Pianist Junior Mance, a professional for some 70 years, who played with everyone, turns 88 today. I had the opportunity to host the maestro for a WKCR Musician Show in September 1991 — here’s the full transcript of our conversation. A lot of Chicago history contained herein.
Junior Mance Musician Show (WKCR, 9-18-91):
Q: Junior is from Evanston, Illinois and came up in the Chicago environment. I’d like to know a little bit about your beginnings on the piano.
JM: The very beginnings? Well, when I was five years old… We had this little upright in the house, and my father played for his own enjoyment, not professionally or anything like that, but when he would come home from work he’d sit down… That was during the days of stride piano. He even took lessons. And when he wasn’t around, I just started fooling around with it, until I got caught one day.
Q: What did they do to you?
JM: Nothing. He was flabbergasted! In fact, what floored him, I asked him if I could take piano lessons. That was later, though. I started formal training when I was eight.
Q: What did that consist of? You had a teacher and…
JM: I had a teacher, yes.
Q: So I take it that you picked up pretty quickly on the piano. You had a proficiency…
JM: I guess I did. I wanted to play the piano, you know. I used to hear him do things, then when I was home in the daytime I’d sneak over to the piano when my Mom was in another part of the house doing something.
Q: Were you listening to records then? Or was it primarily just through your records and practicing?
JM: There were records, yeah; you know, the 78’s. My father was an Art Tatum fan, as all piano players are, and he was a bigger Earl Hines fan. In fact, Earl Hines’ band back then used to work around Chicago quite a bit, they worked the Grand Terrace in Chicago — and they used to broadcast. This was before they made a lot of records, you know, or records were played over the air. But all the bands would broadcast live from wherever they played.
Q: And the Grand Terrace was a major center. All the bands who were in there would broadcast to the West Coast particularly.
JM: Yeah. And all through the Midwest. Fletcher Henderson and Earl Hines especially. Those were the two mainstays.
Q: So from a very early age you were hearing the best in piano, particularly the style of Chicago, the cross between the Blues piano thing, what Tatum and Earl Hines were doing, and the Big Band sound as well.
Q: Did you go to hear the bands in person, or were you too young?
JM: I was too young. Occasionally… A few years later they started coming to the Regal Theatre, which was like the counterpart of the Apollo Theatre here. They had shows every week, and usually a big band. I remember the first big band I heard in person was Duke Ellington at the Regal Theatre, and the next one was Count Basie, and my father took me backstage to meet Count Basie when I was about 10 years old.
Q: Then the bands went around by railroad, and Chicago was and still is the railroad center of the nation, the crossroads, so many of the bands would come through Chicago and stay for extended periods of time.
Q: When did you first start becoming active on the Chicago scene and do your first work for money? I won’t say professionally…
JM: Oh, when I was about 13 or 14.
Q: Tell us about those gigs. What was the nature of them?
JM: [LAUGHS] Actually, the first gigs, I remember there was this saxophone player who lived upstairs over us in Evanston. A good saxophone player. He never went out on his own; he always had a day gig. But he played very well. He played like Illinois Jacquet’s style, so he worked all the time; you know, the cat would come home from work… And he had a lot of gigs in what later became known as roadhouses, the places out on the highway that had a band, usually three pieces — saxophone, drums and piano. I don’t know why the basses were so absent then. They were around…
Q: Money, I guess.
JM: Yeah, I guess so. So I remember, oh, I guess I must have been somewhere between 10 and 13 — this guy’s piano player must have been sick and couldn’t make the gig. So he called everybody he could, and everybody was working, or else he couldn’t make the gig, you know — so he asked my father could he take me on the gig. And he was one of my father’s close friends, and my father trusted him, you know. So I went on the gig with him, and he taught me how to comp that night. A different style than what they do now, you know; it’s what they call (?)boonsen(?) — CHUNK-A, CHUNK-A, CHUNK-A-CHUN… That night he stuck to tunes, mostly Blues tunes or tunes with “I Got Rhythm” changes. And I was fascinated. So after that, whenever he was home, you know, I would bug him, like “Teach me some more of that!”
Q: And he would? He was forthcoming?
JM: Oh yeah, yeah. So then when I was about 13 or 14, I worked a lot of gigs with him, especially in the summertime, when I wasn’t in school.
Q: What was his name?
JM: His name was T.S. Mims.
Q: And was he playing mostly in Evanston, or…
JM: Well, the Chicago area. But strangely enough, not right on the Chicago scene, like where Jug was working or any of those places. This was mostly, like, out on the highway or out on the outskirts of town. And he was really a good player. He’s still alive. He’s in his eighties, around my father’s age now.
Q: Of course, Gene Ammons was the first musician with whom you first emerged on the national scene and did your first recordings. What were some of the events that led you from working with T.S. Mims on the various roadhouse gigs on the outskirts of Chicago to working and subsequently recording with Gene Ammons?
JM: Well, as time went on, you know, all the time I was in high school, I worked gigs myself. I would work with… Well, we would get gigs, guys my own age; we’d get, like, the school dances (which we got paid for; that’s why I consider that professional) and things like that. But I was working more in Chicago with a lot of Chicago musicians. I remember one guy when I was in my teens was George Freeman, who is still around, a guitar player, Von Freeman’s brother. I worked a lot of gigs with him.
Q: Were these mostly on the South Side?
JM: Right. Yeah, I did a long commute when I was young.
Q: That’s a long ride, straight down, north to south!
JM: Yeah, it was an hour each way. At that time. It’s shorter now, though, I think. Transportation is more modern now. I also met Leroy Jackson at that time.
Q: I can remember seeing him with George Freeman five or six years ago in Chicago as well, so that’s a partnership that’s lasted a long time, I guess.
JM: Yeah. And we had… Oh, man, there were so many good musicians around there that people never heard of. They just either faded away or got into bad habits that took them away, you know. I remember names like Elick Johnson, who was a tenor player. Oh, man, if he was around today, he would be, you know, right up there with the giants.
Q: He’s spoken of by many.
JM: Nicky Hill was another one.
Q: Again, what was the nature of these gigs? For instance, were they up on what was happening in modern music?
Q: Was everybody up on Charlie Parker in 1944 and 1945?
Q: Talk about how that music sort of came into the consciousness of the young Chicagoans.
JM: That was funny. I remember this was right after I graduated from high school. I was 16 at the time, and I was working a gig in Waukegan, Illinois, which is even north of Evanston — Jack Benny’s home town. So I was working there with a band that was pretty much an R&B band, but a good R&B band — it was really good. No names that you would know, but a pretty good one. And that was the type of gig we played, what they called floor shows in those days. We had like a tap dancer, a Blues singer, a shake dancer, etcetera. So one night during the week, business was kind of slow, and these two young guys came in and asked could they sit in. So the leader let them sit in. And it was a music I hadn’t heard before. But it, like, blew me away. I said “Wow!” I really dug it. And the two young guys…one guy, I don’t know if you ever heard the name Henry Prior…
Q: Who was nicknamed Hen-Pie, I believe.
JM: Hen-Pie, right. He was an alto player who sounded just like Bird, like Charlie Parker. And the other guy was a trumpet player named Robert Gay, they used to call Little Diz — which his name speaks for itself; he sounded exactly like Dizzy. These guys were around our age, too. They just wanted to go around and go out and play, and they didn’t care who they played with.
In the meantime, the band leader was telling me, “Man, don’t listen to that noise. That’s not music. That’s noise.” And I said, “Yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah, okay.” Next day, man…! [LAUGHS] We exchanged phone numbers. So that’s when I got into listening to records. I went and bought every Charlie Parker or Bud Powell record I could find! Which then, it was pretty well new in Chicago, too, but as they came out, word spread like wildfire among the musicians, like, of my generation: “Oh, there’s a new Bird record out.”
Q: One thing, though, is that Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were briefly with Earl Hines…
Q: …and then were raided by Billy Eckstine.
Q: And Earl Hines, of course, was based in Chicago, although I don’t know how often that band actually played. My impression is that was more of a touring band.
JM: Oh, no, they played. That band played in a club called the El Grotto, I think. That was their first (?).
Q: On 64th Street and Cottage Grove.
Q: But I take it you never got to hear that particular edition of Earl Hines’ band. That’s a very famous band, but it never recorded.
JM: No, I did get to hear them then. Then I was sneaking into clubs. In Chicago at that time they didn’t check ID’s like they did later.
Q: A sort of wide-open type of town.
JM: Right, heh-heh, like the TV show The Untouchables; most of it took place in Chicago!
Q: That aura remained indeed. But did you have sort of distinct impression that listening to them left on you at that time?
JM: Oh, man, do I! Yeah, they just blew me away. It was just a phenomenal band. It was the direction I wanted to go in music. If Earl Hines wasn’t the piano player, I would have begged for the gig in that band!
Q: [ETC.] What was your first contact with Gene Ammons, who again, you did your first recordings with?
JM: I left this R&B band in Waukegan that I was playing with shortly after that, and I started working with a big band in Chicago — this is while I was in college, too. The band was called Jimmy Dale. It was led by a guy named Harold Fox, who was a tailor who specialized in musicians’ uniforms and band uniforms. And Harold had the most fantastic band book of anybody. Because his way of doing business was he would trade the bandleaders a whole set of suits for their band in exchange to copy some of the charts. So we had a book which was about as thick as three or four New York phone directories! And we had everybody’s music. We had, oh, the Billy Eckstine band, the big band music, we had some of Dizzy’s stuff, we had a lot of Stan Kenton, some Duke, some Basie…
Q: How many pieces was this band?
JM: Oh, let me see. We had five trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones and three rhythm.
Q: Any names you’d care to bring up who performed…
JM: Well, Jug was in that band. Not always. This was after he made “Red Top.” But Jug was very fond of big bands, too, and this was a fantastic big band. And Gail Brockman, the legendary Gail Brockman, who was a trumpet player who was in Billy Eckstine’s band. This was a guy, oh, Dizzy and Miles and everybody looked up to him. Gail and Freddie Webster were like two people who never got their complete due, I think.
Q: Of course this had to have been after Jug had left, after Eckstine had disbanded…
JM: This was after Eckstine broke up. This was like 1946 and ’47. Lee Konitz was in the band. Gene Wright. Who else was in the band? Some of the names people won’t know. But everybody else in the band was just as good as they were, too. They just didn’t…as I said, didn’t get out. Hobart Dotson was another in the band.
Q: Of course, a legendary teacher in Chicago was the bandmaster at DuSable High School, Captain Walter Dyett, who might have produced half of those musicians…
JM: Oh, man, did he! Yeah. Well, Gene was one of Dyett’s disciples. Benny Green, the trombone player. Johnny Griffin, Nat Cole…
Q: All the Freemans.
JM: All the Freemans, right.
Q: Dorothy Donegan…
JM: Dorothy Donegan, mmm-hmm. Elick Johnson, the guy I mentioned, and a lot of others who played just as good but never, you know, made it out there.
Q: Anyway, this is how you really first encountered and got to know Gene Ammons, was with the Jimmy Dale band?
JM: Right. The first night that I was with the band, and Jug played the gig right after… In fact, Jug offered me the gig with him. And both of us, like, were in and out of the band. When Jug wasn’t working, we’d work with this big band, with Jimmy Dale.
Q: So things were very busy. Lots of things were going on in Chicago, and of every sort, really.
JM: It was, yeah. Those were the days, you know, when the New York musicians used to look forward to coming to Chicago. Because I remember with Jug, we had like a home gig in a place right next door to the Regal Theatre called the Congo Lounge. And the bands used to come in and… See, in those days the hours for working were like 10 to 4, and 10 to 5 on Friday and Saturday. And the Regal was like the Apollo; at about 11 o’clock at night the guys were off from work, and they’d all file down from the Congo, man. That’s where I met so many of the main musicians.
Q: Let’s talk about that after we hear a set of music featuring some of these Gene Ammons sides from the late 1940’s on which Junior Mance appears.
MUSIC: “Blowing The Family Jewels,” “When I Dream Of You,” “Pennies From Heaven,” “Cherokee.”
…that last was Sonny Stitt, from a series of tracks by Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons in the ’78 period, when the tracks were short and everything had to be very compressed. Do you feel that having come up through that has affected the way you play today?
JM: No, I was glad to get out of that. Because they kept constantly reminding you in the studio to keep it under three minutes, not go over three minutes. And they didn’t want three minutes. They wanted not over 2 minutes and 50 seconds at the most. Two and a half minutes was perfect for them!
Q: Well, many a masterpiece was created in that time, but I can certainly see your….
JM: Well, it was good in a way, because it really taught you, like, how to really say a lot in a short space of time.
Q: Not waste a note.
JM: And not waste a note. Exactly.
[END OF SIDE 1]
As far as employers go, Prez was probably one of the best. Sometimes we’d work a week, and not work for maybe the next three or four weeks. But Prez would take care of us, both Leroy and I, because both of us were about 19 at the time, and we were the only two in the band… Oh, and Jerry Elliott, the trombone player who was from Pittsburgh. We were the only three who weren’t from New York. The other guys had pads in New York or families there. And we all stayed in the same hotel where Prez stayed. And Prez took care of us. Prez saw to it that we ate every day and that we had spending money — and wouldn’t let us pay him back! He died with me owing him a lot of money. He just never would let us pay him back.
Q: What was it like being on the stand with Lester Young? Was it a similar format every night? Would he change it up all the time?
JM: As far as changing up, I guess he changed it up all the time. Because it wasn’t really like… He wasn’t a show-businessy type person. We’d get up there and it was almost like a session, like a group of guys get together and let’s play something, you know. And after a while, you forget who the leader is. And he’d play… He never played a lot of solos…I mean a lot of choruses. He’d play three or four choruses, and then maybe everybody played three or four, then take it out. Most of the bands then, people of the stature of Prez, weren’t based on charts or arrangements, unless you had a big band. Because of Prez’s reputation itself, people came there to hear Prez. They didn’t care what was around it, you know. So everybody got a chance to play.
And Prez had a philosophy about letting everybody play. When we went on the road, he would really let everybody stretch out. Because he said…I think one night he said… I don’t know, somebody didn’t want to solo on a certain tune or thought it was too long, and Prez said, “Look, I want everybody to play, because everybody might not like me, but they might like one of you.” After that, everybody played.
Q: A few words about Gene Ammons. When we were off-mike, you quoted a comment Frank Foster made about him.
JM: Well, Frank was talking Gene’s big sound and the way he swings. So Frank said, “One thing about Gene Ammons, he hit one note, and immediately the beat and swing would begin and the note would just fill up the whole room.” Which is true. Jug had a tone as big as ten saxophone players!
Q: What was it like going out with Jug in a small group at that time? You talked about him trying to establish his…
JM: Well, I joined the band after he made “Red Top,” which was his big hit; after Billy Eckstine’s band broke up and he recorded for Mercury, and “Red Top” was his big hit. And the band worked a lot. That was before I was with them. When I joined the band, “Red Top” was still popular, it was still his mainstay, but it was beginning to tail off a little bit. And he had a lot of other good Chicago hits. Because we worked a lot in Chicago. In fact, the union brought us up on charges, because one night we had five gigs…
Q: Oh, no!
JM: Yeah, heh-heh. And Jug’s car… One of them was in Gary, Indiana, the third gig, and the car broke down and we couldn’t get back to the fourth gig! So the club-owner took Jug to the union.
Q: How did it get resolved?
JM: They fined Jug $500. What saved us, we had a drummer at the time from Kansas City named Ellis Bartee, who was just out of the Lionel Hampton band. So we’re all sitting there, the whole band is down there, you know, and we figure we’re all going to get fined. So they ask each one of us, “Well, you guys know better. Why did you follow him in doing five gigs?” Now, that was a stupid question. If anybody offers me five gigs in one night and I think I can do it…
Q: Those are questions you’re not supposed to be able to answer.
JM: Yeah. So Ellis Bartee, who was very quick with it and he could come up with a quick answer, he just told them, he says, “Well, Mr. Gray…” Mr. Gray was the President, Harry Gray. He said, “Well, Mr. Gray, I’m just here from Kansas City. When I came here from Kansas City, all I saw was the name Gene Ammons all over everywhere, because he’s the most popular. So I just figured, well, that’s the man to be with. I didn’t know we weren’t supposed to work five gigs in a night.” But they all laughed, the rest of the boys laughed when he said, “All I saw was Gene Ammons. I figured, well, that’s the man to be with, and that’s who I wanted to be with — so I got the gig.” So that got us off the hook. That sort of made them laugh a little bit. But Gene got fined the $500. Plus I don’t know what happened between him and the promoter. The promoter lost money or had to refund a lot of money. They were all dances, five dances in one night!
Q: Were there a lot of dances in Chicago at that time?
JM: At that time, yeah. There was the Pershing Ballroom, the Parkway Ballroom, the Savoy was still going then, and even a lot of places on the West Side. One of the gigs we were supposed to do was on the West Side, the last gig was on the West Side. We never heard from that guy. He just kept quiet. I guess he found out what happened.
Q: One other person you worked with I’d like to ask you about is the young Sonny Stitt. Were you working with his small group, or was that “Cherokee” we heard just put together for the record?
JM: We were both with Jug at the time, and the record date came up, and he got Art Blakey to make the date.
Q: Of course, he was one of the great virtuosos on all of his instruments at that time, particularly alto and tenor.
JM: Right. Well, alto was his main instrument.
Q: What memories do you have of working with him?
JM: Well, Sonny used to come and sit in with us at the Congo, too. He spent a lot of time in Chicago. He lived there for a while. And he used to come and sit in with us almost every night. A lot of cats used to come into the Congo almost every night and just sit in with us.
Q: Out of the Regal Theatre, as you were saying.
JM: Yeah, but I mean even other than the Regal. A lot of the local cats who could really play. Ike Day was another one who used to come in.
Q: Tell us a little bit about Ike Day. He’s one of the legendary drummers…
Q: …who it’s commonly said Art Blakey would check him out, and Max Roach…
JM: Oh, everybody. Jo Jones gave him a set of drums. Ike was a genius, really, one of those young geniuses. I remember seeing Ike sit in with the Basie band when he was 16. He couldn’t read music. He played the book like he had been in the band all the time.
Q: He just had it.
JM: Just a natural. He had such a natural sense of anticipation, and hands that were just unbelievable, and could swing. And he was a teenager. He died very young. He was about 24 when he died.
Q: He had tuberculosis, I believe.
Q: He only made one recording, I believe, with Gene Ammons, and you can barely hear him on the recording…
JM: I wasn’t with him then. I didn’t know about that one. I think I heard something about it…
Q: Can you give us some idea of what his sound was like, an analogy to another drummer, or describe it in some way?
JM: I guess, now that I think back, he sounded a lot like Big Sid Catlett, who was always one of my favorites, too.
Q: And from Chicago as well.
JM: That I didn’t know.
Q: He studied with Jimmy Bertrand, one of the great show drummers in Chicago in the 1920’s.
JM: Yeah. Well, Big Sid was the drummer… That explains it, because most of the drummers in Chicago could do more than one style. They could do anything… Like, Big Sid played with Louis Armstrong, and then turned around and made a record with Dizzy and Bird, and it sounded like he belonged there on both.
Q: And plus, do the big band material as well…
Q: I guess he played with Fletcher Henderson at the Grand Terrace…
JM: That’s right, yeah.
Q: …amongst others. One person talking about Ike Day said that he had an incredible dynamic range, that he was very sensitive to sound and hearing the whole kit and using the whole kit.
JM: Yeah, he played with the whole band. He wasn’t just… You know, like some young teenage drummers, they want to stand out. No, Ike was a musician. Ike was a player.
Q: You referred to Art Tatum as probably your main influence on the piano.
JM: Everybody’s main influence! [LAUGHS]
Q: You’re going to hear a set of Art Tatum music. And you mentioned to me that “Elegy” was the…
JM: That’s one of my favorites, yeah.
Q: A few words?
JM: Well, the music speaks for itself on that. I just heard it, and it just blew me away. Because I had heard the Classical versions of it as well, and then when I heard Art Tatum’s version, I didn’t want to listen to the other versions any more.
[MUSIC: “Elegy” (Keystone Brdcst., 1938), “Fine and Dandy,”
“All The Things You Are”; Ahmad Jamal, “Raincheck,” “Poinciana”]
Q: You said that you used to work with Israel Crosby at a very famous club on 55th Street in Chicago called the Beehive. You were house pianist there for a while?
JM: House pianist, right.
Q: How long did that happen?
JM: Well, I was there for a little over a year. In fact, the day I got out of the Army I got home, and… I don’t know if this guy saw me on the street, but he heard that I was home, a drummer, a guy named Buddy Smith who is no longer with us. But Buddy had the gig there, and he had Israel on bass and myself.
Q: The Beehive at that time was one of the main places where people would come in from out of town and use the rhythm section.
JM: Right, exactly. That’s where I got to play with Bird for a month. They booked everybody for four weeks, which was great, too.
Q: Who were some of the people you played with there?
JM: Coleman Hawkins was the first one in there, and he was there twice during the time I was there. Charlie Parker I mentioned. Lester Young. That’s when I first met Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis; also he was there.
Q: As a solo?
JM: Yeah. That was long before the days with Griffin.
Q: I was wondering if that was around the time he was working with Basie.
JM: I think in between times. He had been with Basie, and then he was on his own, and then after that he went back with Basie again.
Q: What do you remember about working with Coleman Hawkins?
JM: Oh, it was wonderful. Basically, working with him it was pretty much the same approach to the music as working with Bird. Like, they both had this thing… They knew every standard in the world, you know, and they would call a standard, and if I knew it, I’d say, “Yeah, I know that. What key?” And both of them… Bird’s phrase was “Make it easy on yourself.” And Coleman said something to that same effect. He said “Wherever you want it.” It didn’t make any difference to them what key you played it in?
Q: Would Coleman Hawkins generally play the same repertoire every night or would he change it up?
JM: No, he’d change it up. He went through all the standards. Of course, he had to do his hits, you know, like “Body and Soul” — he couldn’t get away from that. “Body and Soul” and “Stuffy.”
Q: Would he play a set solo on “Body and Soul” or would he make it different every night?
JM: He played pretty much the solo he did on the record, yeah. Because people… The solo was as famous as the tune, because people could hum that solo along with him.
Q: Another musician who played at the Beehive was Wilbur Ware.
JM: Wilbur Ware, yes. After I left there, Wilbur worked there a lot. I forget…let’s see, what did Israel do after that? I think Israel joined Jamal after I left, and Wilbur probably came in then. Not immediately, though. I think Victor Sproles was there a little bit before Wilbur.
Q: Well, Israel Crosby, of course, is one of the great rhythm masters in the history of the bass.
JM: That’s right. He was years ahead of his time, too.
Q: Talk a little bit about him and what he did that made him so special.
JM: His lines, his bass lines, the notes that he would choose — the clever things he did to fill up spaces. It’s what a lot of the bass players are doing nowadays, which is like the thing to do now. But he did it… He was ahead of his time. He was somewhat like… Well, Prez was ahead of his time. That’s the way Israel was.
Q: And you’d probably heard him on records with Teddy Wilson.
JM: I’d heard him on records with Teddy Wilson. And Israel was getting on in years then. Israel had played with Fletcher Henderson’s band and Benny Goodman’s early band, so he wasn’t…
Q: A spring chicken.
JM: Yeah. But he was just so many years ahead of his time. And playing with him was such… You never knew what he was going to do, but he would do something that wouldn’t get in your way; in fact, it would enhance you. He was the kind of bass player, when you play with him he keeps a smile on your face. Because every time he does something, the piano player’s face would smile, you know!
Q: You’d just listen to him throughout the set and you’d be very happy.
JM: Wilbur Ware was like that, too. Wilbur Ware and I worked at a place on the South Side with Buddy Smith again, and Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. We must have worked there for a couple of years.
Q: What place was that?
JM: Cadillac Bob’s, I think it was called?
Q: On 71st Street, was it?
JM: Not that one. No, that’s the new one. This one was between… Right down the street from the Pershing. This is between 63rd and 64th on Cottage.
Q: Busy street.
JM: Oh, that was the thing. Man, that whole area was saturated with a lot of Jazz. The Ground Propeller, the Cotton Club, and all those clubs along 63rd.
Q: All of them had music.
Q: I heard one drummer tell the day he got out of the Army he started walking down 63rd Street, and it took him I think three days he said before he got…
JM: Yeah! [LAUGHS] Because there was so much good music, and it was all Jazz, say starting from about South Park all the way over to the lake practically.
Q: And that’s about a mile-and-a-half or two miles.
JM: At least, or two miles, yeah.
Q: A few words about playing with Charlie Parker. You did say that he’d play a lot of material and make it easy on you. I believe he played at the Beehive about a week or two weeks before he died.
JM: If he did, I wasn’t there then.
Q: What was happening the week that you worked with him? Was he in good form, in good health?
JM: Excellent form. I tell you, he kept me awake! Boy, there was just so much music, listening to it…
[ETC., THEN MUSIC BY JUNIOR: “Emily,” “Jubilation,” “Miss Otis Regrets,” “Yancey Special”]
Q: Next we’ll hear some sides recorded by Dinah Washington during your time with her. She was from Chicago originally? Did she go to DuSable? I’m not sure.
JM: I think she went to Wendell Phillips, the rival of DuSable. I think. I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure she did. I don’t think it was DuSable.
Q: At any rate, she had local fame in Chicago…
JM: Oh yeah.
Q: And she was a great church singer as well, in Chicago’s Ebeneezer Baptist Church.
Q: I guess Dinah first worked with Lionel Hampton.
Q: Lionel Hampton seemed to have picked up a lot of musicians out of Chicago.
JM: A lot of them to pick up!
Q: How did the gig with Dinah Washington happen for you?
JM: She just called me one day. Actually I was called to do a record date with her. That was the album that had “A Foggy Day” and “I Let a Song Go Out Of My Heart.” So after the date she asked me if… In fact, I was working at the Beehive at the time. And she offered me the gig. That’s when I left the Beehive.
Q: She must have been working quite a bit at that time.
JM: She was working a lot, she was paying good, and then you know, she lived in New York at the time, and it gave me a chance to…
Q: Get back there.
JM: Yeah. I wanted to be in New York a lot.
Q: That’s understandable. So it seems like you were going back and forth between New York and Chicago about half and half then, from the time you…
JM: Oh yeah. With the exception of the period between 1951 and 1953, when I was in the Army, I’d say between ’47 or ’48, when I was with Jug… I dropped out of Roosevelt after a year-and-a-half, because the gigs got heavy then — and I knew what I wanted to do, you know. Then I moved to New York permanently in ’56, when Cannonball formed his first group. Cannonball and I were in the Service together also.
Q: Where were you stationed?
JM: Fort Knox. Fort Knox, Kentucky. Cannonball and Nat. Curtis Fuller was there for a while, too.
Q: It must have been quite an Army band.
JM: Oh, it was, yeah. Yeah, we had a ball.
Q: Did you play a lot during those couple of years?
JM: Yeah, I did. I wasn’t supposed to be in the band, being a piano player. But Cannonball pulled some strings and got me into the band as a typist. [LAUGHS] I knew how to type, and they needed one to do the administrative work for the band, so on a technicality I got in.
Q: Was there a piano on the base?
JM: Oh yeah! Well, there were three bands there, the 36th Army band, the 3rd Armored Division band, and the 158th Army Band. But see, to get in an Army band, the piano player has to be someone who can also play a marching instrument. And I couldn’t play a marching instrument, although they tried to teach me! One day they gave me a bass drum, and said, “Okay, Mance, try to play this.” It wasn’t a long march I had to do. This basic training company was coming in at the end of their training; they were coming out of the woods, out of bivouac. So to give them a little spirit, you know, we’d meet maybe a distance equal to about five or six blocks before they got to the barracks, about a half-mile, say, and we were supposed to play for them. So where we had to meet them was at the bottom of a hill, and I had the bass drum on a windy day! So we’re going up the hill, and if you can imagine this, this would be how the beat of the drum went: BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM..BOOM..BOOM…BOOM… So between the wind and not knowing what I was doing on this bass drum, the tempo got slower and slower. So one of the snare drummers, another cymbal player, ran over and said, “Mance, you’re gonna have the guys crawling, man. They’re tired already and we’re going up this hill. Give me the bass drum; you take these cymbals.” I said, “What am I supposed to do with these?” “Just hit ’em.” He didn’t tell me how because he didn’t have time. So I didn’t know, man. I just reared back and got a good lick and went, “WHAM!” Anyway, you saw guys scattering everywhere getting out of our way. They didn’t know what that noise! [LAUGHING] So then the band director told me, “Mance, just carry them under your arm!” So that was the only time…
Q: Back to typing.
JM: Yeah. The band always played for the Kentucky Derby every year, too, in Louisville — twice I went to that. But I had to have an out to get there, so I had to be in the marching band. So they let me carry the cymbals under my arm both times! And once we got inside Churchill Downs, I was on my own then.
Q: I hope you won some money.
JM: You know what? I made one bet on something like the second race or something like that, and won enough to, like, really hang out the rest of the day at the Derby. It wasn’t a lot, something like $40 or something, but in the Army back then… This was 1951 or so, and…
Q: That was good money then. A week’s salary.
JM: Right! So I had a ball. I didn’t bet no more after that. I just tasted, and looked around and watched the races and hung out. You know, there’s a lot to do at Churchill Downs rather than just sitting there and watching the races. It was a nice outing.
Q: Well, let’s hear some of these Dinah Washington sides. We’re going to start with “Our Love Is Here To Stay” from In The Land Of Hi-Fi, Dinah Washington with Hal Mooney and His Orchestra, featuring Cannonball Adderly and Junior Mance, arrangements by Hal Mooney. Then we’ll hear something from the famous session Dinah’s Jam, which you were telling a story about — Dinah brought in a bunch of hard-core fans.
JM: Right. She had it catered. She invited about fifty of her closest friends, who were like real Jazz fans, not just people who liked the music. And there was a Who’s Who musicians there. So she had it catered, and what happened was we would play and… And it was in the studio. It was a live date, but in the studio. During the playback after each tune, while we were listening, people would help themselves to drinks and food, it was buffet style, and the drinks put them in a good mood… And it was really one of best record dates ever made, as far as enjoyment. There were no pressures, nothing was rehearsed. Most of the stuff on there is like first take. And the audience was just enthusiastic. Fifty people sounded like five thousand. It was just a small studio, but they were really into it.
[MUSIC: Dinah Washington: “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” “You Go To My Head.” Teddy Wilson/Sarah: “When We’re Alone,” Teddy Wilson, “I’ve Got The World On A String,” “Fine and Dandy.”
Q: Teddy Wilson, as you mentioned at the top of the show, is one of your very earliest influences on the piano.
Q: Do you recollect the early sides you heard of his? Were you familiar with the sides we played?
JM: Not really. At the time, you know, I was about eight years old. Teddy was young then, too. Teddy was a teenager. Teddy was one of those people that got out there young, when he was in his teens. But I remember my first piano teacher, his idol was Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson. Teddy had just published a book of his piano solos, and that was one of the early things that my teacher gave me to learn. And then my father started buying Teddy Wilson records, so my father liked him, too.
Q: Of course, Teddy Wilson’s two primary influences, I guess, were Art Tatum and Earl Hines.
JM: Oh yes.
Q: We’ll move now to some Earl Hines material. Earl Hines, of course, was at the Grand Terrace while you were coming up in Chicago. I guess he was in Chicago after the War as well, when he had the El Grotto.
JM: He had the El Grotto.
Q: He did run that club, right?
JM: That’s something I don’t know. He may have, because he was there all the time.
Q: Did you get to know Earl Hines?
JM: Yeah, but later. Later I met Earl and I knew him.
Q: Any words about the Fatha?
JM: Oh, a wonderful man. And a great player!
Q: It seems that later on his life his pianism developed and developed and was featured much more.
JM: Well, after the big band. But even during the big band he was a great player. He could play then.
Q: But later, of course, he recorded all those wonderful albums…
JM: Yeah, where he’s doing solo or trio.
Q: We’ll hear the Earl Hines band featuring Billy Eckstine.
JM: I want to hear those. They are nostalgic for me.
[MUSIC: “Jelly, Jelly,” “Stormy Monday Blues,” “Boogie-Woogie On The St. Louis Blues.”]
Q: Junior, you said that’s one of the tunes you learned note for note when you were a kid.
JM: Yeah, that, and the other one was “After Hours.” Oh, there was one more, too. In fact, the first Jazz tune I ever learned was “Yancey Special” as a kid.
Q: Well, and you’re still playing it.
JM: [LAUGHS] Them habits are hard to break!
Q: Were you playing a lot of stride piano when you were a kid? Was that how you first really got your chops?
JM: Not really. I used to marvel at the stride piano players. But I have small hands, and I couldn’t… I’d miss notes when I do that.
Q: Can’t hit those intervals…
JM: Yeah. That’s why I was glad when Bebop came in. Even now, though, even now occasionally when I do solo piano, I’ll try, even though I can do it a little bit. See, most of the stride piano players could play tenths. Like, Art Tatum could walk tenths like a bass player walks single notes, you know. And I could never even… Even now I can’t reach a tenth on the piano.
Q: There’s a story, probably apocryphal, about Earl Hines, that he had had surgery to cut the webbing…
JM: Oh yeah. That wasn’t true. Boy, that tale went all over the world, too. But that wasn’t true. Because doctors said if you do that, you can paralyze the hands.
Q: We’ll move now quickly to one of the very famous groups that Junior worked with between 1959 and 1961, the Johnny Griffin-Eddie Lockjaw” Davis tenor tandem. Actually, that was ’60…
JM: Yeah, it was more ’60 to ’61, because I was with Dizzy until ’60.
Q: Well, it seems like a long time because there are so many recordings by this band. It just recorded prolifically!
Q: How did that hook up for you?
JM: Well, Jaws and I knew each other from the Beehive when you worked there, and…
Q: Of course you knew Griff from Chicago.
JM: Well, Griff I’ve known all my life. He was from Chicago. They got their group together while I was still with Dizzy. Then I left Dizzy to form my own trio, to go out on my own, so to speak, not necessarily a trio… I had made that first album, the one with Ray Brown. So I wanted to test the waters for myself. And like all new groups, you know, times get hard. Then I did some gigs with Johnny and Jaws, and made a deal with Jaws. Jaws said, “You can work with us, and if you get a gig with the trio, go make that.” And it turned out during the time the band was together, I made more gigs with them than I did with my trio. And we were in the studios all the time.
Q: You recorded a lot of Monk’s material…
JM: We did a whole album on Monk called Lookin’ At Monk.
Q: Was Monk another musician whose music you were very much involved with? Or was that the first time you’d really started grappling with Monk?
JM: No, it wasn’t the first time. I’ve always been a Monk admirer. I think because we have the same birthday. I’ve always been very fond of Monk’s music. Probably more so now.
Q: Another point in common is that you both really developed a lot of your style by listening to stride and blues piano …[ETC.]
JM: Could be.
[MUSIC: “Tickle Toe,” “In Walked Bud”]
Q: “In Walked Bud,” Monk’s variation on “Blue Skies,” I think.
JM: Yeah, the outside is “Blue Skies”. The channel is a little bit different. [ETC.]
I enjoyed this. It’s a real nostalgia thing for me, too, to hear some of the other things, like the Earl Hines things.