Monthly Archives: January 2014

Olu Dara — An Uncut 2001 Blindfold Test and the Transcript of a 2002 Musician Show on WKCR

Back in 2002, when he was recording for Atlantic Records, I had two encounters with trumpeter-singer Olu Dara — a DownBeat Blindfold Tests at Atlantic’s offices, and a WKCR Musician Show. The Blindfold Test has been since Olu’s 73rd birthday in 2015; I’ve just transcribed the Musician Show, after digitizing it from cassette to mp3.

Olu Dara Blindfold Test:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-30-]

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Olu Dara Musician Show, WKCR, March 6, 2002:

[MUSIC: Olu Dara, “Okra,” “Father Blues,” “Herbman”-Neighborhoods (2001)]

TP: “Herbman” was from Neighborhoods, Olu Dara’s 2001 release on Atlantic, featuring Olu on vocals, Kwatei Jones-Quartey on guitar, Ivan Ramirez, guitar, John Abrams, tenor saxophone, Dr. John on Hammond B3, Fredger “Saïd” Dupree on Wurlitzer and electric piano; Rod Williams, electric organ; Alonzo Gardner, bass; Coster Massamba, congas and cowbell; Larry Johnson on drums.

“Father Blues” much pared down – Olu all by himself as a vocalist, guitar, and trumpeter on the aboriginal trumpet. “Okra” is the signature tune for the Okra Orchestra – Olu Dara, vocals, cornet, aboriginal trumpet; Kwarte Jones on guitars and percussion, Ivan Ramirez, guitar; Rudy Herbert on Hammond B3; Alonzo Gardner, bass; Richard James, congas; Greg Bandy, trapset; Melba Joyce, Cantrese Alloway and Darada David, background vocals.

That’s a lot of musicians, but they all deserve to be cited because they did a great job with Olu Dara. Welcome to the Musicians Show this evening.

OLU: It’s good to be here, Ted.

TP: We have a motley array of music. “Motley” is the wrong word. But it goes from Robert Johnson to Lester Bowie. By the end of the show, we’ll see how this diverse spectrum reflects Olu’s unique personality.

Before we get into the meat of the show, let’s talk about the recordings we played. Around 1997-98, the then-head of Atlantic Records, Yves Beauvais, called you (I think the story goes) 10 or 15 minutes after your son, Nassir, called and asked you to do a record. You said “no.” 15 minutes later, Yves Beauvais called, and thus a contract with Atlantic. Is this a true story.

OLU: Yes, it’s a true story. Yes, Yves and Atlantic Records had been approaching me for many years to record. I was busy. And it just happened that particular day my sons called me, asked me to come with them at Columbia, and I said, “no, I’m not interested in recording.” When Yves called a few minutes afterwards, that was an omen to me. I knew that I couldn’t say no twice in 10 minutes for something I had never done before, and never thought about doing before. But, I felt that it was something I had to do.

TP: What was the source of your reluctance to record during those years before? There are many people in New York – friends, fans – who would wonder why Olu Dara isn’t recording because of their admiration for the variety of things you do so well. What was the stumbling block for you?

OLU: There were many things involved with my decision not to record. One thing is, it wasn’t ever my ambition to become a solo artist in the record business, and even before that, it wasn’t my ambition to become a musician in New York. I didn’t come here to become a musician. I got stranded here in New York and I did other things. I enjoyed music a lot, but I had played music in my earlier days in high school, a few years of college, and the military. But I was also busy doing theater, which is what I really love to do — composing for theater. Also, writing my own plays. But just writing songs all the time, and handing them over and listening to them live all the time. That was a wonderful feeling, with other people doing my music like that.

Some other things… When I first started playing out in New York, when I came to Manhattan to play with the musicians I was recording with, they were playing another type of music that was not my game.

TP: You’re talking about when now? Back around 1970 or so?

OLU: In the 70s, yes. I was working a lot with a lot of musicians, a lot of well-known musicians. But the music that was popular at the time in the jazz world, or I would say the instrumental music world, was not my fare. I didn’t want to present myself that way. But I was getting a lot of offers to record in that genre.

TP: You’re speaking of the recordings you did with people like David Murray or Henry Threadgill…

OLU: Or just many others. The whole thing was writing music and being known as a jazz trumpeter. I wanted to avoid that by all means. I didn’t want my history to be “the jazz trumpeter,” because there were limitations to that as far as my personality is concerned. So I avoided that very well, I believe.

TP: There are different people who know you for entirely different things. Some people who might have heard you between 1974 and 1990 might only know you as a jazz trumpeter or someone in that tradition; then there are people who might have started listening in 1992, when all those records were out of print, and they may know as a vocalist, raconteur, and sometime blues singer and purveyor of a pan-diasporic blend of music.

OLU: Since I didn’t have any solo records out on my own, I had complete freedom to do what I wanted to do when I got on the stage with my own situations. I had my two bands for over 25 years, so a lot of people knew me from those bands. But a lot of people just knew me only from recordings or seeing me with some of their favorite artists, only knew me as a horn player. Then there were people who knew me as a bluesman, a singer and a guitar player and a harmonica player. Then there were some people who knew me as a theater man. So I was very happy about that because I could appear in public in any form, in any way. In other words, I didn’t have to appear with a horn, I didn’t have to appear with a jazz band, I didn’t have to appear with anything in particular of what I wanted to do – so that gave me complete freedom.

TP: But with that freedom came the responsibility of laying down a bunch of work. What was the strategy? Drawing on 25 years of work with those two bands, basically?

OLU: Yes, it was very easy. All I had to do was go in and pick from the hundreds of songs I had written over the past 25 years, especially just from theater. I’d just go and pick some. Plus, I had a lot of songs I’d been doing with my band for 25 years, like I said. I just picked from that. Then I like to make up songs on the spot, so that’s what I did. I picked some old songs. Some of the songs on those two albums are over 25 years old. But they were fresh enough for me to record in this time.

TP: Having stated that you did not want to be stamped as a jazz trumpet player, you’re a very fine jazz trumpet player and quite learned in the history of jazz trumpet, as I found out when I gave you a Blindfold Test for Downbeat not that long ago. Your comments were quite incisive. So if you’ll allow me, I’d like to explore that aspect of your background. You came up in Natchez, Mississippi.

OLU: Yes.

TP: Was picking up the trumpet something that happened through school? Was it just an accident that you became a trumpeter? Or was it something you really had a desire to do?

OLU: I guess neither. It was just destiny. We didn’t have a school band at the time. I was 7 years old. The story goes like this. A man came into town, and he asked for a place to stack his wares or whatever. I helped him stack his wares. My family helped him find a little place to live in, an abandoned church. As I helped him unpack, he told me what he was, and he did everything. He said, “I do everything. I play musical instruments, I’m into metaphysical stuff, I paint, I want to start a newspaper here – I’m going to do all kinds of things.” He did everything. He spoke 7 or 8 languages. He said, “I need a band.” I asked him why. He said, “I need to make some money.”

So he went to Natchez Junior College, went in the basement, and we found some old horns — cornets, clarinets, and whatever. I had no intention of playing any music. He said, “Look, I want you to start; I’m going to teach you and your friends how to play.” So that’s what he did. He said, “Here’s a balloon. If you can blow up a balloon smoothly, then it’s like playing a new cornet.” He started me off like that. Then he gave me a mouthpiece and said, “Play some things into the mouthpiece, some songs that’s in your mind into the mouthpiece.” Come back. The first thing he taught me was the bridge to “Sophisticated Lady.” He started humming. He called me “Senor.” He said, “Listen tothis: [SINGS REFRAIN] Now, I’d never heard anything like that in my life. Never heard any notes going together like that in an interval…I like to call it intervalactic kind of stuff.

So I learned how to play it by ear. Then come the next day, he said, “Now, this is what it looks like on paper.” So I learned how to read quickly, like that.

TP: How old were you?

OLU: I was going on 8 then. Three months later we had a band. My bands… The band was integrated… I’m saying he had 7 and 8 year old kids; he had 21 year old people. He had 17 year old people in the band. He was only 24, but he was prematurely gray. I thought he was much older, but I found out years later he was only 24 years old

Anyway, I played all the way through high school, and tried to quit the band many times so I could play on the basketball team. But they tricked me. They let me sit on the bench. The principal told the basketball coach, “He’s a good basketball player, but don’t let him play, because we want him in the band.” So that’s what happened. I went back into the band… By this time we had a high school band. It was junior high school.

So I went back and played trumpet. I found out that the cornet and trumpet helped me out in a lot of ways. When I went to college, I was majoring in pre-med for a while. That was at Tennessee State, Nashville, Tennessee. Dick Barnett had been there. Wilma Rudolph. Leon Thomas was there. Moses Gunn. Quite a few people.

TP: Were you listening to records then? Were you hearing other instrumental personalities? Was that part of what you did?

OLU: No records, because my grandparents, who lived right down the street, didn’t play records, and my parents didn’t play records. So it was like live music all the time. It’s always live. I guess until the year before I left for college… We bought a record player, and I bought a Dizzy Gillespie record.

TP: So you knew about Dizzy Gillespie, you knew about Lee Morgan, but you didn’t…

OLU: No. I didn’t. I just found a Dizzy Gillespie record. That’s the only jazz record they had in town. They had Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, but nobody else. They had one Dizzy record.

TP: Describe the music you were playing? Mostly blues? Jump band things?

OLU: Various forms of music. It’s hard to describe what they called it. They had big bands. A band called the Red Tops, which was like a territory band in Mississippi. They played for our dances and stuff, so I got a chance to hear a lot of blowing, a lot of instrumental greatness. I think they were out of Vicksburg, Mississippi, which is about 65 miles away from me. Then there were guys in my band who learned how to play very quickly – how to improvise and stuff. I would just listen. But we all had to improvise right away. In school, if you didn’t have any music… Like, baritone horn parts were missing. So I would have to play the baritone horn and I would have to improvise. The band director would say, “We don’t have any music for the baritone horn, so I want the sound.” So you’d just solo around what you think should be played. That’s how I learned how to improvise.

TP: So you were simultaneously an ear player but were taught formal skills at the same time.

OLU: Yes, at the same time. All the mentors down there, the musical guys, they want you to be able to come in and play what you hear first, because they didn’t have time to write out all the music all the time. But we had bands that had music out. The first band I was in had the music written out. But if someone walks out and calls something we don’t have on paper, they want you to know how to play it. They would have people stand off to the side and hum it to you.

TP: I’d think that tone production would have been the most important thing in those situations, really projecting your sound and…

OLU: Sound was very important. It wasn’t about the notes you play. It wasn’t about how fast you could play or what notes or scales you could play. You had to have a tone that the people liked. That’s all that people talked about when they’d come to hear us play. Even at football games, basketball games, the older people would talk about the tone. That’s all they were interested in, your tone projection.

TP: Leo Smith once talked about having to fill up the big open spaces with the sound of the horn coming up in Mississippi.

OLU: Yeah, we had to play outdoors. Most of the time you played outdoors.

TP: Let’s jump back. You were at Tennessee State, you move to Nashville, and you’re now listening to records.

OLU: My roommate had a big collection of records, people I never heard of. I never heard of Miles Davis, Lee Morgan… Only person I’d heard of was Dizzy Gillespie, and I just learned about him through that one record. And Louis Armstrong – I knew of him through early television days. But I never heard of all these guys, no jazz people at all, until I went away to Tennessee State.

TP: Is that when you heard the record we’re about to play, which is Lee Morgan with Art Blakey?

OLU: Art Blakey’s band and Horace Silver’s time was the music of the time of the youth of Tennessee for jazz. They’d listen to just a few artists — Ahmad Jamal, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, and Coltrane. Maybe one more. I think it was Miles.

TP: But Lee Morgan struck you.

OLU: Well, Lee Morgan struck all of us. He was our favorite when it came to listening to jazz records. It was always Lee Morgan first, even if he was a sideman. Everyone loved Lee Morgan.

Once I started to learn about trumpet players, and started listening to some of my roommate’s records… He’d sit there and say, “You want to play jazz?” I said, “I would like to.” He’d say, “Well, listen to this guy.” He’d play everybody. He’d say, “Now, listen to this guy here, Lee Morgan.” They would say, “This guy has a street sound,” which is what the kids liked. He was like the hip-hop trumpeter of the day. So when I heard his sound, I said, “You’re right; he’s studied, but he’s not studied to the point where he sounds like a machine.” You could feel that he was just a natural musician with lots of talent, and he would do things that most trumpet players… He was unpredictable. Plus he had tone. The tone was wonderful.

[MUSIC: Messengers with Morgan & Shorter, “Dat Dere”-The Big Beat; Ornette-Don Cherry, “Congeniality”]

TP: During our first conversational segment, Olu took us from Natchez to Nashville, and Tennessee State University, where your roommate introduces you to jazz trumpet and plays you Lee Morgan records. Is this also when you discovered Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman?

OLU: Two years after that, when I joined the Navy, I think the first day I got into the music school in the Navy…it was full of musicians, of course…that record, right you just played, was there — one guy had it. It was being passed around. That’s when I heard it. I can almost name the date when I first heard the record. I think it was 1960 or 1961.

TP: That’s when you joined the Navy.

OLU: I joined in 1960. I went two years to college, two years in the summer. Then I got bored with that. I wanted to see the world and maybe get a chance to play some music, too.

TP: What was your academic interest in college? You said you had no intention of being a professional musician; music was more of a tool for you.

OLU: It’s always a tool. I didn’t have any plans academically at all. My mother and father had the plans. They wanted me to be a doctor. So I enrolled in pre-med courses. I found that was like backwards, so I didn’t want to deal with that. I said, “Well, what can you do while you’re taking these boring courses?” So I joined the band which was very exciting. I stayed in the band a couple of years, and enrolled in school in the summer to be ahead of time for my junior year, and I got bored right away. I saw two sailors, and I went down and joined the Navy.

TP: And you decided to try for the music school for the opportunities it would give you…

OLU: Yes. That was my plan.

TP: I guess you’re alongside dozens of musicians who through Armed Services music programs developed their skills and broadened their musical horizons. That goes back to James Reese Europe, and World War Two, and up on through.

OLU: Yes. I’d heard about musicians making their way in the military. It was easier. You could go to a school and be around musicians who really didn’t need the school, but it was a place for us to hide away from saluting and all that kind of stuff. That’s what we did. For four years I played music and traveled the earth, and it was a very nice thing.

TP: I’d imagine it broadened your horizons as far as what you were listening. And you must have played in the different places you visited outside of the Navy bands.

OLU: Oh yes. You got an opportunity to play at all times. People were hungry for musicians, professional musicians, where we were. We could play when we were off-duty, and we were always off-duty. If you’re a musician in the military you don’t have to do much at all but play and just hang out. Also, the travel. You got a chance to open up your mind to various musics of the world and just to see what the world has to offer also.

TP: What were some of your ports of call?

OLU: Puerto Rico. Trinidad…

TP: That’s where you first heard Caribbean music.

OLU: yes.

TP: Did it resonate with you right away?

OLU: Right away. It was something you knew was there, but you hadn’t been very close to it — but you knew in the back of your mind it was there on earth. The Caribbean, then Africa, many places in Africa, all around the continent. Every place we went it was different. Ten miles this way, it was different; ten miles that way it was different. From country to country, it was different sounds and different ways to apply music.

TP: So the roots of what you do now, apart from your early years in Natchez, heark to that naval experience when you went around the world and heard all these things first-hand.

OLU: Yes, it has to do with my freedom, my youth, when I didn’t have any ties to the world. I was just out there on my own. So I spent all this time being around musicians and listening to that music and playing this kind of music. So I never was a person who grew up on records. I didn’t grow up on records, so I’m not really influenced by recorded music – and I’m very happy about that. I’m very happy about it. I know a lot of musicians, my peers, the young guys especially…they’re very influenced by records. You can hear it in their voices, the things they say through their instruments. You can tell it’s not a life experience, but it’s a record experience. It’s a big difference.

TP: So you never transcribed solos?

OLU: Never. I thought that was horrible, when I heard musicians say, “But I transcribed Charlie Parker’s or Lester Young’s solo and Dizzy’s solo, and I learned this solo…” I was shocked. Because when I was growing up, reading about jazz musicians, I thought they would create on the spot. That excited me when I heard it. I said, “wow, these guys…” They got a lot of press, a lot of historical records on musicians. My thing was, these guys are the most creative musicians on the planet. That’s the way it was written up. So I’m young and I’m looking for this. I didn’t think musicians had to look for chord changes or anything. All these things shocked me. All these things shocked me when I saw it. I used to see musicians who I really heard about or respected or whatever, and they’d say, “Where are the chord changes?” I’m saying, “My goodness, what is this?” Then when they’d say “I transcribed this guy’s solos,” to me that was horrible. Not because they were wrong, but because that’s the way I think and the way I was brought up. When you transcribe a guy’s solo, it’s like transcribing his soul. It was like taking his soul from him.

My whole concept is this man that you’re transcribing had his own soul and his own life, and his own thoughts. If you transcribe a solo, you don’t know what he’s saying. You’re just transcribing notes. And if you’re bringing these things into you, then you become part of him – or almost like cloning in a way. So I said all that to say this. I thought it was horrible when I heard people transcribe other people’s solo.

TP: Did hearing Ornette Coleman somehow correlate with that sense of the world? Was it a pathbreaking experience for you?

OLU: No. No, it wasn’t. See, he’s a southerner. So I could hear… I do remember guys were gathered the record player, listening to it – the same record we’re talking about. I listened to a couple of sides, and I just kept walking. Because to me, him being a southerner, I knew exactly what he was doing. Don Cherry. I could hear the creativity in both of their voices. It wasn’t a surprise for me. It was like a surprise for others, I believe. But I knew that music had to be somewhere on earth anyway.

TP: So it was more along the lines of hearing a kindred spirit.

OLU: Simple as that.

TP: So it’s 1965, you get out of the Navy, you’ve seen the world, and then what happens?

OLU: I get stranded in New York. I was discharged in New York in July 1964, and I ran out of money. My plan was to go and live in places that I liked outside of America, places like Barcelona, Spain, which I really loved, and places like Kenya…there’s a lot of islands I liked. I was just going to take a chance. I was young enough to do what I wanted to do. But I stayed in New York a couple of days too long, and I ran out of money. So I wound up being here.

TP: Were you always playing music for money, or did that start later?

OLU: Yes, I always played music for money. Other than the time I spent playing in college bands… I think that’s the only time I didn’t make any money playing music, was when I was in college those two years, because I just played in the school marching band.

TP: Oh, you didn’t play outside.

OLU: No. When I got to college, it was a total jazz thing. The college guys, the jazz musicians, if they didn’t know you, you couldn’t get anywhere near them. That’s one of the other reasons I left college, because these guys were from larger cities and they had this little clique. If you didn’t know a couple of tunes they knew, then you were out of the picture. So that’s one of the reasons that helped me make up my mind to leave college — because you couldn’t get in the little jazz clique.

TP: I know you did many things in NewYork, but as far as the musical end of it, what sort of scenes were you involved with in 1964-65-66?

OLU: I thought it was very creative, in a way. The beboppers were… It seemed like they’d said to the beboppers, “You’ve had your turn or whatever.” But I was around a lot of those guys because they were so accessible. So many of them. Kenny Dorham… I can name many of them. So just say anybody who was playing between 1949 and 1965.

TP: You hung out and you met them.

OLU: I used to hang out at places they’d play, especially in Brooklyn. Most of the beboppers who were well-known lived in Brooklyn at the time. I lived right in the community of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, where most of the musicians were living anyway.

TP: So the Blue Coronet…

OLU: The Blue Coronet especially. You could see everybody there. Coltrane, Rahsaan… That’s where a lot of musicians who were just making record dates, like Freddie Hubbard or Kenny Barron, they would come there and wax out their tunes or whatever and play it there, and the next thing you know they’re recording these things. Cedar Walton. Cal Massey. Lee Morgan. I saw everybody right in the neighborhood. I wasn’t in the music as far as playing. I wasn’t going to play at all.

But I enjoyed just being around the music, listening to all kinds of stuff. At the time, there was a lot of different kinds of music – African music, Caribbean music, rhythm-and-blues. Eventually I started playing with rhythm-and-blues bands first. It was very difficult to meet the jazz musicians, in a way. They had another kind of thing. It was more like an old boys’ club, what they call it… For young guys coming up, you couldn’t get in unless you knew somebody. I didn’t know anybody. Therefore, I was out of the picture. But I enjoyed myself hanging around. And I had no thoughts about going into the music game. I had other talents.

Eventually I got talked into playing by guys who remembered me from the past. But I waited a long time. I was in my thirties before I even bought another horn. I borrowed those; I hadn’t made up my mind yet.

TP: Sound like your musical activity up to 1972 or so was rhythm-and-blues bands…

OLU: Yes. Caribbean bands, African bands – yes.

TP: That also imparted the feeling we hear on the records by the “best new jazz artist of 1998,” Olu Dara – at 56.

OLU: Heh-heh.

TP: We’ll move to music by James Brown circa 1970 or so. You have a contemporary perspective, because, though you’re younger, your span as a music-listener would match his career as a recording artist.

OLU: He embodies the feeling of the South. Everything. When I think about him. Also, his music spans the world. To me, he’s the first World musician in America. What they call a “world music musician.” In other words, he uses the polyrhythms of the African beats, mixed with the gospel, the country-blues, the funk, orchestral stuff — everything. If someone had to ask me “who is the greatest living in America?” or “who is the greatest musician ever in America?”…for me personally… I would always say James Brown. He embodied the in and outside music of the saxophone with Maceo, and the tight band of the so-called Basie-ites, and the drumming of the Afrobeat drumming. His drummers are…

Let me break this up a minute and say one thing. I went to a conference one time about ten years ago in Atlanta, Georgia, and they were talking about drums. Who were the greatest drummers in America. America’s drummers – who are they? They started naming people. All kinds of experts, critics, musicians – they named all kinds of names. They went from Buddy Rich to Gene Krupa, Max Roach, Art Blakey – everything. Ok, the place was full.

They asked one guy, I don’t know if it was me or somebody else. And somebody said, “Well, there are some drummers out here who everybody has heard before. Because all you people never heard Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones like that, but everybody in this room, guaranteed, you’ve heard these drummers – but I’ll bet you can’t tell me their names.” They say, “What? What drummers? We know?” He said, “Name one drummer who played with James Brown? I know you danced off his music or heard it many times.” Only a few people could name like Starks or Stubblefield or people like that.

But what I’m saying is, his drummers span the time. They’re universal. The whole concept of James Brown’s band is universal. They dance all over – in Africa, all over the world. And still today his music is… They talk a lot about the greatest bands and all that stuff, all the time, but his name is never mentioned. They’ll mention Ellington. They’ll mention Basie. The Philharmonic. Barry Manilow. It could be anybody.

[MUSIC: James Brown, “Lickin’ Stick”; John Lee Hooker, “Graveyard Blues”; Staples Singers, “Reach Out, Touch A Hand”]

TP: So it’s Brooklyn during the 60s, and you’re hanging out, playing in African and Caribbean and rhythm-and-blues bands. Around 1973, after various trials and tribulations, you wind up with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. How did it happen? What was the path?

OLU: He just called me. We didn’t know each other at all. I hadn’t really played in any jazz bands per se. I’ve had a couple, I played a couple of tunes here, a couple of tunes there. But I just got a phone call from him. I guess I was recommended by somebody who he had just hired in his band – all of the guys I knew. I knew Carter Jefferson from the rhythm-and-blues bands we played in together. Neither one of us has really been in a jazz band, but we were inching towards it. Rhythm-and-blues bands were really jazz bands to me anyway, because we improvised and we played horn lines together – improvised everything.

TP: That’s when every band had a horn section.

OLU: Every band had a horn section.

TP: Did you play with any national acts?

OLU: Rhythm-and-blues? We went on the road with this group out of Cleveland…

TP: You were part of a horn section that would contract out?

OLU: Yeah, we had this local band. It was called Ecstasy, Passion and Pain. It became nationally known. We were called the Sounds of Soul. Then I played in the Fatback band, but before the Fatback Band was named the Fatback Band, we were called Pretty Willie and the Soul Brothers. I would go out with these bands, and we would open for the Ohio Players and things like that. So that’s basically what we were doing in rhythm-and-blues. Plus, we played a lot in the five boroughs. Rhythm-and-blues was all over the place, and all of a sudden, boom, it disappeared. So nothing was left but jazz bands. So New York became a complete jazz band city after that. So my only means of income would be to play jazz. So Carter Jefferson, my friend, he went with Mongo Santamaria. I went with Carlos Garnett, Afro-Caribbean Jazz Band, and then after that with Doug and Jean Carn — and after that I went in with the jazz bands. So I went with Art Blakey, sight unseen. I met him in Milwaukee someplace.

TP: he needed a trumpet player, he called you, you go out to Milwaukee.

OLU: Yes.

TP: You went and hit without rehearsal?

OLU: Nothing.

TP: What was that like for you?

OLU: The funny thing about it, trumpet players dream of playing with Art Blakey. That was one of my dreams. I never thought I would ever play with Art Blakey. I never even thought about it. But he called me, and I just went. I needed a gig and I went. I didn’t care who called me. I didn’t care what kind of music it was. Although I had never really tried to practice that music, or have dreams of playing with jazz per se – but I had dreams of playing with Blakey. And I’d played with him in my dreams already, so I was satisfied! But it was a dream come true, in a way. I stayed with him for one year, and after that I wanted to do something else.

TP: But within that time, there must have been something that stuck… You and Carter Jefferson already had an ensemble sound.

OLU: Yeah, we had something going.

TP: Did he try to rein you in any way? Did he give you input?

OLU: He was the freest bandleader I’ve ever had. He didn’t say a thing. He said, “You guys take over. Whatever you want to play. Play what you want to play.” He was like that. He just wanted to have fun and play drums. And he had complete trust in us. Even when we were fumbling over the tune we didn’t know, or the heads or anything like that… But he liked the idea that Carter and I from rhythm-and-blues… We knew how to make it sound like we’d been together for years. That’s why he didn’t fire us right away! We knew how to make a band sound together. And we played a different type of Messengers sound, due to the times. He enjoyed that, because we would go all kinds of ways and bring other kinds of rhythms. He enjoyed it immensely. We stayed together for one year until we decided we wanted to do something else.

TP: This is 1973.

OLU: 73 to 74.

TP: So the sound you were bringing was really apropos…

OLU: To the times. We traveled all over. We went everywhere. For that one year, I think we only had two weeks off for the whole year. We played almost every night, all over the world. It was something that I needed to experience, so I could know what it was. It would be a shame for me to have dreamt that I played with him and never played with him. I think I’d still be worrying about that today, or thinking about it.

TP: Is that a beat that you still feel? Art Blakey was one of the most dynamic drummers, sonically and creatively, that ever was.

OLU: Yes, I feel his beat. Of course I feel his beat. His beat was a very good feeling. Like we used to say, he’s one of the few jazz drummers who was not ashamed of a funky beat, of the funky shuffles and things like that. He knew how to play the bass drum and the snare drum. It was very youthful. Not overly hip. Know what I mean? But he was a stickler for the beat. Period. He didn’t try to show off or try to be slick or anything like that. He was just an old school drummer with a big beat.

TP: You leave Art Blakey in 1974, and around then is when your name starts to pop up with the musicians from the Midwest, the South, and the West Coast who were coming to New York around that time. You play on Oliver Lake’s Heavy Spirits in 1974. You appear on some of the Wildflowers sessions from 1975 and 1976.

OLU: Mmm-hmm.

TP: So by then, you’re pretty headlong into what was called the “downtown” scene.

OLU: It’s funny how that happened, too. Because when I left Art Blakey’s band I wanted to stop music again. I said, “Look, I’ve done that; is that all there is to it?” When you get into something from the outside, it looks one way. When you get into it, it’s something else. So I decided, “Well, let me give up music now; I want to do something else.” But I got a call from Hamiet Bluiett, and he said, “All the guys are coming into town…”

TP: You knew Bluiett…

OLU: Through the military. I met him in the Navy.

TP: Anyone else we’d know who you met in the Navy?

OLU: No. He’s the only one you may know. I know I passed Howard Johnson out to sea. I asked, “Who’s that guy playing trumpet out to sea?” somewhere in the Red Sea, and they said it was Howard Johnson. I met him many years later. But Bluiett I actually met in the military. We played together when he would come through my port or whatever. But he called me and said, “Look…” He’d just left Mingus’ band and I’d just left Basie’s band, so it was like, “What are we going to do now?” Is this all there is to it?

So we both were in that frame of mind. I was saying, “I’m going to do something else; this is it for me.” So he said, “You want to play? Some guys are coming to town; they’re playing some different kind of stuff that we used to play out of St. Louis.” When I got around those guys, it wasn’t stuff I was used to playing at all. The music was somewhere else. The guys from the AACM, from Chicago, they had their own sound. The guys from California, Arthur Blythe, David Murray, James Newton, Butch Morris. Then the St. Louis people – Hemphill, Lake, the Bowies, Bluiett, Marvin Horn. Quite a few people from each area.

TP: You’d met them traveling with the rhythm-and-blues bands?

OLU: No. I met them in New York. I met some of them…

TP: I thought you mentioned playing with some people in St. Louis. That’s why I asked.

OLU: Well, I did. I met some of the musicians, like Luther Thomas, in St. Louis. But most of the musicians I met is when they migrated to New York City, and they all had different types of ways of expressing themselves, which was… I’d never spent that much time playing with those kinds of bands. Never had, because they were not here. But that sustained me for some years, and put me in a position where I made a name for myself playing music. It’s funny how life is. I made my name internationally by playing with musicians who I never thought I would play or music that I didn’t know too much about. What I found was, when I played with so many of them, the trumpet players in New York didn’t want to play anything but maybe straight-ahead jazz. I would play anything. I didn’t care. So I would take the gigs. The other trumpet players didn’t want those gigs, so I would take all those gigs. And I wound up playing with everybody. And so I sustained myself, and I learned a great deal. Although it wasn’t the kind of music I wanted to be known as playing, it was the music that helped me make my reputation.

TP: Why wouldn’t you want to be known as playing that?

OLU: Heh, it’s like… I’m from Mississippi. We play a different kind of music. It’s like B.B. King. You think B.B. King wants to spend his life playing with Ornette or somebody? Not that anything is wrong with Ornette, but B.B. King has his music. That’s the way he expresses himself. Ornette expresses himself one way. He doesn’t mean either one is inferior or superior.

TP: Absolutely. But they’re both from the South and each of them did what they did. Leo Smith is from Mississippi…

OLU: He’s similar to me. He’s a guy who migrated, and he didn’t bring a whole lot of Mississippians with him. He came as a lone Mississippi player and played with people from…

TP: But he went to Chicago…

OLU: That’s what I’m saying.

TP: …where there were a lot of people who were from Mississippi.

OLU: Exactly. But they were not born in Mississippi.

TP: Some of them were.

OLU: Let’s say this. In my experience, hardly anyone born in Mississippi. Believe me. Leo was born there, I was born there – as far as I know in this situation we were into. Leo and myself. We both happened to be trumpeters. These guys were born in big cities. They were more sophisticated than I was. Believe me, they were. They knew a lot of things that I did not know, about a lot of things. So I got my opportunity… They were bent on becoming famous people. I could tell how they migrated and said, “Look, we’re going to do it.” [LAUGHS] And I stuck with them. Although I knew in the back of my mind that this wasn’t the type of music I would present to my people in Natchez or my people out on Long Island when I’m playing rhythm-and-blues. I tried it already. It didn’t work. It did not work.

But I knew in my own mind I had my own way of doing things, and eventually I would do it. So I formed my band… They put me in a position where I could form my own band. So that’s what I did.

TP: We’ll start the next set of music with the Henry Threadgill Sextett, playing Threadgill’s “Black Blues.”

OLU: Henry Threadgill and I had a situation where he played in my band, and I played in his band. It was a very good thing. There are some songs he wrote that I got a chance… This is one of the songs that I got a chance to feature. He featured myself on this particular number, “Black Blues,” and it’s one of my favorite songs by him.

TP: I remember that band vividly, and he really made use of your sound. It was an amazing ensemble, with you and he and Craig Harris and the two drummers.

OLU: That was very good for me. Threadgill did write for your sound. I feel that he hired me not because he wanted a trumpet player; it’s because he…I respected that…he wanted to hear my sound.

TP: Your voice.

OLU: The same reason he was in my band. He had a voice.

[MUSIC: Henry Threadgill Sextett, “Black Blues”-Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket; Bluiett-Olu, “Tranquil Beauty”-Rivbea, 1975 -Moye and Bobo; Olu-Hemphill-Tacuma-Rochester, “Show Stopper”-Jamaladeen’s Show Stopper-1982]

TP: Before the next set of music, culled from Olu Dara’s two recent releases, Neighborhoods and In This World, both on Atlantic… You spoke earlier about those earlier times, but I’d like to ask more about the choice of brass instrument, which became primarily cornet as opposed to trumpet.

OLU: Why I changed from the trumpet to cornet? I started out as a child with the cornet. And as time went on, of course, the trumpet became very popular I guess after the 30s… I think the 40s the trumpet became very popular. That’s when I start playing cornet. I remember in school kids would laugh at you if you had a cornet. But after I got in the theater and had a part in a play as an actor playing the cornet back in the late 70s, it brought me back to my original instrument – which is the cornet.

TP: Is there a difference in…a more vocalized sound? Is that basically what it is?

OLU: Yes, for me it is. The trumpet is longer, slender, and to me it gets a slenderer sound than the cornet gets for me. So it is a more vocal thing for me.

TP: You were saying that doing this work in the 70s and 80s enabled you to start bringing out your own music. That often would happen at the same venues where these instrumental bands were playing. You might appear with Henry Threadgill, or music with dissonance or not necessarily a straight 4/4 beat, and then you’d enter the same venue with your band. Did you start organizing material for those bands, or did it emanate out of your theater experience?

OLU: In the beginning, I organized the material myself, before I had a whole lot of experience in theater. But I was fortunate to be able to have that kind of music within the venues we were playing. They were very strict on New York and the East Coast, period…Europe, too. They were very strict on what kind of music they would let through. But since I was part of the gang, I was in a position to get my band in those same venues. It was a strange experience, because a lot of musicians hated funky music or what you’d call roots type of music. It was a wonderful experience for me to watch the reaction to my music from musicians especially!

Then, at the same time, I was the only one who didn’t have records out. So I was an anomaly in the first place with that, being able to work these clubs and whatever. At the time, I found I could work anywhere with that band, because I started bringing out people from different communities who didn’t come out before. So I could sustain myself and be able to pay the band well and work almost anywhere I wanted to without records. Then, as we spoke before about records, that’s another reason I really wasn’t running up trying to get recorded – because I had what I needed. I had an audience.

TP: You were singing then. As a kid in Mississippi, I’m sure there was a lot of blues around. Do you remember a lot of songs, or were there songs you were making up… Has it always been a free form sort of thing for you?

OLU: My situation is free form. I don’t like to sing other people’s music because I don’t know what they’re talking about. So I like free form anyway. I like to make up my songs on the spot. I change lyrics on a daily basis. I don’t like to retain lyrics, because it’s just words. I like the moment. I like to improvise lyrics like I improvise on the instruments. When I was growing up I didn’t do a whole lot of singing. But I did a whole lot of listening and feeling. So I started to sing in New York just by being tired of playing the horns all the time.

TP: Do you have charts?

OLU: When I first started out in the 70s, everybody had music in front of them. Every band I played with you had to read music in public. That used to embarrass me. I wasn’t used to that. I didn’t like that at all. It was too sterile for me. But everybody… So I had to do it. I said, “I guess this is what I have to do, too, in order to get some recognition out here.” They want to see you what I call…they want to see some literacy, heh-heh. So you write music for the bands. After a while I said, “Well, I’m not writing any more music. I want to get musicians who can play straight out from the head.” That’s what happened. I just stopped writing music, period, and just let it happen naturally.

TP: obviously, once people are playing together for a while they get to read each other’s minds and so forth. But at first would it be a call-and-response sort of thing?

OLU: At first… As long as I had the rhythms I wanted. You didn’t even have to call it “call and response.” You know? It was just us creating a song.

TP: You just had to have the beat…

OLU: All I needed was the beat, and I could go from there.

TP: Who were your drummers back in the 70s and 80s?

OLU: I had many drummers. Pheeroan akLaff, Philip Wilson, Greg Bandy, Andrei Strobert. When I first started my Okra orchestra, I think it was Don Moye, as a matter of fact. There are some other ones I forgot about. But I didn’t employ many drummers. I always wanted… See, a lot of drummers can play only jazz, a 4/4 beat, 3/4 beats, or bossa novas or whatever. But I needed a drummer who play everything. So I needed a guy like Philip Wilson who played with Stax Records and played with Paul Butterfield, so I knew he could play real funky music. That’s how I was able to form a dance band. We played for dances and everything. Or any other drummer who can really play the beat – I mean, the REAL beat. Philip Wilson passed away, but he… Philip Wilson and Greg Bandy were the best I’ve seen since I’ve been on the East Coast.

TP: Greg Bandy is both an accomplished jazz drummer and dance drummer.

OLU: Yes. Afro-Beats, everything. So was Philip.

TP: Alonzo Gardner has been playing bass with you for a long time.

OLU: A very long time. I found out when I started playing around New York, they’d ask me, “Who’s in the band?” I thought, “Why does everybody ask me who’s in the band? They never asked me that before anywhere else in the world?” Then I found out it was a jazz thing.

TP: Well, yeah.

OLU: It’s like a jazz thing!

TP: What’s wrong with that?

OLU: I didn’t say anything was wrong with it. But I’m saying when I played in an African band, a Caribbean band, a blues band, whatever…nobody said, “Who’s in the band?”

TP: Because it’s a functional thing.

OLU: Right. But here they’d say, “who’s in the band?” They would insist. A lot of times I didn’t know who was going to be in the band. But then I found it was like what you’d call a “jazz star” kind of system they had. Sometimes you couldn’t play… I used to play with some jazz band that they wouldn’t let musicians in the clubs unless they had the individual members at the club, or a recording where the record company would say, “I want him and him and him in your band.” That was different I’d never seen anything like that in my life. So I stopped playing with a lot of bands because of that, too. I’d never anything like that. That was, like, weird.

I played in one band… I’m not going to name any names. I’d been playing with this band for a year. We played the Vanguard, and went to the Vanguard, and Max Gordon walked over and said, “Look, I’ve got my own trumpet player for this band.” The drummer gave me $10 and said, “Look, I’m sorry.” That was something I’d… I don’t even think I’d read about things like that. But then after a while I saw that they could call certain individuals. The bandleader had no authority at all. So I said I’d call all the musicians who wouldn’t get in there to play. The guys who are in my band right now who nobody has noticed…they’re the best musicians I’ve ever met, because nobody notices them, because they’re just regular guys. They didn’t call themselves jazz musicians or anything. So that’s how I formed my band, through musicians who were great musicians but who were not in that world.

TP: You have two bands. One is a 4-piece band and one is a 7-piece band, more or less.

OLU: I have one band now. I got rid of the Okra Orchestra many years ago. It’s just the Natchezsippi band I have now. I hand-picked these musicians.

TP: Let’s talk about them.

OLU: These people have been with me over 20 years. My drummer, Coster Massamba, has been with me 25 years. The guitar player, Kwatei Quartey, he’s been with me 20 years about. Alonzo has been with me 20 years or so. Greg Bandy has been with me 20 years or so. I think the newest musician I have no is Larry Johnson, who’s been with four years – because Bandy moved back to Cleveland.

TP: They have to be able to play all the different beats.

OLU: Everything. All the beats authentically. You have to play the Afro-beats, the highlife-beats, Country Blues, rhythm-and-blues, jazz – whatever comes up. And they have to be able to play for concerts and dances.

TP: What’s the difference?

OLU: It’s a big difference. A concert is one thing…you can do anything you want on a concert. You can play soft, loud, you can lay out, lay in – you can do anything you want on a concert. A dance, you can’t. A dance, you have to have the music with a beat where people can have fun and dance. It’s a big difference between playing a concert. But I can use the same music I play for a concert and a dance. I can use the same music, and it can sound like I’m playing jazz or anything. But then you have to know how to juxtaposition it. It’s called survival musically.

TP: When did you start functioning as a guitarist?

OLU: I started doing that when I was working in theater – when I was acting in theater and writing my own plays and I would be in plays others wrote, and I would be the bluesman in the play. That’s when I started bringing the guitar out in the public – through theater.

[MUSIC: Olu Dara-“Neighborhoods”; “Nobody Was There”-Conjure: Cab Calloway Stands In for the Moon; “Used To Be”]

TP: You said that “Nobody Was There” came about because you were showing Bobby Womack how the piece went down, and they decided to use your version.

OLU: That’s not quite it. It’s close, though. I was running it down. Because Bobby wasn’t there. He was supposed to come back and finish the record. I missed him. I came in late. I said, “If he comes back, this is the way the song sounds.” He never came back. So they put that one out.

TP: Happy accident.

OLU: Yes, it was.

TP: Was that the first time you had sung on a record?

OLU: Exactly.

TP: But you’d been singing with your band a good ten years before that…

OLU: Well, I wouldn’t say ten years. I sang very little in my life. I was singing in the choir, in school and stuff like that, but I used to sing inside of myself. So that’s only the first song I ever sang straight out from beginning to end, that was recorded.

TP: So the Okra Orchestra was purely instrumental for you.

OLU: Well, mostly instrumental. I would sing every now and then, joking around. But I never really just came out and belted a song out. The first song I’ve ever belted in life was recorded, and that was it, and it wasn’t even planned. I’m happy about that.

TP: We’ll move now to a couple of songs by Nina Simone, who you’ve cited as one of your two favorite female singers, along with Mavis Staples.

OLU: Most of these people I’m playing are from the South, and that’s where my thing is. But female singers… When I was 15, that’s when I first heard these two songs you’re going to play by Nina Simone. I was in high school. I’d never heard of her before. There was a little juke joint I used to go. They used to play “Love Me Or Leave Me” and “Porgy” by Nina Simone, and it basically changed my life, how I looked at music or whatever. I never knew anything like that talent existed on earth. If you live in a small town, you don’t hear much music or whatever. If you don’t listen to a lot of records or if you don’t have access to recordings and stuff like that, which I didn’t, you wouldn’t know these people existed. So it was on a 45 in a little juke joint I used to hang out in, and every time I went in there I would play “Porgy” and I would play “Love Me Or Leave Me.”

[MUSIC: Nina Simone-“Love Me Or Leave Me” and “I Loves You, Porgy”]

TP: Coming up is music by Miles Davis circa 1985 from Tutu. Olu had asked for something else, but I just couldn’t locate it, which I apologize for. In our discussion about trumpet players this evening, we haven’t discussed Miles Davis, who’s such a major figure for almost everybody from your generation, and the generation before and the generation after – so many musicians.

OLU: He was beyond being a trumpet player to me. His sound was heavenly, His concept was ingenious. He represented everything to me. He represented the world through the horn. The horn became something else rather than the mechanical machinery it is. He represented to me the sound from the Mississippi, the mighty Mississippi River. It seemed like he encompassed the feeling of Americana – the pop music of the 40s, the music from the Broadway plays, the background music to movies, the funk the classical… One man expressed so many different ways of looking at life and looking at music. He is an icon in my mind and heart, and he is to the world. So he’s very special.

When I first heard his sound I think I was in college. My roommate turned me on to that also. His name was Benny Carvin. I haven’t seen him since those days. He’s from Birmingham, Alabama. I haven’t seen him since 1959 or whatever.

TP: We owe him a lot.

OLU: I know I do.

[MUSIC: Miles Davis, “Tutu”]

TP: Next we’ll hear music by Robert Johnson from the late 1930s.

OLU: this is another Mississippi spirit, I would say. Miles and a lot of people I’ve been playing were born close to the river, like I was. There’s something about it. They’re all different, and they bring different expressions from the same source. Robert Johnson reminds me…when I hear him sing, I think of my grandmother. Those Mississippi people in that era had a certain type of vocal expression. You can’t explain it in words. It’s just a nuance of feeling.

TP: Did you hear the Robert Johnson things as a kid?

OLU: No, we had no records. Like I said, I listened to my grandmother in person, and people around the neighborhood. I didn’t really hear a Robert Johnson record until I was in my fifties. I’d heard his name bounced around in New York, but I never really… Once I did hear him, it reminded me of the vocal things I heard when I was growing up.

TP: As I mentioned earlier in the show, Olu sat with me for a Downbeat Blindfold Test last Labor Day, not that long before 9/11. One thing I played for you was something by Mississippi Fred MacDowell, and you were speaking about how creative the playing was, and you heard all of modern jazz in it – you heard horn riffs, orchestral passages, everything in it.

OLU: It’s the same thing with Robert Johnson. When I finally heard him on a CD late in life, I said, “Oh my goodness,” the first thing I heard was all the territory bands, including Duke Ellington and all these bands. I said to myself; Robert Johnson was doing all this as a one-man show; his guitar was doing all the things the big bands were supposed to be doing. They were way ahead of the instrumental big bands – just one man and one guitar. The whole concept was right there, already there in one instrument and one man.

[Robert Johnson, “Love In Vain”]

TP: Now we’ll hear “West End Blues” by Louis Armstrong.

OLU: Pops… My father called me “Pops” as a nickname. I didn’t know why. I guess because I had a cornet. But once I saw Louis Armstrong on television when I was about 12, then I knew who the original Pops was. But here’s another man from the Mississippi River. He’s blasting out another style. There’s so many different styles coming off that river. It’s something to feel. But he came with everything. He came with the beautiful sound, the beautiful tone, and he came with the beautiful voice – his vocal technique was out of sight. Any way the music turned, he would be right there to catch it. So Satchmo, he encompasses, even more than a lot of guys I talked about already, Americana and the world. The Ambassador of Music. And he’s lovable. I loved him because he had a nice, beautiful smile, and I liked him for his confidence in himself. It exudes from television, it exudes from things he says in a magazine or a book. So he was a very powerful person in my mind, and we’ll play some of him now.

[Pops, “West End Blues”]

TP: Now we’ll end the Olu Dara Musician Show with more music by Olu Dara from his recent Atlantic recordings, In The World: From Natchez to New York and Neighborhoods. The first track is from In The World, and it’s a collaboration between Olu and his son Nassir, also known to the broader world at large as Nas, one of the most renowned hip-hop artists around. Now, to someone like me, who follows improvised music and what we call jazz, and isn’t so into the hip-hop world, your son wouldn’t be so much on my radar – which probably is something I shouldn’t confess in public. But I know you’ve had a similar experience in sort of the irony of parenthood, of a son who becomes so well known that you’re known as his dad, as his father.

OLU: That’s a quite unusual experience for any adult to have. It was totally unexpected, when you walk down the street or when you go anywhere and they say, “Look, aren’t you his father?” or whatever. I mean, from young people, from old people, whatever – people from all ages. It’s nice. I had to get used to that, because it’s reverse of the way life should be. But the way things are, it’s a good thing. I’m glad that I did a good job. At least I can say, “Yes.” I don’t hide behind the building and say, “No, I’m not.” At least I’m not ashamed of having a son and he’s not ashamed of having a good father. So it’s good in respect that I’ve been a good father, and that’s all that’s important to me.

TP: It seems there might be some continuity in the way you approach lyrics, improvising lyrics, and what happens in hip-hop. I don’t know whether there’s any direct influence, but there’d certainly seem to be a continuity.

OLU: Yes, there’s a direct continuity. Especially with the freestyle. That’s my thing. I love it, and I still do it today. I guess I’m one of the oldest hip-hoppers on the planet. That’s the way I feel about myself, too — a free-stylist, just like he is.

[MUSIC: Olu-Nas, “Jungle Jay”]

TP: How has the success of these records changed what you do as a musician? Are you more selective now about gigs?

OLU: I have more time to do what I want now. Before I was working with Diane McIntyre, putting on plays and acting and dancing and writing songs all the time, and then I was doing theater all the time, and then I had a band, too. So I was doing a lot of things, and then trying to raise children. Now I can just concentrate on the band. It makes my life much simpler now.

[MUSIC: Olu, “Massamba,” “Rain Shower”]

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Filed under Blindfold Test, DownBeat, Olu Dara, trumpet, WKCR

For Mike Stern’s 61st Birthday, a 2003 Downbeat Feature

Today is the 61st birthday of master guitarist-composer Mike Stern, and to note the occasion I’m posting the print edit of a feature for DownBeat  that it was my privilege to write in 2003. I’m also linking to a conversation we had in 2009 for the www.jazz.com website.

Mike Stern:

Guitarist Mike Stern usually spends Monday and Wednesday nights playing at 55 Christopher, a dimly lit bar on the ground floor of a brownstone in Greenwich Village. Discolored white sound tiles coat the low ceiling, which hovers above some 20 tables placed between a long bar and a yellowish west wall festooned with photos and LP covers. The bandstand is an 8 x 10 rectangle in the back corner with a fourth wall that doubles as an aisle along which customers can wriggle backstage to the cramped restrooms, which had seen better days 20 years ago, when Stern, who was then Miles Davis guitarist of choice, began his residence.
Stern doesn’t need this twice-a-week gig when he’s off the road. But 55 Christopher serves his purposes well.  “I’ve always got to find a place where I can play regularly,” says Stern, who staked a similar claim in the early ‘80s at a famously bacchanalian Soho bar called 55 Grand. “Otherwise I’d  be playing in my room. It gives me joy, and over time I learn a lot. I’m  grateful to have a regular gig where I can try different things. It stretches you.”
“It’s the longest-running jazz show in New York, and on a recent installment, the second set of a frigid January night, Stern stood before a jam-packed house. He held his guitar hip level and wore black pullover, black jeans and black sneakers. Eyes shut, bending his neck at a slight angle and swaying to the beat, he strummed a rubato melody, slowly resolving into the familiar refrain of Cole Porter’s “I Love You” over drummer John Riley’s crisp brushwork. Then Stern developed an extended solo, phrasing interactively with the drummer, carving out chorus after chorus with immaculate execution, sustaining thematic logic, linear invention and melodic focus at a staggering pace, inexorably ratcheting up the tension.
Like a world-class relay runner, tenorist Chris Potter took the baton full stride, and launched a tonally extravagant statement filled with intervallic zigzags and surprising resolutions in the manner of 1965-vintage Sonny Rollins. Guitar and tenor sustained fresh dialogue on further tradeoffs. Francois Moutin was in complete command of his instrument, carving out surging melodic bass lines while clearly stating pulse and roots. It was world-class collective improvising by a unit that had never played together until that evening.
Curiously, Stern has rarely showcased this freewheeling aspect of his tonal personality on his 12 leader records since 1986. “A lot of people have told me they  like to hear a live record, and I’d love to do one,” says Stern, 51, citing the room’s acoustic idiosyncracies as one reason why such a project remains elusive. “At the end of the day, you want to document what you do. But whenever I get around to recording, I have new tunes I want to play.”
Stern offers 11 brand-new ones on These Times, his debut release for German label ESC. As on Voices, his 2001 finale for Atlantic, he explores songs with words and songs with sounds, blending the distinctive vocal timbres of Richard Bona and Elizabeth Kontomanou into the guitar-keyboard-sax voicings that are his trademark. He propels it all with forceful beats by Bona and Will Lee on bass, drummers Vinnie Colaiuta and Dennis Chambers, and percussionist Arto Tuncboyacian. Kenny Garrett and Bob Franceschini split the sax chores. Alternating gnarly burnouts and lyric ballads, Stern and producer Jim Beard is customary keyboardist weak the themes by which Stern has established his compositional identity and tonal personality to an international audience since 1981, the year he joined Davis and recorded an extended solo on  at Time, the opening track on Man With A Horn.
“One thing about Miles that always impressed me is that he always played music he wanted to play,” Stern says. “While I was with Miles, he was offered a fortune to play with Ron Carter and Tony Williams in Japan. But he was just interested in what he was doing, and didn  want to be swayed. At the same time, he always had this balance of wanting to reach people. That’s in all his music. Somebody who doesn’t  really know jazz can still get Miles Davis. And balance is always important to me, however I come up with it.”
Those imperatives and an encounter with Bona at a European festival inspired Stern’s  recent immersion in the voice. “He had the day free, so I grabbed Richard and brought him to my hotel room, where I had a little amplifier, and we were playing some standards,” Stern recalls. “He knew my stuff, and he started singing a couple of my ballads, which I thought was great. One way I write is to sing the melody and write it down, so I have tunes that lend themselves to singing. Anyway, when I was thinking about doing Voices, I asked him about it, and he told me that he knew the idea would work and that he’d sing a few tunes. So I leapt into this new thing.”
“Getting the gig with Miles was the pinnacle of jazz success for a young musician at that time,” says John Scofield, Stern’s friend since the late ‘70s and his guitar partner with Miles in 1982-83.  “Your status went up. That’s all there was to it.”
“Miles made it clear that he didn’t  want me to do what he did,” says Stern, who diligently followed the trumpet legend’s  instructions to “turn it up or turn it off.” “He would leave all the space, and he wanted more aggression and energy from me. He’d move his hands to signal Al Foster to open up behind me. It was almost like he was working with shapes. A lot of the music was easy vamps, and they’d go on for a while, so you had to milk it for whatever you could. He also wanted a lean sound, which you can get with just guitar and no keyboards even if you play a lot of notes. I have him in my ear to this day, that beautiful vocal sound and his phrasing.

Stern likes his drummers hard-hitting and in-the-pocket, and observers, noting his high-visibility associations with Miles, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Billy Cobham, Jaco Pastorius and Steps Ahead, often refer to his music as fusion. The term puzzles Stern, a hardcore Jim Hall-Wes Montgomery acolyte who continues to transcribe the solos of John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner to slake his thirst for new vocabulary. In 2002, he recorded Four Generations Of Miles (Chesky) with fellow Milesians Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb and George Coleman.
“Blood, Sweat & Tears was one of the first jazz-rock bands, and Billy Cobham played what people have called fusion,” Stern says. “But I always wanted to hear some more swinging. When I first played guitar in the 60s, I listened to lots of blues, and then Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and cats like that—and then got into jazz. Motown was always on the radio. And I always loved Joni Mitchell’s  Blue. So I didn’t leave one part of me behind, but incorporated all of it. Sometimes the sound and sensibility of rock or blues gives me more color and a wider range of expression, a singing quality, more legato and horn-like than percussive.”
As he did in the days when fusion was creative and organic, Stern takes pains to sustain his edge. “I try to be aware of content and find new stuff all the time,” he says. “I try to get players who are going to kick my ass. You react to the people around you, so if the drummer is playing energy, you’re likely to try to match it. The hardest thing is when I’m trying to play some funk with a jazz drummer, and you can tell it isn’t going on. It happens the other way, too. Only a handful have that balance, to play in the middle of the beat but keep that creative jazz sensibility. Sometimes they throw you in a huge hall in a festival, and you want someone who can slam it down.
“But when I write, I look to have the whole picture—both the lyrical and the more slamming stuff. I want the arrangements to have a quality of spontaneity, so there’s conversation between drums, bassist, soloist and keyboard, but I also want enough production to support the tune, even the less complicated ones, so there isn’t  any, ‘yeah, the solo is cool, but the tune ain’t  happening.’ The singable stuff is simpler, but sometimes the hardest to write, because you can  hide behind college chords. On those, I don’t want to write a bunch of weird harmony that’s vague but intellectually impressive. I want to limit myself.”
Simplicity of expression is a complex proposition for Stern. “One of the challenges on the guitar is to try to get a legato, horn-like phrasing,” says Scofield, who alternated with Bill Frisell as Stern’s guitar foil on the 1999 album Play. “Frisell, Pat Metheny and I do it by not picking every note. But if you do pick every note, you can get a precise attack. The problem with that style is that it can sound real mechanical; some guitar players try to do it, and it’s sloppy and weird. Mike can produce a beautiful legato sound but be absolutely accurate on his lines. I don  think I’ve met anybody who does that the way Mike can, and he could do it when I first met him.
“Whatever I have together didn’t  fall from the sky like rain,” Stern says. “It takes a lot of work. I still try to push myself to develop the potential I have. To sound fresh every night I have to discover new stuff, push the envelope. So I’m studying all the time.”
Frisell can speak to Stern’s  obsessive practice habits.  “I met Mike right after he got off the road with Blood, Sweat & Tears, and we immediately started playing at his apartment for hours and hours,” Frisell says. “You can practice all you want and not sound like an individual. But Mike was—and still is—thorough. He would work on every possible thing he could think of. We did ear-training exercises, trying to hear different harmonic structures against a certain note and testing each other. He did it to the point where I couldn’t  believe what he was hearing. All the elements you hear in his playing now were there in his apartment in the 70s.”
“Perfectionism is a character asset,” Stern says. “But it works against you if it paralyzes you. Once I was struggling with some pieces, and my composition teacher, Edgar Grana, told me that one rule is not to judge the tune, but finish it and play it with other people. That  the way you grow. If you throw it out halfway through, you won’t  know what you have. I remember Pat Metheny telling me, “You’ve got what you need, you sound terrific. All you’ve got to do is go out and play.” He recommended me for Blood, Sweat & Tears, and I thought I’d go do the audition and get turned down. But they called me back for the gig.
“My focus then was on playing more like Jim Hall—to play slow and hear whatever I was doing, and not let my fingers get ahead of me. I wasn’t concentrating on technique at all; I figured I’d be able to play tempos later on if I had to. But Blood, Sweat & Tears used to play Spain as an instrumental, and I couldn’t  make the tempo. So here was this real-world situation where I had to deal! Jaco was in the band then. He was a direct guy. He told me, ‘That slow and steady stuff is great, but now you’ve got to start practicing to get your chops happening more.’ Jaco and I were maniacs together. Later, when I lived over 55 Grand, he’d  crash with me upstairs. Then we’d  play downstairs non-stop.”

During the early 80s, Scofield says, 55 Grand “became the musician club in New York.” Lured by a louche, no-holds-barred atmosphere, A-list musicians from all varieties of jazz converged to play and be merry into the wee hours. “It wasn’t  like a fusion club and it wasn’t  a free music club,” Scofield recalls. “It was diverse, but it wasn’t  slick. Everybody played there. The owner didn’t charge much money to get in, and we could play whatever we wanted all night long.”
“I always think jazz is going in about five different directions,” says Stern, who now drinks coffee to sustain late nights at 55 Christopher rather than the cognac and cocaine combo that fueled his 55 Grand marathons. “In jazz there’s tons of music that’s timeless—when you rediscover it, it’s fresh again. Then there’s stuff that combines this-and-that, a fusion of different influences with a jazz sensibility at the core. A lot of that was happening at 55 Grand. It was a very cool hang, but self-destructive.”]
In 1984, Miles Davis told Stern, who was showing up to gigs visibly inebriated, “You have to cool out.” “I wasn’t  ready to do it,” Stern recalls. He joined forces with Pastorius, withdrew after a year to enter rehab, sobered up, moved to a quiet East Side neighborhood and rejoined Davis.
“The second time with Miles, he had two keyboard players, and was moving to the stuff he did with Marcus on Tutu, more pop-oriented and arranged,” Stern says. ”I could leave more space, and it felt more natural to do in that environment. He actually had me play some acoustic, nylon-string guitar. But the first band was open. When he told me we were going on the road after I played Fat Time, I said, ‘Great, that will be fun. Who’s playing keyboards?’ ‘Nobody. Just you.’ I was nervous. ‘Don’t  worry. I hear it. You just play.’ No one really knew what he wanted to do.
“You always had to be on your toes; sometimes we  get used to an arrangement, and he would change it on us at the last minute. He liked it when I  lay a chord underneath one of his notes, so I needed to listen closely to know what pitch he was playing. I didn’t get it right away. I thought some of this was going to fall flat on its face—and some of it wasn’t so happening. But some of it was amazing. That’s  what he was looking for.”

“Some people say, ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks.’” Stern remarks. “But that’s a bit strange for me. Music is supposed to be communicative.”
During an end-of-January week at Iridium in support of These Times, Stern balanced the populist imperatives that inform his writing with the workshopping attitude of musical adventure that inspires his 55 Christopher sessions. A heavyweight unit of Bona, Franceschini and drummer Dave Weckl helped Stern navigate five challenging compositions, replete with shifting tempos, gorgeous melodies, provocative hooks, and just enough harmonic protein to fuel the solos. Weckl modulated seamlessly from straight-eighth to spangalang; Bona, accompanying himself delicately on electric bass, sang two songs in a pure falsetto tenor, Stern matching his tone with lyric grace. During the burnouts, Bona carved out Afro-Pastorius flavored countermelodies that transcended the notion of a bassline. To use a cliche, the music was beyond category. Jazz, rock, blues and world feels coexisted and flourished, freed from their compartments, knit together by the smiling leader.
The tone of the proceedings recalled a comment from Frisell.  “I first became aware of Charlie Parker and bebop and the music of the ‘40s and ‘50s at just the moment when things were getting electric,” Frisell said. “So for me, that music was a natural continuum of using what was around to move ahead to the next step. Nobody knew what Fusion was; it didn’t seem that different from other moments that would happen along the way. Then after a few years, it seemed that fusion became codified. Patterns emerged, and people started fitting things into them. It became a style that you fit something into, just like jazz did. For me, jazz is a process of trying to make something happen.”

That was the way Miles Davis did things, and Stern seems to channel his restless spirit as organically as any of his fellow Miles alumni. “Whenever I hung out with Miles, he’d have the radio blasting to whatever was current at the time,” Stern says. “He was into all kinds of music. The more I step back, the older I get, I respect him even more. He was always moving.”

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Filed under Article, DownBeat, guitar, Mike Stern, Miles Davis

For The 66th Birthday of Drum Master Thurman Barker, a WKCR Interview from 1985

When I started my 23-year run on WKCR in the fall of 1985, I made it my business to try to document the personal histories of many of the AACM musicians I had admired during the ’70s, when I lived in Chicago, and continued to follow after returning to New York City in 1979. One of them was drum-percussion master Thurman Barker, who turns 66 today. It’s been on the internet for 14 years on the Jazz Journalists Association website.

* * *

Thurman Barker
November 18, 1985 – WKCR-FM New York

copyright © 1985, 1999 Ted Panken

Q: Thurman is a product of Chicago, Illinois, and a founding member from a very young age of the AACM. It’s there really that the sources of his music are to be found. So I’d like to now start to talk about your early years in the music in Chicago, when you were coming up, even before you became a member of the AACM — how you picked up on the drums and began in music.

TB: Well, I first used to take tap dancing. That was my first exposure to a form of art, you know, was tap dancing. I really got into it. Of course, I’m in grade school now, and I’m taking these tap dancing lessons about three days a week. But during my eighth year in grade school, we used to have these concerts on Fridays. They called them assemblies, you know, the drama department would put on a show or something. This particular afternoon, it was a drummer, and he came up with a full drum set, and it was just him by himself. His name was Roy Robinson, and he left a very big impression on me at that point.

So when I started high school, I started taking private lessons. I studied at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, under James Dutton, who was head of the percussion department there. I feel I got a very good training, because for the first two years I really didn’t see a drum set. I worked out of these workbooks for harmony and learning the basic notation of music and things like this, and just working on rudiments on the snare drum. So I really didn’t see a drum set until later on.

Q: Were you also working with musicians your age, doing gigs?

TB: Well, sure. But at this time you’ve got to remember, the first couple of years I wasn’t really playing any gigs. But I was very active on the session scene in Chicago. Monday nights were the big nights for sessions. Club De Lisa, which was a very famous night-spot in Chicago, the Coral Club on the South Side, the C.C. Lounge at 66th and Cottage Grove — a lot of these places had sessions every Monday. In any other city, probably it would work the same. You would go down, you’d meet people, you’d get up and you’d play. So I was very active, and I made sure that I got there. Of course, I wasn’t thinking of working; I just wanted to play. Fortunately, the activity was there for it to happen. I got to New York in the fall of 1979. I don’t know if that kind of activity is still going on in Chicago. But at that time it was like a training ground for me.

Q: Let’s narrow down the years we’re speaking of right now.

TB: Oh, it was ’62, ’63, in that period. You had a lot of jazz clubs that were still very big at that time, which the most famous one, where Miles Davis recorded, was the Plugged Nickel . . .

Q: Which was on the North Side.

TB: Which was on the North Side. So I got very active on the session scene. Later on I started jobbing around with people. People would meet you at a session, and they would give you a Saturday night, a party to play or a wedding. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, I started working with this saxophone player by the name of John Epps. He was a big local guy in Chicago that did a lot of parties. And that was my first steady employment, I would say, from music, was with this saxophone player. We used to work at a North Side Club in Chicago; I can’t think of the name. I was still young now. I was still in high school, you see, really my sophomore year.

Q: Who were some of the musicians in Chicago who you admired at that time?

TB: Well, Eddie Harris was a big idol of mine. Because my drum teacher used to work with Eddie Harris. His name was Harold Jones, and he was the drummer with Eddie Harris at the time. And Don Patterson, the organist, was around a lot. Of course, Von Freeman was very active. But I didn’t know Von; I knew his brother, George Freeman, who was a guitarist. So during those years I was pretty much working few jobs with George, and I didn’t get to meet Von until later on.

Anyway, so I had my first employment with John Epps, and we had this four- night gig on the North Side. I made $7 a night. And that was a big deal for me. In high school . . .

Q: This was pre-OPEC.

TB: So I had this gig, and my parents, of course, were into it, because they used to have to take me there, and go back home, and three or four hours later come back and pick me up . . . So it was a reassurance, of course, for my parents that I was getting active. Of course, for them they weren’t really concerned about the money I was making, but just the fact that I was getting active at something that they had taken some money to give me music lessons, and they were beginning to see it pay off. One thing led to the other, you know.

Q: You mentioned Eddie Harris. And in 1961, he and Muhal Richard Abrams began to form a rehearsal band that eventually became the core of the Experimental Band, and that became the core of the AACM.

TB: That’s right.

Q: This is a convoluted way of asking how you first encountered the Experimental Band and got into the AACM.

TB: At this time the Experimental Band was functioning. Of course, I didn’t know, but it was functioning. And how I got to meet Muhal was, when I was in high school, one of my best friends turned out to be Muhal’s son, and he knew that I was in the band in high school. And in high school, you know, you hang out together at lunch periods, and talk. Of course, I was a little different, and he wanted to find out what I was always doing after school. I was going home practicing, you know. And he told me that his father had a band rehearsal and was a bandleader, and for me to come down and check it out. So I said, “Wow!”

So of course, I took advantage of it. One Monday night he took me down to the rehearsal. Now, at this particular time the Experimental Band was rehearsing every Monday night at [the Abraham] Lincoln Center in Chicago. Lincoln Center is one of the cultural centers on the South Side. So they were in rehearsal. And that was my first encounter of the AACM.

Q: For people who don’t know, just describe what the Experimental Band was.

TB: The Experimental Band was a band put together of a lot of musicians on the South Side, including Eddie Harris, Phil Cohran, Roscoe Mitchell, Delbert Hill . . .

Q: And Muhal, of course.

TB: Muhal, of course! The Experimental Band was a band where musicians could come together and work on their own music. At that time there was a lot of energy among the musicians I just spoke of, Roscoe and Muhal, and they were at the point that they were doing a lot of writing. They were also jobbing around in Chicago and playing gigs and everything with big bands. Morris Ellis was one of the bandleaders around at that time that a lot of us worked with.

But this was a place, though, for everybody to come together and work on some of their original compositions that they normally wouldn’t get a chance to perform. It was run very orderly. Whoever had their composition up would direct it (of course, they would explain it first). Because we’re talking about people who had really gotten up into their music, man. In fact, they had changed the music notation. They used different music notation! At that time, you had a few people who just didn’t like the . . . Well, I’m not going to say they didn’t like it, but they just had their own symbols, you know. So they had to explain this, you see.

And of course, this was very different for me, because I’m a kid. For me, it was something really different and brand-new, you know. And I got such a big charge out of the fact that these people, not only was the music different, but they were serious about it. I mean, they could explain what they had on paper, and they had a feeling about what they were explaining and what they were doing.

Q: So you had musicians of different predispositions coming together in a rather unique situation. . .

TB: It was very unique!

Q: What do you think were some of the forces in Chicago that enabled this? Is it possible for you to say?

TB: Well, yeah. I’m sure a lot of it had to do with the fact that we were equal in terms of coming and discovering new ideas and new concepts of expressing and writing music. It’s funny how it seemed to all happen with everybody at once, you see. The period that I knew of was ’65. That was my first year of visiting the Experimental Band. So I think a lot of it had to do with, well, gee, nobody had any big record contract or nobody had 20 tours looking at him . . .

Q: It took some of the pressure off.

TB: It really did, I think. And the fact that we were all there together, and we were all equal in terms of discovering these new ideas. So there was no interference, I guess.

Q: Also there wasn’t that much work in Chicago at that time, was there?

TB: There wasn’t that much work.

Q: The urban renewal on the South Side.

TB: That’s true.

Q: The organ trios had changed.

TB: A lot of the clubs. . So it did affect the music. So right there at the Lincoln Center we were able to just start sharing these ideas, and it was like school, you know. Because I used to come down to rehearsal, and here was Henry Threadgill, Vandy Harris, Roscoe Mitchell and Delbert Hill, the first time I heard a saxophone quartet. I never even thought of it. Then I came down and hear these guys, four of them in a corner, going over these quartets, and it was just great! It was just something that I hadn’t seen.

But sure, I think a lot of the fact that it was easy for us to come together, there wasn’t a lot of work happening at that time, and it was just the opportune time for us to come together.

Q: Within the rehearsal band, there were different configurations and smaller groups that developed. I know you were playing with Joseph Jarman, and in 1967 you did your first records with Joseph Jarman and Muhal.

TB: That’s right, Joseph Jarman. Song For.

Q: Tell us how you met Joseph, and some of the connections with Joseph and with Muhal.

TB: Well, Joseph was right there in the woodwind section in the Experimental Band. Of course, he had a composition. Of course, by me going to school at the Conservatory, see, I had been introduced to playing mallets, like for tom- toms and tympany, you see. So he had a chart for mallets, you see. So we went through this chart, and he was a little amazed maybe, surprised that I had a touch for playing.

Q: You could play the charts.

TB: Yeah, I could play the charts. I could read.

Q: Your rudiments were very developed.

TB: Yeah, they were pretty developed at that point, that I could read, you see. And he had music; I mean, music for the drums. Of course, I had played all these other gigs with people, and there was no music. I would just go up and play. But here I come down to the Experimental Band, and these guys not only have music for the brass and woodwinds; they’ve got a chart for me. So that was in itself different.

But anyway, after the chart he came over and told me how much he really liked the sound, and what I was into. And I told him that, well, I would like to play some music, I’m not playing with anybody. So he asked me to come down and start rehearsing with his group. So I would get down on a Monday early. At that time in the Experimental Band there was a bassist by the name of Charles Clark. He was a very exceptional player, and he also was in the string section in the Experimental Band. Obviously, Charles had done some playing with Joseph before, because I could see that they knew each other, see. And Fred Anderson, a saxophonist in Chicago, also was in the woodwind section. So when I got to our first rehearsal, well, Fred Anderson was there, Billy Brimfield, the trumpeter who lives in Evanston, and Charles Clark and Joseph and myself.

Q: Was Christopher Gaddy on that also?

TB: And Christopher Gaddy, who was an exceptional keyboard player at the time. But we were all at this rehearsal, and that was the first time that I had got together with some people who were really playing some serious music, and I could see that it was just different. So I really wanted to be a part of that, you know.

Q: Let’s hear “Adam’s Rib” from the first LP on which you participated, Joseph Jarman’s Song For. Say something about the LP.

TB: First of all, I was going to say that after four or five months of getting really active with Joseph and playing some gigs around Chicago and the Experimental Band, the surprising thing came up one day that Joseph said, “Look, we’ve got a record date.”

Q: Had you been gigging? A few jobs here and there?

TB: We had a few gigs here and there. And it’s funny, my only experience with gigs were in clubs. All of a sudden, I look up and we’re playing in a bookstore. So immediately I knew that this music was going to take me in a different place. It was different, and it was exciting, you see. So just to make a long story short, I looked up one day, after I’d known Joseph four or five months I look up, and there I am in a studio making my very first record.

Q: Do you think that Song For is representative of the music that Joseph was doing at the time with the group?

TB: Yes, it is. Because the music that you’re about to hear is the music that we were playing during this period, and this is 1967 in Chicago.

[Music: “Adam’s Rib”; example of TB’S percussion music; Muhal Richard Abrams, “The Bird Song”]

TB: This is the stuff that was going in Chicago during this period.

Q: Programmatic music of all idioms.

TB: That’s true. Of course, during this time, we were doing this in clubs! We didn’t only do concerts at Abraham Lincoln Center.

Q: There were concerts at the University of Chicago campus.

TB: That’s true. There were a lot of concerts. I can remember most Fridays there were concerts at the University of Chicago. Also, the Student Union there used to put on a lot of concerts that the AACM members participated in. So we had some people that liked this music, and supported it, and wanted it to be heard.

Q: Meanwhile, the big band was still functioning.

TB: The Big Band was functioning every Monday. And believe me, no matter what happened, we all made that Monday night available for the Experimental Band. Because hey, that was the time that somebody got their music played, and that was a real serious and big deal then.

Q: Is Levels And Degrees of Light in any way representative of what was going on in the Big Band?

TB: Yes, it is. Because in the Big Band we had people like Henry Threadgill. Well, you know Henry, he’s really into theatre, you see. So for him to use the Big Band and use some recitation and some theatre, and be able to combine it, he definitely was one who would do it — and of course, Muhal. And Joseph was doing a lot of theatrical material. A lot of stuff.

So this was all a brand-new experience for me, and I had never seen it anywhere else. Of course, by the time of this recording with Muhal Richard Abrams, Levels and Degrees Of Light, my second record, I am really involved musically and, you know, as a group. I really felt I wanted to be a part of this movement here that was happening.

Q: I neglected to ask you about some of your musical influences outside the Chicago music scene? Who were some of the tough drummers who you thought well of?

TB: Well, the first guy that stands out is Cozy Cole. Cozy Cole was a very big influence on me, because in that period Cozy Cole made a solo 45 called “Topsy.” That was the very first drum solo that I memorized, beat for beat and rhythm for rhythm. I mean, I got that down. Because it just had a lot of emotion in it. So Cozy Cole was a very big influence on me at that time.

Also Roy McCurdy, who was the drummer with Cannonball Adderley. And of course, my drum teacher, Harold Jones. During the latter part of the ’60s there was a TV show that used to come on an educational station in Chicago, WTTW, a program that used to come on once a week called “Jazz Casual.” This was my first time actually seeing the music on TV. Of course, Ed Sullivan and all them people were on TV, but the band never really got featured. But here was a TV show that featured music, you see. So I was influenced a lot by, of course, Philly Joe Jones, Roy McCurdy with Cannonball, and Elvin Jones, who was with John Coltrane’s Quartet. I saw the original quartet on this show “Jazz Casual.” The host of the show I think was Ralph Gleason. Anyway, he ran this show once a week, and I saw Nancy Wilson, Cannonball Adderley, the John Coltrane Quartet, the pianist Bill Evans.

Now, these people were coming to Chicago, but I could not get in the clubs. There was this one club that they used to play at called McKie’s on 63rd and Cottage Grove, right there by the El. The El train is the elevated train that runs in Chicago, for those who don’t know. But I used to catch there right at 63rd and Cottage Grove, and I used to pass by this club, and I would see these names in big letters: The John Coltrane Quartet, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins. And this was the club.

Q: And cats would be jamming there.

TB: Of course they might be jamming there.

Q: Gene Ammons might be strolling by and give a lesson for out-of-towners.

TB: That’s right!

Q: Were you playing in venues outside the AACM? Were you playing classical music at this time? I know you said you studied at the Conservatory.

TB: Well, mainly it was private training and ensemble classes at that time. At this time, ’66, ’67, ’68, those three years, most of my activity was with the AACM, with Muhal and Joseph Jarman. Those three years most of my activity was that. And we got some gigs!

Q: You went to Detroit, for instance, in 1967 and ran into John Sinclair.

TB: Yeah, exactly. John Sinclair was an organizer in Detroit who used to organize concerts at Wayne State University, and one year, I think it was ’67, he got us a big gig at the Ann Arbor Jazz Festival. And you know, this is my first big out-of-town gig now. Joseph Jarman, the late Christopher Gaddy, the late Charles Clark, and myself on drums. So this music that we’re hearing on Delmark is a very good representation of the music scene in Chicago.

Q: And you’ve filled us in most thoroughly on things that were happening.

TB: I hope so.

Q: We’ll progress now and move to events that happened later.

TB: Sure. As If It Were The Seasons, that was my third album at this time. This was a session that was put together by Joseph Jarman. We have Charles Clark on bass and cello, myself on all kinds of drums, a vocalist named Sherri Scott, Muhal Richard Abrams on piano and oboe, a very good flutist who really never got any attention named Joel Brandon, and Fred Anderson is on tenor sax, John Stubblefield, who has a big feature here, is also on tenor sax, and the late John Jackson on trumpet and Lester Lashley on trombone. This composition is written by Joseph Jarman, entitled “Song For Christopher.”

Q: Everything changed in Chicago after 1969, because that’s when Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins, Steve McCall and the Art Ensemble left for Europe.

TB: That’s right.

Q: This, of course, would have had its effect on Thurman, who was still a very young musician.

TB: Well, Joseph in ’68 had gotten involved with the Art Ensemble, and they were really into some intensive rehearsals. So boom, there I was, the late Charles Clark had died, the late Christopher Gaddy had died — and these two people were like my brothers; we did everything together. So it was a real lonely period for me, because Joseph now, you could say the quartet had broke up, and Joseph had joined forces with the Art Ensemble . . .

Q: They were lacking a drummer, however. Did the possibility of your performing with them ever come up?

TB: Yes, it did. And it came up at a bad time. And I swear, it’s one of the biggest mistakes that I regret in my life. Because the group had gone to Europe, and you know, they were pioneering some areas. They didn’t have anything really guaranteed, and they had been to Europe for a few years now. We’re talking about the years 1970-’71. So they were in Europe. But at this time, I had gotten involved with theatre, you see. In 1968 I started doing the Broadway production of Hair. Q: As a musician?

TB: As a musician. I got a call, and I was playing percussion, okay, so the Broadway show Hair was in Chicago at the Schubert Theatre — and I looked up, and there I was in theatre now.

Q: With a good union job!

TB: With a good union job! And see, that was a big deal for me. See, my father is a retired union man, so he was very pleased and very happy. So here I was working downtown at the Schubert Theatre at this time, doing Hair. That job lasted two years, from 1968 to 1970.

Q: Naturally, you didn’t want to leave that for the insecurity of roaming Europe.

TB: Well, of course. So what happened was, I get this call in the wee hours of the morning, something like two or three o’clock in the morning, and it’s from overseas — and this was Roscoe Mitchell. And Roscoe Mitchell expressed, “Well, look, T-Bird. . .” That was a nickname that came from Roscoe. He calls me T-Bird, and now it caught on, and everybody calls me that, now, you see. But he gave me that name. And he said, “Look, we’ve been over here working, and we’ve been thinking about it a lot, and we would like for you to join the Art Ensemble.” So of course, the first thing I said was, “Well, look, do you have any gigs?” And Roscoe was really honest. He said, “Well, no, we don’t have any gigs, and we don’t know where our next gig is, but we’re working on some things that we’re pioneering, some new areas.” So I said, “Well, look, I’ve got a gig; I’m doing this show” — and I never knew! Well, I had this full-time job, and I didn’t think I should leave it.

Q: It happened to a lot of musicians in Chicago, what happened to you.

TB: Yeah! So I said, look, I couldn’t make it, but I would like to join them if they got back into town. So Roscoe said, “Okay, I understand.” And the next thing I knew, months and months up the road,they came back.

Q: They came back in ’71.

TB: They came back in ’71, and they had Don Moye.

Q: That was that.

TB: That was that. I kissed that gig goodbye, and that was that.

Q: What else was happening as far as gigs in Chicago after they left for Europe? You were playing with Kalaparusha [Maurice McIntyre]?

TB: I was playing with Kalaparusha, and I was doing a few gigs with Leroy Jenkins now. He was still there, you see, after the Art Ensemble had cut out and everything. So we had these gigs at clubs on the South Side. I’m trying to think of the names of some of these places; it’s been so long. But George Freeman, Leroy Jenkins, myself, and. . .

Q: George Freeman playing the AACM type of music?

TB: Yeah, he was into it. He plays guitar, and that was the first time that I saw guitar into the music.

Q: Was Cosey doing. . .

TB: [Guitarist] Pete Cosey was doing a few things. At this time, Pete along Sherri Scott. . .

Q: Who played with Earth, Wind and Fire . . .

TB: At that time she was rehearsing with Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire, and he was getting the band off the ground. They were doing a lot of rehearsing.

But mostly in this period I had really gotten involved in theatre. Not saying that the AACM was not functioning. It was still going on. It was just that we were still doing our concert series. . . You know, a lot of people had left, like the Art Ensemble, but at the same time we were recruiting new blood. Like Douglas Ewart, who came in at that time. So we were getting new blood, and the organization was still moving on along with the times.

Q: And the Big Band was still functioning.

TB: And the Big Band was still functioning. And you’ve got to remember, even though we had this concert series happening, we were very, very supported by the community which we lived in and participated in. And I think that was one of the main differences between then and now, was the fact that. . .

Q: In New York City.

TB: Yeah, but . . .

Q: But then in New York City as well. I think New York City is just not that type of town.

TB: It just isn’t that type of town. And at that time in Chicago, we were very well supported by the community. And we used to even go outside and play outside and jam. I don’t know, this was with Muhal, Muhal would bring his clarinet out, and Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors, Kalaparusha, Charles Clark — We used to take our instruments out there in Jackson Park, which is a large park on the South Side, and just sit out there and play. For me it was like a rehearsal. Maybe for people like Roscoe and maybe Muhal, maybe they were thinking of, “Well, this is a way of getting this new music out to the people.” See, for me at the time, I had a comfortable gig, and I was getting gigs, and I was playing some music, and I was active.

Q: So you were active in theatre throughout the ’70s, is that it?

TB: Most of the ’70s.

Q: What made you decide to return to performing creative music, then? And let’s talk about some of the circumstances that led you to return actively to the scene.

TB: Well, one thing was that after playing in theatre, I had learned a great deal. Number one, I learned how to play with a conductor. I learned how to play in a section. Because in theatre, not only do you have a trap drummer, but you have two or three percussion players. And a lot of my training, and a lot of music that I was studying at that time, I’m having an opportunity to really try out now. But I learned a lot in the pit orchestra. And one of the main things was being able to play in a section.

So after, say, 1975-’76, I started getting back to the AACM, into that music. Because I had gotten all of this training, you see. And for the first time, I felt like I wanted to add something to the music of Muhal and to the music of Joseph Jarman and Roscoe, or whoever was doing something. The music took on a new meaning for me at this time, because I had the years from ’71 to ’75 to really think about all the music that I had performed in the late ’60s with Muhal and everybody. Because at the time I was performing it, I really had on clear idea of this new music, you see.

Q: I can think of an analogy. In the 1950’s, and in the ’60s, for that matter, a lot of musicians after their initial apprenticeships in the Army, and got their rudiments very much together in the Army by playing all the time.

TB: That’s true.

Q: And it sounds like this theatre job performed a similar function for you.

TB: It really did. And I was just able to sort of get a clearer understanding about the music. And keep in mind, I’m still studying, I’m practicing very hard. . . So when I returned in ’75, that was really a very progressive year for the organization, because everyone had really gone out and developed their personal concepts.

Q: George Lewis had hit the scene . . .

TB: George Lewis hit the scene in that year. So it was like a revitalization of everything, you know. And I think especially the Art Ensemble, Muhal, Jenkins, they all had had a taste of getting their music performed and recorded, and gotten a taste of the business, gotten a taste of the music scene outside of Chicago. Because you’ve got to remember, before that time nobody had left Chicago.

Q: And that was a time when musicians from all over the country began converging on New York.

TB: Exactly. Now, I must get in here that during the early Seventies, like ’72 and ’73, there was a collaboration of musicians from St. Louis, like for instance, Oliver Lake. Oliver Lake had formed a new music organization I think called X-BAG . . . I think that’s it; I’m not sure. But I do remember that there was a collaboration with the St. Louis musicians.

Q: I remember Julius Hemphill was coming to Chicago in the ’70s.

TB: Exactly. Julius Hemphill. We’re talking about Oliver Lake, we’re talking about Charles Bobo Shaw, Baikida Carroll. Who else?

Q: Joseph Bowie.

TB: Joseph Bowie, of course. So the AACM members even went to St. Louis. And they produced a concert in collaboration with both groups, and also we did the same thing for X-BAG, and Oliver Lake and Baikida and everybody came from St. Louis to Chicago to participate in a concert series that we did. And that was a real strong thing that happened in ’71 and ’72, or so.

Q: Let’s get back to some music.

TB: I was going to go with some more of my percussion duet record.

[Music from Muhal Richard Abrams, LifeaBlinec, “JoDoTh”]

Q: Now we’re in 1978, and in 1978 Thurman joined Anthony Braxton’s working band.

TB: That’s right.

Q: That was a very tight band.

TB: Yeah, it was. It really began in 1977. Anthony Braxton had come to Chicago, and I guess at that time he had just broke up the quartet that he had with Barry Altschul, Dave Holland and George Lewis that was his working band, they’d made some records for Arista. There was an AACM Festival I remember at McCormack Place.

Q: I remember that. Braxton played a gig all on clarinets, with you and Malachi Favors.

TB: He played a gig all on clarinets. And part of that concert was a quartet with Leroy Jenkins on violin, Leonard Jones on bass, Anthony and myself. After that concert, Braxton asked me if I wanted to join the band, and I was just thrilled. I was ready. So that’s the beginning of how that started. We went out. That was the fall of 1977. I remember my very first gig with the quartet out of town was the Quaker Oats Jazz Festival, which was in Philadelphia, I think. And that was my first big out of town gig with the Braxton Quartet. I must say, at that same time Ray Anderson also was very new in the band.

Q: Another Chicagoan.

TB: So Ray Anderson and myself were the new members of the quartet in 1977, and Mark Helias had joined the quartet a few months prior, so he had already played a few gigs. But for Ray Anderson and myself, the Quaker Oats Jazz Festival was our first gig.

Q: How did you like playing with Braxton? What’s the relationship of his music to a drummer, in some sense?

TB: Well, it was really interesting, because Braxton had a way, first of all, of notating his music. He gave me the same part that Ray Anderson had or that Braxton had, see. That was one of the big differences, see. It wasn’t a drum part. It was a part that everybody else had. So now for the time in playing improvised music, I could not only create my own drum part, but I could follow along with all the other instruments to see what they were doing. So it was exciting, it was different. In a way, it was a lot easier for me to adapt to his music, because this was, I would say, my first feeling how jazz and classical music could mix together. This was my first introduction. Because a lot of Braxton’s music had these sounds and compositions that were very close to classical music for me. So for the first time now, with all that training that I watched the percussion players play in the orchestra pits in Chicago, and watching my percussion teacher at the Conservatory. . . For the first time now, I was able to start executing a lot of the knowledge and strokes, and the finesse and touch on my drum set playing jazz.

Q: Did Braxton produce a lot of new music during that time?

TB: He was writing a lot during this time. And I think the way the band was going. . . I know we used to travel a lot. And he would be so occupied with turning out compositions every day, just for this band . . .

Q: And he’d play them on the stand that night?

TB: He’d play them on the stand that night.

Q: Nice for Braxton, to have a band like that.

TB: It was great for Braxton! I hope he had his ASCAP and all that stuff together. But it was great for me, for everybody, because we were not only playing some new music, but we were working, we were out on the road, and we had an opportunity to perform it that night, and to see how it would go for the first time.

So for me, for the first time now, I was able to start executing a lot of the percussion concept on traps. All those years with Joseph Jarman and Muhal, I didn’t really know how to. . . I mean, this music was brand-new. I was trying to find my way, you see. One thing about Muhal and Joseph at this time, one thing they did give me, and that was a lot of support. Even though I didn’t know what the hell I was doing — I was trying. But they gave me a lot of support. But by the time ’77 came around, I had a pretty clear idea about how I wanted to perform and how I wanted to construct.

Q: You were a mature musician at this time.

TB: Yeah, of course. Now I’ve learned a lot. I’ve played a whole bunch of gigs, and I’ve learned a lot. And believe me, that’s the best training you can get, is right there on the bandstand.

Q: Just playing.

TB: That’s true.

[Music: Braxton Quartet, “W6-4N-R6-AH0”]

TB: That recording was done while the quartet was on tour, so it was a real special time for me. Even though I had recorded with Joseph Jarman and Muhal, it was a very good time for me. Because to record with Anthony Braxton who at that time had risen to be a very popular figure in new music, and number two, he had a record contract at the time, so that was a little different.

Q: And later that year you recorded with Sam Rivers.

TB: That’s right. What happened was that the AACM gave its first concert on New York territory in 1976, right here at Columbia University. We were able to perform our first jazz festival right here in New York. And in the audience, of course, was Mr. Sam Rivers. I had performed with some of the groups and with the Big Band. So Sam was in the audience — and this was in ’76.

A few years later, I get this call right out of the blue. It was Sam Rivers, and he was asking me to come to New York and to make a record. Of course I was floored! I said, “Sure, when are the rehearsals and when can we get together, because I need to learn your music.” He said, “Look, we’ll just rehearse in the studio. But can you be here by this particular date?” I said, “No problem.” So my very first contact with Sam Rivers was in the studio, and we made the record that we are about to hear called Waves on Tomato Records. Of course, I am now very familiar with Sam Rivers in terms off what he’s done, and all the Blue Note records that he appeared on with Andrew Hill and Tony Williams — the early Blue Note dates.

Q: Not to mention that he had used Braxton’s previous bass and drums.

TB: Exactly. Now here I go, I’m beginning to think that I’m in a circle here, because somehow Anthony Braxton’s rhythm section went with Sam Rivers — and we’re speaking of Barry Altschul and Dave Holland. At the time I joined Sam, Dave Holland was still there. This recording features Joe Daley on brass, Dave Holland on bass and cello, and myself on drums and percussion, and Sam Rivers. Like I say, I was really back, because this was my first contact with Dave Holland and Sam, and here I am getting ready to make a record. So it was quite a special event for me.

[Music: S. Rivers, “Surge”]

Q: Thurman, you played a gig this past weekend in Boston with Sam Rivers as guest artist.

TB: Exactly. It was my gig. I was able to get two nights at a club in Boston called Charlie’s Tap, Friday and Saturday, the Thurman Barker Trio featuring Sam Rivers. Anyway, I had an opportunity to be able to join forces with an artist who I was able to learn a lot of music from, and we played a lot of gigs. As a matter of fact, after the Waves record, we went on tour. Contrasts was also done while we were on tour. Sam did spend a lot of time in Boston, studying at the New England Conservatory, and then throughout the ’50s.

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Filed under AACM, Anthony Braxton, Drummer, Interview, Joseph Jarman, Muhal Richard Abrams, Sam Rivers, Thurman Barker, WKCR

For Andy Gonzalez’ 63rd Birthday, an Unedited Blindfold Test from 2000, a WKCR Interview From 2006, a Downbeat piece from 2016 about the recording “Entre Colegas”, and Three WKCR Musician Shows from 1990, 1991 and 1993

Best of birthdays to the master bassist Andy Gonzalez, who turns 63 today. A co-founder of the Fort Apache Band with his older brother, Jerry Gonzalez, Gonzalez’ c.v. includes protracted gigs with Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie Palmieri and Manny Oquendo’s Libre. His influence is palpable on such next-generation swing-to-clave bassists as — among many others — Avishai Cohen and Hans Glawischnig. I had the opportunity to interact with and be educated by Andy at least a half-dozen times during my years on WKCR, particularly on such subjects as Cachao and Arsenio Rodriguez, upon whom he would expound with great erudition. I’ll have to transcribe those cassettes one of these days. Meanwhile, here are the proceedings of a DownBeat Blindfold Test that Andy did with me around 2000, and a WKCR interview from 2006, when the Fort Apache Band had just released their excellent CD, Rumba Buhaina. [In 2020 I’ve appended — at the bottom of the post — the transcript of three  WKCR Musician Shows that I did with Andy in 1990, 1991, and 1993.]

Andy Gonzalez Blindfold Test:

1.    Ray Brown, “St. Louis Blues” (feat. Ahmad Jamal, p., Lewis Nash, d), “SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS…ARE THE PIANO PLAYERS” (Telarc, 1995) (5 stars)

Well, it’s somebody like Ray Brown or somebody that LOVES Ray Brown on bass.  I hear a lot of Ray Brownish things. [AFTER] [Why did it take you so long?] I had to hear more of him.  At first I thought it was somebody younger, but then I started listening to what he was playing and I said, “Wait a second.”  This is somebody who has some depth to his musical history just by what he played and how he played it.  It had to be somebody like Ray Brown.  I’m not sure of the piano player, though. [Any guesses?] Mmm… That’s not Benny Green, is it?  It could be Oscar. [It’s the same generation.] Oh yeah?  [AFTER] I didn’t hear much of the trademark Ahmad Jamal things.  That was quite nice.  It gets 5 stars out of me.  Ray Brown is one of my heroes.  Of the bass players from his generation, like Oscar Pettiford and Mingus… I thought he’s the one that… There’s Blanton in his playing, but I think he took Blanton beyond Blanton.  Mingus I thought sort of took it the other way, and he used a lot more physical kinds of things about the bass, like imitating growls and doing wilder things, where I think maybe Ray Brown is more blues-based.  There’s a lot of blues in his playing.  Not that Mingus isn’t, but… And Pettiford was… It’s like three distinct voices to come out of the same era, and to play with a lot of the same people in the Bebop era and stuff like that.  But very distinct voices, all three of them.  But those are the same generation.

2.    Sam Jones, “O.P.” (Israel Crosby, bass; Joe Zawinul, piano; Vernell Fournier, drums), DOWN HOME (Riverside, 1962/1995) (4 stars)

I’m going to take a stab and say it was Doug Watkins playing cello.  No?  He did do a cello record. [This is someone who is a contemporary of Doug Watkins who did…] Sam Jones?  That was the second person I was going to shoot for.  Because I realized he had done a cello record way back, but I can’t remember the circumstances.  I only managed to cop a couple of Sam Jones records, especially on Riverside — those were a little harder to find.  For some reason it made me think of the Doug Watkins record.  I think Yusef Lateef is playing on it.  When I heard the flute I thought maybe it might be him. [Any idea who’s playing bass and drums?] That wasn’t Jimmy Cobb?  Something made me think it was Jimmy Cobb, the way he was riding the cymbal. [AFTER] You know, Israel Crosby is credited with taking one of the first solos on bass on record, “Blues For Israel,” with Gene Krupa.  I mean, an actual bass solo.  It’s a whole thing on the bass.  This is the early ’30s.  The pianist was Zawinul?  Forget it.  I would have never guessed that.  I thought the piece was nice.  It was kind of bouncy and airy.  I thought Sam Jones was very articulate on the cello and very tasty.  As a matter of fact, I never heard him take any bass solos that sounded slick, to tell you the truth! — from what I’ve heard of Sam Jones.  That was excellent cello playing, just so far as getting across the cello.  I’m wondering whether he used the cello the way it’s supposed to be tuned, in fifths, or the way Ray Brown did and some other cello cats did was retune the instrument in fourths to make it like a bass and easier to play.  Now, that might be the case, because he seemed to get around the instrument pretty good.  Playing in fifths takes a little bit more knowledge of how to get around the strings.  So that’s an interesting question to find out.  From what I heard, it sounded like it was tuned in fourths.  Four stars, for Sam Jones especially.

3.    Brian Lynch, “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” SPHERES OF INFLUENCE (Sharp-9, 1997) (5 stars) (John Benitez, bass; Jeff Watts, drums; Milton Cardona, congas; David Kikoski, piano; Donald Harrison, alto saxophone)

Wow!  I’ve grown accustomed to her space face.  That was a beautiful arrangement, man.  It was gorgeous.  It sounds like it was a trumpet player’s record, because he’s got the lead — and a big fat tone.  I’m trying to think of who it could be.  The drummer was on it with the Latin stuff.  He was playing the right kind of beat.  It wasn’t clave!  And the conga player was holding his own.  He’s just an adornment more than anything else.  In the seconds where there was Latin rhythm, he played well.  The bass player did okay.  Gee whiz.  Fat tone on a trumpet is what was getting to me.  I was trying to think who has a fat tone on a trumpet.  It doesn’t sound too dated.  So let me see, who has a fat tone on trumpet these days?  Terence Blanchard has a fairly fat sound.  So does Nicholas Payton.  They have kind of fat tones on the trumpet these days. [What trumpet player might think of that type of arrangement?] Now, that’s a good question, because there was a lot of depth to that arrangement.  It stretched the tune out, it stretched out the phrasing of it, and also took it in different places.  It gets five stars from me, because it was an original and unusual treatment of the song.  Because that’s not an easy song to… It’s a pretty song.  Not too many people, except for someone like maybe Sonny Rollins, have attempted to play that tune.  And then I thought it was nice having the tuba in the orchestration.  That was really pretty. [AFTER] That was Brian Lynch?  No kidding!  I didn’t even think about that.  Excellent.  I’m surprised I didn’t recognize… Well, John Benitez didn’t give anything that I could recognize him on.  Milton, well, that I could hear.  It was very nice.  I enjoyed that.

4.    George Mraz, “Star-Crossed Lovers” (Renee Rosnes, piano), DUKE’S PLACE (Milestone, 1999) (5 stars)

I sort of wish that the bass player would have bowed the melody at the end again, because he played it so beautifully at the beginning.  Good bowing technique is like studying a whole other instrument.  And he had superb control of that bow.  I mean, he really sang that melody superbly, man.  Right there that’s five stars for me, because I’m quite a fan of good bowing.  I wish I could bow that well!  But like I said, that’s a whole study in itself.  It’s one thing to pluck strings and use your hands to get tone and sound, but to use the bow and get the vibrations that the bow makes, and use your hands in that sense, it’s a whole different way of playing the instrument.  Whoever that was playing the bass, I really couldn’t tell you, but I thought that he has an excellent bowing technique. [AFTER] I figured as much.  That’s bounce, man.  He’s got beautiful, beautiful bowing technique.  It bounces!  Gorgeous bowing.

5.    Ornette Coleman, “Women Of The Veil,” THREE WOMEN (Harmolodic, 1996) (Charnett Moffett, bass; Geri Allen, piano; Denardo Coleman, drums) (3½ stars)

Oh, shades of Ornette!  I don’t think it was Ornette, but it was quite a bit of Ornettethology!  Even the trumpet player sounded like Ornette!  I don’t know who it was, but it sure sounded like an Ornetteish kind of thing.  I wasn’t that thrilled with it.  It was all right.  The bass player sure didn’t sound like no Charlie Haden, that’s for sure. [AFTER] It was Ornette?  Charnett Moffett was playing the bass?  This was recent?  Who was playing the trumpet? [Ornette.] Ah, so I was right about that.  The piano is what threw me.  I’m not used to Ornette with a piano player.  3½ stars for that.  I’ve heard Ornette play with more… I like Ornette when there’s more emotion in his playing.  Remember the Town Hall concert, “Sadness,” things like that?  That really moves me.  And the original quartet moves me a lot, with Charlie Haden, Blackwell and Don Cherry.  All that moved me quite a bit.  And Ornette over the years, man… I always dug Ornette.  I like him best in smaller situations, not with all the trappings.  I don’t like Ornette with a piano player.  I like him without piano.

6.    Ron Carter, “Samba De Orfeu,” ORFEU (Blue Note, 1999) (5 stars) (Bill Frisell, guitar; Stephen Scott, piano; Payton Crossley, drums; Steve Kroon, percussion)

It was nice to hear a bass guitar “surdo” and “casaba.”  To me I would have dug it if they had added a tambourine.  That would have really put the rhythm section a little stronger Brazilian.  But they left the space open, which is okay.  The guitar player wasn’t Brazilian; that’s for sure.  And the bass player sounded like Ron Carter to me. [AFTER] Of course!  Ron Carter, one thing, he’s got a great sense of humor.  Throughout that solo, he’s a shameless quoter, a quoter of obscure melodies!  I get a kick out of it.  I mean, that’s like… Unless you know these melodies, you just… He quoted really obscure songs, like “Popeye, The Sailor Man” and “I Want To Wash that Rain Right Out of My Hair.”  You have to know a lot of music to be able to quote these things, and he quoted quite a few different little tiny pieces of melodies from all kinds of things in his solo.  It was nice.  Five stars.  Ron Carter is one of my heroes.  I grew up listening to him, and I know him a bit, and he’s quite a nice man.  One thing I’ve got to say is that I’ve learned a lot from listening to Ron Carter over the years, especially when he was with Miles.  His perception of how to play bass in a rhythm section for that band was unique, and it really influenced me a lot.  Even playing Latin Jazz it influenced me a lot, because just the kind of thing that they had going as the quintet with Miles, this kind of ESP thing that they had going, is something that most bands strive for — that kind of empathy and mind-reading between the members of a band.  That’s something that they brought to a high art.  And Ron was very instrumental in making a lot of that happen.  I’ll always love him for that, that’s for sure.  So he gets my five stars.

7.    Dave Holland, “Jugglers Parade,” PRIME DIRECTIVE (ECM, 1999) (3½ stars)

I’m going to take a wild stab?  Is that Avishai?  He likes things that have odd meters.  Is it a bass player’s album?  Is it Santi?  I remember him writing things that sound like this.  Wow.  So far I made two guess, and both of them were wrong.  I’m not that big a fan of odd meter kind of things.  But it was put together pretty nicely, and if the bass player composed this… Most bass players make good composers, just because of the fact that they always provided the bottom of things, the bottom of the harmonies, and sometimes the bottom of just rhythm and melody.  So I am pretty happy when I hear bass players’ compositions and arrangements, because it’s like they have a different perspective on things and they hear things different.  Most bass players who I know who write, it’s usually very interesting.  And this was no exception.  It was interesting.  But like I said, I’m not a big fan of odd meter things.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s because I’ve got the clave ingrained in me to the point where it’s like… And also, I grew up in the era of real hardbop-swing kind of things, so anything that has odd meters isn’t… It’s just a preference of mine.  I’m not that particularly fond of them.  I would give it 3½ stars.  So who was it? [AFTER] That was Dave Holland?!  I would have never recognized him.  I would never have thought that it was Dave Holland.  It didn’t sound like the kind of music that he used to play before.  There’s something to be said for bass players that write.  Because like I said, they’re coming from a another perspective.

8.    Richard Bona, “Konda Djanea,” SCENES FROM MY LIFE (Columbia, 1999). (5 stars) (Michael Brecker, tenor sax)

That was very nice, man.  Richard Bona.  I met him a couple of years ago.  I think he was touring with Zawinul.  We just ran into each other on the road.  But that was lovely.  You can hear the influence of the African string instrument called the kora, which is a harp kind of instrument.  I can hear that influence in how he approaches the bass.  He’s playing it almost like a guitar, but playing it like a kora.  Just the figures that he’s playing, it sounds like if he was strumming on a kora.  It’s very pretty.  Five stars.

9.    John Patitucci, “King Kong,” IMPRINT (Concord, 1999) (4 stars) (Danilo Perez, piano; Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez, drums; Giovanni Hidalgo, percussion)

Well, I recognized a couple of people in there.  I think that was El Negro playing the traps, and it could have been Giovanni playing the congas.  It could have been.  Those are my cohorts, man.  I know those guys intimately.  Is this Patitucci?  I had a feeling it was him, because I heard he had done something with the Latin thing.  He was cool.  Was this his tune?  The piano player sounded a little familiar, too, but I wasn’t positive.  I was thinking that it might be Danilo.  What made me think it was Patitucci was when it got into the groove part, he was sticking to a pretty generic kind of groove thing.  Unless you’re really sure of the clave and how to mess with it, I would imagine that’s what you would do just to… Because Negro and Giovanni can get very intricate on you, and if you’re not dead-sure where you are, they can throw you off in a minute.  It’s like the clave thing with them is that they know that so intimately.  I’ve played with them so much that I know what they’re about.  Sometimes it’s better to be safe and stick to what you know you can do within that framework.  So it was cool.  The saxophone player I don’t know.  It sounded like a Michael Brecker or someone like that, but I’m not sure.  Chris Potter?  Okay.  There was something in his tone that reminded me of Michael.  But I guess that got a four out of me.

10.    Eddie Gomez, “Footprints,” DEDICATION (Evidence, 1998). (3½ stars)

Mmm, “Footprints.”  That tune, ever since it came out, it’s been a favorite of all us musicians.  Especially when you’re in school and stuff, everybody… It’s easy to play and easy to jam on.  I was just about going to high school when that came out.  I don’t really have a clue.  3½ stars.  The bass player to me sounded like somebody like Alex Blake or someone like that.  Because Alex Blake has that kind of facility; he likes to do those kind of crazy runs and stuff.  Oh, it’s not?  I figured as much.  I just thought of him because I ran into him the other day and I hadn’t seen him for a while.  [The bass player and you have the same alma mater.] Music and Art?  He must have graduated way after me, though.  Before me?  Really.  Hmm!  I know Eddie Gomez went to Music & Art? [That’s him.] Really?  That doesn’t sound like the Eddie Gomez I remember.  It’s recent, huh?  I’m a lot closer to the Eddie Gomez of Bill Evans days, and he didn’t play like this.  He played different.  Eddie was an amazing, amazing musician, and he got along so well with Bill.  They were really mind-reading each other.  It’s sort of like the same thing that happened when Scott LaFaro was in the trio.  I got hip to Scott LaFaro maybe four or five years after he passed.  He passed in ’61.  I got hip to him early on because when I was 14 I was studying with Steve Swallow.  I was in junior high school.  He was the first one to turn me on to Scotty.  Then I used to go and check out Bill Evans at the Vanguard a lot, and Eddie Gomez was playing the bass there.  So I was just amazed at the facility that Eddie Gomez had at the time.  Because he didn’t quite do what Scotty was doing.  Scotty liked to mess with counterpoint and things like that a lot more.  But Eddie was all over the instrument, which was amazing to me.  I’m surprised I didn’t recognize him.  I would usually recognize Eddie Gomez, because he’s a guy I’ve been following since I was a teenager.  3½ because as many times as I’ve played “Footprints,” there’s a lot more things that you can say with it than was said there.

11.    Roy Haynes, “Trinkle Tinkle,” TE VOU! (Dreyfus, 1994) (feat. Christian McBride) (3½ stars)

It’s nice to hear pretty much the arrangement the way that Monk and the sax used to play the melody.  The only thing, after a while that three note figure at the end -DINH-DUHT-DAH gets annoying.  Other than that I liked it, but I didn’t care for too much, and to hear it through all the solos was a pain in the ass after a while.  I would have preferred leaving it out and just play it, because it doesn’t do anything.  It sounds like it was a novelty effect more than anything else.  The drummer sounded like someone like Tain.  I didn’t think it was, but it sounded like someone who can take it a little out like Tain can.  But I couldn’t tell you who the cats were. [AFTER] It was Roy Haynes’ record?  I’m surprised why he kept that figure, man.  It sounds annoying.  Is the bass player Ed Howard?  Christian?  I thought it was him while he was playing, but I just didn’t think he did anything… And it didn’t sound like Roy Haynes either to me.  Is it a new record?  Unusual.  Like I said, it was pretty much in the Monk tradition.  I would left out that BINH-BAHT-BAM.  I’ll give 3½ because it was well played.  Who was the alto player?  Donald Harrison!  He played well.  I wouldn’t have recognized Roy Haynes.  It didn’t sound like him.  I heard him the last time a couple of years ago, and he’s always been Mister Taste.  And it was tasteful…except for that.  I don’t mind if an effect really adds something to the music, but that didn’t really add anything to Monk.

12.    McCoy Tyner, “I Want To Tell You ‘Bout That,” McCOY TYNER WITH STANLEY CLARKE AND AL FOSTER (Telarc, 2000) (3½ stars)

I knew it was McCoy from the getgo, because it’s unmistakable, just his tone, his touch, and the kind of things that he plays.  Although I felt it was kind of like… It’s like when you’re trying to get like a funk kind of thing going, you know, almost making an attempt to get like some radio play.  The bass player wasn’t Avery?  I don’t know who it was. [Someone you might think on electric.] Stanley Clarke?  Yeah?  He did play a figure that did make me think it was Stanley Clarke.  But I said, “Mmm, let me see…”  Who was the drummer?  Al Foster?  I sort of came up at the same time as Stanley Clarke, and I’ve been watching and listening to him since the early days when he was with Chick.  He’s a fine bass player, man.  He’s been moving around in different worlds and playing a lot of different kinds of music, but I have deep respect for him as a bass player.  He’s a great bass player.  I don’t think this is one of McCoy’s better efforts.  Just for playing sake, I’ll give it 3½ stars.

13.  Avishai Cohen, “The Gift, DEVOTION (Stretch, 1998) (3 stars)

I don’t know if I could tell you who that is.  It wasn’t exactly a toe-tapper.  The soprano had a dark kind of sound.  That’s an unusual duo, the trombone and soprano.  It’s not something you hear often.  I’m at a loss.  3 stars. [AFTER] That was Avishai, huh?

14.    Red Garland Trio w/ Paul Chambers, “This Can’t Be Love,” IT’S A BLUE WORLD (Prestige, 1958/1999) (3 stars)

It sounded like a few people.  The first name that came to me was an odd name, Monty Alexander — which is weird.  But that’s the first name that popped into my head.  I heard flashes of Erroll Garner, I heard flashes of a lot of people in there.  I probably do know who it is.  Who was it? [AFTER] That didn’t sound like Paul Chambers?  You know what?  This must have been towards the end of his life.  That was ’58?  Paul Chambers articulates a lot better than that — for me.  I’ve heard plenty of Paul Chambers.  Maybe it was the rosin.  Because when you put a certain kind of rosin on the bow you get a certain sound, and different rosins give you a different… When you pull the bow across the string, it gives you a different… This was kind of a rough sound for Paul.  Paul usually gets a smoother attack sound on his bowing.  But I do know that it has to do with the kind of rosin that you use.  Some rosin makes the bow across the strings sound a little rough; it grabs the string a certain way so that the sound comes out rough.  There’s another rosin that the sound comes out a little smoother.  This sounded kind of rough to me.  Really.  Because Paul Chambers articulates a lot better on things I’ve heard him on before than on this particular piece.  From hearing Paul on his best records… This wasn’t his best.  It didn’t move me that much.  3 stars.

15.    Cachao, “El Son No A Muerto,” MASTER SESSIONS, VOL. 1 (Epic, 1994) (4 stars)

That was Cachao, and that was Nelson Gonzalez on the très, who learned to play the très in my house.  I brought home a très from Venezuela in 1970, and he was a frequent visitor to my house.  He was self-taught on guitar.  We started studying Arsenio Rodriguez records together, and he learned how to play the très in my house.  I’m the one who got him the gig with Cachao in the middle ’80s when he did his big concert at Hunter College.  I loaned him my bass and I was at most of the rehearsals, and I got Nelson involved in it.  Because they didn’t have a très player originally for the descarga section.  That’s my daddy, Cachao.  This particular tune was kind of subdued, there was not much happening for him.  The best way to catch Cachao sometimes is live.  I wish they would record him live.  This was part of the records that Emilio Estefan put out?  I don’t think he’s the best producer for that genre.  First of all, I didn’t like the balance of the sound.  It could have been a lot better.  I’ll give it 4 stars because I like Nelson’s playing on it.  Was that Paquito d’Rivera on clarinet and Nestor Torres on flute?  What about trumpet?  It wasn’t Chocolate.  It was?  That was a very subdued Chocolate.  It didn’t sound like him.  And his trademark notes that he likes to play aren’t there.  Something tells me there was maybe some weird chemistry going on in the studio.

* * *

Andy Gonzalez (WKCR–Feb. 23, 2006):

[MUSIC: “This Is For Albert” (Rumba Buhaina)]

AG:   We did a couple of albums where we had to find a way for Jerry to play the horn with Joe Ford, and after he’d state the line, he would take a solo and then jump on the drums. Because there was no overdubbing; this was recorded direct to two-track. That was interesting, to say the, to see him manage the jump back and forth.

TP:   It is one of the great sights in jazz to see him jump up from the conga drums after he’s been abusing his hands for 5-6 minutes, and immediately launch into an improvisation. Even more so when it’s a ballad

AG:   I don’t know how he does it. I like to play percussion instruments, too, but I will not play them because it makes my fingers stiff to play the bass. I don’t know how to he gets to manipulate his fingers that well right after playing hard congas, and pick up the phone and play.

TP:   He plays hard. You and your brother have been playing trumpet and bass and congas for close to 50 years…

AG:   A long time.  I’m 55, and I was 13 when we started to play music. A little more than 40 years.

TP: And you’ve often played in the same bands over the years. With Eddie Palmieri for several years, with Dizzy Gillespie briefly in the ‘60s, as well as the Apaches.

AG:   Jerry was also in the first band I ever recorded with, which was Monguito Santamaria, who was Mongo’s son. Rene McLean was in that band, and Jose Mangual, Jr., was in the band. Jerry was part of that band for a minute, too.

TP:   Let’s talk about the history of the Fort Apaches. Ten years ago, you were playing a lot around and New York and touring, but things changed, Jerry moved to Spain, and the opportunities to play are less than they had been.

AG:   Well, we have been playing some. Jerry would come in occasionally to do it, and there would be a tour set up, and some… The band has been working on and off. It’s maybe not as much as we could because of the distance between us. But we still get together enough. And it sounds like we’d never been apart, just because of the chemistry involved in the band.

TP:   It’s one of the innovative bands of late 20th century jazz, influential on two generations of musicians from South America, the Caribbean, Spain, who heard your ability to fuse Afro-Caribbean diasporic rhythms with jazz harmonies. It’s hard to say if anyone was the first to do anything, but recordings like Rumba Para Monk and things before that have had a tremendous influence on the way jazz sounds today. These ideas were exotic in 1988; now it’s the mainstream.

AG:   They were even more exotic in 1979.

TP:   There are a few streams to discuss. One of the history of the Fort Apache; the other is the present. Let’s stay with the present for the moment, and the new recording, Rumba Buhaina.

AG:   A lot of people don’t understand that “Buhaina” was Art Blakey’s Muslim name. In the late ‘40s, quite a few musicians in jazz were either converting to Islam or flirting with it. It’s just like jazz musicians are always the first to move to things that would probably help them get away from the American stereotype of what a musician is supposed or what a spiritual person is supposed to be like. So Art Blakey took the name “Buhaina.” I don’t know what it means, but all Art Blakey’s closest friends and associates would call him “Bu.”

TP:   I believe that the Jazz Messengers name came from that same origin. Unlike your exploration of the music of Thelonious Monk, Rumba Buhaina explores a number of composers, of tunes primarily from their classic period, say ‘58 to ‘65.

AG:   That was the music that influenced us a lot. We used to go hear Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in person, and that was one of the key groups of those years. Just to hear Art Blakey be as authoritative a drummer… He was an amazing teacher. He didn’t have to tell you anything. He showed you. You just listened to him play, and it was all there to hear. We learned a lot from listening to what he had to offer, and how a drummer is so much the accompanist, and how he sets the pattern, sets the standard for what is to happen in the music. That’s something that really stayed with most musicians who came up around that time. That’s why we always consider Art Blakey one of the true teachers of the music.

TP:   He was also a musician who distilled African musicians within a swing context on the drumkit, with cross-sticking figures and polyrhythmic patterns woven within his arrangements.

AG:   I thought Art Blakey had such a strong force, a force of nature that reminded me a lot of field recordings that I had of tribal music from different parts of Africa. You’d hear, say, a drummer who would be talking on the drum, and not only the pitch, the timbre of the instrument and the way certain instruments…you would communicate a message with that way of playing. I could feel that out of Art Blakey, too. There’s a certain force that’s coming out of that. I immediately identify with it.

TP:   During those years, were you also paying attention to the records Art Blakey was doing with drummers?

AG:   Oh, yeah.

TP:   Orgy In Rhythm, a couple of volumes, and the names are escaping me of a couple of others he did, where he played with the late Ray Barretto…

AG:   I was just going to mention Ray Barretto. He also did a tribute to Art Blakey a few years ago. In fact, I think there’s one tune on the record that we also did. His concept was a little different than ours. First of all, when Ray Barretto first started getting back… He wasn’t playing much salsa any more, and he started to develop a Latin Jazz band. I know he paid quite a bit of attention to Fort Apache and what we were doing, and I think he took part of that as a role model. Which we were quite honored that he would use us as a model for what he was doing.

TP:   But as far as putting the Fort Apache touch on this repertoire, how did the ideas evolve and come to fruition?

AG:   We had the idea years ago. We thought of it as one of the many projects that we had in mind to do. There were other projects, too, that never came about for various reasons. Like, we wanted to record an album with Jose Silva, better known as Chombo, the Cuban saxophonist who was probably like the Ben Webster of Cuban music, and a masterful musician. We were just about setting that up when he had a stroke and he was no longer able to play. We were already starting to pick out the material. When you have a band like the Fort Apache band, you, have a lot of options, and there’s things that pop into your head about what this band could do, what we’re capable of doing. Because everybody in the band is a great musician, and we’re capable of a lot of things.

TP:   But Rumba Buhaina is what we’re addressing.

AG:   Yes. Well, the idea for the Art Blakey tribute… We started thinking about it, and then all of a sudden we had a few days at Sweet Rhythm to play… Before we went into the studio we played and rehearsed for a few days. That’s pretty much the way we did the Monk album, too. We played and we rehearsed different concepts on different tunes until…

TP:   Were they tunes that seemed to lend themselves to dealing with the different rhythmic signatures that you bring to your arrangements.

AG:   We tried to think of ways of approaching the music… Everybody contributed ideas. That’s the way we get it together. It’s pretty simple. From all our experiences, individually and collectively, it was pretty easy for us to put it together.

TP:   Let’s step back to 1991, the album Moliendo Café, and Larry Willis’ tune, “To Wisdom The Prize.”

AG:   I like that album a lot, for a few reasons. One of them was that Miles Davis had just passed away, and we had… We thought about it a lot because he was such a strong influence on us also.

TP:   The album is dedicated to the percussionist Guillermo Barretto. Art Blakey had just passed.  Charlie Palmieri had just passed. Dizzy Gillespie shortly thereafter. George Adams as well. All are mentioned on the inner sleeve…

[“To Wisdom The Prize” & “Along Came Betty”]

TP:   On previous shows, Andy has brought literally a suitcase filled with recordings, primarily obscure and little known, great gems. A lot of this material is now available on CD so it’s a bit easier to track down…once you get the CD. Next week will you be playing primarily this repertoire or digging into the whole book?

AG:   I’ve got a feeling we’ll dig into the whole book, but we are going to feature some of the tunes from the new album.

TP:   Earlier I mentioned that there are two streams to talk about, one the new recording, Rumba Buhaina, but for listeners… As you get older, you come to grips with the notion that younger listeners don’t share core experiences. A lot of hardcore jazz fans may be unfamiliar with how you and Jerry developed your ideas about music, and what in your personal histories led to the formation of the Fort Apache Band.

AG:   Jerry got his first opportunity to record in 1979, and that was an album under his own name called Ya Yo Me Cure, which in English means “I have been cured”—whatever that means. The title track of that album was something that Frankie Rodriguez, who was a percussionist who passed away a few years ago, but was a very talented person and very close to us… He was part of Grupo Folklorico, and he was into culture really deep. I had a record of pygmy chants from Africa, and he heard one chant that was done by kids. It was like some children’s chant. He heard it a few times, and started singing “Ya Yo Me Cure” to it, just putting those Spanish words to the chant itself, and we made a guaguanco out of it. That was a precursor of what Fort Apache became.

TP:   But by then, you’d been professional musicians for more than a decade. Eddie Palmieri, Dizzy Gillespie…

AG:   I played with Ray Barretto while I was in high school, ‘69 to ‘71. In between that time, me and Jerry worked with Dizzy Gillespie. So we were getting arond. I was still in high school, and Jerry was coming out of college.

TP:   Were Eddie Palmieri and Dizzy Gillespie people who helped push you along conceptually?

AG:   It was kind of a mutual thing. We were well aware of Eddie Palmieri; we were big fans. But we brought something new to the table.

TP:   What was that?

AG:   Well, a different sensibility. The sensibility that Eddie Palmieri had before, when Barry Rogers was part of the band, and Barry would bring the harmonic element… When he’s taking a solo, you can feel there’s something that’s really in the jazz world, and it’s very spontaneous and very heartfelt, and there was a lot of feeling to it. That’s one of the things that we learned a lot about, and something about jazz improvisation, that nothing was thought out before time—it was just off the cuff. Whatever came to your mind that you thought was hip enough, that’s what you would play. So we had started to do those kind of things with Eddie. We took Eddie’s band into some new places where he hadn’t ventured before. We all used to hang out at my parents’ house in the basement apartment on Gildersleeve Avenue in the Bronx, and Eddie Palmieri used to come over and Barretto used to come over… If that basement could talk… Dizzy Gillespie used to come over. We used to have jam sessions there all the time. Out of all that stuff, out of a lot of experimentation, came the music we wanted to play.

TP:   Both of you had been deeply into folkloric music for many years. How did you get involved in… Was folkloric music just always there, or did people point you towards recordings and connections?

AG:   Well, there’s different types of folkloric music. There’s folkloric music for dancing, and it was more a commercial music that was provided for dancing, but it still had quite a bit of folklore to it. That was the soundtrack of my childhood. Family parties, things like that. There was always a collection of good 78s that everybody used to dance to, like Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Cortijo Y Su Combo from Puerto Rico with Ismail Rivera singing, Mon Rivera… This was primarily folklore in the Puerto Rican vein and in the Cuban vein. Sonora Matancera, which was a Cuban band. That’s the stuff we grew up with.

TP:   When did you start breaking that stuff down?

AG:   That came a little bit later, because that’s something we got used to hearing. But we didn’t start breaking it down until we became more schooled in music. Both of us went to High School of Music and Art. They give you theory. They give you how to analyze a piece of music, and what happens in these number of bars, and then this section comes, and things like that. But what happened was, when I was 13, we had already been listening to Cal Tjader records for a while… Jerry was two years older than me, and he was starting to play congas, and he was also playing trumpet, and I was playing the bass, and we put together a Latin Jazz quintet like Cal Tjader’s. We started working with it. We started playing… In that music, we were trying to emulate the Cal Tjader sound and what they were doing, which was quite spontaneous and very jazz-like. They always had good pianists, and Mongo and Willie Bobo were heroes of ours. So that was pretty much how we started and where our taste was as far as playing music.

It wasn’t until I got to play with Ray Barretto’s band that I really started studying what came before, especially Afro-Cuban music. Or Cuban music.  The term “Afro-Cuban” that’s bandied about now as THE term, because everybody wants to point towards Cuba as the birthplace of a lot of the music—but I don’t know. I think it was maybe a little more to do with the Caribbean experience. Not just Cuba. Cuba was dominant, but there was also a lot going on in Puerto Rican and a lot going on in other places, too. And New York was the magnet the drew a lot of elements to it. A lot of great musicians from different parts of the Caribbean were moving to New York and bringing their music with them.

TP:   How long did you play with Dizzy Gillespie?

AG:   Almost a year. 1970.

TP:   what sort of experience was that? Was he playing primarily Cuban-influenced repertoire…

AG:   No, he was mixing it up. We had an interesting version of his band.  At the time, when we joined the band, there was no trap drummer. There was just Jerry playing congas, and I was playing the bass, George Davis was playing guitar, and Mike Longo was playing the piano—and Dizzy. I was playing my Ampeg baby bass. Now, Dizzy insisted upon a bass player who could play Latin rhythms and some jazz comfortably. That’s how I got the gig. I was only 19, and I was thrilled. We traveled a bit. It was amazing.

Dizzy was not one to… If you would sit down with him and you wanted something explained harmonically, he’d sit down at the piano and show you. But as a bandleader, he had this great instinct about talent, and he knew when he put a group of people together that the chemistry was going to work.

TP:   Rhythmically did he have anything to show you, or did…

AG:   We had things to show him.

TP:   What sort of things did you show him?

AG:   I remember working in Harlem with him one night, and we were doing a week at the Club Barron—and we brought Nicky Marrero to sit in on timbales. We played one of his tunes (I forget which one at the moment), and after he took his solo, he went by the bar… The bandstand was near the bar. He went by the bar, and we doubled the time on his tune, and we were smoking, the rhythm section was cooking, man. Then he comes up behind me and whispers in my ear, and he goes, “Where’s one?” In other words, as much as he’d been influenced by and heard quite a bit of Latin rhythms, and he’d been surrounded by good rhythm drummers, sometimes you can know a whole lot and still, if you divert your attention for a minute and come back to it, you go, “Wait a second; my hearing just turned around or something; I’m not quite sure where it is.” So while I’m playing and we’re cooking, I just looked at him and I go, “One.” He goes, “Oh, ok.” Heh-heh. Dizzy was a sweetheart. I loved him.

TP:   So as kids, you’re soaking up the music at home. It’s part of the daily fabric of your lives. You’re listening to all the jazz records as they come out…

AG:   And we were lucky enough as kids to journey out the clubs and hear this music in person. I saw Trane play. I wanted to see the quartet play, but they had already broken up. I saw one of his last performances. I saw everybody play. I was quite a regular in all the clubs. I used to go down to the Vanguard to hear the Bill Evans Trio, and I’d go to the Vanguard on Mondays to hear the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. And Slugs was one of my favorite jazz clubs in the world. That was THE place. That had an atmosphere, and the music was exceptional. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers used to play there regularly. Lee Morgan, his band used to play there. I saw so many bands. I forgot that we got to play with Kenny Dorham for a year, before Dizzy… Actually, about the time I had started playing with Ray Barretto, I was playing with Kenny Dorham.

TP:   I think Jerry has related that when he was auditioning for New York College of Music, he encountered him…

AG:   Kenny was trying to get his degree so he could teach. New York College of Music started a jazz program, and they were givimg full scholarships to jazz musicians, and all of a sudden, a lot of musicians jumped in that school. They had a great big band. Great musicians there. So Kenny Dorham was studying there, and he was in Jerry’s trumpet class. The trumpet teacher was a classical teacher, and he failed Kenny Dorham. Failed him! I couldn’t believe that. Kenny Dorham could have taught him a few things. But we’ve been blessed, man. We were blessed that we were really accepted by a lot of people, and taught as well. Just by playing together with someone, you give a little bit of your knowledge, and you get knowledge back in return. There was quite a bit of activity going on for musicians in those days.

TP:   It also seems that the cultural politics of the ‘60s would point people in the direction of incorporating folkloric music into the fabric of their everyday activity and professional work.

AG:   Of course. I saw Olatunji. Olatunji had a group of drummers and dancers, and we got to hear that. There was a lot going on. But there wasn’t much Cuban folklore. Because of the Revolution, the radio stations wouldn’t play much of that music. But around 1969, Felipe Luciano, who was part of the Young Lords, he got a position to start a radio program on WRVR. I had met him while I was with Barretto, and I was studying Cuban folklore with Rene Lopez, who was one of the producers of Grupo Folklorico Experimental. We actually programmed the first month of shows. The first bunch of shows were midnight to six in the morning. We got calls from people saying, “what are doing playing this great music, and I’ve got to get up for work in the morning—are you guys nuts?” Then after a few months, finally, we got the ok to do our show in the afternoon. That was the beginning of… We did quite a bit of teaching by playing the music and talking about it, and opening that door that was closed to a lot of people about Cuban music. There was a lot of live performances…

TP:   Then you started doing it yourself, and Grupo Folklorico came into the picture…

AG:   Oh, yeah. Well, that was a given. When you’re exposed to all this knowledge, it becomes part of you, and you want to do it—and especially if you have the skills to do it. It’s like anything. When you’re studying music and you’re listening to records, it’s a communication, and you pick up on the message that’s being sent to you.

I heard this next tune on a videotape of a rehearsal in Matanzas, Cuba, that somebody gave me, of a folkloric group that was doing bata stuff, which is the hourglass shaped drum where there’s three different drums of different sizes, and they have chants going on with certain drum-beats. So there was one that was done in honor of the deity called Elegua. Elegua is the keeper of the crossroads, and is the one that opens and closes all your paths. So most ceremonies begin with Elegua. When you do a ceremony in that genre, you start with Elegua.

So I heard this chant, and it stayed in my head, and I started playing bass to it, and I figured out two sets of changes to the same melody. That’s what we use as our basis for improvisation. The first set of changes is a pedal tone, and it just stays in that pedal. It’s open. It’s kind of what McCoy Tyner or Trane would do. Then the second time we run the melody down, there’s another set of changes to it. So I came up with that, and then we developed it into a composition.

[“Elegua”]

AG:   The reason I played “Anabacoa” is that it’s a tune that had been done by a few Cuban bands, but the one that caught our attention, and that’s why we wanted to play it, was the recording by Arsenio Rodriguez Y Su Conjunto, and their version was slammin’! That’s where we got our inspiration, but then we took it to another place. And then we had the great Manny Oquendo playing one of his really classic timbal solos. It goes back to what we were talking about Art Blakey being the authoritative drummer. Well, Manny shows that he’s in that same league. He’s a very authoritative drummer.

TP:   The primal feel and the sophistication together.

AG:   Together, yeah.

TP:   That quality could describe Fort Apache, which has been doing it for 27 years, on and off…

AG:   Time flies.

TP:   We’ll move to 1988, and a live performance by an expanded edition of the Fort Apache Band, that was documented by Enja, in Zurich, titled Obatala. I’ve treasured this recording for some time; it’s an expanded version of the Apaches… Mad percussion.

AG:   When we started the Fort Apache Band, it had a large percussion section. But it was very difficult to work with that kind of ensemble, because booking it wasn’t easy. It was a lot of people to fly in and put up in hotels and so on. It was a financial decision and an artistic one to break it down to the bare essentials, which was a quintet and a sextet.

TP:   Who did the arrangement of “Justice.”

AG:   Jerry and I heard a riff on a Cuban record by Frank Emilio, who is a great Cuban pianist, and he had a riff on this record that was so intriguing, and we said, “Wow, this sounds like ‘Evidence’—because “Evidence” has such a quirky rhythm-melody to it. I said, “Wow, let’s see about putting these two elements together, and this is what came out.

[END OF CONVERSATION]

***********

It may surprise bass maestro Andy González’s many fans that Entre Colegas (Truth Revolution) is his first leader recording. Now 64, González boasts a vast and distinguished discography that includes ten recordings with the pathbreaking Fort Apache Band, in which he and his older brother, conguero-trumpeter Jerry González, masterminded a singular marriage of the harmonic language of hardcore jazz and the hand-drum rhythms of Afro-Cuban musical. Another nine albums document the pathbreaking four-trombone dance band Conjunto Libre, which he co-founded with iconic timbalero Manny Oquendo in 1974, after both left the employ of Eddie Palmieri, who González joined after two years of steady employment with Dizzy Gillespie.

“Andy is easily most influential Latin Jazz bassist ever,” says Truth Revolution Records co-proprietor Luques Curtis, a bassist whose own burgeoning career embodies González’s multilingual aesthetic. Curtis, 32, and his older brother, pianist Zaccai Curtis, met González twenty years ago after he heard their kid band play charts of such Fort Apache classics as “Moliendo Café” and “Obsesión” at a concert. “Andy came to our house afterward,” Curtis recalled. “He hung with us all night, playing his music and hanging out. After that, Andy would visit for a day or two a month. No money. He explained to us what happens during the coros, and how Afro-Cuban music is shaped.”

González has suffered the travails of aging—in 2004, the toes on his left foot were amputated due to complications from previously undiagnosed diabetes; at the beginning of 2015, he began three-day-a-week dialysis treatments. The Curtises—whose label had built momentum with releases not only by their Curtis Brothers group, but diverse artists like vocalists Sarah Elizabeth Charles and Eva Cortés, trumpeters Ray Vega, Jonathan Powell and Carlos Abadie, and timbalero Ralph Irizarry—responded to the second medical event by generating a project with their mentor.

González decided to present a pan-stylistic, strings-oriented program that he describes as “Django Reinhardt visits Cuba and Puerto Rico,” with long-time partner Nelson Gonzalez on tres, Cleveland-based Orlando “El Mostro” Santiago on cuatro, Brooklynite Ben Lapidus on guitar and tres, and Cuban emigree David Oquendo on guitars and vocals, as well as Abadie, the Curtises, and a host of hand percussionists who render the rhythms with precision and elegance.

“I just maintained the rhythm and kept the styles together,” González said, understating the effect of his enormous ears and harmonic erudition in maintaining quality control. “I was more concerned about sound than the style—when it’s good music, it’s good music, and that’s the name of the game.” He attributes his ability to get through the proceedings to acupuncture treatments that alleviated the stiffness attendant to dialysis; indeed, he plays so impeccably that it’s hard to discern any impairment.

“Andy always has a clear idea how he wants things to be, and gets musicians who can execute but also do their own thing,” said Lapidus, whose erudite program notes offer significant value-added. “He leads, but he’s also unbelievably supportive. He’s played in so many situations and so many styles that he was able to pull off what most people could only dream about doing.”

González compared the session’s ambiance to the atmosphere he and his brother generated at impromptu mid-’60s gatherings in the basement of his family’s house in the South Bronx. It was a destination for a Pan-American cohort of the famous—attendees included Gillespie, Machito, Kenny Dorham, Jackie and Rene McLean, Carlos “Patato” Valdes, Rashied Ali, Larry Young, Ruben Blades—and obscure, attracted by the brothers’ global perspective and predisposition to treat jazz and Afro-Caribbean styles not as separate entities but as extensions of each other.

“There were elements of that spirit—to play with abandon and grab some of the jams,” González said. “I played with as much abandon as I could. If they want me to do another record, I’ll see if I can think of something else to do.”

[—30—]

*******

Andy Gonzalez Musician Shows, WKCR – Feb. 28, 1990; March 13, 1991; Dec. 1, 1993:

[February 28, 1990]

[Fort Apache, “81”–from Obatala, Enja, Zurich concert, 1989]

ANDY: This record came about through our association with Matthias Winckelman. He’s one of the producers for the Enja label out of Germany. The Fort Apache had done a previous recording for them which was another live concert, in Germany, during the Berlin Jazz Festival in which we participating as well as Libre — Libre was participating on a different night in the same festival. The night that Manny Oquendo’s Libre…it was performing on a bill with Alberta Hunter, Bobby McFerrin… Dino Saluzzi, a bandoneon player who is Argentinian, I imagine. Or is he Italian? I’m not sure. He does modern tango, of which I’ve gotten to participate a bit with Astor Piazzolla, who I got to record with. But that’s another thing.

Getting back to Matthias, we were fortunate to be invited to play at the Zurich Jazz Festival, and the performance was recorded and just now released on the Enja label. This is my brother Jerry’s band, and he’s playing trumpet, flugelhorn and congas; John Stubblefield on tenor; Papo Vazquez on trombone; Larry Willis on piano; Edgardo Miranda on guitar; myself on bass; Steve Berrios on trombones and bata, chekere and coro. We had some guest percussionists — Milton Cardona, Hector Flaco Hernandez, and Nicky Marrero.

We’ve pared down the band a bit, but we do occasionally put together a whole ensemble with a huge percussion section. We’ve been trying to function on a smaller scale and trying to keep that energy level up. It seems to be working.

TP: How long has Fort Apache been functioning? What’s the genesis of the Fort Apache Band?

ANDY: Actually, the genesis goes back a long ways. Jerry and myself, we’ve always been… We grew up playing Latin Jazz and also listening to it. One of the earliest records that I remember listening to was a Cal Tjader record. That kind of playing fascinated me. So it was something that we grew up with. All throughout the years we’ve formed different groups, or have been part of groups that were Latin Jazz oriented or in that vein. So we’re part of that music. So this is really a continuation of that process.

TP: But you’re also interpreting Monk’s music. Rumba Para Monk is extremely distinctive.

ANDY: I think anybody’s compositions that we touch will come out with that sensibility to it, just because that’s the kind of music that we do.

TP: How long have you been playing the bass?

ANDY: I started playing the bass in elementary school. I was 11 years old or so. I started playing professionally at 13. It took a couple of years to learn the instrument, and I started working with bands. My father bought me an Ampeg baby bass for Christmas on my 13th birthday or something. And I started gigging right away. That was a gigging axe. If you had an Ampeg baby bass and an Ampeg amp, you were in business. Jerry had his congas, and he was already playing the horn, too. I was 13 when we had our first Latin Jazz group, which was a sort of Cal Tjader band, a quintet.

TP: You played that type of material?

ANDY: Yeah, we did some of Cal Tjader’s material and then some original stuff. The guy who was our mentor, a fellow by the name Llewellyn Matthews, Lew Matthews who right now is the musical director and pianist for Nancy Wilson… We grew up together, and he was really the guy who moved us into real playing of real serious Latin Jazz at a very early age. So we were blessed in that sense.

TP: This is the Bronx in the early 1960s. What sorts of gigs were you and Jerry doing?

ANDY: At the time we were doing small gigs here and there. School dances and occasional church dances. They were mostly dances, that I remember, but we used to play our Latin Jazz, and since it had a danceable beat, that was all people needed.

Coming up is a live performance by Manny Oquendo’s Libre. Manny Oquendo is I guess the Art Blakey of timbales. He’s one of the real greats, with a very distinctive sound and style. We’ve had this band together 15 years; this is our 15th year. It’s very special. It’s hard to put into words how special it is, and it’s a shame that certain people are asleep on it, that shouldn’t be. They should be moving more towards roots and culture instead of trying to get too commercial. But that’s always been the case. That doesn’t mean that we won’t be around. We’ll always be around. This is live in Holland about 18 months ago, when we visited Holland for a little bit. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to put the whole concert out on an album someday, because it was well-recorded, as you’ll soon here. This is “Asia Minor.”

[Libre: “Asia Minor” (Machito) – Steve Turre on shells;

TP: Next up is a live performance by Grupo Folklorico Experimental.

ANDY: That started in our basement as a jam. The Gonzalez household was a 24-hour jam all the time. We had a lot of music going on there, all the time. That was sort of our laboratory to experiment and come up with stuff. We used to invite a lot of great musicians to come and play with us.

TP: Who were some of the people you were coming up with?

ANDY: It was just the musicians we were playing with at the time who were out of the professional bands of the moment. Those were the years when… I had already played with Ray Barretto’s band, Dizzy Gillespie’s band, and I was involved with the Palmieri band at that time, and my brother was also. We were playing with a lot of great musicians, such as Chocolate Armenteros on trumpet and Jose Rodriguez on trombone, and Barry Rogers… A lot of the people who were very strong figures in the 60s period. So we got to learn quite a bit of stuff, and also we contributed a bit to what was the status of Latin Jazz at the time. We were freeing it up more, because we were also into Miles and we were into the free jazz movement of the 60s — we were listening to a lot of that music. We used to apply a lot of the things of that, and try to combine things. Sort of a mixture. It was like a laboratory. We used to experiment.

Grupo Folklorico came out of our deep respect for and our study of the roots of our music, which have their origins in African music, Afro-Cuban music in particular, and the religious music of that particular thing held a big interest for us. Also, the rumba, guaguanco and the son — those elements were all the roots of what our music is today, in one way or another. It’s felt. You can probably say that for all of Latin music. But Latin Jazz has those roots plus the jazz roots. The two musics are fairly…I guess you would call them cousins, because they sort of come out of the same experience of the African diaspora, the slave trade and what happened after that, and their individual developments in whatever country the slaves were in.

Out of all that study came this particular group of people. It began as a jam and it turned into something a little more serious when Rene Lopez managed to get a contract to record us for Salsoul Records. They were big in disco, but they had a Latin label, Salsoul Salsa. They signed Grupo Folklorico, and not too long after that they signed Manny Oquendo and Libre, and we did four albums for that record company. They’re all out of print. I’ve heard of people offering up to $100 for a copy. In fact, the President of the company asked me for a copy! So imagine!

TP: But the masters are still extant. They could be reissued.

ANDY: Oh, sure. At one point the original tapes will be…they’ll make a deal to have that stuff put out again, especially on CD. I’d like to hear that stuff on CD, maybe remixed. I’d like to remix some of it myself, because I know CD you can really get more. We had limitations. When you mix for an album, you have to limit yourself, but a CD lets you loose to really explore the full sonority of the music.

TP: Andy, I think we’ve piqued everyone’s interest, those who remember the albums and those who don’t know about Grupo Folklorico. And you’ve brought a live date.

ANDY: I found this in my collection of tapes, and I’m not too sure where we performed this. I think it was in El Barrio on 110th Street or 109th Street and Third Avenue. There’s a park there where we performed. We didn’t do too many performances, but the ones that we did do were pretty memorable, and we always had a lot… As a matter of fact, I think once we performed here at WKCR. I know people who have those tapes, and one of these days we’ll bring them up and play them.

Anyway, Chocolate is playing, Frankie Rodriguez, Willie Garcia is singing, Henny Alvarez, Virgilio Marti, Jerry, Gene Golden… A whole bunch of people. It’s a tune by Henny Alvarez that we never recorded, by the way. So it’s a real treat for the collectors. It’s called “Ango.”

[Grupo Folklorico, “Ango”]

ANDY: There’s been talk of that band getting back together. It’s been almost 12 years since those records came out and since we’d played. We’re all around. Most of us are around. Hopefully we’ll get to have a reunion and maybe make a new record. Because there’s certainly quite a bit of material, and everybody’s grown in the last ten years, so I’m sure there will probably be a lot of interest for a new record.

TP: We have another tape cued up from the seemingly endless store of tapes that Andy brought up.

ANDY: I thought I’d turn people on to a music that is a favorite music of mine, and that is the Afro-Cuban music of the 1950s, which is a very rich period. The band I have cued up… I’m going to play a couple of cuts of radio transcriptions from… The bands in Cuba all used to broadcast live on the radio. There were a bunch of them that had regular daily programs, and there were a few dancing fanatics from here who’d go down for vacation in the 50s, and bring their tape recorders and record some of this stuff. The first tune we’ll hear is “Buena Vista and Guaguanco,” and this is by Chappotin Y Sus Estrellas. Felix Chappotin was one of the great, great…along with, say, Chocolate and another trumpet player by the name of Florecita… He was one of the great stylists, soloists in Cuban music. He was part of the Arsenio band. When Arsenio decided to move to New York and make this his home base…well, Chappotin stayed with the original band. This is a transcription of that original band — Chappotin Y Sus Estrellas with Miguelito Cuni singing, who is one of the great soneros who ever existed.

[MUSIC: Chappotin-Cuni, “Buena Vista and Guaguanco”; “

ANDY: That style of music, the slow guaguanco, the son montuno, that’s all the creation of Arsenio Rodriguez, and his influence is all over that music. The first cut was a live transcription that Manny Oquendo had in his collection that he’d gotten from the bass player who worked with Arsenio…

TP: Arsenio, given the level of historical memory people have, we need a surname.

ANDY: Arsenio Rodriguez. I take it for granted everybody knows. There’s a whole new generation who doesn’t know these things.

Arsenio Rodriguez was a gentleman who played the tres. The tres is a 9-string instrument that’s similar in sound quality to a 12-string guitar. The strings are in octaves. He was a master of that instrument, and also a master composer of many forms, utiliziing all his roots, his folkloric roots of Afro-Cuban music. He was one of the greatest exponents of the music. He was a very prolific composer. One of his tunes, “Bruca Manigua,” was a big hit, a world-wide hit for Miguelito Valdes when he was with the Casino de la Playa Orchestra, which was a band that made quite a bit of noise. Then what happened was that Xavier Cugat heard a lot of that music and brought Miguelito Valdes to sing with him. Then they recorded it again. Then they recorded quite a few things of Arsenio’s. They even brought in Arsenio for a few recording sessions.

But Arsenio’s style, the conjunto style of three trumpets and bongos, maraccas, claves, singers, rhythm guitar, and a tres and a piano, that whole sound…there’s something very unique about it. It was basically a development historically from what was original a son. A son was an early form of dance music that there was no congas, there was only bongos — bongos, maraccas and claves and guitars and tres and singing. That was it. Then they added one trumpet. Then they added two trumpets. Then Arsenio came and added three trumpets. Then the bands in New York added four trumpets. We’re talking specifically about bands like the Tito Rodriguez conjunto and the Tito Puente conjunto. They added the fourth trumpet.

We’re going to spend this time doing a little dedication to Tito Rodriguez who passed away on this day I think in 1973. I had the good fortune to record with Tito Rodriguez before he passed away. I guess when I write my book about the giants in the industry who I’ve gotten to associate with…

We’ll hear something from Tito Rodriguez Live at the Palladium, the second album, Returns to the Palladium. It’s titled “El Que Se Fue.” This is when Tito had his big band. It’s one of my favorite cuts of his band in action. Manny Oquendo is in the rhythm section playing bongos. Then we’ll hear something of the conjunto with the four trumpets.

[MUSIC: Tito Rodriguez, “El Que Se Fue”; “Chen Charengo Ma’]

ANDY: “Chen Charengo Ma” is a tune written by Giusti Barreto(?), at least he’s taking credit for it, but that’s an old folkloric thing going back to the different tribal things of Afro-Cuban… They had the religious music. Then they had the abakua, which is a sort of secret society, sort of related to the Masons, sort of a self-help group, but very secretive and very ceremonious, and they had their own style of music, which was quite different than the religious music that they call the santo music, the santero music. But that particular thing, they call it palo. That’s a sect of the Congolese tribe. Imagine how far that had come if you traced the development of it. That’s something that goes back… The palo is sort of the Congolese folkloric roots going back to the Congo. So imagine that came all the way up through Cuba, surviving all that way, and then Tito Rodriguez has made a mambo out of it. It got into popular dance music of the 50s. To this day, a lot of the traditions of the folklore, the roots, come back to us.

My roots in Latin music are those of growing up, listening to these records of Tito Rodriguez and of the Machito band and Puente. Those were the three big ones, the ones that made the greatest impact in Latin music in the 50s. They were the Young Turks. I guess we’re the Young Turks of this generation.

I just wanted to play the music that influenced me, music that I like, and that’s pretty much it. We’ll run the gamut, playing stuff from different records that I’ve brought and different tapes of live stuff. I guess that’s the way we’re going to pass the next hour and 45 minutes.

TP: You have Machito cued up next.

ANDY: I wouldn’t go on a radio program with music and leave out the Machito orchestra, which was one of the greatest organizations of any band that ever came out of New York City. It’s really a New York product, but it was Afro-Cuban in nature. All the innovations and everything they’ve done are so countless. This is the Machito band in 1953 or 1954, for the Seeco label, and the tune is “Mambo Sentimental.”

[MUSIC: Machito, “Mambo Sentimental”; “Que Bonito Puerto Rico”]

ANDY: That was “Que Bonito Puerto Rico,” “How Beautiful Is Puerto Rico.” I guess that’s one of the golden periods of the Machito Orchestra, because there were a few. Some people feel that the original Machito and his Afro-Cubans from the early 40s was THE band, and then other people feel that this period, which was 1953-54, was one of the great periods. I like it all. I don’t have any distinctions.

Talking about “Cabonitos Puerto Rico,” I’d like to get into it a bit. I’ve had the good fortune to be associated with and have recorded with quite a few great figures in Puerto Rican music also. I do love my Cuban music, but I will never put Cuban music over another music. I like all musics the same. But the music of the land of my origin…I wasn’t born there… I’m Puerto Rican. I love all the music of Puerto Rico also. So I’ve had the good fortune to record over the years with quite a few of the greats of Puerto Rican music, such as, say, Rafael Cortijo, who along with his singer, Ismail Rivera, were I guess the greatest exponents of the bomba and plena rhythms. Those were the Afro-Puerto Rican rhythms.

The plena specifically…they use the three panderetas, which is sort of like tambourines without the jingles (that’s what they look like anyway), tuned to different notes. The songs are usually about… Well, the plena was a device used at the turn of the century to be the sort of newspaper. They used to make up daily songs having to do with what was going on, either in politics or maybe the latest gossip, things like that.

I had the good fortune to record with a group… This record had just come out on the Shanachie label, and the group was called Los Pleneros De La 21. 21 is a bus stop in Santurce, Puerto Rico. That’s where a lot of great pleneros grew up and sort of plied their trade. So this is Puerto Rican folklore, and we’re going to hear a tune that’s called “Canta El Gallo.” Now, Gallo is a gentleman that is one of the singers of the group, and he just passed away recently, and at his funeral he insisted that they play bomba y plena, and all the pleneros all over the city came. They converged on a funeral home on 116th Street, and they played in front of his coffin. It was the most incredible thing. Your hair stood up. It was quite emotional and quite deep.

Anyway, this is El Gallo. I’m glad that the Center for Ethnic Folk Arts was able to sort of sponsor this recording for Shanachie Records of Los Pleneros de la 21.

[MUSIC: Los Pleneros, “Canta El Gallo”; Quarteto em Cy ; Gil Evans, “Manteca”]

[SIDE 3]

ANDY: I happen to like the way Gil Evans arranged that. What intrigued me the most was the way he set up the chords and the melody for the bridge, and he used that as the intro of the tune. That was beautifully done with the flutes and stuff; it’s one of my favorite moments of Gil Evans’ arranging.

TP: You took us on a long trip on that set.

ANDY: We were in Puerto Rico for a minute. We played Los Pleneros de la 21, the Pleneros of Stop 21, which is a bus stop in Puerto Rico. Then we went to Brazil, about the year 1975, a quartet of female singers called Quarteto em Cy. That group was very influential. They came up around the time of the bossa nova craze, but they always sang in these beautiful harmonies. What they did on this record, it’s an anthology of popular Brazilian music composers. They would do medleys of each of these composers’ tunes. This is a medley of a composer by the name of Antonio Maria, and they did three of his songs. The arrangement sounds like Gil Evans. That’s why I played it, because I wanted to play the Gil Evans cut after that, which was “Manteca”… But to show you that the Brazilians are doing some fantastic things with harmony. They always had a thing for melody and harmony that was quite distinctive and quite different, and it’s always been a favorite music of mine. If you can find that record, snatch it. It’s Antologia de Musica Popular de Brasil.

Before that we heard Peruchin, whose real name is Pedro Justiz. He was the piano player with quite a few big bands in the 40s and 50s. In the 50s he was primarily featured as a solo pianist and as a piano player with a band called Orquestra Riverside. This was a 10″ album that’s very difficult to find, and this was his first solo recording session, just piano and rhythm…

TP: You mentioned, Andy, that this was from 1949, which I couldn’t help but think was the same year that Bud Powell recorded “Un Poco Loco.”

ANDY: Peruchin was one of the greats, one of the true great stylists in Cuban music. He had his antennae out. He was listening to everybody. Especially the older pianists like Art Tatum. You can hear where he was influenced by American jazz pianists.

TP: He does “Over The Rainbow” on the other side of that 10″ album.

ANDY: It would be interesting to compare that with Bud Powell’s or someone’s.

Before we heard Los Munequitos de Matanzas, which at the time when they recorded it were known as Guaguanco Matancero. One of their tunes that they had recorded earlier was a big hit. It was about comic book characters. So they adapted that name and they call themselves Los Munequitos, which means the “cartoon characters.” But this is one of the great… Matanzas is a very rich, fertile area of Cuba for music and culture. Their percussionists are just superb. It’s something extraordinary and quite different than other regions of Cuba. So that was “Guaguanco Matancero.”

TP: Now we’ll shift gears again, and listen to a recent live recording that Andy participated in.

ANDY: I did a duo piano and bass gig with Larry Willis, at the Terrace at the Village Gate, a street-level bar. It’s a nice little gig. We played just jazz standards and stuff like that. We had the good fortune of having Steve Berrios, who plays traps and percussion with the Fort Apache Band. He brought his trapset down and sat in with us. This is a tune that I happened to record, and I was quite surprised at the fidelity.

[MUSIC: Andy-Willis-Steve, “All Of You”]

ANDY: That was the Larry Willis…I guess trio. We were doing a duo, and we had the pleasure of having Steve Berrios sit in with us on traps. (Jan. 1990) That was a nice gig to do. It was a lot of fun to just do bass and piano. It was quite challenging, because you’re just left up to your own wits, and there’s no other rhythm, so you have to provide the rhythm. It worked out pretty well.

TP: Larry Willis has been doing most of the piano playing lately with Fort Apache.

ANDY: Yeah, for the last two years, almost three. The pianist before that was Kenny Kirkland. We’ve been recording with him lately for his first album under his own name. I guess you’ll be seeing that sometime in the future.

I wanted to get back to Libre, which is the band I most often work with. We’re going to be doing quite a bit of stuff coming up in the future. On our agenda is a new recording session. We’ll be doing some traveling; we’re going to California this summer, and the Atlanta Jazz Festival. Hopefully we’ll get to Europe again soon. We haven’t been there in about a year. I want to play another cut from one of our European adventures. This is from the Holland concert also. I think this is “Yevala(?) Pa Rincon”

[MUSIC: Conjunto Libre, “..(?).. Pa Rincon” – Steve Turre, trombone]

ANDY: That was Libre, a very good indication of what we do sound like and the power that we put out when we play. In 99% of salsa in New York today you won’t hear that kind of playing. You won’t hear that kind of power and that kind of swing. It’s a shame that people are asleep on that. Because this was done 18 months or two years ago, and if anything we’ve gotten even stronger. I think the little message to all the people out there listening is if you want bands to… You have to support the bands that you like and that you want to see around so that they keep working. Some of the Latin clubs are tied up. They have these little cliques where they only use certain bands. But the public is really the final arbiter of who they want to hear. So I would put to te public that whenever they hear… If you’re big fans of ours, come out. Come out to our gigs. When you hear announcements that we’re playing places…

Let me clue you in where we’re working this weekend. Manny Oquendo’s Libre is performing Friday at the Tapestry, which is in the Bronx on Westchester Avenue, very near the Parkchester housing complex. It’s easy to get to — the #6 train that goes up Westchester Avenue. Also on Saturday we’re going to be performing at the Circle Theater, which is the newest club in the Bronx. It used to be an old movie house, and they tore out the insides and rebuilt it into a supper club, a very nice supper club where you’d be proud to take your old lady out to dinner and dancing and stuff like that.

This is something that I haven’t heard. I’ve been recording a lot with Kip Hanrahan. He’s the guy who started a record company, and his first release was Jerry’s record, Ya Yo Me Cure. Since then he’s been involved in quite a few… He’s turned into a sort of producer-composer. He came up with a concept based on the world music concept, putting elements together that most people would not have thought of, like, say, a Haitian guitarist, a Latin bass player, a jazz vocalist, and things like that. I did a couple of European tours with Kip, and lately we’re doing quite a bit of recording. I just did a trio recording with John Tchicai, a name from the free jazz past, and Smitty Smith on drums and myself on acoustic bass. That was quite interesting.

We’ll hear something that I’ll be hearing for the first time, a recording I did with Kip’s band – a Duke Ellington composition, “Love Is Like A Cigarette,” with Carmen Lundy doing the vocal. But she doesn’t do the vocal with the band; she does it apart from the band, which is an interesting concept.

[MUSIC: Kip Hanrahan-Carmen Lundy, “Love Is Like A Cigarette”; Astor Piazzolla, “Knife Fight”; [END OF SIDE 3]; Astor Piazzolla, “Leonora’s Song”]

ANDY: Those were tangos by Astor Piazzolla, who is probably the foremost composer of tangos. He was sort of the rebel of Tango, the guy who took Tango specifically away from a certain sensibility that the Argentinians had, and he modernized it, added a different kind of sensibility to the music. Although there’s no improvisation in his music. It’s all written out. Every single note is accounted for. There’s nothing improvised on it. But it was one of the highlights of my career to get to record this record with him. I had never recorded Tango in my life. But I had been aware of Astor Piazzolla, and I had been listening. So when Kip called me to play bass on the session, I was scared, but I was happy to do it. And I was VERY happy that Astor liked my playing. For a Nuyorican bass player… I guess it has to do with all the influences, all the music I’ve gotten to hear here, based in New York, which everything comes here — this is the capital of the world.

TP: I won’t challenge you on that. Kip is also a son of the Bronx as well, so he’d be aware of some of the same things. The album is called The Rough Dancer in the Cyclical Night. It’s on American Clave Records. We heard “Leonard’s Song” and “Knife Fight,” which followed Carmen Lundy’s a cappella “Love Is Like A Cigarette.”

ANDY: Tango came out of the bordellos of Buenos Aires, of Argentina. It’s not supposed to be a very sedate music; it’s kind of a rough music. The best of Afro-Cuban music and the best of jazz was very close to that same element, the element of the nightlife, the bordello life, the pimps, the booze, the drugs — that was all part of it.

TP: It has that edge.

ANDY: Yes. There’s a certain “live life quick” because you don’t know if you’ll drop the next day — that kind of situation. But I was quite happy to get to record this kind of music, which I never thought I’d do.

TP: I think you have cued up, though I’m not sure, is music by Cachao.

ANDY: Not quite. This is Orquesta Aragon from Cuba. This was a live radio broadcast from the late 70s. This tune is called “Sin Clave Y Bongo, No Hay Son” – it means, “without the claves and bongos, there is no Son.” That’s Aragon’s tribute to the son, and the lyrics of the son talks about how it’s been such a strong rhythm and a dance rhythm, and it’s been around for quite a while, and it will never die because it’s such a strong tradition. It’s part of my background, too, and it’s music that I love. I love to play it, love to dance it, love to hear it.

[MUSIC: Orquesta Aragaon, “Sin Clave y Bongo No Hay Son”]

That was Orquesta Aragon, with Richard Egues on the flute and Orestes Varona, who was one of Manny Oquendo’s influences, playing bongos, which was a rarity because he’s a timbal player, and he was one of the greats. He passed away a bunch of years ago. Now Orquesta Aragon has a lot of new members in the band, and it’s not the same any more. Nothing stays the same, but we were fortunate enough that this band broadcast a lot and they recorded a lot. So the great era of Orquesta Aragon is preserved for all time.

TP: right now we’ll hear some of the most recent results of Andy’s long years of study, a track from each of two albums that have been put out by Fort Apache Band, as well as a promotional piece for Mayor David Dinkins.

ANDY: Dennis Rivera, the President of Local 1199, the Hospital Workers Union, hired us to produce a jingle, a Latin music jingle for the Dinkins campaign. So we came up with a little cute ditty. I wrote the melody. Manny Oquendo, as most of the time, comes up with the perfect idea, and then we built a song around it and an arrangement with Papo Vazquez. This is the Dinkins Jingle.

[MUSIC: Dinkins Jingle; Fort Apache, “Nutty”]

That was “Nutty” by Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band. That concept for “Nutty,” when we were rehearsing the material for the album, I was the one who came up with the concept of playing it as a son montuno, because that’s a favorite rhythm that I like, and it seemed to blend well with the melody of “Nutty.” So that’s how we did that.

TP: It’s from a recording titled Rumba Para Monk, which is a studio date comprising all arrangements of Monk tunes. [ETC.]

ANDY: I was quite a frequent visitor to this station and other stations, too. But as time went on, I was just too busy to be here. Hopefully I won’t make myself so scarce in the future.

[MUSIC: “Jackie-Ing”–Enja, Obatala, 1988]March 13, 1991 (on Cachao):

[MUSIC: Descarga, “Criolla Carabali”; “Tunas Se Quemo”; “Bailando Entre Espuma”]

TP: You’ve done this before. You know the deal.

ANDY: I know the deal. I was up here last time for the Machito Festival with Manny Oquendo, and we did a pretty good show. Here, my partner in crime is Joe Santiago, who is another one of the bass players of my generation. We’re the ones who always… I guess we’re always giving credit where credit is due, and the cat that we picked up a lot from and learned a lot from, not so much by, say, going to his house for lessons or anything, just by listening to what he was playing… We really learned a lot from Cachao. To this day, there’s things to learn from listening to the kind of bass playing that he was doing, no matter what period, because he has such an extensive career, going back to the late 1930s. It’s an incredible body of music that he put together, and he sort of defined bass playing. Afro-Cuban bass playing was brought to a high art.

TP: It wasn’t just Afro-Cuban bass playing. Cachao is a world-class improviser.

ANDY: Oh, of course. Not only that. See, he comes from a family of musicians, and many of them were bass players. I heard there’s, at recent count, 40 bass players in his family, including his mother and father. So we’re talking about somebody that really knows the instrument. Not only that. When Cachao was young and just growing up, he was playing percussion instruments, too. He started out playing bongos. But naturally, he was playing the bass around the same time period, and bass playing in Cuba at that time was mostly in the danzon bands, the charanga bands, the tipica bands of the period. That was sort of the national dance music of Cuba, was the danzon. He has a rich tradition in that idiom, and it calls for a lot of classical style playing, such as bowing the bass instead of, say, plucking it. The plucking part was more percussive. That’s more the Afro-Cuban side of things. But the bowing of the instrument, as in any symphony, or any classical situation… He has the same kind of technique as the best of classical music.

So I guess Cachao to me is probably the most well-rounded, all-around bass player that I’ve ever heard. Because he can do all. He can play with a symphony, he can play with a tango band, he can play with any salsa ensemble, any Afro-Cuban ensemble. His knowledge of rhythm is so extensive, and he can just fit a part to something, either drum-wise or bass-wise.

TP: Another aspect of Cachao we’ll focus on is his compositions, which number in the hundreds.

ANDY: Yes, because he used to write a lot of danzones for the Arcaño band. That’s the band he used to work for — Arcaño Y Sus Maravillas. Jose Antonio Arcaño. He was a master flute player. And the leader of this band, Y Sus Maravillas, were the “marvels” of the age. At the beginning, they were called Los Maravillas, or de Las Maravillas del Siglo, which means “the marvels of the century.” This band really… In that band a lot of innovations took place. The creation of new forms of dance music, and new ways of playing it, and new combinations of rhythms and combinations of sounds in the rhythm section, including… You can hear Cachao bow the bass, slap the bass, play all over the instrument. It’s incredible; incredible to listen to this.

This is a whole part of the history of music, and I am surprised that jazz scholars who really studied the 30s and 40s and have a lot to say about the 30s and 40s, or even, say, the early New Orleans days…that they are not really hip to what was going on in Cuba. They mention it barely. It’s mentioned, like, “Yeah, this was going on, too.” But they really didn’t dig deep into that side of the African diaspora, or whatever you could call it, the African side of things. And they should have been more attentive to this.

TP: Certainly, musicians from Cuba and from the Caribbean made their mark on jazz music, but they were not particularly identified as that – they were identified as jazz.

ANDY: It’s also some cultural conditioning involved. Because I imagine for any jazz fan of that time to hear a danzon with the violins and whatnot, it would sound a little like hokey to them. It would sound like something else. But they were missing the point. And the point is the rhythm. And that’s the total point. To this day, still jazz cats have trouble getting behind the rhythm and how Afro-Cuban music works. But this is the master, one of the masters of any era.

TP: We’ll be having 2 hours and 43 more minutes of elaborations on this theme, with Andy Gonzalez on Cachao. Let’s talk about the three tracks we heard at the top of the show.

ANDY: This album is one of these strange records that came out in the early 60s, after the Revolution, of tapes of Cachao’s jam sessions, which he had done quite a few recording sessions. The personnel on some of these tracks, like, Yeyo Iglesias on bongos, Tata Güines. Papin also played on some of this stuff. The pianist wasn’t Jesus Lopez, who used to play with Arcaño’s band, so it probably was Orestes Lopez, Cachao’s brother, who along with Cachao were the musical directors and were responsible for the majority of arrangements in the Arcaño band. In the Arcaño band, Orestes played the cello. The instrumentation is 3 violins, flute, cello, bass, piano, and timbales — no congas at the beginning. The bass sort of held up the bottom and with the timbal and made it sound full, like the conga wasn’t really needed. He would slap the bass sort of like a conga, too. All those things are incredible.

I’ve been for more than a year now trying to hook up a way to get Cachao in concert together with Milt Hinton. We’re talking about some serious slap bass technique in jazz — in American Jazz and in Afro-Cuban music. Now, one of these days I’ll have my dream come true. But I’ve been waiting for that. I’ve been mentioning it to promoters, and they all say it’s a great idea, but so far nobody has acted on it. But that’s one of them I want to try to do.

The tunes on this album… It’s on the Maype label. It’s funny, Cachao… I’m glad that these records exist. But the companies that put these out were like bootleg companies. They used to rip off the musicians, and never pay them a penny for their stuff. So as much as I like the presence of having the record around, it’s a drag that Cachao never really makes any bread off these records. And they’ve been in print for 25 years, so it must be somebody’s making money.

Anyway, the tunes that we heard are “Criollo Carabali.” That’s an old Afro-Cuban chant of the abakua sect, or what would you call it… That’s sort of the Afro-Cuban version of the Masons. It’s an all-male society dedicated to preserving and sort of keeping each other cool. In fact, in the early years, they used to buy each other’s freedom from slavery. So that’s a chant of that style of music, abakua.

“Tunas Se Quemo” is sort of a descarga montuno, very simple. The tres player on this record is Niño Rivera, who is probably the most modern of the tres players and the most influential, besides Arsenio Rodriguez, who is probably THE influence on the tres. All these names I’m mentioning are just giants. Giants in Cuban music. Cachao was in there, too, as the giant of giants.

TP: We have cued up a collaboration between Cachao and Eddie Palmieri.

ANDY: This is not my favorite tune from the record, but Cachao gets a little solo in it, and I like the way he plays here. He’s a driving force in any band he plays in, but the collaboration with Eddie Palmieri was… I got to see that band live, in person, quite a few times, and I was thrilled by that. Joe, when was the first time you saw Cachao play live.

JOE SANTIAGO: Tito Rodriguez Orchestra.

ANDY: Same with me. I saw him with Tito Rodriguez Orchestra. I saw Tito Rodriguez’ Orchestra at the Embassy Ballroom on a Sunday afternoon in 1964. I was playing my first big-time gig. It was Federico Pagani, he was like the daddy of promoters in… He brought the Latin dance downtown to the Palladium and all this stuff. He’s like a legendary figure. Well, he was throwing these Sunday afternoon, all day,10 bands on the bill, and he hired our little Latin Jazz group. I was about 13 at the time. We were the tenth band on the bill. So we played, a little quintet, we made 50 bucks. But at the top of the bill was the Tito Rodriguez Orchestra, Eddie Palmieri La Perfecta, Joe Cuba Sextet — the hot bands at the moment. So I got to see them for the first time. I saw Cachao play for the first time. I saw Manny Oquendo playing with Eddie Palmieri’s band for the first time. All that was great. The Colgate Gardens in the Bronx. Neither one of these two places I mentioned exists any more.

Anyway, this is the Eddie Palmieri band with Cachao. This was recorded around 1968 or 1969 – “Ay Que Rico.”

[MUSIC: Eddie Palmieri, “Ay Que Rico”; Orquesta De Fajardo, “Fajardo y su Flauta”]

ANDY: That was actually Los Treyas Cubanas, but it’s a tape that ended up in Miami and came out under the title of Fajardo, who was the leader of that band until he left to come to the States. So that tape actually isn’t Fajardo at all playing there, but the tune and composition and everything is Cachao’s. The title on the album is Fajardo Y Su Flauta, but the original title is “Julio Y Su Flauta” — Julio Guerrero, who was the original flute player who played in the Estrella Cubana band. But that’s a really nice, laid-back version of that. There’s another version that Cachao himself recorded of this tune that’s a little faster. But this one, they gave it a nice tempo.

We’re going to hear now a long, 18-minute cut. It takes a whole side of a record. It’s from the Descargas at the Village Gate, Live — the Tico All-Stars. This particular descarga is “Descarga de Contrabajoas,” the jam between the bass players. And the two daddies are here — Bobby Rodriguez and Cachao.

Now, Bobby Rodriguez was a whole other style. I think Bobby and Cachao were probably the two main influences on my playing (and probably Joe’s, too, I guess). They were the cats, man. They were the ones with the best technique, the prettiest way of playing. Bobby was very pretty in his sound especially. There’s a very pronounced difference in their tone quality. Even the way they hit the strings is different. Bobby has more of a bell, clear, ringing kind of note thing, and Cachao is funkier, a little more street when it comes to plucking the strings and slapping the bass and whatnot. They’re playing two Ampeg Baby Basses here. Tone-wise, they still get their tone out, but sometimes the sound can be a little strange. But they do some great stuff here, and they just talk to each other back and forth.

TP: The liner notes attribute this to May 1966.

[MUSIC: Cachao-Bobby Rodriguez, “Descarga de Contrabajos”; “El Fantasma Del Combo”]

ANDY: Israel Lopez, Cachao, the great bass player of Afro-Cuban music. The track we just heard was one of his many descarga, or Cuban jam session recordings. This one is on a strange label called Musicalia. Even the cover is real strange. It says, Cuban Music In Jam Session, Cachao, in big letters, and then there’s a photograph of two dancers, a lady who has on a bikini-like outfit, her arms look like they’re crossed or tied together, and then the guy is leaning down, and it’s shot in the woods somewhere — a very strange photo. Anyway, it’s a great album for the things that are on it.

The tune we heard was called “El Fantasma Del Combo.” All those little effects and all the…that’s right out of Cachao’s ideas about doing things. I was fortunate enough to participate in something that he did years later for the Salsoul label. I’ve been to a few rehearsals where he puts these things together, and he just comes up with these crazy ideas. He sets up the percussion and everything the way he wants them to start off. He orchestrates a jam session.

Which is in contrast to that mish-mosh of a thing at the Village Gate, which I don’t care for that much except for the things that Cachao and Bobby Rodriguez get to play on it. But since it was out of their control, a lot of other things were happening that really had nothing to do with… Just good playing. But I just think that track is valuable for their work together, because it’s very rare when two bass players play together on a record — it’s usually just one bass and that’s it.

Now we’re going to start delving into Cachao’s past, in the real early days. We’ve mostly been listening to 50s and 60s work. We’re going back now to 1938 or 1939, I believe. The original source of this bass solo is a Koussevitzky concerto, Koussevitzky was a Russian composer and a bass player, and he used to write for the bass. They took this piece of music and adapted it for a bass solo in the Cuban danzon tradition. We’re going to hear two versions of this. Cachao recorded it in 1938 and then recorded it again in 1957 or so. We’re going to hear the early version, and then you’ll hear the newer version.

[MUSIC: Cachao, “Canta Contrabajo” (1938 and 1957)]

ANDY: I made a slight error. The first tune that we heard on my tape of real early stuff, I believe it was called “Al de Lante(?),” Cachao as musical director along with his brother of the Arcaño Y Sus Maravillas band of 1938 or so. I’m not positive of the exact date. We’ll now delve into that particular time period, because there are so many innovations going on, not only on the bass itself, but the transforming of the whole rhythm section happened in that band — and Cachao had quite a bit to do with it. In this time period, there was no conga drum in this style of band. The conga drum was sort of a lowly… They weren’t given much attention. They considered it a very street instrument, and it wasn’t accepted in the salon de baile, in polite society dancing, of which danzon was a strong part. But in the Arcaño band, the conga was introduced around 1946-47-48, that time period.

We’ll hear the band before the conga drum was introduced, from the very early Arcaño recordings. These are all done around 1938-39-40. There is no conga drum, so the bottom of the band is in the hands of Cachao, and in the hands of Ulpiano Diaz, who was the timbal player in the band. Listen particularly to the interplay between Cachao playing what they call the tumbao, the bass figure, plus he’ll be slapping the bass. You’ll hear slaps. You’ll hear little things that sound like percussive effects, like from a conga drum, but they’re not. They’re from the bass. That in conjunction with the left hand of the timbales, which plays a beat that’s a very bass kind of sound…those two things are the bottom of the sound of this band. And it’s 3 violins, a cello, flute — the great Arcaño himself on the flute, a tremendous flute player, with a very distinctive, sweet style. And the great Jesus Lopez on piano, who was one of the more, I guess…how would I call it…the chops — Mr. Chops. This guy was sort of the Art Tatum of his day, but in an Afro-Cuban way.

[MUSIC: Arcano Y Sus Maravillas with Cachao, 1938-39]

ANDY: That was a good dose of early Arcaño and then the last tune was “Buena Vista Social Club,” which is from the El Gran Cachao album on Kubaney Records (1958). This is I guess what the Arcaño band would have been like 20 years later, from the period that we were listening to the old 78s. For the recording, Cachao some woodwinds. You heard bass clarinet, you hear a clarinet; it added an extra texture to the sound of the arrangements of the danzon, of the strings and flute sound. So that was a pretty nice thing that he did on that record.

Now, the earlier cuts… I know all the melodies, and I’m a little vague on the titles. I wish Rene Lopez was here to help me out with the titles on some of these songs. But they were all Cachao’s arrangements. Although on the 78, I guess if you really listen closely, you can hear all the things Cachao is doing on the bass to make that bottom happen in the music, because there’s no conga…

[END OF SIDE 2]

[SIDE 3]

ANDY: …that’s where all his musical background really comes from. And then, the other side of Cachao, which is the street musician, who used to play bongos in little street ensembles and whatnot.

We’re going to hear a very historical recording, mainly because of the fact that we have… This is the record entitled Patato y Totico. It was recorded on Verve Records, and Teddy Reig produced it. Patato Valdes is well known to jazz fans. He’s been recording on jazz albums with Art Blakey and Max Roach and all these people since the middle 50s. But he got together his own recording session with Totico singing, and he managed to get Arsenio Rodriguez and Cachao on the same session.

[MUSIC: Patato-Totico-Cachao-Arsenio, “Mas Que Nada”; Descarga, “Rendencion”; Gran Orquesta Tipica, “Mambo Tipico”; Cachao, “Maria Elena”; Eddie Palmieri-Cachao, “Busca Lo Tuyo”–skips]

ANDY: Sorry for the scratchy record, but I couldn’t get a better copy of this. That was Cachao playing with Eddie Palmieri in one of Eddie’s best bands. Manny Oquendo playing bongos, and Luis Miranda on conga, and Barry Rogers taking a tremendous trombone solo…

TP: I guess you play that one a lot, Andy.

ANDY: Yes, this particular copy of the record I found in a budget bin somewhere, and it was used. I didn’t think it would skip on the tune, though. I couldn’t find my other copy. It’s one of those records that I used to play a lot, and my good copy got lost. But you could hear the driving force of Cachao in the Eddie Palmieri band. It was just such a good-sounding rhythm section — Cachao and Manny and Luis Miranda and Eddie on the piano. A driving rhythm section.

Cachao during his career… When he came from Cuba and settled in New York, he worked with quite a few bands. He did a lot of freelance work, did some symphony work. He did spend a good I guess two years or so with the Tito Rodriguez Orchestra, and recorded a few albums, did some touring. They tell me he wrote some charts for the band that they never recorded, which I would have liked to hear. In particular he wrote a danzon that I’d like to have heard, a big band arrangement of one of Cachao’s danzons. But I’ll have to wait until Tito Rodriguez, Jr., digs it up out of his father’s extensive library of arrangements.

During the time that Tito Rodriguez had Cachao in the band, which was a tremendous period for the band… The Tito Rodriguez Orchestra was always a top-notch unit. Other players around that time… He always had the best — the best accompanists in that band. So imagine that Cachao would be playing, and then he managed to steal Rene Hernandez away from the Machito Orchestra, and quite a few other players of note. Like, Mario Rivera used to play the baritone sax in Tito Rodriguez’s orchestra at the time. Also the lead alto was Bobby Porcelli. Just some great musicians.

TP: Before we play the next recording, by Tito Rodriguez, please run down the music we heard before the Eddie Palmieri track.

ANDY: Before the Eddie Palmieri thing, we heard a tune called “Maria Elana,” which Cachao wrote for his daughter on her birthday. That was recorded when Cachao was a member of the Fajardo Orchestra, which he spent some time with Jose Fajardo’s Orchestra. You can see him on the cover of some of the Panart albums.

Before that we heard the Gran Orquesta Tipica, “Mambo Tipico.” This was an album entitled The 64 Professors. What they did was they put together all the great violinists and flute
players and leaders of all the charanga bands in Cuba that were coming up during the 50s. They were very strong. They were the most popular bands. We’re talking about the America Orchestra, Enrique Jorrin, just the great figures of the music. And Cachao, his brother Jesus Lopez on piano; Ulpiano Diaz on timbales — people like that. They just all banded together to record a record of… Imagine. Full strings. It almost sounds like a symphony playing danzones. This tune was titled “Mambo Tipico.” That’s what it was. It wasn’t a danzon; it was a mambo of the genre at that time. It wasn’t the New York style mambo, which is quite a bit more frenetic and a lot faster. But the original Cuban mambo was a nice, slow-to-medium tempo kind of groove. That was a good example of it.

Before that we heard one of the Descarga albums, a tune called “Redencion,” which was written by Orestes Lopez, Cachao’s brother.

Now we’re going to play something Tito Rodriguez recorded, from a CD called Big Band Latino. I’m curious to hear this because I owned the original record when it came out on Musicorp Records, and I’m curious how they remastered it. The people at the Palladium label from Barcelona, Spain, are very meticulous. They put out some Machito records, and the sound is tremendous on them. The track we’ll hear is “Esti Es Mi Orquesta,” “This Is My Orchestra,” which was a direct cop off a Stan Kenton record by the same name — This is An Orchestra. Tito Rodriguez narrates a whole thing about having a band, and the musicians in the band — he names all the musicians and has them all play something. The arrangement itself is… Well, they adapted just the words Stan Kenton said about having a big band, and they translated that into Spanish, but then the rest of the arrangement is an original arrangement. Cachao gets a nice little taste here, and so do all the other members, some of whom are quite prominent today on the scene. This cut lasts a good 12 minutes.

[Tito Rodriguez, “Esti Es Mi Orquesta”]

ANDY: That was the Tito Rodriguez Orchestra with Cachao on the bass and all the other great musicians in that band at the time period — that was around 1964 or 1965. Tito Rodriguez gave up his big band around 1965 and moved to Puerto Rico.

And Cachao? Well, Cachao always was in demand as a player. He could fit in any situation, and got to play with all the bands really. I saw Cachao play with Machito’s orchestra. That was tremendous! I saw him play with Orchestra Broadway, most of the bands. But I guess the bands that he most impressed me with from what I saw in person was the Tito Rodriguez Orchestra, which you just heard, and the Eddie Palmieri band. To me, those were where he really got a chance to shine as a section player, as part of the rhythm section.

We’re missing quite a few records that I wish we would have had a chance to play tonight. I guess we’re going to have to do Cachao, part 2, and bring in all the stuff that we’ve been missing. There’s a bunch of live tapes also of Cachao with Manny Oquendo and Libre, with two basses. I had the honor of playing along with Cachao last year, doing the two-bass thing at SOB’s, at the Village Gate, and most recently at the Atlanta Jazz Festival. Unfortunately, I misplaced my tape from Atlanta. I was tearing the house apart looking for it to bring it here so you could hear it. But I’ll have to wait until Cachao, part 2, to play it.

Also, the records Cachao recorded in the middle 70s for the Salsoul label, which he got to play some of his early danzon arrangements, newly recorded in the studio, and he also got to do new descargas, and he brought together people like El Negro Vivar on trumpet… Those were his last record dates before El Negro passed away of a heart attack in Miami. He was one of the great trumpet soloists of Cuban music. Chocolate is on the recording also, the other daddy of the trumpet. Papaito is playing there, and Virgilio Marti — quite a few of the Cuban Mafia in New York played on those records. Unfortunately, right now, they’re not here. But we’ll get to hear them on another occasion.

But that was the first that people had heard about Cachao in quite a few years. Especially the New York scene, of which he was quite popular here. He got to play on some of the Allegre All Stars things, the Tico All Stars. He took part in quite a few recordings with Charlie Palmieri, and quite a number of sideman dates. So his work as a leader didn’t revive until around 77-78, when he recorded the albums for Salsoul under Andy Lopez’ and Andy Kaufman’s production. We’ll get to hear those on I guess our second part. Cachao is so prolific a composer and a musician and a record-maker, although as a leader there are not many recordings.

Also, there’s a few that he recorded recently, in the last couple of years, for a small label in Miami. I think the label is entitled Tania Records…as opposed to Fania records, I guess…I don’t know. But there’s some great, great contemporary Cachao bass solos on those records also. Unfortunately, again, they’re not here.

But we do have quite a bit of Cachao’s early career and we do have quite a bit of his middle career, which… A lot of people consider that some of his best work took place in the middle to late 50s in Cuba with his cohorts and contemporaries, such as Emilio Rivera. Tata Guines, the great conga virtuoso who took the conga farther than it ever had gone as a musical instrument in the 50s — he’s a very strong influence on just anybody who’s playing congas today. He was quite a part of Cachao’s entourage in Cuba during the time when they were recording those Cuban Jam Session records.

We’re going to return to the Cuba Jam Session period now and hear a town called “La Luz.”

[MUSIC: “La Luz”]

[END OF SIDE 3]

[MUSIC: “La Luz” (skip)”; “El Manicero”; “Juan Pescao”; “La Luz”; Cachao Descarga-Nino Rivera, “Potpourri de Congas”;

ANDY: That was the great Niño Rivera on tres with Cachao and his Descarga group. On bongos of course was Yeyito, and on the congas was Tata Guines, on the timbales was Guillermo Barretto, and I imagine that was Cachao’s brother playing the piano. Those are classic recordings, and they are more obscure ones, because the great album that everybody knows is the Descargas In Miniature album, which we don’t have a copy of here, but we’ll get it for part-2.

All these records were originally recorded… The first Descargas in Miniature were done… The reason they called them “In Miniature” is because they were all done for release on 45s, of which I have a few. As a matter of fact, I didn’t realize it until I started hunting through some record bins in Chicago and ran across some Panart 45s of some of the tunes from the first Descarga album. That one to me is the classic of classics. If they ever have Grammys for classic albunms, that should win one, because Cachao really put together a stellar organization, and his ideas and the way he puts little jams together, he really sets them up. They don’t just happen. He sets them up real nice.

Basically, the two great recording feats of Cachao’s career are the whole thing with the danzon and the tradition, and how he sort of was instrumental in new innovations in Cuban music. And then, the whole thing with the descargas, of which I hear that he wasn’t the very first to do a Cuban jam session — there were other albums. But the ones he put together are considered…they’re classics of the genre.

We just heard quite a few of these little Cuban descargas. There was one called “Potpourri of Congas,” which started to skip so we had to take it off. These are old records, man. Some of them I’ve played to death for years and years, and unfortunately as best as we can clean them, they still skip.

TP: We made an adjustment on “La Luz.” Meticulous cleaning job!

ANDY: I’ve been collecting records for so many years, you learn that sometimes you have to put some soap and water to it and scrub out the gunk. And they play! You’d be surprised. Vinyl is very resilient. They spring back to life.

Anyway, we’ll get back to some early Cachao. We’d like to continue this on another occasion and have Cachao Part 2 with more of his great solo work. Unfortunately we weren’t able to bring some of that material with us today. But we’re trying to give you an all-around view of how great a musician he is. Hopefully, to those who have never seen him play in public, make a definite attempt to see him in person. He is one of the most dynamic figures to watch while playing, because he does so many things. He’s an entertainer. He knows you’re watching. He’ll do some stuff to dazzle you. Watching him play whatever he’s playing, his tumbaos or whatever, and then all of a sudden he’ll just surprise you with something and make you go nuts.

We’ll hear some of Cachao’s arrangements from the Arcaño band. He’s playing bass, of course. He doesn’t get much of a chance to do any solo work on these records. But, what he does do in the rhythm section, behind the rhythm section, as an accompanist and as just an all-around player, there’s quite a bit of very interesting stuff going on. All bass players give an extra ear to this.

[MUSIC: Cachao-Arcaño, “El Nono Toca” and more titles from early 40s]

ANDY: That was the music of Arcaño Y Sus Maravillas, and that last track was called “Cubanita,” and that was Los Hermanos Rigual that were singing the front part of the tune. They were pretty well known as a trio singing in harmony. They did some work with the Machito Orchestra, particularly with Graciela on “Contigo En la Distancia.”

That’s it. We’re wrapping it up. We haven’t really, except for a couple of instances, shown Cachao in the light of being the great soloist that he is, and that’s what I think the 2nd part of our Cachao special should focus on.December 1, 1993:

[MUSIC: Libre, “Imágenes Latinas”]

TP: Tonight we’ll focus primarily on a kind of autobiography via recordings spanning 20-25 years. What was that selection?

ANDY: First, good evening, Ted. It’s a pleasure to be back here at WKCR. I have a tendency to come up and publicize my heroes. When you asked me if I want to do a show on me… I’m not one to blow my own horn on the radio. It’s not my style. But I figured that it’s time to do a show on my greatest adventures in music, which there have been quite a few over the last 25-odd years that I’ve been playing in the business.

The tune we opened with was an original, a poem by Bernardo Palombo that I put music to, and we recorded it on our second album, Manny Oquendo and Libre on Salsoul Records. They went out of business, and those records are hard to find. They haven’t come out on CD yet. Hopefully they will. This was something that we’re very well known for, which is our descarga jam kind of situations. This was pretty much an invention in the studio. We had an outline, a basic format as to how we wanted to play. That was the late, great Barry Rogers at the beginning of the tune. To me, that’s one of his nicest statements on record, that whole beginning of the tune. He really plays it. I asked him to do something specific for me, and that was to imitate a vocal. Like, guaguanco, the beginning of a vocal is what they call the diana, when a singer goes, a-nah-nah, a-nah-nah, a-nah-nah, sort of to establish the key and to establish the mood of the song. So I had Barry do that on the trombone. He did a great job. It’s like the first Latin Jazz instrumental diana for a guaguanco. It’s really great.

I thought I’d bring up different things I’ve recorded over the years with Manny Oquendo and Libre; with Palmieri – the two Palmieris, the Palmieri brothers; with Tito Rodriguez; Machito; Puente; and the latest Latin Jazz things that are going on today with Fort Apache with my brother; and Charlie Sepulveda and Hilton Ruiz; and also older stuff — stuff when I was working 20-something-odd years ago with Ray Barretto’s band and Eddie Palmieri’s band. Things like that, and occasional jazz things here and there.

TP: The first thing you’ve cued up comes from 1975-76, when you seem to have been quite busy in different bands, a time when a lot of fresh ideas were being formulated.

ANDY: Well, that time was the beginning of Libre. We had started working as a steady band on the circuit here in New York, and we had gone on some trips already — to Africa and Brazil. Now, this particular recording we’re going to hear is from that period, but it was with a friend of mine by the name of Bobby Paunetto. He’s a Bronx-raised musician, pianist, vibist. I knew him from… He went to Berklee, graduated out of Berklee School of Music, and came back with a lot of fantastic music. But I’ve always known him to play more or less the same kind of style musically; he’s always adhered to that style, even though it’s progressed harmonically and he’s a great composer. Unfortunately, he’s been kind of bedridden…not bed-ridden so much, but apartment-ridden – he’s been in his apartment quite a bit. He’s come down with multiple sclerosis, and it’s kept him from really developing his career as a player. But before came down with this illness, he recorded these two records with a lot of friends and help from family. They’re great records, and I think that eventually they’re going to be re-released on CD. This is called “Brother Will.” He wrote this in memory of his brother, who was mugged and murdered during this time period. This was his putting into music what he felt about the situation. It’s Pathfinder Records. The players are people like Todd Anderson, Billy Drewes, Ronnie Cuber is on some of this, Manny Oquendo plays on some of it, and Jerry, myself, Milton Cardona. When we were all up-and-coming, struggling young musicians in the Bronx, Bobby was one of us, and he sort of took his particular sound and concept to another level by going to school and really learning his trade, his art. When he got out of school, this is what he came up with.

[MUSIC: Bobby Paunetto, “Brother Will” (1975); Ray Barretto, “Tin Tin Deo” (1969); Eddie Palmieri, “Adoracion” (1973)]

ANDY: The thing about “Adoracion,” which was from an album called Sentido, is that the beginning part was totally improvised. What I came up with was to play harmonics on the strings with my bow. For years after that, people were asking me, “What is that sound?” This was before synthesizers were being used on recordings and stuff like that. So it’s an unearthly kind of sound, and a lot of people were freaked by it — they didn’t know what it was. But it was me playing the bow.

TP: How long were you playing with Eddie Palmieri? How did you become involved?

ANDY: I was working with Ray Barretto’s band, and we worked a lot opposite Eddie. Nicky Marrero was the timbalero in the band at the time. I was always an Eddie Palmieri fan from way back when Manny Oquendo was the timbal player in the band, and sort of the heartbeat of the Eddie Palmieri band. All through the years, the names of Manny Oquendo and Barry Rogers keep on popping up on these records, especially the records that I have anything to do with, because these are the cats — they’re the ones who were the movers and shakers of the Eddie Palmieri band. They made things happen in that band. Manny still makes things happen with Libre, and Barry was always one to make suggestions and add to the music to make it spectacular.

TP: That band was pushing the boundaries of Latin music.

ANDY: There’s some truth to that. Eddie was a good catalyst for other people to push the band. Eddie was good at sort of being the glue that made all the innovations and things happen. Some of the ideas were his, but the majority of rhythm ideas were from his players.

TP: What are some of the innovations that happened within the Eddie Palmieri bands of that time?

ANDY: Well, one was just the sound of the trombones, a band with just trombones in it, two trombones. That was kind of unique. It wasn’t original. Other bands had that sound also. But the Eddie Palmieri band, the La Perfecta, brought it to a height of musical excellence. Barry was in charge of making sure that the music was hip, and Manny was in charge of making sure the rhythm was hip — and Eddie was Eddie, doing what he does. It’s a unique sound. That band was really influential while I was growing up, as part of the soundtrack of when I was young.

TP: Since you were a toddler, has your life been suffused with music?

ANDY: Sure. My dad was a vocalist, and he used to sing with bands, and he’d take us to the rehearsals when we were 6 or 7 years old. We were listening to Cortijo y Su Combo and La Sonora Matancera and Machito… The house music, what we’d hear in the house in the day and at the family parties and stuff like that.

TP: Is that the process by which you learned to play, by hearing the music all the time and being around musicians?

ANDY: That’s sort of part of it. When you’re growing up and listening to the music, you get a feel for it. It became a normal thing to hear that kind of music. What knocked me out is my uncle had a red record. I said, “A red record? What is that?” Fantasy Records. It was Cal Tjader. That opened our ears to another way of playing than just listening to dance music and playing dance music, and tipico, Afro-Cuban-based New York music. This was Afro-Cuban, but it had jazz in it and improvisation, and the sound of the vibes was a very nice, pretty sound. I heard those records when they were new, and that was in the middle 50s. I was just 5-6-7 years old. Even back then, it was a revelation to me. Just the sound of it sounded so nice. I didn’t realize until later how much jazz influenced they were. Cal Tjader was a very heavily Milt Jackson influenced…

[END OF SIDE 1]

…in the fourth grade, playing violin. I played violin for a year-and-a-half and then switched to the bass. At that time, the charanga craze was happening in the dance music of New York — the violin sound with the flute. That was pretty prominent. I had no real aspirations to play that kind of music. From the get, we were trying to play Latin Jazz. That was our thing.

TP: Was your brother always a drummer?

ANDY: He started as a drummer, a conga player and trumpet player at the same time. We sort of started coming up in music together.

TP: Before “Adoracion,” we heard you in a Ray Barretto band playing Dizzy Gillespie’s “Tin Tin Deo.” You were young.

ANDY: I was 18. It’s from an album called Ray Barretto, Together. It’s the first album I recorded with Barretto, on the then-fledgling Fania label. Fania hadn’t hit its stride yet as the big salsa label. I lasted in the band about a year after that recording, and then I left and went with Dizzy Gillespie’s band; me and my brother joined Dizzy Gillespie’s band. We stayed there for about 8 months, toured a bit, played a lot in the city. That was a great experience playing with Diz.

TP: Had he heard you with Ray Barretto?

ANDY: He’d hired my brother first to play percussion. Then they needed a bass player who could play without getting lost in the rhythm. They had a couple of bass players play in the band, but Dizzy wasn’t satisfied with how they were approaching the rhythm, so Jerry recommended that I come in. I came in and…

TP: Was he emphasizing Afro-Cuban things, or was it the full range of what he did?

ANDY: It was a unique band. There were no traps, which is unusual for a jazz band at the time. It was Mike Longo on piano and George Davis on guitar, myself, and Jerry on congas — and Diz.

TP: No timbales.

ANDY: No. Just the congas. And it made it. For the kind of music Dizzy was playing at the time, which was… You’ve got to remember at the time, we were still immersed in the boogaloo era, kind of rhythm-and-blues with Latin rhythm combined kind of thing. Dizzy was reflecting some of that sound in his music.

There was one tune that made some noise and is still remembered these days from the album we did. It’s called “Olinga.” I think Milt Jackson covered it and a few other people covered it. So that’s one of the points in my life that I’ll always remember.

TP: It must have been a harmonic education for you.

ANDY: Of course. Matter of fact, I didn’t think I was ready to play with Diz. But he would egg us on. He was very generous with his time, as far as showing musicians what they needed to know about his music. He was just the funniest person you could ever know, and great to be with. He got along very well with all of us. To show you what kind of person he is, he met my parents when he hired us, and he’d come by the house every now and then, and my dad and him became pretty good friends. Then we were out of contact with Diz for a while because he was busy doing stuff. With the U.N. Band, they were down in Puerto Rico at the time that my dad was hospitalized. Diz found out about it and called my dad at the hospital to find out how he was and whatnot. I’ll always remember that about Diz, how nice and sweet a person he was.

TP: Also at the time, there was so much activity… Wasn’t Kenny Dorham also someone you performed with?

ANDY: Yes. We were close to Kenny for about a good year, and we were playing almost every day. At the time, they had passed…well, they had anti-poverty funds, and they set up schools. I was teaching bass, Jerry was teaching percussion, and Kenny Dorham was teaching trumpet. We didn’t have too many students, so we’d play every day, just for our own enjoyment. We got to play a few gigs, too; we formed a little Latin Jazz quintet. That was another education, because K.D. was an amazing musician. Another beautiful, sweetheart kind of person.

TP: You had the opportunity to be around two of the great trumpet masters, as well as experiencing the whole range of Latin music that one would hear at the time.

ANDY: Yes. I was also into the jazz… I got to see Trane play, one of the next-to-last gigs he ever did, at the Village Theater. That was exciting, with the Ornette Coleman Trio and John Coltrane Octet. That’s when he had Pharaoh Sanders, Alice Coltrane and Jimmy Garrison. Jimmy Garrison I got to know pretty well after Trane’s death. He lived in an apartment next to a friend of mine, and I was always paying him visits. That’s how I got to buy a bass that someone had left in his house.

TP: Who were some of your teachers? Was it pretty much through gigging and practical experience? Or did you have a more formal thing?

ANDY: The Latin side of it was pretty much self-taught and listening to the masters — listening to Bobby Rodriguez, listening to Cachao. Those were the cats. Those were my heroes. They still are.

For jazz, I was fortunate when I was in junior high school… I had the audacity to call Steve Swallow and ask if he gave bass lessons, and I took about two years of bass lessons with Steve Swallow. This is before he made the decision to switch from upright bass to the bass guitar.

TP: Was he with Art Farmer at the time?

ANDY: He was with Stan Getz, Art Farmer, and Gary Burton.

TP: Let’s get to another set of music. This one will have a more contemporary slant, and begins with a 1980 album that brought the music of you and Jerry into very clear focus. It’s from Ya Yo Me Cure on American Clave Recorda.

ANDY: This was our first attempt at putting out something more or less our sensibilities about things. Trying to improvise, trying to move the music forward, and also keep some roots to it. Guaguanco roots. We were listening to a lot of Cuban music and Cuban groups. Also we were doing a lot of jamming at my house, at New Rican Village, which was a place on Avenue A where I used to be the musical director. This particular album really reflects all this time period where we were doing a lot of jamming and a lot of playing, and we were starting to formalize kind of a direction in Latin Jazz that we wanted to move in.

[Fort Apache, “Agueybana Zemi”; Grupo Folklorico, “A Papa Y Mama”; Libre, “A Chango Y Maria”; Papo Vazquez-Milton Cardona, “Chango Y Yemeya”–Breakout-Timeless]

TP: You’ve been working with Papo for 15 years or so.

ANDY: Papo has been working with us in different situations since he was 16 years old. That was 1975 or 1976. Well, he’s like part of the family, part of our extended musical family of quite a few musicians.

TP: Like many of the musicians you’ve worked with, and you and Jerry, he’s totally fluent in the idiomatic performance of Latin Jazz and Jazz, and can merge them or code-switch easily.

ANDY: That’s part of the experience of growing up and dealing with New York City. I don’t think there’s any other place in the world where we could have so much access to musics as here in New York. When I was a teenager, I used to run to Slugs to hear Jackie McLean or to hear McCoy or hear… We were jazz fans. We had so many musical heroes that used to follow and go hear all the time. And studying history, there’s quite a few heroes that… Over the years, you start learning about who’s who and who did what in the music, in jazz and in Latin. I did quite a bit of studying. I was fortunate to acquire a large cache, they call it, of old Downbeats, and I started reading each one of them cover-to-cover just to learn about what was going on, what people were listening to and who…

TP: Reading old Blindfold Tests is an interesting exercise…

ANDY: Yeah. Like Miles Davis saying he’s going to step on Eric Dolphy’s foot the next time he sees him. Things like that. Those are funny.

But I did learn about the different critics who were around, and how they tried to formulize people’s tastes. Critics used to put Coltrane down; they used to put Charlie Parker down — things like that. I used to think that was kind of silly. Most critics are…their particular opinions… It seems to me they’re frustrated because they’re not playing. I don’t know what that is. You know, in the Latin world there aren’t too many critics. I think that’s because they’d find themselves in cement shoes at the bottom of the ocean if they say something bad about somebody! [LAUGHS]

TP: On “Chango y Yemeya,” the percussion were Steve Berrios, Milton Cardona and Patato; Papo Vazquez on trombone; Andy Gonzalez, bass; Edgardo Miranda on cuatro; Bill O’Connell, piano; and Mario Rivera.

ANDY: If you’ll notice, most of those guys were on the Ya Yo Me Cure record. Like I said, we have an extended family of musicians; we’ve all been playing together for years.

TP: Before that was “El Chango de Maria,” from Los Liberes de la Salsa. That’s from a compilation of two sessions by Libre from 1978 and 1979. Papo Vazquez, Jose Rodriguez and Barry Rogers on trombones; Manny Oquendo and Jerry Gonzalez on percussion…so many, and I’m not sure who is on which particular track.

ANDY: Before that, “A Papa Y A Mama” is by Henny Alvarez, by Grupo Folklorico Y Experimental Nuevayorquino. That was a pretty historical record for its time, because it really… When that record was released was when Fania was starting to move up and try to establish their particular sound as the commercial sound in Latin American music, in Salsa, and they were the ones who sort of pushed that name, “Salsa,” on the music, because it didn’t have that kind of title before. We sort of recorded it, and it became like an antidote to that commercial sound.

TP: Why was that sound objectionable at the time? Or not “objectionable,” but what were you reacting to?

ANDY: Well, it wasn’t a deliberate reaction to the other kinds of music that were happening. It was just a natural…it was an evolution rather than a revolution. It was something that evolved, partly because of the jams we were having in the basement of my house, including a lot of these musicians. We formulized a group to play folklore and also to experiment with new forms. We played a few college concerts with that, and out of that, with the help of Rene Lopez, we were able to get a recording contract on Salsoul. We ended up recording two albums. The first one was a 2-LP set, Concepts in Unity, and then a year later we put out Lo Dice Todo – “We Say It All.” We were true to what the title says — a Grupo Folklorico Y Experimental Nuevayorquino. It’s a folkloric group that’s experimental, and we are from New York, so it’s going to involve all the influences of New York.

It was pretty much Afro-Cuban. On the second album, we did a Brazilian tune by Jose Rodriguez. By the way, he’s in the hospital and I’d like to wish him my best. He’s not been feeling well lately. He was the powerhouse trombone player to be teamed up…

[END OF SIDE 2]

…or any kind of experimental Latin music until we decided to do this. It created quite a stir, because some of the tunes on these albums are very exciting. To this day, people ask me, “When are these things going to be released on CD?”

TP: I was about to ask you that myself.

ANDY: I have no idea. I’ve been pestering the owner of the label to re-release the stuff, and hopefully he will do so.

TP: It seems also that the notion of delving into the broad folkloric spectrum has filtered into the contemporary approach of many of your generation of Latin musicians.

ANDY: I’m sure that these records had to have had an effect. They were quite popular when they were released, and they made quite a bit of noise. Everywhere I go, people ask me about them and ask me different things about the recordings, and the tunes, and the people who played on these records. There’s been talk of a reunion, like a new recording of Grupo Folklorico Y Experimental. But that’s just talk right now. But most of the people who participated in the original recordings are still around, and it’s quite possible to get them all together. So who knows?

TP: The next set will focus on some of Andy’s musical heroes. The first he’s selected, and at the top of the apex, is Cachao, on whose music we’ve done several radio shows over the last few years.

ANDY: We’re going to hear something Cachao recorded in Cuba. This is the second version of this recording. The first he did in 1939 or 1940. It’s called “Canta Contrabajo,” which means “sing contrabass.” What it is, is Cachao’s adaptation of a bass concerto by Koussevitzy, who is a great bass virtuoso, who wrote classical music for the bass. Cachao adapted the melody and then put a montuno on it, and he made a danzon out of it, which was Cachao’s… The great body of work that he has done is mostly in danzones, original danzones, which is the national dance of Cuba. It’s classically oriented of sorts.

Cachao has composed thousands of these danzones, and they’re all great, and they’re all… I would call them little symphonies, and they have a great deal of original thought in Afro-Cuban composition. That’s why I really enjoy Cachao’s work. I learned quite a bit from listening to the way he put Cuban clave counterpoint. That’s the art of Cuban music, is the counterpoint. It’s a whole world of rhythm. That’s the world I’ve involved myself into, and I’ve been in that since I started, because I realized that’s really the study that one has to do to be able to play this music correctly, is really involve yourself of that particular aspect of the rhythm. Clave counterpoint.

TP: It’s an extension of the concept of African drumming, which is interlocking rhythms playing against each other…

ANDY: Yeah, polyrhythms, all that stuff. Anyone who studies that… If you put your mind to it, it becomes another language that you can utilize in your music or in your improvisations. This is something I intend to maybe get some literature put out on. I’m working on a bass book now. I think all bass players should study this kind of counterpoint, because it really makes for a varied approach to the instrument. It’s not only harmonic, and it’s not only 4-to-the-bar walking. It adds another dimension to your playing.

TP: We’ll play the selection from album that’s autographed to you from Cachao.

ANDY: Oh, yes. That was at the time when we were rehearsing for Cachao’s recording sessions on Salsoul. He did two albums, which I don’t have here. Also, we were preparing for a concert at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center, and that Grupo Folklorico Y Experimental, Cachao and his Danzones, and Manny Oquendo and Libre — we all performed in concert. I was at the one of the rehearsals where I gave the album to Cachao and he signed it to me.

[MUSIC: Cachao, “Canta Contrabajo”; Arsenio Rodriguez, “Kila, Quique Y Chocolate”; Chappotin, “Los Jovenes de la Defensa”]

ANDY: That was the great Chappotin Y Sus Estrellas, with Miguelito Cuni on the vocals. That whole genre of Cuban music is one of my favorites. That’s the school that Arsenio Rodriguez sort of started, which was the cut we heard before that — “Kila, Quique Y Chocolate.” That was Arsenio’s rhythm section. It was a tune Arsenio wrote…in other words, stating that without the rhythm, there just is no Cuban music; there’s nothing to it.

The next cut we’ll hear is one of my all-time favorite cuts to play for bass players. It’s to show you what bass players can do in the music. Some musicians tell me in Salsa that they’re tired, that they play the same kind of what they call tumbao, which is a vamp. They are reluctant to move away from the vamp because they think that maybe it might spoil the rhythm or something. But this bass player… I’m not sure who it is. The bass player that played with Arsenio is LázaroPrieto at that particular time. He was quite skillful about playing what Arsenio liked to hear, which was great counterpoint kind of bass lines. The bass player with Chappotin was a guy named Sabino Peñalver, and he was another master of making up these absolutely great basslines that laid right in the pocket, and swung like mad.

Now, this next bass player, I’m not sure of his name. The band was a big band called Orquesta Sabor de Cuba. It was led by Bebo Valdés. They’re backing up a vocalist called Pio Leyva. He’s still around in Cuba, and he’s a popular singer of son montunos and guajiras and stuff like that. Now, he recorded a tune called “Pobre Nicolas,” “Poor Nicholas.” When the montuno starts on this tune, the bass player starts doing the most incredible things. It’s not all about fast or anything. He’s just laying down notes that fit right in there. I use this as an example to all my students of how to be free and play Cuban counterpoint and just be right there. Nothing is missing. It’s just laying down time in certain ways. It’s a great record.

[Bebo & Pio Leyva, “Pobre Nicolas”; Tito Rodriguez, “Me Faltabas Tu”; Machito, “Soy Salsero”]

ANDY: That was an album Machito did for Harvey Averne and the Coco label I think he was doing at the time. That was a strange record. It came not too long after Mario Bauza had departed from the Machito Orchestra. There was quite a controversy about that. It seemed that Machito had an opportunity to take a band to Europe, and there was an argument about… They couldn’t take the whole band, and Mario was very upset. He wanted the whole band to go. It ended up that they took a small ensemble to Europe. But I think Machito’s instincts were correct. What it did was open the door for Latin bands to appear in concert in the jazz concert circuit in Europe, and that opened the door for all the bands that came afterwards. Machito’s band was the first one to appear. Then Puente, and then a bunch of them. The door opened wide open for bands. Now at the jazz festivals in Europe, you’d see bands from Cuba, you’d see bands from the New York circuit, and you’d see the new Latin Jazz artists that are coming out now. Fort Apache has been there, and Libre has been there, quite a few of the artists are starting to go to Europe now.

TP: Fort Apache recorded for the German Enja label, and Messidor is a Germany-based label that’s been recording a lot of contemporary Latin music as well.

ANDY: Yes. It’s very popular over there. The festivals usually include at least one evening of Latin American or Afro-Cuban kind of entertainment. It’s become like THE popular event at most of the festivals. This album was recorded using Machito and part of his band — unfortunately, without Mario Bauza. It’s just strange because it came out around the time this happened. To me it was kind of shocking that Mario would leave the Machito Orchestra to go on his own, because Mario didn’t start his band until years later.

TP: The last tracks on the set featured you with Tito Rodriguez and Machito — hits you did with other people. How long did you work with Machito? What was he like?

ANDY: I’ve worked with the Machito band as a sub, on and off, since around 1970. It was always a pleasure for me. I’ve subbed with the Tito Puente band, too. What I get a kick out of is playing the classic charts — the classic Machito charts, the classic Tito Puente charts. A big feather in my cap, and I’ll never forget it, was the recording I did with Tito Rodriguez. I was 19 or 20. I had been working… I was working with Palmieri, so I was about 21. What happened was that Palmieri was playing a dance opposite the Machito band, and the Machito band was backing up Tito Rodriguez for a special set of music that Tito had, like a show set of all his hits. The bass player who was playing with the Machito band had arthritis in his fingers, and he couldn’t be counted on at that moment. He was a great bass player, but just old, and couldn’t be counted on to really cut the chart for the Tito Rodriguez show part of the thing. So they asked me to do it. I sight-read the music perfectly, which was to my surprise, and Tito liked it so much that he asked me to do the recording session. The album is entitled Algo Nuevo, and it was Tito Rodriguez and Louis Ramirez, another figure who passed away recently. To this day I really appreciate the opportunity to have recorded with Tito Rodriguez, who is one of my big heros, too. Also, I enjoy the sound of the recording. It was recorded in Media Sound, on 57th Street. It was like a church, a big room. The sound is pretty nice on that record.

Continuing with the sessions… I’ve done quite a few sessions for other bands as a bass player. I just picked out a few that I could find at the moment and ones I kind of liked. This is one of the earlier things that I did as a session player. I was with Ray Barretto’s band. This is Ray Barretto’s rhythm section backing up Justo Betancourt and Johnny Pacheco. This is a nice tune that I enjoyed when it came out, “Mango, Piña Y Marañón.”

[MUSIC: Justo Betancourt and Johnny Pacheco, “Mango, Piña Y Marañón”; Totico Y Sus Rumberos, “What’s Your Name?”; Libre, “Little Sunflower” (1983); Steve Turre-Dizzy, “Toreador” (1993); Astor Piazzolla, “Street Tango”]

[END OF SIDE 3, INTO SIDE 4]

TP: All featured Andy and are from recordings made during the past 10 years.

ANDY: [Astor] was another feather in my cap. I was always a fan of Astor Piazzolla, because he was the…I guess you would call him the rebel of the Tango. Some innovations that he did were not quite accepted by the Argentinean diehard Tango fanatics, but I thought it was great music. When they called me to do this session, I was like, “Wow, I don’t believe it; I’m going to record with this guy, and he’s one of my heroes.” Another hero. I was lucky to record with the man. He passed away this past year. I recorded on his last recording session, which I think will come out this year sometime.

“Toreador” from Sanctified Shells featured Dizzy Gillespie’s last recorded solo. Carmen Turre, Steve’s mother, played castanets. She plays them very well, and she knows her music. She was on it, boy. She was telling Steve, “Listen, in bar 39 of this, do you think that rhythm is correct?” She’s really knowledgeable. She’s an amazing lady. I hear there’s another shell album in the works due to the popularity of this one, so I’m looking forward to it. I’ve appeared with Steve and this group, the Sanctified Shells, in a few concerts. We just did the San Francisco Jazz Festival recently.

Our version of “Little Sunflower” is already a classic. A lot of people told me it should have gotten a Grammy when it came out. [Montuno records] We have a new one coming out soon, Manny Oquendo and Libre, “A Hora.” It should be in the stores within a month or so.

Totico Y Sus Rumberos did that old doo-wop standard.

[MUSIC: Charlie Sepulveda-David Sanchez, “Nina’s Mood”; Fort Apache Band, “Interior Motive” (from Moliendo Café]

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