For Gene Ammons 92nd Birth Anniversary, a Liner Note for The Prestige Reissue “Fine And Mellow”

No one who loves the sound of the tenor saxophone doesn’t love Gene Ammons (1922-1974) who first entered public consciousness playing alongside Dexter Gordon in Billy Eckstine’s band in the mid-’40s, and had the first of his many instrumental single hits in 1947 with “Red Top”. An unparalleled balladeer and blues practitioner  who could more than hold his own in any cutting contest (his solo starts at 7:32—rhythm section is Hampton Hawes, Bob Cranshaw and Kenny Clarke!), as evidenced on a series of recorded ‘jam sessions’ that he recorded for Prestige in the second half of the ’50s, including the 1958 date, Groove Blues, on which John Coltrane played alto saxophone. Ammons spent 7 of his prime years in jail on a trumped-up narcotics charge, which is perhaps why he’s less remembered than he ought to be. He came out of the penitentiary with powers undiminished and a raw edge, recording jazz funk classics, expressionistic ballads, and straight-up swing. He was state-of-the-art; the tunes sound better with time’s passage.

In any event, ten years ago or so, I had an opportunity to document my feelings about the maestro in a liner note for a reissue of the proceedings of three 1972 sessions that were released contemporaneously on the LPs Get My Own and Big Bad Jug, which I’ve posted below.

Gene Ammons, “Fine and Mellow” (Liner Notes):

No tenor saxophonist of his generation understood melody more profoundly than Gene Ammons, whose ability to make his metal instrument emulate the human voice with unparalleled presence and dramatic weight gave him great stature among his peer group.

“Jug’s one of my heroes of all time,” says tenor saxophonist Von Freeman, referring to Ammons by his nickname.  Now 81 and saying more on the tenor than just about anyone alive, Freeman met Ammons, two years his junior, in the middle 1930s at South Side Chicago’s DuSable High School, where both studied under the famous taskmaster Walter Dyett. “I give him a lot of credit, because he sort of opened up the saxophone around Chicago. Then again, he’s one of those cats that was playing in between Hawk and Prez, just like the rest of us.”

Freeman is referring to the way individualistic tenormen like himself and Ammons, Eddie Lockjaw Davis, Paul Gonsalves, Wardell Gray, Lucky Thompson and Frank Wess — ’20s-born musicians who assimilated Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young before Charlie Parker entered the picture — blended Hawkins’ charging, arpeggiated, straight-up-and-down attack and thick operatic tone with Young’s relaxed, fluid, float-like-a-butterfly, bel canto conjurations. Ammons played economically, and he could accent his lines with stirring blues vocalizations, like Muddy Waters playing bebop saxophone. He had an unerring inner metronome, honed during an Art Blakey-booted two-year stint in Billy Eckstine’s orchestra; one Ammons note would launch the beat and the swing, and that note would permeate the room — or speaker. Plus, the ladies dug him; Ammons could bleed you to death with a ballad, smooth with quiet fire, like his idol Nat King Cole, or, a la Mario Lanza, oozing vibrato to maximize the melodrama.

Ammons possessed an incredibly powerful embouchure (Freeman recalls once seeing him snap off a saxophone neck while blowing), and in certain ways, his larger-than-life sound, which projected pain and jubilation in equal measure and seemed to emanate from deep in his innards, disguised his extreme musical sophistication. He inherited his rawer musical chromosomes from his father, Albert Ammons, the legendary boogie-woogie pianist-church deacon. He got the finesse from his mother, a music teacher and classical pianist.

“I used to go by Jug’s house,” Freeman recalls: ” They used to call me Lord Riff, because I could riff on anything, but I didn’t know what I was doing. One day when I was about 14, his mother said to me, ‘Son, you’re playing by ear, aren’t you.’ She’d been on her son about that years earlier.  She said, ‘The ear is beautiful, but you should learn more about chords. Come over here.’ Then she sat down at the piano and started playing chords.  She started me out.”

On the three autumn 1972 sessions that comprise “Fine and Mellow,” the 47-year-old, three years out of his second stint in jail, enters Rudy Van Gelder’s studio with a cohort of New York A-list studio pros, quickly comprehends the form and the texture of the songs and arrangements – here a melange of Billie Holiday material chosen to exploit the release of “Lady Sings The Blues,” MOR pop, and a few elemental originals suffused with funk-tinged blues sensibility – and lays down a succession of declamations that contain a surfeit of heart and soul, with the occasional wild edge, as he had done for the previous quarter-century on a series of jukebox staples like “My Foolish Heart” and “Canadian Sunset.”

It’s the sound and approach that made Ammons the people’s choice in Chicago from 1947, when he formed his own unit after Eckstine disbanded, until his death in 1974. “One night we had five gigs, all dances,” recalls pianist Junior Mance, who joined Ammons not long after he departed from Mercury Records, for which he recorded ‘Red Top,’ his first big hit. “In Gary, Indiana, which was our third gig, Jug’s car broke down and we couldn’t get back to the fourth. The club-owner took Jug to the union, and they called us down. We’re all sitting there, and Harry Gray, the local president, said: ‘You guys know better; why did you follow him in doing five gigs?’  Which was a stupid question.  If anybody offers me five gigs in one night and I think I can do it… Anyway, our drummer, Ellis Bartee, who was just out of the Lionel Hampton band and who was very quick, said, ‘Well, Mr. Gray, I’m just here from Kansas City. When I came here, all I saw was the name Gene Ammons all over everywhere, because he’s the most popular. So I just figured, well, that’s the man to be with. I didn’t know we weren’t supposed to work five gigs in a night.’ They all laughed, and that got us off the hook.”

Musicians as diverse as Johnny Griffin, Clifford Jordan, Sonny Rollins and Henry Threadgill were hooked on Ammons. “Gene Ammons was sort of an idol of mine,” Rollins told me a few years ago. “He was out there doing it when I was still in school, and he was one of the older guys that I looked up to and respected a great deal. When I got to Chicago I had the opportunity of playing several times with Gene, and got to know him more as a colleague.”

Threadgill recalls a memorable week in 1961 or 1962 when Ammons guested with the Sonny Rollins Quartet at McKie’s, a popular 63rd Street club that Rollins immortalized in a song. “You can often hear things live that will never get on record,” Threadgill stated on WKCR in 1996. “On Sunday night, they locked the doors around 2:30 or 3 o’clock, and wouldn’t let anybody else in. They played until morning. I had no idea Gene Ammons could play like that.  He was playing pieces up in the harmonic section, the altissimo of the tenor saxophone, and never played below that. Very high notes, played all of these melodies an octave higher than Sonny Rollins. It was quite a lesson.”

Tenor players at all levels will find lessons aplenty in these sessions. Listen to Ammons bellow out his statement on “Lucille,” an impassioned love cry penned by Harold Vick. He imparts maximum blues impact with a minimum of notes on the downhome “Tin Shack Out Back” and on “Lady Mama,” the latter an elemental vamp on the chords of “Freedom Jazz Dance,” written by fellow DuSable alumnus Eddie Harris, who as a youngster subbed for pianist James Craig on Ammons dances at Chicago’s Pershing Ballroom.  He squeezes every bit of melodic juice from “Can’t Help Myself” and “God Bless The Child,” and, in the company of maestros Hank Jones and Ron Carter, evokes the surreal ambiance of “Strange Fruit.”

For all his personal problems, Ammons played with remarkable consistency, and these statements, like so much of his finest work, transcend the particulars of time and place and genre. With the reissue of “Fine and Mellow” another piece of his career mosaic falls into place, and we are the richer for it.

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Filed under Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons, Liner Notes

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

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

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Denny Zeitlin Blindfold Test (Raw):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    You had a hip piano teacher.

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

TP:    This was around 1952 or so.

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

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

ZEITLIN:  Yes, I grew up in Highland Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    The remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    Was most of this record like that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    You’re a Sinatra man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZEITLIN:  Yes.

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

ZEITLIN:  Yes, starting at age 15.

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

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

TP:    And go to school.

ZEITLIN:  Well, that was mostly on the weekends.

TP:    And your parents were fine with this?

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

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

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

TP:    So we could call him an influence.

ZEITLIN:  Yes, he was an early harmonic influence.

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    Bird?

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

[-30-]

 

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[BREAK]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[BREAK]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[---30---]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-30-]

* * *

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

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

TP: So you’re James Moody, Jr.?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: What early bands do you remember seeing?

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

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

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

TP: That’s when you were 16?

MOODY: I was about 16.

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

MOODY: Mmm-hmm.

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

MOODY: Well, I wouldn’t say that.

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

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

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

MOODY: No.

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

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

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

MOODY: Yeah.

TP: But it was a different process with you.

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

TP: Was that in the Service?

MOODY: That was when I had my septet.

TP: Oh, so not until the ’50s.

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

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

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

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

MOODY: I played by ear.

TP: Tell me about your Service experience.

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

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

MOODY: Tenor.

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

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

TP: Did you hear Charlie Parker during that time?

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

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

MOODY: No. I heard him afterwards.

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

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

TP: So you’d memorize…

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

TP: Where were you stationed?

MOODY: Greensboro, North Carolina.

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

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

TP: The prisoners-of-war could.

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

TP: Is that where you met Dizzy?

MOODY: Yes.

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

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

TP: When did you get to New York?

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

TP: Were you gigging after the Army?

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

TP: Was it bebop…

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

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

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

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

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

TP: That was in ’48.

MOODY: Yes, in ’48.

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

MOODY: Yes, “Tropicana”…

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

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

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

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

TP: Was Dizzy very proactive in breaking it apart…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Yeah, my Uncle Louis.

TP: Was he a musician?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Where?

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

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

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

MOODY: No.

TP: Not at all?

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

TP: Really.

MOODY: No.

TP: That surprises me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: What brought you back?

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

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

MOODY: Yes.

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

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

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

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

TP: You I liked him right away, huh?

MOODY: [LAUGHS] Immediately. Before that.

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

MOODY: No, I didn’t know him.

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

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

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

MOODY: Oh yes.

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

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

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

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

TP: How much did that band work?

MOODY: We worked ALL the time.

TP: Any time off at all?

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

TP: The easy way, huh?

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

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

MOODY: Yes, a station wagon and a car.

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

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

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

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

TP: Oh, you didn’t know it.

MOODY: No, I didn’t know that.

TP: When did you find out?

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

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

MOODY: Dances, clubs, yup.

TP: Mostly black clubs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Yes.

TP: Did you change repertoire when you did that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: So that’s when you became closer.

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

TP: How did you know about Kenny?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Not too many people.

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

TP: Did he tell you that during the Sixties?

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

TP: Was it during that second time?

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

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

MOODY: Yes.

TP: Kenny Clarke?

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

TP: Any particular reminiscence about him?

MOODY: No. Just nice being around him.

TP: Gil Fuller.

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

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

MOODY: I knew Lester a little bit, yeah.

TP: Because he was one of your first idols.

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

TP: Did you get to know Bird?

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

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

MOODY: Yeah, that was it.

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

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

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

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

TP: It’s probably just me.

MOODY: Oh, okay. All right.

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

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

TP: That was an economic decision?

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

TP: You just played a functional section man or…

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

TP: Did you garner anything from that musically?

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Kirk Lightsey was on one.

MOODY: Kirk Lightsey was on one…

TP: Kenny was on another.

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

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

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

TP: You’d think.

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

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

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

TP: Otherwise is there a vibe on you that…

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

TP: Is that what happened?

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

TP: Are you still with Warner Brothers?

MOODY: No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Got to be on time.

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

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

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

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

MOODY: All of them. Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Sure.

TP: Is that something…

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

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

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

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

MOODY: How about the disadvantages?

TP: Are there any advantages?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Hands-on?

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

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

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

MOODY: Oh, yes, man! [LAUGHS]

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

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

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

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

TP: To the Selmer Factory?

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

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

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

TP: Did you get to know Sidney Bechet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Like what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: yes.

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

MOODY: Yes. And his brother Tootie and Percy.

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

MOODY: We’ll play “Manteca.”

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

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

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

MOODY: Mmm-hmm.

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

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

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

MOODY: Tell me about it.

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

LINDA: He’s going on 18.

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

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

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

MOODY: Yes, 11 years.

LINDA: You have done your homework, Ted.

TP: Oh, I always do my homework.

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

TP: How did you meet?

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

TP: So it was love at first sight.

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

MOODY: I sent her dozen roses every Monday.

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

MOODY: She still gets them.

LINDA: I still get them.

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

LINDA: I’d say it’s about 150 pounds.

TP: And Peter Jennings by the TV.

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

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

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

TP: Are there special commissioned arrangements?

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

[PAUSE]

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

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

* * *

James Moody (5-20-00):

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

MOODY: No, I wasn’t playing.

TP: You started playing that year?

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

TP: Before you went in the Armed Services…

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Right.

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

TP: On alto saxophone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: He was from Canada.

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

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

TP: They wanted a segregated band.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: The Dials.

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Sure.

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

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

TP: And why?

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

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

MOODY: He what?

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

MOODY: Who?

TP: Charlie Parker.

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

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

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

TP: And you’d heard Dizzy by then.

MOODY: Mmm-hmm.

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

MOODY: Oh yes.

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

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

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

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

TP: What do you remember about that first night?

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

TP: Were you rehearsing intently?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Was he around?

MOODY: Yeah.

TP: What was he like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: But the audiences were enthusiastic?

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

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

MOODY: No, we played the band.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: yes.

TP: And you felt insecure about it.

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

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

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

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

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

TP: But you could if you wanted to.

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

TP: Well, he was a Modernist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: No knowledge of music?

MOODY: Yes.

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

MOODY: Of course.

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

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

TP: You have to fish.

MOODY: There you go.

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

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

TP: Sunday is.

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

TP: “Good morning, Moody.”

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

TP: Two-faced.

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

TP: You can perform the ceremony.

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

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

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

MOODY: Oh yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: In jazz.

MOODY: Yes.

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

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

TP: That didn’t used to be the case.

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

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

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

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

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

[-30-]

* * *

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

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

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

MOODY: Definitely.

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

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

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

MOODY: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: He left and I hired Eddie Jefferson.

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

MOODY: No, I don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Any particular anecdote about either one?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: I can agree with that.

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

MOODY: Yes.

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

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

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

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

TP: Did you have other dealings with Coltrane?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Well, I hope not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Kenny Clarke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: What did it do for your musicianship?

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

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

MOODY: Yes, twenty years.

TP: Are you satisfied with doing that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Would saying more about it trivialize it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: That would be sufficient.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Yes.

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

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

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

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

TP: You did all the driving, too?

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

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

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

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

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

MOODY: Okay.

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

[-30-]

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: He has a very even temperament?

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

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

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

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

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

TP: The purpose of it being to communicate maybe.

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

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

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

TP: Everybody became a comic.

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

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

BARRON: No, that had been done before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP: Not if you’re Dizzy.

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

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

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

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

BARRON: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

FADDIS: oh yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FADDIS: The one thing about that embracing which no one really talks about. See, Moody had this cologne made up for him. Did you know that? He had this James Moody cologne. And when Moody sees you in the morning, going on the bus or at the breakfast, you get up and he’ll always insist on a hug on both sides. But when he gives you that, his cologne sort of rubs off on you! And it carries with you throughout the day. Which can be okay if you don’t carry your own. So usually if I’m on the road with Moody, I’ll avoid putting my cologne on.

TP: This is what being a jazz veteran really means, is knowing when to wear the cologne and when not.

FADDIS: Something like that.

TP: Would you talk about his relationship with Dizzy, and your speculations on what drew Dizzy so closely to Moody? Moody said that they didn’t really become close until they traveled in the ’60s.

FADDIS: Well, I wasn’t there in the ’40s. I know that in the ’60s, that’s also one of my favorite bands that Dizzy had, the one with Moody and Kenny Barron and Chris White and Rudy Collins. Moody would talk about things that Dizzy told him back in the ’40s that he is just starting to understand what Dizzy meant. That’s how deep Dizzy was. I know they must have been very close, because Dizzy was Bahai and then Moody became Bahai.

TP: Although Moody said it had nothing to do with Dizzy. It happened after he got married.

FADDIS: I don’t mean close in that he was copying Diz, but that they shared the same outlook on I guess the spiritual aspect of life. There was a book about Dizzy last year by Alan Shipton, and he asked me what I thought of the book, because they asked me to do a little blurb for the back cover, and I refused to do it. One thing he mentioned in that book is that Moody, in his opinion, during the ’60s, was just acting as a comic foil to Diz. I’m saying, “how can he say that?” Then he cites a couple of tracks on a recording where it wasn’t Moody doing the stuff! It was Chris White.

But Moody would always talk about the things Dizzy would tell him about life and about music. I guess the first time that Moody really seemed grounded and satisfied with his life is after he married Linda.

TP: He makes no bones about that.

FADDIS: I think that’s something very important with him. She provides him with a lot. He had gone through some other relationships, and he would sit down and talk to me about them and shake his head. He’d say, “Isn’t that strange?” I’d say, “Yeah, that’s strange.”

TP: I don’t see comedy as denoting any superficiality at all. I think one could say that even with you a bit because you have a penchant for broad or drier humor. I noticed at his concert in April that he was telling the same jokes he’s been telling for 30-40 years, but you still laugh because his timing is so perfect. Do you hear that humor in his playing also?

FADDIS: Oh yeah. He’s one of them cats like Picasso who can make you laugh out loud at some of the stuff does. “Oh my gosh, where did that come from?” He can really touch you deep down with I guess the subtleness of humor in his playing. It’s not a more evident type of humor, like, say, somebody like Clark Terry. It’s a little more subtle.

Call Kenny back and ask him about the blue uniforms they used to have with the piping…

* * *

TP: Let me take you back to the beginning. When do you remember meeting Moody? Must have been the first time you saw Dizzy Gillespie’s band.

HEATH: Right.

TP: Can you pinpoint it?

HEATH: It was probably 1946. I think they came to Philadelphia, and Moody was in the band. If it wasn’t ’46, maybe he can correct me. But I remember we invited the whole band down to my mother’s house. John Lewis was playing at that time.

TP: Was Kenny Clarke the drummer?

HEATH: Yes. We invited them all down to the house, and a lot of the band members came, Moody and Dave Burns… I don’t recall everybody that was there. But that was my first time to meet Moody.

TP: I guess he’d done the “Emanon” solo then.

HEATH: In Philly we had heard the “Emanon” solo, and all the musicians around Philly were crazy about the Dizzy Gillespie band, period, and the new music, Bebop, and the solo was very exciting to all the saxophone players around home.

TP: Let me ask a moron question. Why was the solo exciting at that moment in time?

HEATH: Well, Moody played very fast on tenor. He doubled up. And the solo was different than any blues solo that you had heard, similar to coming out of Charlie Parker and the bebop sound. He had the bebop sound.

TP: So along with Dexter Gordon…Moody and Dexter Gordon and Teddy Edwards were the first who articulated that on the tenor sax.

HEATH: And Sonny Stitt. He was one, too.

TP: Then your first acquaintance with Moody is 1946; you’ve known him 54 years. I would imagine you kept in fairly close touch with him over the next few years.

HEATH: Oh yes.

TP: What do you remember about his manner and his personality as a young man?

HEATH: Moody has always been a very nice person, and everybody knows that. He was very interested in learning as much as he could about the music. He actually was basically playing by ear at that time when he played “Emanon.” Later on, when he had his group with Johnny Coles and Tom Macintosh, some of the people like that convinced Moody he had to learn his changes and play by changes. I don’t know why…

TP: Moody says he’s eternally indebted to Tom Macintosh for that. He says that before it was like flying blind, and it caused him all sorts of anxiety and inner turmoil.

HEATH: Well, there were things within himself he couldn’t do. Because if you don’t know the insides of the music and the changes, there’s a limitation put on what you play. As a player by ear, he was already so far advanced, it didn’t take much concentration — but I guess it did. It took a few years. Because Moody began to play so good by changes, until… He recorded one of my songs in a later year, “A Sound For Sore Ears,” which had kind of difficult changes, and man, he ate that stuff up then! Because Johnny Coles and Macintosh were… Particularly Macintosh. He was a schooled musician from Juilliard. He was a writer, and he knew a lot about the harmony. And when Moody decided that he was going to do that, the result is obvious, that he is one of the greatest players who ever lived — now. Moody, right now.

If he hears you play a lick or a sequence that he hasn’t heard, he’ll say, “What is that, Section?” He calls me “Section.” We call each other Section from playing in reed sections together over the years. If he hears you play something and he asks you what that is, once you show it to him, man, Moody takes it and takes it into his own style and elaborates on it, turns it inside-out, and does everything possible with that idea to make it his own. I know on one occasion, Moody and I made a record with Bags. The record is called Big Bags for Riverside. Tadd Dameron wrote half of the music on it and Ernie Wilkins wrote the other half. It’s one of the greatest big band records I’ve ever been a part of. The reed section was wonderful. What I was getting to is the fact that on some of the things someone was playing lead alto, but then on Tadd’s arrangement on “Round Midnight” Bags asked Moody to play the lead. And man, that is one of the most beautiful sounding lead performances that I’ve been involved in. And he’s playing alto. But Moody mostly played tenor all of his career. But that was one experience, and the others are numerous.

TP: Let me take you back to the ’40s for a second. You came in Dizzy’s band after Moody had moved to Europe.

HEATH: Right.

TP: Were you in actually to replace Moody?

HEATH: No. I didn’t replace Moody because I was playing alto. Coltrane and I played alto in the band. Jesse Powell was one of the tenor players, and Rudy Williams, known as Bones, and then Paul Gonsalves was in the band.

TP: Where I was going with that is that Moody is just one year older than you and Coltrane. Did he seem much older to you at that time, or was he musically that much more advanced, or was it just a matter of circumstance?

HEATH: He was advanced because he was around Dizzy. He was in the first big bebop band that recorded. So that made him a person for us to idolize, in a way, because we…

TP: You aspired to that.

HEATH: Yeah. We had never gotten to the point where he was.

TP: Do you have any memories from your perspective at that time of the relationship Dizzy and Moody had in the ’40s, of their interaction, or is that something you just don’t know about?

HEATH: I just know that Dizzy really dug Moody. Of course, in the long career that followed afterward, you can’t separate Moody from Dizzy.

TP: Moody said they became closer in the ’60s when they had more proximity.

HEATH: Well, they played in a smaller group together. In the big band, Dizzy had a lot of personalities that he had to deal with. But Moody was one of his main people, and probably, like you said, they got closer when the big band broke up and they were always on the road and everything.

TP: Part of the thing about Moody is that he has this photographic memory and exceptional musical intuition on top of the hard work he’s put in. Particularly in his ear-playing days.

HEATH: Well, he had a gift that he developed. He started out with a gift, and he developed it. One thing technically is Moody’s tone. The way he accented on the saxophone was much faster than most of the other saxophone players, and distinguishable in that. Moody used to tell me that when he played an eighth note line in the bebop tradition he would be thinking to himself, “tit-a-little, tit-a-little, tit-a-little,” [SINGS PHRASING REFRAIN], that accent on eighth notes which was… The bebop language included a lot of eighth notes or sixteenths. The accent was always on the AND, “uh-dah, uh-dah,” on the one that was off the beat. It gave it a different kind of a float.

TP: Did you follow the septet he organized when he came back from Europe?

HEATH: Yes. They used to come to Philly to the Showboat, and when I was there I used to go see them. One of my good friends was in the band playing trumpet, Bill Massey. Bill Massey was the person who introduced me to Coltrane. They were in the Navy together. We had a lot in common because we were interested in both composition and playing… No, sorry. I’m wrong about that. Bill was with Gene Ammons. Johnny Coles was the one. But they used to go to Philly and play the Showboat, and I would go hear Moody. Moody and I played together on several occasions. But whenever Dizzy was around and Moody and they would come around, if I wasn’t working, I would go see them.

The thing I admire about Moody is his tenacity and his focus. When he was out in Las Vegas playing as a kind of studio musician, he called me once. “Section,” and he started playing the clarinet. He was practicing the clarinet on the phone and showing me how he had been able to get to the clarinet. He was always a great flute player. To me, he is the epitome of the Bebop flute player. He is not the Western Classical traditional flute player. It doesn’t sound like somebody who has been trained in Western Classical Music. But he could play with the Bebop style on the flute, and it’s distinguishable.

TP: I did an interview with Hank Crawford and Fathead, and they said that when Ray Charles was forming his band and his sound they were paying close attention to the sound of Moody’s Septet, the John Acea arrangements and so forth. Do you recollect that as an influential band in defining a certain type of sound?

HEATH: Was it a sextet?

TP: A septet, four horns.

HEATH: I don’t remember that band that much. Except things he did, like… Was that when he did “Last Train From Overbrook” and all that stuff?

TP: That was later on. Then all the things with Eddie Jefferson in the mid-’50s.

HEATH: Right. I know Moody was having trouble drinking wine or something. He said he went to the police station and told them to stop the green men from chasing him.

TP: He didn’t tell me that, but he attributed what caused him to do to playing by ear and the anxiety it caused him on a nightly basis.

HEATH: Well, guys were coming along with great chordal knowledge, and Moody wanted to be like them. He wanted to play with the same knowledge of the other guys who were playing at that time. I didn’t know that was the reason he was drinking. The road, man. The road is rough when you’re traveling all the time.

TP: And he was traveling all the time. He said the northern cities in the winter, the southern cities in the summer, and he didn’t let anyone else do the driving. He didn’t trust anyone else to do the driving.

HEATH: Well, see, all that kind of wear and tear, that leads to drinking and smoking or whatever you do. So he was drinking a lot, which…

TP: And he had the presence of mind to take care of it.

HEATH: Yeah. And the thing about Moody is that he’s a giving person. He’s always giving. I got a straw hat that Moody gave me. If he finds some books that are interesting, he sends me books. He may find books about health or vitamins. He carries a ton of vitamins on the road with him. He has a suitcase full. “Section, have you ever tried this?” He will hand you… He’s just a person that gives all the time. We went on tour with…they had two bands on tour with Philip Morris, and we had about three or four weeks in all different places, the Philippines, all over the place. Moody will… I don’t know when he started that. He adapted just a way of kissing everybody. He would get up in the morning and go to breakfast, and you’d be there, and he’d kiss you once on one side, once on the other side. Everybody! Everybody that he meets. He’d kiss them once on each side. If you come back to lunch together, Moody would kiss you on both cheeks. “Hey, Section!” Boom! And then if you come to dinner together, BOOM. To leave you at night, he kisses you. So I eventually said at the Blue Note when they were having the birthday or something for him, they asked me one statement about Moody. I said, “Moody got more kisses than Hershey’s.

TP: Talk about the evolution of Moody’s sound, specifically on the tenor, or the phases of his sound in the time you’ve known him.

HEATH: Well, there are certain things that are identifiable with Moody. I don’t care how his sound would change, and what mouthpiece and what equipment he’s using. There’s James Moody in there. I can always tell. Moody has his own sound. You can identify Moody when he starts. I can tell if he plays four bars; I know that’s Moody. There are certain things that he does. Jumping up in the higher register and screaming in a certain way. But over the years, his development now is…he has become so free, not in a random fashion, but a scientific freedom, that he can do anything he wants (that’s what I think) with the saxophone. Speed has never been a problem with him. He’s always been a fast player. So when he wants to slow down, he slows down. But usually, he’s going to play fast. So he had great technique. His sound right at this point (and having played with him for the last four or five days together in Pittsburgh with Jon Faddis) is real smooth now. He’s gotten real smooth and mellow with his old age, like wine. He’s mellow. It’s not harsh and brash. It’s very soft until he wants to imply these certain emotional hollers or screams.

TP: When I heard him it was the Charlie Parker birthday, not at Tompkins Square but at Iridium, and he started off with “Groovin’ High,” and he played so much blues on it, putting so much vocalization on it, and it always seemed like the most difficult interval was when he’d put the most vocal emphasis.

HEATH: I think he can do anything… If he wants to play it in a bluesy fashion, he can do it. If he wants to play it in a straight bebop way without the blues or just the changes, he can do it. He has control. He has true knowledge. He is in complete control. Moody’s flute playing and his saxophone are so mature at this point. The way he acts…his personality is what I was trying to get at. The fact of being with Dizzy Gillespie, who is the mentor for both of us. That’s my man. Birks was the guy. His sense of humor, his stage presence. I think he learned a lot of stage presence from Dizzy also, not only music. He learned how to be a nice guy, or he felt it after he straightened his habit out…how to be a nice guy. That’s what Dizzy was. A down-to-earth human being with a tremendous sense of humor. Moody is a very funny guy.

TP: His timing is unbelievable. You can hear tell a joke you’ve heard 15 times, and you’re still going to laugh.

HEATH: Yes. Moody is one of my dear friends. He’s been that since the ’40s. We had so much fun last week as we do every time we get together. I just look forward to being in his company. He’s got more kisses than Hershey’s! That’s got to be in this.

* * *

TP: How long have you been playing with Moody?

COOLMAN: Since ’84 or ’85. Precisely I don’t know. But I met him around that time, and started playing with him shortly after that.

TP: This is a few years after he left Las Vegas and the studios, and was out again as a solo artist. Was he working then primarily as a solo artist, picking up rhythm sections and trying to gather a more or less permanent working band by that time?

COOLMAN: Yes. I know he had a band, Rufus Reid and Harold Mabern… I’m not sure if the drums were stabilized by that time, but I know that those two other guys were working with him more times than not, that they were doing things together for at least a couple of years prior to my being involved with him. All during that time he still was doing things with local rhythm sections when he would go on the road some. He didn’t seem able to always have those guys with him when he traveled. So he was hoping to get a band together, I think.

TP: What were your impressions about him before knowing him and meeting him?

COOLMAN: I first heard Moody, believe it or not, after I had finished college and was living in Chicago in the ’70s. He played on a television show on a PBS station. The show was Dizzy, Bags, Al Haig, Ray Brown, Kenny Clarke, Sarah Vaughan…

TP: That has to have been in ’76, when Kenny Clarke came here, and played the Showcase with Al Haig.

COOLMAN: It probably was. I got wind of this show, and they wanted an audience, and you could get free tickets by calling or something, and I did that. I went down and heard Moody for the first time. I was amazed by how fluent he was. I remember how easy he made everything seem. It seemed like he had no problem playing anything he wanted. And of course, I associated him then with those other players, because I didn’t know if he had a band or who he was working with, but I figured, “Gee, if he’s with these people, he must be that great.” But besides that, besides having a great respect for his playing, I didn’t have any lasting impressions. I never got to meet him. I heard him play in clubs a couple of times around that time, too, but not as a bandleader. I always heard him in these all-star things. I think Joe Segal would have him come for what he called “Charlie Parker Month”. I knew he was a great player, but besides that I had no real impressions.

TP: So you’ve been with him straight through those 15-16 years as his bassist of choice.

COOLMAN: I think so, yes.

TP: What has it done for your playing, playing with Moody?

COOLMAN: The main thing is that Moody is so interested in music, in the learning process as well as playing, that he has always encouraged me to really play a lot, and leaves a lot of open space for the rhythm section to solo in, and he’s very encouraging to have you develop and do what you do. I think part of it is because he’s just really generous; that’s part of it. And the other part is because he really wants to learn from the people he’s around. It’s very unusual, I find, that he’s so curious as to what other people are doing. It probably serves two purposes. One is that he wants you to feel like you can express yourself, but he also wants to learn what you’re doing. He’s always looking for things to use as raw materials for things he wants to develop. So he’s extremely curious about music.

TP: So he’s giving you a lot of space to just go where you will as long as it’s within the context of what he’s going.

COOLMAN: Yes. Not just that, but he’s just been real encouraging. He’s a very positive, nurturing, encouraging person. I guess a bandleader is not obliged to be that way and not obliged to have you develop your own voice. If you’re serving the music the way the bandleader wants, and if that doesn’t mean you’re developing as a player…if you’re serving his needs, that’s enough.

TP: How do you see Moody’s playing in these all-star situations vis-a-vis what he does in the band?

COOLMAN: That’s a good question. I would say that when he plays in a band, with people that he’s more familiar with, his playing is a bit more exploratory and a little bit more searching, where he’s working out ideas. I think when he plays in these all-star things, he pretty much… I don’t know if the word is “conservative,” but he plays…

TP: More of a recital maybe.

COOLMAN: Yeah, a little bit. More like he knows…he’s fully in command of what he’s doing, and he’s not really searching so much as he’s just establishing his voice — that sort of thing.

TP: Well, he made a distinction, even in the band, between the things he does that are recitals, more or less like “Moody’s Mood” or “Pennies From Heaven,” and playing.

COOLMAN: Oh yes.

TP: He was very clear about it. You can see it even in his comments. His account of how he met Dizzy, which obviously he’s had to tell people 8 million times, is almost word-for-word exactly the same in the Dizzy Gillespie autobiography as what he told me. It’s really interesting. And he tells the story so well. When you hear him tell these jokes, you’ve heard him say it… You hear them all the time. I’ve heard them before, and I still laugh at them. Like the Joe Frazier…

COOLMAN: Yeah-yeah. [LAUGHS]

TP: I mean, he has such incredible timing.

COOLMAN: I think all that stuff, the humor and even “Moody’s Mood For Love’ and all this stuff which is part of what I guess you might call his routine, in some way I’ve always thought that that was patterned after his years in Vegas, that somehow the idea of music being entertaining and being a show that has sort of a theme… Somehow I think he’s incorporated that as a bandleader. It works for him in clubs, because I think it helps him reach the less initiated. That’s the thing about working with him that’s kind of interesting, that at any club on any given night you have aficionados and you have virgins! He has a way of reaching everybody. Because the routine has some sort of universal appeal, I think. Then the other, more venturesome side of his playing is going to appeal… If Jimmy Heath is in the audience, he knows that he’s going to hear something he hasn’t heard before, somewhere, if he hangs with it.

It’s a very subtle thing. A lot of people have said to me that they’ve noticed over the years that he plays a lot of the same repertoire and tells some of the same jokes and this-that-and-the-other, and “don’t you get tired of that?” Well, not really. Moody pointed out to me long ago that if it wasn’t for “Moody’s Mood For Love,” maybe he wouldn’t be working today. So his attitude is very pragmatic. I’ve never felt once that he did that with any sense of regret or boredom or resignation or anything. He just views it as part of keeping working.

TP: Well, it seems also, apart from Vegas, Dizzy Gillespie had a lot of routines as well, and I think his ability to blend the two things is why he was so successful. So I’m sure he learned that from Dizzy.

COOLMAN: Yes. There’s no question that the whole humor angle and the sort of clowning-around and all that came from Dizzy, without a doubt. And yet, I think that it did… It’s all part of what makes the thing work. Actually, I think if Moody just played, if you want to call it just a strict set of like art music, then that, too, would mean the audience is just artists, and that would be very appealing on a certain level. But he is very sensitive about the fact that he wants to play for the public. He is just as eager to play for the guy next door as he is for, say, George Coleman. I’ve always admired that about him. There’s something very non-condescending about that approach to performing.

TP: You’re a music educator, and I’d like you to put on that cap for a second and talk about him as a tenor player, the things he does as particularly as a tenor saxophonist that distinguish him among the universe of tenor saxophonists.

COOLMAN: The answer is real simple, and it’s an answer I don’t think anyone would give you. I really believe people are sleeping on this about Moody! But despite the many things he does just as a player, the thing that I think is his strongest trait is his sense of time and his pulse. I mean, I put him up with Sonny Rollins and all those people as far as how he plays time and how he swings. What’s interesting is that that has nothing to do with the notes he plays. The music students come down, or his peers come down with their little notebooks, writing down patterns that he’s playing. They’re missing the boat. The boat is how he plays time.

Now, having said that, the thing I love about his playing, even from an academic point of view, is it’s a beautiful sort of chronology of tenor saxophone vocabulary that goes back to Coleman Hawkins, and it’s thoroughly, at the same time, contemporary. So his playing is well-versed in the whole bebop language, but it incorporates post-’60s language. So he is way into what we call altered scales, different kinds of harmonic devices, use of fourths, use of pentatonics, use of compound scales, bitonals. So in other words, every so-called advanced harmonic device, he’s aware of them. He has them in his ear and he can play them. But at the same time, if you want to play a blues in B-flat, he can play the traditional vocabulary as well.

TP: Do you feel he is able to shape the advanced devices into a melodic type of framework, or is it more academic?

COOLMAN: That’s a good question. I think the answer ultimately is yes. But part of that has to do with his stage of development, with a particular sound. Sometimes he’ll hear somebody play something, and he’ll figure out theoretically what’s going on. He’s actually asked me, “Write out the scale that’s the basis of that. What is that scale called?” Then I’ll hear him practicing that or practicing patterns based on that scale, and even bring them to the gig that way, and play a more patterned, academic approach to it initially. But I hear that sort of morph over the nights into something that becomes very strongly melodic actually, and eventually evolves away from the mechanical toward the more artful. At heart, he’s a singer, really. So he can’t lay with material that’s not song-like for very long.

TP: He’s a helluva singer.

COOLMAN: Yeah! And I think ultimately that’s where he’s at as a tenor player, is he just wants to be a singer of melodies. So yeah, on any given night you’ll come down, and I think you’ll hear him play very melodic things, and then in other cases I think you’ll hear him play very patterned…quite frankly, it almost sounds like he’s practicing at times. But he’s working something out. That’s another interesting thing about him, now that I think about it, is that very few artists are very willing to do that. They’re only willing to play things that they know sound good. They don’t want to run the risk of not sounding good. There are nights when Moody will play certain tunes or work on certain material that he doesn’t have together. On the bandstand he’ll do it. Then he’ll come up to me later and say, “Man, I just don’t have that together yet, man. I have to practice that, because that’s not working the way I want it to. But there’s a sound in there. There’s something in there, and I know I can get to it. I’ve always been inspired by that, because he’s been playing seriously since he was about 16. So after 50 or 60 years of playing, this guy wants to learn something and he wants to work it out. That’s unbelievable.

TP: He says that’s what keeps him going.

COOLMAN: I believe that. I know that. It’s the quest. It’s the curiosity. And he’s always looking for another way to say something. So it’s inspiring, really.

TP: I went to hear you at Iridium the night of the Charlie Parker birthday. He starts off with “Groovin’ High,” and it’s one of the most amazing solos you’ve ever heard, he’s like shouting on the most extreme intervals, so much dynamics, then all of a sudden it’s “Moody’s Mood,” and then he plays “Confirmation” on flute for 15 minutes. I just said, “Goodness, I’m glad I heard ‘Groovin’ High.” Which is what you were saying.

COOLMAN: Yeah. But I think in common parlance, he wears his heart on his sleeve, and he really plays the way he feels. If he’s struggling with music, he’s not afraid to show it. Somehow, I think he wins people’s sympathies by the fact that in every set they’re going to hear a “Groovin’ High” moment. [LAUGHS] So people cut him a wide berth, and say the reason he’s so great is because he has a work shit out.

TP: With the band, is he a real taskmaster? Is he very open? It doesn’t sound like anything is very heavily arranged.

COOLMAN: Well, in 16 years or so of being with him, I can’t remember… I think we may have had one or two rehearsals.

TP: Does he give you charts?

COOLMAN: On occasion. Over the years, for some recordings, he’s had people write arrangements on various things. And sometimes he’ll want to pull those out and revisit them. Then there will be charts. Even at that, now that I’m thinking about it, most of the charts he has…

TP: Are pretty schematic?

COOLMAN: Yeah. Of late, we haven’t been dealing with them very much. But occasionally we’ll pull them out and revisit them for one reason or another. But it’s not really… No, I’d say that “taskmaster” is not one word that comes to mind when you think about him. He really is as interested in people’s input as he is like having something go a certain way. So he’s very open, and he seeks information and input all the time.

TP: He has a real reverence for his past, but he seems totally non-nostalgic for it.

COOLMAN: Well, more than not-nostalgic. He has a morbid fear of sounding old or old-fashioned. It’s beyond not-nostalgic. But you know what? He’s always aware of his musical surroundings, too. So when he’s with an all-star thing… Let’s say he’s up there playing with the Golden Men of Jazz or whatever he’s doing. He’s always aware of his surroundings, and he’s aware of what will fit in a certain context.

TP: Because he’s pragmatic

COOLMAN: Yeah. But basically, he doesn’t want to sound old. He wants to sound like he’s growing and that he’s developing new vocabulary.

TP: Right up until the end, that’s what he’ll be doing.

COOLMAN: Oh yeah. No question in my mind. I think that the last solo he ever plays will have as many surprises in it as the first one does. Because he’s not satisfied with status quo and he’s not interested in looking back. I remember one night on the bandstand, we were playing a slow blues or something, and the drummer started playing a backbeat, and he made him stop doing that. After the set he explained that the backbeat makes him feel like it’s old and made him feel like it’s 1952 again. He said, “I just don’t want to go back there.” He has certain idiosyncracies, and certain musical devices don’t appeal to him. In this case, I think it reminds him of another era, and he doesn’t want to be associated with it. Which is interesting. On certain tunes, he will play bebop-oriented, real inside material. But he does it in such a fresh fashion that he doesn’t sound old doing it. He’s preoccupied with sounding “modern,” whatever that means.

TP: I think as a subtext, he was very seared by the racial climate of that time. That had a lasting impact on him. He keeps referring to being in Greensboro and the German POWs being able to eat in the restaurant and he couldn’t, then coming back here and the various bullshit on the road. So I think a lot of that attitude may have its root in that situation, associating the music of the time with the physical and cultural environment of the time.

COOLMAN: Could be.

* * *

KIBWE: I’m 47 now. I met Moody when I was 18, when he was playing with Eddie Jefferson, and we’ve been friends since then. Every time I see him, he gives me things. In July we played together in a big band Don Braden had in Litchfield, Connecticut. I was sitting next to Moody, who was special soloist. Paquito was playing lead alto and clarinet, I was playing second alto, Moody was to my right, Paquito to my left, and Slide Hampton was right behind me on the trombone. That was another time when he came up and said, “Check this out on ‘Giant Steps.’” He’s so open! I began working on that in July.

TP: So he’s always sharing information.

KIBWE: Always! He’s a true master. To give you an example: He got to the gig a half-hour before we hit because of the transportation screwup, and he didn’t make any rehearsal. So he was like, “Man, I want to look at the music.” I said, “Oh, Moody, there ain’t nothin’ but some whole notes and half-notes.” Yeah, right! So we get on the gig, and I think the second tune was a Braden original, a swingin’ tune, a killin’ tune… It was based on a minor blues, but it had some definite alternate changes up in there, and it was an extended bridge… It was a very involved piece. I’ll put it to you this way. It’s not a piece of music that if somebody played it for me once and asked me to solo without looking at the changes I could do it. I’d have to look at the changes. So Braden wanted Moody to solo on it, but he was a little apprehensive, because Moody hadn’t even looked at it. First Braden said, “Okay, Moody, you take the first solo.” Then he said, “No, you’d better wait. Let the piano solo, then so-and-so, and then you solo.” Moody said, “Okay, whatever, I’ll try my best.” Then we play. Now, he hasn’t looked at the changes. He just started counting it off. Now, he’s playing his part. He ain’t got time to look at no changes because he’s got to get to the ensemble part. Then we get to the solo, and for some reason Braden pointed to him first. And he stood up and played and never looked at the music. I was like, “Oh, shit!” So I was sitting next to him, you know… Actually, he was so close to me, he was playing, and literally his tenor was touching my shoulder. I said, “Great. I’m just going to absorb all of this shit.” But he killed it!

TP: I think the most interesting thing is that he’s 75 years old, and he has this perpetual curiosity.

KIBWE: Oh, it’s incredible. He was just telling me, “Pick up this book.” He had a book based on Coltrane’s harmonic progression on “Giant Steps.” But when I first met Moody, he showed me stuff on flute. He gave me some advice. You know what he told me? He said, “Man, I want you to become a Jehovah Witness and I want you to join the Navy Band.” I was 18. That sounded like the most crazy thing for me to do. But years later, as I was thinking about it, I thought logically it made sense. He looked at it from the point of view, you know, he didn’t want to see me out there struggling for a living. He figured if I joined a Navy band, after 20 years in the Navy you can retire and you have a pension and you can do your thing. I asked him about why did he want me to join the Jehovah’s Witness. He said, well, because one time he was in New York, and this guy was trying to rob him, and had a gun or something and wanted to shoot him or whatever went down. But he just said, “Jehovah,” and the guy just walked away and didn’t mess with him. I thought that was really heavy.

TP: If you were going to talk about him analytically, his role in the music, the dynamics of his style as a saxophonist and on the different instruments.

KIBWE: The first thing that comes to mind is that he was one of the first doublers who stood out in my mind — cats that played tenor, alto, flute extremely well. What also sticks out is that he was probably the first saxophone player with his own voice coming out of the Bird era. If I had to sit down and analyze it, I could say it in musical terms. But just his sound and hi conception of how he soloed and how he played his instrument… He had his own voice. He didn’t sound like Bird. Whereas when I heard Stitt, even though Stitt said he didn’t study Bird, but he sounded to me like Bird a lot. Cannonball in the beginning, even Eric Dolphy for that matter… All those cats in the beginning sounded a lot like Bird. But Moody didn’t sound like Bird to me.

TP: But he still had the modern vocabulary.

KIBWE: Oh yeah, he always had a modern vocabulary. But he didn’t have a Bird sound. I mean, all the other cats, Charles McPherson, Jackie McLean, even Jimmy Heath, had that Bird vibe. But Moody was the first cat for me who didn’t have the Bird vibe.

TP: Maybe it’s because he started playing alto before he heard Bird, and then when Bird came along he was playing tenor.

KIBWE: Then he played flute! I have books of his solos, and I’ve been studying his shit for years. Moody has some very heavy tritone things happening in solos that I’ve been checking out. He does a lot of tritone substitutions. He does a lot of stuff going in and out of the chord. Like, there might be a C-Major-VII, but he’ll be F#. But the way he resolves that shit is so slick. His vocabulary is so immense musically. Like on his solo of “Bebop” he plays “Giant Steps.” Now, the A-section of “Bebop” is a vamp on F-minor. He was able to put “Giant Steps” through that shit! He modulated but it fit. Yeah, he’s… Oh, man, Moody! No, he’s bad. As opposed to Benny, every phrase of Moody is an exercise. Benny’s is connected… Moody is connected, too. But you can take a solo and take 2 bars of this… Like, I’ve been taking two bars of his solos, and I have an exercise.

TP: Does that make his playing sometimes overly technical, or is the warmth always there?

KIBWE: No, I’m not trying to say it makes it overly technical. His stuff is so deep that you can take segments of his playing and turn it into an etude, turn it into an exercise to where you can study that and modulate it and extract from it and play it across changes, and utilize it, interpret it that way. That “Bebop” that I have, I’ve gotten maybe 10 to 12 phrases out of that solo that I can use just as technical exercises to help me develop my facility. When I hear a cat play something like that, that I like, I’ll take it through the keys, and then maybe add a note here or there to personalize it.

* * *

TP: How did the collaboration happen? Was it just a record label project that turned out well and so you did subsequent hits?

TURNER: Yes, that’s exactly it.

TP: How did you prepare for playing with Moody? It wasn’t necessarily the most obvious pairing on the surface.

TURNER: That’s true. Well, there were supposed to be some other saxophone players on the date, and they fell through, so it was just me. Everyone brought in tunes they wanted to play.

TP: What were your impressions of Moody before going in there?

TURNER: I had studied a little bit of him, but not that much. I would say that early on I did. In high school I was into his playing, especially some early recordings when he was in France. I learned quite a bit from those recordings. There was something about his tone quality which I haven’t heard in other saxophone players in that period, partially because at that time he was playing…I guess he always did play with rubber mouthpieces. So it had that kind of a Lester Young quality, though Lester didn’t always play with rubber mouthpieces, but it had that kind of thing, whereas a lot of other tenor players (except for Stan Getz) who were playing bebop-oriented music have… It’s not as dark of a sound, a warm, woody… That’s why I gravitated to it, because that’s a lot of what I like. Warm and woody but with still a strong core. That and also he had that… The distinction, if you want to make it, between the bebop players and the post-bebop players… He was in that camp to me, the bebop camp, of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and those people, more clearly towards that sound, and one of the only tenor players that I know of. Because the others I usually hear after that in vocabulary and phrasing and sound and in the way he improvisers. In other words, not quite so codified yet, as opposed to these horn players.

TP: In working with him, you addressed quite a span of vocabulary. It was very collaborative, and he didn’t particularly play the star on it. How was it working with him in the studio? How was he with you?

TURNER: He was very amenable, amiable, straightforward, and ready to get down to business.

TP: And how would you describe his style within the contemporary framework?

TURNER: It’s great, because he’s still like really-really playing, to me. And he’s definitely always trying to… He’s really curious. He has that curiosity, and it’s in his playing, and he’s always trying to keep it fresh for himself.

TP: People who work with him say he’s always finding information, bringing people books… This incessant quest.

TURNER: Exactly.

TP: Was he very interactive with you?

TURNER: Somewhat. Yes and no. A little bit of that and a little bit of not. I wasn’t sure how much he was into that. Because when it went there, he didn’t seem to be that into it, at least not the way I was doing it.

TP: Were his solos from night to night on the same material different?

TURNER: Definitely.

TP: So it wasn’t like a recital. It was art music.

TURNER: No, he’s definitely improvising on the same songs.

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Filed under Article, Dizzy Gillespie, DownBeat, James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Kenny Barron

For the 83rd Birthday Anniversary of the late Paul Motian (1931-2011), Some Unedited Interviews Between 1993 and 2005

Paul Motian (1931-2011) was born 83 years ago today in Providence, Rhode Island. Shortly after his death, I posted a few encounters with Paul — one link gives you a 2008 WKCR interview that I published on the www.jazz.com ‘zine and a 2001 feature article for DownBeat; another takes you to  an uncut Blindfold Test from around 2000.  I’ll use the occasion as an excuse to post several complete interviews that I had an opportunity to do with Paul over the years. . I actually can’t remember what the occasion was for the 2005 encounter — maybe a DownBeat Readers or Critics Poll article (that text is somehow mysteriously missing from my files). There follows a 2007 conversation for a lengthy obituary of Max Roach that I wrote for DownBeat. Then comes an interview from 2000 — I think this was done live on WKCR — in which many topics are addressed, not least his Electric Bebop Band. Finally, I’ve posted my first interview with Paul, from 1993 on WKCR, during one of the many weeks he did at the Village Vanguard with the trio he formed in the early ’80s with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. Finally, as a reward for plowing through all this stuff, the post concludes with a full set of  interviews that I conducted with various PM associates and musical partners (Stefan Winter, Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano, Paul Bley, Keith Jarrett, Brian Blade, Joey Baron) that I conducted for that 2001 DownBeat article.

 

Paul Motian (Ted Panken) – (July 30, 2005):

TP: I need to ask you about the scope of your activity right now.

PAUL: One thing I’m excited about is that the week after next I’m going to mix the last Electric Bebop Band record I did, which we did in the studio last November for ECM. On some of the tunes, there’s three guitar players—Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder, and Jacob Bro. It’s the same band that played the Vanguard last January. [Malaby-Cheek]

TP: So these days you’re playing in New York and doing special hits in Europe…

PAUL: No, I haven’t been in Europe… I haven’t traveled for almost two years. I got burnt out. I hate it.

TP: All these projects with Enrico Pieranunzi that came out on CAMI-Sunnyside were in 2002-03. One’s a duo, with a few trios with Potter; one is a quintet date on Fellini music; one is a trio with Charlie Haden and him.

PAUL: Those were done a couple of years ago in Italy at Morricone’s studio. Nice. Charlie Haden didn’t like it, but I liked it.

TP: So you’re doing this thing with Bill McHenry, you’ve got the Electric Bebop Band, and there are a few records coming out that Tina Pelikan has sent with, with Enrico Rava and Stefano Bollani.

PAUL: Those are nice. I like that.

TP: Then this thing with Bobo Stenson.

PAUL: That’s nice, too. I just got a copy. I’m surprised how good that was.

TP: You went to Europe for those?

PAUL: No-no.

TP: They had to come here.

PAUL: Right.

TP: Everybody’s got to come to you now.

PAUL: Right.

TP: You only go out of New York for vacation?

PAUL: I don’t go on vacation. I go to the Vanguard. That’s my vacation! You know what I was excited about? I just played the Vanguard the first week of June with my band that’s called Trio 2000 + 1. That was great. [Poo Kikuchi, Chris Potter, Larry Grenadier; maybe another record]

TP: Are you now contracted to ECM?

PAUL: No, I’m not contracted to anybody. But I have been working with ECM lately. The last trio record with Frisell and Lovano we did for ECM, and the very first record with that trio we did for ECM.

TP: That was the end of your first go-around with them.

PAUL: Sure. It was in 1984-85.

TP: But you did your first trio records, with Izenson and Brackeen for ECM. So this is your second go-around with ECM. How is it?

PAUL: Great. Manfred Eicher is great. I trust him 2000%, especially during the mix. He’s got such great ears. Wow, he’s incredible. I love the sound of that trio record we did with Frisell and Lovano. Also the sounds of Enrico’s record and Bobo’s record. So I’m really looking forward to this Bebop band record.

TP: This thing started again when you went into the studio with Marilyn Crispell a few years ago.

PAUL: That’s kind of true, I guess.

TP: How did this happen? You had a very productive relationship going on with Stefan Winter from about 1987-88 until maybe three years ago.

PAUL: I must have done more than a dozen records with him.

TP: I think you did. And he gave you a lot of opportunity to put out all your different projects.

PAUL: Yes. In fact, there are still some records coming out now that have been re-released. A trio record with Frisell and Lovano that was recorded at the Vanguard that’s coming out now. We’re going to be playing in September at the Vanguard for two weeks.

TP: Has the trio been working?

PAUL: We played Carnegie Hall. That’s it.

TP: Were most of the pieces on this new record fairly recent?

PAUL: Yes. By not going on the fucking road, I’ve been staying and writing music. I think there are 7 or 8 new pieces I wrote for that record, and there’s I think six new pieces I wrote that will be on the bebop record.

TP: This bebop band record won’t be repertory…

PAUL: Well, there are a couple of Mingus tunes on there. It’s been so long since I’ve heard it; I’ve forgotten most of it. There’s a lot of my new tunes, and I think we did Mingus’ Pithecanthropus Erectus and Goodbye Porkpie Hat, and I think we did a Charlie Parker blues.

TP: You played with Monk that one week in Boston.

PAUL: Right. In 1960.
TP: You said you were scared to death, but you got through it.

PAUL: I was.

TP: You also said that Monk had you sing him your beat, and then he said play it this way.

PAUL: “Try it this way.”

TP: I don’t think you ever played with Bud Powell.

PAUL: No.

TP: And you didn’t play with Bird.

PAUL: I saw Bird play once.

TP: Did you play with Mingus ever?

PAUL: I sat in with him once at the Vanguard. I never really worked with him. I hardly remember it. I heard an interview with Jackie Paris once on WKCR, and he said he was with Mingus on the Vanguard, and he remembered a night when he threw everybody off the stage except Paul Motian. And I wasn’t working with him. I must have been sitting in or something. In those days at the Vanguard, there was always two bands. I might have been playing with Bill Evans opposite Mingus.

I’ll tell you, man, I forget a lot of shit. Somebody asked me, “Did you ever play with Jimmy Nottingham, the trumpet player?” I said, “No.” Then they showed me a picture of me playing with him.

TP: I’d figure that playing with Mingus would be a fairly memorable moment. And you have the gig book.

PAUL: No, it was mostly.. I did play a lot with Oscar Pettiford, though.

TP: The reason I’m asking is that at the time you put together the Bebop Band, there was almost a coming full circle quality. You came up in bebop, you expanded your vocabulary, your way of playing, your notion of time, and in your sixties, as a fully mature player…

PAUL: What’s happened with the bebop band now is that I started incorporating my own music. It started out only bebop, and then we went from that to putting in some standard songs, and then I introduced a couple of my tunes, and now I’m playing a lot of my songs. I’m just mixing the whole thing up.

TP: The way you approach the band changed. Initially, it was a head-solo-solo-solo-head kind of thing, but then you started changing up the arrangements, doing shout choruses…basically orchestrating it. I think it was the first time you used a larger ensemble as a vehicle for your music.

PAUL: Yes. It’s nice having that instrument. All those players, all those instruments…man, it’s great. Did I tell you the story of what Ornette said one time? I had just come from a rehearsal of the bebop band. This was years ago. I met Ornette in the street, around Broadway and 72nd Street. He asked me what I was doing, and I said I just came from a rehearsal with the bebop band, we were playing bebop tunes, and everybody was playing in unison. Ornette said, “all music is a unison.” I said, “Oh great.” That made me feel good!

TP: Lee Konitz told me about rehearsing with Ornette, and he was a bit nervous about there not being changes, and Charlie Haden told him and said, “don’t worry, we play changes…”

PAUL: That’s the story Dewey Redman says. They were rehearsing for a recording, and they were playing this melody that had no changes. Dewey said to Ornette, “Man, it would be great if this had changes.” So the next day Ornette came in with the same tune, and there was a change over every single note. So Dewey said he never asked him about changes again!

TP: You told me a story about Max Roach sitting in on your drums and telling you they were very hard to play, because they were so tightly tuned.

PAUL: Yes. That was at the Half Note.

TP: So the Electric Bebop Band recorded in November…

PAUL: It will probably be a year before that comes out! The record I did with Bobo Stenson is just coming out now, and I did that record when I did the trio record with Frisell and Lovano. [April 2004]. The bebop record I did around the same time I did Enrico Rava’s record.

We did the MFL record date right after I had a root canal. I had a fuckin’ toothache like… I called the dentist, and I went in, I had a root canal around 9 o’clock in the morning, and I went to the studio around 10, and we did that whole record that one afternoon.

TP: That’s very old-school, Paul.

PAUL: Well, I’m old. Anyway, we’re going to play in the Vanguard with the bebop band in January. It would be great if the record would come out at that time, but I doubt it.

TP: What is it about the way Manfred Eicher hears you…

PAUL: It’s him, but it’s also the engineer. James Farber was the engineer on just about all those records we’re talking about, and he’s got my sound down great. He’s got my sound on my drums that’s really wonderful. He’s really good at that. I’m very happy about that.

TP: In some of these conversations you’ve said contradictory things about drum-sound. On the one hand, it doesn’t really matter to you what drumset you play, you just go out and deal with it. You said you decided not to take your drum-key on a tour, and nobody had a drum-key on the whole tour, and you just dealt with it. You’d hear a sound and you’d play it. But on the other hand, you said that starting with Paul Bley, really, after you left Bill Evans, you became much more acutely conscious of the sound and timbre of the different components of the kit, and that this set off a sea change in the way you conceptualized the drums. Is that more or less how it was?

PAUL: That’s kind of true. But the thing is, when I went to Europe, I didn’t have my drums, so I had to deal with whatever I got. But I sort of managed to get through it and I was still able to play how I play. That’s what I meant. The sound was nowhere near what I really love, which are my own drums. Being in New York and playing just here and recording and always having my own drums, it’s a pleasure. I love that. But I have to deal with that stuff in Europe, playing on other drumsets. Sometimes I would manage to get my sound, but not really my sound as if I get them on my own drums.

TP: Are you still a Gretsch artist? Can you articulate what you like about the kit?

PAUL: No. [LAUGHS] It’s just the sound of the drums, the way they’re tuned. There’s kind of a bottom sound that I really love, especially with the bass drum and the tuning of the drums, the intervals between each individual drum. It’s great. It makes a lot of sense to me. It’s very musical. I played at Dizzy Gillespie’s Coca-Cola Room with Joe Lovano, Mulgrew Miller and George Mraz, and it seemed different to me. I had my own drums and my own cymbals, but it seemed like after the second or third night I changed the cymbals. That’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like that. It seemed that in that room, the cymbals I was using didn’t quite sound right. There’s a huge glass wall behind you, there’s a wooden stage, and there’s a wooden floor in the club. People in the club say the sound is great, but for me it was very different. I changed the cymbals. But after I changed my cymbals, I was satisfied. It sounded good.

TP: I guess another first for you is playing with Hank Jones on these several hits with Lovano. But you didn’t tour with Lovano, did you.

PAUL: No.

TP: You can only play with him and Hank if it’s in New York. How was it playing with Hank Jones?

PAUL: I loved playing with him. It was great.

TP: That isn’t totally a straight-ahead record, but it sort of is. I guess that never goes away, does it.

PAUL: No. Somebody sent me a CD of something I did with Andrew Hill, and I’m just playing straight-ahead 4/4 time. I don’t really do that any more. It’s a Blue Note record.

TP: I recall that Blackwell was sick in the early ‘90s, you subbed for him with Lovano.

PAUL: I don’t remember that. I remember playing with Dewey Redman when Blackwell got ill.

TP: Joe had a bunch of tunes that were kind of customized for Blackwell, and you dealt with them very much in that style. I hadn’t heard you do that before.

PAUL: Oh. Okay. [LAUGHS] There was a club on West Broadway years ago [Axis], and Dewey had the gig and he called me up. Blackwell was there, but he was so weak, he couldn’t play. I went down and played. Blackwell was really weak, and he was there trying to set up the drums. He was bent over, so weak that he couldn’t put the drumkit together.

TP: In 2001 when you were at the Vanguard, I was standing to the left of the doorway, watching you, and some musician was next to me and said, “Lovano and Frisell are playing the time; Paul isn’t playing the time.” You told me that was true. A lightbulb clicked on or a door opened, and I started hearing certain things. When did you stop hearing 4/4 time within the framework of your own music? You certainly were a helluva time player; you satisfied very demanding people. Why is it no longer part of your customary palette?

PAUL: It depends on the music. It depends on what I’m playing, who I’m playing with and what they’re doing. I’m sort of feeding off of them. The time is there. It’s already there. You don’t have to beat it to death, I don’t think. There was no one particular time when a lightbulb went off and I said, “Oh, man, I’m going to change, I’m going to do this or that.” I never thought that way at all. I never thought about doing anything special or doing anything on purpose. It just happened. It depended on who I played with. I remember the day when I first played with Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro, the way Scott LaFaro was playing. I’d never played with a bass player who played like that before. I was playing with Oscar Pettiford, Tommy Potter, Curley Russell, Wilbur Ware, people who just played straight-ahead 4/4 time. Here was Scott LaFaro playing… People used to say, “He sounds like a guitar player.” All of a sudden, the time started to break up. I guess maybe during that period was when I first started to realize that the time was already there; you don’t have to play it all the time. Maybe. Now it seems that every bass player plays like that. But in those days, it seemed that nobody played like that. Maybe Gary Peacock might have, but I didn’t know Gary yet.

TP: I think he came to New York a couple of years later. So the trio is playing in September. Do you discern any difference in the way the trio sounds? Might it be just the way Lovano and Frisell have evolved? I assume you listen to these records pretty closely?

PAUL: I think I take it more or less for granted now! I don’t think Frisell or Lovano play that much better now than they did 20 years ago. They played great then. But if I told people about it, they wouldn’t…

TP: You said “they were famous then, but no one would believe me.”

PAUL: That makes sense! I guess they’ve made some progress, I would hope!

TP: Both of them have 20-year careers as leaders, but when they play with you they blend together, and it’s interesting to hear it because of who they’ve become…

PAUL: Yeah, that’s true. I was playing some of that older stuff recently, and the difference is in their sound. They’ve developed different… To listen to Frisell from the first quintet record we did to now is really different. Lovano is not that different, but still there’s some difference in their sound.

TP: Does that have to do with the instruments they use, or the way they think about projecting…

PAUL: Partly. Frisell was using a lot of electronic shit in those days, too, and sometimes now he’s not.

TP: Then he was playing with Zorn and doing a lot of wild shit…

PAUL: This was even before that. I talked to him recently. He’s up in Canada now playing with a group, and it sounds like they’re playing folk music festivals.

TP: Another thing I was wondering: As a kid of Turkish-Armenian descent, and having listened to a lot of that music then, were those complex, wild rhythms ever part of your palette?

PAUL: I don’t know about the rhythms. The melodies would be more of an influence. The melodic part, not the rhythmic part. A lot of the music I heard as a kid, if I hear now… Not only Turkish and Armenian, but some Persian music and music that comes out of Iraq and Iran—the Middle East… Some of that music is dear to me. Some of those melodies are really beautiful. I heard something the other day by the Egyptian woman singer who passed away in the ‘70s… I can’t remember her name, but she was really great. She was singing on television with a 20-piece orchestra playing behind her. It blew me away. It was beautiful.

TP: Do your current compositions draw on those early experiences?

PAUL: Oh, yeah. Sure.

TP: Do you still listen to Middle Eastern music?

PAUL: Sometimes.

TP: You said you listen to classical music as well.

PAUL: Yeah.

TP: Are you listening to much jazz at all?

PAUL: I don’t know!

TP: Are you hearing anything you like?

PAUL: I’ve been pulling stuff out and listening. I haven’t heard any new stuff that’s come out. If I listen to stuff it’s probably older… As a matter of fact, the other day I was in a restaurant and I heard something that blew me away. It was Miles Davis, and I was sure it was Kenny Clarke. It just sounded great, and I went on a research and bought a bunch of records until I found what it was, and it was the the soundtrack from the movie, Elevator To the Gallows. There’s this one track with just trio, Miles and Kenny Clarke and Pierre Michelot. Boy, it’s fuckin’ great! Kenny Clarke was one of my big, big loves.

TP: You told me you wondered how he could get so much music out of such a small drumkit. You use not such a huge drumkit yourself.

PAUL: It’s just a normal set. Bass drum, two tom-toms, floor tom-tom, two cymbals, hi-hat, snare drum.

TP: Do they customize it for you?

PAUL: No.

TP: So you don’t give Gretsch specifications?

PAUL: No. As a matter of fact, James Farber asked me when I got my drumkit, and I couldn’t remember. Then he remembered because he said it was on Bill Frisell’s first record on ECM; I had the same drumkit. That means I’ve had it for 15 years or so, and I didn’t realize that. I just went into a drum-shop and bought it.

TP: You’re so matter of fact when you talk about these areas of your career…

PAUL: Yeah! It’s not no deep fuckin’ secret! People talk about this shit like it’s some kind of…

TP: But you were involved in a lot of cataclysmic events. The Bill Evans Trio, which influenced every pianist who came after. You’re involved in the Keith Jarrett Quartet, and a ton of people are still drawing on that vocabulary. You came in on Albert Ayler and Paul Bley and a certain way of organizing that kind of thing. Frisell and Lovano, that trio set a template for everybody under 40 (who went to a conservatory anyway). So that’s at least four major shifts in the music that you’re part of.

PAUL: Well, okay.

TP: Well, you know this. It seems to be part of following your instincts, the quotidian thing of being a working musician in New York. “I like it, I go there, I play it.”

PAUL: Yeah-yeah. That’s it, man. There’s no…

TP: But wasn’t it a conceptual leap to play behind Albert Ayler after you’d been playing with Bill Evans?

PAUL: No.

TP: Maybe Scott LaFaro prepared you for that.

PAUL: Nobody prepared me for… No. No! No, man. None of that stuff is true! Somebody calls you for a gig, and you go, and you play, and you play with the people that you play with, and you play with them, and you try to make music. You try to make music with the people you’re playing with, and then play a certain way, so you might play a certain way just to make it musical or make it magic or make it something that’s worthwhile.

TP: Then it becomes part of your style, doesn’t it.

PAUL: I don’t know.

TP: You don’t let it go. It becomes part of your muscle memory or your brain memory…

PAUL: I don’t know! [LAUGHS]

TP: Has that always been your attitude towards music, from when…

PAUL: When I was first in New York playing with all these fuckin’ great giants of jazz, man, I was thrilled to be doing it and I was happy to be doing it, but when I think about it now, I think I was just lucky to have the opportunity to do that. Someone asked me, “Did you ever play with Sonny Rollins?” I did play with Sonny Rollins. One night at Birdland. It was like a Monday night in Birdland. Sonny Rollins, Tony Fruscella playing trumpet, Curley Russell playing bass, and it was the piano player’s big, Bill Triglia. Bill Triglia called me to make a Monday night at Birdland. I went in there and played, and those were the people I played with. I was kind of scared at the time, when saw it was Sonny Rollins and all these people. But I did my best, tried to play my best, tried to play with them, and learn…I don’t know, just play!

TP: What was the quality in your playing that got you entrenched on the scene? You were working 300 days a year for five-six years, and that probably started around ‘55.

PAUL: Looking at that gig book, there was a time when I played every single night.

TP: So it’s not just luck. You had skills. It can’t be just luck. What was it about you that got all these very diverse personalities to call you?

PAUL: I don’t know.

TP: What do you think?

PAUL: I don’t know, man. Even with Edgar Varese, man. I rehearsed with Edgar Varese, and he recorded it on a tape. Teo Macero still has that tape, man. I don’t even know who called me for that.

TP: Is it just because you had really good time.

PAUL: I don’t know.

TP: Do you think you had really good time?

PAUL: I don’t know. Maybe I was getting high with somebody and they liked me.

TP: But no speculations?

PAUL: Somebody would call me for a gig, and I would be really happy that they called me for the gig. For instance, that night when I played with Sonny Rollins and those cats at Birdland, Zoot Sims was in the audience, and he asked me to go to Cleveland with him. He heard me play that night there, so he must have liked what he heard, and he needed a drummer to play that gig in Cleveland, and he asked me to play that. I did it, and I ended up playing with him and Al Cohn at the Half Note quite a bit. I guess because I was on the scene, and playing so much all over town and in a lot of places, people heard me, and if somebody needed a drummer and liked what they heard from me, they called me. I don’t think it was anything any deeper than that.

TP: By the time you got to New York, you had enough skills together that you could fit into the scene.

PAUL: I don’t know. That time when I played with Monk, I didn’t know his music. I just kept my fingers crossed that I didn’t fall on my fuckin’ ass!

TP: Moving to the present with Bobo Stenson and Enrico Rava: These were set up to put them together with you, I’d think. What sort of preparation do you do? Any rehearsing beforehand?

PAUL: No. We didn’t get together beforehand. No rehearsal. I don’t do that with anybody.

TP: Why not?

PAUL: I just don’t. What for? I’ve been playing long enough. I’m old enough to know what the fuck I’m doing at this point in my life! I don’t need a rehearsal. I’d rather depend on my own skills and my own whatever to play good and play well when the time comes. I don’t want to rehearse. I think a rehearsal takes away from the beauty of the music.

TP: Is that the case with the Bebop Band also?

PAUL: No, we don’t rehearse. The time we rehearse is when we’re setting up and getting ready for a gig.

TP: The soundcheck is the rehearsal.

PAUL: Yeah. That’s what I’m going to do with Bill McHenry, too. On Tuesday I’ll go down there at 4 or 5 in the afternoon, and we’ll go over a few tunes, and that’s it. That’s what happened on the trio record with Frisell and Lovano. We didn’t rehearse. I brought the music in, I showed them the music. We might have tried a few things in the studio, but we didn’t have any specific rehearsal time.

TP: Even though you’re more involved in composition than ever, the aural quality of music is still very important to you.

PAUL: Oh, yeah. Sure. I thought this was going to be a short interview!

TP: When you were a kid learning drums, did you… I think you said you played in high school bands. Did you learn to read, to play in big bands?

PAUL: Yes.

TP: You have those skills.

PAUL: Well, I don’t…

TP: Or had.

PAUL: I did that, sure. I took drum lessons and read the drum books, went through that. I played, even in pre high school, in the band. I was 12 years old when I started, and any time there was an opportunity to play in a band in school, I did that, and as soon as I got out of school I played. I went on tours with the big band throughout New England before I went into the Service, before the Korean War. Then I played in the band during the Korean War when I was in the Navy. I was in a band!

TP: How did Bill Evans rehearse the band? Was it a bandstand process? You told me you’d go to his apartment and play?

PAUL: It wasn’t rehearsals. We would play. He had an apartment on 82nd or 84th Street.

TP: You said there were a lot more sessions then anyway, so those sessions were like de facto…

PAUL: Right. I saw Bob Dorough the other day, and we talked about that. He used to have a place in the east 70s. I used to play there a lot, up four-five flights of stairs and play. Sessions around town. I used to play all the time. That’s the way it went.

TP: that was the musical culture of the city then.
PAUL: People don’t do that now, I suppose.

TP: How did the association with Bill McHenry begin?

PAUL: He called me to record with him. I guess he knew me. I had never met him. I might have heard about him. I’m not quite sure. But he called me to record with him, and I did, and when I did the record, I really liked it. I liked his music, and I liked playing with him and the band, and the recording was really good. Then when he got a gig at the Vanguard, he called me and I said okay. I think this is the third or fourth time for us at the Vanguard. I think we’re going to record live in the coming week.

TP: Did you decide to do it after he sent you a tape of his stuff, or you just liked the way he approached you?

PAUL: I don’t think he sent me a tape.

TP: What are you looking for in the musicians you play? You seem to keep adding young musicians to your circle.

PAUL: I’m a little careful about what I’m doing. In fact, somebody called me recently from Boston, left a message on my machine, told me he was a piano player and told me his name, and told me the name of the bass player, and said they wanted to come to New York and do a record, and they wanted me to make a record with them. I didn’t return the call. I didn’t know who they were.

TP: But you knew who Bill McHenry was.

PAUL: Yeah. Somebody calls me out of the blue like that, I won’t even react to it unless I talk to the person and they tell me what they do and what the project is about, and maybe I might get interested. I don’t know. But if I don’t know them, I’m not going to get involved.

TP: Are you looking for any particular qualities?

PAUL: Good music.

TP: It seems a lot of your band members have come into your bands on recommendations. Bill D’Arango told you about Lovano, Pat Metheny told you about Frisell… Frisell told you about Kurt Rosenwinkel… But it’s the recommendations.

PAUL: Yes, that happens a lot. Matter of fact, with Malaby, Chris Potter was playing with me, and then he couldn’t anymore, and something else happened, and when I asked about other saxophone players I think he mentioned Tony Malaby…or it might have been Chris Cheek. But that’s the way it goes. Somebody would recommend someone, or I’d ask about someone… If I trust someone’s… Like, Masabumi Kikuchi has been telling me recently about Greg Osby. I don’t know Greg Osby; I don’t think I’ve heard him play. But Masabumi told me he likes him, and he recommended him, and I trust Masabumi. So if it came up that I wanted some… [END OF SIDE A]

TP: You would have no compunction about calling him, and might respond if he called you.

PAUL: Yeah.
TP: But you’ve heard of him. You know of him by reputation.

PAUL: Sure.

TP: So you’re doing this thing with Bill McHenry next week, and it’s been going on for several years. Then you’re going to mix the Bebop band record, and that’s maybe the 7th or 8th record by the Bebop band, but the first for ECM, and they’re going to play in January at the Vanguard. Then Lovano-Frisell-Motian is two weeks in September at the Vanguard. Any other new projects? We have the Enrico Rava and Bobo Stenson records…

PAUL: We’re talking about playing Dizzy’s Coca-Cola Room at the end of November with Enrico Rava and Stefano Bollani. But I haven’t heard back from Todd Barkan, who books the room. I don’t know if it’s going to happen. But I would hope it happens; I’d like to do that. In fact, the sound in the room with that trio might be more to my liking since there’s no bass.

Also I think I’m going to do two nights at Birdland with Enrico Pieranunzi and Marc Johnson in March. In April, I’m playing the Vanguard again with Trio 2000 + 1. Also, the two weeks with Lovano and Frisell at the Vanguard again, too. We do it every year around August-September. I love playing at the Vanguard. It sounds great in there. The sound is beautiful in there! I just love it. Every time I play in another club, it’s never as good. It’s amazing, isn’t it, man? I think the first time I played in there, it must have been in fuckin’ 1954 or ‘55. I played in there with Lee Konitz. I think it was 1955.

TP: You have a gig book entry for New Year’s Eve, 1956. Fifty years at the Village Vanguard.

PAUL: Yeah! I’m sorry I’m not more articulate. Some people are so good at that. Keith Jarrett is great at that. Bill Evans was incredibly articulate.

TP: How’s your book project?

PAUL: I’m looking at it now. It’s on the floor. Every couple of months I pick it up and look at it, and then I correct it. A lot of the stuff I’ve told you is in there.

TP: Last time I spoke to you, you said you had an editor.

PAUL: I don’t know any more. Sort of an ex-girlfriend of mine is a writer and screenwriter and filmmaker, and she helped me a little bit and said she would be an editor. But she lives in Canada, man. I was enthusiastic at one point, but now sometimes, when I read over some it, it sounds kind of stupid. My next door neighbor works for a publishing company. He said, “come on, Paul; just let it go.” Publish it!

TP: You wouldn’t do that with your drumming.

PAUL: It’s quite different, man. I’m not that good at writing.

TP: During the’50s and ‘60s, a lot of the artists were tight with… There was a lot of back-and-forth between the different artistic communities. Did you have a lot of painter friends, writer friends during the time?

PAUL: I remember there used to be sessions at Larry Rivers’ place in the Village. I think he played. Then he had another friend who was a painter that played saxophone. I think that kind of thing was going on. But my memory isn’t that good about it.

TP: Were you part of the Five Spot scene?

PAUL: I don’t think I ever played in there. That’s when I met Charlie Haden for the first time.

TP: I guess you didn’t have time to hang so much, did you. You were always playing, always working.

PAUL: Pretty much. Now everybody wants to hang and I don’t! I don’t have the time. Charlie Haden’s called me four times already to come to the Blue Note. I’m not going down there.

I knew Alvin Ailey. He used to live in my building. Matter of fact, one time he asked me if Keith Jarrett was black, and when I said no, he said, “Oh, fuck him,” and then he used his music anyway! [LAUGHS] That was funny because Alvin wanted to use his music, and then when he found out he wasn’t black, he wasn’t going to use it. Then he used it anyway!

I knew Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand. They used to be on the scene.

I was just looking through part of my book where I wrote about Pee Wee Marquette. One was about the pronunciation of my name at Birdland.

TP: If you didn’t tip him, he would pronounce it wrong.

PAUL: Right. Then finally I gave him $5 one night, and he said something like, “Paul Mo-tee-ann!” Some shit like that. It was funny! Then I saw him later on when he was in front of his Hawaiian restaurant on Broadway, sort of like a street hawker. I stopped and talked to him for a while, and that was the last time I saw him. I remember once talking to him, when after a gig at Birdland he asked me where I was playing next, and I told him I was playing at the Vanguard. He didn’t know where it was. He asked me where it was. When I told him, he told me that he’d never been below 42nd Street in his life!

TP: It’s interesting. There were no clubs in the Village presenting modern jazz until the Bohemia until 1955. There were sessions, but it was Nick’s and Eddie Condon’s and that sort of thing.

PAUL: Well, the Bohemia, we used to play sessions in there before they… The Bohemia was one of the places where you could have sessions, where I used to go to play, to have sessions. Then they opened up as a jazz club, and Charlie Parker was supposed to open it, and he died. It was just a bar to go to have sessions, just like Arthur’s Tavern. These were places where you could go and play. There was no money involved; it was just a place for jam sessions.

TP: Randy Weston told me he did his first gig at Arthur’s in 1943 with Lucky Millinder’s guitar player.

PAUL: Wow!

TP: Where was Take 3?

PAUL: I think it was on McDougal around the corner from where Visiones used to be. I think it’s the third or fourth building north of Bleecker on McDougal on the west side of the street. I think there was a basement part and another part that was upstairs. That’s where I played with Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, John Gilmore…

[—30—]

 

Gretsch Artist:

Bass drum, 20″
Snare drum, 5-1/2″ wood
TwoTom-Toms on the bass drum, one is 8″ x 12″, the other is 9″ x 13″
Floor Tom-Tom is 14″ x 16″

Two cymbals. One is A. Zildjian, 20″ w/ rivets (had it for 50 years)
Other one is Paiste 22″ Dark Ride

Hi-Hats are 14″. One is a Paiste 14″ dark cymbal. The other is old Zildjian Army cymbal that he got in a parade somewhere (over 50 years)

Gretsch Permatone Drum Heads which are the closest thing to the old calf-skin heads. “They really make the difference. A lot of drumsets now have these seethrough plastic heads, which are good for rock-and-roll, but they’re not good for me.”

* * *

Paul Motian on Max Roach (Aug. 19, 2007):
TP: I assume you first heard Max Roach on the Charlie Parker recordings from the ‘40s and other bebop records.

PAUL: Yes. I was pretty young at the time. I was up in Providence, Rhode Island, maybe still in high school… I remember listening to live broadcasts from New York, maybe from Birdland, maybe even before Birdland opened. Birdland opened in December 1949, and I guess I was out of high school by then. But I heard stuff on the radio that Max was on, and I remember sending letters and money to whatever address it was in New York, and they send me back a 78 disc of the recording that I wanted that had Max on it. I used to get that in the mail, and that was the first time I heard Max, I guess. When I heard it, I was kind of in shock. I was pretty young at the time, and I didn’t know too much. But I loved what I heard, and I thought it was interesting and really great, and I wanted to have those records and recordings, so I used to send away for it, and I got these 78 discs.

Of course, he was a very strong influence on me. What he played seemed to be so hip and so modern and so great, and different from… Kenny Clarke was one of the important people in my life who influenced me, but Max was doing something a little bit different. His solos were a little bit different, and just seemed to be really hip and fit right in with what Bird was doing, and the bebop music that was being played. It just seemed really hip and strong, and very well done, and really great.

Did you ever see that movie with Dorothy Dandridge (Carmen Jones) that Max was in, where they play music that’s sort of from Carmen? It was made in the ‘50s. With Harry Belafonte…

Then when I came to New York in the mid ‘50s, and I saw Max play when he had the band with Clifford Brown and Harold Land, and later with Sonny Rollins… That’s when I first saw him play. There was a club called Basin Street. That might have been the first time. No, there was another time. I had just graduated from high school, and Birdland had just opened, and I drove to New York. I had an old car, and I was 16-17 years old, and I went to Birdland. I saw a band that had Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, J.J. Johnson, Bud Powell, all these all-star great jazz bebop players, and I thought the drummer was Max. I remember telling the story to Art Blakey one time in a dressing room when I was in Japan, and Art told me, “No, that wasn’t Max; that was me.” But I still feel like it was Max. That might have been the first time. If it wasn’t, then the first time had to be one of those times when I saw him in New York in that band with Clifford Brown.

TP: For Ratliff you chose “Carolina Moon” by Monk which Max was on. That was in ‘52.

PAUL: I didn’t see that. I heard it on record.

TP: You used to live a few blocks away from him also, on CPW.

PAUL: Yeah, right near me. I used to see him here a lot. If I was walking on Central Park West… I remember bumping into him a couple of times when he was standing in the street in front of his building. We used to talk, and he’d tell some stories. I remember we were talking about Bud Powell, and he told me that when they did the recording with Bud Powell where they played “Un Poco Loco,” he started playing a pretty standard Latin beat on the drums. DING-DING-DA-DING, DING-DING-DA-DING. That’s a pretty standard beat. He said he was doing that on “Un Poco Loco,” and Bud Powell stopped the shit and said, “Max, what are you doing? You’re Max Roach. Can’t you come up with anything better than that?” That’s how Max came up with the beat he played on that recording, which is so great.

TP: I heard Max relate that as “You’re supposed to be Max Roach.”

PAUL: Could have been. Then Max said he bumped into Bud Powell in Harlem after the recording, and he said, “Bud said to me, ‘Hey, Max, you fucked up my record.” Max was telling me, “You know Bud. He was crazy.”

TP: You remarked to Ratliff that once you saw Max with a bass player, Al Cotton, and he told you to watch how Max addressed the drums.

PAUL: How he played and how he moved. Al was saying, “Check him out. Listen.” I seem to remember that there was a balcony or something. I was kind of far away and sort of looking down on the stage, and he said, “Watch how Max plays. He’s not just using his hands and wrists; he’s using his whole body. Look how he moves.” I was checking that out and saying, “Yeah, man, that’s really got something to do with it. You use your whole body. It’s not just in your hands.”

TP: You also talked to Ratliff about the precision and clarity of his arrangements, specifically “Delilah,” but that’s characteristic of the sound of the Brown-Roach band.

PAUL: That’s true. I remember saying that. I love that record, and I play it now and then. The arrangements with that band are so great—and probably all the bands Max was involved in. How meticulous it was, how great it was. There was always an arrangement. There was always an introduction… It wasn’t just always the standard way, like “this guy plays, then he plays, then you take it out.” It seemed like it had something extra in it, it was something special, and it was arranged so beautifully, man. That shit was incredible.

TP: You also spoke about how Max played the form of the song, both accompanying and leading into the solo. Anything you can say to me about that?

PAUL: Well, just that. You can use what I told Ben. Max plays a great solo on that Monk record where they play “Brilliant Corners,” a great chorus.

On the day that Max died, it’s really strange… Before I knew that he died, I was on my computer and went to iTunes, and I played “Koko” by Max with Charlie Parker. Max plays a chorus on “Koko” that’s incredible. Really great. Then later on, on ABC News, they talked about Max, that he had just died, and I had already heard that Max had died, and then they played a clip on TV that was his solo on “Koko.” Sometimes people say that magic is all in your head and it’s not really true, but I think that’s bullshit. Sometimes there’s shit in the air that just happens like that. I guess it’s by coincidence, but it’s hard not to believe that there’s magic in the air sometimes.

TP: as a kid, did you try to play that solo, get it under your hands?

PAUL: Not that particular solo…

TP: But other solos by him?

PAUL: Sure. I tried to copy what I heard. Sure. I did that with a lot of drummers.

TP: Can you talk about what he did that distinguished him from Kenny Clarke or Art Blakey or Roy Haynes?

PAUL: I wish I could. One of the things is sound. Kenny Clarke played great, Art Blakey played great, Philly Joe played great, but they all had their own sound. Big Sid Catlett. If I listen to these guys, I can hear a different… Max’s sound was different from those.

TP: Was it his drum tuning?

PAUL: Could be. That would have something to do with it. But also his technique. The technique that he had, it wasn’t just technique—it was musical. He made music out of the technique that he had. I guess they all did that, but his sound was a little bit different. It could have been in the tuning of the drums, could have been the way that he played… Boy, it’s really hard. I wish I could make it clearer. I just read an interview of Sonny Rollins from Vanity Fair, and he said some stuff in there that’s hard for me to understand. He was asked about people he admires, and he said there really wasn’t anyone. But for me, I admire people like that, who can explain stuff in words that I can’t do.

TP: Some of the younger drummers say, for one thing, Max tuned his drums higher than other people, so he was able to set up intervals to enable his melodic concept of soloing.

PAUL: That’s kind of true. But I have another story for you. I was playing with Tony Scott at the Half Note in the late ‘50s, and my drums were down there on the stage, I was all set up, but I had another gig that day, so I was late when I got to my gig at the Half Note, and when I got there Max Roach was playing in my place on my drums. I said, “Wow, isn’t that great; my man, Max, is playing on my drums. I felt great, I felt proud, I felt privileged.” Then when he came off the stage, he said to me… At that time, my drumset was made by a company called Leedy, and I used to tune my drums really tight. The heads were…I guess the word is taut. It’s not easy to play drums when they’re tuned like that. But Max came off the stage and came up to me, and he said, “Man, I just subbed for you, but your drums were really hard to play. You keep those drum heads really tight.” He found them hard to play. But he played his ass off. Of course, he played great. But when the drums are like that, you can’t fake anything. You’ve got to play the shit, and he did. But he did tell me that it was difficult.
TP: I guess that was a good compliment.

PAUL: It sure was. My drums aren’t tuned like that now, but they were then. He had a hard time with it.

TP: People have also talked about the way he incorporated Afro-Caribbean rhythms and even East Indian rhythms into his beat flow, that he was ahead of the curve.

PAUL: I don’t know about that. I don’t know if I was aware of any of that. Although there were things in the paper about different groups he had, and M’Boom, with all the drummers, and the band he had later with Odean Pope and Cecil Bridgewater… I didn’t hear that much of that. When I was really into it… The thing that killed me and knocked me out was the band with Clifford Brown and Harold Land and Richie Powell—and Sonny Rollins later—and George Morrow. Actually, that was my first experience of being involved in the jazz scene, and learning about people dying and being killed. When Clifford Brown and Richie Powell got killed in that car crash on the turnpike, that was my first experience of that, and it was really devastating. Since then, there’s been multitudes of people! But that was the first time that ever happened to me, and that fucked me up.

TP: Do you recall when you first met Max Roach to get to know him? Did he come to hear you play, or at a Monday night at Birdland?

PAUL: It could have been. But I must have known him before that Monday night when he subbed for me at the Half Note.

TP: For one thing, you were playing with Tristano all the time, so he must have…

PAUL: I was. But the other thing is, there was an interview with him in Downbeat back then, in the ‘50s, and they asked him if he heard any new young drummers on the scene in New York, and who did he hear and who did he like, and he named me and Elvin as the two drummers he heard and liked. That made me very proud, and I felt really good about that. The other thing was, I did this recording with George Russell, one of the first recordings I did, and I remember going to the Café Bohemia with George Russell, and we walked in, and there was Max sitting at the bar. That might have been the first time I met him. George Russell went up to Max and said, “Max, this is Paul Motian; he just recorded with me. I wanted to know if I could use that quote of yours that Paul and Elvin are two young drummers you heard that you liked.” Max said, “Yeah, you can use that.” That made me really feel good.

TP: Among your peer group in the ‘50s, was Max respected as the main guy?

PAUL: I suppose. I don’t know. I would hope so. I would guess so. One thing that makes me sad is that Big Sid Catlett died pretty young, and he was still alive when I was in New York…

TP: He died in 1951, I believe.

PAUL: Oh. I wasn’t in New York then. But I never saw him play. That’s too bad.
TP: You saw Papa Jo Jones play, though.

PAUL: Sure.

TP: So you continued to know Max, but it sounds like you weren’t so up on what he was doing after the early ‘60s.

PAUL: I guess maybe not.

TP: What did you think of his solo compositions? Did you check them out?

PAUL: Sure. There was another time I was in Europe, Sicily maybe, at a jazz festival, where the bands played. It was outdoors. He played a solo. I remember seeing and hearing that. It was great! He put that shit together so good!

TP: During the late ‘40s and early ‘50s he was studying composition formally, and orchestral percussion and so on. Another thing people are talking about are the components of his kit. He had a floor tom with a pedal that was set up to sound like a tympany, and he used a little tom-tom on the snare that he’d use. So there were certain tonal things that were part of his sound.

PAUL: I didn’t know any of that. One thing I remember, though, that surprised me that I didn’t know about… I didn’t know too much about his history or what he studied. But I remember being in the Vanguard one time, and I don’t know if I was playing there or not, or if I was just there, or if Max was playing there… I don’t know. But there was no one playing at the time, it might have been at the end of the night, and Max was sitting at the piano, playing the piano. Knocked me right on my ass! I didn’t know. I said, “Wow, isn’t that interesting. He knows what to do on piano. I should have known that anyway, but I didn’t. But when I saw him play piano, I was a little surprised, and thought that was really great. It made me want to study music more, and get into composition, which I wasn’t at the time. I’m not sure if I was playing with Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett; it was a while ago. But when I saw that, it sort of turned me on to want to do more… Because I didn’t get into composing and trying to study piano and all of that until I was in my mid forties. So when I saw that at that early time, it made me think about that, and wanting to be better at what I did, and getting more into learning more about music. When I first studied drums, I didn’t know that a song had 32 bars, or changes, or whatever. But seeing Max do that, and then getting into that, just turned me on.

TP: Do you think a lot of drummers were like you, not as trained, and Max inspired that?

PAUL: Yes. The joke always was, “Oh, he’s not a musician; he’s a drummer.” That made me mad! [LAUGHS]

Max was very intelligent and very articulate. He knew what he was talking about, and he made people like me understand… He wasn’t a fuckin’ dodo, man. He knew what he was talking about, he was very articulate and very sure of what he said, and very strong.

Look at all the stuff that he did. He wasn’t just a drummer who had a band and shit. He had the double quartet, the M’Boom thing, the Freedom Now Suite, all those different things. He was incredible. He was great. What about that documentary about him, where he plays with the hip-hop group. That documentary also has a clip of Kenny Clarke and a clip of Big Sid Catlett.

[END OF CONVERSATION]

* * *

Paul Motian (9-7-00):

TP: Vis-a-vis the electric bebop band, what was the motivation for going back to the repertoire that I suppose you began with?

MOTIAN: Well, that band started ten years or so even before that, but I didn’t do anything with it. I just had a rehearsal with different people. It was Mike Stern and Bill Frisell on guitar and Mark Egan on bass and myself. We had a rehearsal in my house, and I taped it, and then I kind of forgot about it. then ten years or so later, I was on tour with Charlie Haden, and Charlie’s son, Josh, who is also a bass player and has a band of his called Spain… I just mentioned it to Josh, about bebop music and what I was doing back then, and he said, “Oh, that sounds really interesting; I’d like to hear that. At that time I was playing at the Vanguard with Geri Allen and Charlie Haden, and I said, “Okay, in the afternoon let’s get together and we’ll have a little rehearsal. So we did, with Josh Haden and Kurt Rosenwinkel and another guitarist, Dave Fiuczinski. That was the late ’80s or so. Then I got interested in it again. About ’90 or ’91 or ’92, Kurt came over to my house and we talked about it, and then we put this band back together, and it was just two electric guitars, electric bass and drums. The bass player was Stomu Takeishi at the time, and Brad Schoeppach and Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar. It grew out of that.

TP: You’ve played the whole realm of improvising and been on the forward tip of it at any particular time you’ve played in, playing with Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh and Oscar Pettiford in the ’50s, and getting into the true outer partials in the ’60s, actually leaving Bill Evans to do that, with Keith Jarrett’s very influential band in the ’70s, and of course the trio with Frisell and Lovano that’s influenced so many younger musicians. Why moving back to bebop?

MOTIAN: Oh, I love bebop!

TP: Does it feel fresh?

MOTIAN: Yeah!

TP: Was it something you had to not do for a while to really appreciate.

MOTIAN: Well, no, it’s not a thing about that. It’s just that that’s the music I kind of grew up with, you know, when I first came to New York in the early ’50s, and it’s the music I love, and I was involved in it… I think it’s great music. There’s a lot of great players, a lot of great players that came out of that, from Dizzy and Monk and Bud Powell to Tadd Dameron.

TP: The tunes are unbelievable. It’s like an endless well of repertoire.

MOTIAN: Oh yeah! I just keep finding more stuff, more stuff. We played and recorded a Herbie Nichols tune recently, and someone was telling me about all his great music, and someone else was talking to me about Elmo Hope and all the great music he did. So there’s no end to it, man.

TP: One thing that distinguishes you is your direct contact with masters. You sat in with Thelonious Monk, and did you say once you’d sat in with Bird…

MOTIAN: No, I never played with Bird. I saw him play once, but that was it.

TP: I guess you came to New York in ’53, and you got into the mix pretty quickly.

MOTIAN: Mmm-hmm.

TP: How does the instrumentation affect what you do with the material? Also, what you do as the leader, as the drummer, in shaping the flow. What’s your intent in working with this music?

MOTIAN: I like to play good music. I like to play great music. I don’t know about any intent outside of that. It just keeps growing. I keep finding people, and… It started out, like I said, with just two guitars, bass and drums, then I said, “Well, it doesn’t have to be just that.” Then I added a saxophone, who at the time was Joshua Redman. Then we were playing in Ronnie Scott’s Club in London, and Josh could do half the week, and I hired Chris Potter to finish the week, and one night they crossed paths and two of them played. So I heard two saxophones, I said, “wow, I really like that,” and I hired two saxophones. So it got to that.

TP: It certainly gives you a lot of options. The band sounds very full now. People are doing spontaneous orchestrating. There’s always something going on.

MOTIAN: Yes. I wanted to get away from the usual thing of melody-solos-melody-end. So I try to arrange it. I try to make everyone aware. And I make them kind of be aware of it. I make them arrange it. I’m sort of like, “Step in it, man; go ahead; see what you can do. Why don’t you trade off with this guy and do this and that.” And they’re growing inventive about that. so it’s just growing into becoming more arranged and playing a lot of piano player’s music with no piano and stuff like that.

TP: It’s also interesting that there’s such a wide pool of strong young musicians who want to explore that music, which might not have been the case 20-25 years ago.

MOTIAN: Right. And I appreciate that. These guys are willing to go with me on tour. It’s rough out there! [LAUGHS] We went to Beijing, played in Shanghai… It’s been great.

TP: You travel a lot.

MOTIAN: Yes. But it’s not going all year long. You know what I mean? Maybe four months out of the year I’m on the road.

TP: But there are a lot of players who know your sound and want to articulate a musical experience that has the Paul Motian sound, whatever that may be. The next offering is from a recent collaboration of that nature.

MOTIAN: I was contacted by two French musicians, Bruno Chevillon, a bass player, and Stephan Oliva, a pianist. They really told me that they loved my music and they wanted to play with me. They said that they had arranged my music, and would I come to France and play a concert with them — which I did. It was very successful. People liked it a lot. Then we did it again at a festival in Paris. Then they arranged a recording, so we did a recording for the French BMG label. It’s mostly all my music, and I really appreciate what they did with it. It’s really great. We did play at a club in Paris for a couple of nights, too, which was a lot of fun.

TP: Did you do it before the recording as a sort of rehearsal.

MOTIAN: No, those gigs in Paris came afterwards. Before the recording we had played two concerts. That was it.

TP: What do you do when you go into a situation cold with musicians you haven’t known before, and you sit down and it’s unmistakably your sound imprint. You just go in and hear and play?

MOTIAN: I just play from what I hear. Sure. I sit down and play, and I react to what I’m hearing and play that. That’s it.

[MUSIC: Fantasm, "Interieur Jour"; Solal-Johnson-Motian, "Night and Day," "Gang of Five"]

TP: Paul was saying that 37 years ago you performed with Martial Solal in his American debut at the Hickory House, and didn’t see him again…

MOTIAN: Right. Teddy Kotick on bass.

TP: You didn’t play together again for 35 years.

MOTIAN: Wow. [LAUGHS]

TP: Do these ironies present themselves in the moment of playing, or in retrospect?

MOTIAN: I guess so, yeah.

TP: You certainly sounded like you played together let’s say one week a year…

MOTIAN: Well, I played the Hickory House gig with Bill Evans one time, with Martial Solal another time, and with Joe Castro another time. That was a gig that went on for months. You played in this club for two or three months at a time. It was a steakhouse actually. I didn’t play with Martial for 30-odd years or more.

TP: You said he was a raconteur, very humorous. He’ll say, “Here’s the piano player” and point to the bench.

MOTIAN: Yeah, he’ll point to the bench. Actually Enrico Pieranunzi does that, too. [LAUGHS] These guys, I don’t know…

TP: It’s a European thing.

MOTIAN: Could be. He reminds me of Victor Borge, in a way.

TP: This record combines originals by you, Martial Solal, and a few rearrangements. You must have a book of a hundred or so compositions?

MOTIAN: No, not that many. About 50 or so.

TP: You’ve been composing for a long time.

MOTIAN: Not that much. But I don’t feel too bad about it Somebody told me Monk didn’t write that many songs either — 50 or 60. That’s fine with me. I was into it more… I’m not into it so much… I’m not doing so much writing now.

TP: So the ’70s and ’80s were a time when you were generating a lot of…

MOTIAN: Yes. Because I was putting together… Starting in ’76, when I put together my first trio with Charles Brackeen and David Izenson, and I started writing. I was studying piano and writing and trying to learn. Then it went to a quintet, and I had to write stuff for that. I did a lot of writing at that time.

TP: Let’s take you back to ’63 when you did those couple of months with Martial Solal at Hickory House. At that time you were still part of the Bill Evans Trio, which you left the next year. You spent the ’50s playing with Oscar Pettiford, you played with Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, you played with Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh and numerous gigs. Let me take you into some well-trod territory with those years. You grew up in Providence, Rhode Island.

MOTIAN: Right. Born in Philadelphia, then the family moved up to Providence; I couldn’t have been more than 2 years old.

TP: You became interested in drums around 10 years old?

MOTIAN: I started at more like 11 or 12. I took some drum lessons and whatnot, went through the usual stuff. I started playing professional gigs I guess when I was still in high school ,which is the late ’40s.

TP: By then bebop had hit. Things like “Shaw Nuff” coincided with your beginnings as a musician.

MOTIAN: I used to listen to jazz radio from New York and I’d send away for 78 records. I used to hear records by Max Roach, Bud Powell and Monk, and I’d send to New York for them and get these 78 vinyl records in the mail. I listened to a lot of big bands when I was a kid.

TP: Who were the drummers who impressed you early on?

MOTIAN: The first drum teacher I had was a drummer in the neighborhood, who really wasn’t a teacher; I heard him playing one day and got really interested in it, and asked him to show me some stuff. He gave me a couple of lessons, and then I went to another teacher. But he played me a record with Gene Krupa on it, and that impressed me right away. Then I heard Max Roach, and like I said, I was sending away for records from Max.

TP: The early Charlie Parker releases, “Koko” and that sort of thing?

MOTIAN: Right.

TP: So it just developed from there. And you said were playing professionally in high school. Were you working as a musician and going to high school simultaneously?

MOTIAN: No. Maybe a couple of gigs on a weekend. I hooked up with a neighbhorhood musician or musicians in bands, and a couple of players from high school — maybe we played a couple of weddings and stuff like that. Not really that much jazz. Playing in clubs and bars, stuff like that.

TP: When did it become apparent to you that you were going to become a musician?

MOTIAN: I guess right from the beginning. I never thought about anything else, I never did anything else, and I didn’t plan it or anything. It just happened. I just went along with the flow.

TP: That seems the operative thing. You seem to go along with the flow and surround yourself with strong personalities, and you have a strong personality, and…

MOTIAN: Well, I love music, man. [LAUGHS]

TP: You mentioned that you joined the Navy because you wanted to go to the Navy School, because it was a great way to get a higher education and get it paid for.

MOTIAN: And not have to go to Korea to a war zone. The deal at that time was, I was about to get drafted in the Army. I was the right age for that. Then I heard that there was a school of music, that if you joined the Navy you could pick what you wanted to do if you volunteered. I heard about their music school in Washington, D.C., so that’s what I did. I volunteered for the Navy and went to that music school, and then I got ill and never really spent any time there — and then they shipped me out! [Europe]

TP: Were you playing over there?

MOTIAN: Yeah, I was in the band. I was part of a band that was the Admiral’s Band, the Admiral of the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean. We were his band. Where he went, we went. When he transferred from one ship to another ship to another ship, we went with him. That was the deal.

TP: That wasn’t such a bad way to spend your Service time.

MOTIAN: No, I enjoyed it. Working out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with nothing else around except the sea and sky and air. It introduced me to Europe. It was great. I was 19 years old.

TP: You’re one of the many musicians who came up at the time you did who got a good deal of education in the Armed Services. Then you were stationed in New York, you were living around the Brooklyn Navy Yard, you were released and got into the scene.

MOTIAN: I got really lucky. Because when people got transferred… You did a tour of duty on a ship. I did I think two years. That was usually what happened. Then you would get transferred, and you have no choice; where they send you, they send you. I got lucky, man. They sent me to New York! It’s called the Central Receiving Station, which was across the street from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. But I had an apartment in Brooklyn. I’d go to work in the morning, there would be a band rehearsal, and then you’d go home, unless there was some dignitary coming into town who you had to play for or a parade. Otherwise, that was it. There were some nice musicians in that band, and we started playing then. Then when I came out, I just stayed in New York.

TP: You came here in ’53. Did you start hanging out right away?

MOTIAN: Oh yeah. I went everywhere. Wherever anybody played, I was there. I’d take my drums on the subway. Anything.

TP: You mentioned being at the Open Door quite a bit.

MOTIAN: Yes. There were a lot of things happening at the Open Door, a lot of sessions there. That was on Lafayette and Third Street, around that area. It’s all probably part of New York University now.

TP: Same buildings but much more expensive.

MOTIAN: [LAUGHS] I heard Charlie Parker there, man. It was incredible. And there were sessions there you’d go to. A lot of people, man. You played. It was great. There were other places. There was a place called Arthur’s Tavern in the Village that had sessions. There were sessions at a lot of places. You’d go to people’s houses. I met Bob Dorough; we used to have sessions at his house on the East Side up in the 70s. There was a pianist named Don Rothenberg who used to have sessions. I met Ira Sullivan there, and we used to play there. Every chance I got. There was a place up on 110th Street, a bar in Harlem where you lined up, man, took your turn and played.

TP: When did people start hiring you? You mentioned that Monk took you to Boston for a week around ’55 or so?

MOTIAN: No, that was ’60. January 1960. I played for a week at Storyville in Boston with Monk, Scott LaFaro and Charlie Rouse. I was scared to death!

TP: But by then, you’d already played with Oscar Pettiford, Lennie Tristano and Bill Evans. I’m just looking for how you began to form the network of associations that kick-started your career.

MOTIAN: Well, in those days, when all those sessions were happening, you were out there. You were quite visible. People heard you and people called you and people hired you. Tony Scott hired me and he hired Bill Evans. Actually, when I met Bill Evans, there was a clarinet player named Jerry Wald, who used to have a big band, then he had a small group. Through the grapevine, I heard he was auditioning people to take a band on tour. So I went to that audition. This was almost after I got out of the Service. I went to that audition and Bill Evans also went to that audition, and I heard him play and said, “Wow, who’s that piano player? He sounds great.” Someone said, “Oh, that’s Bill Evans from New Jersey; he plays really good.” So I was thinking, “Wow, I hope I gets this gig and he gets it. He sound really good.” So we both got the gig and we went on tour with Jerry Wald. We went to Puerto Rico, we went around the East Coast different places. It was a sextet with a vibraphone player and a guitar player, a singer. Then somehow, Tony Scott hired me and he hired Bill. We went on tour with Tony. That was kind of the beginning. I guess with Jerry Wald it could have been ’55. With Tony Scott, 1956-57, in there.

TP: You must have taken advantage of the opportunity of being in New York and being able to go around and study all the great drummers first-hand, who you could hear almost any time. I mean, Max Roach and Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey and Shadow Wilson and on and on. I know all those people impressed you, but talk about how it worked. Your transition from being talented to being a working New York professional.

MOTIAN: I don’t know if I can follow that path! But at Birdland at the time, the original Birdland, which was on Broadway and 52nd Street… I heard Art Blakey in there with his band. It wasn’t called the Jazz Messengers at that time. It was with Horace Silver and Curley Russell maybe. Anyway I heard that band a lot. Max Roach with Clifford Brown and Richie Powell; I heard that band. At Cafe Bohemia, Kenny Clarke playing with Oscar Pettiford and George Wallington. I was in those places daily, nightly, all the time, man, listening to those people.

TP: The most amazing education you could get.

MOTIAN: I thought that was par for the course. Everything happened like that.

TP: We’ll hear something that wasn’t released until a few years ago, the Lee Konitz-Warne Marsh Quintet at the Half Note with Bill Evans and Jimmy Garrison. You played quite a bit with Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh, and Lee Konitz has been a friend and recording colleague for years.

MOTIAN: True. There was a club downtown called the Half-Note run by the Cantarino family, and they talked Lennie Tristano into coming out and playing. Lennie hadn’t played or performed in public in a long time, and he didn’t plan to. Anyway these people called him and got him to come out and play at the Half Note, and I played there a lot with Lennie in the late ’50s-early ’60s for two or three years. One time we played at the Half Note ten weeks. Ten weeks at the Half-Note, man. And Lennie kept me and used ten different bass players during that time, everyone from Teddy Kotick to Paul Chambers to Peter Ind, Red Mitchell, Whitey Mitchell, Jimmy Garrison, Henry Grimes… It went on and on. [LAUGHS]

TP: He was very specific about wanting his drummers to keep things within a certain area.

MOTIAN: He never said anything about it, but you felt that your job was to keep time, man, and let these guys go and play. One time we were exchanging fours, and he said, “You know, Paul, your fours sound like a drunk falling down stairs.” I said, “Oh, that’s great. Thanks a lot, man.”

TP: I’ve heard that said about other drummers like Dave Bailey. Anyway, Lennie Tristano wasn’t in the house the night this was recorded.

MOTIAN: Yes, Tuesday was Lennie’s night off. He was teaching on Tuesday nights. So on Tuesday nights we would play sometimes without a piano player sometimes with. That particular Tuesday it was Bill Evans. Bill had been playing with Miles Davis, and he had just left and was about to start his own stuff. It was around that time.

[MUSIC: w/Konitz-Marsh, "April"; Konitz-Swallow-Motian, "Johnny Broken Wing"]

TP: The Electric Bebop Band plays a repertoire that mines the amazing compositions of the period when Paul Motian came musically of age, between 1945 and 1960… [ETC.] At once idiomatic and contemporary. The sound has evolved…

MOTIAN: We’re doing some of my music with this band, which is interesting. I have some very open kind of pieces where I like to have everybody playing at the same time and trying to make some music out of it. Interesting.

TP: In the next set, we’ll hear music with Paul Bley, who you’ve been playing with since the mid-’60s, and Keith Jarrett, with whom so many people heard you during the late ’60s-early ’70s. Let’s go through your bio again. You began playing with Bill Evans in Jerry Wald’s Sextet, and you’re on Bill Evans’ first trio recording in 1956 for Riverside. How did things develop? Did the trio work a fair amount up to 1959, when the next recordings are?

MOTIAN: Yes, we were playing. We were doing gigs. We didn’t go on the road. We played mostly around the New York area. Then Scott LaFaro came on the scene, the next record was with him, and then we did go on the road!

TP: In that interim, you were playing and touring with Oscar Pettiford. You were playing in one of his tentets, and he took an integrated band to Florida in ’57 or so.

MOTIAN: Yes, it was ’57. We played at the University of Florida, we played in Virginia. Went by bus from New York on quite a bus ride.

TP: You have an amusing story about Oscar Pettiford about the drumsticks.

MOTIAN: okay. We were playing at Small’s Paradise in a quintet with Ray Copeland on trumpet, Sahib Shihab on baritone saxophone, Dick Katz on piano, myself and Oscar Pettiford. At that time I had these very light, skinny drumsticks, 7-A’s, and I was playing with those. After the set, Oscar picked up one of the drumsticks, and he said, “What kind of sticks are these, man?” He sort of was bending them; they were almost like rubber in his hand. He said, “Get yourself some sticks, man.” So I went downtown to the drum shop, got some heavy sticks, came back the next day and played.

TP: He must have been a strong man.

MOTIAN: Yeah, he was great. He played great. People used to say, “Man, you’re playing with O.P. He’s death on drummers, man. How are you doing, man? What’s going on?” I said, “I guess he likes me.”

TP: Apparently so. And you were also playing a lot with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.

MOTIAN: Yes, we used to play at the Half Note quite a bit. I loved those guys; they sounded so great. It always confused me, because it seemed like everyone always talked about Zoot and not many people talked about Al, and Al had this great big sound, played so great. Well, both of them; they were incredible. I couldn’t figure out how they… They used to drink so much. I couldn’t figure out how they could play so great and drink so much alcohol.

TP: I heard a story where Zoot Sims said he practiced that way.

MOTIAN: [LAUGHS] I guess so. And someone else told me another thing about Zoot, that Zoot walked into this bar on 52nd Street called Jim & Andy’s dressed in a tuxedo, and everyone freaked out. They said, “Zoot, what are yu doing in the middle of the day in a tux; what’s going on?” He said, “I don’t know; I woke up like that.”

TP: Let me ask you a question about drums. How has the drumset changed from when you started playing up until when you were playing with Bill Evans and to today? Has it changed palpably? Has the sound of drumming changed because of changes in the way they’re made?

MOTIAN: Wow. I don’t know.

TP: Are you very particular about the size and make and composition of the cymbals?

MOTIAN: No. I’m interested in sound. I don’t care what it looks like, what size it is. It has to sound musical. It has to sound right to my ears. People say to me, “Oh, we’ve got this rider that you’ve got to have this 18-inch bass drum. I say, “Man, I don’t care. It could be a 50-inch bass drum. If it sounds good and musical, I’ll play it. That’s the way I feel about it. Also, I like musical sounds, man. I want it to be pleasing to my ears. I don’t tune the drums to specific notes or anything like that. It’s just pleasing to my ears.

TP: When you go on the road for one of these long European excursions are you taking…

MOTIAN: No. I don’t take anything any more except for some drumsticks and brushes. Last tour I didn’t even take a drum key, and that was a disaster. Because no one seemed to have a drum key everywhere we went. So I dealt with it. So I have to deal with the drums, and that’s kind of a drag, but there’s no getting around it.

TP: Apparently, if recorded evidence is worth anything, which I think it is, I think people will know it’s you on whatever set of drums. But you’ve been an informed observer of drum construction for about fifty years now, so I wondered about your perspective.

MOTIAN: I guess the first drumset I had was during World War II, and the rims were wood instead of metal. Then they came up with more stuff. They just kept coming out with more stuff. I mean, cymbal stands that do certain things, boom stands…there was none of that when I first started.

TP: Before this digression, we were discussing your early years with Bill Evans. So the records came out in ’59, and the records became popular and an incredibly influential entity.

MOTIAN: Well, that kind of happened later. A lot of gigs we did, we didn’t have full houses and people screaming and clapping when we played. I remember playing in the Village Vanguard with Bill and Scott LaFaro with only 4 people in the club, and talking to Max Gordon and saying, “Hey, man, can we go home; there’s only four people,” and he says, “Oh, no, you’ve still got a table of people and you’ve got to play another set.”

TP: And it was probably the third set.

MOTIAN: Oh, in those days, man, we used to play from 9 or 10 at night til 3 or 4 in the morning. I didn’t see the sunlight. And we went from one club to another club to another club. You never went out of town. All the gigs were in New York. You went from one club to another, from Birdland to the Vanguard to the Half Note, then back to Birdland. Like I said before, we played ten weeks at the Half Note with Lennie Tristano, nine weeks at the Vanguard with Bill Evans and Gary Peacock. Then we’d go back to Birdland for three weeks, then go back to another club, and then maybe go to Boston for a couple of gigs and then go back. It’s the way it was. In those days you spent $2 in a taxi to get to a gig, and it took you maybe half-an-hour to get there, and you played for 6 hours or more. Now it’s like 8 hours on a plane, and play one hour, and 8 hours in a plane back. [LAUGHS] It’s quite different.

TP: It must make things sound different as well. Then as far as the Bill Evans Trio, as time goes on, there’s ferment in music in New York.

MOTIAN: Yeah, there was a lot going on.

TP: And you left Bill Evans to be part of it.

MOTIAN: Yeah, I left Bill Evans in 1964. I came back to New York and was playing with Paul Bley and the Jazz Composers Orchestra at the time. There was a lot going on.

TP: And your affiliations with that scene began during your tenure with Bill Evans. That’s when you met people like Steve Swallow and Charlie Haden?

MOTIAN: Well, I met Charlie when I was playing with Bill Evans at the Vanguard, and Scott LaFaro said to me, “You know, there’s a really great bass player playing over at the Five Spot with Ornette Coleman. I want to introduce you. I want you to meet him. Come on over. So I went over and Scott introduced me to Charlie. That had to be ’59.

TP: So you heard Ornette Coleman when he hit New York?

MOTIAN: Yes, at the Five Spot.

TP: In ’59 were you open to it? Did it sound right to you?

MOTIAN: Yeah, I was. You know, it was very different, and I was interested. Sure, I thought it was great.

TP: So basically, you’re aware of everything that was going on around you and you wanted to partake of it.

MOTIAN: Yeah. I was on the scene a lot. A lot more than now.

TP: You and Paul Bley have done numerous recordings, and we’ll hear from a Soul Note date from 1990 called Memoirs.

[MUSIC: Bley-Haden-Monk, "Monk's Dream"; Keith-Peacock-Motian, "You And The Night and Music"]

TP: When did you begin playing with Keith Jarrett? ’68 or ’69?

MOTIAN: I’m not sure. When I met him was with Tony Scott. There was a club in the Village called the Dom. Tony Scott was playing there, and he called me. It was a Monday night. I was playing somewhere else, and I had the day off Monday, and Tony Scott calls and says, “I’ve got this gig for you, man,” and I said, “No, it’s my night off,” and he said, “No, come on, you’ve got to do this gig.” So I went and did the gig, and when I walked in the club Keith Jarrett was playing piano. I said, “Man, who’s that? Cat sounds great!” He said, “Oh, that’s Keith Jarrett; I discovered him.” Tony always said he discovered everybody. Bill Evans. Everybody. I think Henry Grimes was playing that night. So I met Keith then and we played. We played with Charles Lloyd together in ’68.

TP: So when Jack De Johnette left Charles Lloyd, you became the drummer with Charles Lloyd.

MOTIAN: Right. I did that for about a year. We did a very interesting tour at that time. We went to Laos and to Malaysia and Singapore, Japan, Okinawa, the Phillippines with Charles Lloyd, but Keith didn’t go because they were trying to draft him, put him in the army to go to Vietnam, so he couldn’t leave the country. A pianist named Jane Getz did that tour with us. But I had met Keith; we toured the country with Charles Lloyd then. Then when Keith wanted to put together his own trio, he called me and he called Charlie Haden, and he said the reason was that he always liked the work that I did with Bill Evans and the work that Charlie did with Ornette, and he thought that would be a good combination. That’s how that started. It had to be around ’68-’69.

TP: The sound of the music is palpably different than what you did with Bill Evans in the early ’60s, and I guess the role of the drums also becomes very different. Was it a transition for you?

MOTIAN: Yes.

TP: How did you approach that? Was it hard for you to change your mindset or did it happen very naturally?

MOTIAN: It did. Because there was a lot of stuff going on. Just little by little. When I first started playing with Scott LaFaro with Bill, I started breaking up the time and playing more open stuff, then that grew and grew and grew. Before I played with Keith, I was playing a little with Paul Bley. Then there was the Jazz Composers Orchestra where the music was getting more out and freer. Then joining Keith and seeing the way he played, that seemed perfect for me. I was really happy with that. It seemed like that was the way to go. It seemed like an improvement, it seemed like an evolution… Let’s play!

TP: At that time, did you change the drums you played?

MOTIAN: No-no.

TP: It was never about that in any way.

MOTIAN: No. It’s all inside.

TP: For you, in your learning process, were you ever someone who would internalize what other drummers were doing and try to do that as close as you could?

MOTIAN: Oh yeah. I tried to copy them! Yeah, man, until you find your own voice.

TP: Who were those drummers?

MOTIAN: Kenny Clarke mostly. Max Roach. Art Blakey.

TP: With Kenny Clarke it was the way he played time?

MOTIAN: Yeah, just the sound. And the way he played, and how he played, and how he got such music out of a little amount of equipment! Boy, when he was playing at the Bohemia, I was there every night checking that out. It was great. Then Art Blakey and Max. Listening to Max Roach on record and trying to play like that, to copy it exactly, and do the best you can that way. I remember listening to Charlie Parker and trying to play his phrasing on the drums, and stuff like that. That’s the way you learn. Then eventually, hopefully, you develop your own voice and take it out there!

TP: With Keith Jarrett it was a steady-working entity for about eight years.

MOTIAN: Oh yeah. It went on for a while.
TP: Dewey Redman joined when, in ’71 maybe?

MOTIAN: In ’72 at Slugs, the jazz club that was down at the East Village. Lee Morgan was shot on a Sunday night, they were closed Monday, and we opened Tuesday. And the vibe was very strange in that place! That’s when Dewey joined. That was ’72.

TP: Was the band very interactive? An equilateral triangle type of situation?

MOTIAN: Oh yeah. I mean it was his music. He wrote the music. We didn’t play standard tunes. Also, I had my first trip to Europe with Keith.

TP: So at the end of your tenure with Keith Jarrett you start forming your own groups.

MOTIAN: Right around ’76 is when I started doing that

TP: And I suppose your interest in composing music gestated while you were with Keith Jarrett’s band.

MOTIAN: Exactly.

TP: Was it again a gradual thing, you had to do this…

MOTIAN: Well, I never felt compelled, that I had to do anything. Like I said before, I play from what I hear and I’m listening and trying to make music, and integrate myself and my playing into the music, and go from there.

TP: I think your first record is in ’74 or so, Conception Vessel?

MOTIAN: My first record I guess was a trio with Charles Brackeen and David Izenson.

TP: I just want to take you up to the trio of twenty years standing with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell. I personally was very struck by the records with Charles Brackeen and David Izenson.

MOTIAN: There were two. There was another record with J.F. Jenny-Clark, who died recently.

TP: But that particular sound and the Brackeen-Izenson trio; I’m interested in the personnel and in the way you were hearing. Basically you made a transition to being a bandleader, doing your music.

MOTIAN: Basically, the reason that happened is I was playing with Keith Jarrett, and at that time I was starting to think about doing my own stuff, and I asked the agent who was booking Keith, “If I put a band together, would you get me some gigs?” He said, “Sure.” So I put together the trio with Brackeen and David Izenson, and he got us one gig. In Michigan. That was it. And I was stuck with being a leader. Well, there you go. Okay, Paul, you got it.

TP: And I guess you kept doing it. Well, I guess part of your activity is that and part is these freelance assignments with various associates. Let’s hear the most recent recordings by the Paul Motian Trio with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, from a pair of recordings documenting the band at the Vanguard in ’95, Sound Of Love and You Took The Words Right Out of My Heart.

[MUSIC: "The Sunflower" & "Misterioso"]
TP: …one of the most influential bands of the ’80s and first part of the ’90s, when they played together with great regularity. Paul informs me that “You took the words right out of my heart” comes from a Bob Hope movie with Dorothy Lamour.

MOTIAN: When I first heard it was on a Thelonious Monk record. Monk was playing it. That’s what turned me on. Then I copied it off the record and started playing it. Then I saw a film that was made in the mid-’30s, in 1934 or something like that, called The Big Broadcast of ’34 or some year, with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour, and Dorothy Lamour is singing this in this film! But I heard Monk play it first.

TP: The process of hearing things backwards didn’t just start with this generation of musicians.

MOTIAN: That’s right.

TP: A few words about Lovano and Frisell, and the chemistry.

MOTIAN: It started out as a quintet. First it was Billy Drewes and Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell and Ed Schuller. Then it became Jim Pepper and Joe Lovano. We did three records for Soul Note that I like very much. I guess they’re hard to find, but I think there’s some great music there. We were playing one night somewhere in Italy, and there’s one piece of mine that just called for the bass to lay out, and for a few minutes it was only Joe and Bill and I playing. At that moment I thought I could play my music with this trio without having a quintet. Economics was involved, and I liked the idea of playing without a bass and just to give it a try. That’s how that happened.

TP: That trio became one of the more influential bands of the time. A lot of musicians speak of hearing that trio just as people like Joe Lovano or John Scofield cite the Keith Jarrett Quartet as having an impact on the way they thought about music. It gave them a sort of paradigm shift, hearing what you did with Monk’s music, or the three albums of deconstructed show tunes. Did you embark on those projects as concept records, or were they part of the imperative of what you were doing?

MOTIAN: During all the years of playing, there were a lot of songs that I felt associated with, songs that I played with Bill Evans, song that I played on commercial gigs or whatever, and I just wanted to record those songs that I felt close to and that I had experience with. So I added Charlie Haden, and we did two records also for JMT…

TP: It’s been a great producer-artist relationship.

MOTIAN: Yes. Except you can’t get those JMT records any more. They’re gone. That’s too bad. So we did three records of standard songs, called Paul Motian on Broadway. There’s a funny story that the cover designer for the first of those records walked to Broadway and took a photograph of me and threw it up in the air and took a picture of that, and put it on the album cover. Then the third one was the same band with the addition of Charlie Haden plus Lee Konitz.

TP: Did your choice of material have to do with personnel?

MOTIAN: No, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was just thinking about the songs. They were songs I felt close to, and I wanted to record them. I did a lot of research. I was checking out all the composers. There was some great music there — Richard Rodgers, George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter. I love that stuff.

TP: In the last five-six years, as Lovano and Frisell both have such busy careers, it’s hard for that band to get together. But obviously, when you do hit, you hit with a vengeance. Just a few sentences about Lovano’s qualities, Frisell’s qualities, the simpatico you feel. You said for one thing about Joe Lovano that he remembers everything, that you can pick up something you did eight years ago, and he’ll remember it.

MOTIAN: Yes, that’s what’s great. I don’t want to think about it if I don’t have to. I give it to Joe, man. He’s great for that.

TP: Anything salient about Frisell, how his sound meshes with you?

MOTIAN: I don’t know. I just like it. I tried to put together a band after the trio with Brackeen and David Izenson and then with J.F. Jenny-Clark. I wanted to put together the quintet. I talked to ECM at the time and they said, okay, they’d record. I heard Michael Gregory Jackson, the guitar player, play in New York one night, and for the first time I heard the guitar sound with synthesizers or whatever, and I thought, “Wow, the guitar can sound like a violin; isn’t that great.” Then I was playing with Pat Metheny, and the quintet was going to be Pat Metheny and Michael Gregory Jackson and Julius Hemphill and Charlie Haden and myself, and it was going to record for ECM. We did a quartet gig in Boston with Michaael Gregory Jackson. But then it sort of didn’t happen, and the quintet I ended up with was the continuation of that. Pat was the one who recommended Bill, and I heard Bill getting this sound I’d heard before that could do so many things, and that got my interest up. So that’s how it started.

TP: So it gave you a broader orchestral palette, as opposed to the more monochromatic spectrum of the Izenson-Brackeen trio. This is the The Paul Motian Trio Plus One, from 1998. Core trio is Chris Potter and Steve Swallow, and coming in on tracks are Poo Kikuchi and Larry Grenadier.

[MUSIC: "Three In One" and "Sunflower"]

TP: Back to 1983 for a track with the Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra, which you played with throughout the ’70s into the ’80s, and maybe the only big band I can remember you playing with as such. You didn’t do very much big band playing.

MOTIAN: Not much, no. The Oscar Pettiford Big Band for a little while. The Jazz Composers Orchestra was quite a big band. Charlie Haden.

TP: What memories do you have of the Jazz Composers Orchestra?

MOTIAN: Oh, I thought it was a great experimental kind of scene. There was some great music, the music was changing, getting more free. I met some good players. It was a nice scene.

TP: In ’64-’65-’66, who are some of the people you were playing with? Did you do gigs with people from the whole sonic range?

MOTIAN: It was mostly Paul Bley during that time. I never did play with Albert. I heard him a lot, of course. Also, there was a period for me during that time when I didn’t have that many gigs. Before I joined Keith Jarrett, there weren’t that many gigs. I took a bunch of commercial gigs. For a while I was playing floor shows and stuff like that in New York.

TP: So it was like taking a day job so you could do the things you wanted to do.
MOTIAN: Well, it was hard to do what you wanted to do in those days actually. For me it was. I mean, the time after I left Bill and then before I got with Keith Jarrett. Rock-and-Roll was more and more popular, and jazz was sort of not…

TP: Passe.

MOTIAN: Kind of. So there weren’t that many gigs around. I wasn’t hooked up with anybody special at the time. I did what I could. So I took a lot of commercial gigs, and sometimes didn’t gig at all, and no money, no nothin’!

TP: That was probably the last period when you could live in New York, however meagerly, and do that.

MOTIAN: True. Rent in an apartment… You could get by with $100 a month and have a decent apartment.

[MUSIC: Charlie Haden LMO, "El Segador"; Pietro Tonolo(?), "Wig Wise"]

TP: We’ll conclude as we began, with the Electric Bebop Band, drawing on the vast wellspring of music composed between 1945 and 1960, drawing on Tadd Dameron, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus and Herbie Nichols, and some original music as well…

A lot of musicians who came up in the ’50s and ’60s played a lot of Latin music as rent gigs. Was that part of your scene?

MOTIAN: No. No. Didn’t do that.

TP: The show demonstrates the interconnectedness of personalities in jazz. It seems in this music there’s only two degrees of separation! I think this afternoon is a living embodiment of that in addressing the career of Paul Motian, who since arriving in New York in 1953 has played with or shared bandstands with or been in proximity to every major improviser you can think of, from Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge and Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans and Lennie Tristano and Al Cohn and Zoot Sims and Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett and Dewey Redman and on and on, and always stamping his own sound on the music. So truly one of the legends of jazz music, and still thriving, about to go on a three week tour that will put you 20 flights in three weeks.

MOTIAN: Or so. One time we did a tour with the Broadway quintet, with Lee Konitz, Frisell, Lovano, myself, Mark Johnson. In three weeks we had 35 flights.

TP: So while 40 years ago, the life wasn’t the healthiest life, playing from, say, 9 to 4 a.m. every day, and the various hazards of the jazz culture, but now you’re going off flying every day on these extended tours.

MOTIAN: There’s always some dues to pay, man. If you don’t want to pay any dues, don’t do music. [LAUGHS]

[MUSIC: "Split Decision" & "Celia"]

* * *

 

Paul Motian (6-15-93):

Q: I’m very glad to introduce to the New York radio audience, his first WKCR appearance in 25 years, the drummer-composer Paul Motian, who is leading the Paul Motian Trio at the Village Vanguard this week, one of the most creative ensembles in the world of improvised music. Welcome back to WKCR, Paul Motian.

PM: Thanks. Nice to be here.

Q: This trio has been working together for 12 years, is it?

PM: Just about. I think so.

Q: How did you find these guys? Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano are now famous musicians, but in 1981 they weren’t.

PM: Yeah. I tried to tell people that in 1981. They wouldn’t listen to me!

Q; That they were famous?

PM: Yeah. [LAUGHS] I said, “These guys can play, man. Check ‘em out.” Anyway, it takes time. I found them through the usual thing, word of mouth, other musicians. Yeah. Pat Metheny recommended Bill Frisell to me, and I think it was bassist Marc Johnson that recommended Joe Lovano. In the beginning, before this trio happened, it was a quintet, and before that it was a quartet with Marc Johnson, Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano and myself. Then Marc ended up leaving, he went with Stan Getz, and blah-blah-blah…

Q: Was there an instant empathy?

PM: Yeah, there was. I mean, there were other people involved, and then it just… When it got down to the nitty-gritty, it ended up with Bill and Joe and I. And it’s worked out great.

Q: It’s a group that takes the ethos of improvising to real heights.

PM: Yeah.

Q; Nothing is ever treated the same way on a given night.

PM: Right.

Q: That must be very stimulating to you.

PM: Yeah, hopefully. Yeah, it is. It is. Because we’re playing some of the same music we’ve been playing for years, and it’s always a little different. And especially now, since Bill and Joe also have their own bands and we don’t get together as often as we used to, it’s really taken another turn — and it’s great. I love Bill and Joe. We’ve been together now for this while, and we’ve done lots of tours together, a lot of gigs together, records, and it works out good. They are both very helpful. Joe is great, Bill… I mean, they remember tunes and arrangements, and you know, also have suggestions and things; we work things out. It’s been great.

Q: There are very few bands with that type of longevity around.

PM: Uh-huh. Well, I don’t know. What about the Modern Jazz Quartet?

Q: Well, I said very few. I didn’t say none! The band plays this mix of standards and your original music that you’ve recorded.

PM: Right.

Q: You must have a huge book by now to draw on.

PM: Yeah, there’s a lot. But I mean, sort of like it’s settled into a few favorites, as it usually does, ha-ha…

Q; Define “few”.

PM: I don’t know, about ten or twenty tunes. [LAUGHS]

Q: I believe this is the first time that this band or a band under your leadership has appeared at the Village Vanguard. Am I right?

PM: That’s true… There were other bands that were…you know, there were coop sort of bands with trios and stuff that I was part of. But this is actually the first time for my own thing, yeah.

Q: However, your history at the Village Vanguard…

PM: Goes back.

Q; …goes back maybe a year or two.

PM: Heh-heh, it goes back, yeah.

Q: You were telling me your first appearance at the Vanguard you can definitely pin down…

PM: To New Year’s Eve, 1956, with Lee Konitz. ’56, let’s see…thirty…

Q: 37 years ago.

PM: Something like that. And I think I may have played in there earlier, because I was in New York actually in ’53, even though I was in the Navy at the time, but I was living in Brooklyn… So in ’53-’54, I was in New York then already. So I could have been in the Vanguard before ’56. But I started keeping a record in ’56, so I know that for sure.

Q; [ETC.] Tell us a little bit about Motian in Tokyo. We’ll be primarily hearing your own compositions.

PM: This is a record that was done in Tokyo, in Japan, a couple of years ago, a live recording, mostly my compositions. I think there’s one Ornette Coleman tune on there, but it’s mostly my tunes. A lot of them were pretty new at the time. We were actually reading the music and stuff. But there’s some nice things on here. I’d like to hear this track called “Mumbo Jumbo” that we play pretty often.

[MUSIC]
Q: We heard three offerings by the core of the Paul Motian Trio, augmented by Lee Konitz and Charle Haden on the last two selections. That, of course, was “Tico, Tico,” preceded by “Handful of Stars.” That comes from the most recently domestically issued release by the Paul Motian group, Paul Motian on Broadway, Volume 3. [ETC.]

I’d like to talk to you about your background in music. You grew up in Providence, Rhode Island.

PM: Right.

Q: Did you start playing drums very early?

PM: I was about 12 years old when I started.

Q; Did it really start at 12? Were you doing rough-hewn, hand-made percussion, or banging on things?

PM: No, I took my first drum lesson from a neighbor who was a drummer at that time. I was around 12 then.

Q: Was there music around the house, in your family?

PM: The music around my house, in my family was sort of Middle Eastern music, Arabic music, Armenian, Turkish, that kind of music. Old 78 records, and the wind-up phonograph… That’s what I heard as a kid.

Q: Did you ever get to go out and hear music? Was music part of family functions?

PM: No, not really. They liked that music, the records that they had. They enjoyed that. But as far as I know, there were no musicians in the family or any big interest. As a matter of fact, my mother was against me playing drums. She didn’t want me to do that.

Q: It must have made a racket around the house.

PM: Yeah.

Q; So what happened? You just took to the drums…

PM: I just took to the drums. I did. I did. I loved it. And still do! [LAUGHS]

Q; So this neighbor gave you the rudiments.

PM: Yeah, he gave me one or two lessons. He really wasn’t a teacher. And then I found a more legitimate teacher, and then played in school in the bands, you know, in junior high school and high school, like that.

Q; When did you first start listening to Jazz and to Jazz drummers?

PM: I guess I heard… When I was in high school in Providence, Rhode Island, from the radio, from broadcasts from New York, from other musicians that turned me on to stuff. I remember I was in about the tenth or eleventh grade in high school, and someone took me to a record shop and played me a Charlie Parker record.

Q; So you heard Max Roach there.

PM: Yeah. Right.

Q; So what did you think about that at that time? How did that sound to you?

PM: I loved it.

Q; Yeah?

PM: Oh, I loved it. I feel for it right away. And then I started sending away for records. I used to send to New York for records, like 78 records. I’d get them in the mail.

Q: What were some of the records you were hearing then?

PM: I’m talking about Bird and Max Roach, some of those, and some big band stuff, like Count Basie and Duke Ellington and like that. But I guess it must have been radio. I was hearing stuff on the radio.

Q: Were you listening to that analytically, in terms of yourself as a drummer…

PM: No.

Q: …or just in the total sound of the music?

PM: Yeah, to the music. I wasn’t analyzing it, no.

Q: When did you start really being serious as a drummer with the idea that it would be your life?

PM: I don’t know. Probably not much longer after I got out of high school, and then went into the Service and played in the band in the Navy. I guess from then on… And then started… When I was in the Navy and I was stationed down South, I used to go to jam sessions and try to find places to play all the time. I was about 19 or 20 years old at the time. And around that time, I guess, I was getting pretty serious.

Q: Now, for a lot of musicians of your generation the Army really was a great musical training ground.

PM: Yeah.

Q: Was that how it was for you?

PM: Well, in a way. I mean, the reason I went into the Navy was… It was during the Korean War, you know, and a lot of friends of mine were getting drafted and getting killed and stuff. And then I heard that there was a music school, that the Navy had a music school, that if you joined, enlisted, you could go to this school. Which I did. But it ended up I didn’t go to the school very much because I got sick, and I was in the hospital, and then they shipped me out! [LAUGHS]

But I met a lot of great, interesting people during that period, and I’m still friendly with some of them. And one of them is a bass player, Jack Six, that plays with Dave Brubeck — a close friend.

Q: Other well-known musicians you came in touch with?

PM: No. But I mean, through that music school… I know Bill Evans went through that school, and so did Eric Dolphy.

Q: What school is that?

PM: This is called the Navy School of Music in Washington, D.C. I didn’t see them, I didn’t meet them there at that time. But they were in there sort of. We kind of, you know, passed…

Q; Well, you wound up, as you said, in New York in 1953 or so.

PM: Yeah.

Q: Was that also through the Navy?

PM: Yeah, I was stationed in Brooklyn.

Q; Were you in a band?

PM: Yup. But I was living in… I had an apartment in Brooklyn. And we used to go in at 9 o’clock for a band rehearsal, and have a rehearsal, and then go home. Unless there was some function that you had to take part in, play in a parade or something like that — you did that. And I was there for about 10 months, I guess.

Q; So you got to New York in ’53, and I take it you took full advantage of the opportunities of being in New York.

PM: Oh yeah. Yeah, sure. Then after I got discharged, I stayed — stayed here.

Q: So you hung out a lot, you heard a lot of music.

PM: Yeah.

Q: Did you go to Birdland…

PM: Yeah.

Q; …and different clubs…?

PM: Yeah! Saw Bird play at the Open Door. There was a place called the Open Door. It’s down where NYU is now, Lafayette and 4th Street or 3rd Street, something like that. I saw Bird play there one afternoon. And actually, I got to play with Thelonious Monk there once. I went there to hear Monk, and Arthur Taylor was supposed to be the drummer and he wasn’t there, so Bob Reisner, who was running concerts at that time, knew me, he’d seen me around town, and he said, “Paul, if you want to play with Monk, go home and get your drums — you can play with Monk.” I said, “Wow, great, man.” So I ran home, got the drums, and played that night with Thelonious. That was at the Open Door. And that was in 1955. Because Donald Byrd was playing at the time, and recently I ran across Donald Byrd in Europe, and he told me he’s got a picture of me playing with Monk that night — that afternoon or whenever it was… I don’t even remember if it was night. I guess it was night. That was in ’55, man.

Q: ’55? I guess that’s before…? Was Monk’s cabaret license reinstated at that time?

PM: I don’t know.

Q; I take it you were also gigging around this time.

PM: Right.

Q: You were working with a number of people.

PM: Actually, I met Bill Evans at an audition for… There was a clarinet player at that time named Jerry Wald. He was putting a band together. He was auditioning musicians for some gigs on the road, a sextet — he had a sextet. And I went to the audition, and that’s where I met Bill. I think that was in ’55. And at that time also I was playing with Tony Scott, also with Bill Evans playing piano. And doing… You know, gigging around town, doing gigs, doing commercial gigs, doing jam sessions, doing whatever.

Q: I have here a liner note to a 1957 release that you appeared on with Warne Marsh, by Nat Hentoff, and he says: “He has worked with Oscar Pettiford, Tony Scott, Don Elliott and Zoot Sims, among others.”

PM: Mmm-hmm.

Q: Was that a one-off thing, or a semi-regular thing?

PM: Well, I was playing one night at Birdland on a Monday night, which was the off-night in Birdland; I was playing in there one night with Sonny Rollins. And Zoot Sims came in and heard me, and hired me — he took me to Cleveland with him for a gig. That was the first time I met Zoot. So that was in the mid-Fifties, probably ’55, ’56, something like that.

Q: What was it like working with Oscar Pettiford?

PM: Great. Oh, I loved him. People used to say to me, “Hey, man, how are you getting along with O.P.?” You know,, they’d say, “He’s death on drummers, man; he kills drummers.” And I said, “Man, I don’t know. He must like me!” [LAUGHS] But one day we were playing at Small’s Paradise, and after the set he grabbed my drumstick. At that time I was using these drumsticks that are called 7-A. They are very thin and very light. And he took the drumstick and he said, “What is this, man?” — and he started to bend it. He said, “This ain’t no drumstick, man.” He says, “Go get you some drumsticks.” So the next day I went down and got me some heavier sticks!

But Oscar was great, man. I learned a lot. He was a great bass player.

Q: Did other people give you… Was that type of advice-giving…?

PM: Yeah.

Q: That was a kind of frequent thing?

PM: Yeah, sure.

Q: What are some other things that people told you that you can relate to us?

PM: Monk asked me…he said, “Sing me your beat.” [HEARTY LAUGH] And I went, you know, “DING-DINGADING-DINGADING.” He said, “No, no, man. He said, “DU-DING-DING-DADING-A-DING…” [LAUGHS] I mean, stuff like that; you know, that came up.

Q: Do you think there was more collegiality among musicians then? That musicians were more open with each other in a certain way…?

PM: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. I don’t know if it was more or less. But I got along pretty good! [LAUGHS]

Q: I guess where you really came to prominence in the broader world of Jazz was through your work with the Bill Evans Trio.

PM: Yeah, I guess so.

Q: You’d worked before that, you were on records, but this is where your name really became…

PM: Yeah. It’s funny, too, because I mean, at the time you didn’t really think about it. And I remember when we did the Village Vanguard and we did the Vanguard recordings, which was the last time we played together, and as we were packing up we kind of said, “Well, let’s try and play more; let’s try and do some more things and play more often” — and that it would really be nice to make a music that didn’t have a date on it. And at the time I didn’t realize… One never thought about if that would happen — and actually it somehow.

Q: I guess the first recordings by the trio were in 1956.

PM: Mmm-hmm.

Q: But were you working fairly steadily together from then through the first records that really made their splash?

PM: Oh, I don’t know about steady. We worked… We didn’t work 365 days a year, you know, but we put in a few months a year. But I was pretty tight with Bill. We used to hang out a lot and play at his house a lot. But it was always music, you know. I mean, we’d be involved in it one way or another. If it wasn’t actually a gig, it would be a session I’d play or go somewhere. I used to take my drums on the subways, on the ferries, on the buses all over.

Q: We’ll hear a few selections from Portrait In Jazz, Scott LaFaro’s first session with the Bill Evans Trio. These are selections you picked out amongst the…?

PM: Well, it’s all good, man. I like this record. I think this is one of my favorites, if not my favorite Bill Evans Trio record.

[MUSIC: "Turn Out the Stars (Paul Motian/Bill Evans, JMT)

"What Is This Thing Called Love," "Come Rain Or Come Shine," Portraits in Jazz, Bill Evans Trio.

Q: Before we continue, just a few words about Bill Evans and your sense of him as a person, a colleague, a friend.

PM: Well, I always kind of felt like he was an older brother, you know. He was a couple of years older than me. We were very friendly. We hung out together. Close friends. Great pianist. He influenced a lot of people. I had great times with him. I'm glad I have those memories, man. It will last forever. Great music.

And this thing you just played, "Turn Out The Stars," I never played that with him, actually. I guess he wrote that after I had left. So that was a pleasure to do that. It was a pleasure to do the record.

Q: You said that in the late Seventies you were starting to really listen to the compositions...

PM: Oh yeah.

Q: ...and get that together with him somewhat.

PM: Well, the thing was that when I left Bill, it was in 1964 or something like that, and then I didn't see him, or we didn't really hook up for many years -- you know, ten years, fifteen years went by. And then, a few years before he died, I guess about four years before he died, we got together. He had a birthday party at his house, or it might have been a Thanksgiving party or something where he was living in Fort Lee, New Jersey. And I went there, and we hung out, and it was great to see him and great to hang out with him again. I took him a tape. I had a tape from an old radio broadcast that we had played together on from Birdland, and he played that. And it was nice getting back together with him again.

At that time, I was kind of getting into writing more, and... Actually, he called me. He asked me to play with him again. He called me and he said Philly Joe Jones was playing with him, and had just quit, and would I play with him again. And I had to turn him down, because at that time I had just formed my own trio with David Izenson and Charles Brackeen, and we were about to go to Europe on a tour. So I had to turn him down. And then when I was on tour in Europe, I was thinking, "Gee, it's nice to get back with Bill and to hang out with him. I can learn so much from him, and now that I'm into writing music..." But then he died, so that was the end of that.

Q: Was that sort of the genesis way before of this project, of the Bill Evans project?

PM: No, not really. This Bill Evans project came up much later.

Q: Well, it's one of a number of concept records, for lack of a better word...

PM: Mmm-hmm.

Q: ...that you've done for JMT. There are three volumes of Motian on Broadway...

PM: Right.

Q: ...with your own singular reorchestrations of...

PM: Standard songs.

Q: ...standard songs, so to speak, and this, and there's also an album of your orchestrations of Monk's music as well, Monk in Motian.

PM: Well, the Monk In Motian idea was from the record company. They approached me. That was my first record for JMT. And Stefan Winter from JMT Records approached me about that. He asked. He thought it was a good idea if we did a Monk record with the trio. So that was kind of the beginning. And the Broadway records are songs that I just love and that I have been associated with through the years. And I think that the writers of those songs from that period, the Twenties, Thirties, Forties are some really great, great music! And I researched it and picked out the songs that I felt close to or ones that I liked, and tried to vary the different composers. Then I started reading autobiographies and biographies of George Gershwin and Cole Porter and Harold Arlen and...heh-heh, on and on. So I spent a lot of time researching that and picking out the tunes -- it was a lot of fun.

Q: You also would have been playing in situations where this music was being played...

PM: Right.

Q; And I'm assuming behind vocalists as well.

PM: Sure.

Q: Who are some of the vocalists you've performed with over the years?

PM: [LAUGHS] Well, I did get to play with Billie Holiday once. That was great.

Q; What was that like?

PM: That was incredible. She was in the audience. I was playing with Tony Scott at a club called the Black Pearl, which was on First Avenue up in the Seventies somewhere; First Avenue, Second Avenue, somewhere on the East Side. Sam Jones was playing bass, Kenny Burrell was playing guitar, it was Tony, myself, and I think Jimmy Knepper was playing trombone. Billie Holiday was in the audience. And Tony just… Tony Scott got to the microphone and just started saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, Billie Holiday. Let’s have her sing, get her up here.” And she was shaking her head, no; she didn’t want to get up there. But Tony was insistent. So she came up. So I got to play a couple of songs with Billie Holiday, which I love! I was in Heaven playing with Billie Holiday. I also played opposite her at one time, once or maybe twice.

And other singers…I remember playing with… Well, when I was playing with Oscar Pettiford, somehow we ended up… We were playing at Birdland with Chris Conner. I remember doing a gig or two with Anita O’Day once. Like that. Not too many, though.

Q: But all the music on these project albums has a real visceral connection to you?

PM: Sure. Well, I mean, they’re songs that I feel connected to.

Q: It’s part of your life experience in a very tangible way.

PM: Sure. I would say that. Mmm-hmm.

Q: When you’re thinking about the reorchestrations… I know we’re kind of shaky territory talking about why you make the kinds of creative decisions you make…

PM: Mmm-hmm.

Q: The melodies are always there, but they are always twisted in a certain way. Maybe just take one of the songs, and talk a little bit about why you decided to treat it the way you did.

PM: Well, I don’t know. It wasn’t anything written out. There was just my ideas about who should play where and when and with who. I mean, that kind of thing. That was all. There was nothing really…

Q: So you’re leaving a lot of the content to your musicians, Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano.

PM: Yeah. I mean, I may have an idea about, like, who should play the first solo, or who shouldn’t, or who should lay out here or lay out there, and when people should play together, you know, depending on how I hear it. And I would explain that to them or tell them about it, and try and do that. And we may have tried something that didn’t work, and I might want to change it or not, you know… It was like that. It wasn’t anything… I didn’t sit down and write stuff on paper.

Q: Another area of music that’s touched you very closely is the Bebop music of the 1940′s and early ’50s that you came up under.

PM: Sure.

Q: You’re currently leading a new band that I guess has been together maybe a year now…?

PM: Mmm-hmm.

Q: Paul Motian and the Electric Bebop Band. [ETC.]

PM: Bebop, that’s the music I grew up with, man. I mean, that’s…. And I love it. And I just wanted to play the music, but I didn’t want to do it in the sort of standard way with trumpet-saxophone-piano-bass-drums. I wanted to do it a little different. And the idea was to have two guitars, two electric guitars, electric bass. It started out like that. Then later on I added the saxophone. The music that I grew up with, the music that I loved…

Q; How did you recruit these musicians?

PM: How did I recruit these musicians…? [LAUGHS]

Q: Josh Redman is the tenor player in the group. One of the guitarists is Brad Schoeppach…

PM: Brad Schoeppach and Kurt Rosenwinkel. You know, the same way that the trio stuff happened, and before the trio, the quintet — from word of mouth. Actually, I think Bill Frisell recommended both of those guitar players. Bill heard Kurt Rosenwinkel in Boston in a band. And when I was putting this thing together, I was… Actually, the first time I tried this was about ten years ago, and I had it with a band with Bill Frisell, Mike Stern and Mark Egan. We did a rehearsal at my house, but it really didn’t work. But at the time, we were kind of playing my music and not so much Bebop music. So that was kind of the beginning of the seed or whatever you want to call it.

And then it was kind of like word of mouth; someone would recommend someone. I had a couple of other guitar players. But the two that ended up on the record and now that did the tour with me, it’s working out real well.

[MUSIC: "Scrapple From The Apple," Paul Electric Bebop Band; "Gaia," Kikuchi-Peacock-Motian, Tethered Moon; "Monk's Dream," Bley-Haden-Motian, Memoirs; "Birth," Keith Jarrett-Redman-Haden-Motian, Birth.]

Q: That set reflects one particular musical association with Keith Jarrett, who you played with from the late 1960s until the late 1970′s.

PM: Yeah, about ten years, I think. I think there’s maybe 13-14-15 albums I did with Keith.

Q: It was a very popular group at that time.

PM: Umm… I don’t know. [LAUGHS] It was fun. I loved the music. We had fun. It was great. And we did work fairly often.

Q: Do you find that the albums reflect the true quality of the group, for the most part?

PM: Mmm…yeah.

Q: Yeah?

PM: [LAUGHS] Sure.

Q: What was your hook-up?

PM: With Keith? Actually, Tony Scott called me to play with him at a club that was down on Eighth Street. What was that called? I forgot the name of that place already. So I went down with Tony, and when we walked into the club, Keith Jarrett was playing piano with Henry Grimes on bass, and I don’t know who else, and they were playing “The Song Is You.” And I said, “Hey, Tony, who’s that guy? He sounds great” — the young piano player. He said, “Oh, that’s Keith Jarrett. And that’s when we met, and that’s when we hooked up.

And then we started playing together a little bit. Then after Jack DeJohnette left, I played with that band for about a year or so. And then we did his trio stuff, and then it became a quartet. The quartet started in 1972. I remember we played at that club down on the Lower East Side where Lee Morgan got shot… What was the name of that place?

Q: Slugs.

PM: Slugs! Right. That’s when Dewey joined the band. We played in there the day or two days after Lee got killed in there. It was a very strange vibe! It was! So that’s how it started with Keith, hearing him at that club downtown and then getting together and hooking up.

Q: And during the existence of this band is when you start putting together your own groups and recording under your name for ECM.

PM: Yeah… I was actually thinking about Keith… When Keith formed that trio with me and Charlie Haden, he said that he had always wanted to do that because he admired my work with Bill Evans and Charlie with Ornette, and he always wanted to do that.

But anyway, I wasn’t really writing then. It was after that that I got into it. I did write a couple of things when I was back with Bill Evans, but I never pursued it too seriously.

Q; Your collaboration with Charlie Haden continues, particularly on record.

PM: Right.

Q; I don’t know how much you get to perform together in concert situations.

PM: Well, not so much any more, since he’s living in California now. But I’m still part of the Liberation Music Orchestra. As a matter of fact, we’re going to be doing a European tour next summer. And this coming September, we’re doing some gigs with the Liberation Music Orchestra, at the Monterrey Festival and a couple of other things during September. But I haven’t seen him now for a while. But yeah, we’ve been involved with different groups together.

Q; And does your relationship with Paul Bley go back to the Sixties, Fifties…?

PM: Oh yeah. Sure. With Paul Bley and Gary Peacock, we did a recording back in the mid-Sixties, a little later, that came out eventually on ECM…

Q; Was that the one with John Gilmore?

PM: No, this was before that. And I remember playing with… We used to play at a club down in the Village, around the corner from where Visiones is now; I forgot what that was called. But that was with Paul Bley. We used to make a dollar, two dollars a night! And it was Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, John Gilmore, Albert Ayler and myself. It was a hell of a band.

Q: Now, in the early 1960′s, you were working with Bill Evans, but you were also involved in a wide range of…

PM: Right.

Q: It seems you’ve always been involved in things that would just totally confuse anybody…

PM: [LAUGHS HEARTILY]

Q: I mean, to think of you playing with Bill Evans and Albert Ayler at the same time…

PM: Uh-huh.

Q: Do you feel that all things are possible in music?

PM: Yeah, man. It’s all music, isn’t it? I mean, that’s the main thing. I mean, when I was playing with Bill, I was also playing with Lennie Tristano, I was playing with Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, Oscar Pettiford — a lot of people. I mean, just playing with Bill, I don’t think I could have made a living actually. We didn’t work that much.

Q: You had to be flexible over the years.

PM: Yeah.

Q; You certainly seem to epitomize that. We’ll now hear a set of Paul Motian Trio recordings… [ETC.] I guess I first really became aware of you as a writer in the late 1970′s with the release of two albums on ECM when you had the superb saxophonist, Charles Brackeen, in your band, and David Izenson was the bassist early on. [ETC.]

PM: Mmm-hmm. I think it was around 1976 when the Keith Jarrett band broke up; that was the end of that. And I kind of wanted to see if I could do something on my own. I can’t remember how or why I got together with Charles Brackeen somehow… It might have been from his record. He did a record called Rhythm X…

Q; With Blackwell and Charlie Haden.

PM: Right. And David Izenson, I can’t remember the specifics.

Q: You probably had hooked up at some point…

PM: Well, I knew David from before. I mean, we had played together and we had done some projects together. And I was starting to write; you know, I was starting to write some music. And I was with ECM, and at that time ECM put together tours, European tours. So we did the record and we did a tour. And that’s how that was.
Q: The date on the record is 1977. We’ll hear “Dance,” the title track, and then a few more contemporary recordings by the Paul Motian Trio… [ETC.]

[MUSIC: "What Is This Thing Called Love" and "Come Rain Or Come Shine," Motian on Broadway, Vol. 1.

PM: We still play "Dance." It's one of the pieces that stayed with us, stayed with me.

Q: So there's really a process of weeding out.

PM: Yes, there is.

Q; You write prolifically, and then you decide and establish...

PM: Yeah. You know, depending on what seems to work best of the ones that I choose or we choose.

Q: [ETC.] We’ve mentioned many different projects you’re involved with. There’s the Electric Bebop Band, you perform still with Paul Bley…

PM: Occasionally, right.

Q: The Charlie Haden Liberation Orchestra. What are some of the other…

PM: I just did a record with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow, and the trio with Masabumi Kikuchi and Gary Peacock is ongoing. I just did another record and a tour in Europe with bassist Marc Johnson and a very nice pianist, Enrico Pieranuzzi. And there’s more… I’m afraid that now I’m going to leave out some people; they’re going to get mad at me. But I mean, I’m involved in a few things. For me it’s all music, you know. Anything that’s happening that’s musical to me or to my taste, I’m going to get into it.

Q: We’ll conclude with two dates from a 1958 recording with Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz that produced two records. You played a fair number of times with Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz…

PM: Right, with Lennie Tristano. I’d say in the late Fifties, ’57, ’58, ’59, in there, ’60…

Q: A few words about Warne Marsh.

PM: Oh, wow. Well, a great player. As I was saying before, there was one night in particular we were playing at the Half Note, where he played so great that it just shocked me. It was incredible. A really great player.

[PLAY "YARDBIRD SUITE"]

Q: You hadn’t heard that for a while…

PM: Yeah, it sounds great.

Q; You mentioned with the trio that when selecting the standards, you did a lot of research.

PM: Mmm-hmm.

Q: Do you sing? Were these songs that you were coming up with even before you were playing?

PM: No. No, I don’t sing. But when I was researching, I was also trying to get into the lyrics, too, and try to really check them out…

[ETC.]

[-30-]

* * * *

Paul Motian Colleagues (Stefan Winter, Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano, Paul Bley, Keith Jarrett, Brian Blade, Joey Baron):

TP: I’d like to speak with you about Paul Motian. In a sense, he’s commenting on a life and history lived in music — fifty years of experience as a professional musician. There’s a direct correlation between his association with your label and the flowering of what had been the beginning of a creative renaissance for him in mid-life. He’s been able to take projects that he was beginning to fully articulate in the ’70s and ’80s, and with you was able to realize their fullest implications. Again, what was the appeal for you? What qualities did he embody in his persona as an instrumentalist and as a composer-bandleader that made him someone you wanted for the label?

STEFAN WINTER: I discovered jazz very late, when I was around 20 years old. [43] I knew about jazz before I was 20, but there was nothing that I would say hit me. I came from Classical music, I started at that time in Classical music, and by whatever coincidence, I heard a Keith Jarrett album which I have to say is still one of my favorite albums. It was the first what I call jazz album I really heard, and I still love it. It’s the album Somewhere Before with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. It’s a live album. As far as I remember, it was released on Atlantic. This album is for me absolutely beautiful. Keith on the one side is playing some free pieces, and on the other side I think he is playing maybe a Joni Mitchell song. He is touching so many different fields, and he is reflecting on this album a lot of things, and I was totally touched by it. I also loved what Paul and Charlie were doing on that album.

A couple of years later I had the opportunity to meet Paul. I think it was Tim Berne who said to me, “Ask Paul to make a Monk album.” I thought this was a great idea, and I asked Paul, “Paul, what do you think about doing a Monk album?” and Paul immediately said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” That’s how we started our relationship.

TP: You have a knack for knowing how to market an artist in the best sense of the word, by giving them projects that allow them to strike a chord and yet be entirely themselves within a frame, which would describe the Motian Meets Broadway series and Motian Meets Bill Evans. Those records gave him a certain definite identity among the jazz audience beyond being a superb drummer.

WINTER: I am trying to think about where a musician or where a personality is coming from. I think everything you’re doing has to be connected with yourself. If you’re doing something that is connected with yourself, I think you give also the listener a certain kind of identification. Again, it’s like watching a movie, and if you can identify yourself with a certain character or with a certain time period of your life, then I think this movie will talk to you in a very specific way. If I start to work with artists, I m trying to listen to them and to hear where they are coming from, and when we are sitting together and drinking a glass of wine or whatever, just to talk about this and talk about that a little bit. The best is if then these artists start to realize that they want to do this and that project. I think it’s important that it’s not coming from me and I’m not saying to someone, “Let’s do a Broadway album.” That’s not how it happened. How Paul and I work together, we talked about it. We talked about where he’s coming from and what he loves and what he wants to do, and then this idea came out. Paul himself said, “What do you think about doing a Broadway album?” Basically, I was waiting for something like that. Then I’m just jumping on it and pushing that this was happening. Because an idea by itself doesn’t mean anything if you don’t realize it.

TP: Again, can you elaborate the qualities Paul Motian embodies that make him such a distinctive artist to you.

WINTER: I learned a lot from Paul from the way Paul works with his so-called sidemen. Paul is giving his sidemen, or the people with whom he’s working, a lot of freedom, and basically he giving them space to develop in his group their own personality. I would say Paul is for me like a godfather. I learned from him to watch people, to see what they can do, and then even support them or do something for them so that they really can develop their own language and their own style. I think that’s what he did, in a way, with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. Paul is also able, like when he’s playing together with Charlie Haden, to respect other people and to work together with them and just give his identity, to add it together with their identity, and then build together something new out of it.

TP: So it really transcends instrument and technique. It has to do with the development of tonal personalities.

WINTER: It has a lot to do with tonal personalities, and I think it has a lot to do with how you look at music, if music should be made in a certain hierarchy, like how we know it from the Classical world, like there is a conductor and he is telling the people what to do, or if we look at music that it is played by individuals and we have to respect these individuals. I think Paul is one of the key people who is respecting individuals. I think how he played together with Bill Evans (and I still love today to listen to these albums) or how he played together with Keith and then later on in his own groups, like in the Broadway groups or in his trio with Bill and now with the Electric Bebop Band, he is opening up a world for other musicians so that they can develop their creativity.

TP: Particularly with the Electric Bebop Band he’s doing what you would think of as repertoire music. I had been not so impressed with that band, but when I heard them at Sweet Basil last time they were treating the music in an utterly creative way.

WINTER: I think this is very important, what you are saying now. Because even if he is playing with young musicians bebop music, he is giving them the understanding that they have to make their own story out of this text. For me it is boring if I hear today a musician who is playing as another musicians played 40 years ago or 30 years ago. It doesn’t give me anything. But if I hear that somebody has his own style and own language, but he can also work with traditional material, this is incredibly nice. And this counts also for Classical music. If a Classical musician is able to turn the text, for example, of Schubert’s music into his own music, if he can interpret Schubert like it’s his own music and make it to his own thing, then it makes sense to listen to it again. The repertoire by itself doesn’t mean anything. I think it’s really just some written notes on the piece of paper. The question is what you do with it. If there is somebody who is turning the text into his own language, that is his own text, then the music talks to the listener. Then it’s talking to me. I think that’s what Paul is doing. Paul is like the master of everything that he is playing. If he is playing his own music, his original music, or if he is playing Monk’s music or Bud Powell’s music or Broadway songs, he is making his own music out of it.

[BREAK]

TP: Let me take you back to the ’50s and recall your early encounters with Paul and what the affinities were? You worked together quite a bit from ’56-’57 on. Earlier?

LEE KONITZ: I don’t know about “quite a bit,” but we did work together, and I always liked Paul very much. He played with Lennie’s group a few times. Once I remember at the Half Note where the record came out with Bill Evans playing instead of Lennie, Paul and Jimmy Garrison really sounded great together, and Bill was sitting back a lot, not being part of the rhythm section too much, for whatever reason. But they sounded beautiful together.

TP: Do you have any particularly vivid memories of early encounters?

KONITZ: No, not really. I didn’t know Paul that well. I just loved the way he played. He played like a man who was listening and interpreting what he was hearing immediately.

TP: That was always part of what he does.

KONITZ: Always. Yes, as far as I know. In all the contexts that I heard him with Bill and with Keith Jarrett especially, and to the later days when he played with his own different situations, he was always very much interested in what everybody else was doing.

TP: Do you remember when you first did play with him? Was it the period when he was playing with Lennie Tristano?

KONITZ: That’s what I remember most. I’ve forgotten a lot of thing, and it’s kind of embarrassing to admit to that.

TP: In our conversations he’s painted a picture of the New York scene in the ’50s where people would play month-long engagements at one place, then go into another place for a week, and let’s say the Half Note to the Vanguard…

KONITZ: I was the second band in the original Half Note for 13 weeks. I recall that. I’m wondering if I recall accurately. Mingus opened the club, he was in for a long time, then he moved on to the Vanguard or something, and recommended me. Then he wanted the gig back and tried to talk them out of having me there. That was extraordinary. Usually a week was still a good period.

TP: What are the advantages and disadvantages of playing 13 weeks straight?

KONITZ: Well, the obvious one is that you get to play a lot and get to pay the rent with a minimum of anxiety for that two months or three months. And mostly the opportunity to be out and playing.

TP: So not too many disadvantages to the situation except for fatigue or getting into a rut.

KONITZ: Yeah, you can get into a rut if you don’t stay fresh.

TP: You’ve developed a rather substantial friendship with Paul, yes?

KONITZ: I feel very close to Paul these days especially. He’s done some things recently that were very sweet, and I appreciate it very much.

TP: When do you recollect that your friendship started becoming something more than professional?

KONITZ: Well, we both lived in the same place on Central Park West for a while, and although I didn’t really see him that much, there was that kind of affinity. He asked me to do the project with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden, and that kind of endeared me a little more. Being asked into that environment was really nice. Most recently, I was playing in Vicenza, Italy, and I had a big kind of unpleasant scene with Ray Brown one night, and the next night Paul was in with Bill Frisell, and he cancelled that out immediately by extending himself in a very spontaneous way. So it’s just been increasing. Now we’re supposed to play… I asked for this Duos on the Hudson in October. I was supposed to do it with Martial Solal, but he didn’t do it, so I recommended Paul. I’m really looking forward to that.

TP: You were talking about his listening, and perhaps that’s a sufficient description. But is there anything more you can say about Paul in relation to his contemporary trapsetters of the ’50s and ’60s?

KONITZ: Well, Paul has a great sense of time, and that’s still the function of the traditional playing, and doing it with everybody else in the year means that you can do it with the right volume and get a sound. That’s still kind of a special ingredient for that instrument. There’s still a tendency to overplay the instrument. Joey Baron is another guy who can do that. There’s a lot of fine drummers who are very interested in what’s going on, and try to get a sound and a blend. But Paul was one of the first ones that really did that.

TP: Did you play with a lot of different drummers with your bands in the ’50s? On some of these ’50s Verve records, there’s Dave Bailey, Shadow Wilson on one of them, Nick Stabulas maybe. Was it difficult to find a drummer who suited you? Were there more of them around in the ’50s?

KONITZ: No, I don’t know that there were more around. I was just really trying to find out how to play with a rhythm section, and the drummer was the most problem for me usually in terms of getting a natural balance. So I always appreciated when someone like Paul was available to play with.

TP: Well, it sounds like he was pretty much an infinitely adaptable drummer. He played with Oscar Pettiford, he played with Lennie Tristano. Those are two very different concepts of what the beat should be.

KONITZ: Well, that’s to be considered in his overall ability to play. I just know him from my standpoint really, but I know that he did all these other things, and that just indicates how much he loved the music and could adapt to it.

[BREAK]

TP: But the first thing I want to ask is, at the point when you joined Paul were you pretty much aware of his persona as a drummer, and what at that point did his persona as a drummer mean to you?

BILL FRISELL: Yes, I was very much aware of it. For me, it was sort of like getting the Miles Davis phone call. I had been in New York for a couple of years, and things were getting gloomier and gloomier. It seemed like I was doing more weddings… I was getting pretty discouraged. I was getting to play a little bit of music of what I wanted to do, but I was getting kind of dark. And then, sort of out of the blue, the phone rings and it’s Paul. Oh my God, what’s this? It totally freaked me out. Because this was a chance to… I had done a few little things, mostly jam session things, or I was playing with Bob Moses a little bit, doing little things around town. But this was what I sort of think of as the first chance for me to really… He wasn’t calling me because I was a guitar player. He was calling me for…he wanted my personality, me as an individual. There’s a pretty big difference between working as a guitar player and trying to fill in some role that someone…

TP: You worked quite a bit in the ’80s as the trio, and less so in the last eight-nine years. Would you say that experience of working and rehearsing with him is something that helped open you up and helped you find your sound?

FRISELL: Yes, because it was just wide-open. It’s still like that whenever we play. That’s what’s amazing. We’ve been playing for 20 years, and every time we play, I still don’t know what’s going to happen.

TP: It seems that he takes pains to make it that way.

FRISELL: Yes. Every note he plays is like the first and last note that he’s ever… Every time he hits the drums, it’s like somehow he has this way of surprising even himself — and of course, it surprises everyone else. You know people say he plays like a little kid. He hits something and it’s like, “wow, what is that?” But at the same time, there’s this virtuosity in there, too.

I don’t know how he has managed to… Well, there’s some kind of genius in that, where he’s so deft and he has the technique and everything, but it never… The music always overshadows the instrument somehow. Ornette said something once… He did a recording, and he did two takes. He said, “the first take I played the song, and the second one I played the music.” There’s something about Paul that’s always…it’s like he doesn’t play the drums; he plays the music.

TP: But that said, is he unique amongst drummers you’ve played with? You’ve played with a strong personalities who are drummers. Would you say that the qualities you’re describing are the salient aspects of what makes him him, and not so much the actual ideas he executes on the drums?
FRISELL: Oh man, that’s a hard question. There’s nobody else on the planet like him. He’s absolutely unique. Also, there’s that history. It’s such an honor to stand next to that… I really don’t get that from anyone else, where his experience… When you play a tune with him, he played with Oscar Pettiford and Monk and Sonny Rollins, and he sat in with Coltrane and everything else that everybody else knows. These days that’s going pretty far back into the deepest recesses of the history of the music. So when we play a standard tune or a Monk tune, to get to do it with him, it just takes on a whole… That’s pretty rare these days. It’s really first-hand. He’s handing it to you straight from the source. He didn’t learn it off a record. He learned it from playing with those guys.

TP: When I saw you last August, it was the first time you’d played in the year 2000.

FRISELL: Right. And we haven’t played since until this week at the Vanguard. That’s what it’s been over the last few years. We play usually a few times a year. We haven’t rehearsed in I don’t know how long. At the beginning, when I first started playing with him, we rehearsed for like nine months before we ever did a gig, and at the beginning there was a lot of working out of arrangements… Not so much talking about stuff, but it was more worked out. We tried to figure out what we were doing. But then after a number of years, it got to be where we don’t have to talk about anything.

TP: I don’t know how you’re listening to the music as it’s going on. Do you see the not-rehearsing affecting the music in any particular way? My sense hearing you last night is that you’re talking as many if not more chances than ever, but there’s something very clear about it. That probably has to do with you and Joe continuing to grow and grow and become more defined in how you think about things.

FRISELL: I hope so. Sometimes I wish I could come outside of it and see it from the outside. When we start playing, it’s like you just enter into this thing. It’s like whatever kind of real intense sort of conversation that we’re having. I’m not really sure what’s coming out the front. It’s like I just jump into this thing and you’re in there, and when we finish playing I come out of it. So what you’re saying is encouraging. I hope it’s clear.

[BREAK]

TP: Paul said that Bill D’Arango recommended you to him? He told Paul that you and Billy Drewes played well together.

JOE LOVANO: Bill might have mentioned me to Paul. Paul knew Bill. But Marc Johnson was rehearsing with Paul and Bill Frisell as a trio, and they had some saxophone players come up. Paul was wanting to have a quartet at that time. Marc and I had played with Woody Herman together and we were playing with Mel Lewis, and Marc told me he had been telling Paul about me. Then one Monday night Marc said, “do you want to come up and play with Paul this week?” I didn’t even talk to Paul. I went up there, and we played quartet. From that moment, we started to play, and it was a quartet. Right at that time Marc got the gig with Stan Getz. Then I got Ed Schuller on the thing. Then we played as a quartet for a while. Eddie and I and Bill and Paul did one gig in Boston, and Paul wanted to have two horns, and I got Billy on the thing. It was a quintet for that first tour we did, and recorded Psalm.

TP: You played and recorded extensively with the trio for a decade. That was a rather frequent gig.

LOVANO: Yes, all of the ’80s. We went to Europe two-three times a year for a long time, most of the ’80s. We were recording for ECM at the beginning, and then Soul Note, when Jim Pepper joined the band. Then the trio emerged in 1984 really on a quintet tour with Pepper, and we recorded for ECM, It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago. Throughout the ’80s I was in heaven, man. I was playing with Paul, Mel Lewis and Elvin. In 1987 especially I toured with the three of those cats, and for the whole year I was playing in the most amazing situation.

Paul is one of the rare drummers that dares to be so creative and free from within the world of swing. He knows how to accompany in any direction. He could play for anybody in whatever style. But to play with him, how he… He plays with total feeling, and creates such an amazing texture within the form of a tune. Especially with the trio, with no bass, within the structure that we play, Paul plays with all different elements within the music. He plays like a pianist, where he’s playing the melody, he’s playing the changes, he’s playing the rhythm, and he doesn’t have to just play a repetitive beat. He leaves a lot of spaces. There’s a lot of counterpoint and things that happen. Paul is one of the most creative musicians in jazz.

TP: It often sounds in the trio like you’re the one who’s playing the time.

LOVANO: Well, we’re all implying the tempo as we move around. the tunes that we’re doing have really formal structures. Some are just a melody and are very free, but we’re approaching them and trying to create inner structures. But the implied tempos let’s say in one chorus of any given tune… A tune like “Crepuscule With Nellie,” let’s say. One time through that chorus can move at different paces throughout the chorus. Sometimes we can move through the whole form quickly. Sometimes we’ll stretch out a certain chord here or there, or a certain phrase. We’re trying to actually create the music as we’re playing. So the structure and melodies and harmonies are all there, but the freeness in the way we’re putting the time together… So there could be implied tempos on certain phrases or chord, and we’re just trying to follow each other and build it together as a group, instead of just counting a tempo off and letting the beat kind of give us the way of playing. Paul is one of the few cats you can play like that with and create that magic.

TP: When did you feel that the group came into its sound? Around maybe ’87 or ’88? Paul said that you rehearsed extensively the first few years.

LOVANO: We were playing a lot. We used to play at my pad all the time, and up at his place. Mainly we’d rehearse for recordings or for tours and stuff, and putting a lot of repertoire together. That was so great, because now we have such a deep reservoir of compositions and things we can draw from, and throughout an evening cover a lot of different music, from Monk’s music and Bill Evans’ music, standard Broadway tunes, some of Billie Holiday’s music and Paul’s originals. Both Bill and I have had the opportunity to have Paul play with us in our ensembles and record with us, too. That’s been really a great and beautiful education. Paul is on my second record for Soul Note, Village Rhythm and he’s also on a record called Worlds: Live At Amiens, that actually Bill and Paul are on. There’s some trio moments on that recording. It features Gary Valente and Tim Hagans as well.

TP: When you first met Paul, you’d first heard him playing with Keith Jarrett in the early ’70s, and you had to have known the Bill Evans stuff, and probably the stuff with Paul Bley as well…

LOVANO: His way of playing I was attracted to years before I ever met him, or even heard him live with Keith. The sensibility and the tone he played with, and the way that he was such a… He wasn’t just a drummer in the Bill Evans Trio. It was a trio experience when you listen to those recordings. I was drawn into that style and way of playing from digging the stuff that Max Roach was doing. I heard Max in Paul’s playing early on, in his sound and the way he tuned his drums. At that time he was playing more kind of traditional as a drummer, but not really. He made the Bill Evans Trio be so creative like that. Any other drummer in that group, I don’t think Scott LaFaro would emerged, and the way they played together would have never happened.

TP: He says that developed that way of playing through listening to Scott LaFaro, and it become logical that that was the way to do it. As he puts it, he follows the sound.

LOVANO: Well, there you go. You play with the people you’re playing with at the moment, and you don’t really think about it, and stuff happens.

TP: But then he’d do ten weeks… We went through his gig book from ’57 to ’60. I put it all on the tape. He’d have ten weeks with Lennie Tristano at the Half Note and with Eddie Costa the other two nights, or almost five consecutive months with Bill Evans, or Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.

LOVANO: He was playing in different ways and having fun in every situation. And you know what? A lot of the stuff I’ve been doing in the last ten years has been a lot like that, too. Playing in different groups with different… It’s your personality and your tone, but if you can execute your ideas within the different genres and feelings in the music, man, it’s so expansive. Playing with Paul and digging his career and the way he’s done that has given me a lot of confidence to put myself in different situations a lot. I’ve learned so much from him.

TP: Would you say that’s the main impact that being with him has had on you as far as your own career?

LOVANO: Well, that has been one big thing. And compositionally and also just putting ensembles together and trying to play with people and create music together with trust.

TP: Can you break down compositionally the impact and say a few words about his tunes?

LOVANO: Well, yeah. As a player, as an improviser, all the songs that you play and study, no matter what they are, teach you something about how you can put ideas together for yourself. If you wanted to. Some cats play and they never write. There’s a lot of great improvisers and players who only play other people’s music. But I’ve tried to learn from every tune I’ve studied, to try to put ideas together with their own melodic invention or harmonic structures. Experiencing Paul’s music and playing with him, from his roots, the kinds of tunes he’s written from playing with Keith or Bill Evans… When you’re actually there and experiencing the music, it gives you confidence and ideas. It’s hard to say how. But a lot of my tunes… I do a lot of writing on the road. Trio Fascination, let’s say, with Elvin Jones and Dave Holland, we were on tour with Paul and Bill prior to that recording, the year before or something, and I was preparing for that date. After gigs, after we’ve played in such a creative way, man, I’m just full of ideas. I go back to the hotel and I’m hearing all these things. Of course, it’s 2 in the morning or whatever, you can’t take your horn out, but I sit and starting writing out ideas and sketches and stuff. I put a lot of my tunes together like that on the road, being inspired from a performance or something that happened during the gig. Touring with Paul all these years has been one of the most incredible, creative parts of my life.

TP: And that said, it’s obviously harder and harder to get the trio together. If it weren’t so satisfying, it probably wouldn’t exist any more, because it seems you and Frisell have to make a real effort to get the thing to happen.

LOVANO: And Paul, too. He has several different things. In the last four or five years, of course, Bill and myself have had a lot of bands and we’ve been on the road a lot as leaders. Paul also has been doing a lot of different projects with a lot of people himself. When we come together, it’s a real special moment. Last year we played one set all year, at Carremour. Man, I was looking forward to that set for months and months and months! Even though, yeah, okay, it would be great to play a three-week tour or something. But just that one set was perfect. At this point, it’s nice to come together like that. Because most of the ’80s we were on tour quite a lot. It’s been a thrill playing with Paul. He’s one of the most creative musicians in this music.
JL: [1995] Paul is a melody player all the way. All the music that he has experienced through the years, playing with the Bill Evans Trio and the things with the Keith Jarrett Quartet with Dewey and Charlie, those were the first things that I knew from records of Paul. I loved his playing, like, immediately. He was someone that was coming from Max Roach in the early days, but yet had his own feeling, and created his own atmospheres when he played. To play with him was a real dream of mine through the years.

I remember the first time I saw him play with Keith in Boston, I think it was in ’71 or ’72, and it was the quartet with Dewey and Charlie. Man, I went every night! Oh, man, it was the most happening quartet I ever saw live. The music just took off, every note everybody played. They were into what each other was playing. And it was maybe the first time I’d watched cats play that played like that. I was used to hearing Stitt and other groups that just played tunes that they’d known and played all their life. Keith’s group, when they played all their original pieces, the way they improvised together, the tempo changes, and just how they were listening constantly to each other, and shaping the music as a group — that was the direction I wanted to go in, right from that moment.
TP: Paul Motian and I went through his gig books, and talked about a very dramatic moment when he left Bill Evans at Shelley’s Manne Hole in California to join you in New York. He says that playing with you opened him up in many ways. When did you first hear Paul, what are your early impressions of him, and what chemistry allowed the two of you to work together so felicitously in the mid-’60s?

PAUL BLEY: We’ve been playing together so long, I can’t really answer the question. I don’t remember not working with him. I do remember that he and Sonny Murray were two of maybe a dozen players that introduced free playing to drumming. The drums were the last instrument to get free. Because the bass players were free, the horn players and the pianists were free, but the drummers felt a need to keep time. And eventually, one day in 1964, somewhere around the Cecil Taylor-Albert Ayler post, the drums woke up one day and said, “You know, if these guys are going to play waves, I’m going to play waves.” Now, up until then, through the Ornette period, the audience was still with the musicians. It was difficult, but they could understand the fact that it was done against drum time, and that meant they saw the continuum. Anyway, the drums were the last to realize that there was no necessity to play time, because everybody else in the band was playing waves. Now, the public thought that that, instead of being an incremental advance, was a revolutionary advance, and after having lost a good percentage of the audience by the other musicians playing free when the drums played free, the audience just said, “Forget it, get me a Capitol record of the Beatles, I don’t want to hear about it any more,” and they made a right turn. That left the musicians high and dry with the label “avant-garde.” The mainstream was over, and now the musicians were on their own. Even though not one musician in New York had changed their style, the fact that the drummers joined them made it extremely radical, even more radical to the public than the microtonality that preceded it.

TP: I would presume that you heard Paul with Bill Evans, or with Lennie Tristano or Al Cohn and Zoot Sims and those gigs where he was playing time, which was his quotidian for most of his first decade in New York?

BLEY: Right. I heard him in all those gigs..

TP: And what about what he was doing in those gigs made it evident that he would be able to make that transition in as sensitive a way as he did?

BLEY: Well, there was nothing in those gigs which indicated that he would make the transition. Of course, I had the same situation with Barry Altschul.. He was a recording engineer assistant, which meant that he got to sweep up the recording studio after the record session. We had a chat, and we talked about the fact that there hadn’t been free Latin, there hadn’t been free Indian, there hadn’t been free any of the other genres, that “free” just meant playing as fast as possible and as loud as possible and as free as possible for as long as possible! It was a single stroke that everybody jumped on, regardless of the instrument. I thought at the time that all the history of jazz could be advanced by using those principles. Barry agreed. So we had this chat, we had dinner and so forth, and we put together a trio which in ’65-’66 was at the same point as Paul was. He and Barry and I, in terms of drummer and keyboard, were simpatico. I took a band with Barry to Europe. I didn’t take Paul to Europe. Paul had heard that band… This is not gospel. My memory is not worth quoting without checking with the other people.

TP: But what do you remember about this gig on McDougal Street with Albert Ayler, John Gilmore, Paul, Gary Peacock and you?

BLEY: I remember a lot about that. It was a snowy winter (I’m not sure which month), and I had gotten a call from Gary, who was going to be the bandleader at the Take 3, which was on Bleecker Street (not McDougal) just opposite the Village Gate on the second floor. So Gary called and said he had this gig, and we were going to do a double gig. He and I and Paul would be the rhythm section for the double gig, and on one of the gigs it would be Gilmore and on the other gig it would be Albert Ayler. So we did one set with the one and one set with the other. The drummer also changed, as I remember. Paul was on one of the gigs, and Sunny Murray was on the other. The recording that came out for that on my label was the Gilmore record with Gary and Paul. The one with Albert and Sunny Murray was not a recording. And it paid $5 a night.

I accepted the job two or three weeks in advance, and after accepting the job I got a call from the drummer who was working with Miles at the moment (this was in December-January, snowy New York City), and he said, “How would you like to come down to the Caribbean and do a month with a band…” It was an all-star band in the Caribbean. I really got pissed with him. I said, “I’m really angry about this.” He said, “Why?” I said, “I just accepted a $5 gig with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian and John Gilmore. I would have loved to go down to the Caribbean, but the reason I am going to stay on Bleecker Street is that I have the feeling that jazz is going to change on this gig.” That was my quote. And you know, I’ve been doing crystal-balling for a while.

TP: But this wasn’t the first time you played with Paul. The first time was after he left Bill Evans in California in ’64. Had you ever played together before that?

BLEY: I’m positive we had, but I don’t have the record.

TP: So basically we could say that Paul, while playing with Bill Evans and Tristano and Al and Zoot is partaking of the events that were percolating in New York in the early ’60s.

BLEY: Yes, you could say that.
TP: Let’s jump ahead in time. You play with Paul until about ’68-’69, and then you go electronic and Paul goes with Keith Jarrett? Is that pretty much how that works?

BLEY: I’m very bad with the dates and times. [ETC.] Check the book. I wrote the book so I could get the dates straight!

TP: But in the last 15-16 years, the relationship has flourished, resumed and become quite fruitful. Maybe more like the last 12-13.

BLEY: Well, it was always on… Same with Gary. There was always a strong relationship. It’s just that the philosophy with these musicians is you don’t marry your mates, you’re promiscuous.

TP: Can you break down the qualities of his playing to you, how you hear him within the lineage of drummers, or other drummers that you play with. Give me some sort of paragraph or two about his sound.

BLEY: Well, the joke about Paul Motian’s is that it sounds like he fell down the steps of the Village Vanguard with a full set of drums, and it made a great idea.

TP: Is that the soundbyte? Please be a bit more elaborate than that on how you hear drums through the medium of Mr. Motian.

BLEY: In the case of Paul, he has since that time where I quote him… There is a famous painting of a woman walking the stairs, where she’s all disjointed (“Nude Descending the Staircase” – Duchamp). Well, that’s exactly how I heard Paul in that period, in the ’60s, was random. Now, the update on Paul in the last ten years is that in terms of the soloist he’s become an idea man as opposed to a language man. So I hear one idea on the drums, and there is a silence, and then there is another idea, and it has nothing to do with accompaniment per se. It’s way beyond that. He’s playing as many ideas as the people he’s playing with, and sometimes more vividly because of the silences.

[BREAK]
KEITH JARRETT: Let me get dumb. When tape recorders go on, things are never as good as when they’re off.

TP: This is for “Downbeat” and it won’t be so verbatim.

JARRETT: Okay. Then I can say anything at all. I was only kidding.

TP: A very basic question. In your formative years, when were you first aware of Paul Motian’s identity as a drummer?

JARRETT: Oh, it must have been with Bill. Actually, I wouldn’t say that was the first I was aware of his identity. The first I really knew of his identity was when I heard him play with a free player in Boston named Lowell Davidson. I don’t really remember much about what he did. If there’s a way to say this, maybe it was somewhere between Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley or Bill Evans, but that would be a very banal way of saying it. He had a touch, so that probably presented a little more of Bill’s direction. I thought Lowell’s playing was interesting, but what struck me is that when I heard Paul on a tape, I didn’t know who it was and I didn’t know who it could be. Then at some point I ended up sitting in at the Dom, on 8th Street, with the clarinet player…

TP: Paul ran this down. Tony Scott told Paul to come down on a Monday night, that he had to hear this piano player, who was you. So that was the first time you played with Paul.

JARRETT: Right. I hadn’t met him, but I had heard him with Bill in Boston when I was coming through town with Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians when I was 15 or 16. The bass player in that organization and I both went to the Jazz Workshop, and I saw Bill there. Paul was sitting, looking really like businessman in his suit, the way some of the pictures from those early Riverside recordings suggest, and he was sitting pretty still, using brushes. Then the next I knew, I was hearing this Lowell Davidson tape with Paul, and I thought, “Who is the drummer?” I must have found that out when I heard the tape, but I can’t remember the circumstances.

TP: Did you hear him with Paul Bley as well during the ’60s?

JARRETT: No, not that I know of.

TP: Let’s get to your recruiting him for your trio when you formed it, not so much the how you did it, but the why.

JARRETT: Well, the Why was that the enormity of the difference between how he played with Bill and how he played with Lowell (and maybe there were other players he played with in a free context) made me think that he was not one of those players who would decide ahead of time what he liked and what he didn’t. It’s true. I mean, the guy worked with Arlo Guthrie while he was playing with Charles Lloyd! He doesn’t seem to have any categoristic…if that’s a word; it’s probably not…he doesn’t have a thing about categories. A lot of players maybe would say they don’t, but in their playing you’d hear that they prefer certain things. Paul is open in a way that… Paul likes music, and he was actually the first drummer I ever knew and probably the most vivid example of a drummer who liked music above his own involvement in it. Like, he would request that we play ballads in the early trio with Charlie.

TP: None in your experience had, I take it.

JARRETT: Well, not in the consistent way Paul… Paul just loved good songs. And that was one of the principles I would look for in a player, somebody who… We would be listening to Bartok together. We’d be listening to whatever was good.

TP: I’d forgotten before calling you about that year with Charles Lloyd, which Paul said was 1968. So you’d spent a good deal of time on the road with him by the time you had the trio.

JARRETT: Actually, he was in the trio first. I’m not sure about the chronology. I’m writing my own book, and I’m still not sure of the chronology. I think we started rehearsing… If my memory serves, I was rehearsing with Paul and Steve Swallow the very first time for a possible gig at the Vanguard. Whether it was for that or for a record, I don’t know, but we were allowed to use the Vanguard to rehearse, because we had no other place. And Steve was too busy with I think Gary Burton at the time, and he didn’t know if he could do both things. Then I used Charlie. That was probably ’65 or ’66, and at that time maybe I had started with Charles and Jack was in that band. Jack was in the band a couple of years more, if I’m not mistaken. Paul might have joined the band at the cusp of the end of the ’60s.

TP: [ETC. on dates] I guess it was about an eight-year steady musical relationship, until about ’76. Can you discuss how associating with Paul impacted your concept of music and composition and improvising, how the feedback went from him to you.

JARRETT: That’s not exactly an easy thing to know, not to mention answer.

TP: Speculate.

JARRETT: I don’t know. See, already I was in some way affected by the Middle East in terms of philosophy. I was involved in Sufism and Gurdjieff, and a lot of Paul’s heredity was involved there to some extent, being Armenian. He has this way of tuning his drums that isn’t a traditional jazz way. At least he did. We’d go into a studio, and they’d want to use a mute on the bass drum because it sounded too much like a real drum, and he never wanted to do that. If I was going to say how that kind of thing was working from Paul to me, it was that he was presenting that side also. Jazz drummers are generally jazzy, and Paul isn’t particularly jazzy. He sounds to me very much like who he is in terms of his background and his… His Armenian-ness comes through.

TP: He did say his parents played that music, and he has vivid memories of it from pre-school, and it had a huge impact.

JARRETT: Yes. He plays like he’s on a caravan. You know? [LAUGHS] I think what he ended up being able to contribute was this feeling of openness that wouldn’t have come if he were — I don’t know — even a hip jazz drummer. We had a group whose strangeness was both accidental and on purpose, the way we played. Everybody was an individual. And Paul was definitely not going to play like any other drummer, nor would he be able to be forced to at gunpoint. [LAUGHS] He just wouldn’t do it! Sorry! That was good for me, because I was younger than the rest of my band. I needed to know that there was this kind of openness that was deeper than just a whimsical thing. Now, if I were the same age now, I don’t know who I’d be able to have in my band. If we were talking about being the same age as Paul and Charlie. If I was told by a George Avakian type of guy “you can choose anybody you want and I’ll produce an album,” man, that wouldn’t be easy.

TP: Well, none of us would be the same person if we were a different age than what we are.

JARRETT: That’s true. That’s why “ifs” are important.

TP: I think you’ve given me a sense of that essence. I know you haven’t played together very much since the early ’80s. I do love that one record from the Deer Head Inn, which I think is very special. Can you address how you’ve heard his concept and playing evolve in the last 25 years?

JARRETT: When something evolves, it’s something… I don’t know what people think of when they hear the word “evolve.” Sometimes I think they think it’s a linear thing. You know what I mean? I don’t see that with the greatest players, and with Paul I don’t see it either. If it is evolution, which I think I would say it is, I might define it as remaining in some way yourself while being more and more inclusive of things, and Paul has certainly been able to do that. I never heard him swing as hard as he does on that Deer Head recording, and he wasn’t playing much, nor does he ever play that much as far as technical stuff is concerned. But I’ve played “Bye Bye Blackbird” with my present trio quite a few times, and that version on the Deer Head in terms of swing would stand up under all circumstances!
I think he was surprised, too. I don’t know if he had swung… That’s what makes Paul special. He probably didn’t know… It’s not like he brings his tool kit with him. He just brings himself along, and if something starts to click, he falls right in. It’s almost like he has no choice.

That whole quartet was like that. Although Charlie and Dewey had much more preference…they liked and didn’t like certain types of things. Paul would play everything, no matter what it was; he would try to find something that was appropriate to it. Otherwise, how could he play with Arlo Guthrie and enjoy it? But there is something that closes up in some players… Even though people would say they’re evolving, I might not agree if whatever that is closes on them or they close it themselves. Their playing can evolve, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the same as keeping the doors open. And that’s what Paul has done. He’s kept the doors open.

TP: Let me take this from one other angle. If you put on something representing Survivors Suite and then heard him on a record from 2000, is that instantly recognizable as the same tonal personality?

JARRETT: I don’t know, because actually it’s been so long since I’ve been listening. I’ve not been listening to anything for a while. But it’s a fair question. I have a feeling that the answer would be that I would recognize Paul right away. But it wouldn’t be because he has gimmicks. It would be because he’s always himself.

TP: There are no stylistic tropes. It’s his process of functioning in the moment all the time.

JARRETT: Yeah. It’s almost as though he’s purposely eliminated stylistic sophistication in order to stay pure. But that can really be a problem. If you get hipper and hipper, then all you’ve got left is hipness.

[BREAK]
BRIAN BLADE: I’m a big fan of Paul Motian. When you hear him… Or particularly Elvin Jones. Just one strike of the cymbal, there’s something transcendent in the sound.

Johnny Vidacovich introduced me to Bill Evans records. I sort of discovered them when I went to school, but he wanted me to listen a lot to Paul Motian, because he liked Motian a lot. He possesses this amazing looseness that is so lyrical, but also at the same time the pulse. A lot of people sometimes miss it, that Motian really moves the music and gets inside of it. It’s quite a different approach from records where you hear Art Blakey or Philly Joe Jones play the drums. But at the same time there is this swing and, like I say, this pulsation that injects the music with a good feeling.

[BREAK]
JOEY BARON: Around a certain point, I started hearing another kind of groove that was going on, and that’s the kind of interplay that wasn’t necessarily about stating 4/4 all the time. It was more like a floating kind of time, more like a circle than a straight up-and-down hard groove, like Paul Bley and Bill Evans, that kind of school — the way Paul Motian would approach playing a ballad. To hear him play a ballad was really incredible, because he made it interesting rather than just a straight boom-chick, which a lot of drummers did. He really played a ballad. That was also a really big influence, because ballads are great to play. There’s lots of time to listen to what’s going on, to think about and comment on it. That was a whole different approach that I started listening to parallel to Oscar Peterson, Red Garland and Wynton Kelly. I was kind of interested in being able to do both, because I liked them both. I didn’t bring with me this record called Ramblin’ by Paul Bley with Barry Altschul and Marc Levinson, who now makes high-end sound equipment. Hearing the way they played on that record, sometimes you couldn’t tell where the time was. Was it that important that you couldn’t tell where it was? The feeling was just incredible. It was a very forward-moving feeling. That intrigued me as well as the straight up-and-down kind of grooves that were coming from people like Oscar Peterson, Wynton Kelly and Red Garland.

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Filed under Bill Frisell, Drummer, Joe Lovano, Keith Jarrett, Lee Konitz, Paul Bley, Paul Motian, WKCR

For George Benson’s 71st Birthday, an Interview from 2000

In acknowledgment of guitar icon George Benson’s 71st birthday, here’s the proceedings of a phone encounter from 2000 for the bn.com website on the occasion of his release Absolute Benson. He offered quite a bit of information about his formative years.

* * *

George Benson (My Favorite Things) – (5-19-00):

TP:    On ABSOLUTE BENSON, there are a number of Latin tunes, a number of pieces that refer to the sound I remember from the late ’60s and early ’70s when your career was getting underway.  I wonder if you could tell me some of the people you were listening to seriously at that time, what records fed your attitude towards music.

BENSON:  When I entered into the ’60s, I was just starting to get serious about the guitar.  I was always a singer.  I’d done a lot of singing over the years, and was very popular locally, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  But now I was venturing out… In 1963, I left my home, and I was now a national touring…or international, I should say…I was with a touring band.  I had just been listening to out of the ’60s Sam Cooke as a vocalist; Nat King Cole, who was a musician-vocalist — a pianist… I knew all the pop singers of the time, Sinatra and even Mario Lanza way back…

TP:    Can you name one or two tracks by any of those singers that stand out for you?

BENSON:  In the case of Sam Cooke, his recording of “You Send Me” was gigantic.  But he had lots of incredible things.  He did one called “the Chain Gang,” which was quite a unique song.  But it was style and the tonality of his voice that really came through.  He could sing “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and it would sell.  In the case of Mario Lanza, who was really the first Classical singer to cross over into Pop so easily, “Be My Love,” which is still a very powerful song — his performances will last, I think, a long as there is music.

But I knew all of the popular singers of our time.  And remember, before that I was exposed to a lot of R&B from the old days.  I had heard Chuck Berry’s beginnings of Rock-and-Roll, and I had heard all of Elvis’ first records.  And Elvis was a powerful singer.  A lot of people underestimated him.  Of course, the kids liked him; he was a handsome guy and he was exciting.  But there was something about his voice that was very unique, and I recognized that, too, way back then, and I became a fan then.  I was pretty universal in my listening.

TP:    It sounds that way.

BENSON:  Just to mention on the jazz side, the things that really inspired me: Jimmy Smith had just made the organ a household word — brought it to the forefront.  Before it had been considered just a unique instrument; there were no masters of the instrument who stuck out, who were commercially received.

TP:    And it created a whole new market for guitar players.

BENSON:  And he put the guitar up front, so it was a great platform for guitar players.  So that’s where I was coming from when I was coming out in the ’60s.

TP:    Was Jimmy Smith coming through Pittsburgh?  He recorded quite a bit with Stanley Turrentine, who was from Pittsburgh.

BENSON:  Yeah, that’s right!  And some of his best recordings were made with Stanley Turrentine.  In fact, some of his early recordings in the late ’50s were made with Stanley Turrentine, and just before 1960, when he came out with “Walk On The Wild Side,” which was a huge success pop-wise, which really made him household.

TP:    Do you have any favorite Jimmy Smith record?

BENSON:  I recorded one called “Ready and Able,” when I started my band which was a fantastic recording, and showed his prowess on the instrument…

TP:    That was a recording you were on?

BENSON:  I wasn’t it.  I recorded it with my own band.  Of course, his recording is awesome.  Ours was exciting, but his was an awesome performance technically.  It was a classic performance!  Anyway, I heard that stuff, and it made me interested in guitar players in a much larger way than I had before.  Because I only knew Charlie Christian and maybe Barney Kessel and some others.  But after that, when I came off the road to travel in 1963, I was exposed to Wes Montgomery, and people like Grant Green and Kenny Burrell, who was also on those Jimmy Smith records.

TP:    I know you were hearing those people coming through town or criss-crossing paths, but I have to orient this towards records.  Can you tell me one or two favorite Grant Green or Wes Montgomery sides?

BENSON:  I can explain that.  When I was about 17 we started going to jam sessions.  Every Saturday we’d have a session at a local musician’s house.  He was probably the best guitar player locally.  He would pick up records for us to listen to.  We could steal licks from these records.  The records we were listening to were Jimmy Smith’s ALL DAY LONG, and also we were listening to Hank Garland’s recording called JAZZ WINDS FROM A NEW DIRECTION, and Grant Green’s first recording called GRANTSTAND — all these people.  And the new Wes Montgomery guy!  He was just becoming famous at the time.

TP:    After ten years of being famous in Indianapolis, he was becoming famous everywhere.

BENSON:  The record that woke me up by Wes Montgomery was from an album called SO MUCH GUITAR (Riverside) which was put out I think in 1959.  It featured the song “While We’re Young,” and when I heard him play that I knew that he was more than just a guitar player.  It convinced me that he was someone very special.

TP:    On ABSOLUTE BENSON you have some covers in your style of tunes by Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway.  What are some of your favorite recordings by them?

BENSON:  When I was a young man, my manager said, “George, if you listen to this guy named Raymond Charles (which is the name he used in his early years), you will be successful.  Copy him, because he is the best, and he is going to be very big.”  But after hearing his early recordings, I knew that he was incredible, and “Come Back, Baby” was one of my favorites, a very special song that he recorded years ago.  Had that Gospel feel, but it was different.  It was an honest approach that had everything in it.  It had Gospel-Blues-Pop…everything was in that one song.  So I immediately was a fan of Ray Charles way back then.

In the case of Stevie Wonder, who was very much like Ray Charles in being a prolific writer, a good musician, and excellent singer, above average in all the approaches… They didn’t specialize.  They did everything well.  If they touched it, it was done well!  So Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder in a much more contemporary…of the later days, I should say.

TP:    You play Stevie Wonder’s “Lately” on ABSOLUTE BENSON.  Are there other recordings by him that will be eternally with you?

BENSON:  Oh, yeah, let me think now.  The one Barbra Streisand recorded of his…let me see, now.  My memory is loaded down.  It’s like a computer with so much stuff in it, it’s hard to sort things out.  Let me think about that a little.

In the case of Donny Hathaway, his recording of “For All We Know” is something I sing bits and pieces of almost every day.  I’ve been doing that since it was recorded, way back.  Because it was such an incredible impromptu performance.  I even know the story behind it.  I did hang out with him a little bit to get a chance to feel him out up close and personal, so I got a chance to understand where he was coming from with it.  At one point, I was in touch with him and we were writing songs together.  I went to his apartment and gave him a song that I was working on, and I found out later that he recorded the song, although it never came out.  Then he wrote two songs for me which I never got, because he passed on before I had a chance to get those songs.  But I did hear them.  He wrote them and played them for me, and I said, “When are you going to give those to me?”  He said, “I’m finishing them up; they’re not ready yet.”  But his vocal technique was quite unique, the timbre of his voice.  Those are the things as a singer I had to pay attention to.  But he had many recordings that were great, like the album he did with Roberta Flack called BLUE LIGHTS IN THE BASEMENT.

TP:    There’s a real Latin tinge to this record also.  Have you always been attracted to Latin music and the Latin style?

BENSON:  When I moved to New York from Pittsburgh in the ’60s to play with Jack McDuff, I had a cousin who lived in Spanish Harlem.  So whenever I was in New York, which was very little during my traveling years because we were usually out on the road… But when we came home, what we called home (New York City was my home base), I would stay with my cousin, who lived on 108th and Third Avenue, which was considered Spanish Harlem.  And by the way, I have a son who is Spanish and so does he.  My cousin married a Puerto Rican girl, and my son is half Puerto Rican.

But anyway, we had a lot of association and we heard a lot of the music.  We heard the Joe Cuba records, which were gigantic — “Bang, Bang” and the song “To Be With You,” which was on the jukebox for over ten years around New York.  We were in touch with Johnny Pacheco when I started recording; he was recording with us.  We saw the whole beginning of Salsa music, how it was unacceptable at first to… A lot of Latinos around the world didn’t particularly like Salsa because they considered it a bastard music, but we saw it grow out of that, and now it’s full-grown with Santana!  So things do move.  You know, it was the a lot of the music of that era when we were living in New York.

TP:    Did you listen to très players at all?

BENSON:  Strangely enough, my office was one floor down from Tito Puente.  So my manager and he were very good friends, and he introduced me to him, and him and I became good friends, and eventually we ended up working a lot of the same gigs later.  When my manager introduced me to him, at the time Latin music was not so acceptable to persons who were not in the Latin world.  My manager introduced me to him and said, “George, this is the greatest Latin musician in the world right here.”  I said, “Yeah?!”  From that point on, I began to pay attention to the name Tito Puente.  Sure enough, the whole world has accepted him as being one of the great icons of Latin music.

TP:    Any particular favorites by Tito Puente?

BENSON:  His version of “On Broadway,” which is based on my version, which won him his first Grammy award, is a great example of what he can do.

TP:    Has Joe Sample been part of your world for a long time, or is your collaboration on ABSOLUTE BENSON a first?

BENSON:  No.  Joe and I have been on the same gig, but we’ve never worked together.  It’s usually his band and my band working different sets.

TP:    Well, the Crusaders were a paradigm of the type of band that was covering all the bases and putting them into some sort of very digestible and very musical form in the ’60s, when you were starting out.

BENSON:  That’s very true.  And when jazz music started to wane a little bit, and we had a hard time getting it played on the air, they dropped the name “jazz” from the Jazz Crusaders and became the Crusaders.  But the group was the same.  They did what you mentioned earlier.  They really connected with the audience.  They could take any tune to do that with.

TP:    Were you a fan?

BENSON:  Yeah.  I like uniqueness, and they were unique.  “The Young Rabbits” was the thing that probably… It was more jazz-oriented than anything, but it had a real feel to it.  You didn’t have to be a jazz lover to appreciate it.

TP:    Would you say that when you went out on the road in the early ’60s, your guitar concept was fully formed?

BENSON:  No.  There was a young man in San Francisco… When I decided to go out on my own in 1965, I happened to be in San Francisco, and I spent several days out there.  I was walking around the city, taking in the scenes, and by quite by accident I walked into this club, and I heard a piano player playing who was very good.  I told him who I was, and he said, “Go get your guitar.”  So I went home and got my guitar and came back.  He gave me a lesson in harmony.  He stopped playing for the public… He was a guy who had a big jar on his piano (you know the scenario) for the dollars to be dropped in, and people making requests.  Well, he stopped doing that to show me what he was talking about.  Because I didn’t understand anything he was saying to me.  He was calling off chord changes; I didn’t understand any of them.  He would say, like, “C!” I’d play a C, and he’d say, “No, not that C.”  I said, “Wait a minute.  There’s more than one C?”  And he began to explain.  And man, what I learned has been with me to this day.  His name was Freddie Gambrell.  There’s not much on him.

TP:    Was he blind?

BENSON:  Yes, he was blind.

TP:    He did a record with Chico Hamilton, one trio record.

BENSON:  Is that right?  You know a lot, man!  Freddie Gambrell, man.  He was quite unique!

TP:    In other words, you were an ear player, and as the ’60s developed and your career developed, you learned much more about theory and you’ve been able to continually apply it.

BENSON:  Yeah.  I think people began to notice me when I started to apply the theory that I embarked on after spending that little time with Freddie Gambrell.  I began to experiment.  And what I learned from him I think separated me from the normal guitar thinking.  So I think that made me interesting to other players, who used to ask me all the time, “Where you coming from, man?”

TP:    So he gave you a kind of pianistic conception of harmony which you were able to put on what you did.

BENSON:  That’s right.

TP:    What have you been listening to lately?

BENSON:  I just came back from Hawaii, so I heard a lot of Hawaiian music, and there are a lot of Latin musicians over there.

TP:    You heard them in person.

BENSON:  Yes.  Then they gave me their records, and I listened to their records.  I’ve been listening to Rodney Jones’ latest album, THE UNDISCOVERED FEW.  He’s got some new stuff happening that’s really wonderful.  So he’s reaching out and stretching out!

TP:    A couple of others?

BENSON:  I’ve been listening to a guitar player from Spain called Tomatito.  He’s the newest hot guitar player from Spain.  He’s second only to Paco De Lucia.  Everybody is into him right now.  Tomatito is the cat I’m listening to.  It means “little tomato,” I think.

Let’s see what’s in front of me.  What I do is take stuff and just throw it on.  You’re going to be surprised at this one.  I went back in my archives and put on the Anthology of Smokey Robinson.  The reason why, there’s a song on there that nobody knows about it… You ask people if they’ve ever heard this song, and they say “No.”  It’s called “Bad Girl.”  You ever heard of that?

TP:    I might have… No, I’m thinking of “My Girl.”

BENSON:  “My Girl.”  I think he wrote that, too.  I think Smokey Robinson was one of the writers on “My Girl.”  But this song is called “Bad Girl.”  And the reason why Smokey Robinson is still on my mind is because we used to perform with them.  Whenever they came to my home town, we would be on the same show with them.  That’s way back in like 1959 or the very early ’60s.

TP:    When everything was mixed up, and there would be five-six bands on one show.

BENSON:  Uh-huh.  Well, see, I had a singing group then.  We had the most popular singing group in Pittsburgh.  So they were brand-new, and he was the first artist on Motown when they came out in 1959.   But the song “Bad Girl” was one we used to sing all the time from their early recordings, something he wrote that we sang all the time.  That’s the reason  why I picked up the CD.

TP:    One more, then I’ll let you go.

BENSON:  Let me think of something  that people will recognize.  I don’t want to get too much…

TP:    We can be esoteric and right down the middle, too.

BENSON:  All right.  Whoo, boy.  Well, what’s happening now is people are going back to Django Reinhardt, man, because the French guitar players… Oh, I’ll tell you something else that’s exciting.  Jimmy Bruno and Joe Beck, POLARITY.  There’s some exciting stuff on there!  I was up with Bruno the other day.  I went up to see him at the club in New York, and they lit the place up, though Joe Beck wasn’t with him.

TP:    And you’ve been listening a lot to Django?

BENSON:  to Django, yes.

TP:    Have you heard the Mosaic Box (THE COMPLETE DJANGO REINHARDT AND QUINTET OF THE HOT CLUB OF FRANCE: SWING/HMV SESSIONS, 1936-1948)?

BENSON:  Tell Barnes & Noble to send me that!

[-30-]

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For Bill Henderson’s 88th Birthday, an Uncut DownBeat Blindfold Test from Ten Years Ago

About ten years ago, the inimitable vocalist Bill Henderson sat with me for a Blindfold Test in the offices of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Today’s his 88th birthday; here are the proceedings.

* * *

Bill Henderson Blindfold Test:

1.  Billy Eckstine, “Travelin’ All Alone” (from BASIE/ECKSTINE INCORPORATED, Roulette, 1959/1994) (Eckstine, vocals; Count Basie Orchestra)

Sounds like Count Basement.  Look out!  Billy Eck-stein! [Travelin’] Yeah. [Travelin’] Yeah. [So you think this is Count Basie and Billy Eckstine.] Well, it sounds like his orchestra.  It could be Billy’s orchestra. He had pretty much the same guys. A lot of the same guys went through all of those orchestras. Like, Ellington had a lot of different guys, and somebody asked him, “How did you get all those guys?” He said, “I simply pay them money.” But that is Billy Eckstine.  There’s no question about that.  He was a monumental kind of guy. Also, he was a complete balladeer—and handsome.  Women loved this guy.  He was like a magnet.  He used to say, “Ladies, line up over there.”  And they would line up over there! [LAUGHS] From the Regal stage in Chicago.  It was amazing.  In those times, that’s when big orchestras came through Chicago all the time.  He wasn’t somebody I emulated, but I understood what was happening.

I never really tried to sing like singers. I really sang like my father, who was never in show business.  Emphasizing the words, rounding them off and all that kind of stuff, was my way of seeking attention, because I was the third child in the family. See?  And the only way I could really be understood was to say something that they would have to listen to.  And my father was great.  He was really something.  I loved to sing with him in church.  And we were not Baptists. We were Presbyterians in a Baptist neighborhood.  Calumet Avenue.  Southwest.  Near South Park, which is now Martin Luther King Drive.

His performances were… You could sit down and write all that stuff down, because he was perfect in those days. He was the perfect balladeer. I have no idea when he made that, because he was much older than I was.  I remember him coming to the Regal Theater, and the audiences were loaded with women.  You could tell when it was going to be a success, because they were there, man. That’s 5 stars.  Just for being him, that’s 5. “I’m in the mood…” Then Arthur Prysock came along, too. There were a lot of different guys who came into I guess you’d call it that genre. The arranger could be somebody like Ernie Wilkins.  It could have been at that time… I’m trying to think of some names.  That’s where it gets to be difficult. [You sang with Basie.] See, Billy Eckstine gave birth to Johnny Hartman.  He was another guy that the women really loved.  This is the only guy that stood in front of the microphone with his hands in his pocket, and just sang. When you just let that come all out, the audience feels all of that.  And you’re not making a move… It’s not like… Joe used to sing like this. [HANDS OVER CHEST] I think Lena Horne called him “My Mummy,” because he looked like this.  But he could sing, too, Joe Williams.  But Johnny Hartman was introduced by Larry “Good Deal” Steel. “When it’s showtime in the Beige Room.”  That’s what he used to sing. He introduced this young kid, and he didn’t elaborate too much about what he sounded like. He just wanted the audience to hear that. And when he started to sing, he could hear women and even some guys go, “Whoa!!!”  There were quite a few singers at that time.  A lot of guys didn’t get the shot that they should have gotten.  I think Johnny Hartman got a bigger shot after he was dead.  Because Clint Eastwood had his sound in one of his movies, Madison County or something like that.  A lot of people asked me, “where can I see him perform?” and I said, “He’s not alive.” They didn’t know.  But he was a helluva singer, too.

Billy Eckstine was very nice to me.  As a matter of fact, he introduced me to Billy Strayhorn.  We went over to his house.  Billy loved to cook. I think he cooked something with beans and beer. It was good.  I didn’t realize how little Billy Strayhorn was.  He was a little guy.  Not like Johnny Puglio, but like Mickey Rooney. But he could write love songs.  As a matter of fact, I think Lena Horne said he was her soulmate.  Because he knew how to write love songs, and he loved things about flowers, azaleas, gardenias, and colors, too. One thing I want to get of his is called “Multi-colored Blue.” Nobody seems to know where that can be found.

2. Mark Murphy, “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” (from MEMORIES OF YOU, High Note, 2003) (Murphy, vocals; Norman Simmons, piano; Darryl Hall, bass; Grady Tate, drums)

Oh, it’s Mark Murphy. Yeah! We did a show with Mark and several other singers, singing Johnny Mandel at the Bakery in California.  That’s really the first time he heard me sing.  Because sometimes people really don’t pay any attention to you; they’ve got their own thing to contend with.  He used to rave with people. People would come back to me and tell me, “He’s talking about you.” So I said, “Wow.”  But he could do this, too, Kerouac and all that stuff. [OUT OF VERSE AND INTO LYRIC: “Never treats me sweet and gentle...”] I had it bad!!  The ability to sing a verse from the audience’s standpoint, not knowing where this verse is supposed to go, and then when you hear the chorus and you realize some guys can make up verses, leading up into a song.  George Burns and John Bubbles, they used to be on stage and they used to make verses up to any song, and the audience would not know what the song was going to be until they sang the chorus.  But they were good at this.  He’s good at that, too.  I never heard that verse before. So that may be his. But you see, it fit.  It could be a verse that sang, but I don’t know it.  And it’s Ellington.  So I don’t know if that was written already.  Because there are a lot of things that were written that were never played or never sang anywhere, maybe at some kind of performance on stage. Now, Mark Murphy had a way of ending things, too. The pianist could be somebody like Ellis Larkins or… God.  It’s like The Millionaire. Do you have A, B and C? Norman Simmons?  Wow!  Norman was lately with Joe Williams.  Carmen, too.  But that part, I never heard him play like that before.  So that was a whole different thing.  He was going with Mark Murphy.  Wow!  That was very good. A Joe Williams tribute record?  Get out of here! I give that 5 stars, too.

[PLAY “In The Evening”] God, this is brilliant, man. Soulful, too. There’s another guy that people are not really hip to.  But see, this is accompanying, which is a lost art. A lot of singers are feeling the heat, too, because of that. [Not a teamwork era.] Yeah.  But also can take care of himself.  A lot of piano players only take care of themselves, and you would have to find a place to get in.  There’s some thought on Mark’s part, though, for this. Because he knew… He’s really singing the blues. He thought about it, and who he’s giving this tribute to.  Did he pick Norman?  See, about accompanying, that means that you can go in different directions.  You can become this kind of piano player, you can become the classical thing… See, Oscar Peterson had that talent, to go the whole spectrum of playing for anybody.  That’s why he played for everybody with Pablo Records.  When he played for me, I was spellbound. God!  Then on top of that, when you’re new, you would make suggestions that you hoped somebody would hear, and he listened to everything.  So after a while, you tell somebody about this: “You told Oscar what to play?!” “I was dumb.  I didn’t know.”  But he took it and played it.  So it really made me feel good, and I’m getting royalties from it.  Because I found out that a vocal arrangement is just like anything on paper. So there’s a lady in California who is giving me money.  On the Oscar Peterson thing, my name is on it.

At that time, Billy Eckstine was a visionary as far as vocals are concerned. Because he used to make up verses, too, to a lot of his songs; a lot of the old standard songs. They were guys that knew how to interpret a song, regardless of where the song came from or who wrote it.  If they picked it, they would know something about this song that they could display their talents with. That’s what I try to do with whatever song that I sing.  I try to do that, too.  Not because I heard them do it.  But maybe because I DID hear them do it in the old days.  But I heard my father a lot.  Because his favorite song was “There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie, But I Don’t Care.”  I can’t find that music anywhere.  I don’t know if it was Bing Crosby or Chris Columbo or whoever it was that sang that.  But my father sang it to my father. [And here you are.] Yes, I am here.  And there was four of us altogether.  So he sang it a lot.

3. Cassandra Wilson, “Throw It Away” (from GLAMOURED, Blue Note, 2004) (Wilson, vocals; Reginald Veal, bass; Abbey Lincoln, composer)

Is the bass player Percy Heath?  No?  It could be Ray Drummond. But it’s somebody, the bass is part of their body.  See that tone?  That’s the kind of tone that Ray Brown had.  But that’s not Ray Brown.  Is it Abbey Lincoln? She has an inflection like Abbey, though. It’s not Cassandra.  Ah.  Well, there are different things she does to let me know. When she dropped a little of Abbey Lincoln and something else came in, I thought it was her. Her pauses.  How she caresses words. And she is another visionary.  See, most times you can’t find a bass player that would accompany.  I did that with John Heard at my daughter’s wedding, and I sang “Sleepin’ Bee,” and he played the string parts. I was on the floor, man. Whoo! This is not John Clayton. It’s in that thing somewhere. [Not West Coast.] New York? [Southern. Sometimes in New York, but he’s southern.] Ah!! I see a face, but I can’t call a name.  It starts with an H. [No.] That’s what I said. It doesn’t start with an H. I love what he’s doing.  Which is a difficult thing to do, to accompany somebody.  Hear he’s playing the right notes for her to hang with?  That’s very important.  Now, this is strolling. DANG-DONG, you know. Now he’s got to play something for her. Right in there somewhere.  That would be my bass player for an all star band.  He’s orchestral.  See?  He could fit in an orchestra or a small group. 5 stars. That was a tour de force.  [AFTER] Never heard of Reginald Veal.

4.  Al Jarreau, “Groovin’ High” (from ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE, Verve, 2004) (Jarreau, vocals; Larry Williams, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Peter Erskine, drums)

Bobby McFerrin. [It’s not.] That’s what I said. It’s not Bobby. I was close, but it’s not Bobby. It’s a guy much younger than Bobby. [No, I don’t think so.] Oh, then it’s Al Jarreau. He’s another monster. He’s got that facility to do that stuff, man. When was it made?  Sounds like probably in the ‘80s somewhere. It’s brand new? [2004.] That’s what I said. It’s 2004. Have he and Bobby McFerrin ever sang together? It would be interesting to write something for those two guys.  Because they are orchestral. Bobby is even moreso; he’s got strings and flutes and all kinds of things going on in his head.  English! What’s the word when you are really good with words?  There’s a phrase.  It’s not linguista… He has a way with words. This is beyond scat singing. He and Bobby McFerrin are beyond scat singing.  Scat singing was raw.  These guys are more like an orchestra in some aspects, encompassing the strings, the horns, sometimes the drum and the bass.  They’re considering all of that.  So these guys I consider to be masters as far as that kind of vocalese thing is concerned.  I’m not like that at all.  I just want to sing! 5 stars. People are going to think I’m being paid for that. [I know you’re not.] Thank you.  That’s not on tape.

5.  James Brown, “It’s Magic” (from SOUL ON TOP, Verve, 1969/2004) (James Brown, vocals; Oliver Nelson, arranger; Louis Bellson Orchestra)

It’s not Jimmy Scott, is it? It’s not Jimmy Scott.  I was just testing you.  That’s all. It’s not Ruth Brown either.  I’m getting close, though, I think. It’s like a poker game.  I’m trying to read your face. That’s what made me think it was Ruth Brown, that thing she does. I’m stumped. I have no idea.  I liked it, and I thought it was a tremendous arrangement. But I don’t have a clue who the arranger is. I’m failing, ladies and gentlemen.  I have no idea. I could see the singer in a nightclub.  The audiences probably  loved her like crazy. I thought it was Ruth Brown there for a minute, because there’s something about what she did that reminded me of Ruth Brown.[The last name is correct.] Brown is the last name? Wow. [AFTER] That was James Brown?? Holy toledo, that sounded like a rough lady. Wow!! Now, that has to be an old cut of his, right? It different for him.  That’s another thing. I would never have thought it was James Brown, because the chart is altogether different, and obviously he’s going in another direction.  But then it sounded… Oh, God. It sounds like I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about. I’m in limbo for stars. It sounded like several different people, and I wasn’t sure whether that person wanted to become one or the other. See?  I would consider for THAT alone to be maybe 3½ stars.  Though it was well done for whatever that was.  Boy, this Blindfold Test gets to be political, too, doesn’t it. I mean, if I make the wrong thing, there’ll people coming in the door talking about, “You made the wrong move, Bill Henderson. Out of here!” This means that some guys can go in different directions. It’s terrible when you’re deciding what somebody sounds like. I enjoyed it, but I thought it was very remindful of several female singers, and at first I thought it was Little Jimmy Scott.

6.  J.D. Walter, “On a Clear Day” (from CLEAR DAY, Double Time, 2001) (Walter, vocals; Dave Liebman, soprano saxophone; Jim Ridl, piano; Steve Varner, bass; Ari Hoenig, drums)

They’re influenced by the Orient. Is that a soprano?  He got something else out of it. Kurt Earling.  Earling Kurt. It’s not him either. This sounds like a guy who plays an instrument and sings. Oh, that’s not him playing. This is the same saxophonist that played the opening? They’re sensual sounds.  Crying. I thought for a minute it was going to go into Leon Thomas. You know, sometimes you get a feeling that it could be Johnny Mathis trying to go in a different direction. That’s very difficult, though, man. You’ve got to have some people that know where they’re going with that. Mmm. I have not a clue. They must have worked together a lot to be able to make that harmony and things that they got, to work that close together and doing something.  Because there was like two instruments playing there.  That’s why I thought at first it was a saxophonist who sang.  And there’s a pianist in there somewhere. 4 stars for being unusual.

7.  Jimmy Rushing, “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” (from FIVE FEET OF SOUL, Roulette, 1963/2003, Jimmy Rushing, vocal; arranger, Al Cohn)

[LAUGHS] Man, my bucket’s got a hole in it.  Sounds like Mister Five by Five a little bit. This is the kind of stuff you never heard him do.  Because he always had to do something that was very familiar. This is probably what he did in person at some club or something.  He’s some I listened to, heard in passing.  But I was more interested in what Joe Williams was doing in Chicago, because he could sing anything. That’s why a lot of composers and songwriters wanted him to sing their songs, because he would give it the right inflection. He could sing just about anything—Pagliacci, all of that stuff.  Because he had that kind of voice. But guys like Jimmy Rushing, they only sang a certain kind of way.  This is different.  This is swinging much more.  And the orchestras are different. It’s not Basie, but they are emulating something like that. Al Cohn and Ernie Wilkins both did a lot of stuff for me. Billy Byers.  I took all of those charts with me to Basie’s band, and every night, after I finished singing, Basie would say, “You don’t sing anything by Joe Williams?”  I said, “No.  That’s why I brought all these charts with me.”  Because he took me everywhere, and we sang on a lot of television shows, just he and I.  But he always would say, “You don’t sing anything by Joe Williams?” I think I would have been dead in the water. [I think that was a smart strategy.] I think it was.  I think he liked me because of that. [People pay attention when you do your own thing and not someone else’s thing.] Yeah.  Because that was the reason why Lockjaw put me with the band.  He said, “you’re going to like this guy.” When I sang, I had all of those charts, and there was no real rehearsal with that band. I remember the first big date we had was in England, and Basie was calling my name, and I was in the dressing room. I was supposed to be at the microphone. Because when I got to the microphone, the band was halfway through my number. That’s when I looked at Basie’s face, and it was the first time I saw him get angry.  But see, nobody tells you anything.  So that was lesson number one. That’s what you call hard knocks. The second lesson was that Lockjaw gave me something to drink, and I was standing in the wings, getting ready to go on, and I was drinking this, and as I drank I was going… [TALKS DRUNK] And the band was watching me. Then Basie was saying, “And now, ladies and gentlemen,” and they were calling my name, and I was just standing in the wings, going, “Who-ho-ho.” I said to myself after that moment, “I don’t think drinking is mine.” That’s when I quit.  I never started, but that’s when I knew it was wrong. Could not handle it.

But that’s 9 stars.  Because I’ve never heard him sing like that.  And that was something complete, lyrics and everything. Five feet of soul! Those are the kind of songs he sang, you don’t even have to worry about what they are.  You just sing them. But this was a special arrangement, I think.  Probably something he wrote. [Clarence Williams wrote it.] Yeah, Clarence. That sounds like him.  He wrote a lot of stuff Joe sang, too.

8.  Carmen Lundy, “It Might As Well Be Spring” (from SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN, Justin Time, 2003) (Lundy, vocal; Anthony Wonsey, piano; Curtis Lundy, bass; Victor Lewis, drums)

The wife of James Taylor, I thought it was. [At first you thought it was Carly Simon.] Yes.  But it’s not. I see a face, but I can’t see a name. I think I know who this is, but I’m not sure what the name is. It’s jazz.  There’s no question about it.  It’s an approach to jazz singing, more feminine than masculine. She’s in that same genre that Cassandra is in, as far as getting well-known things and putting her own inflections on it. The trio is involved with her, because they’re putting stuff together like that. I don’t know if she sings and plays.  It looks like somebody independently is playing.  There are three people I know who sound like somebody is accompanying them—Shirley Horn, Diana Krall, and Dina DeRose. They play like somebody is accompanying them.  When they sing, it’s altogether different. It’s like this guy is following her everywhere, and it’s her playing it. But this is a trio, and they seem to be working very closely with her.  Maybe it’s her chart.  Maybe she scored it.  Or maybe the piano player scored it for her.  But it’s somebody like that.  I don’t know who it is. It’s not Ella Fitzgerald.  It’s not Lena Horne.  It might be this singer, at-the-end-she-may-say-her-name.  No.  “It might as well be…”  Karrin Allyson or somebody like that. Tierney Sutton? I have not a clue. I enjoyed it, though. It was a tour de force all the way through.  Placing the lyric and the melody and all of that stuff together with what the trio was playing, it was like they were opposing each other musically a little bit, and fitting in like a puzzle. That is difficult to do from night to night, because sometimes guys want to go somewhere else when they play, and you want to go where the chart is going, and you’re in trouble when they go somewhere else. So I don’t know who it is. 4 stars.  Carmen Lundy?  Wow.  It was different.  It’s hard to do a standard like that and change it altogether, and still be remindful of how it really is supposed to go.

10.  Kurt Elling, “Detour Ahead”(from FLIRTING WITH TWILIGHT, Blue Note, 2001) (Elling, vocals)

This is Kurt.  This is another guy who knows what he wants to do.  He’s based in Chicago, and he seems to have all these good people to work with, because he comes up with something different all the time. And he’s singing! See, all of that phrasing and everything, the arrangement that’s going with him. He maybe wrote this stuff. [I think his piano player did the chart.] Well, his piano player’s a clone. Here, too, the chart is not namby-pamby.  This chart is meant to be played this way, so he can sing the way he sings. See, all the retards and things like that.  If they know when you’re going to do that.  He changes the melody. Does he play an instrument?  Maybe glockenspiel or something. That’s a joke.  I only joke when I’m in trouble! Sometimes when you’re on stage, you get in trouble, and you say: Oh, boy!  Do you know how many different showers they have with one knob?  And mostly in motels. When you turn a knob, it gets too hot.  When you turn it off completely and start it again, it’s cold water coming down. In my house, I have two knobs where you can regulate the water. Every hotel I’ve ever been in, except when I was in Europe, they have a lot of different things going on.  They have a bidet.

See, that drum hit, DONG, is part of the arrangement.  The drummer is aware of all that.  That’s 5 stars for the adventure.  A lot of adventure than that. A lot of going places musically. It’s probably an interesting set when he sings in clubs.  And he looks like Buffalo Bill.

11. Nat Cole, “These Foolish Things”(from LOVE SONGS, Capitol, 19__)

Nathaniel. Yeah. The guy who told him to sing, I don’t know if he could be still alive or not, because he was just playing piano at the time. He said, “You ought to sing!” Here’s a guy who could play and sing, and he was a helluva pianist. You know, Oscar Peterson sang like him.  If you heard Oscar sing, he sounds just like him. Also, Ray Charles sang like him in the beginning. And his television show was not sponsored.  It was what they call sustaining.  Whoever was at the station loved him so much, they put him on anyway.  But a lot of people in the South… Because he was singing love songs.  I guess guys in the South get too warm with a black guy singing love songs. Duke Ellington had a train when he went to the South.  They all stayed on the train, unless there was somebody who would invite them into their home.  Those were the days. This is 11 stars.  Because this guy was the epitome of what kind of singer…at that particular time.  Tremendous. And could talk to an audience and everything.  The orchestra sounds like Basie a little bit. I’ve sung this song, but I have not sung it recently.  There are a lot of things I would love to sing. Sometimes it’s just difficult getting a chart to be done with it.  You have to be concerned with financial things.

I hope I passed.  Sometimes, man, when you have a personal opinion, and you know that if you give that opinion, it’s going to be around the world, and it’s very shocking when it comes back to you.

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Filed under Bill Henderson, Blindfold Test, DownBeat, vocalist