Category Archives: trumpet

For Olu Dara’s Birthday, An Uncut 2002 Blindfold Test

Back in 2002, when he was recording for Atlantic Records, trumpeter Olu Dara, who turned 73 today, sat with me at Atlantic’s offices for a DownBeat Blindfold Test. Here are the unedited proceedings.

Olu Dara Blindfold Test:

1.    Louis Armstrong, “You Go To My Head” (from LOUIS ARMSTRONG MEETS OSCAR PETERSON, Verve, 1956) (5 stars)

From the first couple of notes, although he has a cup mute, if it’s not Satch, it’s someone who’s been living with him all his life in the back room somewhere. [AFTER] Of course that was Louis Armstrong.  A lot of the trumpet players from that era had a certain sound, it was a staccato, but you know it’s Satch with the vibrato at the end of his phrases.  That’s how you can really tell.  And the tone.  I usually prefer Satch playing other type of songs, not these conventional standard type songs.  It’s a strange thing for me.  It’s like a hybrid of something… Knowing where he came from, New Orleans, the Southern thing, him doing this is like a Chinese singing a Puerto Rican song.  You know what I mean?  It’s hard to describe.  Now, the piano player sounds exactly like something McCoy Tyner played, almost note for note.  I don’t know who came first, this piano player or McCoy, but it’s an exact duplicate of the way McCoy played behind Coltrane on “Ballads.” [This piano player came first?]  Who is he?  Oscar Peterson?  Amazing.  In instrumental music there’s a lot of…it’s not copying, but they almost cookie-cutter each other.  It’s amazing how that happens, especially in jazz music.  Anyway, just because it’s Satch, I would give him everything.  5 stars, 6 or 7.  Because I know he can do that laying on his back.

2.    Leo Smith, “Anoa’s Prophecy” (#8) (from DREAMS AND SECRETS, Anonym, 2000) (5 stars)

It sounds like a jazz bass player and a jazz drummer trying to play funk.  But that is Miles Davis…or someone close to him.  No? [LAUGHS] That’s deep!  Keep playing it!  Is that the trumpet player who writes in film? [Not Mark Isham.] It’s not Mark Isham. [AFTER A HINT] Oh, that’s Leo Smith.  It’s funny about horn players from… I didn’t know who the other people were, but I do recognize horn players close to the Mississippi River.  There are certain things we do…we can do a lot of things, and that’s one of the things we can do.  We can go that way, we can do the Satchmo thing, we can do the Miles Davis thing, we can do the Clark Terry thing, we can do the avant-garde thing.  You’ll find that most trumpeters from this area, where we’re from, we’re documented playing all types of music.  This is close.  That’s why I thought it was Miles at first, because the sound is so real.  It’s authentic, his sound.  The concept also.  Now, the rhythm section is another story.  I’ll give this five stars because of Leo’s conceptual ability to play any type of trumpet style and really play it authentically, like it should be played.  I would say he’s one of the most creative musicians I’ve met, especially on the trumpet.  Period.

3.    Tremé Brass Band, “Gimme My Money Back” (from GIMME MY MONEY BACK, Arhoolie, 1995) (Kermit Ruffins, tp.) (3 stars)

I’ve heard this live in New Orleans.  The Dirty Dozen.  It’s not the Dirty Dozen?  [There are people in this band from the Dirty Dozen, but it's not the Dirty Dozen.] That makes a difference.  That’s not Brass Fantasy, is it?  The saxophonist sounds like Maceo Parker.  The trumpet player sounds like Gregory Williams who plays with the Dirty Dozen.  I can’t identify the horns.  The horns sound like conventional trumpeters.  It’s hard to play anything other than conventional type trumpet on this type of beat.  So I’m sure I won’t be able to identify the trumpet player. [AFTER] That did sound like the Dirty Dozen, but not the real Dirty Dozen.  Some of the Dirty Dozen you could feel in there.  I couldn’t identify the horn player.  I know the tuba player, Kirk Joseph.  He’s one of the finest tuba players I’ve heard.  I couldn’t identify the trumpet player, because as I said, it’s hard on that type of beat…a trumpet player would have to be extraordinary to be able to create something on that kind of beat other than what trumpet players create on that beat.  But I’m quite sure I may know the trumpet players. [Kermit Ruffins] Oh, I’ve never heard his music.  For being able to play that music in this day and time, I give them 3 stars for just the idea of keeping it around.

4.    David Murray, “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen” (from SPEAKING IN TONGUES, Just In Time, 1997) (Hugh Ragin, tp.; Fontella Bass, vocals) (3 stars)

I don’t know who it is, but it’s…I don’t know what you can call it.  It’s “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen”.  I know it wasn’t produced in the South.  They wouldn’t do that with that beat on it, and especially playing a lot of notes on the solo, since it’s a lament.  So it seems like a strange way to do that.  I’m quite sure they’re young musicians, but were young musicians doing it.  Let me see what else you got there.  Right now the introduction was too long, so I didn’t want to hear more.  Sounds like Mavis Staples singing.  But it’s not Mavis.  I can’t identify anybody.  I can’t really feel it.  That’s David Murray right there.  [AFTER] Fontella Bass.  I was in the ballgame!  I didn’t know who the trumpet player was.  But he didn’t grow up in that environment with that kind of music.  But you could clearly hear David.  David has a very distinctive concept and tone.  I didn’t know Fontella, because I hadn’t heard her since “Rescue Me.”  That’s been a jillion years ago.  She reminded me of Mavis in a way.  Just for the idea itself, once we got past the introduction [LAUGHS] and got to Fontella and David’s solo, then it made sense.  I’ll give it 3 stars for all of that.

5.    Fred McDowell, “Going Down The River” (from THE FIRST RECORDINGS, Rounder, 1959/1997) (5 stars)

[TO HIS SON] We may have it at home, but I probably haven’t listened to it.  I know it’s out of Mississippi.  That’s one of our people.  But it could be anybody.  I don’t listen to a lot of CDs as it is.  But I know he’s from Mississippi.  But there are hundreds of us who can sing like that down there.  So I wouldn’t be able to identify this man at all.  That’s creative music right there.  That’s where a lot of jazz comes from.  If you listen closely, you can hear a saxophone solo in the guitar work.  You can hear Monk in this man’s voice, you can hear big band arrangements, everything right here.  You can hear Miles Davis, “Freddie Freeloader” — BANH-BAM, it was the same note.  A good band!  Sounds very Mississippi.  Very.  But I don’t know who he is.  Mmm!  I probably know who he is and don’t know who he is at the same time. [AFTER] That was beautiful music of the best kind.  Who he was… Fred McDowell.  I have heard him before, but I didn’t recognize him.  That’s a 5-star for the whole outfit, from the drummer, guitar players — extraordinary music.  Like I said, you can hear all types of music from right there.  You can hear Duke’s band, you can hear Monk, you can hear Louis, you can hear everybody with that one song.

6.    Mingus-Clark Terry, “Clark In The Dark” (from THE COMPLETE TOWN HALL CONCERT, Blue Note, 1962/1994) (3 stars)

[IMMEDIATELY] Is that Duke Ellington?  It sounds like Clark Terry playing the trumpet.  Sounds like Duke’s band.  Mingus?  Okay..  Duke or Mingus, because they had a tendency to use arbitrary notes in their ensemble playing.  That’s what I heard.  They were one of the few bands that would use just arbitrary notes.  They’re called arbitrary notes by some, but to me it’s proof that all notes go together if they’re done with the right people playing them and the right attitude.  It’s not the kind of music I like to listen to, but I would give it 3 stars for being able to make instrumental music sound real soulful.

7.    Chocolate Armenteros, “Choco’s Guajira” (from GRUPO FOLKLORICO EXPERIMENTAL NUEVOYORQUINO: CONCEPTS IN UNITY, Evidence, 1975/1994) (5 stars)

Is that Cuban music?  Is it Sandoval on trumpet?  I love this kind of groove.  when I first heard this kind of sound, I was in Cuba many years ago. [TO HIS SON] The vocalists sound Puerto Rican.  It’s hard for me to identify a Spanish-speaking band, very difficult because I don’t speak the language.  I can’t identify the soloists at all.  They have a certain solo style that’s kind of similar, which is why it’s hard for me to identify the musicians.  But they have a Congolese-Cuban kind of feeling to it.  Sounds like they’re making music in New York City.  I can tell because of the claves and the conga drums.  Because the Cubans and the Congolese have a much heavier congo sound, but here they use timbales.  The claves are a central instrument.  But I have no idea who they are. [AFTER] Jerry and Andy Gonzalez are excellent musicians.  Not only do they play the music of their people, but they can give a feeling of Cubano and also the jazz music.  They know how to do very good mixes on music here.  I liked the trumpet player.  Was he Jerry?  Oh, Chocolate.  I don’t know if he’s from Cuba or not.  But I could recognize that pure Cuban trumpet style.  That’s why I said Cuban in the beginning. [Do you feel a connection to that style?] Yeah, there’s a connection.  Armstrong had that style, and early trumpeters had that style, and I feel that style is still in me.  I feel a connection with the Cuban trumpet style or Hugh Masakela.  Those styles are not spoken about much, but they are not as easy to play as people think they are.  You have to have a real feeling for it to play that trumpet style.  5 stars all the way.

8.    Blue Mitchell, “Hootie Blues” (from A SURE THING, Riverside, 1960/1994) (Jimmy Heath, ts., arranger) (3 stars) (Wynton Kelly, piano; Jimmy Heath, arr.)

Sounds like Wynton Kelly on the piano, which makes it a stronger blues.  The blues was kind of lightweight with the head and everything.  Wynton Kelly is one of the few pianists who plays contemporary jazz that could be identified not only by musicians, but the masses, so to speak — the listeners, the non-musicians, whatever.  He had a certain signature.  The trumpeter came in with a Miles Davis lick, but I’m quite sure it’s not Miles!  He came in with a Miles Davis lick that civilians know! [LAUGHS] I wouldn’t have done that.  Now, who could that be?  Sounds like Blue Mitchell. [AFTER] I don’t really like the tune that much.  It’s a lightweight blues head.  The recording isn’t that good because I can’t hear Wynton’s real sound, nor Blue’s.  But it shows you how great they were.  With that thin recorded sound, you still can identify Blue  Mitchell and Wynton Kelly.  I’ll give it 3 stars for them.  Without Wynton and Blue, I don’t think I could have listened to it.

9.    Sidney DeParis, “The Call Of The Blues” (#16) (from THE BLUE NOTE JAZZMEN, 1944/1998) (5 stars) (Jimmy Shirley, guitar; Ed Hall, clarinet; Vic Dickenson, tb.)

Cootie Williams?  Bubber Miley?  It’s a very interesting concept he has, the trumpet player.  He didn’t play the lick form, which is very unusual.  Charlie Christian?  Is this the ’40s?  It’s really difficult for me to identify any of these people because I was only a mere child, and then I didn’t listen… The rhythmic concept is unusual, because there’s a boogie-woogie beat, there’s a straight jazz beat, and there’s a rhythm-and-blues beat mixed up in it.  An old jazz sound coming from…now they mixed that with a Dixieland sound.  So it has multiple concepts in it.  The way they do the solos is not conventional, not as conventional as famous people who will solo?  Is the trombonist Trummy Young?  Dickie Wills?  I would never guess the trombone player.  Not Al Gray?  Not Vic Dickenson?  Okay.  Sounds like somebody Clark Terry might have listened to.  Did this trumpet player ever play with Duke’s band? [Yes.] It’s not Artie Whetsol.  It’s not Cat Anderson!  Ray Nance?  Sounded like Hot Lips or Red Allen for a while.  Guy’s great, whoever he is.  Just right.  But I never heard him, ever.  But that was a beautiful record.  That’s when creative music I thought was at its best.  The horn players really played.  Everybody played what should be played, nothing more and nothing less.  5 stars.

10.    Wynton Marsalis, “Sunflowers” (#13) (from THE MARCIAC SUITE, Columbia, 1999) (3 stars)

Are all these guys under 40?  I can hear the youth.  They sound like college players.  In the tones, yeah.  Sounds like they all went to the same institution, either college or music school.  You can tell by the tone.  The tones sound  similar.  You don’t hear any individual tone.  You’d have to know them personally to know their tone.  And there’s not much space in the music.  That’s another way you can tell.  Then they have the pianissimo things, the forte things, so I can tell they’re university or music school.  Then they’ve got that Miles Davis “All Blues” thing hidden in there somewhere!  But I don’t know who they are.  There are a lot of glissandos and triplets.  They don’t sound relaxed.  They’re young, under 40.  That’s enough of that one. [AFTER] I don’t know who they are, but I would give them 3 stars just for wanting to be musicians.

11.    Craig Harris, “Harlem” (#5) (from ISTANBUL, Double Moon, 1998) (Carla Cook, vocals; Craig Harris, tb., arr.) (3 stars)

Sounds like Craig Harris on trombone.  That’s one of his licks.  I probably know the singer personally, but I don’t recognize her.  I know Carla Cook, I’ve ever worked with her, but on the CD I didn’t recognize her voice.  I don’t know what they were doing.  I live in Harlem, too, so I understand what they were saying.  It’s nice.  I’d give them 3 stars for trying to do what they were trying to do. [What were they trying to do?] I don’t know yet! [LAUGHS]

12.    Cootie Williams, “Dooji Wooji” (from THE DUKE’S MEN, VOL.2, Columbia, 1939/1993) (5 stars) (Johnny Hodges, as)

Is that Duke Ellington?  It’s part of his group.  Somebody has broken away, Johnny Hodges or somebody.  But who?  Could it be Cootie?  It sounds like Cootie’s band away from the Duke, with Duke on the piano.  It’s excellent.  This is top-grade, high-quality stuff.  I had never heard Cootie’s group, but you  could just feel it!  I hear Johnny Hodges there.  This is excellent.  That’s what I mean you can tell between the old heads and the young heads.  There’s a certain feeling.  You can dance to this.  You can get images of people, not  just men, but women, children, food and drink.  You can hear church and nightclub.  It takes you there.  Really, to me it’s all about tone.  The tone has to have that real feeling, and not just academic.  That’s beautiful.  5 stars.  You know that.  That’s it!  That’s the stuff right there.  It doesn’t even exist any more.  It’s not here any more..

13.    Neville Marcano, “Senorita Panchita” (from THE GROWLING TIGER OF CALYPSO, Rounder, 1962/1998) (5 stars)

Sounds South American.  But then it sounds Cuban also.  I’m especially attracted to this kind of music because it has so many mixtures in it.  To me, this is one of the first multicultural musics.  I hear many cultures in it.  Spanish, the island people, the African, the Cape Verdean people I hear.  Now, who this is, I have no idea.  Sounds raw.  The bass almost sounds like he’s playing a tub.  I’m sure it’s a real bass, but just the way he hits it.  And how loose the rhythm is, but still in rhythm.  It sounds like a neighborhood band.  I like that sound also!  And this type of vocalization is excellent.  It’s what the young people are doing now.  I like to vocalize like this also.  Free form vocalization is beautiful.  There’s a musician named Garth something from England.  He’s a singer-rapper.  He’s very popular now.  He’s got a vocal style that’s just exactly like him.  This kid must be 21-22 years old.  He has a moustache, like that.  He’s from England and he’s a rapper.  He’s talking about being at his girlfriend’s house and his parents don’t know he’s there, he don’t mean any harm.  He wears a little white kufi.  This is old, right?  Ah, ’60s.  This is excellent stuff.  Because the kids are using it now. [Any idea where he's from?] It sounds like Martinique…not Martinique or Surinam or somewhere like that. [KUFI:  It sounds like from the islands.] It’s an island sound.  To me it  sounds like Cuba.  Trinidad?  That’s definitely 5 stars.  The vocal alone, just the style of it alone.  The looseness of it is beautiful.

14.    Art Blakey & Jazz Messengers, “Afrique” (from THE WITCH DOCTOR, Blue Note, 1961/1999) (Lee Morgan, trumpet) (5 stars)

[IMMEDIATELY] Lee Morgan!  The greatest!!  This is a man who’s an unsung hero in the history of jazz.  There’s none like him.  They talk about Dizzy, Miles, a lot of them.  But this man here, he’s the only trumpet player I know, back in the day, who had direct fans, people who SCREAMED when he came on.  Just the average man on the street liked Lee Morgan.  He’s the only trumpet player I know in the history of the music that the common man on the street liked, the man who was not a jazz fan.  I’ve seen this with my own eyes.  Now, who Lee Morgan is with I have no idea.  Is that Billy Higgins on drums?  Wait a minute.  Is the tenor player Billy Harper?  Not Frank Mitchell?  Whoo, who is this?  John Gilmore?  Oh, Wayne Shorter!  I got it now! [LAUGHS] Wayne threw me off for a minute because Wayne is so… I’m talking about in the past.  It sounded like Wayne in the past, when he played more street; he had a street sound to him.  Tenor saxophone.  No soprano.  Beautiful.  This dude right here brought a lot of young people into jazz music.  Is that Buhaina? [You didn't recognize Buhaina right away.] Well, because I was listening for something else.  When they came in, it was an unusual gathering of the musical instruments together doing something they didn’t normally do.  So I didn’t listen for Bu until they got to the solos.  Drummers don’t play that beat.  These are the guys who brought people of my generation into jazz who may not have wanted to go into jazz.  The tone of Lee Morgan — impeccable.  He was straight-out.  He didn’t try to do anything else but play straight out.  He didn’t try to fool you with anything or try to be different or even try to be intellectual.  To me, he was intellectual and street-wise at the same time.  A brilliant man.  The whole group.  Is that Timmons on piano?  The whole group.  Philadelphia bass player.  Jymie Merritt.  For jazz in that era, that was it.  Five stars.  Of course!  All the way.

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Filed under Blindfold Test, DownBeat, Olu Dara, trumpet

A 1992 WKCR Interview with Ira Sullivan, Who Turned 82 Yesterday

Just noticed that yesterday was the 82nd birthday of Ira Sullivan, the magnificent multi-instrumentalist who has inspired several generations of South Florida musicians since moving there from Chicago more than 40 years ago. I had an opportunity to interview the maestro on WKCR in June 1992 while he was in residence at the Village Vanguard with a quartet, and am presenting the transcript below.

* * * *

Q:    It’s my pleasure to introduce a musician who is really beyond category, a virtuosic instrumentalist on trumpet, fluegelhorn, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute…and what am I missing?

IS:    Oh, I don’t know.  I play some drums if I have to.

Q:    Did you ever do a record as the whole band?

IS:    I’ve been asked…

Q:    You once did a record where you played all of the instruments.

IS:    Yeah, I have never heard that.  I have heard about it.  But I have been asked to do that, but I haven’t planned anything yet.  The only time I think I did any overdubbing was on that Bernie Brightman Stash record with Hank Jones and Duffy Jackson.  We went in, and we had seven hours; we did seven tunes in seven hours.  I went back another couple of hours.  I left the holes open, you know, so I could go in the next day and overdub the fluegelhorn parts.

Q:    And there are some sections where you do exchanges with yourself as well.

IS:    Right, right.  That was interesting.

Q:    Anyway, we haven’t even introduced you.  The person I am talking about, as many of you may already know, is Ira Sullivan, and he is appearing at the Village Vanguard at the helm of a quartet this week, featuring pianist Reuben Brown, bassist David Williams, and drummer Steve Bagby.  When was the last time you led a group in New York playing your music with this type of a band?

IS:    Well, I always feel I’m the leader, because I only have myself to contend with, you know.  I have never believed that man needed a leader.  I have always thought that to be starting so young, the leader was Christ.  Jesus is the leader to me, and everything else is just superfluous.  I mean, we just do…we bring all our talents to what we do, and do it.  I never think of pecking order, you know.
I play with different people so much.  See, growing up in Chicago, when I’d get a job for a quartet, I’d get calls from 12 or 18 musicians saying, “Hey, I hear you got a job this Friday night.  I’m available.”  Well, you can only hire three other guys.  So I always had this wonderful wellspring of great musicians to choose from, that’s what I’ve done all my life.  I’ve never really kept a band together for a long time.

Q:    When did you start performing professionally in Chicago?  How old were you and…

IS:    I was 16 when I started playing at the jam sessions.

Q:    Was that about 1948?

IS:    No.  I was still in high school then.  I think 1948 is when I got out of high school.

Q:    What was the situation that led up to you performing?  You’ve been playing since you were three or four years old.

IS:    I started when I was 3-1/2, yes.

Q:    On a record you did for Horizon, there’s a picture that shows you playing the trumpet, and the trumpet literally is almost as big as you are.  Was that your first instrument?

IS:    Actually, as you notice, I’m almost resting it against my knee there.  The trumpet was my first instrument, yeah.  I never picked up anything else until I was in high school and I had to for the school band.  I became a trouble-shooter.  You know, when somebody was absent, I got the call.  My father had a record by Clyde McCoy called “Sugar Blues” that I wanted to play.  I wanted to work the wah-wah mute, the little Harmon mute on the end that makes it sound like a baby’s cry.  So he got me one of the little short German cornets, a little fat cornet that you’ve probably seen some guys in the early bands play.  I think Joe Thomas used to play one in Basie’s sextet.  And so I could work that wah-wah mute.  But the trumpet you saw was a long, full-sized trumpet, and that was my first instrument and it remained my first instrument until high school.

Q:    You grew up in what part of Chicago?

IS:    The North Side of Chicago, and then later the South Side.

Q:    And your father I gather was an avid listener to music and collector of instruments.

IS:    My father was from a family of fourteen children, and they all played instruments.  One uncle was with Souza’s band, and another was in what I guess they called Ragtime at that time — you know, free Dixieland.  He was an improviser.  He was the first one who taught me about playing Free, actually, way before Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor and all those fellows.  He taught me about playing impressionistic music when I was ten years old.

Q:    What was his name?

IS:    Tom Sullivan.  Thomas Sullivan.

Q:    Did he play professionally?

IS:    Yes.  He was in the Jazz band I talked about.  I had never heard him, but he was an improviser.  My Dad played.  He had beautiful chops and a very good tone, and he just played for relaxation when he came home from his business.  He was like a Charlie Spivak, Harry James, very clean, you know, straight melody — he didn’t improvise.  In fact, when I was five and six and we used to play together he always would turn to me and ask me, “Ira, where are you getting all of those extra notes?”   See, because I’d be putting little obbligatos in and stuff.

Q:    And was that coming from your imagination at that time?

IS:    Yes.

Q:    So there was always music around you, from the very earliest part of your life.

IS:    Always.  Always.  Our family reunions were meals, the women cooked all day and then we had dinner about 4:30, and then we played the rest of the night.  All the neighbors would come in.  Every one of my aunts played.  One played violin.  One just played a snare drum.  She had a snare drum with brushes, and she would come in and keep time.  And the gentlemen all played, and another aunt played piano.  So we had quite nice family sessions then.

Q:    Were there records in the house also?

IS:    Oh, sure.  I was firmly steeped in the music of Harry James before he was a popular bandleader.  He was quite a Jazz player, you know.  I had that record of him with Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, you know, playing Boogie-Woogie, and I was fascinated, because I had only heard Harry with the big bands.  I listened to Basie, and really just to every kind of music.  I discovered Classical on my own, because we had it around the house.  But nobody forced me, and said, “Oh, listen to this, listen to this — this is what you should listen to.”  I was given complete freedom.

Q:    Did your parents take you to hear music, the big bands at the theatres or anything like that in the 1930′s and 1940′s?

IS:    Yeah, after I asked them.  Yeah, later on, I’m sure… Well, see, that was a beautiful thing about Chicago.  When you went to see a movie in Downtown Chicago, you got a live band performing.  It could be just Glenn Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra, or even just a dance band.  But I was always thrilled, you know, when the curtains opened.  And one day I remember, I was 14, I saw Woody Herman’s band, with that theme song, you know, they’d come out with.  That was really a very exciting time in my life.  It was common then.  Now it’s hard to find big bands, you know.

Q:    And in these years (we’re talking about, I imagine the years before high school and the early years of high school), which instrumentalists really impressed you?  You mentioned Harry James.  Who apart from he?

IS:    Well, remember I was only a five-year-old child!  Well, I grew on Harry James.  There was Clyde McCoy and Henry Busey, and Muggsy… I heard Dixieland players; I didn’t know what they called it.  I didn’t ever hear the word Jazz until I was 16 and in high school.  To me it was music.  I didn’t call it Swing or Funk or whatever labels they put on.  Then when I got in high school, a senior in high school introduced me to some records I had never heard before, such as Coleman Hawkins on Commodore with young Dizzy Gillespie playing trumpet [sic], then we moved from that into Dexter Gordon and Allen Eager, Charlie Parker — which all gave me another musical direction.  I was definitely intrigued.

Q:    So that turned your head.

IS:    It certainly did, yeah.  And as I say, it set me off in a new direction.  I wanted to learn that language, that Bebop language.

Q:    What sort of musical education was available to you in high school in Chicago?  I know you were already a proficient musician.  But I think it was much more prominent in the schools then than it is today.

IS:    Oh yes.  Yes, that’s the bane of my existence, to go around and talk to these poor musical directors in the schools the people who are trying to promote music, and realize they have trouble actually getting a little band together, whether it’s a stage band to play modern arrangements or just a concert band.  When I was in sixth grade, I had a 90-piece orchestra, 90 to 135 pieces, depending on how many children were graduating and moved out of the school.  So it’s quite thrilling to play with an orchestra when you’re that young, you know, and hear violins and clarinets and everything.  And they weren’t that badly  out of tune.  We had a very good director, as I remember.

And then when I went to high school, I moved right into the concert band in my freshman year, and had certainly enough music… I had two periods of band every day, and I was playing trumpet, and two days of the week I went upstairs to the orchestra room, and got to play with the orchestra.  So it was quite nice.  And of course, I also had a double period of Art.

And it breaks your heart.  Because when I see schools in Florida that can’t even get a music program started, and I realize how kids respond… We did clinics at this Pennsylvania festival.  We start Friday night, and then Saturday morning we do clinics with the high school kids around there.  And we had a young boy who was about 10 years old, Jonathan, and he’s in sixth grade — and you should have heard him play alto.  He went out and played with the high school band.  He’s very precocious now.  When you see children like that, it’s great if they have an outlet in school.  I mean, imagine little children who grow up and they already love, say, poetry or creative art and music. And then the teachers find them falling behind in their other subjects.  Education has lost the idea that if you give a child something that his little heart desires, his spirit is bursting to produce, it might straighten out the rest of his or her’s mental outlook towards the process of education.

Because God, I think, He imbues us each with a unique spirit.  We don’t all love the same things, the same foods.  And what we want to do with our life I think a lot of us know very young.  As I say, I went from crib to the trumpet.  I never asked for anything else in my life to do.  I was quite happy, as long as I could play music.

Q:    [ETC.] We’ll create a set of you performing on trumpet.  We’ll hear “That’s Earl, Brother,” which I imagine you heard at the time you were first introduced to Bebop.

IS:    Actually the first time I heard it, it was by Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Stitt with a rhythm section, and then later I heard it with Dizzy’s big band.

[MUSIC:  "That's Earl, Brother (1977)," "Angel Eyes (1968)," "Everything Happens To Me," "Our Delight"]

“Angel Eyes” comes from Horizons, which was issued in the Eighties on Discovery, featuring I guess the band you worked with in Miami at the time, shortly after you moved there from Chicago in the 1960′s.

IS:    Yes, it was.  1968 that recording was originally done.

Q:    Tell me about your early experiences with Bebop.  Did you hear it on records, or hearing musicians that came through Chicago?

IS:    Well, I started hearing musicians coming through Chicago, as you say.  You were asking earlier about concerts.  I remember when I was 16, my Dad did take me to see… We went to a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert, one of those early ones at the Chicago Opera House.  That was quite exciting.  Then, of course, I heard Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band.  Then when I was about 18, I went to my high school prom, and Gene Krupa was playing in town, and that’s when I met Red Rodney, who was the featured trumpet soloist.  Charlie Ventura was still in that band.

Then, as I say, in high school, I met this gentleman who turned me…had some Dexter Gordon records.  He was a Jazz collector; he had Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie with “Salt Peanuts.”  It threw me for a loop, because I had always been able to, as they do in college now, transcribe solos.  Now the fellows sit around and transcribe the solos off the record, write them down, and then play them.  But I didn’t use this process.  I just memorized the solos, and would try to recreate the phrasing and the breathing that I heard from Roy Eldridge or Buck Clayton or any of the Jazz trumpet players.  Again, reminding you I didn’t know they called it Jazz.  It was just music.  So I just tried to reproduce what I heard.

But then when I heard the Bebop idiom, I could not get near to that at all.  The rhythmic concept, the syncopation, the fast triplets…

[END OF SIDE A]

…or the writers that this will never last, a bunch of silly symphonies, and it’s not going to be around long, and then 20 years later it was so assimilated into the culture, I heard Bebop licks coming out of Lawrence Welk’s horn section, because these young arrangers had grown up and were slyly sneaking some of it in — you know, it was wonderful to see it become part of our culture.

Q:    Of course, you were one of many young musicians in Chicago who were assimilating and developing very individual artistic statements out of the Bebop idiom.  When did you begin to interact with that broader Chicago community of musicians?

IS:    In the jam sessions.  By the time I was 18, I had met a lot of the… Lou Levy, who we used to know as Count Levy in those days, who played with Stan Getz and Peggy Lee, and he’s one of the finest young… I still call him a young player.  He still is, because he was 19 when I met him.  I was out playing with these fellows, and then I finally sort of built a little reputation.  But I noticed they always called me for the jam sessions and not enough for the gigs, see.  So then I had to change that a little bit.

Q:    Now, when did you start incorporating the saxophones into your repertoire?  Were you doing that at this time as well?

IS:    Through being a trouble-shooter with the band.  Well, I didn’t mention my mother also played piano and alto saxophone.  So I always had a saxophone around the house, but I never was really interested in them.  Then in the high school band, as I say, we had 19 trumpets.  So we lost our baritone horn player; he graduated.  So I said, “Well, let me try the baritone horn.”  I started playing on that, and then I took it out to a couple of sessions.  A month or so later, we had a Father’s Night concert, as they called it, in the auditorium.  We had 35 clarinet players and only two tenor saxophone players, and one of them got a cold and was absent.  The band director said, “I don’t what we’re going to do; we need a replacement.”  I said, “I think if you let me take that tenor home, I can handle the part.”  Because tenor saxophones in a concert band, they have nothing to do but long tones, you know.  I took that tenor home, and I sat down, put my Lester Young record on, you know, sat down and just played one… You know how Lester would just get one note, DI-DA-DU-DAH-DOOT… I said, “Gee, I think I can do that.”  So I sat there with my one note all day long, phrasing, getting the rhythm phrasing.

Then I fell in love with the tenor.  I said, “This is quite a horn.”  I started fooling around with it.  It was just nice to be holding a tenor, because now I’d been listening to… I knew they called it Jazz now, and I had been listening to Allen Eager and Dexter Gordon and, of course, Lester Young and fellows around.  So the tenor became fascinating.

And then, when I was about 18 or 19 and started working in Chicago, I couldn’t get a job with a trumpet with a quartet.  You’ve got to remember, now, Chicago is a tenor town.  They had Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin, Dexter Gordon was around, Sonny Rollins spent some time there, Sonny Stitt, and you had Tom Archia, Melvin Scott — great tenor players all over the place.  Don Lanphere was there.  He was one of my early heroes.  I mean, he could play faster on a tenor sax than anybody I’ve ever known.  Kenny Mann was around there.  So it was a tenor town.

So I took that tenor, that borrowed tenor from school, and I started getting in the shed, as they say, and practicing on it — and I learned three tunes.  I learned the Blues, and I learned “I Got Rhythm,” and my fast tune was “Fine and Dandy.”  That way I got a gig.  Once I got a gig…

Q:    “I Got Rhythm” will get you through a lot of jam sessions.

IS:    Get you through a lot of jam sessions.  And the Blues will, too; I mean, you learn them in two or three different keys.  And then I went out, and like I say, we got a job with a quartet.  But then, when I pulled my trumpet out, the club-owner was quite impressed.  He’d say, “Hey, I’ve got a triple-threat man.”  But I could not get hired with a trumpet and a rhythm section.

Q:    Well, how about your history on the alto saxophone?

IS:    Well, as I say, my mother had an alto saxophone at home, so then I started… Well, once I fell in love with Bird’s sound, that naturally would make you curious about the alto.

Q:    When did you first hear Bird?

IS:    I think the first recording would be… I remember the intro: [SINGS REFRAIN]

Q:    “Now’s The Time.”

IS:    “Now Is The Time,” right.  And the other side was “Billie’s Bounce” probably.

Q:    When did you first hear Bird live?

IS:    That would have been at the Jazz At The Philharmonic concert.

Q:    Now, Bird was frequently in Chicago.  Did you get to know him at all, or play alongside him?

IS:    I got to know him after we played together at the Beehive in ’55, actually, which was the year of his demise.

Q:    That was only a couple of weeks before he passed away, I think.

IS:    About a month.  Because he had asked me to come to New York.  He wanted to send for me and bring me to New York.  So I was considering the possibilities of that.  But at the time I could see he was also quite ill.  Not so you’d know it, but I mean, when you’d hang out and talk to him, there were things happening in his life.  His daughter had passed away a year before, and I think that still was taking its toll.

Q:    So you met him at a low ebb.  But musically, what was the experience like?

IS:    Oh, musically it was great.  He had found a doctor who was taking care of him a little bit, and getting him to feel a little better, and giving him the proper medication.  I think they got him full of Vitamin B-12, and sort of… I remember he came in the second night, and he had his usual libation, and he looked at me bright-eyed after the second set, he says, “Strange, I can’t get drunk.”  But he was feeling good, you know, and he was playing good — and we had a really nice time there.

Q:    Who was that band?

IS:    I was just going to say.  I think Norman Simmons was on piano, Victor Sproles on bass, and Bruz Freeman on the drums — Von Freeman’s brother.

Q:    Another tenor player who was prominent in Chicago.

IS:    Oh, Von was another one that I got to play with in the early days.  So it was like growing up with Bird.  It’s like they say, you reveal from one spirit that God had, and when you’re in Jazz, you find that the spirits are one.  We all have individual statements, we’re all trying to get our own voice on our instruments, but the common bond…. For instance, I was just reading some of these liner notes on my albums which I’ve never seen, and I talk about going over in Europe, meeting people over there, they don’t speak the language, but once you sit together in a session, you just mention a tune and you’re off and running.  So that’s one universal language we know that never fails us.

Q:    Well, Chicago in the 1950′s is almost universally described by musicians as one big workshop, where everybody could get their creative self together, so to speak.

IS:    Exactly.

Q:    Just describe the scene a little bit.  There was music on almost every major crosswalk on the South Side, I know.

IS:    Well, yes, and on the North Side, too, as I said before.  We spoke about those big bands.  I mean, you’d go down and see a movie, and you got an hour-and-a-half movie, but you also got a stage show with a great band, and maybe singers, jugglers, dancers, comedians, whatever — but my focal point was always the bands and the musicians.  And there were a lot of clubs to jam in, different clubs where trios were playing.

You had a lot of clubs in downtown Chicago, little bars where there would be a single piano player or a duo or a trio or a quartet.  Downtown, I remember there was a place called the Brass Rail upstairs and the Downbeat Room downstairs.  Henry “Red” Allen had a band there with J.C. Higgenbotham.  Red Saunders was the drummer.  The trumpet player Sonny Cohn was there.  It was really interesting.

As a youngster, I would go downtown, at 16, 17… I remember I’d wear my Jazz coat, and one night I painted a false moustache on with my mother’s eyebrow pencil, you know, so I’d look older.  Naturally, I couldn’t get in; they spotted me right away.  But I went downstairs.  There was a fellow that had worked at my father’s restaurant, and he was now working at the Downbeat room.  So he opened the fire door, and through the fire door, in the mirror there, I could see Henry “Red” Allen and Higgenbotham up there, and I could just catch the two of them.  He let me stand up there, but he said, “Now, if anybody comes by, close that door and get out of here!’  So there I was with my phony moustache and my tweed coat down there, soaking up the Jazz.

Q:    I’d like to ask you about a couple of the musicians in Chicago who have somewhat passed into the realm of legend because they were insufficiently recorded.  Did you ever have a chance to play with the drummer Ike Day behind you?

IS:    Oh, yes.

Q:    Can you describe his style a little bit?

IS:    You’d have to hear Guy Vivaros, who is a gentleman who is quite alive, travels with me a lot, does concerts with me.  Guy was Ike’s second nature.  I mean, that’s all Guy did.  Guy and I have known each other since we were about 17.  Guy got together with Ike Day, and Ike loved Guy, and Guy loved Ike, and Guy had given all his time, just like many teachers do now with young students, and they hung out together, and they just were inseparable.  And he gave Guy as much as he could of his stuff, this phenomenal and quite unusual method of drumming.  I mean, drummers certainly can appreciate it.  You say it to the average person, they wouldn’t tell one drummer from another.  But Ike had something that nobody else had, and Guy is the closest living representative I know who plays something like Ike.  But nobody can duplicate what it is.

Q:    Do you have words to describe what was special about Ike Day’s style?

IS:    Well, see, I played some funny sessions… You were asking me about the scene around Chicago.  I mean, a lot of us, we’d go jamming the blues clubs if there were no Jazz clubs open that night.  We just wanted to play.  So once in a while there would be a session after the Blues band had finished playing, and the Jazz fellows would go in, and we’d set up.  And Ike, one time I saw him play, he had literally a pie pan for a cymbal, and another gold cymbal that had a big chunk broken out of it, and no sock cymbal, and a hat box for a snare drum that he’d play with the brush, and then a regular tom-tom, and then a big bass drum with a Hawaiian scene painted on it, a waterfall scene from Hawaii painted on it.  And he played that set, and at no time did you know that there wasn’t anything… It could have been a brand-new set of Slingerland drums behind you.  So that was some of his magic.

Q:    I’ve heard that from a couple of drummers who had heard him, that he could play magically musically in tune with the band with almost anything, or a minimum of equipment.

IS:    Yes.

Q:    Others say that Buddy Rich actually used him briefly as a second drummer.

IS:    Yeah.  He also used Philly Joe Jones as a second drummer.  You’d have to hear Ike to know.  They say, “You’ve seen one drummer, you’ve seen them all,” but when you heard that inside magic that Ike had…
Ike used to play without his shoe, take his shoe off so he could get the feel of the wheel a little better.  One night he was playing at a long… In those days at the sessions there may be ten or twelve horn players on the stand, tenor players, maybe there would be one or two trumpet players, a couple alto players, all waiting in line to play — and the tunes would go on interminably.  I’ve actually seen a bass player where there was a phone the bar, pick up the phone and dial another cat, stop playing under a chorus, and say, “Hey, you want to come down here and get some of this?”  He’d been playing thirty-five minutes on the same tune, probably “I Got Rhythm,” and call another guy that was in the neighborhood to come over and relieve him.    Well, Ike took his sock off one night and played a tom-tom solo with his toes.  I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.  He just put his foot up on the tom-tom, and you could hear his…

Q:    Well, that’s really some independent coordination.

IS:    That’s some coordination I don’t think many drummers have tried yet.  But I wish Ike had been recorded just a little bit.  I think he is on a record, Tom Archia…

Q:    He is on a record, Tom Archia and Gene Ammons…

IS:    But not well…

Q:    It’s submerged to the point where it’s almost indistinguishable.

IS:    Right.

Q:    Would you say a few words about Wilbur Ware?

IS:    Oh, he was another one.  You know, the symphony players from the Chicago Symphony used to come to hear Wilbur when we played out at the Beehive, which was the going Jazz club then, where a lot of us worked in and out of.  I was always sort of brought in as the extra added attraction.  They’d have a quartet with Wardell Gray, and I got to play with the late Wardell Gray there, or Roy Eldridge and Art Farmer and Sonny Stitt, and so they’d bring me in as a trumpet player.

And one of the outstanding musical experiences of my life was playing with Wilbur Ware.  Wilbur Ware had… He told that his father had made his first bass out of an orange crate and thick inner tubes cut to different sizes of the strings and they played on the street and stuff like that.  But he had a touch unlike any other I’ve heard.  Very light.  He didn’t play heavy… Of course, the bass players of today sound heavy because they now have amplifiers.  Wilbur just played a wooden acoustic bass.  But he had this gorgeous, beautiful tone, just like with a feather touching the bass, and the sound that came out was wonderful.  I think a good example is that Sonny Rollins, Live At The Village Vanguard, where there is no piano, and you can really hear Wilbur outstanding.

And I used to watch these symphony players come down and be fascinated and watch him, because he had this almost legitimate technique — but he was definitely a self-taught musician.

Q:    Also, he often was not on what you’d call even close to a first-rate instrument…

IS:    Oh, no.

Q:    …and was yet able to elicit a tone.

IS:    Right.  He’d get up in the morning… We’d be rooming on the road, and he’d get up in the morning, at maybe 11 o’clock after the gig, and pick up his bass, before he’d even taken his pajamas off or brushed his teeth or had a cup of coffee; he’d pick up his bass and start playing “Cherokee” at a breakneck speed, you know, and just play… And he wouldn’t disturb anybody in the hotel.  You couldn’t hear him beyond the room.  Just… [SINGS RAPID WILBUR WARE LINE SOFTLY]  He’d just be working off the little patterns and everything.  It was wonderful, the love that he had for the instrument.

Q:    What were the circumstances that led to Art Blakey calling you and Wilbur Ware to join the Messengers in 1956?

IS:    Well, I guess because, as I say, I was always around jamming with everybody in Chicago, and when he’d come in, if I had a chance I’d get up with Art.  We had met, and everybody met, and so he’d call me, “Come on up and sit in, Ira.”  Then one day he just called me, and asked me if I’d want to go with the band, and brought Wilbur and I up at the same time.  Kenny Drew, Senior, was the piano player then.  I have to say Senior, because his son is around and performing.  He’s been up in Sarasota, Florida, for quite a while.  So Kenny Drew was in the band, Donald Byrd was the trumpet player — so I originally went in to play trumpet and tenor.  That’s when that terrible tragedy happened with Clifford, and Donald Byrd was given the call from Max to come in and replace Clifford Brown in the Max Roach-Sonny Rollins Quintet — the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet actually they called it.  So then the next young trumpet to come in the band, after we went through Philadelphia, was Lee Morgan, who was 17 years old at the time — and I was playing tenor then.  Then a gentleman who was in last night to see me at the Vanguard, Danny Moore, was on trumpet for a while with that group when we left, because Lee was, I think, still in school, hadn’t quite graduated yet.  So we left Philadelphia and we got Danny Moore…

Q:    Lee Morgan joined Dizzy Gillespie at the end of that year, I think.

IS:    Yes.  As soon as he was out of high school.  Then Idrees Sulieman came in the band, which was quite interesting to most people, because as we got announced, it was very hard for them to tell the difference between the names — Ira Sullivan on tenor, Idrees Sulieman on trumpet.

Q:    Did you play exclusively tenor with the Messengers, or would you get into trumpet battles?

IS:    Well, I played some trumpet, but I always had to be careful with sensitive souls who… And I’d feel a little sensitive, too, because I felt like I had an act together or something.  You know, when I’m on my own and I can make my own choices, and pick up a trumpet or a flute or a saxophone when I want to, it’s something else.  But it’s not quite fair to a trumpet player, no matter how they good they are, to come in the band, and here I am playing tenor and trumpet.  Well, now, immediately you’re going to garner some attention.  So I sort of opted to just play tenor in the band, and Art Blakey and I talked about it, so…

Q:    Will you be playing a lot of trumpet and fluegelhorn this week?

IS:    As much as I can handle, yes.  It all depends on what my face can do on that particular night.  I have to always consult my face first.

[MUSIC: "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Stella By Starlight," "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most," "Sprint."]

IS:    A lot has changed around us.  We used to read about pioneers, but in a way we’re pioneers, too, because our mores, our society is changing, even as we speak around us, you know.  So you always have to figure it’s an exciting time that you live in, mainly because you’re breathing in and out.

Q:    Well, you certainly seem to be a musician or personality or spirit that creates excitement around you wherever you bring your instruments.

IS:    I don’t know whether I create it or just sort of nudge.  Somebody says, “You’re a wonderful inspiration.”  I say, “No, I’m sort of a nudge.”  I just open up and let these young people play, and let their natural talent come out.  I think a lot if it is, even as in school, when we teach, overcoming that temerity, to realize, “Hey, man, you can do it; just get out there and do it.”  Most of them have the talent and they’re ready.  You just have to give them a little nudge.

Q:    Which of your instruments do you have this week?

IS:    Well, the tenor, trumpet and flugelhorn, which I always carry, and alto flute and soprano sax, which is enough to keep me busy.  People ask why I play long sets, and I say, man, it takes me at least three hours to get each horn in a proper playing shape, and as I say, get my face to play them all.

Q:    It seems unimaginable to many musicians that you can actually pull off a set because of the different embouchures and musculatures involved.  What do you do?

IS:    Well, you just do.  You have at it.  You keep going for it.  You have problems every night.  Every musician who plays just one horn knows it’s not the same every night.  You always have the physical problems to overcome where your musculature is and your mouth that day, or your face.  As I say, it’s not easy.  But the more I do it… It’s easier when I play six nights a week, constantly, as I was doing in Florida.  Several clubs I played in, I’d stay there two or three or four, five years.  And that six nights a week, that regularity makes it a lot easier.  Now I play festivals on the weekend, then I may not play for three or four days, and then I get in a setting like this where I’m playing six days, and it takes a little time to do it.  But I keep doing it until I get it right.  And sometimes it comes off.

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Filed under Chicago, Interview, Ira Sullivan, trumpet, WKCR

For Freddie Hubbard’s 75th Birth Anniversary, A DownBeat Piece From 2001

In 2001, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours with the late Freddie Hubbard for a DownBeat profile. It took a bit of negotiating, but Freddie met me at the appointed hour, and spoke at length about his life and times. In this case, I have to depart from the  “raw and uncut” policy I’ve followed for the most part on the blog, and will decline to print the verbatim conversation—it’s a bit too real and profane, and he named names. But I was able to distil from it for print what I thought was a reasonably compelling first-person account, which I offer on the occasion of his 75th birth anniversary.

* * *

During his lengthy prime, Freddie Hubbard embodied excellence  in trumpet playing.  He had a big sound, dark and warm, almost operatic.  His breathtaking facility allowed him to play long, melodic lines of saxophonistic complexity; depending on the situation, he’d cover all the changes or navigate lucid paths through soundscapes comprising the most abstract shapes and timbres.  In every situation, Hubbard projected the persona of trumpeter-as-gladiator, an image of strength, force and self-assurance that told several generations of aspirants, “I’m Freddie Hubbard and you’re not.”

Hubbard blew out his upper lip in 1992, and has since lived through a hell-on-earth that might make Dante pause and reflect.  The recent recording “New Colors” [Hip Bop] — Hubbard on flugelhorn fronts the New Jazz Composers Octet through well-crafted David Weiss arrangements of seven choice Hubbard originals — makes the problem clear in the most poignant way.  Hubbard’s ideas sparkle, but he plays tentatively, with a palpable lack of confidence, and has trouble sustaining his sound for any duration.

At a conversation in the coffee shop of New York’s Mayflower Hotel last May, Hubbard retrospected candidly on his life and times.

* * *

My sister played trumpet, and I picked it up as a competitive thing. I followed her to Jordan Conservatory, and studied privately with Max Woodbury, who played first trumpet with the Indianapolis Symphony. I wanted to play like Rafael Mendez, able to triple-tongue and so on. My brother played piano just like Bud Powell. He had all the records, the Dial Charlie Parkers and so on, and he got me interested in this music. The record that really turned me around was Bird’s “Au Privave.”

Wes Montgomery lived two blocks from me, across the railroad tracks, and to get to the conservatory I had to pass by his house. I’d hear Wes and his brothers rehearsing, and one day I stopped and went in. At the time, everything I knew was reading, and it amazed me how they were making up the music — intricate arrangements, not jam stuff — as they went along. After that, I was at his house every day, and then Wes started inviting me to a Saturday jam session in Speedway City. The Montgomery brothers didn’t care about keys. At home I was practicing in F or B-flat, but at the jam session they’d play in E and A — the funny keys. Practicing in those keys opened me up, made me a little better than most of the cats.

My brother had the records by Mulligan and Chet Baker, and we played the solos that were transcribed in the books. That motivated me. Then I heard “Musings Of Miles,” with Philly Joe Jones, Oscar Pettiford and Red Garland. That record made me start skipping school. Miles’ style was melodic and simple, and I could hear it. Then I started listening to Fat Girl (Fats Navarro) and Dizzy, which was quite a contrast. Then Clifford Brown. Clifford was a conservatory type of cat, and I tried to play like him. I’d sit with James Spaulding, who lived up the street, and transcribe Clifford’s solos and play Charlie Parker’s tunes.

Indianapolis was a bebop town. It was a filler job for guys on their way to Chicago. Charlie Parker might come through, or James Moody, or Kenny Dorham. I invited a lot of musicians to my house, had my mother wash their clothes and and give them a good home-cooked meal. We had a nice house. My father worked hard in the foundries, and everybody was clothed and clean and had money. Whatever I wanted, my mother tried to get for me. She took me to the music store in downtown Indianapolis for a trumpet. I said, ‘Mama, we’ve got no money for this.’  She said, ‘No!’  She told the guy, ‘Let him take it home and practice on it.’  She was a very strong lady; they KNEW that they would eventually get their money.

While I was going to Jordan Conservatory, Spaulding and Larry Ridley and I formed a group called the Jazz Contemporaries. We worked gigs all over town, all the weddings and concerts, until I got busted on suspicion of burglary. I was on a date with this white girl, a nice girl — we were just friends. I’d been aiming to be a teacher, but I had to leave school. Hearing Clifford’s music kept me going. It made me say, “Forget it. I can’t let this stop me. The music is forever.”

A friend named Lenny Benjamin, who was from the Bronx and wrote for the “Indianapolis Star,” told me he was going back to New York, and offered me a ride and a place to stay. I’ll never forget coming into the Bronx. It was July, and it was hot. It was like “The Blackboard Jungle.”  I’d never seen so many brothers and different people in the street.  For the first five days I didn’t come out of the house, I was so scared. I just looked out the window. I saw anything imaginable — robberies, cutups, shootups, a couple of attempted rapes.

After a while, I moved into a small pad Slide Hampton had in back of the Apollo Theater. I used to follow everyone backstage — James Brown, Wilson Pickett, even Moms Mabley! — and hang out. At the time Slide was working with Maynard Ferguson. I would watch him write out arrangements without a piano; it helped my reading. Then he got enough money to buy a house on Carlton Avenue in Brooklyn, and I moved there with him. The house was like a conservatory. Eric Dolphy was in there blowing on his horns; also [trumpeter] Hobart Dotson, and “Prophet” Jennings, a painter.

I was in California with Sonny Rollins when I first met Eric. He was working with Chico Hamilton. He sounded like Cannonball then; it surprised me in Brooklyn how much he changed his style. Maybe he wanted to play like that all the time; in California he invited me to his house, and the music was so weird his mother made him practice in the garage!  Eric could play some Funk and get deep down and play some Blues, but he didn’t want to. He really wanted to get into Ornette’s thing. He was a better musician than Ornette, but he didn’t have that swing that communicates. Some stuff he wrote sounded square, like kindergarten music. But the way he would play it!  He was such a jubilant, happy guy. I liked his spirit. A lot of people wouldn’t give Eric gigs. They thought he was trying to be weird on purpose.

Sonny had heard me at Turbo Village, at Reed and Halsey in Bedford Stuyvesant, where I started playing four nights a week shortly after I came here. Philly Joe Jones lived in Brooklyn; he’d come by the club to play, and he started inviting everyone to come listen to me. One night he brought Bud Powell to sit in; the next thing I know, Sonny was coming by. I stayed there about a year and a half, I met all the other musicians — Hank Mobley, Paul Chambers, Walter Davis. Those were the beboppers, and by me liking bebop so much, we hooked up.

Sonny called me right before he quit. He didn’t have a piano, and he was still playing songs like “Ee-Yah” real fast; he played “April In Paris,” which sounds weird without a piano, and I had to learn the chords. I learned so much about being on my own, playing by myself. Sonny’s way of playing is rhythmic. He would practice by going over and over his ideas, and he taught me how to do that — make it stronger. He brought my chops up. Coltrane’s concept was more linear. I’d take the subway to Trane’s house every day he was in town. I had a headache when I left there because he was practicing so much.

I thought trumpet players weren’t able to express themselves as freely as saxophone players. Playing like a saxophone is harder on the chops, but it opens you up; saxophone isn’t so brassy and doesn’t attack your ear. I figured if I could mix it up, it would make me sound different from Dizzy and Miles. I was expecting Newk and Coltrane to play Charlie Parker’s stuff, but they’d learned that, and they were studying books like Slonimsky’s “Thesaurus of Scales,” which Coltrane introduced me to. You can’t compare them. They had strength in different ways. But for some reason, I leaned more towards Sonny.

Philly Joe was the first one who hired me to work at Birdland. It was a Monday night session, and we were playing “Two Bass Hit.” I had copied Miles’ solo note-for-note. When I opened my eyes, I saw him sitting down at the front of the stage. I almost had a heart attack!  I knew he was thinking, “Who is this motherfucker playing my solo?”  Anyway, he saw me make up my own ideas, and right there in Birdland he told Alfred Lion to give me a contract. Sure enough the next day, Ike Quebec called me.

I’m the only one from VSOP who wrote a song for Miles — “One Of Another Kind.”  Miles was one of the strangest, most arrogant individuals, but so beautiful. I’ve never seen anything black that pretty. He glowed. That’s the way his sound was to me. He wouldn’t speak to me for a while, but after he heard me with Sonny, we became tight. I’d go by his house, and sometimes he’d let me in and sometimes he wouldn’t. I think he liked me in a funny, uncanny way, even though he started messing with me. Did you ever read that article in Downbeat, ‘Freddie Who?’  When I asked him about it, he’d say, “Do you believe everything you read?”  It was like he wanted to keep me at a distance. Which I can understand. I mean, the man’s been great so long, then comes along a young whippersnapper and all of a sudden he’s going to jump?

When Booker Little came to New York, we started hanging out. He was a nice, clean-cut cat with nothing bad to say about anyone. I’d met him at jam sessions in Chicago around 1956-57 when Spaulding and I would drive up from Indianapolis to sit in. After I heard him play, I said, “I’d better go in and practice before I mess with that.”  He was like a machine. I mean, he had a way of playing so FAST, man. I used to try to play out of the books with him, but I never could play those duets. I wasn’t that advanced!  We ended up working together around town with Slide Hampton’s Octet. Every night it was good to go to work because there was going to be a challenge. We’d try to kick each other’s behind, but we liked each other.

Same thing with Lee Morgan. Lee was ahead of both of us, because he had been with Dizzy, played with Coltrane and Clifford Brown. That boy could play. He had a bigger name, he was from Philadelphia, and he was cocky. I could relate to Lee better than Booker, because we had more of a street thing. Lee knew how to SWING; Booker never got to the swing like Lee. When you’re young and up-and-coming, people start comparing you, and there was a competitive thing between me, Booker and Lee at that time around New York. After a while I thought: Why am I beating my brains up trying to out-do Lee Morgan?  Let me work on MY thing. I took some of Sonny’s stuff, some of Trane’s stuff, put it into my style and made myself different.

I’d go to Birdland every night to hear Lee and Wayne Shorter with Art Blakey. They were blowing so hard that when Art asked me to join, I wondered if I was ready. Art took a lot of younger trumpeters out; the harder you played, the harder he played. Art taught me about uniformity, that the group must be presented as a GROUP. It was like old show business. And he made us all write something. He’s a Messenger, a Muslim, and he said, “Here’s what your message is.”  We’d rehearse a piece, he’d listen and then come up with a drum feel hipper than what you can think of. He knew dynamics from playing in all those big bands. The difference between Art and other drummers is that he could go down and come up. A lot of people think Art was crazy. I mean, he had his periods. But almost everybody I know that worked with that man became a leader. I’m still a Messenger.

One of my dreams was to play with Max Roach. Like I said, my main influence was Clifford Brown; I carried the records he made with Max anywhere I went. I wanted to play like Clifford Brown played with him, stuff like “Gertrude’s Bounce,” but I guess Max didn’t want to play no more of that. Max got me into a thing where I stopped liking white people. I’m basically a country cat, and I think everybody’s nice until they fuck with me. But going back to what had happened in Indiana, I was getting ready to explode!  I was hanging out with the Muslims, and I almost joined the Nation. Being with Max — reading the books he suggested, meeting people like Nina Simone and Maya Angelou at Abbey and Max’s place — gave me a consciousness. We were the guys who were not trying to say that we aren’t aware of what’s happening to us as a race. Max enlightened me as far as life. But I couldn’t work with him because he was too intense. Art could get intense and get loose. He was down to earth, and he knew all the same things; he’d been hit on the head, too, on racial stuff.

I did a lot of avant-garde stuff with Archie Shepp, Sam Rivers, Andrew Hill and guys like that. They were kind of militant, too, trying to voice their protest. There was a whole movement in the Village. I was a mainstream cat, trying to make some money and get famous. But when they talked to me, I went over to see what was going on. Me coming from Indiana, I knew what they were talking about, and it was a chance to voice my opinion. It was good musically, although I knew some of that stuff wouldn’t work — I don’t care how good they played it. There was no form. I had met Ornette and Cherry in California with Sonny Rollins, before they came to New York. I had no idea where they were going, but their music didn’t seem that avant-garde to me. I could hear melody and form. When Ornette did “Free Jazz,” I think that’s when he wanted to break out. Free. No bar lines, nothing set except what he and Cherry knew. I went to Ornette’s house to practice. The first thing he did when I came in was play all of Bird’s licks. And he had that Bird sound.

I put two tunes on “Breaking Point” in the style of Ornette, and one funk tune that got radio play. I’d brought Spaulding and Larry Ridley to New York, and recruited Ronnie Matthews and Eddie Khan, and we practiced for about six months until we went out. We went to this club in Cincinnati, and the place was packed. Like a dummy, I opened with a free thing. The people got up and started RUNNING, not even walking toward the exit. I said, “Is there a fire in here?”  I don’t think we got any money for the week. We kept that group together, but made the music more mainstream.

Atlantic was my funky period. That’s when a lot of people got confused with me. One minute I want to do one thing, then I want to jump over and do something else. Then Creed Taylor brought me to CTI. Creed got my recorded sound to my liking, made it stand out. I’ve had people who know nothing about jazz tell me how pretty and clear my sound is on ‘First Light.’  Creed made me more popular to the masses, but I got a lot of flack from the musicians because I jumped out and started thinking about making some money.

I got even more flack when I started making records at CBS. A couple of them sold, “Windjammer” and that stuff. I was at the Roxy, and playing venues in New York that no jazz cats ever played. The money went way up. I was getting ready to get a divorce from my first wife, and she was messing with me, coming to clubs. I decided to move to California. People said, “Man, Hubbard, don’t go out there. Ain’t no Jazz out there. You’ll get fat and die.”  I think it was a mistake. Ever since then, my playing went down. But I was doing movies, making record dates with Elton John, earning good money and living the way I wanted to live, up in Hollywood Hills with my new wife. We’re still together.

During the ’70s Herbie, Tony, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and Chick Corea all moved to California. Everybody was trying to include Pop and Fusion. In California, everybody’s spread out; you get projects and see each other in the airport. In New York, you’re close, you can go to somebody’s house. When I went to California, it was party time, and I got hung up in that. Which was cool. I wanted to hang. But it had nothing do with maintaining embouchure and playing good.

In the ’80s, I had together whatever I was going to do. It had become a Freddie Hubbard sound. I was a free agent, sinking or swimming, doing a lot of singles, making dates where I’d play 16 bars and get 3500 bucks. I was making ten a week just myself. I was so busy recording in the studio that I wasn’t practicing as much as I should, and I started playing licks, not trying to come up with no new shit. I thought it was automatic, that I didn’t have to warm up, like when I was young. Though I started thinking like that, I was still trying to play all the high stuff and play real hard. By the late ’80s, I was going to Europe and Japan every month by myself for some all-star group or clinic. I was doing too many different things. I was switching styles so much, one time I woke up and said, “What am I going to play today?”  Keeping that schedule, plus going out to hang — it waxed me!

I saw it coming, but I decided I’d continue and make as much money I could. I should have stopped and got some rest, worked on some new ideas. But if you were getting $3500 for an hour’s work two or three times a week, what would you do?

I was playing so long and so hard that my chops got numb!  They didn’t vibrate. It got so bad that I didn’t think I would ever play again. Now I’m beginning to get the vibe back to want to play. I’m beginning to get a feel. Whenever I pick it up, I’ve got to get over the feeling aspect of it. Is it going to hurt like it did before?  It gets progressively better.

If you want to play like Freddie Hubbard, I don’t know what to tell you. It took me about ten years of hanging out with the people I hung out with, picking up certain ideas and putting it into my thing, to develop that style of playing. Young people will never get a chance to do that. They’re able to jump right in behind a certain style, but they weren’t here when the styles had to be developed. I used to have gigs with Maynard. I’d be trying to blow high notes, acting a fool, and luck up, and hit them!  How would a young cat know what I know from hanging out with Maynard?  Who you going to get to fuck with Maynard?  Clifford?  Miles?  Dizzy?  They were so strong!  Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham and Blue Mitchell were right here, too. Woody Shaw went through it. He was so worried about me, he finally had to break down and say, “Fuck Freddie Hubbard; I’m going to go and do my thing.” I spent half my life trying to develop something to make it me.

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On Hugh Masekela’s Birthday, An Uncut Blindfold Test from 2009

In celebration of the 74th birthday of South African trumpeter, flugelhorn, and cornet master (and singer) Hugh Masekela, I’m offering the uncut transcript of a DownBeat Blindfold Test I had the privilege of conducting with him in 2009.

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1. Max Roach-Booker Little, “Tears for Johannesburg” (from WE INSIST: FREEDOM NOW SUITE, Candid, 1960) (Roach, drums, composer; Booker Little, trumpet; Julian Priester, trombone; Walter Benton, tenor saxophone; Abbey Lincoln, voice; James Schenk, bass)

I really liked that. I have no idea who it could be. But it reminds me a lot of the kind of things that Max Roach was doing in the late ‘60s, and it sounded… He had a group with Booker Little. But he did some things where he got guys like Chief Bey to come and play. I think it was Max’s era, when he was really into African activism. Yeah. But I loved it, man. I don’t know who it is. It could have been Charles Tolliver on trumpet, or Booker Little, or Cecil Bridgewater. But I’m not good at guessing. 5 stars. I really loved it. [AFTER] I went to school with Booker Little, you know, at Manhattan School of Music. I was very close to Max and Abbey. I’m very happy that I guess it right. The last time I did this test was with Leonard Feather in 1967, and I got everything wrong. This is the first time I passed anything in this test!

2. Mongezi Feza, “Diamond Express” (from Dudu Pukwana, DIAMOND EXPRESS, Arista, 1975) (Mongezi Feza, trumpet; Dudu Pukwana, alto saxophone; Frank Roberts, keyboards;  Lucky Ranko, guitar; Ernest Othole, electric bass; Louis Moholo, drums)

I’m going to guess here. I don’t know when it would have been, but it sounds very much like Dudu Pukwana on saxophone, and it could be either when they were with Chris McGregor and then when they were the Blue Notes, or maybe later on the Brotherhood of Breath. The guitar player sounded like Lucky Ranko, and it sounded like those guys when they were in London. I don’t know whether Johnny Dyani was on bass, and Mongezi Feza on trumpet probably. But that definitely was Dudu Pukwana. I was a great friend of Dudu’s, and we did a great album together that’s still a collector’s item called Home Is Where the Music Is. I loved Dudu. He was one of the most beautiful players. I was really heartbroken when he went away. But that’s a wonderful South African groove. I wish that the South African musicians could be listening to stuff like this. It definitely starts to bring back… But it’s beautiful. 5 stars. [AFTER] They came over to England… This was the second group after we formed the Jazz Epistles with Abdullah Ibrahim (who was Dollar Brand then), and Johnny Gertze (bass), and Makhaya Ntshoko on drums, and Jonas Gwangwa on trombone, and Kippie Moeketsi on saxophone. We were a group called the Jazz Epistles, and we did the first long-playing record by an African group in South Africa in 1959. It’s still a collector’s item. Then I left, and Jonas went to… Well, we broke up because after the Sharpeville massacre, gatherings of more than ten people were not allowed, and we were just about to go… We had just broken out, we were about to go on a national tour of South Africa, and we would have been the first instrumental group to be able to do that, and we had to break up. But then a year or two later, the Blue Notes, formed by Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana, came out of South Africa, and they came out to, like, Switzerland, and they did extremely well. They really took Europe by storm. Louis Moholo was on drums, and he’s the only one alive of them. All of them died. Dudu died. Mongezi Feza, the trumpet player, died. Johnny Dyani on bass died. Chris McGregor also passed away. Whenever I see Louis Moholo, he goes, “One man standing!” [LAUGHS] But I loved those guys. They were fantastic musicians. I’m crazy about that album. I’m going to get that album for myself, if I can find it.

3. Wynton Marsalis, “Place Congo” (from CONGO SQUARE, JALC, 2008) (Marsalis, composer; Soloists: Andre Haywood, trombone; James Zollar, trumpet; Sherman Irby, alto saxophone; Yacub Addy, master drum)

Wow, that’s beautiful. I really enjoyed that. You have to make me a copy of all these records! That sounded like something from the late ‘60s or early ‘70s. Max Roach started this whole interest in African music, and at the same time, it sounded very much like something…if Duke Ellington wanted to write an African suite, he would have done an arrangement like that. So I suspected at one time that it was him. But I really have no idea who it was. I keep hearing people like Chief Bey playing in the drum section. But it was really a beautiful African kind of suite, a la Duke Ellington. I don’t know if somebody was trying to imitate him. Five stars. It’s really beautiful. I really don’t know who it was. I thought I heard Eric Dolphy or somebody somewhere there. [AFTER] Wynton Marsalis! Really. He didn’t play a solo.  I think that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard that he’s done. It’s a great collaboration. It’s definitely Duke Ellington-esque. Something that, like I said, Duke would have done—the voicings, the solos, and some of the contemporary stuff. It’s very beautiful.  Five stars.

4. Jerry Gonzalez, “To Wisdom The Prize” (from MOLIENDO CAFÉ, Sunnyside, 1991) (Jerry Gonzalez, flugelhorn, congas; Carter Jefferson, tenor saxophone; Joe Ford, alto saxophone; Larry Willis, composer, piano; Andy Gonzalez, bass; Steve Berrios, percussion)

I have no idea who that might be. For a time there, the piano player sounded like Larry Willis, who I started playing with… My first group was with Larry Willis. It sounded maybe like it could be one of Larry’s records. I’m not sure. The piano solos and the voicings and all that; Larry did pretty nice stuff like that. If the guy isn’t Larry Willis, then he tries to play like him—or he influenced Larry Willis, one of the two. The trumpet player with the beautiful fat tone, I don’t know who it might be. Maybe Eddie Henderson. I have no idea. But I liked that very much. Four stars. I have no idea who it was. [AFTER] Who’s playing trumpet? Jerry? Fantastic. I liked it very much.

5. Amir El-Saffar, “Flood” (from TWO RIVERS, Pi, 2007) (Amir ElSaffar: trumpet, arranger; Rudresh Mahanthappa, alto saxophone; Zaafer Tawil: violin, oud, dumbek; Tareq Abboushi: buzuq, frame drum; Carlo DeRosa: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums)

I got very thirsty on that one. It was very sort of Middle Eastern jazz or Arabic jazz, or maybe Saharan jazz. I had pictures of camels and a lot of sand and sandstorms, and I was dying for an oasis. I have no idea who it is. But thematically, I enjoyed it very much, because obviously it had a Saharan-Middle Eastern thing.  I don’t know who it is. I’m not a critic of people who play. But I would give it three stars. [AFTER] Well, I wasn’t too off when I said it was Arabic-Saharan jazz.

6. Charles Tolliver, “Chedlike” (from EMPEROR MARCH, Half Note, 2009) (Tolliver, trumpet s solo, composer, arranger; Cameron Johnson, Michael Williams, Keyon Harrold, David Weiss, trumpets; Mike Dease, Jason Jackson, Stafford Hunter, Ernest Stewart, Aaron Johnson,  trombones; Bill Saxton, Bruce Williams, Todd Bashore, Billy Harper, Marcus Strickland, Jason Marshall, saxophones, woodwinds; Anthony Wonsey. piano; Reginald Workman, bass; Gene Jackson, drums)

I loved it. It sounded like somebody trying to imitate Gil Evans. If it wasn’t the Gil Evans band, then it was somebody who is a big fan of Gil Evans. The drummer reminded me a lot of Elvin Jones. I don’t know anybody else who played like that. If it’s not Elvin Jones, it’s a great fan of Elvin Jones. I was crazy about both of them. The first night I came to New York, in 1960, I saw Elvin Jones with John Coltrane, Reggie Workman and McCoy Tyner, and I’d never seen a drummer play like that. This reminded me of that night in September 1960. All the work Gil Evans did with Miles Davis was just phenomenal. I have all his stuff. I loved that very much. I don’t know who the trumpet player was. It could have been Johnny Coles. I’m not sure. Johnny Coles played much more mellow. So I’ll give it four stars. [AFTER] So Charles must have been a great fan of Gil Evans. Or Gil Evans must have been a great fan of Charles Tolliver. I don’t know who came first. The arrangement was very Gil Evansish. I know Charles a long time.

7. Brecker Brothers, “Wakaria (What’s Up?)” (from RETURN OF THE BRECKER BROTHERS, GRP, 1992) (Randy Brecker, trumpet and flugelhorn; Michael Brecker, tenor saxophone, composer, arranger; Armand Sabal-Lecco, bass, piccolo bass, drums, percussion, vocals, arranger; Max Risenhoover, snare programming & ride cymbal; George Whitty, keyboards; Dennis Chambers, drums

Very nice. I don’t know who that is. I have no idea who that is. But I loved the arrangement. It sounded like a recent recording (I might be wrong). I really enjoyed it. 4½ stars. I have no idea who it is. I really loved it. The trumpet sounded like it was played through some kind of electronic… I’ll tell you something. To a great extent, after the ‘60s, after Miles and Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro and Dizzy, all those guys from that time, and of course Louis before that…you could always tell who was playing. But later on, it became very technical, and people became very technically proficient. You couldn’t really tell who they were. They were technically unbelievable, but you just couldn’t say there is so-and-so. I guess also having been away from the States for over 18 years, I haven’t followed any of the new developments. But it was technically very, very proficient. I loved the arrangement. In fact, I’m still remembering the melody. It’s a very nice children’s song kind of thing. I don’t know     it was. [AFTER] The Breckers. I didn’t know their work very well. I loved Michael’s playing a lot. Again, for me, even though they’re techincally proficient, I could never say that’s Michael… After Coltrane, after the guys from the ‘50s and ‘60s, everybody else seemed to imitate them in one way or the other, and I never could put my finger on them and say it’s so-and-so. Because it seemed like after that, there was nowhere to go. Fusion came in, and all kinds of things. {How did you deal with that yourself?] Well, I came here as a bebopper, and my story is that I had hoped to play with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, because that was like the college of everybody. But everybody said, “Form your own group. You come from Africa. Let’s see what… You should be teaching us stuff. You shouldn’t be imitating us. As a result, I reverted back to the township dance bands that I came from, and my thing became sort of a hybrid between that and jazz. I went back to the township. I think that’s what makes me stand out, not to sound like other people.

8. Dizzy Gillespie, “Africana” (from GILLESPIANA, Verve, 1961) (Soloists: Gillespie, trumpet; Leo Wright, flute; Lalo Schifrin, piano, composer; Art Davis, bass; Chuck Lampkin, drums)

That sounded like somebody trying to imitate Dizzy Gillespie—or Dizzy himself. The flute a little bit sounded like it might have been James Moody. I don’t know how long ago it was done. If it wasn’t Dizzy, it could have been Jon Faddis. But it felt to me like Dizzy Gillespie. I loved the piece. It sounded like something Dizzy would have done. It’s very Dizzy-esque. I don’t know who might have arranged it or when it was done. I remember a time when he was doing a lot of work with Quincy Jones, but that sounds like something maybe much later. But I loved it very much. 5 stars. [AFTER] Beautiful. Well, Dizzy was the Svengali and god of the trumpet. So many people came from him. Harmonically, he was so amazing. He could do soft things. He did beautiful things on the Harmon mute. He played Harmon mute on that. He and Miles were like the… When they played the Harmon mute, I threw mine away. I stopped playing the mute when I heard Dizzy and Miles play. Dizzy used to play it on “Con Alma,” on… but he was a god.

Dizzy was also the most beautiful person I ever met. For me, he was like a foster dad. He bought me my first winter coat when I came to the States. He sent me records in South Africa long before I came. I met him through Miriam, who he really loved and looked after. She introduced me to him by letter. We didn’t have phones at that time. The first night I came to New York, Dizzy was playing at the Jazz Gallery, opposite Monk, and he had insisted that as soon as I land I have to call him and come see him wherever he was—and he happened to be at the Jazz Gallery. He introduced me to Monk when he came off the set. He had that band. He had Leo Wright and Chris White and Rudy Collins and Lalo Schiffrin on piano. They’d just come back from South America, and he was playing “Desafinado” and “Con Alma” and all those Brazilian songs. Then he introduced me to Monk and said, “Thel, Thel, this is that little trumpet player I was telling you about who was coming from Africa,” and Monk stuck out his hand, a limp hand, and he went, ‘NEIGHHH…,” heh-heh-heh, and walked away. Dizzy’s like, “Oh, Thel, you was born dead.” Then he said, “Listen, Max wants to meet you.” Max was playing around the corner with Booker Little and Eric Dolphy was on saxophone, opposite the Mingus band. He took me there and introduced me to Max. At the time Max was with Abbey, and really into the anti-apartheid movement. Members, Don’t Be Weary, right? I had just come off the plane from England. When I came back to the Jazz Gallery, he said, “Where are you going?” I said, “I have to go and sleep, man—I’m going home.” He said, “No-no-no, you can’t sleep; you can’t go home. I told Coltrane that you were coming to see him. He’s waiting for you. You’ve got to go to the Half Note. So I went to the Half Note, and I stayed there til 4 in the morning. When I got out of the Half Note, I got out of the cab, and I Coltrane and McCoy Tyner and Reggie Workman were waiting on the sidewalk for me. Dizzy had told them, “This guy is coming.” So Dizzy introduced me to everybody. In one night, I saw him, I saw Monk, I saw Max, I saw Charlie Mingus, and I saw Trane. And I left the Half Note at 4 in the morning. 5½ stars for Dizzy. 7 stars!

9.  Jon Hassell, “Northline” (#9) (from LAST NIGHT THE MOON CAME DROPPING ITS CLOTHES IN THE STREET, ECM, 2009) (Hassell, trumpet; Peter Freeman, bass; Jan Bang, live sampling; Elvind Aarset, guitar; Helge Norbakken, drums)

I don’t know who it is. But I think only Miles was able to play in those dark, sleepy moods, and still keep you up. This one was too foggy and misty for me. 2 stars. It sounded like a soundtrack, an effect for something. It could have been a soundtrack. I don’t knock anybody. A fantastic lower register technique, a beautiful tone, but it didn’t go anywhere, didn’t take me anywhere. [AFTER] I wasn’t too far off. It was a mood compositional kind of thing. It sounded like something for a movie where the murder is hiding in the fog.

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For the 84th Anniversary of Art Farmer’s Birth, A Few Interviews From 1994

In 1994, I had the privilege of conducting three interviews with the magisterial flugelhornist Art Farmer on WKCR, one during a quintet engagement at Sweet Basil on which he shared the front line with Jerome Richardson (Clifford Jordan had recently passed), and was promoting a two-trumpet recording with Tom Harrell on Arabesque, followed a pair of 5-hour Sunday Jazz Profiles where he was present for the entirety. In honor of the 84th anniversary of Mr. Farmer’s birth, I’m posting the complete transcripts of the interviews.

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Art Farmer (WKCR, 11-27-94, 12-18-94):

[MUSIC: Jazztet (1961), "Farmer's Market"; (1993) "Turn Out The Stars," (1992) "Modulations",  (1991) "Isfahan"; (1953) w/ Clifford Brown, "Keeping Up with Jonesy", (1953), w/ Sonny Rollins "I'll Take Romance", (1954) w/Gigi Gryce, "Blue Concept"]

TP:    You’re originally from Iowa, and grew up in Arizona.  What were your earliest musical experiences like?

AF:    I started off studying the piano, because that’s the first instrument that I ever heard.  My mother used to play the piano with her father’s church choir.  At that time it was very customary to have a piano in the house, and someone played it.  There were a lot of music students in our family, and it just seemed the natural thing to take piano lessons.  Then after that, when we were living in Phoenix, Arizona, a man gave me a violin, and I studied that for a couple of years.  Then I switched from the violin to the bass tuba.  I was playing with a marching band that was part of a church organization in Phoenix.  I heard some of the older guys in the band jamming around one day, and I wanted to play a horn, like I said, but the only horn available was the tuba.  Then the War started.

TP:    So by this time you were 12 or 13…

AF:    Yes, about that.

TP:    …and sort of going between the violin and the brass instruments.

AF:    Yes, right.

TP:    Who taught you?  Did you get instruction in some sort of organization, or private teachers?

AF:    I had a teacher for the violin, who was employed by what then was called the WPA, the Works Progress Administration, to see that everybody had a job in the United States.  That’s the only teacher that I had.  I also had a teacher on the piano who was employed by the school system out in Phoenix.  So teaching was rather scant, I would have to say.

TP:    So you got your experience basically picking up from other people and playing in different situations?

AF:     Right, picking up from other people.  Well, Jazz was on the radio.  There was a lot of airplay for Jazz then,  big bands playing for dances, and all kinds of wonderful things happening.  The first live music that I heard actually was the real Country Blues.  I used to sell papers, and I would walk around in the migrant workers’ camps and sell them papers, and after work they would be sitting around, playing and singing, playing the Blues on the guitar or whatever.

But I heard all this Big Band Jazz on the radio.  Then when the Second World War came along, there was an Army camp around Phoenix, and I heard the Army dance band.  There was one guy in the band by the name of George Kelly, who is still around here in New York, and he used to come around to our rehearsals and help us out.  He was a great guy.  He used to write arrangements for us.  But that’s the first time I heard a big band live, was the U.S. Army band.  Then the traveling dance bands started coming through on one-nighters, like Jimmie Lunceford and Erskine Hawkins, Buddy Johnson, people like that.  The greatest thing in life that I could imagine was to hear these bands.  It was so exciting that it never has left me.  My brother, Addison, myself and our friends, we would go around and introduce ourselves to the musicians, and ask them to come by the house to have a jam session — and they were very nice, and they would.

TP:    Your brother, Addison Farmer, was your identical twin and a bass player.

AF:    Right.

TP:    Was he pretty proficient at this time also?

AF:    Well, he was, but at this time he really hadn’t gotten into it as much as I had.

TP:    I think you mentioned Roy Eldridge particularly as turning you around.

AF:    Right.  Well, Roy came to town with the Artie Shaw Band, and I met him then, and I have to say he was really very kind.  He came by the place that I was playing on a night off, and he sat in and played the drums.  Then after about a set of that, he went back to his room and got his horn, and came around and played.  I didn’t know anything to ask him, really; it was just sort of a listening thing.

TP:    Now, you said he came by where you were playing.  By this time were you working locally around Phoenix?

AF:    Yes, I was.  I was working with some friends of mine at a place that was the kind of place that we would then call a bucket of blood, heh-heh, sort of a rough place.  But that’s all the town had to offer.  We were frankly very ignorant about what was going on with music, didn’t know left from right or 3/4 from 2/4, but we knew that we liked music and we knew that we wanted to play, and I guess that’s what Roy heard.  So he was gracious enough to come up and play the drums, because he was a drummer also, and he enjoyed the situation enough to go back to his room and get his horn.

TP:    Would you be playing mostly Blues at this time?

AF:    Yes, mostly Blues, very simple riffs, riff-type tunes based on “I Got Rhythm” or “Honeysuckle Rose,” something like that.

TP:    And at this time you would have been 15 years old, let’s say?

AF:    Yes, around 15 or 16.

TP:    Who were some of the trumpet players who were shaping your idea of how the trumpet should sound?

AF:    Well, the most dominant trumpet player that you would hear in a small town like Phoenix then would be Harry James, because he was on the air all the time.  Harry James was a very fine trumpeter.  Of course, his style was much different from what really grabbed me later on.  But at that time, why, he was the man.  Even Miles said when he started trying to play, he was captivated by Harry James.

TP:    When you heard Roy Eldridge over the air, that grabbed you?

AF:    Oh, sure.  Certainly.  Then later on, I heard other people when the bands came through, say, Erskine Hawkins, where there was a trumpet player named Dud Bascomb who took a solo on a very successful record called “Tuxedo Junction.”  Also there were other fantastic trumpet players with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, like Freddie Webster, for instance.

TP:    Andy Kirk for a brief moment had Howard McGhee and Fats Navarro in his band.  Did they ever come through Phoenix when you were there?

AF:    No.  They never came through Phoenix.

TP:    So you didn’t have a chance to hear them right away.

AF:    No, they never came through Phoenix, nor did Billy Eckstine.  A lot of bands didn’t come through Phoenix.  Phoenix was relatively a small town.  Billy Eckstine never came through, Earl Hines never came through, Duke Ellington never came through, nor Count Basie.  But I certainly remember the ones that did come through.  When I heard Jimmie Lunceford’s trumpet section, well, I knew what my life was going to be instantly.

TP:    Why is that?  What was the sound of that trumpet section like in person, up close?

AF:    Well, if you’ve only been playing trumpet just by yourself, and suddenly you hear four guys that are really playing a nice arrangement, then it’s such a big difference.  It’s like a revelation.  You hear the trumpet players playing their solo with the band in the background; well then, that sort of shows the way to you.

TP:    When you were 16 or 17 years old, you and your brother went to Los Angeles and finished your last year of high school there.

AF:    Yes.  We actually went there supposedly on a vacation.  We had had our little day jobs and saved our money, and we went over to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks.  But the music scene was so alive on Central Avenue in Los Angeles, and we heard so many people, it just seemed senseless to go back to Arizona.  So we decided to stay there and finish our high school there, and support ourselves by whatever means were possible.

TP:    Did you have family in Los Angeles?

AF:    No, we didn’t.  We didn’t have any family there.  But the school didn’t know that.  Our mother told us, “Well, if this is what you really want to do, go ahead and do it, but at least graduate from school.”  So we did.  And we wrote our own excuses and things, so the school never knew.  If we didn’t want to go to school, we would just write an excuse supposedly from our parents, which was accepted by Jefferson High School.

Now, there were some teachers that were very helpful to us — music teachers.  There was one man in particular by the name of Samuel Brown, who also taught Dexter Gordon.  Because Dexter went to the same school, although he was a few years in front of us.

TP:    What was Mister Brown like as a teacher?

AF:    Well, anyone who came to town that he knew, he would ask them to come over and play some, and talk to the students, and that would be the students’ first time able to talk to real professional musicians.  He organized what is now called a stage band, and we would go around and play assemblies in other schools in the Los Angeles area.

TP:    What sort of repertoire were you playing?

AF:    Well, it was a repertoire with, for example, “9:20 Special” written by Buck Clayton, and “Take The A Train,” and something by Woody Herman.
TP:    Dance band things.

AF:    Yes.  Dance band things that were popularized by the big bands.  It was mainly big bands, because there were also people in the school orchestra who were already writing arrangements.

TP:    Like who?

AF:    Well, I can’t remember the names right, because this was a long time ago.  Besides Dexter, some of the other active players were people like Sonny Criss and Cecil McNeely, who later turned out to be a great Rock Star by the name of Big Jay McNeely.  Hampton Hawes was around.  I figured that I should have been there a long time before I was.  I got there for my last year.  If I’d been there two or three years earlier, it would have been a lot of help.

TP:    Was Samuel Brown helpful to you in developing your brass technique?

AF:    No, he wasn’t a brass teacher at all.  I didn’t have a brass teacher.  I had never had a brass teacher up to this point.  Up to then, I was just sort of hit and miss.  Mostly miss.  Trial-and-error.

TP:    There was another teacher in Los Angeles, Lloyd Reese, who taught privately…

AF:    Yes, I heard about Lloyd Reese, but I never went to him.  Lloyd Reese was a professional teacher, and you had to pay him, and I didn’t have any money to take lessons.

TP:    You arrived in Los Angeles at the time Bebop was first starting.  Howard McGhee was out there and…

AF:    That’s right.  That’s the first time I heard Howard, and Howard with his group was really a revelation to me.  That sort of pointed me in the direction for my life.  He was moving around on the horn more than the usual soloists in the big bands.  They were playing what were then called ride solos, where you’d just sort of Jazz the melody, and you don’t actually move around the horn that much.  That’s what most of the guys were doing when the solo time came.  Players like Dud Bascomb and Ray Nance came along and created their own things, and they were so interesting and beautiful.  But then Howard came along, and he was much more fluid than them.  Much more.  I heard Howard McGhee’s group before Dizzy and Bird came out, so that was the first so-called Bop group that I heard.  They had a wonderful tenor player named Teddy Edwards in there, who became a close friend of mine.  We worked together later on.  I didn’t meet Howard, but I used to go out and listen to them play every night.  I was amazed at the way he was able to play the instrument, because I hadn’t heard Dizzy or Miles or Fats or Kenny Dorham at that time.  He was the first one that I heard who could get around the horn like that.

TP:    Who were some of the other players in Los Angeles who impressed you?

AF:    At this time, I don’t remember any local trumpet player that impressed me anywhere like Howard did, and then, shortly after that, when Dizzy came out with his group.

TP:    And did you go to Billy Berg’s to hear the band?

AF:    Yes, I’d go there, and when I was able to get in, I’d get in.  Sometimes someone was on the door who said, “Well, you don’t look like you’re old enough,” so I couldn’t get in.  Then Miles came out with Benny Carter’s band, and I met him; we used to wind up at jam sessions together, and I would get a chance to listen to him.  I used to go around with Charlie Parker, too.  I wouldn’t play, but I would just listen.  A tenor saxophone player that became very influential in my life, Wardell Gray, came out there with Earl Hines’ band; I went around and met him — later on we wound up working together.  Wardell was a very nice man, a very intelligent man, and it was really a tragedy, not only to him, but to all of us who knew him, to have lost him at such an early age.  He was very kind and very helpful, and I was very glad for the chance to work with him, and also with Dexter at this time, because the two of them organized a group, and we worked around the Los Angeles area.

TP:    What other work did you get in Los Angeles at this time?

AF:    I worked for a group that was led by a drummer by the name of Roy Porter, who used to work with Howard McGhee.

TP:    Roy Porter had a big band, too.

AF:    Yes, he had a big band, and actually we did some recording for the Savoy label with this big band.  Eric Dolphy was in that band.  Also I worked with a big band that was led by Horace Henderson, Fletcher Henderson’s brother.

TP:    Horace Henderson was supposed to be very adept at organizing a band and getting a good band sound.

AF:    Right.  Well, that worked.  He had a very fine swing style trumpeter by the name of Emmett Berry.  Emmett could play.  Emmett gave me some tips and some pointers.  Still I had never had a trumpet lesson.
TP:    How much Bebop were you able to play as a youngster in Los Angeles?

AF:    I would say not very much. [LAUGHS] I was mostly captivated by it.  But see, playing Bebop is not the easiest thing that you can find to do! [LAUGHS]

TP:    It sounds like you had a lot of the new ideas in your mind while you were playing gigs that required other things from you.

AF:    Well, Bebop came out of the Swing Era.

TP:    Talk a little bit about that.

AF:    Well, everybody that was involved with Bebop, as far as I know, the main guys played with the big bands.  I mean,  Miles and Dizzy and Max Roach and J.J. Johnson, all did, and Dexter Gordon — all these guys came out of big bands.  Where else would they come from?

TP:    And because of World War Two, there were openings for young musicians in those bands.

AF:    Right, there were.  There were openings for guys of my age.  The older, more proficient players were mostly in the Armed Forces.

TP:    Los Angeles was a thriving musical community at this time, with clubs everywhere and lots of work for musicians.

AF:    Yes, there were a lot of clubs.

TP:    Talk about what an average night might be like on the Central Avenue strip.

AF:    Well, you could just walk up the street and go from one club to the other.  Within an area of about 20 blocks there would be like five or six clubs.  These clubs were forced to close by one o’clock because of wartime restrictions, but then there were some other clubs that would open up.  I don’t think they were quite legal, but they got away with it some way.  They would open up when the first clubs closed, and they would stay open until maybe six or seven o’clock in the morning.

TP:    Were there places that had breakfast dances also?

AF:    Yes.  But these places were called breakfast clubs.  There wasn’t a lot of dancing going on at these clubs, but there was an audience there for listening at this time.   There was no big play on it from the press.  No Jazz Critics ever came around, and you never read about it in Downbeat or nothing like that.  But the players came around, and after they had finished their big band gigs, their dance gigs, why, then, they came over and sat in and played.

TP:    That was sort of graduate school for a lot of musicians at that time.

AF:    Yes, it was.  Graduate school, that’s what I would call it.

TP:    When did you first go to New York?

AF:    I first came to New York in 1946 with a band that was led by a drummer by the name of Johnny Otis, who had a big band that was working on Central Avenue.  The band was patterned after the Count Basie Orchestra.  In fact, Count Basie used to send us some arrangements that he didn’t want to play.  It was a good band, a straight-ahead Swing band.  The tenor player Paul Quinichette was in the band.  I was able to get the job with Johnny Otis, because some of the people who had been playing with the Otis band didn’t want to travel.  That gave me a chance, and I came with them to New York.

TP:    How long were you here?

AF:    Well, I was here that time for a couple of weeks.  We were on tour, and we played a place in Chicago called the El Grotto which was owned by Earl Hines.  We played there for about ten weeks.  Then we played at the Apollo Theater for  a week, and then we played the Paradise Theater in Detroit for about week — and then Johnny Otis fired me.

TP:    Was this your first time seeing the country?

AF:    Yes, it was my first time.

TP:    What was Chicago like then?

AF:    Oh, that was great.  The El Grotto was very nice.  Such a nice club, with a chorus line and showgirls and comedians.  It was really a nightclub, which there is nothing like that now.  It was a big show.

TP:    Chicago had a number of clubs with elaborate shows then.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Did you get around in Chicago?  Is that where you met Gene Ammons, let’s say?

AF:    No.  Gene was on the road with Billy Eckstine at that time.  I didn’t meet Gene until I recorded with him for Prestige in the Fifties.

TP:    What was your first impression of New York?

AF:    Oh, New York was a great place.  It was another city compared to now — completely different.  But there was a lot of music going on, and music was all around the town.

TP:    Where did you go to jam?  I’m assuming that you did.

AF:    Well, no, I didn’t go to jam at that time.  I would go to listen.  I went down to, like, 52nd Street, and to Minton’s up in Harlem.  This is after the job.  We were playing at the Apollo Theater, and our last show would be finished close to midnight, and so then we would go out to other places — like I said, 52nd Street or Minton’s.

TP:    And you heard everybody who was creating the new music at that time.

AF:    Well, everybody was on the Street.

[MUSIC: AF w/G. Russell, "Ballad of Hix Blewitt", "Concerto For Billy The Kid" (1956); AF w/H. McKusick, "Alone Together" (1957); AF w/Horace, "Home Cookin'" (1956); AF/Jaymac/S.Clark, "Sippin' At Bells" (1958); AF/Gerry Mulligan, "Blueport" (1958), AF/H. Jones, "Nita" (1958)]

TP:    In our last conversation segment, Art Farmer was on his first trip on the road with Johnny Otis, when he worked in Chicago and New York for the first time.  But basically, I gather you stayed in Los Angeles pretty much until joining the Lionel Hampton band in the early Fifties?

AF:    Yes.  You see, there was an institution called the Sunday afternoon jam sessions, which happened in Los Angeles and New York and other places, too.  I used to go around to these clubs for the jam sessions, and one Sunday I went there, and there were some guys from Lionel’s band.  Quincy was there, Buster Cooper was there, for instance.  A couple of days later I got a call from a friend of mine, saying that he was going over to talk to Lionel, that Lionel wanted him to make an audition, and he had heard about me and would like for me to make an audition, too.  I think Quincy had something to do with it, really.  So I went over there, and the audition wasn’t to see how well you read the music or played the parts, but to see how well you could play in general.  He said, “Okay, let’s play ‘All God’s Children Got Rhythm,’” which is a real testing tune for young players.  So I did it, and then he said, “Yes, well, if you want the job, you’ve got it,” and that was it.

TP:    What was the salary?

AF:    Oh, it was around $17 or $18 a night when you played. [LAUGHS]

TP:    When did Clifford Brown come into the picture?

AF:    Clifford came in about a year later — less than a year later, because I was there only a year myself.  When I came in, Benny Bailey was still there.  The reason why Lionel Hampton hired me was because a very great trumpet player by the name of Benny Bailey was getting ready to leave.  So when I came in the band, I was the sixth trumpet player, and then Benny left, so I was the fifth.  Then there was a guy named the Whistler, who was called the Whistler because all he played was high notes all night long, and he left, and Brownie took his place.  It was, say, in the summer of ’53 when we were playing in New York at a place called the Band-Box, and we were getting ready to go on a tour over in Europe, where we made all those records.  Gigi Gryce had come in the band, and James Cleveland, and Alan Dawson also…

TP:    What was your immediate impression of Clifford Brown?

AF:    [LAUGHS]

TP:    I know it’s sort of a softball question, but…

AF:    Yeah, that’s really… [LAUGHS] Everybody had the same impression of Clifford Brown.  The nicest impression was what Louis Armstrong said, “It sounds like you got a mouthful of hot rice.” [LAUGHS]

TP:    But you were up next to him every night, I guess, for a number of months.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Did that have an impact on your conception?

AF:    Yes, it did.  I would say that from the standpoint of style we both came from the same inspiration, which was Fats Navarro.  But Clifford was much more proficient than I was, and he was able to do what I really wanted to do, and he could do it perfectly, and be completely relaxed and creative, and improvise.  He was just wonderful.  There were a whole lot of people that wanted to do the same thing, like Idrees Sulieman, for instance, Ray Copeland, and other people, too.  We all said, “Well, this is the guy who really got it together.”

TP:    Did your proximity to Clifford in any way inspire you to work out a niche for yourself, a certain sound that nobody else would get to, such as what, making a rough analogy, Miles Davis faced with Dizzy Gillespie?

AF:    No, it really didn’t.  It just inspired me to get the best sound that I could get.  I certainly loved Brownie and Fats, and Ioved a whole lot of trumpet players, and still do.  A lot of younger guys, the guys like Brownie and Fats and Miles, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, you’d listen to  these guys, and you’re not going to say, “Well, if I could just sound like that, I’d be happy for the rest of my life.”  I would say, “Well, if I could just sound as good as that, and then whatever came out that I figured sounded as good or sounded nearly as good, at least I’d figure like I was pointed in the right direction.

TP:    Back to your experience with Roy Porter, a caller was interested in your having known Eric Dolphy as a very young musician.

AF:    We were very good friends.  Eric was the same way with Charlie Parker as I was with the leading trumpet stylists at that time.  If you listened to him, you could tell immediately that he loved Charlie Parker.  But the difference between Eric and Charlie Parker was that Eric… Eric was more like John Coltrane.  He lived for the saxophone.  That’s all he thought about, was the saxophone all the time, all the time, and whatever he could do.  The first inkling I had that he was going in another direction than just playing Bebop was that he started imitating the sounds of birds.  He’d listen to birds, listen to what the birds sing, and then go home and play it on the horn.  That was happening when I was still living out there, before I left Los Angeles with Lionel Hampton in the Fall of 1952.  But even then, he was consumed by music.

TP:    By the way, did you encounter Ornette Coleman at all in Los Angeles?

AF:    Yes, Ornette came on the scene while I was still there.  We didn’t think much of him, because he would get up on the stand at a jam session, and he would play, like, licks that were associated with Charlie Parker, but he would play them in the wrong place.  He had a hair style that made us call him “Nature Boy.”  There was a tune called “Nature Boy” written by Eben Ahbez, and we called Ornette “Nature Boy.”  We really didn’t realize the contribution that he was going to make to the music — which he made a great contribution.  At that time, when he would get up on the stand, a whole lot of guys would leave the stand.

TP:    You mentioned taking the music beyond Bebop, and indeed, when you came to New York in the mid 1950′s you were associated with a lot of composers who were involved in stretching the form somewhat.

AF:    Well, when I came to New York after I’d left Lionel, and settled down here, then for some reason I got a reputation as a guy that was willing to really try to play people’s music, no matter what it was.  There were a lot of people that were not playing Bebop at that time.  Well, not a lot, but there was George Russell, Teddy Charles, for instance, and they would call me when they had a gig or something to do.  And I would give the music my best shot, and take it home, and study it.  There were some guys that just didn’t care that much about it.  So that was the start of my reputation around there.

TP:    That must have kind of a mind-bender for you, and certainly must have taken you to a lot of interesting places.

AF:    Yes.  Well, I wound up in some interesting places, like playing a concert with the New York Philharmonic of a concerto that was composed by Teo Macero, who later on wound up to be main record producer of Miles Davis.  He wrote this symphony called “Fusion” that was to be performed by a symphonic orchestra with a Jazz group.  So those were the kind of things that were happening.  We played things by creative composers who were not completely in the Jazz idiom, but were using it as best they could, at the same time using their Classical background.  This is not to say that I was a Classical player by any means, but still, it was just a matter of being the guy around town that could sort of straddle the ditch.

TP:    Now, you said that let’s say up to 1950 or so, you hadn’t had a brass teacher.  By this time had you been getting some formal tuition?

AF:    Yes, I had by then.  After I came to New York with Johnny Otis, and my deficiencies came to the front, and he wound up firing me, and I decided to stay in New York and get some professional help.  I worked around here for a couple of years as a janitor in the theaters, and at that time I studied with a teacher by the name of Maurice Grupp.  He didn’t have anything to do with Jazz at all.  But I started taking lessons with him every week, and practiced every day, and at night-time I would go to 52nd Street and listen to the guys who were doing it.  I was supposed to be on my job at 12 o’clock.  Sometimes I was late, because I was busy listening to Miles and Dizzy, etcetera.  I used to work at Radio City Music Hall and a place called the Criterion Theater, and other places like that, cleaning up, because that was the only way that I could stay here and study.

TP:    You did what a lot of artists do when they’re organizing themselves in their earlier years.

AF:    Well, sure.  You’re glad to have the opportunity to do it anyway, any way you can.  I remember some nights I would be late getting to my job because I just couldn’t leave the Street.

TP:    After leaving the Hampton band, you began working around New York with fellow band-member Gigi Gryce for several years.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Talk about the formation of that group and its evolution.

AF:    Well, after leaving the Hampton band, I was able to get some jobs because I had recorded a tune that was subsequently named “Farmer’s Market” out in California with Wardell Gray.  Ira Gitler gave the tune its name.

TP:    What was your name for the tune?

AF:    I didn’t have a name for it!  So Ira decided to call it “Farmer’s Market,” which he did me a great favor.  So I came back here, and went over to the Prestige company, and introduced myself to Bob Weinstock, who was the owner of the company.  I said, “I’m Arthur Farmer.”  He said, “Oh yes, you’re Art Farmer.  You’re the guy who made that record with Wardell Gray.”

TP:    No wonder you’re sick of that one song!

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Gigi Gryce himself was a very ambitious composer.

AF:    Yes.  Gigi was a great composer, a great arranger, and a great saxophone player, and he’s one of the people that we lost too early.  The music has lost a lot because he wasn’t around.  He was from the generation of Quincy and myself, and his contribution was lost, other than a very few things that he did for me, and, oh, yes, he had a group with Donald Byrd, but this didn’t show his full capacity as a player or a writer.  If he had just been able to hang on a bit longer, then I think he would have had a great influence on the music.  Just like Freddie Webster; I think he would have had a great influence on the music if he had been able to hang around longer.  Some people just leave too early.
TP:    You did some wonderful recordings with George Russell.  How did your relationship with him begin?

AF:    Well, it was during a time when I was in the studio with anybody who figured that they had something unusually difficult to be played, and they would call me.  I met George at a record date with either Hal McKusick or Teddy Charles, and after that, when he decided to do his own record, well, he called me.  After that I studied with George for some time, and still he is one of the greatest factors in my playing.

TP:    Would you be a little more specific about the applicability of his ideas?

AF:    Well, it’s a matter of being able to use the harmonic form in a certain way that you always know where you are and you know how to handle yourself.  There’s no point to go into musical terms about it, because I’m not speaking to musicians at this time.

TP:    Later in the Fifties you worked with Gerry Mulligan in a group that stretched form in a lot of different ways.

AF:    Oh, yes.  That was a very important time for me, and a very important occasion.  I learned a lot working with Gerry.  Just before I worked with Gerry, I had worked with Horace Silver, and Horace is a very dominant pianist.  When you’re playing with a group that Horace is in, well, then, you have to respond to what he’s doing.  There’s no way you can ignore him! [LAUGHS] Anyway, I went from Horace’s group to Gerry’s group.  Well, we probably had a couple of weeks’ rehearsal before we went to work, and then I remember the first night that we worked was at a place in Westbury, Long Island, called the Cork and Bib.  We got up on the stand and we played, and I felt like I was up there with no clothes on.  Because I didn’t hear Horace’s piano.  I didn’t hear any piano.  I just heard this baritone saxophone and the bass violin behind me.  It was a completely different environment.  But it worked out.

TP:    Had you heard his pianoless quartet back in Los Angeles in the early Fifties?

AF:    No, I didn’t hear it there.  The first time I heard it, actually, I think I was in Philadelphia, working with Lionel Hampton, and I went to a club, and he had the quartet.  Chet had left by then, and Bobby Brookmeyer was with the group.  And it sounded comfortable, it sounded musically interesting, but it wasn’t the thing that I was really pointing towards.  It was a little bit too laid back for me at that time, and I wanted to bash.

TP:    Well, the group with Gerry Mulligan that you were in sounds less laid-back than those earlier groups.

AF:    Yes.  It sounds less laid-back, and I guess that’s what I brought into it.

[MUSIC: AF 5, "The Touch Of Your Lips" (1958), "The Very Thought Of You", AF Tentet, "Nica's Dream" (1959), "April In Paris" (1959), AF 5, "Mox Nix" (1958); AF/B. Golson, "Five Spot After Dark" (1959)]

TP:    Benny Golson had his hand in that last set quite a bit.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Your musical lives, careers, and I guess personal lives have been intertwined now for about thirty-five, almost forty years.

AF:    Yes.  Well, Benny is one of my musical brothers, and we love each other dearly.  I don’t know where I would be without his tunes.

The first time that we met was with Lionel’s band.  Benny was there for a short time, but then he decided that he didn’t want to stay with the band.  He’s told me many times after that he was really sorry that he didn’t, because this was the band that had his good buddies Clifford Brown and Gigi Gryce and Alan Dawson, James Cleveland and people like that in it.

TP:    When that band got going, it must have been a real powerhouse.

AF:    Well, it was a musical band, when the music called for it, and when the music called for entertainment, it could do that, too.  Lionel is a great musician and he is also a great entertainer, and some people who would be unable to absorb, to appreciate the musical side of it, could appreciate the entertainment side of it.

TP:    I guess you’ve played with a lot of bands like that, and indeed, that was the situation for many musicians of your generation, to get their functional experience and make a living.  That was sort of the side of the music you had to deal with.

AF:    Yes, you had to deal with it somewhere.  But being a trumpet player, about the most entertaining thing I would say that we did, we would just march through the hall.  Actually, when we were playing at the Band-Box, which was next door to Birdland, I remember one night, Lionel marched us out in the middle of the street, and stopped the traffic, and then he was going to march us downstairs into Birdland.  Billy Eckstine was singing there.  The doorman held up his hand and wouldn’t let us go in.

TP:    What did Benny Golson sound like in the early Fifties?  Was his sound already formed at that point?

AF:    I think his sound was formed at that point.  I don’t think that he had found his own unique identity, but he was very much influenced by Don Byas, I think.  Not that he was playing the things that Don Byas played, but it was just that type of playing.

TP:    Were you aware of his writing at that time?

AF:    At that time, no.  When I first him, I was not aware of his writing at all.  The first time that I became aware of his writing was when I heard Miles Davis’ recording of “Stablemates,” which I think may have been the first one of his pieces that was recorded.

TP:    What are the distinctive aspects of his writing that suit you so, his characteristics as an arranger?

AF:    Well, the thing that really attracted me to Benny was the warmth of his ensemble writing.  That was one of the things that you could hear in the Jazztet.  With three horns you could get a certain depth that you couldn’t get with two horns.  Nobody was writing for three horns until Benny came along and started writing for the Jazztet; other than him you’d have to go all the way back to John Kirby, whose group was in existence in the late Thirties into the mid-Forties – after that it was all two horns and a lot of unison writing for two horns.

I’m just thinking of Benny now as an arranger.  As a composer, why, he was able to write melodies that sounded like melodies, didn’t sound like something that came out of an exercise book.  Benny is a master musician, a consummate artist who recognizes the value of a melody, and he can construct a melody that sings and that stays in your head once you hear it.  Tunes like “Whisper Not” or “I Remember Clifford” are real songs.  That’s just not la-de-da-da-da-dah-da-dah. These songs don’t just go in one ear and out the other.  He’s also able to construct a harmonic framework that the improviser feels very comfortable with; not that it’s always easy, but feels very comfortable with to construct their own melodies during their improvisation.

I think Benny is a very rare person to be able to do this so well.  Because we have a lot of writers, who are not bad writers, but a lot of them are weak on melody, and then when they get to the harmony, the harmony is just not compatible to improvise on.  It’s either too many chords or too little.  They might have two chords all the way through or 222 chords. [LAUGHS]

TP:    I guess a lot of his conception came from the small group writing of Tadd Dameron.

AF:    That’s right.  He would be the first one to tell you that he learned a great deal from Tadd Dameron.  I was just talking to Benny a couple of days ago, and he mentioned that he learned a great deal from Ernie Wilkins also.  Ernie used to write for Count Basie’s band.

TP:    Speakking of Tadd Dameron, I’m sure he always had the sound of Fats Navarro in his ear.

AF:    Oh yes.

TP:    And I’m sure you must be one of the major sounds that Benny Golson is hearing in his ear when he’s writing his tunes.

AF:    Yes, no doubt about it.

TP:    Prior to the Jazztet, Benny Golson had been with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and, as he tells it, had really organized the Messengers into the Messengers…

AF:    Yes.

TP:    …and sort of given them an approach that lasted for the next thirty-plus years.  Was the Jazztet kind of a conscious effort on his part to do something similar with a group of young, contemporary musicians, less drummer-oriented?  How did it come about?

AF:    Well, I never thought about it that way.  How it came about was, as you said, Benny had been playing with Art Blakey and I had been playing with Gerry Mulligan for the year prior to the organization of the Jazztet.  Then Benny decided that he wanted to do something that would have more of his imprint into it.  Mulligan was getting ready to organize the Concert Jazz Band, and at that time I didn’t feel like I wanted to be part of a big band, so I was looking for something to do.  Benny and I had been running into each other in New York at various record dates and things, either I was playing on his date or he was playing on mine.  So I was thinking about calling him and asking him if he would like to work with me, when he called me.  I said, “I was just getting ready to call you.”  So we said, “Okay, then let’s work together.”  That’s how the Jazztet came about.

Trombonist Curtis Fuller had worked with Benny for an extended engagement down at the old Five-Spot, so he was the first sideman Benny suggested, to which I said, “Fine,” because I had worked with Curtis on various record dates, and we knew each other and we got along well.

TP:    He was also a very strong acolyte of J.J. Johnson…

AF:    Right, very strong!

TP:    …and a very strong musical personality in his own right.

AF:    Yes, in his own right.

TP:    McCoy Tyner was the pianist in the first Jazztet.

AF:    Right.  Well, Benny recommended McCoy to me…

TP:    Did he know him from Philadelphia?

AF:    He knew him from Philadelphia.  In fact, working with the Jazztet was the first job that McCoy had outside of Philly.  As I said, Benny recommended McCoy, and he recommended him so strongly that…when Benny recommends someone that strong, well, you can trust that recommendation.  So I said, “Okay, let’s go with it.”  McCoy was interested, so we brought him over, and that was his introduction to the world of Jazz other than in Philadelphia.

TP:    The Jazztet was known as group that combined hard blowing with discipline, almost in the space, say, between the Messengers and the MJQ.  That may be an inaccurate way of framing it, but it’s a roundabout way of talking to you about the repertoire of the group.  Did it have any sort of a laboratory quality?

AF:    No, it didn’t have a laboratory quality, as far as I can remember now.  Benny wrote the arrangements, or whoever wrote the arrangements, we would rehearse them, and if there was something that didn’t work, we would take it out.  But that happens with any group.  What it didn’t have was, it wasn’t the type of situation where you get five or six guys together, and they play the first chorus, and then everybody plays a ten-minute solo, and then they play the first chorus again, and take it out.

TP:    Then the set’s over.

AF:    [LAUGHS] It wasn’t like that.  It was like you didn’t have all night to say what you wanted to say, because you had to make way for someone else.  We had it that way on purpose, because we didn’t want any boredom to set in, but we still wanted people to have enough time to say what they wanted to say.
TP:    Which I guess also reflects your early experience in big bands, jump bands, and so forth and so on.

AF:    Mmm-hmm.

[MUSIC: AF 4, "Kayin'" (1961); A. Farmer/O. Nelson, "Street of Dreams" (1962); AF 4, "Lullaby Of The Leaves" (1961), AF 5, "Happy Feet", AF/J. Hall, "Swing Spring" (1964), AF/S. Kuhn, "I Waited For You" (1965); AF/J. Hall, "What's New"; AF 4, "Die Salde Sin Hemmin" (1966); AF/JJ, "Shortcake", "Euro #2" (1966); AF/J. Heath, "The Shadow Of Your Smile," "Blue Bossa" (1967); AF/O. Nelson, "Raincheck" (1962); AF/Vienna..., "God Bless The Child"]
[MUSIC:  Jazztet, "Serenata" (1960); Jazztet, "Wonder Why" (1960); AF/Jazztet, "My Funny Valentine" (1961); "Django" (1961); "Rue Prevail" (1962)]

TP:    On the 1962 performance of “Rue Prevail” you played the flugelhorn, and in 1960 you were playing the trumpet.

AF:    Right.

TP:    You subsequently became identified very much with the flugelhorn.  What was happening during that time?  Because changing your sound is really the most personal thing an improviser can do.

AF:     Well, I started around that time playing the flugelhorn, but not limited to the flugelhorn.  I would play it on tunes that I felt the flugelhorn was the best horn I could play it with.  Other than that, I would play the trumpet.

TP:    When did you start working with the flugelhorn?

AF:    Oh, it must have been around 1962.

TP:    What inspired you?  You weren’t getting the sound you wanted on certain things?

AF:    Yeah, on certain things, certain times.  In certain rooms the trumpet sounded very brassy and piercing, and it just didn’t blend in the way I wanted it to do.  I remembered that I had heard some other people, like Clark Terry, for instance, playing the flugelhorn, and I had heard a recording that Miles had done playing the flugelhorn, and I felt, “well, I should give that a try.”

TP:    So how was it initially?

AF:    Oh, it was fine.  The sound was there right from the start.  But when you ask a little bit more of horn, when you want the projection that the trumpet has, well, then you come up sort of lacking, because the flugelhorn does not have that.  So most guys double, and they go back and forth between the trumpet and the flugelhorn.

TP:    Why didn’t you?

AF:    Well, I found it inconvenient.  You see, when you put one horn down, it cools off, and then you pick it up and start playing it, and it’s flat for the introduction and maybe part of the first chorus, and that sort of gets things off to a rocky start.  So I would rather just stick with one.  So I wound up sticking with the flugelhorn with the Jazztet, and then shortly after that the Jazztet broke up, I organized a quartet that had the guitarist Jim Hall in it.  Jim Hall is not a loud player, and it seemed to me that the flugelhorn was more compatible with his sound than the trumpet would be.  So I wound up playing the flugelhorn exclusively, and I guess I kept the trumpet in the case for about two or three years.

TP:    Well, what did you have to do to elicit as full a complement of sound projection from the flugelhorn as you could?

AF:    Actually, it’s not possible to fully get the projection.  You can approximate it, but you don’t really completely get to it — you just go in that direction.  Sometimes, if you go into the high register, the flugelhorn can have a tendency to sound like a squealing [LAUGHS] instead of playing.

TP:    Well, I guess if that happens with Art Farmer, he’ll make it musical somehow.  But in the last several years you’ve performed on a customized instrument that hopefully blends the attributes of both the trumpet and flugelhorn — the flumpet.

AF:    The flumpet.  I hate that name, but I’m stuck with it. [LAUGHS] That was made by a trumpet-maker named David Monette, who makes trumpets for a lot of very fine trumpet players, such as Wynton Marsalis, for instance, and the principal players for the Boston Symphony and the Chicago Symphony and the Chicago Symphony, etcetera.  I asked him to make me a trumpet, and he made it, it was very fine, and I started really working on the trumpet.  Then he got the idea that it didn’t really sound like me, but he wanted to make a flugelhorn for me — so I told him to go ahead and do it.  Then he called up one day, and he said, “Well, I made it very carefully and put every part in order, made it by hand [because everything is made by hand], but it sounds like hell, and I really don’t like it.  But I have another idea.”  So I told him to go ahead and make it.  Then a couple of months later, he called  and said, “it’s ready.”  I went to Chicago, where I was booked, and he brought it on the gig — and right from the start, it sounded like the  answer to my prayers.

TP:    How so?

AF:    Well, you could go one way or the other on it.  You could approximate the warmth of the flugelhorn or you could approximate the projection of the trumpet.  If you really wanted to put a note out there, you could do it, and if you wanted to be more intimate, you could do that also.  So it seemed like what I was looking for.

TP:    [ETC.] In the next set of music, we’ll hear some incarnations of the Jazztet’s second life, between 1983 and 1987 or so.

AF:    Some time around there.

TP:    I guess reorganizing the Jazztet was just a natural thing to think about at a certain point.

AF:    It came about because a Japanese promoter came up with the idea of getting the Jazztet back together to make a tour of Japan.  Then someone else in Europe heard about this idea, and said, “Yeah, we like that idea, so why don’t you make a tour of Europe first and then go to Japan?”  So that’s how we got it back together.  We brought Curtis back in the group, too.  Then we were able to get some dates in United States also.  I think that we kept the Jazztet going the second time for about two years.  During that time we didn’t work all the time, so I would work with my own group also, and Benny would work with his own group.

TP:    Apart from all of you being twenty years older, with that level of maturity as musicians, were there any changes in strategy, orientation or approach of the group?

AF:    Yeah, there were some changes.  We wanted the group to be more loose, where the members still had more space to be themselves without being hampered by obligations to play backgrounds and interludes and things like that.  Although that was certainly part of it, too, but we didn’t want people to feel that they were hampered by that.  We still wanted the players to feel free.  That was the only change I could think of.

[MUSIC: Jazztet "Moment To Moment" (1983), "From Dream To Dream," "Are You Real?" (1986)]

TP:    Around the time the Jazztet was reformed, you organized a tremendously creative quintet with Clifford Jordan, which first recorded in 1984. Did you first meet Clifford during your time together with Horace Silver around 1956-1957?

AF:     No, I first came in touch with Clifford Jordan around 1951 or ’52, when I was still living in California. Clifford had come out there to spend some time with some family members of his.  I met him through a personal friend of the two of us, a mutual friend. I was introduced as a trumpet player, and Clifford said, “Oh, yeah, you play the trumpet.  Well, I used to play the saxophone.” [LAUGHS] He wasn’t playing at the time.

TP:    He used to play the trumpet, too.

AF:    Yes.  He started off with the piano, actually.  Then he went to the trumpet, and then he went to the saxophone still in Chicago.

TP:    When did you first hear him play?

AF:    When I first heard him was with Max Roach, after Sonny Rollins left Max Roach.  I heard him in that context, and then he came with Horace, who I was working with at the time, and that’s the first time I played with him.

TP:    You played side by side for about a year.

AF:    Right, for about a year.

TP:    Describe Clifford Jordan’s personality.  He was a very witty and…

AF:    Well, he was very witty.  But his middle name is Laconia — and he was very laconic.  You know, there was a certain style about him, especially about what he would say.  It was like it was serious and putting you on at the same time.  You had to know Clifford to know what he was really getting at.

TP:    There must have been a lot of musical jokes on the stand as well.

AF:    Well, there were some, but we usually didn’t joke that much about music. [LAUGHS]  We might joke about the people and about the various situations that one would find oneself in.  But the music we didn’t joke too much about, unless you find yourself in deep water.

TP:    Well, as two very quick-witted improvisers, I’m sure you could find your way out of that.  What was the impetus for the Art Farmer Quintet Featuring Clifford Jordan?

AF:    I had been living in Europe, and I had been coming back and forth, working over here with quintets and quartets, mostly quartets.  I always liked the way Clifford played; I always liked the way he played very much.  I found myself in a situation where I could add another horn, and he was the first one that I thought of.  I had done quite a bit of work in the mid-Sixties with Jimmy Heath, who is another great tenor saxophonist, but Jimmy was working with the Heath Brothers.  To make a choice between Jimmy and Clifford was very hard to do.  You’d choose who was available, and be glad that one of them was available.  I was very glad that Clifford was available.

Clifford was a saxophone player that had his own personal sound, especially by that time, and there was no one better at giving you this feeling that you were listening to an individual player, that instead of listening to the tenor saxophone, you were listening to an individual person.  That’s what Clifford had that is so hard to find.  You know, you can find musicians, especially tenor saxophone players, it seems like there are so many of them that are so great as far as mastery of the horn.  And once they master the horn, they’ve mastered the whole thing.  They have ideas galore, and they play the tune inside, outside, up and down and around.  But when it comes to an individual speaking to you, Clifford does that better than anyone I know.

[MUSIC:  Art Farmer/Clifford Jordan, "Smile Of The Snake" (1988); w/ Horace "Moon Rays" (1957); AF/Cliff, "Raincheck" (1987), "The Summary" (1989), ""Prelude #1" (1984)]

TP:    I’d like to ask you about the qualities of certain writers you favor and how they fall on the horn.  This is sort of impressionistic and maybe not so easy to put into words.  But for instance, in selecting an album of Strayhorn compositions, it’s a kind of complex decision…

AF:    It is complex, because those songs were created for big bands, and then to record them with a five-piece group is not a very easy thing.  You have to try somehow to maintain the color, the harmonic color of the piece with two horns instead of twelve horns.  So you have to be careful.  Some tunes just don’t work out, so you have to find something that you can work with.  Luckily, Billy Strayhorn was such a great composer that even with the simplest line, it could happen.  But then, if you go into a tune like “Bloodcount” [Contemporary] where you want to get the color on it, then you have to be careful what you do.  Of course, we like to play ballads, so we were very careful.

This “Prelude #1″ [Soul Note] was written by the Classical composer Frederic Chopin, and there certainly was no idea that it would be recorded with a Jazz group, with a quintet.  It was arranged by the Austrian pianist that works with me, Fritz Pauer.  He’d just brought it in.  It was written just for the left hand of a pianist.  I liked it.  I liked the way it was treated.  It just worked.  Some things work and some things don’t.

TP:    Well, in the case of Thad Jones, “The Summary” [Contemporary], you were dealing with a composer who was also a great…

AF:    Oh yes.  A great trumpeter.  He was really a monster.

TP:    Talk about his writing.

AF:    Well, his writing was some of the greatest writing that has ever happened for a large group.  I haven’t heard as much of his writing for small group as I would like to.  When I first came east with Lionel Hampton’s band, that’s when I heard him with his group.  He had a group out in Detroit, he and Frank Foster and Billy Mitchell, and I think Tommy Flanagan was in the group, too, and Elvin Jones.  That was great music.

The first time I heard Thad, I was playing with Jay McShann in the late Forties, maybe ’48 or ’49, something like that.  We were in Oklahoma, either Tulsa or Oklahoma City, and we had a night off, and we were jamming one night.  In comes this guy with an Army uniform on, he was like a Lieutenant or a Warrant Officer or something like that, and he takes out his horn and starts playing it — and I said, “Who is that?”  Because he was playing like only Thad can play.

TP:    That sounds like a scene one might have thought of from Kansas City in the 1930′s.

AF:    Well, this was in the Forties, in the late Forties, maybe ’48 or ’49, something like that.  I never had heard about any Thad Jones.  I had heard about Hank Jones, but Thad Jones, well… And he really just blew anybody away.

TP:    You didn’t mention earlier that you’d played with Jay McShann.

AF:    I played with Jay McShann for a year or two.  We didn’t make any records as the Jay McShann Orchestra.  I think there was a record ban on or something.  We made some kind of record backing up a singer, called “When I’m In My Gin.” [LAUGHS]

TP:    Was he doing any of his older repertoire?

AF:    Yes, he was then, sure.  “Jumpin’ The Blues.”  You know, you can’t get away without doing “Jumpin’ The Blues” and things like that.  That was a great experience playing with McShann.  I never will forget that somebody told him, “Mister McShann, when you play those Blues, you sound just like Art Tatum,” and he said, “No, Art Tatum sounds like me, sonny.”  Because he was the master of playing the Blues on the piano.

TP:    How many pieces was that band?

AF:    Oh, maybe it was about 14-15 pieces, something like that.

TP:    Hearkening back, you were in a lot of these type situations in your apprenticeship period — Johnny Otis, McShann, Horace Henderson, Lionel Hampton.  I guess all of these experiences really accrue and become part of what happens to you as an improviser.

AF:    Certainly.  I just thank God for the opportunity of playing with Jay McShann.  I played with Benny Carter in the late Forties and early Fifties; not traveled, but just in the Los Angeles area.

TP:    Playing with Benny Carter, as well as with Horace Henderson, must have been a real learning experience, as far as playing in section and musical discipline.

AF:    Yes.  The music wasn’t easy.  I was lucky to be there.  And the more experienced sidemen that were there were very helpful.  That’s one thing about the music business, is that when people see that you’re serious about learning, well, then, they’ll bend over backwards to give you a helping hand.  That’s what keeps the music alive, I think.

TP:    Passed down from generations.

AF:    That’s correct.  That’s the best way you can learn, sitting next to someone who knows what’s happening, who’s been there, and they’ll steer you right.

TP:    Well, it certainly seems to be a principle you’ve followed in your groups.  For at least fifteen years you’ve employed top young musicians, and…

AF:     Well, it’s to my advantage.  I mean, I’m not doing anybody any favors.  People are there because they should be there.  If I can tell them something, well, fine.  But they’re there to fulfill a function.

TP:    We spoke earlier about the long process of finding a sound.  Was your style formed exclusively from trumpet players, or did you listen to other instrumentalists and try to get some of their qualities?

AF:    No, you listen to everyone, and you try to get some of their quality.  I certainly listened a whole lot to saxophone players — Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker and Ben Webster and Lester Young — for dynamics and for phrasing, and just getting around the music.  The last thing a person should do is just listen to their own instrument, because that limits you so much.  It’s just unnecessary to put yourself in a situation where you’re dealing with that kind of limitation.  It’s like you’re just listening to half of the world, like you don’t want to…you’re just saying, “I don’t want to know anything else.”  There’s no point in that.

I listen to pianists, because I like the way pianists are able to play a line of notes, and all you hear are just the notes, nothing in between.  I would like to execute on the horn the way, say, Bud Powell would execute on the piano, for instance.  The saxophonists I listen to for the warmth of the sound.  The alto for the clarity, and the soprano saxophone for the emotion that comes through that horn so easily, comes right at you; if you listen to John Coltrane or Clifford Jordan, Jimmy Heath, and people like that, it’s right there.

I would say that the main thing about playing is listening.  You have to really concentrate on what you’re hearing, because you can easily think it’s one thing, and then it’s something else.  Sometimes when we go around and participate in classes, we’ll play something and ask somebody to play it back, and they’ll play something quite different from what was really played because they hadn’t really listened close enough.  Then I’d say, “Well, that shows you that you have to get your listening chops together, so you can be sure that you’re playing what you heard.”

Jazz is not just a matter of what’s on the paper, but it’s a matter of what you hear.  That’s how you learn.  Some guys, guys who are really well-trained, have well-trained ears, you play something one time, they got it.  They can throw it right back at you as fast as you can play it.  Then some other guys, their ears are not that well trained.  You have to take a thing and break it apart and play it note by note by note for them to get it.

TP:    Where do you stand?

AF:    I’m somewhere in the middle!

TP:    When we were chatting while the music was on earlier, you said that you wanted to talk about the individuality of some trumpet players.  So I’m going to throw some names at you, and please speak about them at whatever length you’d like.  I’ll start with Freddie Webster, who you’ve mentioned already.

AF:    Well, if Freddie had lived longer, I think he would have become just as influential as Dizzy was.  And I’m not taking nothing away from Dizzy.  Freddie was a great player in his own way of playing.  He had the sound, as Dizzy would say.  I remember one time when I first came to New York and I went to talk to Dizzy about getting a job with his band, and Dizzy said, “Well, what I’m looking for is a trumpet player with a sound like Freddie Webster.  I can do everything else myself.”  That was the main thing, the timbre of the sound and the emotional content that he was able to project.

TP:    Miles Davis admired him tremendously also.

AF:    That’s right.  Well, they were buddies.

TP:    Now, he wasn’t recorded that much.

AF:    No, he wasn’t.

TP:    In person what did he sound like?

AF:    I never got a chance to hear him in person.  I met him, but he wasn’t working at the time.  I just never got a chance to hear him.  So all I had to go by was what I heard on the record, and with the recording technique as it was then, there was no way that that sound could be embellished.  What you heard was what was there, and nothing else.  But I heard him on the live broadcasts with the Jimmie Lunceford band.  He played this tune, “Yesterdays,” and it just blew me away, as it does many people.  I heard him on some recordings with Sarah Vaughan.  The sound was there, the broadness of the sound.  No one else had a sound like that, as far as I can remember.

TP:    Did that quality of sound sort of enter your mind’s ear as something to strive for?

AF:    It certainly did.  If you want to have a broad sound, I don’t know anyone who had a sound broader than that.  And he was able to make it work for him.  He was one of a kind.  If he had been able to stay alive longer, and to make more records where he had a chance to play, I think his influence would have become very great with horn players, and all of us would have benefitted.  I think the person that benefitted the most from Freddie was Miles Davis, because he really listened closely to Freddie.

TP:    Well, let’s make Miles Davis the next trumpeter we talk about.

AF:    Well, Miles is very special, because in my opinion, he’s the first trumpet player that came along that…it’s very hard to hear Louis Armstrong in Miles’ playing.

TP:    And why is that important?

AF:    That’s important because Louis Armstrong was the well, heh-heh, where you go to for the water.  You know, he was the source.  And if somebody could come along and say as much as Miles said, and you couldn’t hear Louis Armstrong in it, that was really a miracle to me.  I’m certainly not putting down Louis Armstrong.  As I said, I haven’t heard anything greater than Louis Armstrong, nothing as far as an individual instrument.  The emotion that he could get out of that horn, there’s nothing around like that.

TP:    You first met Miles around 1946 when he came out to California with Benny Carter.  Did you maintain a pretty good relationship with him in New York?

AF:    Well, we didn’t hang out, but I would run into him sometimes.  I used to see him, like, on the Street (when I say the Street, I mean 52nd St), and then sometimes just run into him, you know, uptown or downtown.  We were always friendly.  He never had this attitude that he’s famous for, or that people always attribute to him as being hard to talk to.  That’s not the Miles that I know.

TP:    I gather that he had quite a bit of respect for your playing, and Thad Jones as well.

AF:    Yes, I guess so.  He was always very approachable and helpful.  I can’t think of any negative thing that ever happened with Miles.

But I’d like to break into this conversation and say that one of the greatest trumpet players, who was virtually ignored during his life, was Kenny Dorham.  He was playing at a time when there was a lot of traffic out there, you know.

TP:    Talk about a distinctive sound, I’ve never heard anybody with a sound quality quite like his.

AF:    No, it was personal.  A personal sound.  It didn’t  sound like he was copying anyone.  He just had his own sound, and that was it.  It wasn’t a big, broad sound.  It wasn’t the kind of sound that I was trying to get.  But it was a unique sound, and he could use it very well.  He always sounded very hip, the way he could phrase and the inflections that he could put on a note which identified him right away.

TP:    I’m going to ask you now about the three sort of major voices of the period you came up in — in no particular order: Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie, and then subsequently, Clifford Brown.

AF:    Well, you could hear Fats.  Fats had a big, fat sound.  No pun intended, but he had a great sound.  He was a master trumpet player, and he sounded like he could do anything he wanted to do on the trumpet with ease.  But still, without Dizzy, there would have been no Fats Navarro as we know him.  No way.  He was very strong on harmony, but the way he used harmony, you could hear where it came from.  So I’m saying that the credit has to go to Dizzy, because that was the main influence of a great trumpet player.

TP:    Indeed, Dizzy Gillespie’s harmonic and rhythmic innovations are the fount for a lot of things still happening today in Jazz.

AF:    Still.

TP:    I’d like you to talk about your early impressions of him.  Now, you heard the band that came out to Billy Berg’s in 1945 as a 17-year-old.

AF:    Yes, I saw Diz and Bird.  But I have to say this.  One night I was playing in a place in Paris, and a lady who used to book some dates for me, said, “Dizzy is coming down tonight.”  So I’m thinking, “Well, I’m going to play something that doesn’t have anything to do with Dizzy at all.  I played and I played and I played, and it seemed like everything I played I could trace right back to Dizzy!  It was very frustrating.  I wanted to play something unique.   But I could see my sources then for sure.  Like, if you just play and don’t think about where this comes from and where that comes from, you might start thinking that you’re doing something original.  But that’s very rare.

TP:    Were you familiar with the early Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie records when they came out to the West Coast?

AF:    Yes.  You see, when I was still living in Arizona, before I came to the West Coast, the first time I heard people playing that way was on some of the Billy Eckstine records.  Dizzy took a solo on one thing, and Dexter and Gene Ammons took a solo on something else.  Then when my brother and I moved to Los Angeles, some kids our age played these quintet records that Dizzy and Bird made, and that turned everything over for me.  Because I was hearing intervals and notes that I never had heard anyone else play before.  Dizzy was in another universe as far as picking notes to play.  In the quintet, the solos had more time to play than in the big band, so I could really hear what was going on.  It just grabbed me.  And I’m still where I was then.

TP:    Well, not quite, I wouldn’t think.

AF:    [LAUGHS]

Q:    I’m sure you hadn’t heard anybody play at that velocity.

AF:    No.  But I had heard a lot of the Jazz greats, like Roy Eldridge.  I had heard Johnny Hodges and the wonderful trumpet players with Duke Ellington’s band, and Buck Clayton and people like that.  The Ellington trumpet players were the ones that really got me, because they all sounded different.  Everyone there sounded different.

TP:    Of course, Ellington put them in situations where their individuality could be most fully exploited.

AF:    Yes, absolutely.  But Dizzy got all the kids.  Because the kids, when you grab a trumpet, the first thing you want to do is play up high, and see who can play the highest.   But Dizzy could play up high, and play something, too.  He wasn’t just screeching out a note, the way you hear some people do it, trying to see how high they can play.  But he was playing melodic ideas, with the swing and the clarity; his attack and intonation, everything was there.  He was really a harmonic pioneer for a horn player.  There had been pianists who were playing great notes, like Art Tatum, but Dizzy was the first one I heard that really was playing notes like that on a horn, and that, as I said, before, turned me upside-down.  So he had us all right from the very start.

Going back to Miles again, you have to give him credit.  When I first heard him, he was under the influence of Dizzy, but then he found his own way, and it was quite different.  Somehow he had managed to put it together and really talk to people through what he played on the horn — you know, get to the heart.

TP:    You spoke earlier about Clifford Brown, who you sat next to in Lionel Hampton’s trumpet section for a year, which I’m sure was a simultaneously enlightening and probably somewhat humbling experience as well.

AF:    [LAUGHS] Yes, it was.  Lionel liked to have battles, tenor battles or trumpet battles, whatever.  When Brownie came in the band, I had already been there for maybe about a year, and I was taking almost all the solos.  So then Brownie comes in the band, and Lionel, instead of taking some solos away from me and giving them to Brownie, he just opened up the arrangement, so I would go up first, and then Brownie would come out and play after me, or vice-versa.  But any time I went out first, I would figure, “Well, this guy is breathing down ny neck, and I’d better play the best I can play, otherwise he’s just going to wipe me away.”  We had the same influence.  We both loved Fats Navarro very much.  But he was much more developed than I was, and he could really take care of himself on the horn.

I learned a lot being there, and being able to listen to him every night.  There’s no words to describe how great he was, playing that horn consistently.  He could do everything.  He had technique and harmonic knowledge, a big fat sound.  He was able to articulate on the horn no matter what the tempo.  Even with all these great things, he had a great feeling, and he played musically.  He’s not a guy who was just running notes just to be running notes.  He’d put together a string of notes just like a string of pearls.  Each one matched the other in the string.  He could play ideas.  He could play with humor — which is very rare.  It’s very rare to find someone who can play with humor and still be playing musically, but he could do this.  He could play ballads.  He’d play race-horse tempos.  I don’t know anything that he couldn’t do.  He really had it together.  He sounded like he had been playing a hundred years.

TP:    Old soul with young chops.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    I’d like to now ask you about some of the trumpeters from the generation that followed you.  My mind makes the leap from Clifford Brown right to Booker Little.  Were you at all close to him?

AF:    No, I wasn’t close to Booker.  Of course, we knew each other, and I heard him play.  He sounded like he spent 23 out of 24 hours on the horn.  He really died too soon.  He had gotten the technique on the horn, and these records that he and Eric Dolphy made, the live records down at the Five Spot, were very good and very interesting, but I think that if he had lived longer…

TP:    They were the beginnings.

AF:    Yes, they were at the beginning as far as Booker Little was concerned.

TP:    Well, two trumpeters who were born in the same year as Booker Little who went on to make huge impacts were Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan, who were also deeply influenced by Clifford Brown and Dizzy Gillespie.

AF:    Mmm-hmm.

TP:    Were you paying as much attention to the younger trumpeters…

AF:    Oh, certainly.  I was paying a lot of attention to Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan.  I used to hear Lee every night, because he was playing with Dizzy’s big band at Birdland, and I was playing with Lester Young’s Quintet there opposite Dizzy.  So I listened to Lee every night.  And I know Lee was a master on the trumpet.

You know, the trumpet is an instrument that really makes people suffer.  It makes the listener suffer sometimes!  It makes the player suffer almost all the time!  — you know, to master that thing.  The trumpet is the Master, and it makes you suffer to get to the point where you can do anything with it at all.  And you hear someone like Lee Morgan come along, who is really a kid, and he plays it with nonchalance, and he plays it, “Oh, well, it’s just a trumpet.”  That’s the attitude that comes out when you hear him playing all these things, things that I would never dream of being able to do.  He was just playing with such ease.  He’d take the mouthpiece out and play the horn just with the leader part.  It seemed like he could do anything with the horn.

TP:    It seems like trumpet players are sort of divided between ones for whom the technique of the instrument isn’t really a problem and ones who create their style out of their limitations.

AF:    Yes, that’s right.  Some people have some sort of a gift for playing this horn, and Lee was one of them for sure.  Then Freddie Hubbard came along, and he sort of upset the whole thing, because he was so great, with such strong emotion and such power.  He had a certain fierceness in his playing which was kind of rare at that time, because people were under the influence of Miles.  Freddie was completely different.  He was unique in that respect.  He was like…the first word that comes to my mind is, I would say “gladiator.”  When he took that horn out, it was like somebody had taken out one of these chains with a big metal ball on the end with spikes and stuff that he’s gonna knock anybody down that got in his way!  Don’t mess with Freddie!  Because Freddie could do it all, too, but he had a certain masculinity in his playing that was like he’s the greatest one around here, and if you don’t believe it, he’ll show you.

TP:    Were you friends with or close to Woody Shaw?
AF:    I wasn’t really close to Woody, but we were certainly friends, because all trumpet players are friendly competitors.

TP:    Well, he took the trumpet into a somewhat different direction than Freddie Hubbard.

AF:    Oh yes, he certainly did.  He was another one that went another way, like Miles went another way.  Everybody does.  But he was successful.  He brought something into the trumpet that wasn’t there before, as far as the way he constructed his lines.  There was no one that was any place near him with the trumpet, and you would have to go to John Coltrane to find anyone who was able to deal with pieces harmonically the way Woody Shaw was — and Woody Shaw died, and there’s no one doing that now.  It seemed like it was just impossible.

It’s so difficult to play that way.  You know, the way I play is completely different from Woody Shaw.  I’m looking for pretty notes, to put together some notes and get a pretty phrase.  But Woody never played that way.  That was not what he was about.  He was looking for something that was really interesting to the ear, something that your ear had never heard before.  That’s what you would get from Woody Shaw.  You got that from Woody Shaw more than anybody else, including Lee Morgan or Freddie or Kenny Dorham or anybody you want to name.  Nobody could put together a string of notes like Woody Shaw, and he did it over and over and over again, consistently.  He was a miracle.

TP:    Who among the younger trumpet players who have emerged in the 1980′s has caught your ear, and why?

AF:    Well, everyone I hear catches my ear.  I haven’t had the chance to hear as many as I would like to hear.  The last one I heard was the trumpet player Roy Hargrove.  He’s a great Jazz player.  Then the trumpet player that was the stand-in for Miles at Montreux, Wallace Roney.  I heard him a couple of years ago on a tour, and he certainly caught my ear.  What he is able to do, what the young guys, in general, are able to do, to me it’s miraculous.  The things they play are so difficult, and they’re in such control of the horn.  Like I said, Brownie sounded like he had been playing a hundred years.  Well, these guys, they sound like that, too.  The stakes have risen.

TP:    All that literature, of course, is available to them, and many have had the tuition to be able to learn how the masters did it.

AF:    Yes.  Well, the educational possibilities are certainly much better now than they were fifty years ago.  But it’s more than that in the game.  Because if it was just a matter of education being more available, then you would have a hundred times the players that you have now.  So these guys, I have to say that they have done a heck of a lot of work to be able to do what they do.  I can’t name all of them, but I haven’t heard one yet that couldn’t play.  I haven’t heard a single one that sounded to me like I would say, “Why don’t you go home and get in the shed.”  They just don’t sound that way.  They sound like all they have to do is live a little longer, live life, and transfer that into the music.

[MUSIC:  Art Farmer/Jim Hall "I Want To Be Happy" (1964), "Embraceable You" (1962); 'Big Blues" (1978)]

TP:    On the face of it, Mr. Farmer, it would seem that you and Jim Hall would be a perfect front-line match in your sensibilities and the way you think about music.

AF:    [LAUGHS] Oh, that’s funny.  The crux of the whole thing is that Jim can make anything sound good.  Anything I would play, he is so quick to do something with it.  If I played a wrong note, which I certainly easily would do, he could make it sound right.  And there are few people who can do that or even would take the trouble to do it.  Jim is just a beautiful player.  Always has been.

TP:    I guess he came to you after working with Sonny Rollins for a few years.

AF:    That’s where the idea of this group came from.  Sonny had taken a vacation for a year or so, and then he organized a quartet with Jim Hall, Walter Perkins and Bob Cranshaw, I think.  Jim and Sonny sounded so beautiful in this setting and so loose, that…

TP:    You stole him?

AF:    No, not quite.  Sonny decided to make a change in his style of playing, and he got Don Cherry in the group and Jim came out.  So I asked Jim if he would like to do some dates with me.  But the whole inspiration of it was from what Jim and Sonny did.  They were reacting to each other in such a spontaneous but musical way.

TP:    I would imagine that not having a piano would have had an impact on your approach to your solos..

AF:    Well, it gives you more freedom.  But I had gotten used to that working with Gerry Mulligan.  That’s the first time I had worked in that type of a context.  You have to get used to it.  As I said before, the first time I played on a job with Gerry Mulligan, I felt like one of those nightmares where you find yourself walking down the street with no clothes on.  I was bared.  There was nothing there to hide behind.  You had to do something that made sense without this harmonic background behind you, which can be a great help.  If you have someone playing harmony behind you, playing a group of notes, well, then, that’s going to enhance what you do, and give it a sense of direction and meaning.  But if you’re just playing one note and the bass player behind you is playing one note, well, then, it’s hard to relate what a person plays on top, because there’s not enough there to relate to.  So you get help out of someone playing a chord instrument like a guitar or a piano.  When you go out there by yourself, you have to make sense by yourself.

TP:    I would imagine that this was the first time you led the same group for a sustained period of time.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Comment on how that impacts the music, however it does.

AF:    Well, it should impact the music, but I don’t remember it impacting the music when we played.  We just got up and played whatever we wanted to play.  That’s all I can think of.  Sometimes I might ask Jim what he felt like playing, but usually I would call the tunes, and the way I called the tunes was based upon what I feel I can do best at that time.  Trumpet players have to consider the physical part of playing more than other people do.  You have to play something that you feel you can get through without too many blooies.  If you overdo it on one tune, then you have to back off a little bit on the next tune.

TP:    Is that the case now, too?

AF:    It’s always the case.

TP:    How do you work it?  Do you have a book of maybe 30-40 tunes that everybody’s familiar with, and then you select from it?

AF:    Yes, that’s right.  I have a book that has maybe around a hundred tunes in it, but at any given time I would probably be using about 30 of those.  You can’t play the same tune all the time, week-in and week-out.  You have to give these tunes a rest.  Sometimes you give them a rest and never come back to them.

TP:    So within that book of a hundred, you might be adding ten to that and dropping ten…

AF:    Yes, right.

TP:    …and within like two to three year cycles, say.

AF:    Yes, I always bring in some new tunes from time to time.  That sort of keeps you awake.  If you play the stuff that you know all the time, you can get bored on the job.

TP:    Your groups perform an extremely venturesome and challenging repertoire.  How do you go about selecting tunes?

AF:    Well, usually guys in the group just bring the tunes in, and I run them down.  If it seems interesting to me, if it seems like it’s worth working on to perfect my playing in it, then I would say, “Yeah, okay, let’s do it.  Let’s go for it.”  Then I’d take it home and go in the woodshed with it, and stay there until I feel able to play it in public.

TP:    It seems that the challenge of performing very difficult music in some ways is what keeps you fresh.

AF:    Yes, certainly it does.  Because you have to keep learning.  If you play things that don’t give you any challenge… It’s hard to learn anything on these standard tunes.  But some of these tunes like on this disk that  you’re getting ready to play now, you have to be on your toes.  Of course, like I said, I would listen to the tune, and if I could hear myself in it and thought that eventually I would be able to play it, well, then, we would start working on it.  That would go for the other guys as well.  But you don’t want to spend your lifetime on one tune.  It has to show some reward somewhere, I guess you’d say light at the end of the tunnel or something like that somewhere.  You don’t want to just work on a tune forever and ever.  But  sometimes it winds up that way.  I’m working on a tune now, and we’re playing the tune in public sometimes; I’ve been working on this same tune for about four or five years.  I still haven’t got it where I want it to be.  But I’m going to hang in there.

TP:    Although you haven’t written many compositions, what’s there is choice.  Talk about your attitude towards writing.

AF:    Well, first of all, you have to like the tune, and then, you have to figure out that you can learn it well enough that you can play it and bring something to it.

As far as writing tunes was concerned, well, I never have had reason to consider myself a composer.  A tune might come to me sometime, but if I don’t get it from beginning to the end in a short period of time, that means I never will get it.  So I just leave it for the scrap that it was, and that’s it, and go on to something else.  I am really not a composer, and there are enough good composers around and enough good tunes around that I don’t feel obliged that I have to rely upon myself.  Some guys only play their own tunes, and usually no one else plays their tunes but them, and the only reason why they’re playing the tunes is because they wrote them — you know, it’s some sort of ego or royalty trip for them.  But that’s not the way I think about music or business.  So I just can’t do it.

TP:    I would imagine that preparing for records is a way of bringing in new material as well.

AF:    That’s right.  But a lot of times I find myself playing tunes on the record, and I never play them again.  But then sometimes it works out the other way.  But in order to make a record on a tune that you come anywhere near doing something you like, I have to do it so many times, that sometimes I never want to hear it again.

TP:    I hope that’s not the case with the tracks we’re playing on this show.  Though I gather from the liner notes that you did something like 47 takes on the version of “Embraceable You” that we heard…

AF:    [LOUD LAUGH]

TP:    …(I’m joking) before you found one that you were happy with.

AF:    I was laughing, because I remember one time I was on a date that Benny had written and arranged.  It was called Brass Shout.  Philly Joe Jones was the drummer.  Now, I didn’t know that this was supposed to be my date.  I just called up Benny from the airport.  I was working with Mulligan, and had some time to kill.  He said, “Where are you?”  I said, “I’m at the airport.”  He said, “You’re supposed to be in the studio today.”  I said, “What?”  Then he explained that we are recording today, what became an album called Brass Shout.  Lee Morgan was on the album, and a lot of great players, just brass players and rhythm.  During the course of the date somebody said, “Well, you know this is your album.  You know that.”  I said, “No, I didn’t know that at all.”

We played a ballad, “April In Paris,” and we made we the first take, and I said, “I’d like to do it again.”  Philly Joe says, “No, that’s good enough, that’s good enough.  You don’t have to do it again.”  I said, “Man, I want to do it again.”  He says, “Well, so what, you want to do it again.  It’s good enough.  It’s good enough.  You don’t have to do it no more.”  I said, “Well, look, man, it’s my date, and I want to do it again.”  He said, “What?  It’s your date?  If I had known it was your date, I wouldn’t be here.”  I said, “You’re right.  If I had known it was my date, you wouldn’t be here either.”  We just looked at each other and laughed.  Of course, we did it again, though.

TP:    I’d guess the nakedness of the lone improviser is most evident in a quartet date.

AF:    It is.

TP:    And because of the chops thing for a trumpeter, a quartet date (apart from trios) must be a tremendous challenge.

AF:    Yes, it’s a challenge.  Because you’ve tried to keep from doing something that you would cringe when you had to go to a Jazz show on the radio and listen to it, and feel like just sneaking out the door, if you have too many blooies on the thing.  So you have to be careful.

TP:    The next set will focus on Art Farmer as featured soloist, and then we’ll return for more conversation.  This track comes from the release that you said was your favorite record, done for Argo, entitled, simply, Art.

AF:    Right.

TP:    What is it that makes a date be able to go well?  I guess one thing is that Tommy Flanagan is the piano player.

AF:    Yeah, that’s one of the most important things.  He made such beautiful intros.  He set you up so wonderful that when you started to play, you just had to follow him.  So that made it happen.

But it was just one of those things where everything fell in line.  It was very simple.  What I did was, I went to the music store and bought some sheet music.  Take a song like “Younger Than Springtime,” I would buy one copy for me, one copy for the bassist and a copy for Flanagan, then I would transpose my part and go in the studio and do it.  We had no rehearsal.  Just put the sheet music on the stand, and go ahead and play it.  But the feeing was so good because the rhythm section was so nice, with Tommy Flanagan and a great bassist who doesn’t live any more by the name of Tommy Williams, who was a remarkable player.

TP:    He was with the Jazztet.

AF:    Yes, he was with the Jazztet at this time.  And Tootie Heath on the drums.  But Tommy Williams played great on this record.  After playing with the Jazztet, he went to work with Stan Getz, and worked with him a couple of years, then  he got out of the business.
TP:    This one has seven standards, music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gershwin, Irving Berlin.  In your style, in improvising, do singers have an impact?  I know you worked with Lester Young, who was a big advocate of knowing the lyrics for all the material.

AF:    Right.  Yes, they certainly have an influence on me.  Certainly.  Not as much as I would like to, because the ones that I love, like Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, are just thousands of light years away from me in what they were able to do with a tune.  They could really bring a tune to life, and that’s what I try to do.

The first thing you have to do is get a good tune.  And the guys who wrote these tunes were songsmiths.  They really knew what they were doing.  They could write a song, and the words meant something.  Not just “Oh, I love you, baby, and I’m feeling so blue.”  They’d say more than that.  The songs were fun to play.  I had worked with Lester Young, and I heard the way that he would treat a song, and I tried to do some of that, too, have it loose and free, put yourself in it.  You have to believe in the song.

[MUSIC:  AF4/Flanagan, "Younger Than Springtime" (1961), AF/Cedar, "Brownskin Girl In The Calico Gown" (1975), AF/Hank Jones, "Nita" (1958), AF/O. Nelson Orch, "Fly Me To The Moon (1962), AF/Hamp Hawes, "I Can't Get Started" (1976), AF/Flanagan, "That Old Devil Called Love" (1961)]

TP:    One thing that set brought out was the presence of so many the great piano players, the great solos, and the relationship between you, the soloist and the pianist.

AF:    These guys play so good, they could just fall out of bed and play that way.  All of them are just fantastic, and you couldn’t find anyone better than them to play with.  Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Hampton Hawes.  Hampton and I, we grew up together out in California, and we used to go over to his father’s church and try to figure out what was happening.  But he certainly figured it out very well.

TP:    There are some very early recordings with Wardell Gray in the early Fifties, not only the original “Farmer’s Market,” but also a recording on Xanadu that captures you at some length in a club.

AF:    Oh yeah, that was unknown.  We didn’t even know that had been recorded, and I wish it hadn’t been, but you have to live with those things.  But Hampton certainly found his way at a very early age, and he was the king out there of the pianists.  Like what I said about Jim Hall earlier, Hampton was able to make anything the soloist did sound better than it would sound without him.  That’s the way these guys are.  You couldn’t find anybody better to play with than Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones and Hampton Hawes.  They’re just great, you know.  The solos, comping, introductions… Like I said about Flanagan, when they play an intro, all you had to do was just follow them.  It’s like they’re saying, “Here’s the way; just follow me.  Everything is going to be all right.”  They set it up so well.  You couldn’t get any better introduction with a 60-piece orchestra than you can get from a good rhythm section.

TP:    Speaking of which, it seems you’ve always worked with extremely dynamic drummers.  In the last set we heard Billy Higgins, Roy Haynes, Tootie Heath.  Talk a little bit about what you’re looking for in the drummer when you’re playing over an ensemble.

AF:    Well, I’m looking for a drummer to give me some help.  I remember one day I was talking to Miles, we ran into each other on the street, and we were just talking, and he said, “Yeah, you and I, we need strong drummers.”  It’s true, to really put some fire underneath the line.

TP:    And you can sort of float on top of it, feint in and out…

AF:    Mmm-hmm.  The drummers keep it going.  And that’s very, very important.  I like to have drummers that bring some fire to the thing, because then I can lay back and sort of come in a little bit after them.  I don’t have to worry about keeping the thing alive.  You can’t lay back too much, but it gives you some room.  And if you lay back too much, you’re making the work too hard for the drummer.

TP:    I guess Lester Young, your former employer, was one of  the great masters at doing that.

AF:    Yes, he certainly was.

TP:    It sounds like your time with Lester Young was very valuable for you.

AF:    Oh, it was.  It really was.  We never had a rehearsal.  He just called up and said what time the gig started.  He had a contract with Birdland where he would do a certain amount of weeks each year, and he wanted to have another horn on the stand other than just him, because the nights were very long — we used to do either five or six sets a night.

TP:    35-minute sets?
AF:    Well, sometimes it was 35, sometimes 50, sometimes an hour.  It varied, so everybody wound up doing the same amount of time.  But the last set finished at 4 o’clock.  So it was a long night.  If you were playing with just one horn, the night gets longer.  Lester would say that you hire people that play, and if they can play, well, that’s what you hired them for.  If you’re not going to let them play, you shouldn’t have them there.  You should have someone else.

TP:    In all those combos he used trumpet players, like Jesse Drakes, Shorts MacConnell.

AF:    Unless he went out on the road, and then it was just a rhythm section.  But anyway, it was a great experience, because there was no rehearsal, and very little ensemble play.  He would usually play the melody, unless you were playing something like “Lester Leaps In,” which is just a riff, really, where everybody would play at the same time.  But when he’s playing the melody on the first chorus, well, then it was my chance to listen to how melody should and could be played.  So I look to keep that forever.  Then when the time came for his solo, he wouldn’t… You had to come to him to hear him play, to hear what he was doing.  He wasn’t going to get into some sort of honk-and-scream tenor thing.  He could do his own way of honking, which he used to do with Basie’s band, but in the context of a small group, he was usually pretty laid-back and cool, unless he took some breaks on “Lester Leaps In” or something like that.  But he showed how to get intensity without what we used to  call flag-waving.

TP:    I remember in the famous late interview with him, he was talking about getting the horn some days to sound like a baritone, a clarinet, and that he’d try to evoke a wide range of color and dynamics out of his horn.

AF:    Yes, right.  He would play low on the horn and play up high on the horn sometimes, too.  I know a strange thing, when he would come to work, he would take that horn out of the case and he would play so soft that you couldn’t hardly hear it.  That’s the way he would warm up.  It was like he was coaxing a sound out of the horn, like he was saying, “Come on, now, you know you can do it.”

People thought that he was weird and strange, but he wasn’t weird, he was just individual.  He had such a great sense of humor.  He would walk sideways on the stage.  He was really a character.  One night I was playing, and he sensed that I was getting ready to stop playing, and he sidled over to me and whispered in my ear, and he said, “I wouldn’t stop now, Prez.”  I never will forget that, because he called everybody “Prez”.

TP:    Did he nickname you?

AF:    No.  I think he called me Lady Farmer.  He called everybody either “Prez” or “Lady.”

TP:    The next set of music we’ll hear brings out an aspect of Art Farmer’s musical experience over the last twenty-five years, which are recordings made in Europe.  You’ve been in residence in Vienna for quite some time now.  So I guess the first question is what led you Europe, to Vienna, and then I’ll ask you about certain aspects of your musical experiences there.

AF:    Well, I went there to participate in a Jazz competition as one of the judges, along with J.J. Johnson, Cannonball Adderley, Ron Carter, Mel Lewis and Joe Zawinul.  This whole thing took about three weeks, and while I was there got to meet some of the local musicians.  There were some very good players there, and they told me that the radio was in the process of organizing a Jazz band — and they asked me if I would like to become a member of it.  The conditions were very lenient, because I would only have to work about ten days a month, and I would be free to do what I wanted to do the other time.  So that sounded too good to turn down, because I found myself spending more and more time in Europe, and I just thought, well, maybe I should get away for a couple of years, because things were at a certain state here…

TP:    How so?  This was the mid-1960′s.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Talk about that a bit.

AF:    Well, the places where I could play were usually in what is called the ghetto area of the town.  There was a lot of civil strife going on, and a lot of fires and riots and things, and people were scared to go out at night — they didn’t know what was going to happen.  This was at the time when Rock really took over, the Beatles and everything like that took over the popularity that should be spread among all kinds of music.  So Jazz was way down on the totem pole.  Not too many were going out, and they were afraid of whether or not they were going to be able to get home.  All kinds of things were happening.

So I thought it would make sense to get away from here, and get some place where I could think more about the music than be forced to think about other things that didn’t have anything to do with the music at all.  So I took them up on it.

TP:    What was the climate like in Europe in the mid to late 1960′s?  Now, you certainly weren’t the only prominent American improviser to take up residence in Europe.

AF:    Yeah, there were a lot of guys over there — Dexter Gordon, Kenny Clarke, Ben Webster.  Even going back to the New Orleans days, Albert Nicholas was living there, and I got to hear him play; I never heard him play here, but I got to hear him play there.  Don Byas.  I’m going around playing on concerts with people like that, who I wouldn’t come in contact with here.  It was educational from that point of view.  So I really enjoyed being over there.

TP:    One thing that’s almost a commonplace about Europe is that the rhythm sections there weren’t quite up to par vis-a-vis American rhythm sections.  Was that true?

AF:    Well, it was true in many cases, but it wasn’t true all the time.  Even going back to the Sixties, there were some players who could really take care of the job.

TP:    In Vienna were there…?

AF:    In Vienna there were some who were close enough that you didn’t feel like walking off, certainly.  Everybody wasn’t straight here either, you know.

TP:    Well, the group you currently work with in Europe is very strong, as New Yorkers were able to hear at a recent engagement at Sweet Basil.  I guess Fritz Pauer is the one you go back the farthest with.

AF:    Yes, Fritz was the first one that I met.  I was invited over to participate in a jazz competition which was organized by Friedrich Gulda, and Fritz was one of the competitors — actually he won First.  Since he lived in Vienna, I got to know Fritz quite well.  We’ve worked together many times throughout the year, and I have played and recorded a lot of his songs, because in my opinion, he is a great Jazz composer.  His songs are really in the idiom.  They really sound like Jazz songs.  It doesn’t sound like Third Stream or semi-Classic or half-Jazz or Crossover or anything like that.  It’s just Jazz, and it’s fun to play it, and I learn a lot from playing it.  That’s most important to me.

TP:    Harry Sokal is the saxophone player.

AF:    Well, Harry was introduced to me by Fritz, and the other players I think Harry introduced to me.  The bassist is actually not from Europe; he was born in South America, but he lives in Germany now — Paolo Cardoso.  The drummer, Mario Gonzo(?), is Austrian-born.  His father was a bass player.  Gonzo is one of the most outstanding drummers in Europe, as far as I know, and I would be happy to have him playing with me any place that I can get him.  We’ve played together quite a bit over in Europe.  As you know, this is the first time that we’ve been able to come over here.  Our trip was sponsored by the Austrian Cultural Institution.  I guess they felt that it would be nice for it to be known that Jazz was also honored and respected in Austria, although Austria is one of the strongest homes of Classical European Music.  But there is a large audience for Jazz there also, and I guess they thought that the other places should know that there is something happen over there.  So I’m glad that it was made possible for me to bring the group over here.  That’s certainly not to say that the groups that I play with here are not great in their own right.  But just to have a little bit of difference, there’s no harm in that.

TP:    It seems like Jazz had a special meaning to people who lived through the Second World War.  Jazz had a certain political meaning to Europeans, it’s been written about by a number of people.  Can you comment on that?

AF:    Well, it seemed like the idea of Jazz would be more freedom, you know, where a person is able to do what they want to do, but they’re still thinking, as opposed to over here, where the idea of Jazz that we’ve had to fight for a long time was that Jazz was just an entertainment music, and you really don’t have to listen to it.  That’s the American idea, that as long as you’re paying your money to get in, you don’t have to listen to it.  You can talk and holler and scream, shout at each other, and bang your glasses on the table, whatever.  You’re there to have a good time, and you’re paying for it, so nobody better not say anything about “be quiet!”

TP:    That’s not so much the case in the European clubs?

AF:    No, it’s not the case.  It might be the case in some club where someone is playing music that induces that type of behavior.  But I can’t say that it’s the case in the places where I play.  You can’t hear a pin drop when you’re getting ready to solo!

TP:    Do you think it’s a better educated audience?

AF:    I think it must be, because they are really very attentive.  Which makes a lot of sense.  It’s crazy to think that people go into a club where you have a fifteen dollar music charge, and drinks are eight and nine and ten dollars a piece, and you have to have two drinks each set.  If you have a date with you, you’re getting into some real money.  Now, you’re going to sit there, and you’re paying for something that you’re not even listening to.  And other people sitting next to you are hollering and screaming, and it’s just like if you go in restaurant and order a nice meal, and then somebody comes along and spits in your food.

TP:    Now, I assume you’ve experienced rowdy crowds from your apprenticeship days.

AF:    No.  But some music encourages that kind of thing.  Some people feel that if there’s not a lot of noise going on, they’re not having a good time.  That’s the style of  restaurants.  They make the noise part of the ambiance.  If it’s too quiet, people say, “Oh, this is a dead place, let’s go some place else.

TP:    Vienna has been a fount of European musical culture over several hundred years, and its musical history is legend.  How much has that tradition seeped its way into your aesthetic, your outlook on music?

AF:    Oh, not much, because I already had that before I got there.  That’s the way I felt about music.  Music has always been a very serious part of my life, as far as I can remember.  I didn’t have to go to Vienna for that.  But it was certainly nice to go to a place where people like and respect music as much as they do.  That doesn’t mean everyone does, but the people you see at the concerts certainly give you that idea.

TP:    It seems that since you’ve been there, and this apparently is partly the responsibility of your pianist, Fritz Pauer, a couple of generations of very talented young Jazz musicians have emerged in Vienna and Austria.

AF:    Oh, yes.  There are some.  There are some that are really doing it, and I’m sure that there will be more, because people do take the music seriously, and they know that if you really want to do something, you have to put your energy into it.  It’s just not going to happen by itself.  You just can’t talk about it but you have to do it.

TP:    [ETC.]

AF:    Thank you very much.  It’s been my pleasure, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed here so long.  And I never sit down and listen to four hours of my records.  It’s the first time in my life.

TP:    How has it been?

AF:    It hasn’t been too bad.

TP:    One or two things you cracked a smile on.

AF:    A couple of winces there, but that’s about it.

[MUSIC: A. Farmer/S. Shihab/K. Drew/Thigpen, "Passport" (1981), AF/J. Heath, "Cocodrillo" (1970), AF/F. Pauer (duo), "Azure" (1987), AF/R. Mitchell, "A Bitty Ditty" (1974), A. Farmer/T.Harrell, "Santana" (1992), AF/Cliff, "Blame It On My Youth" (1988)]

* * *

Art Farmer (WKCR, 8-10-94):

Q:    A few words about the present, the new CD at hand, and the group that you’re performing with.  The two-trumpet concept, particularly one dealing with an improviser as lyrical and creative as Tom Harrell, who reminds a number of people of you, I think, in his approach to improvising.
AF:    Well, the first time I did an album with another trumpet player was during the time I was playing with Lionel Hampton, and Clifford Brown was in the band, and we did some  recording over in Sweden and some recording in Paris, and then later on in New York two trumpets with Donald Byrd, and then a little later on with three trumpets, with Idrees added.  It  seemed to be always something that wakes you up, when you listen to another trumpet player and you want to clearly define your own voice.  You want to sound like yourself, so people can tell the difference, certainly.  And I think one of the greatest records of all time that I have heard, and I never stop enjoying it, is “Double Talk” with Fats Navarro and Howard McGhee.
Q:    How did this recording come about?  How did you decide on Tom Harrell, first of all, and doing the two trumpet format, second.
AF:    Well, I decided on Tom because I have been an admirer ever since I first heard him, I would say, maybe twenty years ago with Horace Silver.  Not to say that there aren’t other fine trumpet players around that I’d be very happy to play  with.  But Tom was here, and he seemed to be very enthusiastic about the idea, as well as myself.  So that’s how it came to be.
Q:    After the second formation of the Jazztet disbanded, you’ve been working steadily in New York with various quintets, always with a saxophone in the front line, Clifford Jordan for many years, and now Jerome Richardson.
AF:    Yes.
Q:    I’d like you to say a few words about the very creative band you’re working with this week, which includes some of the strongest young players performing in Jazz right now.
AF:    Yes.  Well, we’ve been working with this same line-up for a year or so, especially the rhythm section.  Jerome has just taken the place of Clifford.  It was certainly wonderful to play with Clifford, because he and I went back many years.
Q:    You were the front of…
AF:    Horace Silver’s group.
Q:    …almost forty years ago.
AF:    Yes.  And  Jerome and I first played together with the great Oscar Pettiford, but not in a small group.  Well, we might have done some gigs at some clubs down in the Village, Cafe Bohemia or something like that with Oscar.  But the group that we have now, that I usually have, is the same group that’s on this record and that’s at Sweet Basil now, with an amazing pianist, Geoff Keezer, the truly also amazing Kenny Davis on bass, and Marvin Smitty Smith on drums.  I can’t say how much of a pleasure it is to play with these people.
Q:    One thing I’ve always been impressed with is how much leeway you give the performers in the group.  You always seem to have very creative players, give them free rein to express their ideas, and you just go right with it, say your piece… Talk about your philosophy of group-leading.
AF:    Well, I learned this actually from Lester Young when I was working with him.  He said, you know, you hire people that play, and if they can play, well, that’s what you hired them for.  If you’re not going to let them play, you shouldn’t have them there.  You should have someone else.
Q:    I said I wouldn’t talk about the past, but you brought up Clifford Brown, Lester Young and the old days for Prestige.  Did you play with Lester Young when you were living in Los Angeles?
AF:    No, never.  Never.  Never saw him there.  I played with him here exclusively at Birdland, because every time he went  into Birdland he brought in another horn.  The original trumpet player was Jesse Drakes, and Jesse called me up one day and asked me did I want the gig, and I said, “Sure.”  Lester had a contract for a certain amount of weeks every year, and when a date would come up he would call me and ask me if I could make it.
Q:    This was ’53-’54-’55, something like that?
AF:    No, it was just about the same time I was working with Horace.  So it was in the Fifties, the mid-Fifties.
Q:    According to the information I’ve read, you got to Los Angeles when you were about 17 years old, and you were born in Iowa and raised in Phoenix, Arizona.  Just a few words about your origins in music.  You seem like the type of person who has been playing ever since you could pick up an instrument.
AF:    Yeah, that’s true.  At that time it was very customary to have a piano in the house, and someone played it.  There were a lot of music students in our family, and it just seemed the natural thing to take piano lessons.
Q:    Your parents?
AF:    Yes.  My mother played the piano in the church choir.  So I had been hearing music ever since I could hear.  I started with the piano because it was there.  Then someone later on gave me a violin, so I played that some, but I didn’t hear anyone playing Jazz on it in Arizona, so I gravitated towards horns — and that’s how it happened.
Q:    How did the sound of Jazz enter your ears?  Was it just around you all the time?
AF:    No.  It was on the radio.  There was a lot of airplay for Jazz then.  They had big bands playing for dances, and all kind of wonderful things happening.  The first live music that I heard actually was the real Country Blues, because I used to sell papers, and I would walk around in the migrant workers’ camps and sell them papers, and after work they would be sitting around, playing and singing, playing the Blues on the guitar or whatever.
But I heard all this Big Band Jazz on the radio.  Then when the Second World War came into being, there was an Army camp there, and I heard the Army dance band.  There was one guy who is still around here in New York now by the name of George Kelly, and he was in the band, and he used to come around to our rehearsals and help us out.  He was a great guy.  He used to write arrangements for us.  But that’s the first time I heard a big band live, was the U.S. Army band.
Q:    Were you playing trumpet by then?
AF:    Yes, I had started.  And some of the traveling bands would come through on one-nighters.  The greatest thing in life that I could imagine was to hear these bands.  It was so exciting that it never has left me.
Q:    You mentioned specifically in the liner notes for an older record being impressed by the trumpet section of the Lunceford band.
AF:    Right, the Lunceford band was great.  They had some fine trumpet players.  But just the sound of their section was…it just blew the top of my head off!
Q:    When you began to improvise on the trumpet, who were the people who inspired you in forming your own mode of expression?
AF:    Well, people such as Dud Bascomb, Roy Eldridge — the ones who came there.  Then I heard Dizzy Gillespie on a record with Billy Eckstine, and that really turned me around completely.
Q:    You were about 16 years old then.
AF:    Yeah, around that age.
Q:    Along with many other people who were born around when you were, who came up right under the excitement of this whole group of musicians.  A few words about the impression that it made on you.
AF:    Well, it’s hard to express my excitement in a few words, but…
Q:    You play so concisely, I’m sure you can do it!
AF:    But I had heard the Swing trumpet players, like I mentioned, Dud Bascomb and the people who played with Lunceford and Jay McShann and Tiny Bradshaw, etcetera.  When I heard Dizzy, that was completely a revelation.  I just wondered where he found those notes, you know, that sounded so different from what everyone else was playing.  And it’s not to say that the other players were not playing good, but he was into another universe as far as picking notes to play.  A lot of guys, me included, were certainly excited. And his great technique, the fact that he could play so high and play so clearly.  But if you slowed down, you could hear that the notes were something that no one else was doing.  He was really a harmonic pioneer for a horn player.  There have been pianists who were playing great notes, like Art Tatum, but Dizzy was the first one I heard that really was playing notes like that on a horn, and that, as I said, before, turned me upside-down.
Q:    Had you heard that before you went to Los Angeles at 17?
AF:    I heard the records but I didn’t hear Dizzy until I went to Los Angeles.
Q:    So you heard the group at Billy Berg’s and so forth at that time?
AF:    Yes, I went there.
Q:    And that really turned you around, I gather!  You decided to stay in Los Angeles and finish high school there.
AF:    Yes.
Q:    A few words about that process.  You and your brother, Addison, went to Los Angeles for a vacation, the story goes…
AF:    Yes, we went there for a summer vacation in 1945, and  the scene was so active that we decided just to stay there.  Our mother said it was okay with her as long as we graduated from high school.  So we enrolled in a great high school by the name of Thomas Jefferson that had a wonderful teacher named Samuel Brown.  There were other active players such as Dexter Gordon, who went to that school a few years in front of us, and others such as Sonny Criss and Cecil McNeely, who later on turned out to be a great Rock star by the name of Big Jay McNeely.  Hampton Hawes was around.  So they were very interesting young guys to run around with.
So we just went to school there.  We would write our own excuses, just as if we were living with our parents.  And so we developed a very good reputation like that!
Q:    I guess being in Los Angeles at a time like that, when so much was going on, must have just been the best for a young musician.
AF:    Oh, yes.  Well, as far as being in the right place at the right time, I’ve been lucky all my life.  I’ve been very lucky to be in Los Angeles at that time, and then to be here — looking back, to be able to have played with the people that I’ve played with.
Q:    It seems like there was a little design involved in that process as well.
AF:    There was some.  When I played with Lester, when I played with Coleman Hawkins; you know, it’s just fantastic to look back on experiences like that.
Q:    Also you got to meet Charlie Parker when you were out there.
AF:    Yes.
Q:    It seems that that had an indelible effect on your aesthetic.
AF:    Well, the Jazz community was like an extended family, and if you were in there with them, you would meet whoever it was in there.  The people were very nice to younger people.  If they saw that you were serious and what you were doing, why, then, they would help you in any way they could.  You didn’t have to feel hesitant to ask them any questions.  So long as you knew the questions to ask, they would be there.  And there wasn’t any attitude, “Well, I’m too busy to bother with you.”  And that goes for Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie and all the guys that I had the good fortune to meet.
Q:    It seems coming up and listening first to the trumpet players from the Swing bands must really have given you a sense of melodic necessity…
AF:    Yes, certainly.
Q:    And it seems that your distillation of Parker and Gillespie has concentrated on that aspect of what we do.  Can you comment on that?
AF:    Yes.  Well, if you listen to guys like Roy Eldridge and Dud Bascomb, you certainly are going to have a sense of melody.  Because they were basically very melodic players, especially Dud Bascomb, who was a real story-teller if there ever was one.  You never hear his name, but I remember Miles used to copy his solos note for note — of course, not only Miles.  But he really spoke when he played.  So that’s where the urge to create melodic solos came from on my part.  Because at that time there were trumpet players who were called Ride Players.  The ensemble parts that say “Ride Solo,” where you just sort of Jazz the melody.  But then when players like Bascomb and Ray Nance came along, well, they really created their own things, and they were so interesting and so beautiful.
Q:    Art Farmer seems never to have discarded anything that he’s picked up, and it all seems to come together every year in something new, different tunes and so forth.  We’ll hear a tune that’s sort of the antithesis of what Art Farmer seems like to me.  It’s called “I’m Old Fashioned”, and it’s taken from a recording on Enja called Soul Eyes that was taken I guess live to DAT at one of the Japanese Blue Note clubs in 1991.
AF:    Yes.
[MUSIC: "I'm Old Fashioned" (1991), "TGTT" (1994)]
Q:    You’ve been recording Ellington always, and there’s one amazing album of all Strayhorn compositions done for Contemporary with Clifford Jordan, and another from the Seventies with Cedar Walton, Sam Jones and Billy Higgins.  “TGTT” you said comes from the Second Sacred Concert.
AF:    Yes, this was made aware to me by Geoff Keezer, and it was recorded by the Ellington Orchestra, the Second Sacred Concert, as a vocal with the singer Alice Babs singing, and it was done in 3/4 time.
Q:    Were you able to see the Ellington band much as a youngster?
AF:    No.  No, not that often.
Q:    But were you very influenced by it, though?
AF:    Oh, very much influenced by the Ellington band.  I saw the band, first of all, in Los Angeles at the Million Dollar Theater, and since then I saw the band every chance I had.  Of course, I don’t see it now because they don’t work in New York any more.  But it certainly was an education to me, and I liked the way the trumpet players played very much.
Q:    They were all true individualists in that trumpet section.
AF:    Yes, very much so!
Q:    [ETC.] Did you work with Mingus in the late 1940′s and early 1950′s in Los Angeles?
AF:    No, I never worked with him there.  Shortly after I went there, then he left.  He had one period where he didn’t work as a musician, then he went to work with the Red Norvo Trio, and after that he settled down here in New York City.
Q:    You did share an employer, though, Lionel Hampton…
AF:    Yes, but…
Q:    Of course at a different time.
AF:    I worked with Mingus here in the City on various projects, so we knew each other and were pretty good friends.
Q:    I just want to ask about a couple of the people you’ve encountered and played next to over the years.  One of the first you mentioned coming up here was playing alongside Clifford Brown in the Lionel Hampton Band in 1953, I guess.
AF:    Yes.
Q:    A few words about Clifford Brown, and your relationship.
AF:    Well, Clifford Brown is known for being a person that no one has ever found a bad word to say about him.  He was really exceptional.  He was just a warm, beautiful person.  And he played so good, he didn’t have to say that he was good.  He didn’t have to say that anyone else was bad.  He just went ahead and played.
Q:    Would you say his sound was pretty much fully formed around the time when you were together?
AF:    Yes, I would say so, certainly.  He was already recorded, and every record I ever heard he made was a masterpiece.
Q:    Gerry Mulligan, who you worked alongside for several years in a pianoless quartet and who wrote a commissioned piece for you in last Friday’s concert at Lincoln Center.
AF:     Yeah.  Well, Gerry is playing better than ever.  Some people I know were amazed at the way he was playing Friday night.  He’s always been a very good player, but now he’s an example of somebody who never stops…who just doesn’t find their style and just go through the motions, but he’s always stepping forward.  I just find the things the does very creative, and certainly it was a pleasure to play with him. It was a pleasure with him again, just as it was a pleasure to play with Benny Golson again.
Q:    That’s the next name I was about to mention.  That’s a relationship that goes back 35 years or more.
AF:    Right.  Well, I also met Benny through working with the Lionel Hampton band.  I have to say that Lionel Hampton has  been a great benefactor to Jazz music in this world, in the fact that he has given a start to so many people such as myself, and given us a chance to meet other people of our ambitions.  Working with the Lionel Hampton Band was a key to the Jazz Universe, in a certain sense, you know, working with Brownie and Gigi Gryce and Quincy Jones and Monk Montgomery, James Cleveland.  I don’t know where I would have gotten such a chance to work alongside these guys every night as with Lionel Hampton.
Q:    I think that may be one of the distinguishing things that separates musicians who came up around when you did from people who came up after, that there were still functioning big bands where you could get that type of night-after-night practical experience.
AF:    Yes, that’s right.  That’s very rare now.  That’s very rare.  Maybe you could count them on one hand.  Other than Count Basie, it’s hard to think of anyone else who’s out there.
Q:    Extending from Benny Golson, another superb composer, not so well known in the States, but who you work with frequently in Europe, in Vienna, is Fritz Pauer, who you will be bringing here in November.
AF:    Yes.  He is scheduled to come over with us in November.  Well, Fritz is very well known to Jazz musicians who tour Europe and happen to go to Vienna, Austria.  Everyone who has had a chance to… He’s played with everybody over there.  I mean, Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, I can’t think of anybody who ever did a thing that Fritz didn’t play with either in Vienna or in Berlin.  He’s a great writer.  He’s one of those guys like Gigi Gryce who write all the time.  You know, you don’t have to tell him to write something.  I just let him write whatever he wants to write, and he brings it in.
Q:    He knows you.
AF:    Yes, we’ve known each other for quite a while now.
Q:    Again, you live in Vienna a good chunk of the year, and tour for part of it.  How does that work for you?
AF:    Well, I spend about 40 percent over here, and I would say about 30 percent I’m at home in Vienna, and other times I’m traveling somewhere else.

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For Charles Tolliver’s 70th Birthday, A 2005 DownBeat Feature

In 2005, I had the honor of writing a feature piece for DownBeat  on the great trumpeter-composer Charles Tolliver, who turns 70 today. Happy birthday, Charles, and many more.

Since the piece was somewhat attenuated, I’m also appending the first of two interviews that I conducted with Mr. Tolliver for this article.

Charles Tolliver (DB Article, #1):

On the final night of Charles Tolliver’s week-long engagement with his big band at Manhattan’s Jazz Standard last October, the leader was dressed for battle. Outfitted in a black leather jacket, black shirt, black pants, and black beret, Tolliver strode to his microphone a step below the bandstand, cued the 17 instruments, and nodded in time as they articulated the complex-funky theme of Ruthie’s Heart with machete sharpness. Tolliver turned to the audience, primarily African-American and middle-aged, placed lips to trumpet, set his feet, and plunged in. His sound was big and fierce and raw; the lines were intricate, the dynamics nuanced, the rhythms drumlike. Concluding his solo, Tolliver spun 180 degrees, one step per beat. He pointed his index finger to signal the band to restate the theme. Emerging from the mix, alto saxophonist Todd Bashore launched a solo. Tolliver lifted a clenched right fist to call for a supporting riff, pumping it to ratchet the intensity.

Tolliver is 63, and the iconography of his gesture and attire conjured flashbacks of the radical ‘60s politics that backdropped his coming of age. So did his music, primarily written or arranged during the era, and defined, then as now, by heady intellectual content and an animating inner fire. “What we were doing in the ‘60s is still so alive and well that it’s fresh and new when you work on it,” Tolliver commented a few days later at a Greenwich Village diner, down the block from the New School, where he teaches orchestration and the repertoire of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. “Anything coming in at this point can’t really supplant that.”

On this Sunday night, Tolliver sustained a level of energy that might have reminded some witnesses of Slugs Saloon, a Loisida venue on a rough block where young lions of the ‘60s cut their teeth before cutting edge audiences on a nightly basis. There Tolliver played his first gig, a 1964 matinee with Jackie McLean that kicked off the room’s jazz policy. Six years later, he booked a quartet with Cowell (they met in the 1967-68 edition of the Max Roach Quintet), hired an engineer to document them, and issued Live At Slugs on Strata-East, the musician-run imprint that Tolliver co-founded in 1970 with pianist Stanley Cowell. Mosaic Records reissued it on their Select series in October along with the 1973 quartet date Live in Tokyo, and added an hour of previously unissued material from the sessions. These take-no-prisoners albums and Live at Loosdrecht, a searing double-LP, clarified Tolliver’s consequential contribution to the lineage of trumpet vocabulary. In contrast to the saxophonistic harmonic explorations of generational contemporary Woody Shaw, who like Tolliver pricked up ears with his playing as a Blue Note sideman but had to wait until the ‘70s to sing his own song as a leader, Tolliver’s voice is trumpetcentric. He imbued his lines with sass, nasty accents, and rhythmic thrust, eschewed front-line partners, and dominated the proceedings with an against-all-obstacles attitude and vibrant personality.

That Tolliver’s tonal personality emanated as distinctively from the pen as from his horn became manifest on a pair of influential Strata-East orchestral projects, Music, Inc. And Big Band (1970) and Impact (1975) for which Tolliver assembled a cast of New York A-listers—George Coleman, Charles McPherson and James Spaulding solo on the latter. He performed his charts with various European radio orchestras during the ‘80s and ‘90s, but a 2003 engagement at the Jazz Standard was his first-ever big band gig in a New York City venue. He returned to the Standard in 2004, played a week at Dizzy’s Club in August, and was booked, as of this writing, for a week at Birdland in January.

Tolliver followed “Ruthie’s Heart” with an arrangement of “Right Now,” a boppish line with a slick turnaround that McLean introduced as the title track of a 1966 quartet session, which followed three Blue Note albums that showcased such well-wrought inventions by the promising young trumpeter as “Truth,” “Plight,” and “On The Nile.” Both charts featured declarative, intricate section conversations, but perhaps the most startling performance was a show-stopping arrangement of “Round Midnight.” After an opening fanfare, Tolliver, unaccompanied, limned the melody, a cry in his tone, displaying total command of the spaces between the notes. The band entered with a bravura Gil Fullerish chord, and he tripled the tempo, eliminating all connotations of midnight melancholia in the manner of a New Orleans parade band marching home from the funeral. Finally, he reprised the rubato mood, and again counterstated with an efflorescent fanfare.

Artists like to talk about taking risks in the crucible of performance, and  Tolliver embraces the principle wholeheartedly. He also followed the example of Max Roach by risking his own capital as an independent entrepreneur. “I’m a believer in ownership of your intellectual property or art form,” he says. “But it has nothing to do with politics. A lot of people have tried to read political and racial into the creation of Strata-East Records. It had to do with ownership, pure and simple.”

Self-taught as an instrumentalist, composer, arranger, Tolliver seems constitutionally averse to doing things the easy way. “I like to rumble,” he said. “I take the most difficult routes for improvisation. It’s actually easy to play a number of choruses effortlessly and never make a mistake, never break down. That’s no fun. You need to get in hot water by trying something out right from the jump, get yourself out of that, and move on to the next chorus.”

To transmit that predisposition for risk to his orchestra, Tolliver functions as a creative conductor. “Jazz is about improvisation and changing things around, to fit the mindset of the men on the bandstand,” he said. “Say the soloist is gathering steam or the drummer moves the soloist to another gear. I then have the liberty to move things around; by eye contact or a hand movement, they know immediately that I want to take a section or part of a section and put it somewhere else. It takes some time playing together to do that, but it means that each night the guys are refreshed, and not just reading the stuff the same way all the time. Thad Jones did that, too, with some of his pieces.”

Although the references are more spiritual than direct, Thad Jones’ footprint  looms over Tolliver’s conception. “As great as Gil Evans is, Thad is a whole nother level of greatness,” Tolliver said. “He could write a perfect arrangement without going to the piano. I thought that’s like God at work!  And he had men who could PLAY this difficult stuff. I watched that, and thought I could never hope to be in that position.”

Nearly forty years later, Tolliver is fulfilling this dream. His October orchestra included saxophonists Billy Harper, Craig Handy and Bill Saxton, baritone saxophonist-tubist Howard Johnson, three lead trumpets (Jimmy Owens, Earl Gardner and Chris Albert), and a world class rhythm section of pianist John Hicks, bassist Cecil McBee—both veterans of Tolliver’s early ‘70s units—and drummer Greg Hutchinson. They had to draw on every ounce of skill to execute Tolliver’s challenging parts.

“I’ve never heard anything like Charles’ music,” said fourth trumpet David Weiss, leader of the New Jazz Composers Octet, which, among other things, backs Freddie Hubbard with Weiss arrangements of Hubbard repertoire. After listening to reunion of the Tolliver-Cowell quartet at a Tribeca concert in 2002, Weiss asked Tolliver about the status of his big band charts. “I said, ‘It’s collecting dust,’ Tolliver recalled. “I meant, occasionally I’d dust it off, look at something, maybe add something here or write something off of that. David said that perhaps he could interest some of the venues here in New York. After several months, he got the Jazz Standard to agree to have me for a couple of nights, and it was very successful.”

“Charles is the culmination of his period,” said Weiss, who has booked all of the band’s subsequent New York gigs. “He encompassed everything that happened in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, the highest level of harmony and rhythm and technique, and pumped it up even more. His trumpet parts are very tight and dissonant, in a higher range than most people dare to write. The saxophone parts are tough, too. He doesn’t write them to show off a busy, notey line, but so that something can counter against it. The line becomes the constant, almost like the rhythm section, and the other horns bounce off it and make all the accents.”

A Thad Jones alumnus, Harper—his Strata East date Capra Black is a ‘70s hardcore classic—acknowledges the gnarly singularity of Tolliver’s saxophone lines. “Most big bands have a traditional format, with soli that sound the way saxophone big bands may sound,” Harper said. “But a lot of what Charles writes feels exactly like what you might play on the spur of the moment in a small group. I don’t know if he went to church that much, but some of his things sound like heavy music from black roots in church. Thad Jones sounded that same way. The rhythm and fire is a necessary part of it.”

“I came up in the church the same way he did,” responded Tolliver, who spent his first ten years in Jacksonville, Florida, before migrating to Harlem in 1952. “I noticed the rhythms of the church and the communal thing that happens between the parishioners and the pastors—especially in the Holiness Church, where my grandmother was. They’d get up and have the call-and-response with each other, and some of them would actually fall out and froth at the mouth, like the Haitian voodoo business. Other parts of the family were in other denominations, but it was all communal, and the music came out of the old hymn books by James Weldon Johnson and others from the 19th century. There were all different types of rhythms in it. So early on it was apparent to me that rhythm, as personified in the modern drumkit, is integral for this kind of music. I require the drummer to really lay it on. A lot of my compositions and arrangements sound as if I wrote them for the drums, and in my playing I work off rhythm a lot, moreso, let’s say, than playing linearly.

“Big band jazz is not about over-writing to the point where all these different sections are playing in different time signatures and all that nonsense. It doesn’t have to sound as though you’re writing for a symphony. After all, we are playing this so-called thing named jazz. Jazz is about theme, melody, call-and-response, counterpoint if you want, but not overly done—and always improvising. If you take away improvising and swing, then it seems to me that you are removing two of the prime elements that allow us to call ourselves jazz musicians. You know what jazz is because of the way the drummer plays. If you hear TING, TING-A-LING, TING-A-LING, that’s jazz. If you don’t hear that, then it’s some other kind of music—which is fine. It’s the rock-solid base that allows you to do all the other things. Improvising is the meat of jazz, and the drummer propels that improvising. Therefore, I take careful consideration in selecting the drummer.”

With drummer-of-choice Ralph Peterson unavailable for the October week, Greg Hutchinson played the charts with crisp aplomb. “The music I write is intended to play the musician,” Tolliver remarked. “To gain control of it, he will take the music even further, as Greg did. The language makes the artist play. Thad needed those all heavy-duty guys in order to play his music, and when I do the big band I want the best players I can get, the big-time horses, to pick up the language and take it to the next level.”

With three major New York club appearances within five months and the Mosaic reissue, enough buzz may exist to make this the moment for Tolliver to actualize his ambition. Negotiations are underway to record the orchestra, and this winter he will reissue Impact, which he licensed in the ‘90s in Japan and Germany. In keeping with the philosophy of Max Roach, his former employer, he will continue to do everything in his power to control his creative output and the means by which he produces it. He intends to spend his sixties “firing up on all cylinders.”

“No matter what’s happening, even if you play a ballad, Charles wants it always burning,” Harper said. “It seems like a very young approach to the big band. He’s still a young lion.”

“It comes from the style of ‘jazz’ that we played, which is high energy music,” Tolliver concluded. “As a young child I listened to Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke and Max, and they were on all cylinders all the time. It’s in my blood.”

* * *

Charles Tolliver (Oct. 26, 2005):

TP:   How long have you been teaching at the New School?

TOLLIVER:   12 or 13 years now. [1992] Reggie Workman asked me if I was interested in teaching Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and it sort of came that way. I teach the repertoire.

TP:   You also teach composition and orchestration. Have you stayed in New York the whole time, from the ‘70s and ‘80s until the early ‘90s.

TOLLIVER:   I’ve been here since 1952.

TP:   You’ve been a New Yorker for 53 years, except for four years in D.C.

TOLLIVER:   Yeah, but I was always coming home.

TP:   You spent your first ten years in Jacksonville.

TOLLIVER:   Right.

TP:   From the end of the Strata East years and…

TOLLIVER:   There’s not an end. We need to correct that. It never folded. It always was alive from its inception.

TP:   Before ‘93, when Live In Berlin comes out…

TOLLIVER:   There was a full operation from inception until ‘82 or ‘83. Then I decided to shut down the office operation. Financially, it was just too expensive. Anyway, I was already given an early cue that the compact disk format would be soon coming, so I basically gave myself a five-year rest from looking after that situation day to day.

TP:   During the ’80s, were you a full-time musician?

TOLLIVER:   Of course.

TP:   I’m sorry to ask, but there was the impression among so many people that you were doing this, you were doing that…

TOLLIVER:   For over ten years, I went all over the place, playing and performing and then looking after this baby of ours, the Strata-East thing. I decided to give myself a rest from that around ‘83. But as you know, the market for straight-ahead playing that I’m known for was such that it was difficult to be working all the time in the States. I did have a route to take bands to Europe, so I was doing that a lot between ‘83 and ‘88. So consequently, I wasn’t playing in any venues here in New York City or the ten major markets in the United States. That might be a reason why people thought I was off the scene.

TP:   So your activity was mostly in Europe.

TOLLIVER:   Just Europe.

TP:   Were you teaching during those years?

TOLLIVER:   No. Full time music. I did a lot of writing of big band music and performing it with a lot of the European radio orchestras.

TP:   So these days you’re playing a lot of your compositions from the ’80s and ‘90s.

TOLLIVER:   Right, I’m playing them now.

TP:   Let’s jump to 2003 and the reemergence of your big band in this country. By the way, did the big band play publicly in the ‘70s?

TOLLIVER:   No. Just made the recordings for the fun of it, to see if we could do it, and that was it. There was never a thought of fielding a big band.

TP:   Have you played your charts in any of those workshop situations in New York?

TOLLIVER:   No. I just wrote the music, hired the musicians, and did the recording.

TP:   That’s quite a feat. Almost all the great arrangers talk about the trial-and-error process, hearing their stuff played and…

TOLLIVER:   Right.

TP:   Not you.

TOLLIVER: I just sort of seized the moment to get the best musicians in town that I could, and did the recordings.

TP:   You’re saying that so nonchalantly.

TOLLIVER:   Well, the guys who are on there did a terrific job. We just rehearsed a day or so before the recording and hit!

TP:   Before we talk about resurrecting the band, did your thinking about big bands and composition evolve over the years? You mentioned a few days ago that you still think the way you did in the ‘70s.

TOLLIVER:   Right.

TP:   But you’ve evolved and grown in various ways.

TOLLIVER:   Yes and no. I haven’t thought to hit the ground running with a big band after doing the recordings. I had hoped to make a good recording with the music I had written. Then I put it away. As I said, in the mid-‘80s, I pulled it out again and did a lot of work with that as a soloist, and sometimes with a quartet in Europe with the radio orchestras. So that writing stood me in good stead at that point. Then in the mid-‘80s that gave me a little more emphasis to add a few more big band charts to what I already had, still never thinking about, “well, this is something I want to do full time.” A quartet setting, that’s how I burst out here, so that’s my real love. And still is. Although I love what’s happening with the big band thing now. Which is really basically an extension of what I do in the small group, with a lot of orchestral stuff written around that.

That’s basically how it evolved, just little bit by little bit. My style of writing I think is basically the same, which is a forward-looking harmonic and rhythmical thing. Which just goes to show… By example, the John Coltrane Quartet and what they created by 1965, it’s still as if it hadn’t even been played yet, or conceived. That’s how modern it is. My whole thrust is coming out of that sort of style.

TP:   Trying to extrapolate those ideas onto the trumpet.

TOLLIVER:   Yes, and also orchestrally.

TP:   Did you know Coltrane?

TOLLIVER:   Yes, I did.

TP:   Did you ever play with him?

TOLLIVER:   No. I was too quiet and too… I wasn’t the kind of guy who pushed John. It was wonderful to be around them and to hear them and watch them do their thing. But in his case, he was such an unassuming guy that you hardly knew he was around when he was in your presence. But I did know him a little bit and met him. He was a very quiet individual.

TP:   Was Africa Brass a very important recording for you?

TOLLIVER:   Yes, I would say so. Because it was again him expounding on the quartet idea. As we were to find out, Eric Dolphy was the one who actually did those arrangements, and he actually said, as has been written, that he just tried to use the McCoy Tyner chording and expand that with the big band. Ultimately, though, what made that happen is the rhythm section – John Coltrane himself, of course, and the rhythm section. When I’m writing big band stuff, I’m always thinking about the rhythm section first to get the best support that a rhythm section normally would give to a soloist, to then move that a step ahead with the big band support, but the same idea. It’s always a problem to find individuals who are thinking along those lines, who can give you that.

TP:   Were most of your big band charts written with Stanley Cowell and Cecil McBee in mind?

TOLLIVER:   To some extent, yes, because we had been playing together for quite some time. So I knew they would be able to add the support I needed for those charts.

TP:   It must be nice for you now to have Cecil McBee playing in the big band, because his lines seem to be  in synch with the way you think. There’s a certain synchronicity between the motion of your trumpet lines and the way his basslines lock in.

TOLLIVER:   Stanley was in the first formation of this recent big band business.

TP:   You and Stanley think alike harmonically, I’d think.

TOLLIVER:   Oh, yeah. I would think so. We came up together and played in a lot of different settings.

TP:   But you were playing with John Hicks back in the day, too.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. Before I met Stanley, John and I basically started out together. So I’m as close with him musically as I am with Stanley.

TP:   So what led to the resurrection of the big band in this country?

TOLLIVER:   Do you mean what led to me now dealing with the big band? Not necessarily in this country. Well, a fellow named David Weiss, who is a trumpetist and composer – and a good one, too, at that – and who was doing some things with Freddie Hubbard in an octet… A few years back, there was a tribute to the scene that was happening in Alphabet City in the ’60s – a tribute to Slugs basically. Since I was the only one who had made a recording there, they asked me to do a concert at BCC for this remembrance of Slugs, in which Stanley Cowell and Cecil and I, and a drummer who had worked with me also for a long time, Clifford Barbaro. David Weiss attended that performance, and we exchanged numbers, and we talked later… He was asking me what I’d done with my big band stuff, and I said, “It’s collecting dust.” I mean, occasionally I’d dust it off, take a look at something, maybe add something here or write something off of that. David said that perhaps he could interest some of the venues here. That took several months, and finally he got the Jazz Standard to agree to have me for a couple of nights. I put together the best available musicians that I wanted to have, and it was very successful. So I decided I’d do this again if the opportunity presented itself. That’s happened 4 or 5 times in the last two years.

TP:   Mostly at the Jazz Standard, but also this summer at Dizzy’s Room. Has the music developed over the last couple of years?

TOLLIVER: I’ve written a lot of new things, which I’m performing with this big band project. Some of it may be a little more evolved from let’s say 30 years ago. I’ve been writing this stuff for over 35 years, I guess. Actually more than that, because I actually started messing around with big band stuff in the late ‘60s.

But again, to answer the question you asked previously: What we were doing in the ‘60s is still so alive and well now that you can work on that, and it’s still fresh and new. Anything that’s new coming now at this point can’t really supplant that. I mean, the music created in the ‘60s…

TP:   A lot of very talented students have come through the New School during your time. Let’s talk about the ways they’ve built off that body of music in building their own sounds. And let’s talk about how the music you came up in, and that incredible scene you came up in, that golden age where the whole history of the music was available every night if you were willing to take it in…

TOLLIVER:   Everybody was still alive, with the possible exception of Clifford Brown and Charlie Parker and Fats Navarro and perhaps Hot Lips Page.

TP:   Is it attitudinal? Is it vocabulary? What are the dynamics that separate the musical vocabulary of the ‘60s, which stops being recorded by major labels after ‘69, and certainly not after Miles goes electric…

TOLLIVER:   Alfred Lion made the rest of the boys toe the line by just bringing out new, great talent all the time. But he got tired and by the time I arrived, he had sold the company and retired.

TP:   Otherwise you would have been a Blue Note artist.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. After that, Creed Taylor came along with his new idea for mating the…I don’t know which description you can say except that it was a grand idea, I think, because he gave some of our great artists a chance to really see some financial rewards by still soloing great but with a more, let’s say, accessible to the general public… It was not geared to jazz fans at all. Jazz fans would buy it simply because they wanted to hear the solos on it. But it was geared to a wide audience and it worked. So what happened was that all that great innovative stuff that was going on both compositionally and improvisationally in the ’50s and ‘60s sort of was in a vacuum. The newer generation began to feed off the crossover that was happening in the ’70s, and of course, Miles made a move after 7 years or so off the scene and came back, which gave it even more impetus in the ‘80s and ‘90s…

TP:   What did you think of what Miles was doing in the ‘70s? Did you like those bands?

TOLLIVER:   It would be imprudent of me to pass judgment on any way Miles went.

TP:   What was your own opinion at the time?

TOLLIVER:   I decided not to have an opinion, because I enjoyed his bands of the ‘60s, and I sort of just watched with a lot of interest how he was running this in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He was having fun in his senior citizenry.

TP:   But in the ‘70s, when he started to go that way, it coincided almost exactly with Strata East. Wayne leaves, Keith Jarrett comes in…

TOLLIVER:   I had no interest in going in that direction, because I already had a direction I was going in, and I knew I was going to expound on that for a while. So it was of no interest to me to go in that direction that they were going in. It would have meant changing the beat. It would have meant no longer jazz drumming. It would have meant rock drumming, and I wasn’t going to have that. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with rock drumming. But that’s rock.

TP:   Well, you’ve got some funk beats, or rhythms that can be interpreted as such anyway. But you’ve been teaching for 13 years at a school whose students have a lot to do with the way the music is evolving. The music of the ‘60s, let’s break it down, not socially, but the actual musical ideas, how the kids who have come through the New School, like the Stricklands, Robert Glasper…

TOLLIVER:   They all came through me.

TP:   Brad Mehldau probably preceded you.

TOLLIVER:   No, he didn’t precede me. He just wasn’t in any of my classes.

TP:   These musicians all know the Blue Note food groups by heart. I’m just thinking about the ideas that were animating the Blue Note sound, and which are still your lodestone, which you still draw upon. Why is it such a rich vocabulary?

TOLLIVER:   You mean the Blue Note sound?

TP:   The Blue Note sound and the sounds that still inspire you.

TOLLIVER:   Because Alfred and the musicians themselves put together different groups to play the repertoire of themselves to such an extent that you could almost bet that, no matter what the pairing of a particular group of musicians, this would be a first-rate recording for history. That happened time and time again, and hundreds of LPs issued in that manner. So the vocabulary that was developed through the Blue Note catalog – and to a certain extent Prestige also and Keepnews’ companies – were for the most part repertorial work played by great stylists. This body of work is lasting because it’s repertorial.

TP:   By “repertorial” you mean it’s canonical…

TOLLIVER:   I don ‘t know the exact dictionary definition of repertory, but it’s something like playing several compositions a season with a set group, so that each group gets a chance to expound on this repertory. The language that was developed by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, off of them harmonically, permeated through the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, only changing a couple of times, with Trane making his entrance and doing some things harmonically a little different, and with Elvin Jones making the move progression-wise after Max Roach – and of course, Roy Haynes. But the language, the repertory, actually played the musicians. The repertory itself made the artist play. For me, that’s the reason why when I’m doing this big band stuff, I wanted the guys that I picked to do it, so that they then pick up on that and make it even greater.

TP:   Within jazz historiography, when people think about the line of trumpet vocabulary, you and Woody Shaw are the culmination of a timeline, and then there’s a ten-year gap, and then Wallace Roney and Terence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis pick up on it and go in some different directions. But you and Woody Shaw, before the “end of history,” where musicians begin to embrace the whole timeline of vocabulary… You and Woody Shaw sort of end the thing. Is that accurate?

TOLLIVER:   Yes, it is accurate. Woody and I… Alfred would not give us a record date. Woody had recorded with Horace Silver and other artists. I had recorded with Horace and of course Jackie McLean. But because he was retiring, he wasn’t going to “make any more trumpet stars.” The way you got in, if you got to Blue Note and you got a deal with Alfred to do one-two-three records a year, you would then be Downbeat’s New Star on the trumpet and then off you go. Woody and I got caught right at the end, and Alfred wouldn’t give us that in, even though we had already been tapped by other greats to record on Blue Note and worked… By that time, we had already worked with some of the heavy-duties. This could have been, and was devastating probably to both of us… A little bit more to him than me, I think, because I made a decision that I was going to do something about that, which was to make my own recordings. It took Woody another four-five years before he was able to deal with Muse and then Columbia with Dexter. Historically, with the two of us being the last of that group of trumpet players… There was a period… Of course, Miles and Freddie were the guys the industry was dealing with in terms of the crossover stuff in the ‘70s…

TP:   Once you decided that you weren’t going to be a pharmacist and that you were going to be a musician… This happened in the middle of the Civil Rights movement and all these roiling ideas…

TOLLIVER:   I probably never was going to be a pharmacist unless I could have continued in school while I was doing what I was doing. Because in my junior year, I had found certain ways of playing a trumpet that I’d been looking for. So there was no need for me to stay in school down in Washington, D.C.

TP:   What were you looking for?

TOLLIVER:   My own way of playing the trumpet.

TP:   Can you break that down a bit? If you care to.

TOLLIVER:   A style. That this is me. That someone hears me, they know that’s me. Rather than playing some of my heroes. And playing that well enough to get gigs. It wasn’t good enough for me to just emulate some heroes well enough that you could  get gigs, because you sounded great playing them.

TP:   Your phrasing seems completely unique to me. The way you organize rhythm…

TOLLIVER:   I’m working off rhythm a lot, more than I am let’s say linearly playing lines. That’s true. I’m working off rhythmical things. But if I could have brought my classroom from Howard University back up to New York with me while I was trying to get into this thing, then I probably would have done both at the same time. But there was no way to stay in Washington, D.C. at that moment when I felt I was ready to try this thing and finish my studies. I was lucky to get in with Jackie McLean almost instantaneously when I got here, so there was just no need to go back to school.

TP:   You must have reminded him of a souped-up Kenny Dorham or something, because you have a sort of cry in your sound, a vocalized thing…

TOLLIVER:   Maybe. He certainly was one of my heroes, and any serious trumpet student of this music. Kenny Dorham is big.

TP:   The other reference I’m hearing a lot is Dizzy. You seem to have soaked up more Dizzy than some…

TOLLIVER:   Rhythmically. But no one can play like Dizzy Gillespie. Actually, there was one person who gave you the feeling of Dizzy – Lonnie Hillyer.

TP:   Speaking of pre Jon Faddis players.

TOLLIVER:   Well, Jon Faddis only in the way Dizzy plays high. Jon can do that, of course, with this phenomenal ability he has. But I mean, to actually tell a story in improvising, Lonnie Hillyer was the one who came the closest that I ever heard.

TP:   So you come upon your own style when you’re about 21…

TOLLIVER:   Since I was 18.

TP:   You said your second or third year. Did you go to college early?

TOLLIVER:   Let’s see…Yeah, about 20.

TP:   You’ve pretty much been adding iterations and refinements to that style for 43 years.

TOLLIVER:   Mmm-hmm.

TP:   Sounds really modern.

TOLLIVER:   You know, I was in a freshman class at Howard University that had some heckuva young people. Fabulous… Andrew White. Other politicals, like Stokely Carmichael…

TP:   Did you play a lot with Billy Harper back in the ‘60s?

TOLLIVER:   No. This is the first time we’re playing together. We were always good acquaintances because of the Strata East project. We have one, Capra Black, which I think is one of his best recordings ever. So we’ve been knowing each other for over 40 years. I remember when he first came to New York, the night when he first hung out. He’s a home run hitter, to use a phrase, and that’s what I want. I want home run hitters. Whenever there’s a chance to have him, I expect to have him in this setting. Well, he did a lot of playing with Thad Jones. Big band is not new to him at all.

TP:   So did Jimmy Owens.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. Actually, Jimmy and Billy only recently have been playing with me on this big band thing. Originally, I started using some other musicians whom I wanted to hear in this setting, and then it was time to call on Billy and Jimmy, and they were available the last few times.

TP:   What are you looking for from the drummer? You had Greg Hutchinson last week, and by the end of the week, he was destroying that music!

TOLLIVER:   Right. Again, this music will play you… The music that I write is intended to play the musicians. To take no prisoners. And in order for him to gain control of it, he will then play that music and take it even further. That’s what happened with Greg Hutchinson, and it must happen with the kind of music that I write and what I expect out of the men I call on to play it.

TP:   The music has so much energy. Most big band music you hear now is orchestral, there’s an arc, crescendos, decrescendos, colors, a broad harmonic palette. But yours is energy all the time.

TOLLIVER:   Well, there’s such a thing as overwriting. After all, we are playing this so-called thing named jazz. Jazz is about theme, melody, call-and-response – but improvising. If you take away improvising and swing, then it seems to me that you are taking away two of the prime elements that allows us to call ourselves jazz musicians. Well, a lot of people could say, “Well, I’m not a jazz musician. I don’t want to be called a jazz musician. I’m a total musician.” Well, that’s fine. But for whatever the reason, we have a name called “jazz” for this music, and you know it when you’re listening to this music because of the way the drummer plays. If you hear TING, TING-A-LING, TING-A-LING, that’s jazz. If you don’t hear that, then it’s some other kind of music. And that’s fine. Therefore, if you overwrite, you are taking away from those elements which I just mentioned, which is theme, melody, counterpoint if you want, but not overly done. Because we want to hear the solos. We want to hear some improvising. Improvising is the meat of jazz, and the drummer propelling that improvising. Therefore, careful considerations have to be taken when you select the drummer. Because the wrong drummer can destroy everything. Not literally speaking…

TP:   But if they’re not in synch with the concept… I mean, you don’t have to play TING, TINGALING, TINGALING with certain music. In fact, it might not be appropriate for certain music. But for your music… It still needs to be more than that. It needs to be very elaborated.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. But it’s not jazz if it’s not TING, TINGALING, TINGALING. I’m sorry. TING, TINGALING, TINGALING, TINGALING is jazz. It’s what we are about. Now, if I want to play other forms that are coming off of this, like free forms, then… Okay. When Trane went free, totally free, Elvin exited. The reason why is because free forms of music requires everyone to be in synch with doing that and not worrying about supporting the soloist strictly in time. I like free form, but I don’t necessarily call it jazz. If I’m going to call it jazz, I’m talking about TING, TINGALING. I’m sorry. I am talking about TING, TINGALING, TINGALING. The reason why I am dogmatic about that is that Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk – and of course, Kenny Clarke and Max Roach after that – helped to create this language in such a way that it requires, just as in classical music, there are certain things which happen, that you can do a little differently here and there, like all the modern techniques which are important with classical music, but at the base sitting underneath that is this rock-solid thing which allows you to do all these other things. For instance, free form coming off of that, and huge elaborations in an orchestral way. Even with the things which Gil Evans did for Miles Davis, they never lost that entity of jazz.

TP:   Let me ask you about your early big band charts…

TOLLIVER:   But do you understand what I’m saying? I’m very dogmatic about that.

TP:   You’re saying that jazz is a specific thing, and other things are related to jazz but aren’t jazz as you know it?

TOLLIVER:   No, I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that the language, the repertoire, the underpinnings of jazz is a specific thing, and the reason why… You asked me about the drums. The drum is just about one of the most important links to that. If you took away the drums from my music, you could actually call it a lot of other types of music. You could call it all the new words they use for describing music. Crossover. A lot of nomenclatures. If you took drumming away from Miles Davis’ groups, if you took Elvin Jones away from John Coltrane, then it would be totally free-form jazz. This is very important. People don’t understand that, that the drum… I might as well say it. The drum is the most important thing in jazz. If that element is not there, whether it’s straight-ahead swing, which is what they call mainstream of straight-ahead jazz; or more loose and free, where you have more modernistic approaches to whatever the song is and improvisation and so on; or totally free, which is still cool… But you have to have the musicians who are in synch to do that. If you bring a bebopper over here and ask him to do that, and he doesn’t know how to do that, this is ridiculous.

TP:   You played with all the great drummers, just about.

TOLLIVER:   Yes, but I also plant my ears what the leader intended. I was with Archie Shepp when he was writing all that stuff. I mean, he’d come down to my loft and he’d bring this piece that stretched from one wall to the other, and we’d play this stuff. But the ears are in synch. You can’t take a fellow who’s coming up now and put him in the element of what you’re talking about, the ‘60s, if he hasn’t already done his homework on that. Fortunately, the students who have come through me at the New School, in particular Keyon Harold, has done totally his homework. To me, he’s the best thing I’ve heard of the young fellows playing trumpet today. He has big ears and he can apply that base to any modernistic things that are going on now. But again, the drums is the most important element for me in jazz, and there’s a reason why my music has so much rhythm to it and has so much energy. Because I require the drummer to really lay it on.

TP:   Maybe that’s what makes it sound so modern and fresh. Someone like Greg Hutchinson has that base, but he’s also very contemporary.

TOLLIVER:   Right. He has a wide base.

TP:   That night at Iridium, I asked if Thad Jones was an influence. There are some obvious parallels. You’re both trumpet players, you’re both self-taught…

TOLLIVER:   That’s just by accident!

TP:   Nevertheless. You’re both self-taught arrangers and composers. You both got into big band chart writing…

TOLLIVER:   From small groups.

TP:   …from small groups and sort of by accidents. So how much of an influence?

TOLLIVER:   That was my hero.

TP:   Well, talk about that band… [END OF SIDE A]

TOLLIVER:   I was about 24 when he formed that band. I‘d go there just to hear him, and he’d say to me I could play with him if I wanted to. But I had too much respect for that. I thought you had to have honed your skills… Even though I had already worked with Oliver Nelson and Gerald Wilson, Thad was so… There’s no words to explain Thad Jones. As great as Gil Evans is, that’s a whole nother greatness. But Thad Jones could write an arrangement without going to the piano. I thought that’s like God at work! Every note would be correct. Everything would be perfect. And he had the men who could PLAY this difficult stuff. That was the marvelous thing. So I watched that, and I thought I can’t possibly hope that I was going to happen like that. That’s the reason why I never mentally wanted to think about having to have a big band, because this would be too much. Watching that happen, how could it possibly… That you could do that, you could write that kind of  music, and then have the musicians to play it! I never thought that I would be in a position where I could have that, so I never wanted it, because it would have been too much mentally to hope for or want that, and know that you actually could write music like that, but then to find the musicians who could PLAY it…

TP:   Thad Jones is like a post-Ellington writer, He gave everyone a melody. You tend to use the sections more as homophonic units. Was that deliberate? Were you trying to differentiate yourself…

TOLLIVER:   Well, a lot of times I want the sections to talk to each other.

TP:   A lot of call-and-response

TOLLIVER:  Absolutely. That’s one of my devices. In that respect, it becomes more personal. People recognize me right away. But there was no device that was not available to Thad Jones.  That was the incredible thing. He’s a big influence on me. Total.

TP:   But it seems that the influence is not a direct thing can be traced into your sound.

TOLLIVER:   Not in the way I write. No, you can’t.

TP:   It’s more spiritual.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. I can tell you one thing which is apparent, is to have the best players alive available. I saw how he did that. There’s a reason why all those heavy-duty guys are in that band, because he needed them in order to play the music that he wrote. That stuck me with all the time. Whenever I would do big band stuff, I had to take time, way ahead of time, to find the guys who were available…the big-time horses, make sure they were available so I could call on them. So if I wanted to take this big band to the next level, I had to also make sure those men are available. It’s not easy.

TP:   They want to be paid, and it’s a big band!

TOLLIVER:   Even though they love me, they still want to get paid.

TP:   You’d be the same way probably.

TOLLIVER:   Well, yes and no. I think they probably would go a long way with me until things happen, which is what’s been happening. That’s the same thing that happened with Thad, how they got started. All those great studio guys they were using, they already were doing okay, so a Monday night they maybe started without any money being paid to them…

TP:   So why haven’t you done a Monday night thing?

TOLLIVER:   Because there’s no time for that. There was a lot of time then, to build something like that. You’ve got to go big with this NOW. It’s now or never. I don’t have time to wait to build that.

TP:   Because you’re 62.

TOLLIVER:   Well, not just that. It’s that, man, I wrote some of those music over 20 years ago! If I’m going to play it, I want to play it big time.

TP:   Did music ever have a political connotation to you?

TOLLIVER:   It may be read in, but absolutely not. I’m not there.

TP:   But you’re going up there, you’re wearing the beret, you’re wearing the leather jacket, when you conduct you have your fist up, the Huey Newton thing…

TOLLIVER:   [LAUGHS] Yeah.

TP:   You went to college with Stokely Carmichael, and jazz was a political thing in the ‘60s. Apart from any particular political platform…

TOLLIVER:   There’s only one thing that I am guilty of, if you will, and that is ownership. I’m a believer in ownership of your intellectual property or art form.

TP:   I lived in Chicago in the ‘70s and I knew a lot of people in the AACM…

TOLLIVER:   Well, we were doing that at the same time as they were, but I wasn’t even aware of them.

TP:   All I’m saying is that I think it’s coming out of a similar consciousness: Own your means of production, don’t let yourself be exploited, and express yourself with autonomy.

TOLLIVER:   Yes, but it’s not political. It has nothing to do with politics. A lot of people have tried to read the political and the racial overtones into the creation of Strata East Records. It had absolutely nothing to do with that. It had to do with ownership, pure and simple.

TP:   What’s the status of Strata-East Records right now?

TOLLIVER:   Strata-East is alive and well. At one point there were 40 or 50 product, and I cut it down because after ‘82, as I said, I needed a rest. It went down to maybe 20 or 30 [items in the catalog]. Every few years I’ll lease overseas or to Japan just to keep things going that way. The label was never created to put artists under contract, so it’s a completely kind of concept. It was created as a conduit for artists to get their product to the marketplace, pure and simple.

TP:   But now it looks like you may enter into a relationship with Mosaic.

TOLLIVER:   I have entered into a relationship with Mosaic. Michael Cuscuna goes back to the days when he was an intern at Record World, just being brought in to do his writings for LPs. He had a paid on West End Avenue, and when I came out with the first big band records to launch the label, I sussed him out, and we’ve been acquaintances ever since.

TP:   But let’s be concrete. There’s a Mosaic Select box within the purview of this story.

TOLLIVER:   It was just released last week. We’ve been tossing around for a couple of years how we could get involved with further distribution of the Strata East stuff, and it just dawned on him, I guess, since I’ve got this thing going now with the big band, that it might not be a bad idea to get started, and better sooner than later, and to kick things off sequentially, the way the label developed, which is the quartet things, the early things at Slugs, and perhaps next the big band things, and then other artists following.

TP:   But what’s coming out now is Slugs and Live in Tokyo, so it catches you live and in performance…

TOLLIVER: And unissued, I might add. Over an hour’s worth of stuff. The thing is to find unissued things and put those together as well.

TP:   Do you have intentions to record this big band?

TOLLIVER:   Oh, I have every intention.

TP:   How close are you to realizing that? Might you undertake it yourself again?

TOLLIVER:   If I have to.

TP:   It’s a much less complex proposition to record yourself.

TOLLIVER:   And convoluted. Obviously, I’m going to record the present big band project. It’s only a matter of when. Shortly, I hope. Whether I’m doing it myself or someone else, it’s a question of the costs, like always. Hopefully, that can be resolved soon.

TP:   You’ve said a few times that big band isn’t your primary interest, that it remains small group, trumpet playing, improvisation, rhythm, energy. But what do you think you’ve accomplished with the big band? What’s your position on the timeline?

TOLLIVER:   Well, I feel that if I am successful with picking the right musicians to play my music, there shouldn’t be any obstacles with getting the music out to the public in the short term. In the long term, I’m still loving the small group situation, but one way I can have my cake and eat it, too, is the way in which I write the big band music, I’m still playing small group inside of it when I play.

TP:   But can you evaluate your accomplishment as an orchestrator and composer? I think you can find objective language.

TOLLIVER:   I want to continue to write music which reflects I was talking about before – the essence of jazz. By example, my arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight. To take songs that represent the essence of jazz, the repertoire of jazz, which is the underpinnings of our music… Because most of the great writers and composers of jazz were also great improvisers. To me, it’s inextricably tied together. Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, they wrote like they played. They were compositional geniuses off of their idiom. You can go down the line from there. All the great players, almost to a man, were great composers and arrangers. So to me, the repertoire is the underpinning of this music, and I would hopefully like to compose and of course arrange for the big band, in my style, music that will keep that alive.

TP:   Did you ever have any formal lessons in orchestration?

TOLLIVER:   No.

TP:   Not one. It’s all self-taught.

TOLLIVER:   The whole thing is self-taught.

TP:   You had lessons on trumpet, though.

TOLLIVER:   Well, if you could call my uncle giving me five dollars to go downtown to a place called Hartnett Studios, which had some teachers on staff who would come down on Saturdays, and you’d sit there in a chair, and you’d put an (?) book up, and you’d play the book, which you’d already mastered, and the guy would say, “Very good, thank you very much,” and he’d take your money and you’d go home. So it was just a reaffirmation that you had done your homework at home.

TP:   Were you a natural trumpet player?

TOLLIVER:   Yes. My grandmother got a cornet for me when I was 8 years old. There was a wonderful old gentleman down in Jacksonville, Florida, named Mr. Walker. Geez, I can still remember his name. He was the person that you would go to for learning your instrument. I went there, and he said, “Can you hold the instrument?” I held the instrument. “Do you know where the fingers go?” I knew where they go. Then he said, “Let me hear you play something,” and I played something, then he said, “Okay, I can’t show you…”

TP:   That wasn’t the first time you’d picked up the instrument.

TOLLIVER:   No. When my grandmother got it, I’d already taken it at home and I said, “Oh, well, this fits…”

TP:   The trumpet is not an easy instrument.

TOLLIVER:   No, because of the embouchure…

TP:   And to play the way you play is probably the most difficult… You don’t like to make things easy on yourself.

TOLLIVER:   No, I don’t. You hit the nail on the head. I take the most difficult path for improvisation. Because it’s easy to actually play a number of choruses and never make a mistake, never break down. You just play them effortlessly. That’s no fun. You need to get in hot water by trying something out right from the jump, get yourself out of that, and move on to the next chorus. I rumble. I like the rumble.

TP:   Do you still practice every day?

TOLLIVER:   Not every day. I should. Because a trumpet player should put their lips to the mouthpiece at least an hour a day, just to keep the embouchure dead-on. You do need to put your chops on that iron, because the lips… It’s trained to sense the molecules of this iron, and it only needs to touch it a little bit, a half-hour or an  hour every day, and it stays just right. Now, if you leave it for a few days, or whatever length of time, it won’t respond right away, and if you ask it… It’s just like a racehorse. Those stallions, you can see they’re all wound up when they get them in the gate. But boom, when that gate opens and they’re out there, not every one of them… If they haven’t been brought right to the right moment in the weeks prior, with running every day up to a certain clocking on the time, they’re not going to get to that eighth pole, and they’ll break down. That’s what happens with a trumpet player. You’ll break down if you don’t stick with the instrument every day or every other day, if possible.

TP: Most cats when they hit 60 don’t play with the…

TOLLIVER:   Well, Clark Terry is just the greatest. He plays just as well as he did when he was 20. There’s nobody even in that world, in that class. He’s a very rhythmical player.

TP:   There was this dichotomy in the ‘60s between jazz as entertainment and being an art. It seems like you always put yourself on the side of being an artist.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. But if the musicians… If all of you are playing well together, it is both stimulating and entertaining to the fans of the music. Because even though they may dig how well you’re executing something, they also can be entertained by the fact that you’re all having fun playing that stuff together, even if it looks hard and mean, if guys are frowning and all that sort of business. But it can be entertaining if the listener and the fans go away with a feeling that the group played well together. For me, that’s entertaining. If you’re executing that art very well, then it can also be entertaining to the listener.

TP:   Do you like club gigs?

TOLLIVER:   I like anything in which you can professionally present the music.

TP:   But the notion of playing five nights with the same ensemble, and as you said, allowing the repertoire to play them over that time must be…

TOLLIVER:   Yes. Actually, I miss the way the cabarets used to be in the old days, which is that we’d get started around 9 o’clock and we’d go until 3:30 or 4 o’clock. Now, starting at 7:30 is really a bit early. Way too early. You’re home at midnight in bed. You’re through by 10:30, and 11:30 on the weekends. It doesn’t feel right.

[—30—]

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Filed under Charles Tolliver, DownBeat, trumpet

Miles’ 85th

I’m sure all the bloggers will offer their two cents on Miles Davis’ 85th arrival anniversary, and, as I never had a chance to meet Miles or write about him til he’d left the planet, I don’t have much to add that hasn’t been or won’t be said.  So I’ll focus on my single  Miles-related assignment, for Jazziz, which was framed around a prospective 5-CD reissue of his output for Warner’s in the ’80s. Of all of Miles’ epochs, this  is the one that I find least engaging; however, many  friends and peers whose acumen I most respect feel differently.

Now, most people looking at this blog know enough about jazz to know that just staying ahead of the curve wasn’t enough for Miles, who still holds  the sobriquet “The Dark Prince,” two  decades after his death. He was a son of the Mississippi Valley, and students of archetype and myth might surmise that he cut some sort of Faustian crossroads deal  imparting Nostradamian gifts that enabled him to occupy aesthetic space a great distance from the pack at each stop on a 45-year career timeline. With a introspective sound that, as Olu Dara once noted, “sucked the juice out of each note like a stick of sugarcane,” his instrumental voice changed over the years by degree but not in essence, and with it he created definitive statements that resonate vividly for successive generations of hungry spirits.

During the first 28-year phase of his recorded corpus, which begins with a 1947  date on which Charlie Parker played tenor, Miles favored  the crucible of collective dialogue with musicians of similar ability and mutual affinity (perhaps the iconic collaborations with alter-ego Gil Evans are the exception, but not really). In conjunction with the  most individualistic young musicians of the day — a short list includes pianists Horace Silver, Red Garland, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea; saxophonists Lee Konitz, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Hank Mobley, George Coleman, Wayne Shorter, and Dave Liebman; guitarists John McLaughlin, Pete Cosey, Mike Stern, and John Scofield; bassists Oscar Pettiford, Paul Chambers, Ron Carter,  Dave Holland, and Michael Henderson; drummers Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Cobb, Tony Williams, Lenny White, Jack DeJohnette and Al Foster — he designed a succession of ensemble sounds that exactly suited the mood of the time during which he conceived them. He was fearless, discarding universally popular approaches that bore his signature for untrod territory.

But  the context of real-time interplay that defined Miles’ first four decades is almost entirely absent from the ’80s music documented on Warner. Though his chops were somewhat diminished, he constructed a series of pithy, sometimes classic set pieces over a backdrop of various contemporary rock, funk, and hip-hop beats. It’s not that Miles didn’t stay on the cutting edge, but the goalposts shifted. He continued to work with the most talented, hungriest musicians of the era. But his interests  now centered on the Warholian, Fashi0n-centric, technocratic, MTV notion of pop culture that mainstreamed during the Reagan era. To my admittedly idiosyncratic way of looking at things, his musical production provided a pitch-perfect soundtrack for the apolitical, consumerist, Yuppie-Buppie, gentrification climate of the decade. From today’s perspective, it seems kind of apropos.

My pontifications aside, you’ll get a much more useful perspective from the remarks of the great electric bassist-arranger, Marcus Miller, Miles’ primary muse of the era, the producer of the prospective aforementioned box set, and the primary voice for the  Jazziz article. Here’s the verbatim interview, from May 7, 2002.

By the way, for Mr. Miller’s perspective circa 2011, read this comprehensive interview conducted by George Cole on http://www.thelastmiles.com/interviews-marcus-miller-tutu-revisited.php

* * * *

TP:    When you were recruited to do the music for Tutu, was that your first encounter with Miles?

MILLER:  I played bass in Miles’ band on his first comeback stuff, Man With A Horn and We Want Miles and all that kind of stuff.  I left in ’83.

TP:    Did you during that time have a vision of the way you would want the music to sound if you ever had that opportunity?

MILLER:  I began to imagine stuff for Miles when I heard that he had left his old record company and moved to Warner Brothers.  I talked to Tommy LiPuma and said, “If I can come up with something, would you guys be interested?”  He said, “Yeah.”  That’s when I began to imagine things that could happen.

TP:    How much of what’s on Tutu was existing in your head at the time you went in?

MILLER:  A lot of it. A lot of it was arranged in my head.  The stuff that I didn’t imagine, obviously, was what Miles added to it.  There were some things that Paulinho DaCosta added and some things that Adam Holzman added musically, but mostly… I have a demo you can hear that sounds pretty close, except it’s not as cool because it doesn’t have Miles on it.

TP:    ’81 to ’83 is when Miles was getting used to the trumpet again and re-finding his sound and all this… Can you talk about how that music evolved toward what he wound up doing for Warner Brothers? The two entities sound rather different, with a few exceptions, at least the recorded examples.

MILLER:  To me it sounds like… The stuff that we did with Miles in ’81, when he first came back, a lot of it seemed like it was along the same thread as the stuff that he was doing before he retired.  Obviously, there were big differences, and there were big differences in the players.  But the way he was putting the music together and the way the music came to be, when I listened to the stuff he was doing with Michael Henderson and Mtume and those guys… I think Miles was still on that track when he came back.  Eventually he started listening again to what was going on in the music world in the ’80s, and began to slowly incorporate that stuff and those kind of musicians into his scene.

TP:    How would you distinguish musicians like Michael Henderson and Mtume  from the people he played with when he was coming back?

MILLER:  I think those guys, at least toward the end of their stay with Miles, were pretty comfortable with themselves and were comfortable with the fact that they had to bring a lot to the game when they would play with Miles.  When the ’81 band first got together, I don’t think they realized that.  I think a lot of guys in the band were looking to Miles for real specific instruction, and it took probably a year or two to realize, “You know what?  I’ve got to bring some personality and bring my thing to this, and then Miles will shape it. But I’ve got to bring the raw materials.”  I don’t know how Mtume and those guys started.  They might have started the same way. But by 1975 or whenever it was when Miles stopped playing, they seemed like they were there.

TP:    As I recall, being alive in 1973 was a very different proposition than being alive in 1981.

MILLER:  Yeah, and I think that’s the main difference, that the 1973 band was very much a product of its time and the 1981 band was very much a product of its time.

TP:    But one qualitative difference, and maybe the most notable one between the stuff you’re responsible for with Warner Brothers and before that is that most of the music is created within a context where Miles is dialoguing with a group of musicians.  The content is created through that dialogue in a lot of ways.

MILLER:  Yeah, that’s true.

TP:    It’s somewhat a different proposition with you, which I’d say is to your credit, because the environments you came up with resonate so well.  But does that make it a different experience listening to it in a detached way, or does it not, from your perspective?

MILLER:  From my perspective, it’s very different. In 1985, when I looked back at the last 15 years of Miles’ music, it had been all done in a certain way, which is the way you just described, where it’s a dialogue between musicians — some great musicians.  That was fantastic.  There was fantastic music done there.  What I felt was an exciting idea was to maybe begin a different kind of sound with Miles.  When Tommy LiPuma called me, he said, “Miles is looking to do something different; let me send you something George Duke did with Miles.”  He sent me this song George did called “Backyard Ritual,” very obviously done with overdubs, and it was done with a lot of technology involved since George was a heavy synclavier guy at the time.

This was exciting, because this was something new for Miles, and Miles is about new.  There’s dialogue on those new records, but it’s not a dialogue between the individual musicians as much as it is a dialogue between the guy who composed and arranged it a lot of the time, who was me, and Miles. . .more like Miles had dialogues with Gil Evans when he did those records.  Those Gil Evans records weren’t really about dialogue between Miles and the other musicians as much as they were about dialogue between Miles and Gil, where Gil had ideas and he had environments that he wanted to set up for Miles.  They fit Miles well, and Miles really thrived in those environments.  So I tend to compare the stuff that I did more with those settings than with the music that came right before it.

TP:    Do you have ideas on Miles’ own attitudes toward framing his sound… It’s obvious that he never did anything without thinking a lot about it, that he knew precisely what he wanted to do, or at least knew the environment he wanted to put himself in or knew where to look for that environment.  Do you know what was going on in his mind at that time?

MILLER:  I think he got excited by things that are new and, besides being new, have an obvious substance. I think that he knew that he’d been making music a certain way for a while, and I think he was excited by the prospect of doing something different, especially when he heard it back.  Because it was a different process for him also.  A lot of times he and I were in the studio by ourselves, just kind of talking about music, and then rolling tape and playing.  The thing that I think he dug the most, even though he never said this… Miles was really into painting at the time, and when you paint, you draw something, then you stand back and you look at it.  You go back and maybe refine it.  It stays there.  And when it stays there, it’s something you continually look at.  The way we did the music with Miles was more like a painting, where we’d sit there, we’d listen to the music, we’d roll the tape back and say, “Hey, try it this way.”  We’d play it this way and sit back and look at it.  So it wasn’t music in such a continuum as it normally exists, the way Miles had been making it before.  It was more like doing paintings, where we tried different colors.  If you listen to the way I put that “Tutu” stuff together, you can hear that I was experimenting with different sounds, and the music kind of sat there, and you can just look at it and roll it over in your mouth and taste it.  So I think he was excited about that new way of making music.

TP:    By the way, was that your basic process in constructing the music on the rest of Tutu and also Siesta and Amandla?  Was that basically your process?  Would you start from the bottom up?

MILLER:  Each song, whatever the heart of the song is… In some songs it was the rhythm, in some songs it was the melody… Whatever the heart of the song, that’s usually what I started with.  Sometimes I work from the bottom up, sometimes I work from the top down.  It was always based on what the tune was.  As we began to work on Amandla, it began to become a more live thing.  In my imagination, I always imagined the Tutu and Siesta stuff as being a period in Miles’ life.  I didn’t think it was something he would actually stay with for any considerable amount of time.  So in my mind, I was trying to help him transition back to some kind of live situation, which is what got him to Amandla.

In other words, on Tutu I played on almost all the instruments.  It was real painting.  It wasn’t like a bunch of guys in the studio capturing a performance.  We captured Miles’ performance, once I had kind of laid this tapestry down for him.  That’s a different way of making music from having five or six guys in the studio kind of vibing off of one another.  And I thought it was a very unique way for Miles to make music in that period.  I don’t think he ever intended to do that for any long period of time.  In other words, a couple of albums like that was cool.  It was Miles trying something different, just like he did those things with Gil.  But he always went back to his band, which was kind of the heart and soul of what he did.

TP:    So when you said “live” you meant live performance.

MILLER:  Yes, I meant live performance.

TP:    You played a fair amount with him in the latter part of the ’80s, then Daryl Jones came in, and I’m not sure who was between you…

MILLER:  Tom Barney was in there.  There were a couple of guys.

TP:    These studio recordings are quite pristine.  There’s something very elegant and holistic and organic about them.  They’re like beautiful images unto themselves.  It can be a complex proposition translating that to a live situation, especially in concert halls, with amplification and those sorts of issues.  I don’t know if you have anything to say about that…

MILLER:  You mean in terms of trying to take the music we did on Tutu and perform it live?

TP:    Yes, and evolve it and transform it, and did it come off live…

MILLER:  I was never in the band with Miles when I was writing for him, so I was never really involved in that process.  So I really witnessed it like everybody else did.  My impression was that I think they did it correctly.  They took elements from those records that helped identify the song.  I put these huge orchestra staffs in front of Tutu, where you’ve kind of got to start with those.  But then they opened it up and found windows where they could jump through and explore the music and open it up, and it became a living thing.  I think that’s the way to handle the situation.

TP:    You’ve talked quite a bit about how it was intimidating for you to be proactive with Miles, to tell him where he needed to go to realize your vision.  Could you talk about the obverse, the input Miles gave you after you’d executed your end of the process?

MILLER:  When we were doing Tutu, he’d come in and out as I was layering these parts.  For instance, we were doing the song “Portia,” and he said, “Marcus, that’s beautiful.  You know what?  Write another section at the end.  I want to hear an ensemble section at the end.”  He’d leave, and I’d do it. When I came back, he said, “Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.”  He said, “Keep writing stuff, man, because you’re in a fertile period.  I remember when Wayne was in this period.  Just keep writing.”  And “I don’t want any acoustic piano on this; take the acoustic piano out.” I’d take that out.  He said, “Man, this reminds me of this rhythm that we used to do with J.J. Johnson,” and he’d play me that rhythm on the trumpet.  I’d go, “Man, let’s put that on there.” We’d roll the tape.

We were doing the album Amandla and we were doing “Mr. Pastorius.”  There was always this tug of war with the band and Miles, because we were always trying to slip him back into that 4/4 rhythm, at least for a taste of it, just because he was the master of that, but he really kept wanting to move forward.  So when I wrote this song, “Mr. Pastorius,” and it was a melody that he sounded beautiful playing on.  Then after the melody was done, I went into a slight two-feel, a shuffle feel, not going all the way into the 4/4 feeling, but just enough to kind of give him a hint of that, and I thought maybe I could urge him into that a little bit.  So he began to solo, with just me, I’m playing bass and he’s playing trumpet, just the two of us, and he holds up his four fingers to me like, “Play in four; what’s wrong with you?”  I just jump into the four thing, and he played chorus after chorus after chorus in this “Mr. Pastorius” song.  He probably played around six or seven choruses. It was beautiful, and it was so amazing because he had kind of resisted that for so long.  Then I went back and orchestrated around what he had done, and added some other instruments based on what Miles did.

But that’s the kind of input Miles would have.  Sometimes he would talk and give me ideas.  Other times he would just come in and begin to do stuff, and I’d try to capture it on tape and maybe work some things around it.

TP:    Your reference to “Mr. Pastorius” makes me think about two things.  One is Miles’ sound during this period. Listening back to all of this at once, he was really in great form on the trumpet, better than I remember contemporaneously.  He seemed to have command over all the sounds he wanted to get out, which wasn’t the case in 1981.

MILLER:  It evolved over time.  In’ 81 and even into Tutu, I don’t think he was as strong as he was by ’88-’89.  By the time we did “Mr. Pastorius,” I think he was in great form.  He wasn’t relying on the mute as much any more.  In fact, “Mr. Pastorius” is all open horn, which is another thing I love about it.  He really found himself again, which is pretty incredible for a guy in his late fifties and sixties to rediscover the trumpet and find his sound again.  I think that’s amazing.

If you listen to Man With A Horn, his sound was at times kind of small.  There are some songs, like “Aida,” where he kind of let loose, but I don’t think he could sustain it for a long time, because the trumpet is such a physical instrument.  When we would play concerts, there were times when he really couldn’t sustain his notes.  He got really sick when I was in the band around the time we played Saturday Night Live, and his tone was pretty shaky at the time.  But then he began to get his health.  He was married to Cicily [Tyson], who put him in touch with some doctors who really helped him.  And by the time I began to write for him, he was coming into his own.  I think if you listen to a song like “Mr. Pastorius” and compare to The Man With The Horn, you can hear the development of his playing.

TP:    As a bassist of your age and generation, it’s self evident why you would call a tune “Mr. Pastorius.”  But in listening to this, one thing that stayed at the back of my mind is that it sounded, in my imagination, the way Miles might have sounded if he’d been playing with Weather Report, if Weather Report had a certain type of sensibility toward constructing the music.

MILLER:  That’s an important thing, though, the last thing you said.

TP:    Was Zawinul’s approach to creating these great tapestries of music something that was important to you as a composer and arranger?

MILLER:  In a general sense, absolutely.  I know I wasn’t trying to recreate that with “Mr. Pastorius.”  But precisely for the reasons you listed.  The generation I came from, that was a powerful influence on me, and a lot of guys my age, the way Joe orchestrated things.  Guys my age, we grew up with that sound, and I think a lot of people who were older and maybe some people who are younger can’t relate to that sound.  It sounds kind of cold to them.  But guys like Joe Zawinul and George Duke — and Herbie, too, to a certain extent — really humanized the synthesizer for me, and there were, in my mind, ways to use it that were really human and represented the sound and feeling of our times.

TP:    Off the Miles track, I’d like to ask you about your circumstances, growing up in Queens as a teenager in the ’70s.  You were born in ’59. So you grew up with Kenny Kirkland, Lenny White was a bit older than you, but he’s from around there… A bunch of people from around there made their mark.  Can you address what was percolating in your group or clique or whatever in Queens that led you in this direction?

MILLER:  You could do a whole thing just on Jamaica, Queens.  We’re talking about Billy Cobham and Lenny White, Omar Hakim, Tom Browne, and we’re also talking about John Coltrane and James Brown living there at the same time.  We’re talking about L.L. Cool-J and Run-DMC and A Tribe Called Quest.  We’re talking about one of the most fertile musical areas in the world.  Its proximity to Manhattan had a profound effect, but it had enough distance where there were homes with basements.  It was a suburban area… Not suburban, but it was an area with homes, where young guys could get in there and really make some noise, unlike Manhattan.  But we could go to Manhattan or we could go to clubs in Queens.  We would do gigs with Weldon Irvine, who was one of the elder guys there in Jamaica, Queens, who was always creating opportunities for us to play.  The first tune is a straight-ahead tune, the second tune’s a funk tune, the next tune is a samba.  It was New York at its best.  I mean, all the influences that came from all over the world landed right there in New York, and we were really the recipients as young musicians.  So you end up with a breed of musicians who are very different than the guys who came from the Midwest or from Louisiana, you know what I mean, who really had a more centralized idea about what music should be.  We were pretty open and pretty all-encompassing.

TP:    You’re a year or two older than Wynton, so that’s true.

MILLER:  Yeah.  Wynton has a very clear idea of what he feels he has and a very clear idea about what he thinks music should be, and a lot of it is a product of where he came up.  For me, coming up in New York, I played with African bands, I played with Reggae bands, I played with Salsa bands, I played with big bands — just about every type of music that came through New York, I had a good, healthy experience with.  So that shapes you.

TP:    Did Miles talk to you about those types of bands?  Did he ever speak about Prince or Fela, etc.?  Can you address his listening during your association?

MILLER:  The thing that really impressed me about Miles and a lot of the great genius musicians like Wayne Shorter and Herbie is that they’re always listening and they’re always excited about new things.  Miles was always like, “Man, listen to this.”  He’d play me Prince all the time, or a band called Kassav that he was really into for awhile.  He’d play me whatever came his way that he was excited about.  Then when I played him stuff, I’d explain to him. . .I’d even play him Janet Jackson records and say, “Look, Miles, see how they’re using the drum machine there.”  He’d giggle, because he got a kick out of it.  But it was always a search for new, fresh stuff to infuse his music.

TP:    So he was greedy.

MILLER:  Yeah, he was hungry.  Man, the guy was 60 years old, and he’s still hungry.  He’s still searching.  He’s still not afraid to change his music and to do things… Who else at that age is going to take those risks with their life, with their reputation, with their money, with all sorts of things?  His fearlessness was just incredible.

TP:    Are these records things that you go back to?

MILLER:  I hear them every once in a while.  But they’re in my head so clearly that I don’t have to…

TP:    Is it possible for you to listen to them in a detached manner?

MILLER:  Oh yeah.

TP:    Looking at them in 2002, how do they stand up?

MILLER:  To me, listening to a record like Tutu, I go, “that stuff is very obviously from the ’80s, but there’s some stuff that’s still cool.” At first I felt funny about that reaction.  Then I remembered my reaction when I heard Charlie Parker.  Not to say that Tutu is on the level of anything that Bird did.  But the point I’m making is that my first reaction when I heard bebop, was, “Man, this stuff sounds like ‘Our Gang.’” [LAUGHS] But then I began to realize, “But there’s some stuff in here that’s cool,” and that stuff is what’s stayed with me for the rest of my life.  I’ve talked to other people who hear Tutu and say, “Man, this record did this for me, this record did that for me,’ and I realize that, to some degree, the record is doing that for younger people.”  People say the record changed their life.  They say, “I heard that, and said, ‘that’s so cool,’” and they went out and bought everything with Miles’ name on it — which takes considerable funds, by the way.  But they went out and bought all Miles’ discography and discovered him just through that record.  There are people who say that record kind of defined that period of their life for them.

TP:    So do you think it’s because you helped Miles define himself through the most advanced aspects of Pop language at that time?  Or the cutting edge of Pop expression?

MILLER:  I think we took a lot of elements from Pop music at that time, absolutely, and created an atmosphere where Miles sounded natural.  The thing that I’m most proud about is that we took some things that you wouldn’t expect, and it sounds like it always existed.  Miles sounds very comfortable in that environment.  When I hear it, it takes me right back to 1985-86.  And I think that’s what music has to do first.  It has to represent the time it was created.  Then you have to hope it has something great about it that will make it transcend its time and last, and that people can still listen to it.

TP:    Do you have a favorite of the three albums?

MILLER:  I think Tutu represents exactly everything that we were at that time.  It represents our relationship, between Miles and myself.  It represents the time.  The fact that it was dedicated to Desmond Tutu represents where our heads were at.  If we had to play one song, I think I’d play that.  If I had to choose a favorite of the three, I wouldn’t.  What I’d do is I’d probably take “Tutu” and make it the first song on the Amandla album, and then make sure there were a couple of those cues from Siesta in there also.

TP:    What from Siesta do you like the best?

MILLER:  I like the things Miles played with his open horn.  Because on “Tutu” it was mainly mute, and I was really starting to miss that beautiful open sound he had.  In Siesta we got to explore that a little bit. I really love that stuff.

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Filed under Article, Interview, Jazziz, Marcus Miller, Miles Davis, trumpet

Roy Hargrove At The Village Vanguard

This evening, trumpeter Roy Hargrove brings his working quintet (Justin Robinson-alto sax; Sullivan Fortner-piano; Ameen Saleem-bass; Montez Coleman-drums) into the Village Vanguard to launch a two-week run. He’s morphed gracefully from young lion to esteemed veteran, is one of most singular trumpet stylists out there, and has incubated no small number of next generation movers and shakers in his bands over the last 15 years, and yet gets less dap from the jazz media than his abilities, conceptual daring, and body of work would merit.

I’ve been following Roy since he hit NYC twenty-plus years ago, and finally  had an opportunity to do a piece on him in 2009, when I was doing a lot of work for the jazz.com website. This Q&A was conducted on August 11th of that year, in the offices of the Jazz Gallery.

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By his own account, Roy Hargrove spends about two-thirds of his time on the road, as was the case over a seven-week summer 2009 sojourn during which he toured all three of his bands—his quintet and big band, both devoted to hardcore jazz, and his crossover unit, the R.H. Factor. Back home in New York for a week, Hargrove was decompressing, relaxing in the daytime and spending his nights jamming at various New York venues—Small’s, Fat Cat, and the Zinc Bar in Manhattan; Frank’s Place in Brooklyn. Still, on this hot Tuesday afternoon, the 39-year-old trumpeter, resplendent in a pink-check jacket, shorts, and a narrow brim, strolled into the Jazz Gallery exactly on time for a discussion framed around his new recording, Emergence [EmArcy], his first with the big band, following strong quintet releases from 2008 and 2006 entitled Ear Food [EmArcy] and Nothing Serious [Verve], respectively, and Distractions [Verve], also from 2006, and his third recording of R.H. Factor.

In point of fact, Hargrove may be singular among mainstem-oriented hardcore jazzfolk of his age group in his projection of an old-school attitude regarding road warriorship, song interpretation, blues feeling, and swing, while simultaneously tuning in to the popular music of his time on its own terms. Which of Hargrove’s peers of comparable visibility would embrace the requirements of playing third trumpet in the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band with as much enthusiasm as Hargrove devotes to the various ensembles that he leads? Which other highly-trained post-Boomer would deliver a lyric like “September In The Rain,” a staple of Hargrove’s sets for at least a decade, with as much brio as Hargrove projects when uncorking cogent, thrilling solos on structures ranging from bebop to post-Woody Shaw harmonic structures? Indeed, in his ability to blend the high arts of improvisation and entertainment with equal conviction, Hargrove is a true descendent of such iconic elders as Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, and Dizzy Gillespie, all musical highbrows who wore their learning lightly.

How does the big band sound now vis-a-vis when you did the record, after playing quite a number of gigs over the last year?

It’s really tight. I’m trying to get them to the point where they have the music memorized, and don’t have to use the written music any more—being able to play by ear is so important. When I played with Slide Hampton and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, I tried to memorize the parts so that I could pay attention to everything that’s going on with the conducting, with the dynamics, and try to make it very musical. It’s getting close.

How big is the book? There are 11 tunes on the recording.

There’s probably 30 songs or so.

In the program notes, you stated. “I always wanted to work in a big band format. The sound is so full and rich, and it provides opportunity for congregation, which is much needed among today’s younger musicians, most of whom have come of age in small group settings.” I’m also thankful for the opportunity to exercise my compositional and arranging skills. Music is such a vast world, and I intend to explore every avenue possible. The cast of players on this project are all guys I met in school and on various gigs and jam sessions over the last twenty-odd years. I think we all share a strong passion for music that comes from the heart.”

Two themes arise which are a common thread in your career. One is this notion of congregation, communication through music, speaking across generations and styles. Then also curiosity, hunger for information. I can recall watching you as a young guy getting your butt kicked by the elders at Bradley’s, and not being daunted or fazed, but taking it in a constructive way and coming back for more.

True.

Now, in the liner notes, Dale Fitzgerald writes that the first day he met you, you told him that to have a big band was an aspiration. You were always interested in that notion?

Yes. I always watched Dizzy’s big band on video, and it was very inspirational to me. When I started to embrace playing jazz as a teenager, the big band format was my training ground, in learning how to read, and learning how to play in a section in a group. For me, it’s kind of going backward. Earlier, there were big bands and then they went to the small groups; now it’s small groups, and I’m trying to bring back the big band thing.

I believe it’s really important that we all have to know each other when we play together. Most big bands, if it’s a great ensemble, the soloists are ok—they have one or two. But this group is a band full of soloists, so it’s challenging for me to try to bring them all together and have them play where the entire ensemble is thinking in the same direction, with tight cutoffs and everybody breathing at the same time—the things that normal big bands do. A few guys work in the Broadway shows, so they have a lot of experience…everything’s by the numbers. So there’s a balance between discipline and at the same time keeping it very loose and spontaneous.

You just mentioned that watching videos of Dizzy Gillespie’s big band was an early influence.

Yes. The way Dizzy conducted the band, and the way he seemed to have so much fun—and they were having fun. This was inspirational to me, and I wanted to have a group like that.

Playing with the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Big Band over the last number of years has probably been a great training ground in putting together your own group.

Oh, it’s been great. Especially playing in the trumpet section there, playing the third trumpet part on Slide’s arrangements. The third trumpet part is a kind of focal point within the band, because you get to hear all the different ensemble parts written around the voicings. A lot of times, the third trumpet part, or even the third trombone part, has special notes that make the chord grow. I’m a sponge, listening to everything and taking it all in. It just gives me more information to transfer along to the group.

The program of Emergence contains many flavors—Latin, straight ballads, you sing a bit, exploratory pieces arranged by Gerald Clayton and Frank Lacy. But somehow, the template seems rooted in the mid-‘50s Dizzy Gillespie Big Band; the Ernie Wilkins-Quincy Jones synthesis of Dizzy and the Basie New Testament band, seems to be a jumping off point for the feeling you have in mind.

Exactly.

It’s a nice blend of art and entertainment.

I think that musicians should always have fun when they play. Sometimes it gets too serious. That’s just my opinion. When we play, it has to be tight, but at the same time I like to have the freedom to go outside of the box a little bit.

Talk about the process of recruiting this band.

Now, that’s difficult. With a big band, there’s hardly ever any money to pay guys, so it’s hard to get cats to be available.

It started off as a sort of Monday workshop thing, as often happens around New York…

Actually, the first hit was about 15 years ago, in Washington Square Park, where I was able to pull together a kind of all-star thing, with Jesse Davis and Frank Lacy, and even Jerry Gonzalez in the band—Jerry was playing fourth trumpet and percussion! I was able to do that first hit because the Panasonic Jazz Festival, which was running the event, paid us enough that I could give each one of those guys a grand or something. They were excited. “Ok! You got some more gigs?” But at the same time, throughout the process, the music grabbed them, too, and here it is, fifteen years later, we’ve brought it back, and everybody seemed to want to be part of it.

The other thing is that there aren’t really any gigs out there, and there’s a lot of musicians. People want to play. So it wasn’t that difficult to find musicians to be in the group. But it’s always a different gauge to try to find people who are available. For example, we did a few things here at the Jazz Gallery, and I was trying to find trumpet players. We shifted around a few different people, but we finally got what seemed to be a lineup of ringers—Tania Darby, Frank Green, Greg Gisbert are all very good lead players, too, and Darren Barrett, who I went to Berklee with, is a great soloist—Clifford Brown-Donald Byrd stuff. I guess finding the trumpet section was the hardest part; for a while, we had some mishaps. But we managed to pull it together.

I’m always at jam sessions, like I was last night, so I’m always running into musicians. I just go into my mental rolodex and pull out the people I know.

It takes time to accumulate a book. How did you accumulate repertoire?

I arranged a few of my songs for it, just to begin, then I told the cats, “If you want to write something, bring it in.” For this album, I asked Saul Rubin to write the arrangement on “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” and I had written “Tchipiso” and asked Gerald Clayton to do the arrangement. Then, of course, there’s our theme song, “Requiem,” by Frank Lacy, which we’ve been playing. That’s the chop-buster for the whole band; they like to play it, but it’s kind of difficult. It’s very powerfully arranged.

I try to include the music that I learned when I came to New York, from cats like John Hicks, Walter Booker, Larry Willis… Right now, a friend of mine is working on an arrangement for Hicks’ “After the Morning,” which we used to play at Bradley’s all the time. My premise is to try to pass down the information I picked up from cats like John Hicks, Walter Booker, Clifford Jordan and Idris Muhammad when I started cutting my teeth in jazz.

Apart from the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Big Band, what other big bands have you been part of after high school?

I think that’s the only group I’ve actually played in. I’ve sat in with a few, played with some large ensembles here and there, but not anything that happened more than once.

Playing in big bands was a rite of passage for many of the older musicians who were your heroes, who came up before 1955-1960.

That’s why I think the music needs this. It creates some kind of humility. It’s very needed. Excuse me, but a lot of times, especially now, when I got to the jam sessions, people are so ego! I’ll give you an example. We’ll play an F-blues, and everybody with an instrument will get up and play, and it goes on for three hours. Each musician will play 100 choruses. There’s no humility there. Big bands, large ensembles create an environment where you don’t have to play for two hours and stretch out. Everybody can’t be John Coltrane! Sometimes you can just play half a chorus. Charlie Parker will play a half chorus and blow your mind! There’s something to be said about being able to trim it down—say less but have it have more meaning.

Is that something you learned early on, playing in your high school big band?

No, I didn’t learn that early on. I’m still trying to learn that!

It’s a quality that you aspire to.

Yes, I aspire to it. Sometimes, you have to make the amount of music that is just enough. You don’t have to over-crowd it.

How do you see this band vis-a-vis other contemporary big bands? It isn’t as though the scene is totally devoid of big bands, though there aren’t so many that work steadily.

Yes, there aren’t that many.

Maria Schneider, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the Vanguard Orchestra, the Mingus Orchestra, Carla Bley…

My group is not quite that streamlined. I’m still trying to get it to that point. My group is filled with hooligans.

No hooligans in those other bands?

No hooligans over there. There’s plenty in my group, though. My vision of that just seems like there’s those groups, and they’re all very clean-cut and organized, and then there’s my group, which is complete chaos. A lot of characters. It’s never a dull moment around those guys. When we’re hanging or traveling on the train, all I have to do is go around them, and it’s entertainment all day.

Does the composition of the band somehow reflect your personality?

Maybe so. I’ve never really thought about it like that, but yeah, probably.

So you’re talking about camaraderie and the jazz culture. This band evolved through this location, the Jazz Gallery, which has served over its decade-plus…

As a breeding ground.

…as a breeding ground and also a kind of communal space for a lot of young musicians from many different communities.

That’s right.

Talk a bit about the interface between the Jazz Gallery and the evolution of this project. Your quintet identity was already long-developed, but the big band identity not so much.

I have to give it up to Dale Fitzgerald, because it was his idea to bring this back into the picture. The first gig we did here at Jazz Gallery, people got really excited. That got the ball rolling. Then I got excited about it. I figured, well, it’s been over ten years; we might as well record the thing now, try to take it out on the road. I guess that’s an uphill battle, considering the economy and everything else going on right now. But still, I think it’s very needed. The kind of conversation you’ll get with it is worth more than money. To me. Because it would help if we can feed jazz with something fresh. It’s difficult right now. People don’t want to swing any more. That dance element is getting buried, more and more and more. It’s got this esoteric sound. People want to be so hip. They want to create the new thing. But the new thing, to me, is the dance. They’ve buried that. I like hearing drummers when they play the ride cymbal. You can’t get drummers to play the ride cymbal any more. They’re always playing like a drum solo throughout the whole song. The ride cymbal, that is your beat. That’s your identity. The way the bass and the drums sound together is a big deal. People just forget about that. Everybody’s on their own program. That’s why I’m doing this whole big band thing. That’s why I’m doing all three bands. Instead of music just being in the background, music should be like therapy for people. When you go to hear music, you should feel better when you leave. Like you’ve been to the doctor and he heals you.

Another flavor of this band which also hearkens to Dizzy Gillespie is your embrace of Afro-Cuban rhythms on several pieces. Two things come to mind. One is that the Jazz Gallery has been an incubator for some of the most creative Cuban jazz musicians of this period…including some of the more esoteric ones.

Excuse me!

But then also, it’s the place where Chucho Valdes entered the New York picture during the ‘90s, and the venue where you first touched base with him and gestated Crisol. Let’s talk about Afro-Cuban rhythms and how they fit into your notions about swing.

It goes back to the dance thing. When I went to Cuba the first time in ‘96, they was partying in there! Here’s people who don’t have anything, they can’t even go to the store and buy orange juice. You’ve got to go to somebody’s house to buy beer, or something to drink. They don’t even have their own bathrooms. It’s crazy. But when they party, when the music starts, it’s like a festival. They REALLY know how to get down. This inspired me…the possibilities exploded in my head. I owe so much to Chucho for turning me on to that world. Before that, I had no idea. Not really. Not like that, before I went down there and saw it for myself. The level of virtuosity with the musicians in Cuba is out of this world! One guy would have five different facets in his realm. For instance, you might have a trumpet player who plays congas and is also a visual artist who can dance.

When I hung out with Anga and Changuito, playing with these guys, even though they didn’t speak English, I was still able to communicate with them through the music, and they showed me so many things. They showed me how to play the different rhythms based on the clave, things that inspired me… But I didn’t really get to dive into it on this album the way I wanted to. We had one percussionist. I wanted to do a bunch of overdubs, but we didn’t have time to get into it the way I really wanted on the big band thing. There’s still some music floating around from the Crisol era that hasn’t been released.

Did the Cuban experience have an impact on your improvising style, on the way you phrase? Is it something you can dip into, go out of? How does it play out for you?

Just being around those guys, I soaked in some of that. I’ve always been into rhythm and movement. When I play, I’m trying to be a part of the dance. I want the music to go into your body, the way you feel where you have to tap your foot and snap your finger, or move your head, or something. Hanging out with those guys strengthened that feeling, made it more prevalent. When I play, I’m thinking about the drums the whole time, and trying to sit in to the rhythm of whatever the drummer is doing. I pay attention to the drummer always. If the drummer isn’t really happening, then I can’t really play. Sometimes I can, but most of the time it’s a struggle if at least the time is not steady.

So it isn’t so much the style or whether they’re playing swing or straight eighth that’s important, but the quality of the beats. Or is that not the case?

It’s a combination of things. It’s the steadiness of the beat and also the way it feels, like if it has an oomph behind it as opposed to it being very quiet, subdued. I prefer to play with a lot of energy. That’s why I liked having all those drums when we were doing the Latin project, because it inspires me to play with energy and force. Drums and brass just go together.

Let’s segue to the R.H. Factor project, which is a much more explicit manifestation of your dance orientation.

In the beginning, I started off trying to do a tribute… My father was a record collector. He had foresight. People used to come to our house to see what we had, so they could go and buy it. They wanted to know what the new thing was going to be, because my father would have it.

So whatever Roy Allen Hargrove was getting, that’s what…

Yeah, they used to come to our house to see what he had in his collection. Every weekend, my dad would buy two or three records, and come back home, and then two weeks later it would be a hit. He just bought what he liked, but apparently that would be what everybody else liked, too—but later. I lost him in ‘95. So I wanted to do a tribute to him in a way that… He always said to me, “I like the jazz, but when are you going to do something a little bit more contemporary, something funky?” I’d say, “I’m getting to it.” He got out of here before I could do it. So I began to collect all of these recordings from my memory, out of what I knew he had. I would go out and get Herbie Hancock with Headhunters, and Earth, Wind & Fire, and George Clinton—just reeducating myself. I’d always been doing little home recordings of my own original music, and I decided to take a few of them out of the archives and transfer it into a live setting, which was the beginning of R.H. Factor. We went into Electric Lady Studio for two weeks. Once the word got out that I was doing something different, all the musicians in New York started coming through!

A lot of musicians.

A lot!  I’m saying every day it was somebody new. It’s funny how the world is small. When the word gets out, it gets out. You know how that is, here in New York. We were at Electric Lady, and the first day I couldn’t find anybody. Nobody was around. I didn’t have a bass player, no drummer, no nothing. It was just me and Marc Cary, trying to get it started. We had Jason Olaine calling around, trying to find us a bass player. Finally, Meshell Ndegeocello popped up and brought her drummer, Gene Lake, and that’s how we got started—and the whirlwind of creativity began at that point. For two weeks, cats were just coming… Even Steve Coleman came by one day. There were some people who I actually called to come through, more mainstream entertainers like Q-Tip and D’Angelo and Common, Erykah Badu. These are my friends. It was a little bit difficult to get them, but they still came through. The only problem was that the budget spiraled out of control, because there were so many musicians, and they had to pay all of them. But that first one, once it got off the ground, was a lot of fun to do. I had Bernard Wright there, and my homeboys from Texas —Keith Anderson, Bobby Sparks, and Jason Thomas. That’s the nucleus of what was going on.

Just let me interrupt momentarily. Erykah Badu, Q-Tip, D’Angelo, Common, were all people you’d come to know during the ‘90s. Now, you’re best known as the leader of a hardcore jazz quintet playing swing, in a milieu where the jazz police are serious.

Mmm-hmm. But I never paid attention to that.

Well, you mentioned your father’s question, “when are you going to play something more contemporary?” That made me wonder whether there was a tipping point where you decided…

No-no. I never was satisfied with just staying in one place with music. I get bored. I always try to keep it rounded. When I was in school at Berklee, people thought I was strange because I would hang out with the jazz guys and the R&B cats, and then just sit there and listen to the gospel choir, saying, “they don’t understand.” Because there especially I met people who got into their locked-in things. You’ve got the guys that just play like Bird, then ones that just play like Coltrane. You got the guys who are strictly R&B, and they think the jazz guys are stuck up. You got the jazz guys who think the R&B guys are ignorant and can’t play changes. I never really sank my teeth into being in one of those groups. When I started recording professionally, I chose to do straight-ahead jazz, because that’s where my development was at the time, and I was trying to learn how to do it. I thought there was enough people trying to rap and do all that other stuff. There was enough of that at the time! I’m fascinated by Clifford, Fats Navarro, and these guys who were like institutions.

It was high art.

Yeah. I’m fascinated by that. Once I got locked on to that, I couldn’t stop. For me, it’s a blessing to be able to record jazz in THIS day and age. So I just went with that. But then, when it came time… Actually, it was really difficult for me to try to branch out and do something that wasn’t jazz. When I make a jazz recording, no one says anything. They’re just like, “Ok, take 3. Thank you.” Or “maybe we need another one, just for safety.” But then, when I started branching out into something else, everybody had an opinion. Everybody wanted to try to tell me how to write the songs, how to arrange the songs, do this, do that, “you’ve gotta get this singer, you’ve gotta get that one.” Everybody became an authority. People in the jazz world, they all think, “He’s a bebopper, he doesn’t know what he’s doing; he can’t play that.” But I’m from the generation that hip-hop came from, so it’s going to come out of me, too. I mean, my favorite group was Run-DMC when I was like 13 and 14. I actually bought Kurtis Blow’s first album.

Did your father like hip-hop?

He had one song he liked, “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash. “Don’t push me, ‘cause I’m close…”

In his very warm liner notes, Dale Fitzgerald writes that you started playing in an elementary school jazz ensemble in Dallas. Then people started hearing about you when you were 14-15, when you attended Booker T. Washington High School, which had a distinguished lineage stretching back to the ‘40s and ‘50s. During that time, were you working outside school? Blues bands, R&B bands, church situations?

Yeah. Once I got hit by the music bug, I couldn’t stop. I wanted to do it all the time. They had to pull me out of the band room. I was the first one there, and always the last to leave. I’d stay there until 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening, because I loved it so much. It was also a kind of deterrent from being in the streets. People talk about South Central L.A., but South Dallas is no joke! Erykah is from South Dallas. We went to high school together. Yeah, people don’t talk about South Dallas. If you picture the ghetto in South Central L.A., or Compton, which they glamorize on TV and have the gangs… Just imagine ten times that. It’s so bad, they can’t even show it on TV. You go to Texas, and the ghetto is crazy. People are just crazy for no reason! I grew up around that in the 1980s, the late ‘80s, when a lot of gangs were beginning, and there was a lot of crack. One time my father told me I couldn’t go outside after 6 o’clock. So being around all that…having music really helped. Having something to do to keep me out of the streets. Otherwise, it might have been trouble. I’m thankful for that.

Did the idea of having a distinguishing voice on the trumpet come to you pretty early? Were you modeling yourself after the cats you were listening to? Did it just naturally come forth somehow?

Being in Texas, you hear blues all the time. Blues all the time. People love to listen to the blues. Every Sunday, my father and his friends would get together and play dominos, and put on Z.Z. Hill and B.B. King and Bobby Blue Bland, and listen to the blues. My grandmother and my aunts and all of them had 8-track tapes of Tyrone Davis. A lot of blues. So the blues gets in there. So when I first started learning how to improvise and took my first solo, it was based on playing the blues. My band director showed me a couple of licks… I guess coming up in church, you learn how to project yourself emotionally through your instrument, if you play an instrument, or if you sing—whatever you do. Texas is the Bible Belt. People know what that is when you go to church, and somebody sings a solo. That becomes a part of you. My grandmother put that in me when I was little. My spirituality has always been what keeps me going. That’s what is coming through.

It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I started to hear people like Clifford Brown and Freddie Hubbard. Now, hearing Freddie Hubbard pretty much turned my whole life around. Clifford Brown at first, because I had never really heard jazz trumpet like THAT. Clifford’s technique was so good that it sounded like he wasn’t even playing trumpet any more. It went into like a woodwind sound almost, as though he had practiced so much and got so good that his sound went past being just a trumpet—it was just music. But then, Freddie Hubbard really got me,  because he had a contemporary thing in his sound—it reached back to cats like Clifford and Fats Navarro and Dizzy, but it also had a thing from my father’s generation, from the ‘70s. I could definitely latch onto that, especially the way he played ballads. I always liked his ballad playing. Just ballads in general. I like to play the slow songs.

So I started from blues, and then I started learning bebop when I came to New York.

That was right after high school?

Well, I was in Boston for a couple of years.

Didn’t you come to New York before you went to Boston…

Well, yes, I actually did, once. But it was for a competition. I was still in high school. I didn’t really leave the hotel.

But before you came to Boston and New York, there were a couple of national figures who entered the picture for you a little bit, right?

Yes. Clark Terry and Wynton. When I sat in with Wynton that first time, I was really nervous. But I thought, “Ok, you’ve got to step up to the plate now; you’ve got to deliver.” I wasn’t afraid, but at the same time I was really nervous.

Is stepping up to the plate something innate in you?

I’ve always enjoyed when people enjoy. When I’m playing and someone is feeling good from that, I’ve liked it, ever since I was little, when I first started. When I play a few notes and somebody goes, “Yeah!” I’m like, “ok, yeah, I want to do that every time.” so yeah, step up to the plate, make it happen.

Back to R.H. Factor and the first record that came out with Common, Q-Tip, and artists like this, what was their sense of you as an instrumentalist? Were they thinking of you as a jazz player? As a common spirit? Apart from the friendship and the collegiality, what was the artistic relationship like?

Like Herbie always says, “I’m a human being first, and a musician second.” I guess there’s something to be said for a doctor with a bedside manner. You have to know how to deal with people. So when I go to the more mainstream artists, I switch the way I work with them as opposed to when I work with the jazz players. In some cases, they’re used to special treatment, and you can’t be so technical.

Give me a concrete example.

For instance, with Q-Tip, I put him in the booth and let him write to the track, and just have the first 8 bars, or something like that, keep looping over and over, For about an hour I left him in there by himself. He wrote to the track, then we went back in and cut it, and he did it first take. But there’s no formula. It’s different with each person. It depends on their personality. With Common it was a little different. He and Erykah were dating at the time, so I had to pull him out of the studio. Finally, I got him out of there at 5 a.m. or something, and he came down. He didn’t even write anything. He just improvised his thing, which was one take. I couldn’t believe he did it in one, so I was like, “Can you do that again?”—and he did it again! It was great. But then I went through all of this crap with his manager, because he didn’t like the improvised thing. He wanted him to write something. I’m like, “You don’t understand what’s going on. I wanted it to be improvised.”

Does this emphasis on bedside manner represent your attitude as a bandleader in all the different situations?

Definitely. It takes patience and forward thinking. You always have to be thinking for the other guy, thinking what he’s going to do. Is he going to miss that note? Ok, is he going to come in? I’ve got to count him in. It’s like a juggling act sometimes, trying to… Well, not really like a juggling act—I’ll take that back. What I mean is, you have to think forward, think ahead. With the big band especially—conducting and bringing in all the different sections and whatnot—you have to always be at least 2 bars ahead.

I guess you have to be like when you’re leading the small band, too, keeping the crowd in mind, what to play at what time—gauging all those dynamics.

I mean, it’s not that much different from the small group to the big groups. I think that, in a way, the approach should be kind of the same. With the small group, sometimes we play the big band arrangements, pared down, which is exciting for them.

A different flavor. Changes things up.

Changes things up, yes.

So you hit New York in 1990 after two years at Berklee. Was being there helpful to you?

Yeah, definitely. Billy Pierce was there. I did my first couple of gigs with James Williams while I was there. Greg Hopkins, too. At Berklee, I was in the Dizzy Gillespie Ensemble, which is how I learned a lot of that book. Greg had some of the same arrangements, so when I got in the band with Slide, I had played a lot of the arrangements before. That helped me professionally. I already had some training, and I got a lot there, too, though I wasn’t there very long. Not just from being in the school, but from being on the streets. Going to Wally’s every night. I heard a lot of great music there, and I got to know some great musicians as well, like Antonio Hart, Mark Gross, Delfeayo Marsalis… Being away from Texas was a culture shock for me, but also very enriching as far as my education in jazz.

Then you get to New York…

Then it got really deep! While I was at Berklee, I was starting to learn a little bit of some bebop, but I was really just trying to learn how to read chord changes. I’ve always played by ear, from when I first started. The first trumpet player got mad at me, because I would play his part, but I’d be down at the third trumpet! I think the ear training is such a big deal, though, especially now. We’re in the information age, and you can get everything at the push of a button. So musicians have to be very complete. You have to be not only good readers and be up on the technical side of playing music, but also be able to play what you hear. That’s sometimes lacking. I know a lot of musicians who can read flyshit, but if you whistle something to them, they can’t play it. Ear training is a big deal.

Anyway, it got deep when I got to New York. I started sitting in with people like John Hicks. I followed John Hicks around New York for a while.

Let’s paint a picture. You were around 19-20, and spending a lot of time at Bradley’s, both playing bookings and sitting in. You were playing with Hicks, and you were playing with Larry Willis, and the musicians who play on the record, Family… I personally remember an occasion when you were sitting in with George Coleman and Walter Davis, Jr. on the second set, they kicked your ass, and then you came back on the last set and hung right in there. I saw similar situations transpire several times. It’s kind of an old-school way of learning, but I think it says something fundamental about you.

I’m very thankful, because people like George Coleman and Walter Davis taught us how to be men on the bandstand—how to be grownups. I never will forget that same night you mention, when I was playing with George and we went through the keys on “Cherokee,” which was like a lesson on harmony and then another lesson on rhythm. Then we played “Body and Soul,” and he started changing up the meters—he played in 3 and then in 5, and then BLAM, really fast. [LAUGHS] Then he turns around to me and goes, “You got it.” I go, “ok. What am I going to do after all of that?” But I stuck to my guns and tried to ride it out. Man, they were so helpful to me. That’s why I think we just need something now. Musicians need role models, something so that they can see how it’s done. I’d glad I got a chance to see it in person. Bradley’s was an institution, to me. It was like going to school. It was like your Masters. You go in there, and you’re playing, and then there’s Freddie Hubbard at the bar! What do you do? This is very humbling. Everything I’m playing right now I owe to that whole scene.

Before I interrupted, you mentioned following John Hicks around the city, and you remarked earlier you’ve commissioned an arrangement of his piece “After the Morning” for the big band. Hicks was a musician who is underappreciated in the broader scheme of things in jazz…

Yeah, but he was a true musicians’ musician. My manager, Larry Clothier, told me about John in the beginning. He said, “You’ve got to hear him; he elevates off the piano. Really. He starts levitating.” When I saw him the first time, it happened! I was like, “whoa!” So I latched on to John, and he was like my uncle. He was like family to me. His music was an influence. I was influenced by a lot of pianists as far as how I write and my approach to harmony. there’s John Hicks, then also Larry Willis, then also Ronnie Matthews, Kenny Barron, too—and James Williams, of course. My writing was influenced mostly by James Williams and John Hicks, the use of the major VII-sharp XI chord. That was my favorite chord when I was in college, and I used to use it on a lot of songs. They showed me how to use that chord, and make it very melodic. Sometimes the guys in my band would get tired, because I would write them like inj parallel… “Man, you got some more major VII-sharp XI chords?” A lot of my tunes had inflections from John or James or even Larry Willis, and they still do today.

One thing that I think shone through at Bradley’s was your ability to play a ballad. At 19 you could have been called an “old soul,” but we can’t really say that now, since you’re turning 40 this year.

I think that’s just my upbringing. I’ve always gravitated towards the slower songs. Ballads have an emotional quality to me. You slow it down, and you hear everything, all the nuances… Maybe I’m a romantic as well. I guess I believe in love! I like the slow songs. I like when it’s broken down. Sometimes that’s where the beauty is, when you bring it in the slow tempo. And I always listened to singers. Nat King Cole and Shirley Horn. Sarah Vaughan is my favorite. Of course, I owe a lot to Carmen McRae. I got to hear her live a lot, and she used to let me sit in with her all the time. Her delivery… I heard Freddy Cole at Bradley’s as well.

There’s a vocal element in my music. I try to play like a singer. I try to sing through my instrument like a vocalist would sing. I’m always thinking about the lyrics. I was told by Clifford Jordan that you have to know the words of the song, because then you really understand what it’s about, and when you play the melody you really understand the mood you’re projecting. Also, it helps your phrasing.

It sounds like there was never any generation gap for you.

Man, I have extreme respect for my elders. I believe in that. Somebody who’s been on this planet longer than me, I have to respect them. Even if they’re dead wrong, I’ve still got to respect them! There’s something to be said about the fact that they’ve been here longer than me, and they’ve survived. When it comes to musicians, it even gets deeper.

Another thing that’s interesting about how Bradley’s played out for you is that, because your business arrangements turned you into a leader quite quickly, it became the primary venue for your apprenticeship. You never did the sideman thing too much, if I recall correctly.

No, you’re wrong about that. I did a lot of sideman things, but it wasn’t anything steady. I started off playing with Frank Morgan and the Ronnie Matthews Trio, and  it went from there to Clifford Jordan, Barry Harris, and Vernell Fournier, and then Charles McPherson.

Were these one-offs or were you touring with them?

I was touring with them. I would do a week here, two weeks there with different groups. Most of them were veterans, with me, the young kid, as the special guest. They were so encouraging. Whenever I showed up on the scene with my trumpet, the older guys, like Clifford Jordan, would be like, “Man, come on and play.” Nowadays, people get very protective over the bandstand. You want to go sit in with them, it’s like 2 o’clock in the morning, and they say, “We’re going to play a few songs, and then we’ll invite you up.” You can’t do that at 2 o’clock in the morning, man! It’s too late for all of that. Let’s have some fun! But people get very protective. I think the reason is because there’s no gigs. That creates a thing where when somebody gets a gig, even if it’s 2 o’clock in the morning, they want to play all their original shit and they want to speak their piece.

But the older cats were very welcoming, even though I couldn’t really even play changes that well. “Hey, come on and play.” Sometimes, when I didn’t want to play, they’d be like, “Get on up here.” Like, Kenny Washington one night, we were at Bradley’s, and he was playing some fast, crazy tempo. Kenny was known for playing 220! I went to go sit down, and he was like, “Unh-uh, come back up here.” [LAUGHS] He wouldn’t let me go. “Yeah, you’re getting some of this, too.”

But even if my premise is wrong that you didn’t do so much sidemanning, pretty much you were leading groups from…

I didn’t have my own quintet until ‘93-‘94, with Greg Hutchinson, Marc Cary, Rodney Whitaker, and Antonio Hart. I tried to create a couple of bands before that, but nothing really stuck. I had different projects. I had one group with Walter Blanding, Chris McBride and Eric McPherson early on.

I’d like to talk about your development as a trumpet player over the years. What your weaknesses were, how you worked on them.

Trumpet is a beast! When I was in high school, Wynton referred me to a guy named Kerry Kent Hughes, who was a trumpet professor at Texas Christian University. He was my very first private instructor on that level. I’d been studying at school, and pretty much teaching myself, for the most part. This was the first time I actually had someone who would come to my house and work with me. Man, I learned so much. I couldn’t pay him. We were poor. But he did this out of his heart. He was a classical player, but he also did musicals and shows and so on, and he was very versatile. Actually, he came to the Vanguard the last time we played there, and it blew my mind, because I hadn’t seen him in so long. But Kerry Hughes would come to my house every week or so, and show me little things to help me with endurance. We worked on Cichowicz flow studies and stuff like that, and also the Arban method. This really instilled in me the importance of an everyday routine on the trumpet, certain rudimental things that you do just to keep your chops up. With a hectic schedule and touring when you have to go to the airport and so on, you don’t get a lot of opportunities to practice, so you have to develop a daily routine to keep your chops up. I learned a lot from him in that respect.

I’ve picked up things as I go. A few years ago, I learned something called the Whisper Tone that really opened me up, helped my range a lot, helped me to be able to play more around the horn. I’m still developing, trying to learn as much as I can about the trumpet. It’s a beast. Dizzy says, “It lays there in luxury, waiting for someone to pick it up, so it can mess up your head.” [LAUGHS]

Dizzy Gillespie sure messed up the heads of a lot of people. You don’t hear too many who can emulate him.

I was just listening to something last night, “Birks Works” with Milt Jackson.

At what point do you feel you got past influences?

I’m still not. I’m still there.

Were you transcribing trumpeters? Were you doing it more by feel?

When I was at Berklee, I had to transcribe some Fats Navarro. Jeff Stout was my teacher, and he had me transcribe a couple of Fats Navarro solos. But I never got into transcription as far as writing it down. I don’t think that you get much from that. It’s better if you transcribe by ear and learn it, because some things you can’t really write down all the way—certain inflections and the feel that comes from someone’s conception. But I transcribe a lot by ear, not even really trying to. If I hear something more than three times, I’ve pretty much got it memorized.

That’s a gift, to be able to do that.

Yes, I think so. Thank God for that. But it’s also training. Because if you listen to music all the time, which I do, then it becomes part of you. It becomes part of your breathing. It’s just like drinking water or eating. I listen to music all the time. Even when I’m not listening, it’s still in my head.

So the quintet is your longest continuous entity.

Yeah, I like the quintet format. It has everything there. I have tried some other formats, though. That’s why I like coming to the Jazz Gallery to play, because I get to do other things—like the organ trio is fun.

You’ve also paired off with other trumpeters on various gigs here. Back to the notion of camaraderie and collegiality, it seems that you like to have another voice to play off of.

Yes, I like it.

It doesn’t seem that quartet would be your favorite format.

Well, it depends. With quartet, I would probably play more ballads. But it’s hard to play ballads now, because the young guys don’t know the American Songbook. They don’t KNOW the songs. It’s difficult. I go to jam sessions a lot, and when I start calling tunes, nobody knows anything. You either get “Beatrice” or “Inner Urge.” That’s it!

Gerald Clayton, who was your pianist for several years, has command of that…

He does. He knows the language of it. If he doesn’t know the tune, he can figure it out. For his generation, he’s one of the better ones. But then, his father is John Clayton, so he’s getting it honest. But I could stump him, too. He didn’t know “After the Morning.”

But in any event, you’re always bringing new young musicians into the band. Is there a disconnect for you with that generation?

I miss being able to hear some music that I just can’t get enough of! I’ll give you an example. Just two nights ago, I went into Smalls, and we were hanging out, jam session, everything’s pretty straight line, and then my friend Duane Clemons gets up and plays—and I was so happy! It was like touchdown! Know what I’m saying? It was like throwing a pork chop into the middle of a hunger-starved place. I felt so good just for that little bit. Man, if I could just have a LITTLE bit of that all the time. I was telling Duane that, “Man, you should really play more, because that’s FOOD.” He was playing the real language. He was playing bebop. He was playing the real New York stuff. The real fabric of the language of the music. When you hear it, you know what it is.

You do some workshops and clinics, too. You’re in touch with younger musicians.

Sometimes. I did a thing with Roy Haynes at Harvard not too long ago. It was real cool.

What do you think is alienating musicians from that way of playing? Is it lack of information, or…

Lack of information.

…is it attitude?

It’s both, One feeds the other. First of all, I think people sometimes come into the arts for the wrong reason now—because they want to be famous and rich and have a nice life, instead of trying to reach people’s consciousness and make a difference. Doing something for someone else besides yourself. People come into this, and, “Yeah, I want to be rich, I want to have a car, I want to have people waiting on me,” and so on. It gets weird when that’s your main focus. So you get the jazz musician who learned how to play in school who already thinks he’s learned it all. I like to meet musicians like that, because then I like to challenge them. That’s why I started this big band. I wanted to challenge the peacocks, musicians who think, “Oh yeah, I already know everything.” But you don’t!

They don’t get it. But if you love this music, you’ll go out and find what you need. That’s one thing I like about Jonathan Batiste, the new piano player who’s been playing with me. He seeks out cats like Kenny Barron and Hank Jones. That’s different than the guys in his generation, who are more into McCoy and Herbie—Jonathan checks out the REAL thing. I have to say, he did a great job on this last tour. I was really excited, because he came out and took care of business. This cat played in all three groups.

Jonathan Batiste is out of New Orleans.

New Orleans. What are they feeding them down there?! I don’t understand. Them New Orleans piano players. I had two of them in the past months, Sullivan Fortner and then Jonathan, and these guys are so complete. There was nothing I couldn’t throw at them. I’ve been working towards having the type of group where if I wanted to show them a new song, I could sit down at the piano and play it, and then they’d hear it—I don’t have to write it out or anything. Now is the first time I’ve ever had a group like that; with Jonathan, I could sit down and play it once, and he’d pick it up. Something about New Orleans.

So the present group is either Sullivan Fortner or Jonathan Batiste on piano…

Yes. Amin Salim is playing bass. Montez Coleman is on drums. Justin Robinson on alto saxophone.

Is the quintet a more open-ended format for you than the big band or R.H.  Factor?

“Open-ended.” What do you mean?

In your current bio sheet, you remark about the big band, “There’s not much left to chance.”

Yes. With the quintet, it’s always up in the air. The book is so vast with the quintet right now (excluding the new members, like Amin Saleem, who doesn’t know the whole book yet—but he’s learning it) that we can go in any direction you want. I can actually do the Big Band and R.H. Factor set with them, too. This version of the quintet is probably one of the more versatile units I’ve had. When we play the Latin thing, it’s real Latin. When we play some funk, it’s real funky. When we play straight-ahead, it’s tippin’. We can go anywhere. That’s basically my whole premise. I believe in variety, and also I believe in spontaneity. There’s no rule book. As soon as it starts to get to be in a rut, then I change it right away. With the quintet, we never play the same thing. Each night I try to change up the repertoire a bit so that everyone stays focused. We never get bored.

Being a bandleader is very interesting and challenging in that way. You have to keep everybody focused, and also motivated. Even outside of the music, trying to keep morale up is a balancing act as well. When you’re on the road and nobody’s slept for a few days, people get tired of looking at each other and it gets real dark. So I try to keep a very positive energy around everyone, so we keep it going.

You yourself must get tired, too.

Yes. I get tired. But I’m ok. My spirituality is what keeps me going, for sure.

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