Category Archives: Jimmy Heath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: So you’re James Moody, Jr.?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: What early bands do you remember seeing?

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

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

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

TP: That’s when you were 16?

MOODY: I was about 16.

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

MOODY: Mmm-hmm.

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

MOODY: Well, I wouldn’t say that.

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

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

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

MOODY: No.

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

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

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

MOODY: Yeah.

TP: But it was a different process with you.

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

TP: Was that in the Service?

MOODY: That was when I had my septet.

TP: Oh, so not until the ’50s.

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

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

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

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

MOODY: I played by ear.

TP: Tell me about your Service experience.

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

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

MOODY: Tenor.

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

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

TP: Did you hear Charlie Parker during that time?

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

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

MOODY: No. I heard him afterwards.

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

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

TP: So you’d memorize…

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

TP: Where were you stationed?

MOODY: Greensboro, North Carolina.

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

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

TP: The prisoners-of-war could.

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

TP: Is that where you met Dizzy?

MOODY: Yes.

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

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

TP: When did you get to New York?

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

TP: Were you gigging after the Army?

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

TP: Was it bebop…

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

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

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

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

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

TP: That was in ’48.

MOODY: Yes, in ’48.

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

MOODY: Yes, “Tropicana”…

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

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

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

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

TP: Was Dizzy very proactive in breaking it apart…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Yeah, my Uncle Louis.

TP: Was he a musician?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Where?

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

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

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

MOODY: No.

TP: Not at all?

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

TP: Really.

MOODY: No.

TP: That surprises me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: What brought you back?

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

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

MOODY: Yes.

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

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

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

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

TP: You I liked him right away, huh?

MOODY: [LAUGHS] Immediately. Before that.

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

MOODY: No, I didn’t know him.

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

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

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

MOODY: Oh yes.

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

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

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

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

TP: How much did that band work?

MOODY: We worked ALL the time.

TP: Any time off at all?

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

TP: The easy way, huh?

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

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

MOODY: Yes, a station wagon and a car.

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

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

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

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

TP: Oh, you didn’t know it.

MOODY: No, I didn’t know that.

TP: When did you find out?

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

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

MOODY: Dances, clubs, yup.

TP: Mostly black clubs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Yes.

TP: Did you change repertoire when you did that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: So that’s when you became closer.

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

TP: How did you know about Kenny?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Not too many people.

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

TP: Did he tell you that during the Sixties?

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

TP: Was it during that second time?

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

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

MOODY: Yes.

TP: Kenny Clarke?

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

TP: Any particular reminiscence about him?

MOODY: No. Just nice being around him.

TP: Gil Fuller.

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

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

MOODY: I knew Lester a little bit, yeah.

TP: Because he was one of your first idols.

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

TP: Did you get to know Bird?

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

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

MOODY: Yeah, that was it.

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

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

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

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

TP: It’s probably just me.

MOODY: Oh, okay. All right.

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

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

TP: That was an economic decision?

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

TP: You just played a functional section man or…

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

TP: Did you garner anything from that musically?

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Kirk Lightsey was on one.

MOODY: Kirk Lightsey was on one…

TP: Kenny was on another.

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

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

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

TP: You’d think.

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

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

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

TP: Otherwise is there a vibe on you that…

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

TP: Is that what happened?

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

TP: Are you still with Warner Brothers?

MOODY: No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Got to be on time.

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

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

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

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

MOODY: All of them. Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Sure.

TP: Is that something…

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

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

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

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

MOODY: How about the disadvantages?

TP: Are there any advantages?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Hands-on?

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

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

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

MOODY: Oh, yes, man! [LAUGHS]

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

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

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

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

TP: To the Selmer Factory?

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

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

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

TP: Did you get to know Sidney Bechet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Like what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: yes.

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

MOODY: Yes. And his brother Tootie and Percy.

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

MOODY: We’ll play “Manteca.”

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

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

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

MOODY: Mmm-hmm.

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

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

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

MOODY: Tell me about it.

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

LINDA: He’s going on 18.

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

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

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

MOODY: Yes, 11 years.

LINDA: You have done your homework, Ted.

TP: Oh, I always do my homework.

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

TP: How did you meet?

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

TP: So it was love at first sight.

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

MOODY: I sent her dozen roses every Monday.

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

MOODY: She still gets them.

LINDA: I still get them.

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

LINDA: I’d say it’s about 150 pounds.

TP: And Peter Jennings by the TV.

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

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

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

TP: Are there special commissioned arrangements?

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

[PAUSE]

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

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

* * *

James Moody (5-20-00):

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

MOODY: No, I wasn’t playing.

TP: You started playing that year?

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

TP: Before you went in the Armed Services…

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Right.

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

TP: On alto saxophone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: He was from Canada.

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

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

TP: They wanted a segregated band.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: The Dials.

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Sure.

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

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

TP: And why?

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

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

MOODY: He what?

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

MOODY: Who?

TP: Charlie Parker.

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

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

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

TP: And you’d heard Dizzy by then.

MOODY: Mmm-hmm.

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

MOODY: Oh yes.

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

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

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

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

TP: What do you remember about that first night?

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

TP: Were you rehearsing intently?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Was he around?

MOODY: Yeah.

TP: What was he like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: But the audiences were enthusiastic?

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

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

MOODY: No, we played the band.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: yes.

TP: And you felt insecure about it.

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

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

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

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

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

TP: But you could if you wanted to.

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

TP: Well, he was a Modernist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: No knowledge of music?

MOODY: Yes.

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

MOODY: Of course.

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

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

TP: You have to fish.

MOODY: There you go.

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

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

TP: Sunday is.

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

TP: “Good morning, Moody.”

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

TP: Two-faced.

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

TP: You can perform the ceremony.

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

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

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

MOODY: Oh yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: In jazz.

MOODY: Yes.

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

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

TP: That didn’t used to be the case.

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

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

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

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

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

[-30-]

* * *

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

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

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

MOODY: Definitely.

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

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

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

MOODY: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: He left and I hired Eddie Jefferson.

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

MOODY: No, I don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Any particular anecdote about either one?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: I can agree with that.

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

MOODY: Yes.

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

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

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

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

TP: Did you have other dealings with Coltrane?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Well, I hope not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Kenny Clarke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: What did it do for your musicianship?

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

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

MOODY: Yes, twenty years.

TP: Are you satisfied with doing that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Would saying more about it trivialize it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: That would be sufficient.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Yes.

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

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

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

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

TP: You did all the driving, too?

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Okay.

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

[-30-]

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: He has a very even temperament?

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

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

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

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

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

TP: The purpose of it being to communicate maybe.

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

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

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

TP: Everybody became a comic.

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

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

BARRON: No, that had been done before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Not if you’re Dizzy.

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

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

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

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

BARRON: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

FADDIS: oh yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FADDIS: The one thing about that embracing which no one really talks about. See, Moody had this cologne made up for him. Did you know that? He had this James Moody cologne. And when Moody sees you in the morning, going on the bus or at the breakfast, you get up and he’ll always insist on a hug on both sides. But when he gives you that, his cologne sort of rubs off on you! And it carries with you throughout the day. Which can be okay if you don’t carry your own. So usually if I’m on the road with Moody, I’ll avoid putting my cologne on.

TP: This is what being a jazz veteran really means, is knowing when to wear the cologne and when not.

FADDIS: Something like that.

TP: Would you talk about his relationship with Dizzy, and your speculations on what drew Dizzy so closely to Moody? Moody said that they didn’t really become close until they traveled in the ’60s.

FADDIS: Well, I wasn’t there in the ’40s. I know that in the ’60s, that’s also one of my favorite bands that Dizzy had, the one with Moody and Kenny Barron and Chris White and Rudy Collins. Moody would talk about things that Dizzy told him back in the ’40s that he is just starting to understand what Dizzy meant. That’s how deep Dizzy was. I know they must have been very close, because Dizzy was Bahai and then Moody became Bahai.

TP: Although Moody said it had nothing to do with Dizzy. It happened after he got married.

FADDIS: I don’t mean close in that he was copying Diz, but that they shared the same outlook on I guess the spiritual aspect of life. There was a book about Dizzy last year by Alan Shipton, and he asked me what I thought of the book, because they asked me to do a little blurb for the back cover, and I refused to do it. One thing he mentioned in that book is that Moody, in his opinion, during the ’60s, was just acting as a comic foil to Diz. I’m saying, “how can he say that?” Then he cites a couple of tracks on a recording where it wasn’t Moody doing the stuff! It was Chris White.

But Moody would always talk about the things Dizzy would tell him about life and about music. I guess the first time that Moody really seemed grounded and satisfied with his life is after he married Linda.

TP: He makes no bones about that.

FADDIS: I think that’s something very important with him. She provides him with a lot. He had gone through some other relationships, and he would sit down and talk to me about them and shake his head. He’d say, “Isn’t that strange?” I’d say, “Yeah, that’s strange.”

TP: I don’t see comedy as denoting any superficiality at all. I think one could say that even with you a bit because you have a penchant for broad or drier humor. I noticed at his concert in April that he was telling the same jokes he’s been telling for 30-40 years, but you still laugh because his timing is so perfect. Do you hear that humor in his playing also?

FADDIS: Oh yeah. He’s one of them cats like Picasso who can make you laugh out loud at some of the stuff does. “Oh my gosh, where did that come from?” He can really touch you deep down with I guess the subtleness of humor in his playing. It’s not a more evident type of humor, like, say, somebody like Clark Terry. It’s a little more subtle.

Call Kenny back and ask him about the blue uniforms they used to have with the piping…

* * *

TP: Let me take you back to the beginning. When do you remember meeting Moody? Must have been the first time you saw Dizzy Gillespie’s band.

HEATH: Right.

TP: Can you pinpoint it?

HEATH: It was probably 1946. I think they came to Philadelphia, and Moody was in the band. If it wasn’t ’46, maybe he can correct me. But I remember we invited the whole band down to my mother’s house. John Lewis was playing at that time.

TP: Was Kenny Clarke the drummer?

HEATH: Yes. We invited them all down to the house, and a lot of the band members came, Moody and Dave Burns… I don’t recall everybody that was there. But that was my first time to meet Moody.

TP: I guess he’d done the “Emanon” solo then.

HEATH: In Philly we had heard the “Emanon” solo, and all the musicians around Philly were crazy about the Dizzy Gillespie band, period, and the new music, Bebop, and the solo was very exciting to all the saxophone players around home.

TP: Let me ask a moron question. Why was the solo exciting at that moment in time?

HEATH: Well, Moody played very fast on tenor. He doubled up. And the solo was different than any blues solo that you had heard, similar to coming out of Charlie Parker and the bebop sound. He had the bebop sound.

TP: So along with Dexter Gordon…Moody and Dexter Gordon and Teddy Edwards were the first who articulated that on the tenor sax.

HEATH: And Sonny Stitt. He was one, too.

TP: Then your first acquaintance with Moody is 1946; you’ve known him 54 years. I would imagine you kept in fairly close touch with him over the next few years.

HEATH: Oh yes.

TP: What do you remember about his manner and his personality as a young man?

HEATH: Moody has always been a very nice person, and everybody knows that. He was very interested in learning as much as he could about the music. He actually was basically playing by ear at that time when he played “Emanon.” Later on, when he had his group with Johnny Coles and Tom Macintosh, some of the people like that convinced Moody he had to learn his changes and play by changes. I don’t know why…

TP: Moody says he’s eternally indebted to Tom Macintosh for that. He says that before it was like flying blind, and it caused him all sorts of anxiety and inner turmoil.

HEATH: Well, there were things within himself he couldn’t do. Because if you don’t know the insides of the music and the changes, there’s a limitation put on what you play. As a player by ear, he was already so far advanced, it didn’t take much concentration — but I guess it did. It took a few years. Because Moody began to play so good by changes, until… He recorded one of my songs in a later year, “A Sound For Sore Ears,” which had kind of difficult changes, and man, he ate that stuff up then! Because Johnny Coles and Macintosh were… Particularly Macintosh. He was a schooled musician from Juilliard. He was a writer, and he knew a lot about the harmony. And when Moody decided that he was going to do that, the result is obvious, that he is one of the greatest players who ever lived — now. Moody, right now.

If he hears you play a lick or a sequence that he hasn’t heard, he’ll say, “What is that, Section?” He calls me “Section.” We call each other Section from playing in reed sections together over the years. If he hears you play something and he asks you what that is, once you show it to him, man, Moody takes it and takes it into his own style and elaborates on it, turns it inside-out, and does everything possible with that idea to make it his own. I know on one occasion, Moody and I made a record with Bags. The record is called Big Bags for Riverside. Tadd Dameron wrote half of the music on it and Ernie Wilkins wrote the other half. It’s one of the greatest big band records I’ve ever been a part of. The reed section was wonderful. What I was getting to is the fact that on some of the things someone was playing lead alto, but then on Tadd’s arrangement on “Round Midnight” Bags asked Moody to play the lead. And man, that is one of the most beautiful sounding lead performances that I’ve been involved in. And he’s playing alto. But Moody mostly played tenor all of his career. But that was one experience, and the others are numerous.

TP: Let me take you back to the ’40s for a second. You came in Dizzy’s band after Moody had moved to Europe.

HEATH: Right.

TP: Were you in actually to replace Moody?

HEATH: No. I didn’t replace Moody because I was playing alto. Coltrane and I played alto in the band. Jesse Powell was one of the tenor players, and Rudy Williams, known as Bones, and then Paul Gonsalves was in the band.

TP: Where I was going with that is that Moody is just one year older than you and Coltrane. Did he seem much older to you at that time, or was he musically that much more advanced, or was it just a matter of circumstance?

HEATH: He was advanced because he was around Dizzy. He was in the first big bebop band that recorded. So that made him a person for us to idolize, in a way, because we…

TP: You aspired to that.

HEATH: Yeah. We had never gotten to the point where he was.

TP: Do you have any memories from your perspective at that time of the relationship Dizzy and Moody had in the ’40s, of their interaction, or is that something you just don’t know about?

HEATH: I just know that Dizzy really dug Moody. Of course, in the long career that followed afterward, you can’t separate Moody from Dizzy.

TP: Moody said they became closer in the ’60s when they had more proximity.

HEATH: Well, they played in a smaller group together. In the big band, Dizzy had a lot of personalities that he had to deal with. But Moody was one of his main people, and probably, like you said, they got closer when the big band broke up and they were always on the road and everything.

TP: Part of the thing about Moody is that he has this photographic memory and exceptional musical intuition on top of the hard work he’s put in. Particularly in his ear-playing days.

HEATH: Well, he had a gift that he developed. He started out with a gift, and he developed it. One thing technically is Moody’s tone. The way he accented on the saxophone was much faster than most of the other saxophone players, and distinguishable in that. Moody used to tell me that when he played an eighth note line in the bebop tradition he would be thinking to himself, “tit-a-little, tit-a-little, tit-a-little,” [SINGS PHRASING REFRAIN], that accent on eighth notes which was… The bebop language included a lot of eighth notes or sixteenths. The accent was always on the AND, “uh-dah, uh-dah,” on the one that was off the beat. It gave it a different kind of a float.

TP: Did you follow the septet he organized when he came back from Europe?

HEATH: Yes. They used to come to Philly to the Showboat, and when I was there I used to go see them. One of my good friends was in the band playing trumpet, Bill Massey. Bill Massey was the person who introduced me to Coltrane. They were in the Navy together. We had a lot in common because we were interested in both composition and playing… No, sorry. I’m wrong about that. Bill was with Gene Ammons. Johnny Coles was the one. But they used to go to Philly and play the Showboat, and I would go hear Moody. Moody and I played together on several occasions. But whenever Dizzy was around and Moody and they would come around, if I wasn’t working, I would go see them.

The thing I admire about Moody is his tenacity and his focus. When he was out in Las Vegas playing as a kind of studio musician, he called me once. “Section,” and he started playing the clarinet. He was practicing the clarinet on the phone and showing me how he had been able to get to the clarinet. He was always a great flute player. To me, he is the epitome of the Bebop flute player. He is not the Western Classical traditional flute player. It doesn’t sound like somebody who has been trained in Western Classical Music. But he could play with the Bebop style on the flute, and it’s distinguishable.

TP: I did an interview with Hank Crawford and Fathead, and they said that when Ray Charles was forming his band and his sound they were paying close attention to the sound of Moody’s Septet, the John Acea arrangements and so forth. Do you recollect that as an influential band in defining a certain type of sound?

HEATH: Was it a sextet?

TP: A septet, four horns.

HEATH: I don’t remember that band that much. Except things he did, like… Was that when he did “Last Train From Overbrook” and all that stuff?

TP: That was later on. Then all the things with Eddie Jefferson in the mid-’50s.

HEATH: Right. I know Moody was having trouble drinking wine or something. He said he went to the police station and told them to stop the green men from chasing him.

TP: He didn’t tell me that, but he attributed what caused him to do to playing by ear and the anxiety it caused him on a nightly basis.

HEATH: Well, guys were coming along with great chordal knowledge, and Moody wanted to be like them. He wanted to play with the same knowledge of the other guys who were playing at that time. I didn’t know that was the reason he was drinking. The road, man. The road is rough when you’re traveling all the time.

TP: And he was traveling all the time. He said the northern cities in the winter, the southern cities in the summer, and he didn’t let anyone else do the driving. He didn’t trust anyone else to do the driving.

HEATH: Well, see, all that kind of wear and tear, that leads to drinking and smoking or whatever you do. So he was drinking a lot, which…

TP: And he had the presence of mind to take care of it.

HEATH: Yeah. And the thing about Moody is that he’s a giving person. He’s always giving. I got a straw hat that Moody gave me. If he finds some books that are interesting, he sends me books. He may find books about health or vitamins. He carries a ton of vitamins on the road with him. He has a suitcase full. “Section, have you ever tried this?” He will hand you… He’s just a person that gives all the time. We went on tour with…they had two bands on tour with Philip Morris, and we had about three or four weeks in all different places, the Philippines, all over the place. Moody will… I don’t know when he started that. He adapted just a way of kissing everybody. He would get up in the morning and go to breakfast, and you’d be there, and he’d kiss you once on one side, once on the other side. Everybody! Everybody that he meets. He’d kiss them once on each side. If you come back to lunch together, Moody would kiss you on both cheeks. “Hey, Section!” Boom! And then if you come to dinner together, BOOM. To leave you at night, he kisses you. So I eventually said at the Blue Note when they were having the birthday or something for him, they asked me one statement about Moody. I said, “Moody got more kisses than Hershey’s.

TP: Talk about the evolution of Moody’s sound, specifically on the tenor, or the phases of his sound in the time you’ve known him.

HEATH: Well, there are certain things that are identifiable with Moody. I don’t care how his sound would change, and what mouthpiece and what equipment he’s using. There’s James Moody in there. I can always tell. Moody has his own sound. You can identify Moody when he starts. I can tell if he plays four bars; I know that’s Moody. There are certain things that he does. Jumping up in the higher register and screaming in a certain way. But over the years, his development now is…he has become so free, not in a random fashion, but a scientific freedom, that he can do anything he wants (that’s what I think) with the saxophone. Speed has never been a problem with him. He’s always been a fast player. So when he wants to slow down, he slows down. But usually, he’s going to play fast. So he had great technique. His sound right at this point (and having played with him for the last four or five days together in Pittsburgh with Jon Faddis) is real smooth now. He’s gotten real smooth and mellow with his old age, like wine. He’s mellow. It’s not harsh and brash. It’s very soft until he wants to imply these certain emotional hollers or screams.

TP: When I heard him it was the Charlie Parker birthday, not at Tompkins Square but at Iridium, and he started off with “Groovin’ High,” and he played so much blues on it, putting so much vocalization on it, and it always seemed like the most difficult interval was when he’d put the most vocal emphasis.

HEATH: I think he can do anything… If he wants to play it in a bluesy fashion, he can do it. If he wants to play it in a straight bebop way without the blues or just the changes, he can do it. He has control. He has true knowledge. He is in complete control. Moody’s flute playing and his saxophone are so mature at this point. The way he acts…his personality is what I was trying to get at. The fact of being with Dizzy Gillespie, who is the mentor for both of us. That’s my man. Birks was the guy. His sense of humor, his stage presence. I think he learned a lot of stage presence from Dizzy also, not only music. He learned how to be a nice guy, or he felt it after he straightened his habit out…how to be a nice guy. That’s what Dizzy was. A down-to-earth human being with a tremendous sense of humor. Moody is a very funny guy.

TP: His timing is unbelievable. You can hear tell a joke you’ve heard 15 times, and you’re still going to laugh.

HEATH: Yes. Moody is one of my dear friends. He’s been that since the ’40s. We had so much fun last week as we do every time we get together. I just look forward to being in his company. He’s got more kisses than Hershey’s! That’s got to be in this.

* * *

TP: How long have you been playing with Moody?

COOLMAN: Since ’84 or ’85. Precisely I don’t know. But I met him around that time, and started playing with him shortly after that.

TP: This is a few years after he left Las Vegas and the studios, and was out again as a solo artist. Was he working then primarily as a solo artist, picking up rhythm sections and trying to gather a more or less permanent working band by that time?

COOLMAN: Yes. I know he had a band, Rufus Reid and Harold Mabern… I’m not sure if the drums were stabilized by that time, but I know that those two other guys were working with him more times than not, that they were doing things together for at least a couple of years prior to my being involved with him. All during that time he still was doing things with local rhythm sections when he would go on the road some. He didn’t seem able to always have those guys with him when he traveled. So he was hoping to get a band together, I think.

TP: What were your impressions about him before knowing him and meeting him?

COOLMAN: I first heard Moody, believe it or not, after I had finished college and was living in Chicago in the ’70s. He played on a television show on a PBS station. The show was Dizzy, Bags, Al Haig, Ray Brown, Kenny Clarke, Sarah Vaughan…

TP: That has to have been in ’76, when Kenny Clarke came here, and played the Showcase with Al Haig.

COOLMAN: It probably was. I got wind of this show, and they wanted an audience, and you could get free tickets by calling or something, and I did that. I went down and heard Moody for the first time. I was amazed by how fluent he was. I remember how easy he made everything seem. It seemed like he had no problem playing anything he wanted. And of course, I associated him then with those other players, because I didn’t know if he had a band or who he was working with, but I figured, “Gee, if he’s with these people, he must be that great.” But besides that, besides having a great respect for his playing, I didn’t have any lasting impressions. I never got to meet him. I heard him play in clubs a couple of times around that time, too, but not as a bandleader. I always heard him in these all-star things. I think Joe Segal would have him come for what he called “Charlie Parker Month”. I knew he was a great player, but besides that I had no real impressions.

TP: So you’ve been with him straight through those 15-16 years as his bassist of choice.

COOLMAN: I think so, yes.

TP: What has it done for your playing, playing with Moody?

COOLMAN: The main thing is that Moody is so interested in music, in the learning process as well as playing, that he has always encouraged me to really play a lot, and leaves a lot of open space for the rhythm section to solo in, and he’s very encouraging to have you develop and do what you do. I think part of it is because he’s just really generous; that’s part of it. And the other part is because he really wants to learn from the people he’s around. It’s very unusual, I find, that he’s so curious as to what other people are doing. It probably serves two purposes. One is that he wants you to feel like you can express yourself, but he also wants to learn what you’re doing. He’s always looking for things to use as raw materials for things he wants to develop. So he’s extremely curious about music.

TP: So he’s giving you a lot of space to just go where you will as long as it’s within the context of what he’s going.

COOLMAN: Yes. Not just that, but he’s just been real encouraging. He’s a very positive, nurturing, encouraging person. I guess a bandleader is not obliged to be that way and not obliged to have you develop your own voice. If you’re serving the music the way the bandleader wants, and if that doesn’t mean you’re developing as a player…if you’re serving his needs, that’s enough.

TP: How do you see Moody’s playing in these all-star situations vis-a-vis what he does in the band?

COOLMAN: That’s a good question. I would say that when he plays in a band, with people that he’s more familiar with, his playing is a bit more exploratory and a little bit more searching, where he’s working out ideas. I think when he plays in these all-star things, he pretty much… I don’t know if the word is “conservative,” but he plays…

TP: More of a recital maybe.

COOLMAN: Yeah, a little bit. More like he knows…he’s fully in command of what he’s doing, and he’s not really searching so much as he’s just establishing his voice — that sort of thing.

TP: Well, he made a distinction, even in the band, between the things he does that are recitals, more or less like “Moody’s Mood” or “Pennies From Heaven,” and playing.

COOLMAN: Oh yes.

TP: He was very clear about it. You can see it even in his comments. His account of how he met Dizzy, which obviously he’s had to tell people 8 million times, is almost word-for-word exactly the same in the Dizzy Gillespie autobiography as what he told me. It’s really interesting. And he tells the story so well. When you hear him tell these jokes, you’ve heard him say it… You hear them all the time. I’ve heard them before, and I still laugh at them. Like the Joe Frazier…

COOLMAN: Yeah-yeah. [LAUGHS]

TP: I mean, he has such incredible timing.

COOLMAN: I think all that stuff, the humor and even “Moody’s Mood For Love’ and all this stuff which is part of what I guess you might call his routine, in some way I’ve always thought that that was patterned after his years in Vegas, that somehow the idea of music being entertaining and being a show that has sort of a theme… Somehow I think he’s incorporated that as a bandleader. It works for him in clubs, because I think it helps him reach the less initiated. That’s the thing about working with him that’s kind of interesting, that at any club on any given night you have aficionados and you have virgins! He has a way of reaching everybody. Because the routine has some sort of universal appeal, I think. Then the other, more venturesome side of his playing is going to appeal… If Jimmy Heath is in the audience, he knows that he’s going to hear something he hasn’t heard before, somewhere, if he hangs with it.

It’s a very subtle thing. A lot of people have said to me that they’ve noticed over the years that he plays a lot of the same repertoire and tells some of the same jokes and this-that-and-the-other, and “don’t you get tired of that?” Well, not really. Moody pointed out to me long ago that if it wasn’t for “Moody’s Mood For Love,” maybe he wouldn’t be working today. So his attitude is very pragmatic. I’ve never felt once that he did that with any sense of regret or boredom or resignation or anything. He just views it as part of keeping working.

TP: Well, it seems also, apart from Vegas, Dizzy Gillespie had a lot of routines as well, and I think his ability to blend the two things is why he was so successful. So I’m sure he learned that from Dizzy.

COOLMAN: Yes. There’s no question that the whole humor angle and the sort of clowning-around and all that came from Dizzy, without a doubt. And yet, I think that it did… It’s all part of what makes the thing work. Actually, I think if Moody just played, if you want to call it just a strict set of like art music, then that, too, would mean the audience is just artists, and that would be very appealing on a certain level. But he is very sensitive about the fact that he wants to play for the public. He is just as eager to play for the guy next door as he is for, say, George Coleman. I’ve always admired that about him. There’s something very non-condescending about that approach to performing.

TP: You’re a music educator, and I’d like you to put on that cap for a second and talk about him as a tenor player, the things he does as particularly as a tenor saxophonist that distinguish him among the universe of tenor saxophonists.

COOLMAN: The answer is real simple, and it’s an answer I don’t think anyone would give you. I really believe people are sleeping on this about Moody! But despite the many things he does just as a player, the thing that I think is his strongest trait is his sense of time and his pulse. I mean, I put him up with Sonny Rollins and all those people as far as how he plays time and how he swings. What’s interesting is that that has nothing to do with the notes he plays. The music students come down, or his peers come down with their little notebooks, writing down patterns that he’s playing. They’re missing the boat. The boat is how he plays time.

Now, having said that, the thing I love about his playing, even from an academic point of view, is it’s a beautiful sort of chronology of tenor saxophone vocabulary that goes back to Coleman Hawkins, and it’s thoroughly, at the same time, contemporary. So his playing is well-versed in the whole bebop language, but it incorporates post-’60s language. So he is way into what we call altered scales, different kinds of harmonic devices, use of fourths, use of pentatonics, use of compound scales, bitonals. So in other words, every so-called advanced harmonic device, he’s aware of them. He has them in his ear and he can play them. But at the same time, if you want to play a blues in B-flat, he can play the traditional vocabulary as well.

TP: Do you feel he is able to shape the advanced devices into a melodic type of framework, or is it more academic?

COOLMAN: That’s a good question. I think the answer ultimately is yes. But part of that has to do with his stage of development, with a particular sound. Sometimes he’ll hear somebody play something, and he’ll figure out theoretically what’s going on. He’s actually asked me, “Write out the scale that’s the basis of that. What is that scale called?” Then I’ll hear him practicing that or practicing patterns based on that scale, and even bring them to the gig that way, and play a more patterned, academic approach to it initially. But I hear that sort of morph over the nights into something that becomes very strongly melodic actually, and eventually evolves away from the mechanical toward the more artful. At heart, he’s a singer, really. So he can’t lay with material that’s not song-like for very long.

TP: He’s a helluva singer.

COOLMAN: Yeah! And I think ultimately that’s where he’s at as a tenor player, is he just wants to be a singer of melodies. So yeah, on any given night you’ll come down, and I think you’ll hear him play very melodic things, and then in other cases I think you’ll hear him play very patterned…quite frankly, it almost sounds like he’s practicing at times. But he’s working something out. That’s another interesting thing about him, now that I think about it, is that very few artists are very willing to do that. They’re only willing to play things that they know sound good. They don’t want to run the risk of not sounding good. There are nights when Moody will play certain tunes or work on certain material that he doesn’t have together. On the bandstand he’ll do it. Then he’ll come up to me later and say, “Man, I just don’t have that together yet, man. I have to practice that, because that’s not working the way I want it to. But there’s a sound in there. There’s something in there, and I know I can get to it. I’ve always been inspired by that, because he’s been playing seriously since he was about 16. So after 50 or 60 years of playing, this guy wants to learn something and he wants to work it out. That’s unbelievable.

TP: He says that’s what keeps him going.

COOLMAN: I believe that. I know that. It’s the quest. It’s the curiosity. And he’s always looking for another way to say something. So it’s inspiring, really.

TP: I went to hear you at Iridium the night of the Charlie Parker birthday. He starts off with “Groovin’ High,” and it’s one of the most amazing solos you’ve ever heard, he’s like shouting on the most extreme intervals, so much dynamics, then all of a sudden it’s “Moody’s Mood,” and then he plays “Confirmation” on flute for 15 minutes. I just said, “Goodness, I’m glad I heard ‘Groovin’ High.” Which is what you were saying.

COOLMAN: Yeah. But I think in common parlance, he wears his heart on his sleeve, and he really plays the way he feels. If he’s struggling with music, he’s not afraid to show it. Somehow, I think he wins people’s sympathies by the fact that in every set they’re going to hear a “Groovin’ High” moment. [LAUGHS] So people cut him a wide berth, and say the reason he’s so great is because he has a work shit out.

TP: With the band, is he a real taskmaster? Is he very open? It doesn’t sound like anything is very heavily arranged.

COOLMAN: Well, in 16 years or so of being with him, I can’t remember… I think we may have had one or two rehearsals.

TP: Does he give you charts?

COOLMAN: On occasion. Over the years, for some recordings, he’s had people write arrangements on various things. And sometimes he’ll want to pull those out and revisit them. Then there will be charts. Even at that, now that I’m thinking about it, most of the charts he has…

TP: Are pretty schematic?

COOLMAN: Yeah. Of late, we haven’t been dealing with them very much. But occasionally we’ll pull them out and revisit them for one reason or another. But it’s not really… No, I’d say that “taskmaster” is not one word that comes to mind when you think about him. He really is as interested in people’s input as he is like having something go a certain way. So he’s very open, and he seeks information and input all the time.

TP: He has a real reverence for his past, but he seems totally non-nostalgic for it.

COOLMAN: Well, more than not-nostalgic. He has a morbid fear of sounding old or old-fashioned. It’s beyond not-nostalgic. But you know what? He’s always aware of his musical surroundings, too. So when he’s with an all-star thing… Let’s say he’s up there playing with the Golden Men of Jazz or whatever he’s doing. He’s always aware of his surroundings, and he’s aware of what will fit in a certain context.

TP: Because he’s pragmatic

COOLMAN: Yeah. But basically, he doesn’t want to sound old. He wants to sound like he’s growing and that he’s developing new vocabulary.

TP: Right up until the end, that’s what he’ll be doing.

COOLMAN: Oh yeah. No question in my mind. I think that the last solo he ever plays will have as many surprises in it as the first one does. Because he’s not satisfied with status quo and he’s not interested in looking back. I remember one night on the bandstand, we were playing a slow blues or something, and the drummer started playing a backbeat, and he made him stop doing that. After the set he explained that the backbeat makes him feel like it’s old and made him feel like it’s 1952 again. He said, “I just don’t want to go back there.” He has certain idiosyncracies, and certain musical devices don’t appeal to him. In this case, I think it reminds him of another era, and he doesn’t want to be associated with it. Which is interesting. On certain tunes, he will play bebop-oriented, real inside material. But he does it in such a fresh fashion that he doesn’t sound old doing it. He’s preoccupied with sounding “modern,” whatever that means.

TP: I think as a subtext, he was very seared by the racial climate of that time. That had a lasting impact on him. He keeps referring to being in Greensboro and the German POWs being able to eat in the restaurant and he couldn’t, then coming back here and the various bullshit on the road. So I think a lot of that attitude may have its root in that situation, associating the music of the time with the physical and cultural environment of the time.

COOLMAN: Could be.

* * *

KIBWE: I’m 47 now. I met Moody when I was 18, when he was playing with Eddie Jefferson, and we’ve been friends since then. Every time I see him, he gives me things. In July we played together in a big band Don Braden had in Litchfield, Connecticut. I was sitting next to Moody, who was special soloist. Paquito was playing lead alto and clarinet, I was playing second alto, Moody was to my right, Paquito to my left, and Slide Hampton was right behind me on the trombone. That was another time when he came up and said, “Check this out on ‘Giant Steps.’” He’s so open! I began working on that in July.

TP: So he’s always sharing information.

KIBWE: Always! He’s a true master. To give you an example: He got to the gig a half-hour before we hit because of the transportation screwup, and he didn’t make any rehearsal. So he was like, “Man, I want to look at the music.” I said, “Oh, Moody, there ain’t nothin’ but some whole notes and half-notes.” Yeah, right! So we get on the gig, and I think the second tune was a Braden original, a swingin’ tune, a killin’ tune… It was based on a minor blues, but it had some definite alternate changes up in there, and it was an extended bridge… It was a very involved piece. I’ll put it to you this way. It’s not a piece of music that if somebody played it for me once and asked me to solo without looking at the changes I could do it. I’d have to look at the changes. So Braden wanted Moody to solo on it, but he was a little apprehensive, because Moody hadn’t even looked at it. First Braden said, “Okay, Moody, you take the first solo.” Then he said, “No, you’d better wait. Let the piano solo, then so-and-so, and then you solo.” Moody said, “Okay, whatever, I’ll try my best.” Then we play. Now, he hasn’t looked at the changes. He just started counting it off. Now, he’s playing his part. He ain’t got time to look at no changes because he’s got to get to the ensemble part. Then we get to the solo, and for some reason Braden pointed to him first. And he stood up and played and never looked at the music. I was like, “Oh, shit!” So I was sitting next to him, you know… Actually, he was so close to me, he was playing, and literally his tenor was touching my shoulder. I said, “Great. I’m just going to absorb all of this shit.” But he killed it!

TP: I think the most interesting thing is that he’s 75 years old, and he has this perpetual curiosity.

KIBWE: Oh, it’s incredible. He was just telling me, “Pick up this book.” He had a book based on Coltrane’s harmonic progression on “Giant Steps.” But when I first met Moody, he showed me stuff on flute. He gave me some advice. You know what he told me? He said, “Man, I want you to become a Jehovah Witness and I want you to join the Navy Band.” I was 18. That sounded like the most crazy thing for me to do. But years later, as I was thinking about it, I thought logically it made sense. He looked at it from the point of view, you know, he didn’t want to see me out there struggling for a living. He figured if I joined a Navy band, after 20 years in the Navy you can retire and you have a pension and you can do your thing. I asked him about why did he want me to join the Jehovah’s Witness. He said, well, because one time he was in New York, and this guy was trying to rob him, and had a gun or something and wanted to shoot him or whatever went down. But he just said, “Jehovah,” and the guy just walked away and didn’t mess with him. I thought that was really heavy.

TP: If you were going to talk about him analytically, his role in the music, the dynamics of his style as a saxophonist and on the different instruments.

KIBWE: The first thing that comes to mind is that he was one of the first doublers who stood out in my mind — cats that played tenor, alto, flute extremely well. What also sticks out is that he was probably the first saxophone player with his own voice coming out of the Bird era. If I had to sit down and analyze it, I could say it in musical terms. But just his sound and hi conception of how he soloed and how he played his instrument… He had his own voice. He didn’t sound like Bird. Whereas when I heard Stitt, even though Stitt said he didn’t study Bird, but he sounded to me like Bird a lot. Cannonball in the beginning, even Eric Dolphy for that matter… All those cats in the beginning sounded a lot like Bird. But Moody didn’t sound like Bird to me.

TP: But he still had the modern vocabulary.

KIBWE: Oh yeah, he always had a modern vocabulary. But he didn’t have a Bird sound. I mean, all the other cats, Charles McPherson, Jackie McLean, even Jimmy Heath, had that Bird vibe. But Moody was the first cat for me who didn’t have the Bird vibe.

TP: Maybe it’s because he started playing alto before he heard Bird, and then when Bird came along he was playing tenor.

KIBWE: Then he played flute! I have books of his solos, and I’ve been studying his shit for years. Moody has some very heavy tritone things happening in solos that I’ve been checking out. He does a lot of tritone substitutions. He does a lot of stuff going in and out of the chord. Like, there might be a C-Major-VII, but he’ll be F#. But the way he resolves that shit is so slick. His vocabulary is so immense musically. Like on his solo of “Bebop” he plays “Giant Steps.” Now, the A-section of “Bebop” is a vamp on F-minor. He was able to put “Giant Steps” through that shit! He modulated but it fit. Yeah, he’s… Oh, man, Moody! No, he’s bad. As opposed to Benny, every phrase of Moody is an exercise. Benny’s is connected… Moody is connected, too. But you can take a solo and take 2 bars of this… Like, I’ve been taking two bars of his solos, and I have an exercise.

TP: Does that make his playing sometimes overly technical, or is the warmth always there?

KIBWE: No, I’m not trying to say it makes it overly technical. His stuff is so deep that you can take segments of his playing and turn it into an etude, turn it into an exercise to where you can study that and modulate it and extract from it and play it across changes, and utilize it, interpret it that way. That “Bebop” that I have, I’ve gotten maybe 10 to 12 phrases out of that solo that I can use just as technical exercises to help me develop my facility. When I hear a cat play something like that, that I like, I’ll take it through the keys, and then maybe add a note here or there to personalize it.

* * *

TP: How did the collaboration happen? Was it just a record label project that turned out well and so you did subsequent hits?

TURNER: Yes, that’s exactly it.

TP: How did you prepare for playing with Moody? It wasn’t necessarily the most obvious pairing on the surface.

TURNER: That’s true. Well, there were supposed to be some other saxophone players on the date, and they fell through, so it was just me. Everyone brought in tunes they wanted to play.

TP: What were your impressions of Moody before going in there?

TURNER: I had studied a little bit of him, but not that much. I would say that early on I did. In high school I was into his playing, especially some early recordings when he was in France. I learned quite a bit from those recordings. There was something about his tone quality which I haven’t heard in other saxophone players in that period, partially because at that time he was playing…I guess he always did play with rubber mouthpieces. So it had that kind of a Lester Young quality, though Lester didn’t always play with rubber mouthpieces, but it had that kind of thing, whereas a lot of other tenor players (except for Stan Getz) who were playing bebop-oriented music have… It’s not as dark of a sound, a warm, woody… That’s why I gravitated to it, because that’s a lot of what I like. Warm and woody but with still a strong core. That and also he had that… The distinction, if you want to make it, between the bebop players and the post-bebop players… He was in that camp to me, the bebop camp, of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and those people, more clearly towards that sound, and one of the only tenor players that I know of. Because the others I usually hear after that in vocabulary and phrasing and sound and in the way he improvisers. In other words, not quite so codified yet, as opposed to these horn players.

TP: In working with him, you addressed quite a span of vocabulary. It was very collaborative, and he didn’t particularly play the star on it. How was it working with him in the studio? How was he with you?

TURNER: He was very amenable, amiable, straightforward, and ready to get down to business.

TP: And how would you describe his style within the contemporary framework?

TURNER: It’s great, because he’s still like really-really playing, to me. And he’s definitely always trying to… He’s really curious. He has that curiosity, and it’s in his playing, and he’s always trying to keep it fresh for himself.

TP: People who work with him say he’s always finding information, bringing people books… This incessant quest.

TURNER: Exactly.

TP: Was he very interactive with you?

TURNER: Somewhat. Yes and no. A little bit of that and a little bit of not. I wasn’t sure how much he was into that. Because when it went there, he didn’t seem to be that into it, at least not the way I was doing it.

TP: Were his solos from night to night on the same material different?

TURNER: Definitely.

TP: So it wasn’t like a recital. It was art music.

TURNER: No, he’s definitely improvising on the same songs.

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Filed under Article, Dizzy Gillespie, DownBeat, James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Kenny Barron

For Kenny Barron’s 70th Birthday, A 2005 DownBeat Feature and WKCR Interviews From 1991 and 2004

To mark the 70th birthday of the magnificent pianist-composer-conceptualist-educator Kenny Barron, who made it to the big leagues of jazz at 18, not long after he moved to New York, and has remained there ever since, I’m posting a pair of interviews we did on WKCR — a Musician’s Show in 1991 and an appearance promoting a week in a club in 2004. I’m also putting up the first of two interviews I conducted with the maestro for a DownBeat profile—which leads this entry—that I pitched and was given the opportunity  to write in 2005.

Kenny Barron Downbeat Article:

The wall of windows behind the bandstand of Dizzy’s Coca-Cola Room revealed a twilit tableau of Central Park treetops and the Fifth Avenue skyline as pianist Kenny Barron, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Mino Cinelu prepared to begin set one of the Kenny Barron Festival last April. Barron put down his glass of red wine, cocked his head slightly to the left, and began to play “Prelude To A Kiss.” He spun out flowing rubato variations on the melody, imparting to his lines the joyous ache of romance, then brightened the tempo and stated a kinetic Caribbean beat as he painstakingly built the arc to ecstatic resolution.
As the sky turned indigo, and the lights of Fifth Avenue twinkled in the distance, Barron sustained the Spanish tinge with discursive three-way dialogues on “All Blues,” a tune he played frequently during a lengthy ‘70s stint with Ron Carter, and “Calypso,” a lively original that he first recorded on a 1981 solo album for Xanadu.  Then he parsed the melody of Thelonious Monk’s “Shuffle Boil,” and embarked on a solo tour de force, conjuring luscious voicings atop a rock solid stride to complement the long, fluid, melodic lines he carved out with his right hand, deviating slightly in tempo and inflection from a version that appears on The Perfect Set, a new release on Sunnyside that documents an April 1996 engagement at Bradley’s, the saloon that was then New York’s sine qua non for piano jazz.
Thus inspired, Barron concluded the set with “Madman,” built on a fourth interval theme constructed around a bass line he heard in his teens from Hassan Ibn Ali, a famously eccentric Philadelphia pianist who regularly came to Barron’s house to practice with his older brother, Bill Barron, a tenor saxophonist with a taste for navigating the outer partials. He channeled the into-the-wild-blue-yonder side of Bud Powell,  engaging in intense rhythmic dialogue with Cinelu; at the end, he announced that this was his first public performance of the tune, which he recorded in duo with Roy Haynes on Wanton Spirit [Verve] in 1995; he deviated from the record by adding a free, rubato coda.
The festival lasted three weeks, and Barron framed himself each week within a different sonic environment. He shared the stage with Cinelu for the remainder of week one, joined by bassist George Mraz and kora player Abou M’Boop on nights three and four, and Mraz and guitarist Romero Lubambo on the final two evenings. During week two, Barron addressed hardcore, straight-ahead modern jazz, assembling a crackling sextet, fueled by drummer Victor Lewis, to interpret his fire-to-romance compositions. For the final week, Barron recruited Drummond and drummer Grady Tate to form a Bradley’s style “classic” trio.
Throughout the engagement, Barron followed the imperatives of the moment, resolving audacious ideas with the panache, in the words of Victor Lewis, of “a cat who always lands on his feet.”
“The rhythms were all over the place,” Barron said of week one. “I don’t think we played anything straight-ahead, which forced me to play other things. We started with no preconceived ideas or notions, and the tunes went whichever way they went.”
“What always surprises me about Kenny is his apparent nonchalance and very casual approach, and yet the tiger within,” said Cinelu.  In 1996 he and Barron collaborated on Swamp Sally [Verve], a free-form electro-acoustic project on which Barron referenced an exhaustively global lexicon of strategies and attacks.
Swamp Sally is one of a string of Barron recordings since 1992 on which French producer Jean-Philippe Allard encouraged Barron—now a serial poll-winner and Grammy-nomintee, but then typecast as a bop-oriented sideman supreme—to allow his imagination to roam, and paved the way for him to assume his present stature as a distinguished jazz elder. These albums include a kaleidoscopic duo with violinist Regina Carter; two recitals of Barron’s Brazil-inflected compositions, including Canta Brasil, a 2002 encounter with Trio de Paz; and several venturesome quintets and sextets comprising diverse personnels and instrumental configurations, most recently Images, with vibraphonist Stefon Harris, flutist Anne Drummond, and drummer Kim Thompson, all young stars on the rise.
Barron infuses each of these recordings with a spirit of spontaneity, human warmth and dance-like grace that often eludes musicians who possess his surfeit of technique.
“Kenny knows how to play inside the drums, and make the drummer sound good,” says Danilo Perez, a keen student of Barron’s music. “He knows how to syncopate—how to jab behind the beat for a swing feel, and jab on top, pushing it just like a Latino. With the Brazilians, he plays the subdivisions pretty much in their style. He’s a master of knowing what to do at the right time, whomever he’s playing with.”
“I like music, and I like all of it,” Barron stated. “I don’t want to be put in any kind of pigeonhole, even though I’m sure I am. Ideally, in one set I can go through everything. One song might come out as straight bebop, the next may go outside or be Brazilian. You don’t know what it sounds like until it reveals itself, so to speak. I like not-knowing. That’s the fun. Let’s see where it goes. I don ‘t think I need to go to school and study Brazilian music for three or four years. I just need to LISTEN to it, and respond whatever way I can.
“As you get older, you start to give yourself permission to make a mistake. There’s another chorus coming! You can try it again. Whether you make it or not, you’ve got to reach. Very interesting things can develop through that process.”
* * * * * *
Barron bedrocks his predisposition for risk on a strong foundation in the jazz tradition, which he absorbed first hand as a Philadelphia teenager. “Bud Powell is at the core of what I do,” he said, citing Horace Silver, Ahmad Jamal, Red Garland, Wynton Kelly, and McCoy Tyner as other strong formative influences. At the top of Barron’s list, however, is Tommy Flanagan. The infatuation began in ninth grade, when a friend brought the 1956 Miles Davis-Sonny Rollins recording of “In Your Own Sweet Way,” on which Flanagan sidemanned, for their art class to paint to.
“I stopped painting,” Barron recalls. “It was so crystal clear, and the touch was so light, so delicate. I fell in love with Tommy’s playing right then and there. Nothing tugs on my heartstrings the way Tommy could.”
Within several years, on Bill Barron’s say-so, Philly’s finest were calling the youngster for cabaret gigs at Elks Clubs and Masonic Lodges, as well as some less savory venues. “I remember an after-hours place called the Northwest Club where I played with Jimmy Heath, Mickey Roker and (bassist) Arthur Harper,” says Barron, who recalls playing until 3, taking the last bus home, and waking up for 8 a.m. classes. “The rhythm section had to play a show, and there wasn’t always rehearsal. I played for singers, comedians, shake dancers and tap dancers—a lot of standards,  songs based on ‘I Got Rhythm’ and rhythm-and-blues. It taught me how to listen and helped me with musical language. It prepared me for New York, where I still had to do those kind of gigs. I didn’t start working at Birdland right away.”
In point of fact, Birdland was the site of Barron’s first New York gig—a Monday night in 1961 with his brother and Ted Curson. Not long after, he hit the majors on jobs with Roy Haynes, Lou Donaldson, and James Moody, In 1962, he married, moved to Brooklyn, and, on Moody’s recommendation, joined Dizzy Gillespie. His four-year stint with Gillespie kicked off a three-decade string of high-profile sideman jobs with Freddie Hubbard, Yusef Lateef, Ron Carter, and Stan Getz, all admirers of his consistent creativity and lyric gifts, and with Sphere, the Monk-inspired collective quartet he co-founded in 1982 with Riley, Charlie Rouse and Buster Williams. At Lateef’s urging, he earned a college degree, and took a position at Rutgers in 1973, where for the next thirty years he mentored young talent like David Sanchez and Terence Blanchard, repeating his high school ritual of making early morning classes after finishing the third set at Bradley’s a few hours before. He moonlighted extensively, working with top-shelfers like Moody, Bobby Hutcherson, Benny Carter and Frank Wess and playing duo in various New York piano rooms. He documented his point of view on an impressive series of albums for such independents as Muse, Xanadu, Enja, Reservoir, Candid, and Criss Cross between 1975 and 1991.
“Each bandleader I worked with had a different style,” Barron says. “For example, Dizzy’s band was very tight and precise. I learned to keep stuff in reserve, not play everything you know all the time. Yusef was looser, the music was freer; you could play out, as far as you wanted to go. Ron likes hills and valleys; I learned to use dynamics. Stan and I shared a love for lyricism. We fed each other. He was one person who could play a ballad and really make you cry.”
As documented on Bossas and Ballads: The Lost Sessions [Verve], a 1989 quartet session that was not released until 2003, Getz played Barron’s tunes—these included such present-day standards as “Sunflower,” “Voyage,” “Phantoms” and “What If?”—and related to him as a de facto co-leader. Still, Barron was not able to generate consequential interest in his own projects—around 1985 he Barron formed an incendiary quintet with Eddie Henderson, John Stubblefield, David Williams and Victor Lewis to play his compositions—until Getz died in 1991.
“For some reason, the industry was late getting to Kenny,” states Lewis, whom Getz employed throughout the ‘80s. “It was frustrating, because we were all active members of the jazz community, we felt the  group and Kenny’s writing were special, and we couldn’t understand why we never worked much. We did a tour of the West Coast, and Kenny took out a loan to pay the airfare, to try to promote us.”
Perhaps one reason for Barron’s tortoise-like breakthrough lies in his genial, understated personality, devoid of visible idiosyncracy. During his sextet week at Dizzy’s Room, for example, Barron functioned as the band pianist as much as a leader, comping enthusiastically for his youngish front line—youngbloods Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and Dayna Stephens on tenor saxophone next to veteran Vincent Herring—and soloing when they were through. “I have to give cues,” he chuckled. “So it’s easier that I take the last solo. I like to think of myself as a team player, so I’m less interested in myself sounding good as much as the group I’m with, whether as a leader or a sideperson.”
“Kenny has incredible ability, and yet he is never flashy about it,” says Cinelu. “Which I guess frustrates everybody but him. He has a special touch. It’s easier to get the message when you see a musician who has a lot of obvious charisma and an obvious routine—who is very visual, let’s say. Kenny is not that. Yet, his message passes. He’s one of the great jazz pianists.”
It’s interesting to compare the gradual arc of Barron’s  career to the rapid ascent of such generational contemporaries as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, all Miles Davis alumni who broke ground as young men and then, inspired by Miles, established themselves as leaders by differentiating themselves from the jazz tradition. In contrast, after apprenticing with Gillespie, Barron—who enthusiastically abstracted form during tenures with Hubbard and Lateef—was never willing to shed mainstream values.
“Things evolve the way they should,” Barron says. “I don’t know what other choice I could have made. I was influenced by Herbie with Miles and on Blue Note, like Empyrean Isles and Maiden Voyage, not so much the electronic stuff. By Chick’s writing more than his playing; to me, Chick in the ‘60s was still sounding a lot like McCoy. But I didn’t know quite what to make out of Herbie. His stylistic influences were harder to pin down, other than some he shared with Bill Evans, like French Impressionism.”
“Kenny has a unique approach, a kind of blending of styles,” says Mulgrew Miller, Barron’s partner on a dozen or so duo concerts in recent years, following an initial mid-‘90s encounter at Bradley’s. “He’s rooted in the bop language but takes risks you don’t necessarily hear from people we call bop players. He wasn’t breaking down barriers like McCoy or Herbie, but he’s always trying to reach past his limitations, and he shares with those guys a command of the language of whatever area he’s dealing with.”
In a manner almost unique in 21st century jazz, Barron’s tonal personality encompasses the entire jazz timeline organically and unaffectedly. In the course of a set, he’ll stride with a percussive force and joie de vivre that would not sound out of place at a Harlem Renaissance rent party or a Roaring Twenties Park Avenue soiree. He channels the hard-boiled, warp speed attitude that marked the bustling 52nd Street bars and soulful uptown lounges where bebop flourished after World War Two, and the nuance and polish of the trios that entertained the bibulous mix of gray-flannel suits and tourists who patronized midtown’s upscale grills in the ‘50s. He’s au courant with the craftsmanship and sophistication of the American Songbook, and interprets  it without irony, on its own terms. The airy melodies and surging rhythms of Brazil and the Caribbean dapple his compositional palette, and he has an intimate relationship with the tropes of the Saturday night blues function and Sunday church ceremonial.
“I like Kenny’s touch,” adds Billy Taylor, a friend since Barron’s Gillespie days. “Whether he’s playing a bossa nova or wailing on something with guys playing Art Blakey kind of things behind him, he has the thing for that. To be able to change your touch that way is remarkable. He’s curious, so he’ll take a gig playing ballads. That gives him a chance to play beautiful songs that not everybody plays. Then he works with a group that’s straight-ahead with a soul thing happening, and he’ll go back to church with you. I used to hear him with groups that, quite honestly, were not up to what he was capable of doing at the time. He always found something in that group to take with him. That’s the mark of a first-rate artist.”
It’s also the mark of a pragmatist, a man with responsibilities. Barron intends to work as much as possible as he moves through his seventh decade. Although his stated intention after retiring from Rutgers in 2003 was to eschew teaching for practice and musical exploration, he soon received offers he could not refuse from the jazz departments of Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard, where he taught a total of 10 piano students privately during the 2004-05 school year.
“My daughter’s getting married, and I’ve got a wedding to pay for,” he says. What wouldn’t he do? “I’d probably hate playing Hawaiian music,” he responds, perhaps with tongue in cheek.
Has he always been a practical person?
“Practical? Do you think I’m practical?”
Well, yes. Married for 42 years, Barron is a musician who sustained creative edge while paying the bills and found a way, like Tommy Flanagan, to maximize his value as a performer in the world in which he functioned.
“I would be inclined to say it’s there,” he says. “Not that other people haven’t helped me. Yes, I’ve been able to function and be consistent. Work. Be married. Try to be in creative situations as much as possible. Whatever the word for that is, yeah, I am.”

[—30—]

* * * *

Kenny Barron (March 21, 2005):

TP:   First, the editor wants me to write about the different groups. When we spoke on the radio, you said that playing in different situations all the time, which is what you do on your records, keeps you fresh, keeps you thinking differently…

KENNY:   Oh, it does.

TP:   Have you ever done a three-week event like this, where you showcased a different sound over the course of an engagement.

KENNY:   Actually, I have. I did at the Vanguard twice. It was the same rhythm section every week, myself and Ben Riley and Buster Williams, and each week we used a different horn player. One week we used Vincent Herring, another week David Sanchez, I think Jesse Davis… It was fun.

TP:   But that’s a different proposition. These are three different…

KENNY:   Three totally different environments. True.

TP:   The first week with Mino Cinelu… You called the record Swamp Thing. This is a pan-Latin, pan-Brazilian…

KENNY:   Yeah, it’s a little bit of everything! Every two nights it’s going to change. The first two nights it’s myself, Mino Cinelu and John Patitucci. The next two nights John was unavailable, so George Mraz is going to play bass, myself Mino and Abdou M’Boop, the percussionist, who will also play kora. The last two nights will be George Mraz, Mino, myself and Romero Lubambo. That will have more of a Brazilian cast.

TP:   Have you played with Abdou M’Boop before?

KENNY:   No, I haven’t.

TP:   But you’ve played with Mino and Romero.

KENNY:   True. But I haven’t played M’Boop. He came by here and brought his kora, and it wasn’t quite what I expected it to be in terms of how it’s approached, so I have to rethink how it’s going to be used.  But he also plays talking drums, so he’ll be playing percussion as well. Kora is an interesting instrument, because once it’s tuned it has to stay in a particular key. It’s not a chromatic instrument, it’s diatonic, so you tune it to a particular scale and it stays there. If you tune it to B-flat, you can’t play in A-flat. He can retune it, but it’s a very time-consuming thing. He can’t do it between songs.

TP:   So you have to do the whole set in a particular key.

KENNY:   Well, the pieces that I’m going to use will all be in the same tonality. If it’s B-flat, it can also be G-minor, which is the relative minor of a B-flat. So it can be major and minor, but the notes will always be the same.

TP:   Keeping that interesting will be a challenge.

KENNY:   Very much so. There’s a way to do it. We ran over some stuff here.

TP:   That will be the one premiere of this week. Let’s discuss each of the people. Mino Cinelu  is one of the great pan-diaspora percussionists. He seems to have everything…

KENNY:   He can do almost anything. Well, he does. He does everything. He has some very interesting equipment. He has a wave drum, which produces all kinds of interesting sound effects and colors, and I’m sure he’ll use some of that. On the recording, we also did some all-acoustic stuff duo. We did a couple of concerts in Europe.

TP:   So you have a repertoire.

KENNY:   Yes, we have a repertoire. I don’t know that we’ll necessarily be doing… Since we have bass player, we’ll try to expand it. Because there was no bass player on the recording we did.

TP:   With Romero Lubambo, you had a project that had legs with Trio de Paz. But in this case, it’s George Mraz and Mino.

KENNY:   I’m sure we will do some Brazilian stuff, but we’ll do some other stuff as well.

TP:   You and Mino are the ones who are going to shift what you do to suit each environment.  This is an old question. But I’d assume that your involvement with pan-African rhythms goes back to playing with Dizzy.

KENNY:   To a certain extent, yes.

TP:   Did it precede it when you were in Philly?

KENNY:   Yes. Especially Latin music. More Latin music. This was before bossa-nova and Brazilian music. But Latin music was always popular in Philly when I was coming up.

TP:   Did you play Latin gigs?

KENNY:   I didn’t play that many, no. But I’d hear the records by people like Joe Loco and Machito, Perez Prado. I listened to that music a lot.

TP:   Was your peer group interested in it?

KENNY:    Not so much. It was something I liked to listen to.

TP:   How did it come to you?

KENNY:   I heard it on the radio, and said, “Wow, listen to that.” There weren’t stations so much that played it. But there was a jazz station that played it… I don’t know if you know Joe Loco.  He was Cuban, and he had a lot of hits on standards, but always with an acoustic kind of group, trio or whatever. As I got older, when I moved to New York, I started listening to Symphony Sid, who played a lot of Latin music. That’s when I really…

TP:   Did you go to the Palladium at all?

KENNY:   No, I never went to the Palladium. Again, just listening to the radio.

TP:   When you came to New York, it was an efflorescent period for Latin music.

KENNY:   Yes. I came in ‘61.

TP:   Did it give you the same feeling as jazz? Did it add something to your palette?

KENNY:   I think it added something.  I always found Latin music to be very joyful. There’s always dance… It sounds kind of corny, but it was happy, happy kind of stuff. It was fun.

TP:   That’s interesting, because it isn’t a quality that all your contemporaries embodied in their playing. Certainly, modern jazz of the early ‘60s in New York wasn’t so much about keeping a groove going.

KENNY:   No, certainly not. During that period, music started to really become concert music. It got to be THAT kind of thing. I was into that myself. I wanted to be SERIOUS. But that’s one of the elements that I think Monk had, was humor, a sense of fun, playfulness in the music. I think that’s often missing. We’re all so busy being serious, or trying to show that we’re not really enjoying it. That’s what I loved about Billy Higgins. Billy was always smiling. He loved what he did! And that joyfulness, it showed.

TP:   It came out in his sound, too.

KENNY:   Yeah, it came out in the music, and it kind of infected everybody in the bandstand and the audience.

TP:   Did you and Mino first play together on that 1995 project?

KENNY:   No, that was really the first time.  I first heard Mino in Nice with Miles. We had a mutual friend who kind of thought it might be interesting for us to play together. I started going over to his house, and just talk about music… We became really good friends, which we still are. His wife would fix these great meals, and we’d sit and talk about music, and he has all this great equipment. Consequently, a lot of the stuff on the recording we did in his music room. We also did stuff in the studio, where I overdubbed this or that.

TP:   You’ve been very bold in your aesthetic choices. You won’t ever let anyone put you in a bag. One recording you’ll do ballads with Charlie Haden. Another one is wild duos with Mino. Then you’re doing a new quintet with young players, with a flute up front, you’re doing your take on post-bop with the sextet, a duo with Regina… What you’re doing over three weeks characterizes the way you’ve presented yourself over the past 15 years, when you began to do records with serious production values.

KENNY:   I don’t want to do just one thing.  The thing is, I really like all kinds of music. I’d like to expand it even further, do some other things. Another project coming up, and I don’t know if it will come to New York, is I want to do some stuff with the Turtle Island String Quartet. We’ll do something in November, but right now I don’t think there are any concerts slated for New York. So that will be a challenge for me, to play in that kind of environment. I don‘t want to only do one thing. There’s too much to learn.

TP:   Certain people, when they go into Brazilian music or Latin things, deeply study the idiomatic nuances of each idiom. That’s not your approach.

KENNY:   No. I just listen to it, and I respond in whatever way I can, so it’s organic. I’m not Brazilian, so I can’t be Brazilian. But I love the music. So whatever I do, it’s going to be my personal take on it, so to speak.

TP:   But with a lot of people, there might be a quality of superficiality in addressing something without… It’s like someone playing bebop without knowing the changes. Your personality comes through. You always sound completely at home.

KENNY:   Yeah. I don’t know why. It just is. I think it’s because I love the music. I don ‘t think it’s necessary for me to go to school on it. I don’t think I need to go to school and study it for three or four years. I just need to LISTEN to it. That’s all that’s necessary, is to listen to it.

TP:   Was very Dizzy very much about breaking the stuff down for you in the early ‘60s

KENNY:   He didn’t do it for me. He was very helpful in terms of showing me voicings, harmony. But I saw him do some stuff with Rudy Collins, where he wanted a particular rhythm. So he told Rudy, “Do this with your right foot, do this with your left foot; play this with your right hand, that with your left hand; hit the cymbal here.”

TP:   Do you do that when you play with younger musicians?

KENNY:   I don’t like to do that. If I hire somebody, it’s for what they can bring. My idea about leading a band is to let people do what they do. That’s why you hired them.

TP:   With Romero, you told me that Trio de Paz played for a long time at the Coffee Shop on 16th & Union Square East. I don’t know if you made it a destination, or if it was by accident…

KENNY:   Well, the first time was totally by accident. My wife and I were there shopping at the green market, and we said, “Let’s go get something to eat.” We went in there, and there they were along with Duduka’s wife, Maucia(?), who was singing. Then it became a destination. So every Saturday we were in town, we went there to hear some music. Then we met them and became good friends, and eventually it turned into, “Boy, I’d sure like to play; let’s play something.” Then it turned into, “Let’s do a record.” It evolved that way. We did some tours and concerts. I’d like to do some other things with them, because I enjoy playing with them a lot.

TP:   It sounds like all these projects evolve organically out of your life as a musician…or your life in general.

KENNY: I think so. A lot of things just happen. If I hadn’t gone to the Coffee Shop, the whole thing would never have happened.

TP:   You would have heard about them eventually. But maybe not.

KENNY:   Yeah, or maybe not. You never know. But I would have missed a lot.

TP:   Have you played much with John Patitucci?

KENNY:   Only once, actually. But I love his playing. I have one of his records that I really love. It’s called Communion. The first time we played was actually on a recording with a singer, Cheryl Bentyne. I’ve always loved his playing. So I’m really looking forward to this.

TP:   You and George have played together, but not that much.

KENNY:   When I first started working with Stan, we played together. A couple of times, I’ve subbed for Hank Jones, and worked with George and Dennis Mackrell. But I haven’t played with George in a long time. Actually, on one of the very first gigs with the Ron Carter Quartet, Buster Williams wasn’t available, he was in California, so George made that. That was in the early ‘70s.

TP:   After Dizzy, you played a lot with Freddie Hubbard. Was that a fairly steady-working band?

KENNY:   It was a working band. We didn’t work as much as I’m sure Freddie would have liked, but yeah, it was okay. We didn’t do long tours. It was mostly around New York, working at Slug’s, and a place called La Boheme, which was at 61st and Broadway, and the Coronet in Brooklyn.

TP:   What else were you doing in New York after you left Dizzy?

KENNY:   One thing I did right after I left Dizzy was work with Stanley Turrentine at Minton’s for five or six weeks. The rhythm section was Herbie Lewis and Joe Dukes. That was great, working uptown in that kind of environment. Six weeks back-to-back.

TP:   Dizzy’s time at Minton’s was long gone.

KENNY:   He’d gone past that. Financially, he was past that. But when I left Dizzy, I more or less freelanced for a while, working with as many people as I could.

TP:   The thing with Ron Carter began in the early ‘70s? The mid ‘70s?

KENNY:   Probably the mid ‘70s. Before that was Yusef Lateef. We toured quite a bit, especially during the summer. Yusef was teaching at the time at Manhattan Community College. He actually got everybody in the band to start going to college. He encouraged everyone, “You should go back to school.” So I did. It was a two-year school, and I got an Associate’s Degree, and after that I went on to get a Bachelor’s Degree from Empire State College, which is part of the SUNY.  When I was going to Manhattan Community College, and we were going on the road, I would always tell my teachers, “I’m going on the road for three weeks; what material will you cover in that three weeks?” They were always pretty cool about telling me. I’d bring math. We had math, and I had never had this kind of math before in my life. When I came back, I was ahead of the class.

TP:   You didn’t allow yourself to be distracted.

KENNY:   No, I did the work. But I attribute that a great deal to Yusef’s personality, because that’s the way he was. He was very centered and very into doing what you have to do to make things work.

TP:   I’m sure the relationships between music and mathematics make the logic systems clearer.

KENNY:   You’d think so. But that didn’t necessarily happen.

TP:   Your involvement with Ron Carter was long-standing.

KENNY:   Yes. How that gig started, I was working at the Keystone Korner with Yusef, and Ron was in town and came by. That’s how that happened. It’s a question of being in the right place at the right time.

TP:   When did you first start to lead two- and three-horn ensembles? Your first record is ‘71, I think, forMuse.

KENNY:   There were no horns on that. It was basically trio. Sunset To Dawn. On one tune, by Freddie Waits, Warren Smith said, “Why don’t I play vibes on this.” So it’s a really fast Freddie Waits tune, “Alkefa.” “I’ll play vibes on this.” he was incredible. But there were no horns.

TP:   When did you start?

KENNY:   One of the first times was at a place in the Bronx, the Blue Morocco, where I used Bennie Maupin and Bill Hardman. It was the same rhythm section, with Freddie Waits and Herbie Lewis.

TP:   Was that because of the gig, or was something in you wanting to…

KENNY:   No, that was just a gig. But in terms of starting to write music and say, “Okay, I hear this for quintet,” probably happened first when I had the quintet with John Stubblefield. The ‘80s. Wallace Roney did the first record, What If.

TP:   Was that just percolating? A lot of pianists showcase their instrumentalism and wind up playing trio. But you’ve built up a large body of work for various ensembles.

KENNY:   I like being part of a team. One of the things I like is that I can write for it. I find it difficult to write things for trio. People do it all the time, but it’s more difficult for me. I have no idea why. But it’s easier for me to write things for horns. You can showcase harmony and movement and stuff like that. In that particular group, it started as part of a grant. I had applied for a grant to write some original music, so that was the band I chose.  I’d been knowing John for a long time, and Victor Lewis and Cecil McBee. I got the grant, and did a concert at what was then Carnegie Recital Hall, and they made a tape. It sounded so good I thought I’d like to record it, and I talked to Enja Records. That was the beginning.

TP:   Does a song like “What If” come out of your trio experience?

KENNY:   No, for the quintet. I really heard it for those particular people, for that group. When we first started playing as a group, the music at the time—live anyway—was going to the left. It was starting to go out. Which I loved!

TP:   That would be John’s propensity.

KENNY:   Yes.  But again, it was organic. Nobody said, “Well, let’s play out.” But it just started to move that way. One of our first gigs was a place called Joanna’s [18th Street]. We did a set, and played two tunes in an hour or something. But it never got boring, because the music went in so many different places. We had such a great time. When we did the record, there are considerations of time and length, so it didn’t…

TP:   But subsequently on your ensemble records, you added different flavors. Some had more of a pan-Caribbean-South American feel, some were more hardboppish…

KENNY:   Right. I didn’t set out and say, “Okay, this record is going to be bebop and this one…” It just happened.

TP:   I suppose it speaks to the fact, again, that you’ve assimilated so many musical languages. Is there ever an element where they’re competing for space within you? A bebop side competing with the lyric Brazilian side competing with the classic piano side… This is probably an absurd question. But I find the tonal personality you express so personal but also encompassing so many flavors. I’m sure it seems totally organic to you because you’re living it, but I want to see if we can pinpoint where it comes from.

KENNY:   I don’t know where it comes from. I don’t feel competition in terms of different styles or different idioms. Ideally for me, in one set of music, I can go through everything. What it is, I think each tune kind of carries itself. Each song is a development in itself. One song, if you play it, it may actually be straight bebop. That’s how it might come out. The next song may go out. Or the next song may be Brazilian. All in one set.

TP:   Do you know beforehand?

KENNY:   No, I don’t. It just happens. We may play a blues, especially with the group I have now with Anne and Kim Thompson, and it may go out! I kind of like that. I like not-knowing. That’s the fun for me. Let’s see where it goes.

TP:   Do you think of the different styles as different styles?

KENNY:   Probably not. There’s 12 notes.  There are only 12 notes. It’s just music.

TP:   What differentiates them?

KENNY:   It’s rhythm primarily that will make a difference. The way you approach the rhythm, and phrasing. If you’re playing bebop, for instance, there’s a certain kind of phrasing that works best. The attack. If you’re playing R&B, or if you’re playing some funk, there are certain kinds of voicings that won’t work so well. If the voicings are too sophisticated, they won’t work.

TP:   The sextet you’re bringing in the second week has a new tenor player, Dayna Stephens.

KENNY: I met Dayna in California at a clinic I did for a week at the Monk Institute at the University of Southern California. He’s one of the people who was there, and he really impressed me. When I was looking for a tenor player, I thought about him, but I didn’t know how to get in touch with him. Then somebody told me he had just moved to the New York area. I think everybody will be very surprised. He’s a very good player.

TP:   Everyone else you’ve played with…

KENNY:   Oh, yeah, for a long time. In different situations. Actually, I haven’t worked with Victor in quite a while.

TP:   New repertoire?

KENNY:   Some new stuff, and then some stuff that will be recalibrated or whatever.

TP:   Do you always recalibrate?

KENNY:   Not always.  But sometimes just having a new player will make that happen.

TP:   Benny Golson discusses the art dearth writing, trying to make three horns sound as big as possible. Is that a concern… Let’s put it this way. What are you trying to put forth on this sextet than the quintet?

KENNY:   In terms of instrumentation, the sound is heavier because it’s three horns. And harmonically, with three horns you can do more rhythmically and in the way you can use them. The different colors also that you can have from three horns. Dayna plays tenor and soprano…

TP:   Like most young guys.

KENNY:   Yes, like most young guys. Those are different colors that you can utilize. So for me, it’s about the harmonic movement that three horns allows you. Eddie is only doing two days, and Jeremy Pelt is doing the remainder.

The third week is the trio, what they call the Classic Trio. Ben wasn’t available, because he’s going to be in Europe with his Monk Legacy. Well, he does get back in the middle of the week. But I wanted someone close to Ben in style and age, and I called Grady Tate. Grady does this tour I do every other year in Japan called 100 Gold Fingers, and I’ve always enjoyed playing with him. He’s a very tasty, very sensitive drummer.

TP: What does the term “classic trio” mean to you?

KENNY:   I have no idea.

TP:   But does it mean something to you? Jazz? Classic?

KENNY:   It’s a trio.

TP:   Well, is it a trio that you play a certain type of repertoire and not another type of repertoire?

KENNY:   Well, that could be true. With a trio, I tend to play more standards and… Yes, that’s basically it.

TP:   Well, you probably have 800 tunes that you can draw from.

KENNY:   Yes. I remember we did this at Bradley’s one week with Ray and Ben, no repeats. [18 sets] I have to think about whether to do that again!  But it might be fun. Not repeat any songs. That means there won’t be any “arrangements.” You’re saying, “Oh, let’s do this song.”  But at the same time, I don’t want it to be a jam session.

TP:   So in a certain sense, the classic trio is closer than the other formats to being what that idealized notion of what jazz is supposed to be.  It’s this older material, but you’re approaching it in a totally spontaneous way.

KENNY:   Yes, a spontaneous way. So you won’t know what a song is going to sound like until it starts to reveal itself, so to speak. Again, that can be a lot of fun. Again, I don’t know if that’s what we’re going to do, but it’s a thought.

TP:   So you’re telling me that you don’t go into any performing situation with the whole arc of a performance planned out. There’s always room for openness.

KENNY:   Oh, yes.

TP:   There are general outlines or motifs, and every night you’re approaching it in a different manner.

KENNY:   Hopefully, I’d like that to happen. Almost nothing is planned, other than, “We’ll do this song.” But how the song evolves is up for grabs.

TP:   That doesn’t happen as often as the commonplaces about jazz would have you think it does, to actually approach a set with that attitude. It’s kind of risky in some ways, because you have to get the stuff out there, and a lot of people aren’t so interested in leaving themselves open that way.

KENNY:   I like that. When you reach for something, you have to say it’s okay if you don’t make it. But you’ve got to reach. We all have bad days.  But sometimes you have to reach for it and say, “Well, I didn’t make it.”

TP:   Is  that innate? Or did you learn to do it?

KENNY:   I think as you get older, you start to give yourself permission to make a mistake. Because there’s another chorus coming! So you can try it again. That’s one of the things that makes music interesting for listeners sometimes, is to hear someone reach for something, and maybe not making it, but trying it again. Sometimes very interesting things develop in that process.

TP:   One reason why you don’t hear much chance-taking is that young musicians go to school and study everything so thoroughly. That can be at odds with what we’re speaking about. Now, you’ve been an educator for thirty years. How do you address your students on this issue?

KENNY:   I put a lot of stress on being as creative and lyrical as you possibly can. I’m not big on transcribing solos. I never have been big on that.

TP:   Not even Bud Powell and Ahmad Jamal back in the day?

KENNY:   I said transcribing. I learned solos, but I learned them by rote. By hearing them and then playing them. A lot of people are into transcribing, but I find that when you transcribe solos, you only get involved with the notes. There’s a lot of other aspects to a person’s playing. So if I’m listening to Red Garland with Miles… When that record Round About Midnight came out, I knew all those Red Garland solos. I never wrote them down. But one the things that happens when you write them down is you only deal with the notes. If you learn it by rote, then okay, you get this person’s touch. It’s easier to emulate this person’s touch, phrasing, all of that.

TP:   So Red Garland was one of the guys you got into your body.

KENNY:   Yeah.

TP:   Who were some of the other people?

KENNY:   I used to listen to Horace Silver a lot. I’m talking about junior high school and high school. Tommy Flanagan, Wynton Kelly, Hank Jones. They were all different. Wynton had this feeling, and a harmonic concept that was unique. Red had this touch. Everybody had something different to offer.

TP:   You’ve paid some explicit homages to Bud Powell, with that piece “Bud-Like,” and “Madman” has certain qualities to it… It’s an area that you seem to have a fondness for.

KENNY:  Oh, I do. Probably that particular style is at my core. I think Bud is really at the core of what I do.

TP:   Did you ever meet him in Philly?

KENNY:   No. I got to meet him once, when he was not doing well.

TP:   Did you ever meet Monk?

KENNY:   No.  I saw him, but he was always such an awe-inspiring person that I would never go up and say anything.

TP:   Do you mean intimidating?

KENNY:   Yes. He was intimidating, actually. He was very big and… I had just come to New York, and… So I never went up to say anything…

TP:   [Ben Riley’s story] You’ve been in New York since 1961. Initially in the East Village.

KENNY:   I stayed next door to my brother, 314 E. 6th Street, where all the Indian restaurants are. It was a great block. A lot of musicians lived there. I stayed at Vishnu Wood’s place. The rent was something like $60 a month, and it was hard to make that. But it was just one room. Across the street was Lee Morgan, Tootie Heath and Spanky DeBrest, all Philadelphia people who had an apartment. Upstairs from where I lived, Pepper Adams and Elvin shared an apartment. Reggie Workman lived with Lee and Spanky, too. Ted Curson lived a couple of doors up from them.

TP:   A real Philly enclave on East 6th Street.

KENNY:   That’s right. I could walk to the Five Spot and the Jazz Gallery, which were owned by the same people. Coffee shops, like the Fat Black Pussycat, Café Wha, Café Bizarre, all in the West Village. There was so much music. I met Sonny Clark at the Five Spot. I heard Cecil play duo with Clifford Jarvis at the Café Wha?

TP:   What does living in New York have to do with your embrace of so many vehicles of self expression?

KENNY:   Well, I think because it’s all here. Music from everywhere is here in New York, and you can hear it all.  Just life in New York in general, especially during that time for me. I was young, and it was exciting, and all the people whose records I would buy, I could go hear them, I could talk to them, I could see them. Then other things as well. I really got into Latin music then, mostly due to radio. But I really got into it then. Everything is right here in New York.  Just the vibrancy of the city. It’s such a great city.

TP:   You’ve been in Brooklyn for how long?

KENNY:   Actually, I was in Manhattan only one year. I got married in ‘62, and I’ve been in Brooklyn ever since. The first place I lived was on St. Marks and Franklin, and then I moved to Prospect Place and Nostrand.

TP:   There was a fairly consequential scene going on in Brooklyn then.

KENNY:   Oh, there was a lot of music in Brooklyn. There was the Coronet, the Continental, and quite a few other places. There were also a lot of musicians. When I moved to Prospect Place, I discovered that Cedar Walton lived around the corner on Sterling Place. Freddie Hubbard and Louis Hayes lived around the corner in the same building on Park Place. Wynton Kelly lived around there on Lincoln Place. Cecil Payne lived nearby.  There were a lot of musicians.

TP:   Were the Brooklyn audiences different at all than the Harlem audiences?

KENNY:   I don’t think so. One of the things that was happening during that time is that the audiences for the music… If you went to the Coronet to hear music or to play, you would see the same people all the time. Neighborhood people came out to hear the music. That kind of stopped in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s.

TP:   Did that impart a different flavor to the way you played?

KENNY:   I don’t know if it added a different flavor.  But it was definitely inspirational.

TP:   For people in New York at the moment you arrived, you could hear the whole history of the music, people who effect the outer partials of what’s happening now, like Cecil or Ornette (whom you’ve played with), or you could hear Willie The Lion or Ellington or Coleman Hawkins. And you told me that you did.

KENNY:   Yes, I did. I remember working at the Vanguard playing with Freddie Hubbard, and we played opposite Coleman Hawkins for two weeks. Barry Harris was playing piano with him. I don’t remember who else was in the band, but I know Barry was there. That was amazing.

TP:   A lot of younger musicians in the ‘60s were perhaps not so embracing of the older forms, but it seems that even that is part of… On the Live At Bradley’s record you played Blue Skies and Sweet Lorraine, and a lot of tunes you’ll play with the trio are from that era.

KENNY:   Well, apart from bebop, I grew up listening to… Well, the first person I heard do Sweet Lorraine was Nat King Cole. And I loved it from that point. But it was a long time before I started actually playing it. But you have memories of these things, and you say, “Oh, I remember that song; let me start playing that.”
TP:   But someone born after your generation probably wouldn’t have heard Sweet Lorraine on a jukebox.

KENNY:   No, they wouldn’t have. Or Canadian Sunset. I remember hearing that on a jukebox.  Eddie Heywood. And Jug also recorded it.

TP:   Someone like me heard it because I went out looking for it. But it wouldn’t have been an organic part of my upbringing unless I was in an extremely specific house or environment.

KENNY:   Right, it was all around. You’d go into a luncheonette, and on the jukebox there you’d see John Coltrane, Blue Train or Moment’s Notice, or Ahmad Jamal, Poinciana. Any jukebox. In a luncheonette, a restaurant.

TP:   So those things come out in your sound.

KENNY:   Yes.  That stuff was all around. You’re exposed to it.  People who are younger have to search for the music. You have to look for it on the radio. You certainly don’t hear it on television…. Well, you didn’t hear it on television then either. But you have to look for it now.

Plus there were certain experiences, playing situations we were able to get as young players that aren’t available. They weren’t necessarily “jazz” gigs. I used to play dances a lot. We called them cabarets. You had to play standards. You had to play rhythm and blues. That’s what that really meant: I Got Rhythm and Blues. A lot of songs based on that. You had to play for singers. You’d have to play a show.  A singer would come up. “What key are you doing this in?” “I don’t know.” There wasn’t always a rehearsal. If you played, you’d also have to play for a comedian, tap dancers, stuff like this. You’d get to play all this…

TP:   You’d play a whole show. What was the club in Philly…

KENNY:   Oh, there were many clubs. Many. Sometimes they weren’t necessarily clubs…

TP:   The Masonic Lodge, the Elks…

KENNY:   Exactly. That kind of stuff. But I remember there was one club in particular in Philly that was called the Northwest Club. They had a lot of after-hours clubs. I remember working there one time with Jimmy Heath, Mickey Roker, and Arthur Harper was the bass player. But as part of the rhythm section, you had to also do this other stuff. You had to play with the singer and the comedian. That was just something you did.

TP:   That had to have been ‘59 or ‘60, if you did it with Jimmy. So you were 16 or 17.

KENNY:   Yes.

TP:   That prepared you for New York.

KENNY:   Yes.  There are certain kinds of experiences you had. You knew how to play for a show.  You knew what to do, how to end songs and things like that.

TP:   It’s a very rare musician under 45 who’s had had that experience. Although there are a few.

KENNY: There are some. But it’s rare.

TP:   What  did that do exactly?

KENNY:   Well, one thing, it taught you how to listen. It taught you how to listen, and then it helped you with the language. Musical language. It wasn’t enough just to know… Well, one thing is that you have to learn songs. We used to play for what was called shake dancers, kind of tame strip-teasers.  They would dance to Duke Ellington, Caravan… Exotic dancers. Jimmy Forrest, Night Train, a bump thing. Those are the kind of things you learn. It really prepared you to come to New York. Because it didn’t change that much once you got here. You still had to do those kind of gigs. You didn’t come here and start working at Birdland right away.

TP:   But you came here and soon started working with Dizzy.

KENNY:   Well, I came here in 1961 and started working with him in November 1962.  I graduated high school in ‘60, then I kind of laid around Philly, and came to New York in the Fall of ‘61. Then I got married in ‘62.

TP:   You grew up very young, didn’t you.

KENNY:   Well, I got married very young.

TP:   It wasn’t like a whole lot of time to “find yourself.” But maybe you did that later.

KENNY:   Well, still.

TP:   But a lot of people in that situation would take jazz as a job. You’re always very open-ended within the function stuff you do. You were a professional from 16-17-18. Music was a job, a livelihood from that age, and there are a lot of functions you have to play.  Some things must have felt rote to you. Some people would allow their imagination to be stifled in those situations, and many people have allowed their imaginations to be stifled. Others settle on one kind of sound and stayed with it—and evolved it, which is great. You’re not that way.

KENNY:   I think one of the things that helped was having an older brother who played, having friends… There was a drummer, for instance, named Jerry. I used to go over to his house. He always had the latest records. He built his own stereo system.  We would sit there and listen to the latest records. That’s the first time I heard Ornette, was over at his house. “Wow, what is that?!” So I’ve always been into listening and trying to hear new stuff.  Trying to do it, too.  That’s part of growing. I didn’t want to become stuck. I never did. I don’t know if you believe in astrology, but that’s part of being a Gemini. “Oh, let’s try this.” I think that’s part of it. Just being exposed to other things is is important.  When I came to New York, my brother Bill had been working with Cecil Taylor. He was really into avant-garde.  That was his thing. He loved that. He listened to Stockhausen and showed me 12-tone row music and stuff like that. It made me listen, too.

TP:   You did a tune, didn’t you, called Row House?

KENNY:   Yes, I did, which is a 12-tone row. So again, there’s always something to learn, something to try.

TP:   What was it like playing with Ornette?

KENNY:   It was different.

TP:   Has there ever been a situation that didn’t quite work?

KENNY:   I wouldn’t say that situation didn’t work. But there’s always hindsight. I wished I could have done this, wish I could have… But it came out okay. I was surprised that he called me. Because I think the whole idea was to recreate the group he had with Billy Higgins and Charlie Haden, who were both there, and Wallace Roney to take the place of Don Cherry. But one of his first groups had piano.

TP:   What I recall about the concert is that he took out his trumpet and played a chorus, and summed everything up in that chorus.

KENNY:   I enjoyed it. Probably even more memorable than the gig were the rehearsals, as he tried to explain his harmolodic concept. Which I never really got. So I just played.

TP:   Lee Konitz told me that Charlie Haden told him, “We really play changes.”

KENNY:   On some of the earlier things, the stuff is so melodic, it really sounds like they’re playing changes, or playing around changes. There’s some stuff there you can hear on The Shape Of Jazz To Come. That’s one of my favorites. Lonely Woman. You can hear harmonic structure in all of his pieces. It’s not just willy-nilly. They’re playing some stuff.

[—30—]

* * *

Kenny Barron (WKCR, September 2, 2004):

TP:    Sitting across from me, looking extremely cool and relaxed on this beautiful day, after a subway ride, is Kenny Barron. Next week, he enters the Village Vanguard with a sextet comprising Terrell Stafford, David Sanchez, Vincent Herring, Kiyoshi Kitagawa, and Ben Riley. On Wednesday, he starts his semester at Juilliard. On Thursday, he starts his semester at the Manhattan School of Music. So it will be like old times for Kenny Barron, who during the Bradley’s days, would leave at 3 in the morning, and go out to Rutgers the next day at 8 or so. You’ve been doing this for a long time.

KENNY: Yes, I have.  And as you get older, you get tired faster!

TP:    Well, there are no 3 in the morning sets any more.

KENNY: Not any more. Although I kind of miss it.

TP:    That’s the thing. You want to hang out late, but then in the morning you feel sort of happy that you didn’t do it. But several years ago, when you retired from Rutgers, I recall you saying, well, you wouldn’t be teaching any more. You were going to devote your time exclusively to music, and practice…

KENNY: I did say that, didn’t I.

TP:    What happened?

KENNY: Well, I got a call from Justin DiCioccio at Manhattan School of Music, saying, “We would like you to come and teach?” and I said, “I want this amount of money,” and he said, “okay.” And I only wanted a certain number of students…

TP:    And he said okay.

KENNY: Yeah.  So it’s been working out actually.

TP:    And at Juilliard as well.

KENNY: At Juilliard as well.  Well, I guess from the beginning, I’ve only had two piano students there. So this semester, starting this week, I’ll have four.

TP:    This show is not about education. But what sort of students do you have?  You’re not teaching them the basics.

KENNY: Oh, no. They could almost teach me. I mean, some of them are so incredible, especially in terms of technique, and they really understand the language very well. Actually, it’s fun to teach them. Because they really challenge me. They’re great students. A couple of them have won some competitions.

TP:    It’s a truism by now that, given advances in jazz pedagogy and education, that the technical level and proficiency of young musicians today…they start younger and younger, and they can do more and more. What things don’t they have?  What do they need to get?

KENNY: I guess the things they need to get, they’ll only get by living. Experience.  Experience and paying dues; as Ben Riley likes to say, “having their hearts broken.” So they’ll have some stories to tell. When you’re young and everything is fine, you don’t REALLY have any stories to tell.

TP:    You yourself were 18 when you moved to New York.

KENNY: Right.  In 1961.

TP:    You moved to the East Village, I think.

KENNY: Right.

TP:    Everyone was living on East 5th Street and 6th Street.

KENNY: East 6th Street I lived on.

TP:    You were working, and then joined up with Dizzy Gillespie and got your first college education on the road with Dizzy Gillespie. Subsequently, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, you went back to school and got a degree…

KENNY: I did.  I went to Manhattan Community College, and got an Associate’s Degree from there.  They had a program, part of the State University of New York, called Empire State College, and I got my B.A. from there.

TP:    I don’t want to put you in the position of looking back to the good old days. But just step back to those days a bit and discuss the climate then, and the attitudes of the musicians you were running with when you came here from Philly. What was percolating? What was in the air.

KENNY: Well, there was a lot. The block I lived on was the block where there are now a lot of Indian restaurants—Curry Row, they call it.  Sixth Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue. I lived at 314. I was staying with my brother for a while, and then I moved next door with a bass player named Vishnu Wood. Upstairs, for instance, lived Elvin Jones and Pepper Adams. They shared an apartment together. Across the street lived Lee Morgan and Tootie Heath, and a bass player from Philly who’s passed away named Spanky DeBrest, and Reggie Workman also, and two doors up from that lived Ted Curson. It was a great neighborhood. I could walk to the original Five Spot, which was on the Bowery, and the same guys, the Termini Brothers, also owned the Jazz Gallery on St. Marks. So I could walk to all those places. All the coffee shops. I first heard Cecil Taylor, for instance, at Café Wha in the Village.

TP:    On McDougal Street.

KENNY: Yes.  I heard him in that year, ‘61. I met Sonny Clark at the Five Spot. I first heard Kenny Dorham.

TP:    Was there a lot of collegiality? Were people supportive of each other?  Was there a sort of give-and-take?

KENNY: Oh, I think there was.  I would have to say yes. Especially among the musicians from Philadelphia.  There was always a kind of brotherhood, so to speak, among the musicians from Philly.

TP:    So even if someone was from Germantown and someone was from South Philly, once they get out of Philadelphia…

KENNY: Oh, yeah.  Well, even in Philly there wasn’t any kind of neighborhood rivalry.  You were a musician. You were one of the cats.

TP:    Prior to that, had you been working a fair amount on the Philly scene?

KENNY: Some. I was doing a lot of local stuff, and occasionally I would get to work in… When I was there, Philly had two major jazz clubs, the Showboat and Pep’s. At some point I got to work there. One of the highlights, I was still in high school, and I got to work there with Jimmy Heath and Lee Morgan and Tootie and Spanky DeBrest. I was thrilled to death.

TP:    This would have been shortly before you came to New York?

KENNY: Yes, shortly before.

TP:    I seem to recall you mentioning to me that while you were in high school, you’d play jam sessions, and catch the last bus home, and get home at 4 or 5 in the morning, and then go to school. I may be overstating the story…

KENNY: Well, not a jam session… But that is true. I would be out a little late, and my mother would be very upset!

TP:    I’m sure there are exceptions, but young musicians don’t have these kinds of experiences these days.  Again, not to get you embroiled into an “our generation had these things,” but do you see it as a different quality by which the information is processed when it’s processed in such a functional situation?

KENNY: I don’t know. I guess there’s something to be said for both. There’s something to be said for going through academia, and there’s something to be said for just learning it organically, through the streets. However you learn it, it’s great. But I guess one of the things when you learn it on the street, so to speak… For me, I think it really stays with you. You get more… This is hard to explain.  There’s more spirit involved. In school, sometimes you can over-intellectualize everything, and everything becomes about scales… It becomes too intellectual.

TP:    Philadelphia may be known as the City of Brotherly Love, but I gather that doesn’t necessarily apply to the attitude of audiences when you’re not doing things as you’re supposed to.

KENNY: Oh, no.  They’d let you know. You get embarrassed a few times, and you’ll work on your stuff.

TP:    What dicta did the older musicians tell you? Would people be quick to correct you on the spot?

KENNY: Well, yes, they would. If I was interfering with what everybody else was doing, yes, they would definitely be quick to point it out to me. But if it wasn’t too bad, they would wait til after the song was over or after the set was over, and pull me aside.  But generally speaking, they were very willing to share information and to let me know: “Voice this chord this way” or “These are the right changes here.”

TP:    So when you got to New York at 18, it was that, but on an everyday basis.

KENNY: On an everyday basis.  And you might say at a higher level, too, in terms of the musicians who were here in New York.  But it was more of the same, yes.

TP:    I apologize for bringing you back 43 years on the third question. So let’s step up to the present. Kenny Barron is performing at the Village Vanguard next week with his sextet. You’re one of many musicians of different generations who express themselves through different configurations. I think you have two-three forms of sextet; there’s one that’s sort of straight-ahead hardbop, another uses strings and flutes, a Brazilian-tinged group, there’s trios, duos, the quintet that you’re working with flute and vibes… Did this also happen organically?  How did it come about that you use so many modes of expression?

KENNY: I like different things.  That’s basically it. With the Brazilian project, for instance, I used to go to this place called the Coffee Shop. [Union Square & 16th]. That’s where I first met Duduka DaFonseca, Nilson Matta and Romero Lubambo. I just happened to be passing by, heard the music, went in, introduced myself, and we talked. Then I wound up going there every Saturday just to listen to them. Eventually, I said, “Wow, I sure would like to play with these guys,” and we figured out a way to make that happen. They were there for 12 years.

TP:    Were they doing a brunch gig?

KENNY: Yes, every Saturday afternoon.

TP:    But your exposure to Bossa Nova goes back to the American involvement in the idiom with Dizzy, who picked up on it fairly quickly.

KENNY: That’s true. Actually, the group that started me really listening to Brazilian music was Sergio Mendez, Brazil ‘65. I still have that vinyl record that I bought in 1965.
TP:    I’ll assume the group this week, to use the term in a totally generic way, a more straightahead, hardbop oriented thing.

KENNY: Yes, it is more straight-ahead.

TP:    The three horns…if you were around in 1990, you’d call them young lions, but now all are established tonal personalities on their instruments. David Sanchez has been on a few of your records.

KENNY: Yes. David actually was a student of mine at Rutgers. That’s when we met. I was there when he auditioned, and I remember how nervous he was. I don’t think he graduated. He left because he actually started working. I ran into him a couple of years later at the Village Gate. They used to do Monday nights where they’d invite a jazz artist with a Latin band, and I was playing with Eddie Palmieri, and happened to turn around, and David Sanchez was playing on the band.

Although he wasn’t my student, Terrell was a student at Rutgers University. Vincent I met a long time ago, and always loved his playing.

TP:    Kiyoshi Kitagawa has frequently played bass on your gigs.

KENNY: Yes, frequently. That started at times when Ray Drummond wasn’t available, and then Ben Riley actually told me about Kiyoshi. I love the way he plays.

TP:    You and Ben Riley go back a couple of minutes, too.

[MUSIC: “Um Beiju”; “Things Unseen”]

TP:    This was Kenny’s core quintet for about a decade. Eddie Henderson and John Stubblefield, KB, Ray Drummond, Victor Lewis, and Minu Cinelu… Perusing the recordings here, you’re the composer of all but two tunes on Spirit Song – 8 or 10. You’re the composer of all the tunes on Things Unseen from ‘95. On Images, the latest release, you composed 6 of the tunes. And your compositions comprise the preponderance of the material on many of your records. You’ve been composing for a long time, and some of your songs and little melodic hooks are part of the vocabulary now. You hear musicians quoting “What If,” for example. However—and I could be wrong about this—people don’t necessarily think of you first and foremost as a composer of the scope and breadth that you demonstrably are.

KENNY: Well, it’s funny, because I don’t think of myself as a composer. I write tunes. It’s a work in progress. I’m still working on trying to find things to write. I’d like to try to write something for a larger group.

TP:    Aren’t you being unnecesarily modest here? Do you mean that you don’t through-write? What to you is the difference between a tunesmith and a composer?

KENNY: Maybe what I mean is, the stuff I write isn’t terribly complicated. For a lot of people, it’s not a composition unless it’s difficult.  The stuff I write is really very simple. And sometimes that’s a good thing.

TP:    Do you write for personnel?

KENNY: Generally, if I’m writing for a particular project, then I’m writing for the people in the band who I’m going to be playing with. Not necessarily for the instrumentation, but for those particular people. I kind of know what they sound like, and I think I know what they’re capable of.

TP:    Since the ‘70s, when you first recorded for Muse, your tunes incorporate a lot of exotic scales, a lot of world rhythms—Brazilian, Latin and African rhythms. You have a rather broad template, which you’ve used for at least thirty years, and perhaps even going back to your days with Dizzy.

KENNY: I enjoy listening to all kinds of music. I enjoy trying to incorporate various aspects of different cultures into the music, as much as I’m able to.

TP:    Are you trying to find new material to improvise on?  Is the goal always to find something to take off from?

KENNY: As a jazz artist, I think ultimately it’s about improvising and having a vehicle for that.  But at the same time, I would also like to get more involved in through-composing, really writing a piece all the way through. I think it would be interesting to do.

TP:    Who are your models as a composer?  Among your contemporaries are some of the major people, and you worked with Dizzy Gillespie who codified bebop composition.

KENNY: Among my contemporaries, I love Wayne Shorter’s writing. Of course, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. That goes without saying. Some of those pieces they wrote, like Blood Count, Lush Life, they’re really incredible. Bud Powell, things like Glass Enclosure and Tempus Fugit.

TP:    For example, this week with the sextet… You occasionally recycle or reconfigure compositions, but not too often. Usually a Kenny Barron record presents a bunch of new pieces. Are there new things in the book for the sextet next week?

KENNY: Most of the things we’ve done before. I think we’re going to try two or three new things next week?

TP:    Are you a deadline-oriented composer, or is it a matter of when the spirit moves you?

KENNY: If you give me too much time, I won’t do it! If I have three months to write something, I’ll wait until the day before…or a week before. It’s really just a question of developing a certain kind of discipline, which I have yet to do; to just sit down and… I remember sitting down with the pianist Hassan in Philadelphia, who I’d known since I was a little kid, and he told me that he wrote a tune a day.  That’s 365 songs.

TP:    You must have at least 100 copyrighted.

KENNY: Maybe a few more than that.

TP:    You haven’t exactly been a slouch… Having spoken of composition, we’ll hear some blowing by Kenny on the piano, of which there are ample recorded documents.  This trio worked frequently at the time; you could hear them every 3 or 4 months at Bradley’s. Am I exaggerating?

KENNY: No, you’re not. We were there a lot.

TP:    It’s a one-hour recital of ten tunes, and it reflects the flavor of what your sets would be like. There are tuneful originals with nice rhythmic feels, there’s a couple of Monk, a couple of great standard songbook things, some soul tunes…

[MUSIC: Sweet Lorraine, Alter Ego]

TP:    Lemuria would have done when the trio did a no-repeat week; a week at Bradley’s without playing the same tune twice. That would be 18 sets. I think it happened around ‘91… Playing this music from Bradley’s: You worked there a lot with this trio. It was a real locus for New York’s piano community for about twenty years.

KENNY: I think the first time I worked there, they had a spinet piano. The first time I went there, I heard Bobby Timmons, who was there quite frequently, and eventually I started working there. But I loved working there.  The ambiance, and like you said, it was a really great hang. The last set sometimes would be full of musicians coming by from their gigs. I remember one really memorable night. I think Tommy was working there, and Carmen McRae was working at the Blue Note, and she came by after her set, and I think she played almost the whole last set at Bradley’s. She sat at the piano and sang and played. Only at Bradley’s could you catch something like that.

TP:    What does it do to a musical community to have a gathering place like that? There hasn’t been anything quite like Bradley’s since 1996.

KENNY: For me, I felt very much at home there. I think most of the musicians did.  It was like home.  You’d go in there, you knew everybody… I never had to order a drink!  Because the bartender knew what I drank. He just put it right in front of me.

TP:    So even if you wanted to change for that night, you still had to drink it.

KENNY: Yeah! [LAUGHS] I miss it. I really do miss it.

TP:    A more general question. Is there a New York piano school? Obviously, we’re not talking about people born in New York, because the majority of musicians who make their living here come here from someplace else.  But that being said, it seems that the overall sound you’d hear at Bradley’s from one week to the next and from year to year kind of crystallizes a New York approach to piano.  But it’s unclear in my mind specifically what that approach might be. So do you think of it that way, or is that a bit too general?

KENNY: It’s a little hard for me to think of a New York school of piano playing. As you mentioned, everybody comes here from somewhere else, and all those forces come into play. You’ve got people who come from Detroit, like Tommy and Hank and Barry Harris and Kirk Lightsey. But oddly enough, there is a Detroit sound. Especially with Tommy and Hank and Barry and Roland Hanna, those guys had a particular sound. I think whatever happens is just an amalgamation of everything that’s happening around the country. Because everything comes here; everybody comes here.

TP:    The last time you can really talk about an indigenous New York sound might be the ‘50s, when you have people directly coming out of the stride pianists, and Bud Powell and Walter Davis and Walter Bishop. When you got here in the early ‘60s, what were most of the piano players listening to? At the time, you got here is the same time Herbie Hancock got here, it’s the same time Chick Corea got here… I mean, roughly.

KENNY: Yes, it was around the same time.

TP:    Keith Jarrett got here then. You all arrive in New York with diverse influences, but coming out of the same things that were in the air.

KENNY: I’m trying to think of what I was listening to when I came to New York, the people I would seek out to listen to. For me, it was Tommy and Hank, even though they were rarely in New York during that time. I think they were always busy working, so I never got a chance to hear them live that much then. People like Sonny Clark. I used to listen to Erroll Garner. I never really got a chance to hear Bud, unfortunately. I heard him one time, and he was really not himself. So it was kind of sad for me to see. And Monk; I got to hear Monk.

TP:    As one of the founding members of Sphere, you played Monk’s music extensively in the ‘80s, after he died. Did you get to know Monk?

KENNY: No, I didn’t really get to know him. When I saw him a few times earlier on, I was very young, and I was so much in awe, I would not have approached him at all. Plus, he was a very awe-inspiring looking figure. He was a very big man. I’m a kid. I said, “Wow.”

TP:    You didn’t know what he might say to you.

KENNY: Right.  But I certainly did listen to him.

TP:    And being with Dizzy Gillespie, I suppose that would be a first-hand channel into the attitudes and tales of the music of the generation before you.

KENNY: Oh, sure.

TP:    Is that something you were very curious about at the time? I’m asking in this context. For a lot of younger musicians who didn’t have a chance to experience those lifeblood artists first-hand, didn’t get to see Monk, didn’t get to see Bud Powell, maybe didn’t get to Dizzy—didn’t even get to play in those bands, a lot of them. So for them, the notion of being around New York in 1961, you’d think of it as a kind of golden age. Here’s Coleman Hawkins.  Here’s Monk. You can hear almost the whole history of jazz on any given night in New York in 1961 or 1962 or 1963.

KENNY: That’s true.

TP:    Was it that way to you at that time?

KENNY: Yes, it was.  It was that way to me at that time. I got to hear, thankfully, a lot of people. I got to hear Willie The Lion Smith.  I got to work opposite… I was working with Freddie Hubbard at the Vanguard, and we worked opposite Coleman Hawkins for a week. We played opposite Cecil Taylor for a week. I heard some incredible music.  And I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great people.

TP:    Have you always had a very open attitude to music? Looking at your discography in recent years, on the Bradley’s record you play “Everybody Loves My Baby But My Baby Don’t Love Nobody But Me,” a ‘20s Tin Pan Alley thing, which you play in the stride manner but in your own style.  Then with Minu Cinelu on the track we’re about to hear, you’re prerecording fragments of material, recording electric keyboard bass, using the latest technology. On another track, you explore intervals that you might associate with Cecil Taylor or Hassan. There’ s a lovely arrangement of Bud Powell’s “Hallucinations.” Really, your music and musical persona seems to encompass very comfortably the whole timeline of the music in a rather organic way.

KENNY: I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, and I love and appreciate a lot of different kinds of music. In terms of being open, I think I’ve always been that way. I’ve always listened to all kinds of stuff. I’ve always wanted to play as much as I could, all different kinds of music.

TP:    We have a set of duos by Kenny Barron with different people. First is “Mystere” with Mino Cinelu. A few words on how this recording was set up.

KENNY: We did a lot of stuff that you’d call preproduction, setting up certain things—in his living room actually.  He’s a whiz at the computer, so he’d add different things with the computer. I know nothing about that stuff, other than how to get my email. He did all of that.  Then in the studio, I opened up the acoustic piano on most of it. On my solos, he added other things electronically and altered the sound on certain things with the computer. So when I heard it back, it was totally different.  On quite a few tracks he altered the sound or added things to it. But on the track you’re about to play, we did some of the stuff in his living room, we came in and I overdubbed the piano solo, and I also played keyboard bass.

[KB-Cinelu, “Mystere”; KB-Regina Carter, Fragile; KB-Roy Haynes, “Madman”]

TP:    A set of duos concluded with a few signifying drumstrokes by Roy Haynes, concluding a piece called Madman, from Wanton Spirit. Was that your tune?

KENNY: It is a tune, actually. I’ve never done it live and never recorded it since then. But I think I will start doing it.

TP:    You played Sting’s “Fragile” in duo with Regina Carter.

KENNY: My wife was working at the time, and I went to pick her up, but she wasn’t quite ready, so I went to a bar next door in Soho. I was having a drink, and they were playing Sting singing this particular song. I thought it was so beautiful! So I asked the bartender who it was. I had no idea who Sting was. So I went out and bought the record, and to my surprise, I liked the entire record, but that particular piece, I really fell in love with.

TP:    In 1996, not too many people were working with computers to create the sounds you got on Swamp Sally. And we’ve heard a very diverse selection of music, many colors and scales and cultural reference. But almost all have been done for the same label and the same two producers—earlier for Jean-Philippe Allard, and more recently Daniel Richard, who produces you for French Universal, no longer issued in the States by Verve, but currently by Sunnyside. It seems to me that there might be some connection between having a steady, familiar relationship with a receptive producer and the venturesomeness of your output.

KENNY: Fortunately, they are two producers who I really appreciate. They’ve allowed me the maximum amount of freedom in terms of what I wanted to do. “Go ahead!” Interestingly enough, the CD with Roy Haynes and Charlie  Haden, Wanton Spirit, was actually a suggestion of Jean-Philipppe Allard. Because I never would have thought of it. He said, “What do you think about recording with Charlie Haden and Roy Haynes?” I said, “Wow, that could be… Yeah.” So that’s how that one came about.

TP:    Charlie Haden has a similar relationship with him, as does Randy Weston and Abbey Lincoln and Hank Jones and others. The ‘90s was a prolific, fertile for all of them in terms of albums. But a lot of musicians in your position, after more than forty years in the music business, an established bandleader for at least thirty of those years, and with a pedigree that includes Dizzy Gillespie, Ron Carter, Stan Getz during the ‘80s… For all of that, you seem very willing to make music with almost anything good that comes your way. It’s a very egoless type of… Of course, you have your ego. And I don’t want to throw around paeans to you here.  But there’s a sort of openness to new experience that seems to inform what you do.

KENNY: Oh, I do like to try new things, yes. They may not be NEW new, but they’ll be new for me. So in that sense there’s certainly a sense of adventure about it for me.

TP:    What underlies that?  Is it as simple as just trying to keep yourself fresh so as not to repeat?

KENNY: No, I think it really is curiosity. I’m not really concerned about becoming stale or anything like that. Now, I should be! But it’s really curiosity. I get inspired by a lot of different things. I’ll go out and hear one of the cats or one of the young women playing today, and I’ll get inspired. I’ll say, ”Wow, that was incredible.” So inspiration comes from a lot of different places, and it inspires you to try a lot of different things on your own.

TP:    Having seen you on nights-off or after a set going out to hear people, I know for a fact that you do check out a lot of music. In your quintet, everyone is under 35, and most of them are under 30.

KENNY: The two young ladies, Kim and Anne, are 23. Stefon Harris is just 30. Kiyoshi is older than you’d think. I was surprised when I found out how old he was.  But still, he’s younger than me.

TP:    What is the benefit to playing with so many people? Because your sound is very identifiable always within whatever context you’re in. I’m not really going to give you to someone on a Blindfold Test, let’s say.

KENNY: Well, what I get playing with all these different people is that they make me play differently. Playing with some straight-ahead, which I love to do, that makes me play one way. Playing with a good singer makes you play another way. Playing with young people who are really energetic, that energizes me. Playing with someone whose music is a little more esoteric puts me in another thing. I like to think of myself as a team player, so I’m less interested in myself sounding good as much as the group I’m with, whether it be as a leader or as a sideperson. Sounding good is more of my concern.

TP:    So if the group sounds good, you’re sounding good.

KENNY: Essentially, yes. That’s very true.

TP:    Is that innate? Did you learn it from someone?  A little bit of both?

KENNY: Maybe a little bit of both.  It’s a team effort.

TP:    Stepping back forty years ago, you were part of Dizzy Gillespie’s group, from 18 to 22. What’s the most important lesson you learned from that, apart from learning all those great tunes from the inside-out and hearing him every night, and the stage presentation and so on.

KENNY:   Well, those are among the things. I can’t say there’s any one thing that was more important than any other.  But it’s how to save yourself, by which I mean that you don’t give up everything all at once every night. You save some stuff.  Keep some stuff in reserve. One of the things I learned is not to play everything you know. That’s it. You don’t play everything you know all the time.

TP:    Why not?

KENNY: What for?

TP:    You played a lot with Ron Carter in the ‘70s. The group was popular, lots of recordings and bookings.

KENNY: That was a really great band, with two bass players; Ron played piccolo bass and Buster Williams the full-sized bass. Ben Riley was on drums. Ron is a really good bandleader, because he knows what he wants, and he knows how to TELL you what he wants and how to get it. One thing I learned from playing with Ron is dynamics, how to use dynamics. He’s very used to not playing at one level all the time—hills and valleys in music.

TP:    How about Stan Getz? Since he passed, some amazing recordings have come out of your collaboration.

KENNY: I guess the thing Stan and I had in common was a love for lyricism. I think we fed each other in that way.  I certainly learned a lot from hearing him. He was one person who could play a ballad and really make you cry.

TP:    Is there anyone during the time we could call your apprenticeship, which was a long one… You played steadily as a sideman for thirty years, though for a chunk of that time you were a leader. Is there anyone you wish you could have played with that you didn’t get to?

KENNY: Yes, a few people. Pre electronic days, I always wanted to play with Miles.  And Sonny Rollins is someone I always wanted to play with.

TP:    With Sonny, that could still happen.

KENNY: One never knows!

TP:    After you leave here, you have a rehearsal for next week. So will this be the first rehearsal for this band for this program?

KENNY: Yes.  And unfortunately, I don’t think everybody is going to be there.  People are still out of town. So we’ll muddle through.

TP:    You mentioned that you have three new pieces. Are you a stickler for rehearsal? Your bands always have a sound of elegance and casualness that makes me think that you might be working them really hard.

KENNY: No. I rehearse because it’s necessary.  But I don’t LIKE to rehearse.

TP:    The trios with Ben Riley and Ray Drummond, I’ll bet you didn’t rehearse.

KENNY: Oh, no, we rarely rehearsed.  And many of the arrangements are really just head arrangements. They evolved over the course of playing them over a period of time.

TP:    You said that your music is very simple, but it’s very distinct. What do you think is the hardest aspect of playing your compositions correctly?  Is it the phrasing?  Is there a certain attitude?

KENNY: I don’t know. Again, I don’t think it’s difficult, but if there’s anything, it’s playing with the right attitude. I certainly don’t think the music is terribly difficult. If it’s anything, I think it’s playing with the right attitude and the right feeling.

TP:    Another one of your tunes that’s gotten some broader play is New York Attitude. So maybe it’s the New York attitude. Not everyone has it.

KENNY: Could be.

* * *

Kenny Barron Musician Show (WKCR, 2-13-91);

[MUSIC: K. Barron, "New York Attitude"]
Q:    [ETC.] Kenny is from Philadelphia.  I think that’s probably the first thing anybody should know.
KB:  Right.  From North Philadelphia.
Q:    Neighborhoods are pretty important in Philly.
KB:  Yeah.  Well, there’s North Philly, South Philly, West Philly.  They’re all different, too.
Q:    You’re from quite a musical family as well.
KB:  Yeah.  Well, Bill was the oldest.  There were five of us altogether.  Bill and myself are the only ones who became professional musicians, but everyone else played the piano, two sisters and another brother.  They all played the piano.
Q:    There was one in the house?
KB:  Yes.  There was always a piano there.  My mother played also, so she was kind of the one who inspired everybody to do that.
Q:    What kind of music was played in the house?
KB:  It was usually Jazz, Rhythm-and-Blues — primarily.  And Gospel Music on Sunday.
Q:    What were your folks into?  The big bands?
KB:  It was strange, because my folks…my parents didn’t really listen to the radio, or they didn’t seem to listen to music that often, other than my mother, who as I said, listened to Gospel Music on Sunday.  But my brothers and sisters listened to lots of different kinds of music.  At the time, they had some really great radio shows, Jazz radio shows in Philly.  As I got a little older, by junior high school I was also listening to, like, Doo-Wop groups and things like that.  So I listened to all kinds of music.
Q:    You were also studying European Classical Music.
KB:  Yes, I was studying Classical piano.  I did that from the age of 6 until I was 16.
Q:    Now, what was your first exposure to the world of Jazz in Philadelphia?  Did you sneak out when you were younger and go hear groups in the neighborhood, or was it through your brother?
KB:  Actually it was through my brother.  He had a fantastic collection of old 78′s, Charlie Parker and Fats Navarro, Dizzy, people like that.  So I used to hear those things all the time.  I can remember being very affected by one tune in particular; I’m talking about when I was maybe ten years old.  That was a piece called “Sippin’ At Bells.”  I always tried to find that piece and that record, and I couldn’t remember the record label.  Somehow or other, it really got to me.
Q:    Bud Powell was on that, yes?
KB:  I believe so.
Q:    Of course, I’m sure your brother must have been practicing around the house.
KB:  Oh yeah.
Q:    It must have always been there.
KB:  Yes, there was always music.  His friends would come by.  I’m sure you’ve heard of the pianist Hassan from Philly.  Well, he and Bill were very close, so he used to come by the house quite often, and they would spend hours playing and just talking together about music.  So I would be there listening and checking them out.
Q:    Do you have any particular reminiscences about Hassan? He didn’t have a lot of visibility outside of Philadelphia, and recorded only once, albeit with Max Roach.
KB:  One record, right.  That’s right.  He was unique as a pianist.  Eccentric.   He just had a very unique style.  Kind of Monkish.  Of course, at that time, when I was 9 or 10 years old, I knew nothing about Monk.  But he had, like I said, a very unique style.  Later on, I found out that one of his biggest influences was Elmo Hope, and not Thelonious Monk.
Q:    One of the compositions on that record, actually is dedicated to Elmo Hope, too.
KB:  That’s right.  Actually, I plagiarized a bass line from one of his compositions from The Incredible Hassan on one of my records.  I see you’re taken aback!  It’s funny, because only a few people knew it, and they were all people from Philadelphia!
Q:    I’ll bet.  Who were some of the other people on the Philadelphia scene who were important in the 1950′s, and particularly when you were beginning to emerge and find your way?
KB:  Well, there were people… There was a saxophonist, for instance, named Jimmy Oliver, who was very influential on the Philadelphia scene at the time.  Jimmy Heath.  I had a chance to work with Jimmy while I was still in high school.  Oh, and just the guys that I came up with; there are people who probably aren’t that well known outside of Philadelphia.  A bass player named Arthur Harper…
Q:    He played with J.J. Johnson…
KB:  Exactly.
Q:    I think he’s playing with Shirley Scott now.
KB:  Yeah, exactly.   He is playing in Philadelphia.  He moved back to Philadelphia, and he’s working there.  But he was one of the guys that I came up with who had a very big influence on me.  He was a fantastic bassist.  We used to play together a lot, and talk about music.
Sonny Fortune, we came up together.  So a lot of people were around during that time.
Q:    I guess you were a little young to remember Jimmy Heath’s big band…
KB:  Yes, that was a little before my time.  But I often heard of it, because Bill played in that big band, and I often heard him talk about it.  And there were some great people in it.  I think John Coltrane…
Q:    And Benny Golson…
KB:  Benny Golson, right.
Q:    [ETC.] Now, you’re on record as saying that the first record that really grabbed you was a Miles Davis session from 1956 with Sonny Rollins and Tommy Flanagan and…
KB:  Yeah.  Max. [sic: Art Taylor]
Q:    …you were really into Miles Davis at that time.  So we have a set of Miles from that period lined up for you…
KB:  [LAUGHS]
Q:    …by the miracle of radio.  Was this one of your brother’s records, or did you hear it on the radio?
KB:  No, actually what happened, I was in junior high school, and we had an art class, and the teacher used to encourage the students to bring in music to paint by, so to speak.  So a friend of mine, a drummer, who is now an English teacher actually, he brought in this record, Collectors Items.  The tune that they were playing that got me was ” In Your Own Sweet Way.”  I stopped painting, I was listening, and I was “Who is this?  Who is that?”  Because it was just so clear, so crystal clear, and the touch was so light,  delicate.  And I just fell in love with Tommy’s playing right then and there.
Q:    Well, we’re going to hear that in this set.  But we’re going to start with “All Of You” performed by the Miles Davis Quintet, with two other Philly legends, Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones, on the famous recording, Round About Midnight.
[MUSIC: Miles, "All of You," "In Your Own Sweet Way."]
KB:  When that record came out, it had such an impact on the Jazz scene that I was coming up with… One of the things that we could do, for instance… I mean, I knew everybody’s solo on every tune.
Q:    From the Round About Midnight record.
KB:  Yes, from that record.  I mean, I could do that as you were playing it then!  I mean, that didn’t make me unique, because everybody did that then.  I mean, that was one of the ways in which you learned about improvising, was just through trying to imitate and learn solos, and find out how they did it, what they did.  It was a great… It’s still a great learning tool, just to listen.
Q:    At about the age of 14 and 15, who were the people you were following?  Obviously Red Garland.
KB:  Yeah, Red Garland.  I also was listening to Horace Silver.  I think I may have been a little younger than that when he came out with Six Pieces of Silver.   For some reason, I remember at that particular time we didn’t have a record player in the house.  There was a luncheonette about five or six blocks from the house, and they had on their jukebox “Señor Blues” and “Enchantment.”  And I went up to this luncheonette every day to play that, play those two songs.  Then when I found out that the drummer, Louis Hayes, was 18, I mean, that really gave me a lot of inspiration.
Q:    There’s hope for me yet.
KB:  Yes. [LAUGHS]
Q:    You were also listening to Ahmad Jamal at this time.
KB:  Right.  The Live At the Pershing album came out at this time.  Well, maybe a little bit later.  But that was also very influential.  I remember I was laying in bed, getting ready to go to sleep, and I had the Jazz station on, and the tune they were playing was “Music, Music, Music.”  And again, it was “Who is that?”  It was just so hip.
Q:    Just encapsulate your impressions of Ahmad Jamal and Horace Silver, their contributions in retrospect, now that  you can look back at it.  They’re still doing it, actually.
KB:  Well, that’s right.  Still!  I heard Ahmad a couple of summers ago, and he’s still unbelievable.   Actually, I appreciate him even more now, now that I really know what he’s doing; not really know, but now that I kind of understand what he’s doing.
I think Ahmad is like the consummate trio player.  There’s just so much space and so many ideas and he’s so creative in a trio setting.  And his technique is…I mean, it’s unbelievable technique.  His touch… So he has it all happening for him.
Horace was also a very big influence on my playing.  He’s completely different from Ahmad.  Horace is a much more percussive player, and you know, a little more out of the  Bebop thing, but a great pianist and an unbelievable composer.  So just about every Horace Silver record that came out, I would go and buy it, or find somebody who had it so I could listen to it.   Because I was as fascinated by his compositions as I was by his playing.
Q:    As are many musicians still.
KB:  Yes.
Q:    I think he’s one of the most popular fake-book…
KB:  Yeah, that’s true.
Q:    Were you engaged in teenage combos at this time?  Were you working at all?
KB:  Not working as such.  But yeah, I did.  I had a little trio.  We used to perform in school functions and things like that.  It was fun, and it was, again, a great learning device.  While I was in high school I met Arthur Harper.  We  happened to be… I was studying bass at the time, and we happened to be studying with the same teacher.
Q:    Who was?
KB:  I don’t even remember his name.  He was a Classical teacher.  Mr. Eaney(?).  That was his name.  Wow.  He played with the Philadelphia Orchestra.  And I had my lesson at 10 o’clock, and Harper had his lesson at 11, so I would see him, you know, when… I never knew how good a bass player he was, and I guess he never knew that I played piano.  Until one day I happened to go to a jam session in West Philly.  I was playing bass, you know.  So one of the guys, we later became great friends (his name was Jimmy Vass, an alto player) but I had just met him this particular day.  He called “Cherokee.”  And obviously, I couldn’t make it!  [LAUGHS]
Q:    It wouldn’t seem obvious to us now.
KB:  I’m talking about on the bass, now.  I was playing bass.  Then I spotted Arthur Harper!  And I had a pleading look in my eyes.  He came up and rescued me, and I sat down and listened to him, and all I could say was “Wow!”  I mean, he was such a good bass player.  His time… He was incredible.
[MUSIC:  A. Jamal, "Music, Music, Music," "No Greater Love," H. Silver, "Señor Blues"]
Q:    Did you discover Bud Powell around the time you first heard Ahmad Jamal and Horace Silver?
KB:  Actually I discovered Bud later.
Q:    Later.
KB:  Yes.
Q:    Monk, too.
KB:  Monk, too — later.  I guess I was so taken with Ahmad and also with Tommy Flanagan that I kind of neglected to go to the source, so to speak, which was Bud Powell.  It’s hard not to come through him for almost any pianist.  It’s very difficult for any pianist who is playing today not to have come through him, to have been influenced by him, either directly or indirectly, one way or another.
[MUSIC: Bud Powell, "Glass Enclosure (1953)," "Hallucinations" (1950]
Q:    We’ll move now to music emanating from Philadelphia in the late 1950′s that Kenny was involved with in one way or another as a young musician.
KB:  Well, I met Jimmy Heath: I was still in high school when I met him.  He had done this first album for Riverside [The Thumper and Really Big], for kind of a small big band, and he organized a group in Philadelphia, kind of scaled it down.  So I had a chance to play with him, and play a lot of the music from that album — and it was really a lot of fun.  A couple of times he even used the big band.
Q:    I take it he heard about you through your brother.
KB:  Through Bill, right.  And also through another saxophonist in town by the name of Sam Reed, who I think had mentioned me to Jimmy.  He was very helpful, in terms of my career, even though he may not know it.  I remember one time Yusef Lateef came to Philly, had a matinee at the Showboat, Monday, 4 o’clock, and his pianist missed the flight.  So Jimmy gave him my number, and he called me, and I went and played the matinee — and that was it.  He paid me.  Then about three months later, just after I graduated from high school, I got a call from him to come to Detroit and work ten days in a place in Detroit called the Minor Key.  It was a great experience.  First time on an airplane, first time on the road.  It was a great experience.
Q:    And Detroit was quite a scene at that time.
KB:  Yes, it was.  Yes, it was.
Q:    Did you meet most of the people then residing in Detroit?
KB:  I met some, yeah.  I met some people.  The drummer was from Philadelphia, though: his name was Ronald Tucker.  The bassist was from Detroit, I think he lives here now, or he may be back in Detroit now: he was Ray McKinney, who comes from a very musical family.  That was a great ten days.  And the music that Yusef was doing at the time was really unusual.  So it was my first time experiencing that.
Q:    Of course he later became a big part of your career, some fifteen years later, which we’ll be hearing later on in the course of the Musicians Show.  The other material we’ll hear on this set is a Philly Joe Jones date from 1960 called Philly Joe’s Beat, which is your brother’s debut on record, more or less, a wonderful recording.
KB:  Yeah, it is.  It is.
Q:    It features a lot of the Miles Davis arrangements, and other things, done Philly Joe style.  Now, did you know Philly Joe Jones at this time, or was he too much out of town…?
KB:  Well, he wasn’t in Philadelphia that often except to work.  But again, I got a chance to work with him when he came through Philadelphia.  It was the same sort of situation.  He came through Philadelphia, and his pianist wasn’t able to make it.  So I got a chance to do I think four nights with him, along with Arthur Harper, my brother Bill was there, and trumpet player Michael Downs.  We did four nights at the Showboat in Philly.  Again, it was pretty much the same music that’s on this album, Philly Joe’s Beat.
[MUSIC: Jimmy Heath 10, "Big P" (1960); Philly Joe, "Salt Peanuts" (1960); J. Heath 10, "Nails" (1960)]
Q:    Kenny participated in all of this music in one way or another around the time that the material was recorded.
KB:  That’s true.  That’s very true.  I had a chance, again, to work with Philly Joe, where we played pretty much the same music, and I had a chance to work with Jimmy Heath during that time, and played a lot of the music that was on that Really Big album.
Q:    I’d say we’ve thoroughly covered the Philadelphia period.  Now we’re in 1962, and you’ve been to Detroit with Yusef Lateef for ten days, and done some other things.  But now you join Dizzy Gillespie, and that lasts four years and really brings your name out into the wider world of Jazz.
KB:  Yes.
Q:    How did Dizzy find out about you?
KB:  Again through a recommendation.  When I first moved to New York, I…
Q:    When was that?  When did you make the move?
KB:    I moved to New York in 1961.
Q:    Right out of high school?
KB:  Well, I graduated in ’60.  So I spent about a year around Philadelphia, and then I moved over here.
Q:    What induced you to come up?
KB:  Well, just the same thing that induces everybody.  Just to be around all these musicians and to be around all this music — and to learn, you know.
But anyway, when I first moved here, I moved next door to my brother on East Sixth Street, so I used to walk to the Five Spot a lot.  James Moody happened to be working there, and I sat in — and he hired me!  We did some gigs in Brooklyn, at the Blue Coronet in Brooklyn, and again at the Five Spot.
Anyway, about a year later, I ran into Moody on Broadway.  Moody had gone with Dizzy, and I ran into him on Broadway.  He said they were appearing at Birdland, and he said, “You know, Lalo Schifrin is leaving Dizzy; would you be interested?”  And I had just gotten married, and I needed a gig! [LAUGHS] You know?  Plus, I mean, that’s such an honor.  So I said of course I’d be interested.  So he said, “Well, come by Birdland.”  And I went by Birdland, and just talked to Dizzy.  You know, Dizzy had never heard me play, and he hired me.
Q:    Without hearing you play.
KB:  Without hearing me play.  Just on Moody’s recommendation.
Q:    Well, they have some history together.
KB:  Yes, they do! [LAUGHS]
Q:    Did you just go in cold?  You must have had a rehearsal or two.
KB:  No, actually we didn’t.  Right after Birdland, the first gig was in Cincinnati — and there was no time for rehearsal.  So I remember after checking into the hotel and going to the gig in a cab, Dizzy was running down these things to me, talking certain tunes down.  Then Chris White, who was the bassist at the time, and Rudy Collins, the drummer, they were also very helpful in pulling my coat to what was happening with each tune and… The gig wasn’t a whole week, I don’t think, maybe just a few days.  So we managed to get through it.  And by that time I felt a lot more comfortable, after playing it a few times.  So it worked out. [LAUGHS]
Q:    Apparently it did, because you did four years with Dizzy Gillespie.
KB:  Right.
Q:    A few words about Dizzy, and evaluating the experience.
KB:  Well, I mean, what can you say?  I think Dizzy’s a national treasure.  I mean, as a musician, as a human being, and his sense of humor — I mean, that’s real; that’s not just on stage.  I mean, that’s real.  He’s just a great human being, a great musician.  And I learned a lot musically, just being around him, how to save yourself… You know, one thing you do when you’re young is, you play everything; you try to play everything you know.  But that’s one of the things, listening to Dizzy, that you learn; you don’t have to do that all the time.  Save yourself for those difficult moments when you really have to do that.  And you don’t have to play everything you know at every moment.
Q:    Dynamics.
KB:  Exactly.  I think that’s one of the biggest things I learned from him.
Q:    You made several records with Dizzy, but we’re going to go back to a recording by the great big band of the 1940′s, and listen to a version of “Manteca”.
KB:  Well, this is actually one of the first things I heard.  I can remember hearing this on the radio, this big-band version of “Manteca.”  And again, I was…whoo, I loved it.  And I’ve never really liked big bands that much, but there were a couple of things that really got me, and this was one of them.
[MUSIC: Dizzy Big Band "Manteca" (1948); Monk (solo) "Blue Monk," "Ruby My Dear" (1971); Dizzy Big Band, "Round About Midnight" (1948)]
Q:    Dizzy Gillespie and Monk are two musicians Kenny has been associated with, although in very different ways.  The public associates you very much with Monk, I imagine, through your work with Sphere, and also from recording a lot of Monk’s tunes on your albums.  But you didn’t really get into Monk, you said, until rather late.
KB:  Yes, not until much later.  Towards the end of high school I really started listening a lot to Monk, and really began to appreciate his writing and his playing.  They are almost inseparable; they are so similar.  I mean, it’s very hard to imitate him, he’s such a strong stylist and so unique.
Q:    So what do you do?
KB:  Well, you play yourself playing Monk.  That’s the best you can do.  I mean, you can do it tongue-in-cheek…
Q:    I never got that impression from you, though, that you were ever doing Monk tongue-in-cheek.
KB:  Well, there are certain things you can allude to, you know, about his playing.  The humor in his playing, the use of dissonance, his touch, the percussive touch that he had.  So you can allude to those things just for flavor, but I don’t think that it would make sense to really imitate Monk.
Q:    Well, he really developed his own fingerings and his own personal language.
KB:  Yes, as you say, his technique was very personal.  I got to see him live only a few times, and just to watch him would amaze me, looking at his fingering, how he would execute. I mean, I’d think, “Is he actually going to pull this off?”  Of course, he always would.
Q:    Walking the tightrope.
KB:  Yeah, exactly.  It was just so unorthodox.  But I think his approach and the way he did things is part of the uniqueness of his music, what makes it all sound so special.
Q:    I guess “Round Midnight” was in Dizzy’s book when you were performing with him, because I know you recorded that with him on one of the Mercury albums.
KB:  Yes, it was.
Q:    [ETC.] Now we’ll take an interlude, and listen to some musical offerings by our host this evening, Kenny Barron, in quintet and trio format… [ETC.]  I wonder if you’d elaborate on your speculative title “What If?.”
KB:    Well, it’s like always looking ahead and trying to find problems, when there aren’t any.  “What if this  happens, and what if that happens?” rather than just go with what is happening.
[MUSIC: KB Quintet, "What If?", KB Trio, "The Courtship"]
Q:    Now we’ll get back to influences, and we’ll hear something by McCoy Tyner, who had a major impact on you.
KB:  Yes, he has.  Well, on almost all players younger than him.  I met McCoy when he was still living in Philly, and his playing was quite different then.  After he joined Trane, it just really changed, and just grew and grew and grew, so that he became a major influence himself.  But his playing when he was still in Philly was a little more beboppish, a little more bebop influenced.
Q:    He’s not really that much older than you.  There’s about a five years difference.
KB:  Yeah, something like that, five or six years.
Q:    Which means a lot then, but…
KB:  Well, at that time, at that time, at that stage, yeah, it can mean a lot.
Q:    Who was he working with in Philly?
KB:  Well, he used to work with people like Odean Pope, and also he used to work with, like, Lee Morgan and people like that.  Whenever someone would come in from New York… I remember one time Kenny Dorham came in, Kenny Dorham and Jimmy Heath, and the rhythm section was McCoy and Lex Humphries, and I can’t remember who the bassist was…it might have been Jimmy Garrison, I’m not sure.  This was at a little small club that didn’t last too long in Philadelphia, so whenever someone came through Philly, McCoy would always be the pianist.
Q:    Those are some high standards on the Philadelphia scene that you had to come up under.
KB:  Oh, yes.  That’s right.
Q:    You couldn’t be messing around in Philadelphia.
KB:  No.  And there were some other good pianists there that no one ever heard of, who still live there.
Q:    Well, now they’ll hear of them.
KB:  There was a guy there named John Ellis, another pianist named Omar Duncan.  Hen Gates, who some musicians may know, is from Philadelphia.  Some others…the names escape me right now.  But there are a lot of good musicians.
[MUSIC: McCoy, "Inception" (1962)-DEFECTIVE]
Q:    Coming up will be music by Freddie Hubbard and Yusef Lateef, and in each instance we’ll hear one of Kenny Barron’s compositions.  You joined Freddie Hubbard immediately after leaving Diz, or…?
KB:  No, it wasn’t immediately after, but maybe a year after I left Dizzy.  Freddie lived in the same neighborhood… Actually, at the time he lived around the corner from me in Brooklyn, and I started working with him.  It was a great experience, because it was totally different from working with Dizzy.  Things were very, very structured with Dizzy, but with Freddie it was a lot looser, and I was able to take a lot more chances, to be a little more adventurous.  It’s all part of the growing experience.
Q:    Which was very much in keeping with the times as well.
KB:  Exactly.  Exactly, because it was during the Sixties.  I went through several different bands with Freddie.  One was a sextet, with James Spaulding and Bennie Maupin, the late Frederick Waits, and a bassist who is now back in California, Herbie Lewis.  That was a really good band.  It was the kind of band that could shift gears.  It could play inside, outside.  Then we had another band called The Jazz Communicators, which never recorded, which was with Joe Henderson, Freddie, Louis Hayes, Herbie Lewis and myself.
Q:    Never recorded.
KB:  Never recorded.  So I’ve been through several different situations working with Freddie, and they were all great.
Q:    I can’t recollect whether you’re playing electric piano or piano on the track, but you did quite a bit of work on the electric piano over about a 10 or 12 year period.
KB:  Yeah, during that time I did quite a bit on the electric piano.
Q:    Why were people concentrating so much on the electric piano then?  Was it because clubs didn’t have pianos?  For experimentation?
KB:  No, that was primarily for recording.  I think what you have there was the very, very beginning of the fusion thing.  So a lot of record companies, when you recorded, wanted you to use electric piano to add other colors.  Because the fusion thing could go in several different directions.  It could be used kind of for more avant-garde kind of music…
Q:    Color, texture…
KB:  Yeah, texture and things like that.
Q:    Freeing things up.
KB:  Yeah.  And also it could be used percussively for more R&B kinds of things.  So a lot of companies wanted the pianists to use the electric pianos during that time.  I think one year I won a New Star Award or something from Downbeat, and I never had an electric piano.  I won the award on the electric piano, I mean; and I never owned one.  But I was using it a lot on recordings.  Not at my request, but the company’s request.
[MUSIC: Freddie, "The Black Angel" (1968); Yusef, "A Flower" (1976?)]
Q:    Now, Yusef Lateef was the first musician with whom you went out on the road, in 1960 or so, and you did five years with Yusef in the 1970′s.  How much was the group working then?
KB:  He was teaching himself at the time.  So we worked primarily during the summer.  We would either go to Europe or out West, a California tour, work our way out to California and back.  So for about four or five years that’s all we did.   And again, it was mostly during the summer, because he was teaching.  And during that time, everyone in the band also decided to go back to school, so everyone else was in school as well, studying.
Q:    That whole experience was very positive.
KB:  Yeah, he had a very positive influence.  Like I said, he influenced everyone to go back to school.  Well, he’s an amazing person.  He just has a very positive effect.  I was in one of his classes, actually, a harmony class.  I remember one of the projects, everyone had to write a large piece of music, so I wrote a string quartet.  He said, “Well, it’s nice that you wrote all this music.  How can we get to hear it?”  So everyone in the class put money together, and we hired musicians, and actually gave a concert to perform these pieces of music that we had written for our term projects.  And it really came out great.  But that’s the kind of person he was, who inspired you to do things like that.
Q:    Coming up we’ll hear the last issued record by Kenny Barron’s late brother, Bill Barron.  There’s one that’s ready for issue in the near future.  Your brother was the head of the Jazz Department at Wesleyan University at that time.
KB:  Yes..
Q:    You recorded with him on just about every record under his leadership, I think.
KB:  I believe so.  Just about every one.
Q:    You’ve mentioned, of course, your brother’s influence.  Just a few words about your older brother, Bill Barron.
KB:  Well, he was an incredible musician.  I don’t want to use the word “underrated,” but there it is, you know.  In terms of the public, I think he was.  I think musicians knew and respected his work, you know, as often I’ve heard… Especially people that he came up with.  People like Jimmy always spoke very well of Bill.   And he was a really good person, and very dedicated.  He was very dedicated to music.  I think he spent most of his waking hours involved with music one way or another, writing music, talking about music.  He was also a very good composer.  He had some unique ideas about composition, very different ideas, and it came through when he wrote.  He was just a great player and a great person.
[MUSIC: B. Barron, "This One's For Monk" (1990)]
Q:    A few words about the quintet working at the Village Vanguard this week.
KB:  Well, I could speak volumes about them.
Q;    Then we’ll do short stories.
KB:  On trumpet is Eddie Henderson, who I think is one of the finest trumpet players around today.  He’s obviously a very intelligent person; he’s a doctor…and a funny guy, too!
I guess what I love about everyone in the band is that when it’s time to work, they really hit very hard.
John Stubblefield is, you know, from Arkansas, so he’s got a certain kind of grittiness in his sound.  At the same time, he has that certain other kind of thing that maybe Wayne Shorter…
Q;    From that AACM background, there’s another…
KB:  Yeah, exactly.  And David’s background is West Indian, but he’s been here for a very long time, and he’s worked with almost everybody.  He’s a current mainstay with Cedar Walton’s European trio, the trio that he takes to Europe quite often, sometimes with the Timeless All-Stars.  He works a lot.  He’s dependable… I’m talking about in terms of music.  I can count on him to be there, and to be imaginative, good sound, good intonation, good time.
Now, I don’t know exactly what I can say about Victor Lewis.  I mean, Victor can function in practically in any kind of circumstance.  Whatever kind of music you want to play, he can do it for you, and do it well — and enjoy doing it.
Q:    And different every time.
KB:  Yeah, different every time.  One of the things about having this band, I don’t tell them what to play; I just let them bring whatever they have, their own thing to it, and it works out better that way for me.
Q:    [ETC., THEN MUSIC]
[MUSIC: Moody/KB, "Anthropology" (1972); KB Trio, "The Only One" (1990)]
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Filed under Bradley's, Dizzy Gillespie, DownBeat, Interview, Jimmy Heath, Kenny Barron, Mulgrew Miller, Piano, Tommy Flanagan, WKCR

For Jimmy Heath’s 85th Birthday: A 2001 DownBeat Article, and WKCR Interviews from 1993 and 1995

To observe the 85th birthday of Jimmy Heath, a long-standing master of the tenor saxophone and the art of composition, and a keen student of human nature, I’m posting a feature that I wrote for DownBeat on the occasion of a 75th birthday concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the complete transcribed proceedings two programs on WKCR—a 1995 “Jazz Profiles” retrospective of his music, and a 1993 Musician Show with Mr. Heath and his younger brother, the master drummer, Albert “Tootie” Heath.

Jimmy Heath (DB, #1):

Over the course of 58 years as a professional jazz musician, Jimmy Heath has played with, befriended, or witnessed virtually every consequential figure in his field.  So from his perspective, the only possible title for his 75th birthday concert could be, “He Walked With Giants.” Throughout the invigorating proceedings, Heath played the tenor and soprano saxophones with authoritative command, spontaneously composing, conjuring long, lyric lines that he articulated with mellow warmth.  He demonstrated that he breathes the same rarefied air as the legends to whom he paid homage.

Benny Golson, Heath’s friend for most of those 58 years, attended the concert, and was happy to elaborate.  “What’s amazed me about Jimmy since I’ve known him is how he is able to move through chords, not scientifically, but melodically,” says Golson. “He’s got a true tenor sound, and everything that goes with it — the articulation, concept, punctuation and pacing. He doesn’t give you an endless slew of notes. He plays ideas.  It’s like a conversation, but musical, not linguistic. He has a story to tell, and it’s right in tune with those chords.”

Heath is equally adept telling stories with the pen; his oft-covered compositions, which number over 130, plumb essences with a minimum of fuss.  Many appear on a long string of classy recordings with small groups and mid-sized ensembles that balance meticulous orchestrations and soulful, lucid improvising in equal measure. He offered six during the first half of the concert, joined by an array of family (brothers Percy on bass and Albert on drums) and friends (Slide Hampton, trombone; Antonio Hart, alto saxophone; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet) in configurations ranging from trio to nonet.  After intermission, Heath — who cut his teeth in the big band era — was in his element, conducting the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra through a commissioned homage from Wynton Marsalis, his own arrangement of Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite,” and four more originals.

The composer found new contexts for each one.  On “Gingerbread Boy,” which Miles Davis famously reimagined two years after its first appearance (On The Trail [Riverside]), he reharmonized the line, then set up an invigorating tenor triologue with LCJOers Victor Goines and Walter Blandings.  He set up cogent polyphony between the sections on the rich harmonies of “Gemini,” which debuted on a 1962 sextet [Triple Threat] with Freddie Hubbard and french hornist Julius Watkins, but received its most famous — and lucrative — reading on a six-digit-selling Cannonball Adderley album.  There were other highlights.  The LCJO sax section executed a luscious soli section on “The Voice Of The Saxophone,” a dedication to Coleman Hawkins excerpted from “The African-American Suite of Evolution.  And Antonio Hart — a prize Heath student during the ’90s at Queens College — took a virtuoso turn on “Like A Son,” Heath’s tribute to their exceptionally close relationship.

“Jimmy’s tunes are not complicated, but they’re not dumb either,” Golson says. “They are logical and go someplace.  His music has arms and legs.” Heath deployed those appendages effectively throughout the evening, directing the band with a dance-oriented conducting style, replete with well-timed hand swoops, shoulder dips, elbow shimmmies and leg kicks. “Jimmy reminded me of Dizzy Gillespie in front of a band,” Golson states.  “Dizzy would act like he was throwing baseballs at Yankee Stadium…all kinds of things.”
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The concluding track on Heath’s only big band recording, Little Man, Big Band [Verve, 1992, now deleted], is a brassy tour de force with an Afro-Cuban feel. He called it “Without You, No Me,” the “you” referring to Gillespie, who commissioned the piece, and is first among equals in Heath’s pantheon of giants.

“Dizzy Gillespie is my Duke Ellington,” Heath says. “He is the master musician who was my mentor and was accessible to me throughout my life.  From the time I first met him, I asked questions, and he’d give me something I could use musically. He would demonstrate chord voicings on the piano and phrasing on his trumpet.  He’d tap out rhythms and sing ideas.  He showed me how to write in 3 or 5 or 7, and still syncopate in a way that’s jazz as opposed to straight classical writing.  With his whole being he was music, and I always wanted to be just like him.”

Gillespie came of age musically in Philadelphia in the mid-’30s, while Heath and his brother Percy were growing up in a household whose soundtrack spotlighted Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Count Basie, Jimmy Lunceford, Erskine Hawkins and Louis Jordan. Sometimes they heard them at the Earle Theater, Philly’s TOBA outlet.  Heath fell under the spell of Carter and Johnny Hodges, and at 14 received an alto saxophone, which his father (an auto mechanic who played clarinet in an Elks band) purchased for $90 on the installment plan.  He quickly became proficient, learning to play in the marching band at Williston High School in Wilmington, N.C., where his grandparents owned a grocery store, and through private lessons back home on summer vacations. After graduation in 1943 (the “separate but equal” school stopped at 11th grade), he played with local big bands before joining a well-regarded territory unit out of Omaha led by Nat Towles, whose alumni included Buddy Tate and Sir Charles Thompson.

Heath discovered bebop while on the road with Towles. His first epiphany came at a dance hall in Savannah, Georgia, where the band was setting up for a one-nighter. Curious about Jay McShann’s “Hootie Blues” and “Swingmatism,” he put a nickel in the jukebox and heard Charlie Parker for the first time. “I called all the other guys in the saxophone section and said, ‘Man, check THIS guy out.’” he recalls. “We all began to put the money in.”  Later with Towles, he heard the Parker-Gillespie Guild sides (“Shaw Nuff,” “Salt Peanuts,” “Hot House”).

“I didn’t realize it was the same guy I heard on the McShann records until after I quit and came back to Philly,” Heath says.  “Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter were beginning to move into a quicker-paced way of improvising.  But I liked Charlie Parker’s lines, his phrasing, use of alternate notes and undertones in the chords. I always refer to Charlie Parker as a volcano. His playing bubbles for a while before it flows into some wonderful phrase that you can’t expect. He builds in the bottom of his horn, creating this intensity, and then pops out with something that knocks you to your knees. Charlie Parker played what you wished you’d thought of first, the perfect lick and the perfect idea in the perfect place. He was a genius!  And I don’t use that word as much as some people.”

Back in Philly, Heath and his big brother spent intensive time in the woodshed, augmented by long practice sessions with fellow altoist John Coltrane, fresh from a tour of duty in the Navy. The Hodges-Carter devotee began to zoom in on Parker’s style, becoming so adept that musicians outside of Philadelphia began referring to him as “Little Bird.”  The appellation was so evidently welcome that Heath recalls trumpeter Freddie Webster saying, “You come when they call you that, don’t you?”

The time with Towles “sold me on the idea that I was going to have a big band and write some music for it,” Heath states. He began to recruit “everybody in the city of Philly who I thought was interested in playing the music I was trying to write,” eventually assembling a tight, 17-piece bebop outfit that stayed together for two years. Personnel included such budding flowers as Golson (on fourth tenor), Coltrane, trumpeter Johnny Coles, pianist Ray Bryant, bassist Nelson Boyd and drummer Specs Wright; they rehearsed the sections in Heath’s living room, where they ate food prepared by Heath’s mother, Alethia, and performed cabaret and dance functions for black audiences in West and South Philadelphia.  Heath commissioned inexpensive charts from local arrangers John Acea and Leroy Lovett, transcribed Tadd Dameron and Dizzy Gillespie recordings, and contributed his own nascent efforts.

Notorious for its blue laws, late ’40s Philadelphia nonetheless featured a vibrant nightlife, and was a frequent destination for New York musicians.  The brothers met most of them, often inviting them to 1927 Federal Street for home-cooking courtesy of Alethia Heath.

“Fats Navarro and Coleman Hawkins came to my house when they played the 421, and so did Bird, Miles, Dizzy — all of them,” Heath relates. “My mother would invite anyone to dinner who we invited; my parents treated them like their children or friends.  When Fats came, he took out his trumpet and played a bit.  My Mom liked Fats Navarro’s tone better than Dizzy and Miles, and I know for a fact that Clifford Brown was enamored with Fats Navarro, and played something like that until he found his own style. He passed that along to Lee Morgan, who played like Clifford.

“I heard Fats in Tadd Dameron’s octet in the Royal Roost opposite Dizzy when Dizzy had just come back from a successful West Coast tour with Chano Pozo. Fats Navarro was SCREAMING on Dizzy in there.  I mean, they both were powerful; Dizzy was the source of where Fats Navarro came from.  But Fats could play very high, with clear, warm sound. Tadd liked to have Fats play all his first trumpet parts, because he loved the way Fats could sing his melodies.”

But Heath’s heart belonged to Gillespie.  Their lifelong friendship began in late 1946, when the orchestra came to Philadelphia to play a dance, and 55″Percy and I went to the ballroom where Dizzy was playing, and invited the band for dinner,” he recounts. “John Lewis came in a full-length fur coat (my sister called him ‘Fur Coat’ for the rest of her life), and that’s when I met Kenny Clarke and James Moody. Dizzy’s band extended what Charlie Parker had done, incorporating the hip bebop lines that the soloists played into the ensemble. It was more involved technically, with more notes and harmonic extensions of chords and polychords. Percy and I followed the band around with our berets and artist ties, the same as Dizzy and them were wearing. We became known as the Heath Brothers from Philly, and we’d follow the band and stand in front of it wherever they played — in Delaware, the Savoy, or 52nd Street.”

In the autumn of 1949, after a couple of years on the road with Howard McGhee, and a brief stint with Gillespie’s erstwhile collaborator Gil Fuller, Heath got the gig.  During his 18 months with Gillespie, he received a veritable post-graduate course in improvisational tactics and approaches to writing for jazz orchestra.

“When John Coltrane and I played altos in his band, we were amazed at how Dizzy improvised in a big band context,” Heath recalls. “A big band can inhibit a soloist.  Dizzy knew how to draw on the power of a big band and still get all his stuff in.  We’d listen to Dizzy play the two-bar break after the introduction on ‘I Can’t Get Started.’  Everybody has pet cliches and ideas that they rely on.  But as long as I was there, he never played the same thing; he’d make a variation or add or delete something. He was a true improviser.

“Gil Fuller helped me. He insisted on putting excitement in your music, making your introduction command attention — the introduction to ‘Things To Come’ makes everybody look around!  He said that Tadd Dameron’s songs were window-dressing, that they weren’t exciting. They were rivals, of course. I liked them both. Tadd’s music emphasized romance and beauty and feeling and soul; he was very lyrical, like a Billy Strayhorn. George Russell wrote some very abstract things for Dizzy, and I listened to Gerald Wilson also. I also began thinking about small-group writing by hearing J.J. Johnson.  Between knowing them and listening at home to people like Duke Ellington, Sy Oliver and Benny Carter, I went through a trial-and-error period, until I came up with what I had.

Gillespie broke up the big band in 1950 for financial reasons; Heath remained with the pared-down sextet, and finally left in early 1951.  He moved back to Philadelphia and — like Coltrane — became a tenor saxophonist. “When Jimmy switched to tenor, his interpretation of music changed,” Golson states.  “The tenor demanded something else, and he came up to that.  It wasn’t like an alto player was playing the tenor saxophone.”  Heath says that part of his motivation was economic.  “After the clubs hired the rhythm section, the tenor was their instrument of choice,” he notes. “Also, it was impossible to play the alto without playing Charlie Parker licks!  I thought maybe I could find a little bit of Jimmy Heath in there.

“I had begun to like what I heard on the tenor from Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt. Sonny Stitt had the execution of Charlie Parker, he was very clean and precise.  But Dexter had a big warm sound that was compelling.  Coltrane was playing like Dexter at that time, too.  We got records like ‘The Chase’ and all the songs Dexter put his name on — ‘Dexter’s Deck,’ ‘Dexter’s Minor Mad,’ ‘Dexterity.’ Dexter was in love with Dexter, but he was a charmer. And he could PLAY.”

Heath moved to New York in 1952, and spent six months working on day jobs before the union recognized his change of residence. Unfettered, he immmediately cemented his credentials as an improviser-composer-arranger with the Symphony Sid All-Stars, a group comprised of Miles Davis, J.J. Johnson, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke, whose repertoire is documented on a Davis-led 1953 Blue Note sextet that includes Heath’s “C.T.A.,” a bop classic.  During that year Heath also recorded with Kenny Dorham for Debut and with J.J. Johnson for Blue Note, the latter date marking Clifford Brown’s first recording.  He seemed poised to claim his place as the next major voice from his generation on his instrument.  Then he was arrested on a heroin charge, and went to prison for four-and-a-half years.

“I was scheduled to go with Max Roach when he started his group,” he recalls.  “I was scheduled to go with Tadd Dameron when Benny Golson got the gig.  But due to illness, I couldn’t make either one of those.  It happened to me as a result of being on the rebound of a love affair, a temptation to do something to get out of the doldrums.  Then it took on a life of its own.  It deterred my recognition as a jazz soloist; it was the time when small group jazz took hold, and I was not on the scene.  I mean, I was with Miles before Coltrane.  Being off the scene stifled my career, but it saved my life.  Most of those who were out there with me are gone.”

Heath did not squander his lost years; assigned to clerk duty, he had ample time to write and rehearse the prison band.  Upon his release, he moved home to Philadelphia, and signed — at the instigation of Cannonball Adderley and Philly Joe Jones — with Riverside Records, for which he functioned as a de facto staff arranger and led six strong, still vivid albums that reflect an increasingly personal, confident vision.  He moved back to New York in 1964, just as the label folded, and slogged through the late ’60s hardcore jazz recession, reflecting a marketplace that no longer welcomed bebop.

Eight years passed before Heath’s next recording, “The Gap Sealer,” a “variety package” on which he expanded his palette of tones and colors, incorporating soprano saxophone and flute, electric keyboards, African melodies, and funk beats.  In the interim, he took steps to move beyond the “mother wit and intuition” upon which he’d previously depended, studying with Schillinger teacher Rudolph Schramm, whose pupils included Eubie Blake, Mercer Ellington and Jimmy Jones, studying orchestration, string and vocal writing, and extended form composition. These interests began to cohere when, taking advantage of the Modern Jazz Quartet’s “retirement,” he joined forces with Percy and Albert — who had played in tandem on four of his Riverside recordings — as the Heath Brothers.  Signed to Columbia in 1978, they released four strong-selling albums, including the Grammy-nominated Live At the Public Theater, supervised by Heath’s percussionist-producer son Mtume.  And in 1987, Heath took a tenured position teaching arrangement and composition on the faculty of Queens College, creating a highly regarded Jazz Studies program with such luminaries as Roland Hanna and Donald Byrd.

In an effort to provide new material for his students every semester, Heath rejuvenated his big band juices.  “My interest hasn’t waned at all,” says Heath, who recently retired, leaving him time to pursue a performing schedule that might tax a man half his age. “I have three new arrangements — on ‘The Thumper,’ on ‘New Keep,’ which I wrote for Orrin Keepnews, and one that Ray Charles did when Johnny Coles and Blue Mitchell were in the band called ‘Togetherness’ — that I’m trying to get to the copyist now.  If people have heard them before, it was as sextet music.  Whenever you return to your music and rewrite it, you add and change things, and it evolves into something quite different.”

Perhaps Heath played with more energy and stronger attack in his earlier years, but the force of his tonal personality is undiminished. “I try to sing on my instrument,” he says.  “I think all the alto players in my day aspired to leading a saxophone section, and the lead alto players then had to sustain the melodies, play them with a certain tenderness and dynamic range, which you don’t get if you just play in a small group.  If you heard Marshall Royal play lead alto with the Basie band, you know how to sing.  If you hear Benny Carter, you know how to sing a melody.  On a couple of records I did for Riverside, Cannonball Adderley played lead alto — he knew how to sing.  Johnny Hodges was the greatest singer of all time.  He could out-sing a vocalist with words!  Lester Young and Ben Webster could play a ballad with the tenderness of a singer.  Miles Davis gives me the same tingle on a ballad that a good singer does.

“You can’t just be a machine gun and play fast. The school teaches everybody to do the techniques. But there is a certain thing about a saxophone. To me, it should sound similar to a viola. That’s what Ben Webster sounds like on ‘Danny Boy.’ When I write my arrangements on my computer for the saxophone section, I use the violin sound for the altos, violas for the tenors, and the cello sound for the baritone. I love that sustaining quality.”

Heath elaborates on an aesthetic developed from section playing.  “I can get just as much reward from being in an ensemble and liking how they play something I’ve written as from having everybody clap when I play a solo,” he says.  He means it; only one album in his oeuvre, the classic Picture Of Heath [Xanadu, 1975] features him alone with a rhythm section.  “Soloing is great.  But I always wrote stuff for other people to be on the record, too.”

All well and good.  But Heath’s relaxed dance continues to compel.  “Musically, this man is Dorian Gray,” Golson concludes.  “What he does on his tenor belies 75 years.  This man has vision and he’s always moving ahead, which is good.  He makes his musical life an adventure; he goes to the same forest every day, but he doesn’t touch the same trees.  Like anything else — architecture, clothing, medicine — jazz, too, should move ahead.  Jimmy Heath is one of the forces that helps move it ahead. Jimmy Heath is an icon, and he is truly a master.”

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* * *

Jimmy Heath Profile (WKCR), 3-22-95):

[MUSIC:  "Picture Of Heath" (1975); "Basic Birks" (1991); "Without You, No Me" (1992); w/Lee Morgan "Bruh Slim" (1962)]

TP:    You’ve brought along a number of recordings, including that last date with fellow Philadelphian Lee Morgan at Birdland in 1962, which you wanted to speak about.

JH:    Well, Spanky DeBrest and Albert Heath are also Philadelphians, so there are four Philadelphians on the record, along with Barry Harris.  The other thing is that it wasn’t recorded to our knowledge,  This is a bootleg record that somebody taped off the radio and eventually put it out.  So we weren’t paid for the record at all.  Then the man asked me to do the liner notes on it, and I did those, and he paid me for that.  But I’ve never been paid for the recording.

TP:    Let’s talk about the Philadelphia days, which we’ve done on past shows, but I think we can do it again.  Music in your family, your coming-up as a musician and your beginnings in music.  How did you come to playing the reeds?  Was music in the home?  Was it there for you?

JH:    Oh, yes.  Our parents, Percy, Senior, and Alethia(?), were dedicated to our music, and had recordings in the house of all the top Black artists of that time — and White.  But they had Duke Ellington, Erskine Hawkins, Basie, Benny Carter, and other people who I heard.  They offered each one of us boys…and my sister; they offered her to play an instrument, and she took piano for a while, then stopped.  Percy took violin, and played it in the junior high school orchestra.  When they asked me what I wanted to my play (my father was a clarinet player, and my mother sang in church choir), I said I wanted to play the alto saxophone, after hearing Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter.  My father bought me an alto saxophone for ninety-some bucks; it took him a year or more to pay for it…

TP:    That was during the Depression.

JH:    Yes, it was!  It was around 1939 or ’40, somewhere like that.

TP:    So you started on the cusp of being a teenager.

JH:    Yes, I was 14 when I got it.

TP:    But you’d been absorbed in music, I guess, all your life through hearing it in the home and so forth.

JH:    Yes.  My father and mother had a friend who had a record shop.  And anything new that came out, we were informed of it by our friend who ran the record shop.  One of my favorites was always Erskine Hawkins and Louis Jordan and people like that.  We had those records in the house, and we heard that all the time, so that’s the music I was raised hearing besides, you know, church, Gospel Music.

TP:    Were you taken to the theaters in Philadelphia to hear the bands coming through when you were young, or did that start later for you?

JH:    No, my father used to take us to hear the bands at a theater on South Street.  I can’t remember the name of it, I was so young.  Percy probably remembers better than I about this occasion, but Duke Ellington was there, and he took us to meet Duke Ellington.

TP:    Do you have any memory of the occasion?

JH:    Well, the only thing I remember is that he touched me on my head and said, “Hi, sonny.”

TP:    Did your father play professionally at all, or was it an avocation for him?

JH:    It was an avocation.  He didn’t play professionally.  He was an auto mechanic, and got his clarinet out of the pawn shop on weekends and played with the Elks marching band.  He had a few little jazz licks he used to play around the house, you know, but he wasn’t a professional.

TP:    I’d like to talk about your education on the instrument as well.  Who were the first people who gave you tuition on the saxophone?

JH:    Well, I was going to school in Wilmington, North Carolina, and I started when my father gave me that saxophone.  That’s where I began to play, and I began there in high school and played in the marching band, playing for all of the football games and what have you.  I used to go back to Philly in the summer and take private lessons from a couple of different people.  One man was named Terry, Mr. Terry, who was into the Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter sound.  Then I studied with another man, Paul Amati(?), who was connected in some way with the Philadelphia Orchestra.  I don’t know what he played, and I don’t remember what instrument he played, but he taught me alto saxophone.

TP:    Was there a particularly good band-master at the high school you attended?  Which, by the way, was what high school?

JH:    Williston High School in Wilmington, North Carolina.  The band-master liked Jazz a lot, and he started a Jazz band along with the marching band.  So that was my first introduction to playing in a Jazz band, in high school.

TP:    The lessons must have stuck, because you obviously became intensely attached to music and involved with it, and by the time you were 19 or 20 you were involved in a big band of some note in the Philadelphia area.  I’d like to discuss these years of development, what you listened to, and your progress in music let’s say between 1940 and 1945.

JH:    Well, it was the big band era when I got out of high school and graduated in 1943.  I played with the big bands around Philly.  Then I got a gig with a band in Omaha, Nebraska, led by Nat Towles.  Nat Towles’ band was a territorial dance band in the Midwest, and he had arrangements by Wild Bill Davis, the organist, he had some by Sir Charles Thompson.  These people had already been in the band before me, and they left a few examples of their writings with the band.  We played a lot of stock arrangements, of course.  That’s where I met my friend who I visited yesterday, Billy Mitchell.  We were in that band together in 1945.

Leaving that band, I came back to Philadelphia, and then decided to start my own big band.

TP:    Describe the scene in Philadelphia during your last couple of years of high school, before you went out on your own as a professional musician.  Were there a number of good local big bands?

JH:    Well, there were several big bands.  The Frankie Fairfax Big Band, the one that Dizzy had played with when he was in Philly.  Jimmy Gorum(?) and Mel Melvin, there were several bands…

TP:    Talk about these people a little bit.

JH:    Well, that’s a little before my time.  I was in school when Dizzy was there.  Dizzy always said, “Do you remember?” and no, I don’t remember when he was there.  I was in school.  When I came out of school, Frankie Fairfax’s band wasn’t the leading band around town.  It was Jimmy Gorem(?).  The first band I played with after coming out of school was led by Calvin Todd, a trumpeter who played like Roy Eldridge and wanted to be like Dizzy eventually — he was a strong trumpeter.  After leaving that band, I played with Mel Melvin’s band, and then went with Nat Towles in Omaha, Nebraska.

TP:    Were there any saxophonists around town who you particularly admired?

JH:    Sure.  There were people around Philly who could play very well.  One of them is still there, and that’s Jimmy Oliver.  We called him the Satin Doll because of his beautiful black complexion.  Satin Doll is still there.  He’s a wonderful player.  Trane, Benny Golson and all of us used to go listen to him.

TP:    You, John Coltrane and Benny Golson were all born around the same time, although there are a few years in between, and the relationship remained close for many years.  Talk about the beginnings of that triangular friendship.

JH:    Well, Benny is just a little younger.  Trane and I are actually the same age.  Trane was born on September 23, 1926, and I was born on October 25, 1926, one month later.  So Benny was younger.

I came into contact with Coltrane when he came out of the Navy, and I had this band, and I asked him did he want to play in my band.  He said, “Yeah.”  We both were playing altos at that time.  Benny came in the band a little later playing tenor.  But Trane and I were hanging out and transcribing as much Charlie Parker and Dexter and the cats that we could hear.  The beboppers had come out.  After leaving Nat Towles, the Bebop Era was in full bloom.  So that’s what we were about.  That’s what my big band was about.

TP:    Had you been onto the records from the very beginning when they came out in 1945?

JH:    Yes.  When I was with Nat Towles on the road I first heard “Swingmatism” and “Hootie Blues” by Jay McShann, and then later, when I heard “Shaw Nuff” and “Hot House” and that stuff, I didn’t make the connection that it was the same person until later.  But I do know that the altoist just knocked me to my knees — and that was Charlie Parker, of course.

TP:    Were you sort of waiting to hear Charlie Parker at that time?

JH:    Well, no.  Because I was satisfied with Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter!  But he was so overwhelming until he just took me and everybody along with him to follow his tradition in music.  Dizzy always said that he was a person who had it all made when he met him — he had the style.

TP:    He took you by storm.

JH:    Yes, he did.

TP:    Well, I’d like to talk about your arranging, because we have cued up the earliest recorded arrangement of yours, from 1949; your first recording was with Howard McGhee in 1948, where you played some alto and baritone.  Talk about the big band you set up in Philadelphia after leaving Nat Towles.

JH:    I used to go to Earle Theater and hear big bands all the time.  I used to go hear everybody’s band.  I liked the big band sound.  I was trying to learn how to write when I was with Nat Towles, but I never wrote anything for that band, so when I got home I was sold on the idea that I was going to have a big band and write some music for it.  This particular arrangement that you’re going to play is one that I had written for my band in Philadelphia, but we never recorded.  So Gil Fuller, who was one of my teachers and helped me to edit this arrangement and get it together, put it on a record that he made.  It’s very comical.  The vocal is by Gil Fuller, because the vocalist didn’t show up at the record date, and he decided he was going to sing it.  It’s a standard called “Mean To Me.”

TP:    Before we play it, though, I want you to talk a little more about your early writing and efforts at composing.  For instance, what is the earliest composition of yours that became part of what we know as the Jimmy Heath composition book?  Can you put your finger on that?

JH:    Well, I think the first composition that would give me any recognition was probably “C.T.A.”  Before that I had written one for Howard McGhee.  It was a Blues, and I thought I had written it, but actually it was a Charlie Parker lick ended by a Fats Navarro lick on the end — so I didn’t really compose anything!

TP:    In the big band that you led in Philadelphia, were you writing your original compositions or were you doing arrangements of other material, or playing other arrangers’ material?

JH:    I was playing other arrangers’ material, plus we were all trying to transcribe Dizzy’s stuff from the big band records he put out.  I had a guy named Leroy Lovett, who was a great writer, and Johnny Acea, who played with Dizzy’s band.  He played trumpet, tenor and piano.  He was a Philadelphian who was very versatile, and an arranger.  So I was last on the totem pole as far as writing for my band!

TP:    But you were going through all this material, organizing it and getting inside of it, a very good practical education for an aspiring arranger of music.

JH:    Well, all of my arranging skills were very practical in that sense, that I learned from my peers, until later when I started to study and take lessons.

TP:    Well, let’s begin this next set of music going back about forty-five years to July 11, 1949, the Gil Fuller Big Band, with Gil Fuller singing “Mean To Me.”

JH:    Wshew!

[MUSIC:  G. Fuller/J. Heath, "Mean To Me" (1949); Miles/J. Heath, "C.T.A." (1952); J.J./J. Heath, "Capri" (1953)]

TP:    You said that shortly after “Mean To Me” was recorded, you joined Dizzy Gillespie’s big band, embarking on a very intense four or five years in the center of the New York Jazz scene.

JH:    Yes.  There was some controversy between Gil Fuller and Dizzy at the time, after having written all the stuff he had written, all the things like “Things To Come”… At least he orchestrated those things with Dizzy’s ideas on a lot of occasions.  But he was a great orchestrator.  So when he and Dizzy kind of came to a parting of the ways, he started a band in competition with Dizzy’s band, and that band is the band that you heard.  He also had Moody in one of those bands after he left Dizzy.  We had a battle of music, actually, with Dizzy’s band at the Audubon Ballroom.  After that competition, or battle of the bands, or whatever you may call it, Dizzy became more interested in me, and I joined his band after that.  He knew I’d had the band in Philly, and that we were playing his arrangements and all that.  Then, when we had the competition… Trane and I both eventually got with Dizzy about a month apart in 1949, in the Fall.  I think we made that record in August.

TP:    During the years you were running the big band, 1947-48-49, so many talented young musicians were active in Philadelphia, like Philly Joe Jones and Red Garland.  Talk about some of the musicians who were working around Philadelphia during that time.

JH:    Well, Red and Philly Joe were around Philadelphia playing with Jimmy Oliver, “Satin Doll,” on gigs, and with others.  So they were doing more small group things around town.  Red Rodney was there.  Johnny Coles played in my band.  Ray Bryant played piano in my band.  Nelson Boyd was my bassist.  Percy, who had just gotten out of the Service, hadn’t really become familiar enough with the bass to play in the big band, to read the charts and everything.  He had been a violinist, and then went away into the Service.  So used Nelson Boyd, who became Miles’ bass player.  So the band was full of budding flowers.

TP:    Beautifully put.  In what venues were the flowers allowed to bloom somewhat in Philadelphia?  Did the band have a fair amount of work in those couple of years?

JH:    Well, we had cabaret parties and dances to play.  That’s what presented a problem, because we were playing Bebop, and people didn’t dance so readily to that.  That’s how I met my drummer, Specs Wright, who eventually played so well that people did start to dance to my band.  See, I didn’t have Philly Joe.  I had Specs Wright playing drums.  Specs Wright was an excellent reader, and he could play… He taught Philly eventually, and he played with Cannon, and Dizzy… I got him the gig with Dizzy, too, when I got with the band.

TP:    What were the main clubs in Philadelphia where the top stars would come through town?

JH:    Well, there was the 421 Club, the Showboat, Ridge Point.  This was a little before the Blue Note and Pep’s.  There were some other clubs that are not as famous.  Pep’s and the Showboat became famous Jazz clubs, where the national artists would pass through.

TP:    So Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young would all work at the Showboat or the 421 Club.

JH:    Eventually.  But there was one in Philly that black entrepreneurs owned, called the Zanzibar.  I heard Lester there with his quartet.  I heard Coleman Hawkins and Fats Navarro together there with a quintet.  Philly Joe and Percy, when he started playing, worked at a place called the Ridge Point.  Trane played up there with them on a gig; he was switching to tenor at that time.  The tenor was the instrument of choice with a small group, not the alto.  The tenor always was the fourth voice hired after the trio.

Then there was the Down Beat Club, which was a very important club.  That’s where I heard Charlie Parker and Miles, and Duke Jordan and Max and Tommy Potter.  That was the occasion when I loaned Charlie Parker my saxophone, because his was in pawn.  He would come to Philly in the afternoon, or in time for the gig, and I would meet him at the gig and take my horn to the Down Beat Club, and let him play it all night, and then I would take it back home, because he would commute back to New York and come back the next night.  I did that for six days.  Charlie Parker playing my horn, I was like a kid in the candy store — it was a dream come true.  I would take the horn into the cellar at my family’s home in the day-time, and he would leave his Brillheart white mouthpiece on the horn and everything, and just split at night.  I would take out the horn, and try to see if some of those beautiful lines were left in the saxophone — which I found out they were not!

That went on for a week.  Then on the weekend, I had a gig with the big band, and Charlie Parker came and played with the big band — and Max.  They sat in with my band on this occasion.  It was a benefit concert for a tragedy that had happened to a kid, a streetcar accident or something, and Charlie Parker played my horn in front of my band.  This photograph is legendary, and it’s around, where Trane has a cigarette in his hand, he’s looking at Charlie Parker, and he’s about to burn his hand and his mouth is wide open.  That’s one of the main photos I show all my students, to show them that the saxophone did not start with Coltrane!  There’s somebody before him.  It’s a continuum.  That was one of the memorable occasions of my life, to have Charlie Parker play my horn for a week, and then come by and sit in with my band.

TP:    It seems to me, as inspiring as Bird was to you and Coltrane, he was also, paradoxically, a primary reason why you gave up your emphasis on the alto saxophone and switched to the tenor.

JH:    Yeah, Charlie Parker was too rough to try to follow on alto.  So we all assumed the idea that if we changed to tenor and played Bebop, it would be different.  Not realizing that if you’re playing tenor, playing Bebop, you’re playing like Sonny Stitt and Dexter — because they’re playing Charlie Parker on tenor!  So it’s still Charlie Parker all the way.

TP:    It sounds like you and Trane paid almost as much attention to Dexter Gordon at that time as you did to Bird.

JH:    Well, Dexter was the tenor saxophonist who really incorporated the Bebop style.  He and Sonny Stitt were the most prominent.  But Dexter had a little holdover of Lester, and Sonny Stitt was all Bird.  Dexter had something that we liked that was more tenor-oriented.  Sonny sounded like an alto player playing tenor, which was very good.  He was very good and smooth.  But Dexter still had some of that Lester, which was uniquely a tenor quality.

TP:    Now, at that age, 23 or 24, were you still interested in new things, let’s say, that Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young were coming out with?  Or did you sort of put them aside for a while in your concentration on the new music?

JH:    Well, I was very interested in that.  Now, Trane and I had gotten some transcriptions made by Howard Johnson, the lead alto player with Dizzy, of Charlie Parker’s solo on “Don’t Blame Me” and other things.  There were people who were transcribing Charlie Parker and investigating his lines and how he got to where he was.  We all had that.  We were like second-string beboppers in Philadelphia.  We were close to the Bebop scene in its infancy, and we were able to follow through on that same music.  When Dizzy and Charlie Parker started the game, they passed the ball down to us.

TP:    You were part of the sort of second phase of Dizzy Gillespie’s big band between 1949 and 1951, and having performed some of his arrangements with your big band, you were family with his book when you entered.  What was Dizzy’s manner as a bandleader and in rehearsals?

JH:    Well, Dizzy was a wide-open, gregarious kind of person.  He was a dynamic conductor, and one of the best that I had ever seen with a big band.  He sang things the way he wanted them to be phrased.  We also had the music of Tadd Dameron, who wrote on the music if he wanted us to play eighth notes in a certain fashion.  He would write, “OO-DA, OO-DA, OO-DA, OO-DA-U-DA-DO, BAM”  Dizzy and all his disciples and colleagues had crystallized the way they wanted the Bebop music to sound.  So we tried to imitate that.

The only problem I had, Melba Liston was in the band and Gerald Wilson, and Dizzy would get a little upset about attendance or something sometimes, and try to pull out music that he thought we couldn’t handle.  In one instance, we were in Little Rock, Arkansas, to play a dance; Trane and I and Paul Gonsalves I think was in the reed section also.  We hadn’t played “Things To Come” until that time.  We could have won a fight against the audience.  We outnumbered the audience with the band!  So the people would come in and say, “Well, we don’t want to hear no Bebop; why don’t you send Buddy Johnson or Count Basie down here?” — and Dizzy was upset.  So after the gig, just before we closed the gig, “Play ‘Things To Come’!”  And he pulls out this music.  Of course, Trane and I had transcribed some of that stuff, and we knew it, so we made it through.  He was quite surprised that we were able to play the arrangement the first time we ever saw it.

TP:    Personally, was this the beginning of your friendship with Dizzy?  Had you met him a few years before in Philadelphia?

JH:    Yeah, I had met him with his big band.  I had seen him on the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in Philadelphia, I think it was in 1946 or ’45 when they came there, Charlie Parker and Dizzy and Al Haig, Max, and either Curly Russell or Tommy Potter.  But when he got the big band, we followed the big band everywhere on the East Coast that they would go.  Percy and I would put on our berets and artist ties like the band had on, and stand in front of the band, and Dizzy would recognize us: “There’s the Heath Brothers from Philadelphia.”  Tootie was too young to follow around with us then.  But Percy and I would imitate the dress and everything.  And we got next to Dizzy, and I eventually got the gig with the band, and I got Percy a gig with the band also, after!

TP:    I guess that’s around the time when your friendship with Milt Jackson began, too.

JH:    Definitely, and James Moody also — because Moody was in the band that we followed.  And Ray Brown also, who was another 1926 guy from my year.

TP:    What a year.

JH:    Yeah, that was a great year.

TP:    Fine vintage.

JH:    Miles.  There’s a lot of good guys from that year.

So Ray and Bags and Joe Harris, the drummer, were good friends.  Joe Harris is also from the same time, and is still in Pittsburgh.  They were hanging out together.  You know, we just struck a friendship with Dizzy on kind of a platonic basis, I mean, just association, no real serious…

TP:    Interplay.

JH:    No.  Percy had met him before I did, I think while I was with Nat Towles.  Percy was just out of the Service with his Lieutenant’s clothes on.  When I came home from Nat Towles, we chanced upon Dizzy coming in town, and Dizzy said, “Hey, Lieutenant!”  He called Percy “Lieutenant” because he was a fighter pilot and a Lieutenant, and he respected that.  I said, “Man, I thought you knew Dizzy.”  I got the gig with Dizzy first, and got Percy the gig.  I thought Percy knew him, but Dizzy knew him as being one of the early fighter pilots from World War Two.

TP:    That’s when you and the other young lions of the time would gather and play sessions and small group dates around New York and other places.

JH:    Well, the sessions were a big thing, the jam sessions during that time.  Everybody, all of my peers, were trying to learn how to play Bebop.  We would go either to Johnny Coles’ house or the Heaths’ house, and gather and try to learn all the songs we heard on the records.  Ray Bryant would be there, or Dolo Coker on piano, or once in a while Red Garland would come in.  But Philly or Specs Wright and Golson, Trane, we would all go and meet together and have these tremendous jam sessions.  Our mothers were very nice people.  Johnny Coles’ mother would fix Kool-Aid and sandwiches, and my mother would do the same.  So we had like a Jazz family in Philadelphia.

TP:    But after coming to New York and joining Dizzy Gillespie, you did various small group things in New York and the surrounding area with Milt Jackson or Miles, so forth and so on.  When did that start?

JH:    Well, I wasn’t privy to the jam sessions in New York as much.  When I got to New York, I was working with a band, so I wasn’t attending so many jam sessions.  Before I got with Dizzy, I remember coming to New York to go to Minton’s, and that was an occasion.  Well, my first gig in New York was actually with Howard McGhee at the Three Deuces.  That was an occasion where Hank Jones played the piano.  Hank Jones took me to his house and played “Cherokee” through the keys after the gig, and I was floored by that, that this what we had to do to be around New York to perform.  You had to learn everything in all the keys, because the guys who could really play would clear you off the bandstand by changing keys, or playing tunes that you couldn’t play.  But since Minton’s was one of the spots where the jam sessions were going, I went up there with Leo Parker.  Max was there, and Al Lucas — I stayed at his house that night.  Monk was there, and Lockjaw.  People like that were playing in the sessions at Minton’s.

TP:    The tracks we heard in the last set of music featured people like Clifford Brown, who came from Wilmington, not far from Philadelphia, so I’m sure you knew him, or of him, and J.J. Johnson and Miles, who were all part… In 1951 there was a Birdland All-Stars tour, and you were put together in a band… Yes, no?   Tell me.

JH:    After.  We’ll talk about that after…

TP:    After a set of music?  Okay, let’s talk about that then. [ETC.] The music we’ll hear comes from Jimmy Heath’s first recording date as a leader for the Riverside label in September 1959, a sextet with Nat Adderley, cornet; Curtis Fuller, trombone; Wynton Kelly, piano; Paul Chambers, bass and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums.  There are five originals by Jimmy Heath on this date, some of which have been played up to this day.  Did you write this material for the date, or were these part of a backlog of compositions that you had beforehand?

JH:    I think these were written for this date.  This was my first record date, and I wrote the material.

[MUSIC: J. Heath, "For Minors Only" (1959); Jimmy Heath Tentet, "Big P" (1960); "Two Tees" (1960); w/ Nat Adderley "Chordnation" (1960); w/ Sam Jones Tentet, "Four" (1961)]

TP:    One thing that performance of “Four” brought to mind for both of us was your friendship with Miles.  You said it was an arrangement that he liked very much, and commented on to you.

JH:    Oh, yeah.  He said, [MILES] “Hey, James, that’s one of the best arrangements I ever heard on ‘Four’.”  So he liked that one.

But before these five, you played a couple of things that I wanted to comment on from the Blue Note series.  One was the Miles Davis record, and the other was the J.J. Johnson with Clifford Brown.  The Miles Davis and the J.J. Johnson date came as an offshoot of the Symphony Sid All-Stars, the touring group that we had that consisted of Kenny Clarke, Percy, Milt Jackson, J.J. Johnson and Miles and myself.  It was called the Symphony Sid All-Stars, and the deejay Symphony Sid took us on the road, and was the announcer.  Out of that, Miles had a contract with Blue Note, and he used most of the people on his date.  Then J.J. did a date, and he added Clifford Brown.

When we made that date with Clifford Brown, the thing about that one in particular that sticks out in my mind is that we played the thing called “Turnpike” that has the circle of fourths in the solo structure.  J.J. had something set.  It being his date and he being a very precise person, he had some licks set that he wanted to get in, and he would fluff sometimes, and we’d have to make another take.  Every time we made a new take, Clifford Brown would come up with some incredible sequences.  At that moment, Frank Wolff, the photographer, and Al Lion, came out of the booth after the cut, each cut, saying [GERMAN ACCENT] “That Brownie, that Brownie!”  And the next thing I knew, they had Clifford in the corner, signing a contract with him.  So that was the beginning of Clifford’s career recording-wise, as a result of the J.J. Johnson record.

TP:    What were the circumstances of the Miles Davis date?

JH:    Well, the circumstances were coming out of the Symphony Sid All Stars.  He used Art Blakey on the drums on that particular date.  But it was all during that same time.  Out of that Symphony Sid All-Stars, there was Percy, Kenny Clarke and Milt.  Then right after that, or during that time, the MJQ started, too.  So a lot of things happened in that period that were kind of related, because Kenny Clarke and Milt teamed with John Lewis and Ray Brown, then eventually Percy, to form the MJQ around that same time.

TP:    Jumping ahead almost a decade, I’d like to discuss the Riverside recordings we heard.  It seems like Orrin Keepnews was using you both for recording dates under your leadership, and also as kind of a house arranger for dates by Blue Mitchell and Sam Jones and Nat Adderley and so forth.  It must have been a very active and creative period for you, because so many of your famous compositions seem to emanate from the years 1959 to about 1964.

JH:    Well, I guess I was considered like the staff arranger of a sort.  Benny Golson did some things, too, during that time, but maybe not for other people’s dates as much as his own.  I think it stemmed from the fact that after a long illness, when I came back on the scene, Cannonball was one of my chief endorsers.  I had never met the man, and he endorsed me with Orrin Keepnews, he and Philly Joe.  I had an opportunity to go with Blue Note or Riverside, and I chose Riverside.  Once I got on the label, I was considered one of the arrangers; all the cats on the label wanted me to write something for their dates, and I did some on different people’s dates at that time.  When I look back in retrospect, there’s quite a few.

TP:    I wanted to ask you about your studies in composition and arranging.  I gather that after your earlier efforts and hearing things first-hand from Dizzy Gillespie and Gil Fuller and so forth, you actually wound studying formally.

JH:    Well, Gil helped me a lot.  He always insisted that you get some excitement in your music.  He said Tadd Dameron’s music was background.  Heh-heh.  They were rivals, of course.  But Tadd Dameron’s music had a lot of heart in it, and a lot of feeling and soul, whereas Gil’s were like “Things To Come,” they were exciting.  But I liked both of them.  Also, George Russell was writing for Dizzy’s band; he was very abstract, a different kind of orchestrator.  So was Gerald Wilson.  Gerald Wilson was writing some of the things for the Dizzy Gillespie band that were very good.  Melba hadn’t started, but she was there.

So listening at home to Duke Ellington and people like that, and arrangers like Benny Carter and people like that, I just went through a trial-and-error period, where I tried things.  Then when the small groups came about, like you heard there mostly, I had already begun thinking how to write for sextet by hearing J.J. and other people who had sextets.

So then I went along with that, with mother-wit or intuition for many years, until I started to study with a man named Rudolf Schramm, who taught the Schillinger System, and taught it at Carnegie Hall, where he had a studio upstairs.  I learned quite a bit from him, how to organize what I had already experienced, and how to edit and put things together.  He also helped me in orchestrating for strings and choir and things like that, and encouraged me to write for larger ensembles and, like, suites that I have written.  A lot of them haven’t been recorded, because it costs a lot of money to record them, and they are not hit material, so the record companies are reluctant to record them.  You know, “The Afro-American Suite of Evolution” or the thing I wrote for a five-piece Jazz group and a symphony orchestra called “Three Ears”, or the “Upper-Neighbor Suite” I wrote for a Canadian 10 or 12 piece ensemble.  Some string things I’ve written.  The Kronos String Quartet recorded my version of “Naima”, and the Uptown String Quartet recorded “Naima” for Muse Records.

But I’ve been writing for all kinds of ensembles. To get back to the big-band writing, that started when I took a position at Queens College as a professor, and I teach composing and arranging there.  So I started to write for the big band, new material for every semester.  That keeps my big band music flowing.

Right here I would like to say that my entire career as a composer has been one of dedications to people that I like, my peers and family members.  Just about everything I wrote is dedicated to a human being that I find exceptional in one way or another.  “Big P” is for Percy, “Two Tees” for Albert Heath, “Mona’s Mood” is for my wife — different people.  Most recently I wrote one for Antonio Hart called “Like A Son,” because he was one of my students and he’s very close to me.  “Without You, No Me” to Dizzy.  “Trane Connections” was for Coltrane, “Forever Sonny” for Sonny Rollins.  I don’t think there’s another composer in the history of the music who has dedicated as many songs and compositions to their peers.  I have no problem with competition or ego that I can’t respect another person’s ability.

TP:    Well, one of your main sources, as you cited before, was Tadd Dameron, and the next track we’ll hear comes from a 1982 release dedicated to Tadd Dameron, featuring the group Continuum, featuring Jimmy Heath and Slide Hampton, another one of this generation’s most distinguished composers and orchestrators, Kenny Barron on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and the late Arthur Taylor on drums, who passed last week, and was a close friend of yours and is missed by everyone in the Jazz community.  We’ll hear “Nearness.”  Any comments on it, Jimmy?

JH:    Well, it’s really now a dedication to A.T., because he really liked this song, and he asked me to give him a chart on it so he could do it with his Wailers.

[MUSIC:  Continuum, "Nearness" (1982); J. Heath/KD/AT, "Nobody Else But Me" (1961); "J. Heath/Freddie/J. Watkins, "The Quota" (1962); J. Heath/Blue Mitchell Orch., "Blue On Blue" (1962)]

TP:    We’ll move out of chronology now, and concentrate on recordings made by the Heath Brothers, Jimmy, Percy and Albert, the three great musicians who came out of the Heath family in Philadelphia.  The first selection will come from a 1975 recording for Strata-East, the first by the Heath Brothers as such.

JH:    I had worked with Percy and Albert on The Quota and on Really Big, a couple of my Riverside dates, so that was the Heath Brothers before the Heath Brothers formal title was adopted by the record companies.  Percy was always with the MJQ, for years, so that left Albert and I, and we worked together quite a bit, and Percy would work with us once in a while when he wasn’t busy with the Modern Jazz Quartet.  But I could use my brothers on recordings, and that’s what I did on those Riverside records.  Then when Percy took a hiatus from the MJQ for a few years, we started a group called the Heath Brothers.  The first record we made was made in Norway.  We were on tour over there in Oslo, and Stanley Cowell was our pianist, and he wanted to document this group on the Strata-East label.  That’s what we did.  We made this record and it was released on Strata East.

TP:    Talk about the qualities that your two brothers bring to their instruments, and their place in the music pantheon.  First your older brother, Percy.

JH:    Well, Percy can walk the bass.  He’s got an uncanny sense of time.  He was the bassist of choice around New York for a lot of recordings.  He’s been on more than I have, I’m sure — and I’ve been I guess getting close to being a hundred records, I’m sure.  But he’s been on many more.  Albert was a person that came along, nine years after myself in age, and he soon became one of the favorites in the Riverside catalogue, and he made quite a few Blue Note records, and he recorded with Trane and Sonny Rollins and everybody, too.

So I don’t know, it must be in our genes.  Our father and mother were wonderful people, and they let us pursue what we loved — music.  We weren’t forced to do anything else.  If you have an environment like that at home, where you are encouraged to play, and you have any talent, then you’re going to play.

TP:    Well, you mentioned after World War Two, when Percy came back, that the two of you spent a lot of time workshopping together, transcribing, listening, performing.

JH:    Yeah.  Well, Percy and I…that’s before Tootie came out of high school.  We even played with Howard McGhee together when I first went to Paris in 1948 in…oh, I think it was April or May in 1948.  We were both with Howard McGhee at that time.  Howard McGhee was the first person to really take us out into the big time, so-called.  He also was the person who took my big band from Philly and took it on the road, and we went to the Apollo and the Paradise in Detroit and some of the theaters.  We played a gig in Chicago, and my whole book, my repertoire got lost in the Inglewood Station in Chicago, so I never saw my big band music again!

TP:    Oh, no!

JH:    Yeah, that was unfortunate.  But we continued to work with Howard in the small-group situation anyway, and record.  He was the first person I recorded with.  And Howard was a wonderful person to be around, a nice man, and he could play real well, and he really liked me.  So that was the essence of the beginnings and being-together of the brothers, Percy and I first, and then eventually the three of us.

TP:    Now, Tootie has a very personal way of swinging as well, and gets a very distinctive sound out of the kit.  He’s very recognizable on your Riverside releases.

JH:    Well, I think he has some of his teacher’s style, and that’s Specs Wright.  All of the drummers liked Klook and Max, but Tootie was close to Specs.  Specs was a very crisp and swinging drummer also, who had excellent hands.  I think he taught Tootie to practice very slow, because Specs was so methodical.  I roomed with him with Dizzy’s band, and he would drive you nuts, because he would practice so slow all day, I mean, sit there with a practice pad and say, BOP… BOP…BOP, and then when he gets on the gig it was like WRRHOWOWO.  It was incredible.  But he knew a system of how to practice.  I think Tootie got that from him.  Also, Everybody liked what Max was doing, and he incorporated some of Max, and Philly Joe was around, and he listened…

We all learned from our predecessors, and that’s the way it should be.  I mean, you learn from the people who came before you, and then you expand into your own style.

TP:    One more question about your writing.  You said you often write people in mind as far as dedicating the compositions.  As far as the musical content, do you write for people you know will be performing it, or does it come out of more your own ideas that are percolating around at a given time?

JH:    It’s not necessarily for the people who are going to perform it, because a lot of times I was the only one to perform some of them!  The song I wrote for Sarah Vaughan, “Sassy’s Samba,” the Heath Brothers recorded it, and eventually the New York Voices recorded it.  They put their own words to it.  But it was dedicated to Sarah Vaughn.  Just like “Blue On Blue” we just heard was to Blue Mitchell.  And the thing we’re about to play, “Smilin’ Billy”, is for Billy Higgins.

So I think about the person’s personality.  You know, Ted, I write down nicknames and expressions of all my friends.  I’ve got a whole list that would be very interesting to literary people, I think, who are interested in Jazz.  Because I think about the person.  Thad’s thickness or Slide’s slickness.  Expressions that depict the person.  I mean, Slide Hampton is a very slick player and arranger.  Thad’s music was so dense, so Thad’s thickness… I’ve got a whole list of maybe about fifty or sixty people that I have coined phrases on what I visualize them or how I perceive them.

TP:    Then that triggers off some sort of musical lines and connections and progressions.

JH:    It’s all connected.

TP:    Let’s start off with part one of “The Smilin’ Billy Suite” — we don’t have time to hear the others — to lead off a set by the Heath Brothers.  In the 1970′s Jimmy had expanded his sound palette, as had everybody in the orchestra, sort of in touch with the times, and on this date you play flute, tenor and soprano saxophone; Tootie plays a double-reed on Part of the Suite, which we won’t hear, but primarily drums; Percy had begun playing the baby bass by that time; and Stanley Cowell plays piano and also Mbira on other sides here.

[MUSIC: "Smilin' Billy Suite, Pt. 1" (1975); "A New Blue" (1978); In Motion, Brass Choir/HB, "Project S" (1979)]

TP:    It does seem that the Heath Brothers enabled you to expand your exploration of tones and colors that began working on in a series of albums for Muse and Cobblestone Records in the early 1970′s.

JH:    Well, I fell in love with the French horn when Julius Watkins started to play the way he did, and I started adding the French horn to quite a few of my albums.  Until today I still like to use the French horn.

TP:    We heard it on The Quota and Triple Threat, those early Riverside dates.

JH:    And on Swamp Seed, the one that you’re going to play with Herbie.  But even the later ones, the Landmark things, I used the French horns and tubas and those instruments.

TP:    Most recently on Old Flames, which you arranged for Sonny Rollins, there’s that brass choir situation, although you don’t appear on that.

JH:    Ah!

TP:    [ETC.] We’ll move back to the 1960′s now, and focus on Jimmy Heath’s final two dates for Riverside, and also a few collaborations with Milt Jackson, with whom you recorded a number of times between 1962 and 1967, and continue to up to recent days.

JH:    Yes.

TP:    In our conversations earlier about the Dizzy Gillespie band, you talked about first meeting Milt Jackson, and I guess you’ve recorded with him since your very first one, in 1948.  I think he was playing piano on those Howard McGhee dates.

JH:    Well, he was on some things.  He was also in that big band thing in 1949 that I did.  He was playing piano and vibes on the “Mean To Me” that we heard earlier.

TP:    Talk about your relationship with him.  It’s been of such long duration and so creatively fruitful.

JH:    Well, yeah.  Even last week Milt recorded one of my songs on his album with the young lions he’s using, Jesse Davis and Joshua Redman and Christian McBride and Benny Green.  So he asked me to write a tune for that album, and I wrote one called “Bop Again.”  I think Cedar wrote one for that date.  So Bags and I, our relationship goes…oh, man, since the late Forties, since he was with… I met him when he was with Dizzy’s band, I would imagine.  So that’s ’46-’47, something like that, until today.  There were times when the MJQ would go on the road, and I wouldn’t know they were back in town if I had depended on my brother Percy, because he would be gone fishing — and Milt would say, “oh, we got back yesterday!”  So Milt and I are like brothers.

TP:    Well, he’s a musician with as identifiable a sound as any that ever played this music.

JH:    We just played a gig with Paul West at the Henry Street Settlement with the Symphony Orchestra down there, doing Dizzy’s music.  Milt and I were on that together.  So Milt and I are very close.

TP:    We’ll hear a few tracks featuring Jimmy Heath with Milt Jackson a little later,  But coming up now is “Wall To Wall,” recorded in 1963 for Riverside on the album Swamp Seed.  This is redolent of brass, with Donald Byrd on trumpet, Julius Watkins and Jim Buffington on French horns, Don Butterfield on tuba.  Herbie Hancock plays piano on this track.

JH:    “Wall To Wall” is from ear to ear.  We all had beards, and I said “We have wall-to-wall rugs.”  And I see you have one, Ted, so you’re right in there.

[MUSIC:  "Wall To Wall" (1963); "Gingerbread Boy" (1964); J. Heath/Bags "Dew 'n Mud" (1965); J. Heath/A. Farmer, "One For Juan" (1967)]

TP:    In our next set, we’ll move to selections from a series of recordings that Jimmy Heath did in the mid-Seventies for the Cobblestone, Muse and Xanadu labels, where the common thread I guess is producer Don Schlitten, who produced all of these dates.  And back to what we said about the Heath Brothers groups, during this time you were really expanding your sonic palette compositionally.  You feature yourself on flute and soprano sax, you bring in a lot of popular rhythms, African melodies and so forth.  Talk a little about your state of mind at this time, and the dynamics that went into making these recordings.

JH:    Well, the Sixties was a turbulent time, and the music depicts what’s going on.  What we were wearing, and what we espoused as Afro-Americans was coming out in the music.  I wrote things like “Heritage Hum”, and along with my son Mtume, we were doing things like “Alkebulan,” which is called “The Land Of The Blacks.”  We were just expressing our views musically with the times, as things were happening.  You know, I came up when… I went to high school in Wilmington, North Carolina, from Philadelphia, and I’d have to get in the Colored coach and all that stuff.  When we got to Washington, D.C., you’d get out of the coach you were in on the train, and get in the Colored coach, and they had Colored water and all of that stuff.  I’m still trying to figure out what Colored water is.  But it was a time when we weren’t getting any respect as human beings, and we needed that.  I think the Bebop Era, Dizzy and Charlie Parker spoke to that in their music in a revolutionary sense, and I was following through on what was happening in the country and with us as human beings on the planet.

TP:    Well, to a lot of people in the 1960′s, your old friend John Coltrane in a certain way symbolized some of the highest aspirations of African-Americans.  I asked you off-mike if you continued to see Coltrane during the 1960′s, and you said that when you were still living in Philadelphia, where you were until 1964, he would still come by your house, and practice and eat between sets at the Showboat.

JH:    Yeah.  Well, he was playing at the Showboat, and he would play these extended sets, playing “My Favorite Things” for 15 or 20 minutes, sometimes a half-hour on one song, then they would take a break, and they would have to go back that evening to perform again.  So Trane, he would practice on all the breaks between the sets.  So the long break between… He was supposed to end at six, and he goes back at nine or something.  Well, he ended up seven or something, played overtime.  Well, my mother’s house was closer than his mother’s house in West Philly.  He had moved by that time.  He would always come down to the house.  I said, “Look, Trane, you could down to Mom; I’ll get Mom to fix something.”  And my mother would fix him something.

The last occasion he did that, he came down to the house, and we talked for a while.  My mother said, “Well, the food isn’t ready, John, because Jimmy just called me.”  He said, “Well, look, Jim, can I go upstairs and practice until she gets…”  I said, “Yeah, go ahead!” and he went upstairs and practiced until the food was ready, ate the food, went back to the club, and played some more for the rest of the evening.  Trane was like that.  He practiced all the time.  Juanita, who was named Naima later, his first wife, said he was 90 percent saxophone.  So that gives you an idea of John Coltrane’s life.

TP:    In our conversation off-mike you told me also that you moved back to New York City in 1964.  I’m sure that must have expanded your possibilities in many ways.

JH:    Well…

TP:    Or not.

JH:    Yeah, well, it did.  I was basically doing things with my own group during that time.  I went back with Miles for a little after Trane left, and I didn’t stay long.  Well, then I was free-lancing around New York until later.  I was still recording for Muse and Xanadu around that time…

TP:    Around 1970 or so.

JH:    1970.  In retrospect, the late Sixties were kind of slim pickings for Jazz.  The other music had just moved in so strongly, and everybody went, the audiences, until they were… Sarah Vaughan told me she didn’t have a recording contract for quite a while during that…

TP:    Yeah, it was a tenuous time and a transitional time, and a lot of the music in the Seventies I guess reflected wanting to get into the mainstream and make some money in terms of the type of music that was being presented.

JH:    I think so.

[MUSIC:  The Gap Sealer, "Heritage Hum" (1972); Love And Understanding, "Gemini" (1973); "The Time And The Place" (1974)]

JH:    [RE: Picture of Heath.] I didn’t write a lot of arrangements for the ensemble, you know, so it was a loose kind of a session.  Plus when the tenor is out front it’s a different ego trip.

TP:    Now, you call it an ego trip.  Why?  I assume you’re talking about being able to stretch out and play at length and take some liberties.

JH:    Well, to me sometimes it’s boring as a musician, as a listener to hear one instrument, and that instrument alone. I’ve fallen in love with orchestration and composition, and I like to hear a lot of different textures and a different sound.  Consequently there are very few records that I really stretched out on.  On the live dates I would stretch out a little more.  Perhaps that’s one of the problems I’ve had with recognition, is that I’ve been prone to let somebody else play instead of me taking the whole show.

TP:    I’d like to talk to you a little bit about your sound and style as a tenor saxophone player.  We talked earlier about your sources in the music, and coming out of Charlie Parker, and then listening to Dexter Gordon and transcribing solos.  I’m not sure how to frame this.  At a certain point, musicians begin to transcend their sources.  Listening back, when do you think your individual sound, your individual voice began to become clear on the tenor saxophone?

JH:    Well, I think simultaneously, with the more knowledge you get about the music and the more time you put in on an instrument, that’s when you begin to find yourself.  Earlier you are always trying to see what has been done before, and you are investigating earlier performers and listening a lot.  There were times in my career, and there are times when I don’t listen to Jazz records, because I don’t want to be influenced by everybody else and their playing.  So I think that’s a way to become your own person.  Also your individual sound has a lot to do with it.  The tone quality that you get that’s identifiable.  You know, you can hear Sonny Rollins, and you know Sonny; you hear Joe Henderson, and you know Joe.  And people who really listen, they say, “Oh, that’s Jimmy Heath” — they can identify me.  And I take pride in that fact.  But there were some times when my friend Dexter Gordon, when I would go hear his group, when I got bored as a listener because Dexter would use the same format.  He would play first on every song, and then he would let the piano player play, and then he would take fours with the drummer or the bass player.  Then the next song, Dexter first, Dexter first.  I guess that’s the way people want you to be, and I’m not in that mode.  So I let some of the other guys play first, I play second, I may… It’s an image problem…

TP:    I’d like to talk a little more about sound, and your sound.  Is there a sound that you were hearing, let’s say, in your mind’s ear around 1953 or 1960 or so, and then you worked to get to that sound, and arrived there?  Is that how it worked for you?

JH:    Yeah, I worked on the sound.  I was listening to Dexter and Lester and Bird, and I think that I kind of incorporated some of their inflections in my playing.  But tone quality, you’ve just got to practice…sound, practice tone.  Whole notes, which is boring.  And you’ve got to do that in order to get a good sound.  Once you get a sound, though, the rest of the delivery is easy!

TP:    Well, one of the hallmarks of individuality for a tenor player within this tradition is “Body and Soul,” and I know on records produced by Don Schlitten, he liked to have the artists work out on this tune.  You can hear versions on his records by almost every great saxophonist of the time.  So let’s hear Jimmy Heath’s version of “Body and Soul” on tenor and soprano from Picture Of Heath, 1975, with Barry Harris, Sam Jones and Billy Higgins.

[MUSIC:  "Body and Soul" (1975); w/ Joe Henderson, "Steeplechase" (1988)]

TP:    We’ll move now to material from a pair of recordings by Jimmy Heath for Landmark in 1985 and 1987, respectively.  From the first, we’ll hear the title track, “New Picture.”  New Picture continues your tradition of a four-brass section.

JH:    I used the tuba and two French horns on this one, and a trombone in this particular grouping.

TP:    Do you approach each album as a project unto itself?  Is there some sort of picture you’re trying to paint with every date that you do?  Is it a function of what you’re working on at that time, and things sort of come together?  How do you go about it?

JH:    Well, I go about it in trying to do something a little different, if I can.  That’s why I have different-sized ensembles on most of the records, and not just the quartet alone.  I have sextets and various different color combinations, with the strings, the cello on some things, flute on some things.  So I just like music.  I love music, and I love all the sounds of the different instruments.  If I could really afford it, or the record companies could afford, I would like to do something with the larger ensembles, too, the symphony, that size ensemble, 40 or 50 pieces.  I just want to explore all of the sound qualities that I can find in my knowledge and concept.

TP:    So it transcends notes.  It’s really ultimately about sound.

JH:    Yeah, and the voice.  I’ve done several things using choirs, and I’m really interested in doing that at this point in my life.  I would like to do something with a group like Take Six or something like that!

[MUSIC: "New Picture" (1985); w/ Purrone, "I Waited For You." (1987)]

TP:    There are certain musicians who can make five hours go by like an hour-and-a-half.  Jimmy Heath is one of them, and he’s been sharing the time with me and with you, the radio audience, in the studios of WKCR, giving a first-person account in this retrospective of Jimmy Heath’s 46 years of recorded music.

JH:    Pshew!

TP:    One more set to go.  But I wanted to talk a little bit about your educational activities.  Because for a number of years you have been Professor Jimmy Heath, and you’ve put together a very strong Jazz program at Queens College, part of the City University of New York.  How long has this particular gig been part of your career, and how long did you work towards that in terms of academic credentialing?

JH:    Well, I’ve been teaching privately for many years, back with Ted Curson, Jimmy Garrison, Sam Reed(?) and other people around Philadelphia.  Then coming to New York at the Jazzmobile organization, and the Housatonic College in Bridgeport, and the City College of New York on Convent Avenue with Ron Carter.  Then in ’87, after an illness, I took a position at Queens College, which is very close to my home, where I have been since 1964.  I have been working at that for many years privately.  The people there saw that I was the person that they wanted to begin the Jazz faculty as tenured people… At least I am now tenured.  When I started in 1987, I was the first one hired full time at Queens College in teaching Jazz music.  I basically got that on my reputation over the years as a performer and composer and traveling person, sort of known personality.

TP:    One thing that’s come out a lot in this past decade-and-a-half is the idea that Jazz can be taught if it’s really done right.  Your generation often had to pick up things by themselves, though not in all cases, because there were a number of formally trained musicians.  Talk about that concept and applying it to young, raw students, and what the students are like these days.

JH:    Well, at that time, like you said, the performers of the music taught at some institutions weren’t allowed to teach in those institutions probably because of lack of degrees, and this is what academia demands and expects from a person.  But somewhere along the line, they realized that some people didn’t have that opportunity, and they still are doctors of their music.  So then the institutions started hiring more people, like Kenny Barron and Rufus Reid.  Some of them have Bachelor Degrees and some of them have more.  But usually it was based on their reputation.  It’s hard to get a position in an institution on just your reputation without the formal credentials.  And I think by the performers getting in as teachers, whether credentialed or not, it has brought a new awareness into the university systems so that the people who are teaching Afro-American, Jazz music in these institutions are the people who have done it.

So the students are very fortunate that they have somebody that is performing all the time that can really pull their coats to a lot of other things that an academic cannot.  They have just studied how this chord goes and this and that, but they haven’t been performing.  They don’t know what the audience responds to… It’s the insider approach.  The students I’ve had have been…they feel honored to be there.  They come there… Donald Byrd was at my school also, and now Sir Roland Hanna is there, and Cecil Bridgewater.  So we have a faculty staff, small as it may be, of performers.  And they have degrees, too, Cecil and Roland.

But it’s just the fact that it’s a different approach to the music.  It’s a personal approach, not from a book.  This is why we have students that are finishing under our direction that are right in the music world, going right out there and performing.

TP:    Maybe fifteen years ago a lot of older musicians were somewhat pessimistic about the future of the music, and I think these fears have been put to rest as many talented and creative young musicians have emerged.

JH:    Yeah.  Well, the one icon that’s caused a lot of change in our music, to me, is Wynton Marsalis.  The image that he has presented and his dogmatic attitude of what he really thinks of our music, Afro-Americans’ music, has caused a lot of young people to follow in his direction.  They want to dress well on the stage.  They play good.  They are clean-cut guys; they don’t deal with no vices.  And a lot of them come out of school.  People like Alvin Batiste are turning out musicians, Nathan Davis in Pittsburgh, and all of this network of people who are in the institutions and qualified performers has come together.

When we were judges on a panel, Dizzy and I, on a Budd Johnson award, we saw so many good young players.  Incidentally, on this particular one, Vincent Herring was the winner.  But Dizzy looked at me and said, “The music is in good hands.”  When we heard all these young people playing the way they are… In my case, at my school, Antonio Hart.  Or I was the chairman of the judges’ panel for the Thelonious Monk Institute when we chose Joshua Redman the number-one saxophone player — and the rest is history.  So there is a coming together of youth and the old vets out there that’s very healthy in attittude, and the music is stronger than ever.

[MUSIC: J. Heath/Mulgrew/Lundy/Nash, "Ellington's Stray Horn" (1994)]

[-30-]

* * *

Jimmy and Albert (“Tootie”) Heath (7-21-93) — Musician Show:

Q:    Jimmy Heath and I have done several shows in recent years, and we’ve talked a fair amount about your activities in Philadelphia as a young musician.  But I don’t think we’ve really spoken too much with Albert Heath about your younger years.  So I’d like to begin speaking with you, if I might.  First, you’re from such a musical family, it’s almost an inane question to ask how you got started playing the drums.  But was that your first instrument?  Was that your first interest?  And with whom did you start playing, when you did start playing?

AH:    Well, the musical influence came from my brother Jimmy, who was always sitting at the piano and studying and learning something about harmony, and he would exchange ideas with other musicians, like some names that I won’t drop right now because I want to stay on the track here… So my brother Jimmy was my main influence, and then Percy started to play much later; he came along later.  But Jimmy was the first and strongest influence in music, in terms of what was called Bebop at the time.

My father was also a major influence, as well as my mother, because she sang in the choir, and my father played clarinet in a marching band.

So I had a lot of music all the time.  There was recordings of people like Fletcher Henderson and Basie and Duke Ellington, of course, and all those big bands that we used to listen to.  My parents used to play the music of Bessie Smith and Mahalia Jackson.  So I got a real good foundation in the music of our culture.

Q:    Now, Jimmy Heath has talked about avidly going to hear the big bands in the theatres.  Were you able to do the same as a youngster?  I know you were younger.

AH:    Yeah.  Fortunately, I was able to see a few bands.  But it meant that I had to kind of skip school to do it.  My parents didn’t know that I was doing that, but… I saw the Ellington Orchestra, and I saw…

Q:    Who was the drummer with the Ellington Orchestra?

AH:    It was Sonny Greer at the time.  And I mean, I was overwhelmed by his appearance and all of the instruments that he was playing at that time.  You know, he had chimes and congas and tympany and bells and all kinds of instruments he had back there in the back of the orchestra.  And he was well in control of everything back there — and I was just like totally impressed by him.  And he had on white tails; I’ll never forget it.  He was, like, immaculate.  And I never forgot that.

Also, I saw Dizzy Gillespie’s band with a friend of my brother Jimmy… For some reason or other… Teddy Stewart was the drummer, and he couldn’t show up for some reason, and my brother had his friend, who was just out of the Service, the military, whose name was Specs Wright, and Specs Wright came in and played Dizzy’s book as if he had sat there all the time and played it for years.  And I was like… You know, I couldn’t believe that, what I was seeing.  So I was fortunate enough to see the Gillespie band.  I saw the Basie band, and that’s about it…

Q:    Was that Shadow Wilson at that time?

AH:    No, I didn’t see Shadow Wilson at that time, but I saw Shadow Wilson at the Five Spot with Thelonious.  So I did see Shadow.

Q:    Well, it’s very important for young musicians to see the older, master musicians so that they get a correlation of motion to sound or action to sound.  And I know that’s something that at that time, with the big bands, musicians really were able to do, maybe more so than today.  You teach.  Do you…

AH:    Yes.  I’m on faculty at California Institute of the Arts, in Valencia, California.  But I think it’s true today also that the younger players… Like, for instance, last night I saw the son of a friend of mine who came down to see us, and he’s a very young person — and I’m sure I’ll see some more young musicians coming down to see us.  And I think the tradition is being passed on to these young people through us.  We’re the old guys now.

Q:    Let’s get back to your younger days in the music.  What was your first gigging experience around Philadelphia?  Who were some of the people you paired off with as a young drummer, and what types of situations were you playing in?

AH:    Well, my first professional performance was done at a place called the Lincoln Post, across the street from where we used to live, which was a marching band — the American Legion is what it was.  And they had a marching band over there.  And somehow, myself and a trumpet player by the name of Ted Curson and a saxophone player by the name of Sam Reed, who were my… We were school mates.  And Sam played an alto saxophone, which he still does today, and Ted Curson played the trumpet, which he still plays today, and is functioning out in the world, playing all over the world — both of them are.  And we had an opportunity to play at this place at night — which was rare, you know, because we were all about 15 or 16 apiece, or something like that.  And some people gave us a chance to play because they’d heard us rehearsing or something.  I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but we did get a chance to play in this place.  And they liked it.  And at the end of the night, we got seven dollars to split up among ourselves.  So that was my first professional job!  And I’ll never forget that.  And the music was horrible.

Q:    What kinds of things were you trying to play?

AH:    We were trying to play what we heard Dizzy playing, and…who else were the guys at the time…?  I think it was basically Dizzy and Charlie Parker, were the Bebop people who were our idols.

Q:    Who were you patterning yourself after?

AH:    I was trying to be Max Roach as hard as I could.  And I couldn’t even keep time.  So you know, it was like terrible.  This was probably the worst music… I don’t see how we got paid for it, I really don’t.  You know, when I reflect back on it, it had to be just awful.

Q:    But what did you think at the time?

AH:    At the time, oh… Well, we got paid.  I thought it was… Oh man, I thought we were doing something!

Q:    Then what were the steps?  Philadelphia was a thriving scene.  There were many musicians who later really made their mark in the world of music.  And I’m assuming that you took your place among them, as all young, up-and-coming musicians?  Was this the case?

AH:    I had an opportunity to play with some wonderful musicians around Philadelphia because of my brothers.  Again, they kind of laid the way for me, and they made friends, and people would come to our parents’ home, or our  home, and I would meet these people, and my brother Jimmy would say, “My brother’s studying drums” and blah-blah-blah.  And that kind of got around.  And sooner or later, after I had got serious about trying to learn something about the drums, I started to be able to play with people like a guy named Louis(?) Judge, and Jimmy Garrison was around there and Spanky DeBrest and Lee Morgan.  And you know, I was really big-time when I got to play with Coltrane, who was not famous at the time, but just one of the best players around at that time even.  I was going to say Benny Golson but Benny came later, I didn’t see… Benny was away at college, I think, when I came up.  But there were people like that.  I may be leaving some names out here, and I hope I don’t offend anybody by leaving them out, but I can’t think of any other names…

Q:    Are the years we’re talking about now, say, 1950, ’51, ’52… Jimmy made a piano thing…

AH:    Oh, a piano thing?  Oh, Ray Bryant.  He did play with Ray… Not around Philadelphia.

JH:    [OFF-MIKE] Bobby(?).

AH:    Oh, Bobby TImmons!  Oh, my God.  Yeah, Bobby Timmons was…oh, man…

JH:    How about McCoy?

AH:    McCoy, we… Yeah, McCoy…

JH:    How about Kenny?  Kenny Barron?

AH:    Kenny?  No.  Kenny was off practicing and getting to be one of the greatest piano players of our time, but he wasn’t around.  He was a little younger than us.  But McCoy, I remember going up to McCoy’s mother’s beauty parlor, and there was a piano in the back.  And we used to have what we’d call jam sessions up there at McCoy’s house — which was way out of my territory, out of my neighborhood, and it was real dangerous to go up there because…

Q:    What was your neighborhood and what was that neighborhood?

AH:    I was South Philadelphia and he was North Philadelphia, and you just don’t go up there fooling around unless you know how to do it.

So anyhow, Lee Morgan was also up there in North Philadelphia, and so were some good drummers like Eddie Campbell and Lex Humphries, and Odean Pope was around, and Donald Bailey… Oh, man, some good musicians.

Q:    So it was a real testing ground, and obviously you have to be dealing, otherwise you’re not going to be able to stick around.

AH:    Well, you fake it real good until you watch enough guys doing it and you learn how to do it, you know.  And if you just surround yourself with people who are better than you, I think you learn like that.

Q:    Did you ever have any specifically drum teachers?

AH:    Oh yeah.  I had a lot of drum teachers, yeah.  The first one that really had a strong influence on me was Specs Wright.  Now, I had teachers before Specs Wright, but it wasn’t a long-term thing.  But with Specs, it was a long-term thing.  Like, as long as I can remember, I could always call him up and go by.  We didn’t have a schedule, but I could go to his mother’s house on some Saturdays and catch him there, and then sometimes he would come down to see my brother Jimmy, and then he’d go off for 15 or 20 minutes with me and help me with what it is that I wanted to learn.  And he showed me a lot of things.  I learned a lot about playing with, you know, groups, and a lot about dynamics and technique and all of that stuff from him.

And I had some other teachers, too.  One in particular that Mickey Roker always jokes…we always have this joke about this teacher, because Mickey always says, “Hey, man, we both studied with the same guy.  But what happened to you?” — as if something’s wrong with what I do, and he’s okay!  But this guy’s name was Ellis Tolin.  And he was around in Philadelphia.  He had a place called Music City, a drum store, and in the back he would give lessons.  This guy had incredible technique.  He loved Buddy Rich, and he used to have Buddy Rich up there, and we could go up there and see Buddy Rich play all the drums you’d want to see.  Then Philly Joe used to come up there also and show off, you know, because he could play better than anybody up there, and he would come up there and just wipe everybody out.

Q:    So his position in Philadelphia was sort of as the King of…

AH:    Yeah, he wasn’t a king, but I mean, he had… Like, some of the better drummers went up there.  Now, everybody didn’t go there.  There were some other places, too, around Philly that people studied, like Granoff School of Music.  There’s a lot of guys that went there who I can’t think of right now… But the guys from South Philadelphia that I knew, like Mickey and Ronald Tucker and Specs and a few other people used to go up to Ellis Tolin’s.  That was kind of the in thing to do.  You just wanted to go through there.  Because they had sessions on Mondays or something like that, and you never knew… Whoever was playing in Philly, the drummer from the group would come up to Ellis’ place and do a little clinic.  But they weren’t called clinics at the time; they called them jam sessions.  And they would come up there and play.  And it was always something special.

Q:    You mentioned that in your youngest years you were always exposed to musicians, because Jimmy Heath was always having musicians over.  Was that involved with the big band that Jimmy had in the late 1940′s?

AH:    Yeah, Jimmy used to have… Our living room at my mother’s house was a little too small for the whole band most of the time.  So he would have like section rehearsals, and he’d have a reed section rehearsal one day, and I would come home from school and here’s these guys with all of these saxophones out, and the music all over the dining room table.  My mother would be busy in the kitchen doing whatever she’s doing.  And they would have, like, a section rehearsal.  So I got a chance to hear the music in sections.  And this is really a wonderful way to learn an arrangement.  And I had my ear cocked on all of this stuff.  At that age, you know, you could absorb and remember a lot of things.  So a lot of that stuff sticks with me right now.  I mean, it’s a part of my upbringing, is that I heard the section rehearsals.  Then I would hear the trumpets rehearse.  Then sometimes it would be the whole band, even, in the house — on some occasions.  Then I would see people like Coltrane and Benny Golson, and Johnnie Splawn and Johnny Coles…

Q:    All in your family living room.

AH:    All of these guys, yeah, would be at my mother’s house, at our mother’s house, with rehearsals by Jimmy.  So I got a chance to meet and be around all of these people, and be influenced.

Q:    Let me turn the mike over to Jimmy Heath now and ask how you got this band together, and what was the impetus for it.  It had a major impact on every musician who came through it in Philadelphia at that time.

JH:    Well, I had come out of a big band in Nebraska called Nat Towles, and I wanted to have a band myself.  So when I came back to Philadelphia…

Q:    Can I stop you for a minute?

JH:    Yes.

Q:    Nat Towles’ band was one of the famous territory bands.  How did you come to join that?  And just say a few words about Nat Towles.

JH:    Well, Nat Towles was out of Omaha, Nebraska.  And there was a trombonist from Philly, who we had been playing together with earlier bands when I first got out of high school, named Felix Leach.  And Felix Leach told the people in Nat Towles Orchestra that when a chair was vacant, or alto chair, that I would like to join the band.  So I went to Omaha, Nebraska.  Billy Mitchell was the straw boss of the band, and he had an apartment with a very small room.  Of the two people that tried out for the band… I couldn’t read as good as the other guy, but Billy Mitchell took a liking to me and said, “Keep the little guy.”  And we talk about that now, Billy Mitchell having later played with Basie and Dizzy.

But when I got back to Philadelphia after leaving that band… Before we leave that portion of it, that band had Buddy Tate before me, and Sir Charles Thompson and others.

But after I got to Philly and I wanted to start my own band… Dizzy had a band then, and I really was in love with the Bebop…the big band of Dizzy.  So I tried to pattern my band and transcribe some of Dizzy’s arrangements, and play that music.  And you know, Trane came out of the Navy, and he was around Philly, and Bill Massey and Cal Massey, who were trumpeters, and they joined my band.  Because I was trying to play Bebop with a big band, as Dizzy had laid the pattern down.

Q:    Were you transcribing off the records, basically?  Or did you get the music and do your own orchestrations?  How did it work for you?

JH:    Well, I was trying to transcribe.  And I had a couple of guys who were pros, who had been with Dizzy.  Johnny Acea had written stuff for Dizzy.  This is a guy from Philly who could play the saxophone, trumpet and piano, and he was an arranger.  So he transcribed a couple of things for me, and  a man named Leroy Lovett also transcribed a lot of the things — and I did the others.  And I was trying to write things in the Bebop style also.

Q:    Now, was the band primarily a workshop situation?  Or were you trying to make a go of it and turn it into a performing big band?  I’m assuming that you would have.  But how did it function?

JH:    Yeah.  Well, it was not just a workshop.  We were trying to gig, and we did gig.  I’ve got a poster at home that says when we played at a place called the O.V. Carter(?) Elks in Philly, Jimmy Heath and his 17-Piece Orchestra with Jimmy Thomas on vocals and John Coltrane on saxophone, and Specs Wright and all — and it cost 75 cents to get in the dance!

Q:    At this time you were primarily an alto player, yes?

JH:    Right!   Trane and I were playing alto.  He wasn’t playing tenor at that point.

Q:    And you were both disciples of Charlie Parker.  Who came before Bird for you, and how did you first get struck with Bird?

JH:    Well, before Bird one of my idols was Mister Benny Carter, and Johnny Hodges, and Tab Smith.  They were the three alto players who I found the most interesting to me.  Then Charlie Parker came along and changed the rhythm and the lines of music that I found really fascinating, and I began to try to play like that.

Q:    Can you describe what the impact was on you when you first heard it, and why — again if that’s not too inane a question.

JH:    When I was with Nat Towles’ Orchestra, we went to Savannah, Georgia.  And I remember it as if it was yesterday, that when we got to the dance hall… We were going to play a dance that evening.  And we got there in the afternoon to set up the band and check the hall out.  And they had a jukebox that you put five cents in; you’d put a nickel in the jukebox to hear records.  And I put a nickel in, and I played a record by Jay McShann called “Hootie Blues.”  And right away, the alto solo struck me, and I called all the other guys in the saxophone section and said, “Man, check this guy out.”  And we all begun to put the money in for this Jay McShann, “Hootie Blues” and “Swingmatism” by Charlie Parker as soloist with McShann.  That was the beginning.

Then later in my stay with Nat Towles, I heard “Shaw Nuff” and “Salt Peanuts” and that stuff, and I didn’t realize it was the same guy at that moment until after I quit and came to Philly — I said, “Oh, that’s the same guy I heard on those records with McShann.”

Q:    You described a few months ago with me hearing Bird in Philadelphia in a club.  The first time you heard him you said might have been 1948 or so?  Or am I wrong on that?

JH:    The first time I heard him was in the Academy of Music,  when they came there for the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert.  There was Al Haig and Max and Curly Russell, I think, and Dizzy and Charlie Parker.  And then came that in ’48, with the band with Miles Davis, Max Roach, Duke Jordan and Tommy Potter.  And at that point, when he played in the Downbeat Club, is when I loaned him my saxophone every night.  And knowing his reputation, I would stay up there the whole night and hear Bird play, and then take my horn with his mouthpiece on it, and bring it back home, and take back to him the next night.  And he would leave the mouthpiece on it, and split and come back to New York to do his business.  I would take the horn in the cellar in my pad and see if I could find some of that Bebop he’d left in there, which it was hard to get it because it went through  there!

Q:    What kind of mouthpiece did he have?

JH:    He had a white Brillheart mouthpiece that he used to leave on there.  It was amazing, because as a kid you’d say, “Wow, I heard Charlie Parker play this horn.  He played all that stuff last night.  I know some of it’s left in here.”   But my stuff would still sound the same.  Band!

Q:    It couldn’t have been that bad, because you had a bit of a reputation around Philadelphia, and broader than that by 1950 or ’51.  Anyway, we’re talking with Jimmy and Albert “Tootie” Heath, and they’re talking about the 1940′s in Philadelphia, and coming up. You mentioned Dizzy Gillespie, who had a Philadelphia connection, of course, because he lived there for a number of years, and he always drew on Philadelphia musicians, it seems, over the years.  You’ve cited Dizzy as really your main inspiration in terms of writing and musical focus.  Over the last couple of years you had a chance to work with Dizzy during that final gig at the Blue Note a year ago, and then Slide Hampton’s group earlier this year.

JH:    Mmm-hmm.

Q:    Just say a few words about Dizzy, and then we’re going to hear a tribute composition you did for him and some of the early Musicraft sides that you were listening to back then.

JH:    Well, Dizzy Gillespie is my Duke Ellington.  He is the master musician that was accessible to me throughout my whole life.  He was always good to me, and I could ask him questions.  He would show me things.  And believe me, he knew so much to show you.  Any time you are with any musician that has been around Dizzy, he says it’s like being in a workshop when you’re around him, because he’s going to give you something every time you’re with him that you can use in your musical life from then on.

Q:    How would he show you?  Would it be different ways each time?  Would it be demonstrating?  A word?

JH:    He would demonstrate on piano chord voicings.  He would demonstrate on his trumpet.  He would demonstrate tapping out rhythms to you.  He would sing ideas to you.  I mean, with his whole being he was music, and that’s what I always wanted to be — just like him.

Q:    Well, you have a composition on your last release, Little Man, Big Band, with the large ensemble for Verve, called “Without You, No Me.”  So this is Jimmy Heath’s tribute to Dizzy Gillespie…

[MUSIC]

We heard quite a set of music, that all is meaningful to Jimmy and Tootie Heath in that last set.  The last piece was Jimmy Heath’s first composition to be recorded.  That’s “C.T.A.,” recorded by the Miles Davis Sextet on April 20, 1953 for Blue Note.  Miles on trumpet, J.J. Johnson on trombone, Jimmy Heath on tenor sax, Gil Coggins on piano, Percy Heath on bass, and Art Blakey on drums.  Preceding that we heard a 1963 session featuring a man that Jimmy Heath and John Coltrane and Benny Golson were all listening to as young musicians in the 1940′s, Dexter Gordon. That’s from Our Man In Paris, Dexter Gordon reunited with Bud Powell on piano and Pierre Michelot on bass, on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night In Tunisia.”  Before that we heard “Lady Bird,” a 1948 for Blue, Tadd Dameron Septet, composition and arrangement by Tadd Dameron, with Fats Navarro, trumpet, the tenors of Wardell Gray and Allan Eager, Curly Russell, bass, and Kenny Clarke on drums, Chino Pozo, bongos, and of course Tadd Dameron on piano.  Preceding that we heard two recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, the orchestra and a smaller group.  We heard “Things To Come” from 1946, and “That’s Earl, Brother” also from ’46.  “That’s Earl, Brother” was a small group that featured a litany of the greats in Jazz.  Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt, Ray Brown, Al Haig and, again, Kenny Clarke.  And we began the set way back with Jimmy Heath’s tribute to Dizzy Gillespie, “Without You, No Me.”  That’s on Jimmy Heath’s most recent release, Little Man, Big Band, on Verve. [ETC.]

That whole set of music inspired lots of conversation while we were off-mike, and many comments,  You were saying, Jimmy, how Kenny Clarke would sustain a real excitement and fire at a medium tempo, and then Tootie interjected that Buhaina, Art Blakey, did it, too — the drummers that we heard on the last selections.  So maybe we can start from there.

JH:    Well, Kenny Clarke… I played with Kenny Clarke in the Symphony Sid All-Stars, and that was Miles Davis, J.J., Milt Jackson, Percy Heath and myself, and Symphony Sid, the D.J., took us on the road, and we did several gigs, including the Apollo, and one in Cleveland, one in Atlantic City.  We didn’t have a pianist.  The groove was always there, because Klook, as he was known, was a fiery drummer at all tempos, and in particular in a walking Swing groove he could keep the fire going.  And Percy and Klook was a love affair from the first time.

Percy still considers Kenny Clarke to be the world’s great drummer ever.  They got together again… I was on a thing in Africa, in Dakar, when it was the twentieth anniversary of the independence of that country.  And I was on a thing with Dizzy and Clifford Jordan and Jimmy Owens and Sonny Fortune, I think, and Kenny Clarke came from Paris, and Percy.  And it was a love affair started all over again.  That was maybe twenty-five years after we had played with him earlier.

Another thing about Kenny Clarke is, in his book that his wife sent me recently, he said that his favorite band… I forgot… He said Sonny Stitt on alto and Jimmy Heath on tenor was his favorite band.  So that’s another reason I have always loved Kenny Clarke, because he appreciated my playing also.

Q:    Tootie Heath, a few words about both Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey.

AH:    Well, my brother has a little advantage here, because he had the pleasure of playing with these people, and I am only going by recordings and live performances.  So I can be objective, but I was never really in it, so I don’t really know the feeling.  But from my perspective, you know, as a drummer and just listening to the rhythm, or the sustenance of the rhythm is the main thing in playing drums as far as I’m concerned — and I learned that from Kenny Clarke and from Art Blakey.  It was always a smooth cushion, and then there were other little exciting things going on, very subtle, with both of those drummers, Art Blakey as well as Kenny Clarke.  But Art Blakey had a little more… His dynamic range was a little wider than Kenny.  But Kenny Clarke would play with a big band as well as with a small group, and be very dynamic also.  I don’t mean that he didn’t have the dynamics.  He definitely had dynamics.  But Art Blakey had a special group experience, I think, that Kenny Clarke didn’t have, because Art Blakey played in his own band most of the time and with his own musicians.

Q:    And he shaped all the compositions as well…

AH:    Absolutely.

Q:    …which I don’t know if you could say that about Kenny Clarke so explicitly.

AH:    Kenny had less time to deal with the material.  Usually it was on a recording session like Dexter’s, he would fly in or come in from wherever… In this instance, he was in Paris, so he would just come in and do the recording.  They didn’t have any preparation time most of the time.  And the results were amazing, I mean, for the time that they put in, with the time he put in with the music, in terms of… Well, other drummers like Max Roach had his own people that he played with for long periods of time also.  But see, Kenny Clarke didn’t have that advantage.  He was always free-lancing, other than with the Modern Jazz Quartet…

JH:    Francy Boland.

AH:    Yeah, he did that for a while.  He sure did.  That was kind of a long-term affair, with that band, and it was basically the same personnel.  And it was about eight or nine years that band stayed together.

Q:    The band Jimmy referred to is the Francy Boland-Kenny Clarke Big Band, with many of the greatest musicians in Europe through the Sixties and early Seventies.

AH:    That’s right.  But that was in a big band context, so that was a little different from the Art Blakey comparison.

Q:    Two more musicians.  We heard “C.T.A.” at the end of the set, and that was recorded as part of a Miles Davis session in 1953.  And I know that Jimmy Heath had a very close relationship with Miles Davis, who recorded a number of your pieces.  One of them, twelve years later, was “Gingerbread Boy.”  Say a few words about your relationship with Miles and your initial hook-up.

JH:    Well, I met Miles when he was with Charlie Parker, in the quintet, in 1948.  And we became friends, and we talked about harmony, and we discussed chords and sequences, and we hung out together socially.  Miles was the same age, and we had a lot in common in that respect.  But he was always a very bright musician who was very changeable.  He’s a Gemini person, and he would change.  He liked to change his music and try to come up with something new, which he would… Throughout his career he did start new trends.  He started the modal playing.  He gave that its birth.  If he didn’t start it, he is the one who gets credit for that.  And there are other phases of the music that Miles went through in his later years with the electronic support and Funk beat.  You know, Miles was always ahead.  Like the record says, “Miles Ahead.”

Q:    And he employed your son, Mtume, in some of those bands as well.

JH:    Well, I think Miles had everybody in our family to play with him at once… Tootie, didn’t you play with Miles?

AH:    Yes.

JH:    And Percy and myself — and my son.

Q:    Then before that, we heard Dexter Gordon playing “A Night In Tunisia.”  While that was playing… Jimmy Heath hadn’t heard that record before, but you were pointing out during a couple of passages in Dexter Gordon’s solo, you said, “Hear that?  Hear where Trane’s sound is coming from?”  And you said indeed that you and Benny Golson and Coltrane were all very enamored with his playing in the 1940′s — as were many other tenor players around the country.

JH:    Oh yeah.  Around the world.  You know, Dexter had that crying sound in the top register of his horn also.  He influenced Coltrane.  In the earlier Coltrane performances and back home in Philly, I knew… Trane, we all were listening to Dexter.  Because Dexter was swinging hard.  He was a Bebop player who swung hard.  He was a connection between Lester and Charlie Parker, and out of that era he found a way to play the Bebop language on the tenor that was unique — and we all wanted to be like that.  Like everybody wants to be like Mike; we wanted to be like Dexter.

Q:    Tootie, you worked sometimes in Europe with Dexter, and there’s a wonderful recording called The Apartment in particular that I can think of on Steeplechase, where you and Kenny Drew and Niels-Henning Orsted-Pederson are backing him.  What was he like to play with for you as a drummer?

AH:    Well, you know, I entered in Dexter’s career at a time when his health had started to be a factor.  And it took him a while to get started, and we kind of had to compensate for Dexter’s…what do you call it…?  It was like a little delay.  So the Dexter Gordon that my brother is talking about is a different Dexter Gordon.  But it was a wonderful experience.  I mean, whenever he got started and got going, it was a wonderful experience.  But at the time, you know, his health was really playing a major role in his performance.  And unfortunately, this happened with Lester Young, too, who is another person that I had the chance to catch…

Q:    When was that, and how did that happen?

AH:    With Lester?  Well, I was locally playing around Philadelphia, and a friend of mine that was a bass player (he doesn’t play any more; his name is Jimmy Bond), he had what was called the house trio at this club called the Showboat.  And the Showboat would employ Lester Young, Max Roach, and people like that, and Dakota Staton and so forth.  And Lester would appear there maybe three times a year.  And  Jimmy Bond called me one time, and said, “Do you want to be in the house trio and play to support Lester Young?”  I said, “Man, that would be a treat.”  So I did it, and that’s how I got to be the drummer for Lester… Whenever he came to Philly and played at that club, I would be the drummer.  And I got a chance to know him, and I got a chance to learn a lot about playing time and things like that.

Q:    Did he say anything explicitly to you?  There are a number of little pearls of Lester Young quotes.  Jimmy is laughing here.

AH:    Yeah, he used to say… He said a lot of things!  A lot of things I can’t repeat, because you know, Lester had a unique way of speaking.  And I can’t say some of the things because you’re on the air, and they have some regulations about that.

Q:    One or two.

AH:    One or two, yeah.  So I’d better not say the things.  I’d have to try to rephrase things, and then they lose…

Q:    The pungency.

AH:    Yeah.  They lose the whole thing. [JH LAUGHING]  But I learned a lot from him as a man as well as a musician.  Just his way of being in the world, and seeing other people and other musicians and so forth.

Q:    While the music was playing, I think Jimmy had a quote from Prez to John Coltrane that I think is repeatable over the air.

AH:    Oh, he said he heard Lady Coltrane playing all of those snakes.  Yeah, he referred to everybody as Lady.  And I think that came from Billie Holiday being Lady Day.  And anybody that meant anything to him special, he would always refer to them as “Lady” — which was a very respectable term.  I mean, when he called you “Lady,” I mean, that was very special.  The same as they called Fats Navarro “Fat Girl”  It wasn’t a derogatory thing.  It was just something very special.  He called George Wein “Lady Moon Beams” because he had a bald head, you know…

Q:    Speaking of ladies and speaking of “Fat Girl,” we heard “Lady Bird” by Tadd Dameron performed by the Tadd Dameron Septet, featuring Fats Navarro.  Fats Navarro was one of the major figures in his brief life, and certainly affected Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan, who came out of the Philly area, and Jimmy Heath was certainly very explicitly affected by Tadd Dameron’s conception of writing.

JH:    Yeah, Fats Navarro came to my house, as many of the musicians did, including Miles, Dizzy and all of them… My mother would invite anyone to dinner who we invited.  She would treat them as if they were their children or their friends.

Q:    What would she make for them?

JH:    Oh, she would make anything that she was cooking, whatever — fried chicken or whatever.  And we had everybody down to my house, Coleman Hawkins and Bird and everybody.  In this particular case, she would be preparing things for anybody that would be there.  Fats Navarro came there and took out his trumpet, and started to play a little bit.  And my Mom always said that she liked Fats Navarro’s tone better than Dizzy and Miles.  She could hear something in his sound that she liked.  And I know for a fact that when Clifford Brown came around Philly from Wilmington, Delaware, he was enamored with Fats Navarro, that’s who his love was — and he began to play something like that until he found his own style.  And the generation passing down passed on to Lee Morgan, who played like Clifford, and the people who came  along… So it was a continuum of the music.

But Fats Navarro was one of the strong voices of Bebop that didn’t last long in his life.   He just died young.  But he was a powerhouse of a trumpet player.  I heard him with the Tadd Dameron…I think it was something like an octet in the Royal Roost, and Dizzy had his big band in there at the same time.  He had just come back from a successful West Coast tour with Chano Pozo and all that.  And Fats Navarro was screaming on Dizzy in there.  I mean, they both were powerful.  But Fats was beginning to gain a lot of recognition, and while Dizzy was out…they both were… But they were different.  Dizzy was the source of where Fats Navarro came from.  But Fats was a very… He could play very high and clear, and with a very clear sound.  He had a warm trumpet sound.

And they all were wonderful musicians.  But Fats was really a talent at that time.  And Tadd Dameron used to like to use Fats to play all his first trumpet parts, because he could play the trumpet parts like he liked to hear them.  Because Tadd was a person whose delicacy musically…you would take him to be effeminate or something.  Because he would sing everything, LA-DEDADA…you know… And he loved the way Fats could sing his melodies.  He was a person who was very lyrical, like a Billy Strayhorn.

Q:    Tadd Dameron.

JH:    Yeah, Tadd Dameron.

Q:    Really all of his compositions were informed by that lyrical sensibility.  Did you know Tadd Dameron?  Were you ever able to sit down with him and go through things?

JH:    Oh yeah.  I knew Tadd very well.  I was supposed to be in one of the bands, but I had had…I got sick at the time and couldn’t make it — and Benny Golson made it.  That was the Dameronia band.  I was supposed to be in that band.  There were a lot of occasions where I was supposed to be in bands, and I got sick.  I had a problem during that time.  Max Roach’s first band, before Harold Land got in, I was the tenor player who Max wanted at that time.  I stayed ill for a few years, maybe four years, five years.

Q:    We’re speaking with Jimmy Heath and Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath, and it’s been an education over the last 45 minutes.  We wanted to play a couple of selections that feature different drummers who again had a big impact on Tootie.  But by the way, I’d like to ask you (I guess it’s sort of obvious), where did the nickname ‘Tootie’ come from?

AH:    Well, you have one.  Your name is Ted, right?

Q:    Well, yes, but…

AH:    Are you named Theodore?

Q:    Yes, I am.

AH:    There you go.  I got mine just like you got yours.

Q:    Albert…

JH:    [LAUGHING]

AH:    Well, it’s just a different name.  My grandfather gave it to me.  And where he came from with it, maybe my brother Jimmy could answer that.  Because I never got a chance to ask him before he died…

Q:    It just got put on you, this name?

AH:    Well, we all had nicknames, the whole family.  But I chose to keep mine, or… I don’t know if I chose to keep it or if it just stuck.  But I still have it, and I like it, and it suits me.  I look like Tootie now.  I don’t look like Albert.  I look like Tootie.

Q:    What was Jimmy’s nickname?

AH:    I’m not going to tell you.  I’ll let him tell you that.

JH:    [LAUGHS]  Percy’s was Percolator.  And mine was Skookum.  I don’t know where that came from, so I’ll let that one go.

Q:    The next selection we’ll hear comes from a 1953 session for Prestige under Miles Davis’ leadership.  This is a very famous session.  Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker both appear here on tenor saxophones, and Walter Bishop on piano, Percy’s on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums.  Now, Jimmy has a comment.

JH:    Yeah, I’ve got a definite comment.  I had that song written, the line that they call “Serpent’s Tooth,” and I was supposed to make that record, but Bob Weinstock or whoever was in charge of Prestige said, “Look, I don’t know any Jimmy Heath.  Let’s get Charlie Parker.  He wants to make a date on tenor, so let’s get him to make the date on tenor.”  So I gave this line to Miles, an untitled line, and said, “Well, Miles, I can’t make the date; would you record my piece?”  And he did, but he put his name on it, “Serpent’s Tooth,” and his name as the composer.  So that’s the way that goes.  And Sonny and Percy are the ones who are left that will tell you that is my song.  And Clark Terry knows about it because he had a big band arrangement from Phil Woods, and Phil Woods knows that that was my song.  But Miles got credit for it.

Q:    Before we play “Serpent’s Tooth,” I’d like to get a couple of comments on Philly Joe Jones by Tootie Heath, who had to come up under him in Philadelphia during those years.

AH:    Well, about Philly Joe.  He was probably one of the most amazing players that you’d ever want to…well, I’ll say musicians — because he played music on the drums.  Philly Joe was… Oh yeah, and my brother’s making the piano sign over here.  He played some serious piano, too.  Philly Joe was probably a major influence on me, as well as many others, and he made a tremendous impact on this music when he finally came to New York and started to record.  Because he was playing… The way that he was playing when he recorded with Miles, he was playing like that around Philadelphia.  If you were lucky, you could catch him playing in a group with some guys like Jimmy Oliver and Shuggie(?) Rhodes(?) and Red Garland, and… I guess that would be the basic quartet, bass, drums and piano.  And like I said, if you were lucky, you could catch him playing with these people.  And when he moved to New York finally, then the world got a chance to hear him, because he joined the Miles Davis group, and then we all know what happened after that.  They made some of the most powerful recordings together that have come about in this particular music, in this genre that we’re talking about since I can remember.   Now, this is only my personal opinion, of course, but I…

Q:    Well, that’s what the Musician Show is all about.

AH:    Well, recordings like Round Midnight, that album, and the Gil Evans series that Philly Joe did with Miles Davis and some others that I can’t think of right now.  But I heard one the other day which was Coltrane’s date, and he used Miles on trumpet, but Coltrane was the leader.  But it was the Miles Davis group… Now, the guy on the radio said this.  Now, I don’t remember whose date it was.  But they were playing some music like I had never heard, something  regular like “I Got Rhythm” or something like that.  I forgot what it was.  Are you familiar with that record?

Q:    No, I’m not.  The one that I can think of is Cannonball and Miles…

AH:    No.

Q:    …but that’s a different date.

AH:    It could have been the Miles Davis group mistakenly… You know, the DJ could have made a mistake and said it was Coltrane.  But they said Coltrane was the leader of this.  But Miles Davis played trumpet on it.  And man, Philly Joe was immaculate on it, like he was most times you’d ever catch him.  He was always…

Q:    He played with a real elegance all the time.

AH:    Man, he had a snap and a sound and a feeling that… You know, it was just big and broad.

Q:    Well, let’s hear “The Serpent’s Tooth,” and then we’ll hear a final wrap-up with Jimmy and Tootie Heath, who are appearing at the Village Vanguard this week… [ETC.]

[MUSIC]

“Daahoud” by Clifford Brown.  That’s from a 1954 session by the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet with Harold Land, George Morrow and Richie Powell. [ETC.]

I’d like to thank the Heaths for their generous comments and just for really a quick cram course on some of the essentials of the legacy of the music today.  Jimmy Heath, thank you very much.

JH:    Well, Ted, it’s always a pleasure to speak with you.  You’re so knowledgeable of the music, and I respect your knowledge and I’m glad to have been here.

Q:    Well, thank you.  And it’s a pleasure to meet you, Albert Heath.

AH:    Well, it was a real pleasure to do a real interview in New York City and be able to talk to all of these people… And Art Taylor, I know I left you out, but please don’t be angry.  And Elvin Jones, if you’re listening, I know I stole your stuff, too.  And all you guys that I left out, please don’t be angry with me.  Just come down to the Vanguard and we can make up.

[ETC.]

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Filed under Albert "Tootie" Heath, DownBeat, Interview, Jimmy Heath, Tenor Saxophone, WKCR