: Moody said they became closer in the ’60s when they had more proximity.

HEATH: Well, they played in a smaller group together. In the big band, Dizzy had a lot of personalities that he had to deal with. But Moody was one of his main people, and probably, like you said, they got closer when the big band broke up and they were always on the road and everything.

TP: Part of the thing about Moody is that he has this photographic memory and exceptional musical intuition on top of the hard work he’s put in. Particularly in his ear-playing days.

HEATH: Well, he had a gift that he developed. He started out with a gift, and he developed it. One thing technically is Moody’s tone. The way he accented on the saxophone was much faster than most of the other saxophone players, and distinguishable in that. Moody used to tell me that when he played an eighth note line in the bebop tradition he would be thinking to himself, “tit-a-little, tit-a-little, tit-a-little,” [SINGS PHRASING REFRAIN], that accent on eighth notes which was… The bebop language included a lot of eighth notes or sixteenths. The accent was always on the AND, “uh-dah, uh-dah,” on the one that was off the beat. It gave it a different kind of a float.

TP: Did you follow the septet he organized when he came back from Europe?

HEATH: Yes. They used to come to Philly to the Showboat, and when I was there I used to go see them. One of my good friends was in the band playing trumpet, Bill Massey. Bill Massey was the person who introduced me to Coltrane. They were in the Navy together. We had a lot in common because we were interested in both composition and playing… No, sorry. I’m wrong about that. Bill was with Gene Ammons. Johnny Coles was the one. But they used to go to Philly and play the Showboat, and I would go hear Moody. Moody and I played together on several occasions. But whenever Dizzy was around and Moody and they would come around, if I wasn’t working, I would go see them.

The thing I admire about Moody is his tenacity and his focus. When he was out in Las Vegas playing as a kind of studio musician, he called me once. “Section,” and he started playing the clarinet. He was practicing the clarinet on the phone and showing me how he had been able to get to the clarinet. He was always a great flute player. To me, he is the epitome of the Bebop flute player. He is not the Western Classical traditional flute player. It doesn’t sound like somebody who has been trained in Western Classical Music. But he could play with the Bebop style on the flute, and it’s distinguishable.

TP: I did an interview with Hank Crawford and Fathead, and they said that when Ray Charles was forming his band and his sound they were paying close attention to the sound of Moody’s Septet, the John Acea arrangements and so forth. Do you recollect that as an influential band in defining a certain type of sound?

HEATH: Was it a sextet?

TP: A septet, four horns.

HEATH: I don’t remember that band that much. Except things he did, like… Was that when he did “Last Train From Overbrook” and all that stuff?

TP: That was later on. Then all the things with Eddie Jefferson in the mid-’50s.

HEATH: Right. I know Moody was having trouble drinking wine or something. He said he went to the police station and told them to stop the green men from chasing him.

TP: He didn’t tell me that, but he attributed what caused him to do to playing by ear and the anxiety it caused him on a nightly basis.

HEATH: Well, guys were coming along with great chordal knowledge, and Moody wanted to be like them. He wanted to play with the same knowledge of the other guys who were playing at that time. I didn’t know that was the reason he was drinking. The road, man. The road is rough when you’re traveling all the time.

TP: And he was traveling all the time. He said the northern cities in the winter, the southern cities in the summer, and he didn’t let anyone else do the driving. He didn’t trust anyone else to do the driving.

HEATH: Well, see, all that kind of wear and tear, that leads to drinking and smoking or whatever you do. So he was drinking a lot, which…

TP: And he had the presence of mind to take care of it.

HEATH: Yeah. And the thing about Moody is that he’s a giving person. He’s always giving. I got a straw hat that Moody gave me. If he finds some books that are interesting, he sends me books. He may find books about health or vitamins. He carries a ton of vitamins on the road with him. He has a suitcase full. “Section, have you ever tried this?” He will hand you… He’s just a person that gives all the time. We went on tour with…they had two bands on tour with Philip Morris, and we had about three or four weeks in all different places, the Philippines, all over the place. Moody will… I don’t know when he started that. He adapted just a way of kissing everybody. He would get up in the morning and go to breakfast, and you’d be there, and he’d kiss you once on one side, once on the other side. Everybody! Everybody that he meets. He’d kiss them once on each side. If you come back to lunch together, Moody would kiss you on both cheeks. “Hey, Section!” Boom! And then if you come to dinner together, BOOM. To leave you at night, he kisses you. So I eventually said at the Blue Note when they were having the birthday or something for him, they asked me one statement about Moody. I said, “Moody got more kisses than Hershey’s.

TP: Talk about the evolution of Moody’s sound, specifically on the tenor, or the phases of his sound in the time you’ve known him.

HEATH: Well, there are certain things that are identifiable with Moody. I don’t care how his sound would change, and what mouthpiece and what equipment he’s using. There’s James Moody in there. I can always tell. Moody has his own sound. You can identify Moody when he starts. I can tell if he plays four bars; I know that’s Moody. There are certain things that he does. Jumping up in the higher register and screaming in a certain way. But over the years, his development now is…he has become so free, not in a random fashion, but a scientific freedom, that he can do anything he wants (that’s what I think) with the saxophone. Speed has never been a problem with him. He’s always been a fast player. So when he wants to slow down, he slows down. But usually, he’s going to play fast. So he had great technique. His sound right at this point (and having played with him for the last four or five days together in Pittsburgh with Jon Faddis) is real smooth now. He’s gotten real smooth and mellow with his old age, like wine. He’s mellow. It’s not harsh and brash. It’s very soft until he wants to imply these certain emotional hollers or screams.

TP: When I heard him it was the Charlie Parker birthday, not at Tompkins Square but at Iridium, and he started off with “Groovin’ High,” and he played so much blues on it, putting so much vocalization on it, and it always seemed like the most difficult interval was when he’d put the most vocal emphasis.

HEATH: I think he can do anything… If he wants to play it in a bluesy fashion, he can do it. If he wants to play it in a straight bebop way without the blues or just the changes, he can do it. He has control. He has true knowledge. He is in complete control. Moody’s flute playing and his saxophone are so mature at this point. The way he acts…his personality is what I was trying to get at. The fact of being with Dizzy Gillespie, who is the mentor for both of us. That’s my man. Birks was the guy. His sense of humor, his stage presence. I think he learned a lot of stage presence from Dizzy also, not only music. He learned how to be a nice guy, or he felt it after he straightened his habit out…how to be a nice guy. That’s what Dizzy was. A down-to-earth human being with a tremendous sense of humor. Moody is a very funny guy.

TP: His timing is unbelievable. You can hear tell a joke you’ve heard 15 times, and you’re still going to laugh.

HEATH: Yes. Moody is one of my dear friends. He’s been that since the ’40s. We had so much fun last week as we do every time we get together. I just look forward to being in his company. He’s got more kisses than Hershey’s! That’s got to be in this.

* * *

TP: How long have you been playing with Moody?

COOLMAN: Since ’84 or ’85. Precisely I don’t know. But I met him around that time, and started playing with him shortly after that.

TP: This is a few years after he left Las Vegas and the studios, and was out again as a solo artist. Was he working then primarily as a solo artist, picking up rhythm sections and trying to gather a more or less permanent working band by that time?

COOLMAN: Yes. I know he had a band, Rufus Reid and Harold Mabern… I’m not sure if the drums were stabilized by that time, but I know that those two other guys were working with him more times than not, that they were doing things together for at least a couple of years prior to my being involved with him. All during that time he still was doing things with local rhythm sections when he would go on the road some. He didn’t seem able to always have those guys with him when he traveled. So he was hoping to get a band together, I think.

TP: What were your impressions about him before knowing him and meeting him?

COOLMAN: I first heard Moody, believe it or not, after I had finished college and was living in Chicago in the ’70s. He played on a television show on a PBS station. The show was Dizzy, Bags, Al Haig, Ray Brown, Kenny Clarke, Sarah Vaughan…

TP: That has to have been in ’76, when Kenny Clarke came here, and played the Showcase with Al Haig.

COOLMAN: It probably was. I got wind of this show, and they wanted an audience, and you could get free tickets by calling or something, and I did that. I went down and heard Moody for the first time. I was amazed by how fluent he was. I remember how easy he made everything seem. It seemed like he had no problem playing anything he wanted. And of course, I associated him then with those other players, because I didn’t know if he had a band or who he was working with, but I figured, “Gee, if he’s with these people, he must be that great.” But besides that, besides having a great respect for his playing, I didn’t have any lasting impressions. I never got to meet him. I heard him play in clubs a couple of times around that time, too, but not as a bandleader. I always heard him in these all-star things. I think Joe Segal would have him come for what he called “Charlie Parker Month”. I knew he was a great player, but besides that I had no real impressions.

TP: So you’ve been with him straight through those 15-16 years as his bassist of choice.

COOLMAN: I think so, yes.

TP: What has it done for your playing, playing with Moody?

COOLMAN: The main thing is that Moody is so interested in music, in the learning process as well as playing, that he has always encouraged me to really play a lot, and leaves a lot of open space for the rhythm section to solo in, and he’s very encouraging to have you develop and do what you do. I think part of it is because he’s just really generous; that’s part of it. And the other part is because he really wants to learn from the people he’s around. It’s very unusual, I find, that he’s so curious as to what other people are doing. It probably serves two purposes. One is that he wants you to feel like you can express yourself, but he also wants to learn what you’re doing. He’s always looking for things to use as raw materials for things he wants to develop. So he’s extremely curious about music.

TP: So he’s giving you a lot of space to just go where you will as long as it’s within the context of what he’s going.

COOLMAN: Yes. Not just that, but he’s just been real encouraging. He’s a very positive, nurturing, encouraging person. I guess a bandleader is not obliged to be that way and not obliged to have you develop your own voice. If you’re serving the music the way the bandleader wants, and if that doesn’t mean you’re developing as a player…if you’re serving his needs, that’s enough.

TP: How do you see Moody’s playing in these all-star situations vis-a-vis what he does in the band?

COOLMAN: That’s a good question. I would say that when he plays in a band, with people that he’s more familiar with, his playing is a bit more exploratory and a little bit more searching, where he’s working out ideas. I think when he plays in these all-star things, he pretty much… I don’t know if the word is “conservative,” but he plays…

TP: More of a recital maybe.

COOLMAN: Yeah, a little bit. More like he knows…he’s fully in command of what he’s doing, and he’s not really searching so much as he’s just establishing his voice — that sort of thing.

TP: Well, he made a distinction, even in the band, between the things he does that are recitals, more or less like “Moody’s Mood” or “Pennies From Heaven,” and playing.

COOLMAN: Oh yes.

TP: He was very clear about it. You can see it even in his comments. His account of how he met Dizzy, which obviously he’s had to tell people 8 million times, is almost word-for-word exactly the same in the Dizzy Gillespie autobiography as what he told me. It’s really interesting. And he tells the story so well. When you hear him tell these jokes, you’ve heard him say it… You hear them all the time. I’ve heard them before, and I still laugh at them. Like the Joe Frazier…

COOLMAN: Yeah-yeah. [LAUGHS]

TP: I mean, he has such incredible timing.

COOLMAN: I think all that stuff, the humor and even “Moody’s Mood For Love’ and all this stuff which is part of what I guess you might call his routine, in some way I’ve always thought that that was patterned after his years in Vegas, that somehow the idea of music being entertaining and being a show that has sort of a theme… Somehow I think he’s incorporated that as a bandleader. It works for him in clubs, because I think it helps him reach the less initiated. That’s the thing about working with him that’s kind of interesting, that at any club on any given night you have aficionados and you have virgins! He has a way of reaching everybody. Because the routine has some sort of universal appeal, I think. Then the other, more venturesome side of his playing is going to appeal… If Jimmy Heath is in the audience, he knows that he’s going to hear something he hasn’t heard before, somewhere, if he hangs with it.

It’s a very subtle thing. A lot of people have said to me that they’ve noticed over the years that he plays a lot of the same repertoire and tells some of the same jokes and this-that-and-the-other, and “don’t you get tired of that?” Well, not really. Moody pointed out to me long ago that if it wasn’t for “Moody’s Mood For Love,” maybe he wouldn’t be working today. So his attitude is very pragmatic. I’ve never felt once that he did that with any sense of regret or boredom or resignation or anything. He just views it as part of keeping working.

TP: Well, it seems also, apart from Vegas, Dizzy Gillespie had a lot of routines as well, and I think his ability to blend the two things is why he was so successful. So I’m sure he learned that from Dizzy.

COOLMAN: Yes. There’s no question that the whole humor angle and the sort of clowning-around and all that came from Dizzy, without a doubt. And yet, I think that it did… It’s all part of what makes the thing work. Actually, I think if Moody just played, if you want to call it just a strict set of like art music, then that, too, would mean the audience is just artists, and that would be very appealing on a certain level. But he is very sensitive about the fact that he wants to play for the public. He is just as eager to play for the guy next door as he is for, say, George Coleman. I’ve always admired that about him. There’s something very non-condescending about that approach to performing.

TP: You’re a music educator, and I’d like you to put on that cap for a second and talk about him as a tenor player, the things he does as particularly as a tenor saxophonist that distinguish him among the universe of tenor saxophonists.

COOLMAN: The answer is real simple, and it’s an answer I don’t think anyone would give you. I really believe people are sleeping on this about Moody! But despite the many things he does just as a player, the thing that I think is his strongest trait is his sense of time and his pulse. I mean, I put him up with Sonny Rollins and all those people as far as how he plays time and how he swings. What’s interesting is that that has nothing to do with the notes he plays. The music students come down, or his peers come down with their little notebooks, writing down patterns that he’s playing. They’re missing the boat. The boat is how he plays time.

Now, having said that, the thing I love about his playing, even from an academic point of view, is it’s a beautiful sort of chronology of tenor saxophone vocabulary that goes back to Coleman Hawkins, and it’s thoroughly, at the same time, contemporary. So his playing is well-versed in the whole bebop language, but it incorporates post-’60s language. So he is way into what we call altered scales, different kinds of harmonic devices, use of fourths, use of pentatonics, use of compound scales, bitonals. So in other words, every so-called advanced harmonic device, he’s aware of them. He has them in his ear and he can play them. But at the same time, if you want to play a blues in B-flat, he can play the traditional vocabulary as well.

TP: Do you feel he is able to shape the advanced devices into a melodic type of framework, or is it more academic?

COOLMAN: That’s a good question. I think the answer ultimately is yes. But part of that has to do with his stage of development, with a particular sound. Sometimes he’ll hear somebody play something, and he’ll figure out theoretically what’s going on. He’s actually asked me, “Write out the scale that’s the basis of that. What is that scale called?” Then I’ll hear him practicing that or practicing patterns based on that scale, and even bring them to the gig that way, and play a more patterned, academic approach to it initially. But I hear that sort of morph over the nights into something that becomes very strongly melodic actually, and eventually evolves away from the mechanical toward the more artful. At heart, he’s a singer, really. So he can’t lay with material that’s not song-like for very long.

TP: He’s a helluva singer.

COOLMAN: Yeah! And I think ultimately that’s where he’s at as a tenor player, is he just wants to be a singer of melodies. So yeah, on any given night you’ll come down, and I think you’ll hear him play very melodic things, and then in other cases I think you’ll hear him play very patterned…quite frankly, it almost sounds like he’s practicing at times. But he’s working something out. That’s another interesting thing about him, now that I think about it, is that very few artists are very willing to do that. They’re only willing to play things that they know sound good. They don’t want to run the risk of not sounding good. There are nights when Moody will play certain tunes or work on certain material that he doesn’t have together. On the bandstand he’ll do it. Then he’ll come up to me later and say, “Man, I just don’t have that together yet, man. I have to practice that, because that’s not working the way I want it to. But there’s a sound in there. There’s something in there, and I know I can get to it. I’ve always been inspired by that, because he’s been playing seriously since he was about 16. So after 50 or 60 years of playing, this guy wants to learn something and he wants to work it out. That’s unbelievable.

TP: He says that’s what keeps him going.

COOLMAN: I believe that. I know that. It’s the quest. It’s the curiosity. And he’s always looking for another way to say something. So it’s inspiring, really.

TP: I went to hear you at Iridium the night of the Charlie Parker birthday. He starts off with “Groovin’ High,” and it’s one of the most amazing solos you’ve ever heard, he’s like shouting on the most extreme intervals, so much dynamics, then all of a sudden it’s “Moody’s Mood,” and then he plays “Confirmation” on flute for 15 minutes. I just said, “Goodness, I’m glad I heard ‘Groovin’ High.” Which is what you were saying.

COOLMAN: Yeah. But I think in common parlance, he wears his heart on his sleeve, and he really plays the way he feels. If he’s struggling with music, he’s not afraid to show it. Somehow, I think he wins people’s sympathies by the fact that in every set they’re going to hear a “Groovin’ High” moment. [LAUGHS] So people cut him a wide berth, and say the reason he’s so great is because he has a work shit out.

TP: With the band, is he a real taskmaster? Is he very open? It doesn’t sound like anything is very heavily arranged.

COOLMAN: Well, in 16 years or so of being with him, I can’t remember… I think we may have had one or two rehearsals.

TP: Does he give you charts?

COOLMAN: On occasion. Over the years, for some recordings, he’s had people write arrangements on various things. And sometimes he’ll want to pull those out and revisit them. Then there will be charts. Even at that, now that I’m thinking about it, most of the charts he has…

TP: Are pretty schematic?

COOLMAN: Yeah. Of late, we haven’t been dealing with them very much. But occasionally we’ll pull them out and revisit them for one reason or another. But it’s not really… No, I’d say that “taskmaster” is not one word that comes to mind when you think about him. He really is as interested in people’s input as he is like having something go a certain way. So he’s very open, and he seeks information and input all the time.

TP: He has a real reverence for his past, but he seems totally non-nostalgic for it.

COOLMAN: Well, more than not-nostalgic. He has a morbid fear of sounding old or old-fashioned. It’s beyond not-nostalgic. But you know what? He’s always aware of his musical surroundings, too. So when he’s with an all-star thing… Let’s say he’s up there playing with the Golden Men of Jazz or whatever he’s doing. He’s always aware of his surroundings, and he’s aware of what will fit in a certain context.

TP: Because he’s pragmatic

COOLMAN: Yeah. But basically, he doesn’t want to sound old. He wants to sound like he’s growing and that he’s developing new vocabulary.

TP: Right up until the end, that’s what he’ll be doing.

COOLMAN: Oh yeah. No question in my mind. I think that the last solo he ever plays will have as many surprises in it as the first one does. Because he’s not satisfied with status quo and he’s not interested in looking back. I remember one night on the bandstand, we were playing a slow blues or something, and the drummer started playing a backbeat, and he made him stop doing that. After the set he explained that the backbeat makes him feel like it’s old and made him feel like it’s 1952 again. He said, “I just don’t want to go back there.” He has certain idiosyncracies, and certain musical devices don’t appeal to him. In this case, I think it reminds him of another era, and he doesn’t want to be associated with it. Which is interesting. On certain tunes, he will play bebop-oriented, real inside material. But he does it in such a fresh fashion that he doesn’t sound old doing it. He’s preoccupied with sounding “modern,” whatever that means.

TP: I think as a subtext, he was very seared by the racial climate of that time. That had a lasting impact on him. He keeps referring to being in Greensboro and the German POWs being able to eat in the restaurant and he couldn’t, then coming back here and the various bullshit on the road. So I think a lot of that attitude may have its root in that situation, associating the music of the time with the physical and cultural environment of the time.

COOLMAN: Could be.

* * *

KIBWE: I’m 47 now. I met Moody when I was 18, when he was playing with Eddie Jefferson, and we’ve been friends since then. Every time I see him, he gives me things. In July we played together in a big band Don Braden had in Litchfield, Connecticut. I was sitting next to Moody, who was special soloist. Paquito was playing lead alto and clarinet, I was playing second alto, Moody was to my right, Paquito to my left, and Slide Hampton was right behind me on the trombone. That was another time when he came up and said, “Check this out on ‘Giant Steps.’” He’s so open! I began working on that in July.

TP: So he’s always sharing information.

KIBWE: Always! He’s a true master. To give you an example: He got to the gig a half-hour before we hit because of the transportation screwup, and he didn’t make any rehearsal. So he was like, “Man, I want to look at the music.” I said, “Oh, Moody, there ain’t nothin’ but some whole notes and half-notes.” Yeah, right! So we get on the gig, and I think the second tune was a Braden original, a swingin’ tune, a killin’ tune… It was based on a minor blues, but it had some definite alternate changes up in there, and it was an extended bridge… It was a very involved piece. I’ll put it to you this way. It’s not a piece of music that if somebody played it for me once and asked me to solo without looking at the changes I could do it. I’d have to look at the changes. So Braden wanted Moody to solo on it, but he was a little apprehensive, because Moody hadn’t even looked at it. First Braden said, “Okay, Moody, you take the first solo.” Then he said, “No, you’d better wait. Let the piano solo, then so-and-so, and then you solo.” Moody said, “Okay, whatever, I’ll try my best.” Then we play. Now, he hasn’t looked at the changes. He just started counting it off. Now, he’s playing his part. He ain’t got time to look at no changes because he’s got to get to the ensemble part. Then we get to the solo, and for some reason Braden pointed to him first. And he stood up and played and never looked at the music. I was like, “Oh, shit!” So I was sitting next to him, you know… Actually, he was so close to me, he was playing, and literally his tenor was touching my shoulder. I said, “Great. I’m just going to absorb all of this shit.” But he killed it!

TP: I think the most interesting thing is that he’s 75 years old, and he has this perpetual curiosity.

KIBWE: Oh, it’s incredible. He was just telling me, “Pick up this book.” He had a book based on Coltrane’s harmonic progression on “Giant Steps.” But when I first met Moody, he showed me stuff on flute. He gave me some advice. You know what he told me? He said, “Man, I want you to become a Jehovah Witness and I want you to join the Navy Band.” I was 18. That sounded like the most crazy thing for me to do. But years later, as I was thinking about it, I thought logically it made sense. He looked at it from the point of view, you know, he didn’t want to see me out there struggling for a living. He figured if I joined a Navy band, after 20 years in the Navy you can retire and you have a pension and you can do your thing. I asked him about why did he want me to join the Jehovah’s Witness. He said, well, because one time he was in New York, and this guy was trying to rob him, and had a gun or something and wanted to shoot him or whatever went down. But he just said, “Jehovah,” and the guy just walked away and didn’t mess with him. I thought that was really heavy.

TP: If you were going to talk about him analytically, his role in the music, the dynamics of his style as a saxophonist and on the different instruments.

KIBWE: The first thing that comes to mind is that he was one of the first doublers who stood out in my mind — cats that played tenor, alto, flute extremely well. What also sticks out is that he was probably the first saxophone player with his own voice coming out of the Bird era. If I had to sit down and analyze it, I could say it in musical terms. But just his sound and hi conception of how he soloed and how he played his instrument… He had his own voice. He didn’t sound like Bird. Whereas when I heard Stitt, even though Stitt said he didn’t study Bird, but he sounded to me like Bird a lot. Cannonball in the beginning, even Eric Dolphy for that matter… All those cats in the beginning sounded a lot like Bird. But Moody didn’t sound like Bird to me.

TP: But he still had the modern vocabulary.

KIBWE: Oh yeah, he always had a modern vocabulary. But he didn’t have a Bird sound. I mean, all the other cats, Charles McPherson, Jackie McLean, even Jimmy Heath, had that Bird vibe. But Moody was the first cat for me who didn’t have the Bird vibe.

TP: Maybe it’s because he started playing alto before he heard Bird, and then when Bird came along he was playing tenor.

KIBWE: Then he played flute! I have books of his solos, and I’ve been studying his shit for years. Moody has some very heavy tritone things happening in solos that I’ve been checking out. He does a lot of tritone substitutions. He does a lot of stuff going in and out of the chord. Like, there might be a C-Major-VII, but he’ll be F#. But the way he resolves that shit is so slick. His vocabulary is so immense musically. Like on his solo of “Bebop” he plays “Giant Steps.” Now, the A-section of “Bebop” is a vamp on F-minor. He was able to put “Giant Steps” through that shit! He modulated but it fit. Yeah, he’s… Oh, man, Moody! No, he’s bad. As opposed to Benny, every phrase of Moody is an exercise. Benny’s is connected… Moody is connected, too. But you can take a solo and take 2 bars of this… Like, I’ve been taking two bars of his solos, and I have an exercise.

TP: Does that make his playing sometimes overly technical, or is the warmth always there?

KIBWE: No, I’m not trying to say it makes it overly technical. His stuff is so deep that you can take segments of his playing and turn it into an etude, turn it into an exercise to where you can study that and modulate it and extract from it and play it across changes, and utilize it, interpret it that way. That “Bebop” that I have, I’ve gotten maybe 10 to 12 phrases out of that solo that I can use just as technical exercises to help me develop my facility. When I hear a cat play something like that, that I like, I’ll take it through the keys, and then maybe add a note here or there to personalize it.

* * *

TP: How did the collaboration happen? Was it just a record label project that turned out well and so you did subsequent hits?

TURNER: Yes, that’s exactly it.

TP: How did you prepare for playing with Moody? It wasn’t necessarily the most obvious pairing on the surface.

TURNER: That’s true. Well, there were supposed to be some other saxophone players on the date, and they fell through, so it was just me. Everyone brought in tunes they wanted to play.

TP: What were your impressions of Moody before going in there?

TURNER: I had studied a little bit of him, but not that much. I would say that early on I did. In high school I was into his playing, especially some early recordings when he was in France. I learned quite a bit from those recordings. There was something about his tone quality which I haven’t heard in other saxophone players in that period, partially because at that time he was playing…I guess he always did play with rubber mouthpieces. So it had that kind of a Lester Young quality, though Lester didn’t always play with rubber mouthpieces, but it had that kind of thing, whereas a lot of other tenor players (except for Stan Getz) who were playing bebop-oriented music have… It’s not as dark of a sound, a warm, woody… That’s why I gravitated to it, because that’s a lot of what I like. Warm and woody but with still a strong core. That and also he had that… The distinction, if you want to make it, between the bebop players and the post-bebop players… He was in that camp to me, the bebop camp, of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and those people, more clearly towards that sound, and one of the only tenor players that I know of. Because the others I usually hear after that in vocabulary and phrasing and sound and in the way he improvisers. In other words, not quite so codified yet, as opposed to these horn players.

TP: In working with him, you addressed quite a span of vocabulary. It was very collaborative, and he didn’t particularly play the star on it. How was it working with him in the studio? How was he with you?

TURNER: He was very amenable, amiable, straightforward, and ready to get down to business.

TP: And how would you describe his style within the contemporary framework?

TURNER: It’s great, because he’s still like really-really playing, to me. And he’s definitely always trying to… He’s really curious. He has that curiosity, and it’s in his playing, and he’s always trying to keep it fresh for himself.

TP: People who work with him say he’s always finding information, bringing people books… This incessant quest.

TURNER: Exactly.

TP: Was he very interactive with you?

TURNER: Somewhat. Yes and no. A little bit of that and a little bit of not. I wasn’t sure how much he was into that. Because when it went there, he didn’t seem to be that into it, at least not the way I was doing it.

TP: Were his solos from night to night on the same material different?

TURNER: Definitely.

TP: So it wasn’t like a recital. It was art music.

TURNER: No, he’s definitely improvising on the same songs.

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Filed under Article, Dizzy Gillespie, DownBeat, James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Kenny Barron

For Bill Henderson’s 88th Birthday, an Uncut DownBeat Blindfold Test from Ten Years Ago

About ten years ago, the inimitable vocalist Bill Henderson sat with me for a Blindfold Test in the offices of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Today’s his 88th birthday; here are the proceedings.

* * *

Bill Henderson Blindfold Test:

1.  Billy Eckstine, “Travelin’ All Alone” (from BASIE/ECKSTINE INCORPORATED, Roulette, 1959/1994) (Eckstine, vocals; Count Basie Orchestra)

Sounds like Count Basement.  Look out!  Billy Eck-stein! [Travelin’] Yeah. [Travelin’] Yeah. [So you think this is Count Basie and Billy Eckstine.] Well, it sounds like his orchestra.  It could be Billy’s orchestra. He had pretty much the same guys. A lot of the same guys went through all of those orchestras. Like, Ellington had a lot of different guys, and somebody asked him, “How did you get all those guys?” He said, “I simply pay them money.” But that is Billy Eckstine.  There’s no question about that.  He was a monumental kind of guy. Also, he was a complete balladeer—and handsome.  Women loved this guy.  He was like a magnet.  He used to say, “Ladies, line up over there.”  And they would line up over there! [LAUGHS] From the Regal stage in Chicago.  It was amazing.  In those times, that’s when big orchestras came through Chicago all the time.  He wasn’t somebody I emulated, but I understood what was happening.

I never really tried to sing like singers. I really sang like my father, who was never in show business.  Emphasizing the words, rounding them off and all that kind of stuff, was my way of seeking attention, because I was the third child in the family. See?  And the only way I could really be understood was to say something that they would have to listen to.  And my father was great.  He was really something.  I loved to sing with him in church.  And we were not Baptists. We were Presbyterians in a Baptist neighborhood.  Calumet Avenue.  Southwest.  Near South Park, which is now Martin Luther King Drive.

His performances were… You could sit down and write all that stuff down, because he was perfect in those days. He was the perfect balladeer. I have no idea when he made that, because he was much older than I was.  I remember him coming to the Regal Theater, and the audiences were loaded with women.  You could tell when it was going to be a success, because they were there, man. That’s 5 stars.  Just for being him, that’s 5. “I’m in the mood…” Then Arthur Prysock came along, too. There were a lot of different guys who came into I guess you’d call it that genre. The arranger could be somebody like Ernie Wilkins.  It could have been at that time… I’m trying to think of some names.  That’s where it gets to be difficult. [You sang with Basie.] See, Billy Eckstine gave birth to Johnny Hartman.  He was another guy that the women really loved.  This is the only guy that stood in front of the microphone with his hands in his pocket, and just sang. When you just let that come all out, the audience feels all of that.  And you’re not making a move… It’s not like… Joe used to sing like this. [HANDS OVER CHEST] I think Lena Horne called him “My Mummy,” because he looked like this.  But he could sing, too, Joe Williams.  But Johnny Hartman was introduced by Larry “Good Deal” Steel. “When it’s showtime in the Beige Room.”  That’s what he used to sing. He introduced this young kid, and he didn’t elaborate too much about what he sounded like. He just wanted the audience to hear that. And when he started to sing, he could hear women and even some guys go, “Whoa!!!”  There were quite a few singers at that time.  A lot of guys didn’t get the shot that they should have gotten.  I think Johnny Hartman got a bigger shot after he was dead.  Because Clint Eastwood had his sound in one of his movies, Madison County or something like that.  A lot of people asked me, “where can I see him perform?” and I said, “He’s not alive.” They didn’t know.  But he was a helluva singer, too.

Billy Eckstine was very nice to me.  As a matter of fact, he introduced me to Billy Strayhorn.  We went over to his house.  Billy loved to cook. I think he cooked something with beans and beer. It was good.  I didn’t realize how little Billy Strayhorn was.  He was a little guy.  Not like Johnny Puglio, but like Mickey Rooney. But he could write love songs.  As a matter of fact, I think Lena Horne said he was her soulmate.  Because he knew how to write love songs, and he loved things about flowers, azaleas, gardenias, and colors, too. One thing I want to get of his is called “Multi-colored Blue.” Nobody seems to know where that can be found.

2. Mark Murphy, “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” (from MEMORIES OF YOU, High Note, 2003) (Murphy, vocals; Norman Simmons, piano; Darryl Hall, bass; Grady Tate, drums)

Oh, it’s Mark Murphy. Yeah! We did a show with Mark and several other singers, singing Johnny Mandel at the Bakery in California.  That’s really the first time he heard me sing.  Because sometimes people really don’t pay any attention to you; they’ve got their own thing to contend with.  He used to rave with people. People would come back to me and tell me, “He’s talking about you.” So I said, “Wow.”  But he could do this, too, Kerouac and all that stuff. [OUT OF VERSE AND INTO LYRIC: “Never treats me sweet and gentle...”] I had it bad!!  The ability to sing a verse from the audience’s standpoint, not knowing where this verse is supposed to go, and then when you hear the chorus and you realize some guys can make up verses, leading up into a song.  George Burns and John Bubbles, they used to be on stage and they used to make verses up to any song, and the audience would not know what the song was going to be until they sang the chorus.  But they were good at this.  He’s good at that, too.  I never heard that verse before. So that may be his. But you see, it fit.  It could be a verse that sang, but I don’t know it.  And it’s Ellington.  So I don’t know if that was written already.  Because there are a lot of things that were written that were never played or never sang anywhere, maybe at some kind of performance on stage. Now, Mark Murphy had a way of ending things, too. The pianist could be somebody like Ellis Larkins or… God.  It’s like The Millionaire. Do you have A, B and C? Norman Simmons?  Wow!  Norman was lately with Joe Williams.  Carmen, too.  But that part, I never heard him play like that before.  So that was a whole different thing.  He was going with Mark Murphy.  Wow!  That was very good. A Joe Williams tribute record?  Get out of here! I give that 5 stars, too.

[PLAY “In The Evening”] God, this is brilliant, man. Soulful, too. There’s another guy that people are not really hip to.  But see, this is accompanying, which is a lost art. A lot of singers are feeling the heat, too, because of that. [Not a teamwork era.] Yeah.  But also can take care of himself.  A lot of piano players only take care of themselves, and you would have to find a place to get in.  There’s some thought on Mark’s part, though, for this. Because he knew… He’s really singing the blues. He thought about it, and who he’s giving this tribute to.  Did he pick Norman?  See, about accompanying, that means that you can go in different directions.  You can become this kind of piano player, you can become the classical thing… See, Oscar Peterson had that talent, to go the whole spectrum of playing for anybody.  That’s why he played for everybody with Pablo Records.  When he played for me, I was spellbound. God!  Then on top of that, when you’re new, you would make suggestions that you hoped somebody would hear, and he listened to everything.  So after a while, you tell somebody about this: “You told Oscar what to play?!” “I was dumb.  I didn’t know.”  But he took it and played it.  So it really made me feel good, and I’m getting royalties from it.  Because I found out that a vocal arrangement is just like anything on paper. So there’s a lady in California who is giving me money.  On the Oscar Peterson thing, my name is on it.

At that time, Billy Eckstine was a visionary as far as vocals are concerned. Because he used to make up verses, too, to a lot of his songs; a lot of the old standard songs. They were guys that knew how to interpret a song, regardless of where the song came from or who wrote it.  If they picked it, they would know something about this song that they could display their talents with. That’s what I try to do with whatever song that I sing.  I try to do that, too.  Not because I heard them do it.  But maybe because I DID hear them do it in the old days.  But I heard my father a lot.  Because his favorite song was “There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie, But I Don’t Care.”  I can’t find that music anywhere.  I don’t know if it was Bing Crosby or Chris Columbo or whoever it was that sang that.  But my father sang it to my father. [And here you are.] Yes, I am here.  And there was four of us altogether.  So he sang it a lot.

3. Cassandra Wilson, “Throw It Away” (from GLAMOURED, Blue Note, 2004) (Wilson, vocals; Reginald Veal, bass; Abbey Lincoln, composer)

Is the bass player Percy Heath?  No?  It could be Ray Drummond. But it’s somebody, the bass is part of their body.  See that tone?  That’s the kind of tone that Ray Brown had.  But that’s not Ray Brown.  Is it Abbey Lincoln? She has an inflection like Abbey, though. It’s not Cassandra.  Ah.  Well, there are different things she does to let me know. When she dropped a little of Abbey Lincoln and something else came in, I thought it was her. Her pauses.  How she caresses words. And she is another visionary.  See, most times you can’t find a bass player that would accompany.  I did that with John Heard at my daughter’s wedding, and I sang “Sleepin’ Bee,” and he played the string parts. I was on the floor, man. Whoo! This is not John Clayton. It’s in that thing somewhere. [Not West Coast.] New York? [Southern. Sometimes in New York, but he’s southern.] Ah!! I see a face, but I can’t call a name.  It starts with an H. [No.] That’s what I said. It doesn’t start with an H. I love what he’s doing.  Which is a difficult thing to do, to accompany somebody.  Hear he’s playing the right notes for her to hang with?  That’s very important.  Now, this is strolling. DANG-DONG, you know. Now he’s got to play something for her. Right in there somewhere.  That would be my bass player for an all star band.  He’s orchestral.  See?  He could fit in an orchestra or a small group. 5 stars. That was a tour de force.  [AFTER] Never heard of Reginald Veal.

4.  Al Jarreau, “Groovin’ High” (from ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE, Verve, 2004) (Jarreau, vocals; Larry Williams, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Peter Erskine, drums)

Bobby McFerrin. [It’s not.] That’s what I said. It’s not Bobby. I was close, but it’s not Bobby. It’s a guy much younger than Bobby. [No, I don’t think so.] Oh, then it’s Al Jarreau. He’s another monster. He’s got that facility to do that stuff, man. When was it made?  Sounds like probably in the ‘80s somewhere. It’s brand new? [2004.] That’s what I said. It’s 2004. Have he and Bobby McFerrin ever sang together? It would be interesting to write something for those two guys.  Because they are orchestral. Bobby is even moreso; he’s got strings and flutes and all kinds of things going on in his head.  English! What’s the word when you are really good with words?  There’s a phrase.  It’s not linguista… He has a way with words. This is beyond scat singing. He and Bobby McFerrin are beyond scat singing.  Scat singing was raw.  These guys are more like an orchestra in some aspects, encompassing the strings, the horns, sometimes the drum and the bass.  They’re considering all of that.  So these guys I consider to be masters as far as that kind of vocalese thing is concerned.  I’m not like that at all.  I just want to sing! 5 stars. People are going to think I’m being paid for that. [I know you’re not.] Thank you.  That’s not on tape.

5.  James Brown, “It’s Magic” (from SOUL ON TOP, Verve, 1969/2004) (James Brown, vocals; Oliver Nelson, arranger; Louis Bellson Orchestra)

It’s not Jimmy Scott, is it? It’s not Jimmy Scott.  I was just testing you.  That’s all. It’s not Ruth Brown either.  I’m getting close, though, I think. It’s like a poker game.  I’m trying to read your face. That’s what made me think it was Ruth Brown, that thing she does. I’m stumped. I have no idea.  I liked it, and I thought it was a tremendous arrangement. But I don’t have a clue who the arranger is. I’m failing, ladies and gentlemen.  I have no idea. I could see the singer in a nightclub.  The audiences probably  loved her like crazy. I thought it was Ruth Brown there for a minute, because there’s something about what she did that reminded me of Ruth Brown.[The last name is correct.] Brown is the last name? Wow. [AFTER] That was James Brown?? Holy toledo, that sounded like a rough lady. Wow!! Now, that has to be an old cut of his, right? It different for him.  That’s another thing. I would never have thought it was James Brown, because the chart is altogether different, and obviously he’s going in another direction.  But then it sounded… Oh, God. It sounds like I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about. I’m in limbo for stars. It sounded like several different people, and I wasn’t sure whether that person wanted to become one or the other. See?  I would consider for THAT alone to be maybe 3½ stars.  Though it was well done for whatever that was.  Boy, this Blindfold Test gets to be political, too, doesn’t it. I mean, if I make the wrong thing, there’ll people coming in the door talking about, “You made the wrong move, Bill Henderson. Out of here!” This means that some guys can go in different directions. It’s terrible when you’re deciding what somebody sounds like. I enjoyed it, but I thought it was very remindful of several female singers, and at first I thought it was Little Jimmy Scott.

6.  J.D. Walter, “On a Clear Day” (from CLEAR DAY, Double Time, 2001) (Walter, vocals; Dave Liebman, soprano saxophone; Jim Ridl, piano; Steve Varner, bass; Ari Hoenig, drums)

They’re influenced by the Orient. Is that a soprano?  He got something else out of it. Kurt Earling.  Earling Kurt. It’s not him either. This sounds like a guy who plays an instrument and sings. Oh, that’s not him playing. This is the same saxophonist that played the opening? They’re sensual sounds.  Crying. I thought for a minute it was going to go into Leon Thomas. You know, sometimes you get a feeling that it could be Johnny Mathis trying to go in a different direction. That’s very difficult, though, man. You’ve got to have some people that know where they’re going with that. Mmm. I have not a clue. They must have worked together a lot to be able to make that harmony and things that they got, to work that close together and doing something.  Because there was like two instruments playing there.  That’s why I thought at first it was a saxophonist who sang.  And there’s a pianist in there somewhere. 4 stars for being unusual.

7.  Jimmy Rushing, “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” (from FIVE FEET OF SOUL, Roulette, 1963/2003, Jimmy Rushing, vocal; arranger, Al Cohn)

[LAUGHS] Man, my bucket’s got a hole in it.  Sounds like Mister Five by Five a little bit. This is the kind of stuff you never heard him do.  Because he always had to do something that was very familiar. This is probably what he did in person at some club or something.  He’s some I listened to, heard in passing.  But I was more interested in what Joe Williams was doing in Chicago, because he could sing anything. That’s why a lot of composers and songwriters wanted him to sing their songs, because he would give it the right inflection. He could sing just about anything—Pagliacci, all of that stuff.  Because he had that kind of voice. But guys like Jimmy Rushing, they only sang a certain kind of way.  This is different.  This is swinging much more.  And the orchestras are different. It’s not Basie, but they are emulating something like that. Al Cohn and Ernie Wilkins both did a lot of stuff for me. Billy Byers.  I took all of those charts with me to Basie’s band, and every night, after I finished singing, Basie would say, “You don’t sing anything by Joe Williams?”  I said, “No.  That’s why I brought all these charts with me.”  Because he took me everywhere, and we sang on a lot of television shows, just he and I.  But he always would say, “You don’t sing anything by Joe Williams?” I think I would have been dead in the water. [I think that was a smart strategy.] I think it was.  I think he liked me because of that. [People pay attention when you do your own thing and not someone else’s thing.] Yeah.  Because that was the reason why Lockjaw put me with the band.  He said, “you’re going to like this guy.” When I sang, I had all of those charts, and there was no real rehearsal with that band. I remember the first big date we had was in England, and Basie was calling my name, and I was in the dressing room. I was supposed to be at the microphone. Because when I got to the microphone, the band was halfway through my number. That’s when I looked at Basie’s face, and it was the first time I saw him get angry.  But see, nobody tells you anything.  So that was lesson number one. That’s what you call hard knocks. The second lesson was that Lockjaw gave me something to drink, and I was standing in the wings, getting ready to go on, and I was drinking this, and as I drank I was going… [TALKS DRUNK] And the band was watching me. Then Basie was saying, “And now, ladies and gentlemen,” and they were calling my name, and I was just standing in the wings, going, “Who-ho-ho.” I said to myself after that moment, “I don’t think drinking is mine.” That’s when I quit.  I never started, but that’s when I knew it was wrong. Could not handle it.

But that’s 9 stars.  Because I’ve never heard him sing like that.  And that was something complete, lyrics and everything. Five feet of soul! Those are the kind of songs he sang, you don’t even have to worry about what they are.  You just sing them. But this was a special arrangement, I think.  Probably something he wrote. [Clarence Williams wrote it.] Yeah, Clarence. That sounds like him.  He wrote a lot of stuff Joe sang, too.

8.  Carmen Lundy, “It Might As Well Be Spring” (from SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN, Justin Time, 2003) (Lundy, vocal; Anthony Wonsey, piano; Curtis Lundy, bass; Victor Lewis, drums)

The wife of James Taylor, I thought it was. [At first you thought it was Carly Simon.] Yes.  But it’s not. I see a face, but I can’t see a name. I think I know who this is, but I’m not sure what the name is. It’s jazz.  There’s no question about it.  It’s an approach to jazz singing, more feminine than masculine. She’s in that same genre that Cassandra is in, as far as getting well-known things and putting her own inflections on it. The trio is involved with her, because they’re putting stuff together like that. I don’t know if she sings and plays.  It looks like somebody independently is playing.  There are three people I know who sound like somebody is accompanying them—Shirley Horn, Diana Krall, and Dina DeRose. They play like somebody is accompanying them.  When they sing, it’s altogether different. It’s like this guy is following her everywhere, and it’s her playing it. But this is a trio, and they seem to be working very closely with her.  Maybe it’s her chart.  Maybe she scored it.  Or maybe the piano player scored it for her.  But it’s somebody like that.  I don’t know who it is. It’s not Ella Fitzgerald.  It’s not Lena Horne.  It might be this singer, at-the-end-she-may-say-her-name.  No.  “It might as well be…”  Karrin Allyson or somebody like that. Tierney Sutton? I have not a clue. I enjoyed it, though. It was a tour de force all the way through.  Placing the lyric and the melody and all of that stuff together with what the trio was playing, it was like they were opposing each other musically a little bit, and fitting in like a puzzle. That is difficult to do from night to night, because sometimes guys want to go somewhere else when they play, and you want to go where the chart is going, and you’re in trouble when they go somewhere else. So I don’t know who it is. 4 stars.  Carmen Lundy?  Wow.  It was different.  It’s hard to do a standard like that and change it altogether, and still be remindful of how it really is supposed to go.

10.  Kurt Elling, “Detour Ahead”(from FLIRTING WITH TWILIGHT, Blue Note, 2001) (Elling, vocals)

This is Kurt.  This is another guy who knows what he wants to do.  He’s based in Chicago, and he seems to have all these good people to work with, because he comes up with something different all the time. And he’s singing! See, all of that phrasing and everything, the arrangement that’s going with him. He maybe wrote this stuff. [I think his piano player did the chart.] Well, his piano player’s a clone. Here, too, the chart is not namby-pamby.  This chart is meant to be played this way, so he can sing the way he sings. See, all the retards and things like that.  If they know when you’re going to do that.  He changes the melody. Does he play an instrument?  Maybe glockenspiel or something. That’s a joke.  I only joke when I’m in trouble! Sometimes when you’re on stage, you get in trouble, and you say: Oh, boy!  Do you know how many different showers they have with one knob?  And mostly in motels. When you turn a knob, it gets too hot.  When you turn it off completely and start it again, it’s cold water coming down. In my house, I have two knobs where you can regulate the water. Every hotel I’ve ever been in, except when I was in Europe, they have a lot of different things going on.  They have a bidet.

See, that drum hit, DONG, is part of the arrangement.  The drummer is aware of all that.  That’s 5 stars for the adventure.  A lot of adventure than that. A lot of going places musically. It’s probably an interesting set when he sings in clubs.  And he looks like Buffalo Bill.

11. Nat Cole, “These Foolish Things”(from LOVE SONGS, Capitol, 19__)

Nathaniel. Yeah. The guy who told him to sing, I don’t know if he could be still alive or not, because he was just playing piano at the time. He said, “You ought to sing!” Here’s a guy who could play and sing, and he was a helluva pianist. You know, Oscar Peterson sang like him.  If you heard Oscar sing, he sounds just like him. Also, Ray Charles sang like him in the beginning. And his television show was not sponsored.  It was what they call sustaining.  Whoever was at the station loved him so much, they put him on anyway.  But a lot of people in the South… Because he was singing love songs.  I guess guys in the South get too warm with a black guy singing love songs. Duke Ellington had a train when he went to the South.  They all stayed on the train, unless there was somebody who would invite them into their home.  Those were the days. This is 11 stars.  Because this guy was the epitome of what kind of singer…at that particular time.  Tremendous. And could talk to an audience and everything.  The orchestra sounds like Basie a little bit. I’ve sung this song, but I have not sung it recently.  There are a lot of things I would love to sing. Sometimes it’s just difficult getting a chart to be done with it.  You have to be concerned with financial things.

I hope I passed.  Sometimes, man, when you have a personal opinion, and you know that if you give that opinion, it’s going to be around the world, and it’s very shocking when it comes back to you.

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Filed under Bill Henderson, Blindfold Test, DownBeat, vocalist

For Bill Frisell’s 63rd Birthday, A DownBeat Article, An Uncut Blindfold Test, and A Few Other Pieces

Best of birthdays to guitarist Bill Frisell, who turns 63 today. Most people who would read this blog don’t need me to say much about him. But on the personal tip, I’ve admired Frisell’s unique sound and concept since the  early ’80s, when he first recorded with Joe Lovano in the Paul Motian Trio, and that decade with John Zorn’s Naked City. During my years at WKCR, I was fortunate  to have a number of opportunities to host him on-air, several times by himself, once in dialogue with Paul Motian, another time in dialogue with trumpeter Ron Miles, his old friend and fellow son of Denver.

I’ve posted below my “directors’ cut” (about 1500 words longer) of a DownBeat cover piece I wrote about Bill and his long-standing trio partners Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen, during a week in Perugia for the 2008 Umbria Summer Jazz Festival. I’ve also appended the uncut proceedings of  a Blindfold Test that he took with me around 2000 or 2001, in his extraordinarily cramped room at the former Earle Hotel on the corner of Waverly Place & MacDougal, on the northwest corner of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.

Bill Frisell Trio in Perugia, Downbeat, 2008:

At midnight on the first Sunday of the 2008 Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, an impromptu party was in full swing on the cobblestoned  streets outside Teatro Pavone, a horseshoe-shaped, five-tiered acoustic marvel with with a giant sunflower chandelier hanging from the ceiling.  It opened in 1740, when Perugia was still an independent city-state, as the gathering place for the local aristocracy. In response, forty years later, a consortium of Perugia’s merchants converted an abandoned nunnery perhaps a quarter mile down the hill into the grander, showier Teatro Morlacchi, a 785-seater with ceiling frescoes.

Inside, however, about 250 listeners paid close attention as the Bill Frisell Trio, with bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen, positioned themselves on stage to begin a six-night run.

Smiling, Frisell touched a pedal with his black-shoed foot. Nachtmusik birdsong plinks came forth, resonating against the old wood facades. For the next several minutes, Frisell followed the sounds, weaving an abstract web of tone color—whispery one moment, skronky the next. He inserted electronic sounds into the dialog with pedal taps and dial switches. Wollesen scraped his snare drum, hand-drummed on his hi-hat and stroked a gong on a tree of little instruments placed next to his kit. Gradually, a familiar melody emerged. Scherr inferred a walking bass line, and the tempo began to coalesce from rubato to meter. Then, on a dime, Frisell launched the melody of Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso.”

This launched a free-associative, genre-spanning suite of songs, each declarative melody transitioning into another—“Moon River,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “You Are My Sunshine,” Monk’s “Jackie-ing,” Charlie Christian’s “Benny’s Bugle,” Boubacar Traoré’s “Baba Drame” and Lee Konitz’s “Subconscious-Lee.” Seemingly able to call up guitar dialects ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Mali to Charlie Christian at a moment’s notice, Frisell went for equilateral triangle dialog, simultaneously feeding information to and drawing it from Scherr and Wollesen. The band displayed implacable patience, grabbing sounds, constructing lines and creating musical flow from the environment. If you thought about it a certain way, you might reflect on how the architects and painters who created the look of Perugia between the 12th and 18th centuries responded to the particular light of the Perugian sky and the planes of its topography when they conjured their images and structures. You might also reflect on the ingenuity and learning that went into their designs, and the amount of labor that went into actualizing the final product.

Six hours earlier on the same stage, Pat Martino had played the third concert of a parallel 10-night engagement, leading his quartet through a sparkling seven-tune set. Dressed in a crisp white-on-white shirt, black vest and pressed black pants, barely moving a muscle, he spun out a series of high-degree-of-difficulty declamations, each a little sculpture of its own, marked by flawless articulation, an unfailingly plush tone, attention to melody and an enviable sense of form. Martino tore through the swingers and created high drama on the ballads; it was hard to determine whether the solos were set pieces or spontaneous inventions. Ascending the stairs after the concert, a guitarist from another band shook his head at the futility of it all and said, “I’m going to go back to the hotel and throw away my guitar.”
Throughout the week in July, the daily juxtaposition of these two—Frisell a master of space and implication, Martino determined on every tune to display his efflorescent gifts—was a fascinating programming subplot.
“You wouldn’t know it from listening to what I do now, but I’ve listened to Pat Martino a lot, and at one time I was maybe trying to do that,” Frisell said the following day. We sat in a walled-off space in the back of the dining area of the Rosetta Hotel, situated down the block from Teatro Pavone. Frisell wore a white t-shirt, paisley shorts, white Converse high-tops, and horizontally striped socks in bright colors. As we spoke, the kitchen staff prepared a luncheon buffet as diverse as the program he had presented the previous evening.
“I was checking Pat out yesterday, trying to unravel this mysterious stuff he’s doing, and it blows my mind,” he continued. “John McLaughlin was another hero. Day-in, day-out, I tried to play like him, and I couldn’t come anywhere close. I saw a concert with Shakti in the early ‘70s, heard this incredible stuff coming out, and  it was this moment of despair. I realized that I’d never, ever be able to do that. I wanted to quit. Then the next moment it was like, ‘Oh, thank God that’s over with; now I’ll deal with what I’ve got.’”Frisell noted the spontaneous quality of the previous evening’s concert. “It wasn’t planned,” he said. “My mom died a few weeks ago, and I had to miss a bunch of gigs, so I hadn’t been playing. I was feeling, ‘Wow, here I am—now I’m back with my buddies and I really want to play, but my hands are like…I haven’t been playing my guitar very much. So I thought, ‘Okay, I just want to make a sound and see what it sounds like.’”
Perhaps more in touch with formative memories than he might otherwise be because of his mother’s recent passing, Frisell mentioned reconnecting with painter Charles Cajori, now 87, an active member of New York’s art world since the early ‘40s, and a family friend. “His father worked with my father in Denver in medical school, and when he was in Denver he’d come over for dinner,” he recalled. “He’d tell me all this New York stuff: ‘I heard this incredible drummer—I went to the Village Vanguard and I was sitting right under his cymbal.’ That was Tony Williams when he first started playing with Miles. The first Monk record I ever saw was from this guy.“Forty years go by, I’m in New York, and I thought about him. I looked him up on the Internet, and he was teaching at the Studio School on 8th Street in Manhattan. I hadn’t talked to him since I was 14. I wrote a note, and brought it to the front desk at the school, which is around the corner from my hotel. A few weeks later, I got a letter from him. He’d seen me play at the Vanguard, and knew me through Paul Motian and so on, but didn’t connect that I was that kid from way back. Now we’re friends, and he comes when I play. There’s a picture of Monk playing at the Five Spot, and right behind him is a poster that says ‘Cajori’. He was friends with Morton Feldman. He’s in his late eighties, and he said this amazing thing: ‘One thing I’m certain of is that drawing is a worthy endeavor.’ He teaches, and he sees that some of these things are slipping. To be able to draw is important. To be able to play an instrument. The fact that your fingers have to move around. Just that one little thing he said—it’s a worthy endeavor.”
[BREAK]
The first half of Frisell’s 2008 release, History, Mystery [Nonesuch], consists primarily of music that he composed for three collaborative projects with Jim Woodring, a Seattle-based cartoonist who transforms biomorphic shapes into characters in phantasmagoric narratives. He arranged it for a Fall 2006 tour by an octet propelled by Scherr and Wollesen. It’s far from Frisell’s first sounds-meet-images project. The 1995 Nonesuch CDs Go West and The High Sign/One Week document his responses to a pair of silent films by Buster Keaton, and several years ago he scored Tales From The Far Side, an animated film by Seattle cartoonist Gary Larson, a close friend. Indeed, Frisell’s wife, Carole D’Inverno, is a painter whose canvases, both figurative and abstract, reveal an economical command of line and color.
“When the music is happening, it’s not visual,” Frisell said. “But I like to look at art. I can’t draw, but if I didn’t play music I’d probably do something like that. We probably have some instinct or motivation coming from the same place. I’ve said before that when I met Jim Woodring and saw his art, I felt his drawing was a lot closer to what I’m trying to do with the music than a lot of musicians I know. It’s the place you’re trying to get to—to bring something to the surface that’s not always visible or audible, something people feel in this reality that isn’t always there.”
In a drawing dated 1997, Larsen portrays a bespectacled Frisell playing guitar. He scalps him, revealing his brain as a laboratory in which a mad scientist sits in a sort of director’s chair atop a ladder, blowing notes into a large funnel, through which they pass into a complex, Rube Goldbergesque processor, which in turn feeds them into Frisell’s guitar, which is plugged into his left temple lobe.Frisell’s father was a biochemist, and I asked whether, in any way, he references that aspect of his background in his musical production. He demurred.“I didn’t connect with that at all,” he said. “Chemistry classes and that stuff, I failed right out of all of it.”That being said, Frisell’s instantaneous use of electronics—he deploys a distortion pedal and a fuzztone device, two delays, a reverb, and several small music boxes that he attaches to his guitar pickups—within the flow to trigger random elements within a performance, and his ability to work those sounds seamlessly into the warp and woof of his improvisations is a quality that continually astounds the people who hear him most.“Bill totally embraces all this technology,” said Claudia Engelhart, Frisell’s sound engineer and road manager. She met Frisell in 1989 while touring Brazil with John Zorn’s Naked City band, after spending her early twenties mixing for Willie Colon and Eddie Palmieri. “Sometimes he’s creating loops without us hearing them, and then he’ll turn them on and there they are at precisely the right moment. It’s like he’s composing, thinking ahead, when he’s playing other stuff. I don’t know how he does it. My job is to sit and listen, but I daydream a lot when while I’m mixing sound for him—he takes me on these trips.”
By his account, Frisell began using effects towards improvisational imperatives in 1975. “I heard Santana play this incredible sustain sound that sounded like a trumpet,” he said. “I was trying to play like a horn player; I wanted to sound like Miles Davis. So I got a distortion thing. Then I was listening to pianists and admired how they could hold notes down and let them ring. Back then, there was a little cheap delay that had a cassette tape in it which sort of did what my little digital delay does for me now—that piano-y sustained thing.”
He remarked that he practices neither the sonic combinations that he conjures up nor the gestures by which he puts them forth. “It doesn’t make sense to do it by myself,” he said. “It developed from playing live with other people. I like the element that I’m not sure what’s going to happen with the machines. I trigger a loop, and it goes haywire. It’s not like I have something pre-programmed on a push-up button, and, ‘okay, now I’m going to get that sound.’ Sometimes, though, I feel like I get into certain patterns—I can build things up in ways that become predictable to me, and probably eventually to the audience, too. I try to keep it so that it’s not.”
To avoid the predictability pitfall, and break things open, Frisell frames himself with numerous configurations drawn from what is now a repertory company of musicians familiar with his language. Since 1996, when his long-time trio with bassist Kermit Driscoll and drummer Joey Baron dissolved, he’s triangulated Scherr and Viktor Krauss with drummers Wollesen, Jim Keltner, Rudy Royston, and Matt Chamberlin; used several rhythm sections to propel ensembles of varying size with violinists Jenny Scheinman and Eyvind Kang, lap steel guitarist and banjoist Greg Leisz, trumpeter Ron Miles, and reedmen-woodwindists Billy Drewes and Greg Tardy. He’s developed a corpus of string quartet music and formed a quasi-world music ensemble (the Intercontinentals). Then there are the one-off projects—a trio CD with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones, a standards duo with Fred Hersch, a more recent trio date with Ron Carter and Paul Motian, the latter his employer since 1981 with the Paul Motian Trio, with which he continues to perform annually around Labor Day at the Village Vanguard. Still, as he puts it, the trio with Scherr and Wollesen—which first convened for a 1999 week at the Village Vanguard, and performs on Unspeakable, East, West, and History, Mystery—feels like “home base.”
“I’ve listened to thousands of records with Ron Carter, but when I stand there and play a chord, and he plays some note I’m not expecting, and your mind has been obliterated…,” he said animatedly, before breaking off the sentence with a laugh. “You want to stay up in that thing. I want my mind to be blown. Then along come Tony and Kenny. By this time I’d been looking at a lot of other music, songs with words, listening to Hank Williams songs, Roscoe Holcomb and Doc Boggs—things I hadn’t listened to much before. It wasn’t just about I want to play a Monk tune or a Lee Konitz tune, or I want to write my own tunes. I was also trying to remember where I come from—when thinking about a Bob Dylan song when I was a kid, playing this Lovin’ Spoonful song when I was 16. Being honest about what got me playing. I did a record in Nashville, played with a banjo player for the first time. Some people said, ‘Wow, he went to Nashville, and he’s selling out,’ and so on, but for me, it was like, ‘Whoa, this is really weird.’ I was stretching myself, playing with people I’d never met before, people who come from different places, people who didn’t think about music or learn music the same way I did. I couldn’t write out charts for them, the way I used to. It was a whole different way of playing, and I learned so much. Still am.
“Both Kenny and Tony are like my teachers. In so many areas I want to go into, it’s like they know 20,000 times more than I do. Last night, as an encore, we played this Ron Carter song, ‘Mood.’ Tony’s heard that, and he knows 20 different versions of it, and any other song I’d ask him to play. He’s an awesome guitar player and also a singer—he knows the words, too. When I discovered Roscoe Holcomb, who came out of nowhere for me. Kenny went, ‘I got that record when I was 12.’ I’ve put myself in this amazing situation where they can challenge me. But then at the same time they respect me! They just play, and they’re not intimidating. Like I said, they blow my mind.”
[BREAK]
“Bill accepts the way people play, and plays with who they are, rather than with who they’re supposed to be,” said Scherr the following morning. “He’s constantly open to anything he hears. It’s sincere. If somebody is playing an instrument, that’s music—if it’s musical. There’s no preconception of what somebody is supposed to know or not.”
The sky was clear, facilitating a spectacular view of the Tiber River Valley from the terrace outside the Hotel Brufani, the festival’s nerve center. It stands atop the remnants of Rocca Paulina, a massive fortress constructed in 1543 on the order of Pope Paul III to show the town’s staunchly anti-clerical citizens—who had battled for autonomy against Papal authority since the 11th century—who was boss. To emphasize the point, Farnese, then 75, commanded that 138 buildings belonging to the Baglione family, Perugia’s most powerful clan, be razed to the ground.
“I didn’t grow up hearing jazz,” said Scherr. Early in his teens, he played guitar in a rock band in which his older brother, Peter—now a Hong Kong-based classical contrabassist—played bass. “I heard rock-and-roll and soul and all kinds of other music. That’s when I got bitten by the bug of playing with other people—that feeling of discovery and learning how to play together. When I was 14, my brother brought home Miles Davis’ Jack Johnson, and we went backwards from there. Around then I met a guy who would take me to his house, and we’d play guitar. He showed me who Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters were. We would play vamps, what people think of as a standard, a song by the Animals, then we’d turn off the lights and play free. In my mind, it all lived in the same room, because that’s the guy I was in contact with. I suppose it took me a while to recognize that ultimately I was looking for that kind of guy. I never really thought about the difference between the genres. I recognize that in common with Bill, because Bill seems to just hear a song—it doesn’t matter if George Jones or Billie Holiday sang it. He writes beautiful, classic songs, too, with melodies that go around in my head. When it comes down to it, there’s just great songs, great melodies, and people hear them, and want to interpret them and be themselves and have a language with the people they play with.”
Scherr wore a retroish short-sleeved shirt over black jeans, the way young Manhattan hipsters dressed in the ‘80s, when Scherr, now 43, went on the road with Woody Herman. In the ‘90s, he played numerous jazz gigs on bass, joined the last edition of the Lounge Lizards, played with Maria Schneider, and joined Wollesen in Stephen Bernstein’s Sex Mob Quartet.`
“Maria Schneider started asking me, ‘Have you played a lot of rock music or something?’” he related with a laugh. He spoke in a deliberate baritone perhaps an octave lower than the gravelly tenor he displays on his new release, Twist in the Wind, on which he sings 13 songs, including 10 with his own lyrics. “In Sex Mob, which is a kind of a combination of Louis Armstrong and Led Zeppelin, I realized how I actually hear the bass. We went through Seattle, and Bill came to the gig, and called me up soon after, and we started playing. I’m glad that it didn’t happen until I had some idea of what I sound like. At that point, I had been a fan of Bill’s music for quite a long time, and would check out every album, so I had some idea of who he was and what his language is about. It was very comfortable to hear this guy who had his own voice on guitar. An enormous part of what he does is very sophisticated, much more complex than I would understand—though I’ve heard him do it for years, so I might be able to hear something that goes with it. The simpler part that I do understand comes from the guitar language that I know. Bill reminds me to be more open, to wait and surrender to what actually happens, rather than thinking I know already. I used to think I knew. Now I’m sure that I don’t.”
As if on cue, a slender, elderly man in gray shorts, a sleeveless sweater and walking boots appeared before us, took a breath, and began to sing a tarentella of indistinct origin in a clear tenor. He finished, began another, halted, said, “Gusto. Musica.” Then he walked off. Scherr laughed and applauded. “I couldn’t have said better than that,” he said. “Music. Love music.”
About half-an-hour later, Wollesen and I were strolling through the narrow streets, past pasticcerias, pizzerias, gelato shops, and taverns setting up for lunch. We settled on a café not far from a wall built by Perugia’s original Etruscan settlers as a fortification against invaders. It was a touristy place, and his red wine was served cold. In the background, you could hear the Coolbone Brass Band, out of New Orleans, warming up for their daily noontime ballyhoo.
“Bill’s rhythm is killing, and he hears everything,” Wollesen said. “I think his ears are supernatural. Right now, we’re talking at this table, and I hear what you’re saying, but there’s all kinds of sound happening around us. People would think of it as background noise. I think Bill somehow hears all of it. It’s kind of uncanny.“I’ve never really talked with Bill about music. I don’t think he’s ever said one thing to me about what to play. I have to figure it out on my own. It seems strange to me, because almost all the bands I play in, somebody says something about that.”
Perhaps Wollesen  was referring to John Zorn, with whom, several weeks before, he’d played two concerts in Paris, one placing him alongside Joey Baron; or to Butch Morris, whose conduction projects he frequently participates in; or to Stephen Bernstein in Sex Mob; or to Norah Jones and Sean Lennon. “Stephen often tells me exactly what beat to play, and he conducts the band on the bandstand,” he said. “It’s a totally different aesthetic somehow. It’s also a lot louder.”Because of these associations, listeners tend to peg Wollesen as a deep groover and texture-maker rather than a swinger. But as a teenager in Santa Cruz, California, he played in a popular local hardcore jazz unit with saxophonist Donny McCaslin, a peer, and, at the Kuumba Jazz Workshop, where he worked as a janitor in order to gain free admission, observed such drum icons as Elvin Jones, Ed Blackwell, Tony Williams, Billy Higgins, and Paul Motian on weekly Monday night concerts.
“I wasn’t into pop music as a kid,” he said. “It was just stuff that was on the radio. I was into Elvin Jones. All my friends were into that, and so was I. But I listened to a lot of different music—I played in klezmer bands, and I was really into Cecil Taylor and a lot of the really out stuff.”
Towards the end of the ‘80s, not long after he turned 20, Wollesen relocated to New York, moving into a funky apartment once occupied by Deborah Harry. “Purely for economic reasons, I made a conscious decision to take whatever work I could get,” he said. “Playing in so many different bands, different worlds—a rock band, a bebop band, Zorn or Butch—you realize that the fundamentals remain the same. You still have to take care of business, make the shit happen somehow. That means ultimately being in the moment when the music is happening, not projecting something that you learned or something that you already knew, or what somebody told you to play. If you’re still hooked into some other stuff, then you lost it. You’re not there.“I think about painters. They’ll spend hours and hours by themselves, but when it comes down to it, there’s the moment where they put the paint on the canvas. But they spend years getting to that place. It’s like that with music.”
[BREAK]
In November, the Bill Frisell Trio will tour Europe playing to movies—music from Frisell’s Buster Keaton and Jim Woodring projects, and also to a new film by Bill Morrison, who on a previous work used Frisell’s eponymously entitled 2001 encounter with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones as soundtrack music.“It will completely take us out of a lot of the things we’re playing now, force us to deal with a different batch of music, and push us into another zone,” Frisell said. “In some ways, it’s more restrictive, but I’ll have to figure out a way to keep it from being a show, where we do the same thing every night.”Frisell, Scherr, and Wolleson sat around the same table in the same wood-paneled adjunct of the Rosetta Hotel dining room. That night, they would play their fifth concert of the week.“I’m writing music with no parameters, which I love,” Frisell continued. “Having the film there boxes you in, in a certain way, but those limitations sometimes will push you out into someplace you’ve never been. It’s another way to get pushed into moving ahead.”They quickly turned the subject matter to qualities described in our one-on-one conversations—mutual intuition, shared language, trust.

“The time between our gigs always seems too long, but when we get back together we start almost beyond where we left off,” Scherr said. “The conversation just keeps going. I’ve always liked being in bands that really develop something together, like when my brother and I would put together a rock band. and we’d find a drummer, and play, and it would really click, and we’d learn a lot all of a sudden and be real excited about it, and you just couldn’t wait til the next time you played. When people play music together and travel, you get in close quarters, and people’s personalities come out. A thematic language—literal language—goes around the band, a couple of terms that get used for the entire trip or something, a running joke or a running topic. Then the next trip you find new ones. Sometimes it gets totally ridiculous, like that day in Peekskill when we started playing all the major tunes minor and all the minor tunes major. It was so silly, and it had everything to do with who we are. Those kinds of things emerge when you’re not worried about making mistakes, and you’re coming up with ridiculous things because it’s fun. The music becomes less precious and opens up— you feel free to demolish stuff together, and it’s totally okay.”

Scherr gave an example.

“On a lot of tunes we’ll go through the form, and although I’m not thinking about it this way while we’re doing it, it’s like playing a game,” he continued. “For instance, at a certain point on ‘Keep Your Eyes Open’ there’s a little melody, a chord, another little melody, and a downbeat. We’ve played that tune for years, and it’s almost unbelievable how many different ways we can play that chord—a snotty little swipe at it, or a broad, beautiful way of hitting it. Often it’s being open enough to just SEE how we’re going to do it, and toss it back and forth. Sometimes it’s as simple as hitting one note or one chord together on the first beat of the measure. When I first played with Bill, I paid a lot of attention to that. Now that notion has expanded to trying not to think, just to support the new thing I hear, whatever it is, and not answer the question before it needs to be answered.”

“What you play can be determined by the way things bounce around in the room,” Frisell said. “Every day is different, even in the same room—the number of people, the air, the humidity.”

“Bill will start playing a song because something is going on in life, and usually the lyric is totally relevant,” Scherr added. “To me, listening to him is the same as listening to a person I know talk, or hearing a singer.”

“In this group, I’m trying to sing the song on the guitar,” Frisell agreed. He referenced a 2003-2005 engagement as musical director of the Germany concert series, Century of Song, in which the trio joined various singers—among them Rickie Lee Jones, Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, Suzanne Vega, Vic Chestnutt, Loudon Wainwright, and Chip Taylor—in creating new arrangements of iconic repertoire.

“I talked about trying to copy Pat Martino or John McLaughlin years ago,” he continued. “Now it’s more about I’m trying to copy Aretha Franklin or Sam Cooke or Hank Williams. We’ve played “Lovesick Blues” a couple of times  and I’m playing what I got from trying to get even these little nodal things he does with his voice, which is sort of impossible.”

“Bill’s got the meaning of the tune, too,” Scherr said. “Well, there is no one meaning for any tune. We played ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’ a bunch of different ways, a bunch of times. But I always feel that tune means whatever it means that day, and that’s where it’s living. It’s got a lot of room to be played.”

Lunch was ready, so it was time to clear out, get on with the day, prepare for the evening’s concert. “None of this is secret,” Frisell said. “But it’s this weird, super-intimate thing that we don’t talk about. For me, playing is as close as you can get to another human being. I don’t think whatever we’ve tried to say will break anything, but it’s not remotely close to what’s happening as we’re doing it.”

* * * *

Bill Frisell Blindfold Test:

1.    Richard Leo Johnson, “Sweet Jane Thyme,” LANGUAGE (Blue Note, 2000) (Johnson, 12-string and pedal steel guitar) – (4 stars)

Holy moly!  Oh my God.  I have no idea who that is.  [How did it sound to you?] It was…nice.  I’m trying to…I’m baffled by… It reminded me of some things that I’ve heard, like, Leo Kottke do, and there was a tiny bit of some of the things that Daniel Lanois did with Brian Eno back a ways, like the sort of secondary…whether it was a steel guitar or the kind of echoey, shadowy guitar behind the acoustic guitar.  But I have no idea who that is. [Was it one or two players?  How many guitarists?] I don’t know if it was overdubbed.  But there were at least two, I think. [LAUGHS] There was…was it a 12-string? [There was one guy on a 12-string in real time.] It sounded like there was a 12-string and then some kind of more atmospheric electric guitar as a background, the sort of cloudy sound… [He was playing a pedal steel and a 12-string, so there were two guitars overdubbed.] But there was one person. [One person.  He has a technique to create several voices.  Did you like the song?] Yeah, it was nice.  It didn’t like knock me out.  It was really cool and pleasant to listen to.

I have to think about how I’m going to do the stars.  Because to me, anybody who has decided to play music should get five stars, I think. [That said, there are gradations and...] [LOUD LAUGH] You’re trying to get me to… [I'm not trying to get you to slam anybody.  But the Blindfold Test is what it is.  If you want to give everyone a blanket five stars...] I really don’t like… Well, there’s things I like and things I don’t like, and I think certain things suck, just like everybody else.  But I still…somehow… I don’t like the idea of competition in music.  Also, with what I just heard, it kind of…I couldn’t place what… I don’t know where it’s coming from or what it is.  I don’t know if I would think it was better or worse depending on where it was coming from.  I could almost hear in a film. [He laid down guitar tracks, then he sent the guitar tracks to various improvisers, and they each laid down their tracks on top of his guitar track.  (ETC.) His name is Richard Leo Johnson.] I’ve never heard of him. [This is his second record.  He plays different guitars, and he's a virtuoso, but he only started playing full-time four years ago.  He's 45.  And he's from Arkansas, the north Delta.  He's self-taught.]

It made me be curious to hear how that is juxtaposed to other things on the record.  That’s something I would go do on my own now.  I guess I’m going to have to give it five stars… [If you give 4 stars to something that doesn't knock you out, but you like and respect it, you're really not insulting the musician.] Okay, I’ll give it four stars. [I think if you're going to agree to do the Blindfold Test...] I did it once before, and I gave everybody 5 stars.  But also, everything was Jim Hall and Jimi Hendrix and Wes Montgomery.  Maybe I’ll give it 4.  Maybe that rating system will assert itself as we go along.

But a lot of it is context.  I could see this being in a film or something, or seeing it up against something else where it might be very powerful…

2.    Jim Hall-Pat Metheny, “Django,” BY ARRANGEMENT (Telarc, 1995) (Hall-Metheny, acoustic guitars) (5 stars)

That’s “Django,” I can tell you that. [at 3:35] Oh, I think I finally got who this is.  [at 5 minutes] I guess I’m ready to talk.  Is there a string quartet?  From the first moments of these strings, I thought…Jim Hall was what came into my mind, something in the sound of the writing.  Then I started listening, and I hear one guitar and another guitar, and I didn’t recognize the sound.  But when the first guitarist started playing nylon string guitar, it took me longer than what I thought it should too… I heard a bit of Pat Metheny stuff going on in there, and then I figured that’s got to be Pat playing nylon string guitar.  Then I figured… They did a duet record, but this isn’t that, so this must be Jim’s record where he did these arrangements, and the song, “Django”… [Absolutely.] Thank God I got that right.  But it was kind of confusing, because sonically it was so strange.  First I thought it was an old recording… I thought Jim Hall, and I heard the strings and I thought maybe this was going to be one of those things Jim did with Gunther Schuller years ago or something like that.  But it’s interesting how, without him playing, it fired some kind of response in my brain that me think Jim Hall right away.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m expecting at some point I’m going to hear Jim Hall in a blindfold test.  So I figured out it was Pat playing nylon string, and then Jim later playing acoustic guitar, which you don’t hear that often.  Also, I’ve never heard him make that much racket, singing along, groaning… Sonically they both sounded quite a bit different than you’re used to hearing.  But that was cool.  So now I have to give it stars.  That I’ve got to give 5.  The tune and that he could figure out something else to do with that tune, and those guys… That was great.  And it was cool to be that confused by… Those guys I’d figure I could recognize in two notes anywhere.  Is that on the record “By Arrangement”?  I should have known it right away.

3.    John McLaughlin, “Only Child,” TIME REMEMBERED (Verve, 1993). (McLaughlin, acoustic guitar, The Aighetta Quartet, acoustic guitars, Yan Maresz, acoustic bass guitar) – (5 stars)

The first thing that came into my mind was I couldn’t tell how many guitars were playing, and there’s a very low-tuned guitar, and I didn’t recognize the tune.  But then as soon as the soloist started… I was thinking, “What is this?”  Does someone have a 7-string?  It almost sounded like it could have been Johnny Smith or George Van Epps, that beautiful, just lush… I couldn’t tell how many guitars were in there.  Then as soon as my man started playing, I knew it was John McLaughlin playing Bill Evans songs with a guitar quartet.  I might even have this record. [You played some of these songs with Paul Motian.] Well, I’m not sure if I played this tune.  But I thought it sounded just exquisitely beautiful.  He keeps on being one of my heroes.  He keeps holding up.  Every time I hear him…sometimes I think he gets taken for granted a little bit.  He’s just a monster.  I remember going to hear him in Seattle a couple of years ago, and it kind of hit me in the face how heavy he is!  I don’t know what to say.  It was so beautiful to hear that orchestration, lush, thick… Whoever arranged that, it was really beautiful, just listening to the kind of written part and then real kind of moving, and when he started playing it was… He always blows my brains out.  There was one moment when I went to a Shakti concert, and I almost quit playing the guitar.  I just thought, “Man, this is hopeless.”  But it was a good moment because it made me figure out that I had to figure out something else to do other than that.  I’ll never be able to… But he’s so much more… He’s known for being, you know, fast, but he’s a soulful… And rhythmically and harmonically, so…it’s some far-out stuff he’s doing.  I can’t figure out why people don’t… He’s right in there in that line of… There’s Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery and Jim and whoever all other guys, and he’s one of those main guys for me.  Five stars.

4.    Derek Bailey, “Tears of Astral Rain,” ARCANA: THE LAST WAVE (DIW, 1995) (Bill Laswell, electric bass; Tony Williams, drums) – (5 stars)

It’s hard to talk and listen.  I think it’s Derek.  The thing that’s confusing me is… I’m going to just guess.  There’s Derek who I sort of got right away.  The other is maybe a guitar, but sounds… Is it Bill Laswell?  Because it sounds like a 6-string… It’s higher than a bass.  The distorted one is sort of… And I know Bill Laswell does that 6-string bass thing, so it must be that.  Then I know that they did a thing with Tony Williams.  I kept thinking that sounds like Tony Williams’ tom-tom or something.  It sounds like Tony Williams.  But I didn’t hear him do his Tony Williams yet!  I kept listening to be sure is that Tony.  The sound of the drums, it sounds like Tony Williams, but he was playing so
minimally.  This was also really cool, the way the thing moved forward.  There was this feel, this forward rhythmic motion.  You can’t say 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4.  It’s interesting how just with the sound, they have that…a person’s sound… I heard a tom-tom, and it sounded like Tony Williams.  Is there more than one… I heard some of this, and it was really edited, and it sounded like they didn’t really put… The other thing about what I just heard is it really sounded like they were playing together in the same room.  The thing that I heard sounded much more pieced-together, like Derek overdubbed or they used a Tony drum track.  Maybe this was done that way, too.  I’m not sure.  But as I was listening, I at least felt like I was in the world of being in the same room with these guys playing.  Either it was pieced together really great or they were actually playing together.  But I think I heard that they weren’t all playing together when they did this.  That’s got to be 5 stars.

5.    Jimmy Bruno-Joe Beck, “Lazy Afternoon,” POLARITY (Concord, 2000) – (Bruno, acoustic 6-string; Beck, alto guitar) – (4 stars)

I don’t know what the tune is, but I know I’ve heard it somewhere.  I’m going to make a wild guess.  I don’t really know these people.  One of the guitars has to be a 7-string or something; it sounds really low.  I heard something on the radio, and this sort of reminds me of it.  It’s not Joe Beck and Jimmy Bruno?  I might even have heard this song on the radio.  I don’t know Joe Beck’s playing… He’s one of those guys who’s been around forever, and he’s been on a lot of records in real supportive ways, since the ’60s.  His name is always around, but it’s not like I hear a sound. Recently I’ve been hearing about Jimmy Bruno.  Talk about technique, he’s probably the most monstrous… But then I had heard a little bit of Jimmy Bruno, and I was surprised that he seemed more restrained… See, I don’t know him well enough even to know… I’m sort of assuming that on this tune Joe Beck was probably playing the melodic part and Jimmy Bruno was doing a lot of quite involved bassline and… [Oh, Joe Beck was playing that on the alto guitar.] Oh, he was.  I was thinking that if Jimmy Bruno had been playing the melodic part, it would have been twice as fast.  I heard some live thing with a bass-drum trio that was just off the scale of super fast tempo which was like how could you possibly do that… So I figured out what it was.  But that’s one of those guesses, thinking I’d heard this on the radio and I’d kind of heard about this guy.  It wasn’t based on knowing their sound; it was more an intellectual piecing-together.  It was pleasant.  It didn’t kill me or anything.  It was kind of easy… It didn’t wrench my guts out, so I’ll have to go 4.  But they definitely certainly play their instruments.  I guess there’s a thing with the guitar.  I mean, who am I to say… They can play circles around me as a guitarist.  I mean, they really play their instruments.  But I would maybe have liked to hear… The tune didn’t kill me or something.  Maybe if I’d heard them playing a tune that was richer, it would have been…

6.    A.D.D. Trio, “Three Characters, A.D.D. TRIO: SIC BISQUITIS DISINTEGRAT (Enja, 2000) (Christy Doran, guitar; Robert Dick, flutes; Steve Arguelles, drums) – (5 stars)

This is a guess again.  Is it Sonny Sharrock?  Then I’m lost.  I don’t know.  I really like the feel of the drummer, but I’m pretty well lost on this.  I might be getting in trouble here?  Is it possible that that’s Kenny playing drums?  I like this piece a lot.  But I have no idea who it is. [AFTER] Oh, Steve Arguelles!  I know him and I like him.  There was one moment I thought Robert Dick, but most of what I’ve heard of him is solo things or concert recitals, not in this… I like the feel.  Was the guitar generating some kind of loop?  I like the way the drums were interacting with that…the bass drum.  There was a moment where I thought about Joey Baron.  He had this super-low-tuned bass drum that’s really cool.  I like the feel of the drums.  That confused me, though Robert Dick flashed through my mind.  Then when he did these sort of slide things, something about the tone made me think about Sonny Sharrock.  But it was maybe a bit more reined-in than Sonny Sharrock.  I hate to give it less than 5 stars… I really liked that.  I’ll give it 5.

7.    Bar Kokhba, “Hazor,” ZEVULUN (DIW, 1997) (Marc Ribot, guitar; Eric Friedlander, cello; Mark Feldman, violin; Greg Cohen, bass; Joey Baron, drums; Cyro Batista, percussion, John Zorn, composer) – (5 stars)

Again, this is an intellectual piecing-together.  Is it Ribot?  So it’s the Prosthetic Cubans.  Then what is it?  The cello player… [Who do you think wrote the music?] I don’t really recognize it. [AFTER] Oh, okay!  Wow, now it all comes in there!  I haven’t listened to this stuff.  Now that you say it, I recognize the melodic…the thing with all the sort of Latin stuff, I’m thinking, “What…”  I recognize Ribot.  So that’s that!  That’s Cyro, and Eric Friedlander on cello.  I’ve heard so much about that band, and I think I have the CD at home in my pile of… I liked it a lot.  And Ribot sounded really cool.  He really got the killer tone on there.  I can hear that melody being played by the other Masada.  Aren’t some of these reorchestrations of that material? [He pools the book.] Right, but orchestrates it differently.  I should have known the melody.  But with that kind of Latiny stuff going on, I got sidetracked.  5 stars.  The guitar seemed sort of dominant, so I thought it was the guitar player’s thing.  He got a great tone on that.  There’s a couple of times I’ve heard him… He said he was going to give it to me.  I think he made a solo record of standard songs.  We were in the middle of the night driving somewhere, like to the airport somewhere, and Kenny Wolleson had this tape, and this thing came on, and it was “Body and Soul,” and I thought, “Who is this guy?”  It sounded like an old guy.  I mean, in a good way.  It sounded like some kind of old real guy that I’d never heard of before, and I couldn’t figure out who it was, and he was playing “Body and Soul.”  It turned out to be Ribot.  This had some of that real clean-enough but fat and kind of dirty, real good sound he got on there.  I really liked that. Oh my God. [Think older.] Well, the reason I thought Mark… I’m really going to stick my wiener out!  I heard bit of George Benson in there… [LAUGHS] I thought he’s had some impact on Mark.  Okay.  Wow!

8.    George Benson, “Hipping The Hop” (#6), ABSOLUTE BENSON (Verve, 2000) (Benson, guitar Joe Sample, piano, composer; Chris McBride, bass; Cindy Blackman, drums) (5/4 stars)

[GRIMACES] Man!  This is kind of a strange juxtaposition of things.  When it first came on, I thought it was going to be some smooth jazz thing, then it goes into… It’s an odd convergence of styles.  I’m going to guess Mark Whitfield.  The reason I say that is I heard maybe some of… Most of what I’ve heard of Mark has been more straight-ahead, and I knew he recently did something that I hadn’t heard, and I wondered if that could be it.  Wow!  Is this from George Benson’s new one?  Because I heard another thing on the radio, one song, I don’t know what it was, from George Benson’s new record.  Man, what a monster player!  The other thing I heard was a little more straight-ahead, and it reminded me of what a giant great player he is.  Christian can go from this funk thing to the straight-ahead thing, but it didn’t… It seemed a little on the light side.  The funk thing… It didn’t totally go to the straight-ahead thing and it didn’t go to the funk thing either.  The two things that were going on, going back and forth, sort of caused some restraint on either end.  It was really interesting, though.  Oh, boy, I can’t… So it was George Benson.  How is it that I get in a position that I’m sitting here talking about George Benson like I’m some kind of big-shot?  He’s a giant.  I guess it’s one of those things…the context is… He always sounds good.  It would be great to hear him play with Ron Carter and whomever and just play some tunes.  But who am I to say that?  5 stars for him and 4 stars for the arrangement.  Those guys are great.  Cindy plays great and Christian plays great.  Who knows what was going on in the…

9.    Duduka DaFonseca, “Por Flavio,” THE ART OF SAMBA JAZZ (self-produced ,2000) (Romero Lubambo & John Scofield, guitars; Nilson Matta, bass; Duduku Dafonseca, drums & percussion; Valtinho, percussion) – (

I’m getting confused.  I have to start guessing… I guess I’m obsessing over who… The guitars are very separated.  I really thought the one on the left was John Scofield.  It is John Scofield?  But I couldn’t quite get… Then I started thinking who is this other guy?  He’s playing a nylon string guitar.  I was kind of going off on who’s the drummer.  Then it sounded like there was  a percussionist.  I was thinking about Jack De Johnette for a second, but that didn’t seem right.  It’s getting more confusing.  Then I thought maybe it’s not Scofield.  There’s a lot of guys out there who picked up on some of his stuff.  It doesn’t seem quite like a Scofield record.  [It's not.] The kind of dialogue between the two guitarists was cool.  I like that. [AFTER] I don’t know Romero Lubambo or Nilson Matta.  I knew it was Scofield, but the context seemed so… The piece was great.  I liked the two guitars going off of each other.  5 stars.  It felt great.  Oh, that’s bad.  Did I say Jack de Johnette?  I guess I was thinking too much, “if that’s him, then this must be that.”

10.    Liberty Ellman, “Blood Count,” ORTHODOXY (Red Giant, 1997) (Vijay Ayer, piano) – (5 stars)

I’m pretty sure it’s Steve Swallow.  It’s not?  Oh, my God.  That was a guitar?  It was an awful low-pitched guitar.  But it sounded like a 6-string bass to me.  Now you’ve got me really screwed up!  I just got it fixed in my brain that it was… [So it didn't sound like any guitarist you could pinpoint.] No.  Also because it went much lower than a guitar.  I didn’t know the tune. [AFTER] I should know that tune.  I was thinking this was Steve Swallow playing his 6-string bass, just the sort of pure tone where Swallow gets this sound in between a guitar and a bass.  Now I’m really confused, because it didn’t sound like a guitar to me. [AFTER] I’ve never heard of him.  I really liked it.  I had it totally planted in my brain… I thought it was Swallow playing with Carla Bley or something.  Who was the piano player? [LAUGHS] I don’t know him either!  I heard this chord on the piano and I thought Paul Bley.  I thought Paul Bley and Steve Swallow.  Then I thought, no, that’s not Paul Bley, it’s Carla Bley.  Then I just settled into thinking that’s what it was.  I’d like to check out these guys some more.  5 stars.  Definitely his guitar was tuned…there was some super-low stuff going on there.  I’ve got to check him out.  Moments like that I really notice maybe I’ve been away from New York too much or something.  I don’t even know who any of these people are.  Not one person on this record I’ve ever heard of.  I’m old.  I’m a has-been.

11.    Kevin Breit-Cyro Baptista, “Sao Paulo Slim,” SUPERGENEROUS (Blue Note, 2000) – (4 stars)

I like it.  It’s another one of those weird juxtapositions of things.  It sounds like two kind of slide guitar guys.  Oh, it’s only one?  There’s a statement of the melody and then it sounded like another guy.  It sounded almost like another personality.  But maybe not.  Maybe it’s just the sound.  But he had sort of a… I didn’t sense it right away, but then when he played the solo I got a bit more of that country thing in there.  But then with the…I don’t know what this was.  He sounded, I thought, like somebody from down South, but then the rhythm section I couldn’t… The bass player playing all this little chordal stuff.  I think it was a bass player.  An electric bass player.  Maybe it was a rhythm guitar part that was hidden away in there.  So a kind of active… I’m just lost.  I don’t know this.  I guess I have to… Everybody sounded really great.  The tune didn’t kill me.  So I guess I’ll have to say 4.  But everybody played cool. [AFTER] Oh, shit! Oh, fuck!  Oh, no!  Oh, no!!  I asked him to send me this record.  Oh, shit!  Oh, fuck!  I love him!  I did a gig with him…we did a gig in Seattle where I had Greg Liesz… It was a thing where I had four guitarists.  I had Greg Lies, and Kevin, who has played a lot with Greg, like with k.d. Lang and… Man, I can’t believe it.  And Brandon Ross.  We sort of did a lot of my music that I had already arranged like for horns and stuff, but I had these four guitars.  And Kevin played sort of everything that anyone else wouldn’t play. Like, he had a low-tuned guitar.  So there’s a lot of overdubs on here.  Because it sounded like a band actually playing.  And he’s like a killer… Oh, he plays everything — mandolin, banjo.  I just love him, and I had such a good time playing with him.  I felt a real strong hookup playing with him.  But I never heard him play slide guitar at all, I don’t think.  It was like lap steel or whatever it was.  I don’t know how he can play all these instruments.  I’ve heard him play regular guitar, I’ve heard him play mandolin, I’ve heard him play this kind of 6-string bass guitar, and he KILLS on banjo — he really plays great banjo.  But I’ve never heard him play that slide stuff.  Wow.  Anyway, I really like him.

12.    Tim Berne-Marc Ducret-Tom Rainey, “Scrap Metal,” BIG SATAN (Winter & Winter, 1996) – (5 stars)

Well, it first came on and I thought it was Tim.  Then the guitar player started playing.  It’s interesting.  The writing is very cool, the first statement.  Is it Tim?  Thank God.  It’s weird how things… It’s cool to hear somebody after… I played with him a lot, and we’ve sort of gone on our separate ways, and I haven’t kept track of a lot of what he’s done.  This was really strong.  The writing and how the group was… This is stuff that had always been there in his music.  It’s real distinctive… It’s weird, these little electronic or whatever impulses that shoot through your brain.  Like, the first instant the thing came on, Julius went through my mind.  But then almost immediately, then, I thought, “Oh, that’s got to be Tim.”  Then I started thinking it’s really inspiring the way he… He’s stayed on his writing and…he’s stayed on this path all this time.  I felt really strong that compositionally, whatever was going… I don’t know what that was.  It’s stuff that was going on a long time ago, but you can hear how it’s…it’s just clear and it’s strange and it doesn’t sound like anything else.

There’s a lot of guitar players I’m not quite sure…I haven’t heard enough to know for sure.  Brad Schoeppach passed through my mind at one point, and then I thought Marc Ducret.  It must be Jim Black.  No?  Is it Previte?  Then I don’t know who the drummer is. [AFTER] Oh, shit!  Somehow I was thinking about Jim Black.  That’s embarrassing, because that’s another person I played with… We played a lot, like REALLY a lot, not so much gigs, but we’d get together and play for hours and hours, and I should know him.  But it’s strange, what goes on in my mind, because a lot of time has gone by, and we’re sort of off on these different… I’m over, wherever I’m playing, doing some hillbilly song, and he’s doing this.  It’s kind of…it’s weird.   5 stars.  It sounded great.  I haven’t heard Marc enough to always instantly know that’s him, but every time I’ve heard him, he’s kind of flipped me out. . I heard one time I think in Italy with this group where he just played acoustic guitar with no pickup or anything.  I’ve heard him in a lot of different contexts, and he’s just an off-the-scale great guitar player.  In this context, I thought he really sounded… There’s a kind of soulfulness in there that’s… Different people set people off in different ways.  There’s a feel Tom has that maybe makes Mark play in a certain way.  Anyway, I thought he sounded really great on that.

13.    Attila Zoller-Jimmy Raney, “Scherz 1,” JIM AND I  (Bellaphon, 1980/1995) – (4 stars)

What in the world… You’ve got me there.  I’m lost.  The recording was a little distracting to me.  The guitar in the left ear in the headphones was louder.  I mean, I’m not one to…I use a lot of reverb.  But it sounded like the reverb was kind of hitting on some stuff that was in the headphones.  Sometimes the headphones kind of amplify that stuff.  The one on the left was a lot louder.  And I kept thinking, is this overdubbed with the same guy?  Then right at the very end, the guy on the right, who was softer, came out for a moment by himself.  And I couldn’t recognize the tune.  I just felt lost, kind of.  I kept hearing little bits of something; I thought of a tune, then it sort of went off and I couldn’t follow it.  I liked the idea that there was all this dialogue going on.  It was never clear who was… I almost thought it was the same person.  Sometimes they were so on top of each other that then… Okay, tell me who it is. [AFTER] Attila crossed my mind.  Jimmy Raney was the one on the right.  I know that.  Because right at the very end he played this little phrase by himself, and it had the feel, the eighth note thing.  But the guitar player on the left, which was Attila, I don’t know his stuff that well, but… I guess it was the recording.  It was louder, and it kept sort of dominating the… I wish I could have heard it with Jimmy Raney being louder, because for me the actual rhythmic… Okay, I’ll be critical.  It was just that moment where Jimmy Raney played alone that the feel was killing.  For me, on this particular thing… Maybe it was the recording or the sound…he had also a brighter sound.  Attila seemed to dominate the whole thing.  Maybe Jimmy Raney was sort of following him.  That’s how I would critique it.  I love Jimmy Raney.  But that’s why it made sense when you said that.  4 stars.  Those guys were great, though.

14.    Brad Shepik, “Zdravo,” THE LOAN (Songlines, 1997) (Peter Epstein, alto sax; Tony Scherr, bass; Kenny Wolleson, drums; Seido Salifoski, percussion).

Got me again.  When it first came on… For a moment I… I’m guessing.  It doesn’t sound old guys to me.  It sounds like young guys.  Maybe it’s because I’m getting old; it seemed kind of hyper, like “let’s play this thing in 7.”  But they play great.  It just had this kind of real energetic thing that… I guess maybe it’s this being the last thing, we’ve listened to all this music, and I’m ready to cool out and relax.  And there’s people… See, there’s all these guys who I should… There’s people who went through my mind.  I mean, there’s people I still haven’t heard enough to know for sure.  There was a moment I thought of Briggan Krauss when they were playing the melody, but then when he started soloing I didn’t think it was Briggan.  For a moment I thought Briggan, then again I thought Brad Schoeppach.  It was Brad?  But I don’t really know his… It’s more like an intellectual thing.  Then I thought about this group of guys who haven’t fully formed in my brain when I hear them, like Jim Black… [It was your rhythm section.] It was MY rhythm section.  Oh my God!  Now I’m really… If I say Jim Black… I didn’t recognize who it was, and so let’s think who would be playing with who.  But I also have to say that for a moment Kurt Rosenwinkel went through my mind.  So I hope these guys don’t get pissed at me for this.  I guess so much of the music that I play with Kenny and Tony is so different than that.  But I thought I would know those guys, because I’ve listened to other things they do.  When I say energetic, they’ve got a lot of energy, but a lot of stuff they play is slowpoke, right, or Sex Mob.  A lot of stuff is about these kind of slower feels.  Was this Brad’s stuff?  It sounded live.
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There were guitar players in everything, and a lot of the music I listen to is not guitar-based.  On the last blindfold test I did, there was something, and I said, “Well, that was Paul Chambers on bass and that was Philly Joe Jones… But I screwed that up bad on this one, too; saying that was Jack de Johnette.  I guess it’s weird to zero in just on guitars.  I guess there’s so many different ways.  No one has ever done a Blindfold Test with me and played Bill Evans and Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis.  Those are the things that have affected me.  But this is good.  I hope I didn’t say anything bad about anybody.  As I get older, it’s frightening how much… There’s more and more music accumulating, and less and less I feel like I can hear it.  It seemed like 20 years ago I would spend thousands of hours with one album, listening to it over and over again, and now it’s like you’re sort of flitting from one thing to another fairly quickly. [The music is sort of like that, too.  A lot of people don't go into one sound so much as they delve into a lot of different ways...] But it seems like a lot of people are able to actually absorb and retain a lot of stuff.  I’m less and less able to do that, and there’s more and more stuff piling up.  I have piles of stuff at home that I think “I’ve got to listen to this or that.”

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Filed under Bill Frisell, Blindfold Test, DownBeat, guitar, WKCR

For the 81st Anniversary of David “Fathead” Newman’s birth, A 1998 DownBeat Interview with him and Hank Crawford and a Liner Note

Today is the 81st anniversary of the birth of David “Fathead” Newman, a master practitioner of the saxophone family and the flute, whose sound helped stamp Ray Charles’ various units during the ’60s and ’70s and whose own leader career is documented on three dozen or so recordings. I had an opportunity to write the liner notes for one of those dates, Keep The Spirit Singing, and to interview Mr. Newman both on WKCR and for my first-ever DownBeat feature, a joint interview with him and his long-time saxophone partner Hank Crawford in 1998. I’ve posted the liner notes and the unedited transcript of the interview.

David Newman (Notes for Keep The Spirit Singing):

In the exciting times directly following World War II, when David Newman was a young man in Dallas, Texas, interstates, jet planes, mall culture and television did not exist.  People from different regions did things their own way.  For black tenor saxophone players from the wide open spaces, that meant cultivating the larger than life sound of the kind projected by luminaries like Herschel Evans, Illinois Jacquet, Buddy Tate, Arnett Cobb and John Hardee on the popular recordings by big bands and jump bands of the day.  As much Newman and his peer group — Ornette Coleman, King Curtis, Booker Ervin, Dewey Redman — absorbed the startling modernist postulations of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie during those years, they never strayed far from the elemental principle that the horn is an analog for the human voice.  The sound was of the essence.

Then, musicians learned by jumping into the fray.  Initially an alto saxophonist, Newman attended high school with future luminaries like Cedar Walton and James Clay and jammed on up-to-the-minute bebop with a teenage Ornette Coleman.  He played in bands led by a pair of little-recorded legends, the alto saxophonist Buster Smith, who was Charlie Parker’s earliest and primary influence from Kansas City days, and the tenor saxophonist Red Connor, who Coleman cites as a primary mentor.  We’ll digress with Newman’s comments on both.

“Red Connor was a very fine musician with a sound somewhere in between Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons, or Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon, with a little Don Byas or Chu Berry in there,” he recalls.  “Booker Ervin listened quite a bit to him, as you can hear in Booker’s playing.  I don’t know of any other players that had Red’s particular style and his sound; he was very much his own person and  didn’t particularly pattern himself on any of the forerunner tenor players.  Red knew all the Bebop tunes, he was playing Bebop always, and I got a thorough training by playing with the Red Connor band when I was in high school.

“At that time Buster Smith had moved back to Dallas, and he had one of the best big bands in the city.  One night I sneaked into a club to hear his band play, and he gave me a chance to sit in, which was a very big thing for me; soon I started to play with him.  Buster had an advanced approach, different from most musicians of his era.  He had a huge sound on the alto, and his execution was superb; he could get over the instrument really fast — he knew it backwards.  His phrasing and harmonic concept were modern, ahead of its time.  He was a self-taught musician with perfect pitch, and he could sit and write arrangements while we were riding up and down the highways — he wouldn’t have to be anywhere near a piano.  He would write out full arrangements, and on a jump blues that he wanted to extend he would set up different riffs for the saxophones, then someone in the brass section would set the riffs for the trumpets and trombones.  They called Buster ‘Prof,’ short for Professor, because he had this air about him, as this very well-educated professor.

“Buster put together small combos for the road or to back up people like T-Bone Walker and others who came through Dallas.  Around 1951-52, Buster organized a group with Leroy Cooper and myself to do a tour with Ray Charles, who was singing and playing the alto.  We played mostly the southern states out to California.  I had met Ray a little earlier, when I was playing with Lloyd Glenn, a piano player with a hit record called ‘Chickaboo,’ and Ray was with Lowell Fulsom, who featured him playing piano and singing.  We were traveling on the road at black theaters and dance halls with a package that also included Big Joe Turner and T-Bone Walker.  Sometimes Ray sounded similar to Charles Brown, sometimes he sounded like King Cole, even sometimes like T-Bone Walker, but you could hear his thing starting to come out.  I think Ray’s recording of ‘I Got A Woman,’ when he started to inject a Gospel feel, is where the real Ray Charles started to emerge.”

Newman blossomed as a star sideman with Charles’ brilliant small band from 1954 to 1964, but he’s never felt aesthetically encumbered by his past.  “Ray gave us a lesson in music appreciation,” Newman told “Downbeat” a few years back.  “Before I encountered Ray, my only real love was jazz and bebop.  With Ray I learned how to respect and admire and love all other forms of music.  This music is an incredible gift.  I want to expand my mind and expand the music as it comes through me, put my stamp on it, my feeling, and see what comes out.  I want to explore other areas, bridge the generations.  You can’t close yourself off as music moves on.”

Now 67, Newman sustains that attitude of freshness and exploration throughout Keep The Spirit Singing.  Performing on flute and tenor and alto saxophones, he sculpts his sound with refined nuance through a broad matrix of emotion and rhythm-timbre, enhanced by an ensemble of creative veteran improvisers who know the Old Master well enough not to have to waste time getting acquainted in the studio.

Pianist John Hicks spent his formative years in St. Louis and Atlanta, and knows intimately the language of blues and church forms; his distinctive voicings and ebullient beat fit Newman like a custom-made suit.  “I’ve known John a long time, and he’s been one of my favorite pianists for many years,” Newman says.  “He knows where I’m going, and we blend as a very good combination.”

On three selections Newman pairs off with trombonist Steve Turre, a fellow Charles alumnus who coaxed the master into playing four tunes on his recently issued In The Spur of The Moment [Telarc].  “I like the blend of the tenor saxophone and trombone,” Newman says.  “Ray’s standard instrumentation was two trumpets and three reeds, but in the ’50s when we played the Apollo and the Howard Theater, he would use the trombone.  I wanted Steve because he gets that wide-open, full sound.”

Newman first met Turre and bassist Steve Novosel when both were working with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, another devotee of extracting a full sonic palette from an array of horns.  “I first met Rahsaan in Chicago, when I was playing with Ray,” Newman digresses.  “Rahsaan was just getting his start, and had come over to Atlantic Records.  He would hang out at the Sutherland Hotel, where we stayed quite often in Chicago.”

Returning to the subject at hand, he continues: “Steve Novosel is a solid, great player.  I depend on him a lot for his ability to carry the melody.”

Like Novosel, trapsetter Winard Harper works frequently with Newman.  The relationship began when Harper hired Newman for a record date a few years back; the in-demand 38-year drummer plays with idiomatic precision and imaginative flair throughout. Joining him for several tunes is percussion wizard Steve Kroon, who dots the i’s and crosses the t’s with customary panache.

Guitarist O’Donnell Levy composed and arranged the Caribbean-flavored title track and the samba-esque “Asia Beat,” which frame the session, while Turre offers the pungent “Mellow-D For Mr. C.”  “I like the way the changes move in the tune,” Newman says of the latter, which refers to Ray Charles.  Does the Caribbean beat relate to the 12/8 feel Newman played over 45 years ago?  “Yes, it does.  It’s a very natural feeling.  A lot of people today seem to like that feel, and I am one of those people.”

Newman’s “Cousin Esau” showcases his vocalized flute sound.  “I adapted some of the things that Eddie Harris and Les McCann used to do with this particular beat,” Newman says.  “No one has a name for it, but I call it the Listen-Here beat.  Most drummers that I ask know what I mean.  It’s a four-beat rim-shot figure played on the snare drum; most people can groove to it.  I thought of the flute when writing this tune.  Through the years I’ve tried to get an identifiable flute sound, and somehow it’s starting to come together.  It’s a very earthy, open sound.  When I was a kid I used to blow across a Dr. Pepper or R.C. Cola soda bottle to get a sound; after I started playing the flute, I found it was a good way to get a good open sound.”

Newman wrote “Karen, My Love” for his wife; his bravura performance comes right out of the Gene Ammons tradition of heart-on-the-sleeve balladry using only the choicest notes.  “John Hicks helped me flesh this out,” Newman reveals.  “I knew exactly what I wanted, but John could put meaning to what I had in mind.”

Newman reprises “Willow Weep For Me,” which he recorded years ago for Atlantic, taking it here with a 3/4 feel.  It’s a showcase for his bright, declamatory alto saxophone style, and shows that his early experience with Buster Smith “has stuck with me all through the years.”

John Hicks composed “Life,” one of his many lovely waltzes, with Newman’s flute in mind.  “It has a natural feel,” Newman says.  “John wanted me to play it as I felt it fit me.”

Newman is no stranger to the Latin sound that inflects much of the proceedings.  “I guested many times with Machito’s band, and later on with other Latin groups, and that gave me the feel of the Latin beat as well as some things coming out of Cuba,” he notes.  “The jazz feel with the African-Latin influence and the European influence is part of what jazz is all about, especially these days — it’s all come together.”

Pushing the envelope remains the animating imperative for Newman, a musician who can retrospect on a career that spans a half-century — 45 years in the spotlight.

“You don’t want to get yourself into a dated position,” says the man whose sound defines soul tenor for several generations.  “I like to incorporate the modern approach I hear from the younger players in playing the changes, and I still include some of the things that I played and learned from the veteran musicians when I was young.  You take what you have and ride with it, put it all together, and keep moving with the feeling, keep going forward.”

Hank Crawford-David Newman – (3-3-98):

TP:    The first question I’ll address to you both is when you were first aware of the other?  Hank Crawford, did you first meet David Newman when you came into the Ray Charles band?

HC:    Yes, I first met him when I went in Ray’s band.  But I was aware of his playing from some records I had heard, solo things he had done with Ray Charles.  But the first time we met I’d just joined the band actually.

TP:    I’d like to talk to you, Hank, about your path into the Ray Charles band, and I guess we should start from your early years as a musician.  When did you start playing music?

HC:    I started playing at the age of 9.  I started on piano.  Piano was my first instrument.  I studied three years of private lessons; I guess that must have been at about the age of 6 when I started taking music lessons, and from there I went to the saxophone.

TP:    Why did you go to the saxophone from the piano?

HC:    My father was in the Service, and when he came back, he’d bought a saxophone with him, which was a C-melody — actually it was a C-melody saxophone.  I think he was sort of a frustrated saxophone player himself, but he never did go into it.  But he brought the horn, and I was studying piano and still in elementary school.  So I still had, I guess, 6th, 7th and 8th grade to go.  And once I entered high school in 9th Grade, naturally I wanted to be in the high school band, and piano was a bit much to march with.  So I just went to the closet and picked out the horn.  I’m self-taught saxophone.  I just got a book actually in Ninth Grade and taught myself after I learned the fingering, because I already had a slight knowledge of music from taking piano lessons.

TP:    You could read probably, and knew some chords.

HC:    Right.  And I started playing saxophone in Ninth grade.  Then after I taught myself the fingering and stuff, I just kept playing.  Later I had lessons on the saxophone, too, but that was in college.  That’s when I entered college.

TP:    What sort of music program did you have in high school?

HC:    Well, it was basically the marching band, a concert band, and a dance band which we called the Rhythm Bombers.  It was a 16-piece high school band.  Our band director in high school was a trumpet player by the name of Matthew Garrett, who is Dee Dee Bridgewater’s father.  Actually, Dee Dee’s given name is Denise Garrett.  Her father was Matthew Garrett, and he was my high school band director.  We used to play a lot of Woody Herman charts and Count Basie charts, just big band stuff.

TP:    Did he have you working outside the high school, like Walter Dyett did in Chicago, got his guys in the union?

HC:    Oh yeah.  We played a lot of Monday night things, usually on campus.  And then we played some things off-campus, which was in local clubs.  But even in high school, we were playing major functions.

TP:    Had you always been listening to records and other saxophonists?

HC:    Yes.

TP:    And when did the alto become the horn of choice, or the horn that suited your ear.  From the influences that you describe on your bios, you mention Bird, Louis Jordan, Johnny Hodges, Earl Bostic, later Cannonball, they’re all alto players.  So I assume that was the primary voice that you heard.

HC:    During that period I heard a lot of saxophone players, from Bird to Bostic, Tab Smith, and on up through to Ammons, Sonny Stitt, you know… So really, I can’t say just one more than the other inspired me the most.  Because I love to hear musicians play, all saxophone players.  I got a bit from each one.  But I always liked the sound of the alto, although I did play a little tenor or baritone.  But I could express myself more on alto.  That seemed to be my voice.

TP:    You also mentioned your church experience as being very important for you.

HC:    Oh yes.

TP:    And it seems to me that the alto saxophone is the sound that’s more commonly inspirational in the church.

HC:    Oh yes.  I think the alto is very voice-like.  I approach the horn vocally, as if I was going to sing.  I guess that comes across because of my early beginnings or early roots in the church.  That’s where I started when I was playing piano.  I used to play for the junior choirs, the senior choirs, prayer meetings.  My whole family was really involved in church a lot.  If they didn’t play, they were singing.  So all my life I was involved in spiritual music.

TP:    What was the name of the church you belonged to in Memphis?

HC:    Originally, Springdale.  Springdale Baptist Church.

TP:    That’s where you had your piano lessons, or played piano.

HC:    Yes, right there.

TP:    Well, we’ll stop with Hank in high school playing with the 16-piece band in high school with Matthew Garrett as the band director, and go through the same process with David Newman.  Your path on the saxophone.  When you started playing, what the circumstances were, etcetera.

DN:    You mean right from the very beginning.

TP:    When did you first put a horn in your mouth.

DN:    Well, it was the mid-Forties when I first picked up the alto.  Like Hank, I started out with the piano.  I had a few piano lessons at first, but I didn’t stay with the piano as long as he did.  I only had a few lessons, and then right away my friends started calling me a little sissy, so I wanted to pick up a more masculine instrument.  So I asked my Mom to get a horn, and I didn’t know exactly what kind of horn.  But then I heard Louis Jordan play the alto saxophone, and it just blew me away, and right away I chose the alto — that’s what my Mom bought me.  I was still in elementary school, and started taking private lessons from my music instructor, J.K. Miller, who was the band director at Lincoln High School.  He taught Cedar Walton and James Clay, alike from Dallas.  We called him Uncle Dud.  When I started high school I went directly into the band.  Uncle Dud was the one that gave me the name “Fathead.”  He wanted me to read the music instead of memorizing music like what I was doing, and he called me a fathead in class, and that’s been my nickname until this day.

TP:    Unapropos.

DN:    [LAUGHS] Unapropos, but nonetheless that’s the way it was, and it’s a trademark by now.  I don’t get offended by the name at all, because it goes so far back, and it’s just a nickname anyway.

TP:    What sort of music program did he have.  Hank Crawford’s describing playing contemporary Basie and Woody Herman charts, a 16-piece band.  Did you have something similar to that in high school?

DN:    We had something similar to that for the jazz band, some Basie charts, some arrangements by Buster Smith, who was a local alto saxophone player and arranger and composer from Dallas, and also some stock arrangements, which were published orchestrations.  I was playing alto for many years, and after about my second year in high school, a friend of mine introduced me to Bird.  He brought along a Charlie Parker record, a 78 on Savoy Records, and Bird was playing “Koko,” which was “Cherokee.”  I had never heard anything like that before in my life.  I was thinking that there was no other player that could play any faster or better than Earl Bostic.  Earl Bostic was the man at that time.  And when I heard Charlie Parker it just blew my mind away.

From that point on, I fell into the Bebop bag, and I started listening to all the Bebop tunes as they came out.  And during that particular time, it was very easy to keep up with all the new tunes that came out, because there weren’t that many.  So I would listen to J.J., Diz, Bird, Fats Navarro, Dexter, all the players.

TP:    What a lot of people describe is that when these records would come out, their whole little clique of musicians would get together, memorize the solos, and then…

DN:    Exactly.

TP:    Was that your experience, too, Hank?

HC:    yes.

TP:    Do you remember your first Bird record?

HC:    Maybe not by name, but I can say this.  Like David was saying, at that particular time it was the Bebop era that we both came through, you know, and some of the same people he named I really admire.  I love Bostic for power.  He was a power player.  But we all came through all phases of music, from the Blues, Gospel and Jazz… Actually, I was speaking about the spiritual side of music, but we were also playing Bebop.  That was the era that we really come through.  We always tried to play Bird’s solos, and did play them, note for note!

TP:    So you memorized your Bird solos also.

HC:    Oh yeah.  Oh yeah.

TP:    I’m going to ask you each about your contemporaries, because you each came up with a small group of distinguished cohorts.  In David’s case, you came up with James Clay, Cedar Walton and Ornette Coleman.  You’ve mentioned a good story about Ornette, playing in the park.

DN:    There was a park in Fort Worth (I forget the name) where we would all gather around the gazebo and play there.  I was playing with an older musician there named Red Connor, a very good saxophone player.  He never was that well-known because I don’t think he left Texas that much, but at the time he was the leading saxophonist in that area.  His sound was more or less between Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon, and even maybe Don Byas.  He was a Bebop player, and he knew all the Bebop tunes.  I was playing in Red’s band, and Ornette would come and play.  I was playing the alto and Ornette was playing the tenor saxophone when I first met him.  We would play all of Bird’s tunes, and we both knew his solos, as well as Sonny Criss and the other alto players.  We’d learn these solos note for note, then after we finished playing whatever Bird had played, then it came time to do the individual thing, and this is when Ornette would go Ornette.  Then we could hear come in after he would run out of Bird’s solos, then he would go to Ornette! [LAUGHS]

TP:    Ornette as we know him today.

DN:    Ornette as we know him.  It was Ornette.  He wasn’t calling it harmolodics at the time, but that’s the direction that he would go into.  He would not conform to the chord structure.  He would just go completely different, because he had his own conception.  His concept was entirely different.  We knew he was on his way to being something different.  We didn’t know what it was, but we knew it was a different thing happening with Ornette.

TP:    Hank Crawford, I can think of two pretty fair saxophonists in your age group, George Coleman and Frank Strozier.  Were you all acquainted?

HC:    Yes, we were all in high school together.  In fact, George and I were in the same class.  Frank was a few years behind us, but we were all in the same band.  Speaking of local saxophone players, at that time the guy who impressed me the most was a tenor player named Ben Branch, who sounded a lot like Gene Ammons — and I always liked Ammons’ playing.  There was a guy who played alto in Memphis who I got my name from, an older man named Hank O’Day — really Hank, not Henry.  He was playing in a big band that was led by Al Jackson, who was the father of the drummer Al Jackson from the Stax scene.   There was George, and then a few years behind us was Charles Lloyd.  There was another guy who played saxophone who sounded very much like Bird… At that time, George Coleman was the king.  He was playing all of the Bird stuff.

During that era, we were studying a lot of Bebop.  That’s why we went from house to house, to learn all these bad tunes.  But basically, our primary function when we would go out to play was the Blues.  We’d practice the Bebop all day at each other’s house, but when we had to go out and play, we’d play a lot of Blues, Memphis being the home of the Blues, they say.  I walked bars and laid on my back on the floor with people dropping coins in the bell.

I remember listening to Johnny Hodges, and I remember Tab Smith played on “Because of You” that floored me.  I like melodies.  I really like ballads, and I think I’m most expressive on ballads.  I guess that comes from being around vocal music a lot.

TP:    You mentioned that starting in the church as well.  You mentioned that in your trademark horn arrangements, the horns are the backup singers, you’re the lead singer with the alto.

HC:    Yes.  I found that to be true when I joined Ray Charles’ band.  I started trying to write a little bit when I was in high school, and in Memphis, almost every band that you played with was at least eight pieces, from 8 to 16 pieces, five horns at least.  Big bands was a favorite of mine, too; I loved big bands.  I even had the opportunity to meet some of the great big band leaders later on in my career.

TP:    Lunceford was from Memphis from originally.

HC:    Yes, and Gerald Wilson.  And later, when I went to school at Tennessee State in Nashville, I had a chance to meet Ellington and Dizzy.  They would come and play the homecoming campus gig every year.  There would always be a big name.  I had an opportunity to meet Charlie Parker three months before he passed in Nashville.  I was a senior at Tennessee State, and Bird came through on a show with Stan Kenton, June Christy, Nat Cole.  There was a tenor player in Nashville named Thurman Green. [LAUGHS]

TP:    You’re laughing.

HC:    Well, he was funny.  He was funny just as a human being and then he was funny as a player.  We used to laugh at his playing.  He just played funny, man.  He knew Charlie Parker personally.  And Bird came through at that particular time with that show we were talking about, and he came down to a little place that I was playing called the El Morocco.  I was playing an off-campus gig, and Bird came down there, just hanging out.  He didn’t play anything; came with Thurman, his friend.  He sat there, and for about two hours, man, after we finished, I had a chance to sit next to him and talk.  I don’t know what we were talking about.  Just fun things.  This was like in December, and he passed in March.  That’s about three months.

TP:    It sounds to me that the thing you both share is you had thorough high school educations.  You got a thorough musical preparation in a lot of ways in high school, and then you were playing functionally on these type of gigs and getting professional experience from a fairly young age.  How old were you when you did your first professional gig, whatever amount of money it was?

HC:    Actually in high school we were getting paid.  Because at that time, at 14 and 15, we were going out playing the dances.  The senior players, they were out, too.  But at that time, Memphis was full of great musicians, man.  Phineas Newborn was there.  He was playing at that age, man, and he was just out of sight.  So we played all of the R&B gigs and all of the jazz gigs and so forth.

TP:    There wasn’t a differentiation between Jazz and other forms of music.  It was all one big pot, kind of?

HC:    Right.  Well, playing Bebop, that was our classroom.  That was the study period, you know.  But Blues just came as a natural if you were from that part of the country.

TP:    I take it that Dallas, Texas wasn’t so dissimilar in terms of the requirements for playing in public, am I right?

DN:    My experience in that area was we’d play Bebop in jam sessions, and maybe there was one club or two where we would play together for the door, which wouldn’t be very much money, like the Log Cabin in South Dallas.  But you couldn’t earn a living playing Bebop because the people, especially in the Dallas area, they weren’t that interested in Bebop.

TP:    What would happen if you might throw that into your playing?  Would they be very verbal and vociferous and clear in their displeasure?

DN:    Well, the younger people would dance to anything that we played.  They were receptive.  But the older generations, from the thirties on, they didn’t take too much to Bebop.  They would listen for the beat and that sound which they were accustomed to.  If it wasn’t Swing from the Big Band area, then it had to be something like Blues or Rhythm-and-Blues, something from a beat there, and the Blues, bluesy tunes.  So you had to play the Blues.  In order to make any kind of money playing music around the Dallas area and Texas, you had to play the Blues.  T-Bone Walker was from Dallas, and I would play gigs and go on gigs.  Whenever T-Bone would come through town, I would go on gigs, because Buster Smith usually put bands together to back up T-Bone.  Lowell Fulsom lived in Fort Worth, and I’d work with him.

TP:    Would you go out with them or just play gigs?

DN:    I would go out.  My first outing from Dallas was with a piano player named Lloyd Glenn, who had a hit record out called “Chickaboo.”  They would have packages on the shows.  It would be Lloyd Glenn’s band, Big Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker, Lowell Fulsom, and I was playing with Lloyd Glenn. That was my first outing other than going out backing up T-Bone Walker playing in Buster’s band.  But my first outing on the road professionally was with Lloyd Glenn.

TP:    Tell me a little bit about Buster Smith, the master of riff arranging.  How did you come to meet him?

DN:    Well, Buster was well-known.  Buster had left Dallas, and he was living in Kansas City.  He’d played in the Blue Devils, which was from Oklahoma City, and then with Bennie Moten, and then Basie, and then came back to Texas for various reasons in the ’40s.  He was very good arranger and he had control of the alto saxophone.  His execution was very good.  He was very fast.  This is how Bird came to listen.  When Bird was very young and later when he was playing with Jay McShann, he’d come over to hear Buster play, because Buster was really getting over the instrument.  Buster was a main influence on Charlie Parker more than most people realize.

TP:    What were your personal experiences with Buster Smith?

DN:    I played many engagements with Buster.  He was a very gifted musician.  I think he was a self-taught musician.  He had perfect pitch.  We’d ride up and down the road, and Buster would just sit in the car with his cigar in his mouth.  He wasn’t a drinker; he just had a cigar.  As a matter of fact, they used to call Buster “Prof,” short for Professor, because he had this air about him, as this very well-educated professor.  But he taught himself music, really, and he had this wonderful gift.  He could arrange and write without being around any kind of instrument at all from having perfect pitch.  I learned so much from Buster.

TP:    I don’t know if you recall this from our last encounter, but I showed you a transcript of an interview Buster Smith did for the Oral History Project at the Institute of Jazz Studies, and he said that he had a sextet with you and Leroy Cooper, and that Ray Charles used that band in the very early Fifties, and that was your first encounter with him.

DN:    That’s true.  Leroy Cooper and I were both from Dallas, and Leroy had been to the Army and was back.  When I came to Lincoln High School, Leroy had graduated and was going to a college called Sam Houston, and from there he went to the Army.  Buster had a small combo together.  He usually kept a big band, but for putting together bands for the road or when people like Ray Charles would come through, Buster would put together these little small groups, and that’s how Leroy Cooper and I came to playing together.  Leroy and I also played together behind a guitarist called Zuzu Bollin, who had a record out called “Why Don’t You Eat Where You Slept Last Night” that Leroy and I played on.  Yeah, we played on this record, “Why Don’t You Eat Where You Slept Last Night.”  Then after that, Leroy left and went out with Ernie Fields’ Big Band, and when he came back… See, Leroy was playing alto.  He was originally an alto player.  But when he went out with Ernie Fields, Ernie Fields needed a baritone player, and Leroy started playing baritone.  When he came back from Ernie Fields’ band, he was playing the baritone.  When he was playing alto, he just literally ripped the keys off the alto because he was so fast.

TP:    But do you recall the specifics of the linkup between Buster Smith and Ray Charles?

DN:    Well, Buster was probably recommended to Ray.  Because Ray needed a band to back him up when he came through, and Buster was the man around Dallas.  I don’t know what the connection was, who brought them together, but Buster was probably recommended.

TP:    What was Ray Charles’ style like at that time insofar as you mentioned.

DN:    He sang like Nat Cole, T-Bone Walker, Charles Brown.  He hadn’t found his own identity yet; he was still searching.  He could sound like probably anyone, but his favorite people were people like Nat Cole, Charles Brown, T-Bone Walker.

TP:    I’ll ask Hank Crawford now to talk about your college experiences and your beginnings as a professional musician, which were in college, but entering the fray from that.

HC:    Well, as I think about it, there was a route of, say, Memphis, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, that most road bands were covering at that time.  They all came through Memphis, and they used to play at places like the Palace Theater, amateur shows (we called them midnight rambles).  There was the Hippodrome, and there was Club Handy which was at that time in Mitchell’s Hotel.  They would all come through Memphis.  We didn’t have to really go too far to see these people.  That was one of the good things about that era.  We got a chance to see a lot of the people that we later got to know.  A lot of singers would come through town, like Percy Mayfield, but instrumentalists, too.  We got a chance to see these people.  Sometimes they’d come through maybe with not the full band and pick up locals, and we would always be the ones that would play for these certain entertainers, whether it be… Really, man, it was an era of everything going on.  You had tap dancers, comics, shake dancers — shows.  We played shows.

TP:    And you’d play the whole show.

HC:    the whole show.

TP:    You’d be playing for the shake dancer, for the tap dancer, for the singer, for the comedians act.

HC:    Yeah, for all of it, before the Apollo even entered my mind, you know.  That all was happening.  It’s a long story; I could think of a million things.  But that was part of it in Memphis, among a whole lot of other things.  When I left Memphis…

TP:    When did you first go out on the road?  Do you recollect?

HC:    Really, really go out on the road?

TP:    Was that at that time, or after?

HC:    Most of that time I was basically in Memphis.  When I went to Tennessee State, I formed a little group called the Jazz Gents, and we would play locally, and as far as we would get would be Louisville, Kentucky, at the Top Hat, and then we’d get up to Buffalo at the Pine Grill.  This was all while I was still in school, so we’d go out during the summer months and play for the summer, that southern route, New Orleans, St. Louis and stuff like that.  I was basically a student most of the time, but I had a chance to meet all of these people, because they would come in the locale that we were all based, really.

I had some great teachers at Tennessee State.  W.O. Smith was one of my instructors; he’s a bass player who was on the original recording of Coleman Hawkins’ “Body and Soul.”  Frank T. Greer was my band director, when Florida A&M and Tennessee State started doing the “hundred steps, 8 to 5…”

TP:    Oh, that’s when they started that?

HC:    Yes.  When that started, FAMU and Tennessee State, you’d just be running down the field almost.  Anciel Francisco was my reed teacher.  I didn’t start studying saxophones and clarinets and reeds until I got in college.

I played around Nashville, and I met a lot of people.  I met Roland Kirk in Nashville, and Leon Thomas, and man, you could go on and on.

But really, I guess my big real-real going out on the road was when Brother Ray came.

TP:    Let’s talk about how that happened, for about only the three hundredth time you’ve told the story.

HC:    Well, I was still in school, and like I say, I’d heard Ray — “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” and “Drowning In My Own Tears”   were some of the first things I heard.  I remember I heard something about David.  One of the first things I heard him play was the solo he did on “Ain’t That Love.”  It knocked me out, man.  Actually, I had a couple of buddies who had already joined Ray’s band.  There was a trumpet player, John Hunt, and a drummer, Milt Turner, both from Nashville.  Anyway, Ray came through Nashville.  I think Leroy Cooper, “the Hog,” he had taken a leave of absence, and he was out for a minute, and they suggested to Ray that I would be the person to play that part.  I never played baritone in my life.  Never.  You know, just around the band-rooms fooling around with the instrument.

DN:    I took the same route.  I came in the band playing baritone.

TP:    Well, I think music before it was anything else was functional for you.  This was how you were earning your livings basically from the age of 14-15-16 years old.

HC:    Yeah, from day one.  I never did anything else.

DN:    We were both reed players, so we played the reeds.

HC:    I happened to be the Student Director on campus.  I had a big band at Tennessee State; I was fronting the campus band, a 16-piece band — I was writing then.  I was impressed by the sound of Ray’s small band.  Actually, in Memphis, we always had eight pieces, and always had that kind of Gospel type of sound.  So I kind of knew the feeling.  But getting into Ray’s band, it just made it much more better, because I fell into the same kind of groove that I had been raised up with.

So anyway, I went down, didn’t even audition.  I don’t think we had a rehearsal that day, because it was just quick notice.  I went to the campus band-room, I talked Mr. Greer out of the baritone, told him what it was for, so he agreed, and I took it down to the Club Baron where they were playing.  I sat in and played the gig that night, and that was the end of that.  Three months later, I got a call from R.C. — or his manager, Jeff Brown at the time — and he asked me if I wanted the job.

I never thought I’d stay as long as I did.  I was glad, because I felt the music, and worked a lot, and saw the world.  Ray was getting into his thing.  He was really beginning to blossom at that time.  The period that I’m talking about, when I joined the band…

TP:    Do you mean blossom musically or blossom in terms of the breadth of his audience?

HC:    The fans.  He was really going… I got in the band at a great period, man.  I really came in the band at a great period.

TP:    Let’s hold that, and I’ll talk to David about his route to Ray Charles so you can catch up to each other on the time line.

DN:    Well, I met Ray in ’51, when he was featured with Lowell Fulsom, singing and playing.  He had recorded a few singles, and he said that he was going to get his own band.  We became friends right away, and I asked him, when he formed his own band to let me know, and that I would love to come play with him.  And sure enough, he called me when he formed his band in ’54.  We’d played together in ’52 when he was touring around, and we played with Buster, backing him.  But when he formed his band in ’54, he called me, and I stayed with the band until 1964.

TP:    How did the band evolve from ’54 until Hank joined?

DN:    Well, the band just    blossomed right away.  I started out playing baritone, and Donald Wilkerson was on the tenor.  There was a trumpet player from Houston by the name of Joseph Bridgewater, and he knew John Hunt, and Ray needed a second trumpet, so Joseph Bridgewater called John Hunt into the band, and John Hunt in turn called Milt Turner from the band, who was from Nashville.  That was the Nashville connection.  Then we came through Nashville and there were already musicians in the band who knew Hank, so that was the connection.

But I stayed with Ray from ’54 to ’64, then by ’66 I came to New York and first played some gigs with Kenny Dorham and then later played a few gigs with Lee Morgan and did a couple of recordings with him.

TP:    Now, you switched to tenor while you were in the band, and it seemed like that was a great meeting of the minds and ears when you started playing tenor with Ray Charles.

DN:    Donald Wilkerson left the band for a minute.  Now, the tenor player was getting all the solos.  During all my time playing baritone I think I got one solo, and that was a tune called “Greenback Dollar Bill.”  I took a solo on that, because that was my one and only solo.  I wanted to stretch out, so I asked Ray could I take the tenor chair.  He didn’t have any particular tenor player in mind, so he said yeah, if I could get a tenor saxophone.  So I went out and got myself a tenor saxophone, and from that time on I started playing the tenor.  I had never played tenor before.  I had played baritone and alto, but not tenor.

TP:    How was the switch for you?  Natural, I would assume.

DN:    Oh, it was natural.  I was just eager to make the switch anyway, and I was eager to play.  I knew the book pretty well anyway; it was just a matter of switching from an E-flat to a B-flat instrument.

TP:    How do you see the differences between the two?  Are they different voices for you the way you play now.

DN:    I have a different approach on each instrument.  Whatever instrument I pick up, I tend to have a different approach.  It’s a different flow; I just feel them differently.  I can’t say exactly what it is.  I just know that I have a different voice on each one.

TP:    Now, you came in as the baritone player.  Was Ray Charles playing alto and piano in the years before Hank joined?

DN:    When we’d begin, the first half-hour or so before Ray would come in to do his singing and performing on piano, we would play these five-horn jazz arrangements Ray had written, and Ray would play the alto part.

TP:    Then Hank eventually took the alto chair. Clarify that for me.

HC:    See, I went in the band in ’58, and I played baritone 1958 to 1960, for two years.  I didn’t think I was going to be playing baritone that long, but for some reason Leroy didn’t come right back — it was a period of two years.

TP:    Did you get a solo?

HC:    Yeah.  In fact, I was playing baritone on Ray Charles At Newport, but I was called Bennie, my real name.  A lot of people ask me, “Now, who is Bennie Crawford?  Whatever happened to him?”  I say, “Well, he’s still around.”  Anyway, I played for two years on baritone.  And like Newman was saying, I was shocked.  One night, however it happened, here comes Ray Charles with his alto saxophone… See, that was one of the good things about that band, too.  It was educational, because everything we did was on paper.  We did a few head things, but even they sounded like arrangements.  We were just that kind of band.  In 1960 Ray graduated from the small band.  He had big band eyes.  I think that’s when he did “Let The Good Times Roll” and that big thing, which is on The Genius, one of my favorites.

DN:    Excuse me, but Hank played baritone when Ray Charles presented me to Atlantic and we did Ray Charles Presents.  He had solos on that and he did some of the arranging.

TP:    I was about to ask Hank about your arranging activities with the Ray Charles and the dynamics of it, the type of feeling you were trying to convey and what he was asking you to do.

HC:    When I joined the band with Ray, that was an avenue for me to do a lot of things.  Like I said, I had been writing for small bands a little bit in Memphis.  To be honest about it, Ray and I kind of clicked right away.  We became section buddies and we always communicated, and I think he might have had something with me, because I even got the job as music director when Ray got the big band.  I was directing the small band.  Even in the small band, when I was playing baritone, when Ray was not on the bandstand, that’s the first time that we introduced the electric piano.  There’s only two people I know who were playing electric piano at that time, and that was Joe Zawinul with Cannonball and Ray Charles.  Ray liked the sound.  I remember he bought a blond Wurlitzer.  I got a chance to kind of use my piano chops, because Ray wasn’t on the bandstand, so we only had bass and drums.

TP:    You play piano on a couple of the albums that are on the CD.

HC:    Whatever I could do on it, you know. [LAUGHS] When through whatever channels things went through, I was asked if I wanted to take the job as music director, naturally I agreed, because I just dug the whole scene.  And I kept that post for three years.  That’s when I got a chance to do a lot of writing.  I did most of the writing in the small band.

But back to your point.  As the thing grew, Ray started playing alto and he started writing more charts for the small band, which featured him a lot on alto.  And he was quite a fine alto player.

TP:    Who were some of the influences for you and Ray Charles as arrangers?

HC:    Well, I liked Quincy, Ernie Wilkins, Frank Foster…

TP:    So the Basie-Dizzy Gillespie type charts of the mid-Fifties when you were in school.

HC:    Yeah, and the Ellington things.

TP:    Had you taken those apart and analyzed them and studied them in a really exhaustive way, or were you just taking a little bit from here and a little bit from there and applying it as appropriate?

HC:    I would take a little bit from each arranger.  But basically, I was sort of being myself.  I think even after listening to all the saxophone players that we talked about, I found my own voice.  Even when I play now, I try to play like Hank, but you will find yourself playing a bit of this guy and a bit of that.  I’ve always been a melodic player, I’ve played in all sets, but like I said, I found my voice.  And being in Ray’s band is such a long story, but it was quite an experience.  I went to alto when the big band was organized.

TP:    You were playing together how many nights a year during that time?  250?  300?

HC:    Oh, man, we were busy.  We played the theater circuit, dance halls, clubs, whatever.  It was something else.

TP:    That gives the band the type of tightness that you can’t get in any other way, doesn’t it.

HC:    And the thing, too, about it, there were some great musicians in the band.  There was Fathead, Cooper, Marcus Belgrave, John Hunt, and there later came to be Bruno Carr and Philip Guilbeau — and all of these guys were dynamite players.  So it was a learning experience.  We all had knowledge of music, and we could play together well.  Whether we were playing outside or inside, whatever we played, the musicianship was so good that it happened automatically.  So everybody felt comfortable even in that setting, whatever we played.

Before Ray, I guess the band that really knocked me as a small unit was James Moody’s Octet.  Even before I went into RC’s band, Moody did some of the first small band records that I heard, and I loved the sound of Moody with an octet.  I’ve always loved the sound of a band.

TP:    That’s the sound you put on the recent record, Tight, five horns and rhythm.

HC:    I’ve always used horns on my records, except for a few I’ve used just a quartet.  I like the sound, and when I joined RC I studied his formula for it, how he’d take tenor, alto and baritone and two trumpets to come out sounding like a big band.  I found out there wasn’t that much really involved. It’s basically I, III, V, VII and IX.  I don’t think we ever played anything in that small band that had anything above a IX chord in it.

TP:    David, I think Hank’s looking at you to answer a question.

DN:    What’s that?

HC:    I was just talking about the simplicity of the music we played, and how it wasn’t complex, but it came off as the sound of a big band.  I was just saying I don’t think we ever played anything chord-wise in terms of the structure of a horn that was over I-III-V-VII-IX.  We didn’t get into the flatted chords and extensions.  Everything was basic.

DN:    With the five-horn arrangements and two trumpets, it really gave the sound effect of a big band, because of the brassy sound.  Ray preferred two trumpets to trombone.  His voicing for the five horns was very unique.

HC:    It’s like a vocal group.  You have soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass.  Those are your five major voices.  Anything over that, you’re doubling.  When you get into IX or XI, you’re only doubling the third or whatever you played before.  When you take a VII-chord, man, and it’s voiced right, five horns can sound like ten.  It’s when it’s distorted that makes it sound less.

[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

TP:    Hank, the first time you met David?

HC:    Actually, it was in Nashville when I joined the band for that one night.  The band bus pulled up in front of Brown’s Hotel.  At that time it was called a Wiener.  Red-and-white, long airport style.  I was standing outside, and they pulled up, and I remember David getting out with this grin on his face.  I’d heard him, as I said.  He kind of bowed and nodded at me, and I nodded back.  I’m meeting David, you know.  It was just that simple.  That was the first time I actually saw him.

TP:    David, let’s talk about some of the productions on the record, inasmuch as you remember, starting with the first one, Ray Charles Presents David Newman.  First, how much input did you have into the material on these records.  Do you feel that these are a good expression of who you were in that period.

DN:    Well, yes.  My only tune    on here was a tune called “Fathead,” and that was my contribution to the arrangements.  Hank Crawford knew Paul Mitchell from Atlanta, and he introduced me to the tune “Hard Times,”  which he arranged.  Hank also arranged “Bill For Bennie,” and “Sweet Eyes” and “Weird Beard.”  Ray’s arranged “Mean To Me” and “Willow Weep For Me.”

TP:    Did this record evolve organically out of things you were doing in the band, plus your own interests?  Also, how were the records set up in terms of choosing material, personnel and so forth?

DN:    I had no idea that I was going to become an Atlantic recording artist.  Ray had just said that he was going to feature me.  I really didn’t know that he would be presenting me as such, and that I was going to become an Atlantic artist myself.  Because Ray was recording for Atlantic.  I just thought we were really doing an instrumental, and Ray was just going to feature me.  But what he did is, he set it up.  It was called Ray Charles Presents Fathead.  It was like setting me up.  And hence, from that recording on, I became an Atlantic artist, and I signed a contract then.

We did some of these tunes when we were on the road playing.  Like I say, Hank had introduced “Hard Times” to me.  I thought it was a helluva tune when he first played it, and I immediately asked him where he’d gotten it.  Then when Ray said this was going to be my introduction and he was going to present me on this recording, we started to think about tunes that we could play.  So Ray did the arranging on “Mean To Me,” he spent a lot of time on that, and then “Willow Weep For Me.”  Then Hank arranged most of the other compositions that we played, like  “Tin Tin Deo” and “Hard Times”…

TP:    What do you remember about Straight Ahead, with the slick New York rhythm section?

DN:    Oh, Straight Ahead was a wonderful date, because I particularly wanted to record with Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers, I knew Charlie Persip, and I asked him how he felt about playing with Wynton and Paul, and he said that he would love it because he’d never recorded with them before. It turned out to be a wonderful date for me.  It was the first time I’d recorded on the flute.

TP:    Does this reflect what you were able to do on the set with Ray Charles before he would come out?  You’d be playing Jazz for two-three-four tunes, and then the show would start?

DN:    On Fathead, not Straight Ahead.  Straight Ahead was later on, a separate thing.  Because I had been spending time living in New York when I did Straight Ahead.  In fact, I wasn’t even in Ray’s band at all when I recorded Straight Ahead.  That was done around ’65 or ’66. [THIS IS INCORRECT]  I was still playing with Ray when I did Fathead Comes On.  That was the second recording.

TP:    I know you probably want to get out of the Atlantics and talk about recent things you’ve done.  You did two very strong records with Herbie Mann, a former Atlantic recording artist, and his now-defunct Kokopelli label, both with strings, a smaller group on Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool, and then more lush arrangements on Under A Woodstock Moon.

DN:    Bob Friedman did the arranging on Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool , which was a tribute to Duke, with all Duke Ellington tunes.  Bob had played baritone for a brief spell with the Duke Ellington band and was familiar with the Ellington compositions.  I think the original concept about doing a tribute to Duke came from Herbie Mann.

TP:    Was it all material that was meaningful to you as a young musician?

DN:    Some of it was, and then some of the tunes, like “Azure” and “Almost Cried,” even at the time I started to work on the project.  My parents had all of the records by the swing bands of the Big Band era like Ellington and Armstrong.  Johnny Hodges was one of my favorite alto players, and I’d listen to him play “Jeep’s Blues,” a tune that I always loved, “Don’t Get Around Much Any More.”  I had heard “Prelude To A Kiss,” but I’d never played it before.

The second recording, which was Under A Woodstock Moon, was my outing as a producer.  I always wanted to do strings, and I’d had strings on an album entitled Bigger and Better for Atlantic, with Bill Fischer arranging in the late Sixties.  Kokopelli couldn’t afford to do a whole string section, so we did a string ensemble thing with a string quartet, which was as much as they would allow me to do.  Bob Friedman did the arrangements.  I had just moved to Woodstock, and this was a tribute to Mother Nature.  One of my compositions was “Under A Woodstock Moon” and another called “Amandla.”

TP:    It’s a very mellow, melodic record, with a lot of variety of color and texture.

DN:    The other tunes were a tribute to Nature, like “Up Jumped Spring,” “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most,” “Autumn In New York,” and “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.”  I have another composition on there called “Amandla,” which is an African name for freedom.

TP:    Let me ask you one or two things that the editor wants me to ask you.  What do you think was the impact of the Ray Charles Band you were in on contemporary music, in terms of the way the grooves and the feeling has permeated it?

DN:    I don’t know about the impact.  I would say that there is definitely an influence on the music from the Ray Charles feel and what was happening musically with Ray.  Ray Charles certainly influenced my playing and Hank’s playing jazz-wise and in terms of music as a whole.  Ray gave us a lesson in music appreciation.  Before my encounter with Ray, I really didn’t have any kind of concept about music appreciation.  I only liked to play jazz and bebop.  That was my only real love.  But after meeting Ray and playing with Ray, I learned how to appreciate all other forms of music also, like the Blues, Spirituals, Gospel, and even Country-and-Western.

TP:    To play the whole range of music with conviction and soul.

DN:    Right.  And to have the respect and to really admire and to love the music.  So it was a lesson in music appreciation that I think we got from Ray.  I don’t know about the impact, but there was definitely an impact.

TP:    That’s a beautiful answer.  You’ve really stretched out a lot on your recent recordings, taken chances, worked with progressive musicians.  Is that your true heart in the music?

DN:    Well, yes.  Because this music is a gift, it’s an incredible gift.  What happens is the music doesn’t really come from me or from us; this music comes through us.  So I want to explore what I can do in all the different areas of music.  I don’t necessarily want to stick to a certain form insofar as the music goes.  I want to expand my mind and expand the music as it comes through me and as I feel it.  I really like to bridge the generations, so to speak, when it comes to the music that I’m playing, because this music is moving as the time moves on, but we still have these feelings about music.  So I want to explore and to play in other areas, even see how my music fits into the Rap situation — I mean, poetically.  I don’t really see anything wrong with Rap.  It’s just the content in Rap that’s a little offensive sometimes.  But the Rap music itself is really an extension of the music, coming from Louis Armstrong.

TP:    Do they use samples of your solos ever that you know about?

DN:    Not that I’ve heard.  Nothing that I’ve heard so far.  But I’ve become interested in this, just listening.  I was listening to Quincy Jones speak the other day about the music.  Jesse Jackson asked him why would he be interested in Rap, and Quincy said the same thing, that the music comes not from him, but through him.  That’s the same way I feel about this music.  It comes through me, and what you do is, you put your particular touch onto the music and what you feel.  You put your stamp on it, your feeling, let the music come through you and see what comes out.  You can’t close yourself off from the different forms of music as music moves on.

TP:    You also have access to so many sounds and colors from being a multi-instrumentalist.  How do you keep your chops up on all the instruments?

DN:    Well, I manage to keep my chops up, especially since I have moved to Woodstock now.  I get a chance to work on the different instruments.  I still have a soprano, I have an alto and a tenor and my flute.  I get quite a few calls to do studio work to record with various musicians, and I manage to stay halfway busy to keep myself going.  Of course, I know that to keep my chops up and play, I have got to pick the instruments up and play them.

TP:    People say it’s a struggle to keep one instrument up, and you’re keeping up four!  You’re doing pretty good.

DN:    Well, it’s a labor of love, that’s what it is.  I love the music.  I think I’ll always… It’s not about practicing, but I just pick up the instruments and play.

[PAUSE]

TP:    Equipment from David Newman.

DN:    I have a Selmer alto.  My mouthpiece is a hard rubber Otto Link.  I used to play the Meyer mouthpiece, but now I have Otto Link hard rubber.

TP:    Why?

DN:    I like the Otto Link hard rubber mouthpiece.  I don’t play the metal mouthpiece any more, because I have dentures now, and I’m a little more flexible on the hard rubber.  I like the Otto Link because I like the sound, especially the old Otto Links.  I use that on my alto and my tenor.  I have a Selmer soprano also, and I used a Meyer mouthpiece on the soprano.  I have a Selmer Mark-VI tenor that was made in the ’60s.  It was made in about ’60 or ’61, a very good time for Selmer tenors.  Any of the Selmer saxophones made in less than 100,000 would be really good quality material that they were putting into the instruments.  They still make very good instruments, but the newer instruments these days… That’s the reason why so many musicians try to get a Mark VI.  The Mark VI was really one of the classic saxophones.

I have a Germeinhardt flute.

TP:    Anything you want to say about why you use these instruments, or have you said your fill?

DN:    Well, my first flute was…when I first became interested in the flute… We were traveling in Ray’s band, and we came through Orlando, Florida, and we had a few off-days.  I passed by this pawn shop, and in this pawn shop they had two wooden ebony Haynes flutes, very good and expensive flutes.  Some guy there who had played with the symphony had these instruments, and the pawnshop owner let me have it for little or nothing.  He had a C-flute and an alto flute, and I think I gave the guy $25 for the C-flute, which had an E-flat trill on it.  I should have bought the alto flute also.  I brought this flute back, and the guys in the band asked me, “Do you know what you got there?”  I said, “It’s a flute.”  They said, “Man, you’ve got a Haynes wooden flute, and this is a very expensive instrument.”  And I started teaching myself to play the flute, and listened to other flute players, particularly James Moody and Frank Wess, and I eventually started trying to get a sound on the flute.  Rahsaan Roland Kirk and I, we both maybe started on the flute around the same time.  I was a couple of years older than him, so I might have started earlier.  Eventually, the flute was stolen from me, I lost it, and then I started playing other C-flutes, of course.  But my first flute was a Haynes flute, and the flute I have now is a Gemeinhardt.

[PAUSE]

TP:    David has left, and Hank and I are here together.  A few words about the recordings on Memphis, Ray and A Touch Of Moody.  What do you remember about More Soul, the first one you did?

HC:    Actually, that was my first recording as a leader.  I wrote some of the arrangements in Nashville, maybe a couple in Memphis, and the rest I wrote while I was in Ray’s small band.  But we played these arrangements in Ray’s small band.  We used to go 45 minutes or an hour before he would come on to sing — the band had it.  When we recorded that, we were playing at the Apollo Theater, doing a show, and we finished the late show.  We were doing five or six shows a day.  We finished at about midnight, and we went directly to Atlantic Recording Studio.  We got there I guess by 12:30, and we started recording at 1, and we didn’t stop until we’d completed it, which was 7 or 8 o’clock the following morning.  Most of the musicians and the music we were playing in the small band of Ray Charles.

That’s when I got the opportunity to start writing, because after I had been in there for a while, R.C. found out I that I was doing some arranging and liked to write, so he just kind of hinted, said, “You know, if you want to do some writing…” Plus I found it a good place to be, because I was very interested and very much into writing and arranging, and being in that band, since he liked to write and I had written for bands that size… See, I was familiar with the size of that band.  I just didn’t have the venues or the musicians to play the music.  I was still young and hadn’t been that far.  So that gave me an opportunity to write, when he found out I was writing a little bit.

TP:    The writing started in high school for you.

HC:    Yeah, I’ve been writing since then.

TP:    There are two Moody tunes, “The Story” and “Boo’s Tune.”

HC:    I did the arrangement on everything except “The Story,”  which Ray Charles did.  I told Ray I was doing the date and asked him if he would do a tune for me, and he did “The Story.”

TP:    So Moody’s band was very influential in a lot of ways that aren’t well known.

HC:    I loved him as a player and I liked the sound of the band.  I think Johnny Acea was writing for that band at the time.  I always loved the octet sound.  Moody’s was one of the first bands I heard that small that really knocked me out.  Of course, before that I was listening to Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five, which is just like five pieces.  But Moody’s band was like an octet, and I loved the sound of the band.

TP:    I have to tell you, when I listen to you I feel like I’m listening to the reincarnation of Earl Bostic, in a certain way, just in the way you approach a melody and the sound.

HC:    Well, Earl was a power player.  In fact, I play strong myself.  I’m naturally a power player.  That was the thing that I like about Earl, plus he was playing a lot of ballads and standard tunes.  At that time, you know, I was hearing a lot of Bostic, so he was just automatically one of my first influences.

TP:    And I’m sure it affected people when you played like that, just because of the way the sound is.

HC:    Yes.

TP:    Anyway, the second record, From The Heart, sounds more like what I’d expect to hear from you later, more range, lush textures and so forth.

HC:    Well, From the Heart was completely mine.  Nobody did any arrangements on that.  At this time I had really found my way of writing.  I was kind of comfortable with what I was doing on From The Heart.  It was basically the same band, because I was still with Ray.  But I was getting the opportunity to play these tunes before he would come out.  Once I got the job as music director, he pretty much just gave it up, and gave it to me.  So I used that, man, and I did a lot of writing, and the music got exposed because we were going everywhere, playing concerts.  It just gave me a chance to expand on what I wanted to do earlier anyway, being in that group.

TP:    Then there’s a strings album on this.

HC:    Ah, yes.  I asked to be recorded with strings, and I was surprised when I got a yes on it from Neshui Ertegun at Atlantic Records.  He agreed, to my surprise, and asked me who did I want to do the arrangements, and I said Marty Paich.  I had heard Marty Paich’s small band arrangements when he was writing for Shorty Rogers and Stan Kenton, the West Coast scene, and I liked the way he voiced the strings.  I found out the secret; he used french horns with strings to get that real melancholy sound.  So Neshui agreed, and we went to California to record the record.  I selected all the tunes except one, which really turned out to be sort of a signature tune for me, which was “Whispering Grass.”  Marty Paich suggested that.

TP:    You have quite a memory.

HC:    Oh yeah, I try to remember these things.  I mean, it stayed with me, man, because it was such an experience.  I heard Marty do a string session with Gloria Lynne, “I Wish You Love” and all those things, and I thought it was beautiful work.  To be honest about it, when Ray wanted to do his first thing with strings, around the time of The Genius, by me being close to him, I suggested Marty Paich to him, and he used it.

I was with Ray Charles 24-7, because I was the music director.  He would call me to come over to his house, and I would sit there all day and sometimes all night while he would dictate and I would notate.  So I was always busy.

TP:    So you have as much of an insight as anyone into the inner workings of his creative mind.

HC:    Oh yeah.  Well, after a while, he noticed how I was writing.  He’s an individualist, you know; he’s the only one.  Like, there are certain saxophone players, certain musicians there’s only one.  Like, I haven’t found anybody that has my sound yet, and I don’t think David… We all have our distinctive sounds.

TP:    That was the ethos of the time.  Everybody had to have their sound when you were coming up.

HC:    That’s the secret of survival in this business, is identity.  You can play all of the notes, and there are a lot of musicians out there now, man, that can play — I mean, young and old.  But nobody knows who they are.  And people buy identity.  You put on Miles Davis now, and automatically somebody goes, “That’s Miles.”  Then you put on Dizzy, and they know him.  But once they don’t know who you are, you don’t really sell.  Like, Louis Armstrong; they know Pops.  That’s what people buy.  When they go into a record shop, they say, “I want this guy.”  They’re not going there to listen to fifty other guys just to buy a record.  They know basically who they want when they go in.  So that’s what to me sells, is identity.

[PAUSE]

TP:    David just came in to mention to make sure I mention that he and Ron Carter were the two senior cast members on the 2 CDs for Kansas City.

[PAUSE]

TP:    Your comments on identity were a tangent from talking about Ray Charles.  You said you were with him 24-7, and the type of insights that gave you into the way his mind works.  Some general comments on his approach to music and the impact he had on you.

HC:    Well, see, it was so real for me to be there, because being around him and his background… There’s only like a four year difference in age between us.  So we are all from the same era, and we basically had the same experience with music, which was Gospel and the Blues and Jazz.  We’re all from that era.  So I heard the same things that he heard, and whoever was around at that time.  It just so happened that when I joined Ray, that was a period when things were happening within that unit that eventually went to the Moon.  Anyway, that’s what made it so easy for me to understand.  Because when he would dictate to me, writing his own charts… See, he wrote his own charts; he just didn’t put them on paper.  I was the one who was doing all the notating.  So when he found out that I had a background in arranging and composing and voicing chords and stuff like that, after a while, he would come in and make his initial statement about what he wanted, and he would write it, and then he would say, “You got it.”  So really I studied him.  It was another teacher, but it was not that much difference in how we felt about the feeling of music, because we all had the same type of background.

TP:    You were almost his alter-ego.

HC:    Yeah.  So I really understood where he was coming from.  I studied that, and I found out that, hey, I have some of the same kind of thoughts about this music, which made it easier for he and I to relate.

TP:    Is it harder for you to find people who have that sort of unspoken communication and empathy in the projects you do now?

HC:    Yeah, because you don’t have the association with musicians like you had at that time.  I mean, it was a community.  The Jazz community was great.  We were friends, man.  We hung out together and studied together, broke a lot of bread together.  We had venues to play.  There aren’t any venues now like there used to be, and the community is divided.  We don’t see each other as we once did.

TP:    You don’t cross paths in the same way.

HC:    Man, right here in New York City we used to walk down Broadway and go to 52nd Street or 50th Street, and stand right there on the corner — every day, 24 hours a day — and you would meet friends.  And we didn’t only play together.  We discussed music.  That whole era was a learning period from everybody.  But now, man you almost walk out like… You can’t find anybody.  Everybody’s moved out or they just don’t come out any more.  You know what I’m saying?  There’s just not the community like it used to be.  There’s no association, just, “Hey, how you doing, I’ll see you next time.”

TP:    But how does that affect your performing or recording projects, or the way you deal with bands right now.  I guess you have to dot a lot more i’s and cross a lot more t’s.

HC:    I’m not one of the type of players that’s concerned a lot about changing with what’s in.  No, I found my sound, and I think I’m going to stick to my guns.  I think that’s what destroys a lot of players.  Instead of being themselves, they try to be like others.  And in this business, there’s only one of one.  Like, there’s only one Bird, there’s only one Coltrane, and there’s only one whoever.  But what happens with a lot of musicians, I think, they’ll be inspired by somebody when they are learning, and they grew up trying to play like that person.

TP:    A lot of the young players.  Because they don’t have so many places to play.  They’re in school, and that’s the way they’re educated.

HC:    That’s it, man.  Like I said earlier, I’ve played in all settings, Jazz, Blues and everything.  I’ve had an association with all kinds of music, man, and with some great people.  I think I have established myself and my sound and what kind of player I am really, although I might play Jazz, I might play this, I might play that.  Like I said, I approach the horn as a vocalist.  I try to sing through the instrument, and play melodies, not a lot of technical things.  I think if I would lose that identity that I’ve established myself and that people know me by, and go into something just for the sake of saying, “Well, I can do this just as well as that person,” I think I’d lose my identity.  I could probably get away with trying to play some Coltrane for maybe a couple of tunes, and then your fans or your audience is going to say, “Hey, you’re trying to play like so-and-so; get back to yourself.”

TP:    That raises a question.  What you play on the surface is very simple, basic.

HC:    Yes.

TP:    Is it deceptively simple?  How complex is it really to do what you do?

HC:    For some people it’s hard.  For me, playing simple is almost a natural.

TP:    Because you’re a very sophisticated, educated musician.

HC:    I’m sort of a romantic when it comes to it.  The technical things… I’ve studied, man, and I can get off into some pretty hard Bebop.  But that’s not just me naturally.  I just play what I feel naturally.  And I’ve been into some great sets with some great players, you know, but it ends up that I’m better being myself.

TP:    George Coleman played all the notes.

HC:    Yes, in all the keys!  We studied that, too.  I tried that.  I said, “Well, you know, I can do a little bit of this, but that’s just not where I’m from; that’s just not me.”  So I chose to do what I do best.  Because if you’re going to survive in this business, man, you’ve got to have your own identity.  Nobody’s going to come to listen to one of my concerts or gigs to hear me sound like somebody else. That’s the biggest mistake I can do, for somebody to come and pay $20 or $25 and come in the door, and here I am on the bandstand trying to be somebody else.

TP:    Your name is your sound.

HC:    Right.  And once you lose that, I think you’ve destroyed everything.  You can turn on the radio, man, and you can hear this trumpet player or this saxophone player, and man, they’re playing!  But there’s something that don’t register with you if he doesn’t have a certain sound or play a certain style of phrasing.  If you can’t recognize that in a player, then you’re just listening to somebody and all you can say about it is, “Ooh, who is that?  He sure plays good!”

TP:    Are there any good young players, saxophone or any instrument, who you think have a sound?

HC:    Well, there’s a tenor player who’s young compared to a lot of people… I think Joshua Redman has his own sound.

TP:    That’s probably why he’s so popular.

HC:    That’s part of it.  There are a few others; I can’t think of them now.  But there are so many youngsters, man, that I hear and they sound good, they’re playing!  But that’s what’s missing.  And I’ll even go so far as to say this.  As far as the man walking on the street, who knows nothing about music, but knows it when he hears it, and he knows whether the player is playing or jiving, or he knows when you’re playing wrong and when you’re playing right.  All these people on the street, man, they know when you’re playing wrong and when you’re playing right.

There are so many players like… I just want to use a major influence on young musicians, and I mean nothing by this because I have a lot of respect for him.  That’s Wynton Marsalis.  What I’m going to say that is when I was talking about identity…

[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]

TP:    Now you know it’s him when you hear him play.

HC:    The man has all the facilities in the world.  I mean, he’s a good trumpet player, he’s a good educator, he’s a good everything — I have to give it to him.  But the average layman, I’ll bet you, man, 75 out of 100 would identify a Freddie Hubbard or a Dizzy or a Miles faster than they would identify Wynton — as far as identity.  I mean, if you don’t really know, if you’re not a musician… And not only Wynton, but anybody.  If you don’t really know him and know the techniques of playing because you are a musician or a good listener, you would not be able to identify this bad cat, whoever it is.   It’s just like Count Basie.  One note.  You know the tag he plays, BOP-BOP-BOP?  I can go the piano and do it (it’s only three fingers) you could do it, I could teach my kids, anybody.  BOP-BOP-BOP, it’s all in one place.  But nobody sounds like when Basie hits it.  Same notes.  But when Basie strikes it, there is something else that comes out of the note.  You know what I mean?  And Oscar Peterson or somebody like that can go right behind and play the same thing, and you know how great Oscar is, but Basie has a stamp.  When he hits it, you automatically know it.

TP:    Do drummers today get the tempos they were in the Fifties and Sixties?

HC:    I like drummers.  A drummer is very important to me.  Because everything I play is basically to the root.  I don’t go outside too much.  A lot of musicians find that hard to do.  The simplest things can be the hardest sometimes.

TP:    The more you know, the harder it is not to go into everything that you know.

HC:    Right, man.  The drummer is very important.  You’ve got to learn how to be able to do what’s necessary for you to do in playing in a band.  In the drummer’s case, it might be necessary for him to just keep time.  It’s not necessary for him to play a solo.  Or anybody in there, but especially drummers.  Some guys felt like that was not enough just to keep time and complement the man out front, the front line.  It was a drag to a lot of people just to keep time until you get that give-the-drummer-some, that one solo a night.  Otherwise, he’s playing time.  And a lot of guys don’t like to do that because they like to do other things, but it’s not necessary for you to do nothing but keep time here — and that’s hard.

TP:    And tune to the drum to the sound of the band…

HC:    Right, and do that every night!  Every note.  It’s got to be this way every time you play it.  Certain music.  Certain music you just don’t explore on, man.

TP:    I need your equipment.

HC:    I’m just playing the Selmer Super-Action 80.  That’s what I’m playing now.  The mouthpiece is Barrett.  It’s really like a stock mouthpiece.  I never played anything other than stocks.

TP:    What is it about the Selmer alto?

HC:    It’s like the Rolls Royce of saxophones.  You ain’t got a Selmer… It’s just like having a Cadillac or a Rolls Royce.  It’s the king.  It’s a good horn, and most professionals play it.  There’s a lot of other horns, Bushes, Conns, all of them, but the Selmer is it for me.  The body, it’s got good weight, feels good, and it responds.  To me, it’s just the best horn.

[PAUSE]

TP:    Hank has some thoughts on Fathead.

HC:    Well, we go back to almost the beginning of my professional career, and we’ve been more than just musicians, section buddies.  We have a little friendship.  I respect him as a man, and we kind of have that respect as men — and I respect his playing.  I broke a lot of bread with David.  The thing I like about him is whatever he plays, for me, I can understand it, I can feel it, how he expresses himself.  He’s just the kind of player that I like, and there are many others, but David is one that I had the experience of being around a lot, so I know him from A to Z!  He’s a very soulful man, and he can play in almost every setting.  I think that’s what we all learned coming up through that period.  He’s just one of my favorites… He’s on most of my recordings.  Every time I use a small band, I always use David.  He has a beautiful sound, a warm sound, and he always finds the blue notes.  He’s a stylist, and I think that’s true of most of the musicians from our era.  We’re stylists.  We all style whatever we play; we put our tag on it.  That’s just the way it is.  And I like all music, man.  I’m not trying to put down anybody.  I have respect for anybody who gets involved in the business because it’s so competitive.  But when I hear a guy that can cross all bridges, and comfortable playing in each setting, that’s what I admire — and don’t feel guilty playing it.

I don’t feel guilty playing “Steel Guitar Rag” if I’m called to play it.  You know what I mean?  I heard that when I was coming up as a kid, man, at 6 o’clock in the morning.  Down South, that’s the first thing you’d hear on your radio, is Country & Western and Gospel music.  That’s what you wake up on, C&W and Gospel!  I spent many days listening to Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow and all of those people.  And we all liked it!  Even Jazz musicians, they can’t say they didn’t grow up listening to these people.  So I played it as a youngster, and I don’t feel offended by it.  I just do my best in it.  So it’s music to me.  I don’t mind being square because I play this tune.  In fact, it’s a blessing to be able to play in all the styles.  That’s when your phone keeps ringing!

TP:    Well, it’s like what David said about Ray Charles.  He said it was like music appreciation.  He learned to play with soul, from the heart in every different situation.

HC:    Look at Cannonball, man.  His biggest hits were Soul music, “Mercy, Mercy” and stuff.  And Cannon was one of the greatest saxophone players in the world to me.

[-30-]

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For Olu Dara’s Birthday, An Uncut 2002 Blindfold Test

Back in 2002, when he was recording for Atlantic Records, trumpeter Olu Dara, who turned 73 today, sat with me at Atlantic’s offices for a DownBeat Blindfold Test. Here are the unedited proceedings.

Olu Dara Blindfold Test:

1.    Louis Armstrong, “You Go To My Head” (from LOUIS ARMSTRONG MEETS OSCAR PETERSON, Verve, 1956) (5 stars)

From the first couple of notes, although he has a cup mute, if it’s not Satch, it’s someone who’s been living with him all his life in the back room somewhere. [AFTER] Of course that was Louis Armstrong.  A lot of the trumpet players from that era had a certain sound, it was a staccato, but you know it’s Satch with the vibrato at the end of his phrases.  That’s how you can really tell.  And the tone.  I usually prefer Satch playing other type of songs, not these conventional standard type songs.  It’s a strange thing for me.  It’s like a hybrid of something… Knowing where he came from, New Orleans, the Southern thing, him doing this is like a Chinese singing a Puerto Rican song.  You know what I mean?  It’s hard to describe.  Now, the piano player sounds exactly like something McCoy Tyner played, almost note for note.  I don’t know who came first, this piano player or McCoy, but it’s an exact duplicate of the way McCoy played behind Coltrane on “Ballads.” [This piano player came first?]  Who is he?  Oscar Peterson?  Amazing.  In instrumental music there’s a lot of…it’s not copying, but they almost cookie-cutter each other.  It’s amazing how that happens, especially in jazz music.  Anyway, just because it’s Satch, I would give him everything.  5 stars, 6 or 7.  Because I know he can do that laying on his back.

2.    Leo Smith, “Anoa’s Prophecy” (#8) (from DREAMS AND SECRETS, Anonym, 2000) (5 stars)

It sounds like a jazz bass player and a jazz drummer trying to play funk.  But that is Miles Davis…or someone close to him.  No? [LAUGHS] That’s deep!  Keep playing it!  Is that the trumpet player who writes in film? [Not Mark Isham.] It’s not Mark Isham. [AFTER A HINT] Oh, that’s Leo Smith.  It’s funny about horn players from… I didn’t know who the other people were, but I do recognize horn players close to the Mississippi River.  There are certain things we do…we can do a lot of things, and that’s one of the things we can do.  We can go that way, we can do the Satchmo thing, we can do the Miles Davis thing, we can do the Clark Terry thing, we can do the avant-garde thing.  You’ll find that most trumpeters from this area, where we’re from, we’re documented playing all types of music.  This is close.  That’s why I thought it was Miles at first, because the sound is so real.  It’s authentic, his sound.  The concept also.  Now, the rhythm section is another story.  I’ll give this five stars because of Leo’s conceptual ability to play any type of trumpet style and really play it authentically, like it should be played.  I would say he’s one of the most creative musicians I’ve met, especially on the trumpet.  Period.

3.    Tremé Brass Band, “Gimme My Money Back” (from GIMME MY MONEY BACK, Arhoolie, 1995) (Kermit Ruffins, tp.) (3 stars)

I’ve heard this live in New Orleans.  The Dirty Dozen.  It’s not the Dirty Dozen?  [There are people in this band from the Dirty Dozen, but it's not the Dirty Dozen.] That makes a difference.  That’s not Brass Fantasy, is it?  The saxophonist sounds like Maceo Parker.  The trumpet player sounds like Gregory Williams who plays with the Dirty Dozen.  I can’t identify the horns.  The horns sound like conventional trumpeters.  It’s hard to play anything other than conventional type trumpet on this type of beat.  So I’m sure I won’t be able to identify the trumpet player. [AFTER] That did sound like the Dirty Dozen, but not the real Dirty Dozen.  Some of the Dirty Dozen you could feel in there.  I couldn’t identify the horn player.  I know the tuba player, Kirk Joseph.  He’s one of the finest tuba players I’ve heard.  I couldn’t identify the trumpet player, because as I said, it’s hard on that type of beat…a trumpet player would have to be extraordinary to be able to create something on that kind of beat other than what trumpet players create on that beat.  But I’m quite sure I may know the trumpet players. [Kermit Ruffins] Oh, I’ve never heard his music.  For being able to play that music in this day and time, I give them 3 stars for just the idea of keeping it around.

4.    David Murray, “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen” (from SPEAKING IN TONGUES, Just In Time, 1997) (Hugh Ragin, tp.; Fontella Bass, vocals) (3 stars)

I don’t know who it is, but it’s…I don’t know what you can call it.  It’s “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen”.  I know it wasn’t produced in the South.  They wouldn’t do that with that beat on it, and especially playing a lot of notes on the solo, since it’s a lament.  So it seems like a strange way to do that.  I’m quite sure they’re young musicians, but were young musicians doing it.  Let me see what else you got there.  Right now the introduction was too long, so I didn’t want to hear more.  Sounds like Mavis Staples singing.  But it’s not Mavis.  I can’t identify anybody.  I can’t really feel it.  That’s David Murray right there.  [AFTER] Fontella Bass.  I was in the ballgame!  I didn’t know who the trumpet player was.  But he didn’t grow up in that environment with that kind of music.  But you could clearly hear David.  David has a very distinctive concept and tone.  I didn’t know Fontella, because I hadn’t heard her since “Rescue Me.”  That’s been a jillion years ago.  She reminded me of Mavis in a way.  Just for the idea itself, once we got past the introduction [LAUGHS] and got to Fontella and David’s solo, then it made sense.  I’ll give it 3 stars for all of that.

5.    Fred McDowell, “Going Down The River” (from THE FIRST RECORDINGS, Rounder, 1959/1997) (5 stars)

[TO HIS SON] We may have it at home, but I probably haven’t listened to it.  I know it’s out of Mississippi.  That’s one of our people.  But it could be anybody.  I don’t listen to a lot of CDs as it is.  But I know he’s from Mississippi.  But there are hundreds of us who can sing like that down there.  So I wouldn’t be able to identify this man at all.  That’s creative music right there.  That’s where a lot of jazz comes from.  If you listen closely, you can hear a saxophone solo in the guitar work.  You can hear Monk in this man’s voice, you can hear big band arrangements, everything right here.  You can hear Miles Davis, “Freddie Freeloader” — BANH-BAM, it was the same note.  A good band!  Sounds very Mississippi.  Very.  But I don’t know who he is.  Mmm!  I probably know who he is and don’t know who he is at the same time. [AFTER] That was beautiful music of the best kind.  Who he was… Fred McDowell.  I have heard him before, but I didn’t recognize him.  That’s a 5-star for the whole outfit, from the drummer, guitar players — extraordinary music.  Like I said, you can hear all types of music from right there.  You can hear Duke’s band, you can hear Monk, you can hear Louis, you can hear everybody with that one song.

6.    Mingus-Clark Terry, “Clark In The Dark” (from THE COMPLETE TOWN HALL CONCERT, Blue Note, 1962/1994) (3 stars)

[IMMEDIATELY] Is that Duke Ellington?  It sounds like Clark Terry playing the trumpet.  Sounds like Duke’s band.  Mingus?  Okay..  Duke or Mingus, because they had a tendency to use arbitrary notes in their ensemble playing.  That’s what I heard.  They were one of the few bands that would use just arbitrary notes.  They’re called arbitrary notes by some, but to me it’s proof that all notes go together if they’re done with the right people playing them and the right attitude.  It’s not the kind of music I like to listen to, but I would give it 3 stars for being able to make instrumental music sound real soulful.

7.    Chocolate Armenteros, “Choco’s Guajira” (from GRUPO FOLKLORICO EXPERIMENTAL NUEVOYORQUINO: CONCEPTS IN UNITY, Evidence, 1975/1994) (5 stars)

Is that Cuban music?  Is it Sandoval on trumpet?  I love this kind of groove.  when I first heard this kind of sound, I was in Cuba many years ago. [TO HIS SON] The vocalists sound Puerto Rican.  It’s hard for me to identify a Spanish-speaking band, very difficult because I don’t speak the language.  I can’t identify the soloists at all.  They have a certain solo style that’s kind of similar, which is why it’s hard for me to identify the musicians.  But they have a Congolese-Cuban kind of feeling to it.  Sounds like they’re making music in New York City.  I can tell because of the claves and the conga drums.  Because the Cubans and the Congolese have a much heavier congo sound, but here they use timbales.  The claves are a central instrument.  But I have no idea who they are. [AFTER] Jerry and Andy Gonzalez are excellent musicians.  Not only do they play the music of their people, but they can give a feeling of Cubano and also the jazz music.  They know how to do very good mixes on music here.  I liked the trumpet player.  Was he Jerry?  Oh, Chocolate.  I don’t know if he’s from Cuba or not.  But I could recognize that pure Cuban trumpet style.  That’s why I said Cuban in the beginning. [Do you feel a connection to that style?] Yeah, there’s a connection.  Armstrong had that style, and early trumpeters had that style, and I feel that style is still in me.  I feel a connection with the Cuban trumpet style or Hugh Masakela.  Those styles are not spoken about much, but they are not as easy to play as people think they are.  You have to have a real feeling for it to play that trumpet style.  5 stars all the way.

8.    Blue Mitchell, “Hootie Blues” (from A SURE THING, Riverside, 1960/1994) (Jimmy Heath, ts., arranger) (3 stars) (Wynton Kelly, piano; Jimmy Heath, arr.)

Sounds like Wynton Kelly on the piano, which makes it a stronger blues.  The blues was kind of lightweight with the head and everything.  Wynton Kelly is one of the few pianists who plays contemporary jazz that could be identified not only by musicians, but the masses, so to speak — the listeners, the non-musicians, whatever.  He had a certain signature.  The trumpeter came in with a Miles Davis lick, but I’m quite sure it’s not Miles!  He came in with a Miles Davis lick that civilians know! [LAUGHS] I wouldn’t have done that.  Now, who could that be?  Sounds like Blue Mitchell. [AFTER] I don’t really like the tune that much.  It’s a lightweight blues head.  The recording isn’t that good because I can’t hear Wynton’s real sound, nor Blue’s.  But it shows you how great they were.  With that thin recorded sound, you still can identify Blue  Mitchell and Wynton Kelly.  I’ll give it 3 stars for them.  Without Wynton and Blue, I don’t think I could have listened to it.

9.    Sidney DeParis, “The Call Of The Blues” (#16) (from THE BLUE NOTE JAZZMEN, 1944/1998) (5 stars) (Jimmy Shirley, guitar; Ed Hall, clarinet; Vic Dickenson, tb.)

Cootie Williams?  Bubber Miley?  It’s a very interesting concept he has, the trumpet player.  He didn’t play the lick form, which is very unusual.  Charlie Christian?  Is this the ’40s?  It’s really difficult for me to identify any of these people because I was only a mere child, and then I didn’t listen… The rhythmic concept is unusual, because there’s a boogie-woogie beat, there’s a straight jazz beat, and there’s a rhythm-and-blues beat mixed up in it.  An old jazz sound coming from…now they mixed that with a Dixieland sound.  So it has multiple concepts in it.  The way they do the solos is not conventional, not as conventional as famous people who will solo?  Is the trombonist Trummy Young?  Dickie Wills?  I would never guess the trombone player.  Not Al Gray?  Not Vic Dickenson?  Okay.  Sounds like somebody Clark Terry might have listened to.  Did this trumpet player ever play with Duke’s band? [Yes.] It’s not Artie Whetsol.  It’s not Cat Anderson!  Ray Nance?  Sounded like Hot Lips or Red Allen for a while.  Guy’s great, whoever he is.  Just right.  But I never heard him, ever.  But that was a beautiful record.  That’s when creative music I thought was at its best.  The horn players really played.  Everybody played what should be played, nothing more and nothing less.  5 stars.

10.    Wynton Marsalis, “Sunflowers” (#13) (from THE MARCIAC SUITE, Columbia, 1999) (3 stars)

Are all these guys under 40?  I can hear the youth.  They sound like college players.  In the tones, yeah.  Sounds like they all went to the same institution, either college or music school.  You can tell by the tone.  The tones sound  similar.  You don’t hear any individual tone.  You’d have to know them personally to know their tone.  And there’s not much space in the music.  That’s another way you can tell.  Then they have the pianissimo things, the forte things, so I can tell they’re university or music school.  Then they’ve got that Miles Davis “All Blues” thing hidden in there somewhere!  But I don’t know who they are.  There are a lot of glissandos and triplets.  They don’t sound relaxed.  They’re young, under 40.  That’s enough of that one. [AFTER] I don’t know who they are, but I would give them 3 stars just for wanting to be musicians.

11.    Craig Harris, “Harlem” (#5) (from ISTANBUL, Double Moon, 1998) (Carla Cook, vocals; Craig Harris, tb., arr.) (3 stars)

Sounds like Craig Harris on trombone.  That’s one of his licks.  I probably know the singer personally, but I don’t recognize her.  I know Carla Cook, I’ve ever worked with her, but on the CD I didn’t recognize her voice.  I don’t know what they were doing.  I live in Harlem, too, so I understand what they were saying.  It’s nice.  I’d give them 3 stars for trying to do what they were trying to do. [What were they trying to do?] I don’t know yet! [LAUGHS]

12.    Cootie Williams, “Dooji Wooji” (from THE DUKE’S MEN, VOL.2, Columbia, 1939/1993) (5 stars) (Johnny Hodges, as)

Is that Duke Ellington?  It’s part of his group.  Somebody has broken away, Johnny Hodges or somebody.  But who?  Could it be Cootie?  It sounds like Cootie’s band away from the Duke, with Duke on the piano.  It’s excellent.  This is top-grade, high-quality stuff.  I had never heard Cootie’s group, but you  could just feel it!  I hear Johnny Hodges there.  This is excellent.  That’s what I mean you can tell between the old heads and the young heads.  There’s a certain feeling.  You can dance to this.  You can get images of people, not  just men, but women, children, food and drink.  You can hear church and nightclub.  It takes you there.  Really, to me it’s all about tone.  The tone has to have that real feeling, and not just academic.  That’s beautiful.  5 stars.  You know that.  That’s it!  That’s the stuff right there.  It doesn’t even exist any more.  It’s not here any more..

13.    Neville Marcano, “Senorita Panchita” (from THE GROWLING TIGER OF CALYPSO, Rounder, 1962/1998) (5 stars)

Sounds South American.  But then it sounds Cuban also.  I’m especially attracted to this kind of music because it has so many mixtures in it.  To me, this is one of the first multicultural musics.  I hear many cultures in it.  Spanish, the island people, the African, the Cape Verdean people I hear.  Now, who this is, I have no idea.  Sounds raw.  The bass almost sounds like he’s playing a tub.  I’m sure it’s a real bass, but just the way he hits it.  And how loose the rhythm is, but still in rhythm.  It sounds like a neighborhood band.  I like that sound also!  And this type of vocalization is excellent.  It’s what the young people are doing now.  I like to vocalize like this also.  Free form vocalization is beautiful.  There’s a musician named Garth something from England.  He’s a singer-rapper.  He’s very popular now.  He’s got a vocal style that’s just exactly like him.  This kid must be 21-22 years old.  He has a moustache, like that.  He’s from England and he’s a rapper.  He’s talking about being at his girlfriend’s house and his parents don’t know he’s there, he don’t mean any harm.  He wears a little white kufi.  This is old, right?  Ah, ’60s.  This is excellent stuff.  Because the kids are using it now. [Any idea where he's from?] It sounds like Martinique…not Martinique or Surinam or somewhere like that. [KUFI:  It sounds like from the islands.] It’s an island sound.  To me it  sounds like Cuba.  Trinidad?  That’s definitely 5 stars.  The vocal alone, just the style of it alone.  The looseness of it is beautiful.

14.    Art Blakey & Jazz Messengers, “Afrique” (from THE WITCH DOCTOR, Blue Note, 1961/1999) (Lee Morgan, trumpet) (5 stars)

[IMMEDIATELY] Lee Morgan!  The greatest!!  This is a man who’s an unsung hero in the history of jazz.  There’s none like him.  They talk about Dizzy, Miles, a lot of them.  But this man here, he’s the only trumpet player I know, back in the day, who had direct fans, people who SCREAMED when he came on.  Just the average man on the street liked Lee Morgan.  He’s the only trumpet player I know in the history of the music that the common man on the street liked, the man who was not a jazz fan.  I’ve seen this with my own eyes.  Now, who Lee Morgan is with I have no idea.  Is that Billy Higgins on drums?  Wait a minute.  Is the tenor player Billy Harper?  Not Frank Mitchell?  Whoo, who is this?  John Gilmore?  Oh, Wayne Shorter!  I got it now! [LAUGHS] Wayne threw me off for a minute because Wayne is so… I’m talking about in the past.  It sounded like Wayne in the past, when he played more street; he had a street sound to him.  Tenor saxophone.  No soprano.  Beautiful.  This dude right here brought a lot of young people into jazz music.  Is that Buhaina? [You didn't recognize Buhaina right away.] Well, because I was listening for something else.  When they came in, it was an unusual gathering of the musical instruments together doing something they didn’t normally do.  So I didn’t listen for Bu until they got to the solos.  Drummers don’t play that beat.  These are the guys who brought people of my generation into jazz who may not have wanted to go into jazz.  The tone of Lee Morgan — impeccable.  He was straight-out.  He didn’t try to do anything else but play straight out.  He didn’t try to fool you with anything or try to be different or even try to be intellectual.  To me, he was intellectual and street-wise at the same time.  A brilliant man.  The whole group.  Is that Timmons on piano?  The whole group.  Philadelphia bass player.  Jymie Merritt.  For jazz in that era, that was it.  Five stars.  Of course!  All the way.

[-30-]

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Filed under Blindfold Test, DownBeat, Olu Dara, trumpet

For Mike Stern’s 61st Birthday, a 2003 Downbeat Feature

Today is the 61st birthday of master guitarist-composer Mike Stern, and to note the occasion I’m posting the print edit of a feature for DownBeat  that it was my privilege to write in 2003. I’m also linking to a conversation we had in 2009 for the www.jazz.com website.

Mike Stern:

Guitarist Mike Stern usually spends Monday and Wednesday nights playing at 55 Christopher, a dimly lit bar on the ground floor of a brownstone in Greenwich Village. Discolored white sound tiles coat the low ceiling, which hovers above some 20 tables placed between a long bar and a yellowish west wall festooned with photos and LP covers. The bandstand is an 8 x 10 rectangle in the back corner with a fourth wall that doubles as an aisle along which customers can wriggle backstage to the cramped restrooms, which had seen better days 20 years ago, when Stern, who was then Miles Davis guitarist of choice, began his residence.
Stern doesn’t need this twice-a-week gig when he’s off the road. But 55 Christopher serves his purposes well.  “I’ve always got to find a place where I can play regularly,” says Stern, who staked a similar claim in the early ‘80s at a famously bacchanalian Soho bar called 55 Grand. “Otherwise I’d  be playing in my room. It gives me joy, and over time I learn a lot. I’m  grateful to have a regular gig where I can try different things. It stretches you.”
“It’s the longest-running jazz show in New York, and on a recent installment, the second set of a frigid January night, Stern stood before a jam-packed house. He held his guitar hip level and wore black pullover, black jeans and black sneakers. Eyes shut, bending his neck at a slight angle and swaying to the beat, he strummed a rubato melody, slowly resolving into the familiar refrain of Cole Porter’s “I Love You” over drummer John Riley’s crisp brushwork. Then Stern developed an extended solo, phrasing interactively with the drummer, carving out chorus after chorus with immaculate execution, sustaining thematic logic, linear invention and melodic focus at a staggering pace, inexorably ratcheting up the tension.
Like a world-class relay runner, tenorist Chris Potter took the baton full stride, and launched a tonally extravagant statement filled with intervallic zigzags and surprising resolutions in the manner of 1965-vintage Sonny Rollins. Guitar and tenor sustained fresh dialogue on further tradeoffs. Francois Moutin was in complete command of his instrument, carving out surging melodic bass lines while clearly stating pulse and roots. It was world-class collective improvising by a unit that had never played together until that evening.
Curiously, Stern has rarely showcased this freewheeling aspect of his tonal personality on his 12 leader records since 1986. “A lot of people have told me they  like to hear a live record, and I’d love to do one,” says Stern, 51, citing the room’s acoustic idiosyncracies as one reason why such a project remains elusive. “At the end of the day, you want to document what you do. But whenever I get around to recording, I have new tunes I want to play.”
Stern offers 11 brand-new ones on These Times, his debut release for German label ESC. As on Voices, his 2001 finale for Atlantic, he explores songs with words and songs with sounds, blending the distinctive vocal timbres of Richard Bona and Elizabeth Kontomanou into the guitar-keyboard-sax voicings that are his trademark. He propels it all with forceful beats by Bona and Will Lee on bass, drummers Vinnie Colaiuta and Dennis Chambers, and percussionist Arto Tuncboyacian. Kenny Garrett and Bob Franceschini split the sax chores. Alternating gnarly burnouts and lyric ballads, Stern and producer Jim Beard is customary keyboardist weak the themes by which Stern has established his compositional identity and tonal personality to an international audience since 1981, the year he joined Davis and recorded an extended solo on  at Time, the opening track on Man With A Horn.
“One thing about Miles that always impressed me is that he always played music he wanted to play,” Stern says. “While I was with Miles, he was offered a fortune to play with Ron Carter and Tony Williams in Japan. But he was just interested in what he was doing, and didn  want to be swayed. At the same time, he always had this balance of wanting to reach people. That’s in all his music. Somebody who doesn’t  really know jazz can still get Miles Davis. And balance is always important to me, however I come up with it.”
Those imperatives and an encounter with Bona at a European festival inspired Stern’s  recent immersion in the voice. “He had the day free, so I grabbed Richard and brought him to my hotel room, where I had a little amplifier, and we were playing some standards,” Stern recalls. “He knew my stuff, and he started singing a couple of my ballads, which I thought was great. One way I write is to sing the melody and write it down, so I have tunes that lend themselves to singing. Anyway, when I was thinking about doing Voices, I asked him about it, and he told me that he knew the idea would work and that he’d sing a few tunes. So I leapt into this new thing.”
“Getting the gig with Miles was the pinnacle of jazz success for a young musician at that time,” says John Scofield, Stern’s friend since the late ‘70s and his guitar partner with Miles in 1982-83.  “Your status went up. That’s all there was to it.”
“Miles made it clear that he didn’t  want me to do what he did,” says Stern, who diligently followed the trumpet legend’s  instructions to “turn it up or turn it off.” “He would leave all the space, and he wanted more aggression and energy from me. He’d move his hands to signal Al Foster to open up behind me. It was almost like he was working with shapes. A lot of the music was easy vamps, and they’d go on for a while, so you had to milk it for whatever you could. He also wanted a lean sound, which you can get with just guitar and no keyboards even if you play a lot of notes. I have him in my ear to this day, that beautiful vocal sound and his phrasing.

Stern likes his drummers hard-hitting and in-the-pocket, and observers, noting his high-visibility associations with Miles, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Billy Cobham, Jaco Pastorius and Steps Ahead, often refer to his music as fusion. The term puzzles Stern, a hardcore Jim Hall-Wes Montgomery acolyte who continues to transcribe the solos of John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner to slake his thirst for new vocabulary. In 2002, he recorded Four Generations Of Miles (Chesky) with fellow Milesians Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb and George Coleman.
“Blood, Sweat & Tears was one of the first jazz-rock bands, and Billy Cobham played what people have called fusion,” Stern says. “But I always wanted to hear some more swinging. When I first played guitar in the 60s, I listened to lots of blues, and then Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and cats like that—and then got into jazz. Motown was always on the radio. And I always loved Joni Mitchell’s  Blue. So I didn’t leave one part of me behind, but incorporated all of it. Sometimes the sound and sensibility of rock or blues gives me more color and a wider range of expression, a singing quality, more legato and horn-like than percussive.”
As he did in the days when fusion was creative and organic, Stern takes pains to sustain his edge. “I try to be aware of content and find new stuff all the time,” he says. “I try to get players who are going to kick my ass. You react to the people around you, so if the drummer is playing energy, you’re likely to try to match it. The hardest thing is when I’m trying to play some funk with a jazz drummer, and you can tell it isn’t going on. It happens the other way, too. Only a handful have that balance, to play in the middle of the beat but keep that creative jazz sensibility. Sometimes they throw you in a huge hall in a festival, and you want someone who can slam it down.
“But when I write, I look to have the whole picture—both the lyrical and the more slamming stuff. I want the arrangements to have a quality of spontaneity, so there’s conversation between drums, bassist, soloist and keyboard, but I also want enough production to support the tune, even the less complicated ones, so there isn’t  any, ‘yeah, the solo is cool, but the tune ain’t  happening.’ The singable stuff is simpler, but sometimes the hardest to write, because you can  hide behind college chords. On those, I don’t want to write a bunch of weird harmony that’s vague but intellectually impressive. I want to limit myself.”
Simplicity of expression is a complex proposition for Stern. “One of the challenges on the guitar is to try to get a legato, horn-like phrasing,” says Scofield, who alternated with Bill Frisell as Stern’s guitar foil on the 1999 album Play. “Frisell, Pat Metheny and I do it by not picking every note. But if you do pick every note, you can get a precise attack. The problem with that style is that it can sound real mechanical; some guitar players try to do it, and it’s sloppy and weird. Mike can produce a beautiful legato sound but be absolutely accurate on his lines. I don  think I’ve met anybody who does that the way Mike can, and he could do it when I first met him.
“Whatever I have together didn’t  fall from the sky like rain,” Stern says. “It takes a lot of work. I still try to push myself to develop the potential I have. To sound fresh every night I have to discover new stuff, push the envelope. So I’m studying all the time.”
Frisell can speak to Stern’s  obsessive practice habits.  “I met Mike right after he got off the road with Blood, Sweat & Tears, and we immediately started playing at his apartment for hours and hours,” Frisell says. “You can practice all you want and not sound like an individual. But Mike was—and still is—thorough. He would work on every possible thing he could think of. We did ear-training exercises, trying to hear different harmonic structures against a certain note and testing each other. He did it to the point where I couldn’t  believe what he was hearing. All the elements you hear in his playing now were there in his apartment in the 70s.”
“Perfectionism is a character asset,” Stern says. “But it works against you if it paralyzes you. Once I was struggling with some pieces, and my composition teacher, Edgar Grana, told me that one rule is not to judge the tune, but finish it and play it with other people. That  the way you grow. If you throw it out halfway through, you won’t  know what you have. I remember Pat Metheny telling me, “You’ve got what you need, you sound terrific. All you’ve got to do is go out and play.” He recommended me for Blood, Sweat & Tears, and I thought I’d go do the audition and get turned down. But they called me back for the gig.
“My focus then was on playing more like Jim Hall—to play slow and hear whatever I was doing, and not let my fingers get ahead of me. I wasn’t concentrating on technique at all; I figured I’d be able to play tempos later on if I had to. But Blood, Sweat & Tears used to play Spain as an instrumental, and I couldn’t  make the tempo. So here was this real-world situation where I had to deal! Jaco was in the band then. He was a direct guy. He told me, ‘That slow and steady stuff is great, but now you’ve got to start practicing to get your chops happening more.’ Jaco and I were maniacs together. Later, when I lived over 55 Grand, he’d  crash with me upstairs. Then we’d  play downstairs non-stop.”

During the early 80s, Scofield says, 55 Grand “became the musician club in New York.” Lured by a louche, no-holds-barred atmosphere, A-list musicians from all varieties of jazz converged to play and be merry into the wee hours. “It wasn’t  like a fusion club and it wasn’t  a free music club,” Scofield recalls. “It was diverse, but it wasn’t  slick. Everybody played there. The owner didn’t charge much money to get in, and we could play whatever we wanted all night long.”
“I always think jazz is going in about five different directions,” says Stern, who now drinks coffee to sustain late nights at 55 Christopher rather than the cognac and cocaine combo that fueled his 55 Grand marathons. “In jazz there’s tons of music that’s timeless—when you rediscover it, it’s fresh again. Then there’s stuff that combines this-and-that, a fusion of different influences with a jazz sensibility at the core. A lot of that was happening at 55 Grand. It was a very cool hang, but self-destructive.”]
In 1984, Miles Davis told Stern, who was showing up to gigs visibly inebriated, “You have to cool out.” “I wasn’t  ready to do it,” Stern recalls. He joined forces with Pastorius, withdrew after a year to enter rehab, sobered up, moved to a quiet East Side neighborhood and rejoined Davis.
“The second time with Miles, he had two keyboard players, and was moving to the stuff he did with Marcus on Tutu, more pop-oriented and arranged,” Stern says. ”I could leave more space, and it felt more natural to do in that environment. He actually had me play some acoustic, nylon-string guitar. But the first band was open. When he told me we were going on the road after I played Fat Time, I said, ‘Great, that will be fun. Who’s playing keyboards?’ ‘Nobody. Just you.’ I was nervous. ‘Don’t  worry. I hear it. You just play.’ No one really knew what he wanted to do.
“You always had to be on your toes; sometimes we  get used to an arrangement, and he would change it on us at the last minute. He liked it when I  lay a chord underneath one of his notes, so I needed to listen closely to know what pitch he was playing. I didn’t get it right away. I thought some of this was going to fall flat on its face—and some of it wasn’t so happening. But some of it was amazing. That’s  what he was looking for.”

“Some people say, ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks.’” Stern remarks. “But that’s a bit strange for me. Music is supposed to be communicative.”
During an end-of-January week at Iridium in support of These Times, Stern balanced the populist imperatives that inform his writing with the workshopping attitude of musical adventure that inspires his 55 Christopher sessions. A heavyweight unit of Bona, Franceschini and drummer Dave Weckl helped Stern navigate five challenging compositions, replete with shifting tempos, gorgeous melodies, provocative hooks, and just enough harmonic protein to fuel the solos. Weckl modulated seamlessly from straight-eighth to spangalang; Bona, accompanying himself delicately on electric bass, sang two songs in a pure falsetto tenor, Stern matching his tone with lyric grace. During the burnouts, Bona carved out Afro-Pastorius flavored countermelodies that transcended the notion of a bassline. To use a cliche, the music was beyond category. Jazz, rock, blues and world feels coexisted and flourished, freed from their compartments, knit together by the smiling leader.
The tone of the proceedings recalled a comment from Frisell.  “I first became aware of Charlie Parker and bebop and the music of the ‘40s and ‘50s at just the moment when things were getting electric,” Frisell said. “So for me, that music was a natural continuum of using what was around to move ahead to the next step. Nobody knew what Fusion was; it didn’t seem that different from other moments that would happen along the way. Then after a few years, it seemed that fusion became codified. Patterns emerged, and people started fitting things into them. It became a style that you fit something into, just like jazz did. For me, jazz is a process of trying to make something happen.”

That was the way Miles Davis did things, and Stern seems to channel his restless spirit as organically as any of his fellow Miles alumni. “Whenever I hung out with Miles, he’d have the radio blasting to whatever was current at the time,” Stern says. “He was into all kinds of music. The more I step back, the older I get, I respect him even more. He was always moving.”

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Filed under Article, DownBeat, guitar, Mike Stern, Miles Davis

For Andy Gonzalez’ 63rd Birthday, an Unedited Blindfold Test from 2000 and a WKCR Interview From 2006

Best of birthdays to the master bassist Andy Gonzalez, who turns 63 today. A co-founder of the Fort Apache Band with his older brother, Jerry Gonzalez, Gonzalez’ c.v. includes protracted gigs with Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie Palmieri and Manny Oquendo’s Libre. His influence is palpable on such next-generation swing-to-clave bassists as — among many others — Avishai Cohen and Hans Glawischnig. I had the opportunity to interact with and be educated by Andy at least a half-dozen times during my years on WKCR, particularly on such subjects as Cachao and Arsenio Rodriguez, upon whom he would expound with great erudition. I’ll have to transcribe those cassettes one of these days. Meanwhile, here are the proceedings of a DownBeat Blindfold Test that Andy did with me around 2000, and a WKCR interview from 2006, when the Fort Apache Band had just released their excellent CD, Rumba Buhaina.

Andy Gonzalez Blindfold Test:

1.    Ray Brown, “St. Louis Blues” (feat. Ahmad Jamal, p., Lewis Nash, d), “SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS…ARE THE PIANO PLAYERS” (Telarc, 1995) (5 stars)

Well, it’s somebody like Ray Brown or somebody that LOVES Ray Brown on bass.  I hear a lot of Ray Brownish things. [AFTER] [Why did it take you so long?] I had to hear more of him.  At first I thought it was somebody younger, but then I started listening to what he was playing and I said, “Wait a second.”  This is somebody who has some depth to his musical history just by what he played and how he played it.  It had to be somebody like Ray Brown.  I’m not sure of the piano player, though. [Any guesses?] Mmm… That’s not Benny Green, is it?  It could be Oscar. [It's the same generation.] Oh yeah?  [AFTER] I didn’t hear much of the trademark Ahmad Jamal things.  That was quite nice.  It gets 5 stars out of me.  Ray Brown is one of my heroes.  Of the bass players from his generation, like Oscar Pettiford and Mingus… I thought he’s the one that… There’s Blanton in his playing, but I think he took Blanton beyond Blanton.  Mingus I thought sort of took it the other way, and he used a lot more physical kinds of things about the bass, like imitating growls and doing wilder things, where I think maybe Ray Brown is more blues-based.  There’s a lot of blues in his playing.  Not that Mingus isn’t, but… And Pettiford was… It’s like three distinct voices to come out of the same era, and to play with a lot of the same people in the Bebop era and stuff like that.  But very distinct voices, all three of them.  But those are the same generation.

2.    Sam Jones, “O.P.” (Israel Crosby, bass; Joe Zawinul, piano; Vernell Fournier, drums), DOWN HOME (Riverside, 1962/1995) (4 stars)

I’m going to take a stab and say it was Doug Watkins playing cello.  No?  He did do a cello record. [This is someone who is a contemporary of Doug Watkins who did...] Sam Jones?  That was the second person I was going to shoot for.  Because I realized he had done a cello record way back, but I can’t remember the circumstances.  I only managed to cop a couple of Sam Jones records, especially on Riverside — those were a little harder to find.  For some reason it made me think of the Doug Watkins record.  I think Yusef Lateef is playing on it.  When I heard the flute I thought maybe it might be him. [Any idea who's playing bass and drums?] That wasn’t Jimmy Cobb?  Something made me think it was Jimmy Cobb, the way he was riding the cymbal. [AFTER] You know, Israel Crosby is credited with taking one of the first solos on bass on record, “Blues For Israel,” with Gene Krupa.  I mean, an actual bass solo.  It’s a whole thing on the bass.  This is the early ’30s.  The pianist was Zawinul?  Forget it.  I would have never guessed that.  I thought the piece was nice.  It was kind of bouncy and airy.  I thought Sam Jones was very articulate on the cello and very tasty.  As a matter of fact, I never heard him take any bass solos that sounded slick, to tell you the truth! — from what I’ve heard of Sam Jones.  That was excellent cello playing, just so far as getting across the cello.  I’m wondering whether he used the cello the way it’s supposed to be tuned, in fifths, or the way Ray Brown did and some other cello cats did was retune the instrument in fourths to make it like a bass and easier to play.  Now, that might be the case, because he seemed to get around the instrument pretty good.  Playing in fifths takes a little bit more knowledge of how to get around the strings.  So that’s an interesting question to find out.  From what I heard, it sounded like it was tuned in fourths.  Four stars, for Sam Jones especially.

3.    Brian Lynch, “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” SPHERES OF INFLUENCE (Sharp-9, 1997) (5 stars) (John Benitez, bass; Jeff Watts, drums; Milton Cardona, congas; David Kikoski, piano; Donald Harrison, alto saxophone)

Wow!  I’ve grown accustomed to her space face.  That was a beautiful arrangement, man.  It was gorgeous.  It sounds like it was a trumpet player’s record, because he’s got the lead — and a big fat tone.  I’m trying to think of who it could be.  The drummer was on it with the Latin stuff.  He was playing the right kind of beat.  It wasn’t clave!  And the conga player was holding his own.  He’s just an adornment more than anything else.  In the seconds where there was Latin rhythm, he played well.  The bass player did okay.  Gee whiz.  Fat tone on a trumpet is what was getting to me.  I was trying to think who has a fat tone on a trumpet.  It doesn’t sound too dated.  So let me see, who has a fat tone on trumpet these days?  Terence Blanchard has a fairly fat sound.  So does Nicholas Payton.  They have kind of fat tones on the trumpet these days. [What trumpet player might think of that type of arrangement?] Now, that’s a good question, because there was a lot of depth to that arrangement.  It stretched the tune out, it stretched out the phrasing of it, and also took it in different places.  It gets five stars from me, because it was an original and unusual treatment of the song.  Because that’s not an easy song to… It’s a pretty song.  Not too many people, except for someone like maybe Sonny Rollins, have attempted to play that tune.  And then I thought it was nice having the tuba in the orchestration.  That was really pretty. [AFTER] That was Brian Lynch?  No kidding!  I didn’t even think about that.  Excellent.  I’m surprised I didn’t recognize… Well, John Benitez didn’t give anything that I could recognize him on.  Milton, well, that I could hear.  It was very nice.  I enjoyed that.

4.    George Mraz, “Star-Crossed Lovers” (Renee Rosnes, piano), DUKE’S PLACE (Milestone, 1999) (5 stars)

I sort of wish that the bass player would have bowed the melody at the end again, because he played it so beautifully at the beginning.  Good bowing technique is like studying a whole other instrument.  And he had superb control of that bow.  I mean, he really sang that melody superbly, man.  Right there that’s five stars for me, because I’m quite a fan of good bowing.  I wish I could bow that well!  But like I said, that’s a whole study in itself.  It’s one thing to pluck strings and use your hands to get tone and sound, but to use the bow and get the vibrations that the bow makes, and use your hands in that sense, it’s a whole different way of playing the instrument.  Whoever that was playing the bass, I really couldn’t tell you, but I thought that he has an excellent bowing technique. [AFTER] I figured as much.  That’s bounce, man.  He’s got beautiful, beautiful bowing technique.  It bounces!  Gorgeous bowing.

5.    Ornette Coleman, “Women Of The Veil,” THREE WOMEN (Harmolodic, 1996) (Charnett Moffett, bass; Geri Allen, piano; Denardo Coleman, drums) (3½ stars)

Oh, shades of Ornette!  I don’t think it was Ornette, but it was quite a bit of Ornettethology!  Even the trumpet player sounded like Ornette!  I don’t know who it was, but it sure sounded like an Ornetteish kind of thing.  I wasn’t that thrilled with it.  It was all right.  The bass player sure didn’t sound like no Charlie Haden, that’s for sure. [AFTER] It was Ornette?  Charnett Moffett was playing the bass?  This was recent?  Who was playing the trumpet? [Ornette.] Ah, so I was right about that.  The piano is what threw me.  I’m not used to Ornette with a piano player.  3½ stars for that.  I’ve heard Ornette play with more… I like Ornette when there’s more emotion in his playing.  Remember the Town Hall concert, “Sadness,” things like that?  That really moves me.  And the original quartet moves me a lot, with Charlie Haden, Blackwell and Don Cherry.  All that moved me quite a bit.  And Ornette over the years, man… I always dug Ornette.  I like him best in smaller situations, not with all the trappings.  I don’t like Ornette with a piano player.  I like him without piano.

6.    Ron Carter, “Samba De Orfeu,” ORFEU (Blue Note, 1999) (5 stars) (Bill Frisell, guitar; Stephen Scott, piano; Payton Crossley, drums; Steve Kroon, percussion)

It was nice to hear a bass guitar “surdo” and “casaba.”  To me I would have dug it if they had added a tambourine.  That would have really put the rhythm section a little stronger Brazilian.  But they left the space open, which is okay.  The guitar player wasn’t Brazilian; that’s for sure.  And the bass player sounded like Ron Carter to me. [AFTER] Of course!  Ron Carter, one thing, he’s got a great sense of humor.  Throughout that solo, he’s a shameless quoter, a quoter of obscure melodies!  I get a kick out of it.  I mean, that’s like… Unless you know these melodies, you just… He quoted really obscure songs, like “Popeye, The Sailor Man” and “I Want To Wash that Rain Right Out of My Hair.”  You have to know a lot of music to be able to quote these things, and he quoted quite a few different little tiny pieces of melodies from all kinds of things in his solo.  It was nice.  Five stars.  Ron Carter is one of my heroes.  I grew up listening to him, and I know him a bit, and he’s quite a nice man.  One thing I’ve got to say is that I’ve learned a lot from listening to Ron Carter over the years, especially when he was with Miles.  His perception of how to play bass in a rhythm section for that band was unique, and it really influenced me a lot.  Even playing Latin Jazz it influenced me a lot, because just the kind of thing that they had going as the quintet with Miles, this kind of ESP thing that they had going, is something that most bands strive for — that kind of empathy and mind-reading between the members of a band.  That’s something that they brought to a high art.  And Ron was very instrumental in making a lot of that happen.  I’ll always love him for that, that’s for sure.  So he gets my five stars.

7.    Dave Holland, “Jugglers Parade,” PRIME DIRECTIVE (ECM, 1999) (3½ stars)

I’m going to take a wild stab?  Is that Avishai?  He likes things that have odd meters.  Is it a bass player’s album?  Is it Santi?  I remember him writing things that sound like this.  Wow.  So far I made two guess, and both of them were wrong.  I’m not that big a fan of odd meter kind of things.  But it was put together pretty nicely, and if the bass player composed this… Most bass players make good composers, just because of the fact that they always provided the bottom of things, the bottom of the harmonies, and sometimes the bottom of just rhythm and melody.  So I am pretty happy when I hear bass players’ compositions and arrangements, because it’s like they have a different perspective on things and they hear things different.  Most bass players who I know who write, it’s usually very interesting.  And this was no exception.  It was interesting.  But like I said, I’m not a big fan of odd meter things.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s because I’ve got the clave ingrained in me to the point where it’s like… And also, I grew up in the era of real hardbop-swing kind of things, so anything that has odd meters isn’t… It’s just a preference of mine.  I’m not that particularly fond of them.  I would give it 3½ stars.  So who was it? [AFTER] That was Dave Holland?!  I would have never recognized him.  I would never have thought that it was Dave Holland.  It didn’t sound like the kind of music that he used to play before.  There’s something to be said for bass players that write.  Because like I said, they’re coming from a another perspective.

8.    Richard Bona, “Konda Djanea,” SCENES FROM MY LIFE (Columbia, 1999). (5 stars) (Michael Brecker, tenor sax)

That was very nice, man.  Richard Bona.  I met him a couple of years ago.  I think he was touring with Zawinul.  We just ran into each other on the road.  But that was lovely.  You can hear the influence of the African string instrument called the kora, which is a harp kind of instrument.  I can hear that influence in how he approaches the bass.  He’s playing it almost like a guitar, but playing it like a kora.  Just the figures that he’s playing, it sounds like if he was strumming on a kora.  It’s very pretty.  Five stars.

9.    John Patitucci, “King Kong,” IMPRINT (Concord, 1999) (4 stars) (Danilo Perez, piano; Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez, drums; Giovanni Hidalgo, percussion)

Well, I recognized a couple of people in there.  I think that was El Negro playing the traps, and it could have been Giovanni playing the congas.  It could have been.  Those are my cohorts, man.  I know those guys intimately.  Is this Patitucci?  I had a feeling it was him, because I heard he had done something with the Latin thing.  He was cool.  Was this his tune?  The piano player sounded a little familiar, too, but I wasn’t positive.  I was thinking that it might be Danilo.  What made me think it was Patitucci was when it got into the groove part, he was sticking to a pretty generic kind of groove thing.  Unless you’re really sure of the clave and how to mess with it, I would imagine that’s what you would do just to… Because Negro and Giovanni can get very intricate on you, and if you’re not dead-sure where you are, they can throw you off in a minute.  It’s like the clave thing with them is that they know that so intimately.  I’ve played with them so much that I know what they’re about.  Sometimes it’s better to be safe and stick to what you know you can do within that framework.  So it was cool.  The saxophone player I don’t know.  It sounded like a Michael Brecker or someone like that, but I’m not sure.  Chris Potter?  Okay.  There was something in his tone that reminded me of Michael.  But I guess that got a four out of me.

10.    Eddie Gomez, “Footprints,” DEDICATION (Evidence, 1998). (3½ stars)

Mmm, “Footprints.”  That tune, ever since it came out, it’s been a favorite of all us musicians.  Especially when you’re in school and stuff, everybody… It’s easy to play and easy to jam on.  I was just about going to high school when that came out.  I don’t really have a clue.  3½ stars.  The bass player to me sounded like somebody like Alex Blake or someone like that.  Because Alex Blake has that kind of facility; he likes to do those kind of crazy runs and stuff.  Oh, it’s not?  I figured as much.  I just thought of him because I ran into him the other day and I hadn’t seen him for a while.  [The bass player and you have the same alma mater.] Music and Art?  He must have graduated way after me, though.  Before me?  Really.  Hmm!  I know Eddie Gomez went to Music & Art? [That's him.] Really?  That doesn’t sound like the Eddie Gomez I remember.  It’s recent, huh?  I’m a lot closer to the Eddie Gomez of Bill Evans days, and he didn’t play like this.  He played different.  Eddie was an amazing, amazing musician, and he got along so well with Bill.  They were really mind-reading each other.  It’s sort of like the same thing that happened when Scott LaFaro was in the trio.  I got hip to Scott LaFaro maybe four or five years after he passed.  He passed in ’61.  I got hip to him early on because when I was 14 I was studying with Steve Swallow.  I was in junior high school.  He was the first one to turn me on to Scotty.  Then I used to go and check out Bill Evans at the Vanguard a lot, and Eddie Gomez was playing the bass there.  So I was just amazed at the facility that Eddie Gomez had at the time.  Because he didn’t quite do what Scotty was doing.  Scotty liked to mess with counterpoint and things like that a lot more.  But Eddie was all over the instrument, which was amazing to me.  I’m surprised I didn’t recognize him.  I would usually recognize Eddie Gomez, because he’s a guy I’ve been following since I was a teenager.  3½ because as many times as I’ve played “Footprints,” there’s a lot more things that you can say with it than was said there.

11.    Roy Haynes, “Trinkle Tinkle,” TE VOU! (Dreyfus, 1994) (feat. Christian McBride) (3½ stars)

It’s nice to hear pretty much the arrangement the way that Monk and the sax used to play the melody.  The only thing, after a while that three note figure at the end -DINH-DUHT-DAH gets annoying.  Other than that I liked it, but I didn’t care for too much, and to hear it through all the solos was a pain in the ass after a while.  I would have preferred leaving it out and just play it, because it doesn’t do anything.  It sounds like it was a novelty effect more than anything else.  The drummer sounded like someone like Tain.  I didn’t think it was, but it sounded like someone who can take it a little out like Tain can.  But I couldn’t tell you who the cats were. [AFTER] It was Roy Haynes’ record?  I’m surprised why he kept that figure, man.  It sounds annoying.  Is the bass player Ed Howard?  Christian?  I thought it was him while he was playing, but I just didn’t think he did anything… And it didn’t sound like Roy Haynes either to me.  Is it a new record?  Unusual.  Like I said, it was pretty much in the Monk tradition.  I would left out that BINH-BAHT-BAM.  I’ll give 3½ because it was well played.  Who was the alto player?  Donald Harrison!  He played well.  I wouldn’t have recognized Roy Haynes.  It didn’t sound like him.  I heard him the last time a couple of years ago, and he’s always been Mister Taste.  And it was tasteful…except for that.  I don’t mind if an effect really adds something to the music, but that didn’t really add anything to Monk.

12.    McCoy Tyner, “I Want To Tell You ‘Bout That,” McCOY TYNER WITH STANLEY CLARKE AND AL FOSTER (Telarc, 2000) (3½ stars)

I knew it was McCoy from the getgo, because it’s unmistakable, just his tone, his touch, and the kind of things that he plays.  Although I felt it was kind of like… It’s like when you’re trying to get like a funk kind of thing going, you know, almost making an attempt to get like some radio play.  The bass player wasn’t Avery?  I don’t know who it was. [Someone you might think on electric.] Stanley Clarke?  Yeah?  He did play a figure that did make me think it was Stanley Clarke.  But I said, “Mmm, let me see…”  Who was the drummer?  Al Foster?  I sort of came up at the same time as Stanley Clarke, and I’ve been watching and listening to him since the early days when he was with Chick.  He’s a fine bass player, man.  He’s been moving around in different worlds and playing a lot of different kinds of music, but I have deep respect for him as a bass player.  He’s a great bass player.  I don’t think this is one of McCoy’s better efforts.  Just for playing sake, I’ll give it 3½ stars.

13.  Avishai Cohen, “The Gift, DEVOTION (Stretch, 1998) (3 stars)

I don’t know if I could tell you who that is.  It wasn’t exactly a toe-tapper.  The soprano had a dark kind of sound.  That’s an unusual duo, the trombone and soprano.  It’s not something you hear often.  I’m at a loss.  3 stars. [AFTER] That was Avishai, huh?

14.    Red Garland Trio w/ Paul Chambers, “This Can’t Be Love,” IT’S A BLUE WORLD (Prestige, 1958/1999) (3 stars)

It sounded like a few people.  The first name that came to me was an odd name, Monty Alexander — which is weird.  But that’s the first name that popped into my head.  I heard flashes of Erroll Garner, I heard flashes of a lot of people in there.  I probably do know who it is.  Who was it? [AFTER] That didn’t sound like Paul Chambers?  You know what?  This must have been towards the end of his life.  That was ’58?  Paul Chambers articulates a lot better than that — for me.  I’ve heard plenty of Paul Chambers.  Maybe it was the rosin.  Because when you put a certain kind of rosin on the bow you get a certain sound, and different rosins give you a different… When you pull the bow across the string, it gives you a different… This was kind of a rough sound for Paul.  Paul usually gets a smoother attack sound on his bowing.  But I do know that it has to do with the kind of rosin that you use.  Some rosin makes the bow across the strings sound a little rough; it grabs the string a certain way so that the sound comes out rough.  There’s another rosin that the sound comes out a little smoother.  This sounded kind of rough to me.  Really.  Because Paul Chambers articulates a lot better on things I’ve heard him on before than on this particular piece.  From hearing Paul on his best records… This wasn’t his best.  It didn’t move me that much.  3 stars.

15.    Cachao, “El Son No A Muerto,” MASTER SESSIONS, VOL. 1 (Epic, 1994) (4 stars)

That was Cachao, and that was Nelson Gonzalez on the très, who learned to play the très in my house.  I brought home a très from Venezuela in 1970, and he was a frequent visitor to my house.  He was self-taught on guitar.  We started studying Arsenio Rodriguez records together, and he learned how to play the très in my house.  I’m the one who got him the gig with Cachao in the middle ’80s when he did his big concert at Hunter College.  I loaned him my bass and I was at most of the rehearsals, and I got Nelson involved in it.  Because they didn’t have a très player originally for the descarga section.  That’s my daddy, Cachao.  This particular tune was kind of subdued, there was not much happening for him.  The best way to catch Cachao sometimes is live.  I wish they would record him live.  This was part of the records that Emilio Estefan put out?  I don’t think he’s the best producer for that genre.  First of all, I didn’t like the balance of the sound.  It could have been a lot better.  I’ll give it 4 stars because I like Nelson’s playing on it.  Was that Paquito d’Rivera on clarinet and Nestor Torres on flute?  What about trumpet?  It wasn’t Chocolate.  It was?  That was a very subdued Chocolate.  It didn’t sound like him.  And his trademark notes that he likes to play aren’t there.  Something tells me there was maybe some weird chemistry going on in the studio.

* * *

Andy Gonzalez (WKCR–Feb. 23, 2006):

[MUSIC: “This Is For Albert” (Rumba Buhaina)]

AG:   We did a couple of albums where we had to find a way for Jerry to play the horn with Joe Ford, and after he’d state the line, he would take a solo and then jump on the drums. Because there was no overdubbing; this was recorded direct to two-track. That was interesting, to say the, to see him manage the jump back and forth.

TP:   It is one of the great sights in jazz to see him jump up from the conga drums after he’s been abusing his hands for 5-6 minutes, and immediately launch into an improvisation. Even more so when it’s a ballad

AG:   I don’t know how he does it. I like to play percussion instruments, too, but I will not play them because it makes my fingers stiff to play the bass. I don’t know how to he gets to manipulate his fingers that well right after playing hard congas, and pick up the phone and play.

TP:   He plays hard. You and your brother have been playing trumpet and bass and congas for close to 50 years…

AG:   A long time.  I’m 55, and I was 13 when we started to play music. A little more than 40 years.

TP: And you’ve often played in the same bands over the years. With Eddie Palmieri for several years, with Dizzy Gillespie briefly in the ‘60s, as well as the Apaches.

AG:   Jerry was also in the first band I ever recorded with, which was Monguito Santamaria, who was Mongo’s son. Rene McLean was in that band, and Jose Mangual, Jr., was in the band. Jerry was part of that band for a minute, too.

TP:   Let’s talk about the history of the Fort Apaches. Ten years ago, you were playing a lot around and New York and touring, but things changed, Jerry moved to Spain, and the opportunities to play are less than they had been.

AG:   Well, we have been playing some. Jerry would come in occasionally to do it, and there would be a tour set up, and some… The band has been working on and off. It’s maybe not as much as we could because of the distance between us. But we still get together enough. And it sounds like we’d never been apart, just because of the chemistry involved in the band.

TP:   It’s one of the innovative bands of late 20th century jazz, influential on two generations of musicians from South America, the Caribbean, Spain, who heard your ability to fuse Afro-Caribbean diasporic rhythms with jazz harmonies. It’s hard to say if anyone was the first to do anything, but recordings like Rumba Para Monk and things before that have had a tremendous influence on the way jazz sounds today. These ideas were exotic in 1988; now it’s the mainstream.

AG:   They were even more exotic in 1979.

TP:   There are a few streams to discuss. One of the history of the Fort Apache; the other is the present. Let’s stay with the present for the moment, and the new recording, Rumba Buhaina.

AG:   A lot of people don’t understand that “Buhaina” was Art Blakey’s Muslim name. In the late ‘40s, quite a few musicians in jazz were either converting to Islam or flirting with it. It’s just like jazz musicians are always the first to move to things that would probably help them get away from the American stereotype of what a musician is supposed or what a spiritual person is supposed to be like. So Art Blakey took the name “Buhaina.” I don’t know what it means, but all Art Blakey’s closest friends and associates would call him “Bu.”

TP:   I believe that the Jazz Messengers name came from that same origin. Unlike your exploration of the music of Thelonious Monk, Rumba Buhaina explores a number of composers, of tunes primarily from their classic period, say ‘58 to ‘65.

AG:   That was the music that influenced us a lot. We used to go hear Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in person, and that was one of the key groups of those years. Just to hear Art Blakey be as authoritative a drummer… He was an amazing teacher. He didn’t have to tell you anything. He showed you. You just listened to him play, and it was all there to hear. We learned a lot from listening to what he had to offer, and how a drummer is so much the accompanist, and how he sets the pattern, sets the standard for what is to happen in the music. That’s something that really stayed with most musicians who came up around that time. That’s why we always consider Art Blakey one of the true teachers of the music.

TP:   He was also a musician who distilled African musicians within a swing context on the drumkit, with cross-sticking figures and polyrhythmic patterns woven within his arrangements.

AG:   I thought Art Blakey had such a strong force, a force of nature that reminded me a lot of field recordings that I had of tribal music from different parts of Africa. You’d hear, say, a drummer who would be talking on the drum, and not only the pitch, the timbre of the instrument and the way certain instruments…you would communicate a message with that way of playing. I could feel that out of Art Blakey, too. There’s a certain force that’s coming out of that. I immediately identify with it.

TP:   During those years, were you also paying attention to the records Art Blakey was doing with drummers?

AG:   Oh, yeah.

TP:   Orgy In Rhythm, a couple of volumes, and the names are escaping me of a couple of others he did, where he played with the late Ray Barretto…

AG:   I was just going to mention Ray Barretto. He also did a tribute to Art Blakey a few years ago. In fact, I think there’s one tune on the record that we also did. His concept was a little different than ours. First of all, when Ray Barretto first started getting back… He wasn’t playing much salsa any more, and he started to develop a Latin Jazz band. I know he paid quite a bit of attention to Fort Apache and what we were doing, and I think he took part of that as a role model. Which we were quite honored that he would use us as a model for what he was doing.

TP:   But as far as putting the Fort Apache touch on this repertoire, how did the ideas evolve and come to fruition?

AG:   We had the idea years ago. We thought of it as one of the many projects that we had in mind to do. There were other projects, too, that never came about for various reasons. Like, we wanted to record an album with Jose Silva, better known as Chombo, the Cuban saxophonist who was probably like the Ben Webster of Cuban music, and a masterful musician. We were just about setting that up when he had a stroke and he was no longer able to play. We were already starting to pick out the material. When you have a band like the Fort Apache band, you, have a lot of options, and there’s things that pop into your head about what this band could do, what we’re capable of doing. Because everybody in the band is a great musician, and we’re capable of a lot of things.

TP:   But Rumba Buhaina is what we’re addressing.

AG:   Yes. Well, the idea for the Art Blakey tribute… We started thinking about it, and then all of a sudden we had a few days at Sweet Rhythm to play… Before we went into the studio we played and rehearsed for a few days. That’s pretty much the way we did the Monk album, too. We played and we rehearsed different concepts on different tunes until…

TP:   Were they tunes that seemed to lend themselves to dealing with the different rhythmic signatures that you bring to your arrangements.

AG:   We tried to think of ways of approaching the music… Everybody contributed ideas. That’s the way we get it together. It’s pretty simple. From all our experiences, individually and collectively, it was pretty easy for us to put it together.

TP:   Let’s step back to 1991, the album Moliendo Café, and Larry Willis’ tune, “To Wisdom The Prize.”

AG:   I like that album a lot, for a few reasons. One of them was that Miles Davis had just passed away, and we had… We thought about it a lot because he was such a strong influence on us also.

TP:   The album is dedicated to the percussionist Guillermo Barretto. Art Blakey had just passed.  Charlie Palmieri had just passed. Dizzy Gillespie shortly thereafter. George Adams as well. All are mentioned on the inner sleeve…

[“To Wisdom The Prize” & “Along Came Betty”]

TP:   On previous shows, Andy has brought literally a suitcase filled with recordings, primarily obscure and little known, great gems. A lot of this material is now available on CD so it’s a bit easier to track down…once you get the CD. Next week will you be playing primarily this repertoire or digging into the whole book?

AG:   I’ve got a feeling we’ll dig into the whole book, but we are going to feature some of the tunes from the new album.

TP:   Earlier I mentioned that there are two streams to talk about, one the new recording, Rumba Buhaina, but for listeners… As you get older, you come to grips with the notion that younger listeners don’t share core experiences. A lot of hardcore jazz fans may be unfamiliar with how you and Jerry developed your ideas about music, and what in your personal histories led to the formation of the Fort Apache Band.

AG:   Jerry got his first opportunity to record in 1979, and that was an album under his own name called Ya Yo Me Cure, which in English means “I have been cured”—whatever that means. The title track of that album was something that Frankie Rodriguez, who was a percussionist who passed away a few years ago, but was a very talented person and very close to us… He was part of Grupo Folklorico, and he was into culture really deep. I had a record of pygmy chants from Africa, and he heard one chant that was done by kids. It was like some children’s chant. He heard it a few times, and started singing “Ya Yo Me Cure” to it, just putting those Spanish words to the chant itself, and we made a guaguanco out of it. That was a precursor of what Fort Apache became.

TP:   But by then, you’d been professional musicians for more than a decade. Eddie Palmieri, Dizzy Gillespie…

AG:   I played with Ray Barretto while I was in high school, ‘69 to ‘71. In between that time, me and Jerry worked with Dizzy Gillespie. So we were getting arond. I was still in high school, and Jerry was coming out of college.

TP:   Were Eddie Palmieri and Dizzy Gillespie people who helped push you along conceptually?

AG:   It was kind of a mutual thing. We were well aware of Eddie Palmieri; we were big fans. But we brought something new to the table.

TP:   What was that?

AG:   Well, a different sensibility. The sensibility that Eddie Palmieri had before, when Barry Rogers was part of the band, and Barry would bring the harmonic element… When he’s taking a solo, you can feel there’s something that’s really in the jazz world, and it’s very spontaneous and very heartfelt, and there was a lot of feeling to it. That’s one of the things that we learned a lot about, and something about jazz improvisation, that nothing was thought out before time—it was just off the cuff. Whatever came to your mind that you thought was hip enough, that’s what you would play. So we had started to do those kind of things with Eddie. We took Eddie’s band into some new places where he hadn’t ventured before. We all used to hang out at my parents’ house in the basement apartment on Gildersleeve Avenue in the Bronx, and Eddie Palmieri used to come over and Barretto used to come over… If that basement could talk… Dizzy Gillespie used to come over. We used to have jam sessions there all the time. Out of all that stuff, out of a lot of experimentation, came the music we wanted to play.

TP:   Both of you had been deeply into folkloric music for many years. How did you get involved in… Was folkloric music just always there, or did people point you towards recordings and connections?

AG:   Well, there’s different types of folkloric music. There’s folkloric music for dancing, and it was more a commercial music that was provided for dancing, but it still had quite a bit of folklore to it. That was the soundtrack of my childhood. Family parties, things like that. There was always a collection of good 78s that everybody used to dance to, like Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Cortijo Y Su Combo from Puerto Rico with Ismail Rivera singing, Mon Rivera… This was primarily folklore in the Puerto Rican vein and in the Cuban vein. Sonora Matancera, which was a Cuban band. That’s the stuff we grew up with.

TP:   When did you start breaking that stuff down?

AG:   That came a little bit later, because that’s something we got used to hearing. But we didn’t start breaking it down until we became more schooled in music. Both of us went to High School of Music and Art. They give you theory. They give you how to analyze a piece of music, and what happens in these number of bars, and then this section comes, and things like that. But what happened was, when I was 13, we had already been listening to Cal Tjader records for a while… Jerry was two years older than me, and he was starting to play congas, and he was also playing trumpet, and I was playing the bass, and we put together a Latin Jazz quintet like Cal Tjader’s. We started working with it. We started playing… In that music, we were trying to emulate the Cal Tjader sound and what they were doing, which was quite spontaneous and very jazz-like. They always had good pianists, and Mongo and Willie Bobo were heroes of ours. So that was pretty much how we started and where our taste was as far as playing music.

It wasn’t until I got to play with Ray Barretto’s band that I really started studying what came before, especially Afro-Cuban music. Or Cuban music.  The term “Afro-Cuban” that’s bandied about now as THE term, because everybody wants to point towards Cuba as the birthplace of a lot of the music—but I don’t know. I think it was maybe a little more to do with the Caribbean experience. Not just Cuba. Cuba was dominant, but there was also a lot going on in Puerto Rican and a lot going on in other places, too. And New York was the magnet the drew a lot of elements to it. A lot of great musicians from different parts of the Caribbean were moving to New York and bringing their music with them.

TP:   How long did you play with Dizzy Gillespie?

AG:   Almost a year. 1970.

TP:   what sort of experience was that? Was he playing primarily Cuban-influenced repertoire…

AG:   No, he was mixing it up. We had an interesting version of his band.  At the time, when we joined the band, there was no trap drummer. There was just Jerry playing congas, and I was playing the bass, George Davis was playing guitar, and Mike Longo was playing the piano—and Dizzy. I was playing my Ampeg baby bass. Now, Dizzy insisted upon a bass player who could play Latin rhythms and some jazz comfortably. That’s how I got the gig. I was only 19, and I was thrilled. We traveled a bit. It was amazing.

Dizzy was not one to… If you would sit down with him and you wanted something explained harmonically, he’d sit down at the piano and show you. But as a bandleader, he had this great instinct about talent, and he knew when he put a group of people together that the chemistry was going to work.

TP:   Rhythmically did he have anything to show you, or did…

AG:   We had things to show him.

TP:   What sort of things did you show him?

AG:   I remember working in Harlem with him one night, and we were doing a week at the Club Barron—and we brought Nicky Marrero to sit in on timbales. We played one of his tunes (I forget which one at the moment), and after he took his solo, he went by the bar… The bandstand was near the bar. He went by the bar, and we doubled the time on his tune, and we were smoking, the rhythm section was cooking, man. Then he comes up behind me and whispers in my ear, and he goes, “Where’s one?” In other words, as much as he’d been influenced by and heard quite a bit of Latin rhythms, and he’d been surrounded by good rhythm drummers, sometimes you can know a whole lot and still, if you divert your attention for a minute and come back to it, you go, “Wait a second; my hearing just turned around or something; I’m not quite sure where it is.” So while I’m playing and we’re cooking, I just looked at him and I go, “One.” He goes, “Oh, ok.” Heh-heh. Dizzy was a sweetheart. I loved him.

TP:   So as kids, you’re soaking up the music at home. It’s part of the daily fabric of your lives. You’re listening to all the jazz records as they come out…

AG:   And we were lucky enough as kids to journey out the clubs and hear this music in person. I saw Trane play. I wanted to see the quartet play, but they had already broken up. I saw one of his last performances. I saw everybody play. I was quite a regular in all the clubs. I used to go down to the Vanguard to hear the Bill Evans Trio, and I’d go to the Vanguard on Mondays to hear the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. And Slugs was one of my favorite jazz clubs in the world. That was THE place. That had an atmosphere, and the music was exceptional. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers used to play there regularly. Lee Morgan, his band used to play there. I saw so many bands. I forgot that we got to play with Kenny Dorham for a year, before Dizzy… Actually, about the time I had started playing with Ray Barretto, I was playing with Kenny Dorham.

TP:   I think Jerry has related that when he was auditioning for New York College of Music, he encountered him…

AG:   Kenny was trying to get his degree so he could teach. New York College of Music started a jazz program, and they were givimg full scholarships to jazz musicians, and all of a sudden, a lot of musicians jumped in that school. They had a great big band. Great musicians there. So Kenny Dorham was studying there, and he was in Jerry’s trumpet class. The trumpet teacher was a classical teacher, and he failed Kenny Dorham. Failed him! I couldn’t believe that. Kenny Dorham could have taught him a few things. But we’ve been blessed, man. We were blessed that we were really accepted by a lot of people, and taught as well. Just by playing together with someone, you give a little bit of your knowledge, and you get knowledge back in return. There was quite a bit of activity going on for musicians in those days.

TP:   It also seems that the cultural politics of the ‘60s would point people in the direction of incorporating folkloric music into the fabric of their everyday activity and professional work.

AG:   Of course. I saw Olatunji. Olatunji had a group of drummers and dancers, and we got to hear that. There was a lot going on. But there wasn’t much Cuban folklore. Because of the Revolution, the radio stations wouldn’t play much of that music. But around 1969, Felipe Luciano, who was part of the Young Lords, he got a position to start a radio program on WRVR. I had met him while I was with Barretto, and I was studying Cuban folklore with Rene Lopez, who was one of the producers of Grupo Folklorico Experimental. We actually programmed the first month of shows. The first bunch of shows were midnight to six in the morning. We got calls from people saying, “what are doing playing this great music, and I’ve got to get up for work in the morning—are you guys nuts?” Then after a few months, finally, we got the ok to do our show in the afternoon. That was the beginning of… We did quite a bit of teaching by playing the music and talking about it, and opening that door that was closed to a lot of people about Cuban music. There was a lot of live performances…

TP:   Then you started doing it yourself, and Grupo Folklorico came into the picture…

AG:   Oh, yeah. Well, that was a given. When you’re exposed to all this knowledge, it becomes part of you, and you want to do it—and especially if you have the skills to do it. It’s like anything. When you’re studying music and you’re listening to records, it’s a communication, and you pick up on the message that’s being sent to you.

I heard this next tune on a videotape of a rehearsal in Matanzas, Cuba, that somebody gave me, of a folkloric group that was doing bata stuff, which is the hourglass shaped drum where there’s three different drums of different sizes, and they have chants going on with certain drum-beats. So there was one that was done in honor of the deity called Elegua. Elegua is the keeper of the crossroads, and is the one that opens and closes all your paths. So most ceremonies begin with Elegua. When you do a ceremony in that genre, you start with Elegua.

So I heard this chant, and it stayed in my head, and I started playing bass to it, and I figured out two sets of changes to the same melody. That’s what we use as our basis for improvisation. The first set of changes is a pedal tone, and it just stays in that pedal. It’s open. It’s kind of what McCoy Tyner or Trane would do. Then the second time we run the melody down, there’s another set of changes to it. So I came up with that, and then we developed it into a composition.

[“Elegua”]

AG:   The reason I played “Anabacoa” is that it’s a tune that had been done by a few Cuban bands, but the one that caught our attention, and that’s why we wanted to play it, was the recording by Arsenio Rodriguez Y Su Conjunto, and their version was slammin’! That’s where we got our inspiration, but then we took it to another place. And then we had the great Manny Oquendo playing one of his really classic timbal solos. It goes back to what we were talking about Art Blakey being the authoritative drummer. Well, Manny shows that he’s in that same league. He’s a very authoritative drummer.

TP:   The primal feel and the sophistication together.

AG:   Together, yeah.

TP:   That quality could describe Fort Apache, which has been doing it for 27 years, on and off…

AG:   Time flies.

TP:   We’ll move to 1988, and a live performance by an expanded edition of the Fort Apache Band, that was documented by Enja, in Zurich, titled Obatala. I’ve treasured this recording for some time; it’s an expanded version of the Apaches… Mad percussion.

AG:   When we started the Fort Apache Band, it had a large percussion section. But it was very difficult to work with that kind of ensemble, because booking it wasn’t easy. It was a lot of people to fly in and put up in hotels and so on. It was a financial decision and an artistic one to break it down to the bare essentials, which was a quintet and a sextet.

TP:   Who did the arrangement of “Justice.”

AG:   Jerry and I heard a riff on a Cuban record by Frank Emilio, who is a great Cuban pianist, and he had a riff on this record that was so intriguing, and we said, “Wow, this sounds like ‘Evidence’—because “Evidence” has such a quirky rhythm-melody to it. I said, “Wow, let’s see about putting these two elements together, and this is what came out.

[END OF CONVERSATION]

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To Mark Larry Willis’ 71st Birthday, an Unedited DownBeat Blindfold Test From 2006

Pianist Larry Willis — a Harlem native and alumnus of Music & Art — turns 71 today. To denote the occasion, here’s the unedited version of the Blindfold Test he did with me in 2006.

Larry Willis Blindfold Test:

1.  Gonzalo Rubalcaba, “The Hard One” (from SUPERNOVA, Blue Note, 2002) (Rubalcaba, piano; Carlo Enriquez, bass; Ignacio Berroa, drums)

I can’t quite pinpoint who this is. But whoever it is, the way he plays lines, the note ideas, he’s obviously listened a lot to Herbie. I hear a lot of that in this. Some of it might remind you a little bit of Randy Weston. But I say that rhythmically. He’s got great facility. I’m going to give this 4 stars. I like the approach. It goes everywhere. So everybody is obviously thinking about how to deal with this rhythmically. That’s the thing I like about it. I like both the rhythmic and harmonic approach. But I have no idea who it is. [AFTER] Boy, what a fantastic pianist he is. He’s a very welcome addition to today’s jazz piano. Besides, he’s a really nice kid. [He’s 43.] Well, he’s a kid to me. I got him by 20 years. The composition rubs me a little bit on the negative side. I honestly feel… The Cuban part I like, but it’s very difficult for me to focus in on anything. There’s just a little bit too much going on for me.

2.   Michael Weiss, “Walter Davis Ascending” (from MILESTONES, Steeplechase, 1998) (Weiss, piano; Paul Gill, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums; Jackie McLean, composer)

I don’t know who it is, but the touch is so reminiscent of Hank Jones. Maybe not so much the ideas. Maybe Lewis Nash on drums. But it sounds awfully good. I’m having difficulty trying to hinge the tune. I love the composition. The left hand is not quite in that style, but I hear Bill Evans also. Compositionally, it sounds like something that Bill might play. Is this a contemporary of mine? [No.] Older? Younger. He’s a teenager. I’m going to step out on a limb. Is this Kirk Lightsey? This is this tune written by somebody that I know very well. It’s Jackie’s tune. 3 stars. It doesn’t quite grab me. It’s good, but it’s not exceptional, as far as I’m concerned. But the performance of it is good.

3.   Chano Dominguez, “No Me Platiques, Mas” (from CON ALMA, Venus, 2003) (Dominguez, piano; George Mraz, bass; Jeff Ballard, drums)

It’s a nice waltz. I don’t think it’s him, but the touch and harmonic approach remind me a lot of Ray Bryant. But I don’t think this is something Ray would play. Then here again, I don’t know who could be playing. I love the sound of the trio. It’s very well-integrated, everybody’s listening to everybody, and I like the approach, the concept of what they’re doing. It’s quasi early Bill Evans trio. The bass player is playing very loose, the drummer is not playing time so strictly, and I like the approach. Could the bassist be George Mraz? Yeah, it sounds like Bounce. We call him the Bouncing Czech. Is this Richie Beirach? A lot of Bill Evans here. Could this be somebody like Denny Zeitlin? You got me. 4 stars. [AFTER] I don’t know him, but I know who he is.

4.   Denny Zeitlin, “Bemsha Swing” (from SOLO VOYAGE, MaxJazz, 2005) (Zeitlin, piano; Thelonious Monk, piano)

“Bemsha Swing.” One of the problems that I’m having is that Jazz, as far as the growth and development of the art, has reached an impasse. I’ve heard no new voices, particularly at the piano, no new schools of thought since 1968, and I think a lot of that has had to do with the way the record industry has crept into this, and basically destroyed a lot of the bands where young players could serve apprenticeship. When I came along, there was the Jazz Messengers, there was Miles’ band, there was Trane’s band, there was Horace Silver’s quintet, a lot of working bands where you could develop. But that doesn’t exist. So what I’m hearing is a lot of retread. [In this performance?] In general. This sounds like Randy to me. But here again, I don’t know who it is. I love what he’s doing. I’m going to give it 5 stars. He plays enough of the piano to let you know that he knows what he’s doing at the instrument, but the whole thing just comes off. I like the harmonic approach. The ideas are nice. I know where it’s coming from, but I can’t tell what records he’s listening to. Let’s put it that way. I like that. He’s put some thought into what he’s doing. [Older guy? Younger guy?] Maybe my age. The concept. He plays good stride. I like how he’s interpreting Monk. Understanding that music is not necessarily something that falls out of a tree. And he doesn’t play too much. Let me put it this way. The element of taste is very prevalent here. What he’s doing, everything seems to be in the right place; he does it at the right time. When he starts to stride, it adds instead of making me feel he’s doing it just to show you that he can. All this is integrated into the music. [AFTER] Denny Zeitlin? Makes a lot of sense to me.

5.  Martin Wacilewski, “Plaza Real” (from TRIO, ECM, 2005) (Wacilewski, piano; Slawomir Kurkiewicz, bass; Michal Miskiewicz, drums; Wayne Shorter, composer)

This is a nice trio. I don’t know who it is. Harmonically I love it. Also, the piano is really well-recorded. He’s listened to Bill, that’s for sure. That last little run is a Bill Evans run! He was a very influential piano player! But there’s also a lot of Herbie’s harmonic approach. Right there! I like it. 4½ stars. [AFTER] They should keep doing what they’re doing!

6.   Dave McKenna, “C-Jam Blues” (from LIVE AT MAYBECK RECITAL HALL, VOL. 2) (McKenna, piano; Duke Ellington, composer)

This sounds like it might be two piano players. Sure is covering a lot of ground. There are two piano players. [Who are they?] Is it Hank and Tommy? No, that’s not Hank. Or Tommy. I haven’t a clue. [Are you sure it’s two piano players?] Yes, I’m sure. Or at least somebody overdubbed something. [It’s one piano player.] Wow. [Live.] Live?! The lines are good. They’re not great. But to play that much with just two hands is doing a lot. It’s not Oscar. I haven’t a clue. 3½ stars. It just doesn’t reach out and grab me.

7.   Jason Moran, “Out Front” (from PRESENTS THE BANDWAGON, Blue Note, 2003) (Moran, piano; Tarus Mateen, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums; Jaki Byard, composer)

There’s something almost Steve Kuhn-ish about this—approach, concept, touch, ideas. But I know it’s not Steve. I like it. He’s got a lot of chops, whoever he is. [Are you familiar with this tune?] No. But for some reason, the name of Jaki Byard is sticking in my head. It sounds like some music he’d play or some music coming from him. It just rubs me that way. I love the treatment. But I can’t figure out who it is! Sounds like they’ve been playing together for a minute. Sounds like a younger player—the sound of the instrument. It doesn’t sound like an older personality. I’m almost going to step out on a limb and say it’s somebody like Marcus Roberts. There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of information here to decipher. [Do you like that?] Yes and no. I’ve always been one to think that less is more, and because the piano is such a complicated instrument, the 88-to-10 odds empower me to be more simplistic in my approach. I think sometimes piano players get so involved in the 88-to-10 odds that the music takes somewhat of a back seat. That’s happening here. It’s more of a show than music. 3 stars. It isn’t bad! If it gets below 3, that means I don’t like it.

8.   Edward Simon, “Abiding Unicity” (from UNICITY, CAM, 2006) (Simon piano, composer; John Patitucci, bass; Brian Blade, drums)

The bass player is great. It’s not George. It’s not Eddie Gomez. Is it Richard Davis? I’m trying to think of how many bass players have that kind of arco technique. Is the pianist from outside of the United States? [Yes. But he’s lived in the States for a long time.] I asked because of the approach to rhythm. [What part of the world is the piano player from?] He’s either from Europe or he’s from Japan. How can I put this? Because I’m an American and jazz comes from here, and I’ve been listening to it for a long time from an American perspective, the whole concept of playing inside the pulse framework is a little deeper here than I hear coming from other places, and I think… It’s not a putdown. It’s just that if you don’t grow up in a culture, it’s very difficult to assimilate the little subtleties of whatever that is into your playing if you haven’t experienced it. [That affects how you’re hearing this.] Yes. But let’s back up. It affects me in this context. What I am trying to say is not a bad thing. That’s just how it is. For example, as close as he came to being involved with an American approach to playing jazz, I still hear that difference in somebody’s playing like Joe Zawinul, for example. There’s always a tendency to… It sounds like it’s on the surface almost. The piece is okay. It started out great, and then it went someplace else that I didn’t particularly care for. If it started like what he’s doing now, then I might feel more compelled to… It just doesn’t get inside my body. 3 stars. [AFTER] Patitucci and Blade always seem to be together. I heard them with Wayne, I heard them with Herbie…

9.  Oscar Peterson, “Sweet Lorraine” (from FREEDOM SONG, Pablo, 1980/2002) (Peterson, piano; Joe Pass, guitar; Niels Henning-Orsted Pederson, bass; Thelonious Monk, composer)

I like the piano player. It’s a very nice, refreshing treatment of this song. Whoever it is, they’ve certainly paid attention to the Nat Cole Trio—or the King Cole Trio. I like this. I’m almost going to say Mulgrew. Is the guitar player Russell Malone perchance? Is the guitarist an older player? [Yes.] Older than me? [No.] Well, it’s not Cedar. It doesn’t sound like Barry Harris. Now, that sounds like Hank right there. Whoever it is, they’ve really listened to Hank’s approach to playing the instrument. Hank’s got one of the cleanest, clearest, prettiest sounds coming out of the piano in the history of this music, I feel. And whoever this is, I like very, very much. Harmonically, technically, just the general approach to playing the instrument. He’s got a great sound. 5 stars. [AFTER] [LOUD LAUGH] Okay.

10,  Bebo Valdes, “Lamento Cubano” (from EL ARTE DEL SABOR, Blue Note, 2000) (Bebo Valdes, piano; Israel “Cachao” Lopez, bass; Carlos “Patato” Valdes; congas)

An older pianist. From Cuba. Bebo Valdes. The sound, concept, touch. That’s Bebo! He’s a really unique player. First of all, as a pianist, he’s assimilated the world’s concept of playing the jazz piano and formulated it into a very unique concept of playing the piano—and playing that music, playing Cuban music. I love him, first of all, because he’s got a great sound from the piano. Then, his minimalist approach pleases me immensely. In a sense, he reminds me, if I can make an analogy, of Ahmad Jamal, for example. He shows you just enough technique to let you know that he’s got it, but the rest is focused on playing some music that will allow you to assimilate it. 5 stars. I asked Miles one time… There’s a great story about him going over and hearing Clifford Brown, and then just saying to him, “Brownie, why are you playing all of those notes? Nobody hears that.” I asked Miles about it, and he said, what it is, when you’re playing music for people other than musicians, they can’t assimilate and decipher all that information and have it come out music that touches their souls. So a lot of what you play gets wasted on just you showing off and how much technique you have. Oscar doesn’t do that, and he’s got a world of technique. Art Tatum didn’t do that, and he had a world of technique. But a lot of players play too much. Too much information. The ultimate objective of all of this is not to be the greatest… I’m not trying to be the greatest piano player in the world. I want to be the best musician I can be. Because the instrument is there for you to play music on.

11.  Chick Corea, “Celia” (from REMEMBERING BUD POWELL, 1997) (Corea, piano; Bud Powell, composer)

It sounds like Barry Harris playing “Celia.” Or somebody from that generation. [It’s someone from your generation.] They really understand the concept of bebop, the bebop school of thought as far as playing the piano is concerned. Kenny Barron? He’s listened to bebop quite a bit. He’s played it quite a bit. Hmm. From my generation? 4 stars. [AFTER] Okay. All right. Aside from the music that he’s been able to come out with and has been so successful with, there’s a bit of a chameleon in Chick as far as playing the piano. I’ve heard him play duets with Herbie, and he’s got one face there. I hear this, it’s another face. I hear what he does, for example, with Return to Forever; that’s another face. I heard him with Stan Getz; that’s another face. Yes, Armando!

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