Category Archives: Trombone

For Roswell Rudd’s 80th birthday, An Interview from 2005 and an uncut Blindfold Test From 2001

Master trombonist, musical conceptualist and  free spirit Roswell Rudd turns 80 on November 17th. In anticipation of the occasion, I’m running an uncut interview that was boiled down for a brief piece in Jazziz in 2005, and an uncut Blindfold Test for DownBeat from 2001.


Roswell Rudd Blindfold Test (8-9-01):

1. Bill Harris, “Bijou” (from Woody Herman, Blowin’ Up A Storm: The Columbia Years, 1945-47, Columbia 1945/2001) [Ralph Burns, composer] (5 stars)

That was “Bijou” with the Woody Herman Orchestra, featuring Bill Harris, the great trombonist, one of my favorite singers on the horn. Arrangement by Ralph Burns; it’s really a gem. A Latin flavor. I don’t know if at the time… I think this is late ’40s. I don’t really know how many American swing bands were doing Latin-influenced music. This may be one of the first things like this. Ellington had one called “Flaming Sword,” which was a Juan Tizol vehicle. In terms of the ’40s, there were Latin bands, but non-Latin bands getting into African-influenced rhythms, Caribbean rhythms, Latin American rhythms… This is a wonderful early example of that.

Bill Harris, when I was about 11 years old or so and started hearing this stuff on records… The quality Harris had of attacking certain notes and making them swell, like Flamenco singers… I was over in Portugal and I heard a couple of good Fado singers, and they do this with these longer notes that they sing; they start soft and then they fill out. There’s a crescendo. It’s uplifting. It just grabs you, takes you out of your seat. Then when they go into a string of embellishments after that and bring the line down, they’re with it all the way. But that swell into the first note is the launching pad to a lot of the phrasing in that music, and I’m sure it’s in a lot of other places, too.

I can’t say enough about Bill Harris and the great Woody Herman bands at that time. I’m not sure who the other people were in the band, for instance, if it might have been Dave Tough on drums, who was a very innovative man in this day, or Chubby Jackson, another innovative guy. I think it was Woody Herman playing the alto sax obbligato there. A wonderful thing. A real gem. It makes you thankful that there are ratings. 5 stars.

2. George Lewis-Bertram Turetzky, “The Ecumenical Blues” (from Conversations, Incus, 1997) (5 stars)

To me, this was a wonderful example of two people listening closely to each other and making music through the process of their interaction in the moment, a wonderful sort of crossing-over by the trombonist into the realm of bowed string colors, how he could complement those on his instrument. I loved that great nasal sound the trombonist had at the beginning, kind of matching the sound of the bowed contrabass. A little later on, if he had a mute in there for that…he took the mute out and got a different color at one point, and carried that through to the end. It was a nice changeup in his color, and it also was a way of complementing the bass. I use this technique myself with a single mute, which is a Harmon mute that I’ve loosened up with a screwdriver, so that if I turn the outer part of the mute a certain way, it’s very loose and it sounds like a giant kazoo, and if I turn it another way it tightens up and it sounds more like a bad Harmon mute. But this business of imitating each other’s sounds, like a cross-gender kind of playing, is a wonderful way of developing textures in music.

I also want to say that aside from these two performers being so beautifully attuned to each other, as far as dealing with sound, getting into the sound and letting the sound tell them what to do, the content of the trombonist’s playing was beautiful, too. There’s some good blues in there, a kind of lament. It was a bit like Bill Harris at the beginning; the kind of tone production that the trombonist was getting could relate very strongly to that. Very vocal. Somebody singing, somebody talking. It’s beautiful, very beautiful. 5 stars. But I can’t tell who it is.

3. Jimmy Knepper, “Invisible Lady” (from Charles Mingus, Tonight At Noon, Label M, 1961/2000) (5 stars)

That was a quintet — bass, piano, drums, baritone sax used very judiciously — and it just has to be Jimmy Knepper on the trombone. Because nobody else can do what he can do, the way he does it. It’s masterful continuity that I love, and the way he sequences his lines, where you have the sudden doubling up of tempo in the middle of a phrase… It’s the tempo acceleration thing that was so prevalent in Charlie Parker’s playing. I think Jimmy was one of the first people to pick up on what the Bird was doing. It was really a heroic musical achievement to take this concept of Charlie Parker’s saxophone dexterity and apply it to the trombone. Jimmy was one of the people that really freed up the instrument and at an early time. I don’t know when this is done. But it’s the 22nd Century as far as I’m concerned! So expressive and so… Again, pushing the instrument to places where it’s never been before and keeping the emotional musical content wherever he goes with his dynamics through phases of tempo modulation. He’s just a master. Absolutely 5 stars.

The portimento is the word that should be in here. It means that the line is unbroken even though it’s going through these incredible transformations. It’s the mastery of the breathing.

4. Conrad Herwig, “Africa” (from The Latin Side of John Coltrane, Astor Place, 1996) [Eddie Palmieri, piano]. (5 stars)

Nice African rhythm section. It’s a theme that I associate with Coltrane. I like the way that the trombonist built his chorus. He opened up with this long lip trill that gradually crescendoed, then there was some linear improvisation, some shouts, and he reached a point where there was a nice kind of drumming on two notes a minor third apart, very effective, and some more shouting, and playing on either side harmonically of the drone. I think it was a great effort.

Just sticking to the piece the way it is, and without saying I wish there could have been more or less of this or more of that…checking it out the way that it stands, it holds up. Somehow…it may be the result… If it was a live recording perhaps, the profile of the trombone gets lost in there sometimes. But he’s there, he’s staying with it, and he brings it up front again. I’ll give it 5 stars, because I know what kind of energy and ears and knowledge it takes to do this kind of thing.

Who it might be? I can’t say. Steve Turre maybe? Barry Rogers? Fine, fine playing. The clarity of the recording somehow bothered me, because he was doing interesting things but they got kind of masked out. This is just the way things go sometimes. But if I listened to again or maybe a third time, I would try to go further and further inside the sound of the recording and then be able to get behind the mask a little bit in those places. But this was a tour de force.

5. Julian Priester-Sam Rivers, “Heads of The People” (from Hints On Light and Shadow, Postcards, 1996) – (5 stars)

What I notice so far between all these examples we’ve listened to is the infinite possibilities of trombone. Because every player brings a different thing to the instrument, and most of these players are composers, too, so it’s not just bringing a new voice, a new personality infused into the instrument, but also beyond that, into the other components in the performance. Here we have a beautiful tension built up between maybe a prerecorded tape and… Really nice. It sounds like an African sound system. You get some terrible sound systems over there, as you do in other places in the world; but in Africa the sound system becomes a part of the music. As beautiful as the balafon and the great stringed instruments and the tuned drums sound acoustically, it all goes into this sound system and comes out sounding another way totally! What’s going into the system is so good to begin with, that when it comes out, it still comes out good; even though the system has got it completely screwed up,. it still has a beautiful structure to it, but the original timbre has completely disappeared. I got that effect from the taped part of this.

There was a nice tension built up, because the trombonist stayed in the same mode throughout. He was just playing the blues in one place and keeping it there, changing the register from time to time, and he had his timing so that the prerecorded part shone through all the time and maintained that tension between a kind of moving, weird jumble, street-sounding, sound-effects-sounding wall that was going on behind the trombone, and he never attempted to imitate any of that. He never attempted to go across and into the taped part, for instance, the way that George Lewis did with the bassist, where they really reversed their roles and exchanged roles as far as the sounds of their instruments go. On this, the trombonist created a tension between himself (or herself) and this background that was kind of in flux all the time. It was very interesting for me.

It’s uneven, in a way, but that’s part of its beauty. The main thing is that it works, that it has moments which are unachievable any other way. It’s real, and if they performed it again it would be different. But the concept of creating a tension was fundamental to the success of the music here — the music being interesting, the music having impact. Beautiful. Beautiful execution. Again, putting yourself in a corner and coming home with the goods. I’ll give this 5 stars, too. I was going to say maybe not 5 because it was uneven in places. But I realized at the time I really need to have those other places in order to have moments of impact. So it was a fluctuating thing, with this very static quality in there, too… I think there was good interplay between those two elements. Yeah, I’m going to give it 5. I was going to take it down a notch, but I’m going to give it 5.

It might be Julian Priester, because he used to do stuff with tape — just some sound, something to create another component — and let it run and just work with that.. It reminds me of what Johnny Dyani used to do. He used to turn the water on in the sink in the bathroom just to hear the sound of the water running, and off the harmonics of that he would practice his bass and play along with it. Again, it wasn’t exactly the same as this… I’m just talking about the nature of the components here. Because Johnny would play inside and outside the sound of the water, but he wouldn’t play as if he was in a different room than the water, which is more the effect that we have here of these two different things going on simultaneously and the tension that’s created between them. But hearing this brought that situation with Johnny to my mind.

Oh, it was Julian? 5 stars for the adventure, my man. It was beautiful.

6. Ray Anderson, “Green Eyes, Fireflies” (from Bonemeal, Raybone, 2000) [Mark Helias, bass; Matt Wilson, drums] – (4 stars)

Quartet — guitar, bass, drums and trombone. I think it might be Ray Anderson; it sounds like plunger things I’ve heard him do in the past. I don’t think this is as successful as other things I’ve heard by him. But he’s a great humorist, and he has so much heart in his playing, he can bring it off. I would have loved to hear this melody played a little straighter. It was kind of a Strayhorn-influenced thing, and I was frustrated, in a way, that I couldn’t hear the actual pitches. There was so much siding off the preconceived melody, if there was one, and I missed knowing specifically what that might be. That in a way is the reverse magic of the thing, like: Damn, I wonder if he was going to score this, what the actual notes were. So the sliding around effect had a way of making you wonder what was the real melody. I enjoyed that kind of inversion. It was pretty successful, because he was consistent with his inconsistencies. But it frustrated me because I know there was a beautiful melody there, and I wish I could have heard that, too. But maybe it’s up to me to take this and factor it down to what I might conceive of as the real melody, because there’s so much playing around something there. My trip would be to see if I can average it out to something that I could just pick out on the piano as a beautiful melody. I don’t know if I’m making myself clear, but let’s leave it at that.

I would say 4 stars in relation to other things by Ray that I think were just clearer to me. But I’d say 4 stars for not coming up to other things that he’s done, but 5 stars for the attempt at this kind of inverse humor — if that’s okay for a rating.

7. Steve Turre-James Carter, “Eric The Great” (#6) (from TNT, Telarc, 2001) – (5 stars)

That was a beautifully conceived track. I love the very minimal horn playing with the sax and the trombone, and featuring the bass at the slow tempo, and then the change of tempo. It sounded to me even though it was measured, that it was free harmonically. And I enjoyed the continuity of the trombonist. He went to a lot of different places, but he remembered where he was. The saxophonist made just a great entrance that marked a special place in the performance, and he, as the trombonist, went to different places, but kept a continuity. The recapitulation back to the first section after the fast tempo was very effective. Was it Steve Turre? I want to give it 5 stars for the concept and something… I don’t know, some ingredient was missing there in the playing. But the experience of hearing these different trombonists…. I realize how great they are and what a great instrument it is. All these voices are so distinctive, and it’s the same old B-flat trombone. It’s amazing. But something was missing, some kind of heart-sincerity thing. It was kind of stiff. It may have been the intention of the players, but I felt it kind of stiff at times, kind of dry. I didn’t get the personality, the warmth part of it. But they were executing the concept, and I have to give them full credit for that.

8. J.J. Johnson, “How Deep Is the Ocean” (from Vivian, Concord, 1992) – (5 stars)

Hearing this melody played, “How Deep is The Ocean,” I’m trying to put my finger on the composer. He’s one of America’s greatest songwriters and he lived to be 100 years old. I can never remember his name…Irving Berlin…even though I can play 50 of his songs or whatever. And to hear it played so statuesquely on the bone made me realize what a great legacy we have in American melody. Sometimes I thought it was J.J. Johnson, sometimes I thought it was Bennie Green. I wasn’t quite sure. It was maybe somebody right in between those two people. But the phrasing was fine. It had the kind of clarity that J.J. brought to his performances. He’s so sorely missed. And Bennie Green’s kind of intonations, and the way that he would alter the density of his sound from time to time, and his phrases. It’s probably neither one of these guys, but well-done.

It’s J.J.? Was it recent? It’s a little flawed in places. But there’s only a couple of people who can really play this way. A lot of people who try to play like this, but there’s really only a few who really do it — who innovated it actually. That’s the important thing. We’re talking about somebody innovating this style which is something we think was brought about collectively, the work of many hands. But when you think about people like J.J. and Monk and Louis Armstrong and so forth, they innovated this stuff. We just take for granted that it came from many, many people. Maybe it did, but it all came through one person. This approach to performance on the instrument was the creation, was the invention of one person. 5 stars.

9. Carla Cook-Craig Harris, “Dem Bones” (from Dem Bones, MaxJazz, 2000) (Fred Wesley, composer) – (5 stars)

It seems to me that Joseph Bowie does something like this. Maybe it’s him, and he could be overdubbing himself. I love the concept (I do a couple of these things myself) of songs about the trombone, and featuring the trombone. The one that I do, “Slide, Mr. Trombone.” Dinah Washington used to do one. It’s great. It’s like a novelty thing. The singer was into it. I think the novelty part of it was achieved, and the humor was great, especially when the trombone was in the foreground toward the end with the mutes and the gutbucketing and the hooting and heavy breathing… I love it. So I think it achieved its intended effect. I felt that as far as the blues part of it went, there wasn’t too much depth to that. When you’re ripping and you’re playing modal phrases, it’s difficult for me to separate the content of this kind of melodizing from…to strip the content out of it and just play the notes, kind of. I felt that it was just kind of playing the notes sometimes here, without the feeling going into it. So I missed that. You could knock off a star for that. But then, you have to say that on the whole it achieved its effect as a novelty and just getting people up off of their seats and getting them to dance and getting them to move. It had a nice invitational thing going on that way. I found it attractive that way. Even though taking the soulful phrases and just playing the notes without having the feeling in there put me off a little bit. But you can do this in music. You can lift notes off of the feelings, and you can play them dispassionately and create a certain effect that way. Put them in another context. This is all going on. It always has. It’s part of the continuity of musical progress in the human race, the way it fuses and defuses and disconnects and reconnects. It’s all part of the process. I think the recording achieved its purpose, and I’m fine with that. So I’ll give it 5 stars for achieving its purpose as I hear it.

10. Wycliffe Gordon, “Ba-Lue Bolivar Blues” (from The Search, Nagel-Heyer, 1999) – (4 stars)

“Ba-lues Bolivar Ba-lues Are,” a Thelonius Monk masterpiece. Good execution and good interplay between the sax and the trombone. I like the way they break it up with each other. I like the different voices that they change into on their instruments the different colors that they get from time to time. It makes you think there are different people who just walked in to play 8 bars and disappeared again. It’s a great effect. I had a problem because I heard the composer play this a number of times, and there are some things happening in the structure of this particular blues that I think it’s helpful to deal with when you improvise on it. Working with Monk’s variables is often very helpful as far as building a good foundation in your own playing. So not to take advantage of them, it seems to me that you miss the opportunity here to really… There are many ways to improvise. But one way that really interests me is if you know the structure that you’re coming from, and you deal with the ingredients of that structure, you get a certain kind of continuity that you don’t get any other way. .. And having done this with Monk’s compositions for some time, it’s hard for me to approach them in any other way. I would give this 4 stars, because I think it achieves the humor that they found in the piece. I just wish they had dealt with the musical variables of it a little more. But they were great players. Could that have been Bill Watrous? Curtis Fowlkes? It might be somebody I just don’t know. Wycliffe Gordon? I’ve never heard anything by him. He’s new to me and I have to check him out.

11. Quentin “Butter” Jackson, “To You” (from Duke Ellington Meets Count Basie, Columbia, 1961/1999) – (5 stars)

Thad Jones-Mel Lewis? Is it Thad’s arrangement? I don’t know who the trombonist was. Let’s see, who could do this? Booty Wood? Or Britt Woodman, who recently passed. Oh, he had people who could do this. It wasn’t Lawrence Brown or Tricky Sam or any of those guys. It was I think a younger guy. [AFTER] That was Quentin Jackson? Wow, I missed that. I feel bad about that. 5 stars.

12. Vic Dickenson, “Squeeze Me” (from Art Hodes Blue Note Jazzmen, Hot Jazz On Blue Note, 1944/1996) – (5 stars) [Edmond Hall, clarinet;

[INSTANTLY] Vic Dickenson. You know it right away from the sound. Every note that he plays. He’s got so much personality. This is something you find in the older players, that every note they play is imbued with their own character. I guess it breaks down to where nowadays it’s hard to separate people by the particular personality that they have in their sound. But back in the days when there were fewer people doing this, there was more identifiable individuality. But now so many more people are doing this that it becomes harder and harder to identify the individuals. But they’re still there! I’m telling you. And especially on this instrument, which is all about imbuing the sound with your own personality so that you can be identified just from the sound of a few notes that you play. Edmond Hall on the clarinet, who I played with at one time. He’s the same way. You know who he is right away. I don’t know whether it’s because I was there or I grew up on it. But these sounds are so distinctive, these voices. Vic Dickenson liberated the trombone into linear improvisation the same way Jack Teagarden did, and this was a heroic thing. There’s some of Vic’s humor. The name of the tune is “Squeeze Me,” written by Fats Waller. This is great free counterpoint. We’ve heard some good free counterpoint today. I think this is something that trombonists know how to do. It’s in our blood. We love collective improvisation. We know how to find the part. We know how to share with other people. We know how to complement. We know how to play behind. We know how to accompany. We know how to go out front and solo. 5 stars.



Roswell Rudd (Feb. 15, 2005) – (Jazziz):
TP: When I was assigned this piece, the editor initially wanted me to talk to you for their Traditions issue, but this now will be in the World Music issue. But it seems to me that both would work, because it seems that over your 45-50 years playing professionally, everything you do is informed deeply by transmuting traditions into the present tense, whether those are the traditions of American jazz, or ethnomusicology… What I’d like to do now is start with some concrete facts and figures about your current projects, and extrapolate out. We should probably start with Malicool. How did it begin? I gather you went there in 2000?

RUDD: I would go back a little farther and say that I started collecting African recordings back when I was in college. I was fascinated with what I could understand about the sounds of these recordings. Folkways and labels in Europe, notably France, where they did a lot of recording of West Africa, and the Hugh Tracey records. Whatever I could get my hands on. Then I went to work as an archivist for Alan Lomax, and I did that on and off from 1964 until shortly before his death. I would work occasionally for him, and I got quite a bit of exposure that way to what was available in the way recordings from all over the world. But I didn’t start really playing with musicians in Africa until 2000. I want to say that the inspiration for doing it… It’s been a dream to travel there and play with some of the musicians. Toumani Diabaté is someone Verna turned me on to, and I thought it would be out of this world to try to do some stuff with him. So we went over in 2000, and jammed a little bit, and did a concert of… I mean, it was basically a spontaneous concert. The chemistry was so good that we decided we’d come back a year later and try to do a recording. That’s the Malicool recording. It was first out on Universal, and a couple of years later came out on Sunnyside here.

TP: Before going there, had this been building up in you for years? Did you have a sense of what you wanted to do when the opportunity arrived?

RUDD: Yes, that was the point I was trying to make. My curiosity was really piqued by this time, so that the opportunity to travel, which I really hadn’t been able to do, came along at just this time. We were able to go over there in 2000 and spend some time informally, and then go back in 2001 and take into the studio in Bamako, and record with the musicians there. We’ve been back… I took the Shout band over there to play on the desert last year. This year I just spent a couple of weeks in Benin with some brass players, with a brass band…

TP: A local band, from Benin.

RUDD: Yes. They’re all from Cortino(?). I just don’t have words for it. The young lions in Africa on these horns. Forget it. And the drumming is just… I can’t believe how young the people are who are playing this stuff. The old masters are there, and they’re touring a lot. They’ll come through the States and they’ll be in Europe and Japan and so forth. But these kids, these African kids, are playing so much great stuff.

TP: It’s an interesting phenomenon to be at the stage of life and intellectual development that you’d achieved by 2000, when you were 64-65 years old, had taught ethnomusicology, had been listening to African music for about 45 years (if you started doing it in college), and you have a certain point of view on what African music is. But you haven’t been there. And now you go there. What surprised you?

RUDD: What’s missing with recordings, wherever they’re from, is the context. I’m talking about the cultural context —the smell of the place, the feel of the place, the vibe from the people. 99% is missing. This gave me a chance to go to one of the older places in Africa where there’s still a homogeneity to the sound of the place. It’s not so barraged by Western media that there’s just a morass of all kinds of music in the air. No, it’s basically Malian music that’s in the air. I mean, traditional music. There’s a tonal system to this music which you can hear wherever you go in Mali. You can relate to it right away. You know that it’s from there. I’d never been in a situation like this before, where thousands of people are in this system, and there’s very little disrupting it. That’s the first thing that got to me. Then the more I got inside of that sound, which was in the environment all the time anyway and with the people I was playing with. Then I started to feel that way and hear that way, and I was really trying my hand at expressing myself in that system.

It’s something that is a great challenge for improvisers. Basically that’s what I am. I don’t consider myself a jazz… I only consider myself a jazz musician in the sense that I am an improviser—basically an improviser. The challenge in America always was to be able to play with different people, to be able to fit in—into the old music, into the swing music, into the now music, into the future music. The thing was just to be able to go from the sound, play from the sound of what’s happening, and develop that, make a performance out of it. Basically that’s what I’m doing when I go to Africa.

TP: But it was never quite so spontaneous as that. If you’re going to sit in one of those situations, you seem pretty prepared. You’ve had one famously documented master-apprentice relationship with Herbie Nichols, and I’m not sure what other master-apprentice relationships you’ve had… Have you had anything like that with the African musicians?

RUDD: Well, see, there we go. Context. This is one context. New York City, the boroughs. That’s kind of one context, and it’s a myriad of styles. Herbie Nichols, he had this thing going. One guy with a universe. Then the more I explored around here, I realized that there were many musical universes walking around.

TP: You got into Monk’s universe in a similar manner.

RUDD: Yes, I followed him around. That’s another universe. So it’s all in the boroughs here. But believe me, there is to me a tremendous difference between Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk. It’s almost the same difference as playing in Bamako with Toumani Diabeté and playing with a Dixieland band here. Worlds of difference. That’s always been the most satisfying thing to me, is to go into these different musical worlds and try to find myself in them.

TP: What do you do to ground yourself so you can function.
RUDD: [POINTS WITH BOTH FINGERS] Ears. And the acoustical experiences that are built up inside of you. That has everything to do with your ears.

TP: Do ears come before systems, or scales, or…

RUDD: It’s hard to say. It’s a chicken-and-the-egg argument. But I think a lot of what your vocabulary is musically… [PAUSE]

TP: We’re talking about grounding yourself within the improvisational context.

RUDD: It all collects inside of you, all of your experiences with different players and different bands. It can be in your locale, where you were raised, and it can be in other other cultures, in other continents. The way that you adapt, I think, has to do with your collective experience. It’s not easy to adapt. Playing with a Mongolian band, which I’ve done recently…

TP: There will be a record out in the Fall, right?

RUDD: Yes. There will be a recording coming out of some things that we’ve collaborated on. Even though that was happening here. They came here. I was able to work with them here and record with them here. This was really an extreme adaptation for me, because this is basically a five-tone system. Africa allows for a little bit more than that. So coming out of the Malian system, that was a new parameter for me. But you see, every time that you are in a different system, you could call it the limitations of that system, but it brings out certain kinds of unlimitedness in yourself that you haven’t explored before. That’s what I love about this. So it meant that with the Pentatonics… We call ourselves the Pentatonics, because we’re basically working with a five-note system. We get the effect or the richness of a larger tonal system through the kind of embellishment we do, and the kind of bending, sliding, all of that very-very musical stuff that goes with just exploring with sound, playing with sound. Those kinds of things. The nuances. You discover nuances. It brings out your ability to nuance, the more that you limit yourself away from chromaticism and…

I can’t wait to get to India. That’s the next thing I’ve got to do. I’ve got to get to India. I’ve got to get to China. Because these people really know how to embellish. If they only had two notes to work with, they would be able to… They could keep you happy for hours exploring the sound of just two pitches, and with all that rhythm and sense of color and dynamics… Oh, man! This is what I live for. This is what improvisers dream of. Going into situations like this and just having to find in yourself the resources to blend with what’s going on. I love this. That’s basically what I’ve been doing here for 45 years, from the time that I was playing along with Spike Jones and Duke Ellington, up until now.

TP: What initially sparked your interest in African music when you were at Yale? By the way, what was your major?

RUDD: I was liberal arts. I wanted to major in music composition. But my professor in freshman year, my theory professor did me a favor. He didn’t know it, but he did me a favor. I was prevented from majoring in composition. So I put together a curriculum for myself out of what was being offered in the way of theory and history courses at Yale, which was very European. There was very little about traditional music in the curriculum. Yale was all very European. They didn’t get into the European folk music at all. It was just European composed music from the earliest notations up through the present, up through Webern and Stockhausen, the big maestros of the 20th century.

TP: So what spurred you to start listening to African music and other things?

RUDD: Curiosity. Because I knew that a lot of American music came from other places, and I was curious about these places, these other cultures. Sifting through the record bins in stores where I would go, occasionally I would find these things.

But the real breakthrough for me was working as an ethnomusicologist with Alan Lomax at a time when he was putting together an archive of field recordings. He had contacts with people who were doing their theses out in the bush somewhere, and they would be sending back very bad recordings of what was going on around them in these communities. It was my job to analyze a lot of this stuff, according to this cantametric(?) system that Victor Grauer put together for Lomax. I was just learning a great deal about what I wish I had learned in college. I was finally getting an education in traditional music, which I think is really important for people now.

It’s time. We had a lot of American music that never got into the educational system until recently. Now I think it’s important to expand from there and maybe get more of the world into the educational system. Because for a long time, if you wanted to study traditional music, you had to take anthropology, and that way you would get into comparative musicology. You would be able to get maybe an inkling of the vastness of musical tradition that was going on in the planet. Otherwise you would just be doing your Mozart and your Brahms and your Stockhausen. You would not be getting down into the roots of this stuff, where all this stuff is coming from for millions of years. I mean, hey! I used to get really bummed at these professors who’d say, “Ro-co-co” your ass off. But where are these guys getting their stuff? It’s got to be coming from a lot further around than their associates and their little tradition that they’re building up here. There’s a hugeness to this thing that we’re not looking at, that goes beyond this stuff that you’ve picked out.

TP: Now, I’d assume a traditional musician like Toumani Diabaté has some knowledge of jazz and other forms by dint of living in Paris, where so many worlds are converging.

RUDD: Toumani’s been out of Mali. He’s been over here, he’s been in Europe a lot.

TP: But how does that interaction impact the different traditional musics? Do you focus on that dynamic when you play with these musicians? Or are you trying to get to some essence within the root or pristine condition of… Do you see this music existing in some pristine way, or do you see them as evolving musics?

RUDD: I see the music in terms of the carriers of the music. That’s something that I was turned on to with American music when people were categorizing our classical music here, or when they were saying there was this era and that era, and now here comes the New Wave and the Avant Garde and so forth. I was saying, “No, really, it’s just about Charlie Mingus. It’s about him. It’s about his music. It’s about Ornette Coleman’s music. It’s about Ornette Coleman, this thing coming out of himself, and orchestrating other people into that to make the music.” It’s really about the carriers.

So going to work with Toumani Diabaté, it’s about him. It’s about what’s inside of him. Not everybody is a great improviser. It’s not only true here. It’s true anywhere in the world. But there are improvisers out there everywhere you go, to some degree or another. Toumani Diabaté, in his culture, is a great improviser. And there are not that many people in Africa who can improvise on his level, believe it or not. With all that incredible drumming and singing, the Djeli improvising new lyrics every day for what they’re doing, extemporizing their asses off… There are really supreme improvisers and there are improvisers just on a simpler level, people who are just making a few variations from day to day. But somebody like Toumani Diabaté is a formidable improviser. I can give him a theme or a form, and he’ll work with it, take it apart, and put it back together again until he’s got it inside of himself. Then he’ll really be able to speak, not only himself, but in terms of this form, in terms of himself. It’s both things.

But when we started talking about this, it’s not so much about… I think these categorizations of traditions and trying to corner them and put a label on them… I think that maybe is a way to start; it may be a way to start learning from a distance. But what it always come down to is the players. The play is the thing, the players are the thing. The guys that have the music in them. The living repositories. That’s where I think…

TP: When you were in a position of having to set up a curriculum and a pedagogy yourself for six years, what did you do? What were your first principles? Apart from faculty politics and everything else. Just in terms of trying to communicate information to six new classes of students, who were sort of blank slates, what were your first principles?

RUDD: As I said, from a distance you have to work with whatever information you have—the books, the recordings. You try to bring some players in, some living examples of it. But you’re at a disadvantage. You’re thousands of miles from the actual people who are part of the tradition or living in a different culture musically. I did enough. I think I inspired people enough, opened them up enough by bringing in American improvisers. And they got into the spirit of what it is to do something spontaneously, wherever you are, in whatever culture you are. Again, it’s a combination of what you’ve been taught, what’s in your environment all of your life, and what you can pull out of yourself. It’s a combination of those things—what’s been put in and what’s in there, what’s churning around in there. I don’t know what the process is, really, that’s going on inside of me, but I keep coming up with stuff. That’s just my thing. That’s what I was put here to do.

TP: I was at a concert you did last fall at Merkin Hall on Ornette Coleman’s music, where Wynton Marsalis played the second set. Very interesting concert, in the contrast between the first and second half. You were mentioning Mingus-Ornette-Diabaté as the carriers, and there’s something very fundamental and universe-unto-himself about Coleman’s music. I’d like to ask you two things. What was your response to Ornette’s music when you first heard it, and second, what was your approach to addressing and interpreting it.

RUDD: That’s a good question. Yeah, he opened up at the Five Spot on my birthday in 1961, so I was there. I guess I played a couple of his songs, took them off the recordings… But I’ve listened to a lot of his music, and I could sing parts of his music through all these intervening years. Then this opportunity came to do a concert of his music, and I found out that really this was the first time that I seriously went into 10 or 12 of his songs, and had to learn them from the inside. But you know something? It really helped to have been singing those things to myself, what I knew about them, just in my blood from those days. It was like a ticket. It was like a ticket into the inside of the music. It made it so much easier at that time last fall to inhale so many details that you have to do when you are really performing somebody else’s music, especially music that is as individual and as original as Ornette’s. You’ve got to learn a lot of detail. But just having a sense of his music and having heard it for so long, and just enjoying it that way as a listener, made it much easier, I think, to apprehend a lot of detail, enough to do that concert.

TP: What spoke to me most was the way you and Marsalis draw out the folkloric elements, these deep southern roots—the stomps, the deep blues tropes. Drawing out the folk forms, and extrapolating them into the narrative you were expounding.

RUDD: That’s beautiful, what you said about the tropes. Because the tropes are the things that I knew from the music. That’s what you remember as a listener. When you spend an evening listening to somebody’s music, you go out troping, you go out on the riffs that you remember. These are the things about Ornette that were kind of in my blood. I knew these stylistic features of his, the feeling of them. It was just a beautiful opportunity. I have to say that there never would have been this concert if… Greg Cohen, the bass player, knew that I was desperate to get together with somebody before this thing, and to work out some of these songs, work out some parts, make it more than a jam session. Sick as he was, he came over here the night before that thing, and we ran down a dozen songs from the inside. That is what enabled that concert to happen to the extent that it did.

TP: Did Marsalis have charts? It looked like he did.

RUDD: No. The only music we used was stuff I had taken off his recordings. I had spent a little time transcribing parts of these things. But I was desperate to get together with somebody else before this, and not have to just go on total recall to do these things. So I have to say that Greg Cohen is my hero.

TP: Herlin Riley’s uncle was Melvin Lastie, who was Ornette’s friend, and his grandfather, who raised him, grew up in the foundling home with Pops. So he comes from a very specific, deep New Orleans tradition, and Ornette is kind of family to him. And Wynton’s father was very close to Ornette and to Blackwell. What was the interaction like?

RUDD: Herlin Riley is exceptional. This guy has precognitive hearing. This is what you look for in improvisers, people who are waiting for you in an unknown situation. They’re there. They know the space. They know it ahead of time, and they’re there. I was getting a sense of that from him. That was great.

Wynton Marsalis plays the most perfect eighth notes I’ve ever heard. You just can’t carve out better eighth notes. So it was a unique experience for me to play some counterpoint with him. Because my eighth notes are… I’ve got different kinds of eighth notes. But Wynton Marsalis, boy, he’s got the eighth note to the Nth degree. I have to say, he really astounded me from that point of view. Something about his mechanical perfection as a player was very meaningful to me. And he’s a very broad musician. But when you get into a free counterpoint situation with somebody, it’s about their rhythmic orientation and how you express this. It’s the temporal thing that you’re going from. And to have a great drummer and a great bassist at the same time… Whoa! We were getting into it.

TP: During your hiatus, when you were off the scene, doing the shows in the Catskills, teaching, etc., was that to your benefit as an instrumentalist? Did you firm things? Were there certain things you could work on and get together that were to your benefit when you began to perform again on a more regular basis?

RUDD: Let me say this in regard to that. I’m one of these people since I was a kid, really, where I had to play every day. It didn’t matter what I was doing with the rest of my life. I pretty much managed to find a way to take time out every day, and blow a horn, or sing, play some piano, dance around, scat—find a way to express this thing inside me. So that regardless of whether I was teaching, or playing commercial music, or driving a truck, or working in a store, or working in a hospital… I’ve done a lot of different things. But the thing that’s been a constant line through all of this, and where I think the effect of a lot of this living experience has gone is into this… What would you call it? It’s like a musical lifeline of just playing every day. I said to someone that the reason is that it’s my therapy. He said, “No, you’re wrong. It’s your practice. It’s not your therapy. It’s your practice. So you’ve been practicing since you were a kid every day.” A lot of it has just been pure improvisation, coming home from a day’s work, and just letting the feeling that’s accumulated from the day come out in some kind of acoustic expression.

So I’m telling you that all the musical experiences I have had informed me. This is true of the Catskills show band. There was a lot of great Dixieland and sight-reading, working with comedians and fire-eaters, puppeteers and dancers… Life is about learning, and learning is essential for growth. Man, there’s nothing like growth.

TP: A lot of the older musicians with whom you played when you were a young guy came up in tent shows, where they had similar experiences. A lot of them played circuses and were on the trains and did that sort of stuff. The territory days.

RUDD: That’s true. The vaudeville, the standup… This is a great tradition. This is the old travelling carnivale outfit.

TP: We’re talking about context again.

RUDD: There’s a context here, and this is definitely a part of it. Any way that you can inform yourself about this is helpful. But I think this was missing in my experience, that vaudeville thing. I got a little bit of it through the Dixieland. But in the mountains, the whole show was there. You’ve got the tummler, the standup guy or standup lady, whoever it is. You’ve got this person sort of playing the audience, playing the musicians, and getting the whole thing into this wonderful complementary uproar. So pretty soon, the whole place is improvising. This is the great thing about that tradition, that it really is… Or there was. I don’t know much of it is left. But there was, at the heart of it, a great spontaneous and improvisational essence. The success of the show largely was dependent upon that kind of energy. Unknown things happening, coming out of the wall, coming out of people, and somebody who knew how to play off that and make that develop.

TP: Did you have anything analogous to that in the ‘60s and ‘70s in your quotidian life as a musician?

RUDD: Oh my goodness. I would have to say that the musical associations that developed from the earliest time that I came down here to live in the late ‘50s… These were improvisational hangs. The thing that I developed with Herbie Nichols was really, in large part, an improvisational thing. He would throw his compositions into it, and that would just be more fuel for me, because I would have to bring my creative thrust into his kind of format. You need those two things to create a compound, to get more. The thing with Steve Lacy… We started off with a lot of different music, and we ended up just pursuing Thelonious Monk’s compositions because they were the right… It was the right music for this instrumentation. The soprano sax and the trombone resonated with Monk’s tunes more than any other music. These were just the right tunes for the soprano saxophone and trombone. So there was a whole unknown thing flowering out of that.

Particularly with Lewis Worrell, John Tchicai and Milford Graves, that was all improvisation for quite a while, until songs, little tunes kind of congealed from all the improvising. But that was just getting together. Even if all of us couldn’t make it, we did it, 1’s, 2’s, 3’s, in different configurations, and just kept a spontaneous conversation going on. We were never able to work that much, but what we were able to do…

TP: Was Milford still playing a snare drum then? [END OF SIDE A]

RUDD: …but rather than a snare drum… Although I think that was there from time to time, the snare drum effect. But he could have been inventing that. But it seems to me that the tuning of the drums was very important, the tuning of the whole set. Well, Milford Graves, we could talk for a few hours on that…

TP: What’s occurring to me is that all of the different musics you approach, whether musical carriers or systems of music, you seem to approach in some sense from an ethnological perspective. I don’t mean that in a dry sense.

RUDD: What does that mean, “ethnomusicological.”

TP: I’m simultaneously writing a piece on Nguyen Le. His parents emigrated to Paris from Hanoi in the ‘50s. He started off playing jazz, playing Hendrix, played in an African fusion band, and then in the early ‘90s, when he was in his early thirties, he hooked up with a traditional Vietnamese singer and began to bring those influences into his composing, and then he started bringing North African, particularly Gnawan influences into his music. So now, within one personality, you have Gnawan music, traditional West African music (possibly some of the Malians you know), Vietnamese music, jazz musicians like Art Lande and Paul McCandless, and he just did a record on Hendrix’s compositions with Terri Lyne Carrington. He spoke of approaching Hendrix, and all his records from an ethnomusicological point of view. But it isn’t schematic…

RUDD: Each of these people carry a certain amount of their cultural context with them, but they carry their individuality, too. But the culture rubs off.

TP: What was your cultural context that made you so open to the different musics you encountered when you arrived in New York?

RUDD: The thing I tried to tell you before is that the improvisation was the thing that was there in Spike Jones and in this old jazz that I grew up with. There was a mystery. There was an unknown variable drifting through this music that somehow flourished and kept it alive for the 3-minute 78 experience, and going beyond that, and hearing these people performing live, doing concerts and playing in clubs and stuff… It’s the energy, the spontaneous expression, the individuality, the thing that’s inside people having a chance to come out. Their individuality. That’s what you hear in that old music. You hear the individual voice. That somehow affects everything else that you hear. I was disappointed because I couldn’t find that in a lot of music. It kind of narrowed down what my alternatives were as far as enjoyment goes, because from an early age, that’s what I was listening for in the music—the voices and the individuality. I know at the same time that everything I’ve experienced ,acoustically and otherwise, in America since the time I grew up… I also know that if I jumped into another country somewhere, they would probably say, “Oh yeah, he’s American; you can tell by this or that.” But I can’t, man.

That’s why I asked what you meant by ethnomusicological. I think I can perceive it better if I go to another world than I can in my own. Although New York is a great place, because the whole world, in a sense, is here. So people do stand out. Believe me! Herbie Nichols really stood out. Spending a day with him was like going into another galaxy. So you don’t have to go that far to find individuality or other musical universes. But ethnographically, I would have to say Herbie Nichols is New York. That’s what he represented to me. All of the West Indian, European, Hispanic…the mix of all of this place… There’s so much. It’s just hard to sort it out and say, “This is that…”

TP: It’s all coming at you at one time here.

RUDD: Yeah. Your culture is you, kind of. It’s what’s been pouring into you from the time you come out into the world. Your family and then beyond the family into the culture at large. Maybe that’s been defined by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I don’t know.

TP: Your father was an amateur drummer, so you heard music. Your grandmother was a choir director, I think. She liked the spirit of jubilation, you said.

RUDD: Yeah. When I was a teenager, and having kids come to my house to jam… And believe me, it was raw. It was horrible. But she was there. And to her, that was like religion. It was the same thing that she went to church for, was like the joyful noise, the exaltation, just people pouring themselves out in a very naive and joyful way with the sounds. Yeah, she really encouraged me. My parents kind of hated to see me… After going to college and everything, they were really concerned about my future when I decided on music. But not my grandmother. Man, she said, “wow, if you can just do this, it’s enough.” I think the clincher was being at one of Armstrong’s performances at the Paramount Theater when I was a kid. That really clinched it for me. I couldn’t think of anything else for months after that. That made such an impression on me.

TP: It sounds like you had a sense of music as a ritual from the very beginning, in the same way that Diabaté’s music emanates from ritual, and in the way a lot of the musicians you were performing with in the ‘60s were trying to achieve with their music. The notion of music being a spontaneous conversation, a lot of it comes from trying to reimagine the ritual that some of the black musicians got in the church when they were young. Sounds like you had that, too, in your own way.

RUDD: Ritual. Yeah, let’s just talk about ritual. Because it is. Daily ritual. That’s great. Can we leave it right there. I’d like to leave it with ritual. That just summed up our whole conversation, man. Thank you. Thank you for ritual. Is improvisation a ritual? Because if it is, that’s my ritual. That could be a very basic ritual, improvisation. That can be a personal ritual, improvisation.

TP: But of course, we’re speaking of music that emanates from social ritual. Black church. Village functions.

RUDD: But Ted! The individuals that comprise the black church. The individuals. My grandmother, God rest her soul, she was the highest voice in the church. That was her thing. Descant. Back in the day, and even in the black church, you’ve got to have somebody that can get up over everybody else and be the voice in the sky that just puts the top layer on it, that clinches it. That was her thing. This is the Protestant church, a New England kind of energy. Compared to a black church, it was pretty toned down. But that was her function in the church. This is the musical ritual that she carried in herself. Then there were a couple of other good singers there, and a good organist and so forth. But to me, if you can look at the individuals down in the heart of these great traditions that were built by the work of many hands, so to speak… If you can get down into the individuals, then I think that’s where you’ll find, like, the improvisational spirit and the people who are really carrying this thing, really shouldering this load.

Cecil Taylor! Whew! This guy can comp for 15 musicians, and lift the whole room.

TP: Do you see yourself in any way embodying these New England traditions? They are kind of at the core of a certain level of American identity. Emerson, Thoreau…

RUDD: Oh, the Transcendentalists?

TP: Is that encoded in you on any level?

RUDD: Yeah. I get a good feeling about Transcendentalism, what I pick up about these people and what I’ve read by them. Yeah, there definitely is an effort about perception Beyond. Trying to get closer to the unknown. Trying to get closer to the mystery. Trying to have a more open perception of the energy, of what’s coming, of what’s around us. Yeah, I definitely get that. So those guys have always been a lift for me. Yeah, I think that’s one of the positive things in what you could call that New England culture.

But there’s another side to that, and that is a lot of repression. That comes from… I think we’d better stop before I get into historical precedents in the roots of New England life. But there was the other side to it, thankfully, that I was exposed to through my father and my grandmother. Once people instill that in you, once they let you know that there’s another world besides this, that sets you on your way. You’re on your way. You’re a seeker. You’re a seeker from that point on. That’s always what I’ve been. I’ve just been investigating the hell out of it. As far back as I can remember, when my father got on those drums, he changed. His expression changed. He was a different person. In fact, I liked him better when he was doing that. So I knew that he went somewhere else, and it seemed like a good place to go.

Louis Armstrong lived there. Louis Armstrong had a foot very solidly in both worlds. But you see, my father had to kind of suggest it to me, and then other people made it plainer and plainer, that that was the reality.
Ritual! Ritual, man. Ritual on the one hand, and ethnology and this other stuff… Ethnology. Study of ethnos. I’m down on the individual ritual. I’m more down on the individual ritual than I am in the big stylistic contours of continents and all that stuff. Lomax did some great studies, I’d have to say. After all that analysis of all these little performances, he was able to actually make a statement about big prehistoric cultural traditions, like the great American Indian tradition. Incredible. When you think about all the individual contributions inside of that big-big-big tradition that goes all the way around the planet. Millions of individual carriers making it possible for him to make this big general statement about it. So I think the general statement may be where you have to start, from a distance, when you’re looking at this. But when you get down in the forest and into the individual trees, that’s more where I am. That’s where I’ve been.

TP: Except that there’s an element of your personality that comes out in your writing and your discourse on music that’s intensely analytic. You break everything down into its constituent components. Your improvising is not coming from nowhere.

RUDD: This is what improvisers do. This is how you get in there. This is what I do. This is my ritual.


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Filed under Blindfold Test, DownBeat, Jazziz, Roswell Rudd, Trombone

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:    The dance music of the period.

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

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

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

Q:    Where was he from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SH:    Yeah, I’m ready!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:    This was after he left.

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

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

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

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

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

Q:    How so?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:    Mention a few of them.

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

Q:    Any others who made a mark on you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:    The great arrangers of the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SH:    That helped.  That helped! [LAUGHS]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

SH:    Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Filed under Dizzy Gillespie, Slide Hampton, Trombone, WKCR

The Pile (#2): Two Recent Releases by The Cream of the AACM First Wave

The Association  for the Advancement of Creative Musicians means a lot to me.  I encountered a number of the members as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago in the middle ’70s.   The Art Ensemble of Chicago had recently returned from Europe, and Muhal Richard Abrams, Joseph Jarman,  Don Moye, Henry Threadgill, Ajaramu, Amina Claudine Myers, Douglas Ewart, Wallace McMillan, Pete Cosey, and a bunch of others were living in proximity to Hyde Park and playing concerts locally, including the UC campus — the New York migration had not yet begun. Critics John Litweiler and Terry Martin were on the scene.  So was Chuck Nessa. So was Lorraine Black. One time in 1974 or 1975,  Fred Anderson brought his sextet to Reynolds Club, I think, for an afternoon concert, and on my way in I heard amazing, Coltrane-in-the-gutbucket trombone lines that traversed the horn’s registral range. Turned out they were from George Lewis, who had recently moved back to Chicago after graduating from Yale.

I’m a New Yorker, grew up on Bleecker and Thompson, and New York attitude bebop — Sonny Rollins, to be specific (friends used to tease me about my boast that I had all of his records—which, I’ll confess now,  I didn’t), not to mention Bud Powell and Bird and Jackie McLean and Arthur Taylor and ’50s Miles and Coltrane — spoke to me above all other music. I related to them, I think, because I spent so much time at the West Fourth Street basketball courts as a kid, and their music seemed like an analogue to the ballers I looked up to — among them, Billy, the fastest guard I’ve ever seen who could tomahawk at about 5’8″;  Valentino Willis from the Harlem Wizards; Butch Barbizat, who at 6’2 was the leading rebounder on  the Power Memorial team that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) played; Timmy, who had what I considered a superior bank shot to Sam Jones. On the musical tip, pop didn’t seem serious enough — as a wiseass Bleecker Street kid, the folkies seemed too self-satisfied, Dylan too solipsistic, Cream and the Rolling Stones too bridge-and-tunnel. I liked Motown and EW&F, and in Chicago I went to the South Side and West Side blues clubs with my friends, and checked out rootsy stuff by David Bromberg and Dan Hicks, but I couldn’t patch into funk.   Nor was I feeling out jazz then.

That afternoon at Reynolds Club,  my paradigm began to shift. New worlds opened up. Jarman did solo concerts that incorporated kabuki and Asian ritual. He performed on campus in duo with Leo Smith and Oliver Lake. George Lewis began learning how to develop improvising software, and  joined Braxton. I got into the magic of Von Freeman. I stopped believing in the sanctity of my personal taste, and began making an effort  to explore modes of expression  that fell outside of it.  I’ve never stopped loving the main-stem of jazz expression. But the aesthetics of speculative improvisation and experimental music mean every bit as much, and brought me into other areas that I once disdained from ignorance. Or, to cite one of my all-time favorite homilies, from Ellis Marsalis:  “son, you don’t know what you like; you like what you know.”

Muhal Richard Abrams:  Duos with Fred Anderson and George Lewis: SoundDance (Pi)

There’s an old master quality to these barely-roadmapped musical conversations between Abrams—elected  NEA Jazz Master and DownBeat Hall of Famer last year at 80—and long-time AACM colleagues Anderson, the late outcat master  tenor saxophonist and  charter member of the organization (from 2009, a year before he passed), Lewis (recorded in 2010), the polymath trombonist, electronicist, improvising software creator, and professor of music at Columbia University, who met Abrams in 1971 while on sabbatical  from undergraduate duties at Yale. There’s a call-and-response quality to the former duo, as Abrams supports Anderson’s huge-toned idea development, then spins off variations of his own; whilst the latter performance is epigrammatic and staggeringly erudite, transitioning from one concept — the range spans stride piano to post-serialism — to the next without a blink, as though the music were creating itself.

The proceedings bring to mind that one of the key tropes of Lewis’ magisterial history of the AACM, A Power Stronger Than Itself (U.Chicago Press),  is the autodidactic learning path that Abrams imparted to such ’60s members as  Roscoe Mitchell,  Joseph Jarman, Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, Henry Threadgill, Amina Claudine Myers, John Stubblefield, Malachi Favors, Douglas Ewart, and on down the list. They also evoke an exchange I had with Abrams and Lewis in 2007, for a Downbeat piece framed around Streaming, a spontaneous triologue with  Mitchell, when I asked them about Quartet (Sackville), a 1975 encounter that marked the first recorded meeting of the three.

“Why are you referring to the recording?” asked Abrams.

    “It seems like we’re going too far back there,” Lewis said.

    “You were just talking about histories.”

    “Only in reference to coming together to perform,” Abrams explained calmly. “It’s very important to accept, if you can, how we view the basis of this. George can take his trombone and we can go to any room in this building, and perform a concert—right now.”

    “Questions like that lead to a species of mythmaking,” Lewis added. “I’ll take it to the place of procedure. Whenever we first began to play with each other, what I remember is the sense of collaboration. The sense of exploration. The sense of openness to all kinds of possible outcomes. The non-judgmental nature of the collaboration. That is not say it was uncritical, but that the critique was not limited to yes or no. It was more that you were trying to understand and think about ways in which the music could be broadened and deepened, to consider more perspectives. That multi-perspectival quality is the real origin, not the anecdote about the moment of encounter.”

Roscoe Mitchell Note Factory, Far Side (ECM)

The third and most cohesive recording by Mitchell’s Note Factory project, a kind of double quartet in which Mitchell on saxophones and flute and thirty-ish trumpeter Corey Wilkes (Lester Bowie’s replacement in the Art Ensemble of Chicago) interact with two pianists (Craig Taborn and Vijay Iyer), two bassists (Jaribu Shahid and Harrison Bankhead, who also plays cello), and two drummers (Tani Tabbal and Vincent Davis). It’s dense music, and though I’ve listened twice, I’d probably need another two or three to start breaking things down.  Suffice to say that Mitchell’s bandmates are sufficiently intimate with his intense concept as to be able to engage each other in what Iyer once described as “immersive counterpoint,” generating clear, non-imitative ideas simultaneously like a Dixieland band in a parallel galaxy. Although Mitchell, who turned 70 this year, offers healthy helpings of spirit-catching circular breathing and multiphonics, what comes through most palpably is the innate soulfulness and lyricism of his songs and his instrumental sound.

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Filed under AACM, George Lewis, Muhal Richard Abrams, Piano, Roscoe Mitchell, Tenor Saxophone, Trombone

The Pile (#1)

As I’ve had a bit of down time recently, I’m trying to catch up on new releases, which arrive inexorably. It’s hard to make a dent—there’s only time to listen to a couple or three 60-70 minute recordings in a day, and that’s stretching it.   Then, too, as I’ve learned by experience from writing liner notes (not to mention just plain old common sense), recordings by serious master musicians demand multiple listenings to catch the nuances, the overall arc and intention. With that in mind, it’s important to self-remind that personal taste has nothing to do with the actual quality of the artifact. I may hear something that I’m not in the mood for, but two weeks later it’s just what I want to absorb.  Or perhaps the rhythmic feel aggravates me one time, but  resonates the next. One reason why I’m very cautious about making judgments — assessments are different — when I write reviews. I’m not a musician. I haven’t spent my life working up the knowledge/experience base that went into making this recording.

In any event, this is the first of hopefully a ongoing series of “Pile” columns (the accumulated stacks of CDs that are outside of my assignment purview pile up) on some items that have recently caught my ear. Unless the offense/offender is particularly egregious, I won’t go negative. That said, don’t assume that omission means distaste.

David Gibson, END OF THE TUNNEL (Posi-Tone)

A lot of individualistic trombone virtuosos emerged during the ‘70s and ‘80s—George Lewis, Steve Turre, Ray Anderson, Robin Eubanks, Conrad Herwig, Frank Lacy, Gary Valente…I could go on. But outside of Wycliffe Gordon, Clifton Anderson, Ronald Westray, and one or two others, trombone players don’t pop immediately to mind when you think of interesting slide improvisers over the last two decades. Maybe we’re in for a new wave. I’ve dug Marshall Gilkes in recent years, and Gibson has a similarly gorgeous sound and a solo conception that’s thematically cogent and also kinetic through a range of late 20th century food groups. Many dates that draw on the various mid-’60 Blue Note genres sound contrived and stale, but this one has a fresh feeling, as though the participants were recording something fresh contemporaneously — not unlike some of the bebop-oriented improvisers who’ve used Smalls as a base over the last 15 years.  In any event, Gibson dialogues throughout with the excellent alto saxophonist Julius Tolentino, his front line partner; organist Jared Gold, himself a leader on few Posi-Tone dates, combines point guard distribution duties with intelligent shot selection, laying down apropos comp and basslines but also creative solos; drummer Quincy Davis, an A-lister in my book, works the grooves with energy and taste.

James Carter, CARIBBEAN  RHAPSODY: CONCERTO FOR SAXOPHONE AND ORCHESTRA (Em-Arcy) – (composed by Roberto Sierra)

A tour de force. I can’t really review it properly without listening 3-4 more times, which I probably won’t be able to do without an assignment, but I can say that it’s one of the most synchronous collaborations I’ve heard between an orchestral (as opposed to big band…I hope I’m making myself clear) composer and improvising soloist—particularly a soloist as florid and adventurous as JC—that I can remember hearing. Sierra creates a series of felicitous environments in which Carter can soar, and soar he does, with ferocity and extraordinary craft on all the instruments.  I saw Carter at the Blue Note a few weeks ago with his organ trio, plus Nicholas Payton and Blood Ulmer, and was impressed by his complete command of his materials—the presentation and narrative arc came through as strongly as his considerable musical contents. Which can happen once a musician of Carter’s gifts and focus hits his forties and coalesces his various tributaries of expression into a clear path.

Gerald Clayton, BOND: THE PARIS SESSIONS (EmArcy)

Yes, I know, two EmArcy releases in one post…

I’ve dug Clayton for a couple of years, since  his trio was in residence for the entirety of the Perugia summer edition of the 2008 Umbria Jazz Festival, and I heard him play Duke Pearson’s “Is That So?” (Bradley’s denizens of old will remember that this was a John Hicks favorite) with complete idiomatic authority—he owned the language. Not long after that I heard him, at a Hank Jones festschrift concert, come out after Hank had played a few tunes, sit down with George Mraz and Willie Jones, and invent a variation on Cole Porter’s “I Love You” that I assumed had to be composed, everything was so perfectly in place and ingeniously constructed, but was told that he put it forth on the spot. That winter at Orvieto he did a series of duos with his father John Clayton that were on the very highest level of interaction and sophistication. So I know his scope.  Didn’t think he represented his breadth quite as effectively on his debut record, TWO SHADE, from 2009. BOND offers a much more complete portrait of his gifts—the beats are modern but also swinging, the trio has a one-voice flow, the new-jack originals and old-school standards interweave seamlessly. No showoffs here. In fact, it’s appropriate that he ends with John Clayton’s “Hank”; there isn’t really a discernible stylistic connection between Gerald and Hank Jones, but Gerald possesses a Hank Jones level of clarity and focus—an ability to cut to the chase and say something fresh in any environment. Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but I love his solo on “Nobody Else But Me”—a major league left-hand and a melodic spirit. Like James Carter, Gerald is in complete control of his materials, and at 26 or 27, he’s already recognizable as himself while engaging with the tradition on its own terms. He’s one of the very few under-30 pianists out there (Manuel Valera is another, but he’s 30) whose concept would have enabled him to fit with ease into the Bradley’s rotation.  (That’s a good thing.)

Alexis Cuadrado, NONETO IBÉRICO (BJU Records)

A well-wrought program of 8 tunes composed and arranged by bassist Alexis Cuadrado, a Barcelona-to-Brooklyn transplant, each of them built on a different rhythmic structure of the Iberian diaspora. Needs three or four listens (which I don’t have time for now) to say anything meaningful. Suffice to say that the soloing (Loren Stillman, Avishai [trumpet] Cohen, Brad Shepik, Dan Tepfer, as well as Piraña and Blas Cordoba and Tomatito) is inspired throughout, and the arrangements are fresh and cohesive, with ever shifting colors and intoxicating rhythms (Mark Ferber on drumkit and Marc Miralta on cajon and percussion lock in beautifully with Cuadrado).  Thought of in conjunction with Wynton Marsalis’ excellent VITORIA SUITE, with Chano Dominguez, it shows that Flamenco Jazz now has its drivers license—that’s to say, it’s  reached adulthood as a genre and become a mature pan-generational, trans-national idiom on the worldwide playing field.

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Filed under Alexis Cuadrado, Bass, David Gibson, Gerald Clayton, James Carter, Piano, Review, Tenor Saxophone, The Pile, Trombone