Today is the 81st anniversary of the birth of David “Fathead” Newman, a master practitioner of the saxophone family and the flute, whose sound helped stamp Ray Charles’ various units during the ’60s and ’70s and whose own leader career is documented on three dozen or so recordings. I had an opportunity to write the liner notes for one of those dates, Keep The Spirit Singing, and to interview Mr. Newman both on WKCR and for my first-ever DownBeat feature, a joint interview with him and his long-time saxophone partner Hank Crawford in 1998. I’ve posted the liner notes and the unedited transcript of the interview.
David Newman (Notes for Keep The Spirit Singing):
In the exciting times directly following World War II, when David Newman was a young man in Dallas, Texas, interstates, jet planes, mall culture and television did not exist. People from different regions did things their own way. For black tenor saxophone players from the wide open spaces, that meant cultivating the larger than life sound of the kind projected by luminaries like Herschel Evans, Illinois Jacquet, Buddy Tate, Arnett Cobb and John Hardee on the popular recordings by big bands and jump bands of the day. As much Newman and his peer group — Ornette Coleman, King Curtis, Booker Ervin, Dewey Redman — absorbed the startling modernist postulations of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie during those years, they never strayed far from the elemental principle that the horn is an analog for the human voice. The sound was of the essence.
Then, musicians learned by jumping into the fray. Initially an alto saxophonist, Newman attended high school with future luminaries like Cedar Walton and James Clay and jammed on up-to-the-minute bebop with a teenage Ornette Coleman. He played in bands led by a pair of little-recorded legends, the alto saxophonist Buster Smith, who was Charlie Parker’s earliest and primary influence from Kansas City days, and the tenor saxophonist Red Connor, who Coleman cites as a primary mentor. We’ll digress with Newman’s comments on both.
“Red Connor was a very fine musician with a sound somewhere in between Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons, or Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon, with a little Don Byas or Chu Berry in there,” he recalls. “Booker Ervin listened quite a bit to him, as you can hear in Booker’s playing. I don’t know of any other players that had Red’s particular style and his sound; he was very much his own person and didn’t particularly pattern himself on any of the forerunner tenor players. Red knew all the Bebop tunes, he was playing Bebop always, and I got a thorough training by playing with the Red Connor band when I was in high school.
“At that time Buster Smith had moved back to Dallas, and he had one of the best big bands in the city. One night I sneaked into a club to hear his band play, and he gave me a chance to sit in, which was a very big thing for me; soon I started to play with him. Buster had an advanced approach, different from most musicians of his era. He had a huge sound on the alto, and his execution was superb; he could get over the instrument really fast — he knew it backwards. His phrasing and harmonic concept were modern, ahead of its time. He was a self-taught musician with perfect pitch, and he could sit and write arrangements while we were riding up and down the highways — he wouldn’t have to be anywhere near a piano. He would write out full arrangements, and on a jump blues that he wanted to extend he would set up different riffs for the saxophones, then someone in the brass section would set the riffs for the trumpets and trombones. They called Buster ‘Prof,’ short for Professor, because he had this air about him, as this very well-educated professor.
“Buster put together small combos for the road or to back up people like T-Bone Walker and others who came through Dallas. Around 1951-52, Buster organized a group with Leroy Cooper and myself to do a tour with Ray Charles, who was singing and playing the alto. We played mostly the southern states out to California. I had met Ray a little earlier, when I was playing with Lloyd Glenn, a piano player with a hit record called ‘Chickaboo,’ and Ray was with Lowell Fulsom, who featured him playing piano and singing. We were traveling on the road at black theaters and dance halls with a package that also included Big Joe Turner and T-Bone Walker. Sometimes Ray sounded similar to Charles Brown, sometimes he sounded like King Cole, even sometimes like T-Bone Walker, but you could hear his thing starting to come out. I think Ray’s recording of ‘I Got A Woman,’ when he started to inject a Gospel feel, is where the real Ray Charles started to emerge.”
Newman blossomed as a star sideman with Charles’ brilliant small band from 1954 to 1964, but he’s never felt aesthetically encumbered by his past. “Ray gave us a lesson in music appreciation,” Newman told “Downbeat” a few years back. “Before I encountered Ray, my only real love was jazz and bebop. With Ray I learned how to respect and admire and love all other forms of music. This music is an incredible gift. I want to expand my mind and expand the music as it comes through me, put my stamp on it, my feeling, and see what comes out. I want to explore other areas, bridge the generations. You can’t close yourself off as music moves on.”
Now 67, Newman sustains that attitude of freshness and exploration throughout Keep The Spirit Singing. Performing on flute and tenor and alto saxophones, he sculpts his sound with refined nuance through a broad matrix of emotion and rhythm-timbre, enhanced by an ensemble of creative veteran improvisers who know the Old Master well enough not to have to waste time getting acquainted in the studio.
Pianist John Hicks spent his formative years in St. Louis and Atlanta, and knows intimately the language of blues and church forms; his distinctive voicings and ebullient beat fit Newman like a custom-made suit. “I’ve known John a long time, and he’s been one of my favorite pianists for many years,” Newman says. “He knows where I’m going, and we blend as a very good combination.”
On three selections Newman pairs off with trombonist Steve Turre, a fellow Charles alumnus who coaxed the master into playing four tunes on his recently issued In The Spur of The Moment [Telarc]. “I like the blend of the tenor saxophone and trombone,” Newman says. “Ray’s standard instrumentation was two trumpets and three reeds, but in the ’50s when we played the Apollo and the Howard Theater, he would use the trombone. I wanted Steve because he gets that wide-open, full sound.”
Newman first met Turre and bassist Steve Novosel when both were working with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, another devotee of extracting a full sonic palette from an array of horns. “I first met Rahsaan in Chicago, when I was playing with Ray,” Newman digresses. “Rahsaan was just getting his start, and had come over to Atlantic Records. He would hang out at the Sutherland Hotel, where we stayed quite often in Chicago.”
Returning to the subject at hand, he continues: “Steve Novosel is a solid, great player. I depend on him a lot for his ability to carry the melody.”
Like Novosel, trapsetter Winard Harper works frequently with Newman. The relationship began when Harper hired Newman for a record date a few years back; the in-demand 38-year drummer plays with idiomatic precision and imaginative flair throughout. Joining him for several tunes is percussion wizard Steve Kroon, who dots the i’s and crosses the t’s with customary panache.
Guitarist O’Donnell Levy composed and arranged the Caribbean-flavored title track and the samba-esque “Asia Beat,” which frame the session, while Turre offers the pungent “Mellow-D For Mr. C.” “I like the way the changes move in the tune,” Newman says of the latter, which refers to Ray Charles. Does the Caribbean beat relate to the 12/8 feel Newman played over 45 years ago? “Yes, it does. It’s a very natural feeling. A lot of people today seem to like that feel, and I am one of those people.”
Newman’s “Cousin Esau” showcases his vocalized flute sound. “I adapted some of the things that Eddie Harris and Les McCann used to do with this particular beat,” Newman says. “No one has a name for it, but I call it the Listen-Here beat. Most drummers that I ask know what I mean. It’s a four-beat rim-shot figure played on the snare drum; most people can groove to it. I thought of the flute when writing this tune. Through the years I’ve tried to get an identifiable flute sound, and somehow it’s starting to come together. It’s a very earthy, open sound. When I was a kid I used to blow across a Dr. Pepper or R.C. Cola soda bottle to get a sound; after I started playing the flute, I found it was a good way to get a good open sound.”
Newman wrote “Karen, My Love” for his wife; his bravura performance comes right out of the Gene Ammons tradition of heart-on-the-sleeve balladry using only the choicest notes. “John Hicks helped me flesh this out,” Newman reveals. “I knew exactly what I wanted, but John could put meaning to what I had in mind.”
Newman reprises “Willow Weep For Me,” which he recorded years ago for Atlantic, taking it here with a 3/4 feel. It’s a showcase for his bright, declamatory alto saxophone style, and shows that his early experience with Buster Smith “has stuck with me all through the years.”
John Hicks composed “Life,” one of his many lovely waltzes, with Newman’s flute in mind. “It has a natural feel,” Newman says. “John wanted me to play it as I felt it fit me.”
Newman is no stranger to the Latin sound that inflects much of the proceedings. “I guested many times with Machito’s band, and later on with other Latin groups, and that gave me the feel of the Latin beat as well as some things coming out of Cuba,” he notes. “The jazz feel with the African-Latin influence and the European influence is part of what jazz is all about, especially these days — it’s all come together.”
Pushing the envelope remains the animating imperative for Newman, a musician who can retrospect on a career that spans a half-century — 45 years in the spotlight.
“You don’t want to get yourself into a dated position,” says the man whose sound defines soul tenor for several generations. “I like to incorporate the modern approach I hear from the younger players in playing the changes, and I still include some of the things that I played and learned from the veteran musicians when I was young. You take what you have and ride with it, put it all together, and keep moving with the feeling, keep going forward.”
Hank Crawford-David Newman – (3-3-98):
TP: The first question I’ll address to you both is when you were first aware of the other? Hank Crawford, did you first meet David Newman when you came into the Ray Charles band?
HC: Yes, I first met him when I went in Ray’s band. But I was aware of his playing from some records I had heard, solo things he had done with Ray Charles. But the first time we met I’d just joined the band actually.
TP: I’d like to talk to you, Hank, about your path into the Ray Charles band, and I guess we should start from your early years as a musician. When did you start playing music?
HC: I started playing at the age of 9. I started on piano. Piano was my first instrument. I studied three years of private lessons; I guess that must have been at about the age of 6 when I started taking music lessons, and from there I went to the saxophone.
TP: Why did you go to the saxophone from the piano?
HC: My father was in the Service, and when he came back, he’d bought a saxophone with him, which was a C-melody — actually it was a C-melody saxophone. I think he was sort of a frustrated saxophone player himself, but he never did go into it. But he brought the horn, and I was studying piano and still in elementary school. So I still had, I guess, 6th, 7th and 8th grade to go. And once I entered high school in 9th Grade, naturally I wanted to be in the high school band, and piano was a bit much to march with. So I just went to the closet and picked out the horn. I’m self-taught saxophone. I just got a book actually in Ninth Grade and taught myself after I learned the fingering, because I already had a slight knowledge of music from taking piano lessons.
TP: You could read probably, and knew some chords.
HC: Right. And I started playing saxophone in Ninth grade. Then after I taught myself the fingering and stuff, I just kept playing. Later I had lessons on the saxophone, too, but that was in college. That’s when I entered college.
TP: What sort of music program did you have in high school?
HC: Well, it was basically the marching band, a concert band, and a dance band which we called the Rhythm Bombers. It was a 16-piece high school band. Our band director in high school was a trumpet player by the name of Matthew Garrett, who is Dee Dee Bridgewater’s father. Actually, Dee Dee’s given name is Denise Garrett. Her father was Matthew Garrett, and he was my high school band director. We used to play a lot of Woody Herman charts and Count Basie charts, just big band stuff.
TP: Did he have you working outside the high school, like Walter Dyett did in Chicago, got his guys in the union?
HC: Oh yeah. We played a lot of Monday night things, usually on campus. And then we played some things off-campus, which was in local clubs. But even in high school, we were playing major functions.
TP: Had you always been listening to records and other saxophonists?
TP: And when did the alto become the horn of choice, or the horn that suited your ear. From the influences that you describe on your bios, you mention Bird, Louis Jordan, Johnny Hodges, Earl Bostic, later Cannonball, they’re all alto players. So I assume that was the primary voice that you heard.
HC: During that period I heard a lot of saxophone players, from Bird to Bostic, Tab Smith, and on up through to Ammons, Sonny Stitt, you know… So really, I can’t say just one more than the other inspired me the most. Because I love to hear musicians play, all saxophone players. I got a bit from each one. But I always liked the sound of the alto, although I did play a little tenor or baritone. But I could express myself more on alto. That seemed to be my voice.
TP: You also mentioned your church experience as being very important for you.
HC: Oh yes.
TP: And it seems to me that the alto saxophone is the sound that’s more commonly inspirational in the church.
HC: Oh yes. I think the alto is very voice-like. I approach the horn vocally, as if I was going to sing. I guess that comes across because of my early beginnings or early roots in the church. That’s where I started when I was playing piano. I used to play for the junior choirs, the senior choirs, prayer meetings. My whole family was really involved in church a lot. If they didn’t play, they were singing. So all my life I was involved in spiritual music.
TP: What was the name of the church you belonged to in Memphis?
HC: Originally, Springdale. Springdale Baptist Church.
TP: That’s where you had your piano lessons, or played piano.
HC: Yes, right there.
TP: Well, we’ll stop with Hank in high school playing with the 16-piece band in high school with Matthew Garrett as the band director, and go through the same process with David Newman. Your path on the saxophone. When you started playing, what the circumstances were, etcetera.
DN: You mean right from the very beginning.
TP: When did you first put a horn in your mouth.
DN: Well, it was the mid-Forties when I first picked up the alto. Like Hank, I started out with the piano. I had a few piano lessons at first, but I didn’t stay with the piano as long as he did. I only had a few lessons, and then right away my friends started calling me a little sissy, so I wanted to pick up a more masculine instrument. So I asked my Mom to get a horn, and I didn’t know exactly what kind of horn. But then I heard Louis Jordan play the alto saxophone, and it just blew me away, and right away I chose the alto — that’s what my Mom bought me. I was still in elementary school, and started taking private lessons from my music instructor, J.K. Miller, who was the band director at Lincoln High School. He taught Cedar Walton and James Clay, alike from Dallas. We called him Uncle Dud. When I started high school I went directly into the band. Uncle Dud was the one that gave me the name “Fathead.” He wanted me to read the music instead of memorizing music like what I was doing, and he called me a fathead in class, and that’s been my nickname until this day.
DN: [LAUGHS] Unapropos, but nonetheless that’s the way it was, and it’s a trademark by now. I don’t get offended by the name at all, because it goes so far back, and it’s just a nickname anyway.
TP: What sort of music program did he have. Hank Crawford’s describing playing contemporary Basie and Woody Herman charts, a 16-piece band. Did you have something similar to that in high school?
DN: We had something similar to that for the jazz band, some Basie charts, some arrangements by Buster Smith, who was a local alto saxophone player and arranger and composer from Dallas, and also some stock arrangements, which were published orchestrations. I was playing alto for many years, and after about my second year in high school, a friend of mine introduced me to Bird. He brought along a Charlie Parker record, a 78 on Savoy Records, and Bird was playing “Koko,” which was “Cherokee.” I had never heard anything like that before in my life. I was thinking that there was no other player that could play any faster or better than Earl Bostic. Earl Bostic was the man at that time. And when I heard Charlie Parker it just blew my mind away.
From that point on, I fell into the Bebop bag, and I started listening to all the Bebop tunes as they came out. And during that particular time, it was very easy to keep up with all the new tunes that came out, because there weren’t that many. So I would listen to J.J., Diz, Bird, Fats Navarro, Dexter, all the players.
TP: What a lot of people describe is that when these records would come out, their whole little clique of musicians would get together, memorize the solos, and then…
TP: Was that your experience, too, Hank?
TP: Do you remember your first Bird record?
HC: Maybe not by name, but I can say this. Like David was saying, at that particular time it was the Bebop era that we both came through, you know, and some of the same people he named I really admire. I love Bostic for power. He was a power player. But we all came through all phases of music, from the Blues, Gospel and Jazz… Actually, I was speaking about the spiritual side of music, but we were also playing Bebop. That was the era that we really come through. We always tried to play Bird’s solos, and did play them, note for note!
TP: So you memorized your Bird solos also.
HC: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
TP: I’m going to ask you each about your contemporaries, because you each came up with a small group of distinguished cohorts. In David’s case, you came up with James Clay, Cedar Walton and Ornette Coleman. You’ve mentioned a good story about Ornette, playing in the park.
DN: There was a park in Fort Worth (I forget the name) where we would all gather around the gazebo and play there. I was playing with an older musician there named Red Connor, a very good saxophone player. He never was that well-known because I don’t think he left Texas that much, but at the time he was the leading saxophonist in that area. His sound was more or less between Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon, and even maybe Don Byas. He was a Bebop player, and he knew all the Bebop tunes. I was playing in Red’s band, and Ornette would come and play. I was playing the alto and Ornette was playing the tenor saxophone when I first met him. We would play all of Bird’s tunes, and we both knew his solos, as well as Sonny Criss and the other alto players. We’d learn these solos note for note, then after we finished playing whatever Bird had played, then it came time to do the individual thing, and this is when Ornette would go Ornette. Then we could hear come in after he would run out of Bird’s solos, then he would go to Ornette! [LAUGHS]
TP: Ornette as we know him today.
DN: Ornette as we know him. It was Ornette. He wasn’t calling it harmolodics at the time, but that’s the direction that he would go into. He would not conform to the chord structure. He would just go completely different, because he had his own conception. His concept was entirely different. We knew he was on his way to being something different. We didn’t know what it was, but we knew it was a different thing happening with Ornette.
TP: Hank Crawford, I can think of two pretty fair saxophonists in your age group, George Coleman and Frank Strozier. Were you all acquainted?
HC: Yes, we were all in high school together. In fact, George and I were in the same class. Frank was a few years behind us, but we were all in the same band. Speaking of local saxophone players, at that time the guy who impressed me the most was a tenor player named Ben Branch, who sounded a lot like Gene Ammons — and I always liked Ammons’ playing. There was a guy who played alto in Memphis who I got my name from, an older man named Hank O’Day — really Hank, not Henry. He was playing in a big band that was led by Al Jackson, who was the father of the drummer Al Jackson from the Stax scene. There was George, and then a few years behind us was Charles Lloyd. There was another guy who played saxophone who sounded very much like Bird… At that time, George Coleman was the king. He was playing all of the Bird stuff.
During that era, we were studying a lot of Bebop. That’s why we went from house to house, to learn all these bad tunes. But basically, our primary function when we would go out to play was the Blues. We’d practice the Bebop all day at each other’s house, but when we had to go out and play, we’d play a lot of Blues, Memphis being the home of the Blues, they say. I walked bars and laid on my back on the floor with people dropping coins in the bell.
I remember listening to Johnny Hodges, and I remember Tab Smith played on “Because of You” that floored me. I like melodies. I really like ballads, and I think I’m most expressive on ballads. I guess that comes from being around vocal music a lot.
TP: You mentioned that starting in the church as well. You mentioned that in your trademark horn arrangements, the horns are the backup singers, you’re the lead singer with the alto.
HC: Yes. I found that to be true when I joined Ray Charles’ band. I started trying to write a little bit when I was in high school, and in Memphis, almost every band that you played with was at least eight pieces, from 8 to 16 pieces, five horns at least. Big bands was a favorite of mine, too; I loved big bands. I even had the opportunity to meet some of the great big band leaders later on in my career.
TP: Lunceford was from Memphis from originally.
HC: Yes, and Gerald Wilson. And later, when I went to school at Tennessee State in Nashville, I had a chance to meet Ellington and Dizzy. They would come and play the homecoming campus gig every year. There would always be a big name. I had an opportunity to meet Charlie Parker three months before he passed in Nashville. I was a senior at Tennessee State, and Bird came through on a show with Stan Kenton, June Christy, Nat Cole. There was a tenor player in Nashville named Thurman Green. [LAUGHS]
TP: You’re laughing.
HC: Well, he was funny. He was funny just as a human being and then he was funny as a player. We used to laugh at his playing. He just played funny, man. He knew Charlie Parker personally. And Bird came through at that particular time with that show we were talking about, and he came down to a little place that I was playing called the El Morocco. I was playing an off-campus gig, and Bird came down there, just hanging out. He didn’t play anything; came with Thurman, his friend. He sat there, and for about two hours, man, after we finished, I had a chance to sit next to him and talk. I don’t know what we were talking about. Just fun things. This was like in December, and he passed in March. That’s about three months.
TP: It sounds to me that the thing you both share is you had thorough high school educations. You got a thorough musical preparation in a lot of ways in high school, and then you were playing functionally on these type of gigs and getting professional experience from a fairly young age. How old were you when you did your first professional gig, whatever amount of money it was?
HC: Actually in high school we were getting paid. Because at that time, at 14 and 15, we were going out playing the dances. The senior players, they were out, too. But at that time, Memphis was full of great musicians, man. Phineas Newborn was there. He was playing at that age, man, and he was just out of sight. So we played all of the R&B gigs and all of the jazz gigs and so forth.
TP: There wasn’t a differentiation between Jazz and other forms of music. It was all one big pot, kind of?
HC: Right. Well, playing Bebop, that was our classroom. That was the study period, you know. But Blues just came as a natural if you were from that part of the country.
TP: I take it that Dallas, Texas wasn’t so dissimilar in terms of the requirements for playing in public, am I right?
DN: My experience in that area was we’d play Bebop in jam sessions, and maybe there was one club or two where we would play together for the door, which wouldn’t be very much money, like the Log Cabin in South Dallas. But you couldn’t earn a living playing Bebop because the people, especially in the Dallas area, they weren’t that interested in Bebop.
TP: What would happen if you might throw that into your playing? Would they be very verbal and vociferous and clear in their displeasure?
DN: Well, the younger people would dance to anything that we played. They were receptive. But the older generations, from the thirties on, they didn’t take too much to Bebop. They would listen for the beat and that sound which they were accustomed to. If it wasn’t Swing from the Big Band area, then it had to be something like Blues or Rhythm-and-Blues, something from a beat there, and the Blues, bluesy tunes. So you had to play the Blues. In order to make any kind of money playing music around the Dallas area and Texas, you had to play the Blues. T-Bone Walker was from Dallas, and I would play gigs and go on gigs. Whenever T-Bone would come through town, I would go on gigs, because Buster Smith usually put bands together to back up T-Bone. Lowell Fulsom lived in Fort Worth, and I’d work with him.
TP: Would you go out with them or just play gigs?
DN: I would go out. My first outing from Dallas was with a piano player named Lloyd Glenn, who had a hit record out called “Chickaboo.” They would have packages on the shows. It would be Lloyd Glenn’s band, Big Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker, Lowell Fulsom, and I was playing with Lloyd Glenn. That was my first outing other than going out backing up T-Bone Walker playing in Buster’s band. But my first outing on the road professionally was with Lloyd Glenn.
TP: Tell me a little bit about Buster Smith, the master of riff arranging. How did you come to meet him?
DN: Well, Buster was well-known. Buster had left Dallas, and he was living in Kansas City. He’d played in the Blue Devils, which was from Oklahoma City, and then with Bennie Moten, and then Basie, and then came back to Texas for various reasons in the ’40s. He was very good arranger and he had control of the alto saxophone. His execution was very good. He was very fast. This is how Bird came to listen. When Bird was very young and later when he was playing with Jay McShann, he’d come over to hear Buster play, because Buster was really getting over the instrument. Buster was a main influence on Charlie Parker more than most people realize.
TP: What were your personal experiences with Buster Smith?
DN: I played many engagements with Buster. He was a very gifted musician. I think he was a self-taught musician. He had perfect pitch. We’d ride up and down the road, and Buster would just sit in the car with his cigar in his mouth. He wasn’t a drinker; he just had a cigar. As a matter of fact, they used to call Buster “Prof,” short for Professor, because he had this air about him, as this very well-educated professor. But he taught himself music, really, and he had this wonderful gift. He could arrange and write without being around any kind of instrument at all from having perfect pitch. I learned so much from Buster.
TP: I don’t know if you recall this from our last encounter, but I showed you a transcript of an interview Buster Smith did for the Oral History Project at the Institute of Jazz Studies, and he said that he had a sextet with you and Leroy Cooper, and that Ray Charles used that band in the very early Fifties, and that was your first encounter with him.
DN: That’s true. Leroy Cooper and I were both from Dallas, and Leroy had been to the Army and was back. When I came to Lincoln High School, Leroy had graduated and was going to a college called Sam Houston, and from there he went to the Army. Buster had a small combo together. He usually kept a big band, but for putting together bands for the road or when people like Ray Charles would come through, Buster would put together these little small groups, and that’s how Leroy Cooper and I came to playing together. Leroy and I also played together behind a guitarist called Zuzu Bollin, who had a record out called “Why Don’t You Eat Where You Slept Last Night” that Leroy and I played on. Yeah, we played on this record, “Why Don’t You Eat Where You Slept Last Night.” Then after that, Leroy left and went out with Ernie Fields’ Big Band, and when he came back… See, Leroy was playing alto. He was originally an alto player. But when he went out with Ernie Fields, Ernie Fields needed a baritone player, and Leroy started playing baritone. When he came back from Ernie Fields’ band, he was playing the baritone. When he was playing alto, he just literally ripped the keys off the alto because he was so fast.
TP: But do you recall the specifics of the linkup between Buster Smith and Ray Charles?
DN: Well, Buster was probably recommended to Ray. Because Ray needed a band to back him up when he came through, and Buster was the man around Dallas. I don’t know what the connection was, who brought them together, but Buster was probably recommended.
TP: What was Ray Charles’ style like at that time insofar as you mentioned.
DN: He sang like Nat Cole, T-Bone Walker, Charles Brown. He hadn’t found his own identity yet; he was still searching. He could sound like probably anyone, but his favorite people were people like Nat Cole, Charles Brown, T-Bone Walker.
TP: I’ll ask Hank Crawford now to talk about your college experiences and your beginnings as a professional musician, which were in college, but entering the fray from that.
HC: Well, as I think about it, there was a route of, say, Memphis, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, that most road bands were covering at that time. They all came through Memphis, and they used to play at places like the Palace Theater, amateur shows (we called them midnight rambles). There was the Hippodrome, and there was Club Handy which was at that time in Mitchell’s Hotel. They would all come through Memphis. We didn’t have to really go too far to see these people. That was one of the good things about that era. We got a chance to see a lot of the people that we later got to know. A lot of singers would come through town, like Percy Mayfield, but instrumentalists, too. We got a chance to see these people. Sometimes they’d come through maybe with not the full band and pick up locals, and we would always be the ones that would play for these certain entertainers, whether it be… Really, man, it was an era of everything going on. You had tap dancers, comics, shake dancers — shows. We played shows.
TP: And you’d play the whole show.
HC: the whole show.
TP: You’d be playing for the shake dancer, for the tap dancer, for the singer, for the comedians act.
HC: Yeah, for all of it, before the Apollo even entered my mind, you know. That all was happening. It’s a long story; I could think of a million things. But that was part of it in Memphis, among a whole lot of other things. When I left Memphis…
TP: When did you first go out on the road? Do you recollect?
HC: Really, really go out on the road?
TP: Was that at that time, or after?
HC: Most of that time I was basically in Memphis. When I went to Tennessee State, I formed a little group called the Jazz Gents, and we would play locally, and as far as we would get would be Louisville, Kentucky, at the Top Hat, and then we’d get up to Buffalo at the Pine Grill. This was all while I was still in school, so we’d go out during the summer months and play for the summer, that southern route, New Orleans, St. Louis and stuff like that. I was basically a student most of the time, but I had a chance to meet all of these people, because they would come in the locale that we were all based, really.
I had some great teachers at Tennessee State. W.O. Smith was one of my instructors; he’s a bass player who was on the original recording of Coleman Hawkins’ “Body and Soul.” Frank T. Greer was my band director, when Florida A&M and Tennessee State started doing the “hundred steps, 8 to 5…”
TP: Oh, that’s when they started that?
HC: Yes. When that started, FAMU and Tennessee State, you’d just be running down the field almost. Anciel Francisco was my reed teacher. I didn’t start studying saxophones and clarinets and reeds until I got in college.
I played around Nashville, and I met a lot of people. I met Roland Kirk in Nashville, and Leon Thomas, and man, you could go on and on.
But really, I guess my big real-real going out on the road was when Brother Ray came.
TP: Let’s talk about how that happened, for about only the three hundredth time you’ve told the story.
HC: Well, I was still in school, and like I say, I’d heard Ray — “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” and “Drowning In My Own Tears” were some of the first things I heard. I remember I heard something about David. One of the first things I heard him play was the solo he did on “Ain’t That Love.” It knocked me out, man. Actually, I had a couple of buddies who had already joined Ray’s band. There was a trumpet player, John Hunt, and a drummer, Milt Turner, both from Nashville. Anyway, Ray came through Nashville. I think Leroy Cooper, “the Hog,” he had taken a leave of absence, and he was out for a minute, and they suggested to Ray that I would be the person to play that part. I never played baritone in my life. Never. You know, just around the band-rooms fooling around with the instrument.
DN: I took the same route. I came in the band playing baritone.
TP: Well, I think music before it was anything else was functional for you. This was how you were earning your livings basically from the age of 14-15-16 years old.
HC: Yeah, from day one. I never did anything else.
DN: We were both reed players, so we played the reeds.
HC: I happened to be the Student Director on campus. I had a big band at Tennessee State; I was fronting the campus band, a 16-piece band — I was writing then. I was impressed by the sound of Ray’s small band. Actually, in Memphis, we always had eight pieces, and always had that kind of Gospel type of sound. So I kind of knew the feeling. But getting into Ray’s band, it just made it much more better, because I fell into the same kind of groove that I had been raised up with.
So anyway, I went down, didn’t even audition. I don’t think we had a rehearsal that day, because it was just quick notice. I went to the campus band-room, I talked Mr. Greer out of the baritone, told him what it was for, so he agreed, and I took it down to the Club Baron where they were playing. I sat in and played the gig that night, and that was the end of that. Three months later, I got a call from R.C. — or his manager, Jeff Brown at the time — and he asked me if I wanted the job.
I never thought I’d stay as long as I did. I was glad, because I felt the music, and worked a lot, and saw the world. Ray was getting into his thing. He was really beginning to blossom at that time. The period that I’m talking about, when I joined the band…
TP: Do you mean blossom musically or blossom in terms of the breadth of his audience?
HC: The fans. He was really going… I got in the band at a great period, man. I really came in the band at a great period.
TP: Let’s hold that, and I’ll talk to David about his route to Ray Charles so you can catch up to each other on the time line.
DN: Well, I met Ray in ’51, when he was featured with Lowell Fulsom, singing and playing. He had recorded a few singles, and he said that he was going to get his own band. We became friends right away, and I asked him, when he formed his own band to let me know, and that I would love to come play with him. And sure enough, he called me when he formed his band in ’54. We’d played together in ’52 when he was touring around, and we played with Buster, backing him. But when he formed his band in ’54, he called me, and I stayed with the band until 1964.
TP: How did the band evolve from ’54 until Hank joined?
DN: Well, the band just blossomed right away. I started out playing baritone, and Donald Wilkerson was on the tenor. There was a trumpet player from Houston by the name of Joseph Bridgewater, and he knew John Hunt, and Ray needed a second trumpet, so Joseph Bridgewater called John Hunt into the band, and John Hunt in turn called Milt Turner from the band, who was from Nashville. That was the Nashville connection. Then we came through Nashville and there were already musicians in the band who knew Hank, so that was the connection.
But I stayed with Ray from ’54 to ’64, then by ’66 I came to New York and first played some gigs with Kenny Dorham and then later played a few gigs with Lee Morgan and did a couple of recordings with him.
TP: Now, you switched to tenor while you were in the band, and it seemed like that was a great meeting of the minds and ears when you started playing tenor with Ray Charles.
DN: Donald Wilkerson left the band for a minute. Now, the tenor player was getting all the solos. During all my time playing baritone I think I got one solo, and that was a tune called “Greenback Dollar Bill.” I took a solo on that, because that was my one and only solo. I wanted to stretch out, so I asked Ray could I take the tenor chair. He didn’t have any particular tenor player in mind, so he said yeah, if I could get a tenor saxophone. So I went out and got myself a tenor saxophone, and from that time on I started playing the tenor. I had never played tenor before. I had played baritone and alto, but not tenor.
TP: How was the switch for you? Natural, I would assume.
DN: Oh, it was natural. I was just eager to make the switch anyway, and I was eager to play. I knew the book pretty well anyway; it was just a matter of switching from an E-flat to a B-flat instrument.
TP: How do you see the differences between the two? Are they different voices for you the way you play now.
DN: I have a different approach on each instrument. Whatever instrument I pick up, I tend to have a different approach. It’s a different flow; I just feel them differently. I can’t say exactly what it is. I just know that I have a different voice on each one.
TP: Now, you came in as the baritone player. Was Ray Charles playing alto and piano in the years before Hank joined?
DN: When we’d begin, the first half-hour or so before Ray would come in to do his singing and performing on piano, we would play these five-horn jazz arrangements Ray had written, and Ray would play the alto part.
TP: Then Hank eventually took the alto chair. Clarify that for me.
HC: See, I went in the band in ’58, and I played baritone 1958 to 1960, for two years. I didn’t think I was going to be playing baritone that long, but for some reason Leroy didn’t come right back — it was a period of two years.
TP: Did you get a solo?
HC: Yeah. In fact, I was playing baritone on Ray Charles At Newport, but I was called Bennie, my real name. A lot of people ask me, “Now, who is Bennie Crawford? Whatever happened to him?” I say, “Well, he’s still around.” Anyway, I played for two years on baritone. And like Newman was saying, I was shocked. One night, however it happened, here comes Ray Charles with his alto saxophone… See, that was one of the good things about that band, too. It was educational, because everything we did was on paper. We did a few head things, but even they sounded like arrangements. We were just that kind of band. In 1960 Ray graduated from the small band. He had big band eyes. I think that’s when he did “Let The Good Times Roll” and that big thing, which is on The Genius, one of my favorites.
DN: Excuse me, but Hank played baritone when Ray Charles presented me to Atlantic and we did Ray Charles Presents. He had solos on that and he did some of the arranging.
TP: I was about to ask Hank about your arranging activities with the Ray Charles and the dynamics of it, the type of feeling you were trying to convey and what he was asking you to do.
HC: When I joined the band with Ray, that was an avenue for me to do a lot of things. Like I said, I had been writing for small bands a little bit in Memphis. To be honest about it, Ray and I kind of clicked right away. We became section buddies and we always communicated, and I think he might have had something with me, because I even got the job as music director when Ray got the big band. I was directing the small band. Even in the small band, when I was playing baritone, when Ray was not on the bandstand, that’s the first time that we introduced the electric piano. There’s only two people I know who were playing electric piano at that time, and that was Joe Zawinul with Cannonball and Ray Charles. Ray liked the sound. I remember he bought a blond Wurlitzer. I got a chance to kind of use my piano chops, because Ray wasn’t on the bandstand, so we only had bass and drums.
TP: You play piano on a couple of the albums that are on the CD.
HC: Whatever I could do on it, you know. [LAUGHS] When through whatever channels things went through, I was asked if I wanted to take the job as music director, naturally I agreed, because I just dug the whole scene. And I kept that post for three years. That’s when I got a chance to do a lot of writing. I did most of the writing in the small band.
But back to your point. As the thing grew, Ray started playing alto and he started writing more charts for the small band, which featured him a lot on alto. And he was quite a fine alto player.
TP: Who were some of the influences for you and Ray Charles as arrangers?
HC: Well, I liked Quincy, Ernie Wilkins, Frank Foster…
TP: So the Basie-Dizzy Gillespie type charts of the mid-Fifties when you were in school.
HC: Yeah, and the Ellington things.
TP: Had you taken those apart and analyzed them and studied them in a really exhaustive way, or were you just taking a little bit from here and a little bit from there and applying it as appropriate?
HC: I would take a little bit from each arranger. But basically, I was sort of being myself. I think even after listening to all the saxophone players that we talked about, I found my own voice. Even when I play now, I try to play like Hank, but you will find yourself playing a bit of this guy and a bit of that. I’ve always been a melodic player, I’ve played in all sets, but like I said, I found my voice. And being in Ray’s band is such a long story, but it was quite an experience. I went to alto when the big band was organized.
TP: You were playing together how many nights a year during that time? 250? 300?
HC: Oh, man, we were busy. We played the theater circuit, dance halls, clubs, whatever. It was something else.
TP: That gives the band the type of tightness that you can’t get in any other way, doesn’t it.
HC: And the thing, too, about it, there were some great musicians in the band. There was Fathead, Cooper, Marcus Belgrave, John Hunt, and there later came to be Bruno Carr and Philip Guilbeau — and all of these guys were dynamite players. So it was a learning experience. We all had knowledge of music, and we could play together well. Whether we were playing outside or inside, whatever we played, the musicianship was so good that it happened automatically. So everybody felt comfortable even in that setting, whatever we played.
Before Ray, I guess the band that really knocked me as a small unit was James Moody’s Octet. Even before I went into RC’s band, Moody did some of the first small band records that I heard, and I loved the sound of Moody with an octet. I’ve always loved the sound of a band.
TP: That’s the sound you put on the recent record, Tight, five horns and rhythm.
HC: I’ve always used horns on my records, except for a few I’ve used just a quartet. I like the sound, and when I joined RC I studied his formula for it, how he’d take tenor, alto and baritone and two trumpets to come out sounding like a big band. I found out there wasn’t that much really involved. It’s basically I, III, V, VII and IX. I don’t think we ever played anything in that small band that had anything above a IX chord in it.
TP: David, I think Hank’s looking at you to answer a question.
DN: What’s that?
HC: I was just talking about the simplicity of the music we played, and how it wasn’t complex, but it came off as the sound of a big band. I was just saying I don’t think we ever played anything chord-wise in terms of the structure of a horn that was over I-III-V-VII-IX. We didn’t get into the flatted chords and extensions. Everything was basic.
DN: With the five-horn arrangements and two trumpets, it really gave the sound effect of a big band, because of the brassy sound. Ray preferred two trumpets to trombone. His voicing for the five horns was very unique.
HC: It’s like a vocal group. You have soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass. Those are your five major voices. Anything over that, you’re doubling. When you get into IX or XI, you’re only doubling the third or whatever you played before. When you take a VII-chord, man, and it’s voiced right, five horns can sound like ten. It’s when it’s distorted that makes it sound less.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
TP: Hank, the first time you met David?
HC: Actually, it was in Nashville when I joined the band for that one night. The band bus pulled up in front of Brown’s Hotel. At that time it was called a Wiener. Red-and-white, long airport style. I was standing outside, and they pulled up, and I remember David getting out with this grin on his face. I’d heard him, as I said. He kind of bowed and nodded at me, and I nodded back. I’m meeting David, you know. It was just that simple. That was the first time I actually saw him.
TP: David, let’s talk about some of the productions on the record, inasmuch as you remember, starting with the first one, Ray Charles Presents David Newman. First, how much input did you have into the material on these records. Do you feel that these are a good expression of who you were in that period.
DN: Well, yes. My only tune on here was a tune called “Fathead,” and that was my contribution to the arrangements. Hank Crawford knew Paul Mitchell from Atlanta, and he introduced me to the tune “Hard Times,” which he arranged. Hank also arranged “Bill For Bennie,” and “Sweet Eyes” and “Weird Beard.” Ray’s arranged “Mean To Me” and “Willow Weep For Me.”
TP: Did this record evolve organically out of things you were doing in the band, plus your own interests? Also, how were the records set up in terms of choosing material, personnel and so forth?
DN: I had no idea that I was going to become an Atlantic recording artist. Ray had just said that he was going to feature me. I really didn’t know that he would be presenting me as such, and that I was going to become an Atlantic artist myself. Because Ray was recording for Atlantic. I just thought we were really doing an instrumental, and Ray was just going to feature me. But what he did is, he set it up. It was called Ray Charles Presents Fathead. It was like setting me up. And hence, from that recording on, I became an Atlantic artist, and I signed a contract then.
We did some of these tunes when we were on the road playing. Like I say, Hank had introduced “Hard Times” to me. I thought it was a helluva tune when he first played it, and I immediately asked him where he’d gotten it. Then when Ray said this was going to be my introduction and he was going to present me on this recording, we started to think about tunes that we could play. So Ray did the arranging on “Mean To Me,” he spent a lot of time on that, and then “Willow Weep For Me.” Then Hank arranged most of the other compositions that we played, like “Tin Tin Deo” and “Hard Times”…
TP: What do you remember about Straight Ahead, with the slick New York rhythm section?
DN: Oh, Straight Ahead was a wonderful date, because I particularly wanted to record with Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers, I knew Charlie Persip, and I asked him how he felt about playing with Wynton and Paul, and he said that he would love it because he’d never recorded with them before. It turned out to be a wonderful date for me. It was the first time I’d recorded on the flute.
TP: Does this reflect what you were able to do on the set with Ray Charles before he would come out? You’d be playing Jazz for two-three-four tunes, and then the show would start?
DN: On Fathead, not Straight Ahead. Straight Ahead was later on, a separate thing. Because I had been spending time living in New York when I did Straight Ahead. In fact, I wasn’t even in Ray’s band at all when I recorded Straight Ahead. That was done around ’65 or ’66. [THIS IS INCORRECT] I was still playing with Ray when I did Fathead Comes On. That was the second recording.
TP: I know you probably want to get out of the Atlantics and talk about recent things you’ve done. You did two very strong records with Herbie Mann, a former Atlantic recording artist, and his now-defunct Kokopelli label, both with strings, a smaller group on Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool, and then more lush arrangements on Under A Woodstock Moon.
DN: Bob Friedman did the arranging on Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool , which was a tribute to Duke, with all Duke Ellington tunes. Bob had played baritone for a brief spell with the Duke Ellington band and was familiar with the Ellington compositions. I think the original concept about doing a tribute to Duke came from Herbie Mann.
TP: Was it all material that was meaningful to you as a young musician?
DN: Some of it was, and then some of the tunes, like “Azure” and “Almost Cried,” even at the time I started to work on the project. My parents had all of the records by the swing bands of the Big Band era like Ellington and Armstrong. Johnny Hodges was one of my favorite alto players, and I’d listen to him play “Jeep’s Blues,” a tune that I always loved, “Don’t Get Around Much Any More.” I had heard “Prelude To A Kiss,” but I’d never played it before.
The second recording, which was Under A Woodstock Moon, was my outing as a producer. I always wanted to do strings, and I’d had strings on an album entitled Bigger and Better for Atlantic, with Bill Fischer arranging in the late Sixties. Kokopelli couldn’t afford to do a whole string section, so we did a string ensemble thing with a string quartet, which was as much as they would allow me to do. Bob Friedman did the arrangements. I had just moved to Woodstock, and this was a tribute to Mother Nature. One of my compositions was “Under A Woodstock Moon” and another called “Amandla.”
TP: It’s a very mellow, melodic record, with a lot of variety of color and texture.
DN: The other tunes were a tribute to Nature, like “Up Jumped Spring,” “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most,” “Autumn In New York,” and “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.” I have another composition on there called “Amandla,” which is an African name for freedom.
TP: Let me ask you one or two things that the editor wants me to ask you. What do you think was the impact of the Ray Charles Band you were in on contemporary music, in terms of the way the grooves and the feeling has permeated it?
DN: I don’t know about the impact. I would say that there is definitely an influence on the music from the Ray Charles feel and what was happening musically with Ray. Ray Charles certainly influenced my playing and Hank’s playing jazz-wise and in terms of music as a whole. Ray gave us a lesson in music appreciation. Before my encounter with Ray, I really didn’t have any kind of concept about music appreciation. I only liked to play jazz and bebop. That was my only real love. But after meeting Ray and playing with Ray, I learned how to appreciate all other forms of music also, like the Blues, Spirituals, Gospel, and even Country-and-Western.
TP: To play the whole range of music with conviction and soul.
DN: Right. And to have the respect and to really admire and to love the music. So it was a lesson in music appreciation that I think we got from Ray. I don’t know about the impact, but there was definitely an impact.
TP: That’s a beautiful answer. You’ve really stretched out a lot on your recent recordings, taken chances, worked with progressive musicians. Is that your true heart in the music?
DN: Well, yes. Because this music is a gift, it’s an incredible gift. What happens is the music doesn’t really come from me or from us; this music comes through us. So I want to explore what I can do in all the different areas of music. I don’t necessarily want to stick to a certain form insofar as the music goes. I want to expand my mind and expand the music as it comes through me and as I feel it. I really like to bridge the generations, so to speak, when it comes to the music that I’m playing, because this music is moving as the time moves on, but we still have these feelings about music. So I want to explore and to play in other areas, even see how my music fits into the Rap situation — I mean, poetically. I don’t really see anything wrong with Rap. It’s just the content in Rap that’s a little offensive sometimes. But the Rap music itself is really an extension of the music, coming from Louis Armstrong.
TP: Do they use samples of your solos ever that you know about?
DN: Not that I’ve heard. Nothing that I’ve heard so far. But I’ve become interested in this, just listening. I was listening to Quincy Jones speak the other day about the music. Jesse Jackson asked him why would he be interested in Rap, and Quincy said the same thing, that the music comes not from him, but through him. That’s the same way I feel about this music. It comes through me, and what you do is, you put your particular touch onto the music and what you feel. You put your stamp on it, your feeling, let the music come through you and see what comes out. You can’t close yourself off from the different forms of music as music moves on.
TP: You also have access to so many sounds and colors from being a multi-instrumentalist. How do you keep your chops up on all the instruments?
DN: Well, I manage to keep my chops up, especially since I have moved to Woodstock now. I get a chance to work on the different instruments. I still have a soprano, I have an alto and a tenor and my flute. I get quite a few calls to do studio work to record with various musicians, and I manage to stay halfway busy to keep myself going. Of course, I know that to keep my chops up and play, I have got to pick the instruments up and play them.
TP: People say it’s a struggle to keep one instrument up, and you’re keeping up four! You’re doing pretty good.
DN: Well, it’s a labor of love, that’s what it is. I love the music. I think I’ll always… It’s not about practicing, but I just pick up the instruments and play.
TP: Equipment from David Newman.
DN: I have a Selmer alto. My mouthpiece is a hard rubber Otto Link. I used to play the Meyer mouthpiece, but now I have Otto Link hard rubber.
DN: I like the Otto Link hard rubber mouthpiece. I don’t play the metal mouthpiece any more, because I have dentures now, and I’m a little more flexible on the hard rubber. I like the Otto Link because I like the sound, especially the old Otto Links. I use that on my alto and my tenor. I have a Selmer soprano also, and I used a Meyer mouthpiece on the soprano. I have a Selmer Mark-VI tenor that was made in the ’60s. It was made in about ’60 or ’61, a very good time for Selmer tenors. Any of the Selmer saxophones made in less than 100,000 would be really good quality material that they were putting into the instruments. They still make very good instruments, but the newer instruments these days… That’s the reason why so many musicians try to get a Mark VI. The Mark VI was really one of the classic saxophones.
I have a Germeinhardt flute.
TP: Anything you want to say about why you use these instruments, or have you said your fill?
DN: Well, my first flute was…when I first became interested in the flute… We were traveling in Ray’s band, and we came through Orlando, Florida, and we had a few off-days. I passed by this pawn shop, and in this pawn shop they had two wooden ebony Haynes flutes, very good and expensive flutes. Some guy there who had played with the symphony had these instruments, and the pawnshop owner let me have it for little or nothing. He had a C-flute and an alto flute, and I think I gave the guy $25 for the C-flute, which had an E-flat trill on it. I should have bought the alto flute also. I brought this flute back, and the guys in the band asked me, “Do you know what you got there?” I said, “It’s a flute.” They said, “Man, you’ve got a Haynes wooden flute, and this is a very expensive instrument.” And I started teaching myself to play the flute, and listened to other flute players, particularly James Moody and Frank Wess, and I eventually started trying to get a sound on the flute. Rahsaan Roland Kirk and I, we both maybe started on the flute around the same time. I was a couple of years older than him, so I might have started earlier. Eventually, the flute was stolen from me, I lost it, and then I started playing other C-flutes, of course. But my first flute was a Haynes flute, and the flute I have now is a Gemeinhardt.
TP: David has left, and Hank and I are here together. A few words about the recordings on Memphis, Ray and A Touch Of Moody. What do you remember about More Soul, the first one you did?
HC: Actually, that was my first recording as a leader. I wrote some of the arrangements in Nashville, maybe a couple in Memphis, and the rest I wrote while I was in Ray’s small band. But we played these arrangements in Ray’s small band. We used to go 45 minutes or an hour before he would come on to sing — the band had it. When we recorded that, we were playing at the Apollo Theater, doing a show, and we finished the late show. We were doing five or six shows a day. We finished at about midnight, and we went directly to Atlantic Recording Studio. We got there I guess by 12:30, and we started recording at 1, and we didn’t stop until we’d completed it, which was 7 or 8 o’clock the following morning. Most of the musicians and the music we were playing in the small band of Ray Charles.
That’s when I got the opportunity to start writing, because after I had been in there for a while, R.C. found out I that I was doing some arranging and liked to write, so he just kind of hinted, said, “You know, if you want to do some writing…” Plus I found it a good place to be, because I was very interested and very much into writing and arranging, and being in that band, since he liked to write and I had written for bands that size… See, I was familiar with the size of that band. I just didn’t have the venues or the musicians to play the music. I was still young and hadn’t been that far. So that gave me an opportunity to write, when he found out I was writing a little bit.
TP: The writing started in high school for you.
HC: Yeah, I’ve been writing since then.
TP: There are two Moody tunes, “The Story” and “Boo’s Tune.”
HC: I did the arrangement on everything except “The Story,” which Ray Charles did. I told Ray I was doing the date and asked him if he would do a tune for me, and he did “The Story.”
TP: So Moody’s band was very influential in a lot of ways that aren’t well known.
HC: I loved him as a player and I liked the sound of the band. I think Johnny Acea was writing for that band at the time. I always loved the octet sound. Moody’s was one of the first bands I heard that small that really knocked me out. Of course, before that I was listening to Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five, which is just like five pieces. But Moody’s band was like an octet, and I loved the sound of the band.
TP: I have to tell you, when I listen to you I feel like I’m listening to the reincarnation of Earl Bostic, in a certain way, just in the way you approach a melody and the sound.
HC: Well, Earl was a power player. In fact, I play strong myself. I’m naturally a power player. That was the thing that I like about Earl, plus he was playing a lot of ballads and standard tunes. At that time, you know, I was hearing a lot of Bostic, so he was just automatically one of my first influences.
TP: And I’m sure it affected people when you played like that, just because of the way the sound is.
TP: Anyway, the second record, From The Heart, sounds more like what I’d expect to hear from you later, more range, lush textures and so forth.
HC: Well, From the Heart was completely mine. Nobody did any arrangements on that. At this time I had really found my way of writing. I was kind of comfortable with what I was doing on From The Heart. It was basically the same band, because I was still with Ray. But I was getting the opportunity to play these tunes before he would come out. Once I got the job as music director, he pretty much just gave it up, and gave it to me. So I used that, man, and I did a lot of writing, and the music got exposed because we were going everywhere, playing concerts. It just gave me a chance to expand on what I wanted to do earlier anyway, being in that group.
TP: Then there’s a strings album on this.
HC: Ah, yes. I asked to be recorded with strings, and I was surprised when I got a yes on it from Neshui Ertegun at Atlantic Records. He agreed, to my surprise, and asked me who did I want to do the arrangements, and I said Marty Paich. I had heard Marty Paich’s small band arrangements when he was writing for Shorty Rogers and Stan Kenton, the West Coast scene, and I liked the way he voiced the strings. I found out the secret; he used french horns with strings to get that real melancholy sound. So Neshui agreed, and we went to California to record the record. I selected all the tunes except one, which really turned out to be sort of a signature tune for me, which was “Whispering Grass.” Marty Paich suggested that.
TP: You have quite a memory.
HC: Oh yeah, I try to remember these things. I mean, it stayed with me, man, because it was such an experience. I heard Marty do a string session with Gloria Lynne, “I Wish You Love” and all those things, and I thought it was beautiful work. To be honest about it, when Ray wanted to do his first thing with strings, around the time of The Genius, by me being close to him, I suggested Marty Paich to him, and he used it.
I was with Ray Charles 24-7, because I was the music director. He would call me to come over to his house, and I would sit there all day and sometimes all night while he would dictate and I would notate. So I was always busy.
TP: So you have as much of an insight as anyone into the inner workings of his creative mind.
HC: Oh yeah. Well, after a while, he noticed how I was writing. He’s an individualist, you know; he’s the only one. Like, there are certain saxophone players, certain musicians there’s only one. Like, I haven’t found anybody that has my sound yet, and I don’t think David… We all have our distinctive sounds.
TP: That was the ethos of the time. Everybody had to have their sound when you were coming up.
HC: That’s the secret of survival in this business, is identity. You can play all of the notes, and there are a lot of musicians out there now, man, that can play — I mean, young and old. But nobody knows who they are. And people buy identity. You put on Miles Davis now, and automatically somebody goes, “That’s Miles.” Then you put on Dizzy, and they know him. But once they don’t know who you are, you don’t really sell. Like, Louis Armstrong; they know Pops. That’s what people buy. When they go into a record shop, they say, “I want this guy.” They’re not going there to listen to fifty other guys just to buy a record. They know basically who they want when they go in. So that’s what to me sells, is identity.
TP: David just came in to mention to make sure I mention that he and Ron Carter were the two senior cast members on the 2 CDs for Kansas City.
TP: Your comments on identity were a tangent from talking about Ray Charles. You said you were with him 24-7, and the type of insights that gave you into the way his mind works. Some general comments on his approach to music and the impact he had on you.
HC: Well, see, it was so real for me to be there, because being around him and his background… There’s only like a four year difference in age between us. So we are all from the same era, and we basically had the same experience with music, which was Gospel and the Blues and Jazz. We’re all from that era. So I heard the same things that he heard, and whoever was around at that time. It just so happened that when I joined Ray, that was a period when things were happening within that unit that eventually went to the Moon. Anyway, that’s what made it so easy for me to understand. Because when he would dictate to me, writing his own charts… See, he wrote his own charts; he just didn’t put them on paper. I was the one who was doing all the notating. So when he found out that I had a background in arranging and composing and voicing chords and stuff like that, after a while, he would come in and make his initial statement about what he wanted, and he would write it, and then he would say, “You got it.” So really I studied him. It was another teacher, but it was not that much difference in how we felt about the feeling of music, because we all had the same type of background.
TP: You were almost his alter-ego.
HC: Yeah. So I really understood where he was coming from. I studied that, and I found out that, hey, I have some of the same kind of thoughts about this music, which made it easier for he and I to relate.
TP: Is it harder for you to find people who have that sort of unspoken communication and empathy in the projects you do now?
HC: Yeah, because you don’t have the association with musicians like you had at that time. I mean, it was a community. The Jazz community was great. We were friends, man. We hung out together and studied together, broke a lot of bread together. We had venues to play. There aren’t any venues now like there used to be, and the community is divided. We don’t see each other as we once did.
TP: You don’t cross paths in the same way.
HC: Man, right here in New York City we used to walk down Broadway and go to 52nd Street or 50th Street, and stand right there on the corner — every day, 24 hours a day — and you would meet friends. And we didn’t only play together. We discussed music. That whole era was a learning period from everybody. But now, man you almost walk out like… You can’t find anybody. Everybody’s moved out or they just don’t come out any more. You know what I’m saying? There’s just not the community like it used to be. There’s no association, just, “Hey, how you doing, I’ll see you next time.”
TP: But how does that affect your performing or recording projects, or the way you deal with bands right now. I guess you have to dot a lot more i’s and cross a lot more t’s.
HC: I’m not one of the type of players that’s concerned a lot about changing with what’s in. No, I found my sound, and I think I’m going to stick to my guns. I think that’s what destroys a lot of players. Instead of being themselves, they try to be like others. And in this business, there’s only one of one. Like, there’s only one Bird, there’s only one Coltrane, and there’s only one whoever. But what happens with a lot of musicians, I think, they’ll be inspired by somebody when they are learning, and they grew up trying to play like that person.
TP: A lot of the young players. Because they don’t have so many places to play. They’re in school, and that’s the way they’re educated.
HC: That’s it, man. Like I said earlier, I’ve played in all settings, Jazz, Blues and everything. I’ve had an association with all kinds of music, man, and with some great people. I think I have established myself and my sound and what kind of player I am really, although I might play Jazz, I might play this, I might play that. Like I said, I approach the horn as a vocalist. I try to sing through the instrument, and play melodies, not a lot of technical things. I think if I would lose that identity that I’ve established myself and that people know me by, and go into something just for the sake of saying, “Well, I can do this just as well as that person,” I think I’d lose my identity. I could probably get away with trying to play some Coltrane for maybe a couple of tunes, and then your fans or your audience is going to say, “Hey, you’re trying to play like so-and-so; get back to yourself.”
TP: That raises a question. What you play on the surface is very simple, basic.
TP: Is it deceptively simple? How complex is it really to do what you do?
HC: For some people it’s hard. For me, playing simple is almost a natural.
TP: Because you’re a very sophisticated, educated musician.
HC: I’m sort of a romantic when it comes to it. The technical things… I’ve studied, man, and I can get off into some pretty hard Bebop. But that’s not just me naturally. I just play what I feel naturally. And I’ve been into some great sets with some great players, you know, but it ends up that I’m better being myself.
TP: George Coleman played all the notes.
HC: Yes, in all the keys! We studied that, too. I tried that. I said, “Well, you know, I can do a little bit of this, but that’s just not where I’m from; that’s just not me.” So I chose to do what I do best. Because if you’re going to survive in this business, man, you’ve got to have your own identity. Nobody’s going to come to listen to one of my concerts or gigs to hear me sound like somebody else. That’s the biggest mistake I can do, for somebody to come and pay $20 or $25 and come in the door, and here I am on the bandstand trying to be somebody else.
TP: Your name is your sound.
HC: Right. And once you lose that, I think you’ve destroyed everything. You can turn on the radio, man, and you can hear this trumpet player or this saxophone player, and man, they’re playing! But there’s something that don’t register with you if he doesn’t have a certain sound or play a certain style of phrasing. If you can’t recognize that in a player, then you’re just listening to somebody and all you can say about it is, “Ooh, who is that? He sure plays good!”
TP: Are there any good young players, saxophone or any instrument, who you think have a sound?
HC: Well, there’s a tenor player who’s young compared to a lot of people… I think Joshua Redman has his own sound.
TP: That’s probably why he’s so popular.
HC: That’s part of it. There are a few others; I can’t think of them now. But there are so many youngsters, man, that I hear and they sound good, they’re playing! But that’s what’s missing. And I’ll even go so far as to say this. As far as the man walking on the street, who knows nothing about music, but knows it when he hears it, and he knows whether the player is playing or jiving, or he knows when you’re playing wrong and when you’re playing right. All these people on the street, man, they know when you’re playing wrong and when you’re playing right.
There are so many players like… I just want to use a major influence on young musicians, and I mean nothing by this because I have a lot of respect for him. That’s Wynton Marsalis. What I’m going to say that is when I was talking about identity…
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
TP: Now you know it’s him when you hear him play.
HC: The man has all the facilities in the world. I mean, he’s a good trumpet player, he’s a good educator, he’s a good everything — I have to give it to him. But the average layman, I’ll bet you, man, 75 out of 100 would identify a Freddie Hubbard or a Dizzy or a Miles faster than they would identify Wynton — as far as identity. I mean, if you don’t really know, if you’re not a musician… And not only Wynton, but anybody. If you don’t really know him and know the techniques of playing because you are a musician or a good listener, you would not be able to identify this bad cat, whoever it is. It’s just like Count Basie. One note. You know the tag he plays, BOP-BOP-BOP? I can go the piano and do it (it’s only three fingers) you could do it, I could teach my kids, anybody. BOP-BOP-BOP, it’s all in one place. But nobody sounds like when Basie hits it. Same notes. But when Basie strikes it, there is something else that comes out of the note. You know what I mean? And Oscar Peterson or somebody like that can go right behind and play the same thing, and you know how great Oscar is, but Basie has a stamp. When he hits it, you automatically know it.
TP: Do drummers today get the tempos they were in the Fifties and Sixties?
HC: I like drummers. A drummer is very important to me. Because everything I play is basically to the root. I don’t go outside too much. A lot of musicians find that hard to do. The simplest things can be the hardest sometimes.
TP: The more you know, the harder it is not to go into everything that you know.
HC: Right, man. The drummer is very important. You’ve got to learn how to be able to do what’s necessary for you to do in playing in a band. In the drummer’s case, it might be necessary for him to just keep time. It’s not necessary for him to play a solo. Or anybody in there, but especially drummers. Some guys felt like that was not enough just to keep time and complement the man out front, the front line. It was a drag to a lot of people just to keep time until you get that give-the-drummer-some, that one solo a night. Otherwise, he’s playing time. And a lot of guys don’t like to do that because they like to do other things, but it’s not necessary for you to do nothing but keep time here — and that’s hard.
TP: And tune to the drum to the sound of the band…
HC: Right, and do that every night! Every note. It’s got to be this way every time you play it. Certain music. Certain music you just don’t explore on, man.
TP: I need your equipment.
HC: I’m just playing the Selmer Super-Action 80. That’s what I’m playing now. The mouthpiece is Barrett. It’s really like a stock mouthpiece. I never played anything other than stocks.
TP: What is it about the Selmer alto?
HC: It’s like the Rolls Royce of saxophones. You ain’t got a Selmer… It’s just like having a Cadillac or a Rolls Royce. It’s the king. It’s a good horn, and most professionals play it. There’s a lot of other horns, Bushes, Conns, all of them, but the Selmer is it for me. The body, it’s got good weight, feels good, and it responds. To me, it’s just the best horn.
TP: Hank has some thoughts on Fathead.
HC: Well, we go back to almost the beginning of my professional career, and we’ve been more than just musicians, section buddies. We have a little friendship. I respect him as a man, and we kind of have that respect as men — and I respect his playing. I broke a lot of bread with David. The thing I like about him is whatever he plays, for me, I can understand it, I can feel it, how he expresses himself. He’s just the kind of player that I like, and there are many others, but David is one that I had the experience of being around a lot, so I know him from A to Z! He’s a very soulful man, and he can play in almost every setting. I think that’s what we all learned coming up through that period. He’s just one of my favorites… He’s on most of my recordings. Every time I use a small band, I always use David. He has a beautiful sound, a warm sound, and he always finds the blue notes. He’s a stylist, and I think that’s true of most of the musicians from our era. We’re stylists. We all style whatever we play; we put our tag on it. That’s just the way it is. And I like all music, man. I’m not trying to put down anybody. I have respect for anybody who gets involved in the business because it’s so competitive. But when I hear a guy that can cross all bridges, and comfortable playing in each setting, that’s what I admire — and don’t feel guilty playing it.
I don’t feel guilty playing “Steel Guitar Rag” if I’m called to play it. You know what I mean? I heard that when I was coming up as a kid, man, at 6 o’clock in the morning. Down South, that’s the first thing you’d hear on your radio, is Country & Western and Gospel music. That’s what you wake up on, C&W and Gospel! I spent many days listening to Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow and all of those people. And we all liked it! Even Jazz musicians, they can’t say they didn’t grow up listening to these people. So I played it as a youngster, and I don’t feel offended by it. I just do my best in it. So it’s music to me. I don’t mind being square because I play this tune. In fact, it’s a blessing to be able to play in all the styles. That’s when your phone keeps ringing!
TP: Well, it’s like what David said about Ray Charles. He said it was like music appreciation. He learned to play with soul, from the heart in every different situation.
HC: Look at Cannonball, man. His biggest hits were Soul music, “Mercy, Mercy” and stuff. And Cannon was one of the greatest saxophone players in the world to me.