Here are the transcripts of a pair of WKCR interviews that it was my honor to conduct with the master baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett in 1993 and 1994 — the 1994 encounter was a Musician Show, where Bluiett played and talked about the music that influenced him. The July 21, 1993 show was intended to publicize a club appearance by the World Saxophone Quartet, which was about to welcome James Spaulding into the mix. Bluiett was with me from noon to 1:30; Spaulding came up for the second half, the transcript of which appears in a recent post.
Hamiet Bluiett, Out To Lunch, WKCR, July 21, 1993:
[MUSIC: WSQ, “Masai Warriors Dance” (by Bluiett), Metamorphosis, 1993]
TP: I’m pleased to welcome to WKCR the great baritone saxophonist, Hamiet Bluiett, who also plays various clarinets and other woodwinds, who is appearing with the World Saxophone Quartet and African Drums this week at Sweet Basil. Welcome.
HB: Ok, thank you.
TP: Three members of the World Saxophone Quartet have been working together now for 17 years. After Julius Hemphill left, Arthur Blythe held that chair for a few years; it’s now held by James Spaulding, who will join us later on. How does the presence of a new member affect what the band does, and the approach. How do you work someone in? And how was he chosen?
HB: So far, the band has been very fortunate in that…by having Julius… Then, when it was time for Julius to leave, we were able to get Arthur. Then Spaulding. Each one was a person that we had in mind for doing the particular chair. Because Arthur brought in a needed ingredient that was needed at the time, and James brings in another needed ingredient that’s needed at this time. The basis and the nucleus of it, we have it. So we’ve used quite a few people, and we have some more people in mind who we’re going to get to. In terms of the group now, Sam Rivers, Branford marsalis, John Stubblefield, John Purcell, Kidd Jordan, and I’m missing somebody… Julius, Spaulding, Arthur, and there’s two other saxophone players that I’m missing who have been… Henry Threadgill and Sam Rivers. These are people who at one time or another within our 17 year existence — besides myself, David Murray, and Oliver Lake — have appeared with the group in one kind of way or other. John Purcell is the only one who has covered everyone’s chair, including mine. He’s played all of the parts.
It’s a lot of people. But we have… Spaulding, because of the homespun blues and the other sort of ingredients, and the effervescence, brought another kind of thing, which is good.
TP: He also has a broad range on the flute, which I think fits in very well with African percussion and African melodies.
HB: It’s all of that. Everything. The whole bean. We don’t try to replace a person. We learned that from Duke. The music has to fit around whoever it is that you’re dealing with. So we’re constantly doing new things. At the club now, instead of having Mor Thiam and Mar Gue, with Chief Bey, we have Chief Bey, Okeryema Asante from Ghana, and Kahil el-Zabar from Chicago. So the configuration with the African drums now is something totally different from what it was before, but like I said, we don’t try to get another Mor Thiam because that won’t happen no way. It’s that singular.
TP: You’ve been associated with Okeryema Asante in a number of situations over the years, particularly on your most recent release on Tutu Records, If You Have To Ask – and isn’t he on your old Chiaroscuro recording?
HB: No, he’s not on that. Chief Bey has been with me all the time. He’s on Nali Kola with me. But on the Chiaroscuro, it’s Chief Bey, Ladji Kamara and Michael Carvin. That’s a little bit different setup.
TP: What was the impetus for World Saxophone Quartet to start bringing drums and the African drum ensemble into its orbit? You were solely a saxophone quartet for many years.
HB: Well, after Julius, who was basically a composer, then it was time for us to do something else. I had really grown tired of just a saxophone quartet configuration. Because… You can just reinvent some kind of way. For me, after so many years, it was time to do something else, and African drum was a good way to still bring out the saxophones, and in my mind, moving ahead to the next level of rhythm section, if you want to call it that. So we decided to go forward or go backwards, both at the same time.
TP: And the group does do both at the same time. There are numbers on which the four saxophones play together in ensemble or different solos, and pieces on which the rhythm comes in. Everyone in the WSQ has their own thriving solo career, and everyone is internationally known as a leader. How often does the group work in a given year?
HB: Well, it constantly changes every year. So far this year, we’ve gone on a European tour that last 28 days. We played in Atlanta, Georgia, with the drums. We’ve hit in Boston. We’re on our way to do a record date in Milano at the first of September with Spaulding. I can’t think of everything. It’s not a whole lot, but it does wind up being enough. After being together for so many years, being creative, you have to do a lot of other things just to come up with some different ideas. We have an LP in the can coming out now that will feature Fontella Bass and some totally different kind of stuff.
So the group is growing in other ways. The quartet is not just a quartet. The quartet is a whole…how can I put it…lifestyle, identity, base, umbrella. You understand? We’re planning to get to some things where we use piano, maybe piano…not necessarily piano choirs, but different configurations to go along with us to show the saxophone in a sort of different light as the nucleus of music, as opposed to being somebody else as the base.
TP: The members of the WSQ are all based in the New York area, but everybody is originally from the Midwest or the West Coast. Is there any way in which where you’re from affects the type of music that you play or the musical approach you’re talking about?
HB: Of course. Let me put it one kind of way. You’ve got the Mississippi River joining up with the Missouri River, and everybody that’s in the path of the river is going through that kind of trouble. People that live in Colorado are not bothered with that, or if you live in upstate New York. So the land that you’re in has a lot to do… For instance, me, I have a certain sort of accent when I talk that is Midwestern as opposed to Southern. So there’s a regional dialect that goes along with what you do. In the Midwest, the music a lot wilder, but not necessarily free, because there’s a lot of wide-open spaces. Whereas here, in New York, in the city, things are much more… Like, you’ve got [(?)208th Street(?)]. [(?)208th Street(?)] for me is a cornfield. If you take the same distance and go somewhere from my house, you… I’m in the middle of wide-open spaces. So the way of looking at a lot of things because of that… I’m trying to take everything to be verbal, and experience…
David Murray is from California. People are a lot cooler, a lot more laid-back. There’s a whole lot of other stuff. Now they’re going through some other kind of things, but… And plus, from Texas. Oliver is from St. Louis, from Mississippi. Stuff like that.
I know for me, I’m heavily blues-based. Spaulding is from Indianapolis, Naptown, heavy blues-based — so it’s a different kind of thing. As opposed to being East Coast. But then again, you’re all in one piece of land, so it’s all similar, too.
TP: Did you come up playing a lot of those type of blues gigs as a young musician?
TP: What were you doing as a young musician?
HB: Trying to learn how to play music.
TP: What instrument did you start on, and about how old were you?
HB: I started on piano when I was about 4, and learned how to basically read music and what I was looking at. I’m still being basic now. When the hands started going two different ways, I said, “No, this is not the instrument for me.” I tried to do trumpet. That didn’t happen. Then finally I wound up on clarinet in maybe about the fourth grade or something like that. I’ve been playing it ever since. But I wanted a saxophone. But the saxophone I wanted, that I saw, that made me excited, was a baritone saxophone.
TP: Why was that?
HB: I don’t know. I just looked at it and liked it.
TP: Were you big enough to play it?
HB: No. It was about my size at the time. But it was just that kind of excitement. Now, why? I don’t even care why, because I wound up with it. You understand? So that was just the instrument for me, regardless of what anybody say. So I saw it at that age. I don’t even remember the age now. I didn’t necessarily like the way the guys who played it, played it, because I thought the horn was too big to have such a small sound. I always thought the sound should be…it’s a bigger horn… I’m from marching band country, and I’m used to hearing sousaphone players hit as hard as any trumpet player on the planet, with enormous, fat…you know, fat-man sound, not no little sound — and big. And trombone players. The horns with the sounds getting bigger, according to the size of the instrument. With saxophones, the thing kind of went the other way. So I said, “There’s a problem here.” So that’s been one of the problems of trying to deal with it. Until I ran into Harry Carney. Then I said, “Oh! Ok. I was right.” But I said, “Oh, I got a lot of work.”
TP: Did you run into Harry Carney on a record or did you hear the Ellington band…
HB: I’m talking about in person.
TP: Where did you hear him? Do you remember when?
HB: 20-something. 25, maybe something like that. It was outside of Boston. I was in the Navy at the time, stationed in Boston at South Annex. So we’re talking about maybe 1965, 1964. I had heard the band before that. But what I mean by heard the band… I have a way of talking where words mean whatever I want them to mean. But what I meant, I HEARD the band, meaning it really got to me, I was in a club, and I was about as far from him as I am from here to you. For those who don’t know, we’re talking about 5 or 6 feet. But then the band was angled in another way, but I was right up on top of him. I was the first person that you got to. The band hit. And I sat there, petrified. It was a music thing, though, because I loved it, but I said “Whoa!” because it put so much distance in between what was going on and what wasn’t going on, that I said, “Whoa!” I said, “Damn, Duke’s got two bands; he’s got a big band and Harry Carney.” That’s what it sounded like. It sounded like his band and Harry Carney, who sounded like a whole band by himself. Everybody in the band had these tremendous sounds, but he was like…
Then I said, “Whoa, it’s the horn.” I mean, it’s him, but… So I started really thinking about the instrument. Instead of wondering, then I knew. So I said, “Ok, let me get to work on coming from another perspective. It’s a completely different instrument. Most people play it like it’s a tenor. They’re still running over it. And it can run, but it also goes through stuff. So it’s an altogether different instrument.
TP: When you got out Navy, is that when you started on music as your profession, your avocation?
HB: Chronologically, it was like ’66, January. I was supposed to come out four years earlier, but I got extended for the Vietnam draft. So instead of me coming out in September, everybody after a certain date had to… Which was cool, because I bought a car and the same instrument I’ve got now. Things were real cheap. I was a musician in Service. Actually, that’s why I went. Because I got tired of not playing.
TP: A fair number of musicians did that.
HB: Yeah, some of them. You had to volunteer to be in the Navy anyway, and I didn’t want to get drafted. Because that was coming at the time. It was one of those times when to keep from going into the draft, you could go your own way – but you still had to do some kind of service. And I was not in school or anything. So I said, well, rather than be in the foxhole… So I took an audition, and they said I was good enough to be in the band. As long as you get through basic service, then you’re a musician. So I was already set up to go that way, so I made it on through. Which worked out real good, since I had to do some kind of service at the time.
TP: What other music were you listening to at the time you were entering the service and coming out of it that was pleasing to your ear and that you wanted to be getting with?
HB: Well, I always was listening to what you call jazz. So if we’re talking about that time in the 60s, I was listening to John Coltrane and a lot of other people — at that particular time. I remember listening to a lot of those things when he was heavily criticized, and Miles was criticized for having him, and a lot of people that jump up and down now, praising his name, talked about him like a dog. I always heard something in his playing that satisfied me. Not necessarily technically, because I’m not into that sort of mindset. Something has to satisfy me inside of my body some kind of way. I heard Miles say that. It’s really kind of true.
TP: You’re both from the same part of the country.
HB: Yeah, we’re from the same part of the world. So we’ve got another kind of way of feeling it. My way of looking at music is sort of like spiritual decadence. It’s spiritual, but I can’t get away from whatever is going on. So they both seem to coexist without me being in control, since I don’t run the world, no way.
TP: But maybe you do run the baritone saxophone. Let’s hear a few examples from recent recordings by Hamiet Bluiett, and then we’ll be back for further conversation.
HB: This is called “Children At Play.” I wrote it for Mama Geri at a child development center at City College. My grand-daughter was going to this child development center, which you would call like a daycare…what they call them. But the concept was Afrocentric, and it was children from everywhere, but the sort of freedom that they had in being able to do what they did always inspired me. Because I watched the way they would play, and they don’t play military, like everybody got to step. They go! It all works out! Everybody is GO! But they weren’t destructive. They just took off and did what they had to do. So I looked at it a lot, and I said, “let me write a tune,” and I wrote a little tune for it.
TP: This features Fred Hopkins on bass and Michael Carvin on drums, with percussionist Okeryema Asante, who is appearing with WSQ this week. The CD is You Don’t Need To Know If You Have To Ask, and it’s on Tutu.
[MUSIC: Bluiett, “Children at Play”; “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”-You don’t Need To Know…]
TP: I think when the general public first became aware of Hamiet Bluiett was via stints with Charles Mingus during the early 1970s. Where did Mingus hear you? What circumstances led you to Mingus?
HB: It was between Paul Jeffreys and Roy Brooks. Because Mingus’ love of Ellington… He had a big band at the time, and he needed a baritone saxophonist. He was having a problem finding anybody with a sound, and he was starting to even write some tunes. So fortunately, I had been playing with Sam Rivers, Olatunji and some other people… I got here in 1969. I hooked up with Mingus I think in 1972. By then, most of the musicians knew me and I knew most of them.
So I started in with the big band. Jon Faddis was in it; he was real young. A lot of guys. Real good band. Then later on, I came back and played with him… I might have been in the big band in 1971, but I came and started really working with him in 1972. That’s what it was. Yeah, something like that.
Mingus was like, for me… At the time I came in with Mingus, he was always being talked about real bad, being crazy and all that other stuff. So I had to go through all that, which was a problem, because it’s hard to work with somebody when everybody else has a paranoia or fear about him. Even though you may not feel that way, after you get through fighting it for a while, then it succumbs to you. I’ve seen people walk to him and do some horrible things, like put their finger in his mouth. Just a whole bunch of crazy, stupid type stuff. He would tell musicians things that he wanted to do, and they wouldn’t understand what he was saying. I think because they didn’t want to hear it. To me, he was ahead of where the cats were talking about. But whatever kind of problems he had with them before I got there, I can’t even speak about. You know what I mean?
And I had been sort of weaned on Mingus’ music, because my cousin turned me on to him years ago, and I went to “Better Get It In Your Soul” and a whole lot of stuff. I listened to his tone poems. I was one of them kind of musicians, coming up as a kid, that went to the music store and would browse and get all the stuff they was about to throw away and give away and whatever, and take them home and play it — and I found a lot of interesting music that way. Mingus’ music, as far as I’m concerned…or his direction of music… More guys are writing off of it now by opening things up, and things of that nature, the way he dealt with the paper and all that kind of stuff, than probably any musician. Which is why, after he’s dead, he’s getting all these accolades. Because that’s really true. A lot of cats are off of Miles, and everybody has their regimen. But Mingus has a whole lot, especially in the avant-garde type feeling things of this nature, and people who do a multi-media and all those kinds of things. Mingus’ music is extremely powerful as a progenitor, and one of the people who set up that whole idiom.
Now, therefore, saying all that, that means you’re working with somebody who got a lot of problems because they’re trying to do things that people don’t know what you’re trying to tell them and they can’t hear it no way. And you kind of hear, though, what they’re talking about, where he would take 2 or 3 melodies and play it at the same time. He would take two tunes and play them at the same time. So now, when we decide to run one line against another line, it makes much more sense because he’s already done that. A lot of people have. But it’s just the timing of it.
So it was like a blessing, in a way, and a curse. Because I needed someone to helpme get out and be known other than someone playing… See, with the baritone sax it’s an enormous problem, because all people want you to do is be in a supporting role – like the grandfather. “Go get your old Chevrolet and I’ll have a sports car.” Stuff like that. Or “Oh, Daddy, go back home; you don’t need to be out now.” So the baritone saxophone sort of is relegated to that role. It’s not a Billy Dee Williams, if you want to put a type of instrument… The women are looking for something different. Everybody’s listening for something different. So I beg to differ with all that. I know better. So the horn needed to be put out, and I wanted it put out in another way, and I didn’t see any sense in trying to go over the past music. It’s already been done.
The thing that I learned about… I’ve put all the musicians together at one time that I felt greatly, which was a lot of them! And one thing I’ve come out with is that they all did what they want to do and they all were original. So I said, “I need to do what I want to do, and be original.” So I want to emulate them, instead of imitating their notes and trying to steal their styles. I took it in that direction.
TP: a lot of musicians with that type of mindset were coming to New York in the mid 1970s, and you hooked up with three of them, and it became the World Saxophone Quartet. Can you tell me a bit about…
HB: How that got started?
TP: How that got started, and your early encounters with Oliver Lake, David Murray…
HB: Well, see, I knew Oliver Lake from St. Louis. I also knew Julius Hemphill. Because we started a group called the Black Artists Group. At the time period when I came out of the Service, everybody was playing piano, basses and drums and organs and all this. Being a baritone, again, I wanted to play every day. So we got hooked up in St. Louis, and this is going into… After I came out of the Service in 1966. So from 1966 into 1969, I’m talking about two-and-a-half years. I said, “I want to play.” So we got hooked up with this organization, and we started playing every day, regardless to who showed up. So that means you might not have nobody but one saxophone, two saxophones, three people, four people, and most of them were like instruments and drums. Bobo was part of it and all that. We did that a lot. Then if the drummer didn’t show up, we started playing by ourself.
This brought about another kind of music. I didn’t have a bass to adhere to, nor did I have a piano. Mingus and the cats…Gerry Mulligan and all them, had already broke the group down (Max and everybody) to drums and bass. We stripped away the bass, and just had drums alone. People would do this… Max had done his solos with Clifford Brown. But it’s not for an album. It’s just for part of a texture. We’re talking about this is the whole unit. So now we’ve got a different kind of configuration. We started doing that, and I found out that for the way I was hearing, I heard more. Because something of the old fashion of playing with a piano…I had never been… I can do it but it’s not my expertise. I don’t call it that way. That’s not where I really thrive. Then, if the drummer didn’t show up, we would play anyway. So we worked up… It’s a different kind of thing. Some people try to act like it isn’t. But it is. It’s totally different. Every situation has a different…it opens up to different mysteries and different beauties.
Then, later, when I came to New York… I was the first one out of the bunch to come. I came in 1969. The Art Ensemble went to France earlier, and I said “later – let me go to New York.” I said, “If I go to Europe, I’ve got to come back anyway. If I go to Chicago, I’ve got to go to New York.” So I kept looking at the equation. I still had to come back Dexter came back. Everybody comes back. I said, “Let me just go to New York.” So that’s what I did. I talked to Oliver Nelson. I asked him. He said, “What do you want to do?” He said, “Wait a minute. Before you answer. If you want to make money, get all your doubles and triples, bassoon, oboe, all the saxophones, all the flutes, all the clarinets, get all your horns together and go to California.” I said, “I want to play.” He said, “Ok, go to New York.” That was basically it. I went here.
TP: You knew Oliver Nelson also from St. Louis?
HB: Yes, he was from St. Louis also. So I asked him for some advice on what to do, to give me some sort of perspective. He gave me a perspective of what was happening on the two coasts. New York is about playing. I said, “Ok, good.” It’s more like a creative mecca. It really is.
TP: What was your impression of the scene when you got here?
HB: It was horrible, I felt. It had highs and lows. Uptown, the Club Barron was still here, going down bad. Count Basie’s, going down. Minton’s, going down. They were still in existence, but just a shadow of their grandeur, you understand, if you take it back to the players. I had come to New York to visit in the 60s, and just a shadow of THAT. Yeah, it was kind of bad, man.
Downtown, the only thing…. The Five Spot was going down. The Vanguard made it on through everything. Boomer’s was up and down. The scene was bad. Dexter and all the cats were going to Europe, Johnny Griffin, everybody. So I came in on a downward arc…
TP: But during this time, new musicians were coming, revitalizing the scene, finding new places to play.
HB: They were coming all along. But the thing about it, we started to come in and do some music in a different kind of way at the same time. Because there was this big split here between the so-called “straight-ahead” and the so-called “avant-garde.” It was real out at the time I got here. Which actually made it better, because it was wide-open spaces. I told you — 203rd Street for me is a cornfield. It was wide-open, so it made it much better for us.
After I played with Mingus and got out of the band, I sat around for a year and didn’t do nothin’. Then I said, “No, I want to start playing every day again.” Some of the cats were coming around, like Bobo and all of them; I think the Art Ensemble had come back from Europe. So we’re getting to about 1975 now. They worked at the Five Spot, which had revived itself and was on the Lower East Side. I said, “Ok, it’s time to go back.” That blended in to David Murray coming to town. Then the so-called “Loft scene,” which they gave a name to, hit. Because we were playing in lofts a lot, and that built a whole nother venue.
Now, the beauty, to me, of that music was it was a… I used to call it like trench warfare or front-line. Sometimes we would have rehearsals and concerts on the same day. Henry Threadgill, a lot of cats would do some massive and sometimes very intricate stuff right on the spot, and have to do it one time and one time only. That to me was very thrilling and very exciting. So people started coming from out of nowhere and everywhere to see this creativity happening in front of their face, because it’s very exciting. It’s very exciting when you see music go down like that. You’re watching it and it’s going down as you’re watching. You know it’s only for you, and that’s your flower. You can take it with you forever, because it won’t happen no more.
So this was going on a lot. Rashied Ali had his place, which I think now is what, Greene Street?
TP: 77 Greene Street.
HB: There was a lot of activity. Sam Rivers opened up a place, Joe Lee Wilson, the Tin Palace. So the whole scene was being revived…
TP: And it was all within 6-10 blocks of each other.
HB: George Coleman was coming out, finally getting a chance to get some work and get his recognition. So things were happening from a lot of different directions at one time. Eddie Jefferson was around a lot. There was a lot of stuff. Of course, Art Blakey and people like that never quit. They kept coming right on through.
TP: So within this ferment of activity, how does this lead to the saxophone quartet idea.
HB: Ok. During that time when these loft things were jumping off, Julius was here, I was here, Oliver was here, and David Murray. Ed Kidd Jordan came up from New Orleans on a sabbatical because he wanted to hit! He came in the middle of it, the summer of 1976, and it was the bicentennial summer. We were hittin’! We were going all the way through the summer, all the way through August. August had been a down month with nothing happening in the music. So now, quite naturally… You have all these festivals now; that’s totally changed.
[END OF SIDE 1]
…which the Dirty Dozen came out of. After they heard us, they formed their group. They wanted to do something different in the music. So they wanted for him to either come and get Sun Ra or Ornette. Luckiiy for us, neither one of them was formulated. So after coming and playing with us, he said, “Why don’t the four of you guys come down to New Orleans and hit with me?” So we went down, and we started this group that we called the New York Saxophone Quartet and played with a rhythm section. The place was packed, including Wynton and Branford, Donald Harrison, all these guys was like little kids. All of them were there, and old people up to 80 years. Mainly a 90% black audience, but with a lot of children, babies, old people all at one time. We started playing, and the kids started running through the audience like a wagon train. You know how they circle? So they had an aisle on both sides, and in the front and in the back, and the kids just started running. It was the coolest thing ever, because none of the parents acted like a fool and told them to stop. And none of the kids got hurt. And they ran and ran, and the people just sat there and dug the concert, liked what was happening, let us know that it was really going on, and the kids were energized, which is the way that they do — music makes them run.
So I said, “Whoa, look at this.” I went away and I said, “Look, we got something like this; we ought to keep this together.” I really can’t take credit for putting it together. But it was born that way.
TP: You have to grab the idea when it comes to you.
HB: Well, it worked so well, and we had been doing it anyway. So then we went and played in a club called Lu and Charlie’s on the same weekend, still in New Orleans. The first concert we did was with a bass and a drum — London Branch on bass and Alvin Fielder on drums. Then we went and played in a club. Then we got to New York, and someone approached us about playing in the Tin Palace, and so we did that. We called ourselves by this time the Real New York Saxophone Quartet, because we heard about a group… We didn’t even know there was a New York Saxophone Quartet, to be truthful. So we changed it to… Wait, the letter for that came later, after the writeup when we played at the Tin Palace. But the reaction to that was still real good. So we’re seeing how these people are frozen in their seat, and watching and looking and liking what we do. We never tried to get a job; all the jobs kept coming to us.
Then we were at Oliver Lake’s house one day, doing something. We were rehearsing, getting ready to go to the Tin Palace, and they called from Moers, Germany. Some group decided not to show up, and they needed a group. We were in the house rehearsing. They say, “Yo, what about the World Saxophone Quartet?” They say, “Ok, good, we’ll take them.” So we worked for them and we did a slight tour. It just kept growing and growing and growing. The four of us got together. It’s almost as if the spirits are saying “Stay together.” So it kind of worked like that.
TP: We’ll hear some of Bluiett’s music from another very recent release, recorded last October on Soul Note, titled Sankofa, Rear Guard, which I’ll bet refers to your remarks about the position of the baritone player in the band.
HB: Yes, it’s got something to do with it. It’s got to do with a lot of things, really. The avant-garde is the one that’s supposed to be in front, and my position is like to be actually behind, so as to push everything. Also sankofa is a way of looking back. So I am constantly going ahead, but I am also now collecting from what I’ve done. So I want to enjoy some of the things I’ve done as opposed to run away and not keep them. That means melodies in music, harmonies, time… There’s a lot of things I’m talking about anything.
TP: Ted Dunbar is on guitar, Clint Houston on bass, and Ben Riley on drums. Why this particular group; how did it hook up?
HB: I wanted to play with a guitar for a while, and I wanted a guitar player that was very knowledgeable and steeped in the blues — and Ted’s from Texas, so that’s no problem. Whenever you just quit thinking, he’s already into the blues. Clint Houston is a virtuoso on bass. So he and Ted can chase each other with these chord changes and things. Ben Riley because Ben never ceases to swing. That’s the thing, and the music should do that. Right? So it was time for me to get a rhythm section that when I say “let’s go,” they go. So it was that kind of idea. Then that’s the kind of support that I thought the instrument needed, because all these guys are such great musicians that they would be able to do whatever needs to be done. You get a lot when you get people of that caliber.
[MUSIC: Bluiett, “Nuttin’ Special”;
[MUSIC: WSQ, “The Holy Men” by Bluiett, from Metamorphosis; James Spaulding, “Song of Courage”]
Hamiet Bluiett, Musician Show, WKCR, Feb. 9, 1994:
[WSQ: “Nuttin’ Special”-1992, Sankofa: Rear Guard]
TP: What were your thoughts in organizing the music we’ll hear this evening.
HB: Let’s go back to the beginning. You talked to me some months ago about doing this show, and I think I spoke about, “What about baritone saxophone?” Then in the last couple of weeks,we’ve narrowed it down to about 100…
TP: We have about a 48-hour show. We can hole up with potato chips and coffee.
HB: [LAUGHS[ Yes, we have a 48-hour show. Hopefully tonight, what will happen is, you’ll get a chance to see the baritone saxophone from my perspective, with Harry Carney being the boss of the horn for me – chronologically as well as everything. But not everything. Then these other people, some that are main influences. During the time, when I was coming up trying to listen to the baritone sax, there was not much available. So I had to hunt. You could find a lot of tenor, trumpet, things of that nature.
TP: What sort of things were you listening to then anyway?
HB: Anything I could get my hands hold of. There was a lot of stuff with Gerry Mulligan during that time period for me, because of Columbia records, and I was living in the Midwest, in a small town outside of St. Louis, Missouri. So I’d have to go look for Gene Ammons or other… I mean, they could be found; I’m not saying that. But not as readily as I could do the Columbia Record Club or whatever.
TP: How about the jukeboxes?
HB: The jukeboxes were nice. They had things… “Tempus Fugit” was on the jukebox. Miles on that Cannonball recording, Something Else — that whole thing was on the jukebox. A lot of things with Gene Ammons, with Nat Adderley and people like that. Eddie Harris had a hit…
HB: Right. Or something like that… “Exodus,” right, he had a hit with that – you’re right. Art Blakey’s “Moanin’” and Bobby Timmons’ songs. A lot of those things were jukebox hits. So I had a chance to hear a lot of music, now that I’m thinking about it.
TP: There were a lot of instrumentals in Rhythm-and-Blues at the time a specific saxophone sound.
HB: That’s true. There’s always been specific sounds to certain eras; whatever is most prominent, everybody jumps on it, shows them where they’ve got to go.
TP: When you started playing, what sort of gigs were you doing? Who were some of the first people you aligned yourself with, or the type of music you started playing?
HB: When I first tried to play in terms of being on a bandstand or whatever, I was playing what you would call rhythm-and-blues, and doing a horrible job at it on the clarinet, and was glad that the people didn’t shoot me within the 9 months or so when I was working on this instrument. So I started out playing rhythm and blues on clarinet, believe it or not, and playing with what we called hillbilly bands at the time, or different, when I went to the baritone… So it was on one end of the block, which was about a half-a-mile block – that was just a rhythm-and-blues band. On the other end was this hillbilly band. I played with both of them, with the baritone sax, which I wanted to play since I was 10 years old.
TP: What made you want to play it?
HB: I just looked at the horn and liked it. It was as simple as that.
TP: Because of the heft of it?
HB: Everything. I just looked at one and that was it. No other horn affected me like that. I left the trumpet and all that stuff, and got kind of excited. But when I saw a baritone, I almost went, you know, OUT. I said, “Whoa!” It put an indelible impression. I never forgot the instrument. It was years later before I saw another or become close to it, other than seeing one from a distance, in the movies or something.
TP: When did you seriously begin to start playing jazz, improvising? In your teens, a local situation, or after you’d moved on to other things?
HB: Well, it’s kind of what you call, what you call… I’ve been trying to do improvising all along. But I guess maybe by the time I was 18, 17 – sort of late on the track, if you look at it in terms of how things can be done now. But it was hard for me to get any of that kind of knowledge, or even be steered in that direction. So it took me a while trying to do things the so-called correct way, but fighting these internal feelings while doing it.
TP: How so? What were you fighting?
HB: I could play things, but emotionally I would be off. Something’s supposed to be cool, and here I am getting ready to jump and run. So emotionally, I’m in the wrong spot. I’ll give you an example. I took an exam to get…it’s like an audition to get a scholarship on clarinet. I played some classical composition, I don’t remember right now. Anyway, when I played it, I got all carried away and I felt real good, and I was just, you know what I mean, BURNING, I thought. When I got through the guy said, “That was sort of rambunctious of you.” So I had gone the wrong direction in terms of the whole temperament of the music. I said, “Wait a minute – but I felt it; so therefore, if I felt it, I’m not going to let it be wrong.” But I was wrong. So I said: “Wait a minute; that’s the end of that.”
So it taught me a lesson in terms of… I had the wrong temperament. So I waited all those years to try… Even trying to play jazz, it’s the same sort of problem – for me – to be put in the same sort of structure. The horn doesn’t let me do that. It doesn’t let me flow the same as a violin or a piano. I’ve got more sonic blast and going through stuff… It’s a different picture, you understand, in my head or how I see the instrument or feel it coming through my body. So… For a long time. Let’s put it that way.
TP: You stated that Harry Carney is the king of the baritone sax for you, and it begins really, in a lot of ways, with Harry Carney. When did you discover him, and when did you first hear him (a) on record and (b) in the flesh?
HB: Well, I’d been hearing him all my life. My mother was a Duke Ellington fan, a big fan, and my father was a Count Basie big fan. So all my life I’ve been hearing all this music. It’s not a thing… I don’t even remember. I can sort of remember a first time for Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman and some other people, but for him I really don’t. Because chronologically the age…like Louis Armstrong, I don’t remember not…
TP: Not hearing him. Part 2: You’ve mentioned there’s a big difference between listening to recorded music and hearing music in person. You said it was so striking, you even stopped listening to records for a long time.
HB: Well, music has a thing where it does something to the wavelengths of even what’s in the air, the room you’re in. So a lot of stuff is changed up. So it’s another kind of feeling. It can be eerie, you can like it, not like it – but it puts a whole nother thing on you. I found that to be missing. Also what I found to be missing… Maybe that’s it. The feeling of the person to really be missing in what I was listening for at the time. I found that the volumes would be… Some guys will have a large tone; the record made them seem smaller. Etcetera. Or singers or whoever.
TP: I believe you also mentioned hearing the Ellington band in the flesh and the impression that it made on you.
HB: Oh yeah. When I heard it in the flesh, then that was a different matter. I’d heard it before, but it was from a distance. This time I was in a small club outside of…in the Cape area, outside of Boston. I was sitting as far from Harry Carney like from me to you, so we’re talking 4-5 feet, 6 at the moment, but on the side of the band. Duke was on the other side of the band. So it was Duke on one side, Harry on the other, and everybody else was in the middle. The band sounded like two bands – it was a big band and Harry Carney. His sound was equal to the sound of the whole band, including the drums, Duke and everybody else. That froze me in place. In one way it was terrifying, but not as a musician. I don’t mean the term like the icepick murder is coming after you. I mean, it’s like WHOA – overwhelming. Maybe that was the word. Everybody had been soloing all night. Paul Gonsalves and the rest of the people. The band was superlative. I mean, it was BAD. So I’m sitting there, and the guys are playing their instruments, and this guy came out toward the end of the night, took a solo, played ONE NOTE – the whole place stopped. Nobody moved. The waiter. Everybody. BRRMMM… He went down, hit that bottom note, pop, and held that, and that was the end of it. Everybody started back to doing what they were doing. That was very impressive to me. Not only was it the note, it was just that it froze everybody.
I had that same experience happen, and they were all with Duke Ellington people. The next time it happened was with Jimmy Hamilton… No, the third time. The next time was Cat Anderson. Cat Anderson playing with Mingus. We did a tour in Europe. It was Mingus with Joe Gardner playing trumpet, I was on baritone, Roy Brooks on drums, and John Foster on piano. Cat Anderson. He did it. He played a note that was so soft and you could still hear it. It froze the place.
Jimmy Hamilton. We were in the Northsea, on a rooftop, playing with the Clarinet Summit and John Carter, and I was taking David Murray’s place on bass clarinet. He took a solo and did the same thing. Now, here’s people doing three different things, but both of them where everybody stopped at one time. Nobody moved. No waiters or nothing. And when they stopped playing and ended the solo, we were back to reality.
TP: One quality about Harry Carney that I think is applicable to your work is his role in the Ellington saxophone section in terms of defining the sound of the section. You’ve of course been the anchor of the World Saxophone Quartet since its inception almost 20 years ago. The first selection showcases the Ellington sax section. It comes from a 1946 recording on Musicraft. The saxophone-woodwinds section is Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope. Johnny Hodges, Al Sears and Harry Carney. This one is “Jam-a-Ditty”.
[MUSIC: Ellington-“Jam-A-Ditty”-1946; Ellington, “Sophisticated Lady”-1957; Ellington, “Work Song”-1944, Carnegie Hall]
TP: Harry Carney was featured towards the beginning of “Work Song,” but that really was a showcase for the trombone of Joe Nanton.
HB: I know, but it still shows an important function of how the instrument was used, and I wanted that to be highlighted as well. Harry Carney did more section work than he did soloing. That’s the other thing about up to when it came in to see how well the horn was incorporated in the harmonies. Because a lot of times, to me, it seems as if it was more melody than harmony in terms of the placement of the parts.
TP: He also played a fair amount of bass clarinet and also clarinet in the Ellington band.
HB: But the reason I’m focusing on baritone is because he seemed… I think maybe he started playing in 1919, so he’s one of the first people to even play it consistently. So that automatically gave him first place, for doing it longer than anybody. It kind of set the definitive tone of that particular idiom of dealing with the instrument – because they’re all idioms of their own.
TP: In the middle was one of probably thousands of versions of “Sophisticated Lady” featuring Harry Carney, one night in Carrolltown, PA., in June 1957. He showcased his circular breathing technique in particular.
The next baritone player in the pantheon is Basie’s baritonist of the 30s, Jack Washington.
HB: I didn’t learn about Jack until later, at least I was grown – 20-something. Then when I started going back and doing a lot of investigation and having to get my hands… Maybe I wasn’t quite that old. But it was somewhere in there, when I was in school or something. I got a chance to start investigating older Basie things that I’d heard but I didn’t realize who was on them. I’d heard a lot of Basie from a child, but didn’t know who was doing what at the time.
TP: What qualities make Jack Washington a special player for you?
HB: Sound. Execution. Another sort of pre-bop, if you want to call it, in terms of the years, sort of… Another way of getting around the instrument. He was just an excellent musician. It’s kind of hard for me to do the labeling, even though I did it a little bit.
TP: He recorded very few solos on Basie’s commercial recordings, but a number of airchecks feature his very strong soloing, and we’ll hear two such from 1938 — “Yeah, Man” from the Fletcher Henderson book, from Oct. 1938, with first solo by JackWashington, followed by Buck Clayton and Lester Young; then “Indiana” from September 1938, with solo order of Buck Clayton, Jack Washington, Dickie Wells, Basie, and Lester Young plays a clarinet solo.
[MUSIC: Basie, “Yeah, Man”-Oct. 1938; “Indiana”-Sept. 1938]
TP: We’ll now hear music by Gerry Mulligan.
HB: Like I told you, I heard a lot of Mulligan. It was easier for me to get. I heard Harry Carney, Charlie Fowlkes, and now we’ll get to Mulligan. Then Pepper Adams, who was on a lot of things by Gene Ammons and a lot of things that were available to me.
[END OF SIDE 1]
HB: …I liked it. I had a very strong attraction. I didn’t start playing it until I was about 19. And I never heard anyone play it that I liked until I got to Harry Carney. It was something about the sound that never satisfied me. Because I come from drum-and-bugle corps country, where trumpets had big sounds, trombones had bigger sounds, and sousaphones had bigger sounds than that. So it didn’t make sense to me why this biggest saxophone had a smaller sound than the smaller ones. I couldn’t understand it. It was kind of weird. And everybody I heard until Harry Carney sort of was like that. If it wasn’t real small, they were playing it like a tenor, so the sound was trimmed down to be more sleek. That’s just the particular instrument that I heard doing everything that I needed to hear it do. I hear more than just saxophone in terms of playing. I also think graphically and a lot of other stuff. Like the kind of sounds you get in electronics and whale noises and all that. I hear all those kind of things, and I see those possibilities in the instrument.
I’ve taken a little bit from everybody. The thing I noticed about Mulligan is that he plays the baritone saxophone very akin to the way Lester Young played tenor. It’s in that sort of vein. That’s still playing the baritone like a tenor.
TP: How is that so? As opposed to playing it with emphasis on the properties of the baritone?
HB: Well, who are you imitating? If you’re imitating Lester Young, who played tenor, then you’re playing the horn like a tenor, whether you’re playing trumpet or whatever it is. Because he got another thing out of the instrument. It’s sort of that approach, but it’s a different instrument. It’s like once-removed from there. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, because that within itself is great. You’ve got to be a genius to be able to do that. I don’t hear it that way. So that always kind of disturbed me. It took me up until maybe a few years ago to realize what it was that I personally didn’t care for, to be able to put a name to it and say this is basically what it is. And the way that the instrument is treated most of the time being a support. Maybe the closest thing we can get to would be a Clydesdale.
TP: Although these days, I have to say, there are some people that size who can move.
HB: I’m talking about even a way of movement. See, that’s what I mean. You have to move like a big person as opposed to try to be a big person moving like a small one. There is a difference. You can just see people. One comes along who is 6’5″ or whatever and big, as opposed to somebody walking down the street who’s 5’0″. They move totally different. They don’t move the same way. That just doesn’t work. So I’ll see the instruments that way, too. I don’t try to move like a tenor. That’s very rapid.
TP: How about when you play clarinet? How do you try to move then?
HB: That’s why I don’t play clarinet no more! I had to quit playing clarinet unless I play the low instruments. I found out… It took me a long time to find out that what was happening with me was my concept of pitch was lowering. So I really hear bass clef. I’m talking about personal notes that are inside of me, come from the bass clef and go up. But they have to be there. So when I was playing instruments that didn’t give me that, I had problems with it.
TP: The Gerry Mulligan session comes from a pianoless session from 1957, with Mulligan and Paul Desmond on the front line, with bassist Joe Benjamin and drummer Dave Bailey.
[MUSIC: Mulligan-Desmond, “Line For Lyons”-1957; Mulligan-Bob Brookmeyer, “That Old Feeling”-1956 (Crow-Bailey)]
[MUSIC: Bluiett, “Diane” – Sankofa-Rear Guard]
TP: A few words about your experiences with Mingus.
HB: I first joined the big band in 1972. He’d always been looking for a baritone player with a sound, so I was able to fill that void for him. It was an incredible experience, because there was no other vehicle for me to be like that anyway. No one else was using the horn. If they were using it, they were using it only in big ensembles. So I started out with the big band, then worked down to the sextet, then wound up with a quintet. I was in and out a couple of times.
TP: How did he find out about you?
HB: I’m not sure if it was Paul Jeffrey or Roy Brooks. At the time I was playing with Roy Brooks’ Artistic Truth as well as dealing with Paul Jeffrey, and both of them were with Mingus. I’m not sure which one. Plus I was playing with Sam Rivers’ Big Band, so along with me came Bob Stewart, Joe Gardner…that I can remember. And some more people. We’ve all… There wasn’t that much to do doing that time period, basically. There was a lot happening, but not many things; just a lot going on among a few.
TP: Did Mingus express strong preferences in how he wanted his solos shaped?
HB: no, the only thing he ever said to anybody was “The solo belongs to you, but the melody and all that stuff belongs to me.” So he wanted you to play whatever you had on the paper, exactly like he said he wanted it, and do whatever it had to be, then when it came time to solo that was your problem. The only thing he expressed maybe in the time we were together was try to get used to the New York long solos.
TP: What do you mean by “New York long solos”?
HB: Well, the horn players in New York, by the time they get to New York, by the time they get to New York, they’re not playing… They want to PLAY, really play. So guys take what I call long solos. They’re long for me. I don’t say necessarily for them. But maybe that’s the nature of the instrument I’m playing. Which makes me like beg away and do something else, and cool it for a second or something. But that’s why I just said New York long solos. You hear more of that here than any other place. It’s not bad. I’m not saying that. Except for me. It makes me put out more effort.
TP: The next baritone player is Leo Parker, who you greatly appreciate.
HB: Yeah, because Leo did some other things on the instrument. I thought he made the horn romp and really jump. He had an effervescent quality in his playing. He swung real hard, so that endeared him to me. But I didn’t really get to him until later, actually. I’d already been with Mulligan, Pepper Adams and maybe a lot of other people, whoever they are, in different bands, or Stan Kenton or Maynard Ferguson, Basie, whoever was around at the time. But it took me a while. And I was shocked when I saw this material and how good he was. But it did a lot in terms of saying, “Yeah, ok, I need all of it” – that this was part of it, too.
TP: This piece is Leo Parker in a sextet situation circa 1961 called Let me Tell You About It. Bill Swindell on tenor saxophone, John Burks, trumpet, Yusef Salim, piano, Stan Conover, bass and Purnell Rice on drums along with Leo Parker on baritone sax.
[MUSIC: Leo Parker, “Blue Leo”; “Goin’ To Minton’s”-Leo Parker-Fats Navarro, Jan. 1947]
TP: That leaping solo by Leo Parker really illustrated your remark about his making the horn jump and dance.
HB: Yeah, make it dance, that’s right. That was Pepper. We’re trying to run through this thing now. I’m basically trying to go through the people who were most influential in those formative years of listening to and being…
TP: one of the strongest and most respected baritone players from the beginning of his recorded career in the mid-1950s was Pepper Adams, who I know had a big effect on you.
HB: Oh yeah, I used to listen to Pepper over and over and over and OVER, on whatever recording I could, and I heard things that Gene Ammons had done that he was on also. So you know, he was rough company and taking care of business, so I had a lot of respect for his prowess on the instrument. Hard core.
TP: This one comes from a 1969 release on Prestige called Encounter, where Pepper Adams and Zoot Sims share the front line on baritone and tenor, with a Detroit-based rhythm section of Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones, playing Thad Jones’ “Elusive.”
[MUSIC: Pepper Adams, “Elusive”; “I’ve Just Seen Her”-Encounter-1969]
TP: the next baritone player to step up will be Serge Chaloff.
HB: I don’t remember when I heard these, but I guess I was in my teenage years…maybe. I only got a chance to hear one record; maybe later on I heard another one. I was very impressed when I heard it. To me, he had sort of taken the so-called bop style; he played it more like an alto as opposed to a baritone, the way I heard it, because of his fleetness and the way that he ran over the instrument. Plus with a great sound from what I can remember. That was very impressive to me also at the time. I was thirsty for hearing anything. It was hard. I was going on this baritone sax search, I guess you would call it, without even calling it that at the time. By the time I heard it, he’d already passed.
[MUSIC: Serge Chaloff, “I’ve got The World On A String”-March 1956, Sonny Clark, Leroy Vinnegar and Philly Joe Jones; Basie-Charlie Fowlkes, “Counterblock”-1959]
TP: You mentioned that you listened a lot to Basie recordings with Charlie Fowlkes…
HB: I also got a chance to hear the band in person to hear how crackerjack he was on precision on playing parts, and had the sort of sound to do what it did to the ensemble. This was a great lesson for me, too, because that’s the definitive big band I guess you would call it kind of playing… That’s the definitive way of doing it. That’s the reason for bringing it in, because I didn’t want to omit the people who have played this instrument so many years, whether they’ve been featured as soloists or not. Because some of them have taken support role type jobs, and this is a master of that particular discipline.
TP: It’s hard to find a solo by Charlie Fowlkes in the Basie discography. Folks who know the discography better than I do call us at the station for Charlie Fowlkes solo flights.
We’ll take you to the hour with a track featuring baritone saxophonist Charles Davis, who is also well known for his tenor playing and alto playing, out of Chicago, who played with Sun Ra and did some two-baritone features with Pat Patrick on some of mid-50s recordings. Bluiett’s choice is from a Kenny Dorham recording for Time from 1960 with Steve Kuhn, Jimmy Garrison and Buddy Enlow.
HB: Charles I know personally. I met him after I moved to New York, and had only heard a few things up until that time. But when I talked to him, he spoke highly and most favorably of Leo Parker. That seemed to be his biggest influence, I guess, from being around New York and seeing him play a lot. I didn’t get that opportunity. But listening to Leo Parker, I can hear the extension of the influence that is in his playing. But he seemed to have given up baritone and moved on to tenor. But I think his lines and things seem to be better suited for that particular instrument anyway, the particular voice that he comes up with. But I like some of the things that I’ve heard in the past, and this is the record I used to listen to quite a bit because of the tenderness and character, which is something special, to me, to listen to.
[K.D.-Charles Davis, “Monk’s Mood”]
TP: Up to 1958-1959, Charles Davis had played extensively with Sun Ra in Chicago, and was paired off not infrequently with Pat Patrick. Were you aware of those two-baritone Sun Ra recordings when they were happening, or did you discover them later?
HB: I think I discovered them later. Because Sun Ra’s stuff is so extensive, I just heard what I heard. By the time I met Charles, I think he was in New York. This was what era?
TP: 1956. A lot of the Saturn LPs didn’t include personnel, but now the Evidence label has released 15 CDs thus far in an ongoing reissue project of the Saturn with complete discographies. The piece we’ll hear is “Reflections in Blue” from Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth.
[Sun Ra, “Reflections in Blue”-1956, Art Hoyle-Charles Davis-Pat Patrick, John Gilmore; “Pleasure”-Pat Patrick]
HB: Let’s make a comment on the telephone call we got. Tell them what it was.
TP: One caller, who said he’s a pianist who had played and jammed with Gerry Mulligan and Serge Chaloff suggested I convey to Hamiet his suggestion that he listen to Ernie Caceres, whom he favored for his dark, woody tone on the baritone because he has a unique sound.
HB: I’m glad his name is mentioned, because his name was overlooked, as will be many other people in a 3-hour segment. We have enough material to do a whole spotlight, like the 40-some hour showcase…
TP: Apart from that, the purpose of this show is for the musician to present a personal statement about things they’ve heard and been influenced by. We’ll hear now the baritone sound of another extraordinary multi-reed player, Nick Brignola, who on the release we’ll hear I think plays 10 different instrument — soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, clarinet, alto clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute and piccolo. This is from Time, a drummerless date with Kenny Barron on piano and Dave Holland on bass.
HB: I think everything you said was true, so let’s just go and listen t o it.
[MUSIC: Nick Brignola-Barron-Holland, “Speak Low”; Cecil Payne, “Slide Hampton”-1972; Sahib Shihab, “”-Jazz Sahib-1957]
HB: I left quite a few people out, but ones I like: Danny Bank for the hundreds of records I listened to him on in different configurations, like a lot of things with Oliver Nelson. Tony Scott, who is known more for clarinet, but I heard him…he used to play baritone for a while – it was real wild. That affected me, too. I was trying to get to “Cuber Libre,” which I couldn’t, and stuff I heard do Jay Cameron do with Slide Hampton when Slide had his octet.
TP: “Cuber Libre” is a Ronnie Cuber release from the mid 70s.
HB: Yes. Howard Johnson. Gary Smulyan is one of the newer, younger… John Surman. So there’s quite a few other people. The horn seems to have taken on another kind of significance that it didn’t have in the past. There’s more people soloing on it now maybe than was in the past, and not just playing support roles.
TP: I think Hamiet Bluiett is one person who’s raised a lot of people’s consciousness about the baritone sax with his own recordings over the last 20 years and with the WSQ.
Coming up, something by Charles Tyler, who played baritone and alto with great proficiency.
HB: He was a formidable baritone saxophonist. I thought he was more original on that instrument than he was on alto. Original in his style and the way he approached the horn, and the things that he did. Immense sound. Sound for days. That’s the thing I remember, and the amount of power, and what he brought to the instrument. I was sad to hear of his passing and stuff of that nature. But I’m glad that these few things are left.
TP: You recorded a solo baritone album around the time this one was done for India Navigation. This recital by Charles Tyler was recorded at WBAI, and issued by the Adelphi Jazz Line.
[MUSIC: Charles Tyler, “From St. Louis To Kansas City By Way of Chicago”-60 Minute Man]
TP: We’ll conclude a track featuring the musicians Bluiett will be performing with at the Village Vanguard next week, who are Ted Dunbar, guitar; Clint Houston, bass; and Ben Riley on drums. They play on a 1992 Soul Note recording, titled Sankofa: Rear Guard.
When we were discussing the show, you said it wasn’t just baritone players who influenced you. You mentioned Gene Ammons, Eddie Lockjaw Davis and John Coltrane as great influences on the way you play and why you play the way the way you play. A few words about those non-baritone players in your conception of the horn.
HB: I was influenced by a lot of different people. Count Basie for the way he drove the band. Duke Ellington for the kind of colors that he used. Some vocalists. I listen more to the musicians than anything else. Lockjaw because of the uncanny way in which he played saxophone. No one outplayed him, I thought. No one. He had a band with Johnny Griffin, and it was just awesome. He just kept raising the ante, every tune. And Griffin… It was just awesome. It was unbelievable.
John Coltrane for the sort of spirituality in the way he played. I could dig into the music and stay into it like an hour or so at a time. It really would be focused all that length. It was overwhelming to see to see the band take the whole audience and everybody with them at the same time. And his harmonic sensibility. Just everything about him. It was amazing.
I’ve always liked people with big sounds, big wind and big-throated. Not that I didn’t like the others, but I just favored those in comparison.
Gene Ammons for the kind of knockout punch that he had. His first note, that was it. After that, everything was gravy, but the first note would always just kill. Everybody else that even existed before he got there for his first note, that was like ho-hum.
I was always amazed at the abilities of these people to just command — demand and command so much with an instrument.
Like I said, for Carney, Harry Carney… I heard a lot of these people at different times. I’m going back more to listening to them in person. Because the records provided one thing, but the in-person feeling of what I heard was more important to me. The Basie band – the whole band. And hear the band with Ella and hear her sing, it would be just as powerful or more powerful than a whole big band, when they would do the things where she was scatting and the band would come in with the riffs. It’s just unbelievable. A lot of gospel music, listening to that kind of thing. The blues. Quite a bit. The more I think about it, the more I start digging up.
This first piece is called “John.” It’s dedicated to John Coltrane. It has a simple melody. And it was going through the era of Coltrane…it’s sort of a modal period. It conjures him up in my brain.
[MUSIC: Hamiet Bluiett 4, “John”]