Monthly Archives: April 2013

For Slide Hampton’s 81st Birthday, a WKCR Interview From 1994

In recognition of the 81st birthday of Locksley Wellington “Slide” Hampton, the great trombonist-arranger, here’s the transcribed proceedings of a “Musician’s Show” that he did with me on June 22, 1994, in which he selected music that had influenced him, and discussed his life and times.

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[MUSIC: Jazz Masters, “Tour De Force,” 1993]
SH:    …I think that first composition we played there, “Tour De Force,” was a great way to start the show.  It made me feel real good.

Q:    Me too.  The three trumpets, Faddis, Roy Hargrove and Claudio Roditi all conversing.

SH:    Yes!  It’s good to hear the guys playing like that.  And each of the guys have such a different style.  Right in  that piece alone, you’ll hear a lot of the influence of a lot of the music that we’re going to hear during the show, and where their influences are coming from.

Q:    We’ll be begin with music from several periods by the source of modern jazz, Louis Armstrong. and parenthetically, we’ll hear some of the seminal early trombone players playing at somewhat later in their careers, like Jack Teagarden and Trummy Young.  When did you first hear Pops?

SH:    Well, actually Pops had been a favorite of mine for many, many years.  I was born into a musical family, so we were listening to some music all along.  We were hearing everything that was available which was on the radio at the time.  And one of the most popular artists at that time was Louis Armstrong.  He’s had a big influence on me; and he’s had a big influence on all of the musicians actually.  I heard the group in person with Trummy Young and I heard the group also in person with Jack Teagarden.  I had the opportunity to play for a week in Atlantic City opposite Louis Armstrong’s sextet with Trummy Young, when I was playing with Lionel Hampton — and also Ella Fitzgerald was also on that same time.  So I spent a week there listening to Louis Armstrong.  The amazing thing was that every time he played it was wonderful.

Q:    Was it different every time?  Did he have a set solo, or was it a fresh improvisation every time?

SH:    Well, it always felt fresh.  What I noticed, though, is that he was very organized in his approach to the composition.  What he played always had a very, very strong relationship to what the composition was and the harmony of the composition and everything.  He was never just playing at random.  He was an improviser that really did try to interpret the composition that he was playing, and make his soul a part of that composition.  It was really wonderful.

Q:    It also seems to me when I listen to him, that the trumpet is an extension of his incredible voice.  He’s my favorite singer as well as my favorite trumpet player.  I see the two as intertwined somewhat.

SH:    I feel the same way.  And the thing that’s really wonderful, which I’ve remarked about Pops, is that he came along at a time when the musicians didn’t have a chance to do a lot of formal training, the black musicians in this country, because of the race situation and everything that existed then — and it still exists, in fact.  But he was just a natural player.  He could pick the trumpet up after maybe singing a song, or singing a couple of choruses, and start playing incredible stuff that you would think most people would have to do a little warming-up or something.  But in his solo, he’d just pick the trumpet up after singing a chorus of some song, and play some fantastic music.  I saw him do that kind of thing in movies and in person often, and it was tremendous to see that.

Q:    You share a background with musicians like Louis Jordan and Lester Young of being born into a family band that played carnivals, circuses, so forth and so on.  I read in one of the liner notes that you started blowing when you were three years old!

SH:    Well, actually, at 3 I had to take part in the family… Actually, it was the family profession by that time.  I was too small to play the trombone certainly; I couldn’t have gotten past third position or something.  But I danced.  I first danced and sang in the band.  Then I actually played trumpet a little while, and then I finally started to play the trombone at 12 years old.

That was a wonderful period, because in this country at that time the pop music was the music that all the musicians were actually creating, and the artistic music that was being created was Pop music at that time.  That’s what the audience was listening to.

Q:    The dance music of the period.

SH:    Yes.  And the people going to the dances… There was always a group of people that went to the dances, and they would stand right in front of the bandstand, and listen to the band, and then there was a group behind them that would do dancing.  It was a wonderful period in music in this country.

Q:    A few words about your family that organized this band.  What was your father’s musical background and your mother’s?

SH:    Well, my father was the one that organized the band.  He was a tenor saxophonist and he played drums.  My mother played harp and piano.

Q:    Where was he from?

SH:    Virginia.  They’re both from Virginia.  A wonderful man, my father — and my mother.  And to have twelve kids and keep them together the way they did, you had to be really something special.  He taught all of us.  He was a schoolteacher also.  He was an artist and a carpenter — he did everything.  But at that time you had to do everything to just maintain your existence.

But he put the band together, and everybody in the family had to participate in the musical part of the profession, in the band.  So made that a rule.

Q:    Would the band play all year, or only during the warm-weather months?  How was that organized?

SH:    We played whenever we could get a job, and usually that was all year.  We were playing different kinds of jobs.  There were fairs at that time, and circuses, and political things going on.  We played anything, any time they would ask.  They could call us at 3 o’clock in the morning and say there’s a job, and we’d go play it.

Q:    This was during the late 1930’s and up until about the end of World War Two, I guess.

SH:    Yeah, up to the Forties.  The band still existed even in the Fifties.  We came to New York, I guess, in the early Fifties.

Q:    Did it function as a territory band, or did you travel around the country?

SH:    We traveled all around the country, in the strangest transportation you could imagine, but we went everywhere.  We went to the South, and we played often concerts opposite Louis Jordan.  That’s one of the guys who really left a big impression on me.  I remember playing opposite that group.  We had about a 12-piece band then, and he had his five pieces; and man, they would swing you into bad health with five pieces.  We’d usually go up and play a set, and then he would go up and play a set, and we would play one and he would play one.  So it was a great experience for us.

But we came to play at the Apollo Theater at Carnegie Hall in the early Fifties with the band, had a big success here.  I tried to talk my brothers and sisters into staying in New York at the time, but they wanted to go back to Indianapolis, so we had to go back.

Q:    Did your father also take care of your education?  You said he was a schoolteacher.

SH:    Well, we actually went to school in Indianapolis.  We did have a private teacher for a while, too.

Q:    Is that where you were based, in Indianapolis?

SH:    We stayed in Indianapolis most of my childhood.  But for the rest of the kids, we were moving around to different places.  But after we did move to Indianapolis, we stayed there, and that’s where we went to school, and that’s where we actually developed most of our orchestra repertoire and everything like that.

Q:    What kind of repertoire would you be dealing with at the time?

SH:    Well, from a lot of the orchestras that we’re going to hear today.  We were playing music from Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton, Fletcher Henderson, all of the guys.

Q:    Let’s get started, because this is too exciting!

SH:    Yeah, I’m ready!

Q:    We’ll hear Louis Armstrong doing “Chinatown” from 1931.  I guess if you were a young trumpet player, this must have just thrilled you.

SH:    Louis Armstrong inspired you whether you played the trumpet or not.  He inspired everybody.

[MUSIC:  Louis Armstrong, “Chinatown,” “Weather Bird,” w/Teagarden, “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue,” w/Trummy (only obbligatos), “I’m Crazy About My Baby”]

Q:    In this next set of music we’ll explore some of the pre-World War Two, pre-Bebop, so to speak, trombone players, such as Trummy Young and Jack Teagarden and Lawrence Brown and Vic Dickenson and so forth.  By the way, Slide, when did the trombone become your main instrument and vehicle of expression?

SH:    Well, as far as my family is concerned, it became my main instrument when I was born, because they didn’t have any trombone players.  They only waited for my arms to get long enough, and they said, “You’re going to play trombone.”  That’s how it happened.  They gave it to me on the left side, so I play it left-handed — although I’m right-handed.  But that’s how it happened.  Actually, they chose it for me.  If I can ever thank them for anything, I do thank them for choosing the trombone, because I love that instrument, and the more that I scuffle with it and try to learn how to play it, the more I love it.

Q:    How analytical were you about the trombone?  You said you would listen voluminously to records and the radio.  Would you try to copy solos?  How did you go about learning to play it?

SH:    Well, in the beginning we were very enthusiastic about  learning, and we were in a very great musical environment in Indianapolis.  There were a lot of young musicians that were coming up there.  Also at the time, a lot of bands were constantly coming to Indianapolis to play; every week there were four or five bands there.  So we were very inspired, the public was very into music, and we thought that if you just practiced hard enough, you’d learn how to play good.  We didn’t know that you really had to have a sort of process of practicing to develop.  So we practiced all day long.  Sometimes we’d practice so much that we couldn’t play anything, you know, because we’d just kill our chops by practicing.

But it was a wonderful environment anyway.  We did learn a lot about music in general.  And I was constantly listening to all of these musicians that we’re listening to today.  Whenever we could get records… We were very poor, so we didn’t have that many records available to us.  But whenever we could get records, we were always listening to Trummy Young and Vic Dickenson and Jack Teagarden and Tommy Dorsey and all of the guys at that time.  So we were very inspired by that.

A lot of people don’t know that the trombone was quite popular at that time.  In the Sixties and Seventies, you didn’t hear the trombone very much at all on recordings, but right from the Forties and the Fifties back, the trombone was a very popular instrument.  Some of the great bands were actually led by trombone players.

Q:    Let’s talk a little more about the trombone in this period.  I guess Don Redman was the first to use the three-trombone section, and then that became pretty much it in the big bands of the 1930’s.

SH:    Some bands, of course, didn’t use any trombone players, but there were usually two trombones (maybe); there were a lot of bands that had two trombones.  A few bands started to use three trombones a little later.  But the trombone was one of the solo instruments, so that’s the reason it was constantly heard much more than it was later.  It was a solo instrument, so whenever there were any recordings you would hear somebody like Trummy Young, Vic Dickenson, any of the guys that we mentioned.

Q:    I guess in the Tens and Twenties, there were a lot of marching bands… Well, the trombone has a fair amount of volume, which would have made it very good for days of pre-amplification.

SH:    You can’t have a marching band without trombone, so I guess I’ve always had a lot of regard for the marching bands.  I got a lot of my training in marching bands, too, and I think all musicians did actually at that time.  What happened out of those marching band ensembles… Most of the jazz bands in the Twenties were small groups, any amount of musicians they could get together.  The tradition of an organized group was usually six people.  But the marching bands were the thing I guess that inspired some of the composers to start to write music for larger ensembles, then you started to get some of the big bands come into existence.  The marching band probably had an influence on all of that.

Q:    Slide Hampton is also an arranger, so we’re going to hear a number of these trombonists in different situations, beginning with Trummy Young in the Lunceford band, and one of his great features, “Margie,” recorded in 1938.  A few words about the Lunceford band and Trummy Young.

SH:    Well, Jimmie Lunceford, of course, was one of the really great bands.  Jimmy Heath is always calling me and telling me, “I’ve got something by Jimmie Lunceford I want you to hear.”  He’s very much into Lunceford.  Lunceford was really one of the great bands.  I guess the reason that he maybe finally didn’t have the popularity that Duke had is because Duke himself was such a strong guy.  But a lot of people feel as though Lunceford was one of the main bands of the whole big band period.

Q:    Lunceford’s main arranger, of course, was Sy Oliver, who was responsible for what became the established sound of the band.

SH:    Yes, he did.  Sy Oliver was very important in that band.  Also, after he left Lunceford’s band, he went to help develop the repertoire of a lot of other bands.  A lot of people, when they hear the music that he did later, don’t relate it to the Jimmie Lunceford repertoire.

Q:    Well, let’s hear “Margie,” featuring the virtuosic trombonist Trummy Young.

[MUSIC: Lunceford/T. Young, “Margie (1938),” Dorsey/Teagarden, “The Blues (1939),” Vic Dickenson, “Keepin’ Out Of Mischief Now,” “Battle Axe” (1941)]

SH:    Ted, as I was listening to this music, as I remember, in a lot of the arrangements that I hear in some of the big bands, I hear some of the riffs and things from the small groups of the time, so that the small groups actually had a big influence on the whole concept of orchestration and arranging.  Actually, I guess a lot of the guys that were doing the writing were guys that had been in some of the small groups, and they were bringing some of that music right into the big band concept.

Q:    Talk a little bit about your ideas about the relationship of dance music in the 1930’s to the emergent new music of musicians who were to be the founders of Bebop, including Dizzy Gillespie.

SH:    Well, I saw a show on television a while ago about how important dance was in all the different societies.  And at one time in this society, dance was also very important.  So most of the music that was written was usually written with people dancing in mind.  When I went to hear Dizzy Gillespie’s band for the first time, at the Sunset Terrace in Indianapolis, people had said that it wouldn’t be a very danceable music, but I must say that they danced more to Dizzy’s music than they did to a lot of the bands that we know as being the really great dance bands, like Lionel Hampton and the guys.  Dizzy had the people dancing.  They were hanging off the rafters, really having a great time dancing.

Really great music, I think, unless it’s something that’s really specially written only for listening, will be music that will make you want to dance.  Dancing is a very important part of the development of any society, and the more that we’ve gotten away from it, I think it’s had a big effect on society.  I think that we have to employ more music in what we do that makes the people want to dance again.

Q:    In the next set of music, we’ll hear a few selections featuring Lawrence Brown with the Ellington band, which was a band that could function equally well as a listening band, a dance band — any type of band.

SH:    I danced especially to this composition that we’re about to play now.  I danced to this many times myself.  Actually, Duke’s band could play the same composition either for concert or they could play it for dancing.  They had such a variety…such a great ability to be able to do everything with their music.  The great thing about Duke, too, that I tell a lot of young guys, is that Duke continued to play a lot of the same songs he’d played twenty or thirty years before.  It shows you how long it takes to really get the most out of a song.

Q:    Well, he was always tinkering with his compositions, finding new ways to orchestrate and so forth.

SH:    Well, he probably didn’t actually premeditate to do it.  As he was going along, he heard different things on the composition, so he kept writing them over, not really trying to accomplish any great level of quality or anything, but just that he’d hear “Solitude” or something this year one way, next year he’d hear some other things on “Solitude,” so he kept writing it.  I think it’s very important to realize that in order to really get to know a composition, you have to play it a long time.  You might know the melody and you remember it.  But to really know it, you have to play it a long time.

[ETC., MUSIC: “I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So” (1945), “Slippery Horn” (1932), Woody Herman w/Bill Harris/Earl Swope, “Lollypop” (1949)]

Q:    Did you get to hear the Ellington band in Indianapolis a fair amount?

SH:    Yes.  In fact, all the bands came there.  I got to hear Count Basie’s band there.  In fact, I heard Billy Eckstine’s band there when Art Blakey was playing with him.

Q:    Was Charlie Parker in the band at that time?

SH:    No, he wasn’t in that band at the time, but…

Q:    This was after he left.

SH:    After he had left.  I think Dexter Gordon and some of the guys were still in the band, and I was lucky that I… I don’t know how I got in.  I guess we didn’t have an age limit on the dance-halls, because there wasn’t any alcohol being sold there.  People were just going there to dance.

Q:    What were the names of the main dancehalls in Indianapolis?

SH:    Let’s see… We had one that I remember all the big bands used to come to.  I think it was a dance hall in a place called the Claypool Hotel.  There was a dance hall in there.  It was a big place.  Several hundred people could get in there.  And all the bands, from time to time, would play there.  There was one theater that the bands used to come to, too, downtown.  I can’t remember the name of it right now, but I saw Stan Kenton’s band there with Charlie Parker, in fact — Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.  I guess that was the one time I heard Charlie Parker in person, was there, with that band.

Q:    A few other words about the musical community in Indianapolis in the mid- to late-1940’s.

SH:    Well, I was raised there with Wes Montgomery and J.J. Johnson and Freddie Hubbard and David Baker.  It was a real great musical environment there.  We all were very enthusiastic about learning.  I guess sometimes we were a little more in love with music than we were with really trying to face the reality of what it takes to really be a good musician.

Q:    How so?

SH:    Well, a lot of times you think that if you love it enough, that’s going to actually help you to develop the musicianship that you’ll need to take part in the professional musical world.  But that’s not really the case. It takes a lot of experience and a lot of understanding, a lot of help from a lot of people — which we did get from guys in the different big bands.  They were very helpful to the young musicians.  If they felt that you were really serious, they would give you all the help they could from their experience.

One great thing at that time I remember is that the musicians were very sincere and very critical of each other.  If there was something that was weak about what you were trying to do with a musician, they would tell you about it.  It wasn’t always patting you on the back and saying, “Great.”  I mean, they were telling you when there was something that you were doing that was not good also.  And I think that that was very healthy.

Q:    Of course, your family band was primary in your musical background.  But what were some local clubs and some of the strong local musicians who you learned from?

SH:    Well, there was a place called the Sunset Ballroom.  All of the big bands came there.  The Ferguson Brothers, who owned this ballroom were booking agents, and all the bands that were travelling throughout the South would usually come in first to Indianapolis to get their contracts and things, and then they would go and travel through the rest of the country.  Whenever you came there to get your contract, you usually had to play that ballroom.  Now, we were too young to go inside, so we would go to the back door and listen to the different bands.  But after we were old enough, we played there with the family band, too.

Then there were clubs on a street called Indiana Avenue.  There were clubs all up and down the street, and bands were playing there every night.  There was music every night, and it was just wonderful.

Q:    Talk about what the music sounded like.  Were they small combos?  Larger ensembles?  What sort of music were they playing?

SH:    Well, at that time the radio was a really great outlet for music.  You were hearing Count Basie and Duke Ellington and Jimmie Lunceford and Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey.   You were hearing that music over the radio all the time.  And in the clubs… You know, often you’d have a big band playing in a very small club,  The people were just so glad to be there, they didn’t even care whether it was crowded or too much smoke.  They were so glad to be there that they just went under any kind of circumstances.  There were more big bands at that time than there were small groups.

Q:    And we’re talking now about the years during World War Two?

SH:    Yes, and before the World War, during that time.  I guess you’d find that the main small groups were usually local musicians playing, and they were playing in some of the very small clubs.  And there were some talented musicians there in Indianapolis, too, people that never became popular at all.

Q:    Mention a few of them.

SH:    Well, one man, I remember his name was Earl Grandy.  He’s a pianist that was just an incredible musician.  Earl Grandy was a guy that had perfect pitch.  You could go to the piano and play a string of notes, and he could tell you what they all were.  If you’d go put your arm dow on the piano on a whole couple of octaves of notes, he could tell you, “Well, you heard this note down there, and that note,” and he could… He was a tremendous man, and he helped a lot of us that were just starting to become musicians.  He  helped a lot of us.  I remember he’d tell us from time to time, you know, “You’ve got to go home and practice; you’re far away from the mark.”  He was very critical.  But he was a real good musician, and certainly was a man that I’ll always have a great esteem for.

Q:    Any others who made a mark on you?

SH:    Oh, yes.  In town at that time there were guys who were coming, and they lived there, but they were going out with professional bands.  I remember Earl Walker was a great drummer that was there who played with Lionel Hampton, and of course, Wes and his brothers were there.

The great thing about Wes Montgomery and his brothers is that they were very, very devout musicians and very sincere.  They were practicing every day for hours.  That’s all they did.  When they weren’t playing out somewhere, they were at home practicing.  You could go there and find a group of them, all of them together practicing.   They would practice one composition for weeks before they would play it in public.  It was incredible, the dedication that they had and the kind of standards that they had set for themselves, how they wanted to have their music to sound before they would perform it in public.  I learned a lot from Wes and Buddy and Monk Montgomery and those guys.

Q:    In this next set we’ll hear a track by a trombonist who had a great impact on J.J. Johnson, who was a few years your elder and out of Minneapolis.  I guess he heard Fred Beckett after first going out on the road with the Snookum Russell Band, and had taken the first steps to becoming a professional musician.

SH:    Well, you always wonder about a guy like J.J. and we’re still wondering about him.  All the trombone players constantly, when J.J.’s around, we’re looking at him, trying to see, “What is it about this guy that’s so different?”  I’ve certainly asked him the question, and I imagine many other people have, too: “What was your influence?  What gave you the idea to take music in the direction that you did?”  And I very clearly remember him saying that Fred Beckett was one of the people that really influenced him.

At that time I had not heard much of Fred Beckett.  Of course, I had heard so many great trombone players.  You see, J.J., like Charlie Parker, came out of a period of music when there were a lot of great trombone players.  So if you were going to come up with something new, you had to really be doing something special, because there were already a lot of guys that were playing the trombone incredibly well.  When Charlie Parker came along, for instance, he came out of that period when the alto saxophone was really something special.  And those guys were all great players before Charlie Parker.  They were great readers, they played great in the ensemble, they were great soloists, their intonation was good.   So that had a big influence on the level of quality that you finally heard from guys like Charlie Parker and J.J. at that period; it was just fantastic.

Q:    The implication, then, is that really what Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and J.J. Johnson were coming up with wasn’t particularly any radical break, but more or less a natural evolution of things that were happening organically within the big bands and the dance music of the time.

SH:    If you go back and listen to some of the guys, like  Roy Eldridge and Lawrence Brown and those guys, you can definitely hear the link that J.J. came from, for instance, and where Dizzy came from.  If you go back and listen to Lester Young and Willie Smith and some of those alto saxophonists, you’ll hear where Charlie Parker came from, and how they were inspired to finally develop something that was even more sophisticated.  Because they were coming from a very sophisticated period of music.  When they started playing, music had already arrived at a very high level of  sophistication, because of Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson and all of the bands that were in existence at that time.

Q:    The great arrangers of the time.

SH:    Yes.  Those arrangers actually inspired a lot of the soloists with their concepts of harmony that they wrote in the music, that caused guys that wanted to be soloists to hear things that they might not have heard otherwise.

But then, you had Art Tatum and guys like that, that were those once-in-a-lifetime people that came along, who inspired everybody.  Art Tatum just had this natural thing for music.  I don’t think he even thought about what what one chord had to do with another as far as resolution was concerned.  He just resolved everything naturally.  It was the same way when you were listening to Louis Armstrong.  It’s incredible when you listen to that and you hear that he played with a rhythm section that sounded like it was recorded in the Twenties or playing in the Twenties or something, and then he comes out sounding like he’s years ahead of that, almost like he didn’t record at the same time that they did.  That was natural for him.  That was natural for Art Tatum.  If you go back and listen to Louis, you’ll hear a lot of things that Dizzy and Miles all the guys did that was coming out of that same concept.  Very close.

Q:    Fred Beckett didn’t record that much, which is why I think his being such a source for J.J. has perplexed people. I’m sure he heard him live, and was able to hear him stretch out.  Fred Beckett’s recordings are with the Harlan Leonard group.  Undoubtedly Charlie Parker would have heard him, too, because he played briefly with Harlan Leonard shortly before coming to New York.  Tadd Dameron did arrangements for the Harlan Leonard group as well, so there’s also that connection.  The piece we’ll hear is “A La Bridges,” a Tadd Dameron composition and arrangement from 1940, and it features, amongst other things, a trombone solo by Fred Beckett, as we continue on the Musician Show with Slide Hampton.

[MUSIC: Harlan Leonard/F. Beckett, “A La Bridges” (1940);  J.J. Johnson, “A Night In Tunisia (1955),” “When The Saints Go Marching In (19610”; F. Rosolino with Stan Kenton, “Frankly Speaking (1952)”]

Q:    What did you think of Fred Beckett’s solo?

SH:    He played beautiful.  He really played beautiful.  I can understand why, especially at that time when J.J. was listening to him, he must have been a great influence and really very impressive.  When you think about the fact that at that time the recording technique and everything was much different than it is now, and the instruments that they were playing were much different than the instruments are now, and those guys played wonderful on those instruments… It’s hard to understand, except that it’s a very natural thing that brought about the possibility of them being able to play like that, at that period of time.  You should have heard more of the flaws and more of the difficulty of playing, but they made it sound easy!

That’s one thing that was really wonderful about J.J. and about Louis Armstrong.  It sounds very easy when they do it, and it’s very consistent.  You don’t find after they’ve played, for instance, eight measures or a chorus or something, that they start to lose the control of their embouchure.  Their embouchure stays intact, even with all of this great improvisation that’s gone on and everything.  And that’s really something that’s very difficult to do, even for good musicians, to keep that consistent control over the sound of what they’re doing when they’re improvising.  Because of course, there’s a lot of energy that goes into improvising alone.  But to be able to keep the technical aspect of it together and all of that is just… Louis Armstrong was just fabulous for that.  I guess I can never understand that.

Q:    Well, I don’t think there’s any better person than Slide Hampton to give us an encapsulation of what is it about J.J. Johnson that is so great.

SH:    Well, I was playing with Maynard Ferguson in the early Sixties, and we played a concert opposite J.J. for two weeks — and it was impossible to understand that a human being could play that well.  It was every night, from the time that he would warm up.  It was perfect!  Just everything that you would imagine that a person should only do only once in a while, he played that way for the whole two weeks.  For the trombone players, of course, in the band, it was very intimidating.

Then I was at one of his recording dates, I remember.  This is the time when J.J. was playing that King 3B.  He sounded so wonderful that they couldn’t get that sound on the record.  It sounded marvelous on the record, but it didn’t sound as wonderful as it sounded in the studio.  It was like the microphone would only accept so much of the sound, and the rest of it wasn’t there.

Q:    Well, I think that’s another quality of his, that apart from all the technical virtuosity, he has a huge, warm, encompassing, enveloping sound.

SH:    It’s incredible, you know, when you think that he’s playing a normal size instrument, a 3B, which is an instrument around the size that a lot of guys play on.  But  he would get this huge sound, like he was playing on something that had a big bore almost like a Bach-36 or something like that.  And he kept that sound.  Even when he was moving all over the horn, he was keeping this sound, and at the same time improvising incredible things.

Q:    This is the Musician’s Show with Slide Hampton, and I guess now is a good time to mention that Slide Hampton and The Jazz-Masters primarily has been performing Slide Hampton’s arrangements of Dizzy Gillespie’s music. Is the repertoire of the band expanding?

SH:    We’re developing our next repertoire, which is going to be on the music of Charlie Parker.  The next album that we do will feature arrangements from all of the musicians in the band who are arrangers and orchestrators.

Q:    In some ways I think arranging Charlie Parker’s tunes would almost present more of a challenge than Dizzy Gillespie’s compositions, which had that sort of arranger concept within them and many of which were written with his big band in mind.  Most of Bird’s tunes were, if it all, only parenthetically done for big bands, and were performed in small combo situations.

SH:    Well, that’s true.  See, the thing about Dizzy’s compositions is that you heard them performed by large ensembles, and you heard Dizzy with large ensembles.  All of his compositions at one time or another have been played by some large ensemble.  So that gave you a lot of ideas, or at least a place to start with them.  Charlie Parker’s compositions, his really great compositions were usually never orchestrated in any way.  But I have always, even listening to them, remarked, man, there’s so much stuff there that you could do if you start to develop this thing and make an orchestration out of it or to arrange it.  I’ve found that it’s really, really a lot of fun writing his music.

Q:    Well, we’ve spoken about your development as a trombone player and we’ve spoken a little bit about the arrangers of the big bands, but we haven’t really discussed your career or avocation as an arranger and composer of music.  And I’d like to talk about your first exposure to Bebop.  I’d imagine, coming up when you did, you were an avid listener to all the records as they came out.

SH:    Well, yes.  Actually, the thing that happened to me and all of the musicians that I was raised with that actually directed us into the area of orchestration and arranging was that we felt this was all a part of being a musician.  In order to be a well-rounded, a complete musician, you had to learn about arranging and orchestration and composition.  So it wasn’t really something that we felt was separate from playing.  We felt that you couldn’t really be the best player unless you knew about these things.  If you wanted to play with other people playing ensembles, if you wanted to conduct orchestras, you had to learn to orchestrate and to arrange so you knew what you were dealing with when you were doing either one of those things by taking part in an ensemble or being a conductor, or even playing in front of an ensemble.

So we all were learning about orchestration, because we were hearing music all the time, man.  In our sleep we were hearing music.  We went to sleep listening to music, we woke up listening to it, we played and we rehearsed and practiced all day, and we listened to music all the time.  So arranging was a very natural thing.  When I asked Dizzy Gillespie, “Who inspired you to become an arranger?” he said, “Well, I was playing in bands that would have guys like Tadd Dameron and Gerald Wilson and those people, and I was listening to their arrangements.  I was hearing eight brass play this harmony all night.”  He said, “When I went to sleep at night, I was hearing harmony from these guys.”  So actually it just became a very natural thing for him to start to take part in that himself.

Of course, most people might not know it.  Dizzy was just a natural harmonic genius.  I mean, harmonizing things and voice leading and stuff is very natural for him.  He showed all of us a lot about that stuff when he was alive.  One of the great things that we remember about Dizzy beside the incredible music that he played on the trumpet is that he was a great teacher — and a very humble person about it; he never took himself very serious.  But man, the stuff that he could do as far as composition and harmonizing and arranging was concerned was just fabulous.  It was so natural.  It was like he didn’t learn it anywhere, just it was a part of his character that he could do it.

Q:    Not to mention the incredible rhythmic understanding that he evinced.  It really changed the whole rhythmic cadence and velocity of big-band music, and small-group as well.

SH:    Well, he was hip enough to go to the Latin musicians and learn from them about rhythm.  And you know what?  You just can’t imagine how natural it is for them… The complicated rhythm that some of us would never use, for them is just us like playing a common time, a 4/4.  It’s just natural for them to be able to deal with very complicated rhythms.  So Dizzy went to those guys, Mario Bauza, Chano Pozo and a lot of guys like that, and he learned a lot from them.  A lot of people don’t know that one thing that was just fabulous about the Latin musicians, when they came into New York, is that they gave a lot of work to all of the musicians.  Everybody worked with them.  They were not prejudiced against anybody working with them.  With their strong traditional background, you would imagine that they’d always want guys that understood that background better.  But they let everybody work with them.  Dizzy worked with them, Charlie Parker worked with them, all kind of guys.  So we all had a great advantage with them.  Dizzy really took advantage of it, and learned from them.

Q:    Let’s hear a few examples of the artistry of Dizzy Gillespie, including one of his very earliest big band compositions, recorded for Guild in 1946, “Ray’s Idea.”

SH:    I really love this arrangement, which I think is by Gil Fuller.  I don’t know whether it was inspired by whoever wrote the composition, but it’s a wonderful arrangement.  When I first heard “Ray’s Idea,” I heard this trombone solo on it, and I’m thinking, “Now, this guy, we’re going to hear more from him.”  We never heard one more note from this guy that plays the trombone solo on it.  So when I was spending some time with Kenny Clarke in Europe (he was living in Paris at the same time I did), I asked Kenny, “Who was this guy that played this great solo?” — see, because the solo was just fabulous.  Kenny said, “I know it was, because I wrote the solo for the guy to play!”

Q:    It was either Alton Moore, Taswell Baird or Gordon Thomas.  [ETC. WITH PERSONNEL]

[MUSIC: Gillespie BB “Ray’s Idea” (1946); Slide, World of Trombones “Con Alma” (1980), Bird/Diz, “Hot House” (1945)]

Q:    Slide Hampton mentioned while “Hot House” was playing, when you heard that, it absolutely floored you.  You couldn’t believe how people could make music sound like that.

SH:    Yeah, I had been listening to all of the bands before that.  I had been listening to Duke and to Count and Stan Kenton and a lot of the guys.  But man, when I heard that music, I couldn’t understand what kind of intervals they were using to make music sound like that.  So it kind of got past me at the time.

The thing that I found so incredible as I was listening to it now is that usually, when you start to deal with theory on a very sophisticated level, it has a great effect on the amount of creative input that you’re going to have into compositions.  Often theory will not allow you to really be that spontaneous when you’re going to improvise, or even when you’re going to develop or compose melodies.

But the thing that I found was very wonderful about the music we were listening to is that it related a lot to the level of spontaneity that Louis Armstrong had in his music when Dizzy and them were playing.  They were playing, sounding very at home in the music, like they were very comfortable with improvising and being able to relate their solos to the compositions.  You often find that when you hear really sometimes good compositions, but when the improviser plays, you don’t necessarily hear how the solo relates to the composition.  But you can hear these solos, and what you’re hearing is almost a part of the melody. They felt so natural with it, it was so relaxed and so just swinging along in a very natural kind of feeling.  I think that was one of the great things about that session.

Q:    Sid Catlett’s presence I don’t think hurt much.

SH:    That helped.  That helped! [LAUGHS]

[ETC.]

Q:    You mentioned that you’d listened to Ellington and Basie at the time of Bebop.  You can hear some of the harmonic implications in…well, particularly in one of the pieces we’re about to hear performed by the Ellington band in 1942, “Johnny Come Lately.”  I’d like you to say a few words about Billy Strayhorn’s contribution.  Everybody knows about his great lyric gifts and poetic sensibility.  But he was really involved in very advanced harmonic structures and putting them into the flow of the big band context.

SH:    Well, Ellington, of course, but Billy Strayhorn is one of the unsung heroes, also like Thad Jones.  And it’s a pity… Now, there was a time when those guys actually would have been held in much higher esteem in this country.

Billy Strayhorn is a guy that had a tremendous natural ability to compose and orchestrate.  He wrote some compositions that people have played from the time that they were written until now; also some of the great orchestrations that you heard in Duke’s band were actually done by Strayhorn.  He was very influenced by Duke, because Duke was such an imaginative guy.  But Strayhorn was a guy that actually could put that stuff down on paper exactly the way Duke heard it, in a very sophisticated, thorough, complete, organized way, you see.

When I think of Strayhorn, I also think of another man who is very much in that same kind of category or level of music, who is Thad Jones.  He’s another guy that had this great natural ability to orchestrate.  If you go look at the scores, you don’t see no theory in there that you ever studied before.  You don’t understand anything you see there.  All you understand is that when you hear it, it sounds great.

Q:    I’ve been told by people in the band that he was self-taught, and he would write out each part separately, and then sort of layer them together.

SH:    Unbelievable.  It’s true.  And I’ll tell you, to do that is just not thinkable.  Because usually, when you’re writing for an ensemble, you’re looking at each chord and making sure you’ve got notes there that are going to be harmonious, whether it’s dissonant or not.  Thad would write a part out for maybe a chorus, and then come back and write another part out, and write the whole thing down like that, and then put it together, and you’d hear all this organization of all of the harmony and everything.  It’s just uncanny when you think about it.  But see, for him it was natural.  That’s how you do that.  You don’t do that by studying, you know.  You don’t learn that in school.  It was natural for Thad to look at the voicings, and be able to orchestrate them and see which way they should move.

So Thad Jones could do that.  Billy Strayhorn was that kind of guy.  Tadd Dameron was like that.  There were several guys.  Duke was like that.  If you go back and look at Duke’s music, you would never think, if you were going to make an orchestration, to actually put these instruments together to make an ensemble that he would use.  Duke wrote music that used the very instruments that nobody else would use to make an ensemble or a family of instruments.

Thad Jones had a lot of that.  I go down often and hear the music that he wrote maybe thirty years ago, and I’m telling you that that music written thirty years ago is frightening, to hear something that’s that modern and that sophisticated, and you hear it today and it sounds like something somebody that really writes incredibly great might have written today!

Q:    Well, let’s hear a set of music.  I think we’d better dig up something by Thad!

SH:    [LAUGHS]

Q:    “Johnny Come Lately” was recorded in 1942 by the Ellington band.  Of course, this features trombone solos (given the theme of the show) by Lawrence Brown and Tricky Sam Nanton after Billy Strayhorn takes the first chorus.

[MUSIC: Ellington, “Johnny Come Lately” (1942); Curtis Fuller, “It’s All Right With Me” (1959); Coltrane, “Countdown” (1960); Thad Jones, “Tiptoe” (1970)]

Q:    …there’s nothing in the music like those Thad Jones charts.

SH:    Well, you know, it’s funny, because I know the guys have other arrangers that are writing for them now, and they have good arrangers that are writing for them.  But man, you can really see the difference when they get back and play some of Thad’s music.  And the sound of the band when they play Thad’s music is so different.  He’s got this thing that you would think, well, this guy must have studied orchestration in every way that you could.  But it was just natural for him, man.  When you listen to one of these arrangements, let me tell you, the amount of work that would have to go into doing something like that under ordinary circumstances would be incredible.  And he was writing these things fast!

Q:    Of course, I guess in a band like the Basie band, it would be like how you described Dizzy Gillespie, hearing harmony when you go to sleep every night…,

SH:    Yes.

Q:    …and having been immersed in the musical culture of Detroit before that.

SH:    That was a good environment to grow in, the Basie Band.  I loved that band, man!  I’ve gone to hear them when the magic that they weave is just unbelievable.  And so Thad certainly did get a big influence from that, and he took that and actually interpreted the music in his way, with that influence from Basie and all of the other bands that he had been in.  It’s just tremendous.  The accomplishment and the outcome of what he’s done is really tremendous.

Q:    [ETC.] We’ll move now to an album that  Slide Hampton recorded in 1985 for the Criss-Cross label entitled Roots, with Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone, and the stellar rhythm section of Cedar Walton, David Williams and Billy Higgins.

SH:    I remember this album very, very well, because the day we recorded it, Cedar Walton and his rhythm section had just come from someplace far away, and they got there just in time to come right in to the recording date.  What I was thinking, I said, “Well, man, these guys are going to be tired, so you’re going to hear that.”  But Cedar, when he gets in the recording studio in front of a microphone, it seems to transform into something unbelievable, and he just plays incredible.  From the first note, you think some of the songs are maybe new to him, the whole situation is new.  But he comes in, man, and just plays one solo after another.  Any of the solos that he played on the date that are not on this album were just as good as these that you heard on here.  He played marvelous on everything.  And the guy should have been tired; they all should have been.  But then you had Billy Higgins there, and Billy is always giving a lot of happy energy to everything, and David has such a beautiful attitude, too.  And working with Clifford… It was a beautiful experience.

[MUSIC:  Slide/Cliff Jordan, “Roots,” (1985); Dexter Gordon, arr. is Slide, “Laura” (1977)]

Q:    What’s most impressive about “Laura” is that it shows Slide Hampton’s gift for making mid-sized ensembles sound as rich as a big band, as he amply demonstrated at the beginning of the 1960’s on a series of currently out-of-print octet recordings.  “Laura” sounds as though it were played by a 12-13-14-piece band, just as the Jazz Masters, at 10 or 11 pieces, gives the illusion of having an extra horn in each section.  So great writing by Slide Hampton, great playing by Dexter Gordon.

SH:    Well, thank you very much.  It was a beautiful experience working with Dexter.  Of course, I asked you to play that last composition because my mother’s name was Laura, and I was very happy to write that arrangement on the album for that reason.  It was just a beautiful album, and  working with Dexter was wonderful.

Q:    Well, we wouldn’t ask Slide to give away his arranging secrets, and even if we had the inclination to, we wouldn’t have time.

[ETC.]

We’ll conclude with one of the classics of the big band repertoire of the 1950’s, Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings” done by the Basie band.  You said before that you could listen to that band all day.

SH:    I have to tell you that first of all, the Basie band, all the way back from the beginning, is just one of the bands that brought me probably more wonderful moments in music than anything that I can think of.  Now that Frank Foster is the leader of the band, he is just one of the greatest musicians and people that I’ve ever known.  And “Shiny Stockings” has always been one of my favorite compositions.  I think that Frank probably doesn’t like to play it any more, but you can play it every day for me, and I love it.

[MUSIC: Basie, “Shiny Stockings” (1956)]

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Filed under Dizzy Gillespie, Slide Hampton, Trombone, WKCR

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Uncut Blindfold Test With Paul Bley, Around 2002

I’m not sure exactly what year Paul Bley agreed to sit with me for the DownBeat Blindfold Test, but given the track datings, it was probably 2002. He was playing the Blue Note, staying in an apartment on W. 9th Street with a questionable sound system. We’d become acquainted not long before, when he and Gary Peacock joined me together for a few hours on WKCR, which is a show I have retrieve and transcribe some day. Anyway, it was fun to do, and hopefully the transcript will be both entertaining and illuminating.

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I have something to say as a little preamble.  Mike Zwerin, a number of years ago, invited me to review records, thinking since I was so poor at the time that I might be able to make a little pocket money.  He was living in New York in New York at the time, so you know how long ago that was.  He handed me a giant stack of LPs, maybe 20 LPs, and I said, “Wow, this is going to be fun; I’m looking forward to it.”  So I got home, put on LP-1, listened to it, and by about 10 LPs… He was sitting with me actually.  I had nothing to say.  He said, “You’ve heard all these LPs and you haven’t said anything.”  I said, “there was nothing worth talking about.”  That was the end of my disk jockey career.  I think I gave him one paragraph.  By that time he was playing the organ trios, the Prestiges… [LAUGHS] How am I going to talk if you bring records that don’t require any talk?  So I hope this is not going to be the same situation.

1.    Ornette Coleman “Mob Job” (from SOUND MUSEUM: HIDDEN MAN, Verve/Harmolodic, 1996) (Coleman, as; Geri Allen, p; Charnett Moffett, b; Denardo Coleman, d) – (5 stars)

Well, I’m not a fan of tempo medleys.  It started at one tempo and proceeded to another.  There was no reason not to have the written material be in the same tempo as the track was going to be in. [ALTO SAX ENTERS] Definitely Ornette Coleman, of course.  Well, it’s a waste of time with the pianist.  There’s a good reason he doesn’t use piano.  See, the horn player can make the transitions to wherever he wants to go at any time, but the piano player actually has to change their mindset to get rid of the key center. [Any idea who the pianist might have been?] I don’t care. [Did you think the pianist worked as successfully as possible under the circumstances?] I’m not really concerned about the pianist. [How many stars?] Stars! [LAUGHS] Anything with Coleman deserves 6 stars. [When do you think it was from?] It sounded like a home recording.

That was fun!  I had my own label.  But I couldn’t afford myself.

2.    Ahmad Jamal, “Aftermath” (from OLYMPIA 2000, Dreyfus, 2001) (Jamal, piano; James Cammack, b; Idris Muhammad, d) – (5 stars)

Wonderful trio, very exciting, they played really well together.  My comments are not really about this trio.  Let’s go all the way back to the beginning of what we’re talking about.  Music is language.  It’s conversation.  If it’s language and conversation, it should not be repetitive..repetitive..repetitive..repetitive.  You got it the first time I said that word.  The next three times I said it was adding to a level of redundancy…redundancy… Now, we’re not talking about profundity.  We’re talking about language, and aspiring to be ideas.  Not profundity.  We haven’t gotten anywhere near that.  That’s not even on the table.  So if it’s language, let’s remove all repetition, because it’s insulting to the listener…insulting to the listener.  You get my drift?  Anything you play twice is once too much. I loved it.  I loved the drummer.  I loved the bass player.  I loved everything.  It was on a very high level. 5 stars. Ahmad Jamal would be my guess.  He’s come a long way.  He’s a good friend, by the way, but I don’t really know his recent work.  But we’re very close, because we have been in hotel rooms all night in Bologna, Italy, etcetera, etc.

I’ll tell you a funny story, which may or may not be included.  It was 5 in the morning in a hotel in Bologna, and Ahmad had just got off the phone.  I said, “Ahmad, you’ve been on the phone a very long time.”  He said, “Yeah, I just blew the amount of money I earned tonight on the phone.” I said, “Well, Ahmad, doesn’t that indicate it might be time to go home to Chicago and do it in person instead of on the phone?”

3.    Tommy Flanagan, “How Deep Is The Ocean” (from SEA CHANGES,  Evidence, 1997) (Flanagan, p; Peter Washington, b; Lewis Nash, d) (no rating)

May I have this dance?  The last time I asked somebody to dance was the opening night of Ornette at the Five Spot, playing opposite Benny Golson and Art Farmer.  They sounded really good, and they played the first set, and it’s a wonderful band and way out there.  And then Ornette went in and did his first New York set ever.  And I thought, “Wow, everybody’s completely blown away.”  But then Art Farmer and Benny Golson went back on the stage and did the second set, and I asked the bartender to dance. Today is the second time I’ve ever asked anyone to dance.  Ornette had turned Benny Golson into the orchestra at the roof of the Taft Hotel on 7th Avenue and 51st Street overnight.  A single set. [Unlike most of the people in the room, you knew what you were in for.]

4.    Keith Jarrett, “Prelude To A Kiss” (from WHISPER NOT, ECM, 2000) (Jarrett, p; Gary Peacock, b; Jack DeJohnette, d) (5 stars)

What is the real meaning of the initials NEC?  I’ve had a lot of fun with that at the school. Oh, what’s the real meaning of ECM?  Do you know that?  Easily Castrated Musicians.  We can do this all day, Ted. [You’re good at it.] Thank you. I collect them.  Poor Duke. [You’re tough.  Unlike most musicians, you are not imprisoned by tact.] Poor Duke. [LAUGHS] [Do you play Ellington’s tunes?] I know all of Ellington’s tunes.  I knew them all when I was in short pants.  But when a musician dies, it’s time to give other guys a chance. [But you still play older things from the songbook.] Oh, if you pay me, I will play… [So if I paid you whatever your fee was, you would do an Ellington…] Absolutely.  Of course.  We aim to please, as they say in the bathroom urinals.

The problem with the recording of bass  is it’s the least accessible instrument to listen to.  God forbid somebody in the audience coughs, or there goes the solo.  You ask yourself why is the bass so possible in that standard format, that trio format.  The trio format is flawed.  If you’re going to put three musicians, it should be because they’re three musicians, and the fact that one plays the trombone and the other plays whatever is not the point.  You’re hiring individuals.  Any format is already dead.  Big band, string quartet, piano trio.  The fact that it already preexists the occasion means that everything is uphill.  Because it’s not an original format.  So you talk about lack of originality. [Doesn’t the logic of that lead that you eventually run out of formats, and nothing will be original?] There are no formats.  There’s only great players. [It’s only the individual.] A collection of great players.  We’re in a new century now.  It’s time to give all the old ideas a rest.  They’re no longer valid just because the century changed.  Your time is up.  It’s expired.

You know, if a 7-year-old played only white notes, they could sound this good.  It’s called modal.  The Aeolian mode, in particular.  Ah, a modulation.  It’s very nice, and she will go to bed with you.  Whoever you’re listening to this with. [Is it recent?  Older?  Older musician?  Younger musician?] First of all, all eighth notes are not created equal.  It’s a little too simplistic rhythmically.  He’s doing a very good job.  He’s a very fine pianist, and it’s a very nice track and so forth. But it’s not worth discussing.  I’m looking to be offended. [It seems the things that offend you are things like this.] No-no, I mean offended in a good way. [LAUGHS] I think it was very well done.  I’d give it 5 stars.  For what was attempted, it was a big success. [No idea who it was?]  No. It could have been anybody working on 8th Street. [It was Keith Jarrett.] Oh.  Well, I’m sorry to hear that. [It’s his post-illness record.] Well, he certainly has bounced back recently, kicking ass with the trio.  Boy!  He has my 1964 date, “Turning Point” on Improvising Artists, the one with Gary and Gilmore… He’s got that down pat with Gary!  He took over that.  That’s a big step for him.  He went out of standards all the way to 1964.  And who knows, we’re looking forward to 1974.

5.    Kenny Barron, “Beneath It All” (from SWAMP SALLY, Verve, 1995) (Barron, p., keyboards; Minu Cinelu, percussion) – (5 stars)

I love this recording.  This is the first new information you’ve brought me today.  The town crier in the old days used to stand in the town square, and say, “Hear ye!  Hear ye!  I’ve come to inform you.”  And if he had nothing to say or said something that the town already knew, they would get upset, because he summoned them into the town square and told them something they already knew.  It’s wonderful!  The piano player did not need the rest of the band.  But they were great, the way they went into what I call a second CD’s worth of music.  We’re really talking about two separate issues.  The piano player did not need help.  It engaged everybody in their curiosity minimally, and there was no way to predict where he was going to go.  And the fact that we happen to have this wonderful band hit and do great things was just a wonderful plus.  But I personally could have stood a lot… I could have heard a CD worth of the piano player, and I probably wouldn’t have interrupted it with this conversation.  I loved it, and I loved the second part.  It just goes to show that you’re going to have to go to a foreign country to get some fresh input in jazz.  You need foreigners.  You need people who speak a second language to be added to the stream of music.  It’s such a wonderful situation now, where the world has sent everybody… Airline tickets are so cheap, that you can hire a band where every player comes from a different continent, a different city, and they can play together at the drop of a hat — and they all live in Brooklyn Heights.  It’s just a wonderful situation!  When anyone talks about jazz not in a great period, it’s just that they’re not widely enough informed. [So you thought that the piano player was not American?] Well, certainly the band didn’t play this good off of being a bebop band.  So I assume that he comes from the same country as the rest of the players.  So I cannot guess who this is. [Well, it was only two musicians.] Ah.  [It was Kenny Barron and Mino Cinelu.] Wow! [And Kenny was playing piano and synth.] [LAUGHS] Wrong!  Wrong like a mother!  No wonder Kenny is as loved as he is.  A monster!  Kenny’s a monster!  Six stars. [LAUGHS] Fuck you, Kenny Barron! I hate him.  I’m going to tell him that next time I see him, too.

6.    Hampton Hawes, “Soul Sign Eight” (from HAMPTON HAWES AT THE PIANO, Contemporary, 1976) (Hawes, p; Ray Brown, b; Shelley Manne, d) (5 stars)

There’s no need to go any more.  It’s beautifully done, well-played, etcetera, etc., but it’s nothing that harmonically and rhythmically wasn’t done in the ’50s.  If you’re going to redo something, redo a style where your triads are quite simple, you’re staying within a key, you’re not adding anything to the literature of the music… I mean, the purpose of making a record is not to redo your own stuff or somebody else’s stuff.  The purpose of making a record is to add to the literature of the music, which means you’re bringing in some elements that are not widely available, and you’re indicating to other musicians that following along the suggestions that you’re making with this recording of yours might be of some interest and it might be of some utility to somebody who is playing.  If the record is already in existence… My rule is that if it’s already for sale at Tower Records, buy it.  Don’t make it up. [And you have no idea from the sound or the touch or the style who this might be.] First level players.  It could be one of a number of people.  And I was very happy for them.  It’s nicely recorded.  But, my first record on Wing Records in 1953, contained this information.  I outgrew it, and I hope this pianist does the same. [AFTER] [One reason I played this is because it was a person who developed his own sound and was doing it in the ’50s, and so the sound, therefore, from my impression, would be unto him.] For Hampton Hawes, it’s a big accomplishment.  This is a big accomplishment.  It’s the best Hampton Hawes I’ve ever heard — by far.  Still containing no new information, but well-played.  5 stars.  It a big accomplishment.  I love Shelley Manne in rhythm sections.  The rhythm section was nice, man.  “Way Out West,” Shelley Manne?  Wow.  What an imaginative drummer.  I worked with him.  We played the Antibes Festival in France.  But I’d rather let that track rest.

7.    Gonzalo Rubalcaba, “Oren” (from SUPERNOVA, Blue Note, 2001) (Rubalcaba, piano, keyboards; Carlos Henriquez, b; Ignacio Berroa, d)

You know, it’s a similar situation here to when someone wants to tell you a joke.  You start before they start the joke with an open mind and a positive frame of mind, willing to accept the premise of the story and looking for the punchline at the end, and so forth.  But as the story keeps going on like the beginning, just continuously, time is the enemy of the joke.  Because you’re waiting for the punchline.  It’s called the suspension of disbelief.  I’m sure you know the term in poetry.  It was suspended.  I enjoyed the high production values.  The pianist had a very nice touch.  The fact that it had only one chord in it was a little abrasive, and that that method was going to run out of time even faster than it would normally.  Because one chord is one chord is one chord, etcetera.  As the country-western musician said, “Three chords and the truth is the definition of country music.”  I thought that was nicely coined.  But this one only had one chord!  And it wasn’t even Country-and-Western.  I prefer to wait for the movie. [Any guesses?] I’ll have to see the film and be reinterviewed.  It certainly wasn’t worth listening to without a film accompanying it.  Well played.  No disrespect to the musicians.  And a pretty melody, by the way. An original melody.  It’s like the organ trios.  The only question is why. [Pleasing the people.] [LAUGHS] Oh, by the way, pleasing the people is the exact wrong premise for young musicians… [I’ve heard you say this.] Thank you.  You know all my rants. [I think you have your contradictions.  Would you care to bestow stars?] Stars.  As I said, when I see the film and listen to this film score, I’ll be happy to rate it at that time.  [Well, I need to play it a little more, because I can’t print anything you’ve said if you won’t give it stars.] [LAUGHS] You may not have brought enough records.  If you had brought a real package of records, we could have done this and been out of here in 40 minutes.  I could have said, “Forget it, keep it…” [Can’t you just please me and give some stars here?  You can even give it a pro forma five stars.] No-no, five I can’t give.  You need a star system that says “I have nothing to say.” [Then you can say “for the way it was played, such-and-such stars.”] But how about unrated?  They do that in porn movies.  Unrated it. [This isn’t a porn movie.] Well, it gives you a license to make an escape without… [Not according to my editor.] Oh, he wants stars, huh? [He wants stars.] Have we run out of alternatives.  Is that the problem?  It’s not possible for me to deal with this level of… I’m very loathe to give somebody a very low rating.  Which is why you need to be able to interviewee a pass.

8.    Vijay Iyer, “Atlantean Tropes” (from PANOPTIC MODES, Red Giant, 2001) (Iyer, p; Stephan Crump, b; Derrek Phelps, d) – (5 stars)

I’ll give it 5 stars. The plusses far outweigh the minuses. The plusses are of no use to the musicians.  When somebody comes up to you at the end of the set and says, “That was great,” there’s no new information.  We know that was great.  That’s why we played it.  Let’s talk about the minuses.  I always prefer to couch profundity in humor.  Someone was interviewing Albert Einstein, and they were trying to impress Einstein with their insights.  Einstein, who was a violinist, turned and said, “that’s very profound, but not very funny.”  So you need to be more than profound.

Now, this is definitely one of the top things you played today, and there’s nothing I can say negative.  I just have a small facetious aside to make.  And I admonish musicians with these facetious asides.  This one is: If you use up all your eighth notes in your youth, you won’t have any left to play in your old age.  Doesn’t matter what the instrument.  I’m not supposed to know what you’re doing.  If I know what you do, I don’t like it.  So you’re constantly supposed to elude me.  It was incredibly well-composed, well-played, the horn player was great, there was unity through the whole track, exercise of the imagination, beautiful use of chords — the list goes on.  It’s almost a masterpiece.  I might say it was a masterpiece.  Today it was definitely a masterpiece, based on what else I’ve heard! [LAUGHS] But remember, we’re in the post-Albert Ayler-Paul Motian-Sunny Murray period.  You can’t get away with meter any more, certainly as an entry level artist and a new artist.  You can’t get away with meter.  I gave my metronome away when I was at Juilliard. I broke mine.  They need to be smashed.  Because breathing is not metronome.  Breathing is circular.  Up and down phrases, rushing through… [What about the heartbeat?] The heartbeat is also not metrical.  It’s PAH-BOOM, PAH-BOOM.  And you can’t measure it exactly right.  If you’re walking around the room, it’s definitely not metrical.  And remember, you’re in a new century.  It’s such an exciting time.  This is the perfect time to wipe the blackboard clean and start with a fresh page.

9.    Brad Mehldau, “Quit” (from TRIO PROGRESSION, Warner Brothers, 2001) (Mehldau, p; Larry Grenadier, b; Jorge Rossy, d) – (5 stars)

Are you going to continue to play Keith Jarrett for me all day today?  It’s no small accomplishment to play Keith Jarrett.  The problem is, he was there first.  It’s who you avoid that’s more important than who you support.  It’s not hard to draw up a roadmap of who to avoid.  Just check the “Downbeat” Readers’ Poll.  If it’s already been recorded, it’s not a good idea to try to improve on it. It’s a magical track, by the way.  These players are all great players, and a masterful track, and very worthwhile doing it — and if I owned the label, I would support the production.  But I fear for the pianist. [Why do you fear for the pianist?] Because when you are born into a world of giants, you have to be an iconoclast.  There’s no way to treat them on their own terms, because you lean to their sensibility.  You’re at risk.  So you can’t work through them.  You have to destroy the icon. [So you’re postulating the Oedipal theory of music history.] Well, I don’t know if I’d put it exactly in that slant.  But what I’m saying is that it’s who you hate that’s more important than who you love.  And if you hate somebody, then I won’t recognize who you hate. But if you love somebody, it’s going to defeat the whole purpose, see, because you always get hurt by the one you love.  That’s a nice turn of phrase. [I’ve heard it.] Thank you.  Unfortunately I’ve heard it before! [Was that an older or younger player?] It was a masterful player, whatever age.  Way on top of it.  Certainly I much prefer somebody who is that developed than somebody who had less to offer.  There was certainly a lot to listen to.

You know, the trouble with being a bass player is that if the piano player can play faster than you, you should go home. Why would you want to play with somebody who can’t move through the music, move notes at least as fast as a pianist, which would be the reason to not ever play with a pianist.  See, if I play with you, without any other value judgments, we want to be equals.  We want to play equally. So the way the trio in this case solves that problem is either the other players play down, play less than they can, to be polite and accommodate the less facile musician.  Just as at a dinner conversation, if you’re the young person at the table who can’t keep up with the conversation, it’s the responsibility of the other people to speak slower and leave a lot of silences, and invite the other person to air their side of the conversation.  Playing in a trio, for the piano player to be running at the mouth and… If you have Gary Peacock on the bandstand, that’s not a problem.  But if you’re going to play with a player who is really a time player, you have to really… The whole date would be about making this person equal to the other players.  That’s the whole premise of the date.  You can’t go past somebody.  You have to take them with.  The audience judges the band by its weakest player. Not by the accomplishment of the best player, but by the difficulties. [AFTER] It’s too late for him.  If there was no Keith Jarrett, there would be room for a Brad Mehldau.

10.    Sonny Clark, “Tadd’s Delight” (from SONNY CLARK TRIO, Blue Note, 1957/2001) (Clark, p; Paul Chambers, b; Philly Joe Jones. d) – (5 stars)

Hey, Tadd Dameron!  Beautiful.  A very nice sentimental tune, very well played, very enjoyable, well written.  I did know the composer, I think — Tadd Dameron.  It was perfect of its generation.  It was beautifully played.  The piano player sounded good.  Somebody like Hank Jones would be perfect playing this material. I was amazed how good he sounded, Hank Jones, and this pianist equally well.  So who is it? [Do you think it was of the time?] Oh, very much so.  The way the recording sounded, too. Six stars. [AFTER] I don’t know his work.  I know of him, of course.  I was in California for two-plus years, and worked every night for two-plus years.  We had one night off.  So Sonny must have come by the Hillcrest Club and maybe said hello or something. But I was too busy to socialize.

11.    Wayne Shorter, “Atlantis” (from FOOTPRINTS LIVE, Verve, 2002) (Shorter, ts; Danilo Perez, p; John Patitucci, b; Brian Blade, d) – (5 stars)

I love it.  It’s really beautiful.  But please, don’t bring a concert audience into my bedroom.  The fact that the concert audience liked it was reason enough to discourage me.  It’s not a commercial.  So don’t tell me somebody else liked it.  I’m the person who’s supposed to like it.  By the same token, don’t grunt and groan on the bandstand.  Let the audience do it.  In a live performance they’re supposed to do the grunting and groaning as a result of your playing, and enjoying themselves.  The problem is that when you write a tune, you’ve pretty much told the players that you’re going to be at this place on the map at this hour, playing this hour, playing this harmony, and then when the bars continue at this place in time you’re going to be at this place harmonically, and that’s called ornamentation.  Ornamentation is not improvising.  Ornamentation is a pre-set set of changes in which you play those changes as prescribed.  Now, to try and create melodies with all this information that’s fixed and given is almost impossible.

So they did a beautiful job.  But once again, I mention it’s 2002 now.  It’s too late to tell the players what notes come where.  It has some beautiful augmented harmonies in it.  The joke about augmented is that the player had an diminished sensibility and an augmented ego.  That’s the joke.  You’re not supposed to tell me that it’s all augmented chords.  I’m not supposed to guess that.  You’re supposed to keep it from me.  The same with electronic jazz.  If I can tell what the setting is on a synth player, then I don’t like it.  The idea is to design something that tricks me and fools me, and I have to go find the guy and say, “What was it?  It’s wonderful!”

So it was very well played, and beautifully done, and for what it was, it was a great accomplishment.  Now, once again, you may have brought the Latin world into it; it’s 5/4 and all that. I think there’s a Spanish name here with the piano player.  I could say…not Rubalcaba… There’s two guys; they both work for my agent. It wasn’t the one who played simplistic track… Danilo Perez.  Danilo is a good friend. [I know that a lot of the Spanish players have listened to you a lot.] Which is strange, because the album that I really wanted to make, the Spanish album that I wanted to make, having spent some time in Florida with some of my best friends in that part of the world, I have really only been able to suggest in my earlier playing the possibilities of what that leads to. [Any idea who the tenor player was?] No.  But very nice use of space.  Great use of space.  Very sensitive.  I’m impressed with your tracks.  It’s been illuminating, the things you’ve played for me today.  As a matter of fact, when you come up to me on a tour and you show me a really good photograph you’ve taken of the band, I take the photograph! I say, “You make yourself another copy.  I’m taking this!”  There’s definitely three keepers so far.  You’re going to have a lot of trouble leaving the room with it under your arm. [AFTER] Wow. Amazingly sparse playing for Wayne.  Wow. Wonderful.  Very good.  It really turned me on.  Five stars.

12.    Cecil Taylor, “Looking, Second Part” (from LOOKING (Berlin Version), THE FEEL TRIO, FMP, 1990) (Taylor, p.; William Parker, b; Tony Oxley, d) – (5 stars)

I can’t listen to any more of this, because it’s too influenced by Cecil. [But it is Cecil.] Of course.  If you play trumpet and sound exactly like Louis Armstrong, you’d better be Louis Armstrong.  But what more is there to say?  It’s Louis Armstrong.  Cecil is to be avoided like the plague if you’re a pianist.  If you’re a drummer, it’s not a problem. [Why do you have to avoid him if you’re a pianist?] Because he did it before you were out of knickers. [But not before you were out of knickers.]  I’m very fond of Cecil, which is why I’m trying to protect him from his imitators.  At one point, we thought that we’d do… We’ve played on the same bill, at the same festivals and all that, and at one point I thought that he would do the ballads and I would do the fast, frantic stuff.  But then, brilliant as he is, he went on and did the ballads himself!  Cecil is wonderful.  He’s one of these wonderful, wonderful musicians who are much more than just musicians or instrumentalists.  Their personalities color life itself.  It’s been a blessing to be in his presence.  End of story.

I remember in the ’50s he played with Steve Lacy.  He was a wonderful combination with Steve, like hot knives with butter.  A perfect antidote.  That was one of the great combinations, like Roswell Rudd with John Tchicai.  The Jazz Composers Guild had these wonderful ensembles that were perfectly framed, and Cecil, of course, belonged to that period.  Whenever you’re in the presence of giants, be very… If you’re a professional musician who is responsible for the life of that instrument that you play, when you’re in the presence of giants… You would think that would be a good thing, like you paid a lot of money, great expectations — most probably you’re going to be even more than satisfied.  So everything seems positive.  But if you are a good musician, you have a lot of problems, unless it happens to be the Count Basie Orchestra with Joe Williams or something and it’s not about anything except having a good time… If you like it too much, you’re at risk.

It’s not a recent recording.  It doesn’t sound like it was done in the last year or the year before.  1990?  That’s old Cecil.  Six stars.

13.    Matthew Shipp, “Paradox X” (from NEW ORBIT, Thirsty Ear, 2001) (Shipp, prepared piano; Gerald Cleaver, d) – (5 stars)

With your permission, I’d just like to make a one-line joke.  I wasn’t prepared to hear this.  That’s the funniest thing I can come up with.  5 stars. I loved it.  It’s very nice.  It was a drummer’s tune.  It was set up for the mallet player, who did a beautiful job.  It’s amazing how it engaged you.  I liked it.  But I prefer my joke. [AFTER] I’ve met Matthew in airports.

14.    Art Tatum, “Cherokee” (from THE COMPLETE ART TATUM SOLO MASTERPIECES, Pablo, 1954/1991) (Tatum, piano) – (5 stars)

Saved the best for last! [LAUGHS] Well, I think the interview is over.  The art of playing piano.  Wonderful!  I’ve been having a problem with the tunes that are very popular — looping them.  The very fact that the tunes are 32 bars, repeated over and over and over again, somehow that lingers beyond the performance, and I might be playing “Cherokee” for three days and nights.  That’s a serious problem with looping. Because if you do anything twice, you may have set me in motion to an infinite repeat. [Are you saying that hearing something like that might trigger something in you…] No, it’s not a need.  It might actually loop… The 32 bars may continue repeating even after the gig is over or the CD is off.  The tune may go on ad infinitem for hours or even days.  So I prefer to only listen to unfamiliar things that I can’t identify, which is good.  It’s not possible to loop.  I call it looping.

When Tatum died, the rest of the world said “thank goodness he’s gone!” You couldn’t be a pianist and be on the same planet with Tatum.  And it’s amazing, because the content was almost nil.  I mean, it’s how he played it.  It’s the fact that he could play everything so well that was great.  It wasn’t what he played.  I mean, there are guitar players, like Tiny Bradshaw, who played an equivalent intellectually.  But this is a perfect case of ornamentation to the Nth degree.  Which means you can do a bad thing great… A bad thing done in a great way is better than a great thing done in a bad way!  You can play with that sentence and look for meaning.  But all the rules can be broken by somebody like Art Tatum.  Because if you’re looking for linear creativity in terms of improvisation in this period, that’s a minor accomplishment compared to the fact that he can make that instrument sound like no one has ever played it before.  When this guy was on the planet, he threatened every living pianist, Classical or Jazz.  When you’ve got a giant roaming the planet, you know, with the trees rumbling and the dinosaurs hiding in the bushes and so forth, well, that’s a very bad time for an aspiring musician.  You have to wait until this guy passes before there’s even room to THINK about what you want to do.  Jazz history is full of giants on particular instruments that have… I mean, if you were an aspiring tenor saxophone player that didn’t wear a hat, Lester Young defeated your purpose.  Each instrument has its nemesis.  That’s the word I’m looking for, is “nemesis.”  You’re supposed to be the first one to recognize that there is a nemesis, and it can affect you greatly and threaten your existence if not your livelihood.  So it’s serious business, attempting to be the 11th person to play this instrument or the fortieth person to play this genre or the hundredth person, and so forth… A serious business.  You can’t go in there without a thought in your head, looking for an “inspiration.”  It’s not going to happen.  Six stars.

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