Monthly Archives: March 2012

On the 63rd Birth Anniversary Of Michael Brecker, A 2000 DownBeat Article

In 2000 I had the honor of writing a long cover story for DownBeat about the extraordinary tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker on the occasion of his then-current CD, Time Is Of The Essence. He’d joined me several years before on WKCR, and, as the ’00s progressed, I was asked to write publicity bios for several of his recordings. It’s hard to believe he’s been gone for five years—today would be his 63rd birthday.

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Michael Brecker (Downbeat Article):

At fifty, Michael Brecker is perhaps the most copied living saxophonist, During his thirty years as a professional improviser, he’s made his mark on every conceivable musical circumstance, from hard core jazz to hard core pop. Brecker no longer needs to prove anything to anyone, but a few holes remained in his resume at the beginning of 1999.

For one thing, the tenor saxophonist had never explored the capacious sonic field of the organ-guitar rhythm section, a mainstay for any young saxman coming up, as Brecker did, in an organ town like ‘60s Philadelphia.  Nor had Brecker, whose debt on every level to the John Coltrane Quartet is no secret, ever locked horns in a studio with drum innovator Elvin Jones, a lifelong hero.

Brecker rectifies both gaps on Time Is Of The Essence [Verve], his third consecutive release devoted to full-bore improvising.  Hammond futurist Larry Goldings and guitar icon Pat Metheny frame the leader’s urgent declamations, while elder statesman Jones and two descendants — Jeff Watts and Bill Stewart, cutting-edge tradition piggybackers with their own trapset dialects — sculpt the rhythm flow on three selections apiece. Goldings, a proactive comper and imaginative soloist, trumps the leader’s ideas and tosses out intriguing postulations; Metheny, an infrequent visitor to the organ function, plays with bluesy feel and spare discretion.  With a tone whose muscularity is less buff and more fluid than some years back, Brecker plays with characteristic blue-flame-to-white-heat clarity, a hungry master searching for — and often reaching — the next level.

For Brecker — who came of age when seminal language-makers like Coltrane, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk were alive and creative, when today’s “classic” Blue Note albums were hot off the presses — the search seems to involve reaching out to younger musicians like Watts and Goldings whose aesthetic embraces investigating and revitalizing the tradition, not exploding it.

“That’s an interesting point,” Brecker responds when I propose this idea to him.  He’s tall, fit, bald with a trim salt-and-pepper goatee, stylishly spectacled.  He speaks in measured tones belying the sturm und drang that characterizes his tenor saxophone voice.  “The dynamics of the musical scene were quite different when I first arrived in New York, and we were coming from a different place.  The advent of the newer generation of musicians allows me to play in the jazz tradition in a way that doesn’t feel retro.  It feels fresh.  ‘Time Is Of The Essence’ involves a certain amount of looking back.”

Brecker’s comfort level with the organ dates to childhood; his father, Robert, a lawyer and semiprofessional jazz pianist, even brought a Hammond B3 for the household.  “My father and I played it a bit,” Brecker recalls, “and my brother Randy got pretty good on it.  I listened to organ records by Jimmy Smith and Shirley Scott with Stanley Turrentine, plus my Dad took me to hear Jimmy Smith in Philly, where organ trios played all over the city.  Every day as a teenager after school I played drums along with Larry Young’s Unity, which Elvin is on, and both saxophone and drums along with Coltrane records like A Love Supreme.  I played a lot with Eric Gravatt, an incredible drummer who was living in Philadelphia then, who later played with McCoy Tyner and Weather Report,  He exposed me to a lot of things I hadn’t heard, and different ways of playing.  We did a lot of duet playing, just drums and saxophone.  He used to set an alarm clock for an hour, and we’d improvise straight through — killin’!”

We’re sitting in the cluttered conference room of his management suite high above Times Square.  The closed windows cannot mute the blare of traffic and rattle of nearby construction.  Distracted by the cacophony from the street, Brecker lifts his lanky frame from the chair, strides to the window and peers up and down to ascertain that it indeed is closed.  A row of meteorites, from the private stock of manager Darryl Pitt, who sells them, lies on a shelf against the wall.  Brecker looks for one, picks it up, ponders it, has me feel its dense heft and smooth metallic bottom.  We marvel at the wonders of the universe, then return to the table to continue the third degree.

“Why this record now?  I can honestly say I don’t know!” he laughs.  I didn’t think of it in terms of, ‘Oh, now it’s the millennium and it’s time for an organ record.  I just knew that I wanted to record with Larry Goldings.  His sensibility reminds me of Larry Young.  I love everything about Larry’s playing — his sound and sense of time.  He’s funky as hell, and has a comprehensive harmonic palette that’s unusual for an organist — possibly because he’s also a superb pianist.  I thought it would be fabulous to couple him with Pat, which turned out to be a natural.  Pat plays compositionally, melodically, intensely; he he has his own sound which blends with mine in a way that pleases my ear.  I love Pat’s thinking process, quick and very decisive.  My last three records have all been jazz, where you have only a few days to resolve problems, unlike more produced records with electronics where the mixes are more convoluted and complex.  When I’m sitting on the fence Pat will express very firm opinions and force me to make a decision.”

Brecker credits a five-week European tour two decades ago with Metheny, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Jack deJohnette, Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden, documented on ‘80/’81 (ECM), as a pivotal transition in a career during which he’d played with Horace Silver, Billy Cobham, the Brecker Brothers, and on several hundred studio dates as the most in-demand session saxophonist in the world.

“I’d moved to New York in ‘69,” he notes, “and became involved in a loosely organized association of about 25 creative players who had been playing in each other’s lofts that was basically led by Dave Liebman with the assistance of Richie Beirach,” he relates.  “It was called Free Life Communication, and we put on our own concerts, playing a lot of very free music.  It was a special time to be in New York.  That’s when the so-called boundaries between what was then Pop music and Jazz were becoming very blurry, and those of us who experimented with combining R&B rhythms with jazz harmony began to develop a music that was a fusion, if you’ll excuse the word, of various elements.  The music was fresh, exciting, powerful and exhilarating.  We really had no word for it; at the time it was loosely referred to as Jazz-Rock.  The culmination of that for me was the group initially referred to as Dreams, which recorded for Columbia.  Our milieu dispersed because we started getting gigs, and we all left that loft scene and branched out.

“During the tour with Pat, Charlie and Jack I experienced freedom differently than in the early New York days.  It was such an open environment; the way they interacted, the way the music was conceptualized made me feel a tremendous sense of freedom, like I could play anything.  There was a type of communication in present time on stage that I hadn’t experienced before.  Something about it caused a directional shift in my approach to playing.”

In a subsequent telephone conversation, Metheny clarifies the point. “I’ve heard Mike and some of his friends say he came back from that tour a changed person, which makes me feel really good!  “I wrote that music for the way I imagined he sounded.  His first Impulse record had basically the same band as 80/’81, and we took up where that record left off.  Mike has evolved into a great composer, which you could see coming with the Brecker Brothers.  Regardless of what anyone thinks of them stylistically, the writing is really advanced.  Very little three-horn writing in any sphere today approaches the sophistication of the three-horn writing on the first Brecker Brothers record 25 years ago.  I go to Smalls all the time and hear guys play; I don’t hear anyone writing three-horn charts that hip.

“Michael’s music is so dense, the hardest music I could imagine playing.  That’s true on all three of his records I’ve been on, and it’s incredibly flattering that he asked me to play on them.  He finds ways to play straight lines through really complicated sets of changes.  I look up to Brecker the way I do to Herbie Hancock.  They remind me of each other in that both are so advanced harmonically that it just isn’t an issue.  I would aspire to that level of harmonic wisdom.  Tales From the Hudson is the date I point to as the most satisfying I’ve done as a sideman in the past few years, or maybe really ever.  To me, that kind of playing, those kinds of tunes, the way the record felt as a whole, is what Modern Jazz is in the ‘90s.  The new one is a continuation, and compositionally it’s the best of them all.”

Brecker’s dance to the vivid beats of the different drummers on Time Is Of The Essence takes the session beyond being just another well played all-star date.  “In the last few years I’ve played a lot with Jeff Watts, which is enormous fun,” he remarks.  “He plays conversationally, constantly feeds me ideas and responds to ideas in present time, gets rhythmic layers going without sacrificing the swing.  Bill Stewart has taken the drum scene by storm.  He’s come in with his own language, a sensibility on the instrument that I’ve never heard.  He has a dry sense of humor, great warmth, tremendous dynamics.  He’s a groove-master, also a conversational player but in a different way than Tain.  It’s interesting that both Bill and Tain are tremendous composers, and I think that carries over into their playing.”

During a Brecker-Metheny brainstorming session, the guitarist, recalling Unity, suggested including Elvin Jones.  “I thought it was a great idea,” Brecker relates.  “I’d sat in with Elvin one night at Slugs in 1970 or ‘71 when Frank Foster and Joe Farrell were playing with him, and later I met him over dinner at a friend’s house, but we hadn’t really played.  I was thrilled to have him, because he’s one of my idols, and such a consummate artist in every way.  The beat even felt wider than I expected, like an open field.  It feels like utter freedom playing with him.”

Reciprocating, Jones asked Brecker to join a first-class edition of the Jazz Machine for his 72nd birthday week at Manhattan’s Blue Note in October, allotting his guest a ballad feature per set, which included “Body and Soul” and “Round Midnight.”  “I had a lot of fun, and learned a few things, too,” Brecker remarks.  “By the end of the week I was using a less notey rhythmic approach, leaving more space, generally playing less, which seemed to allow the music more room to breathe.”

Not that Brecker’s present sound is anywhere near serene or spare.  Yet a quality of intuitive reflection — perhaps the term is mature wisdom — inflects his locutions on recent recordings and guest shots.  The latter occur with increasingly less frequency than the years when he accumulated most of the 525 sideman appearances cited in the February 1998 discography from http://www.michaelbrecker.com, which reads like a history of ‘70s-‘80s Pop and Fusion — Paul Simon, James Taylor, Frank Zappa, George Clinton, Chaka Khan, Lou Reed and dozens more.

Why did Brecker’s sound become an iconic signifier of the period?  “My roots were a combination of jazz and R&B,” Brecker reflects matter-of-factly. “I grew up in Philadelphia listening to Miles and Trane, Clifford Brown, Cannonball Adderley, George Coleman (I could go on and on), as well as R&B and Rock.  I genuinely loved them both, and happened to have a sensibility that let me go in many directions.  It was never my plan to end up in the studios — not that I had a plan.  It really started through the horn section in Dreams.  Randy is so great in so many different contexts, and he already was established in New York.  Dreams made a couple of records for Columbia, became known as a section after a few more records, and a there was a chain reaction.”

But there’s more to Brecker’s aura than felicitous timing, superhero chops, and enviable ability to size up a situation instantly and conjure an apropos, often poetic response.  It’s called respect, manifested in study and preparation.  Consider his duo with Richard Bona on the young Cameroonian bassist-guitarist-vocalist-drummer’s recently issued Scenes From My Life.

“If Michael was in my country, people would call him a wizard!” Bona exclaims.  “This piece, ‘Konda Djanea,’ is a 6/8 rhythm from the Oualla people on the west coast of Cameroon.  There is a certain way to phrase it.  You cannot just blow anything; it’s going right to the heart.  I didn’t send him tapes before we went in the studio, because I didn’t want him to get familiar with it.  I wanted him just to bring his own thing.  I knew he could blow on that, and it happened exactly how I heard it!  Michael has listened to this music for years, has learned it and understands it.  And not just music from Cameroon, but a lot of different music.  He’s a very serious, open-minded musician with a high level of understanding.”

Pat Metheny agrees with Bona’s assessment.  “Sometimes I hear people put him down — ‘Oh, it’s technical and all flash,’” he says.  “I’d like to see any of them follow him anywhere.  Following a Mike Brecker solo is like nothing else that I have ever experienced, and very few musicians on any instrument can do it.  It’s because he’s deep!  Man, by the time he gets done with an audience, people are standing on their chairs screaming.  He gets to people under their skin, and that’s what makes him heavy.  He can just keep going, the way Herbie Hancock can.  And it doesn’t have anything to do with any of that technical stuff.”

Bassist John Patitucci, a friend and collaborator for close to twenty years who has employed Brecker on 6 albums, is well-positioned to analyze the saxophonist’s mystique.  “Michael is a darn good drummer in an Elvin kind of style, and he can swing,” he observes.  “From a rhythm section standpoint, time is the communication link, the mode of speech; his time is flexible and incredibly strong, which is very appealing.  He’s got the history of the horn in his playing, yet he was able to forge a personal sound and statement, which is very hard to find among post-Coltrane guys.  His sound was always very fat and warm; maybe it’s a little darker now than before.  I’m sure any composer who has ever worked with him is impressed with his ability to assimilate a melody emotionally and lyrically, and deliver it with power and vulnerability at the same time — there’s a personality attached to it.  He’s an influence in all styles, which is also rare; not many real jazz musicians are able to internalize the stylistic nuances of other musics.  Michael is very self-effacing and self-critical, but a brilliant human being, yet very approachable, which is rare for someone that brilliant.  For instance, he’s coached me extensively in African music — what records to get and so forth.”

Brecker’s coach was Barry Rogers, the pioneering trombonist with Eddie Palmieri, and a member of the Dreams horn section.  “Barry was my first close friend in New York,” Brecker recalls.  “I miss him.  He was older than me, and he took me under his wing, helped me feel comfortable living in New York.  He was the first to play me African music (out of Guinea, to be exact), and I was smitten by it.  He was the first to play me Cajun music and Latin music.  Barry could take music apart and analyze it very well, and he experienced it on a very deep level, spiritually and emotionally, with tremendous excitement — a very basic instinct that I was attracted to.  We have certain similarities.  I definitely don’t have his ability to communicate excitement, but we were excited by the same things — a certain rhythmic and harmonic tension and release that gets my skin going, that reaches me, as it reached Barry, in a deep emotional-spiritual place.”

In middle age, does Brecker now find he can access the spiritual fount of invention more readily?  “I can’t comment, even off the record,” he says.  “There’s so much going on in that area.  Isn’t that weird?”  Is he doing non-musical things in preparation?  “Yes.”  His regimen?  He utters some nonsense syllables.  Exercise?  “Absolutely.”  Meditation?   “A bit.”  Anything else?  He folds his lower teeth over his upper lip in a mock grimace. “It’s personal stuff.”

Moving from metaphysics to the tangible, Brecker still spends plenty of time in the practice room.  “When I’m on the road, it’s difficult to practice,” he says.  “I try go to soundchecks a little early, and practice before the gig, at the gig.  I don’t like to play in hotel rooms because I’m self-conscious about bothering other people.  When I’m home and have the time and some ideas, I enjoy practicing.  I enjoy the experience of learning new things, then watching it come out in the playing.  I never really work on technique per se.  Sometimes I practice simple things, filling in holes in my knowledge.  I always write down a list of new ideas, like interesting note relationships, and I work on them at home.  Eventually it comes out in my playing.  It comes out better when I don’t try to force it, but just try and learn things and then let it take its course.”

Brecker’s immersion in African music reached another level during Paul Simon’s 1991 Graceland tour, when he met the bassist Armand Sabal-Lecco, and the Cameroonian guitarist Vincent Nguini.  “Having the opportunity to be around them was like a door swinging open, because they were a direct source I could ask questions to,” he says.  “If we were listening to something, I’d first ask where one was, what the words meant.  I’d ask about the structure, the meaning of the rhythm, whether they were hearing it in 6 or in 12 or in 3 or in 4 or in 9.  Armand would tap the rhythm on my arm as he heard it, which often was very different from where I was hearing it.”

Does he see himself blending African tropes with his recent more vernacular-oriented style? “I’m actually looking at it fairly closely right now, though it’s difficult for me for me to articulate it just yet.  But it does play a big part of my music in the future.  Jazz has its origins in Africa, so the aesthetic is built into the music automatically.  At the same time there’s been constant back-and-forth cross pollination; you hear the influence of jazz in African music today and vice-versa.  Even saying ‘African music’ is misleading because it’s so wildly diverse, with so many varieties coming off the continent.  In conceptualizing a future project, I’m thinking more in terms of musicians that I would play with.”

That open-ended intersection of personalities is what we hear throughout Time Is Of The Essence.  “Compared to other instruments, the saxophone is relatively easy,” the four-time Grammy winner and father of two muses.  “Because it’s possible to play so much on it, what’s difficult is learning to edit.  Certainly my playing is more relaxed than it’s ever been,  Maybe some of that is just through age, growing up a bit.”

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Filed under Article, DownBeat, Michael Brecker, Tenor Saxophone

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

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

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 “The best preparation for playing with Cecil Taylor is to be fit and open your ears.  Things happen that have nothing to do with strategy or even preparation.  The joy is so much more immense if you prepare yourself to go where the music will take you, and not try and make it go where perhaps you want it or where you think it might go.” — Tony Oxley.
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For three weeks in February, in a smallish basement performance space at the Turtle Bay Music School on Manhattan’s East 52nd Street, the meta-virtuoso pianist Cecil Taylor guided a hand-picked master class — the final iteration comprised 11 sax and woodwinds, one recorder, one trumpet, one bass trombone, six pianists, one guitar, two violins, two vibraphones, one bass, two trapset, one percussion, one voice, and includes a poet and a painter — through ten intense rehersals of ten of his compositions.  Each musician paid $300 for the opportunity to observe how Taylor organizes material, how he chooses to express it, how he shapes it into strong images, how he makes the drama develop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cecil was very sharp,” Cyrille recalled.  “We had a magical dialogue.  This kind of music and improvising is a matter of very close listening and trading of information.  It’s like a game.  We put forth sounds, ideas, rhythms, melodic fragments that turn into much longer statements, and we surprise each other with replies and continue to evolve within the dialogue.  It can be endless.  And when we decide to resolve what’s happening, it’s as though we’ve finished a conversation.  We’ve grown, matured, to some degree even mellowed.  It’s always a struggle to create art.  But the way the effort is put forth is so much smoother and nuanced.  We’re so much more confident with the language than we were.”
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The Turtle Bay project gestated prosaically.  At a party in March 1999, Morse met the guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil, a faculty member.  She inquired whether the school, which has neither a jazz nor an avant-garde tradition, would be interested in hosting such an event.  Eisenbeil investigated.  The answer was yes, providing Eisenbeil would organize it.  Needing to recruit 20 participants to meet expenses, Eisenbeil sent a mass email announcement to several contact lists and a slew of websites, and received 40 responses.

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

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

Taylor concluded the session with a statement of purpose.  “There will be time for solos,” he told the ensemble.  “But we have to play so that everybody can get the information.  Each of you has the right to say, ‘I would like to hear this part over again.’  Each section has its technical problem.  What is the relationship of the note to the overall structure?  I can show you where everything is connected, but I don’t want to be in the position of telling you how to play it.  Where do you want to begin?  How do you want to proceed?”
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Over the course of the next nine rehearsals, several key themes emerged.  During the second session Taylor distributed photocopies of his scores, giving the musicians a chance to look at how he thinks about tones.  He divides the scores into small modules, which he calls quadrants.  Each has specific rules, with cues and gestures as to how they can be played, and each fits with the others in some manner.  He uses neither bar lines nor staves, but presents the notes as pictographically arranged hieroglyphs of letters, ascending from A to G and descending from G to A, with register and pitch indicated specifically according to the distance in whole steps from middle C.  They look like the branches of a tree, abstract landscapes of plateaus and mountains and valleys, perhaps a graphic representation of a dance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

CYRILLE:  That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    Was it improvising or was he giving notes?

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

TP:    How did it change your conception?

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

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

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

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

TP:    Honsegger is something else.

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

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

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

CYRILLE:  Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

TP:     People in the ship bands?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    The real issues?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    The Fondation Maeght recordings are from ’69.

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

TP:    What was your impression?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OXLEY:  Not very often.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OXLEY:  You mean personally or musically?

TP:    Both perhaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[ETC.]

TP:    You used to use an enormous…

OXLEY:  A cowbell.

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

TP:    Were you playing piano at this time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    You approach him at his own pace.

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

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

MARMORSTEIN:  Right.  Since about February 1985.

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

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

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

TP:    Did you witness the June ’88 event?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[END OF SIDE]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jazziz Article (2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   Didn’t Sugar Ray own a club?

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

TP:   Did he have music there?

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

TP:   Did you play there?

ROY:   No, I never played there.

TP:   Did you box ever?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROY:   Herbie Wright.

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

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

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

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

TP:   Even in the ‘30s?

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

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

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

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

ROY:   Yes.

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

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

TP:   How many siblings did you have?

ROY:   Three brothers. Two older and one younger.

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

ROY:   That was Douglas, the oldest one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   You knew him, too.

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

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

ROY:   It made sense to me right away.

TP:   Why did it make sense?

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

TP:   I believe it was 1919.

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

TP:   He’s six years older than you.

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

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

ROY:   Ask me the question again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROY:   Exactly.

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

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

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

ROY:   Of course.

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

ROY:   I had that, yeah.

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

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

TP:   Not Ike Day.

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

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

ROY:   He was something!

TP:   did you hear him?

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

TP:   Can you give some appoximation of his style?

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

TP:   Was he breaking the rhythm?

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

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

ROY:   Could have been.

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

ROY:   No problem.

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

ROY:   But that swing thing was the main thing.

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

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

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

ROY:   Oh, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   Titty-boom.

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

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

ROY:   Yeah.

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

ROY:   Exactly.

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

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

TP:   The back…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   The Sound of Sonny.

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

TP:   Sonny Rollins fired you?

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

TP:   Did he ever tell you why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   How so?

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

TP:   How about Bud Powell?

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

TP:   You were already established.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   What sort of gear might that be?

ROY:   Well, the latest one. Hippidy Hop.

TP:   I was just listening to that this morning?

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

TP:   You have another solo piece, Shades of Senegal

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   Would it be spontaneous?

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

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

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

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

ROY:   No.

TP:   Were you tuning your drums differently then?

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

TP:   How were they different?

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

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

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

TP:   That was the master of the hang.

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   You’d be carrying all your stuff.

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

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

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

TP:   So it was purely functional.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   Checking out their styles.

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

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

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

TP:   Stuff to play on the drums.

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   Maybe that has something to do…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   So it hit you.

ROY:   Yeah.

TP:   When you heard him or Eric Dolphy…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   And you were not a late bloomer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   Those Andover Clothing stores…

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   The one with Chick, Now He Sings…

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   It’s up there.

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   You mean drugs.

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

TP:   Did you use a bigger kit?

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

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

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

TP:   No, I wasn’t.

ROY:   Well, that was the case.

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

ROY:   Experimenting, of course. Definitely.

TP:   What sort of new rhythms.

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

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

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

TP:   The attack. Playing harder…

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

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

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

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

ROY:   Well, the Hip Ensemble was very important.

TP:   Why was it important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROY:   There you go.

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

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

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

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

TP:   You took her on a trip.

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

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

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

[PAUSE: BATHROOM BREAK]

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

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

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

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

TP:   You learned to read music and so on…

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

TP:   Your eyesight.

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

TP:   For your sound.

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

TP:   Why?

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

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

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

TP:   Or Nat Cole, you played with.

ROY:   Yeah-yeah.

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

ROY:   Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROY:   That was mostly Bird, though.

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

ROY:   As past tense?

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

ROY:   But still now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROY:   Feels good, man.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   Do you travel often with this band?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   Twenty years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   There’s still time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAYNES:   Yeah, that’s interesting.

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

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

TP:   What was the neighborhood like at the time?

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

TP: Do you remember the address?

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

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

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

TP:   Coleman Hawkins lived there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   What does New York mean to you?

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

TP:   How long did you stay in Harlem?

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

TP:   What was your favorite car over the years?

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

TP:   How many cars do you have?

HAYNES:   I have four.

TP:   Are they all fast cars?

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   How about you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   Coltrane.

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

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

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

TP:   Monk.

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

TP:   With you.

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   Bob, making funky hamburgers.

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

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

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

TP:   Did you ever play with Monk and Coltrane?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   Back to these impressions of people. Bird.

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

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

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

TP:   You answered that question well.

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

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

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

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

TP:   You joined Bird in ‘49.

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAYNES:   True.

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

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

TP:   They must have known him from Florida.

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

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

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

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

HAYNES:   Of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   Do you have any memory of that?

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

TP:   What was the appeal of the Village?

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

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

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

HAYNES:   It might have been in there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   How about Pat Metheny?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:   Did you teach him directly?

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

* * *

Roy Haynes Profile (WKCR, March, 1996):

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

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

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

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

TP:    What did he play?

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAYNES:  Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    When did you start working in Boston?

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

TP:    What were the circumstances?

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

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

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

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

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

HAYNES:  Music was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    Were you familiar with who Luis Russell was…

HAYNES:  I’d heard the name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    How did he find you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    I won’t press you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    Was he right?

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

TP:    Did you do much traveling with Charlie Parker?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    Talk about the challenge of playing with Coltrane.

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

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

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

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

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

HAYNES:  Spread out the rhythm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAYNES:  Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAYNES:  Yeah, man.

TP:    The implication there is dance.

HAYNES:  Tell me about it.

TP:    No, please tell me about it.

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

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

HAYNES:  Oh yes.

TP:    Like Baby Lawrence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAYNES:  That’s correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    Do arrangements form themselves in the band?

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

TP:    Very unpredictable sets.

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

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

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

* * * *

Roy Haynes (for Drumworks):

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

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

TP:    You practice by playing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAYNES:  Exactly.

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

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

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

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

TP:    Are you someone who knows all the lyrics?

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

TP:    Do you sing?

HAYNES:  All the time! [LAUGHS]

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAYNES:  Well, yes.  Earl Bostic was very long-winded.  He’d play a lot of choruses.  Trane may have got that from him.  I remember one time Trane was playing something, and afterwards I hummed what he was playing to him, and I said, “Man, where did you get that?”  He said, “Earl Bostic.” [LAUGHS] He told me that himself.  He worked with Earl.  During 1946 there were a lot of jam sessions around New York.  There was a guy named Johnny Jackson who is not living now.  He used to give sessions in the Bronx, at the Club 421 I think the name of it was…or maybe not the 421… It was something on one of the main streets.  Earl used to be part of that, and I used to play with those guys.  I was usually one of the drummers.  Sid Catlett was the drummer on some of those sessions.  So I got a taste of all of that, too.  And I learned later how important Earl Bostic was.  He was a crowd-pleaser, plus he was very musical.

TP:    Plus an incredible technician, a scientist of the saxophone.

HAYNES:  There you go.

TP:    Coltrane also had the phrase “spreading the rhythm” in reference to you.

HAYNES:  That’s the term he used describing Elvin and myself.

TP:    It’s an interesting term.  Do you feel it’s something that got unlocked in you from playing with him, or is it something you were doing all along?

HAYNES:  I would think that’s something that I was about.  Because even back when playing the hi-hat, the sock cymbal on 2 and 4 a lot, I didn’t really do a lot of that.  Sometimes on a record I would do it, because certain musicians needed or wanted that.  But I sort of played loose.  That’s one thing that really got me with Lester Young.  He liked that looseness.  It’s still swinging.  I’m still doing a lot of little accents with the bass drum in my left hand, even in my early career, and it could work with somebody if they could play, if they had the rhythm.  I’m talking about the person you’re accompanying.  Some guys needed that whole thing all the time for you to give them the 2-and-4 feeling.  But with Trane, all I could do is just swing and play.  With Lester Young, too, and Charlie Parker.

TP:    You’ve referred to Coltrane as a drummer, Bird as a drummer, Chick Corea as a drummer, Lester Young, Monk… You referred to them all as drummers.

HAYNES:  Yes.  They have a drummer inside them.  All you do is accompany them, man.

TP:    You said all you have to do with them is design around it, designing the rhythm.

HAYNES:  Yes.  Mingus used to say, “Roy Haynes doesn’t always play the beat.  He suggests the beat!”  That’s somebody describing me, and maybe to that extent he was right.

TP:    Which sounds like choreography, choreographing a tap dance to a certain extent.

HAYNES:  There you go.  I used to try to tap dance years ago at home, not in public.  Every now and then I still… I’ve got more of a right foot than a left foot, though!  But even now, I’m into checking out Savion Glover.  And Jimmy Slyde is my buddy; he’s still around dancing, and we sort of grew up together,.  Also when I started playing as a teenager, I played for a lot of tap dancers through my early career.

TP:    You can kind of hear it in your attack, too, because your strokes are so crisp and your punctuation so precise.  Is clarity of ideas always your goal and focus?

HAYNES:  Sometimes.  I guess maybe most of the time in solos.  It’s like having a conversation, or telling a story, painting a picture.  Sometimes it’s abstract; sometimes it’s right there to the point, right in the rhythm; sometimes it spreads out.  That’s what I try to do.  I try to make it say something.  Take you someplace.

TP:    You mentioned that even when you were very young, you were always playing the drums in your head, always thinking about drums, always thinking about rhythm…

HAYNES:  Yes, playing with my thumbs even at school, with the desk.  The desk had an opening.  The desk was made like a drum; it was hollow on the inside where you could put your books and everything.  So I liked the sound of it.  I would do that, and the whole class would be listening to me rather than listening to the teacher — and they would throw me out!  They sent me to the principal’s office in high school.  Because I was always playing with my little nervous hands.  You know what I mean?  I was always drumming, man.

TP:    You’re playing very free and, as you said, you’re soloing all the time, but there are structures within the songs, and certain arrangements, whether they’re loose or tight or whatever, and I’m wondering about how you guide the flow of a performance.

HAYNES:  It varies.  It may depend on my mood, or it may depend on the song itself.  Usually, when I have, say, my quartet, I don’t always solo.  I wait for a while.  I have to really feel relaxed or comfortable enough.  I have to be comfortable around how I’m sitting, how the audience is, if they’re loud or attentive.  That’s when I figure I’m best at soloing, when I’m ready to, rather than have to play with somebody who is going to tell me when to solo — they’re going to trade here or they’re going to trade there.  I don’t usually like to do it that way.  Lots of times, when I have a saxophone, I’ll have the saxophone and the piano playing fours against each other, and I’ll just be designing around them.  I don’t always like to play fours.  I did that with Prez back in the ’40s; I don’t always like to do that.  So I like to solo when I’m ready, and it seems to work, because the audience really seems to eat it up that way.  There’s an audience for what I’ve been trying to do, I’m finding out, all over the world.

TP:    You started out playing for dancers a lot.  When you came to New York, your first gig was at the Savoy, and you’ve referred to how the Savoy beat imprinted itself on you.  What’s the difference between playing for dancers and playing in a sitdown concert situation, which is how life is in the jazz business these days?

HAYNES:  Well, there’s a certain thing that you have to do to keep the people dancing.  I’ve had some times when the people won’t dance until you get a certain… Or sometimes you play a melody that they like, then once you get them on the floor, man, you can take them where you want to take them — to some extent.  But there’s an art to doing that.  I did a lot of it, and I tried to get away from that, and just play concerts for people listening.  But I know how to do it.  I know how to handle that.  I can still do it if I wish.

TP:    You’ve always had a very distinct snare drum sound.  Why do you tune it high and tight with lots of crispness?

HAYNES:  It seems to be effective.  It seems to work.  I don’t always know why I do things, but there sure is a reason up there.  But whatever the reason is, it seems to really get over.  It seems to work!  I don’t know why, though.  I just found out last night, when I was doing a soundcheck… From night to night you go to different places, and your drums may change.  Danilo was telling me I always get that same note.  There are two notes; I get one or the other.  He would hear me hit the drums playing a melodic thing, then he would hit them on the piano.  I knew what I wanted in my head all the time, all these years!  And he says it’s always the same notes, either one or the other — one of two notes.  That’s pretty good.  I tried for that.  That’s what I tried to do.  Now, he answered without me even asking.  “Yeah, Roy Haynes, you always get that note, man.”

TP:    You also have a real wide-open bass drum sound.  It’s instantly recognizable for certain drummers.  They hear one stroke, and they know it’s you.

HAYNES:  How about that.  That’s interesting.  In fact, it’s so wide open… It may have been wide open at Birdland, sometimes maybe too much for the bass player.  It’s an 18″ bass drum.  I don’t like bass drums all cluttered up, unless I’m just playing a whole Rock thing — but I’m not a Rock drummer.

TP:    What does it mean, you’re not a Rock drummer?

HAYNES:  Well, that speaks for itself.  I’m not.  Someone was asking me earlier about the technicians today in the studio and studio playing.  I’m not always comfortable in a studio.  Everything is geared toward that Rock-Funk thing, mostly.

TP:    Is it too mechanical?

HAYNES:  It’s very mechanical.  It’s a very mechanical sound.  Most of the drummers that play today, they all sound alike.  Their drums sound alike.  I’ve never wanted to sound too much like anyone else, ever since I’ve been an adult.

TP:    So being an individual has always been your animating imperative, really.

HAYNES:  Somewhat.  One year I had bought a new convertible, and one of my buddy drummers was in the car, and he says, “Roy Haynes, what are you trying to do?”  I said, “I’m trying to be myself!”  I said that then, in 1950!

TP:    I need to know the components of your kit.  If you don’t want to go into it, tell me who I should ask, so I can get the accurate information.

HAYNES:  Joe Testa at Yamaha.  He’ll give you all the details.  I have different sets.  I have two floor toms, and I don’t always use them.

TP:    What do you have with you now?

HAYNES:  I don’t know all the sizes.  An 8″-by-10″, I think, and a 9″-by-12″ rack tom, as they call them now.  I have one I think 14″ or 16″ floor tom; I’m not sure which.  I have two crash cymbals.  A flat ride cymbal that was sort of copied after the cymbal that I used on “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs,” which has become very classic and very popular.  In fact, the cymbal that I used on “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs” with Chick Corea was a flat ride Paiste, which is when they first started making them.  I had one of the first ones.  I may have been the first drummer to record with it.  When Chick Corea started Return to Forever, he came over to my house and borrowed a cymbal, and kept it all of these years.  Then last year, I think, he took that same Paiste cymbal and brought it to Zildjian and had them try to copy it — a sort of cloned cymbal.  They gave me three or four, and they gave Chick a few of them.  So that’s what I’m using right now, and it really worked with this trio.  It’s only an 18″ flat ride.

TP:    Why does it work so well with this trio?

HAYNES:  Well, John Patitucci, most of his stuff is pretty light on the acoustic bass.  He likes to play light, so this cymbal works with him, along with the piano.  Even though I know the bass drum sometimes probably can get a little boomy in there!  But sometimes I don’t play it, or sometimes I just let him play solo without the drums.

TP:    And you do a lot of exchanges on the record.

HAYNES:  Oh yes.  We did some 12s on “Sippin’ At Bells” and some of the other stuff.

TP:    How has drum equipment changed over the years, from when you were playing with Lester Young and Charlie Parker to today?  Is it a much more efficient instrument?  Have the materials changed your sound in any way?

HAYNES:  Well, not too much.  Except they started making all of the drum stands and the cymbal stands and the drum throws and the seats…they started making them heavier.  I guess a lot of the Rock drummers were breaking up the stuff, so they started making everything stronger and heavier, which cost me a lot of money traveling.  If I’m the leader, that comes out of your expenses — the overweight.

But let me say this.  When I was with Lester Young, which was 1947 to 1949, I think my drums had got stolen.  I think I had a 22″ bass drum, because I came from the Luis Russell Big Band to Lester Young.  Then I had one of the first 20″ bass drums in 1949.  Then after that they started making smaller ones, so I got to the 18″, and I’m pretty comfortable with the 18″.  So it went from the 22″ when I was with the big band, Luis Russell… 22″ was considered small because a lot of people had 24″ bass drums, and 28″ was standard for a bass drum in the ’40s, or at least the early ’40s.  Then I had this small snare drum, 3″-by-13″, which we called a bebop snare.  That’s in that famous picture with Monk, Mingus and Bird, taken at the Open Door — that little snare drum.  I still have another one at my house in Long Island.

TP:    Are cymbals similar to what they were then?

HAYNES:  Well, everything has improved.  They last longer.

TP:    A lot of drummers, when they talk about you, describe you as having an internal clave.  It’s not explicit, it’s almost implicit in the way you…

HAYNES:  It must be Latin drummers who talk about that.

TP:    No.  They’re drummers who are interested in Latin music, but not Latin drummers.  Could you talk a bit about your relations to Latin music and diasporic music within your trapset style?

HAYNES:  I was always into the Latin music.  My folks were from the Caribbean anyhow — Barbados.  And I always listened to it.  When I first came to New York, there was a lot of great Latin music — uptown, all over Manhattan.  When places like Birdland opened, and the Royal Roost, Machito’s band was very popular.  He had a drummer named Uba, and we were always checking Uba out.  He didn’t play with a complete trapset.  He had timbales in his set, and a bass drum, and no hi-hat… I forget exactly his setup.  But I used to listen to him all the time, and Tito Puente and those guys, way back in the day.  I was very close with Willie Bobo.  Mongo and Willie Bobo were living in the same complex in the Bay Area when they were playing with Cal Tjader. They had checked out my concept way back then on records and from in-person appearances, and they would say that I approached the drumset like timbales.  They were telling me that in the late ’50s and early ’60s.  So there was some relation.  And that was my approach.  I felt that.  I was into that on a lot of solos and everything.

TP:    I guess Danilo Perez must really relate to that in your band.

HAYNES:  Oh, man, he loves it.  All night long he’s telling me, “You’re the only one, man!  You’re the only one!”  Jack Hooke and Symphony Sid used to present Monday Latin Night at the Village Gate, and sometimes they would feature a jazz guy with one of the Latin bands.  When Jack called me to do it, I was to play with Tito Puente’s band as a guest.  And man, we got hooked up so heavy there with the rhythms that Tito… The lead trumpet was the musical director of the band, and, man, we got so involved, he gave them the cue to take it out.  It got too hot!  Tito was my buddy.  We knew each other from the late ’40s.

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Filed under Drummer, Interview, Jazziz, Roy Haynes

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

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

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

Charles Tolliver (DB Article, #1):

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

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

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

That Tolliver’s tonal personality emanated as distinctively from the pen as from his horn became manifest on a pair of influential Strata-East orchestral projects, Music, Inc. And Big Band (1970) and Impact (1975) for which Tolliver assembled a cast of New York A-listers—George Coleman, Charles McPherson and James Spaulding solo on the latter. He performed his charts with various European radio orchestras during the ‘80s and ‘90s, but a 2003 engagement at the Jazz Standard was his first-ever big band gig in a New York City venue. He returned to the Standard in 2004, played a week at Dizzy’s Club in August, and was booked, as of this writing, for a week at Birdland in January.

Tolliver followed “Ruthie’s Heart” with an arrangement of “Right Now,” a boppish line with a slick turnaround that McLean introduced as the title track of a 1966 quartet session, which followed three Blue Note albums that showcased such well-wrought inventions by the promising young trumpeter as “Truth,” “Plight,” and “On The Nile.” Both charts featured declarative, intricate section conversations, but perhaps the most startling performance was a show-stopping arrangement of “Round Midnight.” After an opening fanfare, Tolliver, unaccompanied, limned the melody, a cry in his tone, displaying total command of the spaces between the notes. The band entered with a bravura Gil Fullerish chord, and he tripled the tempo, eliminating all connotations of midnight melancholia in the manner of a New Orleans parade band marching home from the funeral. Finally, he reprised the rubato mood, and again counterstated with an efflorescent fanfare.

Artists like to talk about taking risks in the crucible of performance, and  Tolliver embraces the principle wholeheartedly. He also followed the example of Max Roach by risking his own capital as an independent entrepreneur. “I’m a believer in ownership of your intellectual property or art form,” he says. “But it has nothing to do with politics. A lot of people have tried to read political and racial into the creation of Strata-East Records. It had to do with ownership, pure and simple.”

Self-taught as an instrumentalist, composer, arranger, Tolliver seems constitutionally averse to doing things the easy way. “I like to rumble,” he said. “I take the most difficult routes for improvisation. It’s actually easy to play a number of choruses effortlessly and never make a mistake, never break down. That’s no fun. You need to get in hot water by trying something out right from the jump, get yourself out of that, and move on to the next chorus.”

To transmit that predisposition for risk to his orchestra, Tolliver functions as a creative conductor. “Jazz is about improvisation and changing things around, to fit the mindset of the men on the bandstand,” he said. “Say the soloist is gathering steam or the drummer moves the soloist to another gear. I then have the liberty to move things around; by eye contact or a hand movement, they know immediately that I want to take a section or part of a section and put it somewhere else. It takes some time playing together to do that, but it means that each night the guys are refreshed, and not just reading the stuff the same way all the time. Thad Jones did that, too, with some of his pieces.”

Although the references are more spiritual than direct, Thad Jones’ footprint  looms over Tolliver’s conception. “As great as Gil Evans is, Thad is a whole nother level of greatness,” Tolliver said. “He could write a perfect arrangement without going to the piano. I thought that’s like God at work!  And he had men who could PLAY this difficult stuff. I watched that, and thought I could never hope to be in that position.”

Nearly forty years later, Tolliver is fulfilling this dream. His October orchestra included saxophonists Billy Harper, Craig Handy and Bill Saxton, baritone saxophonist-tubist Howard Johnson, three lead trumpets (Jimmy Owens, Earl Gardner and Chris Albert), and a world class rhythm section of pianist John Hicks, bassist Cecil McBee—both veterans of Tolliver’s early ‘70s units—and drummer Greg Hutchinson. They had to draw on every ounce of skill to execute Tolliver’s challenging parts.

“I’ve never heard anything like Charles’ music,” said fourth trumpet David Weiss, leader of the New Jazz Composers Octet, which, among other things, backs Freddie Hubbard with Weiss arrangements of Hubbard repertoire. After listening to reunion of the Tolliver-Cowell quartet at a Tribeca concert in 2002, Weiss asked Tolliver about the status of his big band charts. “I said, ‘It’s collecting dust,’ Tolliver recalled. “I meant, occasionally I’d dust it off, look at something, maybe add something here or write something off of that. David said that perhaps he could interest some of the venues here in New York. After several months, he got the Jazz Standard to agree to have me for a couple of nights, and it was very successful.”

“Charles is the culmination of his period,” said Weiss, who has booked all of the band’s subsequent New York gigs. “He encompassed everything that happened in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, the highest level of harmony and rhythm and technique, and pumped it up even more. His trumpet parts are very tight and dissonant, in a higher range than most people dare to write. The saxophone parts are tough, too. He doesn’t write them to show off a busy, notey line, but so that something can counter against it. The line becomes the constant, almost like the rhythm section, and the other horns bounce off it and make all the accents.”

A Thad Jones alumnus, Harper—his Strata East date Capra Black is a ‘70s hardcore classic—acknowledges the gnarly singularity of Tolliver’s saxophone lines. “Most big bands have a traditional format, with soli that sound the way saxophone big bands may sound,” Harper said. “But a lot of what Charles writes feels exactly like what you might play on the spur of the moment in a small group. I don’t know if he went to church that much, but some of his things sound like heavy music from black roots in church. Thad Jones sounded that same way. The rhythm and fire is a necessary part of it.”

“I came up in the church the same way he did,” responded Tolliver, who spent his first ten years in Jacksonville, Florida, before migrating to Harlem in 1952. “I noticed the rhythms of the church and the communal thing that happens between the parishioners and the pastors—especially in the Holiness Church, where my grandmother was. They’d get up and have the call-and-response with each other, and some of them would actually fall out and froth at the mouth, like the Haitian voodoo business. Other parts of the family were in other denominations, but it was all communal, and the music came out of the old hymn books by James Weldon Johnson and others from the 19th century. There were all different types of rhythms in it. So early on it was apparent to me that rhythm, as personified in the modern drumkit, is integral for this kind of music. I require the drummer to really lay it on. A lot of my compositions and arrangements sound as if I wrote them for the drums, and in my playing I work off rhythm a lot, moreso, let’s say, than playing linearly.

“Big band jazz is not about over-writing to the point where all these different sections are playing in different time signatures and all that nonsense. It doesn’t have to sound as though you’re writing for a symphony. After all, we are playing this so-called thing named jazz. Jazz is about theme, melody, call-and-response, counterpoint if you want, but not overly done—and always improvising. If you take away improvising and swing, then it seems to me that you are removing two of the prime elements that allow us to call ourselves jazz musicians. You know what jazz is because of the way the drummer plays. If you hear TING, TING-A-LING, TING-A-LING, that’s jazz. If you don’t hear that, then it’s some other kind of music—which is fine. It’s the rock-solid base that allows you to do all the other things. Improvising is the meat of jazz, and the drummer propels that improvising. Therefore, I take careful consideration in selecting the drummer.”

With drummer-of-choice Ralph Peterson unavailable for the October week, Greg Hutchinson played the charts with crisp aplomb. “The music I write is intended to play the musician,” Tolliver remarked. “To gain control of it, he will take the music even further, as Greg did. The language makes the artist play. Thad needed those all heavy-duty guys in order to play his music, and when I do the big band I want the best players I can get, the big-time horses, to pick up the language and take it to the next level.”

With three major New York club appearances within five months and the Mosaic reissue, enough buzz may exist to make this the moment for Tolliver to actualize his ambition. Negotiations are underway to record the orchestra, and this winter he will reissue Impact, which he licensed in the ‘90s in Japan and Germany. In keeping with the philosophy of Max Roach, his former employer, he will continue to do everything in his power to control his creative output and the means by which he produces it. He intends to spend his sixties “firing up on all cylinders.”

“No matter what’s happening, even if you play a ballad, Charles wants it always burning,” Harper said. “It seems like a very young approach to the big band. He’s still a young lion.”

“It comes from the style of ‘jazz’ that we played, which is high energy music,” Tolliver concluded. “As a young child I listened to Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke and Max, and they were on all cylinders all the time. It’s in my blood.”

* * *

Charles Tolliver (Oct. 26, 2005):

TP:   How long have you been teaching at the New School?

TOLLIVER:   12 or 13 years now. [1992] Reggie Workman asked me if I was interested in teaching Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and it sort of came that way. I teach the repertoire.

TP:   You also teach composition and orchestration. Have you stayed in New York the whole time, from the ‘70s and ‘80s until the early ‘90s.

TOLLIVER:   I’ve been here since 1952.

TP:   You’ve been a New Yorker for 53 years, except for four years in D.C.

TOLLIVER:   Yeah, but I was always coming home.

TP:   You spent your first ten years in Jacksonville.

TOLLIVER:   Right.

TP:   From the end of the Strata East years and…

TOLLIVER:   There’s not an end. We need to correct that. It never folded. It always was alive from its inception.

TP:   Before ‘93, when Live In Berlin comes out…

TOLLIVER:   There was a full operation from inception until ‘82 or ‘83. Then I decided to shut down the office operation. Financially, it was just too expensive. Anyway, I was already given an early cue that the compact disk format would be soon coming, so I basically gave myself a five-year rest from looking after that situation day to day.

TP:   During the ’80s, were you a full-time musician?

TOLLIVER:   Of course.

TP:   I’m sorry to ask, but there was the impression among so many people that you were doing this, you were doing that…

TOLLIVER:   For over ten years, I went all over the place, playing and performing and then looking after this baby of ours, the Strata-East thing. I decided to give myself a rest from that around ‘83. But as you know, the market for straight-ahead playing that I’m known for was such that it was difficult to be working all the time in the States. I did have a route to take bands to Europe, so I was doing that a lot between ‘83 and ‘88. So consequently, I wasn’t playing in any venues here in New York City or the ten major markets in the United States. That might be a reason why people thought I was off the scene.

TP:   So your activity was mostly in Europe.

TOLLIVER:   Just Europe.

TP:   Were you teaching during those years?

TOLLIVER:   No. Full time music. I did a lot of writing of big band music and performing it with a lot of the European radio orchestras.

TP:   So these days you’re playing a lot of your compositions from the ’80s and ‘90s.

TOLLIVER:   Right, I’m playing them now.

TP:   Let’s jump to 2003 and the reemergence of your big band in this country. By the way, did the big band play publicly in the ‘70s?

TOLLIVER:   No. Just made the recordings for the fun of it, to see if we could do it, and that was it. There was never a thought of fielding a big band.

TP:   Have you played your charts in any of those workshop situations in New York?

TOLLIVER:   No. I just wrote the music, hired the musicians, and did the recording.

TP:   That’s quite a feat. Almost all the great arrangers talk about the trial-and-error process, hearing their stuff played and…

TOLLIVER:   Right.

TP:   Not you.

TOLLIVER: I just sort of seized the moment to get the best musicians in town that I could, and did the recordings.

TP:   You’re saying that so nonchalantly.

TOLLIVER:   Well, the guys who are on there did a terrific job. We just rehearsed a day or so before the recording and hit!

TP:   Before we talk about resurrecting the band, did your thinking about big bands and composition evolve over the years? You mentioned a few days ago that you still think the way you did in the ‘70s.

TOLLIVER:   Right.

TP:   But you’ve evolved and grown in various ways.

TOLLIVER:   Yes and no. I haven’t thought to hit the ground running with a big band after doing the recordings. I had hoped to make a good recording with the music I had written. Then I put it away. As I said, in the mid-‘80s, I pulled it out again and did a lot of work with that as a soloist, and sometimes with a quartet in Europe with the radio orchestras. So that writing stood me in good stead at that point. Then in the mid-‘80s that gave me a little more emphasis to add a few more big band charts to what I already had, still never thinking about, “well, this is something I want to do full time.” A quartet setting, that’s how I burst out here, so that’s my real love. And still is. Although I love what’s happening with the big band thing now. Which is really basically an extension of what I do in the small group, with a lot of orchestral stuff written around that.

That’s basically how it evolved, just little bit by little bit. My style of writing I think is basically the same, which is a forward-looking harmonic and rhythmical thing. Which just goes to show… By example, the John Coltrane Quartet and what they created by 1965, it’s still as if it hadn’t even been played yet, or conceived. That’s how modern it is. My whole thrust is coming out of that sort of style.

TP:   Trying to extrapolate those ideas onto the trumpet.

TOLLIVER:   Yes, and also orchestrally.

TP:   Did you know Coltrane?

TOLLIVER:   Yes, I did.

TP:   Did you ever play with him?

TOLLIVER:   No. I was too quiet and too… I wasn’t the kind of guy who pushed John. It was wonderful to be around them and to hear them and watch them do their thing. But in his case, he was such an unassuming guy that you hardly knew he was around when he was in your presence. But I did know him a little bit and met him. He was a very quiet individual.

TP:   Was Africa Brass a very important recording for you?

TOLLIVER:   Yes, I would say so. Because it was again him expounding on the quartet idea. As we were to find out, Eric Dolphy was the one who actually did those arrangements, and he actually said, as has been written, that he just tried to use the McCoy Tyner chording and expand that with the big band. Ultimately, though, what made that happen is the rhythm section – John Coltrane himself, of course, and the rhythm section. When I’m writing big band stuff, I’m always thinking about the rhythm section first to get the best support that a rhythm section normally would give to a soloist, to then move that a step ahead with the big band support, but the same idea. It’s always a problem to find individuals who are thinking along those lines, who can give you that.

TP:   Were most of your big band charts written with Stanley Cowell and Cecil McBee in mind?

TOLLIVER:   To some extent, yes, because we had been playing together for quite some time. So I knew they would be able to add the support I needed for those charts.

TP:   It must be nice for you now to have Cecil McBee playing in the big band, because his lines seem to be  in synch with the way you think. There’s a certain synchronicity between the motion of your trumpet lines and the way his basslines lock in.

TOLLIVER:   Stanley was in the first formation of this recent big band business.

TP:   You and Stanley think alike harmonically, I’d think.

TOLLIVER:   Oh, yeah. I would think so. We came up together and played in a lot of different settings.

TP:   But you were playing with John Hicks back in the day, too.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. Before I met Stanley, John and I basically started out together. So I’m as close with him musically as I am with Stanley.

TP:   So what led to the resurrection of the big band in this country?

TOLLIVER:   Do you mean what led to me now dealing with the big band? Not necessarily in this country. Well, a fellow named David Weiss, who is a trumpetist and composer – and a good one, too, at that – and who was doing some things with Freddie Hubbard in an octet… A few years back, there was a tribute to the scene that was happening in Alphabet City in the ’60s – a tribute to Slugs basically. Since I was the only one who had made a recording there, they asked me to do a concert at BCC for this remembrance of Slugs, in which Stanley Cowell and Cecil and I, and a drummer who had worked with me also for a long time, Clifford Barbaro. David Weiss attended that performance, and we exchanged numbers, and we talked later… He was asking me what I’d done with my big band stuff, and I said, “It’s collecting dust.” I mean, occasionally I’d dust it off, take a look at something, maybe add something here or write something off of that. David said that perhaps he could interest some of the venues here. That took several months, and finally he got the Jazz Standard to agree to have me for a couple of nights. I put together the best available musicians that I wanted to have, and it was very successful. So I decided I’d do this again if the opportunity presented itself. That’s happened 4 or 5 times in the last two years.

TP:   Mostly at the Jazz Standard, but also this summer at Dizzy’s Room. Has the music developed over the last couple of years?

TOLLIVER: I’ve written a lot of new things, which I’m performing with this big band project. Some of it may be a little more evolved from let’s say 30 years ago. I’ve been writing this stuff for over 35 years, I guess. Actually more than that, because I actually started messing around with big band stuff in the late ‘60s.

But again, to answer the question you asked previously: What we were doing in the ‘60s is still so alive and well now that you can work on that, and it’s still fresh and new. Anything that’s new coming now at this point can’t really supplant that. I mean, the music created in the ‘60s…

TP:   A lot of very talented students have come through the New School during your time. Let’s talk about the ways they’ve built off that body of music in building their own sounds. And let’s talk about how the music you came up in, and that incredible scene you came up in, that golden age where the whole history of the music was available every night if you were willing to take it in…

TOLLIVER:   Everybody was still alive, with the possible exception of Clifford Brown and Charlie Parker and Fats Navarro and perhaps Hot Lips Page.

TP:   Is it attitudinal? Is it vocabulary? What are the dynamics that separate the musical vocabulary of the ‘60s, which stops being recorded by major labels after ‘69, and certainly not after Miles goes electric…

TOLLIVER:   Alfred Lion made the rest of the boys toe the line by just bringing out new, great talent all the time. But he got tired and by the time I arrived, he had sold the company and retired.

TP:   Otherwise you would have been a Blue Note artist.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. After that, Creed Taylor came along with his new idea for mating the…I don’t know which description you can say except that it was a grand idea, I think, because he gave some of our great artists a chance to really see some financial rewards by still soloing great but with a more, let’s say, accessible to the general public… It was not geared to jazz fans at all. Jazz fans would buy it simply because they wanted to hear the solos on it. But it was geared to a wide audience and it worked. So what happened was that all that great innovative stuff that was going on both compositionally and improvisationally in the ’50s and ‘60s sort of was in a vacuum. The newer generation began to feed off the crossover that was happening in the ’70s, and of course, Miles made a move after 7 years or so off the scene and came back, which gave it even more impetus in the ‘80s and ‘90s…

TP:   What did you think of what Miles was doing in the ‘70s? Did you like those bands?

TOLLIVER:   It would be imprudent of me to pass judgment on any way Miles went.

TP:   What was your own opinion at the time?

TOLLIVER:   I decided not to have an opinion, because I enjoyed his bands of the ‘60s, and I sort of just watched with a lot of interest how he was running this in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He was having fun in his senior citizenry.

TP:   But in the ‘70s, when he started to go that way, it coincided almost exactly with Strata East. Wayne leaves, Keith Jarrett comes in…

TOLLIVER:   I had no interest in going in that direction, because I already had a direction I was going in, and I knew I was going to expound on that for a while. So it was of no interest to me to go in that direction that they were going in. It would have meant changing the beat. It would have meant no longer jazz drumming. It would have meant rock drumming, and I wasn’t going to have that. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with rock drumming. But that’s rock.

TP:   Well, you’ve got some funk beats, or rhythms that can be interpreted as such anyway. But you’ve been teaching for 13 years at a school whose students have a lot to do with the way the music is evolving. The music of the ‘60s, let’s break it down, not socially, but the actual musical ideas, how the kids who have come through the New School, like the Stricklands, Robert Glasper…

TOLLIVER:   They all came through me.

TP:   Brad Mehldau probably preceded you.

TOLLIVER:   No, he didn’t precede me. He just wasn’t in any of my classes.

TP:   These musicians all know the Blue Note food groups by heart. I’m just thinking about the ideas that were animating the Blue Note sound, and which are still your lodestone, which you still draw upon. Why is it such a rich vocabulary?

TOLLIVER:   You mean the Blue Note sound?

TP:   The Blue Note sound and the sounds that still inspire you.

TOLLIVER:   Because Alfred and the musicians themselves put together different groups to play the repertoire of themselves to such an extent that you could almost bet that, no matter what the pairing of a particular group of musicians, this would be a first-rate recording for history. That happened time and time again, and hundreds of LPs issued in that manner. So the vocabulary that was developed through the Blue Note catalog – and to a certain extent Prestige also and Keepnews’ companies – were for the most part repertorial work played by great stylists. This body of work is lasting because it’s repertorial.

TP:   By “repertorial” you mean it’s canonical…

TOLLIVER:   I don ‘t know the exact dictionary definition of repertory, but it’s something like playing several compositions a season with a set group, so that each group gets a chance to expound on this repertory. The language that was developed by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, off of them harmonically, permeated through the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, only changing a couple of times, with Trane making his entrance and doing some things harmonically a little different, and with Elvin Jones making the move progression-wise after Max Roach – and of course, Roy Haynes. But the language, the repertory, actually played the musicians. The repertory itself made the artist play. For me, that’s the reason why when I’m doing this big band stuff, I wanted the guys that I picked to do it, so that they then pick up on that and make it even greater.

TP:   Within jazz historiography, when people think about the line of trumpet vocabulary, you and Woody Shaw are the culmination of a timeline, and then there’s a ten-year gap, and then Wallace Roney and Terence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis pick up on it and go in some different directions. But you and Woody Shaw, before the “end of history,” where musicians begin to embrace the whole timeline of vocabulary… You and Woody Shaw sort of end the thing. Is that accurate?

TOLLIVER:   Yes, it is accurate. Woody and I… Alfred would not give us a record date. Woody had recorded with Horace Silver and other artists. I had recorded with Horace and of course Jackie McLean. But because he was retiring, he wasn’t going to “make any more trumpet stars.” The way you got in, if you got to Blue Note and you got a deal with Alfred to do one-two-three records a year, you would then be Downbeat’s New Star on the trumpet and then off you go. Woody and I got caught right at the end, and Alfred wouldn’t give us that in, even though we had already been tapped by other greats to record on Blue Note and worked… By that time, we had already worked with some of the heavy-duties. This could have been, and was devastating probably to both of us… A little bit more to him than me, I think, because I made a decision that I was going to do something about that, which was to make my own recordings. It took Woody another four-five years before he was able to deal with Muse and then Columbia with Dexter. Historically, with the two of us being the last of that group of trumpet players… There was a period… Of course, Miles and Freddie were the guys the industry was dealing with in terms of the crossover stuff in the ‘70s…

TP:   Once you decided that you weren’t going to be a pharmacist and that you were going to be a musician… This happened in the middle of the Civil Rights movement and all these roiling ideas…

TOLLIVER:   I probably never was going to be a pharmacist unless I could have continued in school while I was doing what I was doing. Because in my junior year, I had found certain ways of playing a trumpet that I’d been looking for. So there was no need for me to stay in school down in Washington, D.C.

TP:   What were you looking for?

TOLLIVER:   My own way of playing the trumpet.

TP:   Can you break that down a bit? If you care to.

TOLLIVER:   A style. That this is me. That someone hears me, they know that’s me. Rather than playing some of my heroes. And playing that well enough to get gigs. It wasn’t good enough for me to just emulate some heroes well enough that you could  get gigs, because you sounded great playing them.

TP:   Your phrasing seems completely unique to me. The way you organize rhythm…

TOLLIVER:   I’m working off rhythm a lot, more than I am let’s say linearly playing lines. That’s true. I’m working off rhythmical things. But if I could have brought my classroom from Howard University back up to New York with me while I was trying to get into this thing, then I probably would have done both at the same time. But there was no way to stay in Washington, D.C. at that moment when I felt I was ready to try this thing and finish my studies. I was lucky to get in with Jackie McLean almost instantaneously when I got here, so there was just no need to go back to school.

TP:   You must have reminded him of a souped-up Kenny Dorham or something, because you have a sort of cry in your sound, a vocalized thing…

TOLLIVER:   Maybe. He certainly was one of my heroes, and any serious trumpet student of this music. Kenny Dorham is big.

TP:   The other reference I’m hearing a lot is Dizzy. You seem to have soaked up more Dizzy than some…

TOLLIVER:   Rhythmically. But no one can play like Dizzy Gillespie. Actually, there was one person who gave you the feeling of Dizzy – Lonnie Hillyer.

TP:   Speaking of pre Jon Faddis players.

TOLLIVER:   Well, Jon Faddis only in the way Dizzy plays high. Jon can do that, of course, with this phenomenal ability he has. But I mean, to actually tell a story in improvising, Lonnie Hillyer was the one who came the closest that I ever heard.

TP:   So you come upon your own style when you’re about 21…

TOLLIVER:   Since I was 18.

TP:   You said your second or third year. Did you go to college early?

TOLLIVER:   Let’s see…Yeah, about 20.

TP:   You’ve pretty much been adding iterations and refinements to that style for 43 years.

TOLLIVER:   Mmm-hmm.

TP:   Sounds really modern.

TOLLIVER:   You know, I was in a freshman class at Howard University that had some heckuva young people. Fabulous… Andrew White. Other politicals, like Stokely Carmichael…

TP:   Did you play a lot with Billy Harper back in the ‘60s?

TOLLIVER:   No. This is the first time we’re playing together. We were always good acquaintances because of the Strata East project. We have one, Capra Black, which I think is one of his best recordings ever. So we’ve been knowing each other for over 40 years. I remember when he first came to New York, the night when he first hung out. He’s a home run hitter, to use a phrase, and that’s what I want. I want home run hitters. Whenever there’s a chance to have him, I expect to have him in this setting. Well, he did a lot of playing with Thad Jones. Big band is not new to him at all.

TP:   So did Jimmy Owens.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. Actually, Jimmy and Billy only recently have been playing with me on this big band thing. Originally, I started using some other musicians whom I wanted to hear in this setting, and then it was time to call on Billy and Jimmy, and they were available the last few times.

TP:   What are you looking for from the drummer? You had Greg Hutchinson last week, and by the end of the week, he was destroying that music!

TOLLIVER:   Right. Again, this music will play you… The music that I write is intended to play the musicians. To take no prisoners. And in order for him to gain control of it, he will then play that music and take it even further. That’s what happened with Greg Hutchinson, and it must happen with the kind of music that I write and what I expect out of the men I call on to play it.

TP:   The music has so much energy. Most big band music you hear now is orchestral, there’s an arc, crescendos, decrescendos, colors, a broad harmonic palette. But yours is energy all the time.

TOLLIVER:   Well, there’s such a thing as overwriting. After all, we are playing this so-called thing named jazz. Jazz is about theme, melody, call-and-response – but improvising. If you take away improvising and swing, then it seems to me that you are taking away two of the prime elements that allows us to call ourselves jazz musicians. Well, a lot of people could say, “Well, I’m not a jazz musician. I don’t want to be called a jazz musician. I’m a total musician.” Well, that’s fine. But for whatever the reason, we have a name called “jazz” for this music, and you know it when you’re listening to this music because of the way the drummer plays. If you hear TING, TING-A-LING, TING-A-LING, that’s jazz. If you don’t hear that, then it’s some other kind of music. And that’s fine. Therefore, if you overwrite, you are taking away from those elements which I just mentioned, which is theme, melody, counterpoint if you want, but not overly done. Because we want to hear the solos. We want to hear some improvising. Improvising is the meat of jazz, and the drummer propelling that improvising. Therefore, careful considerations have to be taken when you select the drummer. Because the wrong drummer can destroy everything. Not literally speaking…

TP:   But if they’re not in synch with the concept… I mean, you don’t have to play TING, TINGALING, TINGALING with certain music. In fact, it might not be appropriate for certain music. But for your music… It still needs to be more than that. It needs to be very elaborated.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. But it’s not jazz if it’s not TING, TINGALING, TINGALING. I’m sorry. TING, TINGALING, TINGALING, TINGALING is jazz. It’s what we are about. Now, if I want to play other forms that are coming off of this, like free forms, then… Okay. When Trane went free, totally free, Elvin exited. The reason why is because free forms of music requires everyone to be in synch with doing that and not worrying about supporting the soloist strictly in time. I like free form, but I don’t necessarily call it jazz. If I’m going to call it jazz, I’m talking about TING, TINGALING. I’m sorry. I am talking about TING, TINGALING, TINGALING. The reason why I am dogmatic about that is that Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk – and of course, Kenny Clarke and Max Roach after that – helped to create this language in such a way that it requires, just as in classical music, there are certain things which happen, that you can do a little differently here and there, like all the modern techniques which are important with classical music, but at the base sitting underneath that is this rock-solid thing which allows you to do all these other things. For instance, free form coming off of that, and huge elaborations in an orchestral way. Even with the things which Gil Evans did for Miles Davis, they never lost that entity of jazz.

TP:   Let me ask you about your early big band charts…

TOLLIVER:   But do you understand what I’m saying? I’m very dogmatic about that.

TP:   You’re saying that jazz is a specific thing, and other things are related to jazz but aren’t jazz as you know it?

TOLLIVER:   No, I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that the language, the repertoire, the underpinnings of jazz is a specific thing, and the reason why… You asked me about the drums. The drum is just about one of the most important links to that. If you took away the drums from my music, you could actually call it a lot of other types of music. You could call it all the new words they use for describing music. Crossover. A lot of nomenclatures. If you took drumming away from Miles Davis’ groups, if you took Elvin Jones away from John Coltrane, then it would be totally free-form jazz. This is very important. People don’t understand that, that the drum… I might as well say it. The drum is the most important thing in jazz. If that element is not there, whether it’s straight-ahead swing, which is what they call mainstream of straight-ahead jazz; or more loose and free, where you have more modernistic approaches to whatever the song is and improvisation and so on; or totally free, which is still cool… But you have to have the musicians who are in synch to do that. If you bring a bebopper over here and ask him to do that, and he doesn’t know how to do that, this is ridiculous.

TP:   You played with all the great drummers, just about.

TOLLIVER:   Yes, but I also plant my ears what the leader intended. I was with Archie Shepp when he was writing all that stuff. I mean, he’d come down to my loft and he’d bring this piece that stretched from one wall to the other, and we’d play this stuff. But the ears are in synch. You can’t take a fellow who’s coming up now and put him in the element of what you’re talking about, the ‘60s, if he hasn’t already done his homework on that. Fortunately, the students who have come through me at the New School, in particular Keyon Harold, has done totally his homework. To me, he’s the best thing I’ve heard of the young fellows playing trumpet today. He has big ears and he can apply that base to any modernistic things that are going on now. But again, the drums is the most important element for me in jazz, and there’s a reason why my music has so much rhythm to it and has so much energy. Because I require the drummer to really lay it on.

TP:   Maybe that’s what makes it sound so modern and fresh. Someone like Greg Hutchinson has that base, but he’s also very contemporary.

TOLLIVER:   Right. He has a wide base.

TP:   That night at Iridium, I asked if Thad Jones was an influence. There are some obvious parallels. You’re both trumpet players, you’re both self-taught…

TOLLIVER:   That’s just by accident!

TP:   Nevertheless. You’re both self-taught arrangers and composers. You both got into big band chart writing…

TOLLIVER:   From small groups.

TP:   …from small groups and sort of by accidents. So how much of an influence?

TOLLIVER:   That was my hero.

TP:   Well, talk about that band… [END OF SIDE A]

TOLLIVER:   I was about 24 when he formed that band. I‘d go there just to hear him, and he’d say to me I could play with him if I wanted to. But I had too much respect for that. I thought you had to have honed your skills… Even though I had already worked with Oliver Nelson and Gerald Wilson, Thad was so… There’s no words to explain Thad Jones. As great as Gil Evans is, that’s a whole nother greatness. But Thad Jones could write an arrangement without going to the piano. I thought that’s like God at work! Every note would be correct. Everything would be perfect. And he had the men who could PLAY this difficult stuff. That was the marvelous thing. So I watched that, and I thought I can’t possibly hope that I was going to happen like that. That’s the reason why I never mentally wanted to think about having to have a big band, because this would be too much. Watching that happen, how could it possibly… That you could do that, you could write that kind of  music, and then have the musicians to play it! I never thought that I would be in a position where I could have that, so I never wanted it, because it would have been too much mentally to hope for or want that, and know that you actually could write music like that, but then to find the musicians who could PLAY it…

TP:   Thad Jones is like a post-Ellington writer, He gave everyone a melody. You tend to use the sections more as homophonic units. Was that deliberate? Were you trying to differentiate yourself…

TOLLIVER:   Well, a lot of times I want the sections to talk to each other.

TP:   A lot of call-and-response

TOLLIVER:  Absolutely. That’s one of my devices. In that respect, it becomes more personal. People recognize me right away. But there was no device that was not available to Thad Jones.  That was the incredible thing. He’s a big influence on me. Total.

TP:   But it seems that the influence is not a direct thing can be traced into your sound.

TOLLIVER:   Not in the way I write. No, you can’t.

TP:   It’s more spiritual.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. I can tell you one thing which is apparent, is to have the best players alive available. I saw how he did that. There’s a reason why all those heavy-duty guys are in that band, because he needed them in order to play the music that he wrote. That stuck me with all the time. Whenever I would do big band stuff, I had to take time, way ahead of time, to find the guys who were available…the big-time horses, make sure they were available so I could call on them. So if I wanted to take this big band to the next level, I had to also make sure those men are available. It’s not easy.

TP:   They want to be paid, and it’s a big band!

TOLLIVER:   Even though they love me, they still want to get paid.

TP:   You’d be the same way probably.

TOLLIVER:   Well, yes and no. I think they probably would go a long way with me until things happen, which is what’s been happening. That’s the same thing that happened with Thad, how they got started. All those great studio guys they were using, they already were doing okay, so a Monday night they maybe started without any money being paid to them…

TP:   So why haven’t you done a Monday night thing?

TOLLIVER:   Because there’s no time for that. There was a lot of time then, to build something like that. You’ve got to go big with this NOW. It’s now or never. I don’t have time to wait to build that.

TP:   Because you’re 62.

TOLLIVER:   Well, not just that. It’s that, man, I wrote some of those music over 20 years ago! If I’m going to play it, I want to play it big time.

TP:   Did music ever have a political connotation to you?

TOLLIVER:   It may be read in, but absolutely not. I’m not there.

TP:   But you’re going up there, you’re wearing the beret, you’re wearing the leather jacket, when you conduct you have your fist up, the Huey Newton thing…

TOLLIVER:   [LAUGHS] Yeah.

TP:   You went to college with Stokely Carmichael, and jazz was a political thing in the ‘60s. Apart from any particular political platform…

TOLLIVER:   There’s only one thing that I am guilty of, if you will, and that is ownership. I’m a believer in ownership of your intellectual property or art form.

TP:   I lived in Chicago in the ‘70s and I knew a lot of people in the AACM…

TOLLIVER:   Well, we were doing that at the same time as they were, but I wasn’t even aware of them.

TP:   All I’m saying is that I think it’s coming out of a similar consciousness: Own your means of production, don’t let yourself be exploited, and express yourself with autonomy.

TOLLIVER:   Yes, but it’s not political. It has nothing to do with politics. A lot of people have tried to read the political and the racial overtones into the creation of Strata East Records. It had absolutely nothing to do with that. It had to do with ownership, pure and simple.

TP:   What’s the status of Strata-East Records right now?

TOLLIVER:   Strata-East is alive and well. At one point there were 40 or 50 product, and I cut it down because after ‘82, as I said, I needed a rest. It went down to maybe 20 or 30 [items in the catalog]. Every few years I’ll lease overseas or to Japan just to keep things going that way. The label was never created to put artists under contract, so it’s a completely kind of concept. It was created as a conduit for artists to get their product to the marketplace, pure and simple.

TP:   But now it looks like you may enter into a relationship with Mosaic.

TOLLIVER:   I have entered into a relationship with Mosaic. Michael Cuscuna goes back to the days when he was an intern at Record World, just being brought in to do his writings for LPs. He had a paid on West End Avenue, and when I came out with the first big band records to launch the label, I sussed him out, and we’ve been acquaintances ever since.

TP:   But let’s be concrete. There’s a Mosaic Select box within the purview of this story.

TOLLIVER:   It was just released last week. We’ve been tossing around for a couple of years how we could get involved with further distribution of the Strata East stuff, and it just dawned on him, I guess, since I’ve got this thing going now with the big band, that it might not be a bad idea to get started, and better sooner than later, and to kick things off sequentially, the way the label developed, which is the quartet things, the early things at Slugs, and perhaps next the big band things, and then other artists following.

TP:   But what’s coming out now is Slugs and Live in Tokyo, so it catches you live and in performance…

TOLLIVER: And unissued, I might add. Over an hour’s worth of stuff. The thing is to find unissued things and put those together as well.

TP:   Do you have intentions to record this big band?

TOLLIVER:   Oh, I have every intention.

TP:   How close are you to realizing that? Might you undertake it yourself again?

TOLLIVER:   If I have to.

TP:   It’s a much less complex proposition to record yourself.

TOLLIVER:   And convoluted. Obviously, I’m going to record the present big band project. It’s only a matter of when. Shortly, I hope. Whether I’m doing it myself or someone else, it’s a question of the costs, like always. Hopefully, that can be resolved soon.

TP:   You’ve said a few times that big band isn’t your primary interest, that it remains small group, trumpet playing, improvisation, rhythm, energy. But what do you think you’ve accomplished with the big band? What’s your position on the timeline?

TOLLIVER:   Well, I feel that if I am successful with picking the right musicians to play my music, there shouldn’t be any obstacles with getting the music out to the public in the short term. In the long term, I’m still loving the small group situation, but one way I can have my cake and eat it, too, is the way in which I write the big band music, I’m still playing small group inside of it when I play.

TP:   But can you evaluate your accomplishment as an orchestrator and composer? I think you can find objective language.

TOLLIVER:   I want to continue to write music which reflects I was talking about before – the essence of jazz. By example, my arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight. To take songs that represent the essence of jazz, the repertoire of jazz, which is the underpinnings of our music… Because most of the great writers and composers of jazz were also great improvisers. To me, it’s inextricably tied together. Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, they wrote like they played. They were compositional geniuses off of their idiom. You can go down the line from there. All the great players, almost to a man, were great composers and arrangers. So to me, the repertoire is the underpinning of this music, and I would hopefully like to compose and of course arrange for the big band, in my style, music that will keep that alive.

TP:   Did you ever have any formal lessons in orchestration?

TOLLIVER:   No.

TP:   Not one. It’s all self-taught.

TOLLIVER:   The whole thing is self-taught.

TP:   You had lessons on trumpet, though.

TOLLIVER:   Well, if you could call my uncle giving me five dollars to go downtown to a place called Hartnett Studios, which had some teachers on staff who would come down on Saturdays, and you’d sit there in a chair, and you’d put an (?) book up, and you’d play the book, which you’d already mastered, and the guy would say, “Very good, thank you very much,” and he’d take your money and you’d go home. So it was just a reaffirmation that you had done your homework at home.

TP:   Were you a natural trumpet player?

TOLLIVER:   Yes. My grandmother got a cornet for me when I was 8 years old. There was a wonderful old gentleman down in Jacksonville, Florida, named Mr. Walker. Geez, I can still remember his name. He was the person that you would go to for learning your instrument. I went there, and he said, “Can you hold the instrument?” I held the instrument. “Do you know where the fingers go?” I knew where they go. Then he said, “Let me hear you play something,” and I played something, then he said, “Okay, I can’t show you…”

TP:   That wasn’t the first time you’d picked up the instrument.

TOLLIVER:   No. When my grandmother got it, I’d already taken it at home and I said, “Oh, well, this fits…”

TP:   The trumpet is not an easy instrument.

TOLLIVER:   No, because of the embouchure…

TP:   And to play the way you play is probably the most difficult… You don’t like to make things easy on yourself.

TOLLIVER:   No, I don’t. You hit the nail on the head. I take the most difficult path for improvisation. Because it’s easy to actually play a number of choruses and never make a mistake, never break down. You just play them effortlessly. That’s no fun. You need to get in hot water by trying something out right from the jump, get yourself out of that, and move on to the next chorus. I rumble. I like the rumble.

TP:   Do you still practice every day?

TOLLIVER:   Not every day. I should. Because a trumpet player should put their lips to the mouthpiece at least an hour a day, just to keep the embouchure dead-on. You do need to put your chops on that iron, because the lips… It’s trained to sense the molecules of this iron, and it only needs to touch it a little bit, a half-hour or an  hour every day, and it stays just right. Now, if you leave it for a few days, or whatever length of time, it won’t respond right away, and if you ask it… It’s just like a racehorse. Those stallions, you can see they’re all wound up when they get them in the gate. But boom, when that gate opens and they’re out there, not every one of them… If they haven’t been brought right to the right moment in the weeks prior, with running every day up to a certain clocking on the time, they’re not going to get to that eighth pole, and they’ll break down. That’s what happens with a trumpet player. You’ll break down if you don’t stick with the instrument every day or every other day, if possible.

TP: Most cats when they hit 60 don’t play with the…

TOLLIVER:   Well, Clark Terry is just the greatest. He plays just as well as he did when he was 20. There’s nobody even in that world, in that class. He’s a very rhythmical player.

TP:   There was this dichotomy in the ‘60s between jazz as entertainment and being an art. It seems like you always put yourself on the side of being an artist.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. But if the musicians… If all of you are playing well together, it is both stimulating and entertaining to the fans of the music. Because even though they may dig how well you’re executing something, they also can be entertained by the fact that you’re all having fun playing that stuff together, even if it looks hard and mean, if guys are frowning and all that sort of business. But it can be entertaining if the listener and the fans go away with a feeling that the group played well together. For me, that’s entertaining. If you’re executing that art very well, then it can also be entertaining to the listener.

TP:   Do you like club gigs?

TOLLIVER:   I like anything in which you can professionally present the music.

TP:   But the notion of playing five nights with the same ensemble, and as you said, allowing the repertoire to play them over that time must be…

TOLLIVER:   Yes. Actually, I miss the way the cabarets used to be in the old days, which is that we’d get started around 9 o’clock and we’d go until 3:30 or 4 o’clock. Now, starting at 7:30 is really a bit early. Way too early. You’re home at midnight in bed. You’re through by 10:30, and 11:30 on the weekends. It doesn’t feel right.

[—30—]

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