Category Archives: Jazziz

For Cecil Taylor’s 83rd Birthday, A Jazziz Article From 2001

Master pianist and meta-musician-poet-dancer Cecil Taylor turns 83 today. I had the honor of writing a lengthy feature about him in 2001 for Jazziz, which I’ve appended below, as well as the transcripts of phone interviews that Andrew Cyrille and Tony Oxley graciously gave me towards this  project.

* * * *
 “The best preparation for playing with Cecil Taylor is to be fit and open your ears.  Things happen that have nothing to do with strategy or even preparation.  The joy is so much more immense if you prepare yourself to go where the music will take you, and not try and make it go where perhaps you want it or where you think it might go.” — Tony Oxley.
_________________________________________________________________

For three weeks in February, in a smallish basement performance space at the Turtle Bay Music School on Manhattan’s East 52nd Street, the meta-virtuoso pianist Cecil Taylor guided a hand-picked master class — the final iteration comprised 11 sax and woodwinds, one recorder, one trumpet, one bass trombone, six pianists, one guitar, two violins, two vibraphones, one bass, two trapset, one percussion, one voice, and includes a poet and a painter — through ten intense rehersals of ten of his compositions.  Each musician paid $300 for the opportunity to observe how Taylor organizes material, how he chooses to express it, how he shapes it into strong images, how he makes the drama develop.

Around four o’clock on the final day, the orchestra was concluding their “dress rehearsal” with a spontaneous joyful roar.  After a dinner break, they were to reassemble for a culminating, self-conducted public concert, to be followed by a Taylor performance with as-yet undetermined personnel.  I sat in the pale light of the school’s foyer with Trudy Morse, Taylor’s confidante and frequent liaison to the outside world.  A mother of six with 20 grandchildren, Morse is 82, six months removed from her third near-death experience and three months past major surgery, but her voice is clear, her diction precise, her grip firm, and her eyes probe you like a laser beam.

Shortly after the death of her husband in 1987, Morse traveled to Huddersfield, U.K., to attend an electronic music festival, where she witnessed a concert featuring pianists Roger Woodward — performing Ianis Xenakis’ “Herma,” “Evryali” and “Mists” — and Cecil Taylor.  At the post-concert lecture-interview, she perceived amongst the gathered cognoscenti a tone of condescension towards Taylor as a “jazz artist.”

“This puzzled me,” she relates.  “I stood up and apologized to the scholars, and asked them if they understood Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.  One man responded, ‘What are you talking about?’  I said, ‘Well, Heisenberg said that the spectator actually controls the experiment.  I would suggest to you that in music it’s the same.  We bring something to this concert.  That’s the way Cecil Taylor strikes me, although I don’t know him personally.’  Cecil Taylor suddenly looked at me and wondered who I was.  I sat down.  Later I noticed that he kept turning pages of music with very interesting notation.  I said, ‘Mr. Taylor, I don’t mean to be too curious, but what kind of notation and whose works are these?’  From then on, it’s history.  Cecil Taylor puzzled me enough that I accepted his invitation to tour with him.  I’ve been touring ever since.”

Morse met Taylor a little more than a year after the death of his significant other in music, the alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, his collaborator and alterego since 1961.  From 1964 to 1975, Lyons and the drummer Andrew Cyrille developed with Taylor a way of collectively improvising with furious lucidity off of shapes and structures at whirlwind velocities that picked up where the likes of Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and Max Roach left off.  Their investigations, documented in the pathbreaking recordings “Unit Structures” and “Conquistador,” inspired musicians around the world as a guidepost to the future.

Over the phone, Cyrille described their process: “As the years went by, after we began to play together consistently, Cecil would say, ‘This is our music.’  He meant ‘our’ inclusively, because we were all creating it from whatever we brought to the table.  I’d say, ‘Is there anything you want me to play in particular?’  I think only twice during the eleven years I played with him did he ever say, ‘Play five beats of this’ or ‘give me three beats of that.’  We would rehearse, listen for hours upon hours, days at a time.  It opened me up and allowed me to try things that I had never played before.

No matter how deeply Taylor, Lyons and Cyrille ascended to the outer partials of abstraction, their connection to the jazz lifeblood was implicit.  After 1975, when Cyrille stopped playing full-time with Taylor, the pianist worked with a succession of drummers — Ronald Shannon Jackson, Jerome Cooper, Steve McCall — who postulated definite rhythmic ideas, bringing forth a certain tension between the personalities from the contrast, the opposition, the push-and-pull.  After 1986, Lyons was no longer available to demonstrate instantaneously and authoritatively how his notes should be phrased, and Taylor — whose aversion to authority or canons or systems of any sort is legend — had to develop a sort of pedagogy by which he could concretely communicate his intentions and maximize the understanding of the other musicians.

During the ’80s Taylor began to crack open a Pandora’s Box of improvisational possibility in encounters with Max Roach, with AACM individualists like Henry Threadgill, Fred Hopkins, Roscoe Mitchell, Leroy Jenkins, and Thurman Barker, and with European outcats like Enrico Rava, Tomasz Stanko, John Tchicai and Peter Brotzmann.  He increasingly incorporated his authoritative knowledge of Native American, African and Japanese ritual into his performances.  Then festivals in Berlin and Amsterdam in 1986 and 1987 spurred him to focus more steadily on Europe not only as a welcoming theater for his music, but as a source of broadening improvisational nourishment.

Taylor’s inexorable forward march gained irreversible momentum during a June 1988 residency in Berlin that juxtaposed him with the creme de la creme of European free improvisers in a series of concerts documented on 13 CDs on FMP.  There followed consequential [visits] in 1989, 1990 and 1991 that left a permanent mark on the European scene.  During those years Taylor collaborated on several hundred occasions with the English drummer Tony Oxley, whose capacious tonal palette has inspired comparisons to an improvising Varese or Harry Partch.  Taylor now employs in his various units such virtuosi from the European speculative improv community as drummer Paul Lovens, cellist Tristan Honsegger, and soprano saxophonist Harri Sjostrom.  Recent encounters include improvised colloquies with Oxley, Derek Bailey, Barry Guy, and the American vibraphonist Joe Locke, three supreme duets with Max Roach, six with Elvin Jones, and a 1998 meeting with Andrew Cyrille.

“Cecil was very sharp,” Cyrille recalled.  “We had a magical dialogue.  This kind of music and improvising is a matter of very close listening and trading of information.  It’s like a game.  We put forth sounds, ideas, rhythms, melodic fragments that turn into much longer statements, and we surprise each other with replies and continue to evolve within the dialogue.  It can be endless.  And when we decide to resolve what’s happening, it’s as though we’ve finished a conversation.  We’ve grown, matured, to some degree even mellowed.  It’s always a struggle to create art.  But the way the effort is put forth is so much smoother and nuanced.  We’re so much more confident with the language than we were.”
_________________________________________________________________

The Turtle Bay project gestated prosaically.  At a party in March 1999, Morse met the guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil, a faculty member.  She inquired whether the school, which has neither a jazz nor an avant-garde tradition, would be interested in hosting such an event.  Eisenbeil investigated.  The answer was yes, providing Eisenbeil would organize it.  Needing to recruit 20 participants to meet expenses, Eisenbeil sent a mass email announcement to several contact lists and a slew of websites, and received 40 responses.

The age range of the musicians who gathered for the first rehearsal was  12 to 60.  Apart from a few Taylor veterans — violinist Ramsey Ameen (1978-1980) and Elliott Levin (a veteran of a 1973 Taylor workshop at Glassboro State University and of an octet that formed from a huge orchestra project at the Knitting Factory in 1995) — they had no idea what to expect from the maestro, a sylph-like man who retains the elastic musculature of a dancer one month shy of his 72nd birthday.  Dressed for work in stocking feet, black stocking cap, gray sweatshirt tie-dyed orange on one side, pants dyed white-aquamarine on the left and pink-gray on the right, Taylor first asked each participant to take a one-minute solo.  Speaking quietly, in calm, declarative sentences, he dictated a sequence of chords, then sang the line with a variety of attacks.  “Whatever you play, play it so people who hear it can hear the magic,” he urged.  “Try to remain connected; I want you to have control of each note you play.”  The musicians separated into sections; Morse strolled from point to point bearing a pot of hot tea.  With his brisk, precise dancer’s movements, Taylor glided to the trumpets and to the strings, imparted information, then sprang to the stage to recite another chordal sequence, seemingly conjured in instant response to what he was hearing, which he demonstrated with stunning precision on the piano.

“Play notes exactly/the way they are supposed/to be played,” he intoned, punctuating his words with well-timed vertical hand-chops.  “I played you just a single line.  Unless you play this extension chord, you have all sorts of possibilities within that sound.”  After a break, Taylor read off another passage, fine-tuned each section with a total command of detail, then played the passage with his left hand and launched into seven or eight variations.  Tenorist Moshe Ras spontaneously applauded, and embarked on a few minutes of spirit-catching through his horn.

Taylor concluded the session with a statement of purpose.  “There will be time for solos,” he told the ensemble.  “But we have to play so that everybody can get the information.  Each of you has the right to say, ‘I would like to hear this part over again.’  Each section has its technical problem.  What is the relationship of the note to the overall structure?  I can show you where everything is connected, but I don’t want to be in the position of telling you how to play it.  Where do you want to begin?  How do you want to proceed?”
_________________________________________________________________

Over the course of the next nine rehearsals, several key themes emerged.  During the second session Taylor distributed photocopies of his scores, giving the musicians a chance to look at how he thinks about tones.  He divides the scores into small modules, which he calls quadrants.  Each has specific rules, with cues and gestures as to how they can be played, and each fits with the others in some manner.  He uses neither bar lines nor staves, but presents the notes as pictographically arranged hieroglyphs of letters, ascending from A to G and descending from G to A, with register and pitch indicated specifically according to the distance in whole steps from middle C.  They look like the branches of a tree, abstract landscapes of plateaus and mountains and valleys, perhaps a graphic representation of a dance.

“The scores seem to be what I would call fields,” says Dan Marmorstein, a composer-pianist whose friendship with Taylor dates to 1985.  “Each page might have a group of 12 to 20 sections of notes.  Each section might notate a melody or group of melodies (sometimes repeats are specified), but it might also be suggestive of a certain collection of notes that can be treated as a scale or mode.  Part of the fun is too discover the possibilities of combining these notes in different ways.  Soometimes Cecil stacks sequences lines of tones, and you get a sequence of diads or triads or polyphonic chords.  These areas of the score can be very dense, and once again, the player has to keep alert and on his toes and decide whether to deal with the vertical stacks and the horizontal lines as consecutive tones or as simultaneously voiced chords.

“The musicians are asked to breathe their own poetry into these melodies and shape them as they will according to their own library of experiences.  This being said, Cecil will often play the line on the piano and expect that we will be capable of hearing that this is the way he wants it to sound.  Sometimes you can hear it, but sometimes if he plays it with his own customary incessantly florid fluidity, it can be difficult to hear the bare skeleton; he’s asking us to sketch the daisy when he’s given us a daisy surrounded by roses and orchids and African violets.  Cecil sometimes simply is playing a melody voiced in four octaves.  Of course, when he does it, it sounds like he is playing single notes on the piano — with authority!”]

Taylor is able to process instantly all the possible permutations of each quadrant, and splice them together in endless combinations.  But how are mere mortals to self-orchestrate?  For example, how to navigate section-to-section transitions?  Once he suggested: “Play it as many times as it is rhythmically of interest.  Play dynamics.  When it’s exhausted, that’s when it ends.  I am only giving you suggestions.”

The essential issue facing the orchestra was how to sustain a dynamic level that kept them dancing in and out of the vortex, like a magician who enters the maelstrom of a column of fire and exits unscathed.  Taylor incessantly emphasized the imperative, in Marmorstein’s words, “to play in such a way that they could leave room, make space, and listen to one another.”  Early on, he offered a lyric sequence at the piano, then asked each section to repeat it.  “Play it as soft as you can,” he told the saxophones.  “Tenors, think of Ben Webster.  Think of the breath.  Whoo-oosh. It should float.”  He distributed the next section, which began with a three-note sequence for the tenors followed by a three-note response by the strings, commenting, “This piece is rather rapid.  After all, that was pastoral.  This is FIRE.”

Attention to breath, the silence before the note, is crucial. As the ensemble worked through possible approaches to Section 10, Taylor gave a telling exhortation.  “After each sound you’ve got do this” — he inhaled — “so that each component becomes very clear.”  One sound is exploding out; the next time when you repeat it, it’s exploding in — in other words, it’s becoming softer.  We want to separate each quadrant, so that it doesn’t become a blur.  It’s the continuation of the piece.”

Occasionally Taylor would decline to demonstrate.  To a saxophonist who asked him to phrase a sequence, Taylor responded, “No, I’ve done that. It’s an emotion; you didn’t just walk into the room.”  But soon after, Taylor stated, “We’re going to change the mood,” and set up a rolling bass line reminiscent of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy,” tossing it off on the left hand with flawless nonchalance.  Another time Taylor sang a four-note sequence and asked the group to play it twice.  “But I also want you to break up the rhythm,” he added.  “These notes are divided into different rhythmic registers, and that could be the basis of a whole improvisational…” Rather than complete his sentence, Taylor demonstrated five or six variations at half-speed.  “Anything is possible,” he said.  “Let’s try it.”
_________________________________________________________________

By the day of the concert, Taylor had convinced the ensemble, now winnowed down to 30 members, that anything WAS possible.

Bruce Eisenbeil compared Taylor’s organic process of orchestrating, arranging and composing during the rehearsal, coping with the colors and timbres of every instrument in real time, to the way Duke Ellington would state a chord, play it on the piano, and begin assigning notes to specific members of the orchestra.  “Cecil’s musical vocabulary speaks of what’s going on today,” Eisenbeil said.  “His body of work is idiosyncratic to him, as the music of Ellington and Miles Davis is idiosyncratic to them.  As well as Xenakis, or Bartok, or Stravinsky.  Each has a unique sense of rhythm, full of life and urgency.  When he told the saxophones, ‘I want the breath tone; I want Ben Webster’ — that’s calling on the continuum!  That’s so key and central to what the jazz vocabulary is about.  Older musicians relate how Dizzy Gillespie taught them to play the new language of bebop fifty years ago.  This is what you get when you hang out with Cecil today.”

The ensemble’s cogent, flexible navigation through four Taylor constructs — the emotional landscape spanned signature Taylorian canned lightning bellows to achingly ruminative rubato elegies — showed in a way that the rehearsals could not foretell how deeply they internalized the maestro’s principles.  They played like an organic unit, with restraint, dynamic nuance, and idiomatic articulation; the brainy soloists conjured an array of rhythmic attacks, playing with concision and structural variation, always with the overall narrative in mind.

Perhaps the most startling “piece” was “Ka-Kaba”, a 45-minute masterpiece of tension-and-release.  Pianists Dan Marmorstein and Alex Tarampi stated the core melodic kernel, the horns and violins dialogued over a swelling ensemble tone that ascended to a joyful roar.  Elliott Levin and alto saxophonist Aaron Ali Shaikh commenced a firebreathing passage which subsided, giving way to a delicate shakuhachi-like recorder solo.  The band clapped and hollered the syllable HA!! over entexturing violins and percussion; from the churning sound emerged a voice-like bass trombone statement.  The band roared the syllable SO!!, counterstated by flutes, vibraphone glisses, pizzicato violins, guitar sonics, sax-breaths, and synth tone-shapes — Levin’s solo brought the section to climax.  Poet Ulla Dydo chanted a Gertrude Stein-inspired poem (“Better and most and yes and yes, Yes and yes and more and yes”) complemented by synth, guitar, drum scrapes and clarinet microtones.  The roar swelled oceanically, was becalmed by precise pizzicato violins and pointillistic piano, then returned with a high-overtone horn ensemble interlude.  Clarinetist Kevin Sullivan floated over synth nachtmusik, John Keith’s malleted tom-toms gently underpinned a lissome bassoon-piano-bass trombone conversation.  Then Rosi Hertlein sang a piercing DRRAAA-HAAA; trumpeter Amir El Saffar answered the call.  She cried A-HA-HAA; the horn section, breathing as one, found a tonal analogue.  The full ensemble reiterated the original theme, decrescendoing until the recorder emerged from the depths to play free rubato melodies with the violins and guitar until nothing was left to say.

For another hour the ensemble conjured fire and air in equal measure over two more Taylor compositions; they left the stage to a well-earned ovation.  Before they could bask in the afterglow, Taylor abruptly strode to the piano, cellist Tristan Honsegger and trapsetter Jackson Krall in tow, to begin a furious fanfare.  Poet Naima Wade embarked on an impassioned recitative about slavery, miscegenation, and hegemony of the master race’s world view.   Honsegger responded with the dagger-like syllables “mata, mata, matamatika!!”, creating long, startling shapes, playing with such intensity that his bow began to shred, yet hitting the notes and tones with the spot-on articulation of a virtuoso.

He inspired Taylor, who may possess more ways of extracting sound from 88 keys and 3 pedals than any pianist in the world.  Playing as though his arms were attached to springs, he deployed an awesome lexicon of meticulously choreographed snatches, grabs, clutches, swoops, crawls, snips, clips, slides, thrusts, plucks, punches, slaps, thumb glisses, and elbow crashes, each movement honed to micron-precise specificity.  As the poet referred to Billie Holiday. Sarah Vaughan and Duke Ellington, Taylor answered with blindingly complex right-hand passages, riposting with exquisitely executed left-hand flurries.  Honsegger danced around the cello, Taylor laid down a stride figure, Honsegger stomped, chanted and bowed demonically and consonantly with his decomposing wand.  The poet sat.  Honsegger took a dark solo that turned into a Bartokian stomp, answered by more Taylorian variations, left hand completing long, ascending runs begun by the right.  Krall dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s.

There was more.  The unit evoked rainfall, the forest, the sounds of creatures large and small.  They wound down with a collective rubato triologue, Honsegger miraculously conjuring music with his all but disintegrated bow, Taylor’s head cocked to the right, his vigilant left ear attuned to sounds that he might alchemize so as to extend this iteration of his singular ritual.

Indeed, Taylor evoked the mythic half-man, half-dragon persona of Keqrops, the Egyptian who founded Athens in 1600 B.C., whose name titled a composition that Xenakis wrote for Roger Woodward some years after the Taylor-Woodward concert in Huddersfield that Trudy Morse attended in 1987.  We thought of Tony Oxley’s delirious encomium, “To play with Cecil Taylor, you need the stamina of an athlete and the imagination of a God!”

“There was a lot of intensive work during my three years with Cecil,” Ramsey Ameen had stated midway through the rehearsals.  “Now, twenty years later, I see a purification.  Cecil has cleared a path to reach the basic elements of music that go beyond all elements of style, that go to human expression.  Anything extraneous to that is irrelevant.  He’s talking about sound, volume levels, what the ensemble should play very precisely, what they should not play too stiffly, and so on.  I keep thinking I have to go back and read again the Herman Hesse book, Magister Ludi (The Music Master), a person who is constantly deepening into this state of musical grace.”

* * * *

Andrew Cyrille on Cecil (3-16-01):

TP:    Do you perceive any change in the way Cecil approaches music since Jimmy Lyons passed away, conceptually or emotionally or in his inclusiveness of other vocabularies?

CYRILLE:  I don’t know whether it’s changed really in terms of how he prepares.  When I played with him two or three years ago… It must have been ’99 I did that concert in Berlin which was a live recording in Berlin..  We rehearsed, and it was an open kind of improvisation.  I remember years ago… He probably still does this.  I haven’t worked with him since.  He would give out notes.  The last time I saw him giving out notes before a concert we did was in Austria probably in 1987 in Nickelsdorf.  He gave notes out to John Carter, Leroy Jenkins and Roberto Miranda, then later on in the evening we got together and performed the music he had given out.  The last time, Tristan Honsegger was the cellist and a bassist from Curacao whose name I can’t remember.  He lives in Holland.  Anyway, we had a rehearsal, but the rehearsal was based on how we listened to each other and how we would feed each with the music that we made on the spur of the moment.  We rehearsed for hours, I remember, that night.  Then the next day, when we got a good idea of what each other did or could do, then we went ahead and did the concert.

I can say this much.  I think that Cecil was very-very sharp.  His technique had just gotten much better.  He was much more comfortable.  He listened.  I remember he and I on occasion, when maybe the other two would lay out in a performance, we just had this dialogue, and we were having a great deal of fun.  It was magical in terms of what was going on.  Because what happens with us and that kind of music and improvisation, it’s really a matter of very close listening and trading of information.  It’s like a conversation.  It’s almost like a game, so to speak, where certain things are put forth — certain sounds, certain ideas, certain rhythms, certain kinds of melodic fragments that turn into much longer statements.  It’s how we surprise each other with replies and the ability to continue to evolve within that kind of dialogue.  If anybody is listens closely, they can hear the creativity, the way that we spontaneously play and listen and create this music.  It’s just endless.  It can be endless.  And when we decide to resolve what’s happening, we just go ahead and resolve it as though we’ve finished saying something to each other in some kind of conversational story.  There are so many parallels that can be thought about. It’s almost like a dance sometimes, where we can be inclined(?) with each other, and just move along and glide so easily.

But in order to do that, you’ve got to be on top of your game with your technique, what you want to do, and the other person has to be on top of their own technique.  But it’s a matter of being able to listen and to hear and to create with what’s being delivered.

TP:    Earlier you said that Cecil’s technique has become even better and sharper.  One thing I noticed at  this workshop was how many methods he has of eliciting sounds from the piano, the mechanics of how he does.  I found the following verbs to describe what he does with his arms and hands: snatches, hammers, fences, flutters, clips, grabs, clutches, swoops, crawls, snips, slides, scrapes, thumb glisses, clusters, slaps, punches, plucks, spooling notes even…

CYRILLE:  That’s right.

TP:    All of those things, and all calibrated to micronic degrees of specificity.  Was he that specific in eliciting sound production 30 years ago, or was it a different quality?

CYRILLE:  No, it was the same.  We were all in a sense, moving in the same direction that way.  But I’d say we’ve gotten better at doing it.  The older you get, as is said, the wiser you’re supposed to be.  I know I’ve accumulated more information and I’ve been able to deliver more information in a wider variety of ways.  I know more about drumming now.  I feel more comfortable about drumming and what I did over the years than I did 20 or 30 years ago.  And the beautiful part of it is that I’m not finished.  I’m still learning and still evolving.

You made a very good analogy with the term fencing.  It was like, “Hey, we’re crossing the floor, and you back up and you thrust it forward, and sometimes you touch somebody and sometimes they touch you, and sometimes you knock the blow away, etc.  So all that can be considered sports-like or dance-like or maybe like a card game.  But it was just delightful!

TP:    Could I paraphrase that both you and Cecil have become more subtle players, more nuanced over the years?

CYRILLE:  I would say yes.  Because we’ve grown.  We’ve matured to some degree; to some degree even mellowed.  It’s always a struggle to be able to create art.  There’s always a certain amount of effort that one has to put forth.  But the way that the effort is put forth is so much smoother.  And as you say, nuance.  Yes.  Listening to Akisakila, which we did in 1971, if I were to do it again, it would be so much different.  That was formidable, but now there’s so many other things happening.  We’re so much more confident with the language.

TP:    Did Cecil use the notation he uses now when you first met him?  Can you comment on how it evolved?

CYRILLE:  He uses the same method.  But for this particular concert, he did not give out any notes.

TP:    The way he presented the notes to the people in the group, they looked almost like graphic renderings of a dance.  They were like pictograms.  Is that the type of notation he was using 35 years ago?

CYRILLE:  Yes.  See, he gives out notes, and he has his own particular way of drawing the lines.  They may move in a number of different directions, going up, going down, for instance going straight-up vertically, on the other axis going horizontal… They’re like branches, in a sense.  This is how his compositions look.  So when he gives those notes out to the other instrumentalists, he will tell them whether they will be higher or lower or in the same register.  Then the individuals write down the notes that he’s giving, and they play the notes.  Interestingly enough, sometimes there may be unisons and then sometimes there are contrasting rhythmical lines, and sometimes the rhythmical lines are created by the players themselves with the notes.  See, sometimes he doesn’t necessarily give the rhythms.  He lets them decide their own rhythm with the notes that he gives.

TP:    Can you give me the short version of the story of how you first linked up?

CYRILLE:  It was so coincidental.  It was Ted Curson, with whom I went to a rehearsal he was having with Cecil at a school called Hartnett-New York.  This might have been ’57.  I was living in Brooklyn, and that same day I was rehearsing with another pianist named Leslie Braithwaite.  Ted and Harold Ousley heard the music from the street and came to investigate, and Leslie and I were about to wind down our playing for that afternoon, and Ted said he had to go to Manhattan to play with this piano player named Cecil Taylor.  He told me, “You’ve never heard anybody play piano like this guy; come over and check him out.”  So I went with him, and walked into the studio where Cecil was, and he was sitting down at the piano just playing.  Ted said, “This is Andrew Cyrille,” and Cecil looked up and said, “Hi, how are you doing?” and Ted asked him if I could play.  He said, “Yeah.”  So I sat down and started playing.  And to some degree, more or less, it’s like what we do now.  It’s kind of like what we did at the concert in Berlin.  It’s just that now I know, to some degree, what’s happening in terms of how he plays and how I would play with him.  When I first met him, it was a thing whereby you play and you wonder what is it that he would want.  Do I play the rhythms the way that I play with other people?  I guess that is part of it.  But nothing was said, except for the fact that we played with each other and it was something that we wound up exploring.

After that rehearsal, I knew a place up in Harlem… School closed, and I knew this club on Amsterdam Avenue that used to have jam sessions and was a place that had a piano trio with a guy named Cecil Young at night… I knew the bartender because I had gone there several times for sessions.  Cecil and I went up, I asked the guy if we could play, and he said, “Yeah.”  This was late afternoon.  I had a snare drum.  Cecil sat down at the piano and started playing, and I started playing with him.

That’s more or less how we met.  There was never any tension or conflict or, “Man, I don’t know what you’re doing.”  I was listening to him, trying to do what I could with what I heard him play, and I’m sure vice-versa.

As the years went by, after we had begun to play together on a consistent basis, he would say, “This is our music.”  And he meant “our” inclusively, in terms of me and Jimmy and whomever else was playing, because we were all creating the music at that particular moment.  So whatever we brought to the table was ours.  And putting it together, we got this whole.  Yes, of course, he gave us direction so far as allowing  us to do what we wanted to do within the context of the concept.  We would rehearse with each other, we would listen, rehearse, listen, rehearse.  We did a lot of that, days, hours upon hours, within that period of time.

TP:    Was it improvising or was he giving notes?

CYRILLE:  He was giving notes for the players who played those kind of diatonic notes.  But he never really told me to play anything.

TP:    How did it change your conception?

CYRILLE:  It opened me up..  It allowed me to try to play things that I had never played before, some new things.  When we had these rehearsals, in order to make sure that I’d play the same rhythms when he called a particular piece, I’d memorize what I played.  Those things, in a way, became how the heads were made.  It made me feel as though I was really responsible for whether or not this thing came off in terms of what I was adding as a drummer.  I’d say, “Is there anything you want me to play in particular?”  And I think only twice during the eleven years I played with him did he ever say, “Do this” or “Play five beats of this or give three beats of that” or whatever.  He’d say, “Man, you know what drummers do.  You’re the drummer.  You know how to play drums.”

So it was incumbent upon me to make sure that my integrity was as true-blue as Baby Dodds or Zutty Singleton!  Because this was what was going on in my head.  I did not want to do anything to the tradition and the memory of those guys, and the people whom I learned from, listening to Max and Art and Philly Joe Jones, because it could be said that it wasn’t genuine, that it wasn’t blue-blood so to speak.  So I worked on that stuff, man!  I got my information together, and I brought my information to the table.  “Hey, man, look what I found now.  Check this out!  I worked on this.”  That was on every aspect of the drumset, with the independent coordination, the foot-play, the dropping of the bombs, being tasty, playing in the spaces, accompanying, the way that the other members of the rhythm would accompany horn players…. But it was my own sense of how to do it.  It wouldn’t necessarily be the same kind of rhythms that they would play or the way that they would parse the rhythms or how they would organize the rhythms, etc.  But then again, it was!  It was the same but it was different.  Because  I played the same kind of drumset as most of those guys, and on occasion I’d play all kinds of percussion instruments, too.  It’s like when we did that recording, “Niggle Feugle,” for BYG.

TP:    When we did the Blindfold Test, you made a comment about Cecil with Tony Oxley which was very interesting.  When you play with Cecil, when Max Roach plays with Cecil, when Elvin plays with Cecil, you postulate very specific rhythmic ideas, there’s a counter-dialogue.  Another approach, which Sonny Murray did and Jackson Krall and Tony Oxley, is “matching color textures with Cecil’s panorama of sound colors and textures and dynamics rather than playing his own contrasting rhythm,” so there isn’t so much push-and-pull, but it’s more a unison or a synthesis.  Jackson Krall referred to it similarly.  Did your approach change a great deal once you were performing constantly with him?  Was there a difference between the rehearsal and the performance?

CYRILLE:  No.  It’s just that sometimes during the rehearsals, we would play some stuff that I wish would have been played during the performance.  Because it’s improvisation.  So sometimes certain things come to mind that are really gems, etc..  And a lot of times, what also has to be taken into consideration is the way you feel, the sound of the room, where the musicians are located in relationship to each other; in other words, where Honsegger was sitting, where this bass player was standing, where Cecil was, where I was…

TP:    Honsegger is something else.

CYRILLE:  Yes, Tristan is an excellent player.  But I heard Cecil a few years back when he did a solo in Paris, and at the same time the segue to the concert with a group he had that was Honsegger, Harri Sjostrom and Paul Lovens playing drums.  But the solo concert he played was just so magical!  I mean, he just played, and his command of what he was doing… It was almost like a laser beam!  He’d focus on something and he’d go after it and he get it!  It was so pliable!  And the place was packed, SRO, and it was in France.  The people were just enthralled with what he was doing, and then he danced in conjunction and spoke his words, etc.

What I’m saying is that years ago the ideas were there, and we went ahead and did what we wanted to do.  But as the years evolved… It’s like you’re cooking something, and you learn over the years how to make this thing come out and taste a certain way.  It’s like he was the master chef now.  You can put some stuff on the stove and say you’re going to experiment with this and sometimes it comes out beautifully and sometimes not so well and sometimes it’s a bomb.  But on this particular night, it was like he was the master chef, he knew just the exact ingredients to put into the food to make it come out being sumptuous.

TP:    Ramsey Ameen made the comment that when he was with Cecil, Cecil didn’t say much during the rehearsals.  He said he thought one reason why is because whenever the ensemble needed to know how to phrase a section, Jimmy Lyons would just play it, which would give everyone their cue.

CYRILLE:  Right.

TP:    The implication might be, again, that absent Jimmy Lyons, Cecil had to become more inclusive.

CYRILLE:  That’s just what I was saying before in terms of a strong rhythmical player playing the certain notes.  When you say “phrasing,” what is phrasing?  It’s just make a rhythm out of what you have.  Jimmy Lyons was a master at doing that, because he and Cecil played together in combination longer than any other individuals.  He was with Cecil for 25 years.  That’s double the time I played with Cecil on a consistent basis.

It’s so good.  It feels so good.  Like, if I have to sit down and do something with a big band, whether it be Muhal or John Carter or Murray doing Ellington’s music, you know there are certain things you can do in order to bring the music to the level that it should be.  A certain amount of risk is always involved, but you mature and you bring the weight of that maturity with you.  So if I want to play “Northern Lights,” I do the rhythm with a certain amount of conviction.  It’s not that I’m timidly doing it because I wonder whether this is the right thing to do.  I’m doing it because I know this is the right thing to do!  So it’s the same parallel when I play with somebody like Cecil.  Hey, this is what we’re going to do right now, this is what I’m going to do…

The thing that Cecil also appreciates, which is also why he doesn’t say anything, is because he wants your talent to come forth to inspire him.  And when that happens, that’s when you have this beautiful dialogue where there’s laughter and all these elements of surprise that come up.  It makes you want to continue doing what you’re doing, because it’s evolving on such a high creative artistic level.  And you just don’t want to stop.  It’s fantastic what’s happening at the spur of the moment.  I heard that happen with Max to some degree when he played with Max at Macmillan Hall in 1979.  I haven’t heard him play with Max in duet again since.  And I haven’t heard him play with Elvin.  But all I’m saying is that you have these two giants of the drum coming with all of their artillery, the full weight…the bag of all the stuff, and knowing what’s in that bag and knowing what they can use, and they selectively use whatever they feel is apropos.  I feel the same way at this point.  And as far as I’m concerned, hey, let’s do some more.

TP:    How do you assess Cecil’s stature both in the music’s timeline and vis-a-vis people you’ve worked with, like John Carter or Muhal or Anthony Davis?

CYRILLE:  These people feel as though he is definitely a seminal figure.  He helped change the direction of this music.  Before Cecil, there were certain things that were not happening.  The expanse of the compositional arrangement… In other, it’s not like AABA (though that’s still a viable form, and people use it in many ways).  But the music moves in so  many different directions which aren’t necessarily limited by a prescribed traditional way of playing.  The way, again, he would give out notes and expect people to bring whatever it is that they did to the table.  This is where the weight of the sound, the creativity of his different bands, comes out.  Because he is giving these people the chance to play what they play juxtaposed to what he plays.  Like all those records for FMP with Bennink… He absorbs all of that, and they absorb him, and they juxtapose what they do in relationship.  Now, you can’t find a whole lot of people who would allow all of that on their bandstands and that they would want to deal with.  Then again, you have so many people now who say, “Well, this is the way it goes.  I can do this.  I can play duets with anybody.”  And that’s with anybody on the planet.  A man like Cecil has broadened the palette of technical possibilities — I’m talking about ways of doing things — that was not necessarily available outside of a certain kind of structural way that music had been made or had been produced before.  Another way of manufacturing it.

TP:    The people who played in this master class all paid 300 bucks, and everyone could play.  Some were more adept improvisers than others, but everyone had command of the instrument.  Jackson Krall said he thought that they had a certain focus he hadn’t seen in similar ensembles because they had paid money, and people left their egos at the door, so to speak.  But when I spoke with them how the experience of working with Cecil matched their preconception of who he was, a couple of them were coming at him from a jazz perspective, and seeing him as kind of the apotheosis of the jazz timeline, and others were fascinated with his relationship with European classical music and 20th Century music.  Do you see him as having achieved a sort of ultimate cultural synthesis.

CYRILLE:  I don’t know if I’d use the word “ultimate.”  But he’s found a place where he feels comfortable with what he has acquired and learned over the years from both cultures, the African and the European put together in the African-American in this country.  There are other parts of Cecil which he doesn’t talk about too often, but on occasion he will mention his Indian roots.  I’m talking about Native American.  A lot of what he feels and thinks comes out of that cultural perspective also.  Maybe somebody should ask him how much does he feel very close to this that he brings to the surface.  You talk about being integrated and being a true American.  It’s embodied in person like that — and many others also.  When you talk about the synthesis of Europeans and Africans and African-Americans in how all this stuff comes together… All jazz musicians play European music, or most of us do in some way-shape-or-form.  We get information from that area also.  Africans don’t play the same kinds of chords that Europeans brought to the table of humanity.  They don’t play XIII chords and flat IXs and sharp XIs and all that sort of stuff.  That’s not in their vocabulary.  It may come out incidental, but there’s nothing in their vocabulary that says that, okay, now we’re going to play this kind of chord and use this kind of color or voice it like… All that stuff comes out of Europe.

The thing that the African-American does is bring a feeling.  The Europeans might make the clothes, but hey, we’re going to put it on and style it the way that we want.  We’re going to make it ours with what it is that you put on the table.  And it could be because maybe there’s nothing else available.  But we’re going to do it this way.  Then of course, there are other ways of manufacture of clothing by people from Africa, like the robes, free-flowing kinds of dress where you can have air that passes through because it might be a hot, arid place or whatever.  As far as I’m concerned, all of it is valid, because all of it is valid in terms of giving life to human beings in the place where they live — to stay alive!  So one can’t be more important than another.  You wouldn’t wear the same kind of clothes in Northern Europe that you would wear in Sub-Saharan Africa.  The same thing comes about more or less with the music.

All this makes me feel better about myself.  As you ask me these questions and I try to give you some good, qualified answers, it lets me know t some degree that I’m not crazy.  I have more students now than I have ever had who are coming to me, asking me about playing free.  So there has to be a certain kind of qualification and certain parameters.

TP:    I guess the paradox of the notion of musical freedom is the incredible discipline you have to have internalized to be able to do it.

CYRILLE:  That’s right.  There is nothing free.  Not really.  Number one, you’re confined by the properties of the instrument you play.  But the reward comes out of finding things in that instrument that bring you to other places.  You say, “Wow, I can do this with the instrument.”  You listen to how you brought forth something you weren’t aware of that you can do with the instrument.  That’s the beauty of it.  That’s the beauty of the creativity and the evolution.  Which certain kinds of methods don’t particularly allow you to do.  But within the forms of those methods, you can find certain elements that are magical also.  But you can go beyond that, too.  So for me, that has been the contribution of a person like Cecil Taylor.  I think it’s fantastic.

* * *

Tony Oxley (on Cecil Taylor) – (3-20-01):

TP:    I am interested in what CT has indicated is an aesthetic and personal evolution in the last fifteen years, and it may be that your tonal personality is the one he feels the most affinity towards.  So first: What was your first exposure to Cecil’s music?

OXLEY:  It was in the ’60s, of course, with the legendary records Conquistador and Unit Structures.  Of course, I heard something before that.  I think it was from Denmark.  I remember that showing up in the ’60s as well.  But I think you’ll appreciate that living in Britain at that time, it was not easy to get this music.  In fact, there were various people who worked on the Queen Mary who used to actually smuggle it back from New York — as well as equipment, American drums, Gretsch and stuff like that, which you couldn’t get here.

TP:     People in the ship bands?

OXLEY:  Yes.  So a lot of this early culture and contributions of Cecil… I mean, it would have wonderful to be able hear…. On the few occasions he was working in those days, it would have been wonderful to be able to hear this live.  but the real impact for me was Conquistador and Unit Structures.

TP:    You became interested in speculative improvising at an early period, before those records came out.  How did hearing that, if at all, affect the course of how you approach the drums and spontaneous composition?

OXLEY:  Well, I found it very refreshing, very optimistic.  For me personally… I can tell you that the people who were interested in that music in Britain who I knew used to use it as their standard-bearer, if you like.  If they were trying to inform anyone to what was happening in New York with Cecil’s music, those two records would be the thing they would be talking about.  Of course, people were starting to tape this stuff and send it to each other, because you could only get very few records.  So the impact of it for me… It was an alternative, you see, that was not exploited over here in Europe.  That really comes out of what went on before in New York, a continuation in some ways.  Very surprising.  For me, very different to Ornette Coleman, which was a bit more predictable, in a way.  The rhythmic elements in Cecil’s work had a lot more possibilities, in my opinion.  Ornette’s approach had quite a traditional rhythm moving behind it.  It was well-commented-on.  It was noticed over here.  But Cecil seemed to give the space in every direction for what seemed to be the right thing to do at the time, and the right way to go, and how to respond to the way he was working.  So I think there was a lot more openness in the rhythmic side of the music to match the harmonic side.

TP:    When you’re referring to the music as a continuation of what went on before, are you referring to Cecil’s immersion in Bud Powell and the jazz tradition, or are you talking about the early roots of jazz music in the U.S.?

OXLEY:  I don’t know if he comes out of Bud Powell in a direct line.  I wouldn’t like to speculate about that.  But I do know how much of an admirer of Thelonious Monk Cecil is.  And there might have been some kind of connection between what he does and Thelonious Monk.  Now, of course, that might seem ridiculous on first hearing — kind of the opposite.  But influence works in many ways, and it does not work in imitating, in my view.  The philosophy is the thing you learn from, not the imitation.  I would hesitate to recommend anyone imitating.  But that’s another question.

TP:    If I may go on a tangent, who are the drummers whose aesthetic philosophy you assimilated when you were developing?

OXLEY:  Of course, the big band era was very prominent when I was growing up.  So consequently, the big band drummers were very prominent in the public eye.  But for the more discriminating jazz listener who would be brave enough to look for small groups (because big bands really dominated the scene), I would have to say that, first of all, Art Blakey, and then Elvin Jones, and then Milford Graves in those plays were very influential in showing the real issues in American jazz music.

TP:    The real issues?

OXLEY:  Well ,the reality, if you like.  What was important and how to do it.  How they do it.  Because they were all different.  Roy Haynes was another very interesting player in my development for years.  Of course, we’re always developing.  We never really stop, I suppose.

TP:    Was your development entirely through listening to records, or were you ever able to witness any of these people in Britain?

OXLEY:  I did actually.  Because Norman Granz used to send shows with four or five bands in them around Europe, and fortunately, they showed up in Sheffield, where I lived.  So I was able to hear Monk and Blakey live during that period of time.  But it wasn’t very easy to anticipate what might be coming, because you’d have Ella Fitzgerald on the bill, then Monk or Blakey…a variety of music.  But never Cecil Taylor.

TP:    But also in the ’60s, around the time Conquistador comes out, you’re the house drummer at Ronnie Scott’s.

OXLEY:  That was in ’66.  But in ’61 and ’62 and ’63, I did take some work, deputizing for the regular bands on the Queen Mary, and that meant three trips a year because there were three bands that needed to be deputized for.  Of course, on those trips, with the 36-hour turnaround in New York, that 36 hours was consumed entirely by chasing around, looking for the best music we could find.  So as a kind of pattern of activity, I would say to you that it would start in the late afternoon at the Metropole, listening to the Woody Herman Big Band.  The Metropole was just one long bar; the band was all strung out along one line, like washing.  There were mirrors on the opposite wall so they could see each other through the mirrors.  And people stood at the bar, so that meant you’d two yards away from the trumpet section.  That was unbelievable!  Lift you off your feet.  Then we’d move on to Birdland to hear Blakey.  Then we’d move on to the Vanguard and hear Bill Evans or Miles Davis.  Then we’d move to the Five Spot to hear the legendary quartet with Thelonious Monk.  So doing that three times a year, hoping that they would be there…  It wasn’t always Blakey at Birdland when we happened to be in town.  But at the best times we had, it was such a ritual as that.  And that was ’61-’62-’63, so quite early in my active professional life I was able to be exposed to some of the realities of New York at that time.

TP:    And I guess you were able to bring that sensibility back to what you were doing in England.

OXLEY:  Well, it couldn’t be ignored, could it.  It was a very dramatic experience for me, I must confess.

TP:    So in the ’60s you were able to function as both a straight-ahead, timekeeping drummer and as somebody interested in a more open-ended form of pulse and texture with the kit.

OXLEY:  Well, at the same time, I was very interested… In ’62-’63 I was starting to work with Derek Bailey and Gavin Bryars.  I’d previously been playing diatonically Classical music, i.e., Beethoven, Mozart, Prokofiev, Haydn, this kind of area.  I was in the Army, and this was the kind of thing we used to be doing…heh-heh, apart from other things.  Of course, when I came out of the Army, I continued my interest in what’s called Classical music, European Classical music.  So that interest transferred itself to 12-tone music.  So during this time, around ’63, I became very aware of Schoenberg and Anton Webern, and of course, that led to John Cage eventually.  So this was happening at the same time as hearing the developments in improvised music, i.e., Cecil Taylor-Bill Dixon, and my interest was continuing to develop in what’s called Classical music, only the second Viennese School.  So there were a lot of influences going on with me at that time.  And I was very hungry as well to hear it.  I suppose that might answer your question.

TP:    Between then and when you wind up playing with Cecil, it’s another two decades.  When were you first actually able to witness a performance by him?

OXLEY:  It would be in the ’70s at Ronnie Scott’s.  There was a production for a week at Ronnie Scott’s, and Cecil was included on the program with Sam Rivers, Jimmy Lyons and Andrew Cyrille.

TP:    The Fondation Maeght recordings are from ’69.

OXLEY:  It could have been.  The date I don’t know.  But it was in that area, and there was a whole week of television from Ronnie Scott’s, and Cecil was  the program with that quartet.  I think I’ve got a recording of it somewhere!

TP:    What was your impression?

OXLEY:  Well, I was more worried about how Cecil was going to find the piano.  Because the kinds of pianos that he needs…really they have to be in very good condition.  This has nothing other to do than that the way he approaches the music, the instrument has got to be in good shape.  And I wasn’t so sure about the piano at Ronnie Scott’s holding up!  We’re talking about the late ’60s now.  But from the musical point of view, of course, I was very happy to be there and hear what waas happening.  I remember speaking to Cecil, but of course he wouldn’t remember that.  Many people were saying “hello” and “how’s things” and how’s… I remember  asking him how was the piano.

So it was the ’70s when I first heard him live.  Then I don’t remember him coming to Britain… .The impact of playing with him in 1988 kind of obliterated any preconceptions I might have had about what the music that he might be playing… It was such an impact, that all my concentrations went onto that and not so much an historical view.

TP:    So in other words, it erased anything but the immediate moment of getting sound out.

OXLEY:  Absolutely.  I felt I needed all my concentration and effort, and to try to put out of my head anything that I’d heard him do with other people on record.  And the only records I had were those two that I mentioned.  I tried to put that out of my head in order to approach it with a cleaner palette.

TP:    Does playing with him demand new strategies and approaches on your instrument?

OXLEY:  The music speaks for itself, you know.  When you’re playing with Cecil Taylor, there is only one Cecil Taylor.  And when you become involved in the music, things happen that have nothing to do with strategy or even preparation.  The best preparation I’d say is be fit and open your ears!

TP:    I’ve heard you quoted that you have to have the stamina of an athlete…

OXLEY:  …and the imagination of God! [LAUGHS] You can quote that, if you like.  Well, it’s just to give a sincere answer to a kind of general question, ,to bring it into some kind of perspective.  I think just recently, when we played in the Tonic, I think the power of his work and the power of his imagination was evident.  I thought it was best in ’88 anyway to try to approach it as prepared and unprepared as possible.  Let’s put it that way.  It’s a contradiction, but…

TP:    Over the years have you sustained that strategy of no-strategy?  Do you go into each performance with him with that blank slate?

OXLEY:  Well, I am fortunate, because I love to play with Cecil Taylor and I love to be with him — and so does my wife.  We actually are always together when we are with Cecil.

The joy…and believe me, that word is very, very important when I have to describe the experience of playing with Cecil… The joy is so much more immense if you prepare yourself to go where the music will take you, and not try and make the music go where you want it perhaps, or think it might go.  With Cecil you don’t have to have any of those worries.  There is always something happening.  So you can relax and have this experience of working… He has his language.  I have my language.  And we think, I hope…at least  I think that the compatibility is quite special.  That is one of the most important aspects to remember when you’re either listening or thinking about his music.  That’s about the best way I can describe it.

TP:    Can you discuss your philosophy of playing this music?  Do you have a philosophy of playing with Cecil Taylor?

OXLEY:  No.  As I say I don’t have a plan.  I think by whatever grace, whether it’s the grace of God or the grace of whoever, we actually came to the point where we play together.  Now, before that, I don’t know if he had heard  me.  I doubt it.  So I don’t think there’s any answers to this question in that direction.

But I will say to you that when I was growing up, leaving school, I was a steelworker in Sheffield, and I think that that environment, which I paid close attention to, not only listening, but physically it wasn’t, shall we say, something you wanted to jump out of bed to do every morning…but anyway, it had to be done… The sounds and the rhythms of that kind of environment, I’m pretty sure, had more influence on me than I have ever appreciated, and I am starting to think now that maybe that has quite a significant role to play in the way I work with percussion.  For the rest of it, we’ll wait for the book! [LAUGHS]

TP:    Some of your interactions with Cecil are totally improvised and some would involve his notation, I imagine, with the larger ensemble perhaps.

OXLEY:  Not very often.

TP:    So you’re the wrong person to talk to about his notation..

OXLEY:  Of course, I’ve been quite close to Cecil since ’88, and I’ve seen him in situations with ensembles.  But to put it on a basic level, it would rather depend on the ensemble.  If people come along and they’re well aware of Cecil… Why would they be up there, I suppose, if they weren’t?  But if they come along with the right attitude and they want to be there…

TP:    Trudy Morse said that one reasons she’s very proactive in instigating these workshops is because she wants to introduce as many musicians as possible to Cecil’s notation.  And having seen a number of the sheets he was passing out, they’re graceful, poetic, dancelike…

OXLEY:  You’re talking about this last project, and of course it would be difficult for me to comment about that because I wasn’t there.

TP:    But there were people who had participated in projects of his from 1970 and 1973 who said that the notation was similar.  I thought you’d be interesting to ask about it because of your immersion in modernist classical music?

OXLEY:  It would be easier to talk to Cecil about that.  Have you tried to approach him about that question? [ETC.] Cecil is one of the most generous, sensitive people I know.  But it has to be respected that he also needs time to himself and he also has his way of dealing with a situation.  He works at his own pace.  But believe me, at the risk of repetition, he is one of the most generous and sensitive people I have ever had the privilege of working with and playing with.  So it’s nothing other than having to catch him at the right time.  Between you and me, when I’m ringing him, which is reasonably often, I can ring three or four times and not even get him on the phone, and the machine comes on, and I’ll leave him a message.  He has his own way of working, and that I respect 100 percent because he gives me the same freedom also.  If I’m not there, I’m not there.

TP:    Let me ask you one more question that I raised in the fax.  You addressed Cecil’s impact on the community of European improvisers in the ’60s.  I’m wondering how his intense interaction with that community in the last 15 years has affected the music in Europe.

OXLEY:  You mean personally or musically?

TP:    Both perhaps.

OXLEY:  It’s hard for me to speak for other people.  But of course, I am aware of the people who have worked with him over here in various things, particularly in that production for FMP, the box, which accounts for quite a few people.  I know quite a lot of them, and I know that the impact was quite surprising.  There are different drummers in the duets who show different ways of approaching the music.

TP:    More generally, can you describe the impact he’s had on the community?

OXLEY:  Different people have different views on it, as far as I can gather, and I would only be prepared to speak for myself on that.  Because people change their views.  And the views that I heard in ’88 would probably be very different now.

TP:    Without quoting anyone, can you tell me what views you heard in ’88?

OXLEY:  This time he spent in Berlin I think left a mark in history that will never be erased, in my view.  I think that’s about as much as I can say there.   Musically, it was absolutely phenomenal.  And after we finished…there were gigs being prepared even before he went there.

TP:    I looked at the website.  I counted 24 different gigs.  Not individual dates, but gigs of varying length between 1988 and 1991.

OXLEY:  Well, that’s only half of them that we did.  There’s a 10-CD production coming out from London which I expect will be called “The London Trios.”  If you think about that, that’s ten CDs, and go  back to the box and also go back to the productions Jost Gebers made outside of the box, which I think there are 7 CDs that I’m on… If you look at that amount of work and that amount of playing, it’s quite a phenomenal achievement, when you think about it.

[ETC.]

TP:    You used to use an enormous…

OXLEY:  A cowbell.

TP:    Well, not just a cowbell.  Your drumset incorporated things that normally wouldn’t be found.  Do you still have such an expansive tonal palette in your drumkit, or  have you pared it down?

OXLEY:  Well, I’ve cut it down, but not from when you heard it in Sweet Basil.  I cut it down from the late ’60s when I had electronics as well.  I actually devised a system of having live electronics with the kit, which there are some records around.  Pity you don’t know them..  But it’s an interesting way of working, and I found it great.  I worked with that until about ’78 or ’80.  If you’ve got February Papers… Some of Howard Riley’s recordings; I played the electronic stuff with his trio.  But anyway, around ’80 I gave up the electronics, and went back to playing acoustic entirely, and that’s the kit I used at Sweet Basil.  More or less.  You change a few things here and there, bring a few different things in.  If you have a sound you want to reproduce, then you have   to find a way of doing it.  If you have to make something, then you make it and then, of course, you add it to your language.

* * * *

Dan Marmorstein on Cecil Taylor (3-29-01):

TP:    A little of your personal history with Cecil.  Where did you first meet?  How did you become involved with his music?

MARMORSTEIN:  I first read about what Cecil was doing in the Leroi Jones book called “Black Music.”  I was largely living on the West Coast then when I was about 14 years old, so for me to read about this phenomenon of this kind of inferno of musical activity that was taking place largely on the East Coast fit in with my mindset, which was that nothing was really happening out there in the suburban West Coast, and I was looking for some kind of sanctum-sanctorum of energy and consciousness, which seemed to be being described in Jones’ book.  I went and got the records.  I guess the first record I got was Looking Ahead, which is still one of my absolute favorite records made by anybody at any time.

TP:    Were you playing piano at this time?

MARMORSTEIN:  Well, I’ve always played around on the piano, and I’ve always been involved with the piano enough to feel comfortable on it, but never enough to really call myself a pianist.  That’s still largely the situation.  So my approach to all this stuff is as a composer.  I’ve basically taken the piano thing and written things for other people to play, even on my own releases with my music.

TP:    And was your interest in composition then beginning?  Did it begin with Cecil?  Did it begin before  Cecil?  Was Cecil tangential to it initially?

MARMORSTEIN:  Cecil’s music functioned more as a magnet for me to stay connected and close to the idea and process and activity of making music, whatever that may be, in the way that other things have operated on me as kind of magnets.  I would also call S. Balanchandra, the vina player from Madras, a kind of magnet.  I would also call the Grateful Dead a kind of magnet in the same way.  But in the field of let’s call it modern improvisational American Music, I’m closer to Cecil’s music than I am, for example, to Duke Ellington’s music or, for that matter, even bebop.  Cecil’s music speaks to me more directly in a certain way, and always has.

Starting with Looking Ahead was coming in on a good page.  I think from Looking Ahead I went to Conquistador, which I still think is a beautiful symphonic seance.  That’s what I would call it.  Both sides of it.  The last couple of years I acquired the CD where you have the alternate version of “With/Exit”.  And you can understand why they chose the one that they chose . But even hearing those characters try the same piece twice…things like that brought home to me how compositional Cecil’s music is.  You used the word “structuralist” in one of your questions, and that’s not a word I feel completely facile in using because I don’t know exactly what you meant.

TP:    I’m interested in the way Cecil puts his compositions together, and I thought you’d be the best person to discuss with among the people there.  Because you see the scores and you have a sense of his process and how one process links to another and you attended every one of the rehearsals.  How he presented the material, how the material was received, how the linkages came together, the psychology of the band.  I’m interested in your overview.

MARMORSTEIN:  I’m real qualified to talk about that.

TP:    I know.  First of all, tell me how you met Cecil.

MARMORSTEIN:  My meetings with Cecil as a member of the audience were numerous, before I actually met him personally.  He was already such an object of… There was so much admiration there that I was too shy to approach him or come up to him in several situations, even in several what I would call pretty close encounters.  One the more interesting of the encounters was… Is it okay to say things that I’m not sure if I want…

TP:    Anything you want off the record, just say so.

MARMORSTEIN:  One of the most interesting encounters was when I went to Duke Ellington’s funeral at St. John’s the Divine, which was packed with people, and various artists were performing from the pulpit.  There was no place to sit down.  I came in just as the funeral was starting.  Somewhere about ten minutes into the service, a woman stood up and left, and I decided to grab the seat.  I walked up several aisles in the apse of the church, and turned to the left, and I was about to sit down at the empty place I said to myself, “My God, that’s Cecil Taylor sitting there.”  So I sat next to him for the whole funeral.  And I knew from the things I’d read that for him Ellington was a kind of spiritual father.  So in no way, shape or form was I going to disturb him there.  Then when we left the church I managed to both evade him and take another street down and get away, but when I got on the subway to go downtown, he was on the subway also.  Then I ended up going on the same subway car with him, and we were alone in the subway car.  This would have been my chance to say, “Hey, you’re a big influence in my life.”  But the guy was coming from a funeral and I was coming from a funeral, and it just didn’t seem appropriate.

There were a couple of encounters like that.  Once a guy came to my college and we were going to take a ride to Montreal and Toronto, but on the way we were going to stop off at a little college in Vermont where his brother was teaching, which was Goddard College, and we got to Plainfield, Vermont, which… I’m from New York.  This is in the middle of nowhere, and there was this college, Goddard…oh, and by the way there was a concert there that night.  And who was playing?  Oh, yeah, some guy from New York named Cecil Taylor.  I actually think that concert was recorded and put out on a CD or a bootleg.  It was a stunning concert.  He played solo.  As I remember, there were 50 or 60 people in the audience.  A month later he came to my college, to the music department at Brandeis, and played for less than 50 people with Sirone and Andrew, and then they answered questions.  But Cecil got tired of the public quickly.  Somebody asked him a question, “What kind of musical cues do you give each other?”  Cecil didn’t like the question, and he got very upset at that question, and he let Andrew take over the rest of the question-and-answer session.  Andrew had a very direct and strong way of confronting the audience which impressed me very much.

So there were experiences and close encounters.  But then we have to cut about ten years later.  I was living in New York, and finally I asked somebody who I knew was in touch with him if it was possible to obtain the phone number and phone him.  And I did.  I introduced myself on the phone and told him I was calling him because I had started composing music fairly late in life, but I had been very influenced by his music since I was in my early teens, and I had always wanted to approach him and ask him if I could take a composition lesson with him — or several composition lessons with him.  He said to me, “I don’t give lessons.”  But he said it in a nice way, and we continued to talk for over an hour.  Then he said, “Why don’t you come over tomorrow at around 11 and we can continue this talk.”  I remember I somehow made a reference that I’d be coming over at about 11, but maybe I could stop into this place and some… Then I realized that he wasn’t asking me to come at 11 in the morning.  He was asking me to come at 11 at night! [LAUGHS]

So I came over at 11 that night, and we talked, and we must have talked for several hours.  Around 3 o’clock, he said to me, “Well, this piano piece that you told me about on the phone that you wrote, did you bring it with you?”  I said, “Actually I did.”  Even though he had said he wasn’t going to give me a lesson.  He said, “Can you play the piece yourself?”  I said, “Yeah, sure.”  He said, “Well, go in the room and play it.”  So he’s got this rather large piano.  I have basically a four-movement piano sonata, and I went in the other room and played it for him.  It took me about 50 minutes to play it.  Then I came back in the other room, and he was sitting there, and he began to talk about the piece.  And he spoke so directly and so insightfully and so analytically and constructively about the piece that it was the lesson that crystallized what I was doing up until that point and which I have continued to draw from since.

We became friends from that meeting, and I never broached the question of having lessons with him again since that.  As you know, Cecil is a guy…

TP:    You approach him at his own pace.

MARMORSTEIN:  He’s a guy who goes at his own pace. [LAUGHS] I’ll just agree with you on that.  And you have to catch it when you can.

TP:    So you’ve had a relationship since you were about 30.

MARMORSTEIN:  Right.  Since about February 1985.

TP:    Just so I get it straight: You are an American who lives in Denmark?

MARMORSTEIN:  I am an American.  I lived in America my whole life until 1982, when I moved to Holland, and lived in Holland for two years, and attended the Stedelink Conservatory and studied with Misha Mengelberg.   I was a guest student in the Improvisational Department.  At the end of that year I had kind of run out of gas in Holland on a lot of levels, especially… Well, that’s a whole other subject.  But then I moved back to New York to tank up, especially economically, and I lived there for a year during which I met Cecil.  I was able to pick up some teaching jobs.  Then the woman who I had when I was in Holland who lived in Denmark came to New York and had an art show there, then we lived together, and in the summer of 1985 I moved to Denmark.  And I’ve been here ever since.

So my contact with Cecil, during the time I’ve known him, has largely taken place when I’m in New York for anywhere between a week or two weeks or a month at a time.  Maybe I’ll see him once or twice.  Maybe I’ll see him more than that.  Very often I don’t see him at all.  I might phone him several times, or we get the machine — and you never get any clue whether he’s around and just not answering the call, or whether he’s out of town.  Since 1989, a lot of my meetings have actually taken place in Berlin.  He’s in Berlin a lot, and Berlin is close enough to Copenhagen.  I’ve been to Berlin to see him three or four times.

TP:    Did you witness the June ’88 event?

MARMORSTEIN:  I wasn’t there for any of the box, but I was there in ’90 when he played at the Bechstein Hall.  I think that concert recently came out on Free Music Productions.  Off the record, I don’t think Cecil is very pleased with the release of that, because I don’t think he authorized it.  That’s the Workshop Orchestra.  I was also there for a concert he played at the Berlin Opera House a year after that, in the summer of 1991.

This invitation to the workshop came as a thrilling surprise to me. I have a computer, it’s hooked up to the telephone, and who knows what’s going to happen?  Usually you turn the thing on, and it’s nothing but a lot of junk mail asking people to do this or do that.  But all of a sudden there was this letter that was forwarded to me from Trudy Morse that had been sent out by Bruce Eisenbeil about the workshop.  It was a very nice thing for Trudy to do.  I had met Trudy in Berlin a couple of times with Cecil.  I responded right away.  I guess first I emailed Trudy and said it sounded really good, and should I really  take this as an invitation.  Because to me this was like rubbing the magic lantern.   This is what I wanted to do.  I wanted to study composition with Cecil Taylor, and to be invited to participate in a master class like that.

So I emailed Bruce, who I’d never met, and said, “I’m not a skilled jazz pianist; I don’t play changes.  I’m not an expert classical pianist.  But that being said, if I am still welcome to participate in the workshop without taking up a place that would be better reserved for a more adept pianist, then I’m in..  I would love to do it.”

I remember Bruce’s response.  He said, “Thanks for your email..  I think you should come to this workshop.  You’ll have a blast and you’ll learn a lot.”

The workshop definitely lived up to that.  I had a great time and I learned a lot.  It was a pleasure.  There was one day when I think you weren’t there when Cecil got a little bit tight, and he kind of scared all of us!  But I think for the rest of it he was in a great mood, and I think he was very-very generous with all of us.

My impression is that he was writing the stuff the night before.  Maybe some of it was old stuff that he had lying about.  But he came in with veritable reams of composition.  I could see from what I could guess that… You can’t talk about pencil markings as being fresh; you can only talk about ink markings that way.  That was my sense, that the graphite was fresh on the paper.  He came in with this stuff day after day.   He brought in about ten compositions which we played….we rehearsed ten compositions over the course of the event, and played four at the concert.

The first day of the workshops, my recollection is that he didn’t give out any paper at all.  He dictated the tones to people.  If you weren’t ready with your pencil and your paper before he started talking and you weren’t 100 percent concentrated as he was talking, then you simply couldn’t keep up with the succession of tones.  He was dictating them really rapid-fire.  So I was actually able to get some of that stuff, and some of the other people in the class were able to get some of the stuff.  So what we were able to practice the first week was pretty much what we were able to get.

Then by the second class he came in and gave us a score, so we were able to look at the score and look at his way of thinking about tones.  There are certain  intervals that he likes.  There are certain links that he likes.  There are certain licks, especially in connection with octaves and how octaves are filled in.  One lick that seems to be quite prevalent in his music is something being voiced in octaves and…

[END OF SIDE]

…middle will stay where it is.  So a lick that turns up a lot in these scores is something like a C to the C above it, with the G in between, and then the C# to the C# above it, but then still with the G in between — or things like that.  Then maybe you’ll go up from the D to a D, and probably keep the G as a pedal tone.  There are a lot of sounds like that.

Also, as a pianist, it was interesting to see that a lot of the power of his playing and his melodic statements have to do with the fact that he simply plays these rather curlicued and very harmonically dense melodic lines, which don’t always follow a diatonic sequence of tones but a much more chromatic sequence of tones, but that these lines are played sometimes as octaves or as double-octaves or, in many cases, simply as triple octaves — Cecil is simply playing a melody over four octaves.  But of course, when he does it, it sounds like he is playing single notes on the piano.  But that gives a color and a dimension.

The scores seem to be what I would call feels.  On the page of the scores, he has a group of anywhere between three or five or as many as ten, and sometimes he may stack sequences of lines, in which case you could have 25 or 30 different tones.  Quite frequently, more than one tone is described.  The way that music is transmitted to the musicians is that the musicians are basically being asked to breathe their own poetry into these melodies and shape them as they will.  But that being said, with Cecil being there, Cecil will often play the thing on the piano and expect that we can hear that that’s the way he wants it to sound.  And sometimes you can hear that, but sometimes if he plays it with his own floridness, it’s hard to hear the bare skeleton through this beautiful flower.  He’s asking us to sketch the daisy when actually what he’s done is given us a daisy surrounded by roses and orchids.

TP:    Ramsey Ameen made the point that before Jimmy Lyons died, basically personnel took phrasing cues from Jimmy Lyons’ articulation of the melodies and lines, that Jimmy’s phrasing would tend to be the authoritative guidepost for the musicians.

MARMORSTEIN:  [ETC. ON JIMMY] I wasn’t around…

TP:    The essential issue with the orchestra seemed to be how to phrase this music and how to create a dynamic level that didn’t keep them in the middle of the fire, but enabled them to maybe go into the vortex and then skip out, and go in and out and in and out like a magician going into the center of a maelstrom of fire and coming out unscathed.

MARMORSTEIN:  I think in this workshop situation, Cecil was sitting back and listening quite a bit.  I think he wanted to hear to some extent how this music would sound in a large group of people, and his coaching of the group tended to be on the minimal side — unless he really felt that it had become messy and that people weren’t listening to each other.  His coaching largely consisted that people should play in such a way that they could leave room for each other, make space for each other, and listen to one another.  That was not always the case in the rehearsals.

The miracle of the concert for me, from where I was sitting, was that suddenly everybody seemed to be listening to each other, and suddenly these pieces really functioned as finished pieces.  Okay, maybe not recording studio quality, but interesting enough for people who hadn’t been part of the building-up process to sit and listen to it.  As you probably know, we didn’t know what we were going to play until just before we played before the public.

TP:    How do sections come together in Cecil’s music?  First, is his notation singular unto him?

MARMORSTEIN:  I’ve never seen it before in any other composer.  But the composer Glenn Spearman had charts which are the only things I’ve seen which look something like Cecil’s composition.  But I know Cecil was doing it before Glenn Spearman was.

TP:    As a composer and someone who is immersed in post-Webern European music, can you speak to the Cecil’s connections structurally and on a more metaphysical level to that music.  I mean, during our conversation he was talking a great deal about Xennakis.

MARMORSTEIN:  And I guess Xennakis died a few days later, on the same day as J.J. Johnson.  He did tell that story about Xennakis being kind to him the way he was.

TP:    Trudy met Cecil on a Xennakis festival. [ETC.] Obviously there are palpable connections.  Without your necessarily going into the details of how that concert was put together, I wonder if you see connections in their musical thinking.

MARMORSTEIN:  I certainly can hear connections in Xennakis’ music with Cecil’s stuff, to the extent that when I first heard Xennakis’ piano music,  I thought this was somebody who was trying to play like Cecil Taylor.  But when I mentioned this to Cecil, Cecil didn’t seem to be too thrilled about that kind of cross-comparison.  I think Cecil… I get this as much from what’s written in the Spellman book than actually talking about it at great length with Cecil.  I think Cecil’s attitude about compositional music that’s built around a system of any kind is…I think he tends to stay away from that.  I think he almost tends to eschew that….

TP:    Are you saying that he tends to stay away from the system or that he’s internalized the system so comprehensively that he is able to use that as a part of his improvising vocabulary without even thinking about it?

MARMORSTEIN:  Well, yes, but that still wouldn’t be right, because I think by nature he avoids system.  He would avoid Serialism.  He would avoid any kind of licks stuff.  John Cage’s famous objection to the word “jazz,” as I remember it, is that…

TP:    He said it’s imprisoned by the beat.

MARMORSTEIN:  Did he?  I knew also that he said something about the fact that jazz players learn licks and then stick with that.  I think Cecil is trying in every which way to not be confined to his own shtick as such.  Yet, what I think he tries to do is cultivate a familiarity and an honesty about…you know, definite, clear, sort of subject-predicate-adjective sentences.  I think he tries to say things in music which can only be said through music, a la Schoenberg’s response to Webern’s music when he talked about the Bagatelles — that famous preface.  I guess that’s why I gravitate both to Cecil and to the Webern-Berg Schoenberg thing.  But whereas I would say Webern-Berg-Schoenberg were interested in positing systematization, especially Papa Schoenberg, I think Cecil is not interested in that.  He is not interested in creating a system.  He is not interested in creating a George Russell type theory.  Although I know he respects that thing.  I know he respects George Russell and what he has been doing, by and large.

That’s why it’s a funny thing to be in a workshop situation with Cecil. He doesn’t really want to teach his approach.  What he wants to do is motivate the participants to find their own poetry and their own way of getting started with this stuff.  I think what he wants his compositions to do is to get people to think about music as a process activity and not just a kind of finished product.  I think that’s his game.

I use the word “game” because to me the scores function a little bit like games.  You asked me how did we move from one field to the next.  Cecil gave various directives on that.  In one instance, he simply said, “When you feel that you’ve exhausted the material in one of these melodic sequence fields, when you feel that you’ve said it the way that you wanted to say it with as much variety as you can, especially rhythmic variety, then take a breath and move on.”  That was a very explicit instruction he gave.  Now, how do you translate that when you have 39 participants in the workshop, which had boiled down to about 30 by the time the concert rolled around.

That was funny paradox of the rehearsals at the concert, that for me during the rehearsals it never really-really jelled or was clear.  But somehow, when the public was sitting there, and people were forced to collectively in not an antagonistic us-against-them but in a cooperative us-and-them situation… When you have the performers and the public, you do have an us-and-them situation.  You have the people you’re playing with, and you also have people that you know are listening, who have taken cut these few hours out of their otherwise busy prime-time Saturday night and paid a their money, and you want to offer them something.  You’re not just playing for yourselves.  Now you’re playing for them.  And somehow, like magic, it worked.

Cecil turned to us literally five minutes before the public came in and he said, “Okay, we’re going to play this one and this one and this one and this one.”  Then shortly after that, he said to me, “The first piece is called ‘To be’ and the second piece is called ‘Ka’ and the third piece is called ‘Ka-Ba’ and the fourth piece…”  When he gave those names, that’s the first time I or anyone else had heard those names, and I think it’s the first time that they had names.   So I that the process wad done like that.  It was like finally the creator of the games decided that these four games were the ones that would work best together, and then he gave then names which gives the audience a chance to remember them.

So I’d say each one of the scores has an element of chess or a game of Go, where different variables happen in one area and different variables happen in another area.  In some scores, you’d play through the whole score and then there was a da capo, where you started again and went back to a certain point.  The link between the “Ka” and the “Ka-Ba” pieces, which was the second and the third piece, was something that maybe Cecil had in mind.  I guess he did bring those pieces in on the third day.  But we all could feel that it was a very natural progression from one piece to the other.  But otherwise, the pieces seemed to function as independent… And I use “games” on the highest level I could use the word.

TP:    Do you feel that Cecil’s music is singular in the world of music?

MARMORSTEIN:  I think that’s definitely the case.  I don’t know any music that sounds like that except… I would say that as a pianist, Cecil is the next step from Thelonious Monk.  Also Duke Ellington, but certainly Thelonious Monk, in the same way that for me Eric Dolphy is the next step from Charlie Parker.  It’s a certain way of taking the predecessor, and expanding it and stretching it out and making it little more Gaudi-esque in its shape.

TP:    Do you feel that Cecil’s absorption of architectural shape and form and structure influences the arc of his pieces.

MARMORSTEIN:  Absolutely.  That’s something you know if you talk with him for ten minutes.  And I absolutely think that ballet…dance in general, but for me, his interest in the Classical Ballet…

TP:    It’s like he’s dancing over the piano.  That’s what his gestures are like.

MARMORSTEIN:  His fingers are making the same kinds of leaps that the dancers make in space.  I’m sorry I never saw the duet he made with Baryshnikov.  Another thing that I think is super-important to him these days is singers and vocalists.  So I think we can’t really talk about his piano playing or his composition without talking about architecture, dance and singers, especially the jazz singers, or opera singers, or singers of any kind who have influenced him.  He’s got so many things coming into him.  He’s so hooked up to the outside world and he’s got so much input, that it comes out with this kaleidoscope of stuff which doesn’t sound, to my mind, like what anybody else is doing.  But sometimes, in terms of the internal intelligence and humor in the melodic sequences, you could say that his music is kind of Monkish.  I don’t think Cecil would take too much offense at that.

TP:     I kind of see him as a cross between Monk and Tatum.  I can’t think of any other pianist who ever had that kind of technique.  Of course, he admires Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal, who are contemporaries of his.

Can you address Cecil’s relationship to the European improvisers community?  It sounds like you’re an interested observer in that scene, and I think one of the more interesting developments of the last 15 years is the mark Cecil has made on that community, and I think they’ve made quite an impact on him.

MARMORSTEIN:  That’s a tricky question.  I don’t know if I can come up with so much on the last one.  My impression is that Cecil misses some blues in the European music.  He misses some basic things that for him are essential in the music.  He misses some American Indian and he misses some Blues, which to me the European guys often don’t have.  My impression is that the European guys sometimes manifestly eschew it in their way.  They say, “We don’t want to just be like blues guys.  We want to come up with something all our own.”  Of the European guys, there’s quite a few of the drummers that he feels have something very important to offer.  I don’t know his feeling about the wind players and the pianists.

I think the impact Cecil has made on that community is enormous.  But in my opinion, the impact that community has made on Cecil is more social and humanitarian, in a certain way, than musical.  I think Cecil likes the respect and the fair treatment and the admiration that he gets in Europe, which pleases him.  But I don’t know how much of the music itself…

1 Comment

Filed under Article, Cecil Taylor, Jazziz, Piano

A 2007 Jazziz Article and Four Interviews with Roy Haynes, who Turns 87 Today

Roy Haynes, who turns 87 today, is the living embodiment of the notion that, for certain human beings, age is nothing but a number. Haynes continues to astonish with his brilliance and creativity at the drumkit. I’m posting below an article that I wrote about the maestro for Jazzizin 2007, the interview that we did for that piece, and three prior interviews—from 2005, for a birthday piece in the New York Daily News and an article I wrote for Downbeat about the  emergence of modern jazz in Greenwich Village; from 2000, for an old webzine (http://community.musiciansfriend.com/docs/DOC-2453); and from 1996, when Mr. Haynes joined me live on WKCR for about three hours of a five-hour Jazz Profiles show devoted to his work.

* * *

Jazziz Article (2007)

“I am old school with a hip attitude,” Roy Haynes announced from the front of the Birdland bandstand, head cocked, jaw jutting upward, his eyes darting around  the room. He had just concluded a pithy, precise and forceful variation on the form of “Trinkle-Tinkle,” a notoriously involved Thelonious Monk line that Haynes first encountered close to half-century ago on an extended gig with Monk at the legendary Five Spot in Greenwich Village.

Haynes wore boots of soft calfskin leather, visible in a narrow crescent beneath flared black velour pants with buttons up to the calves, into which was tucked in a trim black t-shirt underneath a flowing, open tan shirt. He swayed, rocking on the balls of his feet.

“I’m playing the same stuff I played a long time ago,”Haynes continued. “And it’s working.” Suddenly he rat-a-tatted a sequence of syncopated steps, ending with an emphatic left foot stomp. He laughed at his audacity .

With a hoofer’s elegance, Haynes, three months shy of 82, pivoted to his drumset, each of the toms encased in white pearl. He lifted his Yamaha 14″-by-5½” signature snare drum, made of hand-hammered copper, cradled it, and presented it for the house to admire. After further banter, he returned the snare drum to his stand, sat on his stool, and sticked crisp triplet variations on the snare. He answered himself with a complementary bass drum pattern, and responded to that with a rumbling dance on the toms, interpolating hi-hat splashes to decorate the ever-surging rhythmic puzzle, subdivisions piled upon subdivisions. Bassist David Wong stated a vamp, pianist Martin Bejarano played dramatic altered chords, and alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw stated the insinuating melody of Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs To Daddy,” which Haynes had recorded with Charlie Parker in 1954. Bejerano uncorked a whirling, ascendent solo that launched Shaw into a high-intensity declamation that channeled the spirit of John Coltrane, whose quartet Haynes propelled on numerous occasions between 1961 and 1965 when Elvin Jones—himself deeply influenced by Haynes in his formative years—was unable to make the gig, including several recordings that rank high in the Coltrane canon.

During the preceding fifty minutes on this middlingly attended Thursday evening first set, Haynes had propelled his group of twenty-somethings,  titled the Fountain of Youth Quartet, through repertoire that represented a sort of musical autobiography—Parker’s “Segment,” Wayne Shorter’s “Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum,” Pat Metheny’s “James,” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge.” Strayhorn was the only composer with whom Haynes had not performed or recorded during his sixty-plus years as a professional musician. It’s a linkup that might have been had Haynes accepted Ellington’s job offer in 1952.

“I was with Bird and we’d just finished playing a double bill with Duke at Carnegie Hall,” Haynes related a few days before. “Duke called me, but I knew that the horn players, the older guys, would have had a problem with my style.” Some twenty years later, Haynes played a Jazz Vespers concert with his group, the Hip Ensemble, at New York’s jazz church, St. Peter’s, on the anniversary of Strayhorn’s death. “I used to come out of a drum solo and go into ‘Lift Every Voice And Sing,’ which was known as the Negro National Anthem back in the day,” Haynes recalled. “As we went into it, and I went into 3/4 time, I noticed Duke and his doctor, Arthur Logan, standing up with the whole congregation. I had many highlights during my career, but that one stands out in my mind.”

Ellington is one of the few jazz immortals with whom Haynes did not perform—he mentions Benny Carter and Ornette Coleman as two missed opportunities. Hence, his strategy of performing tunes to which he has a direct connection—in addition to the aforementioned, Haynes references the likes of Lester Young, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz, Oliver Nelson, McCoy Tyner, and Chick Corea, all employers at various points—imparts a sense that one is hearing entire history of jazz from an insider’s perspective. Indeed, while earning a living as a first-call sideman, playing the function at hand in an idiomatic, team-oriented manner, Haynes contributed consequentially to almost every stylistic development of the idiom—bebop and postbop, piano trios and singers, Coltrane’s energy music and the more chamber-oriented aspects of the ‘60s avant-garde, the jazz embrace of the beats of Africa, the Caribbean islands, American dance music.

“Once in Chicago, a lady came over and said that my music reminded her of the four seasons,” he remarks. “I thought that was a compliment, because I try to express a bit of what was happening in the different seasons of my life.” Those seasons represent a timeline in which Haynes links King Oliver and Baby Dodds (in 1945, Haynes left Boston, his hometown, to join pianist Luis Russell, Louis Armstrong’s musical director throughout the ‘30s) to such potential stars of 2040 as FOY members like Shaw, Bejarano, and Marcus Strickland, or Haynes’ grandson, 19-year-old drummer Marcus Gilmore, who currently plays with Corea.

“With Roy, you never feel you’re listening to a player whose style is locked into a certain period,” says bassist Dave Holland, who recorded on the 2001 Haynes “all-star” project, Birds of A Feather, on Haynes’ superb 2002 studio album Love Letters, and on a 1998 Gary Burton-led quintet with Haynes, Corea and Metheny entitled Windows. He also played on Question and Answer, a 1990 Pat Metheny album that brought Haynes to the attention of a post-Boomer audience.

“I see a lot of similarities between his playing and Miles,” Holland continues. “Roy developed a way of playing drums that, at the core, was essentially him, but transposed into being able to work in many different contexts. It’s an open, fluid way of playing that gives you a chance to really get inside the dialogue.”

“Miles cut it off in a slick way,” Haynes acknowledges of Davis’ break with his roots in the plugged-in ‘70s. “He dressed like his audience, so to speak — dressed better than them, of course. But when he was playing the mute, he was still playing his regular shit, surrounded by the other things. That’s where he tricked motherfuckers. That’s packaging.”

Unlike Davis, a close friend with whom he shared a taste for fast cars and contemporary threads, Haynes shapes foundational vocabulary to suit the here-and-now while still honoring his origins. “Sometimes I’m still playing a little TITTY-BOOM,” he says, referring to an apocryphal story in which Lester Young, with whom he debuted on a dance gig at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom in 1947, tells him, “don’t drop no bombs on me, Lady Haynes, just give me a little TITTY-BOOM.” “I’m still playing DING-DA-DING, DING-DA-DING on some of the stuff, but not everything. It varies. The song says ‘nothing stays the same…’

“Some people tell me I’ve changed, but I don’t agree with that one hundred percent. I may approach some things differently, but I had all of these things in mind a long time ago, when I was playing with a lot of people. I didn’t do them then, because I didn’t know if they would fit.”

During his 1947-49 tenure with Young and over the next four years with Powell, Davis, Getz and Parker, Haynes differentiated himself from the pack and made it fit, sustaining an intense four/four swing groove with a kinetic, non-metronomic ride cymbal beat, punctuating with bass drum interpolations, not relying on second and fourth beat placements on the hi-hat as a security blanket. “I can’t even do that if I tried,” Haynes said. “Now, sometimes I just put my foot on the side, and play it when I want to play it, rather than keep a continuous beat on the hi-hat. Which I didn’t do too much, although certain people liked that or wanted that.”

By eschewing that rhythmic grid, Haynes was able to create a continuous flow and avoid cliched patterns. “I dance around the 2 and 4, but it’s still there,” he says. “But some people depend upon the drummer for the time; maybe they go against the time and wait for the drummer to let them know where it is. But I like to play with people who have a built-in drummer. Coltrane had it. His notes were so even. Miles was hip to it, and so was Gene Ammons. When I was with Luis Russell, playing the Regal Theater in Chicago in 1946, I’d walk down State Street to a place called Club Congo to sit in with Jug. He could play with a drummer. Same with Lester Young and Bird and Monk and Chick. The time is right there. All you have to do is design around it. I tap dance on the drums sometimes. I’m always thinking about rhythms and beats, even when I walk, which dancers do.”

“Roy has a way of  looking down a long line of rhythmic permutations, 32 or 64 bars ahead,” says pianist David Kikoski, who played regularly with Haynes between 1984 and 2002. “He’s feeling it. He can count it if he wants, but he does it in a very natural way. He jumps around, but it all works. He plays more odd time phrases than anyone. On his solo drum sections, he does a lot of groupings of 5 and 7. But he might not know that he’s playing in 7, or he might not think of it as that.”

As drummer Lewis Nash points out, Haynes has long used all the tools at his disposal to express these ideas. “Roy wasn’t just comping with his left hand,” Nash says of his early-career recordings. “He comped pretty much with all four limbs, and wasn’t afraid to do things that highlight the basic pulse rather than stating it. Nobody else was doing this to the degree he did. Jack DeJohnette and Tony Williams and others who came along in the ‘60s and wanted to be considered modern and fresh, were building on things that Roy was doing. Now, Roy had a strong concept of swinging, and if you really digest him, you won’t miss the stuff that Max Roach or Kenny Clarke did before him, because it’s in there. But you will in addition get some other, more adventurous ways of approaching timekeeping.”

In developing his approach, Haynes—who regards ‘30s big band swingers like Jo Jones, Chick Webb, and Sonny Greer as early models, met Clarke, Roach and Art Blakey in Boston during the early ‘40s, and admired Chicago drum legend Ike Day—may have drawn inspiration from Ubaldo Nieto, a Puerto Rican drummer who played with Machito, a frequent presence at the original Birdland. “He had timbales, a bass drum and no hi-hat his setup,” says Haynes, who is himself of Barbadan descent. “I listened to him all the time,  and I was always going up the street to the Palladium to hear Tito Puente and all the other bands.”

“Roy incorporated elements of the Afro-Cuban thing way before it was fashionable,” says bassist John Patitucci, who joined pianist Danilo Perez in a brilliant Haynes-led cross-cultural trio between 1999 and 2001 “By the early ‘50s, he was combining funky straight eighth note playing with triplet-based swing, which is indicative of New Orleans music and other African music. Every drummer’s calling card is their ride cymbal feel, and Roy’s is incredible, with a great forward motion, but loose, not nervous  at all. It propels the music with incredible buoyancy and a beautiful force, and hip as it was, I never felt like I was being covered up. That kind of relaxed burn is unusual. Also, he can play very dense at a lot of different volumes. That’s virtuosity.

“Once I told him that it drives me crazy when drummers play all this incredible stuff behind the soloists, and when it comes time for the bass solo, all of a sudden it’s TICK-TICK-A-TICK-TICK on the hi-hat, real soft, with nothing happening. He said, ‘Wait a minute. You watch. I got some special stuff on the hi-hat for you, too.’ He proceeded to shatter my whole theory that you can’t play hi-hat behind the bass and be hip. Again, it wasn’t overpowering but it was really slick.”

Towards the end of the ‘60s, Haynes discovered Carnaby Street fashion and brought straight eighth feels and odd-meters more explicitly into his sound, first in Gary Burton’s pathbreaking Jazz-Rock unit, then with the Hip Ensemble, a wild band that included outcats George Adams on tenor saxophone and Hannibal Marvin Peterson on trumpet. Haynes introduced them on a gig behind a singer covering Beatles repertoire at the Scene, a West Side disco.

“Jimi Hendrix saw us there, and came up on the stage, though he didn’t play,” Haynes recalls. “Chick Corea was living in Queens then, and I rehearsed at his house. He came to the club opening night, and he said, ‘Roy Haynes, you really can form a band.’ We played some funk, too; I was doing a lot of stuff in 7/8. We had a regular piano, but an electric bass, and I was using big baseball bat drumsticks that belonged to the drummer in the other band. Billy Cobham was checking us out, and Chick came to my house to get a cymbal, the flat ride that all the drummers had to play when he started Return to Forever.”

“Roy has an open mind to many different things,” says Kikoski. “He knows the lyrics to songs by the Doors or by Paul McCartney; different kinds of music through all the generations. That’s why he still sounds so contemporary. He’s drawn from all the different cultures and mixed them together in his style, some consciously and some I’m sure unconsciously. With his Barbadan roots, he definitely has that island groove thing happening. You also hear the 12/8-ish African thing. Then you hear the East Coast hard-swinging kind of thing.”

“They’re all within what I play, but I don’t particularly analyze it as such,” says Haynes. “It’s in my walk. It’s in my strut. I’m not a metronome, and I don’t play in a way that everything has to be metered down to the numbers. I probably wouldn’t be able to keep that up. My mind would start wandering, and I’d be in another meter somewhere else. I never got into the rudiments. If I did, I probably would sound like everybody else—maybe. I did a thing called Drum Festival in Montreal. A lot of drummers there. Now, if I played rudiments, they’re hip to that. But  I come up with the Roy Haynes shit, and it blew all of their minds. I breathe the way I breathe and sneeze the way I sneeze. I think there can be a poem there!”

He refers to a kaleidoscopic drum solo from his latest CD (Whereas [Dreyfus]) entitled “Hippidy Hop,” a spontaneous polyrhythmic meditation on vernacular dance steps from tap to hip-hop. “I can go into another gear, sometimes one that people are not aware that I can go to,” Haynes says. “I recently participated in a Drum Roundtable where it was played at the end, and I was screaming. I didn’t practice that solo. I said, ‘Man, I’m going to learn that,’ but I’ll probably never be able to play it again.

“When I get behind the set, sometimes I don’t know what direction I’m going to go. It’s like an abstract painting, adding certain things and leaving out others as you proceed. I try to let the music stroll. I get up more than I used to, and let it breathe. Sometimes I take chances. I’ll go overboard. We can play the same song all night, make something different happen within it, and take it to the moon. You won’t know where we are. When you get that kind of understanding on the bandstand, it’s the greatest feeling. Talk about eating some good food or having some good sex! It tops all of that.”

* * * *

Roy Haynes (Dec. 11, 2006) – (for Jazziz):

TP:   Didn’t Sugar Ray own a club?

ROY:   Sugar Ray had a bar on 7th Avenue, yes. Sugar’s Ray’s.

TP:   Did he have music there?

ROY:   Later on he did. When would it have been? Maybe late ‘50s.

TP:   Did you play there?

ROY:   No, I never played there.

TP:   Did you box ever?

ROY:   Not really. I had a bag. It’s in Vegas now. I bought a place in Vegas in the last few years, since 9/11. I’ve got a house in Vegas with a pool and everything…all of that crap. It’s something I wanted to do, and I did it.

TP:   What the editor wants me to do on this piece, roughly, is what everyone else does when they talk to you these days. It’s the cover story for an issue of which the theme is traditions. He want to talk about traditions, continuity, and looking into the future. Now, any interview with you is about traditions, continuity and looking into the future. Now, at this point, I’ve done three fairly comprehensive interviews with you. Once on WKCR, you talked a lot about your early life. We did one that’s on the Internet where you talked about the way the drums have changed and drum styles have changed. And we did this interview two years ago for the Daily News.

What does the word “tradition” mean to you at this point? Does it have any meaning to you? Is it a meaningless term?

ROY:   When I hear the word “tradition,” it makes me think of a long time ago. It makes me think of something that happened a long time ago. That’s the way it grabs me.

TP:   My impression is that you have a very good memory for things that happened a long time ago.

ROY:   I hear that a lot of old people do. I hear a lot of old people say they can remember what happened twenty years ago, but they can’t remember what happened last night.

TP:   it doesn’t seem to be that way for you, though.

ROY:   A little bit. The last few years, man, I put down something, and man… A lot of that’s happening.

TP:   First I’d like to talk a little generally drums and you in relation to drums. What got you interested in drumming? You mentioned that your parents knew that you were interested in drumming, and they got you lessons with a guy on your block in Boston…

ROY:   Herbie Wright.

TP:   Herbie Wright, who’d been in the Jenkins Orphanage. He taught you mama-daddy and all this…

ROY:   Right, right. You’ve got a good memory yourself.

TP:   What got you interested in doing this? What kind of guy was he? Just how the notion of being a musician entered your consciousness.

ROY:   Well, ever since I can remember, I was banging. I was playing on things. Rhythm. Listening to a lot of music. On the radio… They had good radio stations in Boston.

TP:   Even in the ‘30s?

ROY:   Definitely, man. That’s when I heard Artie Shaw, naturally, Basie, Duke, singers like Billie Holiday, Fats Waller—all of that was on the radio. Basie made a tune called 9:20 Special. I guess that was on the dial, the 920 Club. Man, I heard everything there, ever since I can remember.

TP:   Were you always paying attention to the drummers? Were the drums coming through on the radio?

ROY:   Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a drummer. So I was listening to the drummer… Everything. Listening to the singers and listening to the lyrics. I learned lyrics early, a lot of the old songs. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I wanted to play drums…

TP:   Well, 9:20 Special was about 1937 or 1938, so you would have been 12 or 13.

ROY:   Yes.

TP:   And you were interested in the drums before that.

ROY:   Yes, I had that rhythm. I was a natural drummer, as they said in those days. That was a term they would use when somebody just woke up and started playing.

TP:   How many siblings did you have?

ROY:   Three brothers. Two older and one younger.

TP:   One of them studied music though he wasn’t a professional musician.

ROY:   That was Douglas, the oldest one.

TP:   Did you have a brother who was a minister.

ROY:   Yes, Michael, the one who’s younger than me. He’s still in Boston.

TP:   Was it a family where music was part of the network of family relations, part of the overall thing?

ROY:   No, not necessarily. Because my mother was very religious. She didn’t like the idea of me playing all my records, especially on Sundays. And I played them all the time—Sunday, Monday and Tuesday!

TP:   Branford Marsalis told me that when he was in Boston, he met your brother who admonished him not to go to New York…

ROY:   Really? I haven’t heard that. I’ve heard Branford say many times that my brother told him not to play jazz. But my brother doesn’t seem to remember that. I mentioned that to him. Branford must have mentioned it to quite a few people.

TP:   Was it just an accident that you became a professional musician? Do you ever remember wanting to be anything else?

ROY:   I never remember wanting to be anything else. When I was a teenager, I started playing gigs, making a few dollars…

TP:   A guy named Tom Brown, a Charlie Christian style guitarist.

ROY:   You remember that. Yeah. Tom Brown, and a pianist who played with us also named Hillary Rose. He probably was the older one. He could hustle and get gigs. Naturally, all pianists can always get gigs—trios or solo or whatever. So I was working with them when I was pretty young. I think the first gig I got paid for was with those guys.

TP:   Who were your models? You mentioned as your idol. You dug Cozy Cole, too…

ROY:   You’ve read it! Cozy Cole. I met Shadow Wilson a little later. J.C. Heard. Jimmy Crawford I didn’t meet until I got to New York. He was the drummer with Lunceford. I didn’t really get close to Sonny Greer until I was much older, here in New York, when we got very close.

TP:   What I’m aiming towards is how you started to form your approach to the drums? Was it a meticulous, analytical thing? Was it more of a flow?

ROY:   I would think it’s more like a flow. I was naturally listening to Art Blakey a lot when I was a teenager…

TP:   You knew him, too.

ROY:   Oh, yeah. We got very close. He used to call me his son back when he was in Boston. He came to Boston with Fletcher Henderson a couple of times. One time he came with Fletcher and stayed there. Then, naturally, I was listening to Max when he first recorded. I think he recorded with Coleman Hawkins; that was the first recording I heard him. Then, BOOM!

TP:   Did the things they were doing seem logical to you as a young guy? Did it make sense to hear the way the drummer on Woody ‘N You was approaching things, or on Bird and Dizzy’s first records? Did it immediately make sense to you?

ROY:   It made sense to me right away.

TP:   Why did it make sense?

ROY:   I don’t know. Being the age… I’m a year younger than Max, and I never did know Art Blakey’s age until… What year was it?

TP:   I believe it was 1919.

ROY:   He would have been 87. A year younger than Hank Jones.

TP:   He’s six years older than you.

ROY:   That last question you asked was a hard one.

TP:   But I think it’s an important question.

ROY:   Ask me the question again.

TP:   As a young guy and a student of the drums from very young, and also because of the functions and requirements of the gigs you were playing, you had a certain way of hearing what you were supposed to do. It was supposed to swing and make people move their feet, and probably not be too loud so the guys… Drummers should be felt and not heard type of thing.

ROY:   Oh, you read that. I’ve said that many times.

TP:   You were coming up within that. A lot of drummers of your generation felt the drums were being muffled, held back, and the idea is that many things that happened after WW-2 were a flowering of rhythmic self-expression, unchaining the drums. Since you’re so articulate about what you do and your memory is so strong, and since what you’re doing now is so Right-Now  and not Then, I think it would be an interesting launching point to bring you back to your mindset at 16-17-18.

ROY:   That’s a hard one. But, what they told me I did have was… The word “swing” had somewhat of a different meaning during that period. That was really the feel that you had. That’s the word that would be used today, would be the feel — “you’ve got a good feel.” But to swing mainly was with that right hand, BING-DING-DA-DING, DING-DA-DING, and whatever I had, it was really loved by most of the older musicians at that time, such as Lester Young… I played a little with Coleman Hawkins. I used to play a lot with Pete Brown, the alto player, when he would come to Boston. The guy who used to help me with my drums, Scottie, he often said that Sweets Edison said, “Roy Haynes is the swingingest motha…” Heh-heh.  He was with Basie, and Basie was known as the King of Swing. Well, they called Benny Goodman the King of Swing, but then they nicknamed Basie the Jump King of Swing. They called Benny Goodman the King of Swing, but we know… But that thing is what a lot of the older players liked in my style of playing, and I know that’s what gave me a lot of gigs. I joined Prez in 1947…

TP:   That was two years after you came to New York.

ROY:   Yeah. I came to New York in 1945. I joined him at the same place I joined Luis Russell, the Savoy Ballroom, where people were dancing while you’re playing. There were always two bands there. Prez loved it. After a couple of tunes… I’ve said this many times; I won’t even repeat it now…

TP:   He said, “Prez, you sure are swinging.”

ROY:   Exactly.

TP:   But he didn’t say “give me a little titty-boom.”

ROY:   He didn’t say that, no. That’s the way he would talk anyhow. But he didn’t suggest anything to me, what to do. Because I knew what he wanted, and I was still dancing with my left hand and my right foot back and forth, and I was giving him that.

TP:   Could you have given him that in 1943 or 1944?

ROY:   Of course.

TP:   So your right hand conception of the cymbal was together when you were 17-18 years old.

ROY:   I had that, yeah.

TP:   Did Art Blakey ever talk to you about drumming, aesthetics, dos and donts?

ROY:   Art Blakey always used to tell me about…what’s that drummer’s name from Chicago…

TP:   Not Ike Day.

ROY:   Ike Day!  Art Blakey was telling me about Ike Day when I was very young. You know, sometimes you’d come and play your heart out, but there was always someone else telling you it was great, but you should hear BUM-BUM-BUM.

TP:   He was the baddest of them all, according to some people.

ROY:   He was something!

TP:   did you hear him?

ROY:   Yes. Oh, I met him. In fact, when I was with Sarah, playing the Chicago Theater, he was in the hospital then, and he snuck out of the hospital with his hospital clothes on to come backstage to see me—to ask for something. Heh-heh. When I replaced Max with Charlie Parker, which was 1949… Well, you heard that story, too. I was playing with Miles, and Miles used to say that Charlie Parker stole his drummer. So I was still playing with Charlie Parker at the Three Deuces, and they always had two groups there. After Max left… I never knew until maybe a few years ago that Max wanted to come back. He said, “Roy Haynes took my gig and never gave it back to me.” I said, “oh, I was supposed to?” Anyhow, he comes into the Three Deuces with Bud Powell, and I was playing with Bird. I had his original gig. In the meantime, Slim Gaillard was coming into Bop City from California, and he had Ike Day. Maybe before he opened, the night before (he got in a day early), he came to the Three Deuces. Max was playing with Bud Powell and I’m playing with Charlie Parker. Max had him to sit in, and Max grabbed me by the arm and said, “Okay, we’re both going to sit down and check him out.” I’ll never forget that. It was pretty wild. Everybody loved this guy, man.

TP:   Can you give some appoximation of his style?

ROY:   He could swing. All the drummers from the West… I’m not talking about the West Coast; I’m talking about Chicago or Kansas City. Most of those drummers could really swing. They had that thing. I wish I could have heard him more, or if he had recorded then I could listen to that and explain his playing. But he was a younger guy from Chicago who was very hip.

TP:   Was he breaking the rhythm?

ROY:   That I don’t remember exactly. But I’m sure he was playing little things.

TP:   Someone told me that someone hired Ike Day similar to what Buddy Rich did with Philly Joe Jones… Maybe Woody Herman.

ROY:   Could have been.

TP:    But Art Blakey was telling you to check out Ike Day. I’m sorry to keep harping on the ‘40s…

ROY:   No problem.

TP:   But it’s such a direct connection… If the drum vocabulary is a language, then you have a direct connection in a way that hardly anyone else has now, to the way people were speaking on the drums in the ‘30s and ‘40s, when the function was very different. The way we think about drummers in the ‘30s has to be very different than what it actually was because of recording technology. When you were at a ballroom, it had to be a different thing to hear Jo Jones and Jimmy Crawford right there than on one of their three-minute records.

ROY:   But that swing thing was the main thing.

TP:   Did drummers take liberties with the drums, with the timbres within the kit…

ROY:   Some drummers did. A good guy for that was Sonny Greer. He had a kit. He had the chimes and the timpanis and wooden blocks. Chick Webb had temple blocks, three or four or five of them.

TP:   So some of these guys were playing a whole percussion orchestra behind their kit in real time.

ROY:   Oh, yeah.

TP:   When did people start to play tempos at the velocities that became more common after World War 2?

ROY:   Fast tempos? That was happening at the jam sessions like Minton’s. I started going there in ‘45 when I got to New York. It was happening moreso here in New York than on a lot of recordings way back, until Bud Powell and Bird… Heh-heh.

TP:   Those ‘45 recordings like Shaw Nuff and Ko-Ko. Between ‘45, when you were with Luis Russell, and ‘47, when you joined Prez, I guess you probably on the road a lot. Did your conception of the drums change then? Did playing in the big bands affect your ideas vis-a-vis combos?

ROY:   When I joined Luis Russell, I didn’t realize that I had changed the sound of the band. Nobody told me. But they told my brother. That’s when I realized. I said wow. I didn’t realize I was that hip. But I guess my concept that I was hearing and had in mind was there. But the big band, I did two years. That was great. But the slick thing to do now, with this new music, so-called bebop, was to play with small groups. So I wanted to leave the band and go down to 52nd Street, which is what I did anyhow.

TP:   Did you set out deliberately to differentiate yourself from Max and Kenny Clarke? Did it just come out that way?

ROY:   I think it would come out that way rather than deliberately try to do something else. Max Roach often told he heard something and he thought it was him! Unless he was just joking. But my notes on the cymbal were different than his. That part was different anyhow. So automatically it just happened.

TP:   You mean the way you struck the cymbal was different?

ROY:   The space that I would leave. How I would do it. Yeah, that was me.

TP:   In this interview with Josh, he spoke about how, when he was playing with you, he noticed he was getting the sound he associates with bebop drumming, and you had your foot on the hi-hat but weren’t actually hitting the hi-hat, so you were getting the groove and the sound without actually using the techniques more commonly associated with this style of drumming. You were impressed that he caught this, and you quoted Miles Davis’ comment about “itchin’.”

ROY:   See, that’s hard. Like, IT-CHY-BOOM, IT-CHY-BOOK, IT-CHY, ITCHY-BOOM, ITCHY-BOOM, ITCHY-BANG, ITCHY-BANG. ITCHY, ITCHY-ING, DING-DA-DING, DING-DA-DING. What word did Prez use now?

TP:   Titty-boom.

ROY:   TITTY-BOOM, TITTY-BOOM. It’s still BOP-BA-DAH, BOP-BA-DAH, BOP-BA-DAH, ITCHY… There’s a certain thing I was doing that Miles said, “Well, Haynes is itchin’.” It was just a term. The hi-hat was not the itchin’ part of it. It was still the right hand. Everybody was playing 2 and 4 on the hi-hat. I can’t even do that if I tried. I can’t even keep that up. So now, sometimes I just take my foot off, put my foot on the side, and play it when I want to play it, dress it up periodically, rather than keep a continuous beat on the hi-hat. Which I didn’t do too much. Sometimes playing with certain people, they needed that or they wanted that. Some records I know I did that. At Rudy Van Gelder’s, he would always put a mike at the hi-hat. So that would be your highlight or something. Like Arthur Taylor… Jackie McLean said, “I wanted to take the hi-hat away from Arthur Taylor,” because it was continuously on 2 and 4.

TP:   So it would sort of put a grid on the music.

ROY:   Yeah.

TP:   You didn’t do it, so it created more of a flow.

ROY:   Exactly.

TP:   When I talk to Dave Holland about you, or Pat Metheny’s quote, they say “the father of modern drumming.” That’s a generalized statement. What exactly does that mean? Well, maybe it means that you’re able to sustain the swing and the groove and play in a manner apropos to all these different situations. So maybe that predisposition of yours allowed you to be so relevant to all those situations, that you didn’t fall into those patterns.

ROY:   Yeah, it could be. That’s a good way of putting it. I like it to flow. I don’t always like to… I don’t want to call the saxophone player’s name, but he’d be clapping his hands on 2 and 4. Sometimes that’s within us anyhow. I just dance around that, but that’s there. But some people want to hear that.

TP:   The back…

ROY:   The backbeat. Is that what you started to say? If you play with the right people… That’s one thing I liked about playing with people… Miles was hip to that, too. Gene Ammons. When I was with Luis Russell, playing the Regal Theater in Chicago, I used to walk from the Regal down the street to a place called the Club Congo. I couldn’t wait to sit in with Gene Ammons. I’m talking about 1946. He could play with a drummer. Coltrane had that thing. Prez, naturally, had it. Some people are depending on you to give them that. But I like to play with people who have that within them. Every now and then we can state it, but we just dance around it.

TP:   Bird was like that, too, of course.

ROY:   Well, Bird! It’s sort of a freer way.

TP:  On Billy Hart’s website, there’s a long interview with Billy Hart, where he says that you and Max were listening to a lot of timbales players, that you were playing like a timbalero. Was Afro-Cuban music important? Were those drummers important to you?

ROY:    I’ve mentioned that many times, especially in the last few years. Some of my solos were into that timbale-type thing. In fact, Mongo and Willie Bobo talked about that many years ago, my concept on my solos. It was there, definitely.

TP:   Was that innate? Did you go to the Palladium to hear those bands…

ROY:   Man, you could just walk from Birdland on Broadway to the Palladium outside and hear the drums playing. Birdland had Machito’s band there a lot, or Tito, and I was checking it out a lot. I was into that. I loved that.

TP:   Would you sit in or guest with those bands?

ROY:   Yes. I played at the Village Gate on Monday nights.

TP:   I suppose you elaborated those rhythms and approach more specifically in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, when you had the Hip Ensemble.

ROY:   Yes. I used a conga player most of the time anyhow then. I did a lot of that.

TP:   But for a lot of people, I think, what you were doing in that band is a kind of bridge into using eighth rhythms and so on that entered the general vocabulary. I remember once you came up to WKCR with Graham, and we were playing Anthropology from an aircheck at Birdland, and the tempo, as Arthur Taylor liked to say, was completely supersonic. Graham asked you how you did it! So we have you doing things with Bud Powell and Bird. Playing the function with Sarah. This complex music with Eric Dolphy and Andrew Hill. This incredibly intense energy music with Coltrane. At the same time, you’re playing with Stan Getz, which is another thing, and Chick Corea, which is something, and the Hip Ensemble, where you’re bridging the dance rhythms of the ‘60s and ‘70s and transmuting it into your own thing. There are all these different flavors, but always you…

In the ‘50s, when recording quality gets better and people can really start hearing what drummers are doing on records, you’re with Sarah… What happens between in terms of your ideas between 1953 and 1959? You come off the road when you start having kids and moving to another phase. Are you thinking differently during those years about what the drummer can do?

ROY:   When you say the ‘50s, it could have been… I left Sarah in ‘57 or ‘58. Sarah would take off maybe four weeks during the summer, and when she did that in ‘57, I did something with Sonny Rollins. Other than that, I didn’t do too much.

TP:   The Sound of Sonny.

ROY:   But I made a gig with him in between. But he fired all of us.

TP:   Sonny Rollins fired you?

ROY:   Yes, Sonny Rollins fired me. He fired the whole band. That’s when Pete LaRoca first came on the scene. He hired Pete LaRoca.

TP:   Did he ever tell you why?

ROY:   He fired the whole band, man. It was Kenny Dorham. We rehearsed with Sonny. He got a studio and he rehearsed. This was the first time he went in the Vanguard in a long time. When we got to the Vanguard, he didn’t play anything he’d rehearsed. I could analyze on it more, but I don’t want to… He fired everybody, man.

TP:   but to fire YOU is different than firing some people.

ROY:   Yeah, but… Heh-heh. Then we did a record after that… [“Grand Street”] Hank was supposed to make The Sound of Sonny, but something went down and Hank left, something went down with him and Percy, and Sonny Clark did it. Sensitive as Sonny is now, I don’t want to hurt his feelings. But he was uncomfortable. When he came back, he was fighting musically what was going on. He played the Jazz Gallery. It was his first gig after The Bridge. People were waiting, they didn’t have no airconditioning… He came in there, man, and… He’s a nervous wreck, and he can’t stand too much against him. He used to come to my house when he was with Lester Young. I didn’t even know he played a fuckin’ instrument! Sonny Rollins sometime when I lived on 149th Street. He’d come there with a friend of ours who wanted to be a pianist, but never was. So I knew him way back.

TP:   He was probably in high school. He lived there.

ROY:   I know he lived there. He was probably out of school, but I didn’t know him that long. I was playing with Prez when he came to my house.

TP:   He said Monk gave him his first gig in 1947-1948 at Club Baron.

ROY:   Monk was hiring on all those kind of gigs.

TP:   When did you first work with Monk? Not until the Five Spot thing, or before that?
ROY:   We may have played a hit someplace before that. I don’t remember where it was exactly.

TP:   Let me do what a lot of people do and ask you to speak spontaneously about some of the people you played with. Let’s start with Monk.

ROY:   Monk. Man, that was something special to be around. Not on the bandstand even. Just to be around this guy. It was a trip. I loved every moment of it, man. The two most original people I ever met that I can remember is Lester Young and Thelonious Monk.

TP:   How so?

ROY:   The way they talk. What they talk about. How they describe things. They were just original. Lester had a lyric… Oh, man. Two years with this guy. I laughed.  It was enjoyable. $100 a week for two years. And they took out tax. I go ninety-something dollars. That didn’t even bother me. I enjoyed every moment. With Monk, at the Five Spot, it was $100 a week. Shit. But to go to work every night… Leroi Jones in the audience, a lot of the hippie guys, the poets and… Oh, man! They had a guy who used to make hamburgers. The Five Spot on the Bowery, that was a funky place! And we’d enjoy those hamburgers, man! It was dynamite. But man, those two guys… What can I say?

TP:   How about Bud Powell?

ROY:   That’s a whole different situation, with the mental thing. But there was a period… He lived on St. Nicholas Avenue and 141st Street. He even went off with the big band around that period. We would walk to his house, and he would put on the latest record that he had just recorded (it wasn’t out at the time) with Max and… He also would play his latest compositions. He’d like play a concert for us. That was a great period, too. I’d go over with this same guy who used to go over, named Leonard Montanez, Charlie LoSista… His father was a big man in Harlem. You know, up on Sugar Hill, most of the younger guys, their fathers either were great musicians or something big. We had a lot of that on Sugar Hill. That’s where Sonny Rollins and Arthur Taylor, Kenny Drew, and those guys were from. Most of those guys were younger than me.

TP:   You were already established.

ROY:   Yes. That was a helluva period. A lot of those guys, we’d just go over to Bud’s house, and he would perform. He’d be in his bathrobe, and just like a genius… I’ve said this in many articles. I’d go over to his house, ring the bell, and knock on the door. He’d look at me and say, “Close the door. We don’t want no geniuses in here.” Then he’d open the door back and say, “Come on in, mother…”

TP:   But you’re the drummer on a couple of his best records… By the way, have you ever heard these March 1953 broadcasts from Birdland? The tempos you’re playing are…it’s like a magic carpet, so fast but so smooth… Did you practice those tempos or did they just happen?

ROY:   Good question. I’ve been saying for the last 10-15 years, I’m like a doctor on the gig. I’m practicing then. That’s my feeling.

TP:   So even back then, it was a total gig thing… You told Joshua that you weren’t a rudimental drummer at all.

ROY:   That’s coming up a lot, man. We did this drum roundtable thing a few weeks ago for a German magazine and Modern Drummer, and that came up. I may have brought it up, the rudiments shit.

TP:   Well, you said Herbie Wright taught you Mamma-Daddy and the roll…

ROY:   That’s the first time I ever heard Mamma-Daddy. I never even got that shit good. That’s the first time I heard the term.

TP:   Art Blakey had the story that he played for Chick Webb, and Chick Webb cursed him out because his rolls were sad, and told him to practice, and hence he developed his press roll. Perhaps some embellishment, but a little truth to it, too.

ROY:   Ha-ha! Knowing Art Blakey. I still never got into the rudiments. But if I did, I probably would just sound like everybody else—maybe. Know what I mean? So to keep some interest… I did a thing they call Drum Festival in Montreal. A lot of fuckin’ drummers there. Now, if I played rudiments and all that shit, they’re hip to that shit. So I come up with the Roy Haynes shit, man, and it blew all of their minds, man.

TP:   You also told me that you’re sort of tap dancing when you play drums, that’s what you’re visualizing.

ROY:   Well, some of the stuff. I get into that period. I can shift gears. I can go into another gear. Sometimes I’ve got to go into a gear where people are not aware that I can go into it.

TP:   What sort of gear might that be?

ROY:   Well, the latest one. Hippidy Hop.

TP:   I was just listening to that this morning?

ROY:   [GETS UP] I got to get up for that one! They played it at the Roundtable thing. That’s what they closed with. Man, that shit… They had me fuckin’ screaming. I’m not a guy who practices, so I can’t say I practiced that. Sometimes I come min, and if I feel it… Man, I listened to that shit. Hippidy-fuckin’-hop. And there’s two segments. I don’t know which segments they played at the drum thing. I said, “Man, I’m going to learn that shit.” But I’ll never probably be able to play it again. THAT shit…

TP:   You have another solo piece, Shades of Senegal

ROY:   Oh, yeah, I used to do Shades of Senegali. I recorded that a few times.
TP:   But those solo drums things, is it just a completely spontaneous thing?

ROY: Hippidy Hop, yeah, that’s a feeling I had at that moment, that time. Plus, something to make me feel good about it, they nominated it for a fuckin’ Grammy, man! Somebody’s checkin’… To get into that… There’s really no theme… Shades of Senegal has a melodic theme. This was just some school…

TP:   You used to have that Snap-Crackle tune, that you recorded on Out of the Afternoon and on a direct to disk thing with Flanagan.

ROY:   Tommy says “Roy Haynes” on both of those, though.

TP:   What’s your attitude to drum solos? Were you soloing a lot in the ‘40s and ‘50s?

ROY:   Well, with Luis Russell I had a spot where I would do a drum feature.

TP:   Would it be spontaneous?

ROY:   Well, I probably would have a theme in mind then.

TP:   Was it very different than what what you did on Snap Crackle 18 years later.

ROY:   Snap Crackle doesn’t have a lot of drumming on it. It’s a minor blues, 12 bar.

TP:   Were you doing things with that sort of touch and attack, that kind of crisp thing, with Luis Russell…

ROY:   No.

TP:   Were you tuning your drums differently then?

ROY:   I probably was. With Luis Russell I had Slingerland drums. It was a whole different thing, a whole different period. I went with Ludwig when I was with Lester Young.

TP:   How were they different?

ROY:   I was much younger, in my twenties. I don’t know if I spent a lot of time tuning the drums, even though I had certain things in my head and my mind, how I wanted them to sound. In fact, somebody gave me a record, in London I think…or I bought a record I was on with Luis Russell’s band. I had it on a CD. Moving, I lost a lot of things; I know it’s in here someplace. My grandson and I listened to it. I played probably a 4-bar break in there. I said, “Wow.” Go back to the memories of that period and that time, that approach. I probably was still more into Art Blakey. At least that’s the feeling I got from it.

TP:   Did Art have a stylistic influence on you early on?

ROY:   Yeah, he had an influence, but not that much. The big band, the way he would build into a phrase or something; some rhythm things, the way he would build, go into it. I got a lot of that from listening to him. We were very close. I used to hang out with him all the time. When he was with the big band, they used to play up in Harlem with Billy Eckstine’s band, I’d go hang out with him for the rest of the night.

TP:   That was the master of the hang.

ROY:   Oh, man. The last few times I saw him, I had to sneak away from him. When he was talking to a lady, that’s when I’d sneak away.

TP:   You spoke to me once about how the dimensions of your drumkit were different. The bass drum was bigger, and so on…

ROY:   They didn’t even make small ones. I had a 26″ bass drum, I think, when I was with Luis Russell. I think it was a 26″. That was supposedly small compared to a 28″. Coming up, 28″ was the fashionable thing with the old-timers. I was a younger guy then. So when I got a 26″… I went from a 26″ to a… I got one of the first 20s when I was with Lester Young, I think.

TP:   So the size of the drumkit got smaller and more streamlined, in some ways?

ROY:   Well, it got smaller, because I didn’t have no automobile when I was with Lester Young, so I was on the subway sometimes going downtown with just a snare drum and a bass drum, with your traps and the rest of that stuff.

TP:   You’d be carrying all your stuff.

ROY:   Or taxi. You could get a taxi. But sometimes you’d play those gigs, man, all the girls were gone by the time you’d take your drums. I didn’t have a roadie. With the big band I had a roadie, but when I was with Prez, I had to take them down most of the time myself.

TP:   But by 1960, for instance, when you’re making Far Cry with Eric Dolphy or with Coltrane, did the dimensions of the drums, the technology of the drums have anything to do with your approach or the flow you were projecting?

ROY:   Well, I started tuning the drums a lot. Don’t ask me what notes I was tuning them to. I would search for different melodic sounds, notes that I thought would fit what I was trying to do in the music that we were playing during that period. 18″ bass drums started getting popular during that period. In fact, I had a small sports car, and I put a certain rim on there so it would fit into the trunk on some of those Firebirds I had.

TP:   So it was purely functional.

ROY:   Yeah. The hoops on a bass drum, most of them are wooden, and they’re a couple of inches. I said that in order to save about an inch, I would get a metal hoop which is maybe an inch, so I would save another inch, and that would fit in my car good. Drummers like Tony Williams would come up and say, “Roy, why do you have that metal hoop on the bass drum?” I said, “It’s only because it fits in my car.” People thought it probably had something to do with the sound, but I was looking for it to fit in my car.

TP:   That makes me want to talk about you as an influence. Elvin Jones was into you. He checked you out microscopically, I’d imagine. There’s a story that he’d meet you at the train station in Detroit?

ROY:   He took me to the train station. Yeah, he checked me out, of course. He said that himself.

TP:   Tony Williams definitely did, and was explicit about it…

ROY:   In fact, Miles asked me that once. He said, “Did Tony say anything about you?” I always wondered why Miles asked me that. He would come by my gigs when I would go to Boston, very early, and sit there, of course. One day I asked him to sit in, and he did a roll. I was impressed right away.

TP:   Sam Rivers told me that Tony could play one tune exactly in the style of Art Blakey, another tune in the style of Max Roach, another like Philly Joe Jones, another in your style… He’d taken everyone apart and put together his own conclusions. But in the early ‘60s, were you checking out Elvin with Coltrane, Tony with Miles?

ROY:   When you say “checking them out,” what do you mean?

TP:   Checking out their styles.

ROY:   I never bought any… Well, I bought Coltrane records. I never bought records to listen to the drummer later on. Maybe when I was very young, I did that. But I would check them out in person as much as I could, of course.

TP:   Did you pick up vocabulary ever from drummers who were influenced by you…

ROY:   When you say vocabulary, you mean stuff to play.

TP:   Stuff to play on the drums.

ROY:   Maybe subconsciously. Intentionally, I can’t think of any incident. But subconsciously, the mind… The mind is something, man. Years ago, I was listening to Max, and he played something, and I said to myself, “I thought of that same thing, too. To myself. I didn’t say it to anybody. But I’m thinking, “Man, I could have thought of that same shit.” But lots of time, you hear somebody do something in a band, and sometimes it gets a little confused in there, and confusing to the next guy, especially a younger guy coming after you who will hear somebody do something that they got from somebody else—someone else was doing it a long time ago, but they heard this person do it, and they think that’s where it originates. A lot of people are quiet about that. Once in a magazine I talked about how drummers would come up to me and tell me that they were influenced by… I’d hear that a lot of times, guys who come up and say that. But then when I read their favorite drummers, I would see some other names. I’ve said that in a magazine. One guy, he didn’t know who it was… I was talking mainly about Joe Morello. But I got a call from a guy in Boston who grew up in my neighborhood, Alan Dawson. Alan thought it was him. I wasn’t talking about him. He told me he thought it was… That’s kind of weird. A lot of people aren’t hip to what Alan… Alan was listening to a lot of stuff that Roy Haynes was doing, but he did it another way. He was more rudimental-sounding.

TP:   Well, he did all those Prestige dates that Don Schlitten produced.

ROY:   Right, he was like a house drummer at Prestige for a minute. But I’m talking about when we were teenagers. Even when I was at a camp that we went to, I had a little wooden drum that I had someone send down to the camp. When it was sent down, he was the first one to check it out. That’s before I had a set of drums, so he probably didn’t have a set of drums at that time.

TP:   When did you get your first set of drums?

ROY:   I bought them piece by piece. There was a store in Boston on Huntington Avenue called Rayburn’s. I think there’s still a Rayburn’s up there. They would have cracked cymbals on sale, new cymbals from the factory with a crack. I didn’t have no money, man. I would buy a little cymbal here, a little… When I had my first gigs, I didn’t even have a hi-hat. There was a trumpet player who used to say to me, “When are you going to get a hi-hat, motherfucker?” In other words, I had to play the ride cymbal like a hi-hat. I was showing that to a drummer. I went over to Birdland when there was a Dixieland band there, and I saw the drummer playing, and I said, “Motherfucker, you reminded me of when I was a kid.” But he had a hi-hat. I can show you how I used to play it maybe before you go.

TP:   Maybe that has something to do…

ROY:   I didn’t have a hi-hat. In other words, I had to use the left hand with a stick in it to say TCHIK-TE-SHHH… Open it up with the thumb. So when I had to make a break, I either had to make a break with one hand or take the hand off the cymbal and make a break and then go back to it. I didn’t have…The trumpet player used to say, “Man, when are you going to get a fuckin’ hi-hat?” I was making $12 a week at that gig.

TP:   How much did cymbals cost in the ‘30s?

ROY:   I don’t even remember. Probably $20-$30. So on my first gigs, I didn’t even have a complete set of drums. Then I bought one piece… That piece went to that same summer camp… Oh, that’s where I bought my bass drum. The same summer camp that I used to go to as a kid, and the money I made there, I bought a bass drum. There was a war on, and I wanted it to be pearl, but all they were selling was wooden shit then, on account of the war. I took some imitation leather and covered the heads and everything to try to make it look slick! That same drum was on my first gig when I played with Frankie Newton in Boston at the Ken Club. That’s where I met George Wein, too. Warrington and Fremont Street, a downstairs joint. Cozy Cole came in one night, when he was playing with Cab Calloway, and I had him sit in. Somebody took a photo. I have my initials on the bass drum as big as you could see! That same little wooden bass drum, the snare drum that someone gave me somewhere—probably stole it or some shit.

TP:   Let me jump in time. When did you first meet Coltrane?

ROY:   It was probably was when I was with Bird, of course. I don’t really remember. He was no big name. All those guys would come to the club. Jimmy Heath, all them guys in Philly. He was among all of those guys, so he wasn’t outstanding that I would remember him. But I remember seeing him. He used to drink a lot during that period. In fact, at one period we were kind of messing with the same girl. I talked about that, too. I probably met him in the late ‘40s-early ‘50s, when I was with Bird.

TP:   when did you start to notice him as a musician?

ROY:   I started to notice him when he was with Miles.

TP:   When you did those records, you were up on what he was doing, I guess. Were you up on the developments of the late ‘50s, Coltrane’s evolution and Ornette, and were you interested?

ROY:   Ornette came to the Five Spot while I was there. I was still around. In fact, we had jammed way early, at the Five Spot. I think only one set that I can remember during that same period.

TP:   What did it seem like to you in 1959?

ROY:   I could still hear Bird. He had that plastic horn. I’d been with Bird when he had the plastic horn, so right away I knew that he was into Bird, regardless of whether he’d admit or not, and in some of the lines of his tunes I heard a little Bird anyhow. Abstracted. I dug it. I dug his audiences. His audiences were so sincere, I could go down there, yeah.

TP:   So it hit you.

ROY:   Yeah.

TP:   When you heard him or Eric Dolphy…

ROY:   Well, I knew Eric before Eric played like that. I knew Eric when he was playing all Bird licks. We knew each other a long before we recorded.

TP:   You said he used to come to your house.

ROY:   He used to come to my house, and when he was in California I couldn’t get rid of the guy. When I was in my last days with Sarah, or on a big show playing with Bud Powell, Eric was always there. He’d hang out with me… We were close until he died.

TP:   But it sounds like the situations you were placed in during the ‘60s with Dolphy and with Coltrane, were very intellectually stimulating for you.

ROY:   That was a very stimulating period. For me, I was more excited about Coltrane than Eric. Eric was a young guy who was searching. Coltrane was searching, too, but he was searching DIFFERENT. I didn’t rate Eric with Coltrane. Maybe some people did.

TP:   Well, Coltrane was only a year younger than you.

ROY:   I know. But he was a late bloomer. Know what I mean?

TP:   And you were not a late bloomer!

ROY:   Well, a lot of people were not hip to me because I didn’t… Mine was laid back for a long time. Maybe that’s why I’m so anxious to play. People would describe Roy Haynes, like maybe Billy Taylor would say, “A musician’s drummer” or “a drummer’s drummer.” A lot of drummers all over the world were always hip to Roy Haynes. I know guys who’d come on the boat from England…traveled on the boat and came to New York to buy some Roy Haynes drumsticks. Ludwig made a Roy Haynes drumstick even before Slingerland. So I had all that stuff a long time ago. But now what is so great, like, the world can learn more about me, and that’s been happening in my travels. Ladies in the audience sometimes say to me “I never heard a drum solo like that” or all those type of things. I love it, man. That’s very inspiring to me.

TP:   Let’s talk about some of the Baby Boom musicians you… I gather you met Chick Corea with Stan Getz and got involved with his projects later.

ROY:   I met him before Stan Getz. I knew his father played an instrument, too. His father knew me when I was the youngster around Boston.

TP:   The record Now He Sings, Now He Sobs was very influential on a lot of pianists. As for that matter, is Reaching Fourth…

ROY:   That’s a quiet one. A lot of people aren’t hip to that.

TP:   Both are core records for any pianist under 50.

ROY:   Only a few people are hip to the one with McCoy.

TP:   Well, all the pianists know it. Let me put the question another way. When you were doing these things in the ‘60s… I don’t know how much you would have been gigging with Chick. But was there a sense that you were doing something new? I’d imagine that back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, there had to be the sense that you were in the artistic vanguard. Was there also that sense in the ‘60s through your associations, and was that important to you?

ROY:   That was important in a lot of ways. Not only the music, but the scene. You could just feel everything changing. And to be around and feel it… The audiences were different. That’s when people started wearing their hair long. Everything!
TP:   You said you couldn’t wait to get out of the suit.

ROY:   I was so goddamn glad, man, to get out of it, to have a tie on…

TP:   Those Andover Clothing stores…

ROY:   I was wearing the slickest shit out, and custom. Me and Miles… George Frazier and I went to the same tailor, the Andover Shop, in Cambridge, Mass.

TP:   You and Miles got out of those suits with a vengeance.

ROY:   Oh, Miles! Well, in the ‘60s he couldn’t wait, man! All that crazy shit. I mentioned Carnaby Street in London. I used to go there and buy shit. I’ve still got shit probably in boxes downstairs that are from Carnaby Street. It don’t fit me now. I got some boots some Carnaby Street. But yeah, it kind of felt like there was some different stuff happening.

TP:   Is it still important to you, that notion of having what you do be…

ROY:   Well, when you talk about those two records, it has to be something that’s important. It’s all over the world, man. All over the world people are talking about that still.

TP:   The one with Chick, Now He Sings…

ROY:   Yeah, that one, man… There’s not a week that someone in the audience doesn’t bring that up.

TP:   It’s a universal landmark for jazz piano players.

ROY:   Yeah. But there are a lot of people who didn’t play piano. Well, Herbie Hancock, that was the first time he heard me playing like that. He just complimented me to death.

TP:   What musicians always mention is the openness of your mind, to be able to place yourself in all these contexts in a very free-thinking way. I know you rarely play as a sideman any more, but you did through the mid ‘90s… Except with Chick, I guess.

ROY:   That’s one of the things that sort of brought me out when I stopped playing with a lot of other people, though, and playing with certain people. Because there are a lot of things that I had in my mind before to do, but I didn’t do it. Some people say, “You changed” or… I don’t agree with that 100%. There may be a different approach to something, but I had all of these things in mind a long time ago, even though I didn’t know where they would fit. So that’s why, doing my own thing, I do what I want to do. Sometimes I may feel over-anxious and overdue, but I know what should be done and how to do it.

Sometimes I take chances. One time I told a guy who was interviewing me, “I’m a gambler.” He didn’t know what I was talking about.” He thought I meant I wanted to go to Las Vegas and gamble.But I’ll go overboard. You talk about playing free or something. That’s part of the beginning of playing free, not playing the hi-hat on 2 and 4 and letting that stuff be loose. You don’t have to play anything in 7/8 or 6/8. It’s all there anyhow. You divide it up and you try to surround yourself with people who are going to understand that, and we take it to the moon, man. We can play the same song all night and make something different happen within it, and you won’t know where we are. When you get that kind of understanding on the bandstand, man, you can lift that. That’s one of the things that Coltrane had. Sometimes I get it with my young groups, and I work on it, and man, it’s the greatest feeling. You talk about eating some good food or having some good sex! It tops all of that.

TP:   It’s up there.

ROY:   It’s up there, when that happens. And when the whole house feels that, and… What’s happening on the bandstand, we’re giving it to each other, and as a group we give it to the audience. The audience gets it and gives it back to us. Man, you can’t beat that.

TP:   A lot of things that people are hearing from you since about 1990, when we start to hear about one record every 18 months or two years… You were thinking about those ideas farther back than when you started playing. Did a lot of those ideas, though, develop when you had the Hip Ensemble? That’s the band that people know less about now (probably because the records are out of print) than some of your other things. Can you discuss that experience a bit. When I was younger, I’d listen to WRVR and Ed Beach, “Roy Haynes and the Hip Ensemble,” and it just seemed very, very hip…

ROY:   Those were some wild days. Wild days. Oh, man, the first band with George Adams and Hannibal, I think the first recording we did was entitled Hip Ensemble. I think some of those are going to come out in this box set that they’re talking about. A lot of stuff is going to be licensed. That’s the big talk these days. There’s some stuff I did with Ray Charles, a big band that I expect to be in there.

TP:   So let’s talk about those years, since it’s pertinent. Those years obviously were a bridge to what you did later, forming the bands with Ralph Moore and David Kikoski…. What sorts of ideas were you thinking about in the ‘70s? Bringing out contemporary dance rhythms…

ROY:   It was some of that. At some points, I recorded with the electric piano, the fender Rhodes… We would travel with the fender Rhodes. The first guy was Carl Schroeder, and I had a guy who went with Miles—Cedric Lawson. He was a very talented guy. A little poco loco. A lot of the guys were poco loco in those bands. That was a very wild period. We couldn’t do… Everything had to be…

TP:   You mean drugs.

ROY:   Oh, yeah, man. The first gig with the Hip Ensemble was at a place in New York called The Scene on the West Side. This was an Acid Rock joint. How I got the gig in there, I had to accompany this singer who was singing Beatles songs. I forget his name. Jimi Hendrix came to see us there. He didn’t play. He came up on the stage with us. All of those guys were hanging around the scene. But opening night… I rehearsed at Chick Corea’s house. Chick was living in Queens then; maybe I didn’t have a piano or something at that time. He came down to the club opening night, and he heard the Hip Ensemble. This was before he started Return to Forever, if I started correctly. He said, “Roy Haynes, you really can form a band.” He took that out early. We stayed there for two weeks. A lot of people don’t know… Acid Rock. We played some Funk, too. I think I needed some drumsticks, and there always was another band there, and I was using the other drummer’s drumsticks. Man, I said, “Oh, this is a secret; you can really play slick with these big baseball bat drumsticks. I’m playing loud, I’ve got an electric… We had a regular piano in there, but we had an electric bass. My bass player at the time was… We had a couple of different guys.

TP:   Did you use a bigger kit?

ROY:   I must have had an 18″ bass drum. Oh, I had a lot of drums then, I think; I had a lot of melodic drums, yes.

TP:   Is this before Billy Cobham started bringing out all those drums? Do you think those guys were checking out the Hip Ensemble?

ROY:   You named one. He was, man. Billy Cobham. In fact, he’d come to my house to get something. Chick came to get a cymbal, the flat ride that he used when he started Return to Forever, that all the drummers had to play when he played acoustic piano. I don’t know if you’re aware of that.

TP:   No, I wasn’t.

ROY:   Well, that was the case.

TP:   Were you incorporating new rhythms, experimenting with new rhythms?

ROY:   Experimenting, of course. Definitely.

TP:   What sort of new rhythms.

ROY:   I was doing a lot of stuff in 7/8. I had a group before the Hip Ensemble at Slugs with Wayne Shorter. I had Cecil McBee and the pianist was…he died. Wayne talks about it in his book. That was still in the ‘60s, and a lot of crazy stuff was happening. They had sawdust on the floor at Slugs.

TP:   Do you think a lot of the things you were experimenting with in the Hip Ensemble in the ‘70s then became part of the Roy Haynes style that we hear in the last twenty years?

ROY:   Maybe some of it. None that I can think of offhand.

TP:   The attack. Playing harder…

ROY:   If I want to turn it up a bit, yeah. In that period, it was fashionable to put your cymbals high in the air and all that stuff. I got ‘em down, where I can talk to them a little more.

TP:   It’s fair to say that the Hip Ensemble had a lot to do with bridging you…

ROY:   The Hip Ensemble had something to do with it. I don’t know if it was a lot. Maybe. Things like that I don’t really…

TP:   Of course. But if you have any ideas.

ROY:   Well, the Hip Ensemble was very important.

TP:   Why was it important?

ROY:   Well, for those reasons. Sometimes I don’t know why or how it was important. But it was. It was important. We were doing that stuff before it really was that popular! I did something maybe a little after the Hip Ensemble that was being played on rock stations only—Thank You, Thank You. George Cables was on it.

TP:   Everyone knows that in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the jazz market had declined a lot. How much of your doing that had to do with just needing the work, and how much had to do with your actual interest?

ROY:   I don’t think I did it to get jobs. Maybe I did, and didn’t realize it. Because I could get gigs. I was known for getting gigs. Whether it was the Hip Ensemble… Maybe I felt that that’s the direction I want to go at the time. I want to express that feeling. Sometimes I don’t know why I do things. But I know every now and then that word comes up, the Hip Ensemble, and somebody says it with some feeling, so I think there must have been something to it.

TP:   Well, it was the greatest name for a group. I mean, it’s the HIP Ensemble.

ROY:   [LAUGHS] One time a guy wrote about it, when the record first came out. He started out saying, “Being hip was always one of Roy Haynes’ problems.” He probably meant it as a compliment—I hope!”

TP:   Do you feel that doing dates like Question and Answer helped bring your name out… In other words, that advocacy of you by younger musicians…

ROY:   Well, we did Question and Answer with Pat Metheny anyhow. That was the title of a CD. I heard something many years ago. I used to play a place in New Jersey called Gulliver’s. It was during the period before they started charging per show. It might have been after the Hip Ensemble; the Hip Ensemble wasn’t working in there. I was getting younger audiences, so they weren’t drinking a lot. They were going outside between shows and doing whatever they wanted to do. They weren’t drinking. And late at night, a lot of the “boys,” so to speak, as they were called, would come in and they wouldn’t have no place to sit because all these young people were staying and not drinking. I took that as a compliment. I’m getting these younger audiences. I had to use it. I kept doing certain things, and people started mentioning it. “Roy, I noticed something; you’ve really drawn a young audience.” And it’s grown. If I play Question and Answer now, somebody can relate to that in the audience, regardless of whether they know the name of the tune or if they realize it’s a Pat Metheny tune. Some do and some don’t. Also, I get some older people who remember me and want to check me out. So it’s an interesting mix when you come to some of my performances, to see the people. So I can’t answer that, but maybe that’s why.

TP:   Well, that’s a good answer. This brings me to another point, which is the way you set up sets and the repertoire you use, which touches on all of your associations, and brings them into real time, as it were.

ROY:   There you go.

TP:   Something from Prez, something from Bird, something from Monk, something from Sarah, something from Getz, something from Chick, something from Metheny, something from Coltrane, something from Oliver Nelson.

ROY:   Then I’ll hook up and play Hippity Hop.

TP:   Or things like Praise. But how did you evolve that strategy, as it were? Was it a strategy?

ROY:   I think you could use the term “strategy.” It’s what I’m feeling. I had a lady in Chicago once, who wasn’t particularly young… I don’t know her age. But I was standing in the lobby as the people were coming out, and she stopped and told me how she enjoyed the music and how it reminded her of the four seasons. I took it as a compliment. Not the group the Four Seasons… The spring, summer, fall, winter.

TP:   You took her on a trip.

ROY:   Yeah, evidently. So that’s kind of hip. You say, “Wow, she’s getting all this…” She happened to be an actress. That’s what she got from it. You know what she said then? She said, “How are you going to the airport?” I was leaving the next day. She said, “I’ll send a limousine for you.” Now I can’t get rid of her. She shows up, sends limousines… Something is working.

TP:   WBGO is on. Do you keep your ears open to what a lot of the younger drummers are doing?

ROY:   I always listen. There are so many damn drummers! There’s a lot of drummers out there. A lot of musicians. But there are a lot of drummers. I mean, more than ever. Every other month I’m hearing about some new guy, and I’m checking him out on a record, and I’m liking them. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference, who’s who. A lot of them sound alike. In the old days, we could usually hear somebody and tell who it is. One thing I read about myself recently, in a couple of bars…

[PAUSE: BATHROOM BREAK]

TP:   You were talking about a couple of things. Younger drummers, they’re good, you can’t always tell them apart…

ROY:   Well, I don’t really want to say that. It’s kind of hard for them now, anyhow, to… They’ve got everything to listen to. Everybody. They can listen to all the old shit, and they can see whoever is left.

TP:   They can also hear all the rhythms from other parts of the world. All that stuff is quite accessible.

ROY:   Yeah. And they’ve got schools, and some of the teachers are players. That wasn’t when I came up. I had a guy, Karl Ludwig, at Boston Conservatory for a little while. All he could say was [SINGS ROLL] BRRPPP, BRRPPP. He was a German guy. I had him for a short while.

TP:   You learned to read music and so on…

ROY:   Well, I was familiar with a lot of the writers, the guys who wrote the music. That was the thing. When you’re a natural drummer, if you didn’t read that good, which I couldn’t anyhow… Now I can’t… I could read better years ago.

TP:   Your eyesight.

ROY:   I’ve got these goddamn spy glasses. But I don’t want to read shit. Somebody can hire me for what I do…

TP:   For your sound.

ROY:   And for my imagination as well. They have to be a writer that’s into me. That’s why Chick and I were so cool, and even Pat.

TP:   Why?

ROY:   Because they’re into what I’m trying to do. I’m not a guy for hire. I know I’m an individual, and my concept is what it is. That’s the way I feel. I’m not a guy on call, that you can call to do this project. No-no. Never was. But worse now. You’d be surprised… Some years ago, a singer would call me up and tell me she’s a singer and wanted me to record with her. I said, “Look, I played with Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Leave me the fuck alone.” Not like that, but almost. That’s not nice to say. They act like they’re doing me a favor. When I was with Sarah Vaughan, man, I was buying a house then. My first house, boom. It’s different now. I don’t want to do that shit now. I did it. Diddit and diddit and diddit. Ever hear that joke? Chick Corea was the first one to tell me the joke. He said, “Max Roach did it, Art Blakey did it, Philly Joe did it, but Roy Haynes did it and did it and did it and did it.” [STOMPS THE TIME] DIDDIT-AND-DIDDIT-AND-DIDDIT-AND-DIDDIT. That’s Roy Haynes’ shit.

TP:   So with your band, you’re referring back to the 60 years of experience every night, really, every set, because you’re playing this material…

ROY:   Sometimes there’s something left out, and it may come to me on the last day, or never come to me during that gig if it’s a weekend or week or whatever. Periodically, something will come to me that I may associate with Louis Armstrong when I played with the big band for a week. I may think of something related to that.

TP:   Or Nat Cole, you played with.

ROY:   Yeah-yeah.

TP:   but more or less, within your set, that’s your orientation. It covers your whole…

ROY:   Yeah.

TP:   How do you work out arrangements in the band? Who does them…

ROY:   I usually do. I usually rearrange, or change, or add something to them. We’ve got one of Chick’s that we do that, I do it a different way… Bud Powell. There are certain little riffs that I handle different than the way he wrote it.

TP:   Another one you do a lot is Green Chimneys.

ROY:   I haven’t been doing that too much. A lot of other people have recorded it.

TP:   It’s on the 2002 record, but Bemsha Swing is on the new record.

ROY:   Yes. See, the new record was not really a record date. It’s not recorded good or anything. A friend of mine is a drummer; he has this place in St. Paul, and he had arranged with the Mayor to have the Roy Haynes weekend. That’s paying off for him. His place has a nice size. And he got the Roy Haynes snare drum and that whole thing.

TP:   Also the group Birds of a Feather is like that.

ROY:   That was mostly Bird, though.

TP:   The point being that you’re always referring to the foundation of your career and your aesthetics. But most people who are 60 and 70 and 80 look at those times…

ROY:   As past tense?

TP:   Or from a certain point, they stop evolving their perspective. Even Max in a lot of ways. It seems like you’re in both places at once. You’re back then…

ROY:   But still now?

TP:   Yes, still now. That’s a hard trick for people. Miles dealt with it by cutting it off in a lot of ways.

ROY:   He cut it off in a slick way. But he still… When he was playing in the mute, he was still playing regular Miles, but he was surrounded by the other shit. He’s playing Miles. That’s where he tricked motherfuckers. He’s dressed like his audience, so to speak — dressed better than them, of course. But he’s playing the same shit.  That’s packaging.

TP:   But you’re not playing the same shit.

ROY:   Well, no. But sometimes I’m still playing a little TITTY-BOOM. It’s the way I’m playing TITTY-BOOM, though. I’m still playing that, DING-DA-DING, DING-DA-DING on some of the stuff, but not everything. It varies. The song says [SINGS] “nothing stays the same…”

TP:   Are you playing 9/4, 7/4, odd meters?

ROY:   Like I tried to explain earlier, all that is within what I’m playing anyhow. I don’t particularly analyze it as such. It’s in my body. It’s in my walk. It’s in my strut. So it comes out. It doesn’t come out evenly number-wise. No, I don’t play like that. I’m not a metronome. I don’t think like that.

TP:   That puts you right in with what people are doing now. It’s the age of people doing songo, the 7/4, and people doing 5 real slick…

ROY:   You don’t breathe the same way. So if I’m going to play it some way that everything has to be metered down to the numbers… [1:43:43] That’s not me. Then I probably wouldn’t be able to keep it up. I wouldn’t be able to keep it up anyhow. Because my mind would start wandering, and I’d be in another meter somewhere else. So that’s the way I play. Just because it may seem fashionable… Although a lot of the youngsters can really do that now, because they’re learning that in the schools. Like I said, we didn’t have those schools earlier. I wouldn’t want to do it like that anyhow. I breathe the way I breathe and sneeze the way I sneeze. I think there can be a poem there!

When I get behind the set, sometimes I don’t know… I’m reminding myself of Adderley. Cannonball. “I don’t know!” I don’t know what direction I’m going to go when I go on stage, and I start… It’s like somebody painting an abstract picture, an abstract painting, and as they go, they add things and they leave certain things out. What I try to do now with the music, I let it stroll. I get out of their way. Sometimes I just get up. That’s part of my thing now. I get up more than I used to, and let them just go, and let it breathe. For the listener, that’s interesting, too. They’re hearing it come in at a certain point.

TP:   That painting notion, do you see… A lot of musicians see rhythms or sounds as colors. Do you?

ROY:   Oh, yes. One guy, Morgan Harris, he’s not living now, who was an artist, and he’d talk about the colors when he’d come to my sets. He’d tell me, “you’re using a lot of blues there.” I’m into the earth tones.

TP:   That’s how you’re dressed now. Khaki shoes, khaki pants, the pattern on the shirt is an earth-tone black-brown-gold.

ROY:   Feels good, man.

* * * *

Roy Haynes on 80th Birthday for Daily News + for Jazz in Greenwich Village Article (March 1, 2005):

TP:   First, you’re coming from Louisville, and you’re about to go where?

HAYNES:   I did tell my audience that I was catching a plane to go back to the U.S., back to the States. They all got offended, I heard. Not all of them, but that’s the message I got. They thought I was calling them hicks, but I do that periodically. I said I was going back to the States. It was just like a humorous thing, and people from the college called my agent. That’s what I heard yesterday. The hotels were screwed up, too. So I talked about it…in a loving way.  They were hurting, I heard, afterwards.

TP:   You’ve always been known to speak your mind.

HAYNES:   Well, I think when you’ve been on the Planet Earth awhile, what’s the sense of being fictitious?

TP:   Do you travel often with this band?

HAYNES:   I travel periodically, yeah.  I don’t know if you’d call it often. This band, we went to Chicago three years in a row. We’ve been doing that Charlie Parker thing in August. And we’ve been to Boston. I think I went to Europe the year before last. Newport with the band one year. We’re going to Boston soon.

TP:   And have you also been working a fair amount with Birds of a Feather?

HAYNES:   Every now and then I do something with Birds Of A Feather. We’ve got a few things coming out. I’ve been trying to do less of it, but I guess they get calls for it.  My agent loves it, naturally, because he gets a pretty good chunk of that.

TP:   But it’s a helluva band. By the end of a week, it’s something to behold.

HAYNES:   Well, we haven’t been doing too many weekly gigs with Birds of a Feather. We did the Blue Note, I think, with the full personnel.

TP:   But Fountain of Youth is the continuation of a format that you’ve been working in for years, the quartet format. Just so I’m clear, it’s going to be Marcus Strickland, Martin Bejerano and John Sullivan. How long have they been playing with you?

HAYNES:   As I just said, we’ve played in Chicago three years in a row. But we don’t go steady, because Marcus does a lot of other things with a lot of people, and Martin had been playing with Russell Malone. So there are times when I don’t see them for quite a while, and then we get back together. It works good that way.  Years ago, I had a band and I kept the same personnel and tried to work steady.  Now I don’t particularly try to. It just happens.

TP:   You had a long time band with Dave Kikoski and Ed Howard…

HAYNES:   Dave has been with me for a lot of stuff. He started with me over 15 years ago.

TP:   Twenty years.

HAYNES:   It could be! I don’t keep track. I don’t try to. But I was one of the first bands he started playing with.

TP:   You’ve been working in that format for over forty years.  Different drummers who’ve led bands have tried to present themselves in different ways. Max Roach was trying to do a certain thing, Art Blakey… What qualities are you trying to bring out in the bands you lead.

HAYNES:   Well, naturally, top quality.  But I’m not always looking for one certain thing. Well, when you use four instead of using five, you cut down on the expense. Also, you don’t have to really rehearse-rehearse. If you have two horns or something out there, naturally, if you want them to be tight, you’ve got to concentrate on that more, and if you can’t always get the same personnel, it’s going to be pretty involved. So with a quartet… Then, it sort of reminds me of the certain days with… Well, Bird was mostly two horns. But with Trane, the times I would fill in, it was one horn. I don’t really plan it. It just seems to happen itself. I don’t have one certain thing in mind.

TP:   For instance, the way you select repertoire, are you selecting pieces to represent different  aspects of your tonal personality? Is it just that a piece appeals to you?

HAYNES:   It’s a combination of the whole thing. Sometimes I play certain tunes that I know the musicians enjoy playing. But after you play them for a while, you’ve got to do different things on them. I’m into the spring-summer-fall-winter… Once a lady told me… When I was playing in Chicago, after I had finished a set, this lady came over to me and said that my music reminded her of the four seasons. I thought of that as a compliment. Because I tried to express a little bit of what was happening in the different parts of the season, and in my life… I am connected with some tunes I love that maybe Bird had played or Trane had played. I like the guys to be comfortable.

TP:   You also play tunes by Chick Corea. Tunes associated with Sarah.

HAYNES:   There you go. A lot of people that I’ve been associated with.

TP:   So is it kind of an ongoing… This is probably going to seem kind of far-fetched, but a kind of ongoing personal autobiography?

HAYNES:   Ha-ha. It could be.  But sometimes I stretch out and go to some people whom I haven’t even played with.

TP:   Are there people you haven’t played with?

HAYNES:   Well, I’m sure.  Benny Carter used to say that to me. He used to say, “Roy, when are we going to play together?” That’ s something to come from an older great guy like that. I never worked with Ornette.

TP:   There’s still time.

HAYNES:   You’re damn right there’s still time. It’s on him, man! He doesn’t seem to like to work too much. I’m sure there are other people I haven’t played with.

TP:   Again, remember I’m doing a piece for the Daily News as I ask these questions.

HAYNES:   Really? The Daily News is hip to Ornette and Benny Carter.

TP:   How do you keep your energy going? You always play at a very high level of energy, every time I’ve seen you.

HAYNES:   Well, I imagine that comes from the heavens. Sometimes when I go for a long period without playing, I am like a goddamn tiger in a cage. I try not to overplay, I try to restrain myself and work up to it. But I look at every time I go to the bandstand, every time I play, it’s a very serious affair with me.  And as I get older, it becomes more serious. So I just try to put my all in it.

TP:   Do you think you might be playing with more energy now than forty years ago?

HAYNES:   Energy is a funny word. Heh-heh. You say forty?

TP:   Let’s say 45 years ago, when you left Sarah Vaughan, in 1958.

HAYNES:   Well, I was with a singer. Naturally, I’m  playing with more energy now. In fact, I didn’t even hear the term “playing with energy.” I think I started hearing that more with the rock business.  But before… Then, by me being a leader of most of the groups I’ve been playing with, except… Okay, with Chick, we did that Remembering Bud Powell thing. There were three horns on most of that, so I think that calls for a little energy. Denzil Best used to tell me years ago, “Play like it’s the last time you’re ever going to play.” He used to say that to me in the ‘40s, way when I first came to New York. Which was 1945, by the way. I started playing around 52nd Street a little after that, but I met him even before I came to New York, in Boston.

TP:   So not only is this your eightieth birthday coming up, but your sixtieth anniversary as a New Yorker.

HAYNES:   Yeah, that’s interesting.

TP:   Where did you live when you first came to New York?

HAYNES:   I lived up on Sugar Hill. I lived at 149th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway. It was a brownstone. 526 W. 149th Street.

TP:   What was the neighborhood like at the time?

HAYNES:   The neighborhood was beautiful. You could stand on Amsterdam Avenue looking west towards the Hudson River, seeing that sun come up in the evening, walking… I loved it. I still drive by there periodically to look at the house where I used to live.

TP: Do you remember the address?

HAYNES:   526.  I loved it from day one. In fact, on that same street, there were so many  musicians, older musicians that lived around there. Miles lived around the corner.  Miles lived on 147th between Broadway and Amsterdam. At one point, Kansas Field, the drummer, lived there.  John Simmons lived at 149th Street. I think they lived in the same building. One of the trumpet players that played with Basie lived there, not Buck or Sweets…

TP:   Sonny Rollins and Jackie McLean talk about the neighborhood…

HAYNES:   Well, they grew up there on Sugar Hill.

TP:   Coleman Hawkins lived there.

HAYNES:   He lived on 153rd Street between St. Nick and Amsterdam, I think. I remember the name of the building. King Haven Apartments. I loved it up there.  All those guys did, too.  Jackie still talks about it.  A.T. talked about it until the end.

TP:   You play like someone who lives completely in the present, but I know that the past must give you a lot of sustenance, having had all those experiences.

HAYNES:   That’s true, of course.  There’s a lot of the past that’s naturally still in me. But I’m trying to think ahead a little bit and stay in the mix.

TP:   But it seems people have always noted you for doing that. Prez didn’t have any problem with anything you did, Bird…

HAYNES:   It was so beautiful to have played… I remember the first night playing with Prez, at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. I’ll never forget that. He just went along. He was into what I was trying to do.

TP:   Apart from playing at the Savoy, did you ever go there to dance or for your own entertainment?

HAYNES:   I was dancing on the bandstand, of course. But that’s where I joined Luis Russell, too. And joined Prez there, two years later.

TP:   There are probably too many highlights in your career to ask about the highlights, but…

HAYNES:   [LAUGHS] I can tell you. There’s one I remember. When I had the group, the Hip Ensemble, we were doing a Jazz Vespers. The church then was on Lexington, but it wasn’t the same one. Gensel, naturally, was there. It happened to be the anniversary of Billy Strayhorn’s death. When I had the Hip Ensemble, George Adams and Hannibal were my front line, I’d come out of a drum solo and go into “Lift Every Voice And Sing,” which we recorded for Mainstream. When we went into “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Duke Ellington happened to be in the audience, and his doctor. Dr. Logan. Dr. Logan was a very tall man. They were sitting near the back, and I noticed when I went into it in 3/4 time, they stood up, and the whole congregation stood up. That was known as the Negro National Anthem back in the day. That was one of the highlights that I always remember. Naturally, there were many more.  But that’s one that stands out in my mind.

TP:   What does New York mean to you?

HAYNES:   Oh, man!  New York means a lot of things to me!  Just to come to New York was like going to heaven. In fact, there were people up in Harlem who used to say, “I wouldn’t leave Harlem to go to heaven.” Harlem is part of New York. [Yahwk.] But New York is my home, even though I was born in Boston.

TP:   How long did you stay in Harlem?

HAYNES:   I stayed in that house five years. Then I went back to Clarement Avenue, near where Juilliard is now. In fact, I was a few doors from Juilliard.  I stayed there for a couple of years. Then I went to Boston for the winter and came back. I think at that point I stayed in hotels. I bought some property in Queens.  Now I live in Nassau County, but I still have property in Queens where my children hang. Really why I got out of Manhattan (I still love Manhattan) I started owning automobiles, and the garage bills and starting to get tickets… I knew I had to get a house with a garage.

TP:   What was your favorite car over the years?

HAYNES:   I think the one I’ve had the longest is that Bricklin, with the gull-wing doors. It’s been on the news and TV. I’ve had it on tours. I had it in quite a few car shows back in the days. I still have it.

TP:   How many cars do you have?

HAYNES:   I have four.

TP:   Are they all fast cars?

HAYNES:   They’re all fast. I’ve got one of those Magnums. It’s fast as hell. I had one Eldorado in Vegas. I have a place in Vegas. And I have a Benz; one of the coupes.

TP:   You were also an Esquire Best-Dressed Man, weren’t you?

HAYNES:   Yes.  The article was written in the ‘50s, but it was used, I think, in 1960. It was titled “The Art Of Wearing Clothes” by a writer named George Frazier. They had forty American men, along with people like Fred Astaire, Walter Pidgeon, and Miles Davis, Roy Haynes. We were the youngest, Miles and myself, and the only musicians and the only blacks who were in it!

TP:   What sort of threads were you wearing in the ‘50s? Miles was wearing the Italian suits…

HAYNES:   He started the Italian suits I think a little later than the ‘50s…I’m thinking.

TP:   How about you?

HAYNES:   Well, let’s see. Actually, George Frazier and I had the same tailor, which was the Andover Shop in Cambridge, Mass, and Andover, Mass. Yeah, Miles and I used to talk a lot about clothes. In fact, during that period, there were a lot of guys our age that we were talking about a lot of clothes all the time.

TP:   What are some of the biggest changes you see, if any, between young musicians today, like the guys in your band, and when you were their age, or when you were in your forties… Do the young musicians today have a different mindset from those of your day?

HAYNES:   I can’t speak to their mind.  But their whole world is so different. People coming up now, it’s almost automatic. But there are some serious young players out there, some very serious GOOD players.  But everything is so different now. I would think a lot of the younger musicians coming up now, they really don’t have to pay dues that were paid back in the old days.  The idea of traveling and making maybe $20 a night and living in hotels when there was maybe three people in a room… With big bands, I’m talking about. That whole thing as far as paying dues. It’s a whole different thing now. Guys come out of school, they’ve got their own projects, they’ve got their own bands. That didn’t happen back in that period when I was coming up. So it’s really hard to compare those times and the musicians now to the musicians then. The whole world is different.

TP:   How about when you were just going out on your own as a bandleader, which started to happen in the early ‘60s, a time of social tumult and change in the music. Can you generalize about attitudes then vis-a-vis younger guys now? Then you played with Andrew Hill, Joe Henderson…

HAYNES:   Some of them were lucky. Andrew Hill had a deal with Blue Note right away.  I think I remember him saying that Alfred Lion was going to buy him a piano. We weren’t that lucky before that. So even that was a little different. The ‘60s was a happy period, a helluva period.

TP:   A few sentences on some of the people you played with. Sarah Vaughan.

HAYNES:   I had heard that record that Charlie Parker and Dizzy and Sarah… First thing, I was always into lyrics and checking out good singers. I loved that.  And she was such a great musician that, BOOM…! It was hip to be with Sarah then. I didn’t realize that I would stay there for five years, but I went there and got comfortable. I started going to places I hadn’t been. I think it was the first time I went to Europe, was with Sarah. So it opened some doors.

TP:   Coltrane.

HAYNES:   [LAUGHS] I’ve got some stories. But some of them are too long. Too lengthy.  I was once asked what was it like to have played with Coltrane, and I said playing with Coltrane was like a beautiful nightmare. My niece said, “Uncle Roy, how can a nightmare be beautiful?” But when you have to try to explain that to somebody… I can’t explain it. That’s what I said then.

TP:   It’s a poetic image, that’s all.

HAYNES:   Yeah.  And it was something. The drums just seemed to go when I was there.

TP:   Monk.

HAYNES:   Monk. Misterioso.  That’s the title of one of his tunes, and I think it’s the title of a CD of his that was made live at the Five Spot.

TP:   With you.

HAYNES:   Yes.  Monk was cool. Monk used to say, “Roy Haynes…” He used the expression, “You’re a bitchin’ drummer.” Did you ever hear that word, “a bitchin…?” He used to use that term. But it was quite interesting to play with Monk. Playing with Monk at the Five Spot, man, there was no money made at all.  But it was such a memorable occasion. I used to love to go to work. Sometimes the place would be packed, and Monk would probably come in maybe two or three hours after we had been waiting, walking past, and go right to the kitchen, and lay down on the table and go to sleep. There were some really exciting moments with Monk. The set would start, I guess, when they would get him up. But it was a kick. I loved playing with Monk.

TP:   I’ll move this to the Five Spot for a minute. What was the atmosphere like in the Five Spot? Always very intense and stimulating?

HAYNES:   Yes, because first of all, that’s when the word, maybe even before it started popular, beatnik… Words like that. That’s when the audiences started…the look was changing. People started wearing their hair long.  That was about the period when they really started doing it. The late ‘50s going into the ‘60s. A lot of writers.  Leroi Jones, as he was known at the time, he used to be around there. It was a kick to go to work every night.

TP:   Both Randy Weston and somebody else told me that the place was filthy. Dirty.

HAYNES:   Listen, it WAS dirty.  But I’d be back there in the kitchen. They had a guy who made…

TP:   Bob, making funky hamburgers.

HAYNES:   We used to be back there eating them. I didn’t care about the dirt. It was dirty.  But a lot of places were dirty. Well, let’s see, before… When places like Birdland opened, that wasn’t dirty particularly. And on 52nd Street, you had to be dressed up. That was a whole different thing. In those days, we wore ties… When I worked the Five Spot with Monk, we were wearing suits and ties and jackets.  But sooner or late, that all stopped. I couldn’t wait to take off a tie and play drums, man! After all of those years… Because when I started out as a teenager, you had to have a tuxedo.

TP:   Was the piano any good at the Five Spot when Monk was there?

HAYNES:   The piano sounded out of tune, but it was fashionable for pianos to sound out of tune. They weren’t as particular as some of the pianists today. Now, guys say, “Oh, that has to be tuned right away.”

TP:   Did you ever play with Monk and Coltrane?

HAYNES:   Yeah. It’s on that record. But I didn’t play with them much. I think there may have been only a night or two when Coltrane was in there.

TP:   What can you tell me about the experience of playing with them?

HAYNES:   First of all, it was a short experience. I can’t really hardly remember. When I listened to that record, I said, “Wow, yeah! Listen to that!” But I have no particular memory, because it wasn’t lengthy. Sonny Rollins was in there, too, in the Five Spot a little bit. I played with him and Monk during one of those long… We were in there a couple of times, for 18 weeks at a time.

TP:   But not with Sonny and Monk for 18 weeks…

HAYNES:   Johnny Griffin was there the longest when I was there.  But maybe some nights… I don’t remember if it was before Johnny started that Sonny was in there.

TP:   Well, you recorded with Sonny in 1957 on The Sound Of Sonny.

HAYNES:   I used to go down there and catch Monk and Trane and Shadow Wilson. That’s where I got the idea of playing the theme of Misterioso like I did, when Shadow did something similar to that during the theme.

TP:   Back to these impressions of people. Bird.

HAYNES:   Ha-ha. Bird. Ha-ha-ha. It was up and down. Some nights when he was really feeling good, you couldn’t beat that. It was a hell of a period and a cool thing to be on the bandstand with Bird. It’s hard to describe.

TP:   Did being with Bird make you raise your game? Or was your game already right there?

HAYNES:   Well, I came to New York…a bandleader had SENT for me. Luis Russell, who played with King Oliver. Luis Russell never heard me. That’s a helluva thing, a guy just turning 20 years old and being recommended by Charlie Holmes, who played with Louis Armstrong and King Oliver and those guys. He was a saxophone player. During the war, we played together in New London, Connecticut. He told Luis Russell about me. I got this special delivery, “start with Luis Russell.” In Boston, even before I joined him, if someone needed a drummer or a band came to town, it was usually me. But there were some great drummers in Boston during that period. There was a guy named Joe Booker. He could swing you to death. One time he got the call to fill in for Shadow Wilson in the Basie Band.

TP:   You answered that question well.

HAYNES:   Did I?  I just went around the block. I just came to New York, man, and I didn’t realize it, but I had changed the sound of the band. Because the people in the band told my brother that. They didn’t tell me that. But Luis Russell believed in me, and I learned a lot. Then I started hanging around 52nd Street. During my nights off, I’d stay out all night, down on 52nd Street.

TP:   Who did you first play with on 52nd Street?
HAYNES:   It wasn’t Bird… I was still with Lester Young, and he went out with Jazz at the Philharmonic. That was the summer. I think I went in the Three Deuces with Kai Winding, Red Rodney, Curley Russell on bass, and George Wallington on piano.

TP:   So you were in New York for four years before you had a steady gig on 52nd Street, because you were on the road so much.

HAYNES:   Well, we used to play off-nights. They always had two groups. So I did that before I worked steady on 52nd Street anyhow. But that would have been the summer of 1949.

TP:   You joined Bird in ‘49.

HAYNES:   Yeah. I was with Miles before that. Miles used to say that Bird st0le his drummer. Those were his exact words. That’s the period when I really started working on 52nd Street.

TP:   You said you didn’t play the Bohemia…

HAYNES:   No, I didn’t play there steady. I don’t even remember playing there one night.  But I used to go there and hang. It was a dynamite place. It had a long bar, and then the bandstand was straight ahead as you walked in. The owner, Garofalo, I remember  him good. He seemed like a jolly guy. Well, from what I could see. He was well and happy and… I remember one night there, with my wife; I don’t even know if we were married at the time. We were all at the bar.  I was still with Sarah then. I remember I was getting ready to open in Chicago. And Dinah Washington said, out loud, “Roy Haynes, we’re going to hang out when we get to Chicago!” My wife naturally got an attitude behind that. Dinah Washington was known for doing things like that.

TP:   I just read her biography. She was very forthcoming.

HAYNES:   Tell me about it, man. She loved drummers, too.

TP:   Tenor players, too, I’d think, since she married one.

HAYNES:   True.

TP:   Were you in the vicinity when Cannonball Adderley made his New York debut?

HAYNES:  I’m not sure.  When I was on my last gig with Sarah, we were playing the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. Richard Davis was in the band. I had my notice in. That’s when I met Cannon and his brother. They took me and Richard Davis to some down-home restaurant that had a jukebox, and they put money in the jukebox and said, “I want you to hear his record.” It was Ray Charles on his early records, that still sounded good, and that was my first introduction to Ray Charles.

TP:   They must have known him from Florida.

HAYNES:   Well, they knew of his records. I don’t know if they knew him. Because they were two square guys.

TP:   There’s the famous story of how he made his big splash in New York. He comes to town, Oscar Pettiford’s playing there, he sits in, Oscar Pettiford takes the tempo way-way-way up on Cherokee, and Cannonball nails it, and within a week he had a recording.

HAYNES:   I could have been there. Like I said, I used to hang out a lot.

TP:   Did you ever hear Miles and Coltrane at the Bohemia?

HAYNES:   Of course.

TP:   You also said you played the Half Note a lot.

HAYNES:   A lot from the late ‘50s going into the ‘60s. What I didn’t like about it was that the bandstand was way up in the air. It was in the middle of the club, and they had two sides.  The bar would separate one side from the other side. The bar was in the center of the place, and it was sort of up in the air, and you were sort of over the bar. It was really weird. But I played there a lot, and I used to enjoy it. They made the greatest sandwiches, because they were right near Little Italy, and they’d bring in the bread.

TP:   I get the feeling the Half Note was a place where musicians used to enjoy hanging out.

HAYNES:   Oh, yeah. Al and Zoot used to play there. I played there with them, and had my own projects there. I don’t think I played there with Trane.

TP:   Was it just Birdland that you played with Trane?

HAYNES:   I’m thinking. Just Birdland, I think. I went to the Vanguard to catch them one night, and they happened to be recording. I think Elvin hadn’t shown up. That’s why I turned up on something live from the Vanguard.

TP:   Do you have any memory of that?

HAYNES:   Well, I was just hanging out. I didn’t go down there prepared to play. But Eric was there then. Before that period, around that same period, I had a group with Eric… It couldn’t have been the same time, because I had a group with Eric, and we were working at a place on West Fourth Street. I forget the name. I had Eric Dolphy with me, Jaki Byard was there for a while on piano, splitting the gig with Richard Wyands, and on bass was Reggie Workman. Trane was working the Vanguard. After he’d finish his gig, he would be right over to my gig sitting in a corner. When we would get off the bandstand, he was there.  And he hired all them guys to join him!  That’s when Reggie joined him. And Eric.

TP:   What was the appeal of the Village?

HAYNES:   The Village was hip. Even the Lower East Side, as it was known in those days, it started moving from the Village over to the Lower East Side. All around there, it was exciting as hell. It felt European or something. The mix of the people, and just the whole atmosphere. It was different than… Well, I played the original Birdland at 52nd and Broadway. It was loose. You didn’t feel like you had to be dressed. Ha. Even though we were into dressing.  But we were dressing down in that period. It was just an exciting feeling in the Village.

You had Slugs. You didn’t mention Slugs. Talk about someplace that was dirty!  They had sawdust on the floor. But I loved it!  It smelled like an old, old saloon. You know, back in the day they used to have saloons where the women were not even allowed. That’s what it smelled like. Not that I went to those places. I was too young. I didn’t even drink until later on. But I had a gig in Slugs with Cecil McBee on bass, I had Wayne Shorter for a few weeks, and there were some reel-to-reel tapes from that period that I think got lost.

TP:   Would  that have been around ‘66 or so, when Miles was off for six months or so?

HAYNES:   It might have been in there.

TP:   Randy Weston said when you played in Harlem or Brooklyn, you had to satisfy the audience. There was the feeling you could be more experimental in the Village?

HAYNES:   Yeah. That comes from playing the Apollo Theater, man. You can’t fuck around. You had tough audiences. Black audiences were tough.  And they knew the deal.

TP:   So in the Village, it wasn’t that the audience was ill-informed, but perhaps they were more tolerant of some diffefent stuff, or…

HAYNES:   Well, you could experiment more in the Village. Because a lot of the audience were poets or writers, or people who wanted to be writers or wanted to be musicians.  You had hipper audiences.

TP:   A few more impressions. Stan Getz.
HAYNES:   I start to get serious now. Stan Getz.  Good musician. Could be an asshole at any moment. There was a period when I was with Stan, we were playing a place on one of the main streets of Hollywood… We were scheduled for a few weeks, and we followed Miles Davis into the club, and Miles was packing them in. When Stan got there, the business was not too good. So they cut it down. I think we were doing maybe six nights a week, and they cut it down maybe to three. We just started doing weekends. I’m staying at a hotel right close to the club, and one of the days that I was off, Coltrane comes by the hotel. He’s getting ready to open at a club in the other part of town. I don’t know who told him where I was or that I was in town or that I was off! He got me to play the first part of the week. Elvin didn’t come in til later. It was like a relief to play with Coltrane and express what I had in me to express. It was nice playing with Stan, but Stan sometimes would be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. For that period, I had to play with both guys; the first part of the week with Coltrane and the second part of the week with Stan.

TP:   It sounds like Coltrane was a kind of soulmate for you.

HAYNES:   There is something there. There’s a tape that I think Ravi has which was supposedly at the Showboat in Philadelphia. McCoy was on the gig, but he was late a lot during that period, and Trane was playing… I don’t know if the bass player was on the stand, but it sounds like a top quality recording, so you could hardly hear the bass. It sounded like a duo between Coltrane and myself. A lot of people have been hearing it lately and telling me about that. I think my son played it for me. I may have a copy of it here, even though I understand I was supposed to give it back to Ravi.  That was kind of early.

TP:   How about Pat Metheny?

HAYNES:   The interesting thing about Pat and some of the other people whom we haven’t named: He used to come hear me play before I knew him! I never knew that til later. I remember once when they had the Kool Festival, as they used to call it, he was playing at Lincoln Center with Jaco Pastorius. I loved the stuff they were doing, so I went to check them out, and I enjoyed it, not even realizing that he was hip to me and we would playing together later. So there’s something there, in the air, like this guy is checking me out a long time before I’m realizing it, and then I’m checking him out, and then we play together years later.

TP:   In jazz, if you go through that degrees of separation process, from what you’ve told me, you’re connected to King Oliver.

HAYNES:   Yeah, isn’t that something? From King Oliver to Pat or Chick or the guys in my young band.

TP:   They’re going to connect you out to 2050. Marcus Strickland will certainly be around.

HAYNES:   Sometimes I’m in a club, and I say to the audience and also to the guys on the bandstand, “I wonder what Charlie Parker would say and think if he walked in here at this moment and I’m playing with these guys, and he’s checking it out.” I often say he would just… [END OF SIDE A] When you have to do a lot of talking, it’s going to take longer for the person to get it.

TP:   You just said that some of these younger players, they’ve just got it. Marcus has got it.

HAYNES: When you have to try to explain something, explain it! When it just happens naturally, it’s an amazing thing. And that’s what can happen with this music. And some nights when it happens, oh, man, you can’t beat that!

TP:   I’ve heard it happen many times with you.

HAYNES:   This will be the first time going in the Vanguard in a matter of years, and it’s got to be a special thing.

TP:   You have a grandson with whom you played on the bandstand at the Rose Theater, and he’s playing great. How does that make you feel?

HAYNES:   Oh, man.  That’s a serious dream. That’s heavy. On top of it… That’s magical, man!  I could go into that so deep… I only have one daughter. Two sons and one daughter. When he was born, when she went to the hospital, my daughter’s words were, “Daddy, I wanted to give you a grandson.” She gave me granddaughters. I have granddaughters.  But that’s what she told me when I went to see her the day she was born. “I wanted to give you a grandson.” That’s heavy. And he turned out to be like this. He goes to Manhattan School of Music, which is where the old Juilliard was. His dorm is right next door to where I lived when I was with Charlie Parker. I told him what floor I was on. When he passes there, he looks. Right next to where he’s staying. On top of that, to end it, he was born in the first house I bought.

TP:   Did you teach him directly?

HAYNES:   He was learning probably even before I realized it. He was checking.

* * *

Roy Haynes Profile (WKCR, March, 1996):

TP:    I guess the first and obvious question is your origins.  Is the drums a lifelong interest?  Can you ever remember a time when you weren’t drumming?

HAYNES:  Not really.  I’ve been trying to play drums ever since I can remember.  Way back.  Mmm, I don’t remember how old I was when I picked up a pair of drumsticks at home.  A long time ago.  And I had the feeling before that to want to play.  So the beat continues to go on.

TP:    In your house I gather there was quite a bit of music.  You had a brother who studied music formally.

HAYNES:  Right.  My older brother Douglas Haynes was really into the music.  He would leave Boston, where we were living, come to New York, go to the Savoy and check out the battle of the bands, with Basie and whatever other band was battling.  He’d always come back and tell the stories about it.  He had all the records.  And he had some drumsticks at home, and that was my first affair with the drumsticks.

TP:    What did he play?

HAYNES:  He didn’t really play professionally.  He went to New England Conservatory and studied theory.  He had trumpets, a ukelele.  I remember him playing.  He knew all the songs.  He knew everything.

TP:    But he was able to go to New York when you were still an adolescent or…

HAYNES:  Oh, when he was very young he lived in New York with some of our relatives.  Later he worked on the railroad, so he’d travel on the train.  He came back and forth after that.

TP:    What are your first memories of listening to Jazz music?

HAYNES:  I heard it on the radio at home.  I heard a little of everything.  There were a lot of shows in Boston when I was growing up.  One was called “The 920 Club”; I guess for 920 on your dial, with Benny Goodman’s “Goodbye” as the theme; I wanted to hear that every day, just to check that out.  They played all kinds of music — Basie, Duke, Tatum, Artie Shaw was very big around there, naturally Goodman and Krupa.

TP:    So all the bands came through Boston, and there were local and national broadcasts.

HAYNES:  Exactly.

TP:    Do you remember noticing the drummers in those bands?

HAYNES:  Sure.  Interlude.  Drummers, a lot of them.

TP:    Talk about some of those drummers, the people who inspired you when you were knee-high, as it were.

HAYNES:  Well, so many of them.  If they played anything good, it would knock me out.

TP:    For instance, did you get to a point of being able to analyze drummers that you heard?

HAYNES:  I didn’t analyze.  Whatever I heard I guess automatically was going into my system.  I didn’t try to figure out, really.  But naturally I was into Jo Jones with the Basie band, and Jimmy Crawford was with Jimmie Lunceford, Sonny Greer was with Duke Ellington — on and on like that.

TP:    When did you start going to see the big bands around Boston?

HAYNES:  I didn’t start to go in the nightclubs until I was a teenager, maybe 17 or 18.

TP:    So that would have been right before you left Boston.

HAYNES:  I was 20 when I left Boston to join a big band.

TP:    When did you start working in Boston?

HAYNES:  I started working in Boston when I was still in high school, so I was probably 16 or 17 years old.

TP:    What were the circumstances?

HAYNES:  In Boston there was a guitarist by the name of Tom Brown.  He was into Charlie Christian.  Tom Brown knew all of his solos on whatever records, and he would play those same solos.  I started hanging around with him and making gigs.  On my first gig, I didn’t even have a complete set of drums, maybe just a ride cymbal and a snare drum.  That was with Tom Brown.  I got a few dollars; I don’t remember exactly how much.

I started playing with a lot of people, and I started working steady while I was in school, then I didn’t feel like waking up to go to school in the morning — like that, heh-heh.

TP:    Were there ever lessons in school, by the way, or was this strictly a self-taught proposition?

HAYNES:  No, there were no lessons in school with the drums.  But my father knew I was interested in playing drums.  A lot of drummers lived on our street, though not at the same time, including one named Herbie Wright.  I think he was from South Carolina.  He had the high cheekbones, very dark-complected.  There was a band from the South that Jabbo Smith was involved in young called the Jenkins Band.  They’d come through the neighborhood at different times of the year and would play outside.   Herbie Wright sat in with them, and I was impressed.  He had a thin-looking metal snare drum.  My father started to give me drum lessons with Herbie.  They were very loose, not formal.  I remember him teaching me to play mamma-daddy, learning to roll and all of that.

TP:    Describe, if you will, what the audiences were like at those neighborhood gigs in Boston.  I’d imagine the music was just everywhere at that particular time.

HAYNES:  Music was.

TP:    And the people who listened were really knowledgeable, it would seem.

HAYNES:  They were.  Yeah, you really hit on that right away.  I didn’t go out of Boston much, other than gigs around New Hampshire and Vermont and Connecticut.  But the audiences there were really into the music.  They knew what was happening.  It wasn’t like today, a lot of questions.  The people could feel the music and would groove with it.  Later on, when I started working steady, the wars were on.  I started working in downtown clubs, where there were a lot of servicemen — sailors and soldiers.  They were happy just to be hanging out, so they dug the music in another way.  But when I would play with people like Tom Brown and Sabby Lewis and other local people around neighborhood places in Boston proper, man, it was unforgettable.

TP:    Well, Boston is a town with a great musical legacy, from Harry Carney and Johnny Hodges to Charlie Holmes, who I think is the guy who recommended you to Luis Russell.  Were you very conscious of these other Bostonian musicians?

HAYNES:  Probably, but moreso later, I think.  I knew about Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney  and a lot of people I was around, their mothers knew him — a lot of the young ladies.  Yeah, I was aware of all of that.

TP:    When you started playing professionally coincides with when in New York things were really starting to pop at Minton’s, and the new way of playing music was coming about.  When did you first become familiar with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach?  Did you hear about them in Boston, let’s say, in 1942?

HAYNES:  Certainly.  I heard about them.  I met Kenny Clarke in Boston in 1942 or ’43 when he was with Red Allen, before I was familiar with the word “bebop,” when I was playing some of my first jobs.  I’d heard about Charlie Parker with Jay McShann.  I had the record Dizzy and Bird made together, “Groovin’ High” and all that, before I got to New York.  I had some Coleman Hawkins.  I think Max came to Boston with the Benny Carter Big Band.  I was on top of all of it.

TP:    So as ideas about rhythm and time and how to elaborate them were coming through, you were right there and playing the full 360 degrees of what music was at that time.

HAYNES:  Well, maybe. [LAUGHS] I was trying.  See, in Boston, a lot of the older musicians were very strict, especially with drummers, especially a young person coming up.  During that period I was the youngest in all the bands I played with.  But I was very positive on what I wanted to do, and I think I did it in the best way.  As far as drummers breaking the rhythm, that was almost a no-no back in the day.  That was the term they used when you’d get away from the beat and put some extra stuff in with the bass drum and whatever — which became almost my trademark, so to speak.  They were strict, but I tried to do the right thing in what I was playing — and it worked.

TP:    Were there any younger musicians you hooked up with in Boston who had similar ideas in the modernist vein, as it were?

HAYNES:  During that period?  Maybe not, when I first started.  Like I say, I was usually the youngest.  In one band they called me “the Kid.”

TP:    Let’s talk about your leaving Boston, then, and making your way as a professional musician.

HAYNES:  Phil Edmond(?) had the last band I worked with there.  He had maybe six or seven pieces, a lot of arrangements.  We played in a club called Little Dixie, which was at Mass Avenue at the corner of Columbus Avenue.  That was one of the hang parts of town.  I think Big Nick was in the band then, too.  We had a job for the entire summer in Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 1945.  I got a special delivery letter from Luis Russell.  I had joined the black local, 535, when I was 17.  Luis Russell sent the letter there, asking me to join his band, telling me about the band, the places he played, and the different type of salary scales at the different theaters.  I sent back a telegram telling him that I was interested, but I couldn’t join until after Labor Day — I wanted to finish this job I was on.  Then he wrote me another letter, and it went on like that.  I sent my drums to New York, and did my first New York gig with the band at the Savoy Ballroom.

TP:    What do you recollect about that night, the crowd at the Savoy, the New York atmosphere?

HAYNES:  [LAUGHS] Well, I was young and very exuberant!  Luis Russell loved what I was trying to do, and it worked.  That was really my first big band, I mean, 17-18 pieces.

TP:    Were you familiar with who Luis Russell was…

HAYNES:  I’d heard the name.

TP:    …and Paul Barbarin and that aspect of drumming?

HAYNES:  I had heard about him.  I didn’t know too much about him.  But I knew enough that he was connected with Louis Armstrong… You know, I went to London a couple of summers ago with my band.  This wasn’t the first time going to London, of course.  But there was a man waiting to interview me there, and he had all kinds of photos of the bands.  He knew what year I was with Luis Russell, he knew the records I’d made, which a lot of people in our country don’t know anything about.  I learned that Luis Russell was hooked up with King Oliver!  I didn’t realize that then.  I think I met Paul Barbarin when I went to New Orleans with the band.  He was one of the great drummers.

TP:    You said Luis Russell dug what you were trying to do.

HAYNES:  They told me later that I changed the style of the band.  One of the trumpet players in the band told that to my brother, and my brother told me.  They didn’t tell me.  I wasn’t aware.  I knew what I was trying to do.  Mainly I knew how to keep the beat and how to give that feeling, that swing.  They had a certain Savoy beat.  I learned a lot there.  The Boston saxophonist Charlie Holmes told Luis Russell about me, though I don’t think he’d ever heard me play with a big band.  He wasn’t in the band either at the time.  Evidently I was doing something that they wanted.

I stayed with Luis Russell one year, then I got tired of traveling on that bus going all through the South.  I had never been in the South before until 1945.  The furthest south I had been was New York, Harlem!  And that’s north. That’s uptown.  It was like what you read and hear about.  I don’t really want to get into all of that.  But at least they told you! [LAUGHS] They told you what was on their mind down there.  They’re a little more sophisticated up North; they didn’t tell you, but would stab you in the back.  But I went back with the band in 1946.  Lee Richardson was a young vocalist with the band at the time, and his first record with them, “The Very Thought Of You,” was a hit, a big seller.  They couldn’t use his name for some reason, so he went by “Mister X”.  It had nothing to do with Malcolm either!  So Luis Russell had a hit record.  I remember playing a week at the Earle Theater in Philadelphia that year.  A lot of girls were coming out to check out Lee Richardson, and the Nat Cole Trio was headlining — the original trio with Oscar Moore and Johnny Miller. I had to play with them that week, too.  I always talk about the great singers I’ve played with, especially the big three, but I’d forgotten about that all these years.  Now I can put it in my bio.  He was out of sight

TP:    He was a real rhythmic master, too, wasn’t he.

HAYNES:  Yes, that’s right.  He had that rhythm.  He could play.

TP:    Did he have a lot of interplay with you?

HAYNES:  Well, he was singing the ballads and so on, so he didn’t do much of that.  But he did some up-tempo things.

TP:    What were some of your activities in between temporarily leaving Luis Russell, then rejoining him?

HAYNES:  Downtown on 52nd Street wherever.  Hanging at Minton’s.  Just hanging out.  New York was very exciting during that period.

TP:    Do you remember your first night on 52nd Street, and where it was and who you heard?

HAYNES:  I do remember the first night on 52nd Street.  My other brother, Vincent, who is still living in Boston, had gone into the Army.  He was going to have his first furlough, and we hadn’t seen him.  My father and my brother’s wife come on a train all the way to New York — and they miss him.  He didn’t have a furlough, for some reason.  So they came the following week.  The following week I went with them, which I think was my first trip to New York.  My brother, his wife and I take the train down to 52nd Street.  I couldn’t believe all the names, all the people who were appearing, who I’d heard about and had the records, like Don Byas and Art Tatum and Billie.  Everybody was down there!  I couldn’t believe it.  Walking around was like a dream.

TP:    The first night you played on 52nd Street.

HAYNES:  I remember the first night going moreso than remembering the first night I played.  They used to have off-nights Mondays and Tuesdays, so that could have been the first time.  It could have been with Don Byas.  But the first time I had a steady job on 52nd Street was with Kai Winding at the Three Deuces in 1949.

TP:    But you had joined Lester Young several years before that.

HAYNES:  Well, that’s when I left Lester.  And the only reason I left Lester was because he went with Norman Granz, and naturally the band didn’t go, so I had a lot of time off.

TP:    How did he find you?

HAYNES:  He’d heard about me.  Dense (Argonne) Thornton was with the band then, he was around Miles and Bird during that whole period, and I was hanging around at Minton’s and all that stuff.  I first remember meeting Prez in Detroit when I was with Luis Russell’s band, but I don’t know if Prez remembered me from then.  I listened to him talk, with his high voice… [LAUGHS] He was very comical, a very comical guy.  I joined him also at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, and I’ll never forget the first night.  I played the first couple of tunes, and he dug what I was doing.  I knew he was sensitive, and I was busy with the left hand and the right foot, as usual, but I just kept the rhythm going.  And once you do that, and you’re not too obtrusive… It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.

TP:    Within that time, I’d imagine, between hanging out at 52nd Street and being at Minton’s, is when you met and got to know Bud Powell and Charlie Parker and so on…

HAYNES:  Well, I met a lot of people in Boston.  I met Bud there while he was with Cootie Williams.  We were all about the same age.  He was always very fiery, man.  Fast tempos.

TP:    When did you first meet Charlie Parker, if you recollect?

HAYNES:  I don’t remember.  When I used to go to 52nd Street and listen to him, I was never introduced.  In those days, a lot of the time you didn’t even have to be introduced, especially if you had something to say musically on your instrument.  That took care of it for you.  Somebody would know you, or… There were less of us then.  There was a place on 52nd Street, around the corner, called the White Rose Bar.  I didn’t even drink in those days; I used to be in the White Rose Bar.  So that was the hang.  Between shows everyone’s in there.  You could meet anyone.  [LAUGHS] Ben Webster and Don Byas, they could hang in the bars a lot.  They’d have their mouthpieces, blowing at each other just with mouthpieces in the White Rose Bar.  Then at Birdland there was a bar upstairs.  There were all these places to hang.  So it’s hard to remember how you met somebody during that period, at least in my case.

TP:    How about drummer talk?  I assume you knew Max Roach and Art Blakey and so forth?

HAYNES:  Yeah.  I met Art when I was a teenager in Boston.  He came through there with Fletcher Henderson.  Then he decided to stay in Boston for a long period, and we were hanging out every day.

TP:    What did Art Blakey sound like in the early 1940′s?  This must have been before he joined Billy Eckstine and encountered Dizzy Gillespie.

HAYNES:  It was.  In fact, he joined them in Boston.  He sounded very fiery, as always, and… Hmm, he sounded almost the same!

TP:    Talk a little bit about the ambiance at Minton’s, and getting on the stage and so forth.

HAYNES:  That was quite a place.  There was a long bar when you walk in, and all the sporting crowd, naturally, was at the bar.  They’d come in the back, too.  Lots of times when the music was really hot, a couple of guys would always get on the floor and start dancing by themselves, and everyone would try to cut each other dancing, improvising different steps.  Oh, man, the music was always hot.  Monday nights was the night for the jam, and lots of nights you’d have drummers waiting in line to sit in.  When I first came to New York with Luis Russell 1945, Buddy Johnson and his big band was always playing at the Savoy, with Teddy Stewart, who was from Kansas City, playing drums.  We joined our respective bands around the same time.  One night we got back to the Savoy Ballroom, and Teddy says to me, “Did you go to Minton’s last night?”  That was the first time I heard about Minton’s.  Even though I had been through there during the day.  Before I came to New York to live, I went there to meet Pete Brown, who I played with in Boston.

I started going to Minton’s a lot on Mondays, sitting in.  The musicians would get free food usually, biscuits made from scratch, not that stuff that you get today.  Those were the days of all of that.  Good food and all of that.

TP:    And at Minton’s it would go to 5-6-7 in the morning?

HAYNES:  4 o’clock legally.  Many years later they had a downstairs; that’s where they would go all morning.

TP:    Are there any anecdotes about Lester Young you’d like to share that are particularly telling about him, how you felt about him and so forth?

HAYNES:  I can’t think of anything right now.  There are a lot of things I could talk about, but right now I’m not in the mood to.

TP:    I won’t press you.

HAYNES:  Well, go and ask and see if I can deal with it.

TP:    There’s a story I seem to recollect that may be with you, it may be apocryphal or not, “just give me titty-boom, titty-boom…”

HAYNES:  Never.  He never suggested anything.  I know that story about Prez, “the little titty-boom.”  He loved what I was doing, and he never told me anything like that.  He may have had to tell a lot of people, you’d think he would have, but I think I knew how to handle it.  Swing ‘em to death, man.

TP:    That sounds like your philosophy all the way, is do whatever you want but always swing within it, and make everybody happy.

HAYNES:  Yeah, in most cases. [LAUGHS] Somebody made a record recently, I think a drummer, that says, “It don’t mean a thing if all you do is swing.”  Maybe he’s listening!

TP:    In ’49 you made that incredible date with Bud Powell.  Were you working a lot with him also?

HAYNES:  He didn’t work steady during that period.  We made an appearance at the Orchard Room, which was changed from the Onyx after they changed managements.  That was just before Birdland opened, and everyone was coming there.  Charlie Parker was working across the street, he’d come over — the place was packed.  Bud was burning.  He was on fire.  Much fire.

TP:    You left him, joined Kai Winding, and I’d imagine you joined Charlie Parker shortly after that.

HAYNES:  Right.  But I was with Miles in ’49 before joining Charlie Parker.  Miles used to say Charlie Parker stole his drummer.

TP:    Was he right?

HAYNES:  Well, a lot of these things happened in 1949, so who’s to say who belongs to who?  And who worked really that steady back in those days, to use the term “my drummer” or “my pianist” or… No one belongs to anybody.  Miles had left Charlie Parker first, and I went with Miles’ band.  There was a place in Brooklyn called Soldier Myers, in the Brownsville section. That’s where I met my wife, in fact, in Brownsville.  Miles sort of opened the room up with a jazz policy.  I think we had Tadd Dameron first on piano (it ended up being Walter Bishop later), Nelson Boyd was on bass, Sonny Rollins was there for a minute, and Sonny Stitt was there for a minute playing alto.  After that gig had finished, Max left Charlie Parker.  Max was from Brooklyn, so he was going to Brooklyn and Soldier Myers, and he suggested I replace him with Charlie Parker.  Then Charlie Parker came over to the Onyx, the Orchard Room, and asked me himself, and I made it.  I did most of the period between 1949 and 1953.

TP:    Did you do much traveling with Charlie Parker?

HAYNES:  I used to go to Boston with him, St. Louis, Chicago.  We used to go to Chicago quite a bit.

TP:    Was the repertoire pretty consistent?  Would he bring new material into the group, or was that mostly for records?

HAYNES:  When we did new material it was probably during the period of the strings, when “Repetition” and all that stuff had come out, and some of the ballads, like “Autumn In New York.”  That was one of the things he did with strings.

TP:    Would he play for a long time, or did he generally play with the type of brevity that happens on the records?  I heard a story where he told someone if he played more than four choruses he was practicing.

HAYNES:  During that period nobody really played long — during the late ’40s and ’50s.  They didn’t play long solos the way some of the artists do now.  That was great.  I didn’t mind that at all.  In Philly, for instance, you played something like 40 minutes on, 20 minutes off, usually five sets.  Then he would have to stick with that.  There were some times when he didn’t feel up to it, but some nights he’d come in and burn all the way through.

TP:    Was he very loose about the way you played?  Was anything you did just fine, or did he give you input?

HAYNES:  Very seldom.  One thing I remember Charlie Parker telling me, when you go into a new place, like a new hall or something like that, where you haven’t played before, sort of feel it out, rather than just go in with your usual volume or whatever.  I take that all the way with me, every place I go now.

TP:    He was such an incredible rhythmic player.  When he’s soloing you never hear the same rhythmic phrase for more than 4 bars or 8 bars.  It must have been very stimulating to play with him.

HAYNES:  Right.  He could turn things inside-out, take it and turn it around.  Oh boy, what an experience.  He was playing the drums when he was playing all the time. [LAUGHS]

TP:    You joined Sarah Vaughan in 1954, but I read in a liner note that maybe around 1948 you were at the same venue as she with Lester Young, and she mentioned she’d like to have you in her band.  Is that true?

HAYNES:  I think that’s true, yes.  I played with Lester at Chicago’s Blue Note (I think we were there as long as three or four weeks sometimes), and sometimes I would accompany Sarah Vaughan.  Her husband-manager then was George Treadwell, and eventually he sent me a note at a place called the Downbeat on 54th Street, asking me to join Sarah.  That’s how it started.

TP:    Now, was that a gig that took a lot of rehearsal and dealing with arrangements?

HAYNES:  Depending on what project.  We did a lot of big band stuff and some record dates with big band.  We travelled a lot with the Basie Band.  They put together shows called the Birdland All-Stars of whatever year it would be, with a whole package — Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine and different bands.  She would always use big bands for those type of gigs.  Yeah, we would have to rehearse.  Then sometimes when she was getting ready to do new material, we’d rehearse.  We had some really slick trio arrangements that were not written, but developed over time.  Man, they got so tight.  When Jimmy Jones was there with Joe Benjamin and myself, it was like heaven.  Jimmy Jones had some kind of trick with the pedal — I don’t know if it’s something he got from Art Tatum — where he would sound like strings and harps.  Oh boy, he was involved.

I enjoyed my five years with Sarah, especially after being with Bird for a long time.  Like when we worked in Philadelphia with Bird (I know I’m changing the subject a little), he’d commute from Philly to New York, and some nights we’d wait until daylight to get paid — the union man would be there.  Now, all that was great.  I always got all of my money.  But I just enjoyed being with a singer, even if we were wearing sometimes bowties or whatever.  We were playing the Waldorf-Astoria, traveling all over the world, the West Indies, Europe.  I got comfortable there.  Lots of times I’d drive my own car to Chicago just to hang out and enjoy life.  And like I said once, I stayed too long at the fair.  Before you know it, it was five years, man.  When I left, it was time to leave.  I never stayed any place else that long.

TP:    You did the famous Five-Spot recordings with Monk in 1958.  Did you meet Monk at the same time in Minton’s, too?

HAYNES:  No, I met Monk in Boston.  It was Coleman Hawkins’ gig, and Denzil Best was there; Al McKibbon may have been playing bass.  Coleman Hawkins had Don Byas playing with him, one of the greatest tenor players in the world using another great tenor next to him.  That knocked me out.  That’s when I met Monk.  For long periods, Monk didn’t play any gigs in New York, like Bud Powell; probably it was the cabaret card.  Monk reminded me of Lester Young a little.  He didn’t say much, but when he did say something, he would say it.  One time we were standing backstage at the Apollo Theater at 126th Street, which was the only time I played the Apollo with Monk.  We’re standing on one side of the street, Monk takes a coin out of his pocket, walks across the street, hits the lamp-post with the coin, and comes back to me and says, “I thought so.”  It was a certain note he had in his head, a certain pitch maybe.  But he was like that.

TP:    How much did you play with Monk apart from these sessions at the Five-Spot?

HAYNES:  I think we did it a couple of times at the Five-Spot, two or three times, and it was always lengthy — one time the whole summer.  Sometimes Monk would be there, sometimes he wouldn’t.  Sometimes he’d come in at midnight.  I’ll never forget when the Jazz Gallery, a bigger place than the Five-Spot, opened on St. Mark’s Place a bigger place.  The first night they opened with Monk, or maybe Monk and Coltrane, but it was like a double-bill.  It was during the summer.  They didn’t have air-conditioning, and it was loaded with people.  We had to wait all night for Monk to show up! [LAUGHS]  People would wait him in those days.  Now probably they’d be asking for their money back.

TP:    I’ve heard comments from drummers that it was very difficult to play with Monk because his rhythms come in such odd places, so unexpectedly.  What was it like for you?

HAYNES:  Oh, it’s very true.  It was very interesting.  Monk would say drummers can only play a few tempos.  You take them out of those few tempos that they like to be comfortable in, and then they’re uncomfortable.  He was kind of slick.  He knew a lot. But really, it was easy to play with him — to some extent.  It was a challenge.  Shadow Wilson played with him.  That was it!  And Art Blakey, Max, Frankie Dunlop, Ben Riley, who came in after me, all sounded great with Monk.

TP:    Fantasy put out a box-set of the complete Eric Dolphy recordings, and you’re on eight dates with Dolphy and Oliver Nelson almost continuously between 1960 and 1961.  Were you working with Dolphy in a band, or were those dates where the producer would call you to come into the studio?

HAYNES:  Probably a combination of both.  When Oliver came to New York, we worked a lot together in the studio.  I guess he dug the direction I was going, and he wanted me on most of his dates.  Eric as well.  I did Eric’s first date, Outward Bound.  When I would be in California during the ’50s, Eric was always hanging with me.  Even when he came to New York (I think he came to New York with Chico Hamilton), he was always over at my house.  When he did his first date he wanted me to be on it.  In California, he was more into Bird, but he went in a different direction when he got to New York.  He said he always loved listening to the birds sing in his yard in California, and he was into that with his horn as well.  He was really into the music.  It seems I like him more on the bass clarinet than the alto — it’s more mellow.

TP:    You made two recordings with Andrew Hill that rank among the classics of that time, Smokestack and Black Fire.  Were you working with him on gigs?

HAYNES:  I never did work with Andrew.  In fact, I remember him asking me to do the date.  Seems like a lot of writers think if you recorded with somebody that you worked with them, but that was not the case.  Sometimes somebody just wanted you to make a record, and you did it.

TP:    He seems to be able to set up a very dynamic rhythmic situation, and you’d seem to be the ideal drummer for him.

HAYNES:  His music was different.  He was somewhere else as well.  He reminded me…a little Monkish, but not.  He was really somewhere else during that period. [LAUGHS]

TP:    Talk about the challenge of playing with Coltrane.

HAYNES:  You really had to keep your mind on what you were doing with him, because the feeling would go in different directions.  I once said in a magazine that playing with Coltrane was like a beautiful nightmare.  People ask what I meant by that.  I guess some nightmares can be beautiful.  It reminded me of sort of a Pentecostal Church.  It was very spiritual.  I found that John Coltrane had a built-in drummer, and all you had to do was accompany him.  That’s the way it was in my case.  A lot of things that I’d thought about doing when I played with some of the other great innovator saxophone players, I could do with him.  The ’60s was a different period anyhow for life in general.  People were taking more chances, whatever.  We were talking earlier about Charlie Parker playing only a few choruses.  Coltrane may be one of the few artists who could play a lot of choruses and keep you listening.  I mean, he’d come to one climax, build and come to another, very intense, and have something to say.

Earl Bostic used to do it a long time ago.  I think that’s where Trane got it.  One time Trane played something, and when we got through with that set I was thinking of what he was playing.  I said, “Where did you get that from, Coltrane?”  He said, “Earl Bostic.”  Yeah, Earl Bostic used to play.  I remember jam sessions in the Bronx.  There was a place on Boston Road called the 845 Club.  I remember Sunday afternoon sessions there in the late ’40s, Earl Bostic would be there, he would play lengthy, and he would satisfy the people.  He had something.  So maybe some saxophone players should check out Earl Bostic, like Trane did.

TP:    Well, he was in Earl Bostic’s band, and Johnny Hodges…

HAYNES:  Yeah, he was in his band and Johnny Hodges.  Maybe that’s why he could play ballads so damn good.  You’re listening to it right there, you know.

TP:    He referred to you and Elvin Jones as being able to…

HAYNES:  Spread out the rhythm.

TP:    Right.  I don’t know if I have a specific question about that.  Do you have any thoughts on that?

HAYNES:  I hadn’t heard that term before, but I thought he described it very good — “spreading the rhythm.”  I would never have come up with it.  Someone else can sometimes describe what you’re doing or trying to do better than you.

TP:    So the things you did with Coltrane were almost like the demands of the music.  You had to do them to execute what you heard in your mind’s ear…

HAYNES:  You didn’t have to do any one special thing except keep it burning for him.  I was in my car stuck in traffic in Manhattan once listening to “One Down, One Up”, and at one point McCoy was playing, then Coltrane came back in and he was screaming!  I said, “Something must have happened.”  I was in my car, by myself driving, and people probably thought I was going crazy!  Oh, man, he had me.  Evidently, I may have had him to help him to scream as such.

TP:    Would that sort of thing happen, let’s say, with Lester Young or Charlie Parker?

HAYNES:  Not that way.  Sure, it would happen, but not quite like that — because of a lot of things.  The ’60s, man, whoo — it was a serious period.  I was very wild in the ’60s.  What can I really say?  It happened, and I’m glad it was captured.

TP:    During that time you were part of Stan Getz’s working band.  You recorded with him back in 1949.

HAYNES:  That’s very true.  At one point, speaking of Stan Getz I’m in California, we were doing six nights in a club on Sunset Boulevard when John Coltrane was there.  They cut us to three nights, just the weekend, so I did the first part of the week with John Coltrane.  That was in the ’60s.  It was a helluva period, to play with these two different guys, both so great.

TP:    Well, some of your freest playing happened with Chick Corea in the late ’60s, not like with Coltrane, but extremely open and spacious.  That concept of spreading the time I think really flourished in that trio.

HAYNES:  Okay.

TP:    Did that relationship begin through Stan Getz?  He played with him briefly.

HAYNES:  We did play together with Stan Getz.  Yes, that’s the first time we played together.

TP:    What was your impression of Corea’s music?  You’ve recorded his compositions on almost every record.

HAYNES:  Oh, I always liked his writing.  Like Coltrane, he is a drummer.  In fact, I just learned this year that he was making some gigs on drums when he was in New York, on the East Side, different places.  You walk into his house, the first thing you see sometimes is a set of drums.  I never heard Trane talk about drums or anything like that, but in his playing he had a built-in drummer.  He feels it.  His notes are so even.  Some people depend on the drummer for the time, they go against the time maybe and wait for the drummer to let them know where the time is.  But with Trane it wasn’t so.  You’re just there.

TP:    Was that also the case with Charlie Parker and Lester Young?

HAYNES:  Sure.  Different period, though.  Lester Young, when he says.. [SINGS CHORUS FROM "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid"], one-two-three — it’s right there.  All you’ve got to do is design around it.

TP:    That’s a very nice word you used, designing the rhythm.

HAYNES:  Yeah, man.

TP:    The implication there is dance.

HAYNES:  Tell me about it.

TP:    No, please tell me about it.

HAYNES:  [LAUGHS] Now that you’re talking about Prez, at the Savoy Ballroom they danced sometimes when we were playing.  When I had the Hip Ensemble, a few years back, I was playing a gig outdoors in Harlem, and when I drove up there was a young guy waiting for me who I didn’t know.  He says, “I’m waiting for you.”  This guy danced all during my drum solos, improvising.  I was amazed to see what this guy was doing.  I’m playing all these breaks, and he’s dancing through all of them. It’s marketable.

TP:    Speaking of which, did you ever play with tap dancers on these shows?

HAYNES:  Oh yes.

TP:    Like Baby Lawrence.

HAYNES:  I sure did.  When I was 16 or 17 years old in Boston, a lot of those gigs I had, I had to play for tap dancers.  I used to try to tap dance — at home only.  I tap dance on the drums, you know.

TP:    Is that part of what you’re thinking about when you play?

HAYNES:  I guess I’m thinking about it in my subconscious mind.  I’m thinking about rhythms, even when I walk.  I’m thinking constantly about rhythms and beats, which dancers do.

TP:    You even sit at the drum-kit differently than most drummers.  You sort of half-stand and you’re dancing at the drum kit.

HAYNES:  Well, hey, I try to be in it, inside of it.  Yes.

TP:    I’d like to talk to you about the way you organize your bands.  On your records you seem to record music by people who have been significant to your career.  Every record has a Chick Corea tune, every record has a Monk tune, there’s always a ballad, probably Sarah Vaughan sang, there are things by Coltrane and things Charlie Parker recorded.  Can you comment?

HAYNES:  Sure, it’s influenced by the different artists.  I mentioned the drum thing Coltrane and Chick have, and Monk, with his special quality, his special tempos and very unique writings.  These things stayed with me from being around these people.  Charlie Parker, of course.  Some of the tunes I try to include in our repertoire are tunes not often played.  Usually, after we play them a while, then they become a little more popular, especially if they are being played on the air and whatnot, and then we play them in person.  But those are things that feel fresh to me, and I like the feeling of the way the tunes lay.

TP:    There’s also been for a long time an aspect of Caribbean music and Caribbean rhythms.  Your parents I believe were Barbadan, yes?

HAYNES:  That’s correct.

TP:    Was the Caribbean music something that was always there in the household, or…

HAYNES:  No, it was not in the household much.  But maybe just listening to them talk with their accents, it’s naturally there.  Not the tunes themselves, but the feeling of it.  I love it!  I go down there a lot.

TP:    Have you dealt with hand drumming much, or with hand drummers?

HAYNES:  A little, not too much.  I went to Senegal a couple of times.  There’s a lot of great drummers, but one in particular, Dudu Rose.  One time when I had the Hip Ensemble, we had to do two concerts.  One was a free concert, and we were to play together at some point.  I thought he was going to sit in with my band, but he didn’t speak English and we didn’t talk about it.  When I got there, word was that I was to sit in with his band.  He had all drummers.  They played with one stick and one hand.  I sat in with them and we played.  There was nothing rehearsed and we didn’t discuss anything, but at one point we just started getting down on the instruments.  I had to feel it and listen for when certain people would be playing solos.  At one point they were playing something that sounded like a background, and they were all looking at me, which made me think that it was my time to solo, and they were backing me up.  Man, we got involved, so involved that everybody was screaming.  They speak sort of French with a dialect, and when I got off I could just hear, “Roy Haynes!”  Somebody told me I could have run for office and won right away.  So yeah, I’m into hand drums, and I listen to all different types of drums.

TP:    Do you practice a lot with your moves?  Probably not now, but at an earlier point did you do a lot of practicing?  Or was it always an on-the-stand type of thing that was in function with the music?

HAYNES:  I am constantly practicing in my head.  In fact, the teacher once in school sent me to the principal, because I was drumming with my hands on the desk in school.  My father used to say I was just nervous.  I’m constantly thinking rhythms, drums.  When I was very young I used to practice a lot; not any special thing, but just practice playing.  I’m like a doctor.  When he’s operating on you, he’s practicing.  When I go to my gigs, that’s my practice.  I may play something that I never heard before or maybe that you never heard before.  It’s all a challenge.  I deal with sounds.  I’m full of rhythm, man.  I feel it.  I’m thinking summer, winter, fall, spring, hot, cold, fast and solo, and colors.  But I don’t analyze it.  I’ve been playing professionally over 50 years, and that’s the way I do it.  People do it different ways.  I do it like that.

TP:    What are the qualities somebody needs to be part of the Roy Haynes circle?

HAYNES:  I don’t know always.  You’ve got to have some feeling and imagination, and there has to be some warmth in whatever instrument you’re playing.  It has to be not rigid, not tight; the music is tight but it’s still loose.  I don’t look for things.  I try to adjust.  Usually one guy will recommend another guy that maybe he went to school with or something like that.  I’ll listen to those guys, then I’ll try to put together what I’m feeling from them.  I try to understand their concept, then I take it all the way out and see if they’re going to understand my concept.  I feel it back and forth.  I don’t put it into words, and it’s not an audition.  I’m not into all of that.  First of all, I don’t want to work steady.  Years ago I was saying I was semi-retired.  I don’t have to say that any more, because they took me out of my little semi-retirement.  But I work, and then I cool out and I think and I dream and go throughout the world, and it’s great.  I don’t like to analyze everything and put everything in a certain position and it has to stay in that position.

TP:    Do arrangements form themselves in the band?

HAYNES:  To some extent, but I structure them like riding a horse.  You pull a rein you tighten it up here, you loosen it there.  I’m still sitting in the driver’s seat, so to speak.  But I let it loose, I let it go, I see where it’s going to go and what it feels like.  Sometimes I go out, and sometimes I’ll be polite, nice and let it move and breathe.

TP:    Very unpredictable sets.

HAYNES:  Maybe, to some extent.  But still in the pocket and with feeling.

TP:    Do you try to surprise yourself in every set?

HAYNES:  I do surprise myself.  The worst surprise is when I can’t get it to happen!  Then I go the bar.  But usually it comes out.  I don’t play for a long period, and I’m like an animal, a lion or tiger locked in its cage, and when I get out I try to restrain myself.  I don’t want to overplay.  A great musician told me he came to hear me, and I played a whole set without playing a solo.  I kind of doubt that.  Sometimes I play my solos at the end.  I don’t always trade 4′s or 8′s with the guys.  I like them to trade and just keep it moving, and spread the rhythm, as Trane said.  Keep it moving, keep it crisp.

* * * *

Roy Haynes (for Drumworks):

TP:    Do you still practice.  And if you do still practice, what do you practice?

HAYNES:  My practicing now is like a doctor practicing.  When they say a doctor is practicing that means he’s operating on you or doing his thing.  I’ve been doing that for years; on the gig is my practice.  Sometimes I may sit behind the drums, because I was taking long periods when I wouldn’t play at all.  Those have become a little shorter, though now and then I cool out for a month or so.  But I’m always thinking drums.  I’m walking drums.  That’s my whole rhythm thing.  But naturally you’ve got to keep that blood flowing and the juices in your body, so you can be loose enough to play.  So I don’t really sit down and practice.  What I was doing some years ago, I would invite certain people out to my house and we would just play.  Like, Kevin Eubanks would come out when he was playing with me, and Ralph Moore, and all those guys; David Kikoski still comes out.  And that’s my practice.

TP:    You practice by playing.

HAYNES:  Exactly.  Because I don’t know what to practice.  I never was into the rudiments and all of that stuff anyhow.  I’m not a rudimental drummer.  Not really.  I’ve got my own rudiments.  I never learned that even hand stuff.  I tried at it; I was never good at it.

TP:    I gather you were pretty much self-taught, and there was a drummer on your block named Herbie Wright who gave you some lessons.

HAYNES:  Yes, Herbie Wright.  He was an older guy.  He played with the Jenkins Orphanage Band in South Carolina that Jabbo Smith and Cootie Williams was in.  Herbie Wright was a short guy, and I imagine that he was from North Carolina because he had high cheekbones, very dark skin.  But we just did some informal things.  He had a snare drum in his living room someplace, and my father knew him.  I went up to him a couple of times, and that was it.

TP:    So other than that it was pretty much learning by doing.

HAYNES:  Exactly.  Which I’m still doing.  I’m still learning, you know.

TP:    That leads me to ask who are your drumming heroes.

HAYNES:  Well, Papa Jonathan [Jones] was my main guy, even though I was into Cozy Cole, because I had that record, “Crescendo In Drums,” that he made with Cab Calloway.  I had a record of Chick Webb, whom I never did see in person.  Some of the younger guys later, such as Kenny Clarke, whom I met in Boston in the early ’40s.  I met Art Blakey in Boston when he came there with Fletcher Henderson.  I didn’t meet Max when he came through with Benny Carter, but I caught him, and I had the records he was on with Coleman Hawkins and Dizzy and all of that.  Shadow Wilson I met when he was with Lionel Hampton, and later he was with Earl Hines.  All these guys were part of my thing.

TP:    You also said that you’d go to hear the big bands, and you’d hear Jimmy Crawford and Sonny Greer and the others who came through.

HAYNES:  Yeah.  I couldn’t get close to them, though, in terms of meeting them.  Later in life Sonny and I became very cool.  But Jo Jones, he was open.  In fact, when I went to the RKO Theater in Boston where the Basie band was playing, I went backstage and told them I was his son, man, so I got right in.  The guys in the band got a kick out of that.  They said, “Here’s your son, man!”  I was ahead of the time as far as the word “Papa Jo” was concerned!

TP:    Did you emulate these drummers in forming a style, or a sound?

HAYNES:  Well, I tried.  But I wasn’t too comfortable trying to do that.  It didn’t work for me.  So I had to go out and dig for myself.

TP:    Well, who are some of the young drummers today you most want to know about…

HAYNES:  You know what?  I get that question all the time.  I can’t answer it.  There’s a lot of great talent out there.  A lot of the youngsters are really into it, and I’m going to leave out somebody.  I’ll say that there are some pretty hot ones. They’ve got good hands.  I don’t know if I dig where they put things.  I don’t always dig their imaginations, but they’ve got a lot of stuff to work with.

TP:    So if there’s anything lacking in young drummers, it’s their imagination?

HAYNES:  I wouldn’t even want to say that there are things lacking.  Even though there may be, you know.

TP:    What do they most want to know about when they talk to you?

HAYNES:  I get all kinds of questions in general.  They ask me all kinds of things.  I can’t think offhand of one thing.  A lot of them, not only the drummers…. Well, this is a drummer’s thing.  But just musicians ask me questions in general, not particularly drummers.  They try to check out things and…

TP:     Well, obviously they watch you and try to emulate.

HAYNES:  Some of the guys write down some of the stuff you play.  And a lot of that stuff is hard, I’m sure, especially the direction I go now, which is soloing.  It’s elastic, it’s back forth, there aren’t always measures to count.  That’s my concept now.

TP:    How does your current band facilitate that concept, with Danilo Perez and John Patitucci?

HAYNES:  Well, a lot of people want to play with me, naturally, because I’ve become the link, so to speak.  They want to be associated with people I’ve played with; for instance, pianists like Monk or Bud Powell or Chick Corea.  They want to be part of that.  But what I am trying to do at this stage of my life is to do anything and everything that comes to mind, but try to place it in a place where it’s going to mean something.  Years ago, when I played with those people, I didn’t do everything that I was capable of doing because it wouldn’t fit.  So now, whatever I do, if I play with somebody else, they sort of have to go in my direction, because there’s no telling what I’m going to do.  And these guys are up for it.  I’m stretching the beat, I’m going fast and slow…taking it fast and slow and hot and cold.  And it seems to work.  There’s an audience for it.  They seem to love it!

TP:    Well, Danilo Perez almost seems like a second drummer.

HAYNES:  Well, he’s got a lot of rhythm!  So it can work.  Sometimes we meet up with the same thing, the same beats — not even trying to particularly.  It happens spontaneous.  That’s what they were thinking of calling the trio record.

TP:    And this record, like all your records of the last decade, surveys your career and your connections and the people who played with.  There’s a Monk piece, a piece associated with Bird, one with Bud, one with Sarah Vaughan, one by Chick Corea, and so on.

HAYNES:  Exactly.

TP:    Your style was so beloved by singers, and you played with Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, and even once for a week with Nat Cole.

HAYNES:  I did a week with Nat Cole in 1946 in the Earle Theater in Philadelphia.

TP:    What’s the art to backing a singer, from your perspective?

HAYNES:  I guess I was just learning then when I was trying to do it, and whatever it is, I think I captured it.  I can’t always put it into words.  It’s still that thing of listening and being sensitive.  When I played with Billie Holiday, sometimes I wasn’t sensitive enough maybe.  But I know what you have to do.  I knew what they wanted.  I said recently in an interview that playing with Sarah Vaughan was like playing with Charlie Parker.  She had that kind of mind.  She was ready for new things.  Playing with Billie Holiday was like playing with Lester Young.  And playing with Ella Fitzgerald was like playing with the Basie band.  She’d work you to death, Ella Fitzgerald, man!  She’d sing long and she’d scat but she was SWINGIN’ in there.  So I had a taste of all that.  I recorded with Ray Charles, too, and Carmen and a lot of different singers.  I played with Lee Wiley up in Boston.

TP:    Are you someone who knows all the lyrics?

HAYNES:  I know a lot of lyrics.  I didn’t particularly learn them playing with the singers.  A lot of people say, “Yeah, you played with Sarah Vaughan…” I knew lyrics before that.

TP:    Do you sing?

HAYNES:  All the time! [LAUGHS]

TP:    What do you remember most from your time with Coltrane, and was there anything in particular that he wanted to hear?

HAYNES:  Well, Coltrane had with him one of the greatest drummers ever — Elvin.  Each time I played I was sort of filling in for Elvin.  It wasn’t really the same, but Elvin was familiar with me from the period when I was with Bird.

TP:    So I hear.  I gather he used to meet you at the train station.

HAYNES:  Yeah, he talks about that.  That’s when I was with Ella Fitzgerald, because Hank and I were playing together then.  So a lot of people haven’t realized that he was hip to me way back before they were — “they” meaning maybe some of the writers and journalists and historians.  But I think they’ve learned that since then.

But what did Trane want?  Trane didn’t say too much about what he wanted.  There was something in me that I guess he was familiar with, and that I just had to lay back a little and let it happen.

TP:    You told me that Coltrane was one of the very few artists who could play a lot of choruses and keep you listening, which you said he got from Earl Bostic.

HAYNES:  Well, yes.  Earl Bostic was very long-winded.  He’d play a lot of choruses.  Trane may have got that from him.  I remember one time Trane was playing something, and afterwards I hummed what he was playing to him, and I said, “Man, where did you get that?”  He said, “Earl Bostic.” [LAUGHS] He told me that himself.  He worked with Earl.  During 1946 there were a lot of jam sessions around New York.  There was a guy named Johnny Jackson who is not living now.  He used to give sessions in the Bronx, at the Club 421 I think the name of it was…or maybe not the 421… It was something on one of the main streets.  Earl used to be part of that, and I used to play with those guys.  I was usually one of the drummers.  Sid Catlett was the drummer on some of those sessions.  So I got a taste of all of that, too.  And I learned later how important Earl Bostic was.  He was a crowd-pleaser, plus he was very musical.

TP:    Plus an incredible technician, a scientist of the saxophone.

HAYNES:  There you go.

TP:    Coltrane also had the phrase “spreading the rhythm” in reference to you.

HAYNES:  That’s the term he used describing Elvin and myself.

TP:    It’s an interesting term.  Do you feel it’s something that got unlocked in you from playing with him, or is it something you were doing all along?

HAYNES:  I would think that’s something that I was about.  Because even back when playing the hi-hat, the sock cymbal on 2 and 4 a lot, I didn’t really do a lot of that.  Sometimes on a record I would do it, because certain musicians needed or wanted that.  But I sort of played loose.  That’s one thing that really got me with Lester Young.  He liked that looseness.  It’s still swinging.  I’m still doing a lot of little accents with the bass drum in my left hand, even in my early career, and it could work with somebody if they could play, if they had the rhythm.  I’m talking about the person you’re accompanying.  Some guys needed that whole thing all the time for you to give them the 2-and-4 feeling.  But with Trane, all I could do is just swing and play.  With Lester Young, too, and Charlie Parker.

TP:    You’ve referred to Coltrane as a drummer, Bird as a drummer, Chick Corea as a drummer, Lester Young, Monk… You referred to them all as drummers.

HAYNES:  Yes.  They have a drummer inside them.  All you do is accompany them, man.

TP:    You said all you have to do with them is design around it, designing the rhythm.

HAYNES:  Yes.  Mingus used to say, “Roy Haynes doesn’t always play the beat.  He suggests the beat!”  That’s somebody describing me, and maybe to that extent he was right.

TP:    Which sounds like choreography, choreographing a tap dance to a certain extent.

HAYNES:  There you go.  I used to try to tap dance years ago at home, not in public.  Every now and then I still… I’ve got more of a right foot than a left foot, though!  But even now, I’m into checking out Savion Glover.  And Jimmy Slyde is my buddy; he’s still around dancing, and we sort of grew up together,.  Also when I started playing as a teenager, I played for a lot of tap dancers through my early career.

TP:    You can kind of hear it in your attack, too, because your strokes are so crisp and your punctuation so precise.  Is clarity of ideas always your goal and focus?

HAYNES:  Sometimes.  I guess maybe most of the time in solos.  It’s like having a conversation, or telling a story, painting a picture.  Sometimes it’s abstract; sometimes it’s right there to the point, right in the rhythm; sometimes it spreads out.  That’s what I try to do.  I try to make it say something.  Take you someplace.

TP:    You mentioned that even when you were very young, you were always playing the drums in your head, always thinking about drums, always thinking about rhythm…

HAYNES:  Yes, playing with my thumbs even at school, with the desk.  The desk had an opening.  The desk was made like a drum; it was hollow on the inside where you could put your books and everything.  So I liked the sound of it.  I would do that, and the whole class would be listening to me rather than listening to the teacher — and they would throw me out!  They sent me to the principal’s office in high school.  Because I was always playing with my little nervous hands.  You know what I mean?  I was always drumming, man.

TP:    You’re playing very free and, as you said, you’re soloing all the time, but there are structures within the songs, and certain arrangements, whether they’re loose or tight or whatever, and I’m wondering about how you guide the flow of a performance.

HAYNES:  It varies.  It may depend on my mood, or it may depend on the song itself.  Usually, when I have, say, my quartet, I don’t always solo.  I wait for a while.  I have to really feel relaxed or comfortable enough.  I have to be comfortable around how I’m sitting, how the audience is, if they’re loud or attentive.  That’s when I figure I’m best at soloing, when I’m ready to, rather than have to play with somebody who is going to tell me when to solo — they’re going to trade here or they’re going to trade there.  I don’t usually like to do it that way.  Lots of times, when I have a saxophone, I’ll have the saxophone and the piano playing fours against each other, and I’ll just be designing around them.  I don’t always like to play fours.  I did that with Prez back in the ’40s; I don’t always like to do that.  So I like to solo when I’m ready, and it seems to work, because the audience really seems to eat it up that way.  There’s an audience for what I’ve been trying to do, I’m finding out, all over the world.

TP:    You started out playing for dancers a lot.  When you came to New York, your first gig was at the Savoy, and you’ve referred to how the Savoy beat imprinted itself on you.  What’s the difference between playing for dancers and playing in a sitdown concert situation, which is how life is in the jazz business these days?

HAYNES:  Well, there’s a certain thing that you have to do to keep the people dancing.  I’ve had some times when the people won’t dance until you get a certain… Or sometimes you play a melody that they like, then once you get them on the floor, man, you can take them where you want to take them — to some extent.  But there’s an art to doing that.  I did a lot of it, and I tried to get away from that, and just play concerts for people listening.  But I know how to do it.  I know how to handle that.  I can still do it if I wish.

TP:    You’ve always had a very distinct snare drum sound.  Why do you tune it high and tight with lots of crispness?

HAYNES:  It seems to be effective.  It seems to work.  I don’t always know why I do things, but there sure is a reason up there.  But whatever the reason is, it seems to really get over.  It seems to work!  I don’t know why, though.  I just found out last night, when I was doing a soundcheck… From night to night you go to different places, and your drums may change.  Danilo was telling me I always get that same note.  There are two notes; I get one or the other.  He would hear me hit the drums playing a melodic thing, then he would hit them on the piano.  I knew what I wanted in my head all the time, all these years!  And he says it’s always the same notes, either one or the other — one of two notes.  That’s pretty good.  I tried for that.  That’s what I tried to do.  Now, he answered without me even asking.  “Yeah, Roy Haynes, you always get that note, man.”

TP:    You also have a real wide-open bass drum sound.  It’s instantly recognizable for certain drummers.  They hear one stroke, and they know it’s you.

HAYNES:  How about that.  That’s interesting.  In fact, it’s so wide open… It may have been wide open at Birdland, sometimes maybe too much for the bass player.  It’s an 18″ bass drum.  I don’t like bass drums all cluttered up, unless I’m just playing a whole Rock thing — but I’m not a Rock drummer.

TP:    What does it mean, you’re not a Rock drummer?

HAYNES:  Well, that speaks for itself.  I’m not.  Someone was asking me earlier about the technicians today in the studio and studio playing.  I’m not always comfortable in a studio.  Everything is geared toward that Rock-Funk thing, mostly.

TP:    Is it too mechanical?

HAYNES:  It’s very mechanical.  It’s a very mechanical sound.  Most of the drummers that play today, they all sound alike.  Their drums sound alike.  I’ve never wanted to sound too much like anyone else, ever since I’ve been an adult.

TP:    So being an individual has always been your animating imperative, really.

HAYNES:  Somewhat.  One year I had bought a new convertible, and one of my buddy drummers was in the car, and he says, “Roy Haynes, what are you trying to do?”  I said, “I’m trying to be myself!”  I said that then, in 1950!

TP:    I need to know the components of your kit.  If you don’t want to go into it, tell me who I should ask, so I can get the accurate information.

HAYNES:  Joe Testa at Yamaha.  He’ll give you all the details.  I have different sets.  I have two floor toms, and I don’t always use them.

TP:    What do you have with you now?

HAYNES:  I don’t know all the sizes.  An 8″-by-10″, I think, and a 9″-by-12″ rack tom, as they call them now.  I have one I think 14″ or 16″ floor tom; I’m not sure which.  I have two crash cymbals.  A flat ride cymbal that was sort of copied after the cymbal that I used on “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs,” which has become very classic and very popular.  In fact, the cymbal that I used on “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs” with Chick Corea was a flat ride Paiste, which is when they first started making them.  I had one of the first ones.  I may have been the first drummer to record with it.  When Chick Corea started Return to Forever, he came over to my house and borrowed a cymbal, and kept it all of these years.  Then last year, I think, he took that same Paiste cymbal and brought it to Zildjian and had them try to copy it — a sort of cloned cymbal.  They gave me three or four, and they gave Chick a few of them.  So that’s what I’m using right now, and it really worked with this trio.  It’s only an 18″ flat ride.

TP:    Why does it work so well with this trio?

HAYNES:  Well, John Patitucci, most of his stuff is pretty light on the acoustic bass.  He likes to play light, so this cymbal works with him, along with the piano.  Even though I know the bass drum sometimes probably can get a little boomy in there!  But sometimes I don’t play it, or sometimes I just let him play solo without the drums.

TP:    And you do a lot of exchanges on the record.

HAYNES:  Oh yes.  We did some 12s on “Sippin’ At Bells” and some of the other stuff.

TP:    How has drum equipment changed over the years, from when you were playing with Lester Young and Charlie Parker to today?  Is it a much more efficient instrument?  Have the materials changed your sound in any way?

HAYNES:  Well, not too much.  Except they started making all of the drum stands and the cymbal stands and the drum throws and the seats…they started making them heavier.  I guess a lot of the Rock drummers were breaking up the stuff, so they started making everything stronger and heavier, which cost me a lot of money traveling.  If I’m the leader, that comes out of your expenses — the overweight.

But let me say this.  When I was with Lester Young, which was 1947 to 1949, I think my drums had got stolen.  I think I had a 22″ bass drum, because I came from the Luis Russell Big Band to Lester Young.  Then I had one of the first 20″ bass drums in 1949.  Then after that they started making smaller ones, so I got to the 18″, and I’m pretty comfortable with the 18″.  So it went from the 22″ when I was with the big band, Luis Russell… 22″ was considered small because a lot of people had 24″ bass drums, and 28″ was standard for a bass drum in the ’40s, or at least the early ’40s.  Then I had this small snare drum, 3″-by-13″, which we called a bebop snare.  That’s in that famous picture with Monk, Mingus and Bird, taken at the Open Door — that little snare drum.  I still have another one at my house in Long Island.

TP:    Are cymbals similar to what they were then?

HAYNES:  Well, everything has improved.  They last longer.

TP:    A lot of drummers, when they talk about you, describe you as having an internal clave.  It’s not explicit, it’s almost implicit in the way you…

HAYNES:  It must be Latin drummers who talk about that.

TP:    No.  They’re drummers who are interested in Latin music, but not Latin drummers.  Could you talk a bit about your relations to Latin music and diasporic music within your trapset style?

HAYNES:  I was always into the Latin music.  My folks were from the Caribbean anyhow — Barbados.  And I always listened to it.  When I first came to New York, there was a lot of great Latin music — uptown, all over Manhattan.  When places like Birdland opened, and the Royal Roost, Machito’s band was very popular.  He had a drummer named Uba, and we were always checking Uba out.  He didn’t play with a complete trapset.  He had timbales in his set, and a bass drum, and no hi-hat… I forget exactly his setup.  But I used to listen to him all the time, and Tito Puente and those guys, way back in the day.  I was very close with Willie Bobo.  Mongo and Willie Bobo were living in the same complex in the Bay Area when they were playing with Cal Tjader. They had checked out my concept way back then on records and from in-person appearances, and they would say that I approached the drumset like timbales.  They were telling me that in the late ’50s and early ’60s.  So there was some relation.  And that was my approach.  I felt that.  I was into that on a lot of solos and everything.

TP:    I guess Danilo Perez must really relate to that in your band.

HAYNES:  Oh, man, he loves it.  All night long he’s telling me, “You’re the only one, man!  You’re the only one!”  Jack Hooke and Symphony Sid used to present Monday Latin Night at the Village Gate, and sometimes they would feature a jazz guy with one of the Latin bands.  When Jack called me to do it, I was to play with Tito Puente’s band as a guest.  And man, we got hooked up so heavy there with the rhythms that Tito… The lead trumpet was the musical director of the band, and, man, we got so involved, he gave them the cue to take it out.  It got too hot!  Tito was my buddy.  We knew each other from the late ’40s.

1 Comment

Filed under Drummer, Interview, Jazziz, Roy Haynes

For David Murray’s 57th Birthday, a Jazziz Article From 2007 and a DownBeat Blindfold Test From Ten Years Ago

David Murray turned 57 a few days ago; he’ll be in NYC next week to present his latest project, a big band collaboration with guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer, a partner on various projects over the last 35 years. I’ve appended a feature piece that I wrote about Murray in 2008 for Jazziz, framed around the release of Banished, and also a Blindfold Test from the early ’00s.

* * *
“I’ve always been around poets,” said David Murray, in New York City in January to play the Knitting Factory with his quartet. “They bare their soul so much. When I get my hands on a good poem, I can see the music jumping off the page. The word is powerful.”

Recently arrived from his home in Paris, Murray was having a pre-gig dinner at Chez Josephine. The walls of the West 42nd Street bistro are festooned with photographs and memorabilia of Josephine Baker, the famous African-American dancer-chanteuse out of St. Louis, who sailed to Paris in 1925, at 18, and transformed herself into a staple of French popular culture. After the second world war, she adopted a dozen impoverished French orphans, one of them the proprietor, who reinforces a tone of soulful Francophilia, both with the menu — fried chicken and collard greens share pride of place with snails and bouillabaisse — and the entertainment, provided by an elderly black woman in her Sunday best singing to her own piano accompaniment and a woman of similar vintage blowing melodies and obbligatos on trumpet.

Murray and his pianist, Lafayette Gilchrist, sat near the piano, facing Valerie Malot, Murray’s wife and manager, and Jim West, who runs Justin Time Records, which recently issued Sacred Ground, Murray’s 10th release for the label. On Sacred Ground, Murray and his Black Saint Quartet stretch out on seven songs — on two, Cassandra Wilson sings lyrics by Ishmael Reed — that the leader wrote for the soundtrack of Banished. The PBS documentary film, which premiered in February, examines three towns in Georgia, Missouri, and Arkansas from which residents of African descent were forceably removed during the years after Reconstruction, and which remain lily-white today.

Banished is the most recently realized of an ambitious series of projects, all touching on Afro-diasporic themes, that Murray, 52, launched after he migrated from New York City to the City of Light in 1996 to join Malot, with whom he has two children. It follows Pushkin, a fully-staged quasi-opera, as yet unrecorded, on which Murray wrote a suite of songs to French, English, Creole, and Bantu translations of texts by the immortal Russian poet, himself the great-grandson of an Ethiopian prince. During his dozen years of self-imposed exile, Murray, among other things, has composed big band and string music for Cuban ensembles, and created repertoire for bands comprised of musicians from Guadeloupe (CreoleYonn-de, and Gwotet, Senegal (Fo Deuk Revue), and the Black American Church (Speaking in Tongues). Later that evening at the Knitting Factory, he intended to touch base with poet Amiri Baraka, the librettist of “Sisyphus Syndrome,” scheduled to open on May 19th, Malcolm X’s birthday, for which Murray had as yet completed only five of 15 songs. In two days, he would fly to Cuba, to audition a string ensemble to perform as-yet-to-be written arrangements for a proposed celebration of Nat “King” Cole with Cassandra Wilson.

After ordering the fried chicken, Murray took his glass of vin rouge to a quieter spot at the front of the bar. “Next week I’m going to be writing like crazy,” he said. “But the deadlines keep me motivated. It’s like Duke Ellington said, ‘If I want to get something finished, all I need is a deadline.’ But between Banished and Sisyphus, I have music to play with my quartet for the next two years.”

In the summer of 2006, Banished director Marco Williams, a Murray fan since the saxophonist’s New York glory days in the ’80s, contacted Malot about Murray’s availability and sent a two-hour rough cut to Paris. “He wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to use me, but I forced myself upon him,” Murray said. “I stopped everything else I was doing, didn’t wait for nobody to give me no money, started writing songs, and had Valerie tape them and send them to him over the Internet.”

“It was a challenging process,” Williams relates. “David is not someone who’s going to write notes that hit a certain cut. Frankly, I couldn’t tell whether the music was going to work or not. But I wanted a collaborator, not someone just to score the film. And it was completely evident that David got the movie, it meant something to him, and he wanted to express something. The music was so beautiful, so evocative. I told my editors, ‘We’ll just get all the stems, and cut down as needed.’”

“Basically, this is ethnic cleansing,” Murray elaborated. “You see that monster, you got to cut the head off. My way of trying to cut the head off was to send him tunes.”

Without much prodding, Murray revealed that the film’s particulars resonated with his own family’s experience.

“Most black people who know their family history talk about how they got ran off,” he said. “We don’t know the terms ‘banished’ or ‘ethnic cleansing.’ We say, ‘We got ran off.’ When a town decides it don’t need you no more, that’s just how it is.” Murray cited his maternal grandfather, George Hackett, a sharecropper who went to Midland, Texas, and struck oil. “They ran him off the property, but he managed to sell his oil rights, and moved to California,” he said. “He was very enterprising. He went north to the Bay Area, but that was too far. A black man at that time couldn’t do nothing with the sea. Then he remembered he’d seen cotton in Fresno. He knew cotton, so he turned around to go where the produce was. He bought a block in Fresno, called Hackett Flats. It still has that name, and I own property on that plot.”

By Murray’s account, his paternal grandfather, a Nebraskan, was less fortunate, leaving his wife six months pregnant with Murray’s father when he fell from a scaffold in a gusting wind. Born in 1925 and full-grown in 1940, David Murray, Sr. hopped a train from Nebraska to Los Angeles, started a body and fender shop near Central Avenue, sent for his mother and older brother, and at 17, lied about his age and joined the Navy. Decommissioned in 1946, he moved to the Bay Area, tried out for the San Francisco 49ers, even joined the circus as an acrobat, but then returned to body-and-fender work, raised his family, and played guitar at church in a band with his wife, sons, and two nephews. Murray played bongos, but for one evening’s gathering, having just received an alto saxophone from his junior high school band director, Phil Hardiman, he brought his new possession.

“I didn’t know jack-shit, just squeaked and squawked,” he says. “I probably sounded a little like I do now, but now I actually know what I’m doing. It was like, ‘Wow, that young Murray is exuberant. He’s got a lot of energy.’ Then a couple of weeks later, ‘He’s starting to learn the songs now. Oh, yeah!’ I knew the melodies because my mother was always playing them. You can say that I am an on-the-job training type of guy.”

Physically mature like his father during high school, Murray, who ran a 4.3 40-yard dash, starred as a football tailback, got good grades, and earned money playing music. “I was always a leader,” he said. “From 13, I was bringing money home to give to my dad. We won a youth contest to play all the Shakey’s pizza parlors in the Bay Area. We had a gig every weekend for three years. We’d do any song, like ‘A Taste of Honey,’ and I’d improvise, not even knowing that I was playing jazz. Then I began to learn it. I’d heard Sonny Rollins play a solo saxophone concert at the Greek Theater, and he was a mighty influence. That’s when I started playing tenor. Later I had a funk group called the Notations of Soul, one of the tight bands in town. We played all the dances and proms. We played a lot of James Brown, of course. They started calling me ‘Murray-O,’ after Maceo Parker.”

During Murray’s teens, post-bop titans like Joe Henderson and Woody Shaw settled in the Bay Area, but Murray — who was slowing down Coleman Hawkins LPs to 16 r.p.m to analyze his solos — opted for the freedom principle, particularly the high-intensity post-Coltrane direction emblemized by Albert Ayler, himself a son of the sanctified church with early R&B experience. On a tip from trombonist Ray Anderson, whom he met during a successful audition for a horn section, Murray matriculated at the University of California-Claremont, and spent the next few years refining his craft with the likes of Arthur Blythe, Bobby Bradford, John Carter, and Butch Morris, all regulars at informal sessions at the house of Stanley Crouch, then a playwright, poet, and professor on the Claremont faculty, and a  drummer under the sway of Sunny Murray.

In 1975, Murray moved to New York City, sharing a loft with Crouch over the Tin Palace, an ultra-hip bar on the Bowery.

“All my Dad said was, ‘Just go out there and make some money — you’ll get good,’” Murray said. He followed that advice, performing as a peer of such A-list outcat elders as Sunny Murray, Don Pullen, and Lester Bowie, as well as Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, and Hamiett Bluiett, his future partners in the World Saxophone Quartet. In 1979, he assembled an octet, hiring the likes of Olu Dara, Anthony Davis, George Lewis, and Henry Threadgill. As the ’80s progressed he gigged frequently with two quartets, one a boisterous harmolodic unit with Blood Ulmer, the other a quartet with hardcore jazz masters like pianist John Hicks, bassists Fred Hopkins and Ray Drummond, and the iconic drummers Edward Blackwell and Andrew Cyrille. He also led ad hoc encounters with Randy Weston, Jack DeJohnette, and Milford Graves, and conceived elaborate homages to such heroes as Hawkins and Paul Gonsalves.

“I figured out that I could actually call the best musicians in the world and they’d show up, that I’d have one of the best bands just by hiring the best rhythm sections,” Murray said. “They taught me how to play. But I became a man in the World Saxophone Quartet. I’d be saying too much about myself if I said I was their equal when we began. But after five years, my sound started getting bigger. Finally, I became their contemporary — and they let me know it.”

Murray attracted a worldwide fan base through the lyric swagger and raw edge of his tonal personality. He drew criticism from many ’80s “young lions,” who attacked him as a poseur, suggesting that his predisposition to blast off to the outer partials stemmed less from an independent aesthetic decision than insufficient grounding in the tropes of tradition. As Crouch, who had championed Murray during the ’70s, joined forces with Wynton Marsalis to establish the Jazz at Lincoln Center juggernaut, Murray was unceremoniously deleted from the mainstream conversation. He recorded ever more prolifically, for multiple labels, and toured regularly with his various ensembles, but he was falling into a rut, and his rambunctious lifestyle was beginning to take a toll.

“I was troubled, and I needed to leave,” Murray recalls. “I had Paris in my sights.” For one thing, Paris was a magnet for African musicians. For another, Malot, who grew up in North Africa and whose sister’s husband, Klod Klavue, is a master Gwo-Ka drummer from Guadeloupe, understood — and through her booking and production experience was in a position to actualize — Murray’s desire “to get closer to my African roots and do a little personal research” on them by traveling to and performing with “groups of people in Senegal, in Ghana, in South Africa, in Cuba I’d met that I could relate to.”

“Jazz has the primal feeling of African drums and the sophistication of the city,” Murray says. “A primal force, like [drummer] Dudu Ndiaye Rose, brings very complex rhythms. I bring the harmonies and melodies. It  makes me want to play and sweat, like praising the Lord, going into a trance and getting back to roots. I’m trying to get to the core where the musics fuse.”

Today, Murray is less enamored with Paris than he once was. (“[The French] have an attitude that gets on your nerves.”) Nonetheless, Murray finds family life a sanctuary that provides space to think and focus, to work more systematically than the distractions of the New York City allowed.

“I used to put out five albums a year; now I put one out every year or 18 months,” he says. “I worked all the time and took pretty much any gig; now I take select gigs, maybe 120 concerts a year. I’m in Paris half the time, moving around the other half.  I’m not aligning myself with the avant-garde or the bebop, I’m just David Murray. I take my kids to school at 8:30, then I exercise, and I’m home at 9:30. I write until noon, and practice the rest of the day till 6, going through my books, trying to keep my chops up and my mind open. When a project comes up, I get very serious, and don’t study nobody else’s shit but mine. That will last for three months, and then there’s no project. Then I go back to my little everyday shit.”

He’s restless, though, and perhaps another journey is imminent.“One year I’m going to take my saxophone and go around the world myself,” he said. “I’ve got to do it soon, before I’m 55. What kind of music do people make in Tibet? What are people doing in India? I want to play with them.”

* * *

David Murray Blindfold Test:

1.    Charles Mingus, “Better Get Hit In Your Soul” (from “Live at Antibes,” Atlantic, 1960/1994), Mingus, bass, composer; Booker Ervin, tenor sax; Eric Dolphy, alto sax; Ted Curson, tp.; Dannie Richmond, d. (5 stars)

That’s Mingus.  “Better Get It In Your Soul.”  I just love… I heard this on the radio in Paris the other day.  We were in a car.  Everybody said, “Who’s that guy back there?”  I said, “That’s Mingus.  He’s pushing the band on.”  He’s saying all kind of stuff.  We need people like this guy.  We need more people like him.  Is the trumpet player Lonnie Hillyer?  [It's not Lonnie Hillyer.]  Who’s that bald-headed guy, that trumpet player?  [Ted Curson.] That’s Ted!  I could be wrong, but I get the Clifford Jordan vibe from the tenor player. [No.] So it’s Ted Curson, Eric and…goddamn, who is it?  [Well, how did you like the saxophone player?] I loved him.  It wasn’t a long solo.  He was kind of breaking up there at the top, but I liked him.  And definitely it’s before the period when George came into the band.  It couldn’t have been him.  I’m trying to think of who was in that band, because I’ve never seen that band… [Should I tell you?] No, not yet.  Because I might come up with it.  [How would you describe his sound?] What’s the characteristic of his sound?  [Warm.  A little brittle at the top.  [Do you get a sense of where he's from?  Could you locate him geographically by his sound?] Texas. [You got it.] Texas.  I’m just trying to think who the heck it is.  What’s that tenor player…Red Conner? [No.  But this guy was under Red Conner.] Under Red Conner. [He heard that when he was young.  People say he sounded very close to Red Conner.] That’s a very good hint.  Under Red Conner.  And this guy is still around. [No, he died.] Oh, boy.  Texas.  Who’s from Texas.  He sounds like a few different people to me.  That’s why I thought it might have been Clifford, because of the way he started that solo.  Because Clifford always had that restraint, then you’d wait for him to bust it, then he finally busts it at the end.  To me, that’s Clifford.  When I was playing with the Mingus All Star Big Band on that record we did in Paris, I was sitting between Clifford and…who’s that alto player, that guy who’s riding on the horse… He did like one of them slick tunes.  I can’t remember his name.  He teaches at University of San Francisco. [Not John Handy.] Handy.  I was sitting between Clifford and Handy.  Damn, this guy is dead, huh? [For many years.] From Texas.  The only guy he sounds like to me… [AFTER] Goddammit.  I love Booker.  Man, I love him.  I should have got that. {How about the Mingus band?  Did it have an impact on you?] I heard that a lot.  In fact, that… [Your octet reminds me of that sort of feeling.] Sure, of course.  Because I love Mingus’ music.  My son is named Mingus!  That kind of explains things, too.  Just having those three horns or however many horns he’s got, and me having five horns, you get a balance… You could go many ways, especially if you have at least five horns up there.  It could go so many different ways.  Mingus taught me that, how you could try to make a small or middle sized band sound sometimes like a big band, sometimes like a small group, have that flexibility.  Booker Ervin, what a beautiful player. [You have to give stars.] On a recording like this, it’s stood the test of time.  It’s got to be a 5.  Of course.

2.    Charles Lloyd, “Homage” (from “Voice In The Night,” ECM, 1998), Lloyd, tenor sax; John Abercrombie, guitar; Dave Holland, bass; Billy Higgins, drums. (4 stars)

He’s got that Trane thing happening.  Coltrane influenced a lot of people, man.  The guitar, that’s interesting.  I wasn’t expecting the guitar.  Man, there was like a budding genius… I forget his name.  He played tenor and guitar and piano.  Remember that guy?  He died. [Arthur Rhames.] Arthur Rhames. [It's not him, though.] But he had Trane down, though.  Is tenor his only instrument? [He plays flute, soprano, but primarily tenor.] Wow.  [He was very well known thirty years ago.] Is he still alive? [He's still alive.  This is a recent record.] This guy did an album of Billy Strayhorn… [Oh, Joe Henderson.  It's not Joe.] It don’t sound like Joe. You got me on this Bay Area thing, though.  Who the hell was this… I got out of the Bay Area so fast.  As soon as I got out of high school, I was gone. [Should I tell you?] No, let me hear it out. [You might want to think about who the drummer is, too.] [MIMICKING THE STROKES] Sounds like Billy Higgins.  [It's a studio band, though they did tour.] He just loved Coltrane, whoever the hell he is!  But everybody loved Coltrane when I was growing up. [Where does he sound like he's from?] Is this guy really old? [Not really old? [Not really old.  The generation right before us.] Who’s this tenor player, he plays a lot in the studio… He had the same piano teacher who I studied with.  He’s from the Bay Area, but he wouldn’t be the next generation before us.  He would be 25 years before me.  But he doesn’t sound like him.  Tell me. [AFTER] Charles Lloyd!  That’s Charles.  He had that Trane thing down.  I love Charles Lloyd. I guess he was in the Bay Area, but I always thought he was hanging out in L.A.  Yeah, that’s the second time I’ve been stumped by Charles Lloyd.  They played a piece for me in Japan one time, and all I could think of was John Coltrane.  But that lets you know how well he absorbed the Coltrane legacy.  He doesn’t necessarily sound like Coltrane that much now.  But during that period he was certainly all over. [Well, that was the one piece on the album that was in Coltrane's style.  How many stars?] I’d have to give it at least 4 stars, because Billy’s back there playing and boppin’, and I’ll leave off one for creativity perhaps.  How can I say it… Coltrane is such a large figure that… Can’t nobody do it like Coltrane.  I don’t care who you are.  That’s why, in my explorations of Coltrane, I tried to stay away from trying to sound like him, because that’s too easy.  All the notes are written somewhere.  When he studied Coltrane, I’m sure he absorbed it mostly from the records.  In old times, you could slow it down and put it on 16 and get the solo, and then speed it back up.  But now you’ve got all these Coltrane transcriptions.  I have a book over here with all of the different versions of “Giant Steps,” transcriptions of just “Giant Steps”…

3.    Michael Brecker, “Freedom of Expression” (from Milton Cardona, “Cambucha,” American Clave, 1999), Michael Brecker, ts; Milton Cardona, shekeres, doo-wop vocals; Sergio Cardona, percussion (bells). (3½ stars)

Doo-wop with like the shekere, an African kind of thing — that’s nice!  That’s creative.  I want the tenor player to play more.  When was the recording made? ['99.] My first reaction would be… I know it’s not James Carter.  What’s that guy?  Who are some of the new guys… Whoever it is, they like me.  I mean, I don’t know if they LIKE me, but they’re influenced by me. [That's questionable.] Well, I hear it.  [This guy is older than us.] Well, then it is questionable. [And he was very prominent when you came to New York.  Although in a different area.  Do you know who the shekere player was?] He’s an old guy.  Chief Bey. It sounds like him on those shiko drums, that low drum.  Can you play it again for me? It was so sparse, I could never get a fluidity thing. [I think that was in the arrangement.] Probably so. [Because it wasn't his arrangement.  He was playing someone else's concept.  I'll give you a hint.  This is a Kip Hanrahan project, and Milton Cardona is playing shekere.] Oh, Milton, yeah!  He has a strident kind of tone; maybe it’s the recording.  Is this guy alive? [Oh yeah.] [AFTER] I would have never got that.  I like Michael Brecker.  He can play his ass off.  But it’s not something that I listen to often. [I was playing that because you've done so many things with African rhythms.] It’s interesting.  I like the doo-wop part of it.  He always comes up with good ideas. [It was Milton Cardona's project, and they used him.] I’ve never consciously listened to Michael other than I used to hear him play sometimes at Seventh Avenue South through the wall, because I used to live through the wall there.  I like him, but I would never have named him.  3½ stars.

4.    Von Freeman, “Solitude” (from “Never Let Me Go,” Steeplechase, 1992), Freeman, ts.; Jodie Christian, piano; Eddie DeHaas, bass; Wilbur Campbell, drums. (5 stars)

Ah, this is “Solitude.”  He has a nice touch.  Is he from Chicago? [Yes, he is.] Sounds like Von to me.  You know, that motherfucker is so bad.  I was in a bar… He plays at the Apartment Lounge I think every Tuesday night or whichever night of the week.  But whenever I’m there, it’s a must to go hear Von, because he’s one of the last great tenor players.  See, I have a problem in general with… Certain people’s sounds stick in your head, because it really is their own.  That’s probably why I got this one and didn’t get the others.  I hear parts of people in other people’s sounds, but I hear pure Von.  That’s him, man.  He’s great.  It’s just the way that people from Chicago play.  When you hear Johnny Griffin, there’s a certain kind of distinctiveness between the beat.  He’s going to fit as many notes, but it’s the way he lands that makes you know it’s him. [SINGS SUPERSONIC GRIFFIN PHRASE] Damn!  How’d you get all those notes in that couple of beats there.  Incredible.  I’ll give that 5 stars for being Von, for all of the things he’s done and all of the people he has influenced, including his son, who is also great.

5.    Charles Gayle, “Touchin’ on Trane, Part B” (from “Touchin’ on Trane,” FMP, 1991), Gayle, ts.; William Parker, bass; Rashied Ali, drums.

Sounds like Frank Wright.  Is it that guy who used to play with Cecil?  You know the guy who does those festivals… [William Parker.] Is that William?  [Yes, that's William.] [AFTER RAISING HIS EYES] I keep making these facial expressions because… Maybe it’s David Ware or somebody.  I don’t know.  [Not David Ware.] I don’t want to be negative, but I… Let me not be negative. [Be constructive.] What’s that guy that used to be homeless? [Charles Gayle.  That's who it is.] He wears a clown suit sometimes.  In Europe, Sunny Murray did a gig with him, and he said he was wearing a clown suit.  There’s a struggle that you can do when you play with your horn.  When it’s not really relaxed, it sounds like you’re fighting your horn or something like that.  That’s why I keep grimacing, is because I’m not hearing the fluidity.  But what I do hear, I like the mood of the piece.  I like what William Parker is doing.  Let me think about who the drummer is now.  It’s somebody I played with.  That’s Andrew, it sounds like. [No.] I don’t know. [It's Rashied Ali.] Rashied, okay.  It’s hard to tell who’s playing when they play brushes.  He knows how to play the brushes.  I’ve got to give it 3 stars.

6.    Ben Webster, “Chelsea Bridge” (from “Ben Webster with Strings,” Verve, 1954/1995), Ben Webster, ts; Billy Strayhorn, piano, arr.) (5 stars)

That beautiful string arrangement that Billy did.  You know, I did a string arrangement kind of based on his string arrangements when I did the Ellington thing this past summer.  We had a big band, plus we had 20 strings with 2 harps.  So I kind of listened to what Billy had done with the arrangement he did for Ben. It’s beautiful, so I took that and tried to add to it.  I had 20 strings.  He only had a couple.  But it sounded like a lot of strings; it sounded great.  That’s the way the saxophone is supposed to be played.  There’s no struggle.  It’s like he’s having a conversation with you.  Now, in the Billy Strayhorn book, he said that Ben was kind of proud of Billy, and he kind of took care of him like a little… I can see that happening, because he LOVED him, because he knew how great he was.  They appreciated one another for their music.  That’s what I aspire to be. [LAUGHS] I want to be just like that when I grow up.  Shit, man, this is pure music.  And it’s not the genre even.  No, it’s not the genre.  Like, the last thing… Well, I don’t want to go back.  They could have been playing anything.  But it’s just the way that you hold that horn, the way you use it as your form of expression, it’s almost like you love it… Do you love it, or is it just a piece, a thing that you use to spit through?  Do you love it?  He loves that horn!  Shit.  I don’t know if you were around when I did that string concert at the Public Theater years ago.  I did all ballads.  I think I had 14 strings.  That was one of my most successful concerts, because people were actually weeping in the concert.  I wasn’t weeping, but I had a little funny reaction, and then a couple of years after that this family comes up to me on the street and there’s this little baby, and they said, “You know, we have to thank you, because our son was conceived that night you played this concert; it made us really fall in love.”  I did my job!  To me that was the highest compliment that anybody ever paid.  And Ben and Bird with Strings… Every saxophone player has to realize his potential in playing in front of the strings.  I think it’s a wonderful. [So I don't need to ask you how many stars for that.] Oh, man, if they could give more stars, they could give him the tip-top.  That one stood the test of time, jack!

7.    Eric Alexander, “Straight Street” (from “Solid,” Milestone, 1998), Alexander, ts; John Hicks, piano; George Mraz, bass; Idris Muhammad, drums. (4 stars)

This is a classic recording.  This is the one, right?  Oh, it’s a remake of it!  Oh, they got my piano player.  That’s John Hicks, for sure.  It sounds like Ray, too.  Wait.  No, that’s not Ray.  Hell, no.  He’d kill me!  Let me put my thinking cap on.  I like this one. [LAUGHS] Is that Curtis Lundy? [No.] I like his sound.  He sounds a younger guy, but with that old sound.  Whoever it is, he’s got it down.  I can’t say I know who he is.  I could take a wild guess, though.  When was this recording made? ['98.] Who are some younger tenor players?  I don’t really know who’s around. [AFTER] He sounds really good.  He sounds excellent.  I’d give it 4 stars, because it’s a remake of a legend.  I’d give it 5 if it were the real thing.  But John Hicks gets 5 stars for just being John Hicks, man!

8.    Sonny Rollins, “Cabin In The Sky” (from, “Plus 3,” Milestone, 1995),  Rollins, ts; Stephen Scott, piano; Bob Cranshaw, el. bass; Jack deJohnette, drums. 3½ stars.

I know this guy.  I don’t want to be stupid too soon.  I think I have a good idea already who it is.  It’s not who I thought it was at first.  I don’t know this guy’s name, but he is a contemporary of mine, this guy… No? [He's older than you by a fair piece.] Is he living? [He is living.] It’s Sonny Rollins when he was going through his teeth problems.  That’s  what it sounds like.  He’s going through his teeth problem.  Because it ain’t CLASSIC Sonny.  Ah, how can I say this without being negative to Sonny.  It just sounds like he’s dealing with serious dental problems.  Let’s talk about it.  Let me say something different.  Sonny Rollins, but… Let’s just say it’s not the period of Sonny Rollins that I really, really am fond of.  I think Sonny Rollins… Sonny is such a… That’s why I was grimacing during that.  Because when you play tenor, when it’s a struggle to play certain notes for somebody that great, you know there’s something physical going on.  You can tell.  Because some of the notes that he was struggling with, somebody with regular dental work wouldn’t have.  So it probably was during the period of time when something like that was happening.  Well, I loved it!  It’s Sonny Rollins.  I love Sonny Rollins.  I mean, I love him for being Sonny Rollins.  That’s not one of his best recordings, I would say.  3½ stars.  He’s going to kill me.

9.    Sam Rivers/Tony Hymas, “Glimpse” (from “Winter Garden,” NATO, 1998), Rivers, tenor sax; Hymas, piano. (5 stars)

Whoever this is, they have a very nice sound.  You know, the saxophone is the kind of instrument, when it buzzes, you know you’ve got something.  When you don’t hear that buzz, you get a flat sound.  It’s too straight.  This horn has got a buzz.  It’s alive.  He knows his horn.  Now let me figure out who it is.  Is he from this continent? [Yes.] I like the tune.  It’s beautiful. [The saxophone player wrote it.] It’s great.  He’s a good writer.  It’s got that real international kind of sound.  I’m not quite sure who it is. [He was also very prominent in your scene when you got to New York, and he was already in it.] Oh.  In my scene.  [Or parallel.  And he's old enough to be your father.] Okay. [And you'll kick yourself if you don't know who it is.] I will kick myself.  Who’s the brother who teaches in upstate New York… [Not him.] Play me a little more.  I don’t want to be kicked by myself.  I love it.  Whoever it is, I really dig it. [PLAY "Impulse"] My father is almost 75 years. [That's how old he was when he made this.] Incredible.  Is it Sam Rivers?  He’s the only guy it could be!  Sam Rivers is such a great person.  He gave me my first gig in New York.  It sounded like somebody who just knew… He’s probably forgotten more shit than most people know.  It sounded like somebody like that.  It really helped this other tune.  I may have never gotten it with just that ballad.  That’s a beautiful song.  You know when you hear a song and it sounds like it doesn’t matter what year it was made… [It's like Classical music.] Yeah, it’s like Classical music.  It’s always going on.  You could sing it in a different language, and it will still work. [Why did you ask if the saxophone player was from this continent?] Because at first it sounded like somebody from Brazil, like what somebody Ivo Perelman might do.  I like Ivo.  But then as it went on, it sounded like somebody more mature who has been through generations.  And when you said he was old enough to be my father and you put on the faster song, I could hear Sam’s rhythms.  Rhythmically, Sam has a different kind of expression because he’s been through so much, I guess.  His rhythm is not like Sonny Rollins, where it’s like BOM-BOM, right on your head, the way he attacks.  He’s snake-like; he kind of slides through.  But he’s got that sound.  God bless Sam Rivers, man.  I hope he lives to be 100.  I’d give that tune 5 stars.

10.    David Sanchez, “Lamento Borincano” (from “Obsesión,” Columbia, 1998), Sanchez, tenor sax; Edsel Gomez, piano; John Benitez, bass; Adam Cruz, drums; Richie flores, Pernell Saturnino, percussion.  (4 stars).

Is it a recent recording? [Yes.] Everybody loves Coltrane, man!  He’s probably the most quoted tenor player since Bird, I guess.  I take it these are Spanish musicians. [Hispanic-American, U.S.-based.  But mostly from Puerto Rico.] I’ll just take a guess that it’s David Sanchez or somebody like that.  One time this guy had a funny idea to do a Three Davids –  David Murray, David Sanchez and  Fathead! It was funny, man.  People run out of themes sometimes.  So we did this thing.  And it was nice.  We did it with an organ player.  I kind of remember his sound from there.  I kind of like David Sanchez.  He’s still young.  He’s got a ways to go.  But he’s going to be one of the great ones.  I think in about two years he’ll be where he wants to be.  It takes time to be… You’re thrown in there, and there’s this big fray in New York, and they expect you to be great already.  And I’m sorry, it just doesn’t… I didn’t get my own sound til I was about 28, and I feel like I got it early. [So you feel you didn't get your own sound until about '83-'84.] Something like that.  I had to absorb all this stuff around me, people saying this about me, they’re writing about, “Oh yeah, you’re the next blah-blah-blah.”  What the hell, I don’t know, man.  I’m trying to play my horn.  So David Sanchez, he’s getting a lot of recognition, but at the same time, this is a young man.  Give the guy a chance to develop.  He’ll be good.  I’ll give it 4 stars.

11.    Paul Gonsalves/Sonny Stitt, “Perdido” (from “Salt and Pepper,” Impulse, 1963/1997) Gonsalves, Sonny Stitt ts; Hank Jones, p.; Milt Hinton, bass; Osie Johnson, drums. (4½ stars)

It’s two tenor players.  Paul sounds different than before he really got plastered! [You think this is before or after?] This is before.  When he gets really plastered… Here I am going negative again.  But before he’s really libated…he slips and slides even more when he… Before that, he sounds more like a normal tenor player.  You know what I’m saying?  when he plays his little figures.  But when he gets plastered, he sounds like he’s in his own zone.  And I hate to say it for the youngsters, but the guy sounds good when he’s plastered! [LAUGHS] I don’t know!  It’s like no abandon, just pure… I love Paul.  He’s my favorite tenor player, man.  This is definitely pre.  He seems pretty sober here. [Then you have to figure out the other one.] Let me see who’s in the right here.  Paul is in the left.  This is like a separate recording from an Ellington project.  This is not an Ellington project at all.  They both sound wonderful.  That’s all I know.  He’s not an Ellington tenor player. [No.] Not at all. [Not at all.] This is from a whole nother zone. [He had his career as a hired gun.] Okay!  With the correctness of the way he plays, it sounds like it could only be Sonny Stitt.  What comes to mind is the Sonny Rollins-Sonny Stitt thing with Dizzy where they both play their ass off, then Dizzy ends up smokin’ them both!  You’re not going to find two better tenor players on the planet anywhere than Paul Gonsalves and Sonny Stitt. [Any idea who the piano player is?] Let me hone in.  Is he alive? {The piano player is alive.  He’s an elderly guy now, but this was 40 years ago.] [AFTER] I couldn’t really get his left hand, but I should have figured that was Hank Jones.  I played with Hank once in a tenor battle in 1978 at the Northsea Jazz Festival in the Hague.  It was Archie Shepp, Lockjaw, Fathead.  Hank Mobley got sick and I took his place.  Illinois Jacquet was running the session.  Hank Jones was on piano and Max Roach on drums and Wilbur Little on bass.  That’s when everybody in Europe recognized me and said I hung pretty good with the old guys.  So that was my moment.  I’d say 4½ stars for this, only because I’ve heard Paul play better, I guess maybe for the reasons I mentioned!  I don’t know why.  But it passed the test of time again.

12.    Branford Marsalis, “Attainment” (from Jeff Watts, “Citizen Tain,” Columbia, 1998), Marsalis, ts; Kenny Kirkland, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Watts, drums. (5 stars)

Is it one drummer?  I like the tone of the sax player.  I’m waiting for them to get into it.  It’s nice how they got into it finally, like a lilt kind of.  [4 minutes.] I’m not quite sure who this is, but the spirituality of it is something that I can sort of relate to.  Is this a young player, or an older one? [A little younger than you; not too much.] Sounds good, though. [He's someone you have encountered over the years.  You've had a dialogue.] A word dialogue? [I just mean a dialogue.] Oh, a dialogue.  That sounds good to me.  You mean we played together. [I'm just going to say you had a dialogue!] Okay, man.  I’m trying to figure out… It sounds familiar.  Somebody that I know.  Geez… It’s not Chico.  [Okay, you played together.] I’m trying to think what tenor players I played with.  A tenor player that I played with and is younger than me.  [Not that much younger, but definitely affiliated with a different generation than you.] Branford Marsalis.  He sounds good, man.  The spirituality comes through.  It sounds good! [So you can probably figure who the other guys were.] I guess with his band perhaps.  Jeff Tain and the brother who just passed away, Kenny Kirkland.  It was a very nice piece.  I’m impressed.  We encounter one another in Europe all the time.  He’s playing a lot of soprano.  He don’t play tenor that much on the gig.  But I admire him.  He’s a great player.  I’ll give that 5 stars because the spirituality is there, and you feel something. [That was Tain's record, not Branford..] Tain did a good record, then.  God bless him.

13.    Joe Lovano, “Fort Worth” (from “From The Soul,” Blue Note, 1991), Lovano, tenor sax; Dave Holland, bass; Ed Blackwell, drums. (4 stars)

It kind of sounds like Dewey. [Dewey's influenced an aspect of his playing.] Dewey’s son. [No, it's not Joshua.] Okay.  He definitely likes Dewey.  But he sounds good.  I like the composition… [Who's the drummer?] I wasn’t even listening for that.  Give me a few more minutes, a little glimpse of the drummer.  I’ll play you the one before, a duo. [PLAY "Modern Man."] It’s definitely not Dewey now.  He sounds completely different now to me. Is it a recent recording? [1991] I think I need a clue. [The saxophone player has become very prominent in this decade.  This was a sort of breakthrough recording for him.  And he's a year or two older than you.] Oh, that’s great.  Gee.  A year or two older than me.  It’s not Don Braden or someone like that.  I don’t know who it is. [AFTER] Oh, I know Joe.  I should have known that.  I don’t really know his sound.  He sounds good, though.  I’ve seen him over in Holland; we were hanging out in Amsterdam.  I don’t really know his sound, so I probably would have never guessed that. [Who's the drummer?  Do you know?] [AFTER] That’s Blackwell?  No shit.  4 stars.

14.    Ornette Coleman, “Feet Music” (“In All Languages,” Verve, 1987/1997).  Coleman, tenor sax; Don Cherry, tp.; Charlie Haden, b.; Billy Higgins, drums.

It sounds like they’re out of the Ornette Coleman school.  Which is a great school.  Sounds like Dewey to me.  Is that Dewey? [No.] That’s Ornette on tenor!  No wonder it’s out of the Ornette school! [LAUGHS] There’s one note Ornette always play when he plays tenor.  He plays like he’s playing alto, and it just hits that note!  I think he can play any saxophone.  But I’d like to hear him play baritone one day.  He probably could play the shit out of that, too.  People have to recognize that there are… If we’re lucky enough while we’re here, we’ll come across maybe 3 or 4 geniuses whose music really is something that has a lot of influence, and Ornette is one of them.  There aren’t many of them out here now left that their concept was maybe the strongest thing… The concept supersedes even the playing itself.  That’s what brings his genius into it.  That’s why you can hear his… When he did this thing at Lincoln Center, I heard about it.  I heard it was wonderful.  I want to hear some recordings from it.  But those kinds of things Ornette is brilliant on.  We need to hear him more.  He gets 5 stars for all the abuse they’ve given him over the years

Leave a comment

Filed under Article, Blindfold Test, David Murray, DownBeat, Jazziz

A Jazziz Article on McCoy Tyner from 2003 {Plus Interviews}

To mark the 73rd birthday of piano maestro McCoy Tyner, I’m posting a feature article about that I had the opportunity to write for Jazziz in 2003. I’ve attached below the verbatim transcripts of the two interviews that I conducted for the piece.

* * *

Thirty-six years after the death of John Coltrane, with whom he famously played from 1960 until 1965, McCoy Tyner remains a jazz icon. The 64-year-old pianist reinforced that stature one night last March, during a thrilling set with vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, bassist Charnett Moffett, and drummer Al Foster at Manhattan’s Iridium in the middle of a week’s stand supporting Land of Giants (Telarc), Tyner’s superb 2003 release.

“There’s a prayer that comes through as the music is being played,” Hutcherson noted during a subsequent conversation. Hutcherson, who first recorded with Tyner in the mid-’60s, when both were Blue Note artists, is perhaps Tyner’s most inspired foil. “You’re vulnerable, naked. McCoy knows how to mold the group and make it sound the way it should. We just fall in and then we’re swept away. He throws out so many suggestions and then asks what you think. If you catch it, you catch it. He implies the color or the one note throughout a sequence of chords that says, ‘Play me, play me again!’ — and with that starts the prayer. After every set I’ll turn to him and say, ‘Boy, you were really praying.’ He’ll laugh, but he understands exactly what I’m saying.”

When I paraphrased Hutcherson’s remarks to Tyner, he laughed. “Did Bobby say that? I’ve got a name for him: Rev!” As we sat on the backyard patio of his booking agent’s brownstone office on a bright, 90-degree July afternoon, the pianist looked clean as a whistle in a contoured black sports jacket, a textured, blue silk shirt, a white patterned silk tie, and white linen pants. He wore his hair marcelled into short neck-clinging braids that didn’t betray a speck of gray.

“I don’t want to sound overly poetic,” Tyner continued, on a serious note, “but you do feel cleansed when you’re done playing. I pay homage to the Creator for what he has given me and all of us. But I’m not preaching. If people hear things in my music and identify with them, that’s good! The music speaks for itself.”

I mention that Hutcherson’s description of how it feels to make music with Tyner evokes the collective catharsis that Coltrane stirred in audiences on a nightly basis during the ’60s. “It was a spiritual experience every night,” Tyner reflects. “We were giving everything we had, and you never knew what would happen. There was no time for ego.”

Tyner stands out among professional contemporaries because of his grounded persona and the relentless consistency of his career. He is no stylistic eclectic in the manner of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Chick Corea, all of whom continue to follow the example of their former employer, Miles Davis, in seeking new worlds to conquer. Rather, Tyner’s path more closely resembles the High Modernism aesthetic of Coltrane — and the likes of Cecil Taylor, Steve Lacy, and Keith Jarrett — who coalesced and refined diverse influences into a holistic musical conception.

Like all of the aforementioned, Tyner possesses a vocabulary of global dimension. Core sources include Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Art Tatum, and Coltrane. Every other year or so, he releases a new recording, invariably acoustic, on which he reframes elements of his long-influential style in different contexts. Every important jazz pianist from the mid-’60s until the present — including Hancock and Corea — has assimilated his homegrown system of navigating harmony with fourth intervals. For improvisational fodder, he deploys an exhaustive knowledge of the rhythms and scales of Africa, Cuba, Brazil, and India, as well as the chordal structures of the American Songbook. And he articulates everything with soulful cadences drawn from the Afro-American urban-church and blues cultures of his youth.

Tyner differs from his distinguished contemporaries in that he has never shrunk from expressing his tonal identity within the framework of his roots in mainstream jazz. Perhaps that predisposition — in conjunction with a pronounced lack of personal eccentricity and the middling skills of his working trio of the latter ’80s and much of the ’90s — explains why, despite the fact that Tyner commands universal admiration among musicians and retains what market researchers call a “high recognition quotient,” many “progressive” connoisseurs perceive him as a conservative figure. But no such considerations deterred several thousand New Yorkers — young and old, and with a larger African-American contingent than usually turns out for jazz events south of 96th Street — from packing a cavernous concrete space on the south edge of the Lincoln Center acropolis, called Damrosch Park, on a humid August night for a free concert by Tyner’s trio, with guest flutist Dave Valentin.

Stimulated as much by the crowd’s support as by the inventive accompaniment of bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Al Foster, Tyner stretched out through seven originals on the trio portion. With unerring logic, impeccable touch, and an astonishingly powerful left hand, he conjured yearning, inflamed melodies from dense harmonies and complex polyrhythms, ornamenting his designs with luscious voicings and elegant figures. He executed every idea with magisterial authority while sustaining the aura of instantaneous creation. For all the baroque grandeur of the lines, he stripped every idea to essentials, imparting an air of poetic inevitability to the arc of each improvisation. With Tyner as the attentive moderator, the trio transcended notes and beats and achieved seamless musical conversation, rendered in cogent sentences and paragraphs.

BREAK

Unfailingly amiable and gracious in conversation, Tyner is not one to expound on the particulars of his art. However, his colleagues are happy to fill in the gaps.

“McCoy is a consummate accompanist,” says tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker, who won a Grammy for his solo on Coltrane’s “Impressions” on Tyner’s 1996 album, Infinity [Impulse!]. “He gives you a lush, wide-open cushion, and you have a feeling of complete freedom. If I hint at building a harmonic tension, he’ll be there instantly, almost like he’s reading my mind. It’s powerful to hear that quality of tension-and-release on the great Coltrane records, but to actually experience it first-hand is incredible.”

Some of Tyner’s most efflorescent playing has occurred in Afro-Cuban and Brazilian contexts, most recently on the prosaically titled McCoy Tyner and the Latin All-Stars [Telarc, 1998]. “McCoy is a master of rhythm,” says trombonist Steve Turre, a regular participant on such projects, who has also played in Tyner’s big band since 1984. “A lot of guys don’t commit to a rhythm; everything is kind of abstract. But McCoy never floats. Rhythm permeates everything he does.”

“Rhythms have languages, and even if you don’t know the language, you can sense what it is and play it,” says bassist Andy Gonzalez, recalling an occasion where the pianist performed as a guest with Libre, the unit Gonzalez co-leads with iconic timbalero Manny Oquendo. “I asked McCoy if he wanted to play Latin-jazz tunes with [chord] changes or montunos, and right away he asked for the montunos,” Gonzalez says, referring to the triplet-based vamps that counterstate the drumbeats of clave. “I had Charlie Palmieri play a real down-home, Cuban-dance-rhythm montuno at him, and it was fascinating to hear him answer it with his own chords and rhythmic feel. It was effortless. Montunos are related to the kinds of pentatonic modal scales that Coltrane was working on, and improvising in those kinds of modes is really McCoy’s forte. That’s very African, very deep-rooted, getting to the very beginnings of music.”

Gonzalez mentions a late ’60s conversation with Tyner during a set break a Slugs, an infamous club on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The pianist revealed that a window opened for him after a concert at Harlem’s Apollo Theater when Coltrane, sharing the bill with Machito, borrowed the Cuban bandleader’s bassist, Bobby Rodriguez to fill in for an absent Jimmy Garrison. Tyner confirms this. He also emphasizes the impact of Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji, to whom Coltrane was close, on sustaining his own awareness of African roots. But African music entered Tyner’s consciousness in the early ’50s, when a Ghanaian drummer named Saka Acquaye arrived at Philadelphia’s Temple University to study political science, and earned tuition money by teaching African rhythms to local drummers at a dance school that employed the teenage pianist as an accompanist.

“I fooled around with the drums, but the joints of my fingers started to hurt, and I had enough sense to stop,” says Tyner, who began formal piano studies about a year before the drummer came to town. “I observed Saka and learned how to connect one rhythm with another, how to operate with different layers of rhythm. I was fascinated with the drums even before I met him, and I’ve incorporated those rhythms into my style along with other things.”

Tyner acknowledges regarding the piano as a kind of extended drum. “Thelonious Monk did, too. Monk was very percussive and rhythmic. He’d do stuff that was off-rhythm or against the rhythm or tempo of the song. It was miraculous to me how he could interject so much feeling and depth into such simple ideas. It wasn’t about how many notes he played. It was the immediacy, the spontaneity of the situation. He taught me that what’s important is what you do with the idea you’re trying to portray – the will to push the envelope.”

While Tyner’s ensembles at Damrosch Park and Iridium played with a palpable attitude of freedom, critics cite numerous ’80s and ’90s recordings and performances with less resourceful partners on which his playing sounds attenuated and rudimentary, as though he felt responsible, say, for stating both the drum and piano parts. “I have a mixed personality in that respect,” Tyner admits. “I have a controlled sense of experimentation. I go outside, but there has to be something to work with. I conceived one tune on the new record as having no melody; we just used tonal centers, moved from one tone, one sound, one cluster, to another. I had that experience playing with John. But I use it when it’s appropriate for me, not as a main way to express myself. It’s a tool, and that’s all. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone, and I don’t want everything to be predetermined. It’s not artistic.”

Perhaps that sentiment explains why, last year, Tyner decided that his two-decade association with bassist Avery Sharpe and drummer Aaron Scott had “served its purpose for that time period” and formed the current rotating unit with bassists Moffett and George Mraz, and with either Foster, Eric Harland, or Lewis Nash on drums. “You can’t get so attached to someone that you restrict them from doing what they ultimately have to do,” he explains. “I had my previous trio for a long time because I hadn’t heard anyone — and I knew there were guys around — who could really do what I was looking for. Then they came along. The right thing always comes around eventually.”

What precisely is Tyner looking for? “I like guys around me who are willing to take chances, explore and feel the situation at hand, as opposed to, ‘Oh, I can’t do this’ – but on a level of professionalism that stands out. It’s not good for an artist to feel that kind of fear. But it’s very personal. You’re asking a person to be honest with themselves and not be afraid. And most of us have fears and sometimes we’re not honest! We spend a lifetime, or at least we should, trying to find out who we are. It’s crazy to stick with something forever.”

The ethos of risk taking was customary during Tyner’s years with Coltrane and was a key component of his formative years in Philadelphia. A late starter, he studied classical music formally for two years before putting aside the books and finding his own solutions in functional situations. “I developed facility because I practiced all the time,” he says. “And the dancing school taught everything, so I heard a lot of music there. I studied things by Bud Powell like ‘Celia’ and ‘Parisian Thoroughfare,’ and I heard Monk’s records. Bud and Monk were my main influences — and John, of course. But I listened for the individuality, not to copy. Monk respected you if you had your own direction. A lot of things come out of so-called ‘mistakes.’ In reality, nothing is a mistake; it’s how you shape music, how you resolve it.”

Like trumpeter Lee Morgan, a childhood pal in Philly, Tyner learned to think on his feet in the crucible of live performance. He played with blues singers and R&B bands, worked fraternity dances and graduations, and, with Morgan, worked two summers in the no-holds-barred environment of Atlantic City. By his late teens, Tyner was a first-call pianist for national bands passing through town, and he spent memorable weeks with, among others, Max Roach’s quintet with Sonny Rollins and Kenny Dorham, and with a unit co-led by Red Rodney and Oscar Pettiford. By then, he’d been playing several years with local trumpeter-composer Calvin Massey, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Tootie Heath. Massey introduced Tyner to Coltrane in 1956 after a matinee job at a neighborhood spot called the Red Rooster.

“When guys from the older generation saw you had some talent, they’d call you for gigs and show you tunes,” he recounts. “And you learned by accompanying. Guys expected you to be supportive, and I learned a lot that way. That cocky attitude of ‘I can’t wait to get my own band’ didn’t fit in at all. The standards were very high. Appearance, presentation — you had to be on point. I came up in an era when Art Blakey would say, ‘People see you before they hear you.’”

I ask if his mother, Beatrice, a beautician who kept McCoy’s piano in her shop, was the source of his fastidiousness. “My mother had a lot to do with everything in my development,” he replies. “She was very elegant, not in terms of her clothes or attitude, but just her demeanor. She was honest, personable, and caring, and people loved her. She loved music, and she’d let me know when anything came up that she thought would interest me. We had a very close relationship. I took her to cotillions. Once she wanted me to play a concert at Mount Olivet Baptist Church – not church music, but the songs I had learned from my instructors. She wanted me to put on tails, and I did.”

I thought of that image toward the end of the trio portion at Damrosch Park. After a venturesome a cappella introduction by Moffett, Tyner — who did not remove his navy, double-breasted blazer throughout the high-energy set — launched into the thunderous theme of “Manalyuca,” carving out the melody with his left hand and comping with his right, using them interchangeably in an improvisation that built to an immense crescendo. He gave way to Al Foster, who, Max Roach-style, stated the design of the melody and transitioned into improvised variations on a march. Tyner re-entered at the peak he had reached before desisting, then, through a gradual decrescendo, reached the final melody statement. He immediately launched into a boogie-woogie figure before embarking on formidable two-handed blues variations that foreshadowed a deeply swinging, medium-tempo excursion through “Blue Monk.”

As at Iridium a few months before, he reminded the witnesses precisely why his name means what it does in the jazz timeline.

“I only did what I was supposed to,” Tyner says of his career. “I mean, people think it’s fabulous, and when I look back at my musical history, I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had, and to have risen to the occasion. I like simplicity and balance, and I’m dedicated to music, but it doesn’t consume my every minute. I don’t need to be put on a pedestal to feel good. But I don’t downplay my contribution or creativity. I’m confident, but I don’t allow myself to feel I’m in command of everything. Confidence is a tool to get where you want to go. I feel I did the best I could. And I thought it was pretty good.”

* * * *

McCoy Tyner (6-10-03):

TP:    I’ll try not to burden you with too much stuff that’s commonly known, but if I write a longer piece, I may want to ask you some other things.  Let’s talk about this group and this project.  It’s obviously not the first time you’ve joined forces with Bobby Hutcherson, but is this the first time you and he have worked together in a while, or has it been ongoing?

TYNER:  It has been ongoing over the years.  Periodically Bobby and I connect on a project.  We did a duet record, “Manhattan Moods,” just him and I for Blue Note, and several things in the past.

TP:    “Sama Layuca” and “Solo and Quartet.”

TYNER:  Right, with Herbie Lewis.  And he was on “Time For Tyner.”  So quite a few projects.  Then last year we went on tour in Europe, with this particular band.

TP:    Which generated this record.

TYNER:  Yes, it was a nice tour.  We just closed at the Iridium.  Eric wasn’t with us, because he’s been doing things with Terence Harland.  We try to set it up so everybody will be available to work with me, but we set that sort of thing up gently so that there won’t be any bad feelings.

TP:    Al Foster isn’t a bad guy to have available in a pinch.

TYNER:  Let me tell you.  Al is fantastic.  He adds so much to the music, and knows just what to do dynamically.  So it’s a pleasure having him around so we can play together.  He’s going to Italy with me tomorrow.  It will be a trio with Charles Fambrough.  I’m in transition at the moment, kind of floating a bit, and it’s real nice.  I’ve got some guys who are sailing right along with me.

TP:    You mean you’re changing personnel.

TYNER:  Yes, I’m changing personnel.

TP:    Because you were with Aaron Scott and Avery Sharpe for many years.

TYNER:  Yes.  Avery was with me over 20 years, and Aaron about 16-17 years.

TP:    Thinking of Charles Fambrough, it occurs that you have a bunch of alumni from your bands who are prepared to step in and serve as almost interchangeable parts.

TYNER:  Fambrough hasn’t worked with me for a while, but when he was with me it was a great band.  We had George Adams and quite a few people.

TP:    Right, and Joe Ford.

TYNER:  Right, Joe Ford and George Adams and Wilby Fletcher and Charles Fambrough.  I can always give them a call when I get stuck.

TP:    what are you looking for in your musicians?  Apart from the usual things, sensitivity and technical proficiency, is there a particular perspective they need to have on music, or an attitude?

TYNER:  What it is… I was looking at some of the younger guys, not just because of age but because of talent, and if I think they have potential for growth and development, and they can bring something to the table in terms of my music… A lot of them have grown up listening to some of my music, along with other artists.  Like, Eric had been with Betty Carter, and she was a consummate teacher and very strict about what she wanted, and so she got him in the right place.  Charnett’s father worked with Ornette Coleman, so he brought something else to the table.  It just so happens, I’m not the kind of guy that randomly fires people.  I try to give a guy a chance to see what he can do.  George Mraz has done some things with me, we went to Europe not too long ago.  And Al is a real professional and a great guy.  So I’ve got a bit of selection.

TP:    With Bobby and Charnett, it was interesting, because it provided you with two foils.  Because Charnett is such a strong soloist and projects such a powerful sound, he was really a match for you.

TYNER:  Yes.  He’s been quite an individual, and has been from a very young age.  His father gave him the right idea about what the music is and said “Go ahead, take a shot, go your way and see what you can do.”  With me, he’s able not only to free himself up, but he wants to learn something else about structure in the music, some traditional stuff, which I like to do.  I like to do a lot of different things.  He’s able to do that.  He follows very well, listens, and he’s got a good sound and a good concept.  I like those two guys very much.

Of course, Bobby and I go way back, and we play well together conceptually.  We’ve been like that for a long time.

TP:    It seems you have an exceptional simpatico.  It seems you follow each other’s ideas intuitively.

TYNER:  We phrase a lot alike.  His wife even commented.  She said, “Sometimes I can’t tell,” because we’re both keyboard instruments.  We have the uncanny ability to phrase a lot alike.  It’s kind of unique.  A lot of fun.

TP:    It’s great to hear the two of you together.  You had that sort of simpatico with Joe Henderson on the various records.  And I think it would be hard for people to get that with you, because your conception and execution is so formidable.

TYNER:  Joe sounded great on his records that I did, and I’m very happy with the things he did with me — “The Real McCoy” and “New York Reunion.”  I really miss him a lot.

TP:    It seems one thing you and Bobby share is a fascination with pan-diasporic music in its many varieties, rhythmically, the melodies, the scales and so on.  I wanted to ask you about the evolution of your incorporating that information in your sound.  I gather there was a certain point when you went to Senegal.

TYNER:  Well, actually it started when I was a teenager.  I was very fortunate.  I came up in a very active community musically.  The musicians that were around and the jam sessions that were going on.  We had this guy Saka Acquaye, who was from Ghana, and he came to Philadelphia and taught some of the conga players and drummers in that genre of playing.  A lot of different rhythms, and how to connect everything, how sometimes you play one rhythm and that connects with something else, and you have different layers.  He was great.  And his sister taught African dancing.  I’m writing a book and someone is helping me, and she happened to run into Saka’s name.  I don’t know the correct spelling of the name, but it’s definitely in the book.

TP:    Did you study drums ever, apart from piano?

TYNER:  I was fooling around with it.  But it started in the joints of my fingers, and I said, “I can’t mess…” A lot of these drummers wore tape around the joints of their fingers, so it wouldn’t hurt so much.  I always had a fascination with the drums…

TP:    From the time you met him?

TYNER:  Actually, a little before.

TP:    How old were you at that time?

TYNER:  I must have been about 14-15.

TP:    So it would have been 1952-53.

TYNER:  Something like that, in the early ’50s.

TP:    A lot of Africans started coming to the States after the U.N., like the dancer Asadata Dafora in New York.  Do you think of the piano in a very percussive sense?

TYNER:  That’s part of my style, I think.  I’ve incorporated those rhythms into my style.  Also other things.  But I used to play for a dancing school, and they did a production of “Viva Zapata” that was… It was a song, actually, kind of a hit song back in the ’50s.  So I played piano for them…

TP:    This was as a teenager in Philadelphia.

TYNER:  Yes. Saka was studying at Temple University, political science or something, and was teaching on the side.  I never actually got instruction from him, but I watched him teach the guys who were playing congas.  At the time, there was a lot of identification with the Africans, because during that time… Not political.  Cultural.  Everybody wants to politicize it.  But I think cultural identification is good.

TP:    Were people like Edgar Bateman checking him out?

TYNER:  I’m not really sure.  He was around during that time.

TP:    I’m just thinking of some of the progressive musicians around Philly.

TYNER:  Like Eric Gravatt.  Eric had a very keen knowledge of African rhythms.  Because he worked with me for a while.  Then he went to Minnesota and took up residence there.

TP:    Michael Brecker told me that when he was a teenager, they used to play tenor-drums duets.

TYNER:  I wouldn’t doubt it.  Michael is a fantastic musician, and being from Philly… Guys from Philly have a certain kind of feeling.

TP:    But you had an orientation toward African rhythms at the time that you met John Coltrane, and certainly when you were in the band.

TYNER:  Yes.  And when he came to New York, Babatunde Olatunji was here, and John and Olatunji were very good friends.  John would play at his place in Harlem sometimes.  So there was a keen interest in African culture.  That was good, identifying with the roots.

TP:    Do you feel that inflected your compositions, the melodies and scales, and some of the rhythmic patterns?

TYNER:  Yes.  Especially certain compositions.  I think affiliating with this dancing school, I heard a lot of different kind of music.  Because they did ballet, they did everything, so I had a chance to check out a lot of music.  Also, I studied with two teachers, one a beginning teacher and the other an Italian teacher who took me through Bach, Beethoven, and other areas of European classical music.  So I had a wide range of experience in that respect.  I tried to keep my mind open.  And I always liked Latin music.  The music world is so broad.

TP:    People of your generation I think learned the music differently than the generation today.  Kenny Barron told me that as a teenager he’d play gigs until 3 in the morning, and then go to high school the next day.

TYNER:  Yeah, we had a lot of jam sessions around Philadelphia.  A lot of jam sessions.  We’d be at my house one time, the Heath Brothers would have jam sessions at their house, one time I played up at Lee Morgan’s house.  Plus, Philadelphia is in close proximity to Atlantic City.  So I would go to Atlantic City in the summer and play… We didn’t have much money, but we managed to scrape up three meals!  I played at the Cotton Club in Atlantic City with Lee Morgan’s quartet.  It was fantastic, because we had a chance to see… I met J.J. Johnson, and Tommy Flanagan and Tootie Heath were playing with J.J.  Dinah Washington.  Atlantic City was one of the entertainment capitals of America.  That was a great thing.  We spent two or three summers down there.

TP:    That’s on a very professional level.  There were places with chorus lines and so on.

TYNER:  Yes.  You learned from… There were some fantastic guys around, older guys, the older generation.  They took you under their wing, and if they saw you had some kind of talent, that was all they needed to know.  They’d call you for gigs and show you tunes, old standards.  You would learn just by accompanying.  A lot of the things I learned were by being supportive.  It wasn’t so much like now, where a lot of people want to set up their own band.  There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to get your own band, but when I was with John I wasn’t necessarily looking, “Oh, I can’t wait to get my own band.  I just savored the experience of being with him, and I learned so much just by coming together…” You learn how to do that.  When I was growing up, that’s what the guys expected from you.  They weren’t looking for you to have that kind of cocky attitude.  That didn’t fit in at all.

TP:    I think it would be a situation with Coltrane where you could play the whole history of the music and frame it as individually as you would want.

TYNER:  Well, John was in the R&B band.  Sometimes we’d travel and these guys would show up.  He used to play with a guy named King Kolax, who would show up when we’d play the Midwest.  I played with guys who played what we called House Rockers — the cat would get up and honk his horn and the rock the house, and people would put money in the bell of the horn.  That was a great thing, because it wasn’t about a lot of articulation — it was about feeling and sound.  If you had a sound on your instrument and a good feeling, hey, that was it.  I played with those kind of guys, coming up with blues singers and all that sort of stuff.  So yeah, it was on a professional level, even if you were young.  That didn’t have anything to do with it.  The thing is, to get that experience was wonderful.

TP:    Does it make a difference in the way you play what kind of drummer you have with you?

TYNER:  Well, it doesn’t change the way I play, but I think what it does, if the drummer is playing WITH me, as opposed to just sitting there playing time, I think… That’s a very important element.  But I think if he’s responding rhythmically to what I’m doing on the piano, it’s a tremendous asset.  Because I play very rhythmic anyway, so rhythm is very important, and then I’m able to go from there to other things.  It’s a good point of departure.

TP:    I want to continue on the rhythmic aspect.  In the ’50s and ’60s were you listening to Cuban or Puerto Rican piano players, and that style of playing in clave, which is different than jazz improvising.  Because your own brand of that music is so idiomatic and yet personal to you.

TYNER:  Well, I think that has a lot to do with the African influence.  The jazz and Latin rhythms came out of the African experience.  But because we were from the Americas, it’s a little different.  But that’s the foundation of gospel music and blues, and jazz came out of that.  So those rhythms have been able to last.  But that’s basically where I had a real pleasure just… I played with a lot of Latin musicians over the years, and we feel as though there’s very little separating us, and more connecting us than anything else.

TP:    I did read that you had gone to Senegal, and that it was an important experience for you.

TYNER:  It really was.  It must have been 7-8 years ago. I flew into Dakar, and then we drove from Dakar all the way down to St. Louis.  The French government put on a festival there.  A guy who produced several of my recordings of the big band, who has some affiliation with that festival. It was beautiful.  We went through many villages on the way down.  When I got down there, there were some djembe drummers who played with me.  I went down with Jack DeJohnette, and these guys sat in.  They were a family of drummers.  What happened is that they liked us so much, the French guys and the Africans, that they asked we do a tour of France with… I think Jack did the tour, and there were two drummers from that family.  It was great, and we were able to create a nice marriage.

TP:    Was it a very organic process to start bringing this material into your music circa 1969, when you did “Expansions,” and the early ’70s?

TYNER:  Yes, I’d say it was pretty organic because of my previous experience with African rhythms and drummers, guys who played… One of the guys who played regular trap drums in my R&B band when I went into modern jazz was a conga player, Garvin Masseaux, and he studied under Saka, along with a guy named Bobby Crowder.  They played together a lot and they were good friends.  So from an early age I’d been influenced by African music.  Bobby played and did some recording with Red Garland.  Those guys were our premier conga players around Philadelphia.  Garvin played with my R&B band.

TP:    And I gather that’s the band that you started you off in writing charts and writing tunes.

TYNER:  Yes.  I wrote this chart that never ended. [LAUGHS] Well, it seemed like it never did!  Boy, it was long.  I must have been about 14 or 15.

TP:    Jimmy Heath described his early writing efforts in Philly in a similar manner, and so did Benny Golson, so you’re not alone.,

TYNER:  Yeah.  You have a lot of ideas and you try to cram them all in one song.

TP:    When did your early mature pieces come, things like “Effendi,” and so on.  Did you write them in the early ’60s, or did you bring them up then…

TYNER:  Yes, that’s after I got… John and I were the first two jazz artists on Impulse, and “Inception” was my first record.

TP:    Wayne Shorter, for instance, said that he was writing pieces from the early ’50s, and some of them got into the Art Blakey book when he joined up.  I was wondering if you had been that prolific before coming to New York and entering the public stage.

TYNER:  Yeah, I was writing some things when I met John.  But I came to New York after the Jazztet.  I worked with the Jazztet for a while, because John was committed to Miles and he couldn’t leave, and he wanted people in his own band and it took him a while, so Benny Golson asked me if I was available to go to San Francisco.  He had three weeks at the Jazz Workshop over on Broadway in San Francisco.  I said sure. Then John left Miles not too long after that.  That’s after we did the Meet the Jazztet record, where we did the first version of “Killer Joe.”  It was a great band, but completely different from the direction that was about to develop being with John.

TP:    Benny Golson said he knew it was confining for you.

TYNER:  Well, the thing is, he wrote some nice charts!  Benny’s a heck of an arranger.  And he wrote some nice tunes, “Along Came Betty,” “I Remember Clifford,” some nice songs.  I enjoyed my experience with them.  But I had a verbal commitment with John that whenever he left Miles I would join his band.  So to make that transition took a little time — not too much, because I was with the Jazztet only 7 months.  Then John left Miles, and he came to me and… It was very tough, because I grew up under Benny.  It was tough for me, too, because they were such nice guys and really very helpful, but it was something that had to be done.  I think Art and Benny realized that later on.

TP:    Are you writing for the personalities that you’re playing with?  Is there any of that in your composition?  Or do things just come out and people adapt to them?

TYNER:  What it is, you want to surround yourself with people who can interpret what you write.  With the big band I have more that type of thinking, because it’s a different type of thing — but not so different.  I’ve had the big band since the ’80s. Some of the members of the band, like John Clark and Joe Ford were in the band when I first started it, and they’re still there.  So I know their personalities, and I know generally which songs I like.  I mean, anybody can play on any songs, but with some guys it’s just tailor-made for them.  I think that’s what happens.  Duke Ellington wrote for some of the guys who were in his band.  You can’t help but do that, I think.

TP:    Also, there are a number of your songs that have been performed in many different contexts.  Are you still writing prolifically?

TYNER:  This record has some songs I’ve recorded before, but a lot of them are new, like “December,” “Serra Do Mar,” “Steppin’”.  “Manalayuca” was recorded before; the title has changed a bit.  I’ve recorded “For All We Know” before.  So there’s the mixture.

TP:    And were these written and chosen with this personnel and instrumentation in mind?

TYNER:  Well, yes, in a way.  Definitely, because I knew who was going to be on the date.  I don’t really earmark… See, Bobby and I have no problem in terms of concept, because we think alike conceptually.  But I don’t necessarily all the time… “December” was a song that I had in mind… When I wrote that, I thought it would be wonderful to hear what Bobby could do with it.  Because I know it fit his style.  And I felt like Eric and Charnett would really be able to handle “Serra Do Mar” because it goes from one rhythm to another; different segments of the song interchanged, and I thought they’d be able to interpret that well.  But often I don’t necessarily write everything to tailor-make the song to fit a person.  But I try to pick people who I think like to play my music or can interpret my music well, as opposed to, “Oh, let me write music for this guy.”  But I like to surround myself with people… Because if a guy doesn’t fit into the concept that I have, then he doesn’t need to play with me — that kind of thing.  I shouldn’t say it like that, because I have played with guys who aren’t necessarily used to playing with me, and it’s different for them.  I’ve heard people say, “You’re moving all the time.”  But that’s from playing with John.  He liked me to move around.

TP:    Just talking to you, the program seems almost autobiographical.  There’s material that addresses pan-African rhythms, and you have the blues and the standards and the Ellington and the ballads, and it’s all part and parcel of your musical biography.

TYNER:  I think that music should reflect you.  If you’re the one who’s performing or composing, it should reflect who you are.

TP:    You do concept albums, which is logical, because to keep putting out albums, you have to find ideas to tag them on and give people different angles.  But this has a very organic quality.  It doesn’t seem like there’s any imperative involved except something coming out of you and what you’re thinking about at the moment.

TYNER:  I think you nailed it.  I’m glad that came out, because that was actually the way I felt.

TP:    Seeing you at Iridium put an exclamation point on it.  They had me sitting right up by stage left so I could see you at the piano, and I’d never been that close to you before, and I noticed that you play with a minimum of motion.  For someone who gets as huge a sound as you get… For instance, Ahmad Jamal moves a lot around the piano and dances around the piano.

TYNER:  Keith Jarrett does, too.  He really gets around.  It’s whatever works for you.  For me, in how I utilize the instrument, and it has many characteristics… I approach it a certain way in terms of touch and uses of the pedal, and that gives me the power I need.  I figure it has a lot to do with the touch as well.

TP:    Was that a sound you heard in your mind’s ear and worked towards, or did it come out of your development as an instrumentalist.

TYNER:  I think it was already up here.  I think your sound is who YOU are.  That’s exactly what it is.  You can’t create it if it’s not there, and you can’t embellish on it if it’s not yours.  We have our own sounds!  When you talk, when people recognize who you are, I’ll say, “That’s Ted.”  You have your own sound, and it comes out when we play an instrument.

TP:    But if I put my hands to a piano, people would say “shut up!”  There’s truth to what you say, but there’s also a craft component.

TYNER:  Have you studied piano?

TP:    Many years ago, and I’m not suggesting I couldn’t develop a certain proficiency…

TYNER:  If you ever played the instrument enough, you would hear Ted coming out.  You have your own identity, man.  I think we all do.

TP:    Many musicians would tell me that the instrument is an extension of themselves, and that music is just another vocabulary…

TYNER:  A language.

TP:    And they say it gets passed down.  One of the great things about jazz is that the oral tradition still holds true.  Who for you are some of the people who passed down that oral tradition…

TYNER:  I was very fortunate.  I met Bud Powell.  He lived around the corner from me when I was a teenager.  My mother was a beautician, and my piano was in her shop.  So Richie Powell was on the road with the Max Roach-Clifford Brown band, and Bud occupied Richie’s apartment.  It was right around the corner for me.  And my mother did the superintendent’s wife’s hair.  So she came and she said, “There’s this piano player around the corner who doesn’t have a piano; can he come around and practice on your son’s piano?”  So I asked my mother who it was, and she said, “Bud Powell.”  I said, “Of course.  He can come around any time he wants.”  But he was a hero to us.  We used to follow him around.  We had a place where musicians would hang out, and we’d get him to go up there and play.  His recordings were fantastic.  And Thelonious.  I used to… But I didn’t listen to them to copy them.  What I heard was individuality, the fact that they focused on who THEY were and they did their thing. But they were very inspirational to me.  And later on, Art Tatum, because [LAUGHS] he was an impeccable musician. But stylistically, Bud and Monk were really major influences on me — and then John, of course.

TP:    There’s that German word, the “zeitgeist,” of the time.  They were absolutely one with their time!

TYNER:  Yes, that’s right.  And they were so inspirational.

TP:    So it wasn’t so much that Bud Powell said, “Here’s how I do this voicing” and so on.  You soaked it up.

TYNER:  No.  You have to do that yourself.  You have to find out what your voice is yourself.  That’s it.  Not only is it lasting, but you can develop something from your own personality, your musical personality.  Otherwise, you’re not going nowhere with it.  You’re just limited to whoever the guy is you’re copying, or you’re trying to model yourself after.

TP:    Were there any pianists you did that with?  Herbie Hancock told me that when he was 13, or maybe 11, he found a guy in his class who could play, and he’d been playing Mozart and classical music and was a prodigy, but he couldn’t do this.  Then he found out it was George Shearing, and his mother had a George Shearing record at home, and so he played along with it until he got the accents and phrasing, and that launched him.

TYNER:  Bud Powell was that image for me.  I had Bud’s records, and I was trying to play things like “Celia” and things like “Parisian Thoroughfare” and a couple of other things.  But then I knew that, “Hey, that’s Bud Powell.”  Because that’s just the way it is.  You can’t go but so far.

TP:    But those were things as a kid, you memorized and…

TYNER:  Well, you have to… A lot of the horn players were playing as well.  Actually, what it was, we knew certain pieces like from Clifford Brown-Max Roach and Dizzy’s music and Bird’s music, all these guys playing Charlie Parker’s music.  So I had to learn that stuff in order to play with them.  When I was a teenager, Sonny Stitt would come through… I would play with different people.  Sometimes Sonny Rollins would come through, and Sonny Stitt.  I was playing around locally with a lot of the older musicians.  So I had to learn the tunes.

TP:    Was that at a place called the Red Rooster?

TYNER:  Well, that was I met John, at a matinee.  It wasn’t far from where I lived.  It was a local kind of…not an elaborate place, but a fairly decent place, and people used to come there to listen to music.  I was playing in Cal Massey’s band.  Cal was the friend who introduced me to John.  And Jimmy Garrison was in Cal’s band, and Tootie Heath.  John came out and checked the matinee.  He was on sabbatical from Miles, there was a little period there, and then he came up and he and Cal got back together… Cal was a composer as well.  So that’s how I met John, one afternoon.

TP:    But back in 1960, you weren’t the average 22-year-old.  You were a pretty experienced musician.  I think you recorded with Curtis Fuller in ’59.

TYNER:  Yes, my first record.  I think it was “The World of Trombone” or something for Savoy.  That’s actually before the Jazztet was formed, and after that they had a meeting with Art and Benny and Dave Bailey and Curtis, and they said they wanted to form a band, and I said, “Okay, but when John leaves Miles, I’ve got to go.”  It was a tough one.

TP:    Did you play with any vibraphonists then?

TYNER:  Yes, there was a vibraphonist around Philadelphia who was very popular…

TP:    There was Lem Winchester in Wilmington and Walt Dickerson.

TYNER:  Walt was the guy.

TP:    And he had an expansive concept himself.

TYNER:  Yes, he had an expansive concept.  Absolutely.

TP:    As I recall, the “Time For Tyner” record was a live record in North Carolina?  That’s when you and Bobby first hooked up.

TYNER:  No, it wasn’t live.  Let me tell you what happened.  People have made that mistake because of the way the guy wrote the liner notes.  I played a concert at this university in North Carolina, and the guy came down and reviewed it.  Then for some reason, he happened to mention that on this recording, and it left people with the idea that it was recorded live — and it wasn’t.

TP:    But was it a working band?

TYNER:  No.  Bobby and I never worked extensively together. But we knew each other very well.  We came up in the same generation, so…

TP:    And you were both on Blue Note.

TYNER:  Both on Blue Note.  Wayne and a lot of guys were all on Blue Note at the time.

TP:    What’s interesting is that a lot of the things that were recorded on Blue Note were just in the studio and didn’t have to do with working bands.  Was that the case with you?

TYNER:  Yes, after late ’65, when I left John… It was almost six year.  Which records are you talking about?

TP:    “Expansions” or “Time For Tyner.”

TYNER:  No, those weren’t working bands.

TP:    “The Real McCoy.”

TYNER:  No.  Joe Henderson just happened to be in town, and they wanted to do a date.  I did some recordings with him.  “Recorda-Me”, I think.  Kenny Dorham was on it.  But I didn’t have a working band at the time.  Ron Carter did a lot of recording with me, too, but I didn’t have a band.

TP:    But with Bobby Hutcherson, it just emanated from…

TYNER:  Our musical association.

TP:    And it just kept cropping up again.

TYNER:  Yes, exactly.

TP:    Does the record label you’re recording for have any impact on the type of music you’re recording, or does it just have to do with the time and the place.

TYNER:  No.  Telarc is basically a jazz label, as far as I know.  But they have no bearing… They know when they ask me to record what they’re getting into.  I don’t do that.

TP:    So all the projects you’ve done for Telarc have been at your initiative?  The trio and “Jazz Roots.”

TYNER:  Absolutely.  If they make a suggestion, maybe I’ll try this or that or whatever conceptually, but I have the final word on everything.  If I don’t like it, I won’t do it.

TP:    Are you exclusively with Telarc now?  Or are you still a freelancer?

TYNER:  I’m not signed with them, because I like to be a free agent.  But I have done some consecutive work for them.

TP:    Since that thing for Impulse, “McCoy Tyner Plays John Coltrane,” I think everything you’ve put out has been on Telarc.

TYNER:  Yes, that was done in 1997, but they released the tapes in ’99.

TP:    Tell me about the Jazz Roots album, the tribute to your various influences.

TYNER:  It wasn’t so much influences.  It was a dedication to the musicians that I knew — and know — and who were part of the history of this music, and guys who passed on and a lot of them who are here.  It’s a tribute to jazz pianists.  That’s basically what I was doing.  Erroll Garner, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Chick, Bud Powell, Thelonious… It was just a conglomeration of different people.

TP:    was it easy to choose the repertoire, or a difficult process?

TYNER:  Not really difficult.  Because I chose songs that I thought fit these guys, and did the best I could to do that.  I felt pretty good about it, the choice of songs for each guy.

TP:    Is performing in front of an audience for you a very different experience than performing in a studio?

TYNER:  It’s different.  The thing is, it all depends.  If you’re working with people consistently for a long period of time, it has to make a difference.  Like, “A Love Supreme” was sort of a culmination of all the musical experiences that we’d had with the quartet, and it was a high point.  But we knew each other.  We knew each other’s musical vocabulary.  If you talk to a person long enough and you live around a person long enough, you begin to get familiar with how they phrase, in terms of the words the pick, whatever.  Even if you can’t nail it right on the head all the time, but you have a sense of where they’re going with what they’re saying.  And it’s the same if you play with somebody for years.  You don’t have to second-guess.  You can just about go where you’re supposed to.

TP:    Your solo records are so rewarding.  I have the three solos or duos you did for Blue Note, and then this one…

TYNER:  I like to play solo.  I really do.

TP:    You sound free when you play solo.

TYNER:  Yes, because you can go where you want to go.  You don’t have consider if the bassist is following you.  Well, you can hear.  You don’t have to worry about the drummer, if you’re dealing with the rhythms or the melody or with the harmonic content. It’s all about what YOU want to do.  And that’s a lovely thing.  I like playing with a group, because if you can bring that kind of sensitivity to a group setting, it’s wonderful to have two or three or four guys or a big band do that, be sensitive to what’s going on, and listening and responding.  But if you really want to talk in terms of empathy, I think you can’t beat solo playing.  It’s about you.  You’re the only one there.  You can’t lay the blame on anybody!

TP:    Do you still practice a lot?

TYNER:  No, I don’t.  Not at all.  I should.  But I play a lot.  I perform a lot . But I try to compose.  I hear things in my hear and try to do that.  But I really don’t spend time practicing.  I used to years ago.  But my whole career, I’m very fortunate that I was working a lot with John… I haven’t really practiced since I was a teenager.  I spend time at the piano composing. That’s about it.

TP:    If you were going to practice, what might it be that you’d want to work on?

TYNER:  You know, Miles never practiced either.  There’s something about… When you play before the public, it’s better than practicing, I think.  Because you know that there is a communication that has to be made.  The music is about communication, too.  And I don’t mean playing down to people.  I mean just acknowledging the fact that they’re there, listening, and you’re going to take them on this journey.  I think that’s basically what it’s all about.

TP:    Philly Joe Jones once made the comment that he knew exactly what his hands were going to do, so why did he need to…

TYNER:  Yeah.  Well, see, you want it to be automatic.  You want it to be real self-expression.  And practicing is… I already had the tools that I need to work with.  It’s just a matter of ideas and how you present it.

TP:    You said that Miles didn’t practice, and he didn’t rehearse either.  And I gather you have a fairly liberal attitude about rehearsal.

TYNER:  Yes.  Because we didn’t rehearse… With John, I think we might have had… Well, I wouldn’t say a rehearsal.  We ran over some material we were going to record, maybe the Ballads album, and all I did was get like an intro and an ending, and that was it.

TP:    So getting together with Bobby for the European tour and presenting this new material, how did you let it evolve?

TYNER:  Well, we had to run over the material, because there were certain things I wanted to emphasize. But I wouldn’t say practicing.  It was just reviewing the music.

TP:    Because you’ve known each other so long.

TYNER:  That’s what it is.  It’s true, what Philly said.  Because if you have the tools, what are you practicing?  If you HAVE the tools, then it’s just a matter of the ideas and the feeling.  That becomes paramount, as opposed to “let me get in a couple of more runs under my fingers.”  Eventually that happens if you play enough over a period of years, that you can execute without thinking about it.

TP:    Would you talk a bit about the distinction between composition and playing?

TYNER:  I like to play my songs actually.  But then, again, I stuck that Duke Ellington song in there, “In A Mellow Tone,” because I like it.  And Duke’s songs have a tendency to swing!  Just playing the melody itself.  But basically I do like to play on the songs that I have written.

TP:    I guess they suit your style.

TYNER:  Yes, that’s what it is.

TP:    I’ve heard many musicians refer to improvising as spontaneous composition.

TYNER:  That’s a good phrase.  That’s exactly what it is.  And a lot of times, you’ll come up with a melody based on something you’ve played — that you are playing.  “I’ve heard that before.” “Oh, I played that last night.” [LAUGHS] Maybe you think about that.  I don’t know.  You don’t know where exactly it’s from, but it’s part of your expression in some kind of way.

TP:    I don’t know exactly how many records you’ve done, but there can’t be many things you haven’t done in your career.  I’m wondering if you have any aspiration that you haven’t fulfilled yet.

TYNER:  We’ll see.

TP:    You’ll let it come along.

TYNER:  Yes.  Something will tell you.  You just do it, and something will say, “Well, yeah, that’s the right thing.”  It just comes to you.  If music is your world, or whatever it is, it becomes intuitive. You don’t have to sit down and plan it for a year.  I can write a whole date in a couple of weeks in advance.  I wouldn’t advise people to do that.  But I’m just saying that when I’m placed under pressure, I do pretty well.

TP:    Pressure is the great motivator.

TYNER:  Yes, it sure is.  When you have a deadline.  But that’s good, because you learn how to deal with it.

TP:    You bet.  And it makes you stronger.

TYNER:  That’s right.

TP:    So this summer, are you going to be out a good bit, and any with Bobby?

TYNER:  I’m going to Italy and to Japan for about three weeks, and George Mraz and Lewis Nash will be playing with me.

TP:    You’re just getting all the second stringers, aren’t you.

TYNER:  George is a wonderful bass player.  He knows how to play with a piano.  For some reason, you can go where you want to go, and George is right there.  He’s a nice man, he’s fun to be around, and it’s nice to have that kind of selection of people.  He played with Oscar, he played with Hank, he played with Tommy Flanagan.  He knows what to do when it comes to piano players!  He’s not trying to take it out.  He’s the kind of guy that likes to blend into what’s going on.  But when he solos he’s got a beautiful sound on the instrument.  I love George.

TP:    You’ll have fun with Lewis, too.

TYNER:  I did an album of Bert Bacharach’s music that Lewis is on.  I host at Yoshi’s in Oakland every year (this will be the tenth year), and a lot of guys play, and each week is a different band.  Lewis and Christian McBride, who’s one of my neighborhood guys, played very well together.  This year it’s going to be Tain Watts.

TP:    Tain told me a story about having an initiation with you, back in ’87, when he played with you and put out all his stuff on one tune, and he said that after that he was hanging on for dear life, because he’d played it all already.  You were just beginning and he’d played all his stuff.

TYNER:  [LAUGHS] Well, he’s increased his knowledge.  He seems to have a lot left.

TP:    Well, he told the story with relish. It was, “Yeah, McCoy got me.” But again, Art Blakey did it, Miles did it… You’ve become this jazz elder…

TYNER:  Elder statesman? [LAUGHS]

TP:    Well, a jazz elder griot type of thing, where the material gets passed down in this manner to so many people who then sustain it.

TYNER:  I’ve been fortunate to have known a lot of great people who were great inspirations, and I’m very thankful for that opportunity — or whatever you would call it.

* * * *

McCoy Tyner (7-25-03):

TP:    I’d like to talk first of all about your summer itinerary, the configurations you’re working in, the musicians you’re playing with.  I gather you recently did three weeks with Lewis Nash in Japan.

TYNER:  Yeah, he went with me to Japan, and we did a tour of the Blue Notes in Japan.  It’s very nice; Blue Note franchised out the name over there.  It was a great reception.  I’ve been going to Japan since 1966.  The first time I went over was what they called the Drum Battle (it was more like a reunion to me) between Tony Williams, Elvin Jones and Art Blakey.  It was the first time I went over, with Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Owens, and I forget the bass player.  Of course, I’ve gone back after that with my own bands over the years.

TP:    You did a number of recordings there.

TYNER:  I did a solo piano thing, “Echoes of A Friend,” which was dedicated to Coltrane.

TP:    You did it in ’72.

TYNER:  Yeah, something like that.  But there’s a solid base there.

TP:    Japan is part of your regular touring itinerary.  I guess the trio with George Mraz and Lewis has a certain type of tonal personality. Do you go in a different direction, say, with that personnel than, say, with Charnett Moffett and Al Foster.  Or if Jack DeJohnette were playing in a trio with Ron Carter.  I’m just throwing out names.  I’m wondering how different musicians of different attitudes affect the way you respond and listen.

TYNER:  Well, it’s always like that anyway, when you play with people of different characters and characteristics, different personalities.  It’s just like meeting an old friend.  You can’t compare him to the one you ran into yesterday.  They’re completely… Well, they’re not completely different, but what it is, they know what my style is like.  So what they do is, they know they have to listen, and that’s all I ask.  Because I wouldn’t have chosen to have them on this tour if I didn’t think that they could perform with me.  And individually, they have.  George played with me and Al when we did this Coltrane tribute, and Lewis did the Bacharach thing and something else with me.  So they know what they’re in for basically.

TP:    Do you know what you’re in for beforehand?

TYNER:  No, I don’t want to know.

TP:    Do you like the surprise?

TYNER:  [LAUGHS] Yeah.  I’m surprised all the time.  Because they’re growing, and I say, “Oh, wow, there’s something different this time.”  It’s always different anyway, but it’s nice to hear them move in a positive way and develop.  Because we’re all growing.  That’s what it’s all about.  One tour you do with a guy one time, and then the next year or so it’s different.

TP:    But you had a working band for many years with Avery Sharpe and Aaron Scott.

TYNER:  Yes, I did.

TP:    You did other projects, but that was basically the band.  Now it seems like you’re experimenting with different configurations.

TYNER:  Yes.

TP:    What was the reason for disbanding at this point?

TYNER:  Well, everything runs its term.  What I’m saying is that everything has a term.  I had a great rhythm section with them for years, but then I thought it might be a good time to do something different.  I think if you force something to happen, even if it’s change, you can have a negative response. But if it happens naturally… In all the bands I’ve had, it reached a point where it served its purpose for that time period.  Then it was time for me to choose something else.  But I didn’t force it.  Avery was with me for 20 years and Aaron was close for 17-18 years, so it served its purpose.

TP:    Can you describe what the purpose might have been with that band?  I mean, they were obviously very suitable to you.  You had a three-way affinity.  You’re not going to do anything you don’t want to do for two decades.

TYNER:  Mmm-hmm.

TP:    Talk about the qualities.

TYNER:  It was very good qualities.  The thing is that they were very consistent in what they were doing, and determined.  They were eager to learn and develop.  And that’s one thing I do like about people who work with me.  I hope that when it’s served its purpose, that they walk away with information that they didn’t have before they joined my band, and had the opportunity to develop.  I think that’s very important.  But I think it went as far individually as it could have gone, and as a group, consequently, if you don’t move, then everybody is sort of stuck in a situation… You want to be organic.  You want to be healthy no matter what the configuration is.  You want that healthy attitude.  And we can only do what we can do.

TP:    It sounds to me as though you’re now in a mind space where it suits you to play with as many different empathetic personalities as you can, and are able to give yourself a lot of leeway.  Would that be true, or are you looking to find a steadily working group again?

TYNER:  As long as they’re compatible, is what I’m doing.  If they’re not compatible… I can tell sometimes by listening to people.  I heard Eric when he was with Betty Carter.  We were in actually, of all places, Beirut, Lebanon!  They invited us over.  I was a little hesitant at first, but then I’m glad we went.  They were very nice people who invited us there.  Eric was playing with Betty then, and I was playing I think with the Latin band opposite her.  I had a chance to hear Eric then.  I had met Eric actually as a teenager in high school in Houston.  I went to the university to give a little bit of a talk, and met him.  He was a kid at the time.  Of course, he’s developed quite extensively from when I met him with Betty, but it was nice…

TP:    She raised him good.

TYNER:  [LAUGHS] Well, the thing is that we were able to play together and have fun, and that’s good.  He plays with Terence Blanchard and other people, and I think he was with Charles Lloyd recently.  I think Charles heard him in London when we did the thing in London, and said, “Oh, I want that guy to play with me.”  It’s not a steady gig, but he definitely has been making some appearances.  But hey, whenever possible.  That way, I don’t have to dependent on any one guy — on one bass player or one drummer.

TP:    So there’s the trio, and are you doing anything with Bobby Hutcherson this summer also?  Or are you resuming that quartet in the Fall?

TYNER:  I think we’re resuming in the fall.  We’ve come back from Japan not too long ago, maybe ten days ago, and we’re doing something at Lincoln Center on August 2nd.  Dave Valentin is playing flute, and Charnett Moffett and Eric on drums.

TP:    I’d like to ask about the Latin band a bit.  This will take me back a bit and focus on that Philadelphia territory.

TYNER:  Are you from Philly?

TP:    No.  I know a lot of people from Philly, though, and I’ve talked with a lot of musicians who are your peers and older than you and younger than you, like Benny Golson and Jimmy Heath and Reggie Workman and various people.  When we spoke earlier, you said there was an African drummer in Philly whose name you couldn’t quite recall the spelling of, who taught you in the early ’50s…

TYNER:  He didn’t teach me, but I was in his presence.  He taught guys who percussion was their thing.  That was their instrument.  I played piano.  I was just messing around with him.

TP:    You said you did fool around with the drums, but it damaged your fingers.

TYNER:  Yeah, in the joints.  That’s why you see a lot of conga players who have tape on the joints.  They say, “I’m not going to ruin these babies.”

TP:    The crown jewels!

TYNER:  [LAUGHS] I had enough intelligence even during that time!

TP:    You mentioned Garvin Masseaux, Robert Crowder…

TYNER:  Rob’s still there.

TP:    Eric Gravatt might have been an extension of that.  But what this guy was doing filtered into your consciousness, sort of became imprinted on the way you think about music.  Then there was a quote in Lewis Porter’s biography of Coltrane from your former wife Aisha that Latin music was very big in Philly, and everyone danced the merengue.  So all this stuff was percolating for you when you were a young player, in formative years.  I wondered if you had anything to say about how that environment became more solidified as you became a more mature musician.

TYNER:  I was exposed to African culture when I was a teenager because the atmosphere was conducive to that.  So Saka coming to study at Temple University (I think it was political science or something like that), and bringing his sister over to teach African dancing was very appropriate, because at that time people were involved and being conscious of who they are in history.  From that point, we then… Of course, we met Olatunji in New York.  Although my association with the dancing school at the time is where Saka came to teach the other guys, the percussionists.

TP:    So when his sister would teach African dance, he’d come in and play or bring those guys in to play with the class?

TYNER:  Yes.

TP:    And did you play in the dance class that he was teaching, or the drummers?

TYNER:  No, the drummers would.  The only thing I did was, I composed a…not composed, but I just played a little piano for one of those things they did, a kind of South American production, along with other things…

TP:    I think you said “Viva Zapata.”

TYNER:  Yes, “Viva Zapata.”  I played that for the dance company.  Because they did some choreography for that, and that was kind of a big…

TP:    But when you started composing music… You said your first charts were with that R&B band you had, but I’d think your more mature compositions began when you were 19-20-21…

TYNER:  No, before that.

TP:    What’s the earliest composition of yours that you recorded?

TYNER:  Well, I did an album called Inception on Impulse!, and there’s a song called “Sunset.” “Effendi” is another thing.

TP:    “Effendi” you wrote in Philly?

TYNER:  No, I didn’t write that in Philly.

TP:    I just wondered if there was anything when you were 18 or 19…

TYNER:  Yeah, I wrote a song, but it was so long, I should have called it “When Is This Going To End”?  I wrote a few songs, but I don’t remember exactly the title of the song.  It was something I wrote for my R&B band. But what we did was play “Flying Home” and some Tiny Bradshaw stuff…

TP:    You were how old then?

TYNER:  14 and 15, like that.  I improved very rapidly, you know.

TP:    It sounds like your learning curve was immense.

TYNER:  Yeah.

TP:    You didn’t play until you were 13, but by the time you were 17, Coltrane was impressed!

TYNER:  Yes, it was meant to happen.  I played with a lot of people.  Red Rodney moved to my neighborhood, and he knew Oscar Pettiford, and Oscar came in.  We played one week at a local place called the Blue Note.  Red had played with Bird, and he moved into my neighborhood, so he found out about me.  Then, of course, I met Calvin Massey way before that, and that’s who introduced me to John.

TP:    People in Philly born in 1938 include Lee Morgan and Reggie Workman and Archie Shepp.  Pretty good company.

TYNER:  Yeah!  I used to play with Archie and Lee.  Lee and I used to play fraternity dances.  We did a graduation at Cheyney College outside of Philly.  We did gigs around.  We went to Atlantic City, which was fun.  Then Max Roach came through.  I met him when I was 18, right after Brownie and Richie had passed, and he was trying to get me to join his band.  But Sonny Rollins and Kenny Dorham were playing on there, and George Morrow.  That was a heck of a band.  But I didn’t travel.  I did the week at the Showboat.

TP:    The story you told about Max was that he asked, “Do you know ‘Just One Of Those Things’?” and you played it at his tempo, and he said, “Ah!”

TYNER:  [LAUGHS] Yes.  I loved playing with Sonny.

TP:    So the standards were high when you were coming up.

TYNER:  Yes, the standards were very high.  Appearance, presentation — you had to be on point for that.  It was good training, because things to changed as time went on, and people started looking at it completely differently.  The musicians, basically, the way they presented themselves, and… Of course they were very talented people.  But still, I think presentation is a major part of the music.

TP:    You’re obviously someone who pays a lot of attention to personal style.

TYNER:  Uh-huh.

TP:    It’s obvious, just seeing you now.  It’s 90 degrees, and Mr. Tyner is in a very nice, dark blue…is it a silk shirt?

TYNER:  Yes, silk.

TP:    A beautifully textured silk shirt, a white patterned silk tie, and it looks like white linen pants.

TYNER:  Yeah, that’s what it is.

TP:    Now, maybe you have someplace to go now.

TYNER:  No.  I just…

TP:    But you always look tip-top when you’re performing.

TYNER:  Yes, that’s important.  I came up in an era when Art Blakey used to say “People see you before they hear you.”  It’s just a respect for yourself and what you’re doing that I think should emanate before you go up.

TP:    No doubt.  Your mother was a beautician, had a beauty shop.  Did she have a lot to do with your personal style and sense of presentation?

TYNER:  My mother had a lot to do with everything in my development!  Her name was Beatrice — Beatrice Tyner.  She was just the ultimate classic person.  Very, very elegant, my mother.  I don’t mean that in terms of using clothes or to make her better than anyone else, but just her demeanor, her personality.  She’s a very honest, very likeable person.  People really loved my mother a lot.  She was caring, a very caring person.  She loved music.  She loved piano actually.  She didn’t play, but sometimes we’d go to somebody’s house who had a piano, and she’d tinkle a little bit.  But when anything came up that she thought I should be interested in, she’d let me know — and be very supportive.

TP:    It surprises me, just because of your level of technique and fluency with the instrument, that you started playing at 13.  It sounds like you were listening to music from way before that.  It sounds like all this was in your head and your body by the time you started playing.

TYNER:  Yes, I’d say so.  I listened… From my affiliation with the dance school and the fact that I had two good teachers in the beginning, one guy who taught the beginner piano and then I had an Italian teacher who went through the books and all that.  That was kind of before I formed my R&B band.  I was 13, 13-1/2, whatever.  Then about 14, I put the books kind of the side, and just started studying a little theory.  I went to Granoff School, but that was more like… It was a basically European approach, and that wasn’t what I was looking for.  And the (?) Music Center, which was a nice place…

But I think that mine just came from… I had the facility, because I used to practice all the time.  But like I say, you can’t describe why you have certain treasures, why certain things emanate from you, why certain things just emerge.  It’s hard to explain a gift.  I mean, how can you explain that?  It’s just one of those things.  You keep doing it.  And of course, I had the encouragement of a lot of older musicians around Philadelphia.  Even before I met John, there were guys who were very encouraging — older musicians who heard about me.

TP:    Piano players?

TYNER:  Well, there were piano players around town that were very nice.

TP:    Who were some of your mentors?

TYNER:  Well, Bud Powell was around the corner from me.

TP:    Was he personally encouraging?

TYNER:  No, not personally encouraging.

TP:    Did he have a wall around him at that time?

TYNER:  Well, he was kind of like a child prodigy.  But he needed care.  He needed somebody to be with him.  He needed somebody to take care of him.  He couldn’t function alone.  So he always had these guys.  I don’t know how sincere they were, but they were around him.  But the level of musicality around Philadelphia was on a higher level.  The jam sessions… We used to have jam sessions all the time.  See, what you can’t do… If you’re going to add to what’s there, if you’re going to contribute something, you can’t copy from… You can’t copy people.  It has to be there.  It has to be something that you’re born with.  I never wanted to play like… As much as I loved Bud and Thelonious, I learned a lot from them, from listening to them, and then, of course, meeting Bud and meeting Thelonious later…over the years… They taught me… And Monk was adamant about it.  He respected you when you had your own direction.  He loved that.  I mean, I learned a lot.  I used to kind of try to (?) Monk when I was still (?).  But not to the point where I wanted to be them or wanted to sound just like them.  But Monk was definitely the kind of person, like, “You have your own thing?  Great!”  Because that was the way he was.  I was very fortunate to know him kind of on a personal level.

TP:    There’s that old jazz cliche, “make a mistake; do something right.”

TYNER:  That’s right.

TP:    Benny Golson had a story about playing maybe with Buhaina at the Cafe Bohemia, and his eyes are closed, and he looks up, and there’s Monk in his shades, and after the set he made a comment to the effect that he was playing too perfect, and he just stop thinking about being perfect.

TYNER:  Yes, that’s true.  A lot of things come out of so-called “mistakes.” Really, it’s how what you do with it.  How you shape music.  Nothing’s a mistake.  It’s how you resolve.  When you play something, how you resolve it.

TP:    Thinking on your feet.

TYNER:  Yeah, thinking on your feet.

TP:    At this stage of your life, do you ever make mistakes that you resolve?

TYNER:  [LAUGHS]

TP:    There’s a certain sense of magisterial authoritativeness to the stuff you do!  I don’t know how else to describe it.  But there are times when it sounds as though you’re allowing yourself to get to the other… It sounds like you get into separate spaces when you play, that sometimes it’s just the way it’s supposed to be and presentation, and sometimes that it’s more open-ended.  Now, I don’t know you at all, but am I anywhere close to the reality?

TYNER:  Yeah.  Well, the thing is, I sort of have a controlled sense of experimentation.  That’s what it is.  I go out, but I have to come from something.  Whatever it is, there has to be something there to work from.  Or it can be created.  If it’s sort of a song that’s open, like one of the songs on the record…I forget what I called it… Not “The Search,” but the title is something like… We didn’t have a melody, but it was conceived that way — no melody.  So we just used tonal centers, moved from one tone to another, from one sound, one cluster to another — that kind of thing.  Which I had that experience paying with John.  But I try to use that when it’s appropriate for me, as opposed to using that as a main way to express myself.  It’s another tool.  That’s all.

TP:    It’s interesting that you can go in and out of those attitudes.  A lot of people who have a total sense of their music, who are composers, don’t allow themselves to get into that space, or very rarely so. And you seem able to access both parts of yourself.

TYNER:  Yes.  I have sort of a mixed personality in that respect.  I can do that.  I’m not trying to prove anything…to no one.

TP:    I wouldn’t think.

TYNER:  Just trying to have some fun, and trying to find out more about myself musically.  And sometimes, you find out after you listen back at something.  You say, “Wow, that’s what I did.  Where was I going?”  Because I don’t want to reach the point where everything is predetermined.  It’s not artistic when everything is predetermined.

TP:    I don’t want to burden you too much by dwelling on your time with John Coltrane, but your comment makes me think of a comment I read in a French magazine, where you spoke of your contribution to the evolution of that music, and that it was rooted particularly in your time, in the authority of your left hand, that he always had a home base to come back to somehow, and that you always have a home base to come back to somehow.  I wonder if you could talk about that for the purposes of this conversation.

TYNER:  Well, something’s got to come from someplace, go somewhere, and then return to someplace.  Maybe it might be a different place that you ultimately return to.  But I think it’s good to have these different dynamic dimensions, to go from here to somewhere, using that as a base, and go somewhere and then from there to return…or to resolve it.  Resolution is very important.  Sometimes you listen to people and they go into very interesting places, but then they leave you hanging.  Where are you going from here?  You going to leave me here?  Whatever.  But I always like to make it a complete journey — a departure, a flight and then a landing. [LAUGHS] Sort of what I do normally when I travel!  A good analogy.

TP:    You haven’t crashed yet.

TYNER:  Hopefully not.

TP:    You said you were interested     in drums before encountering Saka.  Who were some of the trap drummers who were favorites of yours in your pre Coltrane years?  I imagine Philly Joe Jones must have been one.

TYNER:  Yes.  I didn’t know Philly when he was there, though.

TP:    Specs Wright.

TYNER:  I knew Specs.  Philly had left, because he was with Miles — him and Red.  But I knew they’d been around Philly a long time.  But there were guys from my generation who were around Philly.  Tootie Heath.  We jammed together.  Lex Humphries was there; he left to go with Dizzy, but he was around for a while.  A guy named Eddie Campbell, who passed; he was a good Art Blakey style drummer.  There were a lot of good guys around who played well.  We were very fortunate in that way.  I mean, we did have good musicians around.

TP:    Were you leading trios around Philly?  Actual piano trios?  When you did Inception, was that just something you went into the studio and did, or had you put some time into that format?

TYNER:  I did some things trio, but not many.  When I’d go to Atlantic City, there would usually be a horn player.  The first time I went was with Paul Jeffries.  Paul came from Philly, and some kind of way Paul got that job in Atlantic City.  We worked at a place called King’s Bar.  That’s really what it was, a bar.  The guy liked my playing so much, he went to Philadelphia and bought a piano.  He bought a little spinet.  Because his piano was horrible.  So Paul and I, we worked together down there for a while.

Then I went down with Lee Morgan.  With Eddie Campbell one time.  I know once with Lex Humphries.  There was a place called the Cotton Club, big-time, that had two stages.  Dinah Washington came in, she was on one stage with Wynton Kelly on piano and Jimmy Cobb on piano.  Then J.J. Johnson came in with Tootie and Wilbur Little on bass and Tommy Flanagan on piano.

TP:    A heady summer.

TYNER:  Yes.  We spent a couple of summers down in Atlantic City.  I think we came back to that same club, the Cotton Club.  It was nice, because we’d have jam sessions late at night after everybody got off at the Steel Pier, all the big bands, and they’d converge on this club until dawn.  How I learned how to play was hands-on.  It wasn’t examining somebody.  Just okay, sit down and play for a while, and then when you’re done there’s another piano player, get up and let him sit down and play.  So everybody had a chance.  When I used to look back and see the line of tenor players that were looking for me to comp, and there would be about ten guys, each looking to play.  Then my mother’s shop was a favorite place.  And a lot of the homes.  Another place called Rittenhouse Hall.  This guy loved the music, and he loved to have dances on the weekend.  People danced to bebop music.  It was the music of that period that I came out of.

TP:    You said somewhere that in doing the gigs, you had to learn the tunes of the day by Bird and Dizzy and Clifford Brown and Sonny Rollins.  Sonny Stitt might come through and call those tunes, so if you wanted to make the gig, you had to learn the tunes.  It was an organic thing.  Your quotidian, as they say.

TYNER:  What was so unique about playing for Sonny Stitt, was that whenever Sonny would come to town, there would be four or five tenor players in the club waiting to sit in and cut Sonny.  What he would do… He solved that very easily.  When he saw these guys, he said, “Come on up!  Come on!  Don’t be hesitant.”  The cats would get on the stage.  He’d say, “‘Cherokee’” – [CLAPS FAST] Like this.  And then he would modulate half-steps.

TP:    He’d play every key.

TYNER:  Every chorus he would go up half-steps.  B-    flat, B, C, C-flat… Then the guy would be shaking… “What’s wrong with the saxophone?”  He solved that problem.  Sonny was an amazing musician.  And then, to work with Sonny Rollins and K.D. was… From playing with Max, I really had a chance to meet some very fine…

TP:    Had you chosen to leave Philadelphia in 1958, say, you would have been equipped to do so.

TYNER:  Yeah.  I was ready.  I was ready to do the album John required, Giant Steps.  I knew those songs.  Of course, he used Tommy.  Tommy was in New York.  I guess he felt, “This guy is so young.”  But I was really poised to be on that date.

TP:    You’ve expressed that in print on many occasions.

TYNER:  [LAUGHS] But to question his judgment… Then eventually, of course, I moved up to New York.

TP:    Well, you seem to have had such a sense of certainty that you were meant to be with Coltrane.  Anything I’ve ever seen written about you, you express with utmost certainty that it was meant to be from years before it started.

TYNER:  Yes.  Because he was like family to me.  His wife at that time was very close to my girlfriend, who was going to be my wife, and then, my sister-in-law was a singer.  He was like family.  I didn’t have a big brother.  So he was like a big brother, and his Mom… I’d go to his house, and sit up while he composed “Countdown” and all those songs.  So we had a beautiful, friendly relationship.  It’s almost, like I said, like a family.

TP:    Walter Davis, Jr. would talk about being a teenager and going to Bud Powell’s house when he was composing “Glass Enclosure” or “Hallucinations,” and Walter Davis would play motifs so Bud could hear it.  There was that synergy, so he felt totally intimate and at one with Bud’s music and with Bud.  It was a destiny thing.

TYNER:  Walter Davis was a beautiful guy.  I miss that guy.

TP:    But it seems it was the same way for you with Coltrane.

TYNER:  Yeah.  It was more than just me being a piano player.  He used to call me “Coy.”  “Hey, Coy, what about this?”     It was a very, very close, more of a family kind of relationship.  He had confidence in me, and he knew that that’s where I needed to be, whatever he’d want in his band.  Of course, it took a while, because Miles had to figure out how to get used to him not being there. [LAUGHS] It’s hard to get rid of a guy that great!  Anyway, there was no question that’s where I belonged.

TP:    I’d like to talk about the solo record, Jazz Roots.  Maybe I’m overstating the case here, but I wonder if you could give me impressions of some of these piano players who you signify on here.  Is it okay?

TYNER:  Yeah, if you want to ask me questions about it.

TP:    Let me start with one who isn’t on here, Ahmad Jamal.  When I listen to your earlier records, it seems you were listening to him a lot at that time.

TYNER:  It’s hard to cover the whole spectrum of pianists because there were so many.  I knew Ahmad very well.  But I think I was mainly influenced by Bud and Thelonious.  I really think that was my main influence at the beginning.  Of course, being with John… John was really maybe the number-one instrument, but on the instrument, Bud and Monk.  But the thing is that playing with the Jazztet, when we did “Killer Joe,” that situation kind of reminded me of Ahmad’s playing. Miles loved Ahmad, and I think Benny picked up on that.  So that might have been what that was.  But I just did what I thought Benny wanted for that song.  But Bud and Monk were my main influences.

TP:    I’m not so much looking for what you picked up as your impressionistic sense of what it feels like to hear them.

TYNER:  Individuality.  You see, that’s the key to the whole thing.  You cannot be anybody else but yourself, even if you want to be!  I would like to be like this guy.  Why do we need those kind of heroes?  A guy is already a hero, whether you acknowledge it or not, any time they make that kind of impression on the scene — on music, I should say.  It’s nice to give people the props and give them the praise for what they’re doing and what they’ve done.  But to make them supersede what you ultimately want to be by being them, it’s impossible!  You can never be them.  You have to be yourself.

TP:    Does everyone who plays with you have to have that quality, too?  Do they all have to be straight-up, individualistic players?

TYNER:  I hope so.  In other words, at least look for that.  I think we spend a lifetime, or at least we should, trying to find out who we are as people, as individuals, as opposed to “Let me copy that guy, let me copy that guy…” It’s a blind alley, I think.  Because you can be a spy about somebody, but to say, “Okay, wow, let me stick to this for the rest of my life” is crazy.

TP:    Is it harder to find those type of individualistic personalities now than it was, say, when you started leading groups in the mid-’60s after you left John Coltrane?

TYNER:  Well, yeah, it became a little difficult, I guess.  Everybody had graduated, and I had my band and some of them formed their own bands and carried on with their own lives, and I thought maybe that was very good.  You can’t get attached to someone to the point where you restrict them from doing what they have to do ultimately. So if they’ve learned something from working with me, then I have to continue to look, to see what’s next on the agenda, who’s going to be the next guy that works with me.  That’s it.  Who knows?  You never know.  I had my previous trio for a long time, because I hadn’t really heard anyone — and I knew there were guys around — who could really do what I was looking for.  Then they came along.  Lewis. Of course, Al was around, but he was busy; he worked with Miles for many years.  So it was one of those kind of things.  It always come around eventually, if you keep trying.  The right thing comes around.

TP:    You made a comment in our previous conversation that.. [END OF SIDE] ..what might those qualities be?

TYNER:  You have to have an open mind and the ability to execute the ideas that you hear within your limitations — or within your conscious limitations.  Because you might be able to do a lot better than you think you can.  I think not being afraid to take chances, not being afraid to feel the situation at hand, as opposed to feeling, “Oh, I’m limited; I can’t do this.”  It’s not good for an artist to feel that kind of fear.  If he wants to consciously do something particularly simple or maybe for this particular song he wants to keep it simple, that’s different.  But being afraid to explore, I think is… I like guys around me who are willing to take chances, but do it on a level of professionalism that stands out, as opposed to just doing… But it’s a very personal thing, because you’re asking a person to be honest with themselves and not be afraid.  And most of us have fears and sometimes we’re not honest! [LAUGHS]

TP:    On that level, of chance-taking in a professional way, I can’t think of a more deft foil for you than Bobby Hutcherson.

TYNER:  Yes, Bobby and I play very well together.  His wife said that sometimes she listens to the way we phrase, and she said sometimes it’s hard for her to tell who’s playing, or which is playing, the vibes or the piano.  We phrase very much alike.  We have a similar approach.

TP:    It seems you read each other’s minds.

TYNER:  That’s right.  He’s a very responsive and creative individual.

TP:    Listening to this record through headphones is a lot of fun!

TYNER:  [LAUGHS] Now, that’s a main point.  You said what are the qualifications of people playing with me.  You like to have fun.  I love to have.  It’s very important.  You’ve got to have fun!

TP:    If you’re a performer, you can’t communicate that sense to other people unless you’re experiencing it yourself.  It may not be a qualification for other professions, but as a musician…

TYNER:  Yes.  You’ve got to be able… You’re out there… I remember a guy told me one time… I was playing a solo gig, and he said, “Yeah, you’re out there, you put yourself out there.”  He admired that, because he knew that took courage.  Playing music, you have to love it, but you can’t be afraid to express yourself.  You’ve got to just jump in and do it.

TP:    At this stage, the name McCoy Tyner is known around the world.  You have a world-wide audience, you have a visibility beyond the jazz audience.  In some ways, you’re almost as iconic a figure as Coltrane was in his day. You’ve lived another 35 years at a high level of creativity and accomplishment.  I did a piece on Sonny Rollins a few years ago, and he said to me, “I’m supposed to be a legend, right?”

TYNER:  [LOUD LAUGH]

TP:    “But I still have to go up there on the stage, so what good does it do me?”  Something to that extent.  How do you respond to that persona?  Obviously, you’re living your life day-by day, you put your pants on one leg at a time.  Blah-blah-blah.  But you also know that you’re McCoy Tyner.

TYNER:  Well, you have to keep that in mind, that you put your pants on one leg at a time! [LAUGHS] Don’t lose sight of that!  Right.  The simplicities of life are very important.  And I think when you start riding on this high horse and thinking of this and that… I only did what I was supposed to do, and basically it… I mean, people think it’s fabulous.  And when I look back at my musical history, I’m very thankful for the opportunities I’ve had and to have been able to rise to the occasion.  I think it was really great to have been in that kind of environment and been able to do that.  But as far as labels and so on, I think that one should never down play one’s contribution or creativity or look down on themselves.  I don’t do that.  I feel as though I did the best I could.  And I thought it was pretty good!  It wasn’t bad!  Some people sort of might want to rest on their laurels or they don’t feel good unless somebody’s putting them on a pedestal.  I’m a very simple guy.  I like simplicity in life.  But I don’t downplay what I’ve done, not at all.  I have the confidence in myself.  That’s very important to me.

TP:    Can I ask you what you like to do in your off-time when you’re not playing music?  Are you a reader?  Do you watch films?  Do you go fishing?  Do you work out at the gym?

TYNER:  There’s one four letter word I like to use — “r-e-s-t.”  Rest.  I do like to rest, and I drink a lot of health juices.  There’s a juice bar across the street from me.  I’ve been doing that since I was a teenager — carrot and celery juice and all that stuff like that.  I need to exercise more, but sometimes I’m so tired from going through airports… I like going out to the theater.  I’ve seen musicals on Broadway, and various plays, and I like that.  I have friends that enjoy me asking them out to dinner and then a play.

TP:    Are you vegetarian?

TYNER:  No.  It’s funny, because I do like the vegetarian cuisine, and I do have friends who are vegetarian.  But I’m not like…

TP:    You’re not a fanatic.

TYNER:  No, I’m not a fanatic.  No way.  I’m not a vegan.  But I like the juice.  I have a juice machine at home.  I don’t use it, because when the juice bar moved across the street I said, “I’m not cleaning this machine!”  I go to his place and let him clean his machine!  I love the diet, but I’ve never claimed to be… I like meat and chicken and fish.  I have a pretty normal diet. But I try to eat good and healthy, and not overdo it.

TP:    Are you someone who thinks about music all the time?

TYNER:  No.

TP:    There’s stuff around us right now, and some people would say, “Ah, I hear music in the rustling of the trees; I can put that into a composition…”

TYNER:  I think it has to be like osmosis.  I don’t think you necessarily should consciously say, “Wow, man, that leaf is so gorgeous, I see a song!”  But I think when you put yourself in good environments, or you happen to be in an environment that’s uncomfortable, whatever it is, you will get something from it.  I think it should be an unconscious assimilation.  When I say “unconscious,” it’s nice when you can absorb things without saying it.  You can feel it if you’re getting something.  To sensitize yourself.

TP:    But you don’t practice.

TYNER:  No.  Not any more.  Somebody asked Miles that, and Miles said, in his blunt way, “Practice for what?!”  What it is, once you attain a certain amount of technical ability, then it’s what are you going to do with it?  It’s not about attaining more.  John even said it.  John said, “After a while, you have enough technique” — because he used to practice a lot to do thing that he wanted to do, that he heard.  And I think he reached the point where he felt like he had enough.

TP:    Really?  He stopped practicing?

TYNER:  No, he would practice.  Because he was hearing a lot of things.  But he reached a point where I guess he felt as though he had enough of a facility, but maybe he was practicing for another reason — for sound and things like that.  Because if you step away from your instrument for a long period of time, you don’t lose the connection, but it’s not the same.  I feel as though I’m in a very good state when I’m performing.  If I stay away from performing for a long time, from playing for a long time, being in contact with music, it’s not as healthy for me as when I’m playing.  I feel very good when I leave the gig and I’ve had a good night — I feel elated.

TP:    Do you keep a sort of steady but not overly… There are a lot of people who say that they just practice on the bandstand or at soundcheck?

TYNER:  You see, what it is, like I said before: The physical side of playing is having a facility to execute certain things — to have the ability to execute.  But how you… Like Lance Armstrong, for instance, this guy who had that bout with cancer.  He’s won the competition now for how many hears?  But there’s something that kicks in that has nothing to do with the fact that… I shouldn’t say nothing.  But maybe it’s more the ability of wanting to win or wanting to overcome or whatever it is, to show just how far you can push the envelope.  whatever.  So I think that’s sometimes more important than having the facility to do things.  The physical aspect is one thing, but if you don’t have the motivation, then that’s…

TP:    The will.

TYNER:  The will.

TP:    Do you ever write stuff for yourself that’s beyond your technique to give yourself a challenge?  Maybe there isn’t anything that’s beyond your technique.

TYNER:  I never do that. [LAUGHS] I never do that!  I don’t want it to be an exercise.

TP:    I’m not suggesting it would necessarily be an exercise.  But is there anything you conceptualize that you have to stretch to play?

TYNER:  Why strain myself? [LAUGHS] I like me!

TP:    Maybe that’s what it is. If that’s your answer, that’s your answer.

TYNER:  What can I tell you?  If I do write something that’s challenging, it’s good!  It’s good.  Like the rapper say, it’s all good.

TP:    I think that precedes the rappers.  I think it comes from the jazz musicians.

TYNER:  I think so.  They took a lot of things from the jazz musicians.  And then when you tell them, it’s “Hmm, really?” [LAUGHS]

TP:    So your attitude about technique is that it’s at the service of…

TYNER:  It’s a facility.  That’s all it is.  Look what Thelonious did with so little.  That to me was miraculous, how he would take a very simple idea and with the feeling he interjected into that idea… It wasn’t about how many notes he played, not at all.  It was about the idea and the feeling that came out of that situation.  He would tell Charlie Rouse… Charlie would want to do another take in the studio, and Monk said, “sorry, that’s it; whatever we did, that’s all you’re going to get.  That’s it.  I’m not doing another one.”  The immediacy of it all. The spontaneity.

TP:    Did you spend a lot of time with Monk?

TYNER:  What happened is that John had worked with Monk for a while, with Shadow Wilson and Wilbur Ware.  I heard that band.  Oh my God!  I walked into the Five Spot… Before I came to New York, my wife and I actually came up… We knew John.  Like I said, it was a big family.  I heard he was playing with Monk, so I said, “Oh, man, one of my heroes…” I walked into the Five Spot, and Shadow was set up right near the door.  And that cymbal beat, and then Wilbur… Oh, man!  Monk was up at the bar dancing and John was taking a solo.  Oh, man, I’ll tell you.  Whoo!

TP:    Imprinted on your memory.

TYNER:  Yes, it sure did!  But it just goes to show you how important simplicity is.  It’s so important. Sometimes even more than having the facility.  Having facility… It’s what you do with it.  It’s the idea you’re trying to portray, more than having… Look, it counts for something.  Everybody has their own way.  Bud was different.  And he loved Monk for that reason, too.  A simple idea and the depth that he was able to demonstrate with simplicity is amazing.

TP:    Your style has so much ornamentation, but there are always very melodic ideas, and it never gets far away from the melody no matter how far out it might get.

TYNER:  [LAUGHS] Yeah.  John said that in one thing he wrote.  He said that I try to make things sound beautiful.  I don’t know about that…

TP:    Maybe that’s just part of who you are.

TYNER:  Yeah, you can get away from yourself.  That’s for sure!

TP:    I’ve been listening as much as possible to your various records, and a lot of the songs sound like they were made to have lyrics put to them.  Have you ever written a song that got onto mainstream radio?

TYNER:  I did an album called Looking Out for Columbia, on which I had  Carlos Santana and Phyllis Hyman. That’s when Bruce Lundvall was at Columbia; he got a lot of jazz guys on the label.  So they wanted me to do something they felt was a little more accessible.  I knew Carlos, and Carlos loved the music I did with John, John was a big hero of his.  So he said fine, and I tried that.  I wrote a song for Carlos kind of in the Latin Rock kind of thing.  I liked it.  My mind is very wide.  I deal with the situation at hand.  So I wrote a song called “Love Surrounds You Everywhere,” and Phyllis sang it.  I wrote the lyrics for it.

TP:    “You Taught My Heart To Sing” just seems like a natural.

TYNER:  I’ll tell you.  I wanted Barbra Streisand to do that.  I kind of felt as though she could do a good job with that.  Of course, Diane Reeves recorded that.  Sammy Cahn wrote the lyrics.  Somebody mentioned that to Sammy, and he’d heard me… I went up to his New York apartment, and Sammy was on the typewriter, we were back-to-back that way — he had a little spinet.  Sammy said, “Play that again.”  He wanted to hear the actual melody.  He said, “Just play it straight.”  And he was typing away!  He must have had a good…

TP:    Did you play much with vocalists?  Apart from the Johnny Hartman Trio, for which I can’t imagine a more sympathetic trio… Did you have much experience?

TYNER:  Just my sister-in-law, that’s about it.  Because she was around locally in Philadelphia.  I did a thing with Ernestine when she came through Philly.  I worked with a few vocalists around Philly.

TP:    I think of the Bradley’s school of pianists, or someone like Jimmy Rowles, who knew the lyrics and chords for the whole American songbook?  Are you like that?

TYNER:  No-no, those guys are special. Jimmy Rowles and Ellis Larkins.  They’re special!  That’s their thing, and nobody… Also, Jimmy Jones, who played with Sarah Vaughan.  Norman Simmons, who played with Carmen for years.  They’re special guys.

TP:    But in your tunes, is there a narrative, a message, some sort of story?  Are they musical ideas and the story comes later?

TYNER:  Well, that’s what accompanists do.  They learn… I have an idea what the song means.  But those guys know the lyrics so they can construct their chords and the nuances to the music.  But a singer may phrase something, and she says, “It’s raining,” and it sounds like water running off of a rock — whatever.  If he knows that, he’ll accompany her at that moment to give a description musically of what’s happening.

TP:    So in Jazz Roots, when you’re playing “My Foolish Heart” or “Sweet and Lovely,” you’re not thinking so much of the lyrics as of the musical ideas you’re trying to express.

TYNER:  Yeah, and I don’t want to sound like the guy that I was honoring.  I want to sound like me.  It’s just something that reminded me… I had a thing called “Happy Days” that kind of reminded me of Keith, and “My Foolish Heart,” Bill Evans had recorded that, and Monk and Bud Powell… I wasn’t trying, “Oh, let me sound like Bud here.”

TP:    On “Night In Tunisia” you sort of did, but I think it was an accident.

TYNER:  Well, I’m guilty.  Okay? [LAUGHS] Guilty as charged!  You got something on me.  What can I say?

TP:    Are you in the planning stages for the next record now?

TYNER:  I’m thinking about it.  I’ve got a big band date coming up at the Chicago Jazz Festival.  It’s been a while since I recorded it.  We’ve won two Grammies with it.  The big band is still a baby.  I need some time to work on some new charts and new directions I’m hearing with the band.  That’s an ongoing kind of endeavor that I need to…

TP:    You have the big band, the trio, this quartet, the Latin group, the solo activity.  There are these files of activity that overlap and intersect with each other that you can return to and refresh yourself.

TYNER:  Yeah.  I’m not a one-dimensional guy that way.  I try to confound myself. [LAUGHS]

TP:    Do you?

TYNER:  No, it’s not conscious.

TP:    Some people do.

TYNER:  Some people do, that’s true.  Everybody functions on a different level.  What makes one guy happy confuses another guy.  So everybody has whatever vibe, whatever level they’re functioning on.

TP:    You seem like one of the most grounded musicians I’ve ever met.  Did that come from your mother?

TYNER:  I think so.  My mother gave me many gifts, and I think that’s one of the things she gave me.  I either learned or got it from her, inherited certain things… You don’t expect too much.  Just do the best you can.  That’s all you can do!  Do the best you can.  Sometimes we set these goals for ourselves, and we want this… I didn’t set a goal for myself.  I just did the best I could.  I think that’s all you can do.  You start setting goals for yourself, “I’ve got to get here, if I don’t get here by next year…” Come on!

TP:    But it’s obvious that you have a certain sense of destiny. You just said “those are accompanists,” which means, “I don’t think of myself as an accompanist.”

TYNER:  I adapt.  When I did something with Johnny Hartman, Carmen heard that, and she said, “Oh my God!”  She thought it was good!  That’s all.  All it is, is my…

TP:    And when you played sideman on those ’60s Blue Note dates, it was obviously a different mindset.  Obviously, a Wayne Shorter date with you and a Wayne Shorter date with Herbie Hancock are two fundamentally different sides of Wayne Shorter.

TYNER:  That’s right.  Because he and Herbie do well together.  It’s wonderful.  That Miles thing, whatever it is; I don’t know.  They’re very tight.   Bobby and I have that kind of affinity.

TP:    He has that sort of groundedness also…

TYNER:  Well, if you don’t ground yourself, you’ll fall off the handle!

TP:    He can go all the way out like this, but comes back…

TYNER:  I like that about him.  We’ve learned some good lessons over the years, I think, and that’s great!  It’s good to learn from this.  It can be arduous at times, and demanding and challenging.  But as long as it serves you, that’s… It always has to serve you.  You don’t want to be a slave to this.  I love it. I mean, music is a whole other story.  I don’t think you should be a slave to music or anything like that.  I think it should work for you.  It is very demanding, the level that you want to perform, but you can always rise to that occasion if you have the right focus and realize what it is — that it’s there to serve you.

TP:    You always seem to come back to Ellington.

TYNER:  Yes.

TP:    My first record of yours was Plays Ellington, before I even knew about Coltrane.  I didn’t know anything about jazz.

TYNER:  I still play Ellington.

TP:    Did you see Ellington when you were a kid? Did he make a big impression on you always?

TYNER:  Yes, I saw him, and I knew everybody in his family.  I knew his sister, I knew Stevie, I knew Mercer.  But the thing  is, he represented an era in the music that was… I mean, all of it is important.  Louis Armstrong.  Fats Waller.  All those guys.  But Duke had an iconic kind of image in his music.  Duke was a hard worker, traveled a lot.  He really paid his dues and really earned his rep.  He was a consummate genius of music, always writing and always totally involved.  And that kind of sacrifice isn’t… I mean, it’s nice if you can do that.  I like being dedicated to music, but not to the point where it just consumes my every minute.  I’m not that kind of person.  I like a balance in life — whatever balance is.  But a balance for one guy may be not a balance for someone else.

TP:    You’re born in 1938, and when you’re 10-11-12 is right when big bands start to decline.  People like Jimmy Heath talk about going to the Earle Theater to hear the big bands, and playing hooky for school.  Was that any part of your experiences, going to hear those bands, going to dances, things like that when you were younger?

TYNER:  Yeah, we had a band.  Tommy Monroe had a band…

TP:    But did you go to hear the traveling bands?  Say, Basie when you were 15?  Or if Ellington played in Philly in 1953 or 1954, would you go to see him?

TYNER:  I was kind of young.  But I was able to hear the records and things like that… Dizzy’s band.  Lee Morgan joined Dizzy’s band as a kind of child prodigy.  When Lee was about 17, he was in Dizzy’s band.  Benny Golson and a lot of big players were in that band.  Melba Liston, Walter Davis.  So I had a chance to hear Dizzy’s band more than Basie and Duke.  I saw Basie and Duke on TV, and I heard the recordings, but I didn’t actually physically see him until later.

TP:    Did you attend the Ellington Meets Coltrane session?

TYNER:  I couldn’t get there.  I tried.  My car broke down.  I was so disappointed.  Because I knew Mercer. I knew his family.  But I wanted to meet Duke in person.  Stevie told me he knew who I was after I did that album of his music.  But I couldn’t get to the session.  That’s the way it goes!  Now, I heard Duke’s band at the Newport Jazz Festival [1962-3].

TP:    But your mother… So there was a musical environment for you all the time, but she wasn’t the type… A lot of people I’ve spoken to, their parents would take them to live music from early on.  It sounds like she let you be a kid until it was time for…

TYNER:  Thank goodness for that.  I took her to cotillions.  I was very close to my mother.  She was a wonderful person in my life.  I was very lucky.  I wrote a lot of songs for my mother and my sister, my ex-wife, whatever.  I had a very close relationship with her.  So I can conclude by saying that life is good!

Comments Off

Filed under Article, Jazziz, McCoy Tyner, Piano

A Jazziz Feature on Nicholas Payton From 2001

Although “never assume” is a motto I try to abide by, I would be surprised if anyone who checks out this way-station is unfamiliar with the latest firestorm that Nicholas Payton has combusted with his always thought-provoking blog with the statement that “jazz died in 1959.” I tend to agree with the notion that no art form is dead if best-and-brightest practitioners of the idiom continue to play it. But terminology is personal, and Nicholas stands in a line of world-historic artists — Max Roach, Duke Ellington, Roland Kirk, the Art Ensemble of Chicago — who take issue with the notion that “jazz” signifies the totality of musical production.

I’ve followed Nicholas’ own musical production with interest since he emerged on the international scene in the mid ’90s, and presented four or five interviews with him during my tenure at WKCR, beginning in 1995 (a Musicians Show from that year is posted at the bottom of the page). In 2001 I pitched and was given an opportunity by Jazziz to write a feature about him, which appears immediately below.

Nicholas Payton Article for Jazziz (2001):

On a muggy September Tuesday afternoon in a third-floor rehearsal studio nestled between the two bus terminals of Manhattan’s Port Authority, Nicholas Payton is running down a series of Duke Ellington small band transcriptions with a 10-piece unit culled from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, including tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano and singer Diane Reeves.  It’s two nights before opening night of a 23-concert tour called Duke in Small Doses, and Payton is guest musical director for the project.  He’s dressed for the part, dapper in a well-tailored grey suit that contours his compact, powerful frame.  The soft-spoken trumpeter doesn’t need to say much; the ensemble has internalized the music’s groove and flow. while Reeves is fine-tuning her interpretations of songs like “Mood Indigo” and “Azure.”

Payton calls “Poor Bubber,” Rex Stewart’s 1941 paean to Bubber Miley, the King Oliver disciple whose assortment of signifying growls, smears and vocalisms established the tone of Ellington’s ’20s “Jungle music.”  With an embouchure that seems to begin at the back of his neck, he projects an immense, thrilling sound, warm and round and enveloping through the full range of the trumpet.  Never in a rush, he milks the elemental line, creates melodies, sings his song, telling a story that channels Miley’s animating spirit while sounding fresh and in-the-moment.  It’s the kind of performance Payton — now 26 — has been pulling off since he was a teenage phenom in New Orleans, when his ability to infuse Classic Jazz repertoire with idiomatic authority and life force elicited a comment from the late trumpeter Adolphus “Doc” Cheatham — who played with the seminal masters in the ’20s, and was 91 when he recorded with Payton in 1996 — that Payton, born two years after Louis Armstrong’s death, came as close to the Armstrong essence as anyone he had ever heard.

Not that it preoccupies him, but as his career surges, Payton draws skeptical scrutiny from observers who confuse his virtuosic navigation of older styles with a sensibility drenched in atavistic revivalism. It’s the same critique numerous jazz scribes hurl at the oeuvre of J@LC Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis, who a decade ago, as a sign of his regard, sent his 15-year-old homie a trumpet.

The charges don’t hold up. Consider Payton’s diverse 1999-2000 activities, which bespeak an ample comfort zone with the full jazz timeline.  He’s just finished mixing “Nick@Night,” the fourth album by his highly interactive quintet, which has worked steadily since 1996, and sounds like it.  The intricately composed tunes cohere like an extended suite; they explore the polarities of nighttime experience — restfulness and peace versus the spirit of partying.  The orientation is optimistic, decidedly Modernist; references include Bebop, the collective improvisation and harmonic alliteration of post-1965 Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter, the sophisticated grooves of CTI-period Freddie Hubbard, and a range of R&B tropes.  Now Payton’s pondering the next record, a Y2K Armstrong Centennial project featuring a group of Armstrong tunes scored for a 12-piece band, concurrent with a Winter 2000 J@LC commission for an original composition exploring the rhythms and sounds he grew up hearing in New Orleans.  Then there’s the still unrecorded 8-9 piece electrified funk group (he adds an effects unit and wah-wah setup to his arsenal) with world-class local musicians that he leads during his increasingly infrequent New Orleans downtime.

You might call Payton’s ancient-to-future aesthetic a birthright.  His family lived across the street from Louis Armstrong Park, once known as Congo Square, the 19th century locus of the slave trade, perhaps the only place in the Antebellum South where Africans were allowed to play the drums.  Located in the Tremaine district, the neighborhood was home base for numerous seminal New Orleans musicians.  During formative years, Nicholas played in the Young Tuxedo Brass Band, a unit formed at the turn of the century which specialized in traditional repertoire, and also in the All-Star Brass Band, a group of peers deeply influenced by the rhythmic and harmonic extensions introduced to local vernacular by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.  He soaked up the feeling of Second Line and Mardi Gras Indian rituals.  His mother, Maria, was a former operatic singer and a classically trained pianist who eschewed a career to raise her family; his father Walter, a bassist-tubist and retired educator who is a mainstay of the thriving Crescent City trad scene, would take his young son to Bourbon Street gigs.

After the gigs, Walter Payton would call midnight rehearsals at the house, and from his earliest years Nicholas heard the nocturnal sessions, soaking up music, experimenting on his father’s expensive German bass, the family piano, and drumkits left by drummers like Herlin Riley or James Black, who didn’t care to lug them home in the wee hours.

“He just sat there like a little sponge, observing, absorbing information, not making a lot of noise,” Riley — the nephew of cornetist Melvin Lastie, a pathbreaking figure in the city’s R&B scene, and the grandson of Frank Lastie, a drummer who played in the 1910s with Armstrong in the foundling homes — recalls fondly.  “He was very mature, with a whole package that showed his  potential to blossom and become a great artist.  I think Nicholas is the spirit of Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolden and those kind of people; it lives in him more than any other trumpet player from New Orleans.  He was raised into a TRADITION.  The sound of New Orleans traditional jazz was part of his upbringing; that’s where his roots are.  It wasn’t something he had to reach back for; he took his roots and extended beyond.”

As the youngster entered his teens, he got calls to play in a variety of R&B horn sections, and attended numerous jam sessions at which postbop was the operative lingua franca.  During those years, Payton attended the New Orleans Center of the Creative Arts (N.O.C.C.A.), where Clyde Kerr — a fourth-generation musician whose father, also an educator, hosted ’40s workshop rehearsals attended by important New Orleans musicians like Red Tyler and Alvin Batiste — took him under his wing.

After telling me that he and Walter Payton played their first Mardi Gras parade together in 1960, Kerr recalls his amazement at hearing a 10-year-old Nicholas on trombone with a young brass band “playing lines like a trumpet player would play.  I used to go to those late night rehearsals when Nick was 8 or 9, and he would sit beside me on the sofa and try to play the music.  It might have been over his head, but he approached it from a very serious perspective, the way it should be done.  By the time he was at N.O.C.C.A., he had a vast repertoire of traditional music; I asked him where he learned it all, and he said, ‘Man, I don’t know.  I just know it.’ It made me think a bit about reincarnation, that he’d been here before.  Then also, I did a record called ‘No Compromise’ where I play a solo where I’m stretching, trying to find new sounds, approaching the trumpet like a saxophone — Nicholas was able to sing it verbatim as a young guy.  Once he hears something, he never forgets it.”

Payton credits progressive New Orleans elders like Kerr, drummer Alvin Fielder (he appeared on Roscoe Mitchell’s paradigm-shifting 1966 recording Sound) and saxophonist Kidd Jordan (the father of flutist Kent Jordan and a world-class speculative improviser with close ties to Chicago’s AACM) as mentors who imparted to him the notion of a global aesthetic.  “When I was at N.O.C.C.A., Clyde Kerr never taught us patterns,” Payton recalls during a lengthy conversation in his hotel room the night after the rehearsal, “When he caught us doing it, he would put us in check, saying, ‘No, the heart is what counts.’  He told us to feel.  His manner of teaching and his expression still impresses me.

“New Orleanian musicians have always had a hip thing about the way they play; some of the world’s best musicians live there — you walk up the street and there they are.  A lot of attention is focused on the pioneers — Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet and Jelly Roll Morton.  But New Orleans produced great, forward-thinking musicians, such as Ed Blackwell or James Black, who were innovators of the drumset.  James Black was swinging out in straight-ahead 5/4, not playing 3/4-2/4 patterns; he referred to Elvin Jones and Ed Blackwell and Max Roach, but had his own conception of the drum.  He lived right around the corner from us; he’d come to our house like at 3-4 in the morning and play, and I would sit at the piano and he would try to show me these things.  I was only 12 or 13 around the time he passed,  but I learned a lot about composition from him.  He’s one of my heroes.”

Not that Payton’s taking his music to the outermost partials, but he shares the iconoclastic sensibility of his mentors.  “I loved science, particularly chemistry, when I was in school,” he declares.  “I contemplated studying to be a chemist, but by high school I knew I wanted to be a musician, and nothing interested me more.  Music is a science.   What’s similar is the feeling of exploration from mixing and combining the bits and pieces of different elements towards an infinite number of possible outcomes.  I like to think for myself.  I’m not the kind of person who can memorize an end result and regurgitate it.  I have to understand the source, so I can create my own perspective, and not go by someone else’s interpretation.  In school I’d want to know why a particular theorem took its form, what a concept actually meant, and I’d get frustrated when people couldn’t explain those things to me.  I spent a lot of time in the library researching the information, and I would challenge the teachers, which got me in trouble sometimes.

“In music I realized early on that I wanted to stay away from the books with patterns and chord changes, from ‘play this on a C7.’  I felt it was too easy, that it wasn’t a way I could get at what I heard on the records at my house.  I wanted to find my own notes, to find the feeling.  So I went to the records to research what Miles Davis was doing on a particular tune on Four and More, which is the record that made me decide I wanted to play jazz, or to investigate Lee Morgan or Clifford Brown or Kenny Dorham, and tried to formulate my own idea about what actually was happening.  It’s almost like I started in the ’60s, then worked my way back to New Orleans.  When I began to play, I was doing a lot of traditional New Orleans gigs and playing in the brass bands, so I wanted to listen to something different.  It took me a couple of years to get back to Louis Armstrong and King Oliver, and study them in depth.  I feel very comfortable and liberated playing that music — I grew up doing it, it’s quite natural for me, and I can do so without feeling like I’m not free.  I’ve tried to understand their trumpet styles so well that I’d avoid replicating their solos and not play cliches within what they did.

“I love playing in different styles; to me it’s not old or new, just a different means of expression.  Whenever I play, regardless of the context, I’m inspired by that moment, and I try to fit in.  The music of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five won’t sound right if you play some pentatonic tritonal substitution.  I’m all for updating arrangements on old tunes, but it works better when you play within that specific style.  You can be just as creative and free in that sound as in an Ornette Coleman kind of sound.  There’s no harmonic or any other limitations in playing the older music.  You’re not going to play anything Louis Armstrong didn’t play, or think differently about rhythm.  Things that cats calculate now, he was doing naturally years ago — playing 5-over-4 or 3-over-4, playing flat-IX over a major-IX chord or a major-VII over a dominant VII chord.  All we’re doing is an extension of those things, and there’s greatness in all of it.”

Like many musicians of his age group, Payton is fascinated with rhythm and its connective permutations.  “It’s interesting how African rhythms blossomed differently according to what region slaves were brought and what culture they were mixed with,” he reflects.  “You can hear the clave in all the Caribbean rhythms, and even in New Orleans rhythms; there are so many different transmutations of that same thing.  Now, I’m not keen about the term ‘world music’; there’s been a trend to put a big umbrella over a whole range of sounds which are specific to certain cultures and regions, which neglects the depth and nuance and complexity of each entity.  But jazz was always a hybrid and mixture of numerous influences.  In New Orleans, the African and Indian rhythms were mixed with the European classical influence among Creole families, which you can hear most notably in the contrapuntal improvisation of someone like Sidney Bechet or the compositions of Jelly Roll Morton — and then the Blues and Spirituals.

“I don’t want to clutter up my music, because to me the most important thing is a strong melody.  I’m a harmonic freak.  Sometimes the guys in the band get on me, because the more I write, I keep sticking in chords, and it’s not that easy to play.  I just love a beautiful chord and the way harmony moves, and I love Classical music, particularly the Impressionist composers like Debussy and Ravel.  But I love rhythm, too, because I grew up playing in the brass bands with that bass drum and snare drum.  Kenyatta Simon, the percussionist who plays with my funk band and has worked with me on my Louis Armstrong project, has turned me on to the rhythms of Mali and Ghana and shown me a lot about using percussion.”

Asked what he’ll listen to on the road, Payton animatedly pulls out CDs by a pan-diasporic array of ambitious composers, including Brazilian visionary Hermeto Pascual and Pascual’s associate Carlos Malta, as well as Gil Evans, Claire Fischer, the late ’80s orchestral recordings of Wayne Shorter (“his music contains everything”), Ralph Irizarry’s up-to-the-second Salsa, a variety of Afro-Cuban records — and Frank Zappa.  “I have all of Zappa’s records — ‘Jazz From Hell,’ ‘Yellow Shark,’ ‘Studio Tan,’” Payton exclaims.  “He wrote things for symphony orchestra that are unbelievable, and did amazing things metrically, contrapuntally, harmonically.”

Impeccably performed like his three previous quintet recordings, “Nick@Night” lays a tantalizing beat behind Payton’s learning curve; like the others, it’s a remarkably candid document of his personal work-in-progress.  “In a way I was searching to tailor the music more for the personalities of the guys I work with, and let them speak, in the tradition of Ellington,” he noted last December in a follow-up phoner.  The virtuoso band — suave early-30s saxophonist Tim Warfield, who offers breathe-as-one precision in the ensembles and passionate tone and convincing narrative in his solos; 28-year-old pianist Anthony Wonsey, an immaculate comper and spot-on soloist with pristine touch who studied with ’30s Armstrong arranger Zilner Randolph as a Chicago youngster; Reuben Rogers, a fluent big-sound bassist with Swiss watch-precise time; and energetic drummer Adonis Rose, Payton’s N.O.C.C.A. classmate — rises to the occasion.

“My career actually has been a slow process, which is what I think allowed me to grow and survive and keep a band out there,” Payton remarks.  “All the major labels approached me about signing from when I was 15 or 16, and I put it off for four years.  I didn’t want to jump on that whole young lions bandwagon.  I wanted to take the time to learn what I needed to learn and develop a foundation so that I would have something to rely on.   When I started touring with my band, we had maybe two weeks worth of gigs the whole year.  My second record was received pretty well, didn’t sell that great, but there was a lot of buzz.  When I performed and played, we tried to give people something personal, and they didn’t forget it; the next time they brought somebody, and the next time they told someone else — and then I was working 9 months out of the year.  It wasn’t some big media blitz.  It was just from me trying to play good, honest music.

“I want to maintain that throughout my career.  No matter how far we stretch out, which we like to do, I think it can be done in a way that doesn’t alienate people.  We can play something that grooves, something that totally burns out, even something totally free; people can see the history, how everything is tied together, and they dig it.  The audience is and always has been very important to me, maybe because of my roots in New Orleans, which is very people oriented.  For me there’s not even such a thing as playing for myself, because if it doesn’t move anyone else it does nothing for me.  Nobody wants to be alone in this world.  Nobody wants to be not appreciated.  Now, that doesn’t mean you have to compromise yourself or your artistic vision.  This music is vast, and I don’t like to box myself into any particular style.  I like to present how I’m feeling and what is real to me at that moment, and I always want to do that.  It’s worked for me thus far.”

It’s certainly working at an exuberant second-night concert at Alice Tully Hall; Payton — part and parcel with his holistic conception — pays strict attention to the function.  “To me Duke Ellington’s music is as modern as it gets,” he declares.  “Here we’re playing arrangements on tunes that probably weren’t played live, because the small band recordings were primarily studio  projects; the voicings that sound as fresh and hip as if somebody wrote it yesterday!”  By the tour’s 23rd and final concert a few weeks later in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the band is crisp, playing with spontaneous heat and joyous beat, caught up in the ebullient spirit of the music; “Poor Bubber,” set up as a down-home blues feature for Payton and Lovano, brings down the house.

A few months later, Lovano — who spent about 30 days on the road with Payton in 1999 in encounters including a winter 10-concert Japanese tour with the Ray Brown Trio on which the two were co-equal guest soloists as well as the subsequent “Duke In Small Doses” junket — is happy to offer a considered, cut-to-the-chase encomium.  “Nicholas is a total musician who draws from a rich vocabulary,’ the tenorman begins, “Though he loves all kinds of music and is up on everything happening today, he embraces the whole history, not just the way certain people played at his time.  You can hear that he grew up studying the personalities that emerged in jazz, how they played as well as what they played.  There’s a deep-rooted concept of feeling in his sound, not brash and edgy, but filled with warmth and beauty, no matter what tempo or what kind of tune it is.  You feel his sound at the mention of his name.  Nicholas plays from a beautiful place, and beauty is a rare thing — it either happens or it doesn’t.

* * *

Nicholas Payton Musician Show (3-15-95) — (WKCR):

TP:    What’s impressed me and a lot of other people since I first heard you is the quality of your sound, your ability to project a real volume from the instrument while keeping a capacious burnished tone.  It’s the type of sound you’d associate with brass players from New Orleans historically, where you’re from.  I think I could tell without knowing you’re from there.  You’ve been playing the trumpet almost from birth.

PAYTON:  I’ve been playing since I was 4 years old.

TP:    Let’s talk about your early years and your family history and so forth.  Both your parents are musicians, and your father’s a professional musician.

PAYTON:  Correct.  I asked my father for a trumpet at age 4.  I’d always been fascinated with the trumpet.  It symbolized some sort of strength or whatever.  The trumpet player usually played the lead or the melody, and I just liked the sound of it, moreso than the instruments.  I was fascinated with the trumpet the most.

TP:    Now, when you’re saying that, the implication is that you were seeing trumpet players already through your father’s activity, I would assume.

PAYTON:  Yes.  Well, my father used to bring me out on gigs with him and there were many rehearsals at my house.  I grew up listening to trumpet players like Leroy Jones, Wendell Brunious, Clyde Kerr, Jr., Teddy Riley.  So there were a lot of great trumpet players.

TP:    Now, in New Orleans, for reasons that combine economics and culture, there’s a lot of traditional music and older styles of playing are active and current and in the air moreso maybe than in other places.

PAYTON:  Right.

TP:    So you were hearing a wide range of approaches to trumpet, I suppose, from that early age as well.

PAYTON:  Definitely, from the early beginnings of the music all the way up through to now.

TP:    Talk about the dynamics of the New Orleans scene, how the older music intermingles with the newer, and the sensibility of the players.

PAYTON:  New Orleans is basically a tourist town, so the entertainment industry is geared toward older styles of music basically because people who travel to New Orleans expect to see a certain thing.  That’s good, in a sense, because that helps perpetuate that music, but in another sense a lot of the players who are more interested in more modern forms of the music don’t get as much of an outlet to perform and work in New Orleans unless they go elsewhere.

TP:    Another aspect of the music in New Orleans is the perpetuation of the second line and marching bands, some of which have been going on for several generations, some back to the time of Louis Armstrong, which is another source of continuity.

PAYTON:  Definitely.  It still goes on til today.

TP:    You were playing in marching bands from what age?

PAYTON:  I started doing that I guess around 9.

TP:    So what was happening with you between the ages of 4 and 9?  Your father, Walter, is a bass player, and your mother, Maria, is an operatic singer?

PAYTON:  Yes, she’s a former operatic singer.

TP:    Talk about your earlier musical career?  Was it a natural thing?  You picked it up, you did things, they said, “here, if you do this, you can achieve such-and-such”…

PAYTON:  No.  I mean, the first time I learned how to play I was extremely sad.  Everyone, my father and other musicians, encouraged me to play.  Throughout that period they were very supportive of me.  I remember the first gig I did, where I was hanging out with my father while he was getting ready to do a second-line parade (he plays tuba as well).  He took me out with him, and I had my trumpet with me.  So the musicians asked me to play, and I did the whole parade,  It was like two hours we were walking, and I was extremely tired, but I hung in there, and at the end of the gig all the musicians chipped in and gave me a little bit of money, like ten dollars.  I thought I was rich!  But that was like my first experience as far as being on the gig.

TP:    How about formal tuition on the trumpet.  I know you studied with a very strong trumpeter in New Orleans named Clyde Kerr.

PAYTON:  Right.  I studied with him.  He was one of my early influences.  I remember having rehearsals at my father’s house; Clyde would be on the gigs a lot of the time.  I used to sit by him and play his parts with him, or just watch him.  He knows a tremendous amount about the music and the trumpet, and the love and the beauty of the music in terms of… He has a real lyrical sense, and he really turned me on to Clifford Brown and a lot of different things.  I’m always grateful to Clyde for that.

TP:    One thing about the older musicians in the New Orleans area is their combination of functionally having to play the traditional music, and mastering it and respecting it, but also being very interested in contemporary music and new developments.  People like Kidd Jordan and Alvin Batiste and various visionaries have come through there.  Louis Armstrong himself combined that sense of being rooted in the vernacular and creating something entirely new, and we’ll start out the Musician Show with two classics by Pops.  Now, you’ve been pretty much immersed in performing his music publicly in the last six months to a year, and I’m sure way before that.

PAYTON:  Well, I didn’t really get into the music of Louis Armstrong until later in my playing, when I was 17 or 18.  Before that, I was just really into Miles and Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro and Lee Morgan.  Then I started listening to Louis Armstrong.  I took that style of playing for granted because I had grown up in New Orleans, and I had heard it a lot, but I didn’t really see the beauty of Louis Armstrong’s playing until I started listening to the recordings.  Then I saw how great he was.  I had an image in my mind of Louis Armstrong just being an entertainer and joking around.  I didn’t take him seriously as a trumpeter.  When I went back and started listening to his recordings, I realized how great he was.

TP:    This has been done ad infinitum, but I’d like you to briefly talk about the characteristics of his style that are pertinent today, to you.

PAYTON:  First, he had a huge sound, a very great sound.  It was very personal and very distinctive.  He had tremendous amounts of endurance.  A lot of the pieces that he played, especially in the ’30s period with the big band, like “Swing That Music” and “Jubilee” and “Chinatown,” where he takes these extended solos where he plays all these high notes and ending on like F’s and G’s.  I mean, a lot of people say, “Well, Louis Armstrong didn’t have the technical training” or whatever.  But I’d like to see trumpet players play that now.  It’s incredibly hard.  Rhythmically, he took the music years past what was before him.  Also harmonically.  As Miles Davis was quoted saying once, you can’t play a note on the horn that Louis Armstrong hadn’t already played, and that’s true.  I mean, a lot of things he played with phrases like bebop musicians played later on and whatnot.  So he’ll always be the definitive voice in jazz forever, regardless of how far the music goes.  His place in history can never be denied.

TP:    Now, you’ve had to both replicate his solos and improvise on the solos as well, I guess…

PAYTON:  I never replicated his solos.  I just…

TP:    Okay.  But what are the challenges of playing Louis’ solos for you?

PAYTON:  Well, I guess I’ve sort of gotten accustomed to it because I’ve listened to it so much.  I grew up listening to that style of music, so it wasn’t as hard for me as it may have been for some to approach the music.  But to me, when you’re learning a person’s music or style, it’s not so important to me to know exactly what they’re playing or learn every solo when you’re playing in that style, or to play exactly what they played.  To me, it’s always been more important to get their concept and where they were coming from.  Why did they play this here?  What actually were they doing?  What was his mindset when he was actually playing that.  To get the concept.  That way, when you’re playing in that style, you can be free in whatever you’re doing, and be creative and bring yourself into it, rather than give some kind of recreation of what it is.  Because it’s never going to be as great as what has already been documented.

TP:    Well, Pops came up under King Oliver and formed a lot of his ideas from hearing him play, but of course it’s something very different, and the recordings they did in the early ’20s.  We’ll start with “Dippermouth Blues.” Before we hear it, a few words about King Oliver.

PAYTON:  King Oliver was a great trumpeter.  He had a real hip, bluesy feel.  He influenced a lot of trumpet players, especially with the wah-wah conception that people like Bubber Miley and Rex Stewart and Cootie Williams later employed.  This solo here is one of his most famous solos.  Trumpet players such as Louis Armstrong, Harry James, Rex Stewart…when you play this tune, you almost have to play these three choruses, because it just becomes monumental.  When you play this tune…all the trumpet players who have really played, play this strain when they’re playing this blues.

[MUSIC: Pops/King Oliver, "Dippermouth Blues" (1923); "Potato Head Blues" (1927); Roy Eldridge, "Body & Soul" (1935)]

TP:    Nicholas, would you address what Roy Eldridge did that’s jumping off from Pops, and his own conception.

PAYTON:  Well, one thing is that Roy Eldridge, along with being heavily influenced by Louis Armstrong, was also very influenced by the great Coleman Hawkins.  As you can see, Roy is playing a lot of the longer, linear lines, like Coleman Hawkins was dealing with in the ’30s.

TP:    Trying to play like a saxophone.

PAYTON:  Exactly.  Yet he still has the punchiness and the attack like Louis Armstrong, and was heavily influenced by both.

TP:    What’s interesting is that Coleman Hawkins sat next to Pops in the Fletcher Henderson band in the mid ’20s and was very influenced by him.

PAYTON:  That’s correct.

TP:    You have a piece on your new record that’s very much in the idiom and vibration of Roy Eldridge, a version of “Taking A Chance On Love.”  Talk about the dynamics of his style.

PAYTON:  Roy bridged the gap between the older style, the real straight style of playing, to playing lines more flowingly, more of a linear conception of playing the trumpet.  And he influenced a whole generation of trumpet players, mainly Dizzy Gillespie, who really was influenced by Roy.  Especially on the real early recordings you can tell how much he was into Roy.

TP:    That interaction was memorably record in 1954 for Verve on 9 tracks bringing together Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie.  Nicholas selected “Algo Bueno.”

PAYTON:  You’re about to hear some great trumpet playing.  It’s history being recorded.  These two trumpet titans are really… It’s a good experience to hear where Dizzy was heavily influenced by Roy, but he took that thing and made it his own, and these two trumpet players playing their own style… Stylistically, there’s a difference between them, but Roy wasn’t that much older than Diz — maybe four or five years older.  But they were both great trumpet players.

TP:    One aspect of Dizzy Gillespie’s impact wasn’t just his harmonic innovations, but his rhythmic innovations as well, bring the Afro-Cuban sound into the idiom.  But in New Orleans there’s an implicit Caribbean aspect as well.

PAYTON:  There’s a lot of multicultural influences in New Orleans, being that there were different settlers from all over.  You had French, you had Spanish settlers, you had the Indians.  So a lot of different cultural expressions all culminated into that.  All that goes back to the meetings on Sunday in Congo Square, where the people would get together and play.  That all comes out of that.  The second-line street beat comes out of all those influences.  It comes out of the influence of the march and… Sometimes you see those things where it’s the piccolo and the drum, or also the Afro-Cuban rhythms… It’s all mixed in, and it all comes together…

TP:    That lives on also in the Mardi Gras Indian bands.

PAYTON:  Exactly.  That comes directly out of all that.

[MUSIC: Roy-Diz, "Algo Bueno" (1954); Bird-Fats, "Street Beat" (1950); Clifford Brown, "Donna Lee" (1956)]

TP:    Again, put on the professor’s hat and talk about Fats Navarro and Clifford Brown, the evolution of trumpet sensibility.

PAYTON:  All those trumpet players came out of Dizzy Gillespie.  Fats came out of Dizzy, but he had a different thing, a real personal sound.  He had a huge sound.  He played very lyrically but at the same time being very virtuosic in being able to play long, complex phrases, while at the same time he utilized space and also played lyrically, which is beautiful, which is something that Clifford Brown was very influenced by — the playing of Fats Navarro.

TP:    Talk about playing melodies.  You’ve been quoted — and I can hear this, too — that you always create a melodic phrase even out of very convoluted type of harmonic lines.

PAYTON:  To me that’s the beauty of music.  That’s what it is for me.  Just being able to play a clear, sensible melody is one of the hardest things you can do.  And that’s something I think all the great jazz musicians strive to do over the course of their lives, is just be able to deliver the melodic line.

TP:    How long have you been composing for groups?

PAYTON:  I’ve been composing seriously for three years?

TP:    Do you do it off the piano, off the trumpet?

PAYTON:  It’s a combination of things.  Sometimes I’m sitting sat the piano and something might hit me, and I go on and write it from there.  Sometimes I hear something in my head, and I go to the piano and work it out.  But I never try to write from an instrumental or theoretical standpoint.  I try to hear something that’s singable to myself in my head, something that someone who doesn’t necessarily like jazz or know anything about it could maybe come to the gig or hear it on record, and it’s something that will be singable to them, that could be catch, maybe they’d be whistling on their way home.  I try to think of melodies in those terms.  And I try to write melodies that lead the tune.  I don’t write changes.  I don’t try to write complex changes and then fit some kind of contrived melody over it.  I write the melody to lead where the progression of the tune is going.

TP:    You’ve recorded some standards as well on In This Moment, like “Taking A Chance On Love” and “You Stepped Out Of A Dream.”  Do you follow the dictum of knowing the lyric and keeping it in mind?

PAYTON:  Definitely.  I don’t feel I’m really playing a tune unless I know what the lyrics are and what the meaning of the tune is.  Then you can do whatever you want with it.  I find a lot is lost when you don’t know the melody for yourself as a reference.  I mean it’s good to know what other jazz musicians have played on tunes, definitely.  But you need the score really to see, so you can bring whatever you can bring to it, instead of just getting someone’s interpretation of an interpretation of an interpretation, and by the time you get it the whole melodic structure of the tune may be gone.  So you need that as a reference point, I feel.

TP:    I’d like to talk to you a little bit about sound as well.  At the top of the show I said that I think the one thing that strikes everyone on hearing you is just the breadth and warmth of your sound.  Is it a sound you’ve had in your mind’s ear?  Is it a quality of combining hard work and embrochure and so forth?

PAYTON:  Well, sound is something you always are working on.  As a musician, you’re always trying to develop your sound.  And your sound matures as you grow older.  To me, sound is the most important aspect of playing.  Because that’s the thing that people can most readily identify with — your musical sound.

TP:    It’s your voice.

PAYTON:  That’s right.

TP:    Was this very expansive sound in your ear from your early years of hearing brass bands and other music?

PAYTON:  Well, it’s a culmination of different experiences and different influences.

TP:    We’ll leave it at that, and turn to a trumpet player with one of the most beautiful sounds, Joe Wilder, who spent most of his career in the studios, but has recorded a number of extraordinary small group albums where he improvises at wonderful length, and one was done in 1956 for Savoy, a trumpet and rhythm date with Hank Jones on piano, Wendell Marshall on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums.  We’ll hear “Cherokee.”

PAYTON:  When I first heard this, I didn’t really know much about Joe Wilder.  I had heard his name before.  I knew he had been a member of several different big bands.  But he hadn’t been involved in a lot of solo projects, or really gotten out there. This is an example of some of the great musicians who have been in our music but have never really gotten the opportunity to get their due.  He was a great player, and I think he deserves to be listened to.

[MUSIC: Joe Wilder, "Cherokee" (1956); Clark Terry/OP, "Brotherhood Of Man" (1963); Sweets/Ben Webster, "Did You Call Her Today" (1961)]

TP:    What came to mind hearing those tracks is that all three trumpet players had mastered and assimilated modern harmonic developments, but kept the phrasing and pace and feel of an earlier generation.

PAYTON:  Well, they sort of fit between the mold of the old-style Swing period and the Bebop period.

TP:    A few words about each.  Harry Sweets Edison has a very vocalized style, almost like he’s having a conversation with you.

PAYTON:  Sweets was a truly great trumpeter.  What I love about him is he has great time.  He really gets into a rhythm.  He can swing one note to death.  A great phraser.  Plays beautiful melodies, too.

TP:    Clark Terry is really a total musician.  Miles said because he heard him in St. Louis in the early ’40s, when he went to 52nd Street nothing he heard surprised him.  He seems able to play every area of music with a totally personal conception.  And you’ve had a chance to associate with him in the last few years.

PAYTON:  Clark has helped me tremendously.  Besides me, he’s helped many young instrumentalists.  He’s a great educator, and he’s very patient with young students of jazz.  Besides being a great musician… I’ve stood on the bandstand with him many a night and listened to recordings.  He’s just another one of those great musicians who never really was able to get established on his own, which is really unfortunate.  Clark influenced many musicians, like Miles…he’s just great…

TP:    He’s a musician who played in the big bands, then stayed in the studios because of the economics of raising a family.

PAYTON:  Yeah.  He was one of musicians’ favorite trumpet players, even though he never got exposed to the masses.  Duke Ellington and Count Basie were quoted as saying that he was their favorite trumpet player.  So he had the respect of the whole musical community.

TP:    I’d like to talk a bit with you about phrasing.  On the one hand, people who come up in different times and are affected by what goes on around them think and phrase in different ways, and yet that type of phrasing we heard with Sweets and Clark Terry is classic, part of the idiom.  Let’s say you were approaching that type of material.  Is putting yourself in that frame of mind something you have to think about, or does it come naturally with playing the piece.

PAYTON:  I think I just try to play that way, period.  I always try to think in terms of phrasing, regardless of the period.  To me, it’s all jazz and they all consist of the same elements.  There are differences within different styles of music, but the foundation is always the same.

TP:    With Mulgrew Miller, Peter Washington and Louis Nash at this Vanguard this week, you have a rhythm section that’s capable of both playing extremely creatively in their solo aspect and also totally supportive.

PAYTON:  They’re great.  Mulgrew and Louis are two of my favorite musicians playing today.  They’re both very tasteful and supportive, but at the same time being very great individual soloists.  I couldn’t think of too many people I’d rather work with than those guys.

TP:    Coming up is Miles Davis, a piece we heard you play last night, albeit under its original title and not the royalty-avoiding one.  This is George Shearing’s “Conception,” which Miles Davis recorded in 1951, then subsequently in 1954 as “Take-Off” for Blue Note.  Within your own personal framework, how does Miles Davis come in?

PAYTON:  Miles has been a tremendous influence on my playing.  He totally changed the concept of the trumpet.  Once Miles Davis’ playing came in the picture, that added a whole new thing to the art of jazz trumpet.  He’s a masterful musician, a master of lyricism and phrasing and timing — and had a wonderful sound, of course.

[MUSIC: Miles, "Take Off" (1954); "Old Folks" (1961)]

TP:    We’ll hear three performances featuring trumpeters with Duke Ellington, two of them by Ellington trumpet players.  Nicholas, you’ve had a chance to play quite a bit of Ellington’s music now with the J@LC.  Ellington used his trumpets in so many different ways, had trumpeters with different personalities, and wrote and arranged for the personalities of those personalities, going back to Bubber Miley and Cootie Williams and Freddie Jenkins and Rex Stewart.  Was your first exposure to Ellington’s music as a kid listening to records?

PAYTON:  When I started listening to Ellington, I didn’t realize the magnitude of the great music he composed.  To me, Duke Ellington wrote “Take The A Train” and “Satin Doll,” and that was my extent of my knowledge of what he did.  It wasn’t until later on, when I got into a lot of his extended works that he and Billy Strayhorn both worked on, like “The Far East Suite,” “The Perfume Suite” and all those type of pieces… I remember talking about the Ellington days with Clark Terry, and he shared a lot of memories.  He said, you look at the Ellington band, and you can take the trumpet players who went through that band and get the whole history of trumpet playing practically, just out of the trumpet section, different people who passed through there.  So there’s a lot of rich history in the Ellington band, not only with the trumpets, but all the instrumentalists as well.

TP:    It must extremely useful to you as an improviser to be able to play the music of the great classic composers of jazz, more or less the music’s building blocks, within the Lincoln Center Orchestra, and then come out as a contemporary improviser with your own sound.

PAYTON:  Yes, I’m very fortunate to get an opportunity to play a lot of this music.

TP:    You get involved in its inner dynamics.

PAYTON:  Definitely.  I mean, it’s great listening to it, but it’s a totally different thing when you’re right there in the middle of the band and you can really hear all the parts clearly and really see what’s going on, and you can really see yourself the range of difficulty this music entails.

TP:    And I think what you want to make clear to people is that it’s not imitative, it’s a processing, then filtered through your consciousness, and something contemporary and new is coming out.

PAYTON:  Yeah.  And that’s what Duke Ellington’s thing was about.  When Clark Terry came in the band, he didn’t make him play like Rex Stewart or anybody.  He let him be Clark Terry and based the band around that.  And I think any great leader has the ability to do that.  Like Miles,  To be a leader doesn’t mean to tell your sideman what to do.  It simply means you create an outlet for the player to express themselves, and let them bring whatever experiences and talents they have into it to make it great.

TP:    One of the great individualists in the Ellington band was Ray Nance, who had the trumpet chair for many years, and we’ll hear a feature for him from 1959, “Pie Eye’s Blues.”

PAYTON:  Ray Nance is a great trumpeter, another who was very respected among musicians but never could really get too much out of the big band circuit.  He was a master of muted playing, and also playing with the hat, and had a gorgeous sound.

TP:    We’ll also be hearing a Shorty Baker feature on “Mood Indigos” from Indigos.

PAYTON:  Shorty was a great phraser.  He had a very sweet, sensual tone.

[MUSIC:  Ellington/Nance, "Pie Eye's Blues" (1959); Ellington-Baker, "Mood Indigo" (1959); Ellington/Diz, "UMMG" (1959)]

TP:    We’ll program a marathon set featuring four trumpeters — Kenny Dorham, Freddie Hubbard, Booker Little, Art Farmer.  You recorded one of K.D.’s compositions and performed during last night’s first set — “Fair Weather.”  We’ve spoken of individual voices on the trumpet; no one was ever more so than Kenny Dorham.

PAYTON:  Yes, he was definitely an individual with his own conception of sound.  Unfortunately, again, he’s another one of the trumpet players who never got very wide recognition but was very well respected in the musical trumpet.

TP:    As Miles Davis said, he was playing his own thing and was original.  He developed his own conception, as evident on his recording.  He also influenced Freddie Hubbard, who came up here once and said that K.D. had been a saxophone player earlier and had developed a lot of his attitude from his saxophone experience, as you mentioned earlier about Roy Eldridge.

PAYTON:  Freddie is one of the greatest, personally one of my favorite trumpeters.  He has all the aspects of trumpet playing I like.  He has a warm, big sound.  He has a pile of chops.  Is capable of playing very complex lines that are virtuosic, but at the same time has a  beautiful, lyrical quality about his playing.

TP:    Almost operatic in his scope when he’s really on, from lovely ballads to gladiatorial type trumpet pieces.  Born in the same year as Freddie was Booker Little, and they emerged at the same time.  But we’ll never know what Booker Little would have done since he died at the age of 23.  But people are still grappling with what he did.

PAYTON:  Yeah, he was amazing.  Again, an amazing technician as well as a great trumpet player.  He was very virtuosic, but at the same time played lyrically, as you’ll hear.  The way he plays over time is so free and flowing, but at the same time you could still hear the continuity of the piece within his freer time even though he’s playing over the beat.  Booker Little never really developed his full potential because of his untimely death, but all the trumpet players at the time, when Booker Little came, were frightened by him.  I heard Freddie telling about Booker Little, that when he first heard him he was scared.  He said he’d never heard anyone play trumpet like that.  He was great, as well as a great composer.

TP:    Talk a bit about what was great and distinctive about his compositions, and the implications of what those compositions might subsequently have been.

PAYTON:  His music was very intellectual, but at the same time a lot of the melodies were very  simplistic while being complex, which I love.  He had the ability to appeal to people’s highest sense, but at the same time, it’s something someone could relate to on the most tangible level.

TP:    Kenny Dorham also had a lot of trumpet players note his slickness, his ability to go in and out of phrases, and connect…

PAYTON:  Yeah, he was a master of playing turnarounds and stuff like that.

TP:    Finally, concluding the set, we’ll hear a 1964 performance by the Art Farmer Quartet with guitarist Jim Hall on “Stompin’ At the Savoy.”  We’re talking about another of the great individualists of the trumpet, and someone whose every note seems clear as a bell, whose thought process you can hear.

PAYTON:  Yeah, Art Farmer was and still is a great melodist, a great trumpet player.  He was a big influence on my playing.  One of the tracks I do on my record, “It Could Happen To You,” which I do with guitar and bass and drums, comes right out of the quartet stuff we’re going to hear.

TP:    Another thing about Art Farmer is that he never stops challenging himself conceptually and compositionally.  He’s always bringing in new material, and it seems that the harder the piece, the more he wants to play it.

PAYTON:  Yeah.  He has no limitations or any hangups about playing material.

TP:    Well, Nicholas Payton seems to be going in that direction himself, and he’s at the beginning of what promises to be a very interesting career to follow, which I’ll certainly be doing.  You can hear where he is right now at the Village Vanguard.

[ETC.]

[MUSIC: KD, "Lotus Blossom" (1959); Freddie, "One Finger Snap" (1964); Booker/Max, "Garvey's Ghost" (1961); Art Farmer, "Stompin' At the Savoy" (1962)]

Leave a comment

Filed under Article, Interview, Jazziz, New Orleans, Nicholas Payton, WKCR

For Dave Holland’s 65th Birthday, a Jazziz feature from 2004

In honor of the 65th birthday of Dave Holland, the master bassist and composer, I’m posting a pair of features—one for Jazziz, from 2004; the other for DownBeat from 2005 in recognition of his victory in the DB Critics Poll.

Jazziz Feature:

“Nine times out of 10 when bass players subbed for Ron Carter in Miles’ band,” Herbie Hancock recalls, “Tony Williams would play really loud to cover them up, so they wouldn’t interfere with what the band was doing. And we would know in the first bars whether they should be covered up or not! But we didn’t cover up Dave Holland. His instincts were adequate and it sounded cool. ‘OK, he’s cool.’ That’s what it was.”

It was the end of the long, hot summer of 1968, and the Miles Davis Quintet was beginning a three-week engagement opposite Max Roach at Count Basie’s in Harlem. Holland, a 21-year-old Englishman with blond hair that fell over his shoulders, had flown to New York from London the previous afternoon, brought his bags to Jack DeJohnette’s apartment, and visited Herbie Hancock to review a few tunes. “I turned up at the club the next night and started,” he recalls. “I didn’t talk to anybody; I was just waiting to see what would happen. The next thing I know, Tony Williams is sitting behind the drums, so I get up and take my bass, and still nobody said anything. And Miles goes up to the mike and starts playing the first tune. It was ‘Agitation,’ which I’d heard on record — really just a trumpet line. And then the band comes in with a fast tempo, and we’re gone.”

Thus, the master bassist launched the still ongoing American phase of one of the most distinguished careers in late-20th-century jazz — one marked by inspired musicianship across a 360-degree range of styles. A high-visibility form-buster at the cusp of the ’70s with Miles’ late-acoustic and early-electric bands, Holland bolted when Miles started moving from abstraction to funk. During the remainder of the decade, he navigated uncharted terrain with fluid structuralists Chick Corea and Anthony Braxton and improvised from the tabula rasa with Sam Rivers. He developed a singular language for solo bass and cello. In Gateway, an open-ended trio with John Abercrombie and DeJohnette, he dissected rock, funk, and world-music grooves. And he demonstrated his bona fides in the jazz tradition as a valued sideman in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra and in groups led by such iconic tonal personalities as Stan Getz, Betty Carter, and Thelonious Monk.

Along the way, Holland created the lyric masterpiece, Conference of the Birds (ECM, 1972), conjuring a set of tunes so strong that even the ferocious gusts of Braxton and Rivers couldn’t fracture their melodic essence. Still, Holland eschewed leader ambitions until 1980, when he fell seriously ill with endocarditis, an infection of the heart valves. He recovered, took stock, and decided never again to neglect inner imperatives. Within a few years, he’d joined forces with M-BASE rhythmetricians Steve Coleman, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, and Robin Eubanks, and with them made a series of records containing some of most compelling speculative music of the ’80s. By 1994, Holland — influenced by a decade of metric exploration and extensive “inside” playing with Hank Jones and Herbie Hancock’s trio — was beginning to look for, in his words, “a harmonic context” within which to frame his personal vision of music. As he told me that year in his precise, meticulous manner, “I’m increasingly involved in creating closed-form music with an open-form sound, creating rhythmic disciplines, writing structures which create possibilities that you wouldn’t necessarily stumble across in open-form playing.”

By 1998, Holland’s quintet comprised Eubanks, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, saxophonist Chris Potter, and drummer Billy Kilson — each a virtuoso improviser of formidable skill. All contributed pieces to Prime Directive (ECM, 1999) and Not For Nothin’ (ECM, 2001), albums that document a unit supremely in balance. Never sublimating their voices, they play with an attitude of openness and ensemble community. These albums are filled with episodic themes, memorable melodies, elegant harmonic progressions, loads of polyphony, call-and-response, background riffs, and a global array of interlocking rhythmic cycles. Propelled and knit together by the leader’s relentless grooves, singing sound, and harmonic acuity, they stand as meaningful signposts of what contemporary jazz can be.

“I combine simple and complex elements,” Holland says. “The music has inner layers that make it interesting to play repeatedly over a period of time. I try to integrate the soloist and rhythm section. I write the counterpoint into the compositions, but it continues on seamlessly when we move into ensemble improvisation.

“The tonal density of keyboard often is not what I’m looking for when I structure music. I’m trying to structure it with air. When I write a large chord with a big span, I want there to be space inside it so that it resonates in an open, transparent way. In the early days I didn’t want to use a chordal instrument; I was writing for open form along the Ornette Coleman model of having a very distinctive melodic line, sometimes with accompanying harmonies, which would launch the piece into a certain sound. But as the ’80s progressed, I started to write increasingly in a way that I needed that chordal presence. Guitar with Kevin Eubanks worked really well for me; the instrument has six strings, and you have to play it with a certain sparseness. Vibraphone is the same way; four mallets is the maximum you can expect to play with, so you’re limited to four-note chords.”

Holland extrapolated those quintet concepts for 13-piece orchestra on his most recent album, What Goes Around [ECM], a 2002 poll-sweeper and Grammy nominee. “The idea was to enhance the improvisational aspects of the music with a broader palette of composition and colors, and a larger cast of characters to write for,” he says. “I was particularly influenced by the way Thad Jones wrote so beautifully for all the instruments, so that each part is interesting unto itself, has its own logic and function, and feels like a melody line. I see the written material as functioning like a pianist or vibraphonist might work. The band comes in and provokes or pushes the soloist in certain ways, but they don’t pull the attention away.”

The content meets the hype. Lyric, contemporary, and constantly stimulating, What Goes Around contains some of the most consequential large-ensemble music in recent memory. “At first, I was intimidated,” Holland says matter-of-factly about his decision to take on the project. “I never trained as an orchestral writer; I got my guidelines through listening to records and reading books. But I felt it was time to take on the creative challenge of enlarging the vocabulary I was working on. My wife, Clare, has always encouraged me to rely more on gut feeling — that first reaction to something. It’s helped put me in touch with how I feel about music. I’ve tried to focus in on that musical language in recent years, and not be afraid of romanticism or lyricism. During the ’70s, I was around a lot of ground-breaking music, and I admired people like Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers so much that I felt my pretty little songs were maybe a little too mundane. I’ve stopped worrying about that. Let me just put it out there and, as the Sufis say, ‘plant your banner firmly in the desert sand’ and let people see where you are.”

BREAK

Observed in retrospect, the 40 years of career-shaping twists and turns that comprise Holland’s oeuvre have the appearance of an inexorable conquering march. He began his journey 57 years ago in the inauspicious environs of Wolverhampton, England, a Midlands steel city that in 1951 held some 160,000 souls.

“There’s no music in my family at all,” Holland relates. “My father, who left us when I was about a year old, apparently was an amateur saxophone player in the Army during the war, but I didn’t know him or his family. We lived with my grandparents. My grandfather and uncle worked in factories, and my mother was a secretary. It was a happy house, and I was always encouraged to play music. They’d get me to play my ukulele at family get-togethers and things like that. My mother remarried. It was not a successful marriage, and we had some problems in the family. So I left school when I was 15 to help her out.

“I’d started playing bass guitar in garage bands when I was 13, but it hadn’t occurred to me to treat music as anything but a hobby. I realized that I was making a few pounds a night playing dances and so on, and decided to do it professionally. Then I thought I should hear some other bass players. I found Ray Brown’s name in a DownBeat poll, bought Affinity and Night Train by the Oscar Peterson Trio, and said, ‘I want to sound like that!’ A week later I had an acoustic bass. I memorized Ray’s walking-bass lines, the same as I’d learn the melody of a song, and incorporated the ideas on gigs, reassembling them in my manner. By that process, I learned how to construct the shape of the line, how to lead the harmony, how to support and launch the soloists.

“Jazz connected with me emotionally but also intellectually for the incredible precision and level of playing and for the dialogue that goes on. The idea of conversation has remained a key element for me all the way through. No other music in the Western world is like it because it’s an in-the-moment narrative and it’s different every time. But I had no ambitions to be a ‘jazz musician.’ I just wanted to be a musician and play jazz as one of the things I could do.”

In the summer of 1963, Holland took his first job as a professional acoustic bassist, playing music by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Glenn Miller with a 15-piece dance band at resorts in northern England. At season’s end, a tenor player in the band offered him a gig at a Greek restaurant in London. Holland seized the opportunity. The ambitious teenager began to create a new context for his life.

The period is not well-documented, but Holland’s London years contained the seeds of everything he would subsequently do. He dual tracked, sitting in at clubs in the hopes of networking into London’s fractious, rambunctious jazz scene, and took lessons from James E. Merritt, the principal bassist in the London Philharmonic. Merritt encouraged the prodigy to enroll at Guildhall Music School in 1965.

“I played all the time,” Holland says. “I was principal bassist in the school orchestra after the first year. So, apart from preparing for my bass lesson, I had to prepare the bass section for the orchestral repertoire. I played ‘Rites of Spring’ or the music of Bartok with rehearsal orchestras, and did contemporary chamber music by Xenakis, Penderecki, and Stockhausen. There was a big New Orleans revival in England in the ’60s, and initially I played a lot of Louis Armstrong Hot Five and King Oliver arrangements in pubs. It made a lasting impression. I loved the layers of sound when the clarinet, trumpet, and trombone were improvising together. That’s one reason why I loved Ellington and Mingus. My bands have never been about solo after solo, but about collective dialogue.”

Holland also began to absorb music from non-Western cultures, taking advantage of London’s large Indian community to hear concerts by Vilad Khan and Pannalal Ghosh before informed and enthusiastic audiences. “The incredible development of rhythm in Indian music, the discipline of learning these very involved cycles, and how to subdivide them, was very influential,” he notes. “Evan Parker introduced me to the UNESCO series of world-music records, and I listened to music from Tibet, Afghanistan, and Central Africa. The rhythmic complexity and polyphonic aspect of Pygmy music was incredible. I’d never heard anything like the way two voices would integrate the rhythms and tones so they bounced off each other and created a third, completely different element.[“]

By 1967, Holland was one of London’s busiest session bassists. “I was starting to get a reputation as a good reader, and by this point, they knew that I played a lot of jazz,” he says. He received a call to sub on a recording by the John Dankworth Orchestra of Kenny Wheeler’s Windmill Tilter, a narrative composition of nine movements based loosely around the Don Quixote story. “I got to the studio and played this incredible suite of music,” he recalls. “It was complex, and once I listened to the record and heard the detail of the writing, it blew me away. That was my earliest creative big-band playing. I also played with the Chris McGregor Brotherhood of Breath, which had musicians like Dudu Pukwana, Louis Moholo, Mongezi Feza, and Johnny Dyani. The collective spirit of the music had a big effect on me. Chris was influenced a lot by Ellington, by South African traditional music, and by the contemporary music of Cecil Taylor. He mixed free playing with powerful rhythmic counterpoint melodies that he’d write for the band. And the band played them with an incredible freewheeling spirit. It was like no other band I’d ever played with, and the most interesting big-band work that I did in England.”

Holland’s flawless musicianship and utter disregard for dogma enabled him to bridge London’s various cliques. He played with such Eurocentric free improvisers as Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, John Stevens, and Trevor Watts, as well as with post-boppers like John Surman, Tony Coe, and John Taylor. After 1966, he participated in high-level encounters after-hours at premises formerly occupied by tenor saxophonist/club owner Ronnie Scott. Sometimes he arrived directly from gigs with the likes of Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, or Joe Henderson at Scott’s new venue, where pianist Pat Smythe had recruited him for the house rhythm section, with drummers Tony Oxley and John Marshall.

“To me it’s always been important to play for the music you’re playing,” Holland remarks. “In 1968, I was finishing a month-long engagement at Ronnie Scott’s with Pat Smythe behind a singer named Elaine Delmar, opposite Bill Evans, who had Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette. It was high-level playing — standards, nice arrangements, and so on. Miles came into the club fairly early one night and stayed. I presumed he was there to hear Bill and didn’t think twice that he’d even be listening to us. So it didn’t faze me very much, and I kept playing as I wanted for that context. As I was going up to the stand for my last set, Philly Joe Jones — who lived in London at the time — came up and said, ‘Dave, Miles told me to tell you that he wants you to join his band.’ I think had I done anything else than enhance the situation to the best of my abilities, Miles would never have offered me the gig.”

With Miles, Holland learned to be at once anchored and abstract — how to set up a bottom and also fly. And he developed his skills as a soloist. “One thing Dave got from Miles is the ability to project the intention and sound of his ideas on the instrument,” says Jack DeJohnette, a close friend who first met Holland at Ronnie Scott’s in 1966. “Dave can do a solo and grab people like a horn player. He can get an audience standing on their feet. He learned from Miles how to be consistent and focused, like a ray from a laser beam.”

He also found his instrumental voice. “In London, I would put on different masks, depending on the musical situation,” he says. “I’d listen to Ron alter the bass notes and reharmonize the chords. I’d listen to Ray and try to get that walking feeling and interaction. I listened to Scott LaFaro for the freer dialogue and to Gary Peacock with Albert Ayler for more open-form situations. I listened to Jymie Merritt, who is an unsung hero, but brilliant in the original way he broke up time with Max Roach. I was still in that phase when I joined Miles. Then one night, when Tony Williams was still in the band, we were playing a place called the Black Bottom in Montreal, and I remember suddenly feeling that I was no longer any of those people. Something happened, where I felt a connection with myself. I also started realizing that I wasn’t going to succeed in sounding like anyone else. I came back to New York, and my practicing changed. I forced myself to start from scratch. What’s a major scale about? What do these intervals mean? How are they put together? How many ways can I see to reorganize this idea? How can I break down my rhythmic ideas into a system that will allow me to expand on things I’m already doing? I started getting back much more to the building blocks of the music and brought out the elements I wanted to develop.”

Most importantly, Holland learned to shape narrative from musical flow. “I see theater and music as related in some ways,” he says. “In the theater a cast of characters and scenes and events unfold, one leads to another. Sometimes time is compressed and you suddenly find yourself jumping a couple of years. There are moments of drama and contemplation, and emotional climaxes and then lulls. Miles was a master of this whole element of pace. Each night, on any tune, I experienced a different take on how that development could happen. Every performance is a new investigation into the possibility of assembling a sequence of events that takes the listener through an emotional and intellectual journey. What’s important is how you craft that journey and make it work for the listener. In other words, how you portray the music without compromising its elements and language. Ellington’s great suites — like “Harlem Air Shaft” — take you on a trip, a journey through life, a feeling about something. When music works at its best for me, that’s what it’s doing — taking me on a trip.”

BREAK

That three-week engagement at Count Basie’s happened to be Herbie Hancock’s last with Miles. He and Holland would not make music again until 1990, when they toured with DeJohnette and Pat Metheny on DeJohnette’s Parallel Realities project.

“Following that, I expressed to him how much I’d enjoyed it, and he asked if I’d like to do some more things,” Holland relates. “He started calling me for the trio. We played extensively together, and it influenced me deeply. Herbie puts the creative demand on himself to play something fresh every night, even on compositions he’s been playing since the ’60s. That level of improvisation is extraordinary, and so is the dialogue he gets into with the other musicians. He’s taking in everything and throwing it right back out. The joy that he puts into his music somehow released something in me. I was taking music very seriously, maybe too seriously. I don’t mean to belittle seriousness, but seriousness has to be tempered with joy. Herbie brought me in touch with the joy of playing music in a special way.”

Hancock returns the compliment. “I put Dave in the category of Ron Carter,” he says flatly. “That’s the top. He carves out his own territory, which is just as valid as what Ron does. He has a sound I happen to like – very rich. And I like his time, where he places the notes when playing walking bass. But he doesn’t depend on walking. He plays different rhythmic and melodic things — even accompanying the piano — and knows when to move from one to the other. He knows all the stuff harmonically, and he’s very intelligent and open, and responds quickly. Adventurous, too; not afraid to venture into unknown waters. Maybe the key word is balance. He’s an extremely well-balanced bass player, top to bottom — it’s just the way he is. If a bass player is too egotistical or has problems with his own self-assurance or identity, it will affect his playing and, therefore, will affect the rest of the band. Dave is his own man. He’s comfortable with himself, and he’s eager to listen and learn — giving and receiving at the same time. I admire him greatly as a human being. His solid, formidable character, all that love and graciousness and respect for humanity exudes through his playing.”

In spite of all this, Holland, who in 1990 was a household name to anyone with a serious interest in jazz, was still continuing to find it difficult, as he puts it, “to step into the limelight and assert myself in terms of what I wanted to do.”

“As a young man I was quite shy,” he continues. “I would often take a long time to voice my opinion until I saw it was safe to do so. I don’t want to get into psychoanalysis of my childhood, but a lot of things happened then that formulated my approach to dealing with life. Like anyone else, I carried a lot of baggage. Sometimes my democratic and sharing approach would weaken my ability to realize an idea — ‘OK, this is only my idea; maybe I should just let whatever is going to happen, happen.’ Actually, around that time I had a long conversation with Betty Carter. She was like Miles in that she could center in on what was important, and she told me some things that were essential in giving me courage to voice my opinions and be more decisive in following through on ideas. ‘It’s your band,’ she said. ‘Your name is on the music.’”

BREAK

Recorded at the beginning of 2000, What Goes Around is Holland’s inaugural salvo on the big-band front — but probably not the last. “The quintet will remain my full-time project as long as it stays together,” he says. “But I see the big band extending way out into the future as an ongoing challenge.” Last fall, in support of the record, he embarked on a month-long tour of the United States and Europe that served as a platform to develop older compositions and some newer work, including pieces by Robin Eubanks and his old friend Kenny Wheeler. At the tour’s conclusion, he went into the studio with his road-tested unit to make an album scheduled for 2004 release.

“When I started the quintet in ’97 and recorded the first selection of music for the group, I only knew the starting point I wanted,” Holland notes. “I would never have presumed it would lead to Not For Nothin’. In all good bands, the music develops out of the people involved as a group. As the quintet played together, relationships started to appear, and I and the other musicians who are writing have been able to take advantage of the personalities that emerged. That’s now happening with the big band from performing the music every night, which we hadn’t done. Certainly how we use dynamics has developed. Everybody is learning how their own written parts fit in with everything else in the band, which creates a strong, more unified sound.”

That process played out exquisitely during the last set of an exhilarating four-night, mid-tour residence at Birdland. Smiling broadly, his bass firmly planted onstage, Holland struck the downbeat signaling baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan to blow the elemental melody of “Triple Dance.” The trumpets entered with counterlines, then the trombones with another counterline, and the joyful romp — orchestrated by Holland’s endlessly driving grooves and Billy Kilson’s fluent, surging beats — was on. There were no slack moments. The compositions seemed tailored to such distinctive youngsters as Antonio Hart, Mark Turner, Mark Gross, Josh Roseman, and Alex Sipiagin, whose responses propelled the creative momentum. Their deep connection with the music was palpable.

“Miles worked simultaneously at creating a focus for the band but also drawing on the energy and creative power of his younger players,” Holland says. “I’m not prejudiced against older players or younger players; I’m mostly interested in good players. But the player who’s developing and searching and striving gives the music an edge.

“For me, players find each other. You gravitate towards the things that you need to do. And I’ve been fortunate to be in situations where I heard certain players, they heard me, and were interested in working together. Out of that we’ve made some very good music.”

Downbeat Article, 2005:

“I just want dialogue,” says bassist Dave Holland, encapsulating his musical first principles. “The quality of community in ensemble is central to everything I’ve done. Jazz is an in-the-moment narrative, and it’s different every time. No other music in the Western world is like that.”

Musical conversation and endless polyphony permeate Holland’s elegant arrangements on Overtime [Dare2], his second recording with a 13-piece big band and first release on his own imprint.

The title resonates on several levels.

For one thing, Down Beat’s 58-year-old 2005 Critics Poll trifecta winner–Best Jazz Artist, Best Big Band, and Best Bassist–evolved his aesthetics over a long timespan. In the early ’60s he internalized three-horn polyphony performing King Oliver and Louis Armstrong Hot Five arrangements on New Orleans revival pub gigs. He spent 1968 to 1980 on the world stage, improvising extemporaneously on abstract structures and tabula rasa canvases with Miles Davis, Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers. He applied the freedom principle to multiple-meter structures in collectively oriented ’80s units with Kenny Wheeler, Julian Priester, Steve Coleman, Kevin Eubanks, and Marvin “Smitty” Smith. During the past decade, he’s committed wholeheartedly to chordal environments with a quintet featuring vibraphonist Steve Nelson, trombonist Robin Eubanks, saxophonists Steve Wilson, Chris Potter and Antonio Hart, and drummers Billy Kilson and Nate Smith.

For another, Holland commands a slew of time signatures and metrically modulates them into flow, incorporating four-four swing, triplet structures, and enspiriting beats extrapolated from the ritual musics of pygmy society, India, North Africa, and Indonesia.

“Every performance is a new investigation into the possibility of how to assemble a sequence of events that takes the listener through a journey,” Holland says. Renowned as a conjuror of beautiful melodies since his 1972 masterpiece Conference of the Birds,  he facilitates the voyage by molding complex rhythms and harmonies to communicate his tales, conveying maximum meaning with a minimum of notes.

To use Holland’s phrase, Overtime is “closed-form music with an open-form sound.” In the manner of Ellington, Thad Jones, and Kenny Wheeler, all consequential role models, Holland presents customized parts, themselves attractive counter-melodies, to his hand-picked virtuosos—augmenting the quintet are saxophonists Mark Gross, Antonio Hart, and Gary Smulyan; trumpeters Duane Eubanks, Taylor Haskins, and Alex Sipiagin, and trombonists Jonathan Arons and Josh Roseman. He propels their solo inventions with surging, interactive basslines, and responds to them with his own intense variations.

“I’m looking first for a strong individual character to their playing, and secondly, an ability to function within a group context,” Holland says of his personnel. “I prefer not to explain a lot. The musicians need freedom to offer their own ideas and concepts, and not be restricted within the frame of reference you give them. Now, having a structure to work from means you can create tension and resolutions against the structure, which would not be there without the structure. But the written music is a starting point. I’ll hear somebody do something I would never have dreamed of; what I hear happening around me directly affects the ideas I play and develop.”

Urbane and articulate, Holland speaks in complete sentences and paragraphs, and stays resolutely on message. He seems loath to acknowledge that he is the gravitational center of his creative orchestra. But his band members note that they take cues, musical and otherwise, from the leader.

“Freedom isn’t something you always know what to do with,” says Potter. “Dave gives parameters–maybe a completely open vamp section on a rhythmic pattern he’s working on–in which you have freedom that feels more free than Free.”

“Dave takes  risks,” says Smith, Holland’s latest drummer. “He plays loose, over the bar, under the time, and wants to see how far we can stretch. It’s hard to mess up, because everyone is searching for something new and exciting to do. Even the mistakes are golden. He’ll sing me some skeletal pattern that launches the music, usually a clave, in 7 or 9 or 11 or 13. I’ll play it, and maybe add something. He’ll say, ‘Keep that,’ or ‘No matter what you do, I want you to hit this.’ But I’m always thinking about that clave.”

Holland never allows experimental imperatives to interfere with projecting a communicative groove. “Dave is able to transform odd meters and have you nod your head even though it’s not on 2 and 4,” says Duane Eubanks.

“I never played much odd-meter music before this band,” says Smulyan, a veteran of the Vanguard Orchestra, in which Holland played in the early ’70s. “On our first gigs, everyone was counting like crazy. After a few years, I said to Dave, ‘I’m getting a little worried. I’m starting to feel it.’ He just laughed. Now we don’t count. It’s a particular language all its own, and you decode it.

“He’s an amazing bass player. He and I play a lot of bass-baritone figures together, and he’s incredible to hook up with—his pulse, his drive, his sense of rhythm, his groove are all so strong.”

Holland is adamant that freedom entails responsibility. “People’s personal lives are nothing to do with me,”  he says. “My interest is that the gig happens the way it’s supposed to, that the band is ready to play, and that the conditions of our contractual agreements are kept.”

“It doesn’t get much better than this aesthetically, so cats won’t act out of line,” says Eubanks. “Dave’s not cocky. He’s very aware who he is, and he’s satisfied with it. Now, if things deviate, he’ll step in. He’s a stickler for punctuality. He’s at least 10 minutes early every time. Usually 15. Once I missed a flight, though I made the gig. He pulled me over, like, ‘Man, take advantage of the situation.’ Even when he’s mad at you, it’s like he’s not mad at you.”

“Dave’s humility grabbed me first,” says Gross. “He eliminates the distance between bandleader and band-member. For instance, everyone knows I love coffee. Backstage at a gig once, just joking, I said, ‘What is this? No coffee back here?’ Dave went to the promoter and said, ‘Mark wants some coffee. What can we do about that?’ I was really embarrassed! Later he asked, ‘Did you get your coffee, Mark?’ I thanked him. ‘Oh, no problem.’ Of course, once you get on stage, he IS the bandleader, but he commands that through the music, not so much through words.

“He won’t tolerate unprofessionalism or disrespect. Once at a festival, the promoters brought out a vibraphone for Steve Nelson that was like a high school toy set.. Dave said, ‘This is not what he plays on; he needs the professional set of vibes that we stipulated in the rider.’ ‘We can’t get them, Mr. Holland.’ ‘Well, I’m not playing.’ Now, this is a huge festival, lots of money involved. He told the band, ‘Stay at the hotel. This gig might be cancelled. Don’t worry; you all WILL be paid.’”

“A few days after 9/11, we flew to Monterrey,” Hart relates. “That’s a testament to how we feel about Dave, because we were scared; nobody wanted to get on the plane. Before we played, he talked to the people about being strong and turning this tragedy around. It wasn’t a spiritual spiel, but I thought his words were needed, to help us understand we need to push forward, do our job and try to bring beauty into the world.”

With the orchestra booked in Europe for the entire month of July, Holland intends to let the market determine his next step.

“We’ve been able to work consistently throughout the year, but I don’t want to overwork the band or put it on the road when conditions aren’t correct,” he says. “I want everyone to feel good about the situation–that we’re paid properly, and play nice venues.”

Asked how he envisions his sixties, Holland responds, “I tend to do things as they come up.” He cites a forthcoming project with Indian percussion master Trilok Gurtu as an example. “I did a solo concert in Sardinia 18 months ago when Trilok was there with his band, and I invited him to join me at the end for a few pieces. We had a great time, and I wanted to continue. We just spent three days working on new music, and our conversation about some Indian traditions of learning the rhythmic discipline in Indian music gave me many new ideas to think about. If you’d asked about my future plans the week before that concert, Trilok was not in them, but now it’s a reality.

“It’s an ongoing journey that hasn’t reached its end. At least for the near future, the quintet and big band will continue, and this thing with Trilok is the next step. Special projects, like my tour last summer with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Brian Blade, come up periodically. I’ll take it a step at a time, and we’ll see. I’ll let you know when I get there.”

2 Comments

Filed under Article, Dave Holland, DownBeat, Jazziz

For Bud Powell’s 87th Birthday, A 2004 Bud Powell Homage in Jazziz

In 2004, Jazziz gave me an opportunity to write an homage to Bud Powell, who is my “first among equals” favorite, my main man of all the jazzfolk on the timeline. For Bud’s 87th birth anniversary, here it is.

[For further info on Bud, keep your eyes out for Wail, a soon-to-be-released ebook biography  by Peter Pullman -- a link to Pullman's blog here and for the book here].

[And spend some time with Ethan Iverson's exhaustive, four-part post on Bud on his essential blog, Do The Math.]

* * * *

Early in August of 1964, Earl “Bud” Powell, accompanied by his friend and caretaker, Francis Paudras, flew to New York City from Paris, Powell’s residence since 1959, for a 10-week billing at Birdland, Powell’s primary venue during the previous decade, when bebop was in vogue.

Eager to soak up the master, New York’s musicians flocked to the club for opening night. In the liner notes of Return To Birdland, ‘64 [Mythic Sound], Paudras described the scene as he and the pianist arrived.

“There were two rows of men, face to face, on each side of the door. I recognized immediately many familiar faces. To the right in the front line, his face shining with joy, there was Bobby Timmons; next to him, Wynton Kelly, then Barry Harris, Kenny Dorham, Walter Davis, Walter Bishop, McCoy Tyner, Charles McPherson, Erroll Garner, Sam Jones, John Hicks, Billy Higgins, Lonnie Hillyer…there were others, but my memory fails me. Bud stopped short, and at that moment, we could hear discreet applause. Then he started walking toward the stairway, and at that precise instant, Bobby Timmons took his hand and kissed it discreetly. He was at once imitated by his neighbor and all the others with a kind of frenzied devotion… We went down the stairs escorted by this wonderful guard.”

A spontaneous 17-minute standing ovation ensued as Powell approached the bandstand, and the engagement began its roller-coaster path.  Ensconced in a hotel around the corner, Powell touched base with such old friends and colleagues as Thelonious Monk, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey and Babs Gonzalez. He also met a more recent arrival who had changed the scene in his absence.

“One morning we were about to go out for breakfast when the doorbell rang,” Paudras wrote in Dance Of The Infidels [DaCapo], which documents the ups and downs of his five-year relationship with Powell. “I opened it to find a young man standing there. His face looked familiar but I couldn’t place him at that moment. ‘Is Mr. Powell in, please?’ ‘Yes, of course. Your name?’  ‘Ornette Coleman.’ I called Bud and Ornette introduced himself. ‘Good morning, Mr. Powell. My name is Ornette Coleman. I’m a saxophonist and all my music is based on the intervals and changes of the sevenths in your left hand.’”

Perhaps the anecdote is apocryphal or mistranslated; Coleman was not available to confirm its authenticity. But the encomium illuminates the breadth of Powell’s impact on the sound of modern jazz. As is well documented in the history books, Powell extrapolated the innovations of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to the piano and interpreted them with his own singular stamp, incorporating the rhythmic self-sufficiency and harmonic ambition of stride maestros like Willie The Lion Smith and James P. Johnson; the fluent linearity of Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, and Billy Kyle; and the aesthetic of virtuosity embodied by Art Tatum. Such next-generation stylistic signifiers as Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Cedar Walton used Powell’s “blowing piano” style, a staccato attack that evoked the dynamism of a horn, as the primary building block for their own approaches.

If a musician’s music bespeaks a personal narrative, Powell’s biography tells volumes about his art.  In early 1945, either a Georgia cracker, a Philadelphia cop or—citing Miles Davis’ autobiography—a Savoy Ballroom bouncer smashed the high-spirited youngster in the head, triggering the massive headaches and a pattern of impulsively aggressive and self-abusive behavior that found  him confined more often than not in mental hospitals. Heavy use of alcohol and narcotics destabilized Powell’s personality;  repeated electroshock treatments dulled his reflexes and acuity. Yet, between 1946 and 1953,  he played magnificently and made his greatest recordings, for Roost, Blue Note, and Norgran, including original compositions with titles like “Glass Enclosure,” “Un Poco Loco,” “Hallucinations,” “Oblivion,” “The Fruit” and “Dance of the Infidels.”

As the titles suggest, a turbulent, sometimes demonic lucidity permeates Powell’s music. It grabs you by the throat, connecting you to the processes by which various polarities of the human condition—wretchedness and grace, madness and genius, the profane and the sacred—can play out in real time. Sometimes Powell projects the oceanic emotions of 19th century Romanticism through a prism molded by the hard-boiled, warp-speed ambiance of New York City after World War Two. Sometimes the template is not unlike the the piercing novels of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Chester Himes and Hubert Selby, all fellow masters at conjuring vivid, unsparing chronicles of the lacerating consequences of mortal foible.

Born in 1924, Powell honed his jazz sensibility as a teenager,  jamming on bandstands around Brooklyn, Greenwich Village, and, most consequentially, in Harlem, his home turf. At Minton’s Playhouse, he met Thelonious Monk, the house pianist, who was working out the chords and intervals that became the foundation of the music known as bebop. Monk took the youngster under his wing, and, according to drummer Kenny Clarke, his Minton’s partner, he wrote many of his now iconic tunes with Powell in mind, on the notion that he was the only pianist who could play them. You can hear Monk’s influence on several of the 18 sides Powell recorded with Ellington veteran Cootie Williams in 1944, specifically in a tumbling solo on “Honeysuckle Rose” and his jagged comping on “My Old Flame.” Pianist Barry Harris, 15 at the time, remarks on Powell’s finesse, how deftly he “double-timed and ran the most beautiful minor arpeggios” underneath Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s vocal on “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby.” But Powell’s two fleet, elegant choruses on “Blue Garden Blues” show he’d been listening to someone else as well.

“When I met Bud, he was playing pretty much what you would call prebop,” says Billy Taylor, who moved to New York in 1944. “I used to see him uptown a lot, and we hung out. He was light-hearted then, didn’t take himself all that seriously, and was fun to be around. He liked Fats Waller and some other things I liked, and we’d jam together, just playing stride. I have enjoyable memories. We used to argue a lot, because I was very much into Art Tatum, while Bud said, ‘I want to make the piano sound as much like Charlie Parker as I can.’ I said, ‘That’s cool, but that doesn’t use all of the piano. Tatum has some pianistic things that any pianist should try to get into. Check it out.’ He said, ‘I have checked it out, and I know what Tatum plays. But that’s not where I’m going. You work your way and I’ll work my way.’ By 1950, he was making the piano sound just like Charlie Parker. Those lines that he played were long and complicated and very well played. He dominated that instrument. He had all the nuances pianistically under control as he played.”

“All of Bud’s vocabulary—extensive use of arpeggios and arpeggios with chord tone alterations, and playing altered dominant chords in such a way that they resolve to the next chord—comes straight out of Bird,” says David Hazeltine. “But the way he adapted it to the piano was very interesting. Piano is a difficult instrument, and it presents problems for playing linearly that the saxophone or trumpet do not. On saxophone, all the fingers stay on the same keys all the time; it’s a matter of coordinating different combinations of keys, like octave leaps and different positions. On piano, the distance is represented on the keyboard and you need to execute physically exactly what you’re playing—cross over and cross under and so on. Bud’s arpeggios are effortless; he  made his language very playable. It’s bebop and melodic playing without a bunch of acrobatic pianistic tricks.”

A child prodigy, Powell developed his technique through intense study of the European tradition. “Bud was very heavily influenced by Johann Sebastian Bach, and also by the Romantics—Debussy and Chopin,” says Eric Reed, whose information on the subject comes from Bertha Hope, the widow of pianist Elmo Hope, Powell’s childhood friend and himself a musician of brilliance. “He and Elmo Hope practiced the inventions when they were kids. When Bud’s mother would leave for church, they’d start getting into some jazz stuff, and when she came back, they’d be practicing Bach, because they didn’t want to get in trouble. You can hear a connection to Baroque music in the contour and construction of Bud Powell’s improvised lines—the way it moves, the succession of notes, in the complexity of the lines. Bach’s music has a similar rhythmic propulsion, a continuity that’s very similar to bebop.”

Perhaps the most astonishing component of Powell’s tonal personality is how he deployed his technique to conjure fresh, viscerally primal stories at volcanic emotional heat. “Bud never played the same thing twice,” Powell’s long-time drummer Arthur Taylor told me in 1992. “He’d play the same song every night, but it was like another song.” He always elaborated a point of view. As Bill Charlap notes, “Bud dealt with thought and idea and structure and architecture, using the piano to tell you what he thought about music.”

“Bud wasn’t just throwing licks around,” agrees Vijay Iyer, a pianist born almost a decade after Powell’s death in 1966. “You hear him make decisions in real time and act on them. There’s a thought process made audible. That’s what that music was about.   There’s so much at stake in that moment when you’re creating in real time, and to be able to come up with something in spite of all the obstacles and constraints he faced is an inspiring story.”

There are naysayers. A number of musicians, most vociferously Oscar Peterson, consider Powell an incompletely pianistic pianist. “Granted, he could swing,” Peterson wrote in his autobiography, A Jazz Odyssey. “But I never regarded him as a member of the central dynasty of piano defined by such great players as Tatum, [Teddy] Wilson and Hank Jones. Bud was a linear group player, who could comp like mad for bebop horns and could certainly produce cooking lines that had tremendous articulation, but for my taste there was too much that he didn’t do with the instrument. He lacked Hank’s broad, spacious touch on ballads, and he failed to finish his ideas too often for comfort and satisfaction. Despite his strength of linear invention, in fact, he had a technique problem: although other musicians and I could intuit where those unfinished lines were going, an unschooled audience was left to play a guessing game, having to make do with grunts of tension in place of delivered ideas. It took a long time for players like Hank Jones, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, and me to get pupils to realize that the linear approach is not enough on its own. Bud may have symbolized an era, but not true piano mastery.”

Billy Taylor indirectly references this criticism with the following anecdote. “Mary Lou Williams came to Monk and Bud and said, ‘You guys are too good not to have the kind of piano sound you should.’ She brought them to her house, fed them and hung out with them for a while, and literally changed their sound at the piano. I don’t recall the exact date, but each was recording for Blue Note at the time. If you listen to some things from maybe two years later, you’ll hear the difference.”

Today’s jazz people learn touch and everything else in a less homegrown manner, and perhaps the evolution of jazz vocabulary has led younger aspirants to consign Powell to the outer branches of the piano tree. “Bud Powell exemplifies the language of bebop, and he’s the starting point for contemporary jazz piano, so you have to check him out,” says Edward Simon. That being said, Simon sees Powell’s position on the timeline as specialized. “Bud’s harmonic concept was modern at the time,” he says. “But most people today draw on later pianists for harmony. I think his contribution was more in the way he breathed his lines, and connected the notes smoothly, in a legato style, which isn’t easy to do on a piano.”

“They’re the more developed pianists,” says Hazeltine of Hancock, Tyner and Chick Corea. “It’s more impressive at a first listening. Bud’s music isn’t as polished and smooth and slick as, say, the classically schooled Herbie Hancock. I know Bud played Bach and referred to classical music, but that’s not where he’s coming from.”

Hancock is on record that “every jazz pianist since Bud either came through him or is deliberately attempting to get away from him,” a point which Eric Reed elaborates. “Bebop is useful under certain circumstances, but if that’s where you stop, you’ll be limited,” he says. “I think many piano players, great as they think Bud Powell is, try to use that vocabulary in their own way. Listen to Herbie’s solo on ‘Seven Steps To Heaven’ with Miles Davis. It’s in the bebop style in his phrasing and the way he runs the lines, although the notes and harmonies are very different.”

“Bud Powell is definitely in the top ten of the greatest jazz pianists that ever lived,” Reed continues, and numerous pianists, young and old, still regard Powell as the sine qua non. “Most of the younger pianists that I’ve heard, even Chick and Herbie, don’t attempt to get Bud’s rhythmic power,” Billy Taylor says. “Younger pianists play very well, and technically much cleaner in some respects. But I don’t hear that physical will to make the piano do certain things—Willie The Lion used to call it making the piano roar. I don’t think they have the point of reference. Most of them don’t want to spend that much time to get Bud when they don’t think the end result is what they’re looking for.”

Still, Charlap notes, 21st century pianists have much to learn from Powell. “His solos have no loose or wasted notes, and every note clearly relates to the bassline and underlining harmonies,” he begins. “But he also was so free with the rhythm, and created such rhythmic nuance within the line, like playing drums on the piano. It’s not like playing a perfectly even Mozartian scale.  But you have to be able to play those notes very evenly to be able to make the choice of how to make the rhythms pop the way that he did. A Bud Powell solo will deal with all manner of rhythmic devices; he had them at his disposal all the time and would rest on any place of the beat. His solos aren’t just the notes, but the attitude and the way the notes speak—like trying to get wind behind the notes. Bud made that all come through at the piano. I can see how someone who is approaching the piano from Chopin through Liszt may be more dismissive of using the piano to do vocal or drum-oriented things. But before they’re dismissive of it, I’d like to hear them sit down and do it.  It’s a different way of approaching the instrument.  I tell students, ‘It looks the same, but as a jazz musician this isn’t the same instrument that you play Chopin on.’”

“I tend to think of him as a tragic genius, which is found in all the arts,” Moran says. Tormented and impoverished, Powell died in Brooklyn, not long after his 42nd birthday. But his search for truth and beauty at all costs will resonate as long as musicians seek apotheosis in the act of musical creation. Barry Harris recalls a revelatory conversation with New York pianist of his acquaintance. “He said him and some cats went by Bud’s house early one morning,” Harris relates. “He was playing ‘Embraceable You.’ They said, ‘Come on, let’s go and have a ball.’ Bud said, ‘No.’ So they left and did whatever they were going to do, messed around all day, and when they returned that night, and knocked on Bud’s door and went inside, he was still playing ‘Embraceable You.’”

As Harris puts it, Powell practiced playing, and he wasn’t doing it for a school assignment. It was the most serious thing in life.  “A lot of us take this for granted, but they were actually CREATING bebop on such a high level,” Moran says. “It was like a science, and they put a lot of time and experimentation into their process. That’s what makes this music so revered, and everybody HAS to refer to it. Some people can’t stop referring to it.”

[-30-]

2 Comments

Filed under Article, Bud Powell, Jazziz, New York, Piano

Wayne Shorter is 78 Today — A “Jazziz” Profile from 2002

For Wayne Shorter’s 78th birthday, I’m offering a feature piece that I wrote about him for Jazziz in 2002, a year or so before the publication of Michelle Mercer’s excellent biography, Footprints. His amazing quartet with Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, and Brian Blade was then two years old—they continue to evolve and create some of the freshest music on the planet.

[Jim Macnie's posted a terrific interview with Wayne from a few years ago in which he talks about his relationship with John Coltrane.]

* * * * *

“With Miles, there was no music dogma going on. I can’t remember having ONE rehearsal — even when I joined him. Rehearsing, that’s a fertile time for the dogma to raise its ugly-ass head! What are you going to do with the unexpected? How can you rehearse the unexpected?”
— Wayne Shorter.

“When I was a kid,” Wayne Shorter recalls, “my mother would bring home big boxes of clay from Saturday shopping, and we’d jump right into it. Once we tried to make World War Two on our big round kitchen table. In Russia we painted the Red Army and the Blue Army. The American Army was all olive…well, almost brown. We filled up the kitchen sink with water, made submarines, made little people, and put them inside the submarines, which we placed on the bottom. Another time we tried to make the whole world out of clay — a one-dimensional circle with a globe. We had so much clay we could do land masses. If somebody came by and wanted me to do something, like go to the store for them, she’d say, ‘No, don’t bother him now; he’s in his room practicing. He’s drawing.’ Me or my brother. ‘Wayne and Alan, they’re in the imagination room.’”

That Shorter, pushing 70, continues to spend quality time in the imagination room was manifest on last year’s Footprints: Live [Verve], a free-spirited virtual concert culled from a 2001 tour with his working quartet: pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade. They provide Shorter an opportunity to navigate his music within a fully acoustic landscape for the first time since the 1960s, and help him vigorously deconstruct a set of iconic originals — “Footprints,” “JuJu,” “Go,” and “Sanctuary” — that, as Patitucci says, “everybody and their grandmother has performed live” — for the first time since the recording dates that produced them.

“We’re playing with the attitude that there is no such thing as a beginning or end,” Shorter declares. “To say of a piece of music, ‘Oh, that’s been done,’ is an illusion. It’s almost like saying that at 5 years old you’re so many feet high, and that’s it. You’re going to grow. You don’t feel yourself getting taller, but the process continues. I was working on ‘Vendiendo Alegria,’ which is a piece of music that Miles Davis gave me around 1965. He said, ‘Do something with this.’ I last saw Miles at the Hollywood Bowl before he passed away in 1991. The years passed, and the thought started to coalesce that maybe it’s time to start making some albums where everything is not based upon something original. I’ve got all the time in the world to go for those little subtleties that get ignored and are sometimes sold down the river for a knock-em-sock-em, drag ‘em out announcement in the name of innovation or in the name of, ‘Yeah, let’s have something fresh,’ and what’s glossed over and ignored is the lifeblood of what freshness means. What the hell is music for?”

On his 2003 release, Alegria/Joy, Shorter offers some thoughts on the matter. Addressing subjects as diverse as the Portuguese diaspora, English folksong, medieval choral music, Hollywood, and his own experience as a young man in Civil Rights Era America from a variety of angles, he sculpts elaborate fantasy worlds, creating musical lines that take on lives of their own, tracking them with logic and intuition to improvise intricate stories with a minimum of notes, projecting an emotional aura that transcends instrument and genre. Building on group-improvised tracks recorded in the fall of 2000 by the working quartet (replaced on several tunes by Brad Mehldau, Teri Lyne Carrington, and percussionist Alex Acuna), Shorter and producer-conductor Robert Sadin painstakingly layered on the details of Shorter’s vivid orchestrations, working with various configurations of brass, woodwinds, and strings.

It seems that Shorter embraced the notion of music as mutable narrative from the beginning. By his senior year of high school he was writing charts, and he studied composition at New York University between 1952 and 1956. During those years and a subsequent tour of duty in an Army band, he wrote a slew of tunes — among them “Nellie Bly,” “Ping Pong,” “Hammerhead,” and “Sincerely Diana” — that became established as hardbop AABA classics on his subsequent sideman recordings with Art Blakey and as a Blue Note solo leader. He also wrote an attenuated opera called “The Singing Lesson,” inspired by his observations of Italian gangs near the NYU campus in the southern part of Greenwich Village.

“I stopped around my second or third year, when ‘The Wild One’ came out,” Shorter recalls. “I heard that Leonard Bernstein was doing something called ‘West Side Story,’ and I thought, ‘Unh-oh, I’ll catch up to mine some other time’ — which could be now. I have all the remaining pages. I’m going to scrutinize the stuff, rework it, and bring it into its own. To me music is like working with clay. I don’t deify notes, and ‘Well, it’s got to be like when I started.’

“It’s not like ‘Don Giovanni.’ There’s going to be some swinging parts. Not just grooves, but go for it, and still maintain the story. Character actors. The content. The struggle of winning or losing. And a lot of color. Shapes. Obstacles. Obstacles take a musical shape, too. So the audience gets it all. Panoramic. Not just something with an acrobatic, ‘Nice solo, my man.’”

“Wayne has absorbed a lot of the undercurrent elements of classical music,” Sadin says. “It isn’t that he uses violins or oboes, although that can be significant. It’s the structural unfolding of his melodies. The length of Wayne’s things, the way they consistently avoid the usual blocky 8- and 16- measure form is distinct from the vast majority of jazz composition — especially in the era going up to him. His solos also tend to make a big arc and are often quite melodic. He is not content to play through chord changes. He’s working with larger ideas.”

The most recent documentation of Shorter’s increasingly elaborate corpus of original music is the 1995 album High Life, [Verve], a suite for octet and a 31-piece orchestra that, although intended, as Shorter puts it, “to raise the IQ of commercial music,” caught the attention of numerous creative musicians of the latter Baby Boom. But he’s spent the first years of the new millennium paring down and retrospecting, returning to the attitude of speculative improvising that marked his 1964-70 tenure with Miles Davis.

“Ever since he recorded things like ‘Water Babies,’ ‘Sweet Pea’ and ‘Capricorn’ both on his own records and with Miles in ’68 and ’69, Wayne always quoted his own music,” says composer-saxophonist Bob Belden, a Shorter devotee. “That’s when he started to send a message that all his melodies will always be in his book, and he can do with them whatever he wants. He doesn’t believe the dogma that once the 8 bars have been chiseled into stone, you can’t touch them.”

“Wayne’s tunes were always provocative,” says Herbie Hancock of the Miles Davis period. “They would open up passages for your own conception and how you might perform the tune on any given day. Which worked out perfectly for Miles’ band, because we were into reducing things to their skeletal nature, and then each night put the meat on the bones.”

“Miles was famous for changing people’s music around,” Shorter remarks. “Which was hip, though, because the way it was written was square and … bland, let’s put it that way. And Miles brought dimension to it. But when I wrote something, he said it had to stay like it is. Which told me it’s already on its way to being what he wanted. The notes gave him the information. He didn’t have to give information to the music.”

“The first thing Wayne did for Miles, ‘ESP,’ defines the band’s sound,” says Belden. “Where is the melody? Where is the shape? Where is the form? What’s the bass part? What is the true anchor of the song? Well, there isn’t any. It’s the ambiguity. There’s also a level of hipness, the mystery, elegance and sophistication that has yet to be captured by anybody else since Miles in the mid-’60s. You hear it in lines like ‘Dolores’ and ‘Orbits,’ the shading between the major and the minor chord. Also, these guys were all playing the same breath; there were no mistakes. They would discover things at the moment they discovered them, rather than pre-planning it, like most records are made today.”

Although they piggyback their explorations on a much more elaborately rendered set of raw materials than the Miles Davis Quintet operated with in the ’60s, Shorter’s current quartet operates by similar imperatives.

“Wayne brings in highly composed and orchestrated pieces, and we go through them until the form is cemented in everybody’s mind,” said Patitucci a year ago. “Then invariably, he’ll say, ‘Okay, that’s what it is; now I want to delve into it and break it apart and put it back together.’ He wants it new every time — to be expansive, to dwell on the various aspects of the piece at will. You could say the one rule is that there are no rules.”

It takes courage to go out there together and be vulnerable,” Shorter says.  “But John, Danilo, and Brian have the foundation. You take your knapsack, your best stuff that you know, and that’s like a flashlight into the darkness. This band is roll-up-your-sleeves. To them the detail and complexity and orchestration and chance-taking means an adventure, not an experiment. That adventure means facing obstacles and overcoming them, turning poison to medicine. Confronting something. Something some people are leery of or stay away from. Everybody’s life has a dominant something, a self-burden that stops us from doing things. It can appear as a place or a thing or a person — a schoolteacher … a wife. Then you get divorced, and you say, ‘Ah, I got it!’ and then you marry again, but it’s the same wife with a different face. Then you get to a point where you’re flying! People haven’t flown yet. Don’t worry. We’re all going to fly.”

BREAK

A practicing Buddhist since 1973, Shorter focuses on his Tao, and it seems impossible for him not to frame his discourse in metaphoric koans. He was amused — “You don’t want to get philosophical!” — at my lugubrious efforts to steer our conversations away from the aura of “all that is solid melts into air” and onto solid ground. But although jokes about Shorter’s “weirdness” are legion in jazz circles, there is never a moment when he does not, as the cliches go, know precisely what time it is or land squarely on the one. He knows about labor and sacrifice. The tension between speculation and pragmatism, freedom and form, the high and the low, is a consistent trope in his conversation and a defining characteristic of his life and musical activity.

“He went from the most concrete descriptions to the most blindingly allegorical, sometimes within a short space of time,” Sadin says about their collaboration. Hancock elaborates with a story. “When Wayne has to communicate something important and be lucid in a more general way, he is all of that,” he says. “But even after Wayne had been playing with us for a while with Miles, I often couldn’t follow what he was saying. I just figured, ‘Well, Wayne’s a little out there.’ One day I decided: ‘I’ve got to find out whether this guy is a genius or just a little crazy!’ We had a few days off, and I decided to hang out with him until it was clear to me. So we hung out all night, had something to drink, and I went along with the conversation, and figured out a little more about how to listen and follow and play the games. And my conclusion was, ‘Yup, he’s a genius!’

“Wayne is a moviegoer. It’s his nature to be into drama, and his compositions have always reflected that. The world is his stage. The flow of his conversation is very much like the flow of his music. Instead of detailing every step, he jumps from here to there, and then makes another jump. The details aren’t so necessary to fill in. If anything, Wayne wants to stimulate your creativity to fill in those details, to give a deeper sense of what he wants to impart.”

“I had a world I could go into,” Shorter recalls of his childhood. “It was a combination of things — listening to the radio, comic books, going to the movies, and reading my first book all the way through (Water Babies, by Charles Kingsley) when I was 13. I used my imagination to put it all together. Sometimes my mother would say, ‘Call some nice church girl and take her to a movie.’ But I thought I was weird. I was the lone wolf. I didn’t have time for a girlfriend. Instead, I came home from the movies and wrote my first and only comic book, called ‘Other Worlds.’ I always say I’m writing music for films that will never be made — that no one has the courage to make.”

When Shorter’s grandmother presented him with a clarinet for his fifteenth birthday, the prospect of conjuring epic stories with sound was eminently appealing. “What was filtering through all the while was the background music, what used to be called programmatic music and then got changed to tone poems and soundtracks,” he states. “And the music that provoked further curiosity and investigation and taking action came from horror films and science fiction — Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman. It seems like whoever did those didn’t have anybody looking over their shoulder, looking for a hit. I heard bebop and the classic saxophone music on the radio, and I listened every Saturday to a classical program called ‘New Ideas In Music.’ I heard Toscanini conduct his last concert on the radio. I listened to a lot of people. Then I said, ‘This is what I’d like to do, and let me see if I can surprise myself; if I can surprise myself, then I can surprise the world.’”

Shorter heeded the prevailing post-war black culture ethos that individuality is every bit as important as learning the scales and chords. “My mother used to talk about Lena Horne,” he says. “She said, ‘She’s not a singer’s singer, but she knows how to put over that song.’ I filed away that sentence, and its meaning played itself out in other areas. The talk then was, ‘Hey, man, you can be yourself; be original.’ Work on that tone, work on this, work on that. Nobody said, ‘Work on life.’ Except my parents. My parents were hip. Period. Hip to the idea of excellence and giving 100 percent to whatever it is that you do. My mother didn’t go past freshman year of high school, but she was very aware of everything. She always read the newspaper, and she was hip to the nuances of insurance policies. She didn’t take geometry, but she helped my brother with geometry by using the logic of what was going on.”

Bebop was at its apogee, and Shorter’s learning curve was rapid. He got the fundamentals in the solid music program at Newark’s Arts High School and heard Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton, Lester Young and Charlie Parker with strings at Newark’s Adams Theater. He joined a 9-piece teenage band fronted by one Jackie Bland, who, Shorter recounts, didn’t read music, ‘but had the look,” and knew many of Gillespie’s arrangements by ear. “I sat with the trumpet player, and at dances when we did Dizzy’s ‘Things To Come,’ I’d blare out the trumpet part on the clarinet,” Shorter says. “We’d sound almost like three trumpets if we stayed right in the microphone loud. People said, ‘How do you dance to that stuff?’”

After Jackie Bland left, the band named itself The Groove. “We would play before three or four people acting like they’re dancing, and get $1.50 at the end of the night,” Shorter continues. “Then a guy at the YMCA named Mr. Lazar wanted us to play the Saturday night dances there, and taught us to read music. I had been taking clarinet lessons for a year, so the notes were running through me. He brought out ‘Things To Come,’ and we would stay on the first two measures all afternoon until we reached the point where we were playing it as an ensemble. Then we did things like ‘One Bass Hit,’ ‘Godchild,’ ‘Jeru,’ and ‘Israel’. Then we became rebels, and we’d rehearse on our own and do things like ‘’Round Midnight’ or ‘Weird Lullaby,’ the Babs Gonzalez song.

“Word got around that there was this crazy band. The other band in Newark played the Terrace Room and the cotillions and all that. Their hair was coiffed, they had rust-colored jackets with powder-blue pants, and they looked [i]good[i], man. They read music. They made some money. Most of them went to Barringer High School. We called them the Pretty Boy Band. So someone proposed for us to have a playoff, a contest at the Court Street YMCA. It was packed with people. They were playing on a balcony and we were down on the floor. They played ‘Harlem Nocturne’ and we played ‘Ool-Ya-Koo’ or ‘Cool Breeze.’ They played an arrangement of Gershwin’s ‘American In Paris.’ We played ‘Emanon.’ They played something else, and we played ‘Now Is the Time.’ We let them know that we were from some other place. My brother was in the band, too, and he carried his alto sax in a shopping bag and played with his gloves on. It was nice weather, but we came in wearing galoshes and wrinkled clothes. We didn’t have any music stands, so we took two sets of chairs, sat in one, turned the other around to face us, and put up newspapers, like we were reading the newspaper and playing ‘Manteca.’ We went back and forth, back and forth, and at the end, they rated by applause. We won.”

After graduating high school, Shorter got a job as a stock clerk at the Singer Sewing Machines factory in Elizabeth, N.J., where he spent a year wheeling bobbins from one department to the other.

“I didn’t play much that year,” he says. “In fact, the saxophone literally stayed under the bed. But just before the College Entrance Exam, I started to write stuff that we played at dances. My group broke up after a while. The Korean War was going on, and some guys went into the Army. Somewhere in the middle of my first year at NYU, the bandleader of that other band called, and I joined them. They made more money than we did, sometimes $28 per man on the weekend. I wrote 28 arrangements for that band. Once we were invited to play at the Palladium. Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez — or maybe Perez Prado — were there; Celia Cruz was dancing; Mongo Santamaria and Guataca, the percussionist, were playing; and we played something I wrote called ‘The Midget Mambo,’ meaning the small mambo, a toy mambo. I wasn’t trying to encroach on ‘I came from Puerto Rico myself’ and so on. But I liked it. We knew Dizzy and Chano Pozo got their stuff from Africa and mixed it. And when we grew up, mambo and cha-cha were big. You couldn’t get a date if you couldn’t dance the cha-cha. No girl would go to the movies with you. They said, ‘Can you dance?’”

Through his decade with Art Blakey and Miles Davis, Shorter would continue to answer that question in the affirmative. “Wayne’s body of work with Blakey is phenomenal,” Belden says. “His tunes captured that real African-American funk element Blakey embodied, and were still harmonically interesting and captivating harmonically. They represent a sort of hip detachment. And they make a point. They tell you about something. When he joins Miles Davis, his playing becomes much more open, a completely unique, original language — harmonically, articulation-wise, phrasing — that’s not based on anything preceding it.”

“What Miles was doing had a philosophical lean,” Shorter says. “His bands had the freshness that comes with unfamiliarity — always having a bunch of originals, records loaded with firsts. The newness and surprise supplied the drive. Different apples and oranges forming a garden that everyone wanted to be in. That all-encompassing edge of this solar system, and wanting to go into the darkness to see what the other solar system is like.”

BREAK

Seven years after losing his wife, Ana Maria, in the mysterious crash of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island, and 18 years after the death of their daughter Iska, Shorter has remarried and resettled in Florida from California, his home for 30 years. Fortified by his practice of Buddhism and the ministrations of his new wife, Carolina, he seems refreshed and vigorous, able to channel the spirit that animated his efflorescent first four decades.

“I would say that Wayne’s quartet is the focal point for a new development in jazz,” says Hancock. “Openness is very much a quality, although that wouldn’t distinguish it from many other bands. But another quality is that they depend on trust — in themselves and in each other—in their playing. Creating music for the moment. Being in the moment. Whatever they play sounds like that moment.

“But it couldn’t have happened any time but now. What exudes from Wayne includes all his past experiences — including losing his wife — and him being whatever he is at the moment. What he and the band are doing puts value to everything that happened in his life, including what immediately appears to be negative. I don’t want to take away from the talent of the individuals who play with him. Not all the ideas come directly from Wayne. But although he allows the other musicians so much latitude, his life force presence is very strong, and it helps to bring out all their talent. I’m sure Danilo never played like this before. Brian Blade, too. Whatever they did before prepared them to be able to do this.”

“For composers, it’s almost a decree that the chamber orchestra and string quartet are the height of individualism,” Shorter says, referring both to the content of his new album and the aesthetic that his quartet exemplifies. “Composers like Gabriel Faure wrote things like stories — complex but in color — that let you go away on a trip. The musicians leave their egos at the door. There’s companionship and exchange, and you don’t have one job. You have something to say, someone disagrees, the line you play saves the second violinist over there, then he or she comes and saves your ass!”

“Wayne is a profoundly secular musician,” says Sadin. “He spent much of his life playing in clubs and concert halls. But music as a cultural force rather than product or entertainment is very deep in him, just as the great 19th-century composers — who certainly wanted to make a living and so on — felt they were embodying a cultural mission.”

Which perhaps is why Shorter responded to his personal tragedy with an ode to joy. “I think we’re on an eternal journey, and when we go through the exit doors, it doesn’t mean the journey is done,” he says. “No one can convince me that if you don’t see someone, they’ve been taken away, that they’re gone. Everything can be a work in progress, just like our lives, and I want to support that up to the last moment of this three-dimensional existence. I want the music to reflect the true nature of the journey of life, with its tragedies and joys, and the ability to transcend what is temporary in tragedy, and also temporary in joy, but eternal in enlightenment, which casts out fear, doubt, and all the other teeter-totter stuff that people allow themselves to be victims of.”

Shorter halts his discourse. “I’m getting into some heavy stuff here,” he says with a twinkle in his voice. “But heavy is light to me. I’m going to be 70, and it seems like everything is getting lighter and lighter. Everything that I’m saying seems like it takes a long route. And I’m finding out more and more that the long way is the shortest way.”

2 Comments

Filed under Jazziz, Wayne Shorter

An Interview with Dave Brubeck, July 23, 2007

A recent press release from the Detroit Jazz Festival stated that 90-year-old Dave Brubeck, advised by his doctors that it would be a bad idea for him to travel, had cancelled his scheduled concert, A vivid force in American music since the latter ’40s, and a charismatic performer, Brubeck shines in the public eye, and it will be a shame if his performing career is over.

I had a wonderful opportunity to interview Brubeck four years ago, for a Jazziz story focusing on his involvement in education. It was a narrative article — the unedited transcript appears below, following four expository paragraphs.

* * *

Few jazz musicians can discuss the whys and wherefores of jazz education so eloquently as pianist-composer Dave Brubeck, whose career could serve as a case study in how to blend the conservatory and the working world beyond.

A household name since Time magazine placed his picture on its cover in 1954, Brubeck continues to meet commission deadlines, producing  extended works—operas, oratorios, ballets, suites—that bespeak continued artistic growth, while sustaining a respectable concert schedule as a solo artist and with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. He also devotes much time to the Brubeck Institute, an organization established in 2000 by University of Pacific, his alma mater. Chaired these days by Clint Eastwood, the Brubeck Institute houses its namesake’s archives, sponsors eight student-musicians as Brubeck Fellows during every academic year, runs an annual Summer Jazz Colony (artists-in-residence in recent years include Chris Potter, Nicholas Payton and Christian McBride), and hosts an annual Brubeck Jazz Festival wherein its charges break musical bread with luminaries of the jazz world.

On a rainy July afternoon at his rural Connecticut home, Brubeck spent two-and-a-half hours discussing the course of his own education—on both the receiving and the giving end—from his formative years on through to the here-and-now. Pleased to be wearing shoes for the first time since he incurred a serious ankle injury in March, he sat with exemplary posture on a sofa across from the Baldwin grand piano in his ground floor studio, separated from a Japanese garden adroitly landscaped to convey a certain studied wildness.

The topography evokes the terrain of central California, where Brubeck lived with his family during his first two decades.  His father, Pete, a cowboy and champion roper, of Native American ancestry, managed cattle ranches; his mother, Olga Johanna Elizabeth Rengstroffsky Ivey Brubeck, known familiarly as Bessie, of Russian descent, and a native of Concord, California, was a well-regarded piano teacher. His oldest brother, Henry Brubeck (1909-1986), who played piano and violin, and was the drummer in Gil Evans’ first big band, became Superintendent of Music at Santa Barbara High School; middle brother Howard (1916-1993) was a jazz-friendly classical composer with avant-garde leanings who became Dean of Humanities at Palomar College.

I thought it would be interesting to speak with you about you learned things, taught things, assimilated things. Perhaps speaking about the way you assimilated information might make it less tedious to speak about things you’ve spoken off thousands of times before, and it might lead logically into the Brubeck Institute, the college concerts, your own conservatory education, and the training you received from your mother. First, can you tell me something about your mother’s piano education?

Yeah. My mother decided to go from the small town of Concord… When we lived there, there were 1600 people. When she was born there, there were probably a lot less people. She wanted to have an education. There was no high school. So she got in her cart or wagon with a horse, and went from one ranch or orchard-ranch to the other to get people to promise to support a high school—financially contribute—if it were going to be built. So she had really to educate herself and the community, and she graduated from Concord High School in the first class. She’s the one that got the high school going.

What year?

I’m very bad with dates.

Well, your oldest brother was born in 1909, so it was probably before that.

Oh, yeah. Henry. Henry went through that high school. Howard went through it, and then taught there, in that same high school.

And he later became the Superintendent of Music in Santa Barbara?

Henry. Howard was a Dean of Humanities and Music at Palomar College near San Diego.

Had your mother had piano education before high school? Was it part of her family tradition?

I wouldn’t think so. She was always going to become educated by herself, reading… She was driven. See, her mother came to California probably through what they called White Russia, to Poland, to Germany, and then came on to California as a servant. That’s the way a lot of people came to this country. My mother just wanted to rise above all that, and she was driven all her life. She was still studying… She was in class with her oldest son, with Henry, when he was getting his Masters done. That was in Idaho, I think. But before that, she was at San Francisco State. She studied with Henry Cowell. She’d go to classes at University of California in Berkeley. Her cousin was Ethel Cotton. If you want to look her up, she and mother would have… A visit was practically like a class. Ethel reviewed books, wrote speeches for the Mayor  of San Francisco and for the Governors, and her books were on education and conversation and just development. So they were kind of in the front of getting something going for women and education.

So she was a highly independent woman.

Oh, boy.

And strong-minded, it sounds like. But she would have had to be if your father was anything like what it sounds as though he was.

[LAUGHS] Then she went to Kings Conservatory in San Jose, and I recently read where the Dean of the Conservatory, when she graduated, encouraged her to go on and become a great pianist, like she was to become. Then she married my father, which no one can figure out.

He sounds like quite a charismatic guy.

Oh, yeah. Oh, boy. Well, he would just run off anybody else interested in her. They’d better forget it! [LAUGHS]

She just gave in. He wore her down.

Yeah. Then after she had three children, she went to Europe to study, and she studied with the top teacher-pedagogist…

Which country?

In England. His name was Tobias Matthay. If you look him up… I never have done it, but everybody that knows about piano, the older people all thought he was the greatest.

She left the three of you, then, to go to Europe to study—also quite ahead of her time.

Oh, yeah. She took Henry, who was the oldest, and Howard and I had to be boarded out. I was maybe five. It was quite a blow to the both of us. But my Dad was working with a big cattleman, they were kind of like partners in meat for a butcher house and a slaughterhouse, and big ranches. He would see us, come and pick us up on weekends. We’d go to this big cattle ranch, where we could be with him.

Did music continue to be part of your life during those years, or did that take a vacation until your mother got back?

You’re right. I guess pretty much of a vacation. I guess she was gone a year. Dame Myra Hess noticed that during the lesson one day in London, she looked out the window, and her mind drifted from the piano lesson. Dame Myra said to her, “Oh, you’re watching those children play outside; do you have children?” She said, “I have three sons.” They talked for a while, and Dame Myra said, “This is a pretty lonely life, to be a concert pianist. If I were you, I’d go home to my children.” That’s why she came home.

What a dramatic story. It really is!

Well, it’s the story of her life. Then she became a very well-known piano teacher. Although we were still in Concord, people came from the surrounding towns, even from Oakland and… She became well known as a teacher. My first lessons with her were… There’s a picture of her teaching at a blackboard the circle of fifths. I had to be very young. And to be introduced to that, which was what most European music and a lot of jazz is built on… So that was one of the things that she taught me, and it’s one of the few things she was able to teach me, because I took right to it. But she couldn’t teach me to read. I would write or play little things, and she would write them down for me. When I was very young, I almost can’t remember when I wasn’t around a piano. The house was full of pianos. She had 2 grands in the studio, and then two other places in the house where you could practice.

Did she herself have a virtuoso technique?

Well, knowing the literature she played, when I look back on it, she had a lot of technique. She was a great sight-reader and a great accompanist, and her desire was to have three sons that were musicians. Well, Henry became a very good musician, and played violin and drums. When I was introduced to Gil Evans as Dave Brubeck, and he had just recorded “The Duke” with Miles, and… I was at the working session, and when I was introduced he said, “Brubeck! Did you have a brother?” I said, “Yeah. Henry.” He said, “You know, he played in my first big band.” He was a great drummer.

You have a story that you recalled of hearing, as a little kid, him argue with your mother about using the studio at your house for his jazz band to rehearse, which would have been the middle ‘20s or so.

Yeah, I was about 6 when that started. Just like my floor here, it’s been kind of ruined by drummers pegs and pegs of the bass, when they have to work them out of the hardwood.

Is this where you rehearse your quartet?

I have, yeah. She was so upset by the guys… When you play a trumpet or a trombone, there’s often a little saliva comes out on the floor. Then she made them put down newspapers, and was really angry with my brother about the marks that his drums made on the floor. She had a right to be. The suffering she went through to build that studio. It was attached to the house where she grew up. If you were from California, you will know the name Del Courtney. If you watched the Oakland Raiders, he had the band for years. Del came out from Oakland to Concord, and took over the band my brother had with local guys in it, and became the front man. Then Del and Henry went on to College of the Pacific. They were roommates, and they continued with a big orchestra for quite a few years. Then my brother dropped out so he could get his degree at College of Pacific and become a schoolteacher.

So your introduction to jazz seems to have come through your brother, then.

Yeah!  Howard did not play jazz, but he could play Gershwin, and he’d memorized Rhapsody in Blue when he was 12 years old. He won some competitions in San Francisco. Great pianist. Finally, he and Pete Rugolo got their Masters with Darius Milhaud. They were both going to San Francisco State, in San Francisco, and they came over to Mills College so they could get their Masters under Darius Milhaud.

That must have been when Milhaud moved here in ‘41 or ‘42.

Yeah, you’re pretty close.

I guess ‘39 is when Milhaud emigrated.

Well, you know that to save his life he had to get out of France in a hurry because of the terrible things that happened. His parents pretended to be workers on their orchard in southern France, near Aix, and many of the people were being turned in for being Jewish by other farmers, just a mean streak, because it meant you were going to go to your death. No one turned in the Milhauds, but Milhaud never saw them again.

I guess he returned to Paris… Well, this is off the track. Otherwise, we could talk all afternoon, and I know you don’t want to do that. But as far as developing as a pianist, it was an organic thing from living in the environment that your mother created, and I guess seeing your older brothers.

You got it. Environment. I loved to sit and improvise. I was not good at my lessons with my mother, and she finally figured out that I wasn’t reading. For some reason, she could never teach me to read. It just didn’t read.

You figured it out once you got to conservatory, though, I gather.

No, not too good.

Mostly ear?

Yup. That’s got me through—and that I could write. That’s what’s strange. I couldn’t read, but I could write.

Let me go there. Another ongoing theme is incorporating the sounds from your environment directly into your compositions. I was thinking about other people from California who are composers. I was thinking about Harry Partch and I was thinking about John Cage, and I was thinking about the three of you, with very different sensibilities, as coming roughly from the same place—that is, understanding the fundamental structures of music and finding a completely fresh way of applying them to your circumstances. It sounds as though that notion became innate to you as a young kid on the ranch; you’ve talked about hearing the sound of the motor, the clip-clop, and so on…

Yes.

Were you thinking of music as a language at a young age?

Yeah. It was always in my mind. It’s funny you mentioned Partch. I think I went to one of his first concerts, where he was on a huge…it was like a structure with instruments that you had to climb way up on. That was across the bay from San Francisco that I went to hear it. The other composer you mentioned, Cage, he used to come in once in a while where I was playing, and I got to know his wife, Xenia, real well. They got a divorce. I said, “Xenia, why did you divorce John Cage?” She said, “I got tired of hitting the piano with a dead mackerel.”

My brother did all the work for his concert when he was coming to Mills, to prepare the piano. I saw my brother working on it, with clothespins and various things that he was instructed to have in the piano.

You started to play for money when you were in your early teens, and I’d imagine then you started learning about being a bandleader—which is also part of music. Bending people to your will, as it were.

You see, when we left Concord, California, I was well, and were moving to this huge cattle ranch, 45,000 acres, owned by H.C. Howard who owned Seabiscuit. Of course, he owned other ranches, and Seabiscuit wasn’t on this ranch. But when I moved there, I would still be improvising after school and playing the piano. The guy that came to pick up our laundry at the ranch and take it to Lodi, where Mondavi started, about 18 miles away… He’d take the laundry, and he heard me playing, and he said, “I could use you in my band.” I was 14 then, and he hired me, and we played on the Mokelumne River, outdoor dance floor that was all warped from the rain, and electric lightbulbs hanging from wires with the decorations. His name was John Ostabah. From Ostabah, I went to another band in Ione, California, that played all the foothill dances. Believe me, that was an experience. Very few people have had the experiences I had when I was very young. Because the towns of Jackson and Sutter Creek were wide-open. That means everything in California that was against the law, was not against the law in those mining towns.

Things hadn’t changed since the 1840s, right?

Exactly. And boy, it was rough and ready. That was another town, called Rough and Ready! I played for the Jumping Frog Jubilee; the Mark Twain story, the jumping frog of Calaveras County. We played that. Mokelumne Hill. Oh, boy. Those dances went to 12 o’clock, and then they had a midnight supper, and then they’d come back and dance til they were through. If you wanted to be through, they told you to keep playing—and you’d better play.

Sounds like the equivalent of the bucket of blood joints that a lot of black musicians played in. Same deal.

Gene Wright grew up playing outside of Chicago, and he told me about those places, where guys were up in the balcony with machine guns.

But anyway, my experience with those guys… They were pretty good musicians up in the foothills, so that was a good band to be in.

Were those swing bands? Were they jump bands? Country-western swing?

Swing. Stock arrangements.

When you played piano, would you say that you by that time already had a conception? Let’s just hypothesize that you had a decent piano and one could hear you take a little intermission solo. Would it sound anything like the solo fragment from 1942 at University of the Pacific?

They didn’t give the pianist much of a chance. I remember I used to, as one guy called it, screw up the shuffle with rhythm. Like Clyde McCoy, OOMPTY-DOOMPTY-DOOMPTY-DOO… I’d go [SINGS TRIPLET PATTERN], just to make it more interesting.

I knew you were going to use that word. Then you’d get home and your father would tell you to take off the tuxedo and…

“Put on your jeans and help me.” And I would do that.

So you got to be a pretty tough guy and also a musician.

Yeah. [LAUGHS] Because… Other musicians did not want to just go home. It would be 4 in the morning, and the tenor saxophonist and the drummer would stay awake until first mass, and then go to the Catholic church. They’d be so drunk that… [LAUGHS] One night the saxophonist fell between the steering wheel and the dashboard, and got his head stuck, and they ran off the road!

It sounds like being on the ranch kept you from palling prey to a lot of bad influences.

Oh, yeah! All the temptation in the world was in the town of Jackson. And anything goes. And it went that way until… Sacramento was the state capitol. Some senators came up there to have a good time, and the gamblers and everybody thought they were there to investigate the town—and it kind of closed down the town. It changed after that.

At this point, were you listening to records?

Yeah.

You’ve talked about this millions of times. Ellington, Kenton, Lunceford, you liked—big bands. Teddy Wilson and Billy Kyle were among the pianists, and of course, Tatum and Fats Waller. Those are the first names that come to mind from before you went to college.

You got ‘em. The first recording I bought cost 48¢. It was an acetate recording. I went to Sacramento with the idea of buying that record. At that time, I was working all day for a dollar, so to spend I think, with tax, 50¢, was half-a-day’s work. So it was a big event. I bought Fats Waller’s “Let’s Be Fair and Square In Love” and “There’s Honey On the Moon Tonight.” But I had heard Billy Kyle while I was still in Concord—the Billy Kyle Trio. It was so great to play with Billy when he was with Louis, and Louis asked me to sit in, and there’s the first really great jazz pianist I had heard—I’m playing with him. Then we recorded on The Real Ambassadors, just two pianos behind Louis Armstrong, Billy and I. So it was really an event.

But I guess where I wanted to go with that question was to ask whether, during those years, were you trying to emulate any of those players? Were you trying to play lines like Teddy Wilson, trying to get a left hand like Fats, or in some way get Tatum’s orchestral approach, or maybe get an Ellington arrangement on the piano? Was that important to your development?

Oh, yeah. Tatum… It’s a story I’ve often told people. But my mother didn’t like jazz, and she was in the car with me once, I was driving her some place, and I had on a jazz station, and they played Art Tatum’s “Humoresque.” When it was finished, she said, “David, now I know why you want to be a jazz musician.” Because she played “Humoresque.” Tatum also recorded “Elegy.” But that’s the first time she kind of caught on. Fortunately, the recording I made when I was probably 19, that they found in the archives at Pacific… Have you ever heard it.

Well, I think they dated it 1942, so you might have been 20 or 21.

Ah. Well, you can hear Tatum’s influence. That’s what people have said, and I think it’s definitely there.

Do you think Tatum would be the earliest influence on you?

The earliest influence was the pianist I worked with when I was 19. Cleo Brown. She was so great. She was an influence on Marion McPartland; in England, she was listening to her. When Fats died, the guys in the band asked her to take his place. Then she disappeared. Because she was in Stockton to get over a habit, and in the hospital there, and the hospital wanted her to gradually go back to work, but I was to pick her up and bring her to the job, and then see that she got home, and play intermission. But she was a great influence on me.

So it wasn’t just that you were around her. She talked to you, told you about music, passed on information in a first-hand way.

Just by playing, she did. Once in a while, she’d say, “Dave, let more come out through your hands than through your feet.” Because I would stamp my feet when I was playing, which went on for years! Everybody has a bit of stomping in their feet when they’re playing piano, but mine was harder than most!

I guess during your sophomore year at University of Pacific, you transferred from veterinary school to music, and then you did get a degree. The famous story is they allowed you to graduate if you’d swear never to teach.

Well, the first thing I heard was, “You can never graduate.” Then the harmony and the composition teacher and… The counterpoint teacher went to the Dean and said, “You’re making a big mistake; this guy has written the best counterpoint probably I’ve ever had,” and the harmony teacher said, “He’s pretty advanced harmonically.” So the Dean then said, “Well, if you promise never to teach and embarrass the conservatory, I’ll let you graduate with the class.” Now that’s where I’ve got my Institute, and I got an Honorary Doctorate.

Time has proven you right. But during those years… This sounds like a naive question, so please forgive me.

It’s all right.

Were your studies as an undergraduate in a conservatory useful to you in your career? Were you able to apply them to your own musical vision?

Yes. Well, the harmony teacher, J. Russell Bodley, had studied with… Say the word for “bakery” in French.

You’re putting me on the spot. Bakery…bakery…

Who was the greatest teacher in France? Taught Stravinsky?

Oh, Boulanger.

Thank you. How could I all of a sudden not remember? So he’d studied with her when he was young. He liked jazz, J. Russell Bodley. He was a tremendous musician, and he was Director of the a cappella choir, and the big choir… But the a cappella choir was excellent. I loved to hear that, and I’d sneak into his rehearsals. So he was a big influence on me. My last year in college I lived across the street from him, and we’d jam most of the night. He could hear us. He would make remarks about what we had been playing, because he had perfect pitch and great musicianship. You see, you couldn’t play jazz in the conservatory. But I would go visit him across the street, we’d talk a lot about music, and my roommate, Dave Van Kriedt, studied with him… He was just a huge influence on all of us.

There were so many good musicians that played jazz in the conservatory. There were two big jazz bands that couldn’t practice in the conservatory, but worked in town and local dance halls. After all, Stockton is where Gil Evans picked up a lot of those musicians; great musicians there.

So because of the conservatory, it became a kind of magnet for musicians from the area.

Yes. It was great. When I first came down from the ranch, I wanted to hang out with the musicians. They asked me where I was from, and I’d say, “Ione,” and they just kind of turned away from me. It wasn’t until the President of the Musicians’ Union needed a pianist to take his job so he could go to another job that they let me get into the union, and play… When I played, it kind of scared these guys who’d been fluffing me off…

You were giving them stuff they weren’t prepared for. You had some stuff they couldn’t understand.

[LAUGHS] But he had his own dance band, and became very successful in Hollywood as a composer for television, movies, and so on. His real name was Herman Shapiro. He was head of the Musicians Union when he was still a college student. He was a brilliant guy.

During those years before the war, in Stockton, were you composing? Were you arranging at all for any of those bands?

I was just starting to.

Were you thinking about polytonality then? Were you thinking about polyrhythms within your personal style?

Only when I was improvising. But when I was writing, I wasn’t.

But when you were improvising , you thought of those things.

I think so, yes.

Was that just innate from your experiences, or…

Well, my brother, being a student of Milhaud, must have told me about polyrhythms and polytonality. But I remember there was an article on Darius Milhaud that was on the bulletin board at the conservatory, that I read, where he’s talking about playing in two or three keys at the same time. So I don’t know how this started to happen, but it did. Harmonically, I was different than some players. [LAUGHS]

Then you went in the Army for four years.

There again I was with first-call studio musicians and also from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Bronislaw Gimpel was the violinist, and one of his top students joined the Army so he could still study with him—which I think was a bad move, but it worked out! Then Joseph DeFiore was from the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a violist, and then Brown from Cincinnati, first cellist for the Cincinnati Symphony… There was a string quartet practicing in the tent. There’s a picture of me just in a t-shirt listening to them, probably in the archives.

I guess there’s a long tradition in this country of the Army being a breeding ground for innovation, since the musicians have nothing to do but practice and perform. It goes back to marching bands, and John Philip Sousa and James Reese Europe, and all the black bands in World War Two. So I guess you’re part of that continuum, too.

Well, anyway, I was assigned to a tent when I got into the band. A student from Pacific set it up so I could get into that band. His name is Ernie Farmer. We’re still close friends. Great trumpet player. The first thing they said to me when I walked into that tent, five or six guys in the tent… One of the remarks was, “Are you a cowboy or an Indian?” I said, “I’m both.” [LAUGHS]

Your father was Native American?

Maybe. [LAUGHS]

Looking at you, it certainly appears somebody was.

Well, he would admit it, but my mother would say, “Don’t tell him that nonsense,” so I’ll never know.

You probably could know, now that they’ve mapped the genome.

That would be interesting.

I guess that’s always been a source of curiosity to you, hasn’t it.

Well, the Indians considered me an Indian.

Did they?

Well, my friends that I had on the cattle ranch, and the girl…my first date was Ramona, and she always thought I was Indian. She was full-blood. My best friend on the ranch was Awalupe(?); I wrote “Indian Song” with his melody. Did you ever hear that recording with Alan Dawson and Gerry Mulligan? It’s on the Berlin album. It’s wild. Have you ever read the book Ishi? The last Indian that they finally brought in to civilization that was really an Indian, and not knowing American ways, was found near where my wife’s family was. Then they brought him to a museum in Golden Gate Park, where he would teach people Indian ways. It’s a wonderful book, Ishi.

But you see, there were so many massacres. My father told me about some of those things, where his family hadn’t gotten involved because they were friendly with the Indians, but the rest of the settlers were all wiped out, and then the Indians knew there would be a reprisal, and they jumped into the lake, and they had to come out of the lake, and as they came out on the other side, they were just all of them killed. Then the Indians were invited to have a meal with the whites, and the food was poisoned, and they all died. Just terrible things. Thank God that’s over.

Do you need to move around a little bit?

No. I’m all right.

I wanted to make sure, because I know you’re recovering from this injury.

I’ve got shoes on for the first time in over four months. I usually have to have this part cut out, because the wound is bandaged right here.

Right over the ankle. What a place for a piano player to have…

Oh, man!

How did you manage to do that solo piano session?

It was tough. It was tough.

You probably imagined yourself back on the ranch and your father telling you to take off the tux and put on the jeans.

[LAUGHS] So I wanted to see if I could wear shoes. I’m not moving, so it feels okay.

After the Army, your brother tells you you’d be a fool not to take advantage of the opportunity to study with Milhaud, and you enroll… Well, the story is that you decided to stay a private so you could stay around your band. True story?

It’s such a corny story, but it’s true.  To understand it, you have to know this—that as a G.I., we were in a place in France called the Mud Hole. It was outside of Verdun. The Red Cross girls came up on a truck that had a side lowered down that became a stage, and there was a piano in there, and we’re all sitting in the mud on our helmets, thinking, “Well, there’s going to be some entertainment,” and they asked, “Can anybody play piano?” I raised my hand and went up, and played for a couple of numbers. The Colonel in charge was there, and he heard me, and let it be known that I shouldn’t go to the front in the morning. I couldn’t believe it when two of the guys that were musicians that had come from California…we were called out of the line that was lined up to be replacements, and asked to form a band. They gave me the rating of O2O, which is bandleader—Private First-Class Bandleader. So I was to form a band. So I did that, with guys that had been shot or wounded, had Purple Hearts when they came back. We got up to 18 to 28 men, depending on who had to go back or got shipped someplace else. We went through the rest… This was in Patton’s Army. Went in pretty wild places across France and into Germany. The band was really a great place to be.

Under those circumstances, I’d say you couldn’t have done much better.

We were right behind the front, but never at the front. You could hear and see it all night, the shelling. It’s like a lightning storm that never stops, you know. And the sounds. As the front moved up, we would move up with them, and our job was to play for the front-line troops, and we could do it very successfully, because my guys would wear their Purple Heart, whereas if the average show would go up there… It takes a long time to get through to an audience that knows they’re going into battle in the morning. It’s a tough way to get them to enjoy themselves. We were able to do it better than most people, because they could see that this band had been… My guys. I don’t say I had been in battle, but plenty of them had been.

So experiences like this would be good training for stage presentation, and capturing people’s attention. I guess you learned pretty good in the mining town and on the front.

[LAUGHS] Yeah. You’d be playing, and you’d hear a plane in the dive kind of situation, or coming in low, and they’d turn off the generators, and you’d go into total blackout, and you’d just sit there praying that plane would drop its bomb beyond you, and then you’d hear the guns shooting at him. One night you could just tell that they’d hit the guy, and everybody started clapping. It’s a way to play.

You were already married by then, and you come back after four years, maybe a leave or two, and you set up house, I guess, such as it was, in the Bay Area while you attend Mills. Tell me about your early encounters with Milhaud, and after four years in the Army how you were able to process what he was giving you, and how these experiences started to come out in this early documented music of yours. You’ve said that a lot of your war experience was coming out in the music you made during the years directly after.

Because of the G.I. Bill, I could go to Mills College, and after being without hardly any money for four years, now you’re 26 years old… The first time I saw him, I think I was 21. I said “I’m going into the Army.” He said, “when you get out, come back and study with me.”

So you did meet Milhaud before you went in the Army.

Yes.

I was wondering about that. Did he hear you play?

He asked me to play. Then we gradually had other friends, like Dave Van Kriedt, Bill Smith, Dick Collins, Bob Collins, Jack Weeks, studying with him. They came to Mills…I think the second semester they started drifting in, and then in 1947 we had the G.I.’s there. He asked, “Do any of you play jazz? Raise your hands?” So we raised our hands. He said, “I want you to write your fugues and counterpoint for jazz orchestration if you want to.” That’s how the octet was born. Paul Desmond came over from San Francisco State, and Cal Tjader, and we got up to an 8-piece group. It was wonderful to study with him. He was the first European composer to use jazz in creation of the world.

Was he a hands-on teacher? Would you play him your charts and he’d critique them? And what was his manner of critique? It sounds like he was very supportive, and not didactic in the stereotyped manner of the European maestro.

Yes, he was very supportive and very friendly. Our first concert, he put together that we should play for the assembly of the Mills girls. That was quite successful. The next concert, we went back to College of the Pacific, took a big bus and went up there. Then we started playing at University of California in Berkeley. But we didn’t get enough work to really make it. We played a concert in San Francisco…

You’ve spoken about your poverty during those years.

Oh, it was bad. We lived on practically nothing. Our rent was $21 a month, with everything paid—that means garbage and electricity—in a housing project, and it was about the simplest kind of thrown-together structures. Mostly G.I.’s were living there. Then I started working more, and things started picking up.

These are oft-told stories, and I don’t need to have you elaborate. But I would like you to tell me… The period 1946-1950, when you leave the Army and start to build your career, begins a year after Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie came to Los Angeles and bebop hits the West Coast, and all these records are coming out—Nat Cole’s trios, George Shearing’s groups, Lennie Tristano’s first records, Bud Powell’s records, and so on. I’m wondering to what extent you were paying attention to that and to what extent, if at all, it was influencing your style. I was listening last night to your collected piano trio recordings from 1949-51, and I heard all sorts of influences in there, but not beholden to any of those influences… They were very original. I wanted you to talk about your relationship to jazz modernism of that time, and to the currents going on in jazz primarily on the East Coast.

Remember the Boyd Raeburn Orchestra? We took that recording and played it for Milhaud in orchestration class. When we were finished playing it, and we were all thinking, “Boy, this is such a fantastic band…” Milhaud liked it very much, but he said, “You know, a lot of the things going on here went on twenty years before in classical music. So I want you to know that it’s not that new to me.” We were all kind of surprised. To us, it was new. But we also knew where he was coming from, because we were aware of Bartok and Stravinsky and things going on with them, and Charles Ives, who was really in some ways ahead of Europe for a while there. So it was very interesting to talk about Gershwin… He figured Gershwin and Duke Ellington were America’s best composers. That’s what he told us. That was such a wonderful thing to hear in class. He said the reason they are outstanding is because they have used American music, they have incorporated jazz, and always think of the success of composers that had used the music of their culture. Like, Bartok knows more about Hungarian folk music than anybody. Then he talked about Copland, and Gershwin using the jazz idiom. He said, “Don’t be ashamed that you’re jazz musicians. That’s what’s going to distinguish you, is your knowledge of jazz, and don’t ever give it up.” Then one day, at a private lesson, he said, “Dave, I don’t know why you would ever want to give up something you can do so well. It’s important that you never think in those terms.” Of course, I’ve always remembered that. He said, “You’re free. You can go any place in the world; if there is a piano, you will survive.” He said, “But take someone like me. I can’t stand faculty meetings, and I’ve got to keep going to them. You’ll never have to go to a faculty meeting. Think how free you are!” [LAUGHS]

Of course, you had to put up with other stuff in the course of constructing your career. But I wanted to get back to some of your contemporaries who were playing piano and recording during those years, and if you were drawing from them or not drawing from them. It would seem pretty evident that you were listening to Shearing.

Oh, that’s for sure. I think that he opened up the possibility for American small groups to work in nightclubs more than anybody. Oh, boy, when he came to San Francisco, it just helped. People started bringing in groups, small groups like mine, Red Norvo…

I was wondering if you’d been checking out Red Norvo’s trio because of Cal Tjader’s on the vibes, and if you met Mingus in San Francisco during those years.

And Tal Farlow. That group… I recorded them for Fantasy, because I figured they were one of the greatest groups playing now. Today the young vibe players know how important Red Norvo was, they know how important Mingus was, and Tal Farlow!

I also noticed… Please forgive me for bringing this up, but you did a version of “Perfidia,” and you played a little quote from Charlie Parker’s “Buzzy,” and my jazz nerd antennae went up, and, “Aha! He quoted ‘Buzzy’.” I wondered how much you were listening to Charlie Parker during those years, and did it have an impact on you, not so much of an impact…

You touched a weird chord with me. I toured with Charlie. Chet Baker, Charlie Parker, Shelley Manne, Whitlock the bass player…he played sometimes, and another bassist… We toured the West Coast.

Might this have been ‘52?

Early. It could have been that.

There are bootleg recordings by Parker with Baker in ‘52…’53, maybe…

Baker used to come into the club where I worked when he was in the Army. Very young. Maybe still 18 or 19. I don’t know. But he was a young guy. You mentioned somebody else.

Bud Powell and Tristano, too.

Oh, Tristano. Great. Bud? The thing that most people will not believe is that Bud listened to me all the time.

Oh, I believe it.

You do?

Well, I know that Cecil Taylor also listened to you. A lot of people listened to your trios. You were the avant-gardist’s avant-gardist in 1951.

[LAUGHS] Well, Bud, right up to his dying days, was listening… When Bud had to go to the hospital when we were working at Birdland, his manager told me that he asked Bud what he’d like him to bring to the hospital for him to listen to, and he said, “Only Brubeck.”

The trio sides.

Yeah, it would have been. If you read the French guy that wrote about Bud, in that book he said, “I’m so tired of listening to Brubeck.” This is at the end of Bud’s life; he’s living with that guy. Then Bud lived with the artist-critic from Oslo (Randi Hultin), and she said he was always listening to me.

Do you have any speculations on what he was hearing in you?

I don’t know. Because when I heard things that Bud played, it seemed he couldn’t make a mistake…

When he was on.

When he was on. I hated to say that. But there was a time when he was a kind of perfect player. It just flowed out of him. And I don’t see why he’d be listening to me.

Cecil Taylor said your chords had more notes in them than anyone who was playing at the time. Then he qualified, as many people do when they speak about you… I’m simply asking these questions to get a sense of whether you were operating independently of these streams (and it could well have been, since the West Coast was still pretty isolated), or whether you were paying close attention to what they all were doing. I have a feeling you don’t want to go any farther talking about it, but if you do, it would certainly be welcome.

Well, it’s dangerous territory, because I knew that I was liking so many guys, and there was so much new… After all, I’d been separated overseas from hearing too much of what’s going on at home, and it was a shock to musicians like myself to come home and hear bebop. That wasn’t easy. Everyone was saying, “This is what you’ve got to do.” I went in to a period where I thought there’s so much great stuff… I liked Tristano, but I was forced to listen to him. A friend of mine was saying, “You’ve got to hear this guy,” so I heard him, and I thought, “Oh, this is fantastic.”

Are you talking about “Intuition” and those free pieces?

Yeah. That would have been ‘49. I’m flooded with “God, I’ve been so isolated overseas, and here’s all this new stuff,” and I decided to go into a period where I wasn’t going to listen to anybody, and try and find my own voice after being separated from a natural way of growing up. You know, to be hauled out from your jazz environment for that many years, and then come back to all this that’s going on… I thought, “I’ve got to find my own voice.” So I quit listening.

Got it. Although I guess you heard “Buzzy.”

[LAUGHS]

That’s a great answer. Thanks for sharing it with me.  I want to ask you now, and my editor wants me to ask you about the college concerts—again, since this is an education issue. From researching, I know how they came about, and your wife’s genius stroke of going through the World Almanac and writing to every college with a music department. What I’m wondering is: Were workshops ever attached to any of those performances? Were they purely performances, or was teaching layered onto it as well? And if there was teaching, who were some of your models as far as passing on information? Your mother, for example? By now, you have kids, and they became musicians. I know you weren’t their primary teacher, but I’m sure you had something to do with it. So if you could start expounding on this not-so-specific question.

I was forced because of lack of any funds to take a job teaching, although I had promised the Dean…

You broke your oath.

Yeah. But it was at the University of California at Berkeley Extension, and I was asked to take this class. I didn’t have any work at that time, and that would pay about $15. Now, you may not realize this, but being a cowboy, I was terrified of the microphone. I couldn’t introduce my group for years. I couldn’t say a word to the audience. When we came to Birdland, I hadn’t said anything, and the agent working for Joe Glaser came in to hear me, and he called me aside and he said, “You haven’t said a word all night. If you want me and the Glaser office to represent you, you have to start speaking.” Now, this is a long way into my career to not have opened my mouth yet.

In the Army you didn’t open your mouth?

No. I ran the show, and I would tell the guys what to do, but I didn’t get out and be an emcee. I had a black African-American named Gil White to be the emcee, and he was great. Then John Stanley, the comedian, would often take over. So I wasn’t talking.

That must have made teaching a challenge.

I couldn’t open my mouth. That’s the point that got me to this. Now, the first night at Birdland, when we were terrified to come to New York and to play at Birdland, it was absolutely paralyzing. Just couldn’t really face it. But you had to face it. At the first table was Benny Goodman and John Hammond on the first night. Desmond and I, we were panicked!—because Paul respected Goodman so much. He’d been in to hear me in San Francisco, and I just quit playing for a while, took a long intermission. Same thing when Tatum came in.

I heard Tatum spent a fair amount of time in San Francisco. Richard Wyands told me he played intermission piano for Tatum, and it was challenging.

The first time I sat in in San Francisco, Richard was playing, and a guy named Wilbur Baranco. They let me sit in. I think Vernon Alley was on bass. I had brought my wife to this so-called “black” club because I wanted her to see what my life was going to be like, whether she could understand all this. I worked in a black club called Cool Corner in Stockton, where not a white person would go in there. No other students would venture there. I loved it so much. Then there were other experiences I won’t go into where I’m the only white guy. So I wanted her to see this and feel this. So we sat in a booth and listened, and somehow, somebody asked me to sit in, which I did, and I played good. The people in the booth behind Iola, where I’d left her, reached over and nudged her and said, “That boy’s got black blood in him.”

What did she think of that comment?

It was wonderful! Because I had a weird reputation on campus and in class. There was a discussion of race, and my wife was defending the whole idea of integration, and this other girl said to her, “Well, would you marry or be with a black person?” She said, “I think I already am.” Some kind of remark. [LAUGHS] You’ll have to ask her exactly what.

It sounds like you didn’t necessarily think of yourself as being Caucasian.

No. [LAUGHS]

I don’t know that everybody would know it, and it isn’t necessarily…

Well, the blacks thought I was black. I was  very popular with the black audience, especially in city like Atlanta… I worked in three different black clubs in Atlanta where I was the only “white” group they would hire. We were integrated at that point.

That’s a whole other issue that I would love to talk to you about, but I don’t know if I can justify talking to you about it for the scope of this story, which is on education. The notion of race and how that plays out has had so much to do with the way you’ve been perceived in the jazz world and by the critical community, and the notions of does he swing or doesn’t he swing, and so on…

Well, I don’t want to appear to be claiming I’m black, because I’m not. But other people think I’m black, and that’s great with me.

But returning to the college tours and the quartet: Once you’d taught and been ordered by Joe Glaser’s agent to talk, did workshops become part of it? Was there an educational component to the Dave Brubeck Quartet plays Oberlin University or University of the Pacific or other things that didn’t get recorded. Was any teaching attached to those jobs?

I mentioned the Cal Extension. Then we did Cal Extension in San Francisco. I didn’t open my mouth. Iola did all the talking, all the research, and I played the piano to demonstrate what she’s talking about. But I wouldn’t open my mouth. I was terrified of that class. I had to do it because we needed the money, but otherwise I wouldn’t have.

When did you start talking?

After Glaser…at Birdland. The next night, the whole cast of The Caine Mutiny court martial was at the first table after the play got over. They’re sitting there, and now I know I’ve got to talk. It was Larry Bennett who worked for Joe Glaser. I said, “What am I going to talk about?” He said, “Just tell them what you’ve done that day—where you came from, where you’re going. But say something!” So I got up there and I said, “Well, we came from [LAUGHING] Philadelphia, but my bass player here, he was sick… You know, you never want to get sick in Philadelphia.” Well, those guys broke up! Desmond’s looking at me, like, “What the hell did you say that would get a reaction like that?” Almost everything I said was funny. I wasn’t trying to be funny. I was just trying to save my job, and kept talking about, “You know, it’s a tough drinking in Philadelphia” or “the word got around you should never drink the water in Philadelphia.” Anyway, I started talking at that point. Some concerts, for years, I still wouldn’t say anything. Then I started talking, and people liked what I was saying—and my wife disliked it, and would say, “Don’t talk so much—just play!”

Some of the compositions that became very popular start to come out, like “The Duke” or “In Your Own Sweet Way”… Did they come out before the Quartet or with the Quartet. I also want to know why the quartet became your vehicle. I understand there were economic reasons for not touring an octet, and I understand  that you needed, particularly after your accident, to have someone else do a lot of soloing because you became somewhat impaired vis-a-vis what you could do before the accident.

Yeah.

But given those parameters, how did the quartet become an impetus for you to write? Why did tunes like that start to come out with the quartet? I’m assuming you wrote them then, though perhaps you wrote them in 1947 or something, I don’t know…

No. See that old Ampex over there? Go take a look at it. [We walk over] That’s one that I recorded “The Duke” and “In Your Own Sweet Way.”

Here’s another vintage one, the Baldwin…

Yes. This is a mirror. I can’t open it because of the humidity. I can see myself here, and the tape machine can go through a hole that’s in there. I recorded those things myself in Oakland, and then I’ve recorded here that way.

For instance, Ellington wrote with the voices of his musicians in mind. Were you writing with Paul Desmond’s voice in mind? Or was Desmond or anyone you’re playing with supposed to play your vision? How did it work?

Well, with Cal Tjader, he started playing vibes with my trio. I didn’t even know he could play vibes. As soon as he started playing vibes, then Armando Peraza was stranded because Slim Gaillard abandoned him after bringing him from Cuba, and he was working this club in San Francisco where we were playing. The owner said, “I keep him here because Slim has just left him, and I feed him and let him sleep here in the club,” and he swept up and did odd jobs. He said, “He’s a helluva bongo player; why don’t you let him sit in with you.” So I did it, just because the guy was abandoned. And boy, he broke the place up. So Cal started playing bongos because of that, and Paul bought a pair of bongos. So we had three guys up there on the stage playing bongos.

But Peraza knew what he was doing.

Oh, yeah. Then Cal became so intrigued with it, and then he became a big star in Caribbean music. But I’m not answering your question.

Things happen, and you move. Like, I didn’t know he could play vibes. I didn’t know he would be a great bongo player. You just use where somebody is great, and you incorporate it into things. With the trio, it was easier to answer that question. The quartet was the trio with Paul Desmond playing solos on the same arrangements. That’s the way it had to start, because we didn’t have time to organize or rehearse. We just had a job, and I thought it was well enough to play. I was so bad off that they had to go into a blackout so I could stand. I had to pull myself up on the piano bench and just stand there for a while. I shouldn’t have been playing, but I had to play. There was no way out. But with Paul, I started thinking in terms more of counterpoint, because he and I naturally played counterpoint together. So what does somebody bring into the group?

I’ve always liked all my groups. But when one of my favorite drummers, Joe Dodge, left the group, Paul told me about Joe Morello. So we went over to the Hickory House and listened to Joe, and he didn’t play anything but with the brushes all night. Paul said, “oh, that would be so wonderful; I could really love playing with him.” So I told Joe, “I’d like you to join my group.” Because Marian was going back to England for a while, and he wouldn’t have a job, so it kind of worked. So he said, “Look, you’ve always kept your drummer kind of in the background. I wouldn’t go for that. If I’m going to play with you, I want to develop as a soloist, and I want to develop in some new directions.” So I said, “That would be great, Joe; I’d like to go in some new directions I’ve been thinking about.” Our first job was in Chicago. No time to rehearse. The first night Joe was on the stage, I gave him a drum solo, and he broke it up with the audience, more than anything that we had done all night. So when we got off stage, Paul said, “Either he goes or I go.” I said, “Paul, he’s not going.”

The trio was the most important thing to you, I guess.

I don’t know what I’m thinking. I’m thinking Paul’s not serious—maybe. I had to wait til the next night to see if my bass player, who also sided in with Paul, didn’t like to have this star on drums. So I was going to play with just Joe and I. It was at the Blue Note in Chicago, too. You had to be pretty good, or you wouldn’t stay there. But they came just in time to play. So now I have two stars in the group. I wrote a tune called “Sounds of the Loop” that featured Joe on my next album.

So my answer is go with what you have. With Joe, I could see a whole different way of going, and that would be the beginning of getting into things finally like “Time Out.”

The different meters.

Yes.

With Peraza, was it the first time you’d been around an African drummer? I know he was from Cuba, but I think of him as an African…

Yes.

Was it your first time on a bandstand with someone like that? I’m interested in how you assimilated polyrhythms and developed a comfort zone with them. I know you’ve talked about the ranch and odd meters and so on. But you’re much more specific in your pieces, and there’s an idiomatic quality to your so-called odd-meter compositions. When you mentioned Peraza, it made me wonder if he’d played some role for you.

If you hear the Octet, the opening track on the old recording is in 6/4 time. ONE-two-three-four-five-six, ONE-two-three-four — which I hadn’t heard in jazz before, but it really works on that short thing called “Curtain Music.” I had written an 8-bar phrase in a piano piece in 5/4 in ‘46. “Singin’ in the Rain” with the trio. [SINGS OUT THE BAR] So on a trio recording, I’m using 6 and 4. Now, I’m thinking, when I introduced “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” I started playing it as a waltz, then I started playing it in 4/4 eventually, and superimposing other meters over the waltz. And “Alice in Wonderland.” This is a direction that I thought I was going just on my own until somebody told me, “Look, Fats Waller wrote ‘Jitterbug Waltz’ a long time ago, so you’re not the first guy to do this.” But I think I was the first guy to… It’s always dangerous to think you’re first. Somebody else is showing you something else.

But what I give a lot of credit to was the Dennis Roosevelt expedition into the Belgian Congo. When I heard that, I knew jazz was not reflecting African music.

When was that?

‘46. It was so complicated, so wonderful, so polyrhythmic, it just knocked me clear out. Why wasn’t this used in jazz? Then again, watch out. Maybe you’ll find something pre-New Orleans. Maybe if you could have recorded Congo Square, what the slaves brought over from Africa might have been a lot like that. But it wasn’t in the first New Orleans music that I heard or that my friends who played New Orleans music were playing. It was always like a march. “Tiger Rag” is a Belgian march syncopated. So this made me think if it’s more polyrhythmic, you’re not getting away from jazz, you’re getting towards its source to have other rhythms in 4/4. That’s a reason I started doing “Time Out,’ “Time Further Out,” “Time in Outer Space,” writing in the odd time signatures like 3, 5, 7, 9, Paul’s 11/4, my 13/4 in the World’s Fair. So advanced jazz guys were listening to what I was doing, and letting me know that I had opened up a way they wanted to go. They did it so much better than I do.

Who are some of the people you’re talking about?

A guy that wrote to me had a big band…

Don Ellis?

Yeah. Don wrote to me, said, “You’ve opened a direction for me.”

Obviously, it opened up avenues for everyone. Certain ideas develop in parallel. For example, in New York, Roy Haynes said that he and Max and the other drummers would hear Machito at the Palladium with Ubaldo Nieto, and he opened up ways of playing polyrhythmically on the drumkit. Then Max Roach studied with Guy Warren in Haiti. But no one orchestrated those rhythms as you did, even when Max did his experiments in the ‘50s.

It’s tough to think you ever did anything that hasn’t been done before. So I want to plead innocence. But some of the things I’ve told you were reasons that shaped my thinking.

I only have a few more questions, because I don’t want to take your whole day. I do want to speak to you about the way you approached teaching your children once it became apparent that they had musical inclinations. I know you used different strategies. I know with one, you had to dress up as Professor Nooseknocker…

[LAUGHS] Nooseknocker. He’d come to the front door…

In doing that, did you pick up anything from your mother, or Milhaud, or Bodley, or Cleo Brown? Did they figure into the way you communicate information?

Aha.

Or your father, for that matter, whom I’m sure had something to do with it, too.

Yeah. [LAUGHS] You know, I really can’t come up with an answer. How you communicate information. I think that most of the way that I learned, because I couldn’t read… Darius Milhaud knew I couldn’t read. After he heard something I’d written and was being performed, he was sitting with my wife in the audience, and he said, “Dave has to be a composer. He’ll find out on his own how to become a composer.”

Pitch-perfect, Milhaud’s responses to you.

Yeah. The word “osmosis” is the only way I seem to learn. Just listening and being. I learned so much from Milhaud about life. He wasn’t trying to teach me about life. I was with him a lot. And I learned so much from Ellington. We were on the road together, and in some kind of situation where we were not being treated fairly. I started describing what I thought this person was doing to us, and he said, “Dave, you’re right, but let’s not get any of his bad shit in our blood.” One time I was with him on a radio show, and the announcer-emcee asked what we thought of rock-and-roll. I started to talk about what I thought about it, and I could see that Duke didn’t like what I was saying, so I cut it very short, thank goodness. He said, “Well, Mister Ellington, what do you think?” He said, “If the American public likes it, it must be good.” I thought, “Boy, this old man is so sharp; how to get out of a nasty… He knows without saying anything.” Osmosis, being around Duke, just helped me in life. He was such a wonderful man to me.

That’s kind of the way I’ve had to learn, because I can’t learn in conventional ways. [LAUGHS] I’m thinking of Gerry Mulligan’s saying once to Iola and I, “My biggest problem is people think I’m a lot smarter than I am.” I often think that about myself. Because I haven’t learned a lot of things I should have learned.

I want to talk about the Brubeck Institute. What motivated you to do it? What did you hope to accomplish with it? I don’t know how much direct oversight you have over it, but talk about what… Is it meeting your expectations, whatever those expectations were?

It’s more than I expected. Because the students… I shouldn’t call them students. The Brubeck Fellows are so fantastic. I run into them now when I’m on the road, and they’re making it, they’re out there playing with name groups. The pianists have been phenomenal, just brilliant. You can’t call them “students.”  They just know so much. One teacher… We bring in top guys to maybe play a concert, but maybe stay the whole week. One of the teachers said, “It’s very difficult when you come in to teach these kids, and you realize they know more than you.” Well, I know they know more than me. The only way I can teach them is through osmosis, and tell them to listen to… For instance, my ballet is going on in San Francisco. They started it last season; it was so successful, they’re using it this year. Lar Lubovich used it in Paris with his group, and they came to New York. Miami, the Florida Ballet is using it right now. Three companies in Canada are going to be using it. Just for them to know that I can recommend things for them to listen to, or I can sit in with them and play with them.

And I talk to them. I remember one time getting a group together and saying, “Look, you’re on a university campus, and all you’re doing is practicing all day long. You have that opportunity. That’s great. But I want you to know that when I was on this campus, I had to take religion in order to graduate. I had to take world literature and art. I’m using those things every day. All the sacred music I’ve music. The understanding of world literature. I took away from the university a hundred books to read because the teacher had given us that to take with us. In the Army, when I had nothing to do, I’d read. You’re here on a campus, and we want to fix it that you can sit in with some of the lectures you might be interested in, and broaden your scope. Because too often, people like yourselves, who are so competent, live in a narrow scope of what’s really going to help them broaden their playing and their creative ability. So don’t just be here practicing all day long. Go to some of these other classes. Talk to the other students. I learned so much from the other students that I became friends with who weren’t interested in being composers or jazz musicians. Try and stretch out into what’s available. When you’re on the road, go to the museums and plays, and broaden your scope.”

You of course, during those years, with the ranching and playing in the mining camps, had done things most college students don’t get an opportunity… It was a different time in the Depression.

Depression, did you mention? See, that is a thing that can structure you and come in handy, because knowing what went on in the Depression helped me when we were not making enough to live on. I’ve had to put my wife and kids in a cabin with no floor, just dirt, and it was flooded, and to wash the kids I’d have to take them to a stream. But I was ready for that. I had lived sleeping on the ground with my saddle blankets, and cooking where there’s no water or sink or anything, and to wash the frying pan you go down to the stream and wash it with sand. Then the Army, man, you’ve got to live without a lot of things. It all made us able to survive.

Young musicians coming up, if they pick the wrong wife, it’s going to be very difficult. I’ve seen the wrong wife break up so many things for musicians and people close to me. You have to be very careful. I don’t think I’ve gotten into this with the students as deep as I’d like to. Because you can hardly tell anybody to be careful who you marry!

Not when they’re 20.

No. No, you can’t. Anyway, with the Brubeck Fellows I see and play with… After all, the first night a new crop came in, we told them, “Get ready; you’re playing at the Monterrey Festival. They hadn’t even rehearsed together, and they went there, and they were so talented that they were well-received by the very critical jazz audience. Just last year, the Brubeck Fellows played with Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine, and they were fantastic. It wasn’t easy music.

How large is the faculty?

The main person we have is Joe Gilman. He’s so wonderful. You should hear the record he made with the students on bass and drums. That bassist and drummer are already pros out there working. I just ran into the drummer, who was with a name group, and just breaking it up, they told me, he’s so good.

So I am really pleased with how things have gone way beyond my imagination.

What did you expect it would be at the beginning, when you decided to do this?

It just started growing. After Joe Gilman came into the teaching end, and then we saw what an inspiration he was to the students, and how he worked with them… That was so much. He was a no-nonsense but great teacher to inspire you. He’s still doing that. Then we get in people… Like, Christian McBride was artistic director for a while, but he had so much going on, he couldn’t go to Stockton as much as he wanted. But we try to get top people. It’s all worked out very well. The Dean of the Conservatory has just become the Managing Director; left the Deanship to become Managing Director of the Institute. You see, we’ve had the cooperation of the conservatory. It was slow at first, but when the conservatory people realized that these young jazz students, like the pianist…

Taylor Eigsti…

Taylor didn’t come. He was the first guy there. Incidentally, he’ll be playing with my sons at Newport, Chris and Danny, on the same day I’m playing on the other stage with my quartet. There’s an example. I’ve known Taylor since he was 12. And Eldar came there… Can you imagine what a conservatory piano teacher is going to think of a kid who’s coming to study jazz, and then hearing… Or the same way with the pianist from last year…damn… He’s like my son, and I can’t think of his name. I’ll tell you later.

Tell me later. This leads me into my final question. People like Taylor Eigsti or Eldar are very mature young men, focused on their discipline, with phenomenal technique and phenomenal resources available to them. 

These kids are beyond being students. They’re pros.

You have an expansion of jazz curriculum all over the country. And you have maybe even a shrinking marketplace for musicians.

Yes.

So I’m wondering about your thoughts in general, apart from the Brubeck Institute, on the explosion of jazz pedagogy today and the notion of jazz-as-such being taught as a specialized discipline.

I just remember my pianist named Glenn Zaleski. That’s so fantastic. He crossed over…

This is the one whose name you forgot.

Yes. One of the teachers in the conservatory thought that Glenn was just tremendous, and almost all of the students in the conservatory, when they do their final recital, if they’re singers or players, they want Glenn. They’re not picking another conservatory student. Although I’m sure they’re there. But they know. I’ve picked Glenn to sub for me when something was too hard at the time for to cut again. I’d written it, I’d played it, but at that…

At that moment you couldn’t execute it.

Yeah. So I had Glenn. He’s 19. The night that we did the Monterrey Cannery Row, I was so exhausted from rehearsals and the performance and everything… I was supposed to close with Oscar Peterson and…three brothers… Hank Jones. (I was going through my thing.) I was supposed to play. There were three pianos; I’m supposed to go play. I couldn’t play. My hands, everything about me…I had nothing left. And my mind had nothing left. So my manager said, “Pull the third piano; we can’t have a piano out there and no player.” Clint Eastwood said, “Get the kid.” He’s going to the car, heading back to Stockton. They run down the stairs and say, “Glenn, come up here and play; you’re going to play with Oscar and Hank.” He says, “cool.” [LAUGHS] And comes up and plays. That’s what I mean when I said one of my so-called students.

Now, I went off the track, but it’s still what I think of these kids. Who is going to go out there and play with Oscar and Hank who’s 19, and say “cool”?

[END OF SOUND FILE #1]

You were talking about your kids who are at the Manhattan School of Music to get their Masters.

BRUBECK:   Yeah. Going to get his Masters next year; he’s graduated this year. I spoke a few words at the graduation. Then there were two that will be studying there, a pianist from the Institute, who got a scholarship I think to Columbia in Calculus and Music. [LAUGHS] That’s frightening, isn’t it, to have that kind of mind?

Not surprising, the relationship between math and music being what it is.

Yes.

Kenny Barron mentioned something similar about not having much to teach his piano students, but that again it’s more a matter of passing on his functional experience, like, “Don’t play so many notes” or “Let the ballad breathe,” that sort of thing.

Well, when the students ask me the question you asked, where are they going, I said: Look at my sons. They’ve survived, because they know so many directions that they might be called on to go to make a living. Darius just finished twenty years at University of Natal, in South Africa. The youngest, Matthew, is at York University. I just played the Toronto Festival. He’s on the same bill with a duo—David Braid and Matthew Brubeck. Matthew is teaching improvisation to the string players at York University. He’s playing in the symphony orchestra. He just finished with Sheryl Crow last summer, he’s played with Dixie Chicks, Jewel… He can improvise and he can read, and that’s why so many people want him. The first day he was called in to do a job, it was because the cellist they had could only play notes, and couldn’t improvise. So they had to cancel the session. Somebody said, “Who can you get?” and they said, “Get Matthew Brubeck, because he can read and he can improvise.” So they want to have that ability.

Compose. Chris is composing all kinds of successful things. He’s recording today with a woodwind quintet that will soon be out. Two trombone concertos. He’s writing a concerto for trumpet and trombone for the Prague Symphony. He’s written a Triple Violin Concerto for three different stylists–-Jazz, Irish and Classical—that was played and televised by Boston Pops.

Danny on drums. I’ll be playing with him this weekend. He can do clinics… Like, Joe Morello has done marvelous clinics all over the United States, sometimes in Europe.

They have to spread their talents. Look at what I’m doing with the ballet. I’ll be at Notre Dame doing a piece called “In Praise of Mary.” I’ve just done two fugues, one “The Commandments” and the other “The Credo,” from… Mozart left out the “The Credo,” so they asked four American composers to fill it in. You don’t know what the next phone call is going to be, and you have to be able to go, to survive now… It’s not like when I grew up, you can get a job in a joint or a big band or something. You have to have many ways of making a living, and they’ll all work for you, and you’ll have a great life. But be prepared as much as you can be in many different parts of the music.

I hated to bring up my sons again. I’m so glad you know about Eldar and Taylor. See, I’ve known these kids since they were 12 years old.

There are so many talented young musicians. It’s an astonishing thing. You just wonder if there’s enough space in the O.K. Corral for all of them.

Yeah! There are so many opportunities to teach, and the universities have become like the big bands and the joint jobs that we used to have.

2 Comments

Filed under Interview, Jazziz, Piano

Hank Jones (July 31, 1918 – May 16, 2010) — His 93rd Birthday Anniversary

It’s the 93rd birthday anniversary of the pianist Hank Jones, who died last May at 91.  His final years comprise a case study of a profile in courage — himself struggling with several illnesses, each of which might have felled a mere mortal, and living in somewhat reduced circumstances, he sustained a steady practice, performance, and recording schedule. While continuing to tour with his trio and do occasional solo performances, he also guest-starred in the duo function with Christian McBride and John Clayton, sidemanned extensively with Joe Lovano in an inspired quartet with drummers of stylistic proclivity ranging from Paul Motian to Lewis Nash, and also performed quite a bit in duo, both with Lovano (documented on the wonderful recording Kids: Live at Dizzy’s Club) and Roberta Gambarini (Lush Life).

Although Jones’ legacy will lie primarily in the hundred or so recordings he made after 1975, when he retired from an 16-year run as a first-call studio musician in New York City, he was an active professional from the thirties, and a New York mainstay from 1944.  A consummate professional in any function, he found intriguing ways to meld the new sounds of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie that were in the air when he got to 52nd Street with his own two-handed roots in Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, and Nat Cole. Unparalleled as an accompanist helping other people tell their stories, he had no inhibitions about expressing own narrative, replete with ingenious harmonic formulations, rhythmic displacements, and a pungent-yet-dry sense of humor.

I met Jones for the first time in 1994 during an hour-long encounter on WKCR — he was promoting a gig at Sweet Basil that week. Thirteen years later,  Jazziz assigned me to write a profile.  That piece comes first in the queue, followed by a transcript of the WKCR interview.

* * * *

Hank Jones Jazziz Piece (2007):

“What I do most are the rudimental things,” said Hank Jones, describing the practice regimen he continues to follow on a daily basis during his eighth decade as a professional musician.

“If you’re not able to move your fingers, you won’t be able to play anything,” Jones continued. “So I concentrate on scales and exercises, then I play tunes that I might have to play at some future time. I try to play my interpretation. Sometimes I change the harmony, hopefully for the better, but I never change the melody.”

Just back in New York from a performance with singer Roberta Gambarini at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and looking forward to a two-week post-Christmas tour of Japan, Jones, 89, who described himself as in “advanced rehab” from quadruple bypass heart  surgery at the end of 2006, spoke decidedly in the present tense. “It’s been rather quiet,” he said, referring to 2007, highlights of which included a week at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola with Joe Lovano to support Kids [Blue Note], their third album together, and, in early July, a four-night run before packed houses at Birdland with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Omar Hakim for a Japan-targeted CD.

“It was a different approach for me, but it was interesting,” Jones said of the latter unit, the latest in a three-decade run of “Great Jazz Trios,” usually assembled by Japanese producers for recording purposes. In previous iterations, he functioned in equilateral triangle fashion with young-enough-to-be-his-son bassists Ron Carter and Eddie Gomez and drummers Tony Williams, Al Foster, and Jack DeJohnette, as well as the slightly older Jimmy Cobb. It would be hard to imagine any of the latter four ever paying so little attention to dynamics as did Hakim, who seemed unable to shake the trappings of his fusion background, deploying a double snare drum setup and on-the-one eighth-note grooves that clashed with the laid-back swing that Jones favors. Unfazed, Jones navigated the terrain with characteristic aplomb and elegance.

“In a group like that, each individual is a stylist,” he explained. “Since my style is different than theirs, I try to bridge over whatever there is between us, and try to make a musical connection. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but hopefully it will work most of the time.” Without comparing the experiences, Jones segued to his four-year association with Lovano. “With Joe, I use almost the same approach,” he continued. “Joe is a consummate artist, and he plays a style that is like a picture in which the hues and colors are constantly changing. He compels you to use a full piano style, to use the left hand to provide the bass and the rhythm, which might be difficult if you’re not used to playing solo. He makes you think harder in order to play in his idiom.”

It is characteristic that Jones would embrace a situation that, as he puts it, “broadens my horizon,” and reference collective rather than individual imperatives when discussing his core principles. Famously the surviving older brother of the iconic trumpeter-composer-arranger Thad Jones and world historical drummer Elvin Jones, he himself is a key signpost in the evolution of jazz vocabulary, esteemed by his peer group since he arrived in New York in 1944 for a gig with trumpeter-blues singer Hot Lips Page at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street, where he applied himself to absorbing bop avatars Bud Powell, Al Haig, and Thelonious Monk—on one occasion, after the Onyx closed, Monk invited Jones to his apartment to and played for him, as Jones transcribed the notes, a new composition called “Monk’s Mood.” A first-caller on 52nd Street by 1946, when he began a long association with Coleman Hawkins, and worked as well with Billy Eckstine, Andy Kirk, and John Kirby, Jones began touring with Jazz at the Philharmonic the following year, sharing piano duties with Oscar Peterson, who credits him as a deep influence. He accompanied Ella Fitzgerald from 1948 to 1953, and spent the remainder of the ‘50s freelancing, recording with artists as diverse as Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Artie Shaw, Sonny Stitt, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Benny Goodman, and his younger brothers.

From 1959 to 1975, Jones worked at CBS as a staff pianist, playing on Captain Kangaroo, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, and any other forum which required his services. In 1975, he retired, and launched the present phase of his career, as a solo artist, which he was conducting with unabated energy—among his recordings between 2004 and 2006 were the excellent trio sessions S’Wonderful [Sony], For My Father [Justin Time], and West of 5th [Chesky], and two quartet dates with Lovano (I’m All For You and Joyous Encounter [Blue Note]—until his recent involuntary hiatus.

“Hank is involved in every aspect of the piece,” says Lovano. “His rhythmic punctuations and voicings are free and spontaneous, and the feeling he plays with is so solid and beautiful that a certain flow happens that you feed off of. He never repeats voicings. As a duo, we spontaneously orchestrate, shape each tune as we go along. In the quartet, there’s a lot of counterpoint and clarity; his punctuations are always searching and swinging. He always feeds off the line you’re playing, and follows it in an almost telepathic way.

The results in all cases transcend era and style. Indeed, in a manner not unlike Coleman Hawkins, Jones  plays—and composes—with an attitude that embraces and encompasses all the idioms that comprise the language of jazz from the stridecentric 1930s, when he absorbed Fats Waller, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, and Nat Cole, through the harmonic complexities of Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Several fellow pianists, each young enough to be Jones’ grandchild, are happy to testify to the truth of this assertion.

“I tell my advanced students to get Tiptoe Tapdance, his solo piano record from 1978, which for me is a textbook of contemporary solo piano playing,” says Geoff Keezer, who presented Jones’ compositions in piano duos with Chick Corea, Kenny Barron, Benny Green and Mulgrew Miller on the 2003 CD Sublime: Honoring The Music of Hank Jones [Telarc]. “Here’s this old-school stride-transitioning-into-bebop player playing harmonies that are as hip as anything that was ever done! His tunes are virtuoso pieces that stretch you to the limits of what you can do as an improviser.”

“If you compare what Hank Jones plays with Joe Lovano to what he played with anybody fifty years ago, it’s on a genius level of musicianship,” said Eric Reed. “I’m not talking about inventiveness or technique or style. I’m talking about pure musicianship. His pedal work is amazing, like he’s playing a player piano, and he understands harmony better than any living musician, as you can hear in the way he’s able to interpret and reinterpret songs. When you tell Hank Jones that a certain chord is C7, he’s not just thinking C7, but of the thousands of variations of C7 that can be played at any particular moment. Somebody—maybe me—needs to do a book of transcriptions of Hank’s changes and substitutions.”

“Hank contains subtleties upon subtleties,” says Bill Charlap, who had an opportunity to experience the Jones effect first hand on a two-piano version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Tonk” for Lush Life [Blue Note], from 2005. “Subtlety of touch, of inflection, in his rhythm, in his harmony. His music has layers upon layers. He’s uniquely put together the whole history of jazz piano playing. You hear the juncture of Teddy Wilson, Nat Cole and Bud Powell—but also it’s his own voice. He’s the premier living jazz pianist.”

Jones won’t cosign the assertion. “I can’t praise myself,” he said, asked about his quick breakthrough on the New York scene. “If anything, I had feelings of inadequacy. I didn’t think I was that great. All these guys who were in the JATP—Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young—were my idols. I was hoping that I could keep up with them.”

But asked to describe his stylistic first principles, he responds with characteristic logic. “I try to play a relaxed style,” he says. “It probably sounds less complicated than most. I try to play something that is understandable and still intelligent. I guess it has to be understandable to me as well. If there’s no harmonic or melodic or even rhythmic base, how can it fit together to form a composition that’s intelligible, that can be interpreted as music? I remember a sign in the Decca Records office many years ago, an Indian looking out over the horizon, saying, ‘Where is the melody?’ First you have to know what you’re playing. If you know that, you have a point of departure. If you don’t know it, what are you doing? You’re playing aimlessly. All improvisation is, is variations on a melody, variations on a theme.”

Jones referenced his 1959-1975 tenure as a staff pianist at CBS. “I played for a variety of performers—singers, instrumentalists—who all had different styles. You listen. You’d adjust to whatever style you’re playing at the time. If you’re listening to Charlie Parker, you don’t play his solos, but you play in that idiom. If it’s Monk, you try to do what he’s doing—but you may not be able to do it! I’ve been asked to play things in the style of Fats Waller or Teddy Wilson—I hope they never ask me to play anything in the Tatum style! You try to think like the performer. I try always to play something different, make the flow of ideas more continuous—in other words, make it more enjoyable, hopefully, for a listener…or two.”

He chuckled at his quip, then turned to his favorite subject, Art Tatum, with whom he spent quality time during 1944, when Jones, 25, in the process of working his way east from Pontiac, Michigan, his home-town, to New York City, got an engagement at an Italian restaurant in Buffalo, across town from Tatum, then in residence at a bar-and-grill called McVan’s.

“There are players who can play every note of Tatum’s solos exactly,” he noted. “But they didn’t create the solos. Tatum was a creative performer as well as a fantastic technical interpreter. Now, when you listen to his recordings, you’ll always hear the melody. He always identifies the composition. So my approach is: Play whatever you play, make it understandable, but don’t sacrifice anything in your technique, anything you would play that is individualistic to your style. Do what you think. If you play somebody else’s musical ideas, how can you identify yourself? As you grow older, you try to develop a consciousness, an identity, so that when someone hears you, hopefully they can say, ‘Oh, that’s Hank Jones’ or whoever you happen to be.”

[BREAK]

A child of the Great Depression, Jones understands how to balance his creative impulses with pragmatic necessities, a talent that served him well during his long studio tenure.

“In the studio you’re playing by formula, playing music that’s written and set before, so the atmosphere tends to repress what creativity you have,” he remarks. “But not completely. Basically, I consider myself to be a creative player. I like to play things I haven’t done before, paint musical pictures, so to speak. So I guess I overcame that period of repression, you might say.”

He’s applied such pragmatism to other aspects of the jazz life, too. He recalls a moment down south in the spring of 1945, in the middle of a six-week tour with Hot Lips Page and a 15-piece big band. “We did all the little one-horse towns down there,” Jones recalls. “Some places we played had one side of the building missing. There were pianos that you had to transpose on, because they were always out of tune.”

They were in the railroad depot, waiting for a train to bring them to the next town. “The trains came on the same level where the passengers boarded the train, and we were standing next to the tracks with our bags lined up alongside them,” he recalls. “A pickup truck came along and ran right over our bags! Oh, I was fuming. If I had been the type that, excuse the expression, blew their top, that’s when it would have happened.

“I was able to keep it in perspective, even at that age. ‘I’m down here to work,’ I said. ‘This goes with the territory.’ That wasn’t the only incident. I thought there was no point in making it worse; all I could do was get myself, or maybe somebody else, hurt or killed—at the time, they were lynching people down there. I thought the best way to get through it was to keep my temper, hold it, remember it. I’ve never forgotten. But I didn’t raise my hand. Am I a coward? No. Because of my Christian upbringing, I was taught not to fight, but there times when I’d have to defend myself, and I’ve fought people who were 15-20 pounds heavier than I am and had them on the ground. Martin Luther King proved that there’s always a better way to do it. In other words, you can kill them with kindness, let’s say.”
Jones does not wear his faith on his sleeve, but walks the walk in his predisposition to perform hymns and spirituals, as on Steal Away [Verve], his 1994 duo recording of such repertoire with Charlie Haden. Indeed, he regards them as almost a birthright. “As a very young child, I remember hearing hymns whenever my mother sat down to the piano and at church, and as I grew up they were instilled in my mind. I can’t say I know every one, but I would say that I know the majority of hymns that were hung in the church from memory. During my teens, I played for the junior choir and occasionally the senior choir, so I had a lot of experience that way.

“My father was the greatest influence on me,” he adds, referring to Henry Jones, Sr., a factory worker and Baptist church deacon who had, Jones recalls, “read the Bible from start to finish,” took it literally, and applied its principles to daily life. “He was a very moral person. He spent the better part of his life in church. He was on the Deacon Board and the Trustee Board, attended the prayer meetings—every function the church had, he was there. He didn’t believe in gambling. We couldn’t even play cards in the house. He worked hard, but he would get up very early in the morning and tend the garden, because he believed in having fresh vegetables.  He loved music, but he didn’t like it in the house.

“Once I was playing a dance in a little club in Pontiac on Saturday night, and after 12 o’clock midnight my father came down to the job and pulled me off the bandstand because I couldn’t play on Sunday. I had to leave. I wasn’t happy about it, but I didn’t protest too much. He’s being a father. It’s his call, not mine. The fact that he didn’t want me to perform on Sunday meant that he wanted to keep the Sunday holy—which it should be, I think. I got away from that in later years, but I always feel a tinge of regret, guilt that I didn’t follow his strictures. If I had lived the kind of life that my father had wished me to live all my life up to now, I think I would have been a much better person.”

Perhaps Jones inherited his father’s willpower—he did become a secular musician, and left home to do so, albeit at a relatively advanced age. In any event, it took great deal of strength to make that break, to hew to his own code of ethics in conducting his life, and to do so without engaging in self-destructive actions and retaining a non-judgmental attitude to others who did so engage.

Unlike his father, Jones, the great-grandson of African slaves, continues to ponder his true genealogical identity, a subject that was the subtext of his 1995 collaboration with a Malian unit headed by keyboardist Cheick-Tidiane Seck on the album Sarala [Verve]. “It’s the question of who am I, really,” he explains. “When we left Africa in bondage, what was our name there? I’m Henry Jones. My father was Henry Jones. But then, who was Henry Jones? Where did ‘Jones’ come from? Perhaps the former owner was of English descent. I think about this sometimes late at night, and I will never rest easy until I know this.”

Other fundamental issues claw at him as well. “What I regret most is that I didn’t play enough with Thad and Elvin,” he says. “We should have done 10 or 15 albums together, or been in the same group. Shoulda-coulda-woulda. Together, we would have made something good. And I wonder if I was true, let’s say, to my race. There were times when I wanted to join the civil rights movement and march, but I would have lost my job. I had a wife and stepdaughter, and I had to support them. With my temperament, something could have happened to me, because things were going on that I might not have been able to accept. Although my instincts were to do the proper thing, I repressed them.

“Perhaps music is a release. I don’t know. But I feel pain in a lot of ways. My wife, for instance, is in a nursing home. Alzheimer’s. She’s been there a year now. But you have to learn to live with pain. because that’s part of life. The pain that I feel from that experience in the South is DEEP. But then I say, ‘What can I do about it?’ All I can do is try to live my life in such a way that things like that might never happen again. Now, I’m not trying to set myself as some kind of model to live by. I have to do what I can. I can’t help somebody else. I can only help myself.”

But then there’s music, and Jones intends to continue to play it and to keep looking for the next step.”When you become satisfied with your playing, your creativity levels off and you don’t do anything,” he says. “That’s a bad place to be. I’ve never been there, and I never expect to. I was never the local phenom, although I suppose people thought of me as adequate. I hope, anyway. But I thought my playing could be improved by listening to other players, and I learned an awful lot from the time I first arrived in New York up til now.

“What I am trying to do is a life-long quest. I’ll never be able to play as well as I would LIKE to play. I always believed that  I can do better, and I’ll always try to do better, but I cannot predict that that will ever happen. I just hope it will.”

Hank Jones (WKCR, 12-28-94):

[MUSIC: Jones/Mraz/Elvin, "Ah, Henry" (1993) - Jones/ Drummond/Higgins, "What Am I Here For?" (1989); Jones/ Holland/Higgins, "Blood Count" (1989); Jones/Duvivier/ Dawson, "Azure" (1977); Jones (solo), "Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me," "Prelude To A Kiss" (1976); Jones/Brown/ Smith, "Rockin' In Rhythm" (1977) - Jones/Mraz/Elvin, "Ray-El" (1992)]

New Yorkers are used to hearing you in duos and trios and so forth, but you don’t often appear with a larger group in New York.  That’s been true for your recording career as well.

HJ:    That’s true, although when I recorded a lot for Savoy, sometimes the A&R man would put horns, soloists with the trio.  Basically, though, as you say, it was with the trio.  At Savoy it was all trio, except a few instances of maybe a trombone being added or maybe a trumpet being added.  But in New York most recently it’s always been trio.

How do you differ in approaching the quintet configuration as opposed to a trio?

HJ:    Well, usually with a trio you have bass, drums and piano, and you get to hear a lot more of each instrument.  With the quintet you don’t hear as much of the trio.  The trio becomes the rhythm section, and accompanies the horn soloists, which is what the basic function of the rhythm section is.  On the other hand, it’s more exciting, I believe, for audiences to hear the horns, and they seem to relate to horns quite well.

In this particular instance, we have two of the very best, and I don’t think there are any finer musicians anywhere than Tom Harrell, a trumpet player (and flugelhorn, by the way, and also cornet), and Ralph Moore.  Ralph is a young player with wonderful technique and wonderful imagination and ideas, and he executes very well.  Tom, of course, is just as close to a genius as you’d ever get.  His approach is sort of a laid-back approach, but he’s thoroughly familiar with the chord progressions and harmonic ideas — as is Ralph.  The two of them together work very well.  They have a very good blend, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to accomplish that with the tenor saxophone and trumpet.

Especially on the first night.

HJ:    Well, hopefully, even that will get better.  But I’m sure there were first night, let’s say, observations that people like yourself could make, because you’ve had many, many years of experience listening to groups in that context.  But I think that with this particular group, it can only get better.  It’s started rough, but it will get better, I’m sure.

George Mraz is on your most recent recording, Upon Reflection [Verve], and I’m sure you’re familiar with his work over the years as well.

HJ:    Oh, very, very much so.  When George first came to this country I guess maybe 15 or 20 years ago, I was so much impressed by his work.  I said, “George, where have you been all this time?”  George said that he’d lived in Europe, I think Czechoslovakia, and then he told me that he’d placed second in European competition in a previous year.  I said, “Well, if you placed second, who in the world placed first?” — and he said Niels Henning Orsted Pederson!  George is one of those very few bass players who seem to have done everything that it’s possible to do on a bass, and he does it with great regularity and consistency.

He’s a very supportive player, and yet he’s capable of great solo flights when his turn comes.

HJ:    Exactly.  He has wonderful ideas.  He’s a very creative bass player.  He has an excellent tone, and his technique is flawless.  In addition to all this, he has a great beat.  He’s a perfect bass player for any rhythm section.  And as a soloist as well, he’s just… He’s incomparable.

I guess you have one of the top-call drummers as well for this week, someone who is not so easy to get hold of any more, Lewis Nash.

HJ:    Lewis Nash is one of the most sought-after drummers, perhaps the most sought-after drummer in the business.  And understandably so, when you realize that he plays with such great imagination, his time is absolutely perfect, his solo ideas are clear, concise and always innovative and exciting.

I’ll tell you, this group is one of the most exciting groups, I think, ever.  It’s certainly one of the most exciting groups I’ve played with.  Every tune that you play is a new adventure, because you know that something different and something wonderful is going to happen, you know what I mean.  So there’s a layer of expectation on our parts, as well as hopefully the audience.

Well, that’s something I’d like to address with you, because as a fan of yours over the years, and one whose appreciation of your music grows over the years, the thing that strikes me most is the way you seem to approach material you’ve probably played, you know, 18,000 times, freshly, as though it were fresh each time.

HJ:    Well, I think the only way you can do that is in the context of the group that you’re playing with.  Usually that’s it.  In my case, for instance, although I’ve played many times in the trio format, usually it’s a different group each time — the personnel has been different.  I think that, in and of itself, gives you a fresh approach to the material that you’re playing — although you may have played it maybe not 18,000 times, but perhaps 17,000 times.

So it’s the intersecting of personalities.

HJ:    I think so, of personnel and styles and just whatever the relationship is between musicians who work together, perhaps for the first time, or the second or third time.  But there’s always something new, it seems, that you can relate to in a group like this.

Well, it’s a very democratic approach to the trio.  For instance, in some trios there, of course, the arrangements are pretty much worked out, although the musicians improvise and apply their imagination.  But it seems that in your trios there’s always room for fresh approaches and new discoveries.

HJ:    I think even that is based on the personnel.  If you know that you’re going to be working, let’s say, at Club XYZ, and your personnel is A, B, C and so forth, you think, then, in terms of what this particular group will be able to do in relation to what you do.  And sometimes you come up with new ways of approaching old problems, or old tunes, maybe changing some harmonies here and there, changing some progressions and so forth.  There’s always something that you can do to make it different and more interesting for the listener — as well as for the musicians who are playing with you.

Another thing that’s impressed me over the years is the breadth of your repertoire, which goes from Fats Waller and James P. Johnson to the most modern harmonic developments.

HJ:    Mmm-hmm.

I’d like to talk about how you develop repertoire, how you discover tunes, decide to use certain things, discard others, so forth and so on. [END OF TAPE SIDE]

HJ:    Again, it’s according to the personnel.  There’s a book, but you might add some original compositions if your group has people in it who are composers who write many tunes.  For instance, Ralph Moore wrote a tune called “Hopscotch” that we played that I had seen for the first time.  He is a very innovative writer, a very imaginative writer.  Tom Harrell also contributed a composition of his called “Because I Love You.”  I have written a couple of things.  I keep writing things.  Most musicians who are in this business, I think, always do a certain amount of writing, creative writing composition-wise.  So I think this all adds up, gives you sort of a different approach.  I’m sure it’s better for the listener to hear different material.

That was the approach of one the people you worked with early in your career, Coleman Hawkins, kept him fresh.

HJ:    Mmm.

I guess I’ll use the mention of his name as a segue to jump back from the end of 1994 to the beginning of your musical experiences, and your education on the piano.  Were you brought to it by your parents?  Was there a piano in your house?

HJ:    Always a piano.  And I, along with two older sisters, studied the piano, in Pontiac, Michigan, where we grew up.

What were your sisters’ names?

HJ:    My oldest sister’s name was Olive, and another younger sister was Melinda.  They both studied piano, along with myself.  We used to play two-piano duets, on the same piano, which is not the easiest thing in the world to do!  My oldest sister, Olive, was quite accomplished as a pianist.  She unfortunately had an accident skating on a lake, and she died at the age of 13.  But even at that age, she was quite a pianist.  My other sister, Melinda, was also a very fine pianist, although she apparently didn’t want to follow music as a career.

But there was always a piano in the house, and always music, and I guess that certainly must have had an influence on our decision, or certainly on my decision to try to go further with the piano.

According to my sources, you were born in Saginaw, Michigan…

HJ:    No.  As a matter of fact, I was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Now, I grew up in Pontiac, Michigan.  But I worked a while in Saginaw! [LAUGHS]

I misread some material.  Did your parents bring you up from Mississippi at the end of World War One?

HJ:    When I was quite young, nine months of age, as a matter of fact, my folks moved to Pontiac from Vicksburg.  So I grew up in Pontiac.  My two older sisters and I were born in Vicksburg.  All the other members of the family — Thad, Elvin, Paul, Tom, Edith, Etta Mae — were born in Pontiac.

Vicksburg is Milt Hinton’s home town.

HJ:    So I understand.  And Milt always tells me that he knew my folks, even though I never heard of him.  Because as I said, we moved from Pontiac when I was nine months of age.

Were your parents musical?

HJ:    My father played guitar, and my mother played piano.  But neither one of them played professionally.  They just knew how to play the piano.  I don’t know whether they had studied or not, but they both were able to play well — so I assumed that they must have studied.  They never discussed that.  I don’t know whether you know this, by the way, but Elvin can play guitar.  Have you heard him play?

I haven’t, but I’ve heard that he plays wonderfully.

HJ:    It’s Blues guitar, you know.  Real down-home Blues.  Interesting.

You mentioned that your experiences just within the family led you to explore the piano further.  When did this start to manifest itself in working for pay?

HJ:    Well, I must tell you at this point that the “pay” [quote, unquote] was…if you say it was minimal, I think that’s an exaggeration. [LAUGHS]

It may not have seemed so at the time, though.

HJ:    Well, yes it did! [LAUGHS] Actually, we weren’t as concerned about that at that point.  I think all of us, and we were all about the same age, we were more concerned about producing something that could be called music.  I think that was our biggest concern.  We were all going through the learning process — as we are today.  By the way, this is something that never stops, Ted, at least in my case.  I mean, every outing, every set, every appearance, to me, is a learning experience, especially when you’re working with musicians of the caliber of Ralph Moore, Tom Harrell, people like this…

Bringing our attention back to this week.

HJ:    Of course, yes.  Lest we forget!

We won’t, I promise.  But moving back…

HJ:    Yes, okay!

I’m just curious about the type of gigs that an aspiring teenage pianist, or musician, would be doing in that area.

HJ:    Growing up in Pontiac, there were not an awful lot of places to play.  I grew up, though, in a period when Prohibition was still in effect, and the clubs, or beer gardens as they were called in those days, served 3.2 beer.  I suppose if you drank a barrel of it, you could probably get high, and some people did.  But those were the kind of places that were available to work in.  I used to work in places like that at a very early age.  In fact, my father objected very strenuously to that.  He was a very religious man.

How old were you?

HJ:    I was about 14 at the time, and still going to school.  It was kind of difficult to do.  But those were the places.  Whenever I worked with a band, I was always the youngest member of the band at that time.  The situation is somewhat reversed today!  Anyway, we worked in those types of places.  Also, we played school dances, parties and things like that…

What sort of music did you play?

HJ:    We played mostly stock arrangements.  These were published arrangements that were available in the music stores, and they were written by famous arrangers.  I remember Buck Clayton had written a number of them, Fletcher Henderson, Horace Henderson, all of the well-known arrangers of the day had written stock arrangements.  Duke Ellington had written some.  So that’s what we played.

Also we had musicians who were very good writers and arrangers who could arrange standard tunes of the day.  We had one fellow, Jimmy Parker, who was about the same age we were, but he was an excellent arranger, he played all the instruments in the band — one of those rare people who seemed to do everything well.  We played some of his things.  But most of the things that we played were stock arrangements.  The groups ranged in size anywhere from six pieces to twelve pieces.

Playing around Pontiac.

HJ:    That’s right.  During that period we never actually left the Pontiac area.  Later on, of course, we did go out on tour.  I worked in a band in Lansing, Michigan, led by Benny Carew, a drummer, who had what they called a territory band.  They worked maybe certain areas of Ohio, Michigan, but never any further than that.  It was a good band.  At one time it had Wardell Gray, Lucky Thompson, Art House, a trumpet player who used to work with Woody Herman.  He had some good musicians in the band.

Was your first contact, let’s say, with Lucky Thompson or Wardell Gray, through this territory band?

HJ:    It was, yes.  That’s right.

Because they came up in Detroit.

HJ:    That’s right.  They were born and grew up in Detroit.  They both went to the same high school.  I forget the name of the high school, but they must have had an excellent music department there, because they produced musicians that were of professional quality just out of high school.  So it must have been a great school.

Anyway, Lucky and Wardell and others played in this band, Benny Carew.  We played many college dates in that area, in Lansing or Saginaw or Grand Rapids, Michigan.  We never played any dates in Pontiac, by the way.

Did the big bands come through Pontiac and its environs, or only Detroit?

HJ:    Surprisingly enough, big bands did come through Pontiac.  Rarely, infrequently, but… I remember very clearly Nat Cole, who was playing piano with his brother’s big band….

The Eddie Cole Big Band out of Chicago.

HJ:    That’s right.  They played a theater I think called the Rialto Theater in Pontiac.  It was my first experience of hearing a big band ever in person.  I remember that they did an arrangement of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and Nat Cole was the featured pianist.  He was very spectacular.  I remember on the release of “Sweet Georgia Brown” he did sort of a pinwheel effect.  He liked to play a lot of single-note lines, even then.

He was very influenced by Earl Hines, of course, being from Chicago.

HJ:    I think so.  A lot of people think that Earl Hines might be the forerunner of Bop, because he played a lot of single-finger lines.  That was his style.  And as you say, Nat Cole must have heard him and must have been influenced by him.

He recollected hanging out in the alley behind the Grand Terrace in Chicago in the 1930′s, and checking him out.

HJ:    Exactly.

But this brings me to a question, which is the formation of your aesthetic, the pianists you heard, how you began to assimilate styles.  The biographies say that you were mightily impressed by Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson and Fats Waller, the main subject of your recent recording, Handful Of Keys.  A few words about Fats Waller.

HJ:    Well, I remember very clearly hearing Fats Waller on the radio every morning when I was going to junior high school.  There were two radio stations, CKLW and KCLK; one of them was in Canada, in Windsor, and the other one was in Detroit.  They used to play many records of Fats Waller.  He always impressed me as a very rhythmic pianist, and he had a happy sound.  Another pianist who had that same kind of sound, but a different sound, was Erroll Garner.  Erroll Garner had that happy feeling.  When you listened to his music, you felt uplifted, generally.  It put you on a higher level of enjoyment.  Fats Waller had that.  And what a great way to start off the day!  Because before we left the house to go to school, we were listening to Fats Waller.

Duke Ellington gave me a different kind of feeling.  Of course, it was all big band.  But Duke, in spite of what some people might think, was an excellent pianist.  I guess when the band was playing, of course, he preferred to let the musicians in the band take the spotlight as far as solo  playing was concerned…

They were extensions of him anyway.

HJ:     Exactly.  I always liked Duke’s piano-playing style.  And his ideas, of course, were very innovative.  Although Duke, if he were here today, would tell you that Willie The Lion Smith influenced him quite a bit.  And when you listen to some of the Willie The Lion Smith piano solos (and I have some of them, by the way), you can hear the later Duke Ellington.  So Duke was greatly influenced in that respect.  I mean, everybody is.  That’s not unusual.  You have to have a role model.  And I’m sure that Willie was one of Duke’s role models.  The others were probably some other pianists that we don’t even know about…

Well, it’s very interesting how styles were disseminated even at a time when there was much less universal media from one part of the country to another, just because of the traveling life of musicians — and of course, from records.

HJ:    Yes, records.  There weren’t as many, but… Or just traveling musicians who would go from place to place.  Some people like to describe them as itinerant. I don’t.  [LAUGHS] Maybe they had to move from place to place because there was no work where they were, and so they were trying to find work.  I’m sure the basic reason for their travel was not that they loved it; it’s just they had to do it in order to survive.

But you mentioned Earl Hines.  Well, of course, Earl Hines was a single-line pianist.  That’s the best way to describe his playing.  He had a very good band in the 1930′s and early ’40s.  As a matter of fact, Sarah Vaughan used to sing in his band at one time.

She got her start in that band.

HJ:    That’s right.  And he had violins at one time, by the way.

Well, he had to take care of a whole show at the Grand Terrace in Chicago, so a lot of his repertoire had to be geared toward the dancers and the comedians, and deal with the whole range of entertainment.

HJ:    That’s right.

Art Tatum was in the Midwest quite a bit in the 1930′s.  He was from Toledo, Ohio.

HJ:    Yes, he was.  There was another pianist, Lannie Scott, who you may not have heard of (or maybe you have).  Lannie and Art used to work opposite each other in the same club, Val’s in the Alley in Toledo.  Then later on I met Lannie in Detroit.  As a matter of fact, I worked opposite Lannie Scott.  But they had similar styles.  Lannie had, you could say, a similar harmonic approach to playing that Art did, but Art, of course, was just more prolific.  He had flawless technique with both hands, just a never-ending flow of ideas, and tremendous energy.  Where it came from, I don’t know, because he was an ordinary-looking man.  He wasn’t a huge man.  He was on the small side.

But his playing is beyond description.  Everything that he does… You know, I listen to records that he made forty years ago, today, and I still hear things that I didn’t hear the first time I heard them.  When I first heard Art Tatum play, I said, “Aha.  Here are three guys playing the piano, and they want people to believe that only one person is playing the piano.  I won’t go for that.”  But of course, later I found out that there was only one person!  Of course, I had even more respect for him then.

But he was just a tremendous player.  Flawless.  Keys didn’t mean anything.  He could play in any key with the same technique.  Of course, he was blind.  He was legally blind, now.  He could see a little bit.  I’ve seen him play cards, pinochle, and he’d hold the cards up to eye level and then pull out a card, and so forth.  I was really amazed when I saw him do that, because I had thought he was totally blind.  He wasn’t totally blind.  Legally blind, which meant he’d lost maybe 75 or 80 percent of his sight.  But his playing certainly didn’t reflect that.  If anything, you might have thought he had four eyes and sixteen hands!

An octopus of the piano.

HJ:    Octopus, exactly!   A good way to describe it.

Now, Teddy Wilson was a very methodical pianist.  He had flawless technique.  I got a chance to hear him at greater length when he played with the Benny Goodman Trio, back when they were doing the Camel Hour on the radio.  Remember radio, the little box that used to sit…

Well, no, that I don’t remember.

HJ:    That’s right.  You’re much too young.  But this is how I first became aware of his playing.  By the way, Teddy used to travel in Michigan, in the area of Flint and Saginaw — I don’t think he ever came to Pontiac.  But he was widely known in that area.  People in Flint that I met later knew Teddy very well.  In fact, I think he lived in Flint for a time.  Flint is about forty miles north of Pontiac.

Teddy as a pianist was flawless.  Whatever he played was very clear, distinct, harmonically absolutely correct, and flawless.  His technique was flawless.  Now, I won’t say that he made the Benny Goodman Trio, but he certainly made it a viable group of musicians.  Because they were playing without a bass.  Teddy provided the bass, because he had this two-handed approach to piano, playing the Stride with the left-hand, and coordinating the right hand with the left hand to create a very fluent, flowing style.  He didn’t play with the huge, great volume of notes that Art Tatum played, but distinct and clear and very, very listenable.

Well, in analyzing these pianists, were you trying to, let’s say, copy solos or memorize solos, and apply those ideas to functional situations?

HJ:    I think most people do that to a certain extent.  When I first heard Teddy, and I tried to emulate his style… Actually there were folios that somebody had published of his piano work, and I played some of them until I got the style in my head, so to speak.  After that, then I would just try to play in that idiom.  I tried to do the same thing with Tatum, with no results whatsoever. [LAUGHS]

Well, some, some people might think.

HJ:    But I mean, with Tatum it was much, much more difficult to do.  There are pianists who specialize in that.  They might even play some of his solos.  But you see, the difference there is that Tatum was creating the solos, and somebody else is playing a solo that’s written out as if you were playing a Classical piece that was written.  There are pianists who can play any Classical piece.  There are pianists, perhaps, who could play any of the Tatum solos.  But again, they’re just playing something that’s already been created.

I’d like you to comment on some of your experiences as your professional career began to emerge, I guess, in the late 1930′s. It sounds like Benny Carew’s band was a springing-off point for you.

HJ:    Yes, I think it was, to a great extent.  Because I did spend a good deal of time in Lansing, which was where the band was based.

What was Benny Carew’s sound like as a drummer?

HJ:    Well, I think it may have been close to the Chick Webb sound, drummers of that period, of which Chick was a pretty good representative.  He had excellent time (I think that’s the first requirement of a drummer anyway), and he played very good solos.  He was a good bandleader.  He was a good leader in that he knew how to get the most out of his personnel, the people who played with him, Lucky and Wardell and others.  He knew how to organize a concert or a dance or whatever it was.  I think that the guys who played with the band liked him because he was affable; I never heard Benny raise his voice to anybody.  He was a nice guy to get along with.

A perfect leader.  He always stayed in the background, and always called tunes at the right tempo.  That’s an art, by the way, finding the right tempo for a tune.  Benny Goodman was very good at it.  Count Basie was very good at it, very good.  They always found the right tempo for a tune.  It’s not easy to do.  There are, let’s say, an endless variety of tempos that you can use, only one of which is right.

Not two, not three, there’s just one correct tempo?

HJ:    I think so, yes.

Well, between the late 1930′s and your recording debut in 1944 there were I’m sure many musical experiences.  Let’s talk about some of them.

HJ:    Not in the Thirties, really.  I didn’t even start… Well, I was playing around Pontiac in the late Thirties, playing in beer gardens where they served 3.2 beer.  But I started out when I left Pontiac, and came to Cleveland, Ohio, in about 1943.

So you were about 25 years old then.

HJ:    Just about, yes.  The ripe old age of 25.  I played with the Tommy Enoch Band.  We played in a nightclub in Cleveland called the Cedar Gardens.  This club had a show.  It was a rather small club, but it had a line of showgirls.  Sort of a miniature Cotton Club type of club.  By the way, one of the guys in that band was Cesar Dameron, who was the brother of Tadd Dameron — Tadd was from the Cleveland area.  It was a good band, and I spent maybe six or seven months then.  From there, I went to Buffalo, New York.

A natural progression, along the Great Lakes.

HJ:    Right, exactly.  And I swam all the way there. [LAUGHS]  It was, as you say, a natural progression.  Actually, I was really on my way to New York, because I had heard from Lucky Thompson, who was then working with Hot Lips Page in New York, that Hot Lips might be needing a pianist.  So that was in the back of my mind.  So I was sort of working my way down to the New York area.  I spent maybe a year in Buffalo, during which time I met Ray Brown, who was 17 years old at the time.  Ray was working with a band in Buffalo, I forget the name of the band; it might have been Jimmy Hinsley or one of those bands.  Anyway, he was working there in a club.  We would meet after we got off of work, I from my club called the Anchor Bar — I forget what his club was.  We’d meet and have a couple of glasses of whole milk.  Neither one of us drank liquor, so we drank milk.

One of the interesting things about being in Buffalo is that Art Tatum played in Buffalo quite often, and our night ended before his did.  So Ray and I would always go over and catch Art Tatum play his last set in Buffalo.  That was really my first experience of hearing Art in person.  I’d heard many of the records, but when I saw him in person and watched him play, I couldn’t believe that he was doing all of those things that I heard on the records — but he was, though!  Because he played effortlessly, just completely without effort, no conscious effort, no pyrotechnics.   He just sat there as if he was reading a paper.

What did Ray Brown sound like at the age of 17?

HJ:    Pretty much the way he sounds now, although his tone is much better today, of course.  He had just as much stamina and just as much energy then as he has today.  But his harmonic sense has improved over the years, as anyone’s will.  Don’t forget, he was only 17 at the time.  I was amazed at his ability at the age of 17.  You know, 17 is quite a young age to be playing at a professional level.  And he did that very well.

But the very short time that I spent there I think helped me a lot.  I got to listen to some great music from Art Tatum and others.

Then I finally came to New York, and Ray followed shortly thereafter, and I believe he started working with Dizzy Gillespie.  I introduced him to Dizzy, Dizzy needed a bass player, and I think he hired him on the spot just like that.

Well, now I’m going to have to ask several other questions, because you brought up…

HJ:    Okay! [LAUGHS]

First of all, in 1944 and 1945 the first recordings of what was called Bebop were emerging, although, of course, that had been in the air.

HJ:    Yes.

So I’d like to talk about your exposure to it.  Indeed, you were a major player in some of the early recordings.

HJ:    Perhaps.  Although I think there were others, like Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk and Al Haig who were in New York; by the time I arrived, they had already been there for several years.  For instance, Bud Powell and Al Haig alternated in the Dizzy Gillespie-Charlie Parker small band, the quintet…

Which you first saw when?

HJ:    When I first arrived in New York, about 1944.  They were working at the Three Deuces, and later they worked at the Spotlite, which was on 52nd Street, both clubs — which was called Swing Street at the time, you know.  There were many clubs along there.  That’s another story.  But these guys would go from one club to the other, just continuously.  I worked at the Onyx Club, which was on the other side of 52nd Street.

Anyway, Dizzy and Charlie played Bebop; it was described and understood as Bebop at the time.  A lot of musicians and a lot of people didn’t really understand it.  Many musicians didn’t understand it, and they rejected it more or less.  Of course, many listeners, lay people, didn’t understand it, because they knew it was something different.  But it was highly technical, it required a high degree of harmonic sense, and a high degree of technical facility in order to be played correctly, which both Charlie Parker and Dizzy had — and of course, to a great extent also, Bud Powell and Al Haig.  Max Roach was the drummer in the band, and he alternated with Stan Levey on drums.  The bass players were Gene Ramey or Curley Russell.  They were all in that same mental state.  They all played in the same idiom.  They thought alike.

What was your response, though?  Obviously, you had an affinity.

HJ:    It was quite different.  I had been listening to people like Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum and things, so my approach was from that standpoint.  Although I brought a two-handed approach to the style.  Later, actually, sort of to play in the idiom, I played less of my left hand and more of the right hand.  Usually if the pianist is playing it, it’s in conjunction with a bass player or a drummer, so it’s a trio or a duo format.  If it’s a duo format, and you’re playing with a bass, the bass then is responsible for the bass line, or the left hand, and the pianist is responsible for the right hand.

So in that context, I listened, and in my mind I was trying to relate how I could then adapt this style to my playing.  And certainly it didn’t happen overnight.  I think I have more of it now than I did then.  It took quite a while for me to finally figure out how to incorporate this style in my playing.  Perhaps I did it gradually… I don’t think you do it overnight.  It happens over a period of time.  I think you first have to think the style, and then you have to execute the style.  Well, it may take a while for that.

[ETC.]  In the next set of music we’ll explore some of Hank Jones’ performances of music from the period we’re discussing now, which is the mid-1940′s in New York City.  The first track is from a 1955 trio session for Savoy, the Hank Jones Trio featuring Wendell Marshall and a drummer with whom you worked frequently on these Savoy dates, the great Kenny Clarke.  Before we begin, just a few words about his attributes as a drummer and stylist.

HJ:    Well, Kenny was one of the very few drummers (and Elvin is another one) who was very proficient at the use of brushes.  It’s almost become a lost art.  By the way, Lewis Nash is also one of those very few drummers who do this well.  Kenny played the kind of drums that were particularly, I think, adaptable for pianists to play with.  He never really got in the way.  He never intruded, let’s say, into a pianist’s line of thinking.  So he was very good for a trio format, or even a quartet format.  I enjoyed working with Kenny very much, and also with Wendell Marshall.  Wendell had played with Duke Ellington for a time.  He was an excellent reader, of course, as was Kenny; most of the musicians were.  The two of them were just perfect for me to work with, because my style was compatible with what they were doing.  Kenny could sense maybe rhythmic patterns that you might play even before you’d play them, based on what you’d played previously, and I think Wendell could also do that.  That was a very interesting period working with guys like that at Savoy.  They did most of the work that I did at Savoy.  They were on most of the LPs.  They were called LPs in those days.

Were you also working outside as a unit, or was it strictly for the studio setup?

HJ:    Strictly for recording purposes.  We recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio, which at that time was in his home in Hackensack, New Jersey.  I always say that that piano we used to record on was one piano in a hundred thousand.  It had that kind of tone.  All pianos are different, you know. This particular piano had a response and a feel and a tone and a sound that almost no other piano has.  I think it’s probably still being used.  It’s probably not as good as it was, but probably better than most.

[MUSIC: H. Jones/W. Marshall/K. Clarke, "Now's The Time" (1955); H. Jones/R. Mitchell, "I'll Remember April," H. Jones/T. Flanagan, "Au Privave" (1983); Thad Jones/Hank Jones/Mickey Roker, "Groovin' High" (1977); H. Jones (solo) "Round Midnight" (1991)]

That set brings up so many questions.  I think you have a very special affinity for Monk’s music.

HJ:    Well, Monk’s music is certainly distinctive.  That’s the most obvious thing about it.  Monk was the definitive stylist.  I mean, haven’t heard anybody that even approaches the style that Monk played.  Many pianists have tried to imitate that style, but so far I have not heard anybody who does it successfully.  And no matter what tune Monk would be playing, whether it was “Stardust” or “Body and Soul,” you would hear particularly the innovative and distinctive chords, the harmonizations and harmonic progressions that Monk used, which are totally different from any other pianist that ever played.  This is the most distinctive thing about him.

I liked his music.  I still love his music.  And I liked him as a person.  Because I think Monk was completely honest in his approach.

I got to hear Monk, maybe I was introduced to his music in perhaps the best way.  One night after I had finished work at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street, Monk invited me to come to his home and listen to him play his piano.  So we went to his home, and he played “Monk’s Mood.”  I didn’t know the song at the time, but he played it, and he asked me to write it as he played it.  So this was my introduction to Monk’s music.  This was my final exam, beginning and final exam!  But that was perhaps the best way to become acquainted with his style, his voicings, his harmonic voicings, his leading tones and his… Oh!  Everything was totally different.

He had his own style of fingering, actually, didn’t he, to…?

HJ:    I suppose he did, perhaps to accomplish the groupings, the clusters that he played.  I’m not sure about that, because I never really watched him play that much.  I certainly have listened to a lot of his music.  There is nothing like it.  It’s innovative, it’s interesting, it’s exciting, and harmonically stimulating.  You listen to his music, and you say, “Oh, yes, that’s right.  Why didn’t I think of that?”  It’s wonderful.

You chose Dizzy Gillespie’s arrangement of “Round Midnight” and played “Groovin’ High” on the previous track with your brother Thad and drummer Mickey Roker.  By the way, when Hank heard that performance of “Groovin’ High” initially, he said, “That’s Dizzy.”

HJ:    [LAUGHS]

You mentioned meeting Dizzy Gillespie when you got to New York.

HJ:    Yes, of course.  He was working with Charlie Parker on 52nd Street with the Dizzy Gillespie-Charlie Parker Quintet, which was perhaps the greatest quintet that was ever organized.

What did the quintet sound like in person?  I know that’s sort of a gratuitous question.  But I mean, it must have been stunning to hear a band like that in 1944, if the records are any… Of course, it’s stunning to this day!

HJ:    Of course.  At that time, it was equally stunning, and it had never been done before.  The group had a light sound.  Some people think of quintets as being heavy and ponderous, but this one was like… Dizzy played a very light, airy kind of style.  Charlie Parker was, of course, innovative in every sense.  His tone, which is I think something most musicians forget about… His tone was absolutely perfect.  A lot of saxophone players, particularly tenor players, don’t get a true tenor sound.  They sound more like altos.  In Charlie’s case, he sounded exactly like an alto should sound, and the tone was absolutely pure.  In addition to his fantastic ideas, his tone was just perfect, you know.  It’s what you expected to hear and what you did hear.

The group itself was just… Well, how could you describe it?  As I said, I don’t think there’s ever been another group like it, and perhaps there never will be.  I think that group was unique because they all thought the same way.  Dizzy and Charlie had the same approach.  They all played in the same idiom.  And everything dovetailed.  Everything fit.  There was nothing that was out of place.  I think that’s what made that group sound so good.

Of course, they had been in Earl Hines’ Band and with Billy Eckstine before this, and were able to work out their ideas together.  What were your first interactions with Dizzy Gillespie like?  Musically, he was, of course, famous for sharing information with other musicians and so forth.

HJ:    At a later date I did come in contact with Dizzy through his changes, through the tunes that he had written and so forth.  Sometimes you’d be playing a tune, and Dizzy would suggest a different progression or a different chord change that would certainly be different and perhaps a lot better than the one that you had previously played.  He had his own harmonic ideas, and his ideas about arranging were certainly circumspect.  The best example of that is that introduction on “Round About Midnight,” which is a classic!  As I’ve said, I’ve heard the tune played hundreds of times; I’ve never heard a better introduction than that one!  So his ideas musically were very sound and correct, absolutely correct.  And of course, Charlie Parker’s were, too.

They both thought alike.  You wouldn’t even… During those days, when I first came to New York, you didn’t think of one without thinking of the other.  Of course, they worked together in that same group, and even before that in Earl Hines’ band, and they formulated a lot of their ideas.  That’s interesting, too, because we talked a little bit before about Earl Hines’ style on the piano being a single-line approach.  So maybe that had something to do with their thinking, because they had both played with that band previously.  I didn’t know them prior to the 52nd Street period.  But maybe something that Earl played or something he said or suggested, or maybe some style of the band might have influenced their thinking towards Bebop, as it was called.

By the way, I’m really not happy with the term “Bebop.”  I am not even happy with the term “Jazz,” for that matter.

Why is that?

HJ:    Because I don’t think it accurately describes it.  You see, the term “Jazz” is really an offshoot of a term that was spelled “jass,” and it referred to music that was played in bawdy houses, you know, back in Chicago and in those days, you know.  The word “Jazz” came from that.  So the connotation is almost disrespectful in that sense.  To label an entire class of music as “Jazz” that sprung from a label that was less than respectful seems a little bit disingenuous to me…

Do you think the word still has that connotation?

HJ:    I don’t think so.  I think it’s grown from there.  But that’s in the back of my mind.  When I think of it, I think of the early beginnings of it, and I think somebody should have come up with a better name.  Well, they didn’t, so we’re stuck with the term “jazz,” for  better or worse.  But it doesn’t have to mean that, of course.

Well, your talking about the origins of the word “Jazz” made me think about your association with Coleman Hawkins, who was around from just about the beginnings of its recorded origins, and who kept fresh and current with what was happening really all through his career.  What were your first encounters with Hawk like?  I know you recorded with him maybe in ’46 or ’47?

HJ:    My first contact with Coleman Hawkins was on a JATP tour in 1947.  He was with that tour, as well as Lester Young, Flip Phillips, and Joe Harris.  Later on, back in New York, I played with his group.  He was working at the Spotlite, with a group that included J.J. Johnson, Max Roach, and Curly Russell, the bass player, and myself.  Did I mention Miles Davis?

Not yet.

HJ:    Miles also was a member of that group.  It was a very good group.  We did, oh, maybe a month or two at the Spotlite.  We also played in Philadelphia with that same group.  Later, Fats Navarro became the trumpet player…

And he recorded with the group for RCA.

HJ:    That’s right, yes.  It was a great period.  I learned a lot during that period.  How could you fail to learn, playing with people like that?

Well, what was Coleman Hawkins’ approach to new repertoire?  If he was hiring people like Miles Davis and J.J. Johnson, was he encouraging them to bring in music?

HJ:    Well, what I think he did was, he listened to their styles.  He liked their approach and he liked the kind of music they were playing.  So he wanted to play the same kind of thing.  His mind was always open to new ideas.  I think that’s the key.  You mentioned that he always stayed fresh.  That’s the only way you can do that.  You have to keep an open mind to various styles that perhaps might be at variance with your own style.  If you think it can enhance your own playing, then you adopt that portion of it that you think might be beneficial.  I think that’s what Coleman Hawkins did.  Maybe not consciously, or maybe consciously.  Either way, it worked for him.  I think that’s a great way for anybody to approach this kind of music.

You know, improvisation is just that.  It’s a new way of doing something perhaps different from the previous way of doing it.  You improvise.  You substitute.  You play a variation here or there.  And that’s the essence of improvisation anyway, a variation of a melody or theme.  But this is what Coleman did.  His ideas were always fresh, because he was constantly groping, searching for new ways to express an idea, new ways to develop a theme, new ways to approach the overall melodic content.

By the way, Coleman Hawkins was a great ballad player, in addition to being a great Jazz player.  There is a difference.  They’re related somewhat.  But you can be a great ballad player without being a great Jazz player.  But at the same time, you can be a great Jazz player without being able to play ballads well.  So the two are different.

Being able to do both is…

HJ:    Yes, then that’s the epitome, isn’t it?

I’d say that holds true for Mr. Jones as well.  I know your time is short, but I’d be remiss, having you here and not asking you about your two younger brothers, who both achieved such heights on their instrument.  I’ll ask you about Thad Jones first, who was closer to you in age, and I’d imagine you spent more time together coming up.

HJ:     Well, Thad was very innovative in his thinking and his writing.

What were his early influences on the trumpet?  Can you illuminate his musical thinking for us a little bit?

HJ:    Well, Thad loved the Duke Ellington band.  So I believe that he probably listened to Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, and just… You know, you can be influenced on an instrument without listening to somebody play that particular instrument.  He was influenced by Duke’s writing, for instance, and the overall style of the band, all of the players — Johnny Hodges, for a while Ben Webster, of course, was in that band.  You can be influenced by their approach without being influenced by, in Thad’s case, any trumpet players.  Cootie Williams and Rex Stewart were there, I don’t know who else was on trumpet, maybe Ray Nance, who was a good player, but not in the same sense that a Dizzy Gillespie or a Miles Davis or a Fats Navarro was.  But those were his early influences, I’m sure.

They all had very specialized sounds, very distinctive sounds.  They had singular identities within the band.

HJ:    Yes, that’s true.  I think Duke picked his men for that very characteristic, and he could blend them… He knew each one’s capabilities and characteristics, and that’s how he wrote.  He wrote for the band.  That’s why his arrangements always sounded different and innovative, because they were a perfect fit with the musicians who were to play them.  I think that’s one reason for his great success.

And he adapted his classic arrangements to fit the new personnel of his later bands as well.

HJ:    Exactly.

But getting back to your brother, Thad, when did it become evident that music would be his future?  Did he always have a facility for the trumpet?

HJ:    You know, his first trumpet, or his first horn (actually it was a cornet), was given to him by his uncle, Bill Jones, who played cornet and trumpet.

Bill Jones would have been on your father’s side.

HJ:    Yes, he was my father’s youngest brother, as a matter of fact.  Bill was a cornet and trumpet player.  And I think Thad, of course, just took the horn and went from there.  He never stopped, never looked back.  Thad never had a great deal of formal training as a trumpet player, as a horn player.

Or as a writer, I gather.

HJ:    Or as a writer either.  This ability that he had was completely natural, influenced of course, by people like Duke and other great arrangers of that period. But what came out of it was, of course, completely original as far as Thad was concerned.  Because he did things that are still being copied, and that’s a true mark of greatness — I mean, to be imitated.  Isn’t the phrase, “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery?”  You ask any arranger, anywhere in the world about Thad’s arrangements, or anybody who’s played any of Thad’s arrangements, and they’ll say… I was speaking to Slide Hampton just recently, who is a great arranger on his own, and he says that Thad is one of the greatest innovators to come along in our time.  When a guy like that says that (and I don’t think he was saying it for my benefit either), you have to put some stock in what he’s saying.  I believe that, because I was always prejudiced about Thad’s ability!  I think other people appreciate his ability as well, though.

Did you work together as youngsters, or was he a little too young, and by the time he came of age you were on the road?

HJ:    By the time he and Elvin and people like Tommy Flanagan and some other people in Detroit were working at this…

Billy Mitchell, Kenny Burrell…

HJ:    Right.  I had already gone to New York.  I was doing tours with JATP at that time, and I had already played in New York.  So I was there several years before they arrived on the scene.  In fact, I mentioned Thad’s name and Elvin’s name to Leonard Feather in that first book that he wrote, and I think that’s how a lot of people probably became aware that there were two other brothers that played whose last name were Jones.

Finally, I wanted to ask you about your youngest brother…is Elvin the youngest?

HJ:    Elvin is the youngest, yes.

He’s been one of the great innovators on the drums for over thirty years now.  That’s as an innovator.  He’s been a great drummer for longer than that.

HJ:    Mmm-hmm.

I know that being nine years younger than you, you may have been less in touch with him as a youngster.  But do recollect whether his musical facility immediately evident as well?

HJ:    I think so.  I noticed it, of course, right away.  Then Elvin spent some time in the Air Force band.  He did a lot of traveling all over the country with one of the Air Force bands.  He was based in Ohio, near Columbus; Lockborn, I think it was.  He got a lot of playing time there, as you will in a Service band, you know!  There again, Elvin never really had a great deal of formal training on the drums, certainly not to the extent that my two older sisters and I had a certain amount of formal training, and lessons and so forth.  But it didn’t seem to matter.  I think both Elvin and Thad have this great, great natural ability.  I’m sure that formal training would have enhanced it, but it couldn’t have made it much better.  I don’t think it would have increased their creativity any more, let’s say.

I don’t think this is something you can learn.  You can’t learn creativity, you can’t learn the natural ability to think ahead and create ideas.  You can learn the mechanics of how to write.  You can do counterpoint music on the paper.   But actually, that’s the end result of the creativity.  The creativity starts before that.  When you put notes on paper, you’ve already thought of it.  Right?  So in order to put something down, you must have created it in your mind, at least, ahead of time.  So I think that’s what Thad and Elvin had that no amount of formal training could have taught them, I don’t believe.

Finally, I’d like to conclude my questions with what may seem like a rather general or maybe unanswerable question.  You’ve spoken several times about the sounds of each individual piano, the organic nature of the instrument.  I’d like you to conclude with some observations on sound and the role of sound in musical creation.

HJ:    Well, as it applies to piano, the ability to alter the sound of the piano is extremely limited.  Piano is not a wind instrument or a stringed instrument that you can affect the sound by manipulating the hand or controlling the breath or this sort of thing.  Piano is basically a percussion instrument, so you approach it from the percussion point of view.  If the instrument is responsive, all you can do, then, is to play within the confines of your own approach to the piano, that is, your fingers, your arm-drop… You can control the volume of the piano to a certain extent, but not the actual tone.  The tone itself has to be in the piano to begin with.  In a piano similar to the one that Rudy Van Gelder used to have in his studio, if it’s that kind of piano, then the piano is producing the tone.  The pianist is a part of the process, but the tone is already there.  All he has to do then is to release it from the piano by controlling the force of his arm-drop or his fingers, and so forth.  The fingers are actually the last point in the process; it starts from the shoulder and so forth.

But on the other instruments, the wind instruments, they can materially affect the sound, because they have control with their lips, with the breath and so forth.

It’s an extension of the body, or the voice.

HJ:    Yes.  With piano, the only extension of the body that has any effect on the tone is the arm — the upper arm, the forearm, the hand, and then finally the fingers.  The fingers are the end product that starts with the arm.  So you can control the volume or the percussive effect with your arm, but you cannot do anything about the tone itself.

But a lot of people say, “Well, that pianist produces a great tone.”  Well, actually, the pianist doesn’t create a tone!  Because the ability to create a tone on the piano is extremely small.

But I guess the room for variation of manipulation of sound is as infinite as the personalities who think to put the fingers in those certain places.

HJ:    You can use a lighter touch, you see.  I think people confuse tone with touch.  Yes, the touch is variable, and that’s controlled by the arm and the pressure and so forth.  But not the tone, you know.

Well, Hank Jones has played on probably 22,000 different pianos or so in his career….

HJ:    Actually, 23,000.

[MUSIC: H. Jones (solo) "Ain't Misbehavin'"; H. Jones/Benny Carter, "People Time", H. Jones (solo), "Sweet Lorraine"]

Leave a comment

Filed under Article, Hank Jones, Interview, Jazziz, Piano, WKCR