Tag Archives: Benny Golson

For the 78th Birthday Anniversary of Bobby Timmons (1935-1974), A Liner Note and Five Interviews Conducted For It

For the 78th birthday anniversary of the late, great pianist Bobby Timmons (Dec. 19, 1935-March 1, 1974), I’m posting a liner note that I wrote for a Fantasy Records “Best Of” culled from his Riverside recordings, and interviews from an elite group of associates and friends: Albert “Tootie” Heath, Kenny Barron, Reggie Workman, Benny Golson, Cedar Walton and Ron Carter. I had fun putting this one together.

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“The Best Of Bobby Timmons,” Liner Notes:

It seems apparent, given the dearth of first person testimony in the liner notes for his numerous recordings for Riverside and Prestige, that in matters of self-description, pianist Bobby Timmons [1935-1974] held firmly to the dictum that music speaks louder than words.

Cherrypicked from seven Riverside albums between 1960 and 1963, The Best Of Bobby Timmons, if nothing else, highlights that Timmons was one of the seminal communicators of his generation. He was 24 when Lambert, Hendricks & Ross sang Jon Hendricks’ lyrics to the Timmons ditties “Moanin” and “This Here,” which had debuted instrumentally on stirring albums with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet that were released in 1959. Soon thereafter, Oscar Brown’s version of “Dat Dere,” originally documented by Adderley in February 1960, made it onto jukeboxes around the country. On the strength of these hits, Timmons cut his sideman affiliations in 1961, and accepted a string of national bookings with his own trio. Much to his discomfort, “soul jazz” would be the label forever be affixed to his name.

Out of South Philadelphia, a bebop hotbed in his formative years, Timmons’ music was relentlessly earthy and primal. He was anything but primitive, but a soulful perspective was in his bones.

“Bobby’s grandfather raised him around the corner from where our family grew up,” says drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath, the baby brother of bassist Percy and tenor saxophonist Jimmy. “His grandfather was a minister, and Bobby played in his grandfather’s church. Later he came into jazz. We didn’t go to elementary school together, but later I saw him quite a bit. He took a lot of guidance from my brother Jimmy, who taught harmony to most of my young friends, and was an educator for a lot of people, like Lee Morgan and Jimmy Garrison. We played as a trio at dances at fraternity houses around the University of Pennsylvania, and were in a big band together with a guy named Tommy Monroe along with Lee and some other people who went on to get big names in jazz.

“We would imitate whatever we could from records – Sonny Rollins, Max Roach’s group – and we liked Ahmad Jamal. I loved Vernell Fournier and wanted to be like him when I grew up, and I think Bobby wanted to be like Ahmad as much as he could. Ahmad came to Philadelphia with Vernell and Richard Davis, and we were too young to go in the club, so we stood outside, and heard what we could whenever the door opened. Whenever we got a chance to play as a trio, that style would be in the back of our minds.”

In the trio, the aspirants completed the triangle with bassists like Garrison, Eddie Matthias, Spanky DeBrest, Jymie Merritt, and occasionally, Reggie Workman.

“Most of the time when we worked, the challenge was fulfilling whatever the engagement called for,” recalls Workman.  “We all had to do everything, jazz clubs as well as dances, cabarets and parties. That’s where the music was heard and made. I remember Bobby  as a young man, his brilliance, his jovial attitude, and his depth of soul — or depth of being, I should say. He was always an ardent dresser, neat in his music and in his personality. He was also very witty. It all turned up in his music. No matter what he was doing, he always had his personal voice. You’d know that it was Bobby Timmons doing it.”

Timmons moved to New York in 1954, honing his craft on consequential jobs with Kenny Dorham, Sonny Stitt and Chet Baker. In the summer of 1958, Benny Golson, recently recruited by Art Blakey to bring a new sound to the Jazz Messengers, brought Timmons, Morgan and Merritt into the fold.

“He was inventive,” says Golson, “He wasn’t locked up in a cylinder. He could play bebop and he could play funky – he could play a lot of things, and I thought it was the element that Art needed. He hadn’t had anybody quite like Bobby, who could go here or go there, rather than walking in a single corridor.”

As the Messengers hit the road, Golson noticed that Timmons frequently would “play this little funky lick in between the tunes.” He continues: “I got used to hearing it, and after he’d play it, he would say, ‘Ah, that sure is funky.’ I’d say, ‘Sure is.’ We were in Detroit when I really started to listen to it.  We got to Columbus, Ohio, and I called a rehearsal. Bobby said, ‘We’ve got everything down; why are we going to rehearse?’ I said, ‘You know that little lick you play?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘You’ve got eight bars; all you need is another 8 bars on the bridge.’ He said, ‘Oh, that’s nothing; that’s just a little lick.” I said, ‘No, Bobby, I hear something else. Why don’t you go up on the bandstand and compose a bridge.’ In about half-an-hour he said, ‘Come and listen,’ and then he played it. I said, ‘Why don’t you try again, and we’ll go over here and talk some more.’ He did something, and called me over in about 15 minutes and asked what I thought.  I could see he didn’t think much of it. I said, ‘That’s it. Come on, Lee, let’s learn it.’ Then I said, ‘Bobby, you’ve got to give it a name now.’ He said, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ ‘Well, what does it sound like?’ He said, ‘“Well, it sounds like moaning.’ I said, ‘Good, let’s call it ‘Moanin’.”

In the fall of 1959, Timmons left the Messengers for Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet, in which he, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes formed a slamming rhythm section on Live At The Jazz Workshop and Them Dirty Blues.  He returned in the spring of 1960, in time to appear on classic Messenger dates like Night In Tunisia, The Big Beat, The Freedom Rider and The Witch Doctor .

“I had to play ‘Moanin’ and ‘Dat Dere’ when I joined the Messengers,” says Cedar Walton, Timmons’ successor in the piano chair. “They were arrangements that were very accessible to anybody with any kind of talent. I was hardcore when I got in the band, and couldn’t imagine playing them. But once I got there, I found myself enjoying them. They were very simple, so you had to make something happen, which was a challenge.”

It’s a challenge that Timmons addresses with relish throughout this well-wrought compilation, consisting of six Timmons originals, each with hummable hooks and tasty changes, and seven show tunes of the torchy persuasion. Powell’s presence is everywhere. Note the fleet runs on “Old Devil Moon” and “Easy Does It,”  the stark substitutions he deploys on the brief intro to “God Bless the Child,” the voicings that pop up on “Spring Can Hang You Up The Most” and “Goodbye,” the Dameronian flavor on the bridge of “So Tired.” As Ron Carter puts it, “Bobby wrote some interesting songs, but he was not a composer like, Benny Golson. He was a wonderful improviser. He had the ability to play the melodies and songs so that the band could tell the difference from night to night, but it would sound the same for the audience. He was very giving, very loyal, played every night like it was his last chance to get it right.”

Although Timmons was a bandleader with a firm, distinctive point of view, he was never rigid. “He would accept input,” Carter says. “He always remembered my basslines from the other night. He’d remember what had almost worked the night before. Can we play the same idea in a different key, or play it slower, or develop another way to make the song work? I’d say, ‘Bobby, that isn’t working; can we find something else to do with that?’ and he’d say, ‘Well, what?’ If my idea worked, that would become part of the tune. Tootie would suggest something, Bobby would say, ‘I don’t know, man; let’s see how it goes.’ So he was open to any suggestion, and as a leader he would determine whether that suggestion fit the musical direction he had in mind. Good leaders do that.”

The chronology ends in 1963, when Soul Jazz was no longer ascendent, the national circuit was drying up, and the tragic shadow that dogged so many of Timmons’ heroes began to attach itself to him. “Bobby stayed in town more,” says Carter, who recorded with Timmons as late as 1967. “We did some duo gigs before he died, working in and out of the Village, at places like the Lion’s Head and the Needle’s Eye.”

“Bobby was a wild cat,” Walton says, and indeed, Timmons did drink himself to death, eventually succumbing to cirrhosis of the liver in 1974. But the darkness never entered his music. As Carter notes, “I’ve never seen how someone’s music can be interpreted as though it were HIM. I’m not sure how you can call ‘Moanin’” indicative of Bobby’s giving personality or ‘Dis Here’ with the fact that he would go to the mat for you.”

“He had no ego about him,” Golson adds. “He was always upbeat, never downbeat, and he never maligned anybody unless it was in a humorous way. Some people think he was just a funky piano player, and he could PLAY funky, but he could also get into things. Of course, now is a different time.  But then he was right on the cutting edge.”

Ted Panken

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Tootie Heath on Bobby Timmons:

TP:    In reading the program notes from Bobby Timmons’ records, only one had an interview with him, and all of them say mostly the same thing. I was talking with Reggie Workman about another subject, and Reggie told me a little. But I knew you grew up nearby and were the same age, and knew him well.

HEATH:  We kind of grew up together and we grew apart together also. After the New York days, he went in his own direction.  I didn’t see Bobby much after Art Blakey. I think our trio was before Art Blakey.

TP:    I think it was after his first time with Art. He joined in ’59 with “Moanin’” — that’s when “Moanin’” because famous. Then he went with Cannonball.

HEATH:  Right.  For a short period. A year.

TP:    Then he went back with Art for a while. That seems to be when he formed the trio.

HEATH:  Right. That’s when the trio came in. After all of that, I guess.

TP:    A number of the first records are with Sam Jones and Jimmy Cobb, so I guess he did those when he was with Cannonball, and maybe that’s how he came to sign with Riverside. But you were part of the first working trio?

HEATH:  Yes, I think so. With Ron Carter. We even played that around Philadelphia, before we left Philly, as a trio sometimes, with Jimmy Rowser and a couple of other local bass players. Mostly Jimmy Rowser, and sometimes Eddie Matthias, Jimmy Bond, and Reggie a few times.

TP:    Can you tell me anything about his musical background?

HEATH:  All I know is that we were all on the same mission. We were all practicing and studying and listening to records and learning as much as we could about jazz.  Bobby did play in church. His grandfather was a minister, and Bobby did play in his grandfather’s church. He lived with his grandfather. Actually, his grandfather raised him around the corner from where we lived, where our family grew up. So I saw Bobby quite a bit, and he took a lot of guidance from my brother Jimmy, who was there, teaching harmony to most of my young friends and a lot of people. An educator for a lot of people.

TP:    That would have been when he had the big band in ’47 and ‘48?

HEATH:  A little after that. Because Bobby… We weren’t quite there for the big band stuff.  I mean, I was there in the house. But we were 10-11 years old during that time.  But later in life, when we were in high school or junior high school…

TP:    ‘48-’49…

HEATH:  Yeah.  ‘50, around in there. Then Jimmy was very helpful with Lee Morgan and Bobby and Jimmy Garrison and a whole lot of people. That’s who played bass with us, too, a lot — Jimmy Garrison.

TP:    Did Bobby get to know Bud Powell at all, like McCoy Tyner did?

HEATH:  I have no idea. I never knew Bud Powell in Philadelphia. I knew his brother, Richard, but I never knew Bud. Bud was gone. And they lived outside of Philadelphia, in the suburbs. I knew Richard from his period with Max Roach.

TP:    May I ask one or two detailed questions? What was the name of the church where his grandfather was minister?

HEATH:  I have no idea. Bobby had a sister, too, named Eleanor, who died maybe 10-15 years ago, long after him.

TP:    When did you meet him?  You were 11-12 years old?

HEATH:  Yeah, I guess so. We didn’t go to elementary school together. I don’t know what school he went to. I went to school in South Philly with some different guys, like Sam Reed and Ted Curson and guys like that. But Bobby kind of came all of a sudden, because he was playing the piano, but he was playing church music, and he came later into jazz music, into being interested in jazz — around 15 or so.

TP:    Did you play in teenage combos?

HEATH:  Yeah, we played as a trio. We played some fraternity houses around the University of Pennsylvania. Bobby was kind of a favorite on some of those dances. I used to do things with Bobby and Ray Bryant. We also were in a big band together with a guy named Tommy Monroe, and Lee Morgan was in that band and some other people who had gone on to be rather big-name people in jazz. But Bobby was also in the big band with us, and we played some dances, and then we played some trio stuff around in the fraternity houses. That was kind of a good thing to do as a teenager.

TP:    So when you were 16-17 years old, ‘51, ‘52, ‘53.

HEATH:  Well, in ’58 I came to New York, when I joined J.J.’s band. But I used to go back and forth to New York, and I think all of us did that for a while until we all made the final move. We had an apartment down there on the Lower East Side with Bobby and Lee Morgan and Spanky DeBrest.

TP:    You all lived  in an apartment together?

HEATH:  Yeah, we had an apartment on Fifth Street, 315 East  Fifth Street. Elvin Jones lived across the street, Ted Curson lived on that block, Jon Hendricks lived on that block, Kenny Barron’s brother Bill. A lot of musicians. I think it was between Third and Second. We used to walk around the corner to the Five Spot.

TP:    Maybe it was 215.

HEATH:  Maybe it was 215.  But it was not far from the Five Spot. We’d go right around the corner, and Ornette was there and sometimes Mingus would be playing. Actually, we never played in there because we weren’t quite there yet. We were in bands. Bobby was with Art Blakey and Lee Morgan.

TP:    So you were part of the Manhattan contingent. There was a big Brooklyn contingent, too.

HEATH:  Yeah.  We all lived in Manhattan. Jimmy Garrison and I got a place in Brooklyn later, which didn’t last very long, but we did have one there.

TP:    When you were playing combo at 16 or 17 around Philadelphia, what kinds of things were you playing?  Was it mostly Bobby’s arrangements?

HEATH:  Yeah, some of it was his. A lot of stuff we were just imitating recordings. We would play whatever we could from records. Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Max Roach’s group — whomever.

TP:    But were there any piano trios he was emulating or trying to get with?

HEATH:  Yeah.  We liked Ahmad Jamal. Jamal’s music was popular around that time. Ahmad had his club during that time, and that’s when his stuff was real hot, because they sat in that one club and played for five years, and that’s where they developed the sound of the Ahmad Jamal trio. We heard their music. They used to come to Philadelphia, and of course, I loved Vernell Fournier and wanted to be like him when I grew up, and I think Bobby wanted to be like Ahmad as much as he could. Ron was going in his own direction already.

TP:    In ’51 and ‘52, Ahmad had recorded, but at the time he had a trio with Israel Crosby and Ray Crawford.

HEATH:  This trio that we liked and saw was with Vernell and Israel. Actually, the first one I saw was with Vernell and Richard Davis. They used to come to Philadelphia, and we were too young to go in the club, so we would kind of just stand outside, and whenever the door would open we could hear a little bit.  That’s how we got to loving Ahmad’s style of trio music. Whenever we got a chance to play as a trio, that style would be in the back of our minds.

TP:    That sort of organization.

HEATH:  Yeah, and the arrangements and the interesting things they used to do together.

TP:    Well, it’s a very orchestrated style. The drums would have a role and a voice and the bass…

HEATH:  That was it. Those were the guys for us.

TP:    How about pianistically? Was he modeling himself after anyone? You hear a lot of Bud in his playing. There’s some Horace Silver and…

HEATH:  He liked Horace Silver and Ahmad, and I’m sure he liked Bud, too.  But I didn’t get that part of him, the Bud Powell thing.

TP:    Do you remember him speaking to you about influences ever?

HEATH:  No.

TP:    Were you not such close friends, but just musical colleagues?

HEATH:  No, we were close.

TP:    What was he like personally?

HEATH:  That’s hard. We were young people, and being young guys.

TP:    Was he a humorous guy?

HEATH:  Oh yeah. He had a great sense of humor, and yeah, he had a great personality.  People liked him.

TP:    Do you think he maybe developed that in the church a bit, that performing for church people from a young age gave him a public personality early on?

HEATH:  I doubt it.  Because in the church, you don’t really have a voice in there. You just sit up and do what you do. I doubt if he… I don’t know. That’s a hard one.

TP:    Was he a very warm person?

HEATH:  Yes. Sure. He dressed immaculately all the time. He was very conscious about his appearance.

TP:    On all the albums, you see him in a very form-fitting suit, and he’s so skinny, he fits it well.  Was he a chukka-boot wearer?

HEATH:  He probably did. I think that’s something that everyone was doing at one time.

TP:    Was he painstaking with his arrangements?  Did he go over them with a fine-tooth comb?

HEATH:  Oh yeah. He was very particular about his music.

TP:    He was particular about the way he dressed and particular about his music. What were the rehearsals like? Was he very specific about the drum parts?

HEATH:  I don’t really remember. I remember us, as part of our development, sitting down and playing, but I don’t remember a so-called rehearsal where we had something… He just accepted whatever I did, and I listened to what he was doing, and tried to fill in what I thought it should be, and he didn’t have any specific drum parts or bass parts or any of that. We developed that from playing together.

TP:    There’s a recording on Riverside of a gig at the Vanguard. Do you remember the circumstances of that recording?  Were you playing as an opening act for another band?

HEATH:  No. I think we were the only group in there.

TP:    I remember seeing old handbills, and Ahmad Jamal would be opening for Miles or something.

HEATH:  No, we weren’t a part of anything like that. We had our own week down there when we did our recording.

TP:    Were there good crowds?  Was he very popular?

HEATH:  Yeah.  He had a lot of fans.

TP:    Because of those tunes.

HEATH:  Yeah, a lot of people liked them.

TP:    Were those tunes like “Moanin’” and “Dat Dere” and “Dis Here” on jukeboxes?

HEATH:  No. I don’t remember hearing them on jukeboxes until the vocal recordings came around, with Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross and those people. When they started doing them, then it took on a whole nother character.

TP:    Would the music evolve over a week, or once the music was set, was it set?

HEATH:  No, we played together. So it changed. Whenever he did something, we would follow him. Or if we did something that he liked, he would follow us. That’s how we developed. That’s how the Miles Davis band developed.  That was the way in those days. Sitting down and having rehearsals with parts and “you do this and I…” – that wasn’t a part of it. We were a working trio, so every night was a rehearsal.

TP:    Do you happen to recall the year the trio started functioning as a working trio? Would that have been around ‘60? When he left Cannonball…

HEATH:  I would say yes. But I’m sure you can look back and get some records on it.

TP:    But you had been out on the road with J.J., and you were playing drums on a lot of sessions, particularly on Riverside, and Jimmy had a relationship with Riverside at the time as well. Is there any particular quality about him that you’d want people to know about?

HEATH:  No.  I think he was just a person, and he was a decent person, and I never saw him do anything wrong to anybody.

TP:    Any injuries he causes were to himself.

HEATH:  Yeah, he did, like we all did during those days.

TP:    But he sure paid a heavy price.

HEATH:  Yeah, he did.  He got on out of here really young.

TP:    Your relationship sort of ended around ‘63-’64?  You didn’t see much of him after that?

HEATH:  I don’t know where Bobby was, but I was traveling around in New York with different people and playing with different groups and traveling myself, and I kind of lost touch with Bobby.  I mean, I talked to him whenever I’d see him somewhere.

TP:    I think he was a victim of the way the sound of the music changed then in some ways.  Did the trio travel?

HEATH:  We did a West Coast tour.  We went to Detroit; I remember that. We went out to California and the Jazz Workshop out there. We did a lot of playing around New York and in the New York area, the Village Gate and places like that around the city. Yeah, we played quite a bit, for maybe two or three years.

TP:    How much would you say you were on the road?

HEATH:  Well, our traveling wasn’t that intense.

TP:    So it wasn’t like you’d be in a car for 30 weeks a year, from Pittsburgh to Cleveland to Detroit. You didn’t do that circuit.

HEATH:  No.  Most of the times, we flew. We were flying.

TP:    Was he easy to play with?

HEATH:  Yeah. Well, I can say that I always felt that we were all in the same place in our development. I can’t say that Bobby was any greater than anybody else in the band, and neither was I, and neither was Ron Carter. We were all just kind of developing and trying to find our way.

TP:    But he was the composer. I guess that set him off.

HEATH:  He was the composer and he was the leader. He got the gigs. So that made him a little different.

TP:    Do you remember who was the manager or the agent?

HEATH:  I think Orrin did the California trip. I don’t remember who did the other stuff.

Kenny Barron on Bobby Timmons:

TP:    Did you get to know Bobby Timmons pretty well?

BARRON:  I didn’t know him in Philly. Only from seeing him in New York.

TP:    Did you get to know him in New York?

BARRON:  Not well.

TP:    Were you checking his stuff out?

BARRON:  Oh yeah. Actually, the first time I ever heard his name is when I was in junior high school, in my music class.  One day we had a substitute teacher, and she was asking if anybody liked jazz, and a few people raised their hands. Then she said… This was a black woman. She said, ‘I have a cousin named Bobby Timmons, who plays piano with Chet Baker.” That’s the first time I heard his name.

TP:    But you never caught him around Philly.

BARRON:  No, I didn’t meet him until I moved to New York.

TP:    Did you like the trio stuff?

BARRON:  Oh yeah. I did.

TP:    Did you ever play those hits, “Dat Dere,” “Dis Here”?

BARRON:  Yeah, I’ve played them.

TP:    What are they like to play?

BARRON:  They’re fun. They’re fun to play on.

TP:    Are they tricky?  Are there things in them that go beyond the obvious? Did he put  twists and turns in his stuff?

BARRON:  They’re not unusually tricky. I wouldn’t say that.  But they’re catchy.

TP:    People still like those tunes.

BARRON:  Oh yeah. When you can have somebody write lyrics for your stuff, that means there’s something there.
Reggie Workman on Bobby Timmons:

TP:    Is there anything you can tell me about your recollections about Bobby Timmons?

WORKMAN:  Let me turn the page.  The mental page.

TP:    I know you grew up in a different part of Philly, and you’re three years younger.  But I figure you must have crossed paths at various points.

WORKMAN:  Of course.  You know, the music community is very small — actually worldwide. No matter where you go, you always run into people who are thinking somewhat in the same direction that you are. Therefore, I ran into Bobby Timmons’ neighbors, and the Heath brothers, and Bobby Green and all the guys down in South Philadelphia often, because whatever was happening, if there was something musical happening, one of those persons would be there — and Bobby was often on the scene.  I remember him as a young man, his brilliance, his jovial attitude, and his depth of soul — or depth of being, I should say.  And it always turned up in the music.

You know who reminded me of him when I first saw him a lot at the school was Carlos McKinney.  The way that Carlos McKinney is now, Bobby used to be when he was young.  He was always an ardent dresser, he was always a very neat person in his music, very neat in his personality, and very witty as far as being a person was concerned.  That always turns up in the music.  And he’s always reflected his experience in his music, no matter what he was doing.  You could hear… And he always had his personal voice, no matter what he was doing.  No matter what kind of job he was doing, you would know that was Bobby Timmons doing it.

TP:    This being in Philly before he came to New York, as well as after…

WORKMAN:  That was Bobby.  And that was the aesthetic of the music then. Back in those days, that was as much of a thing to strive for as playing music right, was to find out this voice is MINE; this is the way that I express myself, and this is the way… Therefore, anybody you hear from the era that Bobby lived, you know who they are. You can hear who they are without question when you hear their audio sound.

TP:    Were you in the Messengers at the same time as he?

WORKMAN:  No.  He was in the Messengers before I was.

TP:    I think he did it twice, in ’59, the Moanin’ session, and then he came back in ’61, before Cedar came  in.  Were you ever part of his trio?

WORKMAN:  Well, we worked around Philadelphia on occasion.

TP:    What was he like as a leader?  Was he very organized, did he have…

WORKMAN:  That I don’t recall.

TP:    Was the music stimulating to play?  Were there challenges?  Did it go beyond the basic bass function?

WORKMAN:  Most of the time when we worked, the challenge was fulfilling the engagement, whatever it was calling for.  Because there are many different types of things we had to do. We didn’t come together that often, but when we came together, it was because of some situation around Philadelphia where we happened to cross paths, and instead of Eddie Matthias or instead of Spanky or instead of Garrison, I might be on the scene.  It was seldom, but it happened.

TP:    So those were the bass players he played with most often in Philly.

WORKMAN:  That I can remember.  Of course, there was Jimmy Bond, there was Jimmy Rowser, there was Jymie Merritt.  There were so many bass players from Philly that when you got a chance to cross paths with one of the musicians, you were lucky.  Of course, I was young then. I was just honing my craft, just beginning to develop, and I was from a different part of town.

TP:    At that time, would his scene be mostly in Philly’s jazz clubs, or would he be playing dances and parties…

WORKMAN:  We all had to do everything. We all had to do jazz clubs as well as dances… Dances and parties were as much a part of the… As you know about the Savoy Ballroom with Charlie Parker, they were as much a part of the arena in our community as any club or any other place. Cabarets and parties and dance clubs, and special occasions were… That’s where the music was heard. That’s where the music was made.

TP:    It was part of the community.

WORKMAN:  That’s right.

Cedar Walton on Bobby Timmons:

TP:    Did you know Bobby Timmons pretty well?

WALTON: Pretty well, yeah.

TP:    I’m doing a liner note for a best-of compilation. Was he in New York when you got here?

WALTON:  Probably so. I didn’t meet him until he joined the Messengers. The mother of my three children was friendly with his wife, and there was a Bobby Timmons, Jr. I think I got better acquainted with him when he was in the Messengers.  But he had gigs with Chet Baker and Kenny Baker, gigs all around.

TP:    Well, he got famous with “Moanin’” with the Messengers, then he went with Cannonball for a year, then he went with the Messengers for a bit, and then you joined the Messengers.

WALTON: Right. I replaced him.

TP:    Did he leave just because he had so many trio gigs?

WALTON: That was for him to know and me to find out. I just got the call. Where he went and what he did, I didn’t… But probably so.

TP:    What did you think of his trio at the time?

WALTON: I thought it was fine. It would be hard for me to find fault with anything. He had Ron Carter and Tootie Heath, as I recall, on his first trio outing.  But it might not have been his first. It’s the first one I know.

TP:    He recorded with Sam Jones and Jimmy Cobb when he was with Cannonball, but when he got the trio working, it was with Tootie and Ron Carter. He grew up in Philly with Tootie. What kind of person was he?

WALTON: That’s a great question. All I know is he was the son of a minister, and moved into a building on Sterling Place in Brooklyn with Estrella and Bobby, Jr. Freddie Hubbard was a neighbor as well as Louis Hayes. But very shortly after that, Bobby made his home in the Village.

TP:    East 5th Street. Tootie said they had an apartment on East 5th Street.

WALTON: Right.  But he ended up in the West Village, hanging out at Boomer’s. His favorite bars were over on that side by the time I caught up with him.

TP:    Was he a witty guy? A friendly guy?

WALTON: Sure.  A typical Philadelphia type. I hesitate to…

TP:    What’s a typical Philadelphia type?

WALTON: Joking all the time.

TP:    Good dresser, too.

WALTON: Yeah, he did care about his wardrobe.

TP:    Did you play his tunes?

WALTON: Yeah.  I had to play “Moanin’” when I joined the Messengers, and also “Dat Dere.” I don’t think we played “Dis Here” but we played “Dat Dere.”

TP:    Did you play his arrangements?

WALTON: Yes, they were Messengers arrangements that were very accessible to anybody with any kind of talent. You could play them, in my estimation. I remember asking Walter Davis when he joined the Messengers for a little period. I said, “Oh, man, you got to play ‘Moanin’ and all that?” I was hardcore then. I couldn’t imagine any… But then when I got there, I found myself enjoying playing it.

TP:    Did those tunes pose any challenges for you?

WALTON: Certainly. They were very simple, so you had to make something happen with them, and that was a challenge. They weren’t difficult like “Tempus Fugit” or “Un Poco Loco” or things like that. They were simple and deliberately aimed at the commercial market.

Benny Golson I think composed the bridge to “Moanin’.” We used to do that all the time without any qualms. I remember writing a bridge to “Seven Minds” by Sam Jones. I actually wrote the ending of “Naima.” Mr. Coltrane had the chords. He said, “Cedar, what would you do with this I-IV, I-IV, I-IV?” I said, “Well, you could just go right up the scale.” And he kept it in. Those kind of things were just regular things to do in those days. I’m talking about the ‘60s, not too far back – but far enough.

Bobby was a wild cat. He could drink, too.
Benny Golson on Bobby Timmons:

TP:    I’m under the impression that you recruited Bobby Timmons into the Jazz Messengers.

GOLSON: Right.

TP:    How did you know him? What was your acquaintance with him in Philadelphia?

GOLSON: I wasn’t acquainted with him in Philly. But I had listened to what he had done. He was working with Chet Baker when I heard him. I didn’t really know him, but I liked what he did, and therefore, I recommended him on that basis. Well, I knew him superficially, but I didn’t really know him.

TP:    But you knew him from the Philly connection.

GOLSON: I didn’t know him from Philly. He was a different generation. He was much younger. I was gone by the time he started to make a little noise.

TP:    He was in New York by that time.

GOLSON: He was in New York, yes.

TP:    What was it about his sound that appealed to you?

GOLSON: Well, he was inventive, and he could play a lot of things. He wasn’t locked up in a cylinder. He was sort of, well, he could play bebop, or he could play this, he could play funky… “Moanin’,” for example.  And I thought it was the element that Art needed. He hadn’t had anybody quite like Bobby.

TP:    Because of Art’s penchant for backbeats and shuffles, you wanted somebody who could provide that?

GOLSON: No. It was to find somebody who could go here or they could go there, rather than walking on a single corridor. I thought he was a little broader. He was on a boulevard rather than a narrow street.

TP:    I know you brought him into the band, but you weren’t in the band that much longer once he was in it

GOLSON: About a year.

TP:    So you got to know him fairly well, I’d think.

GOLSON: All of it happened within a year.

TP:    Tell me what you can tell me about him personally. People say he had a very good sense of humor, he was amiable, a good dresser…

GOLSON: Absolutely. All of those things. He was clothes-conscious, he and Lee. Every night, they had a contest going on!

TP:    Around then, it was chukkah-boot time, wasn’t it?

GOLSON: They had the boots, yeah, and the pants were cut a little high so you could see the boots. I’m telling you, they were a card, those two guys!

TP:    Two wild young men.

GOLSON:  And they used to play this little funky thing in between the tunes, this little lick, and I got used to hearing it, and he would play it and he would say, “Ah, that sure is funky,” and I’d say, “Sure is.” We were in Detroit when I really started to listen to it.  We got to Columbus, Ohio, I called a rehearsal, and I said to Bobby… We had everything down. He said, “Why are we going to rehearse.” I said, “You know that little lick you play?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “You got eight bars; all you need is another 8 bars on the bridge.” He said, “Oh, that’s nothing; that’s just a little lick.” I said, “No, Bobby, I hear something else. Why don’t you go up on the bandstand…” We were in the club. Nobody was there during the day; they were washing glasses and stuff. I said, “We’ll go sit over here and just lollygag, and you compose a bridge.” So we went over, and in about half-an-hour he said, “Come and listen,” and then he played it. I said, “Hmm, that’s not really like the …(?)… 8 bars,” Bobby.  I said, “No, this has got to be your tune, Bobby.” I said, “Why don’t you try again, and we’ll go over here and talk some more.” “Okay, all right,” and he did something, and in about 15 minutes he called me, and said, “Well, what do you think?” I could see he didn’t think much of it. He played it, and I said, “That’s it.” I said, “Come on, Lee, let’s learn it.” We learned it, and I said, “We’re going to play it tonight, and as we play it, I’m going announce it, and let the people know that this is the first time they’re hearing something that they’ve never heard before.” He didn’t have a title for it either then.  I said, “I’m going to observe the audience, and they’ll tell us whether it’s of any value or not.” I said, “Bobby, you’ve got to give it a name now.” He said, “Well, I don’t know.” “Well, what does it sound like?” He said, “Well, it sounds like moaning.” I said, “Good, let’s call it ‘Moanin’.”

TP:    And it became a hit.

GOLSON: Oh, absolutely.

TP:    The audience responded to it right away?

GOLSON: Oh yeah. That and “Blues March.” Those uplifted the whole album.

TP:    If I’m reading between the lines, it sounds like for him, that it wasn’t… You might think it was a natural thing from his being in the church…

GOLSON: No.

TP:    But he was thinking about bebop, and he needed to be pushed to do these kind of tunes…

GOLSON: Oh, no.  It was there. Now, he MIGHT have been feeling like that because of the church, but I don’t think that the church was the primary influence on WHAT he was playing.  Because Bobby could play funky!  Many times he did play funky. I don’t think it necessarily had anything to do with the church. He was just feeling that way. People say that and try to make it sound psychological.

TP:    Well, he learned to play in the church and had all that experience when he was young…

GOLSON: Well, he did it.  But Ted, it was intuitive.

TP:    On this CD, there are trio versions of “Dis Here” and “Dat Dere” and “So Tired” and stuff like this. Did he write those then to capitalize on…

GOLSON: Yes.

TP:    Were you around at that time or not?

GOLSON: No. That came after I was gone.

TP:    Did you continue to stay in touch after leaving the Messengers?

GOLSON: No.  Just seeing him when I happened to see him. No deep phone calls or anything like that. I’d just run into him, “Hey, how you doing?” – like that.

TP:    Do you recall any impressions you had of his trio?

GOLSON: I don’t remember much about the trio. I can’t recall as we talk the natuure of the trio. I don’t even remember who was in the trio.

TP:    He worked with Ron Carter and Tootie Heath, and also with Sam Jones & Cannonball.

GOLSON: I’d forgotten all about Ron Carter.

TP:    But you brought him in from hearing him on the scene, and he seemed like good fresh blood for Art.

GOLSON: I brought him in on the basis of what I heard. It wasn’t that I knew him. It was just on the basis of what he played, his musical concept. Then I got to know him.

TP:    Can you give me any impressions about him just from that year?

GOLSON: Well, this was important to me. He had no ego about him. [LISTENED TO BENNY AND RESPECTED HIM AS MUSICAL DIRECTOR] [INAUDIBLE, BREAKS UP]
He was always upbeat. He was never downbeat. And he never maligned anybody. If he did, it would be in a humorous way, someone’s bad feet, the way he walks or something. But no, he was all right.

TP:    So his tunes reflect his personality, then.

GOLSON: Absolutely.  “Dis Here” and “Dat Dere,” that was Bobby. Some people think he was just a funky piano player, but no, he could get into things.

TP:    Well, there’s an “Old Devil Moon” where he runs off these fleet Bud Powell lines, and on another there are some Dameronian voicings.

GOLSON: I liked the way he played. Of course, it’s a different time.  But then he was right on the cutting edge.  And I thought that he would work well with the Messengers, and he did. That “Moanin’” thing helped quite a bit. Because it was epochal, that group in 1958 with Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons, Jymie Merritt, and me. That’s when things changed. It was because of Bobby and Lee, and my composing, and “Moanin’.” When Art used to announce the All-Star Jazz Messengers, the regular group was there, but we were like an adjunct to it, and we’d come out for the second half of the show and play with them, and when he got to me, he’d say I was the one that started it all. That was kind of confusing, because he had that group together years before I came on the scene.  But he was talking about that band from that time. Because during that time, when I joined the band, he wasn’t making any kind of money.  But when I left, he was making money, I saw he got the right bookings… Because everybody listened to me. Looking back in retrospect, why did they listen to such a green kid? [ETC.] I said, “That picture has to go on the cover,” the booking office didn’t (?) the concert in Town Hall or Carnegie Hall. “But why hasn’t he been to Europe? Send us to Europe.” “We’ve got to wear uniforms, Art.” After the band broke up, he would come to me: “What do you think I should do here?” But that has nothing to do with Bobby Timmons.

There was the spirit of the whole thing.  And those guys were exactly right for that group.

Ron Carter on Bobby Timmons:

TP:    When did you first encounter each other? How did you first break bread musically?

CARTER: It was probably on some dates for Riverside Records on which he was a sideman, earlier Riverside dates on which Orrin Keepnews as a producer. Then he put together the trio, and we flew to the Jazz Workshop down in North Beach. We rehearsed with Tootie Heath… At the time, Riverside Records had a little studio across the street from the President Hotel on West 48th Street. So we rehearsed a couple of days, to learn the library, and went out to California, to San Francisco the next day and did a week there.  Then we went to the Purple Orchid in Los Angeles, came east and did a gig in Detroit, and went to a place in Philadelphia…

TP:    So when you did Live At the Vanguard, you’d been on the road a month.  What was his attitude towards rehearsing and the sound of the group?  Was he very definite about how he wanted pieces to sound?

CARTER:  I think he trusted that… He liked Ahmad Jamal’s sound of the trio. That was one of our favorite groups at the time.

TP:    He liked Ahmad Jamal’s sound.

CARTER:  And he liked the sound of Red Garland’s trio with Paul Chambers and Arthur Taylor. He knew Oscar Peterson’s trio with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown. Eventually, the sound of the trio developed as we matured, as we got more gigs, and got the kind of sound we were looking for…

TP:    So your interpretation of the material molded into what the group sound became.

CARTER:  We dealt with …[INAUDIBLE]… what the first couple of choruses of the song would sound like, and then we were on our own to develop whatever we saw fit for the remainder of the arrangement of the tune.

TP:    Did the sound change from week to week?  Was he improvising a lot within the format of the trio from one night to another? Would his solos vary?

CARTER: He always remembered my basslines from the other night. I mean, I don’t think great musicians wake up in the middle of the gig and play something that no one ever heard before. I think great players get to that zone by developing what they stumbled on the night before, or the set before, or the chorus before. He’d remember what had almost worked the night before, or an idea really sounded good, and can we play the same idea in a different key, or can we play it slower, or can we play a bridge in the ..(?)… and develop another kind of way to make the song work.

TP:    Talk a bit about the dynamics of his compositions.
CARTER: They were simple. He wrote nice tunes or some ballads. He wrote some interesting songs, but he was not a composer in like Benny Golson, or other composers that I could think of. He was a wonderful improviser. He had the ability to play the melody and song different for the band but not for the audience. The band could tell the difference from night to night in the ..(?).. of the melody, and it let us know that we had even more range to develop our melodies as the gig wore on.

TP:    Who would say were his main influences?

CARTER: Bud Powell as far playing the piano was concerned.  He was aware of Ahmad Jamal’s approach and he played block chords like Red Garland could do, but his primary infiuence would be Bud Powell.

The trio had two or three gigs after the Vanguard, and then kind of separated. Bobby was staying in town more.  We did some duo gigs before he died, working in and out of the Village, at the Lion’s Head… He was getting sick even along the way.  The Needle’s Eye. He would play at Boomer’s.

He was very giving, very loyal, played every night like it was his last chance to get it right.

TP:    Good dresser, too.

CARTER: Well, back in those days, everybody wore suits. Shoes shined, tuxes.

TP:    Would you consider his music a reflection of his personality in any palpable way?

CARTER: I’ve never seen how someone’s music can be interpreted as though it were HIM. [INAUDIBLE] I’m not sure how you can call “Moanin’” indicative of his giving personality or “Dis Here” with the fact that he would go to the mat for you. I don’t know how you can find that in his tunes.

TP:    So he knew what to do as a leader.

CARTER: Absolutely.

TP:    And he had a firm and distinctive point of view, would you say?

CARTER: Well, it wasn’t rigid.  He would accept input. I’d say, “Bobby, that ain’t working, man; can we find something else to do with that?” He’d say, “Well, what?” And if my idea worked, that would be a part of it. Or if Tootie would say, “Bobby, let’s try to do this,” and Bobby would say, “I don’t know, man; let’s see how it goes.” So he was open to any suggestion, and as a leader he would determine whether that suggestion fit the musical direction he had in mind. Good leaders do that.

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Filed under Albert "Tootie" Heath, Benny Golson, Bobby Timmons, Cedar Walton, Interview, Kenny Barron, Liner Notes, Piano, Reggie Workman

For the 84th Anniversary of Art Farmer’s Birth, A Few Interviews From 1994

In 1994, I had the privilege of conducting three interviews with the magisterial flugelhornist Art Farmer on WKCR, one during a quintet engagement at Sweet Basil on which he shared the front line with Jerome Richardson (Clifford Jordan had recently passed), and was promoting a two-trumpet recording with Tom Harrell on Arabesque, followed a pair of 5-hour Sunday Jazz Profiles where he was present for the entirety. In honor of the 84th anniversary of Mr. Farmer’s birth, I’m posting the complete transcripts of the interviews.

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Art Farmer (WKCR, 11-27-94, 12-18-94):

[MUSIC: Jazztet (1961), "Farmer's Market"; (1993) "Turn Out The Stars," (1992) "Modulations",  (1991) "Isfahan"; (1953) w/ Clifford Brown, "Keeping Up with Jonesy", (1953), w/ Sonny Rollins "I'll Take Romance", (1954) w/Gigi Gryce, "Blue Concept"]

TP:    You’re originally from Iowa, and grew up in Arizona.  What were your earliest musical experiences like?

AF:    I started off studying the piano, because that’s the first instrument that I ever heard.  My mother used to play the piano with her father’s church choir.  At that time it was very customary to have a piano in the house, and someone played it.  There were a lot of music students in our family, and it just seemed the natural thing to take piano lessons.  Then after that, when we were living in Phoenix, Arizona, a man gave me a violin, and I studied that for a couple of years.  Then I switched from the violin to the bass tuba.  I was playing with a marching band that was part of a church organization in Phoenix.  I heard some of the older guys in the band jamming around one day, and I wanted to play a horn, like I said, but the only horn available was the tuba.  Then the War started.

TP:    So by this time you were 12 or 13…

AF:    Yes, about that.

TP:    …and sort of going between the violin and the brass instruments.

AF:    Yes, right.

TP:    Who taught you?  Did you get instruction in some sort of organization, or private teachers?

AF:    I had a teacher for the violin, who was employed by what then was called the WPA, the Works Progress Administration, to see that everybody had a job in the United States.  That’s the only teacher that I had.  I also had a teacher on the piano who was employed by the school system out in Phoenix.  So teaching was rather scant, I would have to say.

TP:    So you got your experience basically picking up from other people and playing in different situations?

AF:     Right, picking up from other people.  Well, Jazz was on the radio.  There was a lot of airplay for Jazz then,  big bands playing for dances, and all kinds of wonderful things happening.  The first live music that I heard actually was the real Country Blues.  I used to sell papers, and I would walk around in the migrant workers’ camps and sell them papers, and after work they would be sitting around, playing and singing, playing the Blues on the guitar or whatever.

But I heard all this Big Band Jazz on the radio.  Then when the Second World War came along, there was an Army camp around Phoenix, and I heard the Army dance band.  There was one guy in the band by the name of George Kelly, who is still around here in New York, and he used to come around to our rehearsals and help us out.  He was a great guy.  He used to write arrangements for us.  But that’s the first time I heard a big band live, was the U.S. Army band.  Then the traveling dance bands started coming through on one-nighters, like Jimmie Lunceford and Erskine Hawkins, Buddy Johnson, people like that.  The greatest thing in life that I could imagine was to hear these bands.  It was so exciting that it never has left me.  My brother, Addison, myself and our friends, we would go around and introduce ourselves to the musicians, and ask them to come by the house to have a jam session — and they were very nice, and they would.

TP:    Your brother, Addison Farmer, was your identical twin and a bass player.

AF:    Right.

TP:    Was he pretty proficient at this time also?

AF:    Well, he was, but at this time he really hadn’t gotten into it as much as I had.

TP:    I think you mentioned Roy Eldridge particularly as turning you around.

AF:    Right.  Well, Roy came to town with the Artie Shaw Band, and I met him then, and I have to say he was really very kind.  He came by the place that I was playing on a night off, and he sat in and played the drums.  Then after about a set of that, he went back to his room and got his horn, and came around and played.  I didn’t know anything to ask him, really; it was just sort of a listening thing.

TP:    Now, you said he came by where you were playing.  By this time were you working locally around Phoenix?

AF:    Yes, I was.  I was working with some friends of mine at a place that was the kind of place that we would then call a bucket of blood, heh-heh, sort of a rough place.  But that’s all the town had to offer.  We were frankly very ignorant about what was going on with music, didn’t know left from right or 3/4 from 2/4, but we knew that we liked music and we knew that we wanted to play, and I guess that’s what Roy heard.  So he was gracious enough to come up and play the drums, because he was a drummer also, and he enjoyed the situation enough to go back to his room and get his horn.

TP:    Would you be playing mostly Blues at this time?

AF:    Yes, mostly Blues, very simple riffs, riff-type tunes based on “I Got Rhythm” or “Honeysuckle Rose,” something like that.

TP:    And at this time you would have been 15 years old, let’s say?

AF:    Yes, around 15 or 16.

TP:    Who were some of the trumpet players who were shaping your idea of how the trumpet should sound?

AF:    Well, the most dominant trumpet player that you would hear in a small town like Phoenix then would be Harry James, because he was on the air all the time.  Harry James was a very fine trumpeter.  Of course, his style was much different from what really grabbed me later on.  But at that time, why, he was the man.  Even Miles said when he started trying to play, he was captivated by Harry James.

TP:    When you heard Roy Eldridge over the air, that grabbed you?

AF:    Oh, sure.  Certainly.  Then later on, I heard other people when the bands came through, say, Erskine Hawkins, where there was a trumpet player named Dud Bascomb who took a solo on a very successful record called “Tuxedo Junction.”  Also there were other fantastic trumpet players with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, like Freddie Webster, for instance.

TP:    Andy Kirk for a brief moment had Howard McGhee and Fats Navarro in his band.  Did they ever come through Phoenix when you were there?

AF:    No.  They never came through Phoenix.

TP:    So you didn’t have a chance to hear them right away.

AF:    No, they never came through Phoenix, nor did Billy Eckstine.  A lot of bands didn’t come through Phoenix.  Phoenix was relatively a small town.  Billy Eckstine never came through, Earl Hines never came through, Duke Ellington never came through, nor Count Basie.  But I certainly remember the ones that did come through.  When I heard Jimmie Lunceford’s trumpet section, well, I knew what my life was going to be instantly.

TP:    Why is that?  What was the sound of that trumpet section like in person, up close?

AF:    Well, if you’ve only been playing trumpet just by yourself, and suddenly you hear four guys that are really playing a nice arrangement, then it’s such a big difference.  It’s like a revelation.  You hear the trumpet players playing their solo with the band in the background; well then, that sort of shows the way to you.

TP:    When you were 16 or 17 years old, you and your brother went to Los Angeles and finished your last year of high school there.

AF:    Yes.  We actually went there supposedly on a vacation.  We had had our little day jobs and saved our money, and we went over to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks.  But the music scene was so alive on Central Avenue in Los Angeles, and we heard so many people, it just seemed senseless to go back to Arizona.  So we decided to stay there and finish our high school there, and support ourselves by whatever means were possible.

TP:    Did you have family in Los Angeles?

AF:    No, we didn’t.  We didn’t have any family there.  But the school didn’t know that.  Our mother told us, “Well, if this is what you really want to do, go ahead and do it, but at least graduate from school.”  So we did.  And we wrote our own excuses and things, so the school never knew.  If we didn’t want to go to school, we would just write an excuse supposedly from our parents, which was accepted by Jefferson High School.

Now, there were some teachers that were very helpful to us — music teachers.  There was one man in particular by the name of Samuel Brown, who also taught Dexter Gordon.  Because Dexter went to the same school, although he was a few years in front of us.

TP:    What was Mister Brown like as a teacher?

AF:    Well, anyone who came to town that he knew, he would ask them to come over and play some, and talk to the students, and that would be the students’ first time able to talk to real professional musicians.  He organized what is now called a stage band, and we would go around and play assemblies in other schools in the Los Angeles area.

TP:    What sort of repertoire were you playing?

AF:    Well, it was a repertoire with, for example, “9:20 Special” written by Buck Clayton, and “Take The A Train,” and something by Woody Herman.
TP:    Dance band things.

AF:    Yes.  Dance band things that were popularized by the big bands.  It was mainly big bands, because there were also people in the school orchestra who were already writing arrangements.

TP:    Like who?

AF:    Well, I can’t remember the names right, because this was a long time ago.  Besides Dexter, some of the other active players were people like Sonny Criss and Cecil McNeely, who later turned out to be a great Rock Star by the name of Big Jay McNeely.  Hampton Hawes was around.  I figured that I should have been there a long time before I was.  I got there for my last year.  If I’d been there two or three years earlier, it would have been a lot of help.

TP:    Was Samuel Brown helpful to you in developing your brass technique?

AF:    No, he wasn’t a brass teacher at all.  I didn’t have a brass teacher.  I had never had a brass teacher up to this point.  Up to then, I was just sort of hit and miss.  Mostly miss.  Trial-and-error.

TP:    There was another teacher in Los Angeles, Lloyd Reese, who taught privately…

AF:    Yes, I heard about Lloyd Reese, but I never went to him.  Lloyd Reese was a professional teacher, and you had to pay him, and I didn’t have any money to take lessons.

TP:    You arrived in Los Angeles at the time Bebop was first starting.  Howard McGhee was out there and…

AF:    That’s right.  That’s the first time I heard Howard, and Howard with his group was really a revelation to me.  That sort of pointed me in the direction for my life.  He was moving around on the horn more than the usual soloists in the big bands.  They were playing what were then called ride solos, where you’d just sort of Jazz the melody, and you don’t actually move around the horn that much.  That’s what most of the guys were doing when the solo time came.  Players like Dud Bascomb and Ray Nance came along and created their own things, and they were so interesting and beautiful.  But then Howard came along, and he was much more fluid than them.  Much more.  I heard Howard McGhee’s group before Dizzy and Bird came out, so that was the first so-called Bop group that I heard.  They had a wonderful tenor player named Teddy Edwards in there, who became a close friend of mine.  We worked together later on.  I didn’t meet Howard, but I used to go out and listen to them play every night.  I was amazed at the way he was able to play the instrument, because I hadn’t heard Dizzy or Miles or Fats or Kenny Dorham at that time.  He was the first one that I heard who could get around the horn like that.

TP:    Who were some of the other players in Los Angeles who impressed you?

AF:    At this time, I don’t remember any local trumpet player that impressed me anywhere like Howard did, and then, shortly after that, when Dizzy came out with his group.

TP:    And did you go to Billy Berg’s to hear the band?

AF:    Yes, I’d go there, and when I was able to get in, I’d get in.  Sometimes someone was on the door who said, “Well, you don’t look like you’re old enough,” so I couldn’t get in.  Then Miles came out with Benny Carter’s band, and I met him; we used to wind up at jam sessions together, and I would get a chance to listen to him.  I used to go around with Charlie Parker, too.  I wouldn’t play, but I would just listen.  A tenor saxophone player that became very influential in my life, Wardell Gray, came out there with Earl Hines’ band; I went around and met him — later on we wound up working together.  Wardell was a very nice man, a very intelligent man, and it was really a tragedy, not only to him, but to all of us who knew him, to have lost him at such an early age.  He was very kind and very helpful, and I was very glad for the chance to work with him, and also with Dexter at this time, because the two of them organized a group, and we worked around the Los Angeles area.

TP:    What other work did you get in Los Angeles at this time?

AF:    I worked for a group that was led by a drummer by the name of Roy Porter, who used to work with Howard McGhee.

TP:    Roy Porter had a big band, too.

AF:    Yes, he had a big band, and actually we did some recording for the Savoy label with this big band.  Eric Dolphy was in that band.  Also I worked with a big band that was led by Horace Henderson, Fletcher Henderson’s brother.

TP:    Horace Henderson was supposed to be very adept at organizing a band and getting a good band sound.

AF:    Right.  Well, that worked.  He had a very fine swing style trumpeter by the name of Emmett Berry.  Emmett could play.  Emmett gave me some tips and some pointers.  Still I had never had a trumpet lesson.
TP:    How much Bebop were you able to play as a youngster in Los Angeles?

AF:    I would say not very much. [LAUGHS] I was mostly captivated by it.  But see, playing Bebop is not the easiest thing that you can find to do! [LAUGHS]

TP:    It sounds like you had a lot of the new ideas in your mind while you were playing gigs that required other things from you.

AF:    Well, Bebop came out of the Swing Era.

TP:    Talk a little bit about that.

AF:    Well, everybody that was involved with Bebop, as far as I know, the main guys played with the big bands.  I mean,  Miles and Dizzy and Max Roach and J.J. Johnson, all did, and Dexter Gordon — all these guys came out of big bands.  Where else would they come from?

TP:    And because of World War Two, there were openings for young musicians in those bands.

AF:    Right, there were.  There were openings for guys of my age.  The older, more proficient players were mostly in the Armed Forces.

TP:    Los Angeles was a thriving musical community at this time, with clubs everywhere and lots of work for musicians.

AF:    Yes, there were a lot of clubs.

TP:    Talk about what an average night might be like on the Central Avenue strip.

AF:    Well, you could just walk up the street and go from one club to the other.  Within an area of about 20 blocks there would be like five or six clubs.  These clubs were forced to close by one o’clock because of wartime restrictions, but then there were some other clubs that would open up.  I don’t think they were quite legal, but they got away with it some way.  They would open up when the first clubs closed, and they would stay open until maybe six or seven o’clock in the morning.

TP:    Were there places that had breakfast dances also?

AF:    Yes.  But these places were called breakfast clubs.  There wasn’t a lot of dancing going on at these clubs, but there was an audience there for listening at this time.   There was no big play on it from the press.  No Jazz Critics ever came around, and you never read about it in Downbeat or nothing like that.  But the players came around, and after they had finished their big band gigs, their dance gigs, why, then, they came over and sat in and played.

TP:    That was sort of graduate school for a lot of musicians at that time.

AF:    Yes, it was.  Graduate school, that’s what I would call it.

TP:    When did you first go to New York?

AF:    I first came to New York in 1946 with a band that was led by a drummer by the name of Johnny Otis, who had a big band that was working on Central Avenue.  The band was patterned after the Count Basie Orchestra.  In fact, Count Basie used to send us some arrangements that he didn’t want to play.  It was a good band, a straight-ahead Swing band.  The tenor player Paul Quinichette was in the band.  I was able to get the job with Johnny Otis, because some of the people who had been playing with the Otis band didn’t want to travel.  That gave me a chance, and I came with them to New York.

TP:    How long were you here?

AF:    Well, I was here that time for a couple of weeks.  We were on tour, and we played a place in Chicago called the El Grotto which was owned by Earl Hines.  We played there for about ten weeks.  Then we played at the Apollo Theater for  a week, and then we played the Paradise Theater in Detroit for about week — and then Johnny Otis fired me.

TP:    Was this your first time seeing the country?

AF:    Yes, it was my first time.

TP:    What was Chicago like then?

AF:    Oh, that was great.  The El Grotto was very nice.  Such a nice club, with a chorus line and showgirls and comedians.  It was really a nightclub, which there is nothing like that now.  It was a big show.

TP:    Chicago had a number of clubs with elaborate shows then.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Did you get around in Chicago?  Is that where you met Gene Ammons, let’s say?

AF:    No.  Gene was on the road with Billy Eckstine at that time.  I didn’t meet Gene until I recorded with him for Prestige in the Fifties.

TP:    What was your first impression of New York?

AF:    Oh, New York was a great place.  It was another city compared to now — completely different.  But there was a lot of music going on, and music was all around the town.

TP:    Where did you go to jam?  I’m assuming that you did.

AF:    Well, no, I didn’t go to jam at that time.  I would go to listen.  I went down to, like, 52nd Street, and to Minton’s up in Harlem.  This is after the job.  We were playing at the Apollo Theater, and our last show would be finished close to midnight, and so then we would go out to other places — like I said, 52nd Street or Minton’s.

TP:    And you heard everybody who was creating the new music at that time.

AF:    Well, everybody was on the Street.

[MUSIC: AF w/G. Russell, "Ballad of Hix Blewitt", "Concerto For Billy The Kid" (1956); AF w/H. McKusick, "Alone Together" (1957); AF w/Horace, "Home Cookin'" (1956); AF/Jaymac/S.Clark, "Sippin' At Bells" (1958); AF/Gerry Mulligan, "Blueport" (1958), AF/H. Jones, "Nita" (1958)]

TP:    In our last conversation segment, Art Farmer was on his first trip on the road with Johnny Otis, when he worked in Chicago and New York for the first time.  But basically, I gather you stayed in Los Angeles pretty much until joining the Lionel Hampton band in the early Fifties?

AF:    Yes.  You see, there was an institution called the Sunday afternoon jam sessions, which happened in Los Angeles and New York and other places, too.  I used to go around to these clubs for the jam sessions, and one Sunday I went there, and there were some guys from Lionel’s band.  Quincy was there, Buster Cooper was there, for instance.  A couple of days later I got a call from a friend of mine, saying that he was going over to talk to Lionel, that Lionel wanted him to make an audition, and he had heard about me and would like for me to make an audition, too.  I think Quincy had something to do with it, really.  So I went over there, and the audition wasn’t to see how well you read the music or played the parts, but to see how well you could play in general.  He said, “Okay, let’s play ‘All God’s Children Got Rhythm,’” which is a real testing tune for young players.  So I did it, and then he said, “Yes, well, if you want the job, you’ve got it,” and that was it.

TP:    What was the salary?

AF:    Oh, it was around $17 or $18 a night when you played. [LAUGHS]

TP:    When did Clifford Brown come into the picture?

AF:    Clifford came in about a year later — less than a year later, because I was there only a year myself.  When I came in, Benny Bailey was still there.  The reason why Lionel Hampton hired me was because a very great trumpet player by the name of Benny Bailey was getting ready to leave.  So when I came in the band, I was the sixth trumpet player, and then Benny left, so I was the fifth.  Then there was a guy named the Whistler, who was called the Whistler because all he played was high notes all night long, and he left, and Brownie took his place.  It was, say, in the summer of ’53 when we were playing in New York at a place called the Band-Box, and we were getting ready to go on a tour over in Europe, where we made all those records.  Gigi Gryce had come in the band, and James Cleveland, and Alan Dawson also…

TP:    What was your immediate impression of Clifford Brown?

AF:    [LAUGHS]

TP:    I know it’s sort of a softball question, but…

AF:    Yeah, that’s really… [LAUGHS] Everybody had the same impression of Clifford Brown.  The nicest impression was what Louis Armstrong said, “It sounds like you got a mouthful of hot rice.” [LAUGHS]

TP:    But you were up next to him every night, I guess, for a number of months.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Did that have an impact on your conception?

AF:    Yes, it did.  I would say that from the standpoint of style we both came from the same inspiration, which was Fats Navarro.  But Clifford was much more proficient than I was, and he was able to do what I really wanted to do, and he could do it perfectly, and be completely relaxed and creative, and improvise.  He was just wonderful.  There were a whole lot of people that wanted to do the same thing, like Idrees Sulieman, for instance, Ray Copeland, and other people, too.  We all said, “Well, this is the guy who really got it together.”

TP:    Did your proximity to Clifford in any way inspire you to work out a niche for yourself, a certain sound that nobody else would get to, such as what, making a rough analogy, Miles Davis faced with Dizzy Gillespie?

AF:    No, it really didn’t.  It just inspired me to get the best sound that I could get.  I certainly loved Brownie and Fats, and Ioved a whole lot of trumpet players, and still do.  A lot of younger guys, the guys like Brownie and Fats and Miles, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, you’d listen to  these guys, and you’re not going to say, “Well, if I could just sound like that, I’d be happy for the rest of my life.”  I would say, “Well, if I could just sound as good as that, and then whatever came out that I figured sounded as good or sounded nearly as good, at least I’d figure like I was pointed in the right direction.

TP:    Back to your experience with Roy Porter, a caller was interested in your having known Eric Dolphy as a very young musician.

AF:    We were very good friends.  Eric was the same way with Charlie Parker as I was with the leading trumpet stylists at that time.  If you listened to him, you could tell immediately that he loved Charlie Parker.  But the difference between Eric and Charlie Parker was that Eric… Eric was more like John Coltrane.  He lived for the saxophone.  That’s all he thought about, was the saxophone all the time, all the time, and whatever he could do.  The first inkling I had that he was going in another direction than just playing Bebop was that he started imitating the sounds of birds.  He’d listen to birds, listen to what the birds sing, and then go home and play it on the horn.  That was happening when I was still living out there, before I left Los Angeles with Lionel Hampton in the Fall of 1952.  But even then, he was consumed by music.

TP:    By the way, did you encounter Ornette Coleman at all in Los Angeles?

AF:    Yes, Ornette came on the scene while I was still there.  We didn’t think much of him, because he would get up on the stand at a jam session, and he would play, like, licks that were associated with Charlie Parker, but he would play them in the wrong place.  He had a hair style that made us call him “Nature Boy.”  There was a tune called “Nature Boy” written by Eben Ahbez, and we called Ornette “Nature Boy.”  We really didn’t realize the contribution that he was going to make to the music — which he made a great contribution.  At that time, when he would get up on the stand, a whole lot of guys would leave the stand.

TP:    You mentioned taking the music beyond Bebop, and indeed, when you came to New York in the mid 1950′s you were associated with a lot of composers who were involved in stretching the form somewhat.

AF:    Well, when I came to New York after I’d left Lionel, and settled down here, then for some reason I got a reputation as a guy that was willing to really try to play people’s music, no matter what it was.  There were a lot of people that were not playing Bebop at that time.  Well, not a lot, but there was George Russell, Teddy Charles, for instance, and they would call me when they had a gig or something to do.  And I would give the music my best shot, and take it home, and study it.  There were some guys that just didn’t care that much about it.  So that was the start of my reputation around there.

TP:    That must have kind of a mind-bender for you, and certainly must have taken you to a lot of interesting places.

AF:    Yes.  Well, I wound up in some interesting places, like playing a concert with the New York Philharmonic of a concerto that was composed by Teo Macero, who later on wound up to be main record producer of Miles Davis.  He wrote this symphony called “Fusion” that was to be performed by a symphonic orchestra with a Jazz group.  So those were the kind of things that were happening.  We played things by creative composers who were not completely in the Jazz idiom, but were using it as best they could, at the same time using their Classical background.  This is not to say that I was a Classical player by any means, but still, it was just a matter of being the guy around town that could sort of straddle the ditch.

TP:    Now, you said that let’s say up to 1950 or so, you hadn’t had a brass teacher.  By this time had you been getting some formal tuition?

AF:    Yes, I had by then.  After I came to New York with Johnny Otis, and my deficiencies came to the front, and he wound up firing me, and I decided to stay in New York and get some professional help.  I worked around here for a couple of years as a janitor in the theaters, and at that time I studied with a teacher by the name of Maurice Grupp.  He didn’t have anything to do with Jazz at all.  But I started taking lessons with him every week, and practiced every day, and at night-time I would go to 52nd Street and listen to the guys who were doing it.  I was supposed to be on my job at 12 o’clock.  Sometimes I was late, because I was busy listening to Miles and Dizzy, etcetera.  I used to work at Radio City Music Hall and a place called the Criterion Theater, and other places like that, cleaning up, because that was the only way that I could stay here and study.

TP:    You did what a lot of artists do when they’re organizing themselves in their earlier years.

AF:    Well, sure.  You’re glad to have the opportunity to do it anyway, any way you can.  I remember some nights I would be late getting to my job because I just couldn’t leave the Street.

TP:    After leaving the Hampton band, you began working around New York with fellow band-member Gigi Gryce for several years.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Talk about the formation of that group and its evolution.

AF:    Well, after leaving the Hampton band, I was able to get some jobs because I had recorded a tune that was subsequently named “Farmer’s Market” out in California with Wardell Gray.  Ira Gitler gave the tune its name.

TP:    What was your name for the tune?

AF:    I didn’t have a name for it!  So Ira decided to call it “Farmer’s Market,” which he did me a great favor.  So I came back here, and went over to the Prestige company, and introduced myself to Bob Weinstock, who was the owner of the company.  I said, “I’m Arthur Farmer.”  He said, “Oh yes, you’re Art Farmer.  You’re the guy who made that record with Wardell Gray.”

TP:    No wonder you’re sick of that one song!

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Gigi Gryce himself was a very ambitious composer.

AF:    Yes.  Gigi was a great composer, a great arranger, and a great saxophone player, and he’s one of the people that we lost too early.  The music has lost a lot because he wasn’t around.  He was from the generation of Quincy and myself, and his contribution was lost, other than a very few things that he did for me, and, oh, yes, he had a group with Donald Byrd, but this didn’t show his full capacity as a player or a writer.  If he had just been able to hang on a bit longer, then I think he would have had a great influence on the music.  Just like Freddie Webster; I think he would have had a great influence on the music if he had been able to hang around longer.  Some people just leave too early.
TP:    You did some wonderful recordings with George Russell.  How did your relationship with him begin?

AF:    Well, it was during a time when I was in the studio with anybody who figured that they had something unusually difficult to be played, and they would call me.  I met George at a record date with either Hal McKusick or Teddy Charles, and after that, when he decided to do his own record, well, he called me.  After that I studied with George for some time, and still he is one of the greatest factors in my playing.

TP:    Would you be a little more specific about the applicability of his ideas?

AF:    Well, it’s a matter of being able to use the harmonic form in a certain way that you always know where you are and you know how to handle yourself.  There’s no point to go into musical terms about it, because I’m not speaking to musicians at this time.

TP:    Later in the Fifties you worked with Gerry Mulligan in a group that stretched form in a lot of different ways.

AF:    Oh, yes.  That was a very important time for me, and a very important occasion.  I learned a lot working with Gerry.  Just before I worked with Gerry, I had worked with Horace Silver, and Horace is a very dominant pianist.  When you’re playing with a group that Horace is in, well, then, you have to respond to what he’s doing.  There’s no way you can ignore him! [LAUGHS] Anyway, I went from Horace’s group to Gerry’s group.  Well, we probably had a couple of weeks’ rehearsal before we went to work, and then I remember the first night that we worked was at a place in Westbury, Long Island, called the Cork and Bib.  We got up on the stand and we played, and I felt like I was up there with no clothes on.  Because I didn’t hear Horace’s piano.  I didn’t hear any piano.  I just heard this baritone saxophone and the bass violin behind me.  It was a completely different environment.  But it worked out.

TP:    Had you heard his pianoless quartet back in Los Angeles in the early Fifties?

AF:    No, I didn’t hear it there.  The first time I heard it, actually, I think I was in Philadelphia, working with Lionel Hampton, and I went to a club, and he had the quartet.  Chet had left by then, and Bobby Brookmeyer was with the group.  And it sounded comfortable, it sounded musically interesting, but it wasn’t the thing that I was really pointing towards.  It was a little bit too laid back for me at that time, and I wanted to bash.

TP:    Well, the group with Gerry Mulligan that you were in sounds less laid-back than those earlier groups.

AF:    Yes.  It sounds less laid-back, and I guess that’s what I brought into it.

[MUSIC: AF 5, "The Touch Of Your Lips" (1958), "The Very Thought Of You", AF Tentet, "Nica's Dream" (1959), "April In Paris" (1959), AF 5, "Mox Nix" (1958); AF/B. Golson, "Five Spot After Dark" (1959)]

TP:    Benny Golson had his hand in that last set quite a bit.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Your musical lives, careers, and I guess personal lives have been intertwined now for about thirty-five, almost forty years.

AF:    Yes.  Well, Benny is one of my musical brothers, and we love each other dearly.  I don’t know where I would be without his tunes.

The first time that we met was with Lionel’s band.  Benny was there for a short time, but then he decided that he didn’t want to stay with the band.  He’s told me many times after that he was really sorry that he didn’t, because this was the band that had his good buddies Clifford Brown and Gigi Gryce and Alan Dawson, James Cleveland and people like that in it.

TP:    When that band got going, it must have been a real powerhouse.

AF:    Well, it was a musical band, when the music called for it, and when the music called for entertainment, it could do that, too.  Lionel is a great musician and he is also a great entertainer, and some people who would be unable to absorb, to appreciate the musical side of it, could appreciate the entertainment side of it.

TP:    I guess you’ve played with a lot of bands like that, and indeed, that was the situation for many musicians of your generation, to get their functional experience and make a living.  That was sort of the side of the music you had to deal with.

AF:    Yes, you had to deal with it somewhere.  But being a trumpet player, about the most entertaining thing I would say that we did, we would just march through the hall.  Actually, when we were playing at the Band-Box, which was next door to Birdland, I remember one night, Lionel marched us out in the middle of the street, and stopped the traffic, and then he was going to march us downstairs into Birdland.  Billy Eckstine was singing there.  The doorman held up his hand and wouldn’t let us go in.

TP:    What did Benny Golson sound like in the early Fifties?  Was his sound already formed at that point?

AF:    I think his sound was formed at that point.  I don’t think that he had found his own unique identity, but he was very much influenced by Don Byas, I think.  Not that he was playing the things that Don Byas played, but it was just that type of playing.

TP:    Were you aware of his writing at that time?

AF:    At that time, no.  When I first him, I was not aware of his writing at all.  The first time that I became aware of his writing was when I heard Miles Davis’ recording of “Stablemates,” which I think may have been the first one of his pieces that was recorded.

TP:    What are the distinctive aspects of his writing that suit you so, his characteristics as an arranger?

AF:    Well, the thing that really attracted me to Benny was the warmth of his ensemble writing.  That was one of the things that you could hear in the Jazztet.  With three horns you could get a certain depth that you couldn’t get with two horns.  Nobody was writing for three horns until Benny came along and started writing for the Jazztet; other than him you’d have to go all the way back to John Kirby, whose group was in existence in the late Thirties into the mid-Forties – after that it was all two horns and a lot of unison writing for two horns.

I’m just thinking of Benny now as an arranger.  As a composer, why, he was able to write melodies that sounded like melodies, didn’t sound like something that came out of an exercise book.  Benny is a master musician, a consummate artist who recognizes the value of a melody, and he can construct a melody that sings and that stays in your head once you hear it.  Tunes like “Whisper Not” or “I Remember Clifford” are real songs.  That’s just not la-de-da-da-da-dah-da-dah. These songs don’t just go in one ear and out the other.  He’s also able to construct a harmonic framework that the improviser feels very comfortable with; not that it’s always easy, but feels very comfortable with to construct their own melodies during their improvisation.

I think Benny is a very rare person to be able to do this so well.  Because we have a lot of writers, who are not bad writers, but a lot of them are weak on melody, and then when they get to the harmony, the harmony is just not compatible to improvise on.  It’s either too many chords or too little.  They might have two chords all the way through or 222 chords. [LAUGHS]

TP:    I guess a lot of his conception came from the small group writing of Tadd Dameron.

AF:    That’s right.  He would be the first one to tell you that he learned a great deal from Tadd Dameron.  I was just talking to Benny a couple of days ago, and he mentioned that he learned a great deal from Ernie Wilkins also.  Ernie used to write for Count Basie’s band.

TP:    Speakking of Tadd Dameron, I’m sure he always had the sound of Fats Navarro in his ear.

AF:    Oh yes.

TP:    And I’m sure you must be one of the major sounds that Benny Golson is hearing in his ear when he’s writing his tunes.

AF:    Yes, no doubt about it.

TP:    Prior to the Jazztet, Benny Golson had been with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and, as he tells it, had really organized the Messengers into the Messengers…

AF:    Yes.

TP:    …and sort of given them an approach that lasted for the next thirty-plus years.  Was the Jazztet kind of a conscious effort on his part to do something similar with a group of young, contemporary musicians, less drummer-oriented?  How did it come about?

AF:    Well, I never thought about it that way.  How it came about was, as you said, Benny had been playing with Art Blakey and I had been playing with Gerry Mulligan for the year prior to the organization of the Jazztet.  Then Benny decided that he wanted to do something that would have more of his imprint into it.  Mulligan was getting ready to organize the Concert Jazz Band, and at that time I didn’t feel like I wanted to be part of a big band, so I was looking for something to do.  Benny and I had been running into each other in New York at various record dates and things, either I was playing on his date or he was playing on mine.  So I was thinking about calling him and asking him if he would like to work with me, when he called me.  I said, “I was just getting ready to call you.”  So we said, “Okay, then let’s work together.”  That’s how the Jazztet came about.

Trombonist Curtis Fuller had worked with Benny for an extended engagement down at the old Five-Spot, so he was the first sideman Benny suggested, to which I said, “Fine,” because I had worked with Curtis on various record dates, and we knew each other and we got along well.

TP:    He was also a very strong acolyte of J.J. Johnson…

AF:    Right, very strong!

TP:    …and a very strong musical personality in his own right.

AF:    Yes, in his own right.

TP:    McCoy Tyner was the pianist in the first Jazztet.

AF:    Right.  Well, Benny recommended McCoy to me…

TP:    Did he know him from Philadelphia?

AF:    He knew him from Philadelphia.  In fact, working with the Jazztet was the first job that McCoy had outside of Philly.  As I said, Benny recommended McCoy, and he recommended him so strongly that…when Benny recommends someone that strong, well, you can trust that recommendation.  So I said, “Okay, let’s go with it.”  McCoy was interested, so we brought him over, and that was his introduction to the world of Jazz other than in Philadelphia.

TP:    The Jazztet was known as group that combined hard blowing with discipline, almost in the space, say, between the Messengers and the MJQ.  That may be an inaccurate way of framing it, but it’s a roundabout way of talking to you about the repertoire of the group.  Did it have any sort of a laboratory quality?

AF:    No, it didn’t have a laboratory quality, as far as I can remember now.  Benny wrote the arrangements, or whoever wrote the arrangements, we would rehearse them, and if there was something that didn’t work, we would take it out.  But that happens with any group.  What it didn’t have was, it wasn’t the type of situation where you get five or six guys together, and they play the first chorus, and then everybody plays a ten-minute solo, and then they play the first chorus again, and take it out.

TP:    Then the set’s over.

AF:    [LAUGHS] It wasn’t like that.  It was like you didn’t have all night to say what you wanted to say, because you had to make way for someone else.  We had it that way on purpose, because we didn’t want any boredom to set in, but we still wanted people to have enough time to say what they wanted to say.
TP:    Which I guess also reflects your early experience in big bands, jump bands, and so forth and so on.

AF:    Mmm-hmm.

[MUSIC: AF 4, "Kayin'" (1961); A. Farmer/O. Nelson, "Street of Dreams" (1962); AF 4, "Lullaby Of The Leaves" (1961), AF 5, "Happy Feet", AF/J. Hall, "Swing Spring" (1964), AF/S. Kuhn, "I Waited For You" (1965); AF/J. Hall, "What's New"; AF 4, "Die Salde Sin Hemmin" (1966); AF/JJ, "Shortcake", "Euro #2" (1966); AF/J. Heath, "The Shadow Of Your Smile," "Blue Bossa" (1967); AF/O. Nelson, "Raincheck" (1962); AF/Vienna..., "God Bless The Child"]
[MUSIC:  Jazztet, "Serenata" (1960); Jazztet, "Wonder Why" (1960); AF/Jazztet, "My Funny Valentine" (1961); "Django" (1961); "Rue Prevail" (1962)]

TP:    On the 1962 performance of “Rue Prevail” you played the flugelhorn, and in 1960 you were playing the trumpet.

AF:    Right.

TP:    You subsequently became identified very much with the flugelhorn.  What was happening during that time?  Because changing your sound is really the most personal thing an improviser can do.

AF:     Well, I started around that time playing the flugelhorn, but not limited to the flugelhorn.  I would play it on tunes that I felt the flugelhorn was the best horn I could play it with.  Other than that, I would play the trumpet.

TP:    When did you start working with the flugelhorn?

AF:    Oh, it must have been around 1962.

TP:    What inspired you?  You weren’t getting the sound you wanted on certain things?

AF:    Yeah, on certain things, certain times.  In certain rooms the trumpet sounded very brassy and piercing, and it just didn’t blend in the way I wanted it to do.  I remembered that I had heard some other people, like Clark Terry, for instance, playing the flugelhorn, and I had heard a recording that Miles had done playing the flugelhorn, and I felt, “well, I should give that a try.”

TP:    So how was it initially?

AF:    Oh, it was fine.  The sound was there right from the start.  But when you ask a little bit more of horn, when you want the projection that the trumpet has, well, then you come up sort of lacking, because the flugelhorn does not have that.  So most guys double, and they go back and forth between the trumpet and the flugelhorn.

TP:    Why didn’t you?

AF:    Well, I found it inconvenient.  You see, when you put one horn down, it cools off, and then you pick it up and start playing it, and it’s flat for the introduction and maybe part of the first chorus, and that sort of gets things off to a rocky start.  So I would rather just stick with one.  So I wound up sticking with the flugelhorn with the Jazztet, and then shortly after that the Jazztet broke up, I organized a quartet that had the guitarist Jim Hall in it.  Jim Hall is not a loud player, and it seemed to me that the flugelhorn was more compatible with his sound than the trumpet would be.  So I wound up playing the flugelhorn exclusively, and I guess I kept the trumpet in the case for about two or three years.

TP:    Well, what did you have to do to elicit as full a complement of sound projection from the flugelhorn as you could?

AF:    Actually, it’s not possible to fully get the projection.  You can approximate it, but you don’t really completely get to it — you just go in that direction.  Sometimes, if you go into the high register, the flugelhorn can have a tendency to sound like a squealing [LAUGHS] instead of playing.

TP:    Well, I guess if that happens with Art Farmer, he’ll make it musical somehow.  But in the last several years you’ve performed on a customized instrument that hopefully blends the attributes of both the trumpet and flugelhorn — the flumpet.

AF:    The flumpet.  I hate that name, but I’m stuck with it. [LAUGHS] That was made by a trumpet-maker named David Monette, who makes trumpets for a lot of very fine trumpet players, such as Wynton Marsalis, for instance, and the principal players for the Boston Symphony and the Chicago Symphony and the Chicago Symphony, etcetera.  I asked him to make me a trumpet, and he made it, it was very fine, and I started really working on the trumpet.  Then he got the idea that it didn’t really sound like me, but he wanted to make a flugelhorn for me — so I told him to go ahead and do it.  Then he called up one day, and he said, “Well, I made it very carefully and put every part in order, made it by hand [because everything is made by hand], but it sounds like hell, and I really don’t like it.  But I have another idea.”  So I told him to go ahead and make it.  Then a couple of months later, he called  and said, “it’s ready.”  I went to Chicago, where I was booked, and he brought it on the gig — and right from the start, it sounded like the  answer to my prayers.

TP:    How so?

AF:    Well, you could go one way or the other on it.  You could approximate the warmth of the flugelhorn or you could approximate the projection of the trumpet.  If you really wanted to put a note out there, you could do it, and if you wanted to be more intimate, you could do that also.  So it seemed like what I was looking for.

TP:    [ETC.] In the next set of music, we’ll hear some incarnations of the Jazztet’s second life, between 1983 and 1987 or so.

AF:    Some time around there.

TP:    I guess reorganizing the Jazztet was just a natural thing to think about at a certain point.

AF:    It came about because a Japanese promoter came up with the idea of getting the Jazztet back together to make a tour of Japan.  Then someone else in Europe heard about this idea, and said, “Yeah, we like that idea, so why don’t you make a tour of Europe first and then go to Japan?”  So that’s how we got it back together.  We brought Curtis back in the group, too.  Then we were able to get some dates in United States also.  I think that we kept the Jazztet going the second time for about two years.  During that time we didn’t work all the time, so I would work with my own group also, and Benny would work with his own group.

TP:    Apart from all of you being twenty years older, with that level of maturity as musicians, were there any changes in strategy, orientation or approach of the group?

AF:    Yeah, there were some changes.  We wanted the group to be more loose, where the members still had more space to be themselves without being hampered by obligations to play backgrounds and interludes and things like that.  Although that was certainly part of it, too, but we didn’t want people to feel that they were hampered by that.  We still wanted the players to feel free.  That was the only change I could think of.

[MUSIC: Jazztet "Moment To Moment" (1983), "From Dream To Dream," "Are You Real?" (1986)]

TP:    Around the time the Jazztet was reformed, you organized a tremendously creative quintet with Clifford Jordan, which first recorded in 1984. Did you first meet Clifford during your time together with Horace Silver around 1956-1957?

AF:     No, I first came in touch with Clifford Jordan around 1951 or ’52, when I was still living in California. Clifford had come out there to spend some time with some family members of his.  I met him through a personal friend of the two of us, a mutual friend. I was introduced as a trumpet player, and Clifford said, “Oh, yeah, you play the trumpet.  Well, I used to play the saxophone.” [LAUGHS] He wasn’t playing at the time.

TP:    He used to play the trumpet, too.

AF:    Yes.  He started off with the piano, actually.  Then he went to the trumpet, and then he went to the saxophone still in Chicago.

TP:    When did you first hear him play?

AF:    When I first heard him was with Max Roach, after Sonny Rollins left Max Roach.  I heard him in that context, and then he came with Horace, who I was working with at the time, and that’s the first time I played with him.

TP:    You played side by side for about a year.

AF:    Right, for about a year.

TP:    Describe Clifford Jordan’s personality.  He was a very witty and…

AF:    Well, he was very witty.  But his middle name is Laconia — and he was very laconic.  You know, there was a certain style about him, especially about what he would say.  It was like it was serious and putting you on at the same time.  You had to know Clifford to know what he was really getting at.

TP:    There must have been a lot of musical jokes on the stand as well.

AF:    Well, there were some, but we usually didn’t joke that much about music. [LAUGHS]  We might joke about the people and about the various situations that one would find oneself in.  But the music we didn’t joke too much about, unless you find yourself in deep water.

TP:    Well, as two very quick-witted improvisers, I’m sure you could find your way out of that.  What was the impetus for the Art Farmer Quintet Featuring Clifford Jordan?

AF:    I had been living in Europe, and I had been coming back and forth, working over here with quintets and quartets, mostly quartets.  I always liked the way Clifford played; I always liked the way he played very much.  I found myself in a situation where I could add another horn, and he was the first one that I thought of.  I had done quite a bit of work in the mid-Sixties with Jimmy Heath, who is another great tenor saxophonist, but Jimmy was working with the Heath Brothers.  To make a choice between Jimmy and Clifford was very hard to do.  You’d choose who was available, and be glad that one of them was available.  I was very glad that Clifford was available.

Clifford was a saxophone player that had his own personal sound, especially by that time, and there was no one better at giving you this feeling that you were listening to an individual player, that instead of listening to the tenor saxophone, you were listening to an individual person.  That’s what Clifford had that is so hard to find.  You know, you can find musicians, especially tenor saxophone players, it seems like there are so many of them that are so great as far as mastery of the horn.  And once they master the horn, they’ve mastered the whole thing.  They have ideas galore, and they play the tune inside, outside, up and down and around.  But when it comes to an individual speaking to you, Clifford does that better than anyone I know.

[MUSIC:  Art Farmer/Clifford Jordan, "Smile Of The Snake" (1988); w/ Horace "Moon Rays" (1957); AF/Cliff, "Raincheck" (1987), "The Summary" (1989), ""Prelude #1" (1984)]

TP:    I’d like to ask you about the qualities of certain writers you favor and how they fall on the horn.  This is sort of impressionistic and maybe not so easy to put into words.  But for instance, in selecting an album of Strayhorn compositions, it’s a kind of complex decision…

AF:    It is complex, because those songs were created for big bands, and then to record them with a five-piece group is not a very easy thing.  You have to try somehow to maintain the color, the harmonic color of the piece with two horns instead of twelve horns.  So you have to be careful.  Some tunes just don’t work out, so you have to find something that you can work with.  Luckily, Billy Strayhorn was such a great composer that even with the simplest line, it could happen.  But then, if you go into a tune like “Bloodcount” [Contemporary] where you want to get the color on it, then you have to be careful what you do.  Of course, we like to play ballads, so we were very careful.

This “Prelude #1″ [Soul Note] was written by the Classical composer Frederic Chopin, and there certainly was no idea that it would be recorded with a Jazz group, with a quintet.  It was arranged by the Austrian pianist that works with me, Fritz Pauer.  He’d just brought it in.  It was written just for the left hand of a pianist.  I liked it.  I liked the way it was treated.  It just worked.  Some things work and some things don’t.

TP:    Well, in the case of Thad Jones, “The Summary” [Contemporary], you were dealing with a composer who was also a great…

AF:    Oh yes.  A great trumpeter.  He was really a monster.

TP:    Talk about his writing.

AF:    Well, his writing was some of the greatest writing that has ever happened for a large group.  I haven’t heard as much of his writing for small group as I would like to.  When I first came east with Lionel Hampton’s band, that’s when I heard him with his group.  He had a group out in Detroit, he and Frank Foster and Billy Mitchell, and I think Tommy Flanagan was in the group, too, and Elvin Jones.  That was great music.

The first time I heard Thad, I was playing with Jay McShann in the late Forties, maybe ’48 or ’49, something like that.  We were in Oklahoma, either Tulsa or Oklahoma City, and we had a night off, and we were jamming one night.  In comes this guy with an Army uniform on, he was like a Lieutenant or a Warrant Officer or something like that, and he takes out his horn and starts playing it — and I said, “Who is that?”  Because he was playing like only Thad can play.

TP:    That sounds like a scene one might have thought of from Kansas City in the 1930′s.

AF:    Well, this was in the Forties, in the late Forties, maybe ’48 or ’49, something like that.  I never had heard about any Thad Jones.  I had heard about Hank Jones, but Thad Jones, well… And he really just blew anybody away.

TP:    You didn’t mention earlier that you’d played with Jay McShann.

AF:    I played with Jay McShann for a year or two.  We didn’t make any records as the Jay McShann Orchestra.  I think there was a record ban on or something.  We made some kind of record backing up a singer, called “When I’m In My Gin.” [LAUGHS]

TP:    Was he doing any of his older repertoire?

AF:    Yes, he was then, sure.  “Jumpin’ The Blues.”  You know, you can’t get away without doing “Jumpin’ The Blues” and things like that.  That was a great experience playing with McShann.  I never will forget that somebody told him, “Mister McShann, when you play those Blues, you sound just like Art Tatum,” and he said, “No, Art Tatum sounds like me, sonny.”  Because he was the master of playing the Blues on the piano.

TP:    How many pieces was that band?

AF:    Oh, maybe it was about 14-15 pieces, something like that.

TP:    Hearkening back, you were in a lot of these type situations in your apprenticeship period — Johnny Otis, McShann, Horace Henderson, Lionel Hampton.  I guess all of these experiences really accrue and become part of what happens to you as an improviser.

AF:    Certainly.  I just thank God for the opportunity of playing with Jay McShann.  I played with Benny Carter in the late Forties and early Fifties; not traveled, but just in the Los Angeles area.

TP:    Playing with Benny Carter, as well as with Horace Henderson, must have been a real learning experience, as far as playing in section and musical discipline.

AF:    Yes.  The music wasn’t easy.  I was lucky to be there.  And the more experienced sidemen that were there were very helpful.  That’s one thing about the music business, is that when people see that you’re serious about learning, well, then, they’ll bend over backwards to give you a helping hand.  That’s what keeps the music alive, I think.

TP:    Passed down from generations.

AF:    That’s correct.  That’s the best way you can learn, sitting next to someone who knows what’s happening, who’s been there, and they’ll steer you right.

TP:    Well, it certainly seems to be a principle you’ve followed in your groups.  For at least fifteen years you’ve employed top young musicians, and…

AF:     Well, it’s to my advantage.  I mean, I’m not doing anybody any favors.  People are there because they should be there.  If I can tell them something, well, fine.  But they’re there to fulfill a function.

TP:    We spoke earlier about the long process of finding a sound.  Was your style formed exclusively from trumpet players, or did you listen to other instrumentalists and try to get some of their qualities?

AF:    No, you listen to everyone, and you try to get some of their quality.  I certainly listened a whole lot to saxophone players — Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker and Ben Webster and Lester Young — for dynamics and for phrasing, and just getting around the music.  The last thing a person should do is just listen to their own instrument, because that limits you so much.  It’s just unnecessary to put yourself in a situation where you’re dealing with that kind of limitation.  It’s like you’re just listening to half of the world, like you don’t want to…you’re just saying, “I don’t want to know anything else.”  There’s no point in that.

I listen to pianists, because I like the way pianists are able to play a line of notes, and all you hear are just the notes, nothing in between.  I would like to execute on the horn the way, say, Bud Powell would execute on the piano, for instance.  The saxophonists I listen to for the warmth of the sound.  The alto for the clarity, and the soprano saxophone for the emotion that comes through that horn so easily, comes right at you; if you listen to John Coltrane or Clifford Jordan, Jimmy Heath, and people like that, it’s right there.

I would say that the main thing about playing is listening.  You have to really concentrate on what you’re hearing, because you can easily think it’s one thing, and then it’s something else.  Sometimes when we go around and participate in classes, we’ll play something and ask somebody to play it back, and they’ll play something quite different from what was really played because they hadn’t really listened close enough.  Then I’d say, “Well, that shows you that you have to get your listening chops together, so you can be sure that you’re playing what you heard.”

Jazz is not just a matter of what’s on the paper, but it’s a matter of what you hear.  That’s how you learn.  Some guys, guys who are really well-trained, have well-trained ears, you play something one time, they got it.  They can throw it right back at you as fast as you can play it.  Then some other guys, their ears are not that well trained.  You have to take a thing and break it apart and play it note by note by note for them to get it.

TP:    Where do you stand?

AF:    I’m somewhere in the middle!

TP:    When we were chatting while the music was on earlier, you said that you wanted to talk about the individuality of some trumpet players.  So I’m going to throw some names at you, and please speak about them at whatever length you’d like.  I’ll start with Freddie Webster, who you’ve mentioned already.

AF:    Well, if Freddie had lived longer, I think he would have become just as influential as Dizzy was.  And I’m not taking nothing away from Dizzy.  Freddie was a great player in his own way of playing.  He had the sound, as Dizzy would say.  I remember one time when I first came to New York and I went to talk to Dizzy about getting a job with his band, and Dizzy said, “Well, what I’m looking for is a trumpet player with a sound like Freddie Webster.  I can do everything else myself.”  That was the main thing, the timbre of the sound and the emotional content that he was able to project.

TP:    Miles Davis admired him tremendously also.

AF:    That’s right.  Well, they were buddies.

TP:    Now, he wasn’t recorded that much.

AF:    No, he wasn’t.

TP:    In person what did he sound like?

AF:    I never got a chance to hear him in person.  I met him, but he wasn’t working at the time.  I just never got a chance to hear him.  So all I had to go by was what I heard on the record, and with the recording technique as it was then, there was no way that that sound could be embellished.  What you heard was what was there, and nothing else.  But I heard him on the live broadcasts with the Jimmie Lunceford band.  He played this tune, “Yesterdays,” and it just blew me away, as it does many people.  I heard him on some recordings with Sarah Vaughan.  The sound was there, the broadness of the sound.  No one else had a sound like that, as far as I can remember.

TP:    Did that quality of sound sort of enter your mind’s ear as something to strive for?

AF:    It certainly did.  If you want to have a broad sound, I don’t know anyone who had a sound broader than that.  And he was able to make it work for him.  He was one of a kind.  If he had been able to stay alive longer, and to make more records where he had a chance to play, I think his influence would have become very great with horn players, and all of us would have benefitted.  I think the person that benefitted the most from Freddie was Miles Davis, because he really listened closely to Freddie.

TP:    Well, let’s make Miles Davis the next trumpeter we talk about.

AF:    Well, Miles is very special, because in my opinion, he’s the first trumpet player that came along that…it’s very hard to hear Louis Armstrong in Miles’ playing.

TP:    And why is that important?

AF:    That’s important because Louis Armstrong was the well, heh-heh, where you go to for the water.  You know, he was the source.  And if somebody could come along and say as much as Miles said, and you couldn’t hear Louis Armstrong in it, that was really a miracle to me.  I’m certainly not putting down Louis Armstrong.  As I said, I haven’t heard anything greater than Louis Armstrong, nothing as far as an individual instrument.  The emotion that he could get out of that horn, there’s nothing around like that.

TP:    You first met Miles around 1946 when he came out to California with Benny Carter.  Did you maintain a pretty good relationship with him in New York?

AF:    Well, we didn’t hang out, but I would run into him sometimes.  I used to see him, like, on the Street (when I say the Street, I mean 52nd St), and then sometimes just run into him, you know, uptown or downtown.  We were always friendly.  He never had this attitude that he’s famous for, or that people always attribute to him as being hard to talk to.  That’s not the Miles that I know.

TP:    I gather that he had quite a bit of respect for your playing, and Thad Jones as well.

AF:    Yes, I guess so.  He was always very approachable and helpful.  I can’t think of any negative thing that ever happened with Miles.

But I’d like to break into this conversation and say that one of the greatest trumpet players, who was virtually ignored during his life, was Kenny Dorham.  He was playing at a time when there was a lot of traffic out there, you know.

TP:    Talk about a distinctive sound, I’ve never heard anybody with a sound quality quite like his.

AF:    No, it was personal.  A personal sound.  It didn’t  sound like he was copying anyone.  He just had his own sound, and that was it.  It wasn’t a big, broad sound.  It wasn’t the kind of sound that I was trying to get.  But it was a unique sound, and he could use it very well.  He always sounded very hip, the way he could phrase and the inflections that he could put on a note which identified him right away.

TP:    I’m going to ask you now about the three sort of major voices of the period you came up in — in no particular order: Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie, and then subsequently, Clifford Brown.

AF:    Well, you could hear Fats.  Fats had a big, fat sound.  No pun intended, but he had a great sound.  He was a master trumpet player, and he sounded like he could do anything he wanted to do on the trumpet with ease.  But still, without Dizzy, there would have been no Fats Navarro as we know him.  No way.  He was very strong on harmony, but the way he used harmony, you could hear where it came from.  So I’m saying that the credit has to go to Dizzy, because that was the main influence of a great trumpet player.

TP:    Indeed, Dizzy Gillespie’s harmonic and rhythmic innovations are the fount for a lot of things still happening today in Jazz.

AF:    Still.

TP:    I’d like you to talk about your early impressions of him.  Now, you heard the band that came out to Billy Berg’s in 1945 as a 17-year-old.

AF:    Yes, I saw Diz and Bird.  But I have to say this.  One night I was playing in a place in Paris, and a lady who used to book some dates for me, said, “Dizzy is coming down tonight.”  So I’m thinking, “Well, I’m going to play something that doesn’t have anything to do with Dizzy at all.  I played and I played and I played, and it seemed like everything I played I could trace right back to Dizzy!  It was very frustrating.  I wanted to play something unique.   But I could see my sources then for sure.  Like, if you just play and don’t think about where this comes from and where that comes from, you might start thinking that you’re doing something original.  But that’s very rare.

TP:    Were you familiar with the early Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie records when they came out to the West Coast?

AF:    Yes.  You see, when I was still living in Arizona, before I came to the West Coast, the first time I heard people playing that way was on some of the Billy Eckstine records.  Dizzy took a solo on one thing, and Dexter and Gene Ammons took a solo on something else.  Then when my brother and I moved to Los Angeles, some kids our age played these quintet records that Dizzy and Bird made, and that turned everything over for me.  Because I was hearing intervals and notes that I never had heard anyone else play before.  Dizzy was in another universe as far as picking notes to play.  In the quintet, the solos had more time to play than in the big band, so I could really hear what was going on.  It just grabbed me.  And I’m still where I was then.

TP:    Well, not quite, I wouldn’t think.

AF:    [LAUGHS]

Q:    I’m sure you hadn’t heard anybody play at that velocity.

AF:    No.  But I had heard a lot of the Jazz greats, like Roy Eldridge.  I had heard Johnny Hodges and the wonderful trumpet players with Duke Ellington’s band, and Buck Clayton and people like that.  The Ellington trumpet players were the ones that really got me, because they all sounded different.  Everyone there sounded different.

TP:    Of course, Ellington put them in situations where their individuality could be most fully exploited.

AF:    Yes, absolutely.  But Dizzy got all the kids.  Because the kids, when you grab a trumpet, the first thing you want to do is play up high, and see who can play the highest.   But Dizzy could play up high, and play something, too.  He wasn’t just screeching out a note, the way you hear some people do it, trying to see how high they can play.  But he was playing melodic ideas, with the swing and the clarity; his attack and intonation, everything was there.  He was really a harmonic pioneer for a horn player.  There had been pianists who were playing great notes, like Art Tatum, but Dizzy was the first one I heard that really was playing notes like that on a horn, and that, as I said, before, turned me upside-down.  So he had us all right from the very start.

Going back to Miles again, you have to give him credit.  When I first heard him, he was under the influence of Dizzy, but then he found his own way, and it was quite different.  Somehow he had managed to put it together and really talk to people through what he played on the horn — you know, get to the heart.

TP:    You spoke earlier about Clifford Brown, who you sat next to in Lionel Hampton’s trumpet section for a year, which I’m sure was a simultaneously enlightening and probably somewhat humbling experience as well.

AF:    [LAUGHS] Yes, it was.  Lionel liked to have battles, tenor battles or trumpet battles, whatever.  When Brownie came in the band, I had already been there for maybe about a year, and I was taking almost all the solos.  So then Brownie comes in the band, and Lionel, instead of taking some solos away from me and giving them to Brownie, he just opened up the arrangement, so I would go up first, and then Brownie would come out and play after me, or vice-versa.  But any time I went out first, I would figure, “Well, this guy is breathing down ny neck, and I’d better play the best I can play, otherwise he’s just going to wipe me away.”  We had the same influence.  We both loved Fats Navarro very much.  But he was much more developed than I was, and he could really take care of himself on the horn.

I learned a lot being there, and being able to listen to him every night.  There’s no words to describe how great he was, playing that horn consistently.  He could do everything.  He had technique and harmonic knowledge, a big fat sound.  He was able to articulate on the horn no matter what the tempo.  Even with all these great things, he had a great feeling, and he played musically.  He’s not a guy who was just running notes just to be running notes.  He’d put together a string of notes just like a string of pearls.  Each one matched the other in the string.  He could play ideas.  He could play with humor — which is very rare.  It’s very rare to find someone who can play with humor and still be playing musically, but he could do this.  He could play ballads.  He’d play race-horse tempos.  I don’t know anything that he couldn’t do.  He really had it together.  He sounded like he had been playing a hundred years.

TP:    Old soul with young chops.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    I’d like to now ask you about some of the trumpeters from the generation that followed you.  My mind makes the leap from Clifford Brown right to Booker Little.  Were you at all close to him?

AF:    No, I wasn’t close to Booker.  Of course, we knew each other, and I heard him play.  He sounded like he spent 23 out of 24 hours on the horn.  He really died too soon.  He had gotten the technique on the horn, and these records that he and Eric Dolphy made, the live records down at the Five Spot, were very good and very interesting, but I think that if he had lived longer…

TP:    They were the beginnings.

AF:    Yes, they were at the beginning as far as Booker Little was concerned.

TP:    Well, two trumpeters who were born in the same year as Booker Little who went on to make huge impacts were Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan, who were also deeply influenced by Clifford Brown and Dizzy Gillespie.

AF:    Mmm-hmm.

TP:    Were you paying as much attention to the younger trumpeters…

AF:    Oh, certainly.  I was paying a lot of attention to Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan.  I used to hear Lee every night, because he was playing with Dizzy’s big band at Birdland, and I was playing with Lester Young’s Quintet there opposite Dizzy.  So I listened to Lee every night.  And I know Lee was a master on the trumpet.

You know, the trumpet is an instrument that really makes people suffer.  It makes the listener suffer sometimes!  It makes the player suffer almost all the time!  — you know, to master that thing.  The trumpet is the Master, and it makes you suffer to get to the point where you can do anything with it at all.  And you hear someone like Lee Morgan come along, who is really a kid, and he plays it with nonchalance, and he plays it, “Oh, well, it’s just a trumpet.”  That’s the attitude that comes out when you hear him playing all these things, things that I would never dream of being able to do.  He was just playing with such ease.  He’d take the mouthpiece out and play the horn just with the leader part.  It seemed like he could do anything with the horn.

TP:    It seems like trumpet players are sort of divided between ones for whom the technique of the instrument isn’t really a problem and ones who create their style out of their limitations.

AF:    Yes, that’s right.  Some people have some sort of a gift for playing this horn, and Lee was one of them for sure.  Then Freddie Hubbard came along, and he sort of upset the whole thing, because he was so great, with such strong emotion and such power.  He had a certain fierceness in his playing which was kind of rare at that time, because people were under the influence of Miles.  Freddie was completely different.  He was unique in that respect.  He was like…the first word that comes to my mind is, I would say “gladiator.”  When he took that horn out, it was like somebody had taken out one of these chains with a big metal ball on the end with spikes and stuff that he’s gonna knock anybody down that got in his way!  Don’t mess with Freddie!  Because Freddie could do it all, too, but he had a certain masculinity in his playing that was like he’s the greatest one around here, and if you don’t believe it, he’ll show you.

TP:    Were you friends with or close to Woody Shaw?
AF:    I wasn’t really close to Woody, but we were certainly friends, because all trumpet players are friendly competitors.

TP:    Well, he took the trumpet into a somewhat different direction than Freddie Hubbard.

AF:    Oh yes, he certainly did.  He was another one that went another way, like Miles went another way.  Everybody does.  But he was successful.  He brought something into the trumpet that wasn’t there before, as far as the way he constructed his lines.  There was no one that was any place near him with the trumpet, and you would have to go to John Coltrane to find anyone who was able to deal with pieces harmonically the way Woody Shaw was — and Woody Shaw died, and there’s no one doing that now.  It seemed like it was just impossible.

It’s so difficult to play that way.  You know, the way I play is completely different from Woody Shaw.  I’m looking for pretty notes, to put together some notes and get a pretty phrase.  But Woody never played that way.  That was not what he was about.  He was looking for something that was really interesting to the ear, something that your ear had never heard before.  That’s what you would get from Woody Shaw.  You got that from Woody Shaw more than anybody else, including Lee Morgan or Freddie or Kenny Dorham or anybody you want to name.  Nobody could put together a string of notes like Woody Shaw, and he did it over and over and over again, consistently.  He was a miracle.

TP:    Who among the younger trumpet players who have emerged in the 1980′s has caught your ear, and why?

AF:    Well, everyone I hear catches my ear.  I haven’t had the chance to hear as many as I would like to hear.  The last one I heard was the trumpet player Roy Hargrove.  He’s a great Jazz player.  Then the trumpet player that was the stand-in for Miles at Montreux, Wallace Roney.  I heard him a couple of years ago on a tour, and he certainly caught my ear.  What he is able to do, what the young guys, in general, are able to do, to me it’s miraculous.  The things they play are so difficult, and they’re in such control of the horn.  Like I said, Brownie sounded like he had been playing a hundred years.  Well, these guys, they sound like that, too.  The stakes have risen.

TP:    All that literature, of course, is available to them, and many have had the tuition to be able to learn how the masters did it.

AF:    Yes.  Well, the educational possibilities are certainly much better now than they were fifty years ago.  But it’s more than that in the game.  Because if it was just a matter of education being more available, then you would have a hundred times the players that you have now.  So these guys, I have to say that they have done a heck of a lot of work to be able to do what they do.  I can’t name all of them, but I haven’t heard one yet that couldn’t play.  I haven’t heard a single one that sounded to me like I would say, “Why don’t you go home and get in the shed.”  They just don’t sound that way.  They sound like all they have to do is live a little longer, live life, and transfer that into the music.

[MUSIC:  Art Farmer/Jim Hall "I Want To Be Happy" (1964), "Embraceable You" (1962); 'Big Blues" (1978)]

TP:    On the face of it, Mr. Farmer, it would seem that you and Jim Hall would be a perfect front-line match in your sensibilities and the way you think about music.

AF:    [LAUGHS] Oh, that’s funny.  The crux of the whole thing is that Jim can make anything sound good.  Anything I would play, he is so quick to do something with it.  If I played a wrong note, which I certainly easily would do, he could make it sound right.  And there are few people who can do that or even would take the trouble to do it.  Jim is just a beautiful player.  Always has been.

TP:    I guess he came to you after working with Sonny Rollins for a few years.

AF:    That’s where the idea of this group came from.  Sonny had taken a vacation for a year or so, and then he organized a quartet with Jim Hall, Walter Perkins and Bob Cranshaw, I think.  Jim and Sonny sounded so beautiful in this setting and so loose, that…

TP:    You stole him?

AF:    No, not quite.  Sonny decided to make a change in his style of playing, and he got Don Cherry in the group and Jim came out.  So I asked Jim if he would like to do some dates with me.  But the whole inspiration of it was from what Jim and Sonny did.  They were reacting to each other in such a spontaneous but musical way.

TP:    I would imagine that not having a piano would have had an impact on your approach to your solos..

AF:    Well, it gives you more freedom.  But I had gotten used to that working with Gerry Mulligan.  That’s the first time I had worked in that type of a context.  You have to get used to it.  As I said before, the first time I played on a job with Gerry Mulligan, I felt like one of those nightmares where you find yourself walking down the street with no clothes on.  I was bared.  There was nothing there to hide behind.  You had to do something that made sense without this harmonic background behind you, which can be a great help.  If you have someone playing harmony behind you, playing a group of notes, well, then, that’s going to enhance what you do, and give it a sense of direction and meaning.  But if you’re just playing one note and the bass player behind you is playing one note, well, then, it’s hard to relate what a person plays on top, because there’s not enough there to relate to.  So you get help out of someone playing a chord instrument like a guitar or a piano.  When you go out there by yourself, you have to make sense by yourself.

TP:    I would imagine that this was the first time you led the same group for a sustained period of time.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Comment on how that impacts the music, however it does.

AF:    Well, it should impact the music, but I don’t remember it impacting the music when we played.  We just got up and played whatever we wanted to play.  That’s all I can think of.  Sometimes I might ask Jim what he felt like playing, but usually I would call the tunes, and the way I called the tunes was based upon what I feel I can do best at that time.  Trumpet players have to consider the physical part of playing more than other people do.  You have to play something that you feel you can get through without too many blooies.  If you overdo it on one tune, then you have to back off a little bit on the next tune.

TP:    Is that the case now, too?

AF:    It’s always the case.

TP:    How do you work it?  Do you have a book of maybe 30-40 tunes that everybody’s familiar with, and then you select from it?

AF:    Yes, that’s right.  I have a book that has maybe around a hundred tunes in it, but at any given time I would probably be using about 30 of those.  You can’t play the same tune all the time, week-in and week-out.  You have to give these tunes a rest.  Sometimes you give them a rest and never come back to them.

TP:    So within that book of a hundred, you might be adding ten to that and dropping ten…

AF:    Yes, right.

TP:    …and within like two to three year cycles, say.

AF:    Yes, I always bring in some new tunes from time to time.  That sort of keeps you awake.  If you play the stuff that you know all the time, you can get bored on the job.

TP:    Your groups perform an extremely venturesome and challenging repertoire.  How do you go about selecting tunes?

AF:    Well, usually guys in the group just bring the tunes in, and I run them down.  If it seems interesting to me, if it seems like it’s worth working on to perfect my playing in it, then I would say, “Yeah, okay, let’s do it.  Let’s go for it.”  Then I’d take it home and go in the woodshed with it, and stay there until I feel able to play it in public.

TP:    It seems that the challenge of performing very difficult music in some ways is what keeps you fresh.

AF:    Yes, certainly it does.  Because you have to keep learning.  If you play things that don’t give you any challenge… It’s hard to learn anything on these standard tunes.  But some of these tunes like on this disk that  you’re getting ready to play now, you have to be on your toes.  Of course, like I said, I would listen to the tune, and if I could hear myself in it and thought that eventually I would be able to play it, well, then, we would start working on it.  That would go for the other guys as well.  But you don’t want to spend your lifetime on one tune.  It has to show some reward somewhere, I guess you’d say light at the end of the tunnel or something like that somewhere.  You don’t want to just work on a tune forever and ever.  But  sometimes it winds up that way.  I’m working on a tune now, and we’re playing the tune in public sometimes; I’ve been working on this same tune for about four or five years.  I still haven’t got it where I want it to be.  But I’m going to hang in there.

TP:    Although you haven’t written many compositions, what’s there is choice.  Talk about your attitude towards writing.

AF:    Well, first of all, you have to like the tune, and then, you have to figure out that you can learn it well enough that you can play it and bring something to it.

As far as writing tunes was concerned, well, I never have had reason to consider myself a composer.  A tune might come to me sometime, but if I don’t get it from beginning to the end in a short period of time, that means I never will get it.  So I just leave it for the scrap that it was, and that’s it, and go on to something else.  I am really not a composer, and there are enough good composers around and enough good tunes around that I don’t feel obliged that I have to rely upon myself.  Some guys only play their own tunes, and usually no one else plays their tunes but them, and the only reason why they’re playing the tunes is because they wrote them — you know, it’s some sort of ego or royalty trip for them.  But that’s not the way I think about music or business.  So I just can’t do it.

TP:    I would imagine that preparing for records is a way of bringing in new material as well.

AF:    That’s right.  But a lot of times I find myself playing tunes on the record, and I never play them again.  But then sometimes it works out the other way.  But in order to make a record on a tune that you come anywhere near doing something you like, I have to do it so many times, that sometimes I never want to hear it again.

TP:    I hope that’s not the case with the tracks we’re playing on this show.  Though I gather from the liner notes that you did something like 47 takes on the version of “Embraceable You” that we heard…

AF:    [LOUD LAUGH]

TP:    …(I’m joking) before you found one that you were happy with.

AF:    I was laughing, because I remember one time I was on a date that Benny had written and arranged.  It was called Brass Shout.  Philly Joe Jones was the drummer.  Now, I didn’t know that this was supposed to be my date.  I just called up Benny from the airport.  I was working with Mulligan, and had some time to kill.  He said, “Where are you?”  I said, “I’m at the airport.”  He said, “You’re supposed to be in the studio today.”  I said, “What?”  Then he explained that we are recording today, what became an album called Brass Shout.  Lee Morgan was on the album, and a lot of great players, just brass players and rhythm.  During the course of the date somebody said, “Well, you know this is your album.  You know that.”  I said, “No, I didn’t know that at all.”

We played a ballad, “April In Paris,” and we made we the first take, and I said, “I’d like to do it again.”  Philly Joe says, “No, that’s good enough, that’s good enough.  You don’t have to do it again.”  I said, “Man, I want to do it again.”  He says, “Well, so what, you want to do it again.  It’s good enough.  It’s good enough.  You don’t have to do it no more.”  I said, “Well, look, man, it’s my date, and I want to do it again.”  He said, “What?  It’s your date?  If I had known it was your date, I wouldn’t be here.”  I said, “You’re right.  If I had known it was my date, you wouldn’t be here either.”  We just looked at each other and laughed.  Of course, we did it again, though.

TP:    I’d guess the nakedness of the lone improviser is most evident in a quartet date.

AF:    It is.

TP:    And because of the chops thing for a trumpeter, a quartet date (apart from trios) must be a tremendous challenge.

AF:    Yes, it’s a challenge.  Because you’ve tried to keep from doing something that you would cringe when you had to go to a Jazz show on the radio and listen to it, and feel like just sneaking out the door, if you have too many blooies on the thing.  So you have to be careful.

TP:    The next set will focus on Art Farmer as featured soloist, and then we’ll return for more conversation.  This track comes from the release that you said was your favorite record, done for Argo, entitled, simply, Art.

AF:    Right.

TP:    What is it that makes a date be able to go well?  I guess one thing is that Tommy Flanagan is the piano player.

AF:    Yeah, that’s one of the most important things.  He made such beautiful intros.  He set you up so wonderful that when you started to play, you just had to follow him.  So that made it happen.

But it was just one of those things where everything fell in line.  It was very simple.  What I did was, I went to the music store and bought some sheet music.  Take a song like “Younger Than Springtime,” I would buy one copy for me, one copy for the bassist and a copy for Flanagan, then I would transpose my part and go in the studio and do it.  We had no rehearsal.  Just put the sheet music on the stand, and go ahead and play it.  But the feeing was so good because the rhythm section was so nice, with Tommy Flanagan and a great bassist who doesn’t live any more by the name of Tommy Williams, who was a remarkable player.

TP:    He was with the Jazztet.

AF:    Yes, he was with the Jazztet at this time.  And Tootie Heath on the drums.  But Tommy Williams played great on this record.  After playing with the Jazztet, he went to work with Stan Getz, and worked with him a couple of years, then  he got out of the business.
TP:    This one has seven standards, music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gershwin, Irving Berlin.  In your style, in improvising, do singers have an impact?  I know you worked with Lester Young, who was a big advocate of knowing the lyrics for all the material.

AF:    Right.  Yes, they certainly have an influence on me.  Certainly.  Not as much as I would like to, because the ones that I love, like Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, are just thousands of light years away from me in what they were able to do with a tune.  They could really bring a tune to life, and that’s what I try to do.

The first thing you have to do is get a good tune.  And the guys who wrote these tunes were songsmiths.  They really knew what they were doing.  They could write a song, and the words meant something.  Not just “Oh, I love you, baby, and I’m feeling so blue.”  They’d say more than that.  The songs were fun to play.  I had worked with Lester Young, and I heard the way that he would treat a song, and I tried to do some of that, too, have it loose and free, put yourself in it.  You have to believe in the song.

[MUSIC:  AF4/Flanagan, "Younger Than Springtime" (1961), AF/Cedar, "Brownskin Girl In The Calico Gown" (1975), AF/Hank Jones, "Nita" (1958), AF/O. Nelson Orch, "Fly Me To The Moon (1962), AF/Hamp Hawes, "I Can't Get Started" (1976), AF/Flanagan, "That Old Devil Called Love" (1961)]

TP:    One thing that set brought out was the presence of so many the great piano players, the great solos, and the relationship between you, the soloist and the pianist.

AF:    These guys play so good, they could just fall out of bed and play that way.  All of them are just fantastic, and you couldn’t find anyone better than them to play with.  Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Hampton Hawes.  Hampton and I, we grew up together out in California, and we used to go over to his father’s church and try to figure out what was happening.  But he certainly figured it out very well.

TP:    There are some very early recordings with Wardell Gray in the early Fifties, not only the original “Farmer’s Market,” but also a recording on Xanadu that captures you at some length in a club.

AF:    Oh yeah, that was unknown.  We didn’t even know that had been recorded, and I wish it hadn’t been, but you have to live with those things.  But Hampton certainly found his way at a very early age, and he was the king out there of the pianists.  Like what I said about Jim Hall earlier, Hampton was able to make anything the soloist did sound better than it would sound without him.  That’s the way these guys are.  You couldn’t find anybody better to play with than Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones and Hampton Hawes.  They’re just great, you know.  The solos, comping, introductions… Like I said about Flanagan, when they play an intro, all you had to do was just follow them.  It’s like they’re saying, “Here’s the way; just follow me.  Everything is going to be all right.”  They set it up so well.  You couldn’t get any better introduction with a 60-piece orchestra than you can get from a good rhythm section.

TP:    Speaking of which, it seems you’ve always worked with extremely dynamic drummers.  In the last set we heard Billy Higgins, Roy Haynes, Tootie Heath.  Talk a little bit about what you’re looking for in the drummer when you’re playing over an ensemble.

AF:    Well, I’m looking for a drummer to give me some help.  I remember one day I was talking to Miles, we ran into each other on the street, and we were just talking, and he said, “Yeah, you and I, we need strong drummers.”  It’s true, to really put some fire underneath the line.

TP:    And you can sort of float on top of it, feint in and out…

AF:    Mmm-hmm.  The drummers keep it going.  And that’s very, very important.  I like to have drummers that bring some fire to the thing, because then I can lay back and sort of come in a little bit after them.  I don’t have to worry about keeping the thing alive.  You can’t lay back too much, but it gives you some room.  And if you lay back too much, you’re making the work too hard for the drummer.

TP:    I guess Lester Young, your former employer, was one of  the great masters at doing that.

AF:    Yes, he certainly was.

TP:    It sounds like your time with Lester Young was very valuable for you.

AF:    Oh, it was.  It really was.  We never had a rehearsal.  He just called up and said what time the gig started.  He had a contract with Birdland where he would do a certain amount of weeks each year, and he wanted to have another horn on the stand other than just him, because the nights were very long — we used to do either five or six sets a night.

TP:    35-minute sets?
AF:    Well, sometimes it was 35, sometimes 50, sometimes an hour.  It varied, so everybody wound up doing the same amount of time.  But the last set finished at 4 o’clock.  So it was a long night.  If you were playing with just one horn, the night gets longer.  Lester would say that you hire people that play, and if they can play, well, that’s what you hired them for.  If you’re not going to let them play, you shouldn’t have them there.  You should have someone else.

TP:    In all those combos he used trumpet players, like Jesse Drakes, Shorts MacConnell.

AF:    Unless he went out on the road, and then it was just a rhythm section.  But anyway, it was a great experience, because there was no rehearsal, and very little ensemble play.  He would usually play the melody, unless you were playing something like “Lester Leaps In,” which is just a riff, really, where everybody would play at the same time.  But when he’s playing the melody on the first chorus, well, then it was my chance to listen to how melody should and could be played.  So I look to keep that forever.  Then when the time came for his solo, he wouldn’t… You had to come to him to hear him play, to hear what he was doing.  He wasn’t going to get into some sort of honk-and-scream tenor thing.  He could do his own way of honking, which he used to do with Basie’s band, but in the context of a small group, he was usually pretty laid-back and cool, unless he took some breaks on “Lester Leaps In” or something like that.  But he showed how to get intensity without what we used to  call flag-waving.

TP:    I remember in the famous late interview with him, he was talking about getting the horn some days to sound like a baritone, a clarinet, and that he’d try to evoke a wide range of color and dynamics out of his horn.

AF:    Yes, right.  He would play low on the horn and play up high on the horn sometimes, too.  I know a strange thing, when he would come to work, he would take that horn out of the case and he would play so soft that you couldn’t hardly hear it.  That’s the way he would warm up.  It was like he was coaxing a sound out of the horn, like he was saying, “Come on, now, you know you can do it.”

People thought that he was weird and strange, but he wasn’t weird, he was just individual.  He had such a great sense of humor.  He would walk sideways on the stage.  He was really a character.  One night I was playing, and he sensed that I was getting ready to stop playing, and he sidled over to me and whispered in my ear, and he said, “I wouldn’t stop now, Prez.”  I never will forget that, because he called everybody “Prez”.

TP:    Did he nickname you?

AF:    No.  I think he called me Lady Farmer.  He called everybody either “Prez” or “Lady.”

TP:    The next set of music we’ll hear brings out an aspect of Art Farmer’s musical experience over the last twenty-five years, which are recordings made in Europe.  You’ve been in residence in Vienna for quite some time now.  So I guess the first question is what led you Europe, to Vienna, and then I’ll ask you about certain aspects of your musical experiences there.

AF:    Well, I went there to participate in a Jazz competition as one of the judges, along with J.J. Johnson, Cannonball Adderley, Ron Carter, Mel Lewis and Joe Zawinul.  This whole thing took about three weeks, and while I was there got to meet some of the local musicians.  There were some very good players there, and they told me that the radio was in the process of organizing a Jazz band — and they asked me if I would like to become a member of it.  The conditions were very lenient, because I would only have to work about ten days a month, and I would be free to do what I wanted to do the other time.  So that sounded too good to turn down, because I found myself spending more and more time in Europe, and I just thought, well, maybe I should get away for a couple of years, because things were at a certain state here…

TP:    How so?  This was the mid-1960′s.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Talk about that a bit.

AF:    Well, the places where I could play were usually in what is called the ghetto area of the town.  There was a lot of civil strife going on, and a lot of fires and riots and things, and people were scared to go out at night — they didn’t know what was going to happen.  This was at the time when Rock really took over, the Beatles and everything like that took over the popularity that should be spread among all kinds of music.  So Jazz was way down on the totem pole.  Not too many were going out, and they were afraid of whether or not they were going to be able to get home.  All kinds of things were happening.

So I thought it would make sense to get away from here, and get some place where I could think more about the music than be forced to think about other things that didn’t have anything to do with the music at all.  So I took them up on it.

TP:    What was the climate like in Europe in the mid to late 1960′s?  Now, you certainly weren’t the only prominent American improviser to take up residence in Europe.

AF:    Yeah, there were a lot of guys over there — Dexter Gordon, Kenny Clarke, Ben Webster.  Even going back to the New Orleans days, Albert Nicholas was living there, and I got to hear him play; I never heard him play here, but I got to hear him play there.  Don Byas.  I’m going around playing on concerts with people like that, who I wouldn’t come in contact with here.  It was educational from that point of view.  So I really enjoyed being over there.

TP:    One thing that’s almost a commonplace about Europe is that the rhythm sections there weren’t quite up to par vis-a-vis American rhythm sections.  Was that true?

AF:    Well, it was true in many cases, but it wasn’t true all the time.  Even going back to the Sixties, there were some players who could really take care of the job.

TP:    In Vienna were there…?

AF:    In Vienna there were some who were close enough that you didn’t feel like walking off, certainly.  Everybody wasn’t straight here either, you know.

TP:    Well, the group you currently work with in Europe is very strong, as New Yorkers were able to hear at a recent engagement at Sweet Basil.  I guess Fritz Pauer is the one you go back the farthest with.

AF:    Yes, Fritz was the first one that I met.  I was invited over to participate in a jazz competition which was organized by Friedrich Gulda, and Fritz was one of the competitors — actually he won First.  Since he lived in Vienna, I got to know Fritz quite well.  We’ve worked together many times throughout the year, and I have played and recorded a lot of his songs, because in my opinion, he is a great Jazz composer.  His songs are really in the idiom.  They really sound like Jazz songs.  It doesn’t sound like Third Stream or semi-Classic or half-Jazz or Crossover or anything like that.  It’s just Jazz, and it’s fun to play it, and I learn a lot from playing it.  That’s most important to me.

TP:    Harry Sokal is the saxophone player.

AF:    Well, Harry was introduced to me by Fritz, and the other players I think Harry introduced to me.  The bassist is actually not from Europe; he was born in South America, but he lives in Germany now — Paolo Cardoso.  The drummer, Mario Gonzo(?), is Austrian-born.  His father was a bass player.  Gonzo is one of the most outstanding drummers in Europe, as far as I know, and I would be happy to have him playing with me any place that I can get him.  We’ve played together quite a bit over in Europe.  As you know, this is the first time that we’ve been able to come over here.  Our trip was sponsored by the Austrian Cultural Institution.  I guess they felt that it would be nice for it to be known that Jazz was also honored and respected in Austria, although Austria is one of the strongest homes of Classical European Music.  But there is a large audience for Jazz there also, and I guess they thought that the other places should know that there is something happen over there.  So I’m glad that it was made possible for me to bring the group over here.  That’s certainly not to say that the groups that I play with here are not great in their own right.  But just to have a little bit of difference, there’s no harm in that.

TP:    It seems like Jazz had a special meaning to people who lived through the Second World War.  Jazz had a certain political meaning to Europeans, it’s been written about by a number of people.  Can you comment on that?

AF:    Well, it seemed like the idea of Jazz would be more freedom, you know, where a person is able to do what they want to do, but they’re still thinking, as opposed to over here, where the idea of Jazz that we’ve had to fight for a long time was that Jazz was just an entertainment music, and you really don’t have to listen to it.  That’s the American idea, that as long as you’re paying your money to get in, you don’t have to listen to it.  You can talk and holler and scream, shout at each other, and bang your glasses on the table, whatever.  You’re there to have a good time, and you’re paying for it, so nobody better not say anything about “be quiet!”

TP:    That’s not so much the case in the European clubs?

AF:    No, it’s not the case.  It might be the case in some club where someone is playing music that induces that type of behavior.  But I can’t say that it’s the case in the places where I play.  You can’t hear a pin drop when you’re getting ready to solo!

TP:    Do you think it’s a better educated audience?

AF:    I think it must be, because they are really very attentive.  Which makes a lot of sense.  It’s crazy to think that people go into a club where you have a fifteen dollar music charge, and drinks are eight and nine and ten dollars a piece, and you have to have two drinks each set.  If you have a date with you, you’re getting into some real money.  Now, you’re going to sit there, and you’re paying for something that you’re not even listening to.  And other people sitting next to you are hollering and screaming, and it’s just like if you go in restaurant and order a nice meal, and then somebody comes along and spits in your food.

TP:    Now, I assume you’ve experienced rowdy crowds from your apprenticeship days.

AF:    No.  But some music encourages that kind of thing.  Some people feel that if there’s not a lot of noise going on, they’re not having a good time.  That’s the style of  restaurants.  They make the noise part of the ambiance.  If it’s too quiet, people say, “Oh, this is a dead place, let’s go some place else.

TP:    Vienna has been a fount of European musical culture over several hundred years, and its musical history is legend.  How much has that tradition seeped its way into your aesthetic, your outlook on music?

AF:    Oh, not much, because I already had that before I got there.  That’s the way I felt about music.  Music has always been a very serious part of my life, as far as I can remember.  I didn’t have to go to Vienna for that.  But it was certainly nice to go to a place where people like and respect music as much as they do.  That doesn’t mean everyone does, but the people you see at the concerts certainly give you that idea.

TP:    It seems that since you’ve been there, and this apparently is partly the responsibility of your pianist, Fritz Pauer, a couple of generations of very talented young Jazz musicians have emerged in Vienna and Austria.

AF:    Oh, yes.  There are some.  There are some that are really doing it, and I’m sure that there will be more, because people do take the music seriously, and they know that if you really want to do something, you have to put your energy into it.  It’s just not going to happen by itself.  You just can’t talk about it but you have to do it.

TP:    [ETC.]

AF:    Thank you very much.  It’s been my pleasure, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed here so long.  And I never sit down and listen to four hours of my records.  It’s the first time in my life.

TP:    How has it been?

AF:    It hasn’t been too bad.

TP:    One or two things you cracked a smile on.

AF:    A couple of winces there, but that’s about it.

[MUSIC: A. Farmer/S. Shihab/K. Drew/Thigpen, "Passport" (1981), AF/J. Heath, "Cocodrillo" (1970), AF/F. Pauer (duo), "Azure" (1987), AF/R. Mitchell, "A Bitty Ditty" (1974), A. Farmer/T.Harrell, "Santana" (1992), AF/Cliff, "Blame It On My Youth" (1988)]

* * *

Art Farmer (WKCR, 8-10-94):

Q:    A few words about the present, the new CD at hand, and the group that you’re performing with.  The two-trumpet concept, particularly one dealing with an improviser as lyrical and creative as Tom Harrell, who reminds a number of people of you, I think, in his approach to improvising.
AF:    Well, the first time I did an album with another trumpet player was during the time I was playing with Lionel Hampton, and Clifford Brown was in the band, and we did some  recording over in Sweden and some recording in Paris, and then later on in New York two trumpets with Donald Byrd, and then a little later on with three trumpets, with Idrees added.  It  seemed to be always something that wakes you up, when you listen to another trumpet player and you want to clearly define your own voice.  You want to sound like yourself, so people can tell the difference, certainly.  And I think one of the greatest records of all time that I have heard, and I never stop enjoying it, is “Double Talk” with Fats Navarro and Howard McGhee.
Q:    How did this recording come about?  How did you decide on Tom Harrell, first of all, and doing the two trumpet format, second.
AF:    Well, I decided on Tom because I have been an admirer ever since I first heard him, I would say, maybe twenty years ago with Horace Silver.  Not to say that there aren’t other fine trumpet players around that I’d be very happy to play  with.  But Tom was here, and he seemed to be very enthusiastic about the idea, as well as myself.  So that’s how it came to be.
Q:    After the second formation of the Jazztet disbanded, you’ve been working steadily in New York with various quintets, always with a saxophone in the front line, Clifford Jordan for many years, and now Jerome Richardson.
AF:    Yes.
Q:    I’d like you to say a few words about the very creative band you’re working with this week, which includes some of the strongest young players performing in Jazz right now.
AF:    Yes.  Well, we’ve been working with this same line-up for a year or so, especially the rhythm section.  Jerome has just taken the place of Clifford.  It was certainly wonderful to play with Clifford, because he and I went back many years.
Q:    You were the front of…
AF:    Horace Silver’s group.
Q:    …almost forty years ago.
AF:    Yes.  And  Jerome and I first played together with the great Oscar Pettiford, but not in a small group.  Well, we might have done some gigs at some clubs down in the Village, Cafe Bohemia or something like that with Oscar.  But the group that we have now, that I usually have, is the same group that’s on this record and that’s at Sweet Basil now, with an amazing pianist, Geoff Keezer, the truly also amazing Kenny Davis on bass, and Marvin Smitty Smith on drums.  I can’t say how much of a pleasure it is to play with these people.
Q:    One thing I’ve always been impressed with is how much leeway you give the performers in the group.  You always seem to have very creative players, give them free rein to express their ideas, and you just go right with it, say your piece… Talk about your philosophy of group-leading.
AF:    Well, I learned this actually from Lester Young when I was working with him.  He said, you know, you hire people that play, and if they can play, well, that’s what you hired them for.  If you’re not going to let them play, you shouldn’t have them there.  You should have someone else.
Q:    I said I wouldn’t talk about the past, but you brought up Clifford Brown, Lester Young and the old days for Prestige.  Did you play with Lester Young when you were living in Los Angeles?
AF:    No, never.  Never.  Never saw him there.  I played with him here exclusively at Birdland, because every time he went  into Birdland he brought in another horn.  The original trumpet player was Jesse Drakes, and Jesse called me up one day and asked me did I want the gig, and I said, “Sure.”  Lester had a contract for a certain amount of weeks every year, and when a date would come up he would call me and ask me if I could make it.
Q:    This was ’53-’54-’55, something like that?
AF:    No, it was just about the same time I was working with Horace.  So it was in the Fifties, the mid-Fifties.
Q:    According to the information I’ve read, you got to Los Angeles when you were about 17 years old, and you were born in Iowa and raised in Phoenix, Arizona.  Just a few words about your origins in music.  You seem like the type of person who has been playing ever since you could pick up an instrument.
AF:    Yeah, that’s true.  At that time it was very customary to have a piano in the house, and someone played it.  There were a lot of music students in our family, and it just seemed the natural thing to take piano lessons.
Q:    Your parents?
AF:    Yes.  My mother played the piano in the church choir.  So I had been hearing music ever since I could hear.  I started with the piano because it was there.  Then someone later on gave me a violin, so I played that some, but I didn’t hear anyone playing Jazz on it in Arizona, so I gravitated towards horns — and that’s how it happened.
Q:    How did the sound of Jazz enter your ears?  Was it just around you all the time?
AF:    No.  It was on the radio.  There was a lot of airplay for Jazz then.  They had big bands playing for dances, and all kind of wonderful things happening.  The first live music that I heard actually was the real Country Blues, because I used to sell papers, and I would walk around in the migrant workers’ camps and sell them papers, and after work they would be sitting around, playing and singing, playing the Blues on the guitar or whatever.
But I heard all this Big Band Jazz on the radio.  Then when the Second World War came into being, there was an Army camp there, and I heard the Army dance band.  There was one guy who is still around here in New York now by the name of George Kelly, and he was in the band, and he used to come around to our rehearsals and help us out.  He was a great guy.  He used to write arrangements for us.  But that’s the first time I heard a big band live, was the U.S. Army band.
Q:    Were you playing trumpet by then?
AF:    Yes, I had started.  And some of the traveling bands would come through on one-nighters.  The greatest thing in life that I could imagine was to hear these bands.  It was so exciting that it never has left me.
Q:    You mentioned specifically in the liner notes for an older record being impressed by the trumpet section of the Lunceford band.
AF:    Right, the Lunceford band was great.  They had some fine trumpet players.  But just the sound of their section was…it just blew the top of my head off!
Q:    When you began to improvise on the trumpet, who were the people who inspired you in forming your own mode of expression?
AF:    Well, people such as Dud Bascomb, Roy Eldridge — the ones who came there.  Then I heard Dizzy Gillespie on a record with Billy Eckstine, and that really turned me around completely.
Q:    You were about 16 years old then.
AF:    Yeah, around that age.
Q:    Along with many other people who were born around when you were, who came up right under the excitement of this whole group of musicians.  A few words about the impression that it made on you.
AF:    Well, it’s hard to express my excitement in a few words, but…
Q:    You play so concisely, I’m sure you can do it!
AF:    But I had heard the Swing trumpet players, like I mentioned, Dud Bascomb and the people who played with Lunceford and Jay McShann and Tiny Bradshaw, etcetera.  When I heard Dizzy, that was completely a revelation.  I just wondered where he found those notes, you know, that sounded so different from what everyone else was playing.  And it’s not to say that the other players were not playing good, but he was into another universe as far as picking notes to play.  A lot of guys, me included, were certainly excited. And his great technique, the fact that he could play so high and play so clearly.  But if you slowed down, you could hear that the notes were something that no one else was doing.  He was really a harmonic pioneer for a horn player.  There have been pianists who were playing great notes, like Art Tatum, but Dizzy was the first one I heard that really was playing notes like that on a horn, and that, as I said, before, turned me upside-down.
Q:    Had you heard that before you went to Los Angeles at 17?
AF:    I heard the records but I didn’t hear Dizzy until I went to Los Angeles.
Q:    So you heard the group at Billy Berg’s and so forth at that time?
AF:    Yes, I went there.
Q:    And that really turned you around, I gather!  You decided to stay in Los Angeles and finish high school there.
AF:    Yes.
Q:    A few words about that process.  You and your brother, Addison, went to Los Angeles for a vacation, the story goes…
AF:    Yes, we went there for a summer vacation in 1945, and  the scene was so active that we decided just to stay there.  Our mother said it was okay with her as long as we graduated from high school.  So we enrolled in a great high school by the name of Thomas Jefferson that had a wonderful teacher named Samuel Brown.  There were other active players such as Dexter Gordon, who went to that school a few years in front of us, and others such as Sonny Criss and Cecil McNeely, who later on turned out to be a great Rock star by the name of Big Jay McNeely.  Hampton Hawes was around.  So they were very interesting young guys to run around with.
So we just went to school there.  We would write our own excuses, just as if we were living with our parents.  And so we developed a very good reputation like that!
Q:    I guess being in Los Angeles at a time like that, when so much was going on, must have just been the best for a young musician.
AF:    Oh, yes.  Well, as far as being in the right place at the right time, I’ve been lucky all my life.  I’ve been very lucky to be in Los Angeles at that time, and then to be here — looking back, to be able to have played with the people that I’ve played with.
Q:    It seems like there was a little design involved in that process as well.
AF:    There was some.  When I played with Lester, when I played with Coleman Hawkins; you know, it’s just fantastic to look back on experiences like that.
Q:    Also you got to meet Charlie Parker when you were out there.
AF:    Yes.
Q:    It seems that that had an indelible effect on your aesthetic.
AF:    Well, the Jazz community was like an extended family, and if you were in there with them, you would meet whoever it was in there.  The people were very nice to younger people.  If they saw that you were serious and what you were doing, why, then, they would help you in any way they could.  You didn’t have to feel hesitant to ask them any questions.  So long as you knew the questions to ask, they would be there.  And there wasn’t any attitude, “Well, I’m too busy to bother with you.”  And that goes for Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie and all the guys that I had the good fortune to meet.
Q:    It seems coming up and listening first to the trumpet players from the Swing bands must really have given you a sense of melodic necessity…
AF:    Yes, certainly.
Q:    And it seems that your distillation of Parker and Gillespie has concentrated on that aspect of what we do.  Can you comment on that?
AF:    Yes.  Well, if you listen to guys like Roy Eldridge and Dud Bascomb, you certainly are going to have a sense of melody.  Because they were basically very melodic players, especially Dud Bascomb, who was a real story-teller if there ever was one.  You never hear his name, but I remember Miles used to copy his solos note for note — of course, not only Miles.  But he really spoke when he played.  So that’s where the urge to create melodic solos came from on my part.  Because at that time there were trumpet players who were called Ride Players.  The ensemble parts that say “Ride Solo,” where you just sort of Jazz the melody.  But then when players like Bascomb and Ray Nance came along, well, they really created their own things, and they were so interesting and so beautiful.
Q:    Art Farmer seems never to have discarded anything that he’s picked up, and it all seems to come together every year in something new, different tunes and so forth.  We’ll hear a tune that’s sort of the antithesis of what Art Farmer seems like to me.  It’s called “I’m Old Fashioned”, and it’s taken from a recording on Enja called Soul Eyes that was taken I guess live to DAT at one of the Japanese Blue Note clubs in 1991.
AF:    Yes.
[MUSIC: "I'm Old Fashioned" (1991), "TGTT" (1994)]
Q:    You’ve been recording Ellington always, and there’s one amazing album of all Strayhorn compositions done for Contemporary with Clifford Jordan, and another from the Seventies with Cedar Walton, Sam Jones and Billy Higgins.  “TGTT” you said comes from the Second Sacred Concert.
AF:    Yes, this was made aware to me by Geoff Keezer, and it was recorded by the Ellington Orchestra, the Second Sacred Concert, as a vocal with the singer Alice Babs singing, and it was done in 3/4 time.
Q:    Were you able to see the Ellington band much as a youngster?
AF:    No.  No, not that often.
Q:    But were you very influenced by it, though?
AF:    Oh, very much influenced by the Ellington band.  I saw the band, first of all, in Los Angeles at the Million Dollar Theater, and since then I saw the band every chance I had.  Of course, I don’t see it now because they don’t work in New York any more.  But it certainly was an education to me, and I liked the way the trumpet players played very much.
Q:    They were all true individualists in that trumpet section.
AF:    Yes, very much so!
Q:    [ETC.] Did you work with Mingus in the late 1940′s and early 1950′s in Los Angeles?
AF:    No, I never worked with him there.  Shortly after I went there, then he left.  He had one period where he didn’t work as a musician, then he went to work with the Red Norvo Trio, and after that he settled down here in New York City.
Q:    You did share an employer, though, Lionel Hampton…
AF:    Yes, but…
Q:    Of course at a different time.
AF:    I worked with Mingus here in the City on various projects, so we knew each other and were pretty good friends.
Q:    I just want to ask about a couple of the people you’ve encountered and played next to over the years.  One of the first you mentioned coming up here was playing alongside Clifford Brown in the Lionel Hampton Band in 1953, I guess.
AF:    Yes.
Q:    A few words about Clifford Brown, and your relationship.
AF:    Well, Clifford Brown is known for being a person that no one has ever found a bad word to say about him.  He was really exceptional.  He was just a warm, beautiful person.  And he played so good, he didn’t have to say that he was good.  He didn’t have to say that anyone else was bad.  He just went ahead and played.
Q:    Would you say his sound was pretty much fully formed around the time when you were together?
AF:    Yes, I would say so, certainly.  He was already recorded, and every record I ever heard he made was a masterpiece.
Q:    Gerry Mulligan, who you worked alongside for several years in a pianoless quartet and who wrote a commissioned piece for you in last Friday’s concert at Lincoln Center.
AF:     Yeah.  Well, Gerry is playing better than ever.  Some people I know were amazed at the way he was playing Friday night.  He’s always been a very good player, but now he’s an example of somebody who never stops…who just doesn’t find their style and just go through the motions, but he’s always stepping forward.  I just find the things the does very creative, and certainly it was a pleasure to play with him. It was a pleasure with him again, just as it was a pleasure to play with Benny Golson again.
Q:    That’s the next name I was about to mention.  That’s a relationship that goes back 35 years or more.
AF:    Right.  Well, I also met Benny through working with the Lionel Hampton band.  I have to say that Lionel Hampton has  been a great benefactor to Jazz music in this world, in the fact that he has given a start to so many people such as myself, and given us a chance to meet other people of our ambitions.  Working with the Lionel Hampton Band was a key to the Jazz Universe, in a certain sense, you know, working with Brownie and Gigi Gryce and Quincy Jones and Monk Montgomery, James Cleveland.  I don’t know where I would have gotten such a chance to work alongside these guys every night as with Lionel Hampton.
Q:    I think that may be one of the distinguishing things that separates musicians who came up around when you did from people who came up after, that there were still functioning big bands where you could get that type of night-after-night practical experience.
AF:    Yes, that’s right.  That’s very rare now.  That’s very rare.  Maybe you could count them on one hand.  Other than Count Basie, it’s hard to think of anyone else who’s out there.
Q:    Extending from Benny Golson, another superb composer, not so well known in the States, but who you work with frequently in Europe, in Vienna, is Fritz Pauer, who you will be bringing here in November.
AF:    Yes.  He is scheduled to come over with us in November.  Well, Fritz is very well known to Jazz musicians who tour Europe and happen to go to Vienna, Austria.  Everyone who has had a chance to… He’s played with everybody over there.  I mean, Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, I can’t think of anybody who ever did a thing that Fritz didn’t play with either in Vienna or in Berlin.  He’s a great writer.  He’s one of those guys like Gigi Gryce who write all the time.  You know, you don’t have to tell him to write something.  I just let him write whatever he wants to write, and he brings it in.
Q:    He knows you.
AF:    Yes, we’ve known each other for quite a while now.
Q:    Again, you live in Vienna a good chunk of the year, and tour for part of it.  How does that work for you?
AF:    Well, I spend about 40 percent over here, and I would say about 30 percent I’m at home in Vienna, and other times I’m traveling somewhere else.

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Filed under Art Farmer, Interview, trumpet, WKCR

A Downbeat Profile On Benny Golson and Several Interviews, On His 83rd Birthday

To  honor Benny Golson’s 83rd birthday, I’ve posted a DownBeat feature piece that I had the opportunity to write in 2000, and the proceedings of two mid-’90s encounters on WKCR — two 6-hour Sunday afternoon Jazz Profiles show from 1995, on which Mr. Golson was present and chose the selections, and a Musician Show from the following year, on which he played recordings by his heroes and contemporaries, and spoke about them in his inimitable manner.

Benny Golson (Downbeat):

The first question to decide in an account of Benny Golson is the proper sequence of his job title.  To wit: Is he a tenor saxophonist-composer or a composer-tenor saxophonist?

Either description works; Golson, now 71, is an icon in both arenas.  Several dozen of his tunes — he holds full copyright on most — are essential signposts of modern jazz.  During the ’70s he broached the mainstream, writing scores for shows like “M.A.S.H.”, “Room 222,” “The Partridge Family” and “The Mod Squad,” for numerous made-for-TV movies, and for a host of national advertising spots.  Instrumentally, Golson’s sound — an immense tone, by turns airy and burly, informed by a harmonic knowledge wide as the heavens that grounds stories replete with lyric detail and operatic flourish — is singular on the tenor tree.

Golson is an avuncular, erudite conversationalist, whose narrative deploys polysyllabic words in correct context.  He continues to carry himself with the seemingly unflappable aplomb and no-nonsense professionalism that allowed him to flourish and keep focus through a half-century of music business encounters high and low.  He’s seen chitlin’ circuit juke joints, tobacco warehouses, TOBA theaters and inner city lounges that defined “funky” before the word became a musical category; moved comfortably in sophisticated nightclubs and posh concert halls in the capitals of the world; performed his famous requiem “I’ll Remember Clifford” on an enormous organ in the aerie of Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church, where Johann Sebastian Bach served as kapellmeister 300 years ago.  But even Golson’s cool was challenged when Howard University, where he matriculated from 1947 to 1950, called a few years back to inform him that they were instituting a scholarship in his name.

“This was unreal,” Golson exclaimed during a late-December conversation in the living room of his well-appointed Upper West Side highrise.  “I almost cried.  During my third year at Howard, I became a rebel, and took to doing my assignments the way I felt that I could.  I didn’t want to follow the rules.   Why can’t I have octaves?  Why can’t I have fifths if I want?  Why must the dominant always go to the tonic?  Why can’t I come from the leaning tonic?  I started asking things like that, and they looked at me like I was crazy.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back came one day in class when the teacher played our composition assignments on the piano.  When she got to mine, after the first chord resolved to the second, that red pencil made a big X, then she made another red X at the next resolution.  She looked like Zorro with the whip.  She didn’t get to the end.  She looked at me, almost disgusted, and said, ‘Oh, Mr. Golson, what have you done?’  I tried to think of all kinds of ways that I could show my contempt.  I stood up with my hands in my pocket, and rolled from side to side, the way Thelonious Monk used to, put my head back looking halfway up the ceiling, and said, ‘That’s the way I heard it.’  I don’t remember what she said, but it didn’t go over too big.  The next day, I put my things in my little broken-down car, and drove off into the sunset.”

As we speak, Golson is conceptualizing separate commissions for March festschrifts in Switzerland and at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and a symphonic piece commissioned by the Guggenheim Foundation.  He’s just finished mixing his fifth album for Arkadia Records, “One Day Forever,” which is distinct in his oeuvre, tempering the longueurs of nostalgic retrospection with the spiritual imperative of relentless inquiry.  It includes a lively 1996 session with the front line of the Jazztet (Golson’s musical soulmate Art Farmer, who died in 1999, and trombonist Curtis Fuller), the well-wrought band that established Golson as a leader at the cusp of the ’60s, and relaunched his performing career in the ’80s.  Shirley Horn oozes sophisticated weltschmerz on Golson’s world-weary lyrics to the title track and “Sad To Say.”  The date ends with a crystalline performance by the classical pianist Lara Downes of Golson’s “On Gossamer Wings,” a melodically redolent opus that evokes the ambiance of Chopin and the 19th Century masters who fueled Golson’s imagination as a pre-teen piano aspirant in Depression-era Philadelphia.

No matter how mean times got, Golson’s mother — a “country girl” from Mobile, Alabama who came to Philadelphia in her teens — kept an upright piano in the house; two of his uncles played it with regularity, and the youngster became fascinated with it as he emerged from toddler years.  Eventually she hired a piano teacher, one Jay Walker Freeman, for the then-substantial fee of 75 cents a week.

“After a few years I fancied that I wanted to be a concert pianist,” Golson recalls.  “Of course, that was aberrational in my neighborhood.  All you heard there was the Blues!  Yet I proceeded to try to follow that idea, and got very good at it.  My mother used to buy records by Lil Green and Big Bill Broonzy. I’d say, ‘How can she listen to that horrible music?’  I was somewhere else with the European music.

“I changed after I heard Lionel Hampton’s band at the Earle Theater.  The curtain swung open, the lights came up, the bandstand rolled dramatically forward toward the audience, everybody was dressed alike, the lights played on the instruments, and the sound of the music live came forth.  The icing on the cake came when Arnett Cobb stepped to the microphone and played that solo on ‘Flying Home.’  From that moment, the piano began to pale.  My mother let me off the hook, the saxophone took over.”

Golson’s mother supported his new obsession with alacrity, buying him a saxophone as a birthday present when the family was “two years off welfare.”  She even took a singing job (“I’ll Get By,” “Evil Gal Blues”) with him and childhood friends Ray and Tommy Bryant.  Golson listened to records by Tex Beneke with Glenn Miller (“one of my favorite bands in the war years, with the clarinet on top”), by Bud Freeman and Eddie Miller; he memorized Coleman Hawkins’ solo on “Body and Soul,” Ben Webster’s solo on “Raincheck” and Lester Young’s solo on “D.B. Blues.”

Then, Golson relates, “Don Byas walked into my heart, and occupied a large part of the space there.  I couldn’t believe the velocity with which he moved over that horn, and his huge sound was overwhelming — so natural, not strained or manufactured.  Don’s articulation was amazing.  He played wide intervals, jumping over the notes like skipping up or down a pair of steps.”

One day Golson speculated ten cents (“I figured I couldn’t lose anything”) on a fresh-from-the-jukebox Savoy disk with Charlie Parker’s “Now’s The Time” and “Billie’s Bounce.”  “It was the strangest music,” he recalls.  “Had I wasted my dime?  But the more I played it, the more I began to like it.”  Soon after, Golson went with his friends John Coltrane and Ray Bryant to a concert at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music by a sextet featuring Byas, Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Haig on piano, Slam Stewart on bass, and Sid Catlett on drums.

“My life’s first beginning was when I was born of my mother and father; the second was after that concert,” Golson declares.  “Charlie Parker was wearing a double-breasted pinstriped suit with all the buttons buttoned, and it looked too small for him, like he was going to explode!  When he bent over to make that 4-bar break in ‘A Night In Tunisia,’ John and I were grabbing at each other; we almost fell out of the balcony!  He was playing alto then like Johnny Hodges and I was trying to play like Arnett Cobb.  This wasn’t just a good performance.  We heard music that we had never heard before!  What was it all about?  How could we get close to it?  When the concert was over we went backstage and got all the autographs.

“Then we followed Charlie Parker out of the theater and onto Broad Street.  He was walking to the Downbeat to play with a local rhythm section — Philly Joe Jones, Red Garland and Nelson Boyd on bass.  John carried his horn for the four blocks, and I asked him what kind of horn he played, his reed and mouthpiece — all these dumb questions.  But he was nice to us.  We were too young to go inside, so we stood outside the club all night, dreaming; when they finished, we walked all the way home to North Philadelphia.”

By the time Golson entered Howard, he was, as he puts it, “trying for all I was worth to play bebop.”  He gigged on the vibrant D.C. scene, violating the school’s curfew (“I had a agreement with the door monitor to let me back in; when the door was locked, I jumped over the wall, which wasn’t too high”), and frequently made the three-hour drive to Philadelphia for weekend jobs.

After his dramatic departure from school, Golson returned to Philadelphia, and some months later, on Ray Bryant’s recommendation, landed a gig with the guitarist Tiny Grimes and his Swinging Highlanders in Atlantic City.  “It wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I had no other offer,” Golson says.  “So I took the cup of tea.  We wore Scottish kilts and the little tam with the tassel on it.  On the first night I put on my kilts, and I had to walk the bar.  All the ladies were pulling up my kilt.  Well, I had my underwear on, but nobody told me I had to wear a bathing suit until after the fact.”

It wasn’t all fun-and-games; Grimes, who had been Art Tatum’s guitarist for the first part of the ’40s, took from that experience a penchant for playing any tune, without warning, in any key, keeping everyone on their toes.  And although Golson spent the first half of the fifties playing a succession of similarly functional jobs, he gleaned consequential information from each of them.

“I saw John Coltrane stepping over drinks on the bar,” he relates.  “We all did it.  But none of it was a waste of time.  It gave you a feeling straight across the board what jazz was all about, where it came from.  You function according to the situation; if the situation changes, then you change to meet the situation.  No sesquipedalian words in the Rhythm-and-Blues!”

Golson dates his interest in composition to the realization that his home-grown symbology for transcribing solos was insufficient.  “I became pretty good at writing down what they were playing, and realized that if I could do this, then maybe I could write music other people could play,” he says.  Duke Ellington was an early hero; so was Tadd Dameron, whose arrangements Golson played as a teenage member of a well-drilled 17-piece orchestra in Philadelphia led by the young Jimmy Heath.  Later, during 21 months on the road with the popular R&B singer Bull Moose Jackson, Golson became close to Dameron, the band’s pianist; soon he was allowed to recruit serious Philly brethren like trumpeter Johnny Coles, bassist Jymie Merritt and drummer Philly Joe Jones.

“We started to play some of Tadd’s things in between Bullmoose Jackson’s hits,” Golson relates.  “Moose enjoyed playing these pieces more than the things he was making his money at, although we never recorded any of them.

“Tadd showed me everything he knew.  Once he was doing an arrangement for Duke Ellington, and let me copy it, which I did for nothing, because I was able to eviscerate what he did, lay it bare, and look at its component parts.  He taught me to be a dearth writer.  He didn’t make two horns simulate a large band, but it didn’t sound abbreviated either.  With two or three horns, you draw upon each instrument’s outstanding characteristics.  The trapset has the bass drum, the snare drum, the cymbal, the ride cymbal, the hi-hat cymbal; the piano is really three instruments — the high end, the mid-range and the low.  You have to be selective about notes, and pick the two outstanding ones.”

In June 1953, Dameron hired Golson for an extended summer engagement in Atlantic City with his Dameronia nonet.  Then Golson briefly worked with a Lionel Hampton unit that included Clifford Brown, Art Farmer, Quincy Jones, Gigi Gryce, and Jimmy Cleveland.  He toured with Johnny Hodges (Coltrane and Richie Powell were in the band), then joined alto saxophone virtuoso Earl Bostic (“the technician of all technicians”) from August 1954 until June 1956.  Bostic afforded Golson many opportunities to write, including a kaleidoscopic modernist arrangement of “All The Things You Are” that the leader so enjoyed digging into that he doubled Golson’s fee.  During this time Golson penned tunes like “Out Of The Past” and “Whisper Not,” distributing lead sheets “all over the country” to general indifference.  Then he moved to New York.

“I hadn’t recorded anything, but I was no stranger,” Golson states.  “When I was in high school, one of my uncles was a bartender at Minton’s Playhouse, and I visited him a lot!  Teddy Hill would let me in because I was his nephew.  And the various Rhythm-and-Blues groups I played with always came through New York, whether to play the Apollo or meet for rehearsals.  I’d stay over, see the bands, get to know musicians.  But New York is a strange place.  You can’t go back and forth.  Either you’re here or you’re not.  When I moved, things started to pick up.”

Specifically, John Coltrane presented Miles Davis with “Stablemates,” Davis recorded it, and, as Golson puts it, “people retrieved my tunes from under the rug or out of the trash, and started recording my stuff.”  Meanwhile, Golson, who was “getting restless” with the tedium of Bostic’s repertoire, took to detuning the leader’s electric guitar on Delta and Panhandle gigs, escalating the mischief until one night in Seattle, during a Bostic clarinet solo, he raced to the front of the stage, tenor in hand, and pretended to hurl it into the crowd.  A week after Bostic let him go, Dizzy Gillespie hired him to replace the departing saxophonist-arranger Ernie Wilkins, another Golson influence.

“People associate Dizzy Gillespie with the high notes and fast velocities, the force and the power — but he was a compassionate trumpet player,” Golson emphasizes.  “He and Art Farmer were unique in being able to play unexpected notes that were so beautiful and fit so well that your heart intuitively would say, ‘Yes, yes!’  It’s always good to know for whom you’re writing; the rewards are so much better if you write for personalities, as Duke Ellington did or Count Basie’s arrangers.  You know they’re going to do your music justice, and often enhance what you’ve written, which is one of the real rewards.”

In 1958-59, Golson worked with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, where he found a perfect template on which to stamp his sensibility.  He recruited Philly heroes Lee Morgan (from Dizzy Gillespie’s band), Bobby Timmons and Jymie Merrit, and incorporated Blakey’s extraordinary four-limb independence and command of drumkit sonics in new compositions like “Blues March,” “Along Came Betty” and “Are You Real?”  He established the orchestrational sound that defined every subsequent iteration of the Messengers.

Conversely, playing with Blakey irrevocably altered Golson’s attitude towards his instrument.  “One thing that Art taught me to do — painfully — was to project,” Golson notes.  “During my early gigs with him, he might play one of those drum rolls he was famous for four bars before the end of the chorus.  They had a way of getting louder as they went along, so loud that it drowned me out, and I would stand there pantomiming, for all intents and purposes.  One night he added a few downbeats on the bass drum and a few strokes with the cymbal to underscore what he had done, and then, to make doubly sure I got it, he screamed across the bandstand to me, ‘Get up out of that hole!’  Then it all sort of came together, and I started trying to play more forcefully.

“One night during my first week with Art at the Cafe Bohemia, Thelonious Monk came in.  When I came off the bandstand, he said to me, ‘You play too perfect.’  I knew it wasn’t a compliment.  Art Blakey was standing on the side, snickering like that little dog in the cartoon.  Monk let me stew for 15 or 20 seconds, looking at me all the time through his sunglasses with the bamboo temples on them, and he said, ‘You’ve got to make mistakes to discover the new stuff.’  I thought about that.  The next night I came in, and played like a man taking leave of his senses, trying to get away from the well-worn patterns I’d fashioned for myself, like mathematics — and music is anything but that.  I was jumping off cliffs and bridges, standing in front of trains!  That started to move me out of where I was before — ‘mellifluous,’ ‘sweet.’  ‘charming’ are words people used.  I wanted more fire and articulation.  I had a lazy tongue; that old style, where your tongue doesn’t touch the reed much, and your fingers do all the work.  But the tongue also has to work, to define, to separate notes and ideas.  That’s what I worked on.  I guess I’m still working on it.”

In 1959, Golson decided it was time to venture on his own, and formed the Jazztet with Art Farmer, a companion on numerous ’50s projects.  “What attracted me to Benny was the warmth of his ensemble writing,” Farmer recalled in a 1994 interview on WKCR.  “He writes melodies that sing and stay in your head once you hear them, and constructs a harmonic framework that the improviser feels very comfortable with — not that it’s always easy — to construct their own melodies during their improvisation.  I don’t know where I would be without his tunes.”

Piggybacking off a high-visibility debut at Manhattan’s Five Spot opposite Ornette Coleman’s quartet in its first New York appearance, the Jazztet had a successful four-year run, playing numerous engagements and making six records before it disbanded in 1962.  With a young family to raise, Golson became more involved in New York’s commercial scene; in 1967, at the urging of Oliver Nelson and Quincy Jones, he moved to Hollywood, shed “tenor saxophonist” from his c.v., and after a humbling initial rough patch became a profitably busy studio freelancer.

“For seven or eight years I didn’t play my horn at all,” he says.  “I could have used it as an ornament or put dirt in it and planted flowers.  I did not like my sound or my style, what I was playing wasn’t reaching my heart, and I didn’t know what to do about it.  I was studying composition privately, I wanted to do some things I hadn’t done before in composition; once I moved I put all my energy into that, and the playing fell aside.  But the thinking process was working the whole time, and when I finally picked up the horn again in the late ’70s, I sounded different, although it took about ten years before I felt comfortable again.  I had to get my imagination oiled up.”

Golson emerged from improvisational hibernation in 1980 fully committed to hardcore jazz.  “I take more chances now,” he says.  “I don’t know if I can jump over the hurdle, but I’ll feel compelled to try.  To move ahead you have to take chances, otherwise, you’ll level off, and time, in its indefatigable forward course, will relegate you to history.  “

Golson and Farmer hewed to the freedom principle when they reconstituted the Jazztet in 1983, and that spirit underlies every Golson album and performance from then until “One Day Forever.”  “We used less written music the second time around,” Golson says.  “Let’s allow the personalities to express their inner thoughts rather than see how they can play as an ensemble what I’ve written.  Jazz is all about improvisation.  Nobody comes to hear the melody chorus after chorus.”

Speaking of melody, Golson has tickets for a Metropolitan Opera performance of “Il Trovatore,” and our conversation is winding down.  Before we part, he offers a few final words of wisdom.

“Schools teach the rules, and we should know them,” he offers.  “But I concern myself with ‘Why?’  And ‘Why not?’  ‘You can’t because the rule says you can’t.’  ‘Why not?!’  I do what I do because I want to do it.  And at this late date, I want to get better at what I do.  I’m not a young man any more.  But why should I be satisfied with what I’m doing?  I’ll never be satisfied.

“I often use young players.  Many of them are innovative, and are ascendant when they join me.  Hearing them keeps my mind sharp; I don’t get jaded with the music that surrounds me.  That helps me retain the spirit of adventure that all jazz musicians should have — walking two steps into the darkness of the unknown, waiting for things to jump out at you, to free things from the confines of your imagination, things sometimes you didn’t even know are there.  After I left Howard, I drove a furniture truck.  Jazz is so much better!”

[-30-]

Benny Golson Profile (10-15-95):

[MUSIC:  Messengers, "Are You Real" (1958-Olympia)]

TP:    I’d like to start with the third degree right away and take you back to Philadelphia and your early days in music.  You were born in Philadelphia in 1929.  Was music always part of your background?  Was your family musical?  Was it something you took to right away?

GOLSON:  No, I didn’t take to it right away.  I had two uncles who played piano, and at that time I fancied that they were absolutely extraordinary.  But as time went on, I realized that they weren’t very good at all.  What used to amaze me… It seemed like we always had an upright piano wherever we were, and before school, pre-school age (I guess  I was 3 or 4 or something like that), I used to hear them play this piano, and when they would finish I would go over and look at the keys and wonder how did they get those keys to say all of the things that they were saying musically.  As I got older, I decided that I would try to see what I could do.  I think I was even worse than they were.  But I kept at it; it fascinated me.  Finally, my mother asked me, “Would you like to take piano lessons?”  Well, I’d never thought of that.  And I said, “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.”  Well, that was quite an investment during those days.  I mean, the piano teacher would come to the house, like they did during those times, 75 cents a week for the lesson.  Which was quite an investment.  I mean, at that time things were a little mean.

I really got into the piano, so much so that after a few years I fancied that I wanted to be a concert pianist.  Of course, that was quite an aberration in the area I lived.  All you heard was the Blues there!  Yet I proceeded to try to follow that idea…

TP:    So your reading skills were well developed as a child, I’d take it, if you were going in a Classical direction.

GOLSON:  Oh, yes.  I’ll tell you about that in a minute.  My teacher used to give piano recitals.  This was the time to show off all the students and let the parents know that they’re not wasting their money.  I was scared to death every time these things came up, once a year.  But I got very good at it…until I heard Lionel Hampton’s band, live at the Earle Theater in Philadelphia, and a fellow named Arnett Cobb came out to the microphone and played that solo on “Flying Home.”  And from that moment on, the piano began to pale.  My mother let me off the hook, because she wanted me to learn to play the piano and play the organ in church, and I had agreed to all this because it sounded okay at the time.  But she let me off the hook.  The piano just sort of fell by the wayside, and the saxophone took over.

TP:    I guess the hormones were starting to rise, and the saxophone was a more charismatic instrument.

GOLSON:  Oh yeah, I was into it by then.

TP:    Had you had any experience with wind instruments prior to hearing Arnett Cobb?

GOLSON:  Absolutely not.  That was all foreign to me.  It was all piano as far as I was concerned.

TP:    The name of your piano teacher.

GOLSON:  Jay Walker Freeman.  Nobody ever asks me that.  He left me after about five years, I guess, and he went to teach at a university.  By the time I got to college, though, I didn’t really want to pursue the piano.  I wanted to pursue the saxophone, but piano was mandatory for the first two years — so I’d had a little head start.

TP:    As a kid, what sort of repertoire did he have you playing?  I take it you were at a point where you were able to play certain pieces in the repertoire.  What interested you and what were you performing?

GOLSON:  I remember, I guess at the height of my brief career as a pianist, on one of the recitals that I’d rehearsed quite… Everything we had to commit to memory for the recitals.  There was a piece called “The Bumblebee.”  Not “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” but it was certainly reminiscent of it, and it moved along quite swiftly.  The night of the concert… Sometimes when you hear your name called, it strikes fear in your heart.  “And now, Benny Golson.”  And at that moment, I forgot everything.  I couldn’t even remember how it started!  And as I was walking up to the stage, I was thinking, “So this is how it ends.”  I couldn’t even remember what note it started with.  It was incredible!  But as soon as I got to the piano, I put my hands over the piano, and it was sort of automatic.  I was so scared that I played that piece faster than I have ever played it.  And my teacher marvelled at it.  That was my high point.  Then after that I took a dive.

TP:    Concurrently, playing Classical piano, were you listening to Jazz and vernacular music on the radio or records or whatever?  Was that part of your experience?

GOLSON:  I used to hear the Blues.  My mother used to buy these records by Lil Green and Big Bill Broonzy and things like that, and I used to say, “How can she listen to that horrible music?”  No, I wasn’t there.  I was somewhere else with the European music.  I changed later.

TP:    After hearing Arnett Cobb, I guess, or around that time.

GOLSON:  Yes.

TP:    What brought you to the Earle Theater to hear Lionel Hampton if you were so exclusively interested in Classical music?

GOLSON:  Young curiosity.  That was it.  I mean, Earl Bostic was in that band at that time, the technician of all technicians.  He came out and he played, as we said, snakes.  He played everything playable on that darn alto saxophone.  And I just sat there and listened.  But when Arnett Cobb came out… See, I wasn’t prepared for any of this.  The whole thing got me.  Watching the curtain swing open, the lights come up, the bandstand roll dramatically forward toward the audience, everybody dressed alike, the lights playing on the instruments, and the sound of the music coming live… I’d never seen anything like this.  I was overwhelmed by it.  And the icing on the cake was Arnett Cobb coming out playing that solo.  I became a groupie.

TP:    On Arnett Cobb, huh?

GOLSON:  Sort of, yeah. [LAUGHS]

TP:    So did that then start taking you into studying other tenor saxophonists, the major stylists of the time?

GOLSON:  Oh yeah.

TP:    Let’s talk about the process of your development as a tenor saxophonist.

GOLSON:  Arnett Cobb was my first influence.  He was the one responsible for my going in that direction.  Quite naturally, being an aspiring saxophone player, you start buying saxophone records.  Believe it or not, I listened to Tex Beneke with Glenn Miller, and that was one of my favorite bands at that time, and Bud Freeman and Eddie Miller, and Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster.  But somehow, Don Byas walked into my heart, and occupied a large part of the space there.

TP:    Which of his performances did you hear that affected you?  Perhaps you could go into detail, taking yourself out of being an aspiring 14-15-year-old saxophone player, and talk about Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas and what they were doing in the 1940′s.

GOLSON:  Well, I heard Coleman Hawkins before I heard Don Byas, his classic solo on “Body and Soul.”  It was so popular that it was on all the jukeboxes in our neighborhood — and it was a Black neighborhood.  You could walk down the street any day and hear Coleman Hawkins playing “Body and Soul,” which is quite unusual today, to go to neighborhoods and hear anything like that.  But eventually, I heard Don Byas play on a recording with Dizzy Gillespie, “52nd Street Theme.”  I couldn’t believe it, the way he got over that horn.  He became my idol at that moment.  Of course, I continued to like Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, but Don Byas to me had something a little special.  His sound and the velocity that he had when he moved over the horn.  It didn’t sound strained or manufactured.  It sounded quite natural, the way he did it, and I was straining like I don’t know what to try to do that.  I was a neophyte then.

TP:    Were you going around to hear a lot of bands at that time?  When the big bands would come along with a tenor player, would you try to catch them in person?

GOLSON:  I was a little too young to go to the clubs.

TP:    But at the Earle Theater you’d go to hear bands?

GOLSON:  Oh, yeah, whenever I could.

TP:    So did you get to see Don Byas with Count Basie, let’s say, coming through?

GOLSON:  No.  By the time I got to see him live, I got to know him as a friend… No, during that time I didn’t, unfortunately.

TP:    I heard a story from Jackie McLean where Charlie Parker had come back from Europe, Jackie McLean was maybe 19, he said, “How was it there?” and Bird said, “I had a wonderful saxophone lesson over there.”  Jackie McLean thought it might be Marcel Mule, the great Classical saxophonist, but Charlie Parker said, “No, it was Don Byas.”

GOLSON:  Absolutely.

TP:    Did this interest you very much then in Bebop and the new music coming up in the 1940′s?

GOLSON:  Oh, definitely.  It changed my life.  Dizzy Gillespie changed my life.  My life had two beginnings, Ted.  When I was born of my mother and father and when I heard Dizzy Gillespie.

TP:    When was that?

GOLSON:  1945.

TP:    Earle Theater?

GOLSON:  No, it was Academy of Music, a concert.  Elliot Lawrence’s band was there, featuring a young new trumpet player at that same concert, 17 years old, named Red Rodney.  Don Byas was there with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Slam Stewart on bass, Al Haig, I’m not sure who the drummer was.  But the rhythm section hadn’t really caught up to what Charlie Parker and Diz were doing.  John Coltrane and I and Ray Bryant were there, and when we heard them play this music we just couldn’t believe it.  John was playing alto like Johnny Hodges and I was trying to sound like Arnett Cobb, which is completely different.  Ray Bryant was sounding somewhat like Eddie Heywood and other piano players of the time, I guess.  When we heard them play, for example, a song that was so strange, it was quite aberrational to us then, John looked at me and said, “It sounds like snake charmer’s music.”  I looked at him and agreed, “Yes, it does!”  It was “A Night In Tunisia.”  We’d never heard any Jazz like that.  It was foreign!  They played an interlude, and Charlie Parker made the 4-bar break where he doubles up.  We almost fell out of the balcony!  We’d never heard anything like that.  It wasn’t just a good performance.  We heard music that we had never heard before!  I mean, our blood must have been boiling in the veins, we were so effervescent.  We were so taken by all of this, that when the concert was over we went backstage (and of course, as kids; I think I was 16 and John was 18) and got all the autographs.

But we followed Charlie Parker out of the theater and into the street.  Now, Don Byas was my idol.  But what Charlie Parker was doing that night was so completely different than I had ever heard, I had to try to find out what it was about.  So we proceeded to walk up… He was on his way over to another club about four blocks away called the Downbeat, where the local rhythm section was going to be playing with him.  The rhythm section was Philly Joe Jones, Red Garland and Nelson Boyd on bass.

TP:    In 1945?

GOLSON:  Right.  They were just a little older than us, and they had a jump on us.  While we were walking on Broad Street, John asked him could he carry his horn, so he was carrying his horn for him, and I was asking him what kind of horn did he play, and what kind of reed, and what number reed, and what did he do — all these dumb questions.  But he was nice to us! [LAUGHS] And when we got to the club, we were too young to go up there.  The club was on the second floor.  So we just stood outside all night, until they finished, dreaming, “What if?  Suppose.”  When it was over… We were in South Philadelphia, where the club was. We never had any money.  So we walked from South Philadelphia back to North Philadelphia.

TP:    A dangerous walk sometimes.

GOLSON:  Oh, it wasn’t dangerous at that time.  We weren’t aware of anything but the music that we had been hearing that night, and we were dreaming, forecasting… We were trying to be some kind of harbingers.  We wanted to be a part of what this was.  And we didn’t know what it was, and we didn’t know how to even start.

John called me a little bit later, and he said, “Did you try any of that stuff that Mr. Parker was telling us?”  I said, “yeah,” like what kind of horn and the reed and the mouthpiece.  He said, “Did anything happen?”  I said, “No.”  He said, “Me either.”  We didn’t even realize it wasn’t those physical things; it was what the man had in his mind, his concept!

TP:    I take it you subsequently took every possible opportunity to hear Charlie Parker play, when he’d come through Philadelphia.

GOLSON:  Not only Charlie Parker.  Whoever it was.  Whoever it was, I figured it could help me, as it were, to climb another rung in the ladder, to wherever.  And we didn’t know wherever we were going, but wherever it was, we wanted to try to go anyway, and find our way along the way — searching.

TP:    What was your studying process?  Would you listen to his records, transcribe the solos, or did you have a teacher in high school?

GOLSON:  You bet.  All of the above.  I had a teacher.  We would listen to the records.  In fact, that’s how I got interested in writing.  Writing the solos out.  I had my own crude way of doing it, because I didn’t know the syncopation, so each note that they played, I just made a circle, a goose-egg.  So I had the right notes, but I was the only one who could play it.  I was the only one who knew the syncopation to it.  But I realized later that that wasn’t good enough; I had to actually learn how to write it the way they were playing.  Then I got pretty good at that, and then I realized, “My goodness, if I can do this, then maybe I can write music so other people can play it, and groups of people can play together.”  That’s when I started to become interested in arranging.

TP:    This gives me an opportunity to combine two questions, your arranging and your contemporaries and peers in Philadelphia.  You just mentioned some very heavy names, John Coltrane, Ray Bryant, Philly Joe Jones, Nelson Boyd, Red Garland I guess had come to Philadelphia after his time in the Army… Talk about your coterie, your circle of friends, the types of situations you performed in, and where you were musically at the time.  Well, you told us that you were into Bebop.

GOLSON:  I was trying to get into it, but it was quite hard for us.  It wasn’t like it is today where the musicians from my time period try to encourage the young ones coming along.  It was just the antithesis of that.  When I was coming up, the older musicians who played the other style, the other style being the style before Bebop…I hate that name, but before that style…tried to discourage us.  They would make very disparaging remarks, like:  “Where is the beat?”  “Where is the bass drum?”  “Where is the melody?”  “You guys sound like you’re playing with a mouth-full of hot rice.”  They didn’t understand.  They put us down.  And the more they put us down, the harder we tried to find out what it was all about.  Jimmy Heath, he was there; he was playing alto at the time…

TP:    He and John Coltrane were a few years older than you?

GOLSON:  John was two or three years older than me, and Jimmy about the same.  Percy Heath wasn’t even a musician then.  He was a pilot in the Air Force, I think, he came home, and he learned how to play quickly.  It was amazing how quickly he learned how to play.  Then he became a part of the scene.  Then other musicians you probably wouldn’t know about, if I mentioned.

TP:    Well, name some names.

GOLSON:  Calvin Todd was a trumpet player there who had a big band.  He was young, a teenager or in his early twenties, and he had a big band that was pretty good.  Jimmy Heath had a big band, and John and I were in that band.  Nelson Boyd ended up being the bass player, Specs Wright…

TP:    That’s the band that tried to play a lot of Dizzy Gillespie’s arrangements.

GOLSON:  You bet.

TP:    That’s very advanced for a group of teenagers.

GOLSON:  That’s right.  All the seats in that band were coveted.  I’ll tell you, everybody wanted to be in that band.  But John Coltrane and I were fortunate enough to be in it, somehow, and we were so happy about it.  And it wasn’t about the money.  We weren’t making any money.  But we were having a lot of fun, and then we were learning as we were going along.  Tadd Dameron wrote some things for the band because he liked the idea that these kids were trying to do something of value, trying to move ahead.  Another arranger named Johnny Acea wrote some things for us.  Leroy Lovett.  These were all professional arrangers.  Then Jimmy was trying to write some things, I was trying to write some things.  So they helped us.  It was like giving birth.  Every time you’d write something, you had a chance for somebody to play it, and you’d sit there hoping that the baby turned out to be normal.

And our parents encouraged us.  We’d go down to Jimmy’s house, and his parents were so sweet and loving… We would push the furniture to the side, and make enough room for 15 guys, and have a big band rehearsal.  We’d rehearse during the summertime, the windows were up, and the whole neighborhood would sit out on the steps and listen to the band.  And the same thing at my house.  Just move the furniture out, move everything into the kitchen.  We couldn’t have done it if it hadn’t been for the support of our parents.

TP:    A lot of your contemporaries playing saxophone were captivated by Lester Young, and their styles went in that direction, and you haven’t mentioned him in your list of influences.  Did you admire him at that time?

GOLSON:  I loved Lester Young and I love Lester Young.  But I can’t be two people at the same time, so I had to make a choice.  And it had to be the school that I chose — Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas, Ben Webster, and later Dexter Gordon.  Lester Young was fantastic, but I chose not to go in that direction.  Unfortunately, people overlook Lester Young, I guess because he was laid back the things he played.  But I heard him play things that were fast!  Incredible.  He knew what he was doing.

TP:     You entered Howard University at age 18, which would have been 1947?

GOLSON:  It was ’47.

TP:    Did you go there as a music major, with the intention of developing your musicality in the academic environment?

GOLSON:  Yes, with those things that you mentioned.  But the curriculum that I found myself in was one wherein I would wind up being a teacher.  Which was a little discouraging.  Because I stepped back and looked at it, and I said to myself, “These teachers had someone teach them what they’re teaching me.  They’re going to teach me what they have been taught, and I in turn will teach someone else what I have learned from them, and they will teach someone…”  I said, “When am I going to get a chance to use it?”  There were a lot of rules, you know.

My third year there, I became a rebel.  They would say things like “the fifth, the dominant has got to resolve to the tonic, this note has got to resolve here,” and I thought to myself, “Well, suppose it resolves somewhere else instead of there?”  “No, no, no, you can’t do that.”  That discouraged me a little bit.

So I took to doing my assignments the way I felt that I could do them.  Why do them any other way.  I remember the straw that broke the camel’s back.  I went to class one day, and she put the assignments on the piano and played them.  The classes were small, maybe 10 or 12 of us in the class, and she’d play.  “Ah, Neapolitan 6th, Mrs. Brown.”  “Oh yes, deceptive cadence here; oh, very good.”  Then she’d play the next one.  “Oh yes, I see you’ve done this.  Oh, very nice.  But you must not use fifths.  Ah, no parallel…”  Then she got to mine, and she played the first chord.  But the first chord had to resolve to the second chord, and that red pencil made a big X, then she went to the next one and she made another red X.  She looked like Zorro with the whip.  Finally, she didn’t get to the end of it.  She turned around, almost disgusted, I guess, and looked at me and said, “Oh, Mr. Golson, what have you done?”  I tried to think of all kinds of ways that I could show my contempt. So I stood up and my hands in my pocket and I sort of rolled from side to side, the way Thelonious Monk used to do, and put my head back looking halfway up the ceiling, and said, “That’s the way I heard it.”

TP:    To which she responded?

GOLSON:  I didn’t go over big at all. I don’t remember what she said, but it didn’t go over too big.  The next day, I put my things in my little broken-down car, and left — drove off into the sunset.  No, I wanted to do something else.  I didn’t want to follow the rules.  Why should you do everything always the same.  Music is an adventure.  It should be an adventure!  It’s not just something that happens when you walk down a corridor of time.  You want to find doors when you walk down that corridor.  You want to open those doors and find some surprises.

TP:    Well, before we send you off into the sunset, I want to find out what Washington was like for you, because there was a very strong musical community there.

GOLSON:  Oh, it was great.  Absolutely.

TP:    Were you gigging after classes, on the side, let’s say?

GOLSON:  Yeah, and that was a no-no.  But I had a agreement with the monitor on the door at night.  He would let me in.  And when the door was locked, the wall wasn’t too high; I’d come over the wall.  I was even going to Philly doing gigs on weekends.  I was playing at a club about six blocks from campus called Little Harlem that was frequented by a lot of people.  I came up to do a set, and there was one of the theory teachers sitting on the front table.  We’re not supposed to be doing that!  I said, “Oh, man, this is a drag.  They’re going to kick me out.”  It was over.  I had to play.  And he sat there.  He was cool.  Sterling Thomas; I’ll never forget his name.  After the set was over, he said, “Can I see you a minute?”  I said, “Yeah, this is it.”  I went over, and he said, “That was a nice set.” [LAUGHS] That was it.

TP:    What sort of music were you playing?  Was it a Bebop set?

GOLSON:  I was trying for all I was worth to play Bebop.

TP:    Who were you playing with?

GOLSON:  A trumpet who’s dead now, from Cleveland, Ohio — Carl Fields.  A piano player who later became Billie Holiday’s pianist, Carl Drinkard.  Fats Clarke was the drummer.  I can’t remember the bass player’s name.  But we were trying as hard as we could to do that.  Whatever the risk was, I had to do it.

TP:    Also in Washington at that time… Well, John Malachi had left Billy Eckstine and not gone back out…

GOLSON:  He was there during that time.  And subsequent to that he went out to play with Al Hibbler.  Leo Parker was still around, in and out of town during that time.  Charlie Rouse was there.  We looked up to him, because he had sort of “made it.”  Wesley Anderson, the trombone player, he was pretty good; he was in and out of town.  There was a tremendous saxophone player there named Carrington Visor(?).  He lives in Los Angeles now.  Oh, that guy could play.

There were a lot of good musicians there, and there were a lot of clubs.  During that same time, there were a lot of clubs in Philadelphia.  It was like they’d found a new way to life as far as Jazz was concerned.  Then unfortunately, they died.

TP:    Also in Washington and Philadelphia you had the theaters, and still throughout the ’40s the bands were coming in; in Philly, the Earle Theater and Academy of Music, and in Washington primarily the Howard Theater.

GOLSON:  Well, there was more than that in Philadelphia.  There was a theater out in West Philadelphia that was called The Fay’s, then they later changed the name to the Fans for whatever reason.  The Earle Theater was the main one; that lasted the longest.  But earlier on, there was one called the Nixon Grand, which was only three blocks from my house. Duke Ellington came there, as did Slim and Slam; those are the only two I remember seeing there.

TP:    Were you simultaneously a fan of any of the big bands that were coming through, or were you more exclusively into the Bebop combo aesthetic.  I’m talking about apart from Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band.  Did Duke Ellington thrill you as a 20-year-old, or the Basie band, or the other top bands  of the time?

GOLSON:  Ted, you have to understand.  I was young, I was aspiring and therefore I was highly eclectic.  I was trying to get it wherever I could.  Fats Waller came there with a band, and yes, I went to hear Fats Waller with Al Casey on guitar.  I never saw Duke Ellington’s band there.  He was there, but I didn’t see it; I was too young to know what it was all about, I guess.  There was a local band, Jan Savitt, who played there.  Georgie Auld came through there.  I’m trying to think of some of the other bands.  But I went to see a lot of them.  Some of the music I didn’t particularly like, but I thought I should know what it was about, so I could be broad enough what this thing called music, and Jazz in particular, was all about.  So I listened to lots of people and lots of music.  As I told you, during the war years one of my favorite bands was Glenn Miller, with the clarinet on top, and the way Tex Beneke used to sing and the way he played.  That appealed to me at that time.  I didn’t try to play like that.  But I loved it.

TP:    So in 1949-50, you’re driving off into the sunset from Washington, and where did you land?

GOLSON:  I landed back in Philadelphia, on my feet, thank goodness.  Right after that, the fellow that used to play with Art Tatum, Tiny Grimes, the guitar player, had a group.  Ray Bryant was already in that group.  Now, it wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I had no other offer.  So I took the cup of tea, and went out with Tiny Grimes and his Swinging Highlanders.  We wore Scottish kilts and the little tam with the tassel on it, the whole thing.  I remember the first night with them, we were playing Atlantic City, and I put my kilts on.  Nobody told me anything.  And I had to go step out on the bar and walk the bar.

TP:    In kilts.

GOLSON:  In kilts.  I wasn’t prepared for what happened.  And all the ladies were pulling up my skirt, this kilt.  Well, I had my underwear on.  Nobody told me.  And the guys were laughing.  I think they purposely didn’t tell me.  But then they said, “Benny, you’ve got to wear a bathing suit under it.”  I said, “Well, thanks for telling me after the fact!”  I mean, I could hardly play.  It was incredible.

TP:    Well, it sounds like you played some very entertaining venues during your formative years.

GOLSON:  Oh yes.

TP:    Any others that are particularly memorable you’d like to speak of?

GOLSON:  Well, I did some other gigs like that.  I worked with Bullmoose Jackson.  Now, you might laugh and think what a waste of time, but none of it was a waste of time.  You have no idea how those jobs helped to broaden you and help to spread your appreciation for the whole scope of what jazz was about.  I played gigs where I had to sway from side to side with funny-looking ties on, and singing “Rag Mop” and things like that.  We all did it.  I walked in one day and saw John walking on the bar and stepping over drinks.  We all did it.  We had to survive.  But it wasn’t a waste of time.  It gave you a feeling straight across the board what jazz was all about, where it came from.  Even the Gospel stuff.

TP:    In relation to what you’re saying, I gather that in the Bullmoose Jackson band, Tadd Dameron was briefly apart of that, Philly Joe Jones as well… Very strong musicians.  Was there any working out of let’s say higher musical ideas off-hours, on the road?  Talk a bit about the climate within the band, the attitudes and interactions.

GOLSON:  Okay, I’ll tell you about it.  Tadd Dameron was there, and it was a complete aberration, an anomaly.  Tadd Dameron and Bullmoose Jackson, whose name was Benjamin, were both from Cleveland, Ohio, and they knew each other as kids growing up in Cleveland.  Bullmoose ran into Tadd one day in New York and just happened to say, “Are you working?”  Tadd said, “No, I’m not working right now.”  He said, “Look, I need a piano player, and I know this is really not your kind of thing, but come down, make a few gigs and make some money with me, and when you’re ready to leave, you can leave.”  Tadd thought about it and said, “Well, okay.”  I’m so happy he did that, because when I joined the band he was the piano player.  Oh, you have no idea!  Because he was one of my idols as far as the pen is concerned.

Now, someone told Bullmoose Jackson about me, and he approached me about joining the band.  He happened to be Philadelphia with his group, and he’d been asking about tenor players in town.  I might have taken Frank Wess’ place.  I’m not sure.  Anyway, Bullmoose and the road manager, who was also the alto saxophone player, wanted me to come to their hotel room to play some music with them — they wanted to see if I could read music.  So I went down, and we did, and they liked it, and they said, “Hmm, do you happen to know of any trumpet player who might want to play who can read?” — because they had a lot of written music.  I said, “Yeah, I know one.  He’s an excellent reader.  Johnny Coles.”  They approached John, who didn’t have to take a test because they took my word for it; he could read really well.  They said, “Do you know a bass player?”  I guess he was revamping the whole band.  So I recommended Jymie Merritt.  Fine.  And they wanted a drummer.  I said, “Okay.”  “Has he got any experience playing this kind of music?”  “Yeah, he used to play with Joe Morris; he’s played a lot of rhythm-and-blues dates.” (That was before Rock-and-Roll.)  That was Philly Joe Jones.  Philly could play anything.  We used to have a gig locally, and Philly used to be the singer!  You never heard him sing, but he sang great.  And he played bass, and he played piano, and he was a comedian, too…

[END OF SIDE A]

We had some arrangements that he had written that belied the sound of the rhythm-and-blues band we were a part of.  Then Tadd had showed so many of his things to me that I began writing some things sounding like Tadd.  He would pull my leg a little bit and say, “It’s really a drag; people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, that was a great arrangement you did on such-and-such, Tadd,” — and it was an arrangement I had done.  He said, “what a drag.”  But he didn’t really mean that.

TP:    Would he sit down with you first-hand and show you how he was constructing things?

GOLSON:  Absolutely, he showed me.  This guy was great.

TP:    What were some of the devices that made Tadd Dameron specific for musicians out there that were the trademarks of his style?

GOLSON:  He taught me how to be selective about notes.  When you are a dearth writer… A dearth writer is when you are writing for a small number of instruments.  It’s much easier to write for a larger array of instruments.  Not easy, but easier.  Because you don’t have to approximate, you don’t have to simulate, you don’t have to try to sound like something — you’ve got the sound there. But when you’ve got two horns, you’re not going to sound like a 15-piece group with 15 musicians.  So you have to try to simulate, you have to try to give the impression.  Then doing that, you have to draw upon all the outstanding characteristics of all the instruments — really.  The bass drum, the snare drum, the cymbal, the ride cymbal, the hi-hat cymbal, the piano — which is really three instruments, the high part of it, the mid-range and the low.  And picking the best sounding notes.  If you’ve got two horns, you’re only going to pick two.  You’ve got to pick the two outstanding ones.

I learned those kinds of things from him, and I went on to develop my own kinds of things, too.  But he gave me a jumping-off point.  I remember while he was in the band he did an arrangement for Duke Ellington, and he let me copy it.  I copied it for nothing, because I got a chance to sort of eviscerate what he had done, and lay it bare, and look at it in its component parts there, and that was helpful.  I did that, Quincy did, we all did those things.  We would get arrangements by people we liked, and look at the score, and tear it apart, and see how did they arrive at this.  We had already heard the recording; “so this is how they got that sound — mmm-hmm,” and you file it away.

Then you come up with your own things, too.  Walking two steps into the darkness of the unknown is healthy, because in doing so you will always discover things awaiting your discovery of them.  They’re there.  You just have to find them.  And when you find some of these things, you can make them your own.  You don’t always have to be eclectic and copy other people’s things.  That’s a beginning.  But as you advance, you come up with things of your own.  And the next thing you know, people are trying to find what you’re doing.

[MUSIC: Tadd Dameron/Clifford/BG, "Theme of No Repeat" (1953); Dizzy Gillespie, "Birks Works" (1957), DG Octet, "Blues After Dark" (1958), DG/E. Wilkins, "Left Hand Corner" (1958), DG Octet, "Out of the Past" (1958), Diz BB, "Whisper Not" & "Stablemates" (1957), Diz BB at Newport, "I Remember Clifford" (1957)]

TP:    Listening to those right now, what’s your assessment of these recordings?

GOLSON:  I am reminded all over again what a genius Dizzy Gillespie was.  I mean, he plays with such compassion.  On the opening of “Stablemates” he played that melody with such compassion that one might have thought, if they didn’t know the melody, that it was another kind of song.  When people think of Dizzy Gillespie they usually think of the high notes and all the fast notes, and the force and the power — but he’s a compassionate trumpet player.  And the thing about him (Art Farmer has it, too) that’s so unique, they’re able to play what I call other notes when they play.  Some people play and they play predictable notes.  But trumpet players like Dizzy Gillespie and Art Farmer are able to play other notes, unexpected notes.  That does something to you emotionally.  The notes they play are so beautiful and they fit into the scheme of things so well that your heart is intuitively saying, “Yes, yes.”

TP:    I’d also imagine that, as a composer and arranger, it spurs you to fresh thinking when you hear such imaginative soloists interpreting your work.

GOLSON:  Absolutely.  I’ve always contended that as a writer… I don’t like to use the word “arranger,” because an arranger as such does more; he composes and all of these things.  I call them a writer.  When people write, it’s always good to know for whom you’re writing, if possible.  The rewards are so much better if you write for personality.  Duke Ellington did it for his band.  Whoever did Count Basie’s arrangements knew who the personnel was at the time.  They didn’t come and go too quickly, so you could plan things around certain people, and you know what to expect before you write it.  Otherwise, you’re writing vague and hoping that things come off.  But if you write certain things with people in mind, you know that they’re going to do your music justice, and many times even enhance what you’ve written — and that’s one of the real rewards.  Dizzy was like that.  Art Farmer is like that.  John Coltrane was like that.  They bring so much to it that it helps to elevate what you’ve already done, to make the spotlight a little brighter.

TP:    Well, it was a long road from 1953 and your Rhythm-and-Blues experiences up to joining the Dizzy Gillespie band in 1956, and in this conversational segment we’ll seek to explore some of those pathways.  Someone called shortly after we began the music in that set, and asked me to ask Benny Golson about Daisy Mae and the Hepcats, which he said John Coltrane also played with.  He wondered about your memories of that situation.

GOLSON:  Now, whoever made that call is somebody that really knows something.  They’ve got the inside track on it.  I don’t think I would have mentioned that group by name.  But yes, Daisy Mae and the Hepcats were from Philadelphia, and John Coltrane was a part of that group.  They used to wear these funny kind of clothes, the funny ties and rock from side to side and sing things, and the little cocktail drums with the foot pedal that hits up underneath of it, and the singing… It was an entertaining group; that’s what it was.  But like I said, the rent-man didn’t care about aesthetics.  All he wanted was his rent.

TP:    What were the rooms like you’d play in with those bands, the milieu and the layout?

GOLSON:  People came there to drink and to be entertained.  A group coming in there to play some fantastic jazz wouldn’t have made it.  They had to have an entertaining group.  People were buying the drinks and clicking the glasses, and not only did they want to feel good from what they were drinking; they wanted to feel good according to what they were hearing.  And I worked in places like that, too.  The same person might remember Jimmy Preston, who was an alto player, and he sang — and it was an entertaining group.  We worked every weekend in Lawnside, New Jersey, at a nice place, indirect lighting, state-of-the-art furniture — and we came there to entertain the people.  That’s exactly what we did.  Jimmy used to get off the bandstand and walk around, and while he was playing with one hand he would take the other hand and drink anybody’s drink.  They didn’t know that he was serious about that.  That really wasn’t part of the act; he liked to do that! [LAUGHS] That’s what we did. We must have stayed at that place two or three years.

I’m just driving a point here.  There were many groups strictly to entertain the people.  What’s interesting is that what entertainers do is second-guess the public.  In other words, they do what they think the people want to hear.  Now, there is nothing wrong with being an entertainer.  But the primary difference between an entertainer and an artist is that an entertainer’s first  obligation is to play what he thinks the people want to hear.  On the other hand, an artist’s first obligation is to do what he feels in his heart.  Not annoy the audience, but hoping that they like it.  But he has to answer that thing inside of himself first, and that’s the primary difference.

TP:    It’s interesting, because let’s say twenty years before that there wouldn’t have been such a distinction between entertainment and art where instrumental jazz was concerned.  No?  The big bands, the dance bands were playing very creative music, and it was the popular music of the time.

GOLSON:  That’s right.  But they pulled apart somewhere.  After Dizzy Gillespie came on the scene, the road sort of divided, and they got further and further apart.  But each music is still consequential.  There is nothing wrong with the music that’s played when people are entertained.  That’s a certain kind of music, and who is to say that kind of music shouldn’t exist.  It should.

TP:    And it does.

GOLSON:  [LAUGHS] And it does.  Absolutely.  No one should decry anybody’s efforts when it comes to creativity.  Creativity is a global phenomenon.  It doesn’t belong to any one person or people, and we all share in it on one level or another, whether it’s taking a safety pin when you lost your button and fastening something or building a rocket that goes to the moon.  We all share in creativity.

TP:    I’d like to talk about some other stops along your developmental path.  You and John Coltrane both worked with, at one time or another (and I’m not sure if it was at the same time), Earl Bostic and Johnny Hodges.  Discuss the circumstances and the personalities of both those incredible alto saxophonists as leaders.

GOLSON:  I think John played with Earl Bostic first.  He was the one who told me, although I sort of intuitively knew by things I’d heard Earl do in person with Lionel Hampton… He told me what a technician Earl Bostic was.  I didn’t join right after him, but when I came in a few saxophone players later, I discovered that Earl Bostic is probably one of the best technicians I have ever heard on the alto saxophone.  There were others who are very good.  Al Galadora, Rudy Wiedoft, Marcel Mule in Paris, Dick Stabile is another one… These names are popping into my mind as I talk.  Great.  But none of them could best Earl Bostic.  This guy was incredible, like a machine.  I was in awe of his technique.  I’m not talking about style, now.  I’m talking about raw technique and ability to get over the horn and do things.  He was one of the best I’ve ever heard.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody who’s gone beyond him technically, not even John — because John used to rave about him.

TP:    Just another question about Bostic as a leader.  Was there ever room for, say, creative and modern jazz within his set, let’s say on late sets and whatnot?  Was he interested in that?  Was he up on the new music of the early 1950′s?

GOLSON:  Absolutely.  He afforded me many opportunities to write.  I remember I wrote an arrangement one time on “All The Things You Are.”  It changed keys, it did all kinds of things, and he loved it.  One night in particular he really got into it, and it was just fantastic.  He was so taken by it… I remember after it was over I knew he was taken by it, because he came to me, reached in his pocket and said, “How much did I pay you for that arrangement?”  Whatever it was, I quoted the price.  He said, “Well, here’s some more,” and he gave some more money — and I don’t remember the amount either.

Oh yeah, he liked other kinds of music.  We played Baltimore once, and we had to play a matinee.  During the course of playing a matinee, he showed up on the bandstand with his clarinet, and he played fantastic clarinet.  We played “Cherokee” or some tune like that, and we played it through the keys — and he chewed it up.  Chewed it up.  He was a fantastic musician.  I asked him, “Earl, do you have just natural talent?  What happened?  How did you come to put all this together?”  He said, “When I was Oklahoma [I think he was from Tulsa], I knew I was coming to New York, and I had to get ready.  So what I did, for years I went to work.  At 8 in the morning I started playing, I took a lunch break, and I stopped at 5.”  He said, “I did that every day.”  And he when he came to New York, believe me, he was ready.  Because people like Sweets Edison, Don Byas, they told me when he came, boy, he was awesome.  He didn’t have to apologize to anybody.

Now, you asked about Johnny Hodges and John Coltrane.  When I first met John, he was playing alto, and his idol was Johnny Hodges.  One of my high school chums, who also played alto, told me about a new person who had moved into the projects, and it was John Coltrane.  He said, “He’s fantastic.  He plays just like Johnny Hodges.”  I said, “What?!”  This was before Bird and Diz.  The music was somewhere else.  If I can meet somebody who plays like Johnny Hodges, this will be fantastic.  And he’s our age, 18… So he said, “Well, I’ll bring him by your house tomorrow.”  So he did.  The doorbell rang, and I opened the door, and there was Howard, and standing down on the sidewalk was John, sort of like a country bumpkin, biting the side of his thumb.  He came in the house, and we just sort of stood there.  Kids are so stupid.  He was standing there by the couch with his horn in his hand, and his hat and coat on — [LAUGHS] and I couldn’t think of anything to say except, “Play something!”  He was waiting for it.  He took his hat and coat off, whipped his horn out, and went into “Sunny Side of the Street.”  Well, my mother happened to be upstairs, and after he finished playing she said, “Who was that?”  I said, “It’s a new fellow I met named John Coltrane.”  After a while we started having sessions at my house, and sometime during that session she would holler down, “Is John down there yet?”  He would say, “Yes, Mrs. Golson.”  And we knew what that met.  We would have to stop and let John play “On The Sunny Side of The Street.”

TP:    A small price to pay for rehearsal space.

GOLSON:  Oh yeah.  I was a little embarrassed by it, so I said to her one day, “Mother, it’s kind of a drag.  We try to get together and do some things, learn some new things, and you holler down for these requests, mainly on ‘Sunny Side Of The Street’…” She didn’t let me finish.  She said, “This is my house; I’ll ask for what I want.”  I guess she was right.

But it turns out that John Coltrane later joined his former idol, Johnny Hodges.  He was playing tenor then.  I asked him, “Did you ever tell him that at one point he was your idol?”  He said, “No, I never said anything about it.”  It was like Charlie Parker.  He was playing somewhere, and Charlie Parker came in.  John was still playing alto at the time, and he was playing so much, Bird said to somebody, “who is this guy?”  Of course it was John Coltrane.  I heard the story, and when John came back to Philly, I said, “But did you tell him we were the two kids who were walking down Broad Street with him?”  He said, “No.”  Well, he wouldn’t have remembered anyway.

TP:    What was it like being on the road with Johnny Hodges in his own group?  Was it all a vehicle for him, or…

GOLSON:  Oh, no.  He gave other people a chance to play.  You know, as you’re coming along and you meet people, that’s one thing.  But when you meet them and then you play with them or in their group, it’s like little dreams coming true.  And here I was with Johnny Hodges.  I used to listen to him with Duke play all these great things, one of which was “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” and then I’m in his band.  But how I got there is, John was already there, and they were enlarging the band to go on a special tour with Billy Eckstine and Ruth Brown and a group called the Clovers.  So they needed to enlarge the band.  Johnny wanted another saxophone player, and he asked John, “Do you know of any saxophone players?”  He said, “Oh yeah,” and he told them to get me, and that’s what happened.  So I got there.  So I did this tour with him.

TP:    Was it mostly blues and ballads and things he was famous for?

GOLSON:  That kind of thing, yeah.  Billy Eckstine sang his ballad, and Johnny did “Castle Rock,” and he had other things he played, and we played the Clovers’ music, and we played “Mama, Treat Your Daughter Mean” with Ruth Brown, and those kind of things.  It was a show.,

TP:    So you’re in your mid-twenties, traveling around the country on the Black theater circuit primarily and in the clubs, garnering a really broad range of functional experience.  When your first recordings came out, you were not known to the broader public, but you developed a range of contacts around the United States within the jazz community basically.  Fair to say?

GOLSON:  True.

TP:    The events that led you into Dizzy Gillespie’s band.

GOLSON:  Fortuitous.  I was with Earl Bostic, and we were out in Seattle… Well, let me back up a little bit before that.  Because something was happening to me, my mental state I guess you could call it.  We were playing the same tunes every night, and for the large part they featured Earl.  We played on certain tunes, but the tapestry really was Earl Bostic.  I sort of got tired.  I wanted to do something else.  But I had a job, I was making money.  When we went down South, he would bring this electric guitar of his on the scene, and he would play things that people liked in Texas and Mississippi and Oklahoma and wherever.  I did some terrible things.  During the intermission I would tighten one string and loosen another string, and tighten another string.  Now, when he came up, he never did re-tune it.  He would just pick it up, turn around and call the number, and kick it off and start playing.  I did that one night, and he started to play, and it sounded just terrible — and it was trying to tune it while he was playing it.  I guess he didn’t know what happened.  It would have been all right if I had let it alone, but I did it again some other night.  He started to suspect something.  But he still didn’t know it was me, see.

Another night we were playing somewhere.  I was getting restless.  I guess I wanted to be fired or something.  We were playing somewhere, and boy, he really had the crowd… He really knew how to get the crowds.  Some of the people were dancing, but most of the people were standing at the foot of the stage.  He really had them going.  I remember seeing Illinois Jacquet do something with his horn, and I thought that I would do it while Earl was playing his solo.  This is what got me fired.  He was playing his solo, and he got the crowd going.  I went to the back of the stage, behind the drummer, and I took the saxophone loose from my strap, and I came running from to the front of the stage with my horn back like I was going to throw it, then I flung my horn forward like I was going to release the horn — and the whole audience ducked.  They ducked down.  It was distracting.  That bothered him.  Well, I guess he had every right to be bothered.  And after the show, he said… He called everybody Partner, “Part-noh.”  He said, “Part-noh, I think I’m gonna have to let-cha go.”  Well, that was in Seattle.  He said, “I think you’ve had your time here.”

I understood, and I guess I was kind of happy.  But it came at the right time.  Because Ernie Wilkins, who was writing for Dizzy’s band and had been playing saxophone, was leaving that same week, and somebody mentioned me, and they said, “Well, I think he’s with Earl Bostic, but give him a call anyway.”  I had come back to New York, and they called me, and I was home — and I got the gig.  I’m glad I got fired!

TP:    You said you’d moved to New York by this time.

GOLSON:  Oh yes, I’d moved to New York.

TP:    When did you come to New York?

GOLSON:  I came to New York around ’55.

TP:    Had you making regular trips to New York?

GOLSON:  Oh yeah, definitely.

TP:    Did you go to 52nd Street, let’s say?

GOLSON:  No, that was before my time.  But my uncle used to be a bartender at Minton’s Playhouse, and I would come over to visit him.  Oh, I visited him a lot. [LAUGHS] And he would take me around.  Because I was his nephew, I could go in there.  I mean, they don’t allow kids in there, but Teddy Hill would let me in.

TP:    This was in the ’40s?

GOLSON:  It was before I got out of high school.  The mid-’40s, I guess.  I was a kid.

TP:    What are your memories of Minton’s?

GOLSON:  Well, when you came in, there was a place where the bar was in the front room, like, and I can’t remember if you went up some steps to where the band was playing, or you went down or it was on the same level.  It seems to me like you walked up some steps.  But this is where the bandstand was, and it was a little more intense back there than it was out at the front bar.  This is where the musicians were, and this is where the people came to really hear the music.  The people that sat out in the front I guess were just concerned with having conversation and drinking, which is fine if they made the distinction, because otherwise they’d be going on concurrently with the other people who were interested.  So it worked out all right.

,    And I got on that bandstand once.  Eventually I did.  I can’t remember that tenor saxophone player’s name… Jackie McLean called his name a couple of years ago, and I’d forgotten it.  When he called the name, I jumped up.  I don’t think he ever recorded, but boy, this guy could play.  Anyway, I played there once.  Gildo Mahones I remember was there; Joe Guy, a trumpet player, Lockjaw… I can’t remember all the different people there.  Some of them, I didn’t know who they were as a kid.  I just knew this guy was a trumpet player, or this guy was a saxophone player; I didn’t know their name.  But later I found out how famous the place was, after the fact.

TP:    Did you continue to see Charlie Parker play, or go out of your way to do it when he was around?

GOLSON:  I didn’t know Charlie, didn’t get to know him personally, unfortunately.  But I got to know just about everybody else.  Sometimes people escape you knowing them.  Once I said to somebody who we all know (I can’t remember who it was), “Why is it that we never met?”  Just circumstances weren’t that way.  But mostly everybody else, I did.  All the pictures that I had, all the photographs I had down at the foot of my bed on the wall as a teenager growing up, all those idols… Max Roach and I laughed.  I said, “Look, you occupied a very prominent place on my wall at the foot of my bed for years!” [LAUGHS] As did Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins and Dizzy Gillespie.  You lay in bed, you look at their pictures and you dream.

TP:    Then you play with Dizzy Gillespie and arrange a piece for Coleman Hawkins and…

GOLSON:  Yeah, you get to know them all.  Don Byas gave me a box of reeds after I got to know him, and it said, “To my man Benny, from Don.”  I kept that box until it was falling apart because it was from him.

TP:    When you got to New York, a number of your contemporaries were living here, such as Philly Joe Jones, Coltrane, Jimmy Heath, Tadd Dameron.  So I imagine it wasn’t huge adjustment for you on settling here to begin establishing yourself amongst the very elite group of New York musicians.  Or was it?

GOLSON:  Oh, no.  I was no stranger.  Because when I was playing with various Rhythm-and-Blues groups, we would always come through New York.  We would play the Apollo, we would meet here for rehearsals or whatever it was, and I’d stay over, I’d go see bands, and I got to know musicians, so I wasn’t really a stranger.  But I was a stranger at the same time to the scene, certainly to the recording scene.  I hadn’t recorded anything.  But I had to be here.  New York is a strange place.  You can’t go back and forth.  Either you’re here or you’re not.  So I decided I should move here, and I did — and things started to pick up.  When you’re here, people pick up the phone, and you’re wherever they want you in 15 minutes or whatever it is.  You don’t have to get a bus or a train.  You’re here.  And that worked to my advantage, I think.

TP:    Was this when your real heavy period of writing began?  A lot of compositions from this period, ’55-’56-’57, you’ve performed ever since in various ways?

GOLSON:  Actually, the heavy period of my writing began before anybody knew about me.  But it’s a strange thing about talent.  Talent in and of itself doesn’t mean anything unless you have opportunity.  You can be the most talented guy, but you might be stuck out in Wacannomock(?), Wisconsin, and nobody ever knows about you.  You do need the opportunity, and I didn’t have the opportunity.  When I was traveling with these bands, Earl Bostic, Bullmoose Jackson, I was passing out lead sheets like they were calling cards.  Nothing ever happened.  I think James Moody recorded one of my things, a blues, and there was a long period before anything else happened.

John Coltrane was playing so great, and Hank Mobley was leaving Miles Davis.  Philly Joe had already left, gone to join Miles, and Miles asked him, “Do you know of any tenor saxophone players?”  Philly said, “Yeah, yeah.”  Miles said, “Can he play?”  Philly probably made the understatement of his life.  He said, “Yeah, he can play.”  As though, “Well, I guess, you know…”  So Miles said, “What’s his name?”  “John Coltrane.”  “Well, see if he wants to join the band.”  We found out about it, because we’d been rehearsing and playing jobs together and playing in various bands, and we used to be together all the time, almost every day.  So we all found out that John was going to join Miles Davis, and vicariously we all took the trip with him.

I saw him about two weeks later on one of the main streets in north Philadelphia, where we lived, Columbia Avenue, and I said, “John, how is it going?”  He said, “Oh, it’s great.  But you know, Miles needs some new tunes.  Do you have any tunes?”  I thought to myself, “Do I have any tunes?!”  But if you give people too many, it becomes confusing.  The more you do a thing, the less it means.  So I didn’t send a whole lot of tunes.  I sent one tune.  And I didn’t think any more about it, because I’d been giving tunes out half my life, it seemed, and nothing happened.  I ran into him about a month later, and I said, “Well, how is it going now?”  He said, “It’s going great.  You know that tune you gave me?”  “Yeah.”  “Miles recorded it.”  I said, “What?!  He recorded my tune?”  He said, “Yeah.  Man, he dug it.”  That was “Stablemates.”

Now, a strange thing happened.  All these lead sheets I’d been passing out all over the country, people must have heard the tune, seen my name on it and said, “Wait a minute; is this the same guy that gave me such-and-such?”, and maybe they went and got it wherever it was, from under the rug or in the trash.  They started recording my stuff.  That’s what got me started.  Miles Davis and John Coltrane are responsible for getting me started as a writer.  If it hadn’t happened that way, it might have happened some other way, or maybe it wouldn’t have happened at all.  You need opportunity, Ted.

TP:    Well, Dizzy Gillespie certainly provided an opportunity to record a number of your tunes in the big band situation, like “Whisper Not” and “Stablemates” and “I Remember Clifford”, to be specific.

GOLSON:  That came later, though.

TP:    In ’57.  But I was going to try to get to…

GOLSON:  Lead in, huh? [LAUGHS]

TP:    Yeah, you know how it is.  But I wanted to talk to you about the experience of being part of the Dizzy Gillespie band and how he functioned as a bandleader with you, and some of the personalities you encountered in Dizzy Gillespie’s 1956-1957 big band?

GOLSON:  Mmm-hmm.  You want to know it now?

TP:    Right now.

GOLSON:  Yeah, I can tell you.  Dizzy gave all of his men so much room to express themselves, those who were soloists.  Of course, we didn’t express ourselves individually when we came to play.    We had to become a composite person as it were.  We were given a greater expression as a group, so we had to strive for that, of course, but when it came to soloing and things like that… Now, Lee Morgan was in the band at the time, 18 years old, young upstart, and yet Dizzy featured him.  Some of the songs that he used to play, he gave to Lee to play.  He let him play on “Night In Tunisia.”  You have to take pride, insecurity and all that stuff, and throw it aside.  Apparently, Diz wasn’t affected by those things.  He recognized talent when he saw it, when he heard it, and he gave Lee free rein.  And he never tried to tell us how to play or what to play.  We were our own person when it came to playing the solos.  And we had many opportunities.  After he broke up the big band, for example, he formed a sextet, and lo and behold he chose me.  I thought he was going to pick Billy Mitchell, because Billy had more of the solos, but he chose me and a trombone player from Atlanta named Silly Willie.  We did that for just a little bit, then that was the end of it.

He was good, and he was fair.  Now, we didn’t make a lot of money.  But I learned so much.  Diz was one of those didactic kind of people.  He was a natural teacher, especially when it came to rhythms.  Boy, he had that rhythm down!

TP:    For instance, in the arrangements we heard earlier of “Stablemates” and “Whisper Not,  were Charlie Persip’s drum patterns Dizzy’s idea or something Charlie Persip worked out?

GOLSON:  No, that was Charlie.  But other things, like “Tin Tin Deo” and “Night In Tunisia” and “Begin The Beguine”, he told them how to play it, the beats, how to do it.  Charlie admitted that.  We learned a lot from Dizzy, from the way he played, and just listening to him talk and recalling things that had happened.  You pick up a lot like that, you know.

TP:    Well, the band was also a clearing house for some very talented arrangers apart from yourself, like Ernie Wilkins, who I know you wanted to say some things about, Quincy Jones, and some others.

GOLSON:  I learned so much music from Ernie Wilkins as far as big band writing.  It’s too bad that people like Ernie don’t get the credit that they deserve.  This was one of the finest arrangers on the scene.  He happens to be ill at the moment, and he’ll probably never be himself again.  His time is probably limited now, unfortunately, his wife told me.  But when he was going, boy, this guy’s music…his voicings was like plugging in to an electric outlet.  It was electrifying, almost physical sometimes, the sound, as though you could close your eyes and reach up and touch it and grab it and hold it.  That’s the way the music was.  And it was fresh.  His concept wasn’t dated, even though he was a little older than me.  He wasn’t afraid to take chances.  He had multiple things going on sometimes.  If you looked on paper you’d say, “Hmm, that might not work,” but it worked.  I learned a lot from him.  I’m sure Quincy did, too.

TP:    He seems to be one person who can work effectively in what might at first glance seem like different genres, such as the Basie band… Well, in your mind, in the 1950′s how distinct was the Dizzy Gillespie big band concept from what Basie was doing at the time?

GOLSON:  Different, but not necessarily better.  Just different.  I wouldn’t want you or anyone else to think that just because we were having so much fun, and it was modern, and it was so hitting and forceful and electrifying that it was better than anything else.  It was just different.  It was different than Basie.  It was different than Ellington.  It was different than the late Jimmie Lunceford.  Yet each one of those names I mentioned was consequential, and they could stand side by side with one another, and exist and give pleasure to a lot of people.  Good music.

[MUSIC:  Lee Morgan, "Domingo" (1957); BG, "Whisper Not" (1958); J. Cleveland, "All This and Heaven, Too"; BG, "You're Mine, You"; BG 6, "Out Of the Past"]

TP:    The next segment will focus on the relationship that in a sense catapulted you from your initial prominence coming to New York and also catapulted Art Blakey from being a well-known drummer to the leader of the Jazz Messengers.  Benny Golson had only a year-long relationship with the Messengers, from spring 1958.  I’ve heard you tell the story many times, but like Coleman Hawkins’ solo on “Body and Soul,” it’s endlessly entertaining…

GOLSON:  Boy, I’ve told it so many times.  I had just come to New York, and I decided that I didn’t want to travel at that particular time.  This was after Earl Bostic, after Bullmoose Jackson, after Dizzy Gillespie.  I wanted to stay in town a little bit so I could establish myself.  You’re peripatetic, you’re running around, you can’t get any roots.  You’re ubiquitous.  You’re everywhere at the same time.

TP:    Parenthetically, did the “New York Scene” and the early Riverside recordings from late ’57 happen before or after you left Dizzy?

GOLSON:  After.

TP:    So you’re starting to record and get your stuff out there.

GOLSON:  Right.  But this is even prior to that.  I got a call one evening from Art Blakey himself, asking me could I come down to sub at the now-defunct Cafe Bohemia.  I said, okay, I’d come down.  I went down, and we played.  They didn’t have a lot of things that were difficult as far as arrangements; it was just a little better than a jam session.  At the end of the night he asked me could he come the next night, because he was still having problems with whomever it was, something…a police car or something.  I enjoyed the first night so much that I said, “Yeah, I’ll play the second night.”  When I played the second night, he asked me, “Do you think you could make some gigs with us?” — which meant that I would have to go out of town.  I told him, no, I was sorry, I wanted to stay in New York and be kind of settled.  He said, “Okay, but can you finish out the week?”  That was my mistake.  I said, “Yes.”

I finished out the week.  But during the week, I had the occasion to sit down with him.  I knew during that time, he wasn’t making as much money as he should have been.  I don’t know how I found that out.  I said to him, “Art, you should be world-famous.  Have you been to Europe?”  He said, “No.”  I said, “You should have been to Europe many times.  You should be making a lot of money.  Your name in the jazz annals should be a household word!”

At any rate, at the end of that week he said, “I’m playing Pittsburgh next week.  It’s just one week, just six days; can you make it there?  I won’t keep you away too long.”  Well, now, I’ve already played a week with him.  Now I’m of a different mind than I was before because I’ve got a taste of him.  So I wanted a little bit more, intuitively, I think, because I said, “Yes.”  I must have.  So I went to Pittsburgh.  And as we neared the end of the week, he said to me, “Now, next week we’re in Washington; do you think you could make that with us?”  Now I’ve had two weeks of him and now I’m really digging it.  I’m really not speaking with the same mind now, because I said, “Yes!” again.  Besides, I went to college there; it was like my second home.  And after that I  never said anything about not wanting to leave New York again.  I became a member of the Jazz Messengers.

TP:    Who was the band?

GOLSON:  Bill Hardman on trumpet, John Houston from Philadelphia on piano, Spanky deBrest and Buhaina.  So we talked some more about the band. I said, “Art, you really should be in a different place than you are musically.”  and he looked at me with those big, sad cow-eyes, and said… I never expected this, really, because nobody knew who I was.  I was a young upstart in town.  He said, “Can you help me?”  My goodness, I never expected that from Art Blakey.  And I never expected what I said in return.  I said, “Yes, if you do exactly what I tell you.” [LAUGHS] I mean, I can’t imagine… The nerve of me!

TP:    Well, you’d seen maybe a thing or two during your years on the road with these various groups.

GOLSON:  A thing or two.  Not more.  And he said, “Okay.  What do I do?”  I said, “Art, you need a new band.”  He said, “Okay, tell them they’re fired.”  I said, “You tell them.”  “No, you tell them.”  “No, you tell them.”  Anyway, I don’t know who told them, but he said, “Who are we going to get if we get rid of this band?”  I said, “Well, I know a young trumpet player.  He plays pretty good.  He was with Dizzy.  He said, “Who is he?”  “Lee Morgan.”  “Can he play?”  I said, “Yeah.’  He said, “How old is he?”  I said, “He’s 19 now, I think.”  “19!?  Well, can he really play?  Can he come up to what we’re trying…”  I said, “Believe me, we can.”  And I added that he was from Philadelphia; I don’t want to leave that out.

“Okay, who can we get on piano?”  “There was a guy who used to play with Chet Baker and various other people.  He plays nice piano.  His name is Bobby Timmons.”  “Do you think he could do this?”  I said, “Yes.”  “Where is he from?”  “He’s from Philly.”

“What about the bass player?”  “Oh, there’s a guy who played with us with Bullmoose Jackson.  He also played with B.B. King.”  “Wait a minute.  Wait a minute!  We’re not playing that kind of…”  I said, “Trust me, Art.  This guy can play.”  “What’s his name?”  “His name is Jymie Merritt.”  “Where is he from?”  “From Philly.”  He said, “Wait a minute!  What is this Philadelphia shit?!”  So I said, “No, they all just happen to be from Philly and I know them, but you won’t be disappointed.”  So I called each one of them in turn, and they said, yes, they’d like to be part of the band.  We put the band together and I wrote some things for them…

TP:    Did you have a sound for the band in mind?  The band on Moanin’ has a distinctive aesthetic, where you take advantage of his ability to do a shuffle  and put his own imprint on that, or a march, or various styles.  It had a cohesion that may not have been evident in earlier versions of the Messengers from the past couple of years.  Did you have that sound in mind when you were writing the book, or did it just come out that way?

GOLSON:  I’m going to be monosyllabic to what you just said.  No.  I didn’t have anything in mind other than the music.  It just happened to turn out like that, fortunately.  But what I did say to him was, “Art, you need something that really features you.  I’ve heard you play, and you’re just like any other drummer.  After everybody else has played and said what they have to say, they leave the trimmings for you at the end.  You need something where you start playing at the very beginning.”  Then we were sitting there, thinking.  I said, “Now, what could you do?”  Then I thought about that introduction he played on “Straight, No Chaser,” where he showed his independence, two hands, two feet doing something entirely independent.  I said, “You’ve played everything there is to play, Art,” and I started to play.  “Except the march.”  Oh, how we both started laughing.  I said, “Wait a minute.”   And he said, “No!  You’re kidding!”  I said, “No, I’ve got an idea.  I’m not talking about the military.  I’m talking about with a little funk and soul in it, like Grambling College.  You know how they play, how they jazz up things and make it funky and syncopate.”  He said, “No, man, this is a jazz band.  We can’t play a march!”  I said, “Trust me.”  Somehow I used to say that to him all the time — “trust me.”  I couldn’t even trust myself.  I said, “Let me go home tonight and see what I can come up with.”

So I went home and came up with this thing and called it “Blues March,” because it’s a blues and it’s a march.  So we got to the rehearsal, and he said, “Okay, how do we start it?”  I said, “You start it.”  He said, “What do I do?”  I said, “Play like you used to play when you were in the drum-and-bugle corps.  Just play some rudiments.”  “How long should I play?”  “Play as long as you like.”  “How are you all going to know when to come in?”  I said, “Play the roll off?”  “What do you mean?”  “JUMP-DUMP, JUMP-DUMP, DURRRRHHH-RUMP-DUMP.”  When you do that, we know we’re supposed to come in.”  He said, “Oh, man, I don’t think this is going to work.”  I said, “Let’s try it.”  So he did it and he gave us the roll-off and we came in.  The structure of the melody is a little different than just the ordinary blues.  but don’t worry about that.  After we play the melody, we’ll go to the regular blues.”  So we did.  And it kind of worked out nice, and he put kind of a shuffle feeling in it.  He said, “Yeah!  Maybe it might work.  And it did.  The rest is history.

[MUSIC: Art Blakey, "Blues March," "Just By Myself," "Drum Thunder Suite," "Along Came Betty"]

TP:    I’d like to discuss your style as a tenor saxophonist and the evolution of your style.  In the liner notes to the St. Germain CD from 1958 you say that the experience of playing that one year with Art Blakey had a huge impact on your approach to the tenor.

GOLSON:  Yes, it did.  Before I joined Art, I didn’t have much articulation.  On some of the things, it’s still not as much there as it is now.  But one of the things that he taught me to do, painfully, was to project, to play a little more forcefully.  When I went in to sub that night with him at the Cafe Bohemia, and some of the weeks that followed, he would play some of those drum rolls that he was famous for.  It might be four bars before the end of the chorus.  They had a way of getting louder as they went along.  Well, right in the middle of that drum roll, it would get so loud that it would drown me out, and I would just be standing there pantomiming, for all intents and purposes.  I guess he thought I didn’t get it.  He did that a couple of weeks, and one night he did the same thing again, but he added a few downbeats on the bass drum and a few strokes with the cymbal to underscore what he had done before that.  And to make doubly sure that I got it, he uttered some words.  He screamed across the bandstand to me, “Get up out of that hole!”  And when I heard the words, it all sort of came together and I thought to myself, “Maybe I am in somewhat of a hole.”  Because when he does those drum rolls, I just disappear, as if I’m in a hole.  So I started trying to play more forcefully.

And someone else helped me.  While we were there, when I was subbing that week at the Cafe Bohemia, Thelonious Monk came in one night, and after the set… If you knew Monk, you would appreciate this story more.  But let me try to describe it to you.  He was standing, when I came off the bandstand, with his hands behind him, and rocking from side to side slightly.  He said to me, “You play too perfect” — sort of dry like that.  When he included the word… You’ve heard people say, “You play perfect” or something similar.  But when you hear the word “too,” that means an exaggeration, a caricature, superfluous, or whatever.  I knew it wasn’t a compliment.  And while I was standing there, stewing, Art Blakey was standing on the side (he knew Monk so well, I guess he knew what he was talking about), snickering like that little dog in the cartoon.  Monk let me stew for about 15 or 20 seconds, looking at me all the time through his sunglasses with the bamboo temples on them, and he said to me, “You’ve got to make mistakes to discover the new stuff.”
I thought about that.  Mmm, bingo!  The next night I came in, Ted, I was playing like a man taking leave of his senses.  I was playing so crazy, trying to get away from that well-worn that I’d fashioned for myself, knowing that this works and that works, and I can do this here and do that there, like mathematics (and music is anything but that).  I decided to take chances.  I was jumping off of cliffs (metaphorically, of course) and jumping off bridges, standing in front of trains!  I was doing some crazy stuff.  But that started to move me out of where I was before; that was the beginning of it.  Of course, I stopped for a while.  But over the years, I’m of the conviction that you have to take chances if you want to move ahead.  Otherwise, you’ll just sort of level off.  And time, in its indefatigable course, moving always forward, has a way of relegating you to history.  You know?

TP:    I have to say that listening to things you recorded before Art Blakey, you sound like a very dynamic tenor player with a modern vocabulary, a distinctive approach for people among your generation for your assimilation of Don Byas and Coleman Hawkins.  But you in your liner notes were describing your sound as “smooth and syrupy.”  That doesn’t make sense to me.  Are you being overly self-critical, or is that an objective way of describe how you played pre-Art Blakey?

GOLSON:  That’s the way I felt.  Other adjectives.  “Mellifluous.”  “Saccharine.”  “Sweet.”  “Charming,” some people have said.  But after a while, I wasn’t satisfied with that.  I wanted a little fire into it and get more articulation.  I had a lazy tongue; that old style, your tongue doesn’t touch the reed too much, the notes just kind of flow on your fingers, and your fingers do all the work.  But the tongue has to do some work sometimes, too, to define, to separate things and separate notes and separate ideas.  That’s what I worked on.  I guess I’m still working on it.

TP:    It sounds like you had an impact on Art Blakey’s conception of himself as a drummer-bandleader.  Because it sounds like your compositions oriented him to focusing on certain sonic components of the trap drum set, and that you got him into presenting his different techniques on the drumset as part of the whole performance rather than just the straight-ahead, more unformatted playing than  before.  As evidenced particularly on “Drum Thunder Suite,” on which you said to him, as you were telling me off-mike, “don’t pick up the sticks.”

GOLSON:  Right. [LAUGHS] I wanted him to use the mallets.  I said, “You use the sticks and the brushes all the time.  Let people know what you can do.”  Let them know that you can play mallets, that you can play no your tom-toms.  Do other things.  Don’t always just do the same thing.  Of course, the mallets are not tools you’re going to use all the time.  Sticks are what you use most of the time.  But it’s good to color with other things sometimes.

You can’t do the same thing all the time.  People want to hear “Along Came Betty” and “Killer Joe” and “Blues March” and those things, and I appreciate it.  But you can’t just keep doing that.  I have a new thing I’ve written called “Lenox Avenue Soundcheck.”  When I first moved to New York, I lived one block from Lenox Avenue, on 7th Avenue.  But when I was going to take the IRT, I used to have to walk down to Lenox Avenue.  So I was down there a lot.  And being on Lenox Avenue, you’d hear certain music coming out of different places, the jukebox, and you’d hear people saying different things, some nice, some not so nice, and the police sirens… You’d just hear a multiplicity of things.

TP:    Urban sounds.

GOLSON:  There you go.  And I decided to write a tune dedicated to all of that.

TP:    Next up is a version of “Stablemates” on United Artists from Benny Golson With the Philadelphians with your old friend Philly Joe Jones, who you recorded with a number of times.  You mentioned hearing him as far back as 1945 in the clubs of Philadelphia.

[MUSIC: "Stablemates", "Blues On My Mind" (1958)]

TP:    You mentioned that after you left the Messengers it was hard for you to play with another drummer for a while.

GOLSON:  Absolutely true.

TP:    You’ve played with great ones.

GOLSON:  You can get used to playing with people, just like you can get used to wearing your favorite suit, or go to the Chinese restaurant and order the same thing all the time because you like it.  It sort of grows on you.  You’re not aware of it until it’s not there any more.  That’s what happened to me.  Art Blakey is one of those drummers, Kenny Clarke is another… In fact, both played with us at a concert in Paris.  But Art Blakey swings so…how can I put it… His sounds don’t only reach your ear.  They reach your heart as well.  His style is motivational.  What he does makes you do things that perhaps you wouldn’t normally do because of the impetus… He said, “You stand out there and play, and if you’re not doing something, I’ll give you the bass drum.”  “What does that mean?”  “Every time you hit that bass drum, you’ll grab your rear end and say, ‘Oooh!!’”  But it’s that kind of thing.

It’s more than the bass drum, of course.  It’s the whole kit that he plays, and the way that he plays it.  He’s able to reach inside of your emotions.  There’s nothing cursory about him.  There’s no wasted effort.  There’s nothing wasted about him when he plays.  It’s meaningful, it’s logical, it’s reasonable, and it sounds fantastic.  And when you get used to playing with this kind of a drummer, even though you play with other kinds of drummers, and they might have even been great drummers, his style was such that you didn’t want to hear any other style.  I’m trying to make this up as I go along, because I’ve never had to formalize it into words; it was just feelings before.  when you hear him play, that’s it.  That’s the epitome of SWINGING.  What is there?  You’re already in heaven.  Where are you going after that?  So when you play with another drummer, it’s not that that you’re hearing.  Not that the other drummers are not good, but you’re not hearing what you’re used to hearing.  And that was the problem.

I happened to mention this to Freddie Hubbard, just in passing, as an aside.  And he looked at me and said, “You too?”  He had the same problem.  I found myself turning around, looking at drummers, which is very  unprofessional, and I don’t like doing that.  But it was almost irritating.  It was almost like the drummers were tuning up, preparing to play all night.  Because I wanted to hear them go into what Art used to go to!  But of course, I got out of it. [LAUGHS] I can play with other drummers.

TP:    One thing you mentioned in a liner note is the way Art Blakey would shape your solos, and the way his accompaniment behind you would almost make your statement take a logical course of its own with him.

GOLSON:  Very logical.  You’re very observant.  Absolutely true.  That’s why I said it.  He’s motivational!

TP:    And he’d set up something different for everyone in the band.  I remember a number of years ago he was forming a new band, and he had a big band at Sweet Basil that was being pared down.  You’d hear him set up behind everybody a different solo, and as the week went on, you could hear him settling into what he was going to do behind each person.  More about Philly Joe Jones and his inimitable style, the great precision and expoobidence with which he would boot you.

GOLSON:  Highly inventive, courageous and daring.  He would do things that were unexpected.  He would do unorthodox things.  We were playing once, and he played paradiddles between the bass drum and the hi-hat cymbal, rather than play them with the hands and the sticks on the snare drum.  I mean, he did all kinds of things.  One thing I liked about Philly, he was a listener.  Some drummers will close their eyes, turn their head sideways ride that cymbal, and it’s all about how they feel about what they’re doing at the moment.  But Joe would listen.  You would play a phrase, and leave a little breathing space, take a little breath before you set up the next phrase, and he might play a drum ruff — FRPPHHH!  Just that.  It’s perfect, and it sets up the next phrase.  Or he might go, BANH-BANHH-BAM-BAMM!  Or whatever it is.  It’s so logical, so right.  And these things just carry along.  It’s like flying a plane.  You just put your seat back and relax.  You can lean on that kind of a drummer.

TP:    Take us back to the 1940s.  You may not be able to recollect this specifically because you were so young at the time.  But you recollect Philly Joe performing in 1945-46, when you were 16 and 17.  What can you tell us about his sound then.  Had he assimilated Kenny Clarke and Max Roach by then?

GOLSON:  I can’t tell you that, Ted.  It was too early in my development.  I don’t know what I was listening to.  I just know I like what he did.  I couldn’t define it and break it down into its component parts.  All I knew is that I liked it.  I didn’t have enough experience.  That came later.

TP:    The great eye for detail that marks his compositions also marks his story-telling.  He’s been writing liner notes for some young tenor players, like Dan Faulk and David Sanchez, which are worth reading for an education in aesthetics and spinning a narrative.  Let’s move now to a couple of wild card tracks, one featuring an Benny Golson with Eric Dolphy, alto sax, Gunther Schuller, french horn, Herb Pomeroy, trumpet, on John Lewis’ composition “Afternoon in Paris” from an Atlantic release entitled “The Wonderful World of Jazz,” from 1960.

[MUSIC: w/ John Lewis, "Afternoon in Paris" (1959); w/ Betty Carter, "Isle of May"]

TP:    We’ll hear some collaborations between Benny Golson and Art Farmer for United Artists between 1958 and 1959.  Your comment about him is that he plays with tremendous integrity and sound selection and intent, concentrated consciousness… It sounds as though he’s the ideal improviser for you.

GOLSON:  Quintessential.

TP:    A couple of words to describe his improvisational personality.

GOLSON:  He’s a bright person, first of all.  He’s one of the thinkers.  He cogitates.  He does the same thing when he plays.  He thinks about what he’s going to play.  But he doesn’t think so much about it that it becomes an intellectual encounter with the music.  No.  He thinks enough to give it meaning and direction, and coupled with experience, he usually comes up with a nice bill of fare musically for what he’s doing.

TP:    That sounds like a textbook recipe for what is an improvisation.  How about for yourself?  Over the years you’ve made very conscious changes in your style and approach in your sound on the tenor that you want to project for  yourself.  I was complimenting your solo on “Afternoon In Paris,” which was reminiscent of the way Coleman Hawkins played in one of my favorite periods for him, and you said, “Ted, I don’t play that way any more; that’s in the past; we must move forward.”  What is that mixture of forethought, intent, intellect… I guess bringing to bear the intellect on improvisation and the direct flow of thoughts that make a successful one?  How do you assess that balance in your own process?

GOLSON:  Well, we all have to think to a certain extent when we play.  Some players think more than others.  Some players don’t quite know how to think.  You have to know what to think about when you’re playing.

TP:    What do you think about?

GOLSON:  I think about whatever satisfies my needs.  When we think, we should think about what satisfies our needs.  What is it that we need at the moment?  Do I need something for my sound?  Do I need something for my melodic concept?  Do I need something for my rhythmic perception of things?  Or do I need them all?  And if you do, you’ve got a lot of thinking to do.  But experience makes it easier as you go along.  The more you do a thing, the easier it gets as it goes along.  Mind you, I didn’t say “easy.”  The easier it gets.  And me, I feel that I have certain needs.  I have a lot of them.  Beginning with my sound.  I am so critical about my sound.  I am going through a phase right now where I am talking with the reed manufacturer, and they are making special reeds for me, and when I go back out to the Coast in December I am going to meet with them again.  It’s getting close.  But there’s just one  element I want to get out.  That’s me.  People say, “Oh, it sounds great to me.”  And that’s fine. But I have to satisfy myself first.

TP:    You may never get satisfied.  It may be that’s what keeps you going and searching for new challenges.

GOLSON:  You know, that’s what Sonny Rollins.  He said, “No musician ever dies who is completely satisfied with himself.”  And I believe that.  If I get to like my sound, it might be something else that I’m not happy with.  That’s the way it is.

TP:    Some musicians will set themselves a challenge on a given night, like a particular tenor player will say, “I’m going to be Lester Young,” and then another night will try to be Coleman Hawkins, or taking it farther… Setting up that type of challenge to spur interest and play something different night after night.  Did that have anything to do with your approach?  Or was it purely about developing musical ideas?

GOLSON:  That was never part of me and it never will be.  I don’t set out to sound like anybody.  I’m struggling hard enough to try to sound like what I want to sound like.  Why would I waste time trying to sound like somebody else and put banners up for them?  That’s testimonial to them!  I’m not trying to set a testimonial for myself, but I am trying to play things that at least satisfy me and my needs.  I can’t waste… I use that word advisedly.  I can’t take time trying to sound like Lester or somebody else.  There’s enough of that going on now.  So many people sound like John Coltrane.  John Coltrane was John Coltrane.  That should be left where it is.  Who is going to best John Coltrane?  Maybe the next century.  But we should spend more time trying to sound what we want to sound like, expressing our own feelings and revealing our own musical personalities.  We don’t need any carpet paper around.  We should try to sound like ourselves.  And the litmus test is applying ourselves, trying to find out what it is that we want to do, and trying to optimize whatever it is we’re trying to do at whatever opportunity we have.  Rather than to walk through anything (I don’t think anybody does that nowadays), we should put forth our best effort, like our lives are on the line.

Case in point.  Tom MacIntosh had a group called the New York Jazz Sextet, trumpet, tenor, trombone and rhythm section.  At one point, Freddie Hubbard was the trumpet player.  I hadn’t thought much about it.  But every time we had a rehearsal, when it came time for Freddie to play his solo, he played like he was at Carnegie Hall at 8 p.m. on a Friday night with a full auditorium.  That’s the way he played.  Me, before that, I would just kind of walk through the changes.  This is just a rehearsal.  I used to laugh and say, “Hey, it’s only a rehearsal.”  But he played like his reputation was at stake.  He really did.  And I learned something from that.  You do the best you can whenever you get a chance to do it.  And if you do that, it can become a part of you.  But if you spend part of the time minimizing it and throwing it away, then that is time taken away from a good effort that you could be applying to yourself in the direction that you want to go.

[MUSIC: Golson-Farmer, "Fair Weather," "Like Someone In Love," "Five Spot After Dark," "I'll Walk Alone," "Minor Vamp"] [MUSIC: "Blues March" (1983)]

TP:    We have to cover about 35 years of music, so compression is of the essence.  We ended the last show with one of your most famous compositions, and one which took crossover context, “Killer Joe,” performed by the Jazztet, a group that lasted in its first iteration from 1959 to 1962.  Let’s talk about the formation of this group and the early personnel.  It got you together with Art Farmer, for one thing, on a somewhat permanent basis after several years of musical flirtation, as it were.

GOLSON:  That’s absolutely true.  Art and I met in the summer of 1953, right after Tadd Dameron’s band broke up in Atlantic City, which included Clifford Brown and Gigi Gryce.  They went on to join Lionel Hampton, and the condition that we could all leave was that I would stay  there and make sure that whoever was coming in to replace us would play the music right.  So they left and I stayed.  Then a few weeks later, I joined them in South Carolina.  In the band at that time was Art Farmer.  In fact, that’s where I met him.  Quincy Jones was in the band.  That’s where I met him.  Monk Montgomery was there, Jimmy Cleveland, and of course Gigi Gryce came along from Atlantic City, and Clifford Brown, who was also there with us.  There’s no else I can think of right now who people would readily know.

That’s when Art and I began our relationship, and when we went our separate ways from Lionel Hampton, we wound up in New York doing different things, making ends meet, and we were thrown together many times — radio commercials, TV commercials, jingles, various record dates for different people.  Although we already knew each other, we got to know each other even better because we saw each other in between socially many times.  So I guess it was inevitable that we would want to do something else, and it just so happened that we decided we wanted to do something different at the same time, without either having knowledge of the other.

So I picked up the phone one day and called him.  I said, “Art, I’m thinking about putting together a sextet.”  Not a quintet.  So many other people had quintets.  A sextet with that other horn would make it just a bit different; there are not so many sextets around today.  He started laughing.  I said, “Why are you laughing?  Is this idea that absurd?”  He said, “No.  You know, I was thinking about putting a sextet together, and I was going to call you later today.’  I said, “Well, why don’t you come by, and we could talk about it.”  And he did.  He picked two of the personnel and I picked two.  He picked his twin brother, Addison Farmer, who was alive at that time, for bass, and he picked Dave Bailey, who now heads Jazzmobile here in town, as the drummer, because they had worked together with Gerry Mulligan.  I picked Curtis Fuller.  Well, there was no disagreement there.  But when I came up with the name McCoy Tyner, he said, “I’ve never heard of him.  How is he?  Can he play?”  I said, “Oh yes, he can play.”

TP:    Before you continue, how did you know about McCoy Tyner?  Now, there’s an obvious Philadelphia connection.  Were you keeping the ties to Philadelphia?

GOLSON:  Keeping the ties had nothing to do with it.  It was the talent.  But the important thing is that I met him in Philadelphia.  I went to do one of those Sunday afternoon concerts, and the rhythm section was there, awaiting my arrival.  He played so well!  So I said, “Let me see what he can really do.”  So I played something in a strange key, and he just romped through it.  He was only 19 years old!  So I kept that in the back of my mind, not knowing if anything was going to happen or if I was going to do anything where he was involved.  But the Jazztet came up, and obviously he was the first person in mind.

TP:    Were the germs of McCoy Tyner’s mature style present when you first heard him at 19 or 20 or in the Jazztet?

GOLSON:  Oh, sure.  That’s what appealed to me.  Of course, after that he built on it.  He didn’t just stay here.  He migrated ahead to other things, which is logical for a truly creative person.  But it was interesting, so funny because when I approached him about the job on the telephone, it was like he had been awaiting my call.  “Yes!”  But then I reminded him that Philadelphia was 90 miles from New York, 180 miles round trip every day.  “McCoy, can you do this?  Are you up to it?”  He said, “Well, I really want to move to New York; I’ve been thinking about it.”  So as it turned out, to make a long story short, Art and I found an apartment for him and got it.  So he and his wife were on their way over, and a friend was bringing them over in a car, and the car broke down on the New Jersey Turnpike.  He called me.  He said, “Benny, we’ve broken down; can you come out and pick me up.”  I said, “McCoy, I don’t have a car.  Call me back in an hour and let me explore and see what I can do.”  So I found a friend who had a car, and we went out and picked him up, sure enough, and loaded him into this person’s car, and we took off.  I don’t know what happened to the person who was bringing him there.  It was terrible.  I guess we drove off and left.  I don’t quite remember what happened.  But as it turned out, the person who took me out to pick him up was John Coltrane, because he lived just a couple of blocks from me!  And about a year or so later, McCoy joined his band.  So the next time I saw John, I said to him (I knew him very well, of course), “A fine friend you turned out to be.  You stole my piano player!”

TP:    I’ve heard the story, which may or may not be apocryphal, that McCoy Tyner at an early age told John Coltrane he wanted to play with him.  And he was friends with Lee Morgan, a young colleague of yours from Philly.

GOLSON:  I don’t know if the story is apocryphal, but it’s probably not.  At 18 or whatever age that he approached John, he probably did want to play with him, and he let it be known that he did.  But I’ll tell you, in the intervening time between when he asked him that (if he did in fact ask him that) and when he joined him, he wasn’t sitting still.  He was moving forward in high gear.

TP:    I’m sure the challenging compositions and arrangements and the high degree of professionalism required within the Jazztet had a lot to do with McCoy Tyner’s development during that interim period.

GOLSON:  It might have had some.  But I think he developed more with John.  John was going in a better direction for where McCoy’s concept was.  I have to be honest about that.

TP:    I was just trying to give you a nice segue to talk about the Jazztet.  Talk about what you wanted to achieve with this group.  It immediately took on a very distinctive identity.

GOLSON:  That’s it exactly.  That’s the first word.  I figured we had to have an identity.  Otherwise, we were just another sextet thrown together to do various musical things.  To give it that identity, I tried to bring complete organization to what we were doing.  Of course, later I abandoned that, because I thought it was too much organization, and the second time we got together it was much looser.  It was just a bit too organized the first time out.  Too preconceived.  I felt we needed to be a bit looser.  And for me, and I think for Art too, it worked a lot better when it was looser.

TP:    What I gather is that your initial performance was at the Five Spot opposite the Ornette Coleman Quartet in their New York debut.  Which sounds to me like quite a scene.  So I’ll ask you to use your considerable descriptive powers to give your first-hand impression of the Ornette Coleman Quartet in 1959 at the Five Spot.

GOLSON:  I’ll never forget it.  Ornette had created quite a controversy about himself and about his music.  He had a lot of supporters, people like Leonard Bernstein and John Lewis, even Dizzy Gillespie.  Well, Dizzy Gillespie had perspicacity anyway.  He was able to look ahead, and he probably saw this music going in another direction that had some validity to it.  But not everyone really felt like that, and it was a big question mark.  So it was like someone going to a new restaurant.  Here you had two new groups, two bills of fare, so to so speak, under the same roof, and the place was jammed.

TP:    Very different approaches to music as well.  Were you familiar with his early recordings that preceded his New York appearance?

GOLSON:  Yes, I had heard some.

TP:    But you were somewhat familiar with the compositions and the group.  What did you think?

GOLSON:  I wasn’t sure.  Later, as I got to know Ornette, I called him up and sort of made an appointment, if you will, and I went down, and we talked about it.  I wanted to find out what he was doing before I had… I figured I had no right to an opinion until I actually knew what he was doing.  So I made it a point to go find out what he was doing.  Interesting.  Right after that, we started… In fact, the Jazztet played one of his songs; I can’t remember one.  We tried to interpret it the way he was interpreting it.  And it worked out okay.

Everyone has a right to speak and to have his own voice.  No one should be deprived for what they do.  Whether we choose to like it or not is up to us.  But everyone should have the privilege of speaking.  Voltaire said, “I disagree with everything you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.”  That’s how I feel.  No matter how this person or that person who even I feel about it in a negative way, they have the right to do it, and they should go ahead.  That’s the way we move ahead.  Otherwise, everything stays the same, and it becomes more predictable and more predictable.

TP:    But there you were at the Five Spot with a kind of factionalized audience, two new groups, a packed house every night…for how long?

GOLSON:  Both of us stayed there for two weeks, I think it was.  Or a month.  I can’t remember.  But it was longer than a week.  It was interesting.  We had all kinds of people coming in there.  I mean, Leonard Bernstein himself came in.  I don’t think Dizzy came.  John Lewis might have come.  And some other people would have given him support, I guess, by the nature of who they were themselves, showing up there.  And we had people come to see us, too.  It was great.

[MUSIC: Jazztet, "Park Avenue Petite," "Round Midnight," "Bean Bag"]

TP:    Coming up are more albums by Benny Golson from 1961 and 1962 while the Jazztet was still working.  The band had a fair amount of success during their couple of years.  I imagine you were booked quite a bit and did a fair amount of travel.  Talk about the course of the group.

GOLSON:  Yeah, in the beginning we did have quite a few bookings, because, honestly, we were new, and with the albums coming out at the time, people were able to hear us, and if they really liked what they heard, then they wanted to see us also.  So we were booked in quite a few places around the States.  We never did go to Europe, though.  But with any group that’s ongoing, things happen indigenously [sic], and it brings about changes sometimes from within the group.  For whatever reason.  It’s inevitable, most of the time.  And we had a change of our trombone player, we changed bass players, drummers and piano players.  The only two that didn’t change were Art Farmer and Benny Golson, I guess!  But everything else around us changed for a certain period of time.

TP:    Did the band begin to open up somewhat?  Certainly on the live album we can hear the format opening up and freeing up some?

GOLSON:  Yeah, it was a bit looser, and Art and I felt a little better.  It was just too organized the first time.  It was all right, and it made its mark, I guess, because it was organized and it was different, and hopefully, it was consequential enough that people thought we had something to say that they wanted to listen to.  But then, you know how it is.  You get used to hearing the same thing, and you feel that you have to make a change.  Everything should never creatively always be the same.

TP:    Is this a conscious thing for you?

GOLSON:  Yes!

TP:    Do you see yourself getting into a rut and say, “I’m going to do something different.”

GOLSON:  Yes.  Not just for the sake of just being different, but for the sake of fulfilling a need within me.  If you just change to change, that’s arbitrary.  But if the change comes about, it should come about in a natural, creative way, just as the substance of what you’re doing comes about in a natural way.  So the changes come about likewise, or the desire for a change comes about in the same natural way.  That’s usually what happens with creative people.  You don’t wear a blue suit one day, and then the next day it’s, “I think I’ll wear a red suit just to attract attention.”  You’ll buy a brown suit because you’re tired of the blue one all the time — that kind of a thing.

TP:    What do you remember about the circumstances of Take A Number From 1 to 10?

GOLSON:  Wondering whether or not the idea was going to come off.  It wasn’t my idea.  It was someone else’s idea.  And yet, I thought it might have possibilities, which is why I did it.  After we finished it, I thought it was consequential enough to have been recorded and to put it out for the public to hear.  It was okay.  I don’t know if I’d do it again.

TP:    Well, it seems like an ideal vehicle for someone whose interests lie so strongly in the areas of composition and arrangement, and who is so serious about your personal sound on the saxophone.

GOLSON:  You’re right.  Starting out with myself, just playing unaccompanied, the spotlight is purely on me, and eventually it lines up to the other part of me, that is, the writing.

TP:    In my brief acquaintance with Benny Golson he’s never expressed any real satisfaction with his tenor saxophone sound, and I’d like to read a comment you made to Nat Hentoff in 1961 from the liner notes.  It may sound familiar to you 35 years later in its sentiment.  You say, “We all go through stages.  There are, after all, so many roads to take.  Now I’m on the right track for myself.  I know what I want to do.  I’ve been working hard during the past year, for example, on an even bigger tone, with more roundness and warmth, even in the extreme high register.  I want to make the whole horn sound warm.  I also want to play melodically instead of just running over the horn, as I was at one time, but I’d still like to have a command of velocity at my fingertips when I need it.  I feel very much better about my playing these days.  At one time I didn’t know whether I was coming or going, but I guess it was necessary to try different ways to be sure of my own.”  It sounds like you’ve been consistent in your sentiments over time.

GOLSON:  How long ago was that?

TP:    It’s a 1961 recording.

GOLSON:  I mentioned something about being on the right road.  But you know, roads have a way of wearing thin.  Roads can become a rut.  Really.   I’ve found that out since then!  So even if you’re on the right road one day, you might want to get on another road another day.  And we have to remember, too that today’s adventure is tomorrow’s commonplace.  So things have to change.  So I said that then, but I wouldn’t say it now!

[MUSIC: From Take A Number From 1 to 10, "The Touch," "Time"]

TP:    Benny Golson expressed about as enthusiastic a comment as I’ve heard from him on “Time” — that doesn’t sound too bad.  You said you hadn’t listened to it for 25 years.  We’ll hear some quartets from 1961-62.  At this point, in addition to the Jazztet, were you doing a lot of singles, either with a working rhythm section or travelling around the country with pickups?

GOLSON:  I wasn’t doing too much.  We were primarily concentrating on the Jazztet.  But when we signed with Mercury, they signed the Jazztet, and then they signed Art and they signed me as individual artists.  I don’t remember how  many albums we did with the Jazztet, but in addition to that we each did one or two albums — I’m not sure.  One of the notable things about Turning Point is that the rhythm section with me was Miles Davis’ rhythm section at the time, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb.  I felt I was stealing just a bit!

TP:    How was it different for you to play as a solo voice than in the more arranged format?  Do you approach your improvisations differently?  Is it simply a matter of having more time to stretch out?

GOLSON:  You hit it right on the head.  If I’m playing with a quartet (not even with a trumpet, which would be a quintet), much more freedom abounds.  If I’m not playing with an arrangement of other instruments around me where I have to fit into slots here and there, if I don’t have backgrounds that have to stay out of the way of me, or I have to rise above them, then I have complete  freedom.  And in a quartet I do.  I can play a melody any way I want to.  If you play it with another instrument, then you both have to play it the same.  So you have to decide how you’re going to play it.  When I’m playing by myself, I might play it this way tonight, I might play it that way tomorrow night.  I might add a little something to it one night… Just complete freedom.  That’s one thing I enjoy about the quartet.  Within reason! [LAUGHS] Provided you’re up to it.

TP:    On Turning Point you have the sublime rhythm section of this period, which brings me to the question of what you’re looking for from the different members of the rhythm section.  In a piano player what are the ideal qualities?

GOLSON:  It’s different things, because individuals have different things to offer.  It’s a matter of what you want to hear.  Do you want to hear what this one is offering.  Do you want to hear what that one is offering?  It’s a terrible thing when you hire a person and you tell them you want them to sound like somebody else.  You hire him because you want to hear what he does.  Either it’s something that you have in mind and he meets your needs, or he has something that appeals to you that you feel you would like to have.  So when you hire them, you hire them with these kinds of things in mind — intuitively. It’s not anything you have to go home and turn off the radio and pull the windows down and think about.  Intuitively, you know these things.

First in a piano player, I am concerned about his feeling for the piano.  A piano is not one instrument.  Literally it is.  But it can function as three different instruments.  It has a distinct sound at the top.  It has a distinct sound in the middle, where most piano players are.  And it has an even more distinct sound at the bottom end.  That bottom end of the piano cannot be duplicated by any of the other instruments in the repertoire of instruments.  He’s down there.  He’s got that to himself.  Solitary air space.  Now, a good piano player knows how to use all of that according to what’s happening at the moment, and can make you feel good and can urge you on to try to best yourself — that’s the kind of piano player you want.

When he’s functioning in these different areas of the keyboard, he has something to say that’s going to not only support you, but encourage you because it sounds so good to you.  I just had that last week.  We were down at Sweet Basil.  These three guys, they had something to say.  And I’ve got to tell you, I felt like playing every night, every set.  That hasn’t happened to me in quite some time.  Because I had three guys who knew what to do.  They knew what to do as individuals.  They knew what to do as a group.  I mean, the things that they did together was as though they had gone out and rehearsed without me, and decided what they were going to do to support me.  It was so together, it was incredible what was happening up there.  And if you can get this, if you can find these kinds of qualities in individuals that you select to be your rhythm section… And the things that I said for the piano basically are the same for the bass and the drums.  It’s just different instruments.  But it’s a matter of having affinity for the instrument, having affinity for each other as a rhythm section, and having affinity for the soloist who is out front.  And if you can get all those things to spark and jibe, if you can get that kind of potential to cross paths with reality, then you’ve got something that’s really noteworthy.

We’re going back in time now.  This rhythm section to me was quintessential.  It was the best, the essence of what one would expect in a jazz rhythm section.  That’s why I chose them.  And Miles had no objection, I must say.  Very nice.  Because he knew what I was going to do!

[MUSIC: "Turning Point," "Little Karin," "I'm Afraid the Masquerade Is Over," "The Best Thing For You Is Me," "Shades of Stein"]

TP:    “Shades of Stein” refers to Gertrude Stein, and in your conversation we hear many references to philosophy and literature.  Is there any direct relationship you can discuss in terms of your reading vis-a-vis your playing?  Your liner notes are eloquent and very much to the point.

GOLSON:  I’m not an avid reader.  Actually, my wife Bobbie reads more than I do.  Anything that comes from what I read is just casual.  Gertrude Stein happened to appeal to me because of the way she took a phrase and used it over and over, “a rose is a rose…”  I tried to capture that in the melody, because you hear the melody over and over.  It got a little boring.  To make sure it didn’t get too boring, to break away from it, I made the bridge as far out as I could that time.  You could hear where it was going, like up a flight of steps, and the chords were going along with it, and it was a little difficult to play on.  But I think we needed a contrast from that Gertrude Stein influence in the beginning to sort of let it stand out by itself.  The more you do a thing, the less it means, so I broke away from it.

TP:    Is there any implied narrative or story in your compositions, or are they just musical ideas?

GOLSON:  Most of them are just musical ideas.  But what I do try to capture is a meaning in my titles.  I think the title should give one who is about to listen privy to what it is going to be about.  Now, with few exceptions, I’ve done that.  A few times I fell on my face.  I can write a song maybe in a day or two, or in a week, whatever, but I agonize over a title sometimes for two or three weeks or a month, trying to come up with the appropriate title.  When you hear a title, it should be more than a title.  You should be able to step inside, just a little bit — if not into the house, at least into the vestibule, to get out of the cold.

TP:    Improvisers seek their individual voice, and of course the common phrase is to tell your own story, and your antecedents on the tenor saxophone all had their various ways of telling their story.

GOLSON:  Playing your own ideas.  Most of us play our own ideas as best we can.  The reason I say that is because sometimes, intuitively, and depending on where we are in our development and how much we are influenced by the things that surround us… Intuitively many times we will play things that “belong to other people.”  It’s their kind of thing.  It might be a lick.  It might the way something is played, a certain inflection.  The way Sweets Edison takes a note like he’s milking a cow, the half-valve kind of thing.  That’s associated with him.  And the moaning and groaning that he does with the horn.  When I hear it, the first person I think of is Sweets Edison.  But for the most part, most people, with a few exceptions, try to play their own thing.

TP:    Another aspect of this is that for many years (I guess it’s still true, although the way information gets passed along has changed so much) is oral tradition, of listening to people you admire and trying to grapple with their ideas and coming up with your own conclusions based on that, a continuing, ongoing narrative, many voices converging.  You described your process of learning as similar, that you would take solos off records, and study and transcribe.  So I wondered if there were any analogies we could draw between the verbal and musical arts of storytelling.

GOLSON:  It’s very much like storytelling.  Sometimes the words differ, but the essence or meaning is usually the same.  Sometimes extra little words creep in so that the story begins to enlarge and unfold in a different way, so that down the road maybe it doesn’t even resemble the first or the original story.  We do that in our playing sometimes.  Sometimes we modify things that we’ve heard.  Sometimes what we come up with are mutations, if you will, of what we’ve heard.  And sometimes they are merely jumping-off points.  I wouldn’t like to think that people stay there.  The only exception I hear to that now is some tenor players.  John Coltrane has really gotten into their blood, and we don’t always hear their personal voice — we hear shades of John Coltrane.  That’s a great testimony to John Coltrane, but it doesn’t say much for their own development and for their own possible or potential voice.  I think that’s regrettable.  Because it takes away what they would be as a creative source.  We all have something to say, and we say it differently.  And it should be different.  We don’t walk the same, we don’t eat the same kinds of food.  Our habits are different.  The life is different.  So why should we try to clone or become a clone of someone else when we pick up the instrument?  And when we talk about John Coltrane at this point… My goodness, who at this point is going to best John Coltrane, who had years in which to do it?  John Coltrane was John Coltrane.  Sit back, listen to it and enjoy it.  Why try to become John Coltrane?  The time could be spent in a better way.

TP:    These quartets mark the last performances by Benny Golson as a solo saxophonist, apart from a few cameos, that we hear from about 1963 to 1980.  It was a real loss to the jazz world not to be able to hear your voice and your story through almost two decades of writing and orchestrating and establishing yourself as a very busy and commercially viable writer and arranger.  The next two tracks show more of the expansion of what you were doing then.  This is called Pop Plus Jazz Equals Swing, and it’s a sort of stereo gimmick album arranged and orchestrated and conducted by Benny Golson from about 1960.

GOLSON:  It was originally recorded on Audiofidelity, which was a label that prided itself in coming up with things that sounded authentic.  They would come up with versions of sounds of trains passing by, glasses breaking, people hammering nails, somebody tap-dancing, firecrackers, those kinds of things.  And a fellow named Tom Wilson, who had the Transition label in Boston, eventually gave it up and settled in New York, and began to produce for different companies, and at the time when we did this, he came into the fold of Audiofidelity.  Stereo had just come out then.  So he came up with a gimmick whereby the stereo could be optimized, and helped people to see really what it was.  And he decided that it would be a good thing to use jazz to do it.  So the way he figured it out, the rhythm section would always sound in the middle, which meant that it was a little each to the right and the left; on the right side it was little to the left and on the left it was a little to the right side.  So it sounded in the middle.  On the right side, I think, he would have a jazz group, and on the left side he would have what’s called a “legit” group with french horns and flutes and a few strings and things like that.  What we would do was come up with standard tunes to be played by the group with the strings and flutes on the left, and on the right side the jazz group would play the figures that had been written on it.  On the song “Whispering,” the legit group would play [SINGS ORIGINAL MELODY] but on the right side, the jazz group was playing “Groovin’ High.”

TP:    A subversive way to hip people to the mechanics of bebop as well.

GOLSON:  Exactly.  He showed what stereo was and how tunes are based on standard.  Same thing with “How High The Moon” with the legit group, and “Ornithology” on the right.  “Moten Swing” and “You’re Driving Me Crazy”.  “Out of Nowhere” and “Nostalgia.”  With “Stella By Starlight” we gave a different treatment on the left and the right, but the same song.  We did a blues with the jazz group and “St. Louis Blues” for the legit.  It worked out.  It was an adventure; it worked out.

[MUSIC: "Groovin' High"/"Whispering"; "Stockholm Serenade," "Swedish Villa," "Out of This World," "Stockholm Sojourn"]

TP:    Here we’ve come from your early arrangements with Dizzy Gillespie to these very involved, multi-layered arrangements for a 23-piece orchestra.  Would you talk about your studies in composition in the eight-year interim?  Was it all pragmatic?  Was it all empirical?  Or did you do some formal study at this time?

GOLSON:  I set out to do some formal study when I went to college, and I was all geared and revved up for it.  But when I got there, it was a little  disappointing for me, because I saw what the students who had gone before me were doing, and I was saying to myself, “Gee, that’s not really what I had in mind.”  I think I mentioned to you last week that when I get to my third year, I had become somewhat of a rebel.  Because when I was studying, we learned all the rules.  All the rules!  The dominant has to go to the tonic.  And I’m saying to myself, “Why?  Why?”  When I did “Killer Joe,” that wasn’t it.  So I started to do things that I knew were wrong.  I’d get the assignment, and I’d break all the rules and take the stuff in — and boy, they’d pull out the whip like Zorro, and just X my assignments in front of the class.  I was belligerent then.  I’d stand up and simply say, “That’s the way I heard it.”  It’s amazing how things can happen like that.  And I have to question: Why does it always have to be the same?  Why can’t it be different?  Why can’t I have octaves?  Why can’t I have fifths if I want to?  Why does the dominant always have to go to the tonic?  Why can’t I come from the leaning tonic?  I mean, I started asking things like that, and they looked at me like I was crazy.

TP:    These are the kinds of questions that could only someone who had assimilated the lessons rather well would be inclined to ask.

GOLSON:  So a lot of it was empirical.  I’ll tell you, I got absolutely nothing from there that you would hear in my writing.  It was all empirical, trial-and-error, a priori, from observation, things like that.  Now, I’ll tell you, I had some good teachers.  I listened to people like Tadd Dameron, Duke Ellington, and doing more…

TP:    How was Duke Ellington a teacher?

GOLSON:  Oh, the voicings.  Voicing those chords.  Take that baritone off the bottom and put him up at the top there, you get a different sonority.  People think of the baritone as low.  It doesn’t always have to be low.  You can do aberrational things with instruments if you’re familiar with individual sounds and familiar with blend of sounds.  You can get all kinds of things.  Then there are things that you try sometimes that might seem crazy, but you try them anyway.  All you can do is fall on your face.  I mean, no one is going to kill you.  So hopefully, you’ll have a chance to do that again.  Well, I fouled up that time, but the next time… The ballplayer loses the game.  Wait til the next time.  Every day we open our eyes as creative people.  We have to think, “I’ve got another shot at it today.”

TP:    What qualities did Tadd Dameron impart to you?  Of course, you knew him rather well from roadlife with Bullmoose Jackson.

GOLSON:  He was a great dearth writer.  He knew how to use few instruments and get the most out of them to maximize whatever it was they were doing.  With Fats Navarro and Charlie Rouse… I said, “How can he get two horns to sound so full like that?”  He got them to sound full because he maximized the instruments who were playing with them, the piano, himself, how he voiced the chords.  Making use of the full drum set.  Not just TINK, TINK-A-TING on the cymbal and the bass drum here and there, but using all of the set.  Because the drums are functional enough to accomplish many things.  The tom-toms accomplish one thing, the snare drum, the hi-hat the ride cymbal, the sticks, the brushes — all of these things make a difference.  The bass.  All these things work.  Then I finally got a chance to meet him, and this guy was an open book.  He didn’t hide anything, and he shared what he knew.  I remember he did an arrangement for Duke Ellington once, and he let me copy it.  I didn’t charge him anything.  Because I was getting a lesson!  As I was copying, I was taking information in.  Well, what did he do here with the third alto?  Or how did he use the baritone?  Well, how did he use the reed section with the brass section?  And how did he voice the trumpets with…? Hey, this was a learning process for me.  So I did a lot of listening.  I eviscerated some things.  I took them apart, laid them out, looked at the component parts.  Why do they work?

And another one that helped me a great deal (he wasn’t even aware of it) was Ernie Wilkins.  This man knew what to do with a big band.  I kid you not. The people don’t know about Ernie Wilkins.  I ran into him in Aarhus, Norway, a few years ago, when he had 12 pieces — he called it his Almost Big Band.  We were on the same bill.  We went to the hotel and we were in the corridor, and I said, “I should let him know this,” and I told him that, and he was astounded.  He said, “Really?”  I said, “Yes, indeed.”  I said, “You have no idea of the times that I took your scores, and looked at them and broke them down.”  This is how you learn.  I didn’t learn it in college.  Today it’s possible.  But during the time I was coming along, it just wasn’t possible.

TP:    Did you take apart the scores of European composers at that time?

GOLSON:  Of course.  It was nothing that would change the cosmic balance of the universe.  But they did know… Everybody talks about Verdi when you talk about opera.  But Giacomo Puccini, he was a much better orchestrator, for my money.  And besides, I found out just a couple of years ago, he used to go around to some of the jazz clubs, so you know he had to be all right!  His orchestrations had much more involved sonorities.  The concept of how he’s using the orchestra.  Background for some of the things, but strong backgrounds.  Verdi was a little flowery for me.  But Puccini sort of rolled his sleeves up and took that pencil up very seriously when he went to work.  Good orchestrations.  They’re using a lot of chords, I-III-V, VI maybe sometimes, minor VIs.  But the way they used them and the sound they got when they used them, you see… When we got to jazz, we just built on things like that.

TP:    Your fondness for opera is something you share with your stylistic mentor, Coleman Hawkins.

GOLSON:  Well, I’ll tell you, I used to hate it until I met my wife, Bobbie.  I really learned to appreciate it through her, as I did ballet and some of the other things.  It’s beautiful.  Some is more beautiful than others.

TP:    What’s becoming apparent is that the musical components that comprise the totality of what you do range from the most functional music that you played for years on the R&B circuit and with Earl Bostic to the very progressive music of the ’40s and ’50s to classical music — all in the pot.

GOLSON:  It gives you insight.  You listen to something like “La Traviata,” and they can almost make you cry, they’re so beautiful, when you hear those voices.  You go from there to rhythm-and-blues to jazz.  She taught me to appreciate Country-and-Western.  Those Country-and-Western tunes will make you get on your knees and cry!

TP:    Well, this is what makes music the magical entity it is, that it can evoke that range of emotion.

GOLSON:  Thank goodness.  Thank goodness that it’s open-ended.  It goes on and on and on.

TP:    But for all those years, you applied all those skills to very functional purposes, in Hollywood and the studio.  You didn’t bring any of the music from this time…

GOLSON:  I thought it would be too boring!  Really.  Episodic music.

TP:    But you were quite successful at it.  You wrote for most of the top Pop singers of the ’60s and ’70s.  The EOJ of the ’70s says you wrote for Nancy Wilson, Lou Rawls, Sammy Davis, Diana Ross, O.C. Smith, for M.A.S.H. and other television shows.  Is there some separation?  How do you go about writing something for these very specific, project-oriented assignments?

GOLSON:  I guess there is a line of definition there.  But sometimes, if you’re adventurous enough, you can blur the line.  You can cross over.  That can be exciting.  We were doing a show once at Universal, maybe It Takes A Thief or Run For Your Life or something.  Tom Scott was in the orchestra; the contractor had called him.  I took the melody of “Stablemates” and I just permutated it a bit, gave it another harmony and lingered on certain notes, and if you didn’t know “Stablemates,” you wouldn’t know what it was.  After the take, Tom was laughing, because he knew “Stablemates”!  You can get away with it.  Music is music.  It doesn’t always have to be the same.

TP:    What’s some of the music that emerged from that which you’re proud of?

GOLSON:   They publish the things, so you don’t come away with them.  I wrote a lot of songs when I was out there, and Universal published them or 20th Century published them.

TP:    You were on salary and they owned the rights…

GOLSON:  No, I wasn’t on salary.  I was for-hire.  I came in and I did the job.  But it was a known fact that they would publish it.  You never discussed it.  the only two people who published their own material were Earl Hagen, who did I Spy, Gomer Pyle, Andy Griffith, and Henry Mancini.  They were the only two that kept their publishing.  To this day, I don’t know how it happened.  But if I had come out there as a newcomer with my foot in the door, talking about I wanted my publishing…out of town.

TP:    What chain of events led you to Hollywood and putting the saxophone away for as long as you did?

GOLSON:  Quincy Jones.  My ex-roommate in Dizzy Gillespie’s band.  He went out there first, and he told me that Henry Mancini had been trying to make the way open for him.  Then he left.  (We used to live in the same building.)  After he got out there, eventually he called and said, “Well, this is happening, that’s happening, you ought to come out.”  His agent was Peter Faith, who was the son of Percy Faith.  I wasn’t sure.  I took a trip out there,, my wife and I went out, and looked around to see what was going on.  I think we stayed about a week or ten days.  It looked pretty good.  So I came back, and packed up myself, and went out there.  I wanted to be very sure before I pulled up roots here.  I got a little studio apartment.  And I went to work right away!

I got a call from the Goldwyn Studios.  Alex North was doing The Devil’s Brigade with William Holden, and he wanted someone to do some source music.  Alex had called my teacher who had been teaching me weekends, who was at Bennington College, and wanted him to do the source music.  He told him he couldn’t do it, but that one of his students had just moved out there.  That was me.  He wanted me to write some period music.  The source music is not the underscoring for the picture, but if somebody puts a record on, or if there’s a band playing in the place when people come into the club or the restaurant.  That’s period music, but not the underscoring for the action and emotions and drama of the film.  So there was quite a bit of period music.  I think I wrote a gavotte; for some reason, it went back that far.  I had to do a Dixieland thing.  And I did a George Shearing type thing and some other things.  This was known as source music.  And many times, depending upon the stature of the composer, he will assign the source music to other composers and just concentrate on the music for the film.  Well, I had just gotten out there.  What could I demand?  No, I don’t want source music; I want a feature film!  This was a way of getting people to know you and know your work, and so I did it.

Eventually, through Quincy, I got into Universal.  As a matter of fact, I got the same agent, Peter Faith.  He was really in at Universal, so Universal is the first studio I began to work at.  At the time I got there they had just put together a new show with Robert Wagner called It Takes A Thief.  Now, Dave Grusin was already there, and he had written the theme for the show, but he was busy doing some other things, and they needed someone to write the music for the show.  He had done the first one, which they premiered, and I started on the second show.  And it worked out all right.  They said, “Do you want another one?”  I said, “Yeah.”  So I did the third show… It went on like that.

TP:    It keeps building up.

GOLSON:  Yes.  Eventually I went out to 20th Century Fox, who had a new show starting out.  Jerry Goldsmith, who became a good friend, had written the theme for it, and they didn’t have anybody to do the show.  They asked me if I wanted to do it.  So I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.”  So I did Room 222.  And Johnny Mandel had already done the theme for M.A.S.H.  Now, they had had some composers from before, but they wanted something a little different.  I was out there with Room 222, so…

TP:    So you were a new sound, which was why producers wanted your services.

GOLSON:  Maybe so.  Anyway, I went to work also on M.A.S.H.  I did Room 222 for two-three years, and M.A.S.H.  I did for three years.  That was a great show.  And I got to know the people on the show, like Alan Alda.  They’re real people.  So it was really nice working out there.  They didn’t put any pressure on me.  At Universal, the pressure was always  on.  I was beginning to feel like a humpback in the back room, working from early morning until late at night.  You’d get to the middle of the show, and they’d call you: “Do you have Reel 3 done yet?”  You’re on Reel 2, you haven’t gotten to Reel 3.  “But we need it.”  The pressure was always on.

TP:    Why did you put down the horn?  Or did you entirely put it down?

GOLSON:  Yes, I did.

TP:    you didn’t play it at all.

GOLSON:  I didn’t play it at all.  I could have used it as an ornament or put dirt in it and planted flowers.

TP:    It must have hurt you.

GOLSON:  No, it didn’t.  Because at that time I did not like the way I was sounding on it.  So it wasn’t too hard for me to put it down.  But a strange thing happened.  In those 7-8 years I didn’t play it, the thinking process was working, and strangely enough, when I did finally pick it up again, I did not sound the way I sounded when I put it down, though I had not actually been playing it.  So the thinking process does help sometimes, along with the practice of playing, of course.

TP:    What caused you to pick it up again?  We’ll hear records from 1980-81.

GOLSON:  That’s around when I picked it up again.  It was a little frustrating, though, because I picked it up and I didn’t sound the way I sounded before, but I did not know how I wanted to sound then — not entirely.

TP:    Had you been listening a lot to music in the previous decade?

GOLSON:  Constantly.

TP:    And what was your impression of the music in the ’70s?

GOLSON:  Interesting.  Interesting and moving forward.  It should always move forward.  Because we had new blood coming.  We had people who you never heard before, coming out from Wokonomac, Wisconsin, and from Iron Mountain, Michigan, places you never heard of, coming onto the scene, and they had their own voices and things to say.  And some of them represented great potential.  Since that time, many of them have gone to become big names in jazz.  This was all happening.  It was fertile.

TP:    What impressed you of the electric music, the fusion of the period?

GOLSON:  Some of the things impressed me.  But all in all, it wasn’t really my cup of tea.  But I didn’t decry it.  I didn’t put it down.  I didn’t vilify any of the players.  It just wasn’t for me.  Some of the things were interesting.  To this day, I like some of the things.  I like some of the Rock-and-Roll, some of the Rhythm-and-Blues.  Oh yeah.  Consequential things.

[MUSIC: BG-Fuller, "California Message"; w/ Bu, "City Bound," "Just By Myself," "I Remember Clifford"]

TP:    Do you remember when you first heard Clifford Brown?

GOLSON:  Yeah.  It was in a club in south Philadelphia, Broad and Lombard Street.  I remember the name of the hotel above the club — the Douglas Hotel.  I don’t remember the name of the club, but I remember one of its features.  It began with a matinee on Monday, 4 to 7.  You opened with a matinee, and then you played that night from 9 until 1, four sets.  I heard him there with an entertaining group, Chris Powell and the Blue Flames.  They sang these little songs and had their choreography, even if it was only moving from side to side and the music had a beat that kind of appealed to the people — it wasn’t a swing kind of thing.  The aberration was Clifford Brown.  He joined in, he was a part of all this, but when he started to play his solo, he stepped out there in solitary air space by himself.  High above the circle of the earth; that’s where he was.  It was so distinct and it was so good, even the people who liked the entertaining quality of the group were aware that this fellow had special ability.  And he did.

TP:    How would you reconstruct his sound of the time?

GOLSON:  Like Fats Navarro, but more Clifford Brown.  I mean, he wasn’t trying to be a carbon copy of Fats Navarro, but he was out of that school.  It was more than Fats; it was different.  He had a fat sound.  He was maybe a bit more fiery and a bit more daring because he came after Fats, so some of the things he did were based on newer things, and he was searching for things in the chords and how to put things together.  So it was very exciting to hear him play.  What eventually happened with that group, not only did people come to hear Chris Powell sing those songs and what it was that they did; they came to wait for these solos by Clifford Brown.  That’s when he started to be known, while he was with Chris Powell and the Five Blue Flames.  It was a complete anomaly, his being with that group.  That’s how he began to be known, with that group.  Of course, he soon left after that.

He lived 30 miles from Philadelphia, in Wilmington, Delaware.  So we weren’t together, oh, every day and through the week like John and I were.  But he would come to Philadelphia quite often, because compared with Wilmington, Philadelphia was the place to be.  South of Wilmington, the next place further than Philadelphia, was Baltimore and then Washington.  So Philadelphia was a lot closer, and there was actually more happening in Philadelphia.  So he was there quite often for the jam sessions and gigs and whatnot, and we got to know each other pretty well.  Later, of course, in 1953, we both joined Tadd Dameron’s band in Atlantic City, and we were together almost every day there.

TP:    Was he consistently creative player from night after night?

GOLSON:  I’m sure in his own mind he had his inconsistencies.  But as a listener, yes, he was consistent!

TP:    You’ve told the story of your friendship with John Coltrane in many places, and two weeks ago you spoke of meeting him in 1945.

GOLSON:  I was 16.  He had just gotten out of the Navy.

TP:    You spoke of hearing Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Don Byas in one of the Philly theaters in 1945, and he brought “Stablemates” to Miles Davis in 1955.  But This is For You, John is a tribute recording, and in the liner notes you relate some telling anecdotes about his practice habits, about his passion for the horn.  You recollect the first time you heard play saxophone, on a job with Eddie Vinson where the tenor player walked off…

GOLSON:  Eddie Vinson had come to town, and he was working the Eastern Seaboard — New York (and probably Chicago), Washington, Baltimore, maybe even Philadelphia.  At that time, he decided he would get a band from the East Coast.  John was one of the players playing alto saxophone.  Johnny Coles was the trumpet player.  I can’t remember who else was in that band.  But they were all from Philadelphia.  They were playing a job in Philadelphia or Delaware or someplace like that, and Louis Judge, the tenor player he’d hired, had an argument with Eddie.  He was pretty fiery.  Right after the argument, they went on intermission, the half-hour intermission.  Then it was time to come back (it was a dance type of thing), and Louis, pouting, did not come back.  He wasn’t going to come back right away; he was going to punish Eddie.  And all of the musicians left their horns laying on the chair when they went out.  They came back, John picked his alto up, and Louis was nowhere to be found.  So they began without him.  Eddie had this particular song that had a tenor solo.  Eddie played alto himself and John played alto; the only tenor player in the group was Louis.  And for some reason, he wanted the tenor solo!   The tenor solo was coming up, and still no Louis.  So Eddie looked over to John and said, “Play Louis’ horn.”  John was a little reticent about doing that.  Eddie said, “No, play his horn; I want a tenor solo.”  So John picked the horn up (this was the first time he’d ever played tenor, you know) and he began to play.  Strangely enough, he didn’t sound like an alto player.  He sounded like Dexter Gordon, or from that school.  And it sounded so good, he was playing so much stuff, wherever Louis was, he came running to the bandstand.  “Give me my horn!”  He didn’t want anybody playing like that!  He would really lose the gig!

And John liked it.  I remember he told me,  “I tried it, I liked it,” and the next thing you know, he had gone and bought a tenor saxophone.  The tenor sax was kind of a novelty to him.  He ended up working with a former member of Dizzy Gillespie’s band, from Philadelphia also, named Johnny Lynch, a trumpet player, and they were working at a skating rink every week in South Philadelphia on Broad Street.  It might have been the E-Lite(?) Ballroom.  It was a three-hour concert every Sunday afternoon.  John would bring the tenor, and he might play one number on it.  He was primarily an alto player.  Then as time went by, he was playing more numbers on it.  And after a while, he was playing tenor and lot equally.  As time went further on, he was playing more on the tenor and less on the alto.  And finally, he sold the alto.  He was a tenor  player.  He loved the sound of the tenor saxophone.  So that’s how it got started.

He went through phases, just as Picasso went through his periods of squares and cubes… He went through phases on the saxophone, trying to find out who he wanted to be, what he wanted to sound like.  So Dexter disappeared.  I ran into him when he was working with a fellow named Gay Crosse out in Cleveland, Ohio.  I was with another rhythm-and-blues band, and I went by the hotel room where he and Specs Wright were playing.  Specs was practicing on the practice pad, keeping the rhythm, and he was playing his horn.  I noticed he sounded a little different.  Each time I heard him, he was a little different.  Because he was finding himself on the tenor saxophone.  I think he was constantly doing that, right up until the end.  At the same time, he was putting all these things together, the chords and… He was a person who practiced all the time, that Spartan-like practice, like a person who had no talent — and he had an abundance of talent.  So you hook that up, a person who had an abundance of talent and who practiced all the time, you’re going to get something pretty redoubtable!  And he was.  And he became that.  As I heard him, boy, he was awesome.

One thing led to another, and eventually, Philly Joe left town to join Miles, and Hank Mobley was leaving at the time, and Miles asked Philly did he know any tenor players in Philly.  Philly told him, yes, he knew a tenor player, and Miles said, “What’s his name?”  “His name is John Coltrane.”  Of course, Miles had never heard of him, so he asked him (he wanted to be sure) “Can he play?”  And Philly probably made the understatement of his life.  He nonchalantly said, “Yeah, he can play.”  John joined the band, and… Did I tell this two weeks ago?  Anyway, he eventually brought “Stablemates” to him and Miles recorded it.

TP:    Let me take a detour here, and ask about your good friendship with Jimmy Heath in the 1940s.  He was perhaps the most advanced of you in the 1940′s, with the big band.

GOLSON:  He was, definitely.  Jimmy was only 19 years old and I was about 16, John was 18.  And this guy, Jimmy Heath, had the ability to play chords.  We were still struggling, still spelling, A, B, C… He had the ability to play chords.  Until this day, I don’t think I’ve heard Jimmy Heath play a wrong chord.  He is fantastic with those chords!  Anyway, he was into it!  And John came to town, and he heard about Jimmy, because they were both playing alto at that time.  John was sounding like Johnny Hodges.  Jimmy had heard Charlie Parker, and he was trying to sound like that.  John eventually met him, and when he came to my house again he said, “Oh, I met Jimmy Heath; boy, he’s a crazy cat” — which meant he was all right, he was really on it!  Eventually, Jimmy formed a big band, a 15-piece band.  Boy, I’ve got to tell you, those seats were coveted.  But somehow, John and I made it. [LAUGHS] Because we weren’t playing that great.  We finally made it.  I was playing fourth tenor.  A fellow named Sax Young was playing second tenor.  He had most of the solos.  I was coming along.  John was playing third alto, and a fellow named Duke Joiner was playing lead alto.  I forget who was playing baritone sax.  Then we had some other guys in the band.  Jimmy was writing some of the music, then I started trying to write and John started trying to write.  Nelson Boyd was playing bass.  Hen Gates (James Forman) was playing piano.  Specs Wright was playing drums.  It was really sounding great.  Everybody wanted to be in that band.  We were so happy because we were in the band.  To this day I call Jimmy “boss” whenever I see him, because of that band.  Whenever I call him, I say, “Hey, boss!”  We were talking about that the other day.  I called him on his birthday, as a matter of fact, about three or four days ago.

We rehearsed a lot.  We had a vocalist.  But we didn’t work too often.  Tadd Dameron wrote some things for the group.  Because these were young kids, and the band was sounding good.  Johnny Acea, who was an arranger living in New York, was from Philly, and he wrote some things, and there was another arranger from Philly named Leroy Lovett, big-time arranger, writing stuff for Nat Cole and everything, and he was writing things and giving it to us.  We were in a privileged position.  But the band never really took off.  We were trying to get a booking agent like Shaw or ABC or Glazer or somebody to take us, but it never happened.  I guess people just didn’t have faith in these kids.  Eventually the band broke up.  But it was a good experience.

TP:    Had we another hour or two past 7, I’d quiz him more about Philadelphia in the ’50s, but we don’t.  The next recording pairs him with Pharaoh Sanders.  This is the only “tenor battle” I can think of.

GOLSON:  I’ll tell you how this came about.  I knew John at the beginning.  At the very beginning, we became good friends.  Now, Pharaoh met him later along, when he became the John Coltrane.  And for me, Pharaoh is the one who comes closest to what John Coltrane was all about.  We’re not talking about the velocity and running all over the horn.  I’m talking about the sound and the way he projected and the way he could play one note, like John, and lay you out.  One note!  I thought it would be a good idea to come up with a tribute to John, play a couple of the tunes that he played, with me as one who knew him early on, and Pharaoh, who knew him later in his development.  We put the date together, and we came up with This is For You, John.

[MUSIC: BG-Pharaoh, "Times Past: This Is For You, John"]

TP:    Were you listening to John Coltrane’s music throughout the ’60s?  Did you keep up with everything he did before he died?

GOLSON:  Well, not everything.  But I listened to him, of course.  He had a lot to say.  We had to listen to him.

TP:    Did you keep in touch personally throughout?

GOLSON:  From time to time.  Not as much as we did earlier, of course, because our paths were going in different directions and our music wasn’t the same either.  But we did see each other from time to time.  We would always recall some of the things that happened earlier-on as young teenagers.  He came down to see me at the Five Spot.  We were on intermission.  I saw him coming across the street, and he had this cigar, and he’d put on a little weight.  I said, “Wow!”  He said, “Man, I’m taking Metrecal but nothing is happening.”  I didn’t think much of it.  Then finally I said, “Well, how are you taking it?”  He said, “Well, I eat my meal and then I drink a Metrecal.”  I started laughing!  No weight loss.

TP:    We’ll hear recordings from 1986 and 1988, one for a studio date with Freddie Hubbard and one with the reconfigured Jazztet.  You mentioned earlier that for the second incarnation of the Jazztet, you made the arrangements less restrictive, more freedom for the soloists.  Did this inspire new writing for you?  Was it a project you could devote new energies to?

GOLSON:  Absolutely.  I came to appreciate that less means more.  Or, to look at it from another view, the more you do a thing, the less it means.  So that’s what I did, and we felt better about it.  Writing evolves just like playing does, or any other creative thing.  My writing started to take a turn.  I did a thing on one of those sessions called “Vas Simeon,” which had no form to it at all, no form whatsoever, but yet we had to blow on it.  So for the blowing part, I constructed a little area of chords that we would blow on, and once that was over, we went back to this nondescript kind of thing as far as form was concerned.  It was so different than what I had written theretofore, that the piano player, Mickey Tucker, said to me, “What were you smoking when you wrote this?”

[MUSIC: BG-Freddie, "Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing"; Jazztet, "Vas Simeon," C. Fuller 5, "Love, Your Spell Is Everywhere"]

TP:    The next recording is a special project, based on the Brandenberg Concertos.

GOLSON:  I didn’t defile Bach at all.  I have to say that.  Because the solos are not based on things he wrote; those things were added.  It’s another project that wasn’t my idea, but a very interesting one.  When they proposed it, it seemed like a challenge, which I accepted.  I had heard Bach all of my life.  But this time I had to eviscerate him.  I had to really look at what he was doing.  Because I knew I had to come up with things in addition to what he had written, and yet these things couldn’t sound arbitrary, like they were just picked up and tacked on to it.  They had to sound like part of the whole tapestry.  So it had to be in the style or concept or feeling that he had.  When I wrote these things, I remember, for the first person I played it to, it went into a section I had written, and they mentioned Bach, as though he had written it.  That let me know that I was on the right track.  I said, “No, that’s mine.”  But it had to be that way, otherwise it would be neither fish nor fowl.

Now, he had a certain number of instruments when he did the Brandenberg Concerti.  This CD represents about half of them.  I added some horns he didn’t have, and I added some female voices which he didn’t have.  So I had to write original parts for the voices that would go with his things, and I had to assign these additional instruments things to play, and it had to be in keeping with what he had done, and the transitions going into the jazz had to work, too.  So all these things represented a challenge.

[MUSIC: Brandenberg #1 w/ Mulgrew, Art Farmer, Rufus Reid, Smitty]

TP:    Here’s another selection from the private archive, dedicated to Bessie Smith.

GOLSON:  This is from last April.  NPR called me and asked me to compose a composition in tribute to Bessie Smith for her 100th birthday.  It didn’t have to be too long, and for solo piano.  I told them I thought I could do it.  After about a week I came up with this.  We hired Bill Mays, who was my pianist while we were in California, to do this.  They played it, and they sent me a copy.  The voice you hear will be Odetta, who narrated it.

TP:    You mentioned last week that you listened to a lot of blues as a kid, that it was played in the house a lot, and that some of your earliest experiences may have been listening to Bessie Smith and the classic blues.

GOLSON:  I had no choice.  And two of my uncles played piano similar to what you’re going to do here.  Not quite as well, though. [LAUGHS]

[MUSIC:  "Bessie and Me"]

TP:    Now some selections for the Benny Golson Quintet for Dreyfus, an in-studio date with new arrangements of previously recorded material.  I’d like to talk about reprising and reworking older material.

GOLSON:  “Domingo” is what we’ll hear.  I wrote it for a date for Lee Morgan, maybe his first or second.  It’s one of those tunes that was recorded and never even played again; it continued to live on the album.  Many years went by, and I never thought about the tune any more.  Many years later, Phineas Newborn recorded it.  Geoff Keezer played it for me, and I went, “Hey, how about that,” but I still didn’t think about it.  Then Mulgrew Miller knew about it and he said, “Hey, you ought to start playing this tune again.”  Then James Williams said the same thing.  I said, “Well, maybe I should!”  The style didn’t change too much.  The concept, the solos may be a bit different because time has moved on.

TP:    Is that how it is with most of your older material.  You have so many classics of the jazz lexicon, so I’d imagine just to keep yourself interested… Do you try to put little twists and turns in and update arrangements, or do you hew to the older version?

GOLSON:  No.  Even as a composer, they’re not sacrosanct.  I feel compelled to do something a little different.  I’m of the opinion that things should not always remain exactly the same.  In classical music they do, and the only difference is the quality of the performance, the conductor and the tempos.  But jazz is different.  We can express the same thing in so many different ways.  It’s a real adventure, and I’m privileged to be a part of it!

[MUSIC: "Domingo"]

TP:    A woman called as that was playing and asked me to ask you: If you were listening to yourself blind over the air, how would you know it’s your tune?  What are the distinctive characteristics by which you recognize your compositions?

GOLSON:  I don’t know if she meant if I’m playing it or if it’s just my composition?  If I’m playing it, it’s just like hearing my own voice.  I know my style.  But if it’s my composition and someone else is playing it, there are lots of parallels.  It’s like hearing your mate’s voice.  When you hear that voice, you know it’s his or hers in a crowd.  You can pick it out.  Sometimes you even know the smell of your mate.  He or she can cough in a crowd, and you can identify them by the cough.  You can see a bunch of children playing, and they’re making lots of noise, they’re rambunctious, and yet, with your back turned you can tell whether or not your kid is there if he’s joining in with his voice.  There are lots of parallels.  You can tell the way a person walks from the rear that it’s him or her, if you know them really well.

It’s the same thing with music. The structure, as you said.  Yes, you know the structure.  You know the very nature of the song.  You don’t even have to hear the melody.  Before they get back to the melody again, you know it’s yours.  It might sound complicated, but it’s extremely easy.

TP:    I think an implication of the question is, what are some of the salient aspects of the Benny Golson writing style and, perhaps also, the improvisational style, since you function as a composer-improviser?

GOLSON:  Saliently, it would be the structure, the very nature of the tune.  What chord follows what chord.  Which determines the structure or the concept of the tune.  The melody is the same thing.  You have one note, you have nothing.  You have nothing of any consequence until you get the second note.  You’ve got the beginning of a melody.  The first note doesn’t mean a thing.

TP:    So it’s how you get from Point A to Point B that makes Benny Golson Benny Golson.  Do you see your identities as composer and improviser as separate, as related, as sometimes separate and sometimes… Certainly, there’s sometimes an element of spontaneous composition in the act of improvising.

GOLSON:  Always separate for me.  When I’m playing, I don’t think about the writing.  When I’m writing, conversely, I don’t think about the playing.  The two never meet.

TP:    Do you have to clear your head, or is that just the way it is?

GOLSON:  No, it’s just natural.  I pour myself into each aspect, totally.

I got a Guggenheim fellowship last year, and under their aegis I will be writing another symphony, a second symphony.  The first was a combination of the jazz thing and this, but this will be straight-out classical.  Don’t know where I’m going.  I have my premise, I’ve done my research, and all I have to do is translate these things into music.  Haven’t written a note, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, reading a lot of books, and when I get ready to put pen to paper, hopefully things will happen.  And I’ve been commissioned to write a new ballet by a ballet company in Columbus called Ballet-Met.  I’ve been out there, I’ve talked with them, they have great facilities.  They’ve got two studios that look like airplane hangars.  It’s incredible.  Their facility takes up a whole block.  People in New York would kill for that. [ETC.]

[-30-]

Benny Golson Musician Show (2-7-96):

TP:    When we started running down the musicians on whom we wanted to focus, the first you mentioned was Lucky Thompson.  Most of this show will be devoted to tenor players from the Coleman Hawkins school – Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, Hawkins — who are the people who pulled you in when you were beginning and feeling your oats on the tenor.

GOLSON:  Lucky sort of grew out of Don Byas, that school of thought Don seemed to come up with, a former alto player.  Lucky’s approach was even smoother.  He tended to flow one thing into another.  He would come at melodies from different angles; he had a good knowledge of chords.  Though he’s still alive, I have to say “had,” because he is no longer playing.  What we’re about to play is one of the last things he recorded before he bowed out  It was so good, it’s one of the best things I ever heard from him.  I heard it a few months ago, a friend had it, and I was taken aback.

TP:    When did you first hear him play, become aware of him?

GOLSON:  It had to be ’53, or something like that.  I heard him after I heard Don Byas.  And although the styles were similar, oxymoronically, they were different at the same time.  He says some of the same things that Don used to say, but in a slightly different way.  They’re from the same musical neighborhood and concept, so to speak.

TP:    You referred to Don Byas a converted alto saxophonist.  Do you feel that his having played alto saxophone first had a significant impact on his style as a tenor saxophonist?

GOLSON:  I’m not sure, but I suspect that he did.  He sings in his melodies when he plays like a lead alto.  If you listen closely on his ballads, he sings those melodies like Charlie Parker used to sing the melodies.  Singing in the sense that he’s pouring out his heart, almost vocally, through the saxophone, through the sound of the saxophone.  That’s what we used to call “singing.”  That’s the way Don played his melodies.  Now, Lucky didn’t play his melodies quite the same.  If you played them back to back, you might be able to hear that.

TP:    Eddie Lockjaw Davis said in an interview that Don Byas was able to incorporate the ideas that Art Tatum was playing in his left hand on the saxophone, and was one of the very few who had the technique to be able to realize that.  What do you make of that?  We know he was very influenced by Tatum and had tons of Tatum records?

GOLSON:  Well, I’d have to say he was ambidextrously talented, because he not only played what he played in the left hand, he played quite a bit of what he played in the right hand, too.

TP:    Well, it’s a literal quote.  But he did have prodigious technique, and was a saxophonist from the ’30s who was really respected by the young generation who came up after World War II.

GOLSON:  Oh yes.  Let me tell you, I happened to be talking about him with Harry Sweets Edison, and Sweets said to me, “When Chu Berry was in town we used to have jam sessions, and Chu would always want to get with Don.”  I said, “What was the outcome when they’d get together?”  I can’t repeat verbatim, but he said Don did him in each time.  And Earl Bostic used to tell me about him; he would go to the sessions, and nobody could keep up with him, I guess other than Earl Bostic himself, who was really quite the technician.  Oh yeah, he could play.

TP:    And also in 1944, when Dizzy Gillespie went on 52nd Street and Charlie Parker was in Kansas City, he hired Don Byas for the front line.

GOLSON:  Oh yes.

TP:    When did you first hear Don Byas?  I believe you saw Dizzy and Bird in  person for the first time in ’45 in Philadelphia.

GOLSON:  It was ’45, yes.  We were sort of getting into that… When I say “we,” we who were aspiring professionals.  Ray Bryant was at that concert.  John Coltrane and I went together.  I think Jimmy Heath was there in the first row with some other piano player from Philly, locally.  When we heard this concert, it literally changed our lives.  We could feel something happening to us inside that we’d never felt before.  Because not only were we hearing a fantastic performance, we were hearing a kind of music that we had never, ever heard before.  You have to imagine the impact on 16- and 18-year kids.  That’s what we were.  All the way home, we were “supposing” and “if.”  We were looking into the future.  We wanted to know what that music was all about, really.  And I am still trying to find out what it’s all about.  Because music is open-ended.  You never really complete it.  You never finish it.  It’s malleable, you reshape it and you put it here and you put it over there and you add something to it, and it continues to grow.  Even the styles… How can I say it?  Today’s adventure is tomorrow’s commonplace.  That’s because Jazz in particular has such a forward motion to it, it’s always evolving out of itself and it’s moving forward, so that the styles that are great today might be a little dated tomorrow, but it doesn’t go into obscurity.  You just move it over on the shelf and make room for the newer things.

TP:    And the day after tomorrow, it may be fresh again.

GOLSON:  Well, the future is always a second away or so.  So as we move forward in the stream of time, and making time our confederate, we indefatigably move ahead with it — if we are truly creative.  And that’s what we do.  No musician that I know of is ever completely satisfied.  I mean, I’ve heard Dizzy play, and Charlie Parker, J.J. Johnson, John Coltrane.  And when you’d talk to them, you’d always hear, “I think I could do it better if I had done so-and-so.”  And you’re saying, “What?”  It’s a relative thing.  No matter where we are, what strata, what level we’re at in ability, we’re always stretching.  We’re never satisfied.  We’re always reaching.  That’s part of the adventure.

[MUSIC:  Lucky Thompson, "When Sunny Gets Blue," "Blue and Boogie" (1970)]

GOLSON:  Unfortunately, on “Blue and Boogie,” the sound was not quite right.  He must have been a little disappointed with that.  But the performance was good, what he was playing was fine, but the sound was a little constricted.  That wasn’t really his sound.  I know his sound.  It’s one of those things that’s happened to me; it’s happened to many of us from time to time.

I guess the next thing you’re going to play is “52nd Street Theme” with Dizzy and Don Byas.  When I heard this, during that time the saxophone players were playing kind of smooth and mellow and flowing.  The tongue didn’t touch the reed too often.  It was just the style.  So here comes Don, with great articulation… You notice the way he plays, especially when he goes into the bridge, and you notice that he’s playing wide intervals.  The notes are far apart.  He’s not going smoothly, like going up a pair of steps or down a pair of steps.  It’s tantamount to skipping steps, jumping down steps, jumping up steps, over the notes.  He knew his horn that well, you’ll notice, as he plays what he does.

[MUSIC: Byas-Diz, "52nd Street Theme"; Byas, "Candy," "How High The Moon"]

TP:    That reflected in many ways what was happening on 52nd Street at the time, the mixture of musicians of different sensibilities and eras, and playing a song that was the anthem of the young beboppers… Benny pointed out that he wanted to hear Don Byas’ break when he went into the bridge.

GOLSON:  That “52nd Street Theme” is notable because it epitomized what was happening musically at that time.  You’ll notice, as you listen to some of those things, the rhythm was kind of boom-changy, which was sort of a reflection from the past.  Keep in mind that when this music started…oh, whenever they started… I’m not sure exactly when it started but I heard it in 1945.  When I say “they,” I’m referring to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.  And when we first heard them in Philadelphia live, we weren’t even sure who Charlie Parker was when they first started to play.  But they had Slam Stewart on bass, I think Big Sid Catlett was on drums and Al Haig was playing piano.  We didn’t realize then that the rhythm section hadn’t caught up with what Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were doing.  On some of those early things, Bird and Diz were hitting it hard, in this new direction, but the rhythm section was lagging a little bit behind.  Later on they got with it, with Max Roach, Kenny Clarke and some of the others.

TP:    What exactly were they lacking?

GOLSON:  they were lacking the spirit of the new concept that Bird and Diz had come up with.  Of course, jazz had existed before Bird and Diz were playing what they played, so they were playing  what they knew best, what they used to play before Diz and Bird came on the scene with this epochal music.

TP:    What did they add rhythmically?

GOLSON:  Well, on that tune you hear the bass drum on every beat.  BOOM-BOOM, BOOM-BOOM, BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM.  That doesn’t happen so much now.  The more you do a thing, the less it means.  Now when the bass drum is played, it’s played a little lightly, and when you accent certain things, then it means something.  But if you have it BOOM-BOOM’ing all the time, then you really  have to hit it hard, and it would be overwhelming.  Things like that.  The bass selection of notes, the notes then on the bass were thumps, THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP.  You played them, and they died immediately.  I call it the rubber band sound.  You hear Ron Carter, Ray Drummond, Rufus Reid, they play those notes like they don’t want to die.  They ring fully until the finger touches the string to play the next note.  They ring.  They fill up.  It gives you a different feeling when you’re playing with these kind of players, too.  And it makes the music sound different.

TP:    Now, when you were a kid, listening to this for the first time, going to the Earle Theater to hear Bird and Dizzy, what kind of records  were you listening to and assimilating?

GOLSON:  I was listening to Lionel Hampton.  Arnett Cobb, he was my hero.  He was the one that was responsible for me picking up the tenor saxophone.  That’s where we were.  If anyone knows about the Lionel Hampton groove on “Flyin’ Home,” to me, that was the epitome of saxophone playing.  That was the epitome of what a big band could do other than Duke Ellington.  I didn’t understand everything he was doing, but I knew it was something unusual, and I liked it.  But I liked Lionel Hampton better at that time.  It just had a certain spirit for me.  I was coming into it not really knowing much about jazz, and it was one of the things that first struck my fancy.

TP:    How did you pick up on the new bebop records?  Was it word-of-mouth among your peer group?  You heard it on jukeboxes?  On the radio?  How did you become aware of it?

GOLSON:  It was the strangest thing.  By accident, really, there was a place in Philadelphia that sold used records, records which had been played on the jukeboxes.  It was 78′s.  Though they were only 37 cents brand-new, you could go and buy these used records for a dime apiece!  I saw this thing, the very first one was “Billie’s Bounce” and “Now’s the Time.”  I’d never heard of Miles Davis.  I’d never heard of this fellow called Charlie Parker.  Only 10 cents!  I figured, after all, I couldn’t lose anything.  So I bought it.  And I took it home, and I put it on, and I listened to it — and it was the strangest music.  Had I wasted my dime?  It was quite unlike the things I had been hearing before.  But the more I played it, the more I began to like, not really understanding what it was all about.  So in the middle of all of this, I got a chance to hear Bird and Diz, not even really knowing who Bird was.  This guy dressed in a double-breasted pinstriped suit with all the buttons buttoned, and it looked too small for him — it looked like he was going to explode in it!  And when he bent over to make that 4-bar break in “A Night In Tunisia,” I almost fell out of the balcony.  John and I were grabbing at each other.  We’d never heard anybody play like that before.

TP:    Did he have a big-big sound, Charlie Parker?

GOLSON:  Yes, he had a big sound.  And the things that he played… John Coltrane was playing alto at that time.  He was into Johnny Hodges!  That’s where he was.  I was into Arnett Cobb.  And to hear Charlie Parker come out and play that 4-bar break by himself… Man, we were going crazy!  What was this all about?  How could we get close to this music?

But there was another fellow who came along.  I had been into Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas and Lucky Thompson and Ben Webster and Arnett Cobb.  He was such an aberration.  He was so different  that he drove me out of my mind, too, and it was the next recording you’re going to play by Diz — “Blue and Boogie.”  When I heard him play…I’m repeating myself.  Inside I was going crazy, my emotions.  Because it sounded so great, so good to me… it’s like meeting the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen in your life or something like that.  It got me, and it started to change my concept about the saxophone.  It helped me to move on.  I told him that once.  He laughed.  I said, “It’s true!”

TP:    Talk about the advances that Dexter Gordon brought to the tenor saxophone vocabulary.

GOLSON:  It was just his approach to it.  Actions speak louder than words… If you just put it on and let the audience hear it… Some will already remember it anyway.  But they will hear that what we’ve just played is totally different.  He’s going in another direction, and I wanted to go along with it.

[MUSIC: Diz-Dex, "Blue and Boogie"; Bird-Diz, "Dizzy Atmosphere"; Bird-Diz-Byas, "Sweet Georgia Brown"]

GOLSON:  When Dexter Gordon came along with that style… Oh, it doesn’t amaze me about him any more, so much has happened since then.  But at that time, no one had played like that before him.  So it had quite an impact, first of all on the musicians, and maybe even some of the people who listened to it.  But it affected so many musicians… Let me tell you what happened.  John was playing alto, and he had begun to play like Charlie Parker after that concert I told you about, in which he and Dizzy were playing together.  He was playing I think in Eddie Vinson’s band.  In that band, there was a tenor player.  Johnny Coles was the trumpet player, because Eddie had come to the East Coast for a string of dates up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and he used all Philadelphia musicians to do these jobs with him.  The tenor player and Eddie had a falling-out, so when the time came for intermission, he laid his horn on the chair (as all of us did for the half-hour intermission), and when it was time to come back, everybody came back except the tenor player, who I guess was pouting.  Nobody knew where he was.  Well, Eddie had to go on playing, so they played whatever this tune was, and in this tune was a tenor solo coming up, so Eddie told John to pick up Louis’ horn.  John was a little reluctant.  He said, “No, pick it up and play it!”  So John picked it up.  And when he picked it up and started to play, who do you think he sounded like?  He sounded like Dexter Gordon.  Not Charlie Parker.  He adopted a new mental attitude for the tenor saxophone.  It sounded so good… I wasn’t there, but Johnny Coles told me about it.  Wherever Louis Judge was, he came running up to the bandstand.  He felt that his career and his job was in jeopardy, and he said, “Give me my horn!”  But John had had a taste of it, and that’s what prompted him to buy a tenor saxophone.  That’s how it happened.  And he started playing tenor saxophone sort of as a novelty, and then what eventually happened, the alto began to fade into the background and he became a tenor player.  Like with lots of other alto players — Jimmy Heath, Don Byas, George Coleman; many of them were alto players.

But Charlie Parker, I have to go back to him again.  Although he was an alto player, and on that concert where I first heard him, my idol was on that concert, Don Byas… But when the concert was over, and after John and I went back and got the autographs (you know how kids are), we found ourselves following Charlie Parker up the street.  We followed him for blocks.  And John was carrying his horn on the left and I was on his right, like kids.  “Mister Parker, how do you do this?” and “What is this?” and “What is..>”  I guess we drove the man crazy, until he got where he was going; he was on his way to the Downbeat club, which was about four blocks from the concert hall, and we were too young to get into the club, so he left us there — maybe he was glad too get away from us!  “Okay, kids, keep up the good work.”  It was up on the second floor.  And we spent the rest of the night just standing outside, listening to this new music being played by Charlie Parker, who was being featured with the local rhythm section, who was Red Garland, Philly Joe and Nelson Boyd was playing bass.  We didn’t know any of them at the time.

TP:    In 1945.

GOLSON:  Yeah, we were kids.  They didn’t know us and we didn’t know them.  We wanted to know them, though.  And we stayed there all night until it was over.  Certainly Charlie Parker influenced John’s playing as an alto player.  But I think he influenced many of us.  Til this day.  Barry Harris sounds like Charlie Parker playing piano!  But he helped take us on our voyage to nowhere, because we didn’t know where we were going.  We didn’t know whether we were going to be successful or not.  But we didn’t care.  We were compelled to do what we were trying to do.  And each day we woke up, it was great to open our eyes, because we knew we had another shot at what we were trying to do.  So we used to have lots of jam sessions.  We used to get together.  And when I heard this playing here, and you could hear the bass drum playing this 1-2-3-4 heavy THUMP… Around that time, the rhythm sections hadn’t really caught up to what Bird and Diz were doing.  As I said, they did later, and it really began to smooth out, and everybody began to go in a similar direction in their development.  But this is what we were living, those of us in Philadelphia at the time.  I didn’t know anything about Chicago or New York or anyplace else, just what happened in Philadelphia.  This is where we were, and these were the kinds of things that were helping to move us forward — all of us.  Jimmy Heath, Nelson Boyd, Percy Heath, Philly Joe.  We were all trying to get into this new music, and eventually we did.  Some of us were successful enough to leave Philadelphia and come to Mecca, New York City, and go to various places around the world, and some weren’t.  I feel, as many of us do, that we were privileged to be a part of that and develop it to a point that we could go out and show our wares, as it were, to people all around the world, and they would appreciate it in varying degrees.

TP:    In the decade before you were able to come and settle in New York, you undertook a comprehensive, extended apprenticeship in many different bands and many situations, playing music for many different functions.

GOLSON:  Oh yes.  Lots of rhythm-and-blues.  We didn’t always play jazz.  None of us.  Because at that time… When we started, it was hard for us, because the older and well-established musicians would ridicule us.  They would say, “Where is the melody?  Where is the bass drum?”  Or “You play like you’ve got a mouthful of hot rice.”  It wasn’t like the musicians today who are older, who encourage the younger ones who come behind them.  I think it’s great when I see the younger ones come on the scene.  I think I and many of the others, probably all of them, try to encourage them.  We got no encouragement at all.  They were always trying to put us down.  Until so many of us came on the scene, that the scene changed!  Time marches on.  But it was a troublesome period for us.  You didn’t get called for many gigs, and we had to take some gigs that we didn’t like.  Gigs where you had to get up on the bar and walk the bar and step over drinks.  I did it.  John did it.  We all did it.  We were trying to survive.

TP:    You spent a couple of years in Washington, D.C., at Howard University, and I know you spent a fair amount of time sneaking out.  But tell me a bit about the Washington scene, which was very active, dynamic and proficient.

GOLSON:  It was during that time.  But then, so was Philadelphia.  Somewhere along the way, they both died.  But during that time they were alive.  They were vital.  It was fertile, both cities.  I thought it was going to stay like that forever.  I was so happy about it all.  Music was everywhere.  There were groups playing everywhere — trios, quartets, quintets — in Philadelphia and Washington.  I suppose, to a large extent, they were happening in other cities, too, in Chicago and Detroit, probably in Los Angeles, New Orleans, wherever.  It was a happy time for us, because more and more people were beginning not only to play the music, but to understand it.  So people were buying records.  People were plunking their money down to come and see the groups that came to appear in the clubs and in the theaters.  Because a lot of the theaters were still open then.  The Earle Theater in Philadelphia, the Apollo in New York, the Royal in Baltimore, the Regal in Chicago, the Alhambra in Los Angeles, the Roosevelt in Pittsburgh.   There were many places where groups and orchestras were still appearing live.  It was great!

TP:    That was also a time when there was a circuit of black entertainers, so it wouldn’t just be the bands coming into these theaters, but a whole show would be coming in.

GOLSON:  A whole show with some of them.  Oh yes, we had to play those shows.  Sometimes it was a drag.  But when you find yourself in a situation, rather than let the situation get you down… Charlie Parker had a way of existing, and his personality always came through, no matter where he was.  He said that everyone had something to say.  They might say it a little differently than you or him, but he had something to say, something of value.  So when we found ourselves in situations, we made the best of it.  We tried to maximize that situation.  Because we were still going through a learning process.  So when we down to the chitlin circuit, when we went through Mississippi and Georgia and we played those tobacco warehouses and so on, it helped us to get our soul together and to find out what feeling was all about.  So it wasn’t wasted time.  It was a part of our education.

TP:    What were some of the bands you played that circuit with?

GOLSON:  Bullmoose Jackson.

TP:    Describe it.  Within that band were the seeds of some of the most consequential music of the 1950′s.

GOLSON:  Bullmoose Jackson was a player who had played with Lucky Millinder.  He got the name Bullmoose because his appendages were long, he had thick fingers, big feet, a long face, his lips were very thick, his head was long.  They gave him that name.  But he had a beautiful voice, and that’s what helped to get him started in his own group.  He had a 7-piece group.  Frank Wess, I think, started out with him.  He had become successful to an extent, as far as it was possible during that time, and he had many recordings out.  When I met him, he was in the process of changing the band around.  So he asked me would I like to join the band.  I had an audition.  I had to come to the hotel room.  The manager of the group was also the alto saxophone player.  They gave me some things to read, and I played it with them.  They said, “Well, you’re not wearing glasses for nothing.  Do you know of a good trumpet player we could use?”  He wanted to change the band around completely.  So I mentioned Johnny Coles, who was an excellent reader.  Then he wanted a drummer.  As I told you, we didn’t always play jazz.  The drummer turned out to be Philly Joe Jones.  Well, he wanted a bass player.  Jymie Merritt was the bass player.  So we had a nice group.  When I got to the group, the only one that he didn’t let go was his manager, who played alto, and the piano player, who was his friend (also from Cleveland, where he was from) who happened to be Tadd Dameron, who wasn’t working that much at the time, so Moose said, “Why don’t you come out and play with me until you decide you want to do something else.”  So when I got there, Tadd was there.  So we had this plethora of new blood, new musicians, and we started to play some of Tadd’s things in between Bullmoose Jackson’s hits.  Then he got me to write things, and at the same time I was picking Tadd’s brains to find out how he arrived at certain things.  And the man was so friendly, he showed me everything he knew, which helped propel me along in the direction I wanted to go.  So I began to write things, and Moose enjoyed playing those kinds of things more than the things he was making his money at.  The group got so good and so diverse, that I remember, when we played a club in St. Louis, I can’t remember the name…

TP:    The Riviera?

GOLSON:  No, that was a large one.  This wasn’t quite that large.  But I remember the Riviera.  But it turned out we had two audiences, the people who came to hear Moose sing those songs, and people who came to know what the group was about.  Now, we never recorded any of those things, but by word of mouth, people began to talk about this band that had Tadd in it, and Philly Joe and so forth.  And we would play his hits, and then we would do our thing.  It was great.  It made it tolerable, because we had a chance to do the things that we really wanted to do in that band, and the leader loved it, too.
So it was great…until it ended.

TP:    The tenor player who as much as Bird affected the sensibilities of many young tenor aspirants performing in the aesthetic Benny Golson is talking about is Lester Young, and the music he cut after World War, after his supposed decline, were hits on jukeboxes in black neighborhoods around the country.  You were checking Prez out a lot, and the next selection is “D.B. Blues,” done right after he got out of the Army.

GOLSON:  It was so popular, that I had to learn how to play what you’re about to play note for note.  When we played locally at the dances… We didn’t play at the clubs then.  We weren’t that great.  But we used to play these local dances, and the younger people would come to the dances, and they always wanted to hear this tune.  My claim to fame was playing this next tune, “D.B. Blues.”  I had no identity of my own!

[MUSIC: Prez, "D.B. Blues"]

GOLSON:  You see what I was talking about.  The rhythm section still had not quite come up to where it is today.  I guess that’s a lot to ask, to come up to where it is today.  But they eventually caught on to what was going on, the spirit of it, and the rhythm did change.  It wasn’t so much hi-hat cymbal as it was then, you know.

But your speaking about jukeboxes in the black neighborhoods before brought things to my mind.  And Coleman Hawkins comes to my mind.  In my neighborhood (they used to call them tap rooms), there was a bar, a saloon, a block from where we lived.  I remember walking by that saloon and hearing this beautiful saxophone playing this tune.  Well, I wasn’t playing then.  I hadn’t begun to play at all then.  I was still playing piano (playing at it anyway).  I later found out that tune was “Body and Soul” by Coleman Hawkins.  And everybody liked it!  It’s not like today, where most of the people like Rock-and-Roll or Rap or whatnot.  Everybody in the neighborhood loved “Body and Soul” by Coleman Hawkins.  Later, when I started to play the saxophone, somebody transcribed it.  Like I said, I was so eclectic then, and we really didn’t have a voice of our own.  We used to play these things at high school and go visit other high schools.  I got this transcription of “Body and Soul” with every note that Coleman Hawkins played.  I played the notes.  Sad to say, it didn’t sound like Coleman Hawkins.  But I would do that.  And as I got older and more mature, I realized what this man was really doing in that song.  And I never played it.  I recorded that song last week with Branford Marsalis; we shared it together.  I looked back and wondered to myself why I had never recorded it.  I don’t think I ever played it.  Rarely did I play it.  I think it’s because Coleman Hawkins did so much with it.  It’s so beautiful, what else could I add to it?  It was just that way.  It was such a classic thing he did.  What else could I add to it?

[MUSIC: Hawk, "Body and Soul"]

TP:    Could you comment on the contrasting styles by the two founders of the main branches of the tenor tree, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins.

GOLSON:  If you noticed, when Coleman Hawkins was playing, he was playing like many of the other tenor saxophones during the day, and that was using vibrato.  During that time they used a wide vibrato.  That was acceptable, because that’s what was happening.  Prez came on the scene, and he used no vibrato.  And they said, “What is this guy doing?  He’s not using any vibrato.”  But he set a new approach to the sound of the saxophone.  Nobody uses the wide vibrato any more.  Many of us play with no vibrato — or, when we choose to use it.  But the wide vibrato is gone.

TP:    Why?

GOLSON:  Well, it fell out of style.  It was out of date.  Style moved on to something else.  We’re not wearing spats any more.  Things progress and go forward.  Well, call it forward or backward.  But it changed.  Everything changes.  Nothing stays the same.  We didn’t look like this twenty years ago.  Did we? [LAUGHS] Yeah, time is corrosive.  Time moves on.  But I think it was for the better.  The wide vibrato was all right then.  I like it better without the vibrato.  However, I like this version of “Body and Soul.”  I am transported back in time, so in my own mind I guess I accept the vibrato because of the way he played, the feeling, the creativity that he evinced in this version of “Body and Soul.”

Prez was a minimalist.  A lot of people thought that Prez couldn’t double up and play double-time on the fast things, or he could just groove.  I was talking to someone about this the other night.  I said, “You know, Prez could double up and run all over the horn.  I heard him do it!”  But he chose to take this approach.  He liked to lay back in that groove and find a pocket.  And it worked.  He was a minimalist.  He made his notes count.  What was it Sweets said about some saxophone player who played a lot of notes? [LAUGHS] Oh, he said, referring to this person… I don’t remember who he was, but he’d play all up and down the horn constantly.  He said, “If he got paid by the note, he could retire early.”  Sweets is a minimalist.  They choose the notes well, and they make them work, and they play the notes with feeling.  When you play a lot of notes, you don’t get a chance to linger on each note and get a full feeling from each note.  It’s only when you slow down on the ballad and you slow down for an appreciable amount of time that you get a chance to emote.  You know what I’m saying?  When you start moving fast, that’s gone.

TP:    Describing phrasing a note that way makes me think of Ben Webster, who we’ll hear on a track from his younger days before he became famous for ballads done in that manner.  Hearing Ben Webster performing “Raincheck,” from 1941, brings us to another aspect of Benny Golson’s work which we haven’t yet addressed, which is the seed of writing and your career as a composer.  The impact of Ben Webster and the Ellington Orchestra.

GOLSON:  Well, writing didn’t take me over yet.  I didn’t have enough knowledge to realize what writing was about at that time.  But I remember when my mother brought the saxophone home to me.  As bad as I wanted the saxophone, when I opened it, I felt terrible, because I didn’t even know how to put it together.  So she packed the saxophone up and we both went around to the neighborhood we used to live in, about three or four blocks away, to a the house of a fellow named Tony Mitchell.  Now, he played the saxophone.  So we went in, and I wanted to know, “Well, how do I put this together?”  He took it out and showed me how to put the neck on the top of the horn, and how to put the mouthpiece off, and how to put the ligature off and put the reed on and put the ligature back on and tighten it, and put the strap around my neck.  “Oh, I didn’t know it had a strap.”  “Yeah, it hangs on the strap.”  And I put it no the strap, and he said, “Okay, now you put it in your mouth and play something.”  Well, I’m like a mule being led to slaughter.  I couldn’t play anything.  I was discouraged again.  I didn’t know what the learning process would be like.  He said, “Wait, let me show you.”  So he put his saxophone together, and he put on this next record that you’re about to play, and he played with it, the way I used to play with  “D.B. Blues” and some of the other things.  It was Ben Webster.  The tune was “Raincheck.”  This is when I first started to become of aware of where I had to go and what I had to do — not being aware of how long it was going to take either!

[MUSIC: Duke-Ben, "Raincheck," "Just A-Sittin' and A-Rockin'"]

TP:    Ellington and Tadd Dameron seem to be the two primary inspirations of your formative years as a composer.

GOLSON:  Duke Ellington first, yeah.  Because this song you just played, I was just delighted with the way Ben Webster played.  But then I noticed the periphery that was going on around him, and that helped to even highlight him more.  Then I started listening to the chords and the clarinet… I’d only heard Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, then I heard how this clarinet, how he worked it in.  I’ll tell you, I haven’t heard this in a long time, but to me it’s like Dom Perignon wine.  It gets better with age.  It sounds better and better.  And music can sound like that sometimes.  Which means that you develop a deeper appreciation for it as time goes on, because there are other things that come into your life that helps to highlight the value of music like this.  It’s like on outdoor elevator.  The higher you go, the more you see.  And going higher is like developing a keen appreciation, more knowledge.  That’s what I liken it to.

TP:    One question before we move to the music of Tadd Dameron.  Ellington’s music was performed for dancers and in concerts and really beautifully produced revues…and for dances.  You, of course, played for many dances in your various journeys.  Talk about the impact of an audience on what you’re doing, and a dancing audience that’s in a particular tempo or a particular groove.

GOLSON:  Well, jazz today doesn’t lend itself to dancing per se.  It can make you pat your foot and do things like that, but it’s not as danceable, I think, as the music we heard by Duke Ellington.  Yet these things are classic things.  His music can be compared with Stravinsky or Beethoven or anybody else.  His music had a lot to say.  There’s a lot going on there compositionally.  His music is not something that you can get too easy as a writer.  He had a certain way of doing things — using the baritone saxophone, for example — that is not easy always to comprehend.  When you heard this music, you always knew it was Duke Ellington.  There was no question about it.  You didn’t confuse him with Jimmie Lunceford or Larry Clinton or anybody.  You always knew it was Duke Ellington.  So he had a certain way of writing that identified him.  It served two purposes — for people to dance by and for people to sit down and enjoy.  In a cerebral way, if you wanted to.  It was that deep.  He accomplished a lot with his music.  It was melodic, it was rhythmic, it was memorable, it was cerebral.  All of these things at the same time.

TP:    An aspect of that pertains to the dynamics of improvising, which is that Ellington comprised that sound out of the sound of the instrumentalists that he brought into his band.  I’d still like you to address the question of how playing for a dancing audience impacted you as a performer, but also bringing the individual personality into one’s own compositional conception.

GOLSON:  I don’t play for dancing audiences, but when I did, it was a different situation, so you approached it in a different way.  People were there to be entertained, and then you did what you did.  I guess a little bit of the entertainment thing came into your playing because you wanted the people to enjoy what you did, so you had to be in whatever spirit the music was in.  Otherwise it wouldn’t make sense.  If you were playing a Mississippi kind of blues, to try to play bebop on it wouldn’t work.  You know what I mean?  The people wouldn’t appreciate it.  So you had to get into the spirit of what was going on.  And once you let yourself do that, even though you were playing music that might ordinarily be an anomaly or an aberration to what you normally did, you could enjoy it, because you threw yourself into the spirit of the moment.  Oh, we used to play these things with the guitars and everything, and believe me, when I got into it so much, when we would go down South (there was no bebop on the jukeboxes), I found myself plunking nickels on “Miss Cornshucks” and B.B. King and you name it, and I was enjoying it.  Although I didn’t want to play it.  It wasn’t my kind of music.  It sort of took me over.  You can get into the music so much.

TP:    Let’s move to today, and the question of weaving the improvisational personalities of your musicians into your compositional conception.

GOLSON:  I can’t tell you how valuable that is.  That’s a luxury that isn’t always afforded us, though.  Duke did it because he had the orchestra.  When he wrote, he knew that Paul Gonsalves or Ben Webster or Ray Nance or Lawrence Brown or whoever it was…he knew they were there.  It was sort of like the couture tailors, when it’s made for the person.  That’s the way his music was.  It accommodated not necessarily the instrument (which it did), but the personality behind the instrument.  Certain people did certain things.  He used that to his advantage, and it made the music really vital.  Now, I do that when I can.  But since I don’t have a big band traveling around and musicians at my fingertips, not even a quartet at my fingertips (it changes so much), I try to do things so it makes sense for whatever setting I’m in and whatever group of musicians I happen to be using.  If I had a group with certain men in it all the time, then… Oh, I’m sorry.

There was one situation, the Jazztet, where we did have certain men.  We had a pianist, Mickey Tucker, who was so well-equipped… I mean, he ad-libbed, he played classical piano, he was a composer himself, he could read anything that I wrote — and I took advantage of that.  I wrote things for him and incorporated it into the group that I would never have written for anybody else.  I remember one night we had to get a sub.  We had a sub for Art when he had to have an operation.  We had a sub a few times for Curtis.  Clifford Jordan and subbed for me.  We had a sub on the drums, the bass.  It worked out okay.  But we got the sub for the piano, it was a catastrophe.  That music was so hard.  And the piano player took it home!  But when he came back, it wasn’t like Mickey.  You know, I would bring things in, and when I was writing I would look at it and say, “My goodness, I’m glad I don’t play piano.”  We’d go to the rehearsal, and the music would be sitting there on the piano, and we’d get ready to start, and he’d say, “Just a minute,” and he would sort of look at it, like looking at the headlines, then he’d sit back and say, “Okay.”  And that was that.  It was incredible.

Now, if you’ve got musicians like that, and we did… The musicians in the Jazztet were like that, and I was able to write things with them in mind.  Toward the end of the Jazztet, I was writing things for the bass, beginning with the bass, rather than having them at the end with some solo — start out with the bass.  And some of these things were difficult.  They were challenges, really; things we never recorded.  We broke up before we did that.  We might go back and record them one day…maybe.  I wrote one thing and took it in.  It had no form, no form at all, except when you got to the solos, when it had to have some sort of form.  When we first played that thing, I remember Mickey Tucker said to me after we started rehearsing it, “What were you smoking when you wrote this?”  It was so different.  But I’m of the mind: Why must everything always be the same?  Why must everything sound the same?  If a person is truly creative, it shouldn’t.  We don’t drive around in 1929 Fords any more.  We don’t wear spats.  Time moves on.  Music is no different.  It has to move on, too.  That’s part of the adventure, too — doing things different.  Some people might not like them, but that’s the way it is.  Those of us who choose to do it, have to do it.  I’ll put that word in quotes — “have to.”  We have no choice.  We have to do that, lest we become counterfeit to ourselves.

TP:    Some reminiscing about Tadd Dameron.  Last time you noted that he was a master of maximizing resources, of making a small band sound huge.

GOLSON:  Yes.  He was a dearth writer, dearth meaning dealing with a small number of instruments.  He was a master of it.  You have to listen to it.  He had a certain way of writing that made it sound bigger and more important than it really was.  That’s what amazed me about him.  But he used everything.  He maximized everything.  He knew what to do with the piano.  He knew how to use the bass and the drums and the two horns.  He knew what harmonies to use, and the rhythms and things like that.  You can hear it in “Our Delight,” which is one of the first things that caught my attention.

[MUSIC: Tadd Dameron, "Our Delight," "Focus"; Diz, "Night In Tunisia" (1946)]

TP:    You had a few comments about J.C. Heard’s drumming.  He played a different pattern behind each soloist on “Night In Tunisia,” and you noted how that affected the total sound of the band.

GOLSON:  I thought it was a different rhythm section, because it sounded different.  He was up on the ride cymbal.  I said, “See?  Now the rhythm section has come along; they’ve evolved.”  And you mentioned it’s the same rhythm section as “52nd Street Theme.”  I said, “That’s odd.” Then the next chorus he’s back on the hi-hat cymbal, which they did a lot then — closed.  Next chorus was the hi-hat slightly opened.  You mentioned that maybe Diz told him to play on the ride cymbal.  I thought, “Diz told the rhythm section a lot of things.”  I said, “You are probably right.”  Then I just reflected years before, it was always the hi-hat cymbal [SINGS TIME ON RIDE]; they only used the ride cymbal to crash!  And when Kenny Clarke left the hi-hat cymbal and went up on the ride cymbal to play tempos, it bugged them to death!  They thought he had lost his mind.  Just like when Prez refused to use the wide vibrato, and things began to happen.  Now, the ride cymbal is what you use when you really want to swing, not the hi-hat.  I mean, the hi-hat hasn’t lost its function.  It still has its place, and it’s great.  But when you really want to swing, you have to get on that ride cymbal.

TP:    How much do you pay attention to what the drums and bass are doing in the composition, particularly in the improvisational sections?

GOLSON:  A lot.  I have to feel comfortable.  If I am going to play, I have to feel comfortable.  And when I listen to other people, of course, they do what they want to do.  But basically, I’ll want to swing.  That’s what it’s all about.  It’s not just notes.  Notes must have spirit, lest they become merely notes, documentations of pitch — and we want to go way beyond that.  We want the music to have some feeling.  We want it to swing when it’s supposed to swing.  We want it to do other things when it’s supposed to do other things.  On a ballad when you go to the brushes, then that has a certain feeling.  If it’s got a little raunch to it, then you might play a shuffle.  Art Blakey was one of the few drummers who could make the shuffle swing.  Incredible!

TP:    The next set will focus on musicians who relate to the music we’re discussing, John Coltrane and Hank Mobley, who preceded Benny in the Jazz Messengers.

GOLSON:  John had an insatiable thirst for moving ahead.  Even as young teenagers, he was always two steps ahead of the rest of us.  I remember when he started talking about augmented chords, and we said, “What?”  Then when we came to comprehend what augmented chords were about, he was somewhere else.  It turned out that wherever we wanted to go, he had been there before we were there, and gone somewhere else.  He used to employ Spartan-like practice; especially as he got better, he practiced more, believe it or not.  As some of the rest of us got better, we practiced less.  But he practiced… We used to live two blocks apart in New York.  When you went to his house, if his wife wasn’t home, you couldn’t get in, because he wouldn’t stop playing.  He would play all day, and when he went to the gig at night, he would get on stage and play.  And during intermission, he would practice the whole intermission in the men’s room, and then come back.  McCoy said he practiced like a person who had no talent.  But we know he had so much talent.  And with that kind of practice and being as exceedingly talented as he was, we could see why he was able to soar above the circle of the earth in unoccupied air space.  And that’s where he was.

He went through phases, just like Picasso did.  The pointillism, the Cubism, the Blue period and so forth.  He went through periods on his saxophone.  I remember them.  When he first picked up the tenor, he sounded somewhat like Dexter, as I mentioned.  But then he went to a style, when we were playing together with Johnny Hodges, around ’54… I don’t know how to describe it.  Sort of a hopping-skipping style.  I don’t think he recorded when he was playing that way.  Then we weren’t so close as we were, because we went our separate ways, and I didn’t see him quite as often.  But I would hear him from time to time.  I remember he came by my apartment once in New York, and I hadn’t heard him in a long time.  I had heard one or two things Ornette Coleman was doing, and I said to him, “It sounds like maybe you’re doing some of the same things Ornette is doing.”  And he quickly said, “Oh, no.”  He didn’t want to be linked there.  And as it turned out, he wasn’t.  He was doing  something completely different.  Each time I’d hear him, he was doing something different.  And all of it was exciting.  He had an extremely large whatever, a voluminous bag that he could reach into and pull out all sorts of things.  It was bottomless.  Because until the time he died, he was always bringing new things into his life via the horn.  Not all of us can say we can do that.  We might change a little here and there.  But I’ve heard him make major changes, change directions.  And most of it was exciting.  Some of it I didn’t understand.  But not all of us understand everything that goes on.

I remember when he started to change, some of the things he was doing were raw.  When he was with Miles, I remember I went to see him once at the Blue Note in Philadelphia.  He had been talking to a trumpet player called Calvin Folks, and Calvin was trying to explain something to him.  In this guy’s mind… He was so open to everything, he wanted to absorb everything and distil it, use what he could and whatnot.  So he was playing with Miles, and right in the middle of a solo… Oh, I have to say this.  The trumpet player was sitting right at the bar, and the bandstand was in the middle of the bar.  So he was looking right down at the trumpet player.  He took his horn out while the band was swinging, and he said to him, “Do you mean like that?” [LAUGHS] I guess he nodded his head or whatever, and then he continued on playing.  But he was always learning.  And he listened constantly.  He didn’t just listen to himself.

TP:    Sounds like he made every performance situation as much a laboratory…

GOLSON:  That’s a good analogy.  You’re absolutely right.  On this, just notice.  This is not one of those complicated tunes.  Things don’t always have to be complicated to be meaningful.  Notice what he does with just a simple structured tune.

[MUSIC: Coltrane, "Good Bait"]

GOLSON:  You heard what he did with that simple tune.  He made it his own.  I mean, he had his signature all over it.  But now, one doesn’t have to play an abundance of notes for it to be meaningful.  I’ve said that about Sweets and some other people, and I think about another saxophone player.  This fellow was probably one of the most melodic saxophone players on the jazz scene.  He wasn’t known for running all over his horn, though he could.  I’m speaking about Hank Mobley.  I remember, I took some music to a recording session.  This guy was such a natural and had such a great ear.  He could read changes and things like that.  I took this tune (I don’t remember what it was) to Rudy Van Gelder’s, and they were reading the melody down, because they were unfamiliar with it.  When it came time for a solo, I said, “I guess he’s really going to scrutinize the chart now.”  He closed his eyes and reared back.  He never looked at the music.  He just heard what was going on, and played his feelings.  He was playing from the heart.  What more can you ask for?

TP:    He was also a prolific composer.  Maybe they were ditties, but they were all distinctive melodies and structures.

GOLSON:  Yes.  I don’t usually like ditties.  But Monk was a profound writer of ditties, and so was Hank.  He had a tune, “This I Dig Of You,”  Listen to what he does on it.  He doesn’t run all over the horn.  You don’t have to.  Some of the profoundest things that are said, are said with fewer notes — or fewer words, if you will.

[MUSIC: Hank Mobley, "This I Dig Of You"; Benny Golson, "Turning Point"]

TP:    In the liner notes it says you met Jimmy Cobb when you were at Howard in 1948.

GOLSON:  Yes, we played a gig with a guitar player who was later to become the guitar player with the Clovers — “One Mint Julep.”  That’s where we met, at this gig at a nightclub called the Liberty, in northwest D.C.

TP:    We’ll hear Joe Henderson, from the next generation back of Benny, who was already an accomplished professional with vast experience by the time he arrived in New York at 25 years old in 1962.

GOLSON:  You’d better believe it.  He was sounding good to me the first time I heard him.  Kenny Dorham told me about him.  He’s from Lima, Ohio.  I tease him about that, because it smells like sulfur there all the time.  But the first time I heard him, he sounded great!  He had it together.  That was a long time ago.

TP:    He and Wayne Shorter are the two saxophonists after John Coltrane who had a huge impact on subsequent generations.  Would you talk about the dynamics of his style?

GOLSON:  Like some other saxophone players, Joe is not afraid to take chances.  And he has enough facility to carry out the things that enter his mind.  He’ll be going in one direction, and all of a sudden he’ll dart and do something.  It might sound crazy, but it fits into the scheme of things, the overall tapestry of what he’s doing, and composing.  To a large extent, that’s what people who are playing solos do.  They are composing; composers of a sort.  Extemporaneously.  They don’t get a chance to go back and hone it like someone who is writing a song.  And sometimes that’s even more difficult, to come up with a concept, an overall concept of something that you’re doing that makes sense, and you don’t have time to edit it.  So sometimes things go by that have little mistakes in them, but you don’t look at the mistakes.  You stand back and look at the whole tapestry.  And Joe, it seems to me, has always been able to paint a picture, a picture that made sense from beginning to the end.  And it seemed like he always was going somewhere.  It wasn’t just a solo.  It always had direction.  It was going somewhere and building.

[MUSIC: Joe Henderson, "Invitation" (1968)]

TP:    An example of transcendent technique that never obscures the necessities of the moment, and the poetic drive of his solos.

GOLSON:  Aren’t you profound!  That’s great.

TP:    We’ll hear music by Branford Marsalis and Dan Faulk.

GOLSON:  You’ll notice the tenor players we’ve played today, as soon as you hear them, you know who they are.  They have distinctive personality.  You know the sound of their horns.  Unfortunately, today, many tenor saxophone players get caught up in one style, and it’s hard to tell  many of them when you hear them play.  They can play the heck out of the horns, but the styles aren’t as distinctive today as they were in times gone by.  That’s not a derogatory statement, because they can play the keys off the horn.  But the ones I’ve selected today really have their own personalities, as does Branford Marsalis — who is extremely broad, you know.  He can play bebop, he can play Rock-and-Roll, he can play the New Orleans thing, when he was with Sting he was doing something else.  It takes a lot of ability to do that.  And Dan, who is ascendant; he’s still coming, he has his own style, he’s consequential, he has something to say.

[MUSIC: Branford, "Just One Of Those Things"; Dan Faulk, "Barry's Tune"]

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Filed under Benny Golson, DownBeat, Interview, Tenor Saxophone, WKCR

For Jimmy Heath’s 85th Birthday: A 2001 DownBeat Article, and WKCR Interviews from 1993 and 1995

To observe the 85th birthday of Jimmy Heath, a long-standing master of the tenor saxophone and the art of composition, and a keen student of human nature, I’m posting a feature that I wrote for DownBeat on the occasion of a 75th birthday concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the complete transcribed proceedings two programs on WKCR—a 1995 “Jazz Profiles” retrospective of his music, and a 1993 Musician Show with Mr. Heath and his younger brother, the master drummer, Albert “Tootie” Heath.

Jimmy Heath (DB, #1):

Over the course of 58 years as a professional jazz musician, Jimmy Heath has played with, befriended, or witnessed virtually every consequential figure in his field.  So from his perspective, the only possible title for his 75th birthday concert could be, “He Walked With Giants.” Throughout the invigorating proceedings, Heath played the tenor and soprano saxophones with authoritative command, spontaneously composing, conjuring long, lyric lines that he articulated with mellow warmth.  He demonstrated that he breathes the same rarefied air as the legends to whom he paid homage.

Benny Golson, Heath’s friend for most of those 58 years, attended the concert, and was happy to elaborate.  “What’s amazed me about Jimmy since I’ve known him is how he is able to move through chords, not scientifically, but melodically,” says Golson. “He’s got a true tenor sound, and everything that goes with it — the articulation, concept, punctuation and pacing. He doesn’t give you an endless slew of notes. He plays ideas.  It’s like a conversation, but musical, not linguistic. He has a story to tell, and it’s right in tune with those chords.”

Heath is equally adept telling stories with the pen; his oft-covered compositions, which number over 130, plumb essences with a minimum of fuss.  Many appear on a long string of classy recordings with small groups and mid-sized ensembles that balance meticulous orchestrations and soulful, lucid improvising in equal measure. He offered six during the first half of the concert, joined by an array of family (brothers Percy on bass and Albert on drums) and friends (Slide Hampton, trombone; Antonio Hart, alto saxophone; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet) in configurations ranging from trio to nonet.  After intermission, Heath — who cut his teeth in the big band era — was in his element, conducting the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra through a commissioned homage from Wynton Marsalis, his own arrangement of Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite,” and four more originals.

The composer found new contexts for each one.  On “Gingerbread Boy,” which Miles Davis famously reimagined two years after its first appearance (On The Trail [Riverside]), he reharmonized the line, then set up an invigorating tenor triologue with LCJOers Victor Goines and Walter Blandings.  He set up cogent polyphony between the sections on the rich harmonies of “Gemini,” which debuted on a 1962 sextet [Triple Threat] with Freddie Hubbard and french hornist Julius Watkins, but received its most famous — and lucrative — reading on a six-digit-selling Cannonball Adderley album.  There were other highlights.  The LCJO sax section executed a luscious soli section on “The Voice Of The Saxophone,” a dedication to Coleman Hawkins excerpted from “The African-American Suite of Evolution.  And Antonio Hart — a prize Heath student during the ’90s at Queens College — took a virtuoso turn on “Like A Son,” Heath’s tribute to their exceptionally close relationship.

“Jimmy’s tunes are not complicated, but they’re not dumb either,” Golson says. “They are logical and go someplace.  His music has arms and legs.” Heath deployed those appendages effectively throughout the evening, directing the band with a dance-oriented conducting style, replete with well-timed hand swoops, shoulder dips, elbow shimmmies and leg kicks. “Jimmy reminded me of Dizzy Gillespie in front of a band,” Golson states.  “Dizzy would act like he was throwing baseballs at Yankee Stadium…all kinds of things.”
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The concluding track on Heath’s only big band recording, Little Man, Big Band [Verve, 1992, now deleted], is a brassy tour de force with an Afro-Cuban feel. He called it “Without You, No Me,” the “you” referring to Gillespie, who commissioned the piece, and is first among equals in Heath’s pantheon of giants.

“Dizzy Gillespie is my Duke Ellington,” Heath says. “He is the master musician who was my mentor and was accessible to me throughout my life.  From the time I first met him, I asked questions, and he’d give me something I could use musically. He would demonstrate chord voicings on the piano and phrasing on his trumpet.  He’d tap out rhythms and sing ideas.  He showed me how to write in 3 or 5 or 7, and still syncopate in a way that’s jazz as opposed to straight classical writing.  With his whole being he was music, and I always wanted to be just like him.”

Gillespie came of age musically in Philadelphia in the mid-’30s, while Heath and his brother Percy were growing up in a household whose soundtrack spotlighted Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Count Basie, Jimmy Lunceford, Erskine Hawkins and Louis Jordan. Sometimes they heard them at the Earle Theater, Philly’s TOBA outlet.  Heath fell under the spell of Carter and Johnny Hodges, and at 14 received an alto saxophone, which his father (an auto mechanic who played clarinet in an Elks band) purchased for $90 on the installment plan.  He quickly became proficient, learning to play in the marching band at Williston High School in Wilmington, N.C., where his grandparents owned a grocery store, and through private lessons back home on summer vacations. After graduation in 1943 (the “separate but equal” school stopped at 11th grade), he played with local big bands before joining a well-regarded territory unit out of Omaha led by Nat Towles, whose alumni included Buddy Tate and Sir Charles Thompson.

Heath discovered bebop while on the road with Towles. His first epiphany came at a dance hall in Savannah, Georgia, where the band was setting up for a one-nighter. Curious about Jay McShann’s “Hootie Blues” and “Swingmatism,” he put a nickel in the jukebox and heard Charlie Parker for the first time. “I called all the other guys in the saxophone section and said, ‘Man, check THIS guy out.’” he recalls. “We all began to put the money in.”  Later with Towles, he heard the Parker-Gillespie Guild sides (“Shaw Nuff,” “Salt Peanuts,” “Hot House”).

“I didn’t realize it was the same guy I heard on the McShann records until after I quit and came back to Philly,” Heath says.  “Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter were beginning to move into a quicker-paced way of improvising.  But I liked Charlie Parker’s lines, his phrasing, use of alternate notes and undertones in the chords. I always refer to Charlie Parker as a volcano. His playing bubbles for a while before it flows into some wonderful phrase that you can’t expect. He builds in the bottom of his horn, creating this intensity, and then pops out with something that knocks you to your knees. Charlie Parker played what you wished you’d thought of first, the perfect lick and the perfect idea in the perfect place. He was a genius!  And I don’t use that word as much as some people.”

Back in Philly, Heath and his big brother spent intensive time in the woodshed, augmented by long practice sessions with fellow altoist John Coltrane, fresh from a tour of duty in the Navy. The Hodges-Carter devotee began to zoom in on Parker’s style, becoming so adept that musicians outside of Philadelphia began referring to him as “Little Bird.”  The appellation was so evidently welcome that Heath recalls trumpeter Freddie Webster saying, “You come when they call you that, don’t you?”

The time with Towles “sold me on the idea that I was going to have a big band and write some music for it,” Heath states. He began to recruit “everybody in the city of Philly who I thought was interested in playing the music I was trying to write,” eventually assembling a tight, 17-piece bebop outfit that stayed together for two years. Personnel included such budding flowers as Golson (on fourth tenor), Coltrane, trumpeter Johnny Coles, pianist Ray Bryant, bassist Nelson Boyd and drummer Specs Wright; they rehearsed the sections in Heath’s living room, where they ate food prepared by Heath’s mother, Alethia, and performed cabaret and dance functions for black audiences in West and South Philadelphia.  Heath commissioned inexpensive charts from local arrangers John Acea and Leroy Lovett, transcribed Tadd Dameron and Dizzy Gillespie recordings, and contributed his own nascent efforts.

Notorious for its blue laws, late ’40s Philadelphia nonetheless featured a vibrant nightlife, and was a frequent destination for New York musicians.  The brothers met most of them, often inviting them to 1927 Federal Street for home-cooking courtesy of Alethia Heath.

“Fats Navarro and Coleman Hawkins came to my house when they played the 421, and so did Bird, Miles, Dizzy — all of them,” Heath relates. “My mother would invite anyone to dinner who we invited; my parents treated them like their children or friends.  When Fats came, he took out his trumpet and played a bit.  My Mom liked Fats Navarro’s tone better than Dizzy and Miles, and I know for a fact that Clifford Brown was enamored with Fats Navarro, and played something like that until he found his own style. He passed that along to Lee Morgan, who played like Clifford.

“I heard Fats in Tadd Dameron’s octet in the Royal Roost opposite Dizzy when Dizzy had just come back from a successful West Coast tour with Chano Pozo. Fats Navarro was SCREAMING on Dizzy in there.  I mean, they both were powerful; Dizzy was the source of where Fats Navarro came from.  But Fats could play very high, with clear, warm sound. Tadd liked to have Fats play all his first trumpet parts, because he loved the way Fats could sing his melodies.”

But Heath’s heart belonged to Gillespie.  Their lifelong friendship began in late 1946, when the orchestra came to Philadelphia to play a dance, and 55″Percy and I went to the ballroom where Dizzy was playing, and invited the band for dinner,” he recounts. “John Lewis came in a full-length fur coat (my sister called him ‘Fur Coat’ for the rest of her life), and that’s when I met Kenny Clarke and James Moody. Dizzy’s band extended what Charlie Parker had done, incorporating the hip bebop lines that the soloists played into the ensemble. It was more involved technically, with more notes and harmonic extensions of chords and polychords. Percy and I followed the band around with our berets and artist ties, the same as Dizzy and them were wearing. We became known as the Heath Brothers from Philly, and we’d follow the band and stand in front of it wherever they played — in Delaware, the Savoy, or 52nd Street.”

In the autumn of 1949, after a couple of years on the road with Howard McGhee, and a brief stint with Gillespie’s erstwhile collaborator Gil Fuller, Heath got the gig.  During his 18 months with Gillespie, he received a veritable post-graduate course in improvisational tactics and approaches to writing for jazz orchestra.

“When John Coltrane and I played altos in his band, we were amazed at how Dizzy improvised in a big band context,” Heath recalls. “A big band can inhibit a soloist.  Dizzy knew how to draw on the power of a big band and still get all his stuff in.  We’d listen to Dizzy play the two-bar break after the introduction on ‘I Can’t Get Started.’  Everybody has pet cliches and ideas that they rely on.  But as long as I was there, he never played the same thing; he’d make a variation or add or delete something. He was a true improviser.

“Gil Fuller helped me. He insisted on putting excitement in your music, making your introduction command attention — the introduction to ‘Things To Come’ makes everybody look around!  He said that Tadd Dameron’s songs were window-dressing, that they weren’t exciting. They were rivals, of course. I liked them both. Tadd’s music emphasized romance and beauty and feeling and soul; he was very lyrical, like a Billy Strayhorn. George Russell wrote some very abstract things for Dizzy, and I listened to Gerald Wilson also. I also began thinking about small-group writing by hearing J.J. Johnson.  Between knowing them and listening at home to people like Duke Ellington, Sy Oliver and Benny Carter, I went through a trial-and-error period, until I came up with what I had.

Gillespie broke up the big band in 1950 for financial reasons; Heath remained with the pared-down sextet, and finally left in early 1951.  He moved back to Philadelphia and — like Coltrane — became a tenor saxophonist. “When Jimmy switched to tenor, his interpretation of music changed,” Golson states.  “The tenor demanded something else, and he came up to that.  It wasn’t like an alto player was playing the tenor saxophone.”  Heath says that part of his motivation was economic.  “After the clubs hired the rhythm section, the tenor was their instrument of choice,” he notes. “Also, it was impossible to play the alto without playing Charlie Parker licks!  I thought maybe I could find a little bit of Jimmy Heath in there.

“I had begun to like what I heard on the tenor from Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt. Sonny Stitt had the execution of Charlie Parker, he was very clean and precise.  But Dexter had a big warm sound that was compelling.  Coltrane was playing like Dexter at that time, too.  We got records like ‘The Chase’ and all the songs Dexter put his name on — ‘Dexter’s Deck,’ ‘Dexter’s Minor Mad,’ ‘Dexterity.’ Dexter was in love with Dexter, but he was a charmer. And he could PLAY.”

Heath moved to New York in 1952, and spent six months working on day jobs before the union recognized his change of residence. Unfettered, he immmediately cemented his credentials as an improviser-composer-arranger with the Symphony Sid All-Stars, a group comprised of Miles Davis, J.J. Johnson, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke, whose repertoire is documented on a Davis-led 1953 Blue Note sextet that includes Heath’s “C.T.A.,” a bop classic.  During that year Heath also recorded with Kenny Dorham for Debut and with J.J. Johnson for Blue Note, the latter date marking Clifford Brown’s first recording.  He seemed poised to claim his place as the next major voice from his generation on his instrument.  Then he was arrested on a heroin charge, and went to prison for four-and-a-half years.

“I was scheduled to go with Max Roach when he started his group,” he recalls.  “I was scheduled to go with Tadd Dameron when Benny Golson got the gig.  But due to illness, I couldn’t make either one of those.  It happened to me as a result of being on the rebound of a love affair, a temptation to do something to get out of the doldrums.  Then it took on a life of its own.  It deterred my recognition as a jazz soloist; it was the time when small group jazz took hold, and I was not on the scene.  I mean, I was with Miles before Coltrane.  Being off the scene stifled my career, but it saved my life.  Most of those who were out there with me are gone.”

Heath did not squander his lost years; assigned to clerk duty, he had ample time to write and rehearse the prison band.  Upon his release, he moved home to Philadelphia, and signed — at the instigation of Cannonball Adderley and Philly Joe Jones — with Riverside Records, for which he functioned as a de facto staff arranger and led six strong, still vivid albums that reflect an increasingly personal, confident vision.  He moved back to New York in 1964, just as the label folded, and slogged through the late ’60s hardcore jazz recession, reflecting a marketplace that no longer welcomed bebop.

Eight years passed before Heath’s next recording, “The Gap Sealer,” a “variety package” on which he expanded his palette of tones and colors, incorporating soprano saxophone and flute, electric keyboards, African melodies, and funk beats.  In the interim, he took steps to move beyond the “mother wit and intuition” upon which he’d previously depended, studying with Schillinger teacher Rudolph Schramm, whose pupils included Eubie Blake, Mercer Ellington and Jimmy Jones, studying orchestration, string and vocal writing, and extended form composition. These interests began to cohere when, taking advantage of the Modern Jazz Quartet’s “retirement,” he joined forces with Percy and Albert — who had played in tandem on four of his Riverside recordings — as the Heath Brothers.  Signed to Columbia in 1978, they released four strong-selling albums, including the Grammy-nominated Live At the Public Theater, supervised by Heath’s percussionist-producer son Mtume.  And in 1987, Heath took a tenured position teaching arrangement and composition on the faculty of Queens College, creating a highly regarded Jazz Studies program with such luminaries as Roland Hanna and Donald Byrd.

In an effort to provide new material for his students every semester, Heath rejuvenated his big band juices.  “My interest hasn’t waned at all,” says Heath, who recently retired, leaving him time to pursue a performing schedule that might tax a man half his age. “I have three new arrangements — on ‘The Thumper,’ on ‘New Keep,’ which I wrote for Orrin Keepnews, and one that Ray Charles did when Johnny Coles and Blue Mitchell were in the band called ‘Togetherness’ — that I’m trying to get to the copyist now.  If people have heard them before, it was as sextet music.  Whenever you return to your music and rewrite it, you add and change things, and it evolves into something quite different.”

Perhaps Heath played with more energy and stronger attack in his earlier years, but the force of his tonal personality is undiminished. “I try to sing on my instrument,” he says.  “I think all the alto players in my day aspired to leading a saxophone section, and the lead alto players then had to sustain the melodies, play them with a certain tenderness and dynamic range, which you don’t get if you just play in a small group.  If you heard Marshall Royal play lead alto with the Basie band, you know how to sing.  If you hear Benny Carter, you know how to sing a melody.  On a couple of records I did for Riverside, Cannonball Adderley played lead alto — he knew how to sing.  Johnny Hodges was the greatest singer of all time.  He could out-sing a vocalist with words!  Lester Young and Ben Webster could play a ballad with the tenderness of a singer.  Miles Davis gives me the same tingle on a ballad that a good singer does.

“You can’t just be a machine gun and play fast. The school teaches everybody to do the techniques. But there is a certain thing about a saxophone. To me, it should sound similar to a viola. That’s what Ben Webster sounds like on ‘Danny Boy.’ When I write my arrangements on my computer for the saxophone section, I use the violin sound for the altos, violas for the tenors, and the cello sound for the baritone. I love that sustaining quality.”

Heath elaborates on an aesthetic developed from section playing.  “I can get just as much reward from being in an ensemble and liking how they play something I’ve written as from having everybody clap when I play a solo,” he says.  He means it; only one album in his oeuvre, the classic Picture Of Heath [Xanadu, 1975] features him alone with a rhythm section.  “Soloing is great.  But I always wrote stuff for other people to be on the record, too.”

All well and good.  But Heath’s relaxed dance continues to compel.  “Musically, this man is Dorian Gray,” Golson concludes.  “What he does on his tenor belies 75 years.  This man has vision and he’s always moving ahead, which is good.  He makes his musical life an adventure; he goes to the same forest every day, but he doesn’t touch the same trees.  Like anything else — architecture, clothing, medicine — jazz, too, should move ahead.  Jimmy Heath is one of the forces that helps move it ahead. Jimmy Heath is an icon, and he is truly a master.”

[-30-]

* * *

Jimmy Heath Profile (WKCR), 3-22-95):

[MUSIC:  "Picture Of Heath" (1975); "Basic Birks" (1991); "Without You, No Me" (1992); w/Lee Morgan "Bruh Slim" (1962)]

TP:    You’ve brought along a number of recordings, including that last date with fellow Philadelphian Lee Morgan at Birdland in 1962, which you wanted to speak about.

JH:    Well, Spanky DeBrest and Albert Heath are also Philadelphians, so there are four Philadelphians on the record, along with Barry Harris.  The other thing is that it wasn’t recorded to our knowledge,  This is a bootleg record that somebody taped off the radio and eventually put it out.  So we weren’t paid for the record at all.  Then the man asked me to do the liner notes on it, and I did those, and he paid me for that.  But I’ve never been paid for the recording.

TP:    Let’s talk about the Philadelphia days, which we’ve done on past shows, but I think we can do it again.  Music in your family, your coming-up as a musician and your beginnings in music.  How did you come to playing the reeds?  Was music in the home?  Was it there for you?

JH:    Oh, yes.  Our parents, Percy, Senior, and Alethia(?), were dedicated to our music, and had recordings in the house of all the top Black artists of that time — and White.  But they had Duke Ellington, Erskine Hawkins, Basie, Benny Carter, and other people who I heard.  They offered each one of us boys…and my sister; they offered her to play an instrument, and she took piano for a while, then stopped.  Percy took violin, and played it in the junior high school orchestra.  When they asked me what I wanted to my play (my father was a clarinet player, and my mother sang in church choir), I said I wanted to play the alto saxophone, after hearing Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter.  My father bought me an alto saxophone for ninety-some bucks; it took him a year or more to pay for it…

TP:    That was during the Depression.

JH:    Yes, it was!  It was around 1939 or ’40, somewhere like that.

TP:    So you started on the cusp of being a teenager.

JH:    Yes, I was 14 when I got it.

TP:    But you’d been absorbed in music, I guess, all your life through hearing it in the home and so forth.

JH:    Yes.  My father and mother had a friend who had a record shop.  And anything new that came out, we were informed of it by our friend who ran the record shop.  One of my favorites was always Erskine Hawkins and Louis Jordan and people like that.  We had those records in the house, and we heard that all the time, so that’s the music I was raised hearing besides, you know, church, Gospel Music.

TP:    Were you taken to the theaters in Philadelphia to hear the bands coming through when you were young, or did that start later for you?

JH:    No, my father used to take us to hear the bands at a theater on South Street.  I can’t remember the name of it, I was so young.  Percy probably remembers better than I about this occasion, but Duke Ellington was there, and he took us to meet Duke Ellington.

TP:    Do you have any memory of the occasion?

JH:    Well, the only thing I remember is that he touched me on my head and said, “Hi, sonny.”

TP:    Did your father play professionally at all, or was it an avocation for him?

JH:    It was an avocation.  He didn’t play professionally.  He was an auto mechanic, and got his clarinet out of the pawn shop on weekends and played with the Elks marching band.  He had a few little jazz licks he used to play around the house, you know, but he wasn’t a professional.

TP:    I’d like to talk about your education on the instrument as well.  Who were the first people who gave you tuition on the saxophone?

JH:    Well, I was going to school in Wilmington, North Carolina, and I started when my father gave me that saxophone.  That’s where I began to play, and I began there in high school and played in the marching band, playing for all of the football games and what have you.  I used to go back to Philly in the summer and take private lessons from a couple of different people.  One man was named Terry, Mr. Terry, who was into the Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter sound.  Then I studied with another man, Paul Amati(?), who was connected in some way with the Philadelphia Orchestra.  I don’t know what he played, and I don’t remember what instrument he played, but he taught me alto saxophone.

TP:    Was there a particularly good band-master at the high school you attended?  Which, by the way, was what high school?

JH:    Williston High School in Wilmington, North Carolina.  The band-master liked Jazz a lot, and he started a Jazz band along with the marching band.  So that was my first introduction to playing in a Jazz band, in high school.

TP:    The lessons must have stuck, because you obviously became intensely attached to music and involved with it, and by the time you were 19 or 20 you were involved in a big band of some note in the Philadelphia area.  I’d like to discuss these years of development, what you listened to, and your progress in music let’s say between 1940 and 1945.

JH:    Well, it was the big band era when I got out of high school and graduated in 1943.  I played with the big bands around Philly.  Then I got a gig with a band in Omaha, Nebraska, led by Nat Towles.  Nat Towles’ band was a territorial dance band in the Midwest, and he had arrangements by Wild Bill Davis, the organist, he had some by Sir Charles Thompson.  These people had already been in the band before me, and they left a few examples of their writings with the band.  We played a lot of stock arrangements, of course.  That’s where I met my friend who I visited yesterday, Billy Mitchell.  We were in that band together in 1945.

Leaving that band, I came back to Philadelphia, and then decided to start my own big band.

TP:    Describe the scene in Philadelphia during your last couple of years of high school, before you went out on your own as a professional musician.  Were there a number of good local big bands?

JH:    Well, there were several big bands.  The Frankie Fairfax Big Band, the one that Dizzy had played with when he was in Philly.  Jimmy Gorum(?) and Mel Melvin, there were several bands…

TP:    Talk about these people a little bit.

JH:    Well, that’s a little before my time.  I was in school when Dizzy was there.  Dizzy always said, “Do you remember?” and no, I don’t remember when he was there.  I was in school.  When I came out of school, Frankie Fairfax’s band wasn’t the leading band around town.  It was Jimmy Gorem(?).  The first band I played with after coming out of school was led by Calvin Todd, a trumpeter who played like Roy Eldridge and wanted to be like Dizzy eventually — he was a strong trumpeter.  After leaving that band, I played with Mel Melvin’s band, and then went with Nat Towles in Omaha, Nebraska.

TP:    Were there any saxophonists around town who you particularly admired?

JH:    Sure.  There were people around Philly who could play very well.  One of them is still there, and that’s Jimmy Oliver.  We called him the Satin Doll because of his beautiful black complexion.  Satin Doll is still there.  He’s a wonderful player.  Trane, Benny Golson and all of us used to go listen to him.

TP:    You, John Coltrane and Benny Golson were all born around the same time, although there are a few years in between, and the relationship remained close for many years.  Talk about the beginnings of that triangular friendship.

JH:    Well, Benny is just a little younger.  Trane and I are actually the same age.  Trane was born on September 23, 1926, and I was born on October 25, 1926, one month later.  So Benny was younger.

I came into contact with Coltrane when he came out of the Navy, and I had this band, and I asked him did he want to play in my band.  He said, “Yeah.”  We both were playing altos at that time.  Benny came in the band a little later playing tenor.  But Trane and I were hanging out and transcribing as much Charlie Parker and Dexter and the cats that we could hear.  The beboppers had come out.  After leaving Nat Towles, the Bebop Era was in full bloom.  So that’s what we were about.  That’s what my big band was about.

TP:    Had you been onto the records from the very beginning when they came out in 1945?

JH:    Yes.  When I was with Nat Towles on the road I first heard “Swingmatism” and “Hootie Blues” by Jay McShann, and then later, when I heard “Shaw Nuff” and “Hot House” and that stuff, I didn’t make the connection that it was the same person until later.  But I do know that the altoist just knocked me to my knees — and that was Charlie Parker, of course.

TP:    Were you sort of waiting to hear Charlie Parker at that time?

JH:    Well, no.  Because I was satisfied with Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter!  But he was so overwhelming until he just took me and everybody along with him to follow his tradition in music.  Dizzy always said that he was a person who had it all made when he met him — he had the style.

TP:    He took you by storm.

JH:    Yes, he did.

TP:    Well, I’d like to talk about your arranging, because we have cued up the earliest recorded arrangement of yours, from 1949; your first recording was with Howard McGhee in 1948, where you played some alto and baritone.  Talk about the big band you set up in Philadelphia after leaving Nat Towles.

JH:    I used to go to Earle Theater and hear big bands all the time.  I used to go hear everybody’s band.  I liked the big band sound.  I was trying to learn how to write when I was with Nat Towles, but I never wrote anything for that band, so when I got home I was sold on the idea that I was going to have a big band and write some music for it.  This particular arrangement that you’re going to play is one that I had written for my band in Philadelphia, but we never recorded.  So Gil Fuller, who was one of my teachers and helped me to edit this arrangement and get it together, put it on a record that he made.  It’s very comical.  The vocal is by Gil Fuller, because the vocalist didn’t show up at the record date, and he decided he was going to sing it.  It’s a standard called “Mean To Me.”

TP:    Before we play it, though, I want you to talk a little more about your early writing and efforts at composing.  For instance, what is the earliest composition of yours that became part of what we know as the Jimmy Heath composition book?  Can you put your finger on that?

JH:    Well, I think the first composition that would give me any recognition was probably “C.T.A.”  Before that I had written one for Howard McGhee.  It was a Blues, and I thought I had written it, but actually it was a Charlie Parker lick ended by a Fats Navarro lick on the end — so I didn’t really compose anything!

TP:    In the big band that you led in Philadelphia, were you writing your original compositions or were you doing arrangements of other material, or playing other arrangers’ material?

JH:    I was playing other arrangers’ material, plus we were all trying to transcribe Dizzy’s stuff from the big band records he put out.  I had a guy named Leroy Lovett, who was a great writer, and Johnny Acea, who played with Dizzy’s band.  He played trumpet, tenor and piano.  He was a Philadelphian who was very versatile, and an arranger.  So I was last on the totem pole as far as writing for my band!

TP:    But you were going through all this material, organizing it and getting inside of it, a very good practical education for an aspiring arranger of music.

JH:    Well, all of my arranging skills were very practical in that sense, that I learned from my peers, until later when I started to study and take lessons.

TP:    Well, let’s begin this next set of music going back about forty-five years to July 11, 1949, the Gil Fuller Big Band, with Gil Fuller singing “Mean To Me.”

JH:    Wshew!

[MUSIC:  G. Fuller/J. Heath, "Mean To Me" (1949); Miles/J. Heath, "C.T.A." (1952); J.J./J. Heath, "Capri" (1953)]

TP:    You said that shortly after “Mean To Me” was recorded, you joined Dizzy Gillespie’s big band, embarking on a very intense four or five years in the center of the New York Jazz scene.

JH:    Yes.  There was some controversy between Gil Fuller and Dizzy at the time, after having written all the stuff he had written, all the things like “Things To Come”… At least he orchestrated those things with Dizzy’s ideas on a lot of occasions.  But he was a great orchestrator.  So when he and Dizzy kind of came to a parting of the ways, he started a band in competition with Dizzy’s band, and that band is the band that you heard.  He also had Moody in one of those bands after he left Dizzy.  We had a battle of music, actually, with Dizzy’s band at the Audubon Ballroom.  After that competition, or battle of the bands, or whatever you may call it, Dizzy became more interested in me, and I joined his band after that.  He knew I’d had the band in Philly, and that we were playing his arrangements and all that.  Then, when we had the competition… Trane and I both eventually got with Dizzy about a month apart in 1949, in the Fall.  I think we made that record in August.

TP:    During the years you were running the big band, 1947-48-49, so many talented young musicians were active in Philadelphia, like Philly Joe Jones and Red Garland.  Talk about some of the musicians who were working around Philadelphia during that time.

JH:    Well, Red and Philly Joe were around Philadelphia playing with Jimmy Oliver, “Satin Doll,” on gigs, and with others.  So they were doing more small group things around town.  Red Rodney was there.  Johnny Coles played in my band.  Ray Bryant played piano in my band.  Nelson Boyd was my bassist.  Percy, who had just gotten out of the Service, hadn’t really become familiar enough with the bass to play in the big band, to read the charts and everything.  He had been a violinist, and then went away into the Service.  So used Nelson Boyd, who became Miles’ bass player.  So the band was full of budding flowers.

TP:    Beautifully put.  In what venues were the flowers allowed to bloom somewhat in Philadelphia?  Did the band have a fair amount of work in those couple of years?

JH:    Well, we had cabaret parties and dances to play.  That’s what presented a problem, because we were playing Bebop, and people didn’t dance so readily to that.  That’s how I met my drummer, Specs Wright, who eventually played so well that people did start to dance to my band.  See, I didn’t have Philly Joe.  I had Specs Wright playing drums.  Specs Wright was an excellent reader, and he could play… He taught Philly eventually, and he played with Cannon, and Dizzy… I got him the gig with Dizzy, too, when I got with the band.

TP:    What were the main clubs in Philadelphia where the top stars would come through town?

JH:    Well, there was the 421 Club, the Showboat, Ridge Point.  This was a little before the Blue Note and Pep’s.  There were some other clubs that are not as famous.  Pep’s and the Showboat became famous Jazz clubs, where the national artists would pass through.

TP:    So Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young would all work at the Showboat or the 421 Club.

JH:    Eventually.  But there was one in Philly that black entrepreneurs owned, called the Zanzibar.  I heard Lester there with his quartet.  I heard Coleman Hawkins and Fats Navarro together there with a quintet.  Philly Joe and Percy, when he started playing, worked at a place called the Ridge Point.  Trane played up there with them on a gig; he was switching to tenor at that time.  The tenor was the instrument of choice with a small group, not the alto.  The tenor always was the fourth voice hired after the trio.

Then there was the Down Beat Club, which was a very important club.  That’s where I heard Charlie Parker and Miles, and Duke Jordan and Max and Tommy Potter.  That was the occasion when I loaned Charlie Parker my saxophone, because his was in pawn.  He would come to Philly in the afternoon, or in time for the gig, and I would meet him at the gig and take my horn to the Down Beat Club, and let him play it all night, and then I would take it back home, because he would commute back to New York and come back the next night.  I did that for six days.  Charlie Parker playing my horn, I was like a kid in the candy store — it was a dream come true.  I would take the horn into the cellar at my family’s home in the day-time, and he would leave his Brillheart white mouthpiece on the horn and everything, and just split at night.  I would take out the horn, and try to see if some of those beautiful lines were left in the saxophone — which I found out they were not!

That went on for a week.  Then on the weekend, I had a gig with the big band, and Charlie Parker came and played with the big band — and Max.  They sat in with my band on this occasion.  It was a benefit concert for a tragedy that had happened to a kid, a streetcar accident or something, and Charlie Parker played my horn in front of my band.  This photograph is legendary, and it’s around, where Trane has a cigarette in his hand, he’s looking at Charlie Parker, and he’s about to burn his hand and his mouth is wide open.  That’s one of the main photos I show all my students, to show them that the saxophone did not start with Coltrane!  There’s somebody before him.  It’s a continuum.  That was one of the memorable occasions of my life, to have Charlie Parker play my horn for a week, and then come by and sit in with my band.

TP:    It seems to me, as inspiring as Bird was to you and Coltrane, he was also, paradoxically, a primary reason why you gave up your emphasis on the alto saxophone and switched to the tenor.

JH:    Yeah, Charlie Parker was too rough to try to follow on alto.  So we all assumed the idea that if we changed to tenor and played Bebop, it would be different.  Not realizing that if you’re playing tenor, playing Bebop, you’re playing like Sonny Stitt and Dexter — because they’re playing Charlie Parker on tenor!  So it’s still Charlie Parker all the way.

TP:    It sounds like you and Trane paid almost as much attention to Dexter Gordon at that time as you did to Bird.

JH:    Well, Dexter was the tenor saxophonist who really incorporated the Bebop style.  He and Sonny Stitt were the most prominent.  But Dexter had a little holdover of Lester, and Sonny Stitt was all Bird.  Dexter had something that we liked that was more tenor-oriented.  Sonny sounded like an alto player playing tenor, which was very good.  He was very good and smooth.  But Dexter still had some of that Lester, which was uniquely a tenor quality.

TP:    Now, at that age, 23 or 24, were you still interested in new things, let’s say, that Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young were coming out with?  Or did you sort of put them aside for a while in your concentration on the new music?

JH:    Well, I was very interested in that.  Now, Trane and I had gotten some transcriptions made by Howard Johnson, the lead alto player with Dizzy, of Charlie Parker’s solo on “Don’t Blame Me” and other things.  There were people who were transcribing Charlie Parker and investigating his lines and how he got to where he was.  We all had that.  We were like second-string beboppers in Philadelphia.  We were close to the Bebop scene in its infancy, and we were able to follow through on that same music.  When Dizzy and Charlie Parker started the game, they passed the ball down to us.

TP:    You were part of the sort of second phase of Dizzy Gillespie’s big band between 1949 and 1951, and having performed some of his arrangements with your big band, you were family with his book when you entered.  What was Dizzy’s manner as a bandleader and in rehearsals?

JH:    Well, Dizzy was a wide-open, gregarious kind of person.  He was a dynamic conductor, and one of the best that I had ever seen with a big band.  He sang things the way he wanted them to be phrased.  We also had the music of Tadd Dameron, who wrote on the music if he wanted us to play eighth notes in a certain fashion.  He would write, “OO-DA, OO-DA, OO-DA, OO-DA-U-DA-DO, BAM”  Dizzy and all his disciples and colleagues had crystallized the way they wanted the Bebop music to sound.  So we tried to imitate that.

The only problem I had, Melba Liston was in the band and Gerald Wilson, and Dizzy would get a little upset about attendance or something sometimes, and try to pull out music that he thought we couldn’t handle.  In one instance, we were in Little Rock, Arkansas, to play a dance; Trane and I and Paul Gonsalves I think was in the reed section also.  We hadn’t played “Things To Come” until that time.  We could have won a fight against the audience.  We outnumbered the audience with the band!  So the people would come in and say, “Well, we don’t want to hear no Bebop; why don’t you send Buddy Johnson or Count Basie down here?” — and Dizzy was upset.  So after the gig, just before we closed the gig, “Play ‘Things To Come’!”  And he pulls out this music.  Of course, Trane and I had transcribed some of that stuff, and we knew it, so we made it through.  He was quite surprised that we were able to play the arrangement the first time we ever saw it.

TP:    Personally, was this the beginning of your friendship with Dizzy?  Had you met him a few years before in Philadelphia?

JH:    Yeah, I had met him with his big band.  I had seen him on the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in Philadelphia, I think it was in 1946 or ’45 when they came there, Charlie Parker and Dizzy and Al Haig, Max, and either Curly Russell or Tommy Potter.  But when he got the big band, we followed the big band everywhere on the East Coast that they would go.  Percy and I would put on our berets and artist ties like the band had on, and stand in front of the band, and Dizzy would recognize us: “There’s the Heath Brothers from Philadelphia.”  Tootie was too young to follow around with us then.  But Percy and I would imitate the dress and everything.  And we got next to Dizzy, and I eventually got the gig with the band, and I got Percy a gig with the band also, after!

TP:    I guess that’s around the time when your friendship with Milt Jackson began, too.

JH:    Definitely, and James Moody also — because Moody was in the band that we followed.  And Ray Brown also, who was another 1926 guy from my year.

TP:    What a year.

JH:    Yeah, that was a great year.

TP:    Fine vintage.

JH:    Miles.  There’s a lot of good guys from that year.

So Ray and Bags and Joe Harris, the drummer, were good friends.  Joe Harris is also from the same time, and is still in Pittsburgh.  They were hanging out together.  You know, we just struck a friendship with Dizzy on kind of a platonic basis, I mean, just association, no real serious…

TP:    Interplay.

JH:    No.  Percy had met him before I did, I think while I was with Nat Towles.  Percy was just out of the Service with his Lieutenant’s clothes on.  When I came home from Nat Towles, we chanced upon Dizzy coming in town, and Dizzy said, “Hey, Lieutenant!”  He called Percy “Lieutenant” because he was a fighter pilot and a Lieutenant, and he respected that.  I said, “Man, I thought you knew Dizzy.”  I got the gig with Dizzy first, and got Percy the gig.  I thought Percy knew him, but Dizzy knew him as being one of the early fighter pilots from World War Two.

TP:    That’s when you and the other young lions of the time would gather and play sessions and small group dates around New York and other places.

JH:    Well, the sessions were a big thing, the jam sessions during that time.  Everybody, all of my peers, were trying to learn how to play Bebop.  We would go either to Johnny Coles’ house or the Heaths’ house, and gather and try to learn all the songs we heard on the records.  Ray Bryant would be there, or Dolo Coker on piano, or once in a while Red Garland would come in.  But Philly or Specs Wright and Golson, Trane, we would all go and meet together and have these tremendous jam sessions.  Our mothers were very nice people.  Johnny Coles’ mother would fix Kool-Aid and sandwiches, and my mother would do the same.  So we had like a Jazz family in Philadelphia.

TP:    But after coming to New York and joining Dizzy Gillespie, you did various small group things in New York and the surrounding area with Milt Jackson or Miles, so forth and so on.  When did that start?

JH:    Well, I wasn’t privy to the jam sessions in New York as much.  When I got to New York, I was working with a band, so I wasn’t attending so many jam sessions.  Before I got with Dizzy, I remember coming to New York to go to Minton’s, and that was an occasion.  Well, my first gig in New York was actually with Howard McGhee at the Three Deuces.  That was an occasion where Hank Jones played the piano.  Hank Jones took me to his house and played “Cherokee” through the keys after the gig, and I was floored by that, that this what we had to do to be around New York to perform.  You had to learn everything in all the keys, because the guys who could really play would clear you off the bandstand by changing keys, or playing tunes that you couldn’t play.  But since Minton’s was one of the spots where the jam sessions were going, I went up there with Leo Parker.  Max was there, and Al Lucas — I stayed at his house that night.  Monk was there, and Lockjaw.  People like that were playing in the sessions at Minton’s.

TP:    The tracks we heard in the last set of music featured people like Clifford Brown, who came from Wilmington, not far from Philadelphia, so I’m sure you knew him, or of him, and J.J. Johnson and Miles, who were all part… In 1951 there was a Birdland All-Stars tour, and you were put together in a band… Yes, no?   Tell me.

JH:    After.  We’ll talk about that after…

TP:    After a set of music?  Okay, let’s talk about that then. [ETC.] The music we’ll hear comes from Jimmy Heath’s first recording date as a leader for the Riverside label in September 1959, a sextet with Nat Adderley, cornet; Curtis Fuller, trombone; Wynton Kelly, piano; Paul Chambers, bass and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums.  There are five originals by Jimmy Heath on this date, some of which have been played up to this day.  Did you write this material for the date, or were these part of a backlog of compositions that you had beforehand?

JH:    I think these were written for this date.  This was my first record date, and I wrote the material.

[MUSIC: J. Heath, "For Minors Only" (1959); Jimmy Heath Tentet, "Big P" (1960); "Two Tees" (1960); w/ Nat Adderley "Chordnation" (1960); w/ Sam Jones Tentet, "Four" (1961)]

TP:    One thing that performance of “Four” brought to mind for both of us was your friendship with Miles.  You said it was an arrangement that he liked very much, and commented on to you.

JH:    Oh, yeah.  He said, [MILES] “Hey, James, that’s one of the best arrangements I ever heard on ‘Four’.”  So he liked that one.

But before these five, you played a couple of things that I wanted to comment on from the Blue Note series.  One was the Miles Davis record, and the other was the J.J. Johnson with Clifford Brown.  The Miles Davis and the J.J. Johnson date came as an offshoot of the Symphony Sid All-Stars, the touring group that we had that consisted of Kenny Clarke, Percy, Milt Jackson, J.J. Johnson and Miles and myself.  It was called the Symphony Sid All-Stars, and the deejay Symphony Sid took us on the road, and was the announcer.  Out of that, Miles had a contract with Blue Note, and he used most of the people on his date.  Then J.J. did a date, and he added Clifford Brown.

When we made that date with Clifford Brown, the thing about that one in particular that sticks out in my mind is that we played the thing called “Turnpike” that has the circle of fourths in the solo structure.  J.J. had something set.  It being his date and he being a very precise person, he had some licks set that he wanted to get in, and he would fluff sometimes, and we’d have to make another take.  Every time we made a new take, Clifford Brown would come up with some incredible sequences.  At that moment, Frank Wolff, the photographer, and Al Lion, came out of the booth after the cut, each cut, saying [GERMAN ACCENT] “That Brownie, that Brownie!”  And the next thing I knew, they had Clifford in the corner, signing a contract with him.  So that was the beginning of Clifford’s career recording-wise, as a result of the J.J. Johnson record.

TP:    What were the circumstances of the Miles Davis date?

JH:    Well, the circumstances were coming out of the Symphony Sid All Stars.  He used Art Blakey on the drums on that particular date.  But it was all during that same time.  Out of that Symphony Sid All-Stars, there was Percy, Kenny Clarke and Milt.  Then right after that, or during that time, the MJQ started, too.  So a lot of things happened in that period that were kind of related, because Kenny Clarke and Milt teamed with John Lewis and Ray Brown, then eventually Percy, to form the MJQ around that same time.

TP:    Jumping ahead almost a decade, I’d like to discuss the Riverside recordings we heard.  It seems like Orrin Keepnews was using you both for recording dates under your leadership, and also as kind of a house arranger for dates by Blue Mitchell and Sam Jones and Nat Adderley and so forth.  It must have been a very active and creative period for you, because so many of your famous compositions seem to emanate from the years 1959 to about 1964.

JH:    Well, I guess I was considered like the staff arranger of a sort.  Benny Golson did some things, too, during that time, but maybe not for other people’s dates as much as his own.  I think it stemmed from the fact that after a long illness, when I came back on the scene, Cannonball was one of my chief endorsers.  I had never met the man, and he endorsed me with Orrin Keepnews, he and Philly Joe.  I had an opportunity to go with Blue Note or Riverside, and I chose Riverside.  Once I got on the label, I was considered one of the arrangers; all the cats on the label wanted me to write something for their dates, and I did some on different people’s dates at that time.  When I look back in retrospect, there’s quite a few.

TP:    I wanted to ask you about your studies in composition and arranging.  I gather that after your earlier efforts and hearing things first-hand from Dizzy Gillespie and Gil Fuller and so forth, you actually wound studying formally.

JH:    Well, Gil helped me a lot.  He always insisted that you get some excitement in your music.  He said Tadd Dameron’s music was background.  Heh-heh.  They were rivals, of course.  But Tadd Dameron’s music had a lot of heart in it, and a lot of feeling and soul, whereas Gil’s were like “Things To Come,” they were exciting.  But I liked both of them.  Also, George Russell was writing for Dizzy’s band; he was very abstract, a different kind of orchestrator.  So was Gerald Wilson.  Gerald Wilson was writing some of the things for the Dizzy Gillespie band that were very good.  Melba hadn’t started, but she was there.

So listening at home to Duke Ellington and people like that, and arrangers like Benny Carter and people like that, I just went through a trial-and-error period, where I tried things.  Then when the small groups came about, like you heard there mostly, I had already begun thinking how to write for sextet by hearing J.J. and other people who had sextets.

So then I went along with that, with mother-wit or intuition for many years, until I started to study with a man named Rudolf Schramm, who taught the Schillinger System, and taught it at Carnegie Hall, where he had a studio upstairs.  I learned quite a bit from him, how to organize what I had already experienced, and how to edit and put things together.  He also helped me in orchestrating for strings and choir and things like that, and encouraged me to write for larger ensembles and, like, suites that I have written.  A lot of them haven’t been recorded, because it costs a lot of money to record them, and they are not hit material, so the record companies are reluctant to record them.  You know, “The Afro-American Suite of Evolution” or the thing I wrote for a five-piece Jazz group and a symphony orchestra called “Three Ears”, or the “Upper-Neighbor Suite” I wrote for a Canadian 10 or 12 piece ensemble.  Some string things I’ve written.  The Kronos String Quartet recorded my version of “Naima”, and the Uptown String Quartet recorded “Naima” for Muse Records.

But I’ve been writing for all kinds of ensembles. To get back to the big-band writing, that started when I took a position at Queens College as a professor, and I teach composing and arranging there.  So I started to write for the big band, new material for every semester.  That keeps my big band music flowing.

Right here I would like to say that my entire career as a composer has been one of dedications to people that I like, my peers and family members.  Just about everything I wrote is dedicated to a human being that I find exceptional in one way or another.  “Big P” is for Percy, “Two Tees” for Albert Heath, “Mona’s Mood” is for my wife — different people.  Most recently I wrote one for Antonio Hart called “Like A Son,” because he was one of my students and he’s very close to me.  “Without You, No Me” to Dizzy.  “Trane Connections” was for Coltrane, “Forever Sonny” for Sonny Rollins.  I don’t think there’s another composer in the history of the music who has dedicated as many songs and compositions to their peers.  I have no problem with competition or ego that I can’t respect another person’s ability.

TP:    Well, one of your main sources, as you cited before, was Tadd Dameron, and the next track we’ll hear comes from a 1982 release dedicated to Tadd Dameron, featuring the group Continuum, featuring Jimmy Heath and Slide Hampton, another one of this generation’s most distinguished composers and orchestrators, Kenny Barron on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and the late Arthur Taylor on drums, who passed last week, and was a close friend of yours and is missed by everyone in the Jazz community.  We’ll hear “Nearness.”  Any comments on it, Jimmy?

JH:    Well, it’s really now a dedication to A.T., because he really liked this song, and he asked me to give him a chart on it so he could do it with his Wailers.

[MUSIC:  Continuum, "Nearness" (1982); J. Heath/KD/AT, "Nobody Else But Me" (1961); "J. Heath/Freddie/J. Watkins, "The Quota" (1962); J. Heath/Blue Mitchell Orch., "Blue On Blue" (1962)]

TP:    We’ll move out of chronology now, and concentrate on recordings made by the Heath Brothers, Jimmy, Percy and Albert, the three great musicians who came out of the Heath family in Philadelphia.  The first selection will come from a 1975 recording for Strata-East, the first by the Heath Brothers as such.

JH:    I had worked with Percy and Albert on The Quota and on Really Big, a couple of my Riverside dates, so that was the Heath Brothers before the Heath Brothers formal title was adopted by the record companies.  Percy was always with the MJQ, for years, so that left Albert and I, and we worked together quite a bit, and Percy would work with us once in a while when he wasn’t busy with the Modern Jazz Quartet.  But I could use my brothers on recordings, and that’s what I did on those Riverside records.  Then when Percy took a hiatus from the MJQ for a few years, we started a group called the Heath Brothers.  The first record we made was made in Norway.  We were on tour over there in Oslo, and Stanley Cowell was our pianist, and he wanted to document this group on the Strata-East label.  That’s what we did.  We made this record and it was released on Strata East.

TP:    Talk about the qualities that your two brothers bring to their instruments, and their place in the music pantheon.  First your older brother, Percy.

JH:    Well, Percy can walk the bass.  He’s got an uncanny sense of time.  He was the bassist of choice around New York for a lot of recordings.  He’s been on more than I have, I’m sure — and I’ve been I guess getting close to being a hundred records, I’m sure.  But he’s been on many more.  Albert was a person that came along, nine years after myself in age, and he soon became one of the favorites in the Riverside catalogue, and he made quite a few Blue Note records, and he recorded with Trane and Sonny Rollins and everybody, too.

So I don’t know, it must be in our genes.  Our father and mother were wonderful people, and they let us pursue what we loved — music.  We weren’t forced to do anything else.  If you have an environment like that at home, where you are encouraged to play, and you have any talent, then you’re going to play.

TP:    Well, you mentioned after World War Two, when Percy came back, that the two of you spent a lot of time workshopping together, transcribing, listening, performing.

JH:    Yeah.  Well, Percy and I…that’s before Tootie came out of high school.  We even played with Howard McGhee together when I first went to Paris in 1948 in…oh, I think it was April or May in 1948.  We were both with Howard McGhee at that time.  Howard McGhee was the first person to really take us out into the big time, so-called.  He also was the person who took my big band from Philly and took it on the road, and we went to the Apollo and the Paradise in Detroit and some of the theaters.  We played a gig in Chicago, and my whole book, my repertoire got lost in the Inglewood Station in Chicago, so I never saw my big band music again!

TP:    Oh, no!

JH:    Yeah, that was unfortunate.  But we continued to work with Howard in the small-group situation anyway, and record.  He was the first person I recorded with.  And Howard was a wonderful person to be around, a nice man, and he could play real well, and he really liked me.  So that was the essence of the beginnings and being-together of the brothers, Percy and I first, and then eventually the three of us.

TP:    Now, Tootie has a very personal way of swinging as well, and gets a very distinctive sound out of the kit.  He’s very recognizable on your Riverside releases.

JH:    Well, I think he has some of his teacher’s style, and that’s Specs Wright.  All of the drummers liked Klook and Max, but Tootie was close to Specs.  Specs was a very crisp and swinging drummer also, who had excellent hands.  I think he taught Tootie to practice very slow, because Specs was so methodical.  I roomed with him with Dizzy’s band, and he would drive you nuts, because he would practice so slow all day, I mean, sit there with a practice pad and say, BOP… BOP…BOP, and then when he gets on the gig it was like WRRHOWOWO.  It was incredible.  But he knew a system of how to practice.  I think Tootie got that from him.  Also, Everybody liked what Max was doing, and he incorporated some of Max, and Philly Joe was around, and he listened…

We all learned from our predecessors, and that’s the way it should be.  I mean, you learn from the people who came before you, and then you expand into your own style.

TP:    One more question about your writing.  You said you often write people in mind as far as dedicating the compositions.  As far as the musical content, do you write for people you know will be performing it, or does it come out of more your own ideas that are percolating around at a given time?

JH:    It’s not necessarily for the people who are going to perform it, because a lot of times I was the only one to perform some of them!  The song I wrote for Sarah Vaughan, “Sassy’s Samba,” the Heath Brothers recorded it, and eventually the New York Voices recorded it.  They put their own words to it.  But it was dedicated to Sarah Vaughn.  Just like “Blue On Blue” we just heard was to Blue Mitchell.  And the thing we’re about to play, “Smilin’ Billy”, is for Billy Higgins.

So I think about the person’s personality.  You know, Ted, I write down nicknames and expressions of all my friends.  I’ve got a whole list that would be very interesting to literary people, I think, who are interested in Jazz.  Because I think about the person.  Thad’s thickness or Slide’s slickness.  Expressions that depict the person.  I mean, Slide Hampton is a very slick player and arranger.  Thad’s music was so dense, so Thad’s thickness… I’ve got a whole list of maybe about fifty or sixty people that I have coined phrases on what I visualize them or how I perceive them.

TP:    Then that triggers off some sort of musical lines and connections and progressions.

JH:    It’s all connected.

TP:    Let’s start off with part one of “The Smilin’ Billy Suite” — we don’t have time to hear the others — to lead off a set by the Heath Brothers.  In the 1970′s Jimmy had expanded his sound palette, as had everybody in the orchestra, sort of in touch with the times, and on this date you play flute, tenor and soprano saxophone; Tootie plays a double-reed on Part of the Suite, which we won’t hear, but primarily drums; Percy had begun playing the baby bass by that time; and Stanley Cowell plays piano and also Mbira on other sides here.

[MUSIC: "Smilin' Billy Suite, Pt. 1" (1975); "A New Blue" (1978); In Motion, Brass Choir/HB, "Project S" (1979)]

TP:    It does seem that the Heath Brothers enabled you to expand your exploration of tones and colors that began working on in a series of albums for Muse and Cobblestone Records in the early 1970′s.

JH:    Well, I fell in love with the French horn when Julius Watkins started to play the way he did, and I started adding the French horn to quite a few of my albums.  Until today I still like to use the French horn.

TP:    We heard it on The Quota and Triple Threat, those early Riverside dates.

JH:    And on Swamp Seed, the one that you’re going to play with Herbie.  But even the later ones, the Landmark things, I used the French horns and tubas and those instruments.

TP:    Most recently on Old Flames, which you arranged for Sonny Rollins, there’s that brass choir situation, although you don’t appear on that.

JH:    Ah!

TP:    [ETC.] We’ll move back to the 1960′s now, and focus on Jimmy Heath’s final two dates for Riverside, and also a few collaborations with Milt Jackson, with whom you recorded a number of times between 1962 and 1967, and continue to up to recent days.

JH:    Yes.

TP:    In our conversations earlier about the Dizzy Gillespie band, you talked about first meeting Milt Jackson, and I guess you’ve recorded with him since your very first one, in 1948.  I think he was playing piano on those Howard McGhee dates.

JH:    Well, he was on some things.  He was also in that big band thing in 1949 that I did.  He was playing piano and vibes on the “Mean To Me” that we heard earlier.

TP:    Talk about your relationship with him.  It’s been of such long duration and so creatively fruitful.

JH:    Well, yeah.  Even last week Milt recorded one of my songs on his album with the young lions he’s using, Jesse Davis and Joshua Redman and Christian McBride and Benny Green.  So he asked me to write a tune for that album, and I wrote one called “Bop Again.”  I think Cedar wrote one for that date.  So Bags and I, our relationship goes…oh, man, since the late Forties, since he was with… I met him when he was with Dizzy’s band, I would imagine.  So that’s ’46-’47, something like that, until today.  There were times when the MJQ would go on the road, and I wouldn’t know they were back in town if I had depended on my brother Percy, because he would be gone fishing — and Milt would say, “oh, we got back yesterday!”  So Milt and I are like brothers.

TP:    Well, he’s a musician with as identifiable a sound as any that ever played this music.

JH:    We just played a gig with Paul West at the Henry Street Settlement with the Symphony Orchestra down there, doing Dizzy’s music.  Milt and I were on that together.  So Milt and I are very close.

TP:    We’ll hear a few tracks featuring Jimmy Heath with Milt Jackson a little later,  But coming up now is “Wall To Wall,” recorded in 1963 for Riverside on the album Swamp Seed.  This is redolent of brass, with Donald Byrd on trumpet, Julius Watkins and Jim Buffington on French horns, Don Butterfield on tuba.  Herbie Hancock plays piano on this track.

JH:    “Wall To Wall” is from ear to ear.  We all had beards, and I said “We have wall-to-wall rugs.”  And I see you have one, Ted, so you’re right in there.

[MUSIC:  "Wall To Wall" (1963); "Gingerbread Boy" (1964); J. Heath/Bags "Dew 'n Mud" (1965); J. Heath/A. Farmer, "One For Juan" (1967)]

TP:    In our next set, we’ll move to selections from a series of recordings that Jimmy Heath did in the mid-Seventies for the Cobblestone, Muse and Xanadu labels, where the common thread I guess is producer Don Schlitten, who produced all of these dates.  And back to what we said about the Heath Brothers groups, during this time you were really expanding your sonic palette compositionally.  You feature yourself on flute and soprano sax, you bring in a lot of popular rhythms, African melodies and so forth.  Talk a little about your state of mind at this time, and the dynamics that went into making these recordings.

JH:    Well, the Sixties was a turbulent time, and the music depicts what’s going on.  What we were wearing, and what we espoused as Afro-Americans was coming out in the music.  I wrote things like “Heritage Hum”, and along with my son Mtume, we were doing things like “Alkebulan,” which is called “The Land Of The Blacks.”  We were just expressing our views musically with the times, as things were happening.  You know, I came up when… I went to high school in Wilmington, North Carolina, from Philadelphia, and I’d have to get in the Colored coach and all that stuff.  When we got to Washington, D.C., you’d get out of the coach you were in on the train, and get in the Colored coach, and they had Colored water and all of that stuff.  I’m still trying to figure out what Colored water is.  But it was a time when we weren’t getting any respect as human beings, and we needed that.  I think the Bebop Era, Dizzy and Charlie Parker spoke to that in their music in a revolutionary sense, and I was following through on what was happening in the country and with us as human beings on the planet.

TP:    Well, to a lot of people in the 1960′s, your old friend John Coltrane in a certain way symbolized some of the highest aspirations of African-Americans.  I asked you off-mike if you continued to see Coltrane during the 1960′s, and you said that when you were still living in Philadelphia, where you were until 1964, he would still come by your house, and practice and eat between sets at the Showboat.

JH:    Yeah.  Well, he was playing at the Showboat, and he would play these extended sets, playing “My Favorite Things” for 15 or 20 minutes, sometimes a half-hour on one song, then they would take a break, and they would have to go back that evening to perform again.  So Trane, he would practice on all the breaks between the sets.  So the long break between… He was supposed to end at six, and he goes back at nine or something.  Well, he ended up seven or something, played overtime.  Well, my mother’s house was closer than his mother’s house in West Philly.  He had moved by that time.  He would always come down to the house.  I said, “Look, Trane, you could down to Mom; I’ll get Mom to fix something.”  And my mother would fix him something.

The last occasion he did that, he came down to the house, and we talked for a while.  My mother said, “Well, the food isn’t ready, John, because Jimmy just called me.”  He said, “Well, look, Jim, can I go upstairs and practice until she gets…”  I said, “Yeah, go ahead!” and he went upstairs and practiced until the food was ready, ate the food, went back to the club, and played some more for the rest of the evening.  Trane was like that.  He practiced all the time.  Juanita, who was named Naima later, his first wife, said he was 90 percent saxophone.  So that gives you an idea of John Coltrane’s life.

TP:    In our conversation off-mike you told me also that you moved back to New York City in 1964.  I’m sure that must have expanded your possibilities in many ways.

JH:    Well…

TP:    Or not.

JH:    Yeah, well, it did.  I was basically doing things with my own group during that time.  I went back with Miles for a little after Trane left, and I didn’t stay long.  Well, then I was free-lancing around New York until later.  I was still recording for Muse and Xanadu around that time…

TP:    Around 1970 or so.

JH:    1970.  In retrospect, the late Sixties were kind of slim pickings for Jazz.  The other music had just moved in so strongly, and everybody went, the audiences, until they were… Sarah Vaughan told me she didn’t have a recording contract for quite a while during that…

TP:    Yeah, it was a tenuous time and a transitional time, and a lot of the music in the Seventies I guess reflected wanting to get into the mainstream and make some money in terms of the type of music that was being presented.

JH:    I think so.

[MUSIC:  The Gap Sealer, "Heritage Hum" (1972); Love And Understanding, "Gemini" (1973); "The Time And The Place" (1974)]

JH:    [RE: Picture of Heath.] I didn’t write a lot of arrangements for the ensemble, you know, so it was a loose kind of a session.  Plus when the tenor is out front it’s a different ego trip.

TP:    Now, you call it an ego trip.  Why?  I assume you’re talking about being able to stretch out and play at length and take some liberties.

JH:    Well, to me sometimes it’s boring as a musician, as a listener to hear one instrument, and that instrument alone. I’ve fallen in love with orchestration and composition, and I like to hear a lot of different textures and a different sound.  Consequently there are very few records that I really stretched out on.  On the live dates I would stretch out a little more.  Perhaps that’s one of the problems I’ve had with recognition, is that I’ve been prone to let somebody else play instead of me taking the whole show.

TP:    I’d like to talk to you a little bit about your sound and style as a tenor saxophone player.  We talked earlier about your sources in the music, and coming out of Charlie Parker, and then listening to Dexter Gordon and transcribing solos.  I’m not sure how to frame this.  At a certain point, musicians begin to transcend their sources.  Listening back, when do you think your individual sound, your individual voice began to become clear on the tenor saxophone?

JH:    Well, I think simultaneously, with the more knowledge you get about the music and the more time you put in on an instrument, that’s when you begin to find yourself.  Earlier you are always trying to see what has been done before, and you are investigating earlier performers and listening a lot.  There were times in my career, and there are times when I don’t listen to Jazz records, because I don’t want to be influenced by everybody else and their playing.  So I think that’s a way to become your own person.  Also your individual sound has a lot to do with it.  The tone quality that you get that’s identifiable.  You know, you can hear Sonny Rollins, and you know Sonny; you hear Joe Henderson, and you know Joe.  And people who really listen, they say, “Oh, that’s Jimmy Heath” — they can identify me.  And I take pride in that fact.  But there were some times when my friend Dexter Gordon, when I would go hear his group, when I got bored as a listener because Dexter would use the same format.  He would play first on every song, and then he would let the piano player play, and then he would take fours with the drummer or the bass player.  Then the next song, Dexter first, Dexter first.  I guess that’s the way people want you to be, and I’m not in that mode.  So I let some of the other guys play first, I play second, I may… It’s an image problem…

TP:    I’d like to talk a little more about sound, and your sound.  Is there a sound that you were hearing, let’s say, in your mind’s ear around 1953 or 1960 or so, and then you worked to get to that sound, and arrived there?  Is that how it worked for you?

JH:    Yeah, I worked on the sound.  I was listening to Dexter and Lester and Bird, and I think that I kind of incorporated some of their inflections in my playing.  But tone quality, you’ve just got to practice…sound, practice tone.  Whole notes, which is boring.  And you’ve got to do that in order to get a good sound.  Once you get a sound, though, the rest of the delivery is easy!

TP:    Well, one of the hallmarks of individuality for a tenor player within this tradition is “Body and Soul,” and I know on records produced by Don Schlitten, he liked to have the artists work out on this tune.  You can hear versions on his records by almost every great saxophonist of the time.  So let’s hear Jimmy Heath’s version of “Body and Soul” on tenor and soprano from Picture Of Heath, 1975, with Barry Harris, Sam Jones and Billy Higgins.

[MUSIC:  "Body and Soul" (1975); w/ Joe Henderson, "Steeplechase" (1988)]

TP:    We’ll move now to material from a pair of recordings by Jimmy Heath for Landmark in 1985 and 1987, respectively.  From the first, we’ll hear the title track, “New Picture.”  New Picture continues your tradition of a four-brass section.

JH:    I used the tuba and two French horns on this one, and a trombone in this particular grouping.

TP:    Do you approach each album as a project unto itself?  Is there some sort of picture you’re trying to paint with every date that you do?  Is it a function of what you’re working on at that time, and things sort of come together?  How do you go about it?

JH:    Well, I go about it in trying to do something a little different, if I can.  That’s why I have different-sized ensembles on most of the records, and not just the quartet alone.  I have sextets and various different color combinations, with the strings, the cello on some things, flute on some things.  So I just like music.  I love music, and I love all the sounds of the different instruments.  If I could really afford it, or the record companies could afford, I would like to do something with the larger ensembles, too, the symphony, that size ensemble, 40 or 50 pieces.  I just want to explore all of the sound qualities that I can find in my knowledge and concept.

TP:    So it transcends notes.  It’s really ultimately about sound.

JH:    Yeah, and the voice.  I’ve done several things using choirs, and I’m really interested in doing that at this point in my life.  I would like to do something with a group like Take Six or something like that!

[MUSIC: "New Picture" (1985); w/ Purrone, "I Waited For You." (1987)]

TP:    There are certain musicians who can make five hours go by like an hour-and-a-half.  Jimmy Heath is one of them, and he’s been sharing the time with me and with you, the radio audience, in the studios of WKCR, giving a first-person account in this retrospective of Jimmy Heath’s 46 years of recorded music.

JH:    Pshew!

TP:    One more set to go.  But I wanted to talk a little bit about your educational activities.  Because for a number of years you have been Professor Jimmy Heath, and you’ve put together a very strong Jazz program at Queens College, part of the City University of New York.  How long has this particular gig been part of your career, and how long did you work towards that in terms of academic credentialing?

JH:    Well, I’ve been teaching privately for many years, back with Ted Curson, Jimmy Garrison, Sam Reed(?) and other people around Philadelphia.  Then coming to New York at the Jazzmobile organization, and the Housatonic College in Bridgeport, and the City College of New York on Convent Avenue with Ron Carter.  Then in ’87, after an illness, I took a position at Queens College, which is very close to my home, where I have been since 1964.  I have been working at that for many years privately.  The people there saw that I was the person that they wanted to begin the Jazz faculty as tenured people… At least I am now tenured.  When I started in 1987, I was the first one hired full time at Queens College in teaching Jazz music.  I basically got that on my reputation over the years as a performer and composer and traveling person, sort of known personality.

TP:    One thing that’s come out a lot in this past decade-and-a-half is the idea that Jazz can be taught if it’s really done right.  Your generation often had to pick up things by themselves, though not in all cases, because there were a number of formally trained musicians.  Talk about that concept and applying it to young, raw students, and what the students are like these days.

JH:    Well, at that time, like you said, the performers of the music taught at some institutions weren’t allowed to teach in those institutions probably because of lack of degrees, and this is what academia demands and expects from a person.  But somewhere along the line, they realized that some people didn’t have that opportunity, and they still are doctors of their music.  So then the institutions started hiring more people, like Kenny Barron and Rufus Reid.  Some of them have Bachelor Degrees and some of them have more.  But usually it was based on their reputation.  It’s hard to get a position in an institution on just your reputation without the formal credentials.  And I think by the performers getting in as teachers, whether credentialed or not, it has brought a new awareness into the university systems so that the people who are teaching Afro-American, Jazz music in these institutions are the people who have done it.

So the students are very fortunate that they have somebody that is performing all the time that can really pull their coats to a lot of other things that an academic cannot.  They have just studied how this chord goes and this and that, but they haven’t been performing.  They don’t know what the audience responds to… It’s the insider approach.  The students I’ve had have been…they feel honored to be there.  They come there… Donald Byrd was at my school also, and now Sir Roland Hanna is there, and Cecil Bridgewater.  So we have a faculty staff, small as it may be, of performers.  And they have degrees, too, Cecil and Roland.

But it’s just the fact that it’s a different approach to the music.  It’s a personal approach, not from a book.  This is why we have students that are finishing under our direction that are right in the music world, going right out there and performing.

TP:    Maybe fifteen years ago a lot of older musicians were somewhat pessimistic about the future of the music, and I think these fears have been put to rest as many talented and creative young musicians have emerged.

JH:    Yeah.  Well, the one icon that’s caused a lot of change in our music, to me, is Wynton Marsalis.  The image that he has presented and his dogmatic attitude of what he really thinks of our music, Afro-Americans’ music, has caused a lot of young people to follow in his direction.  They want to dress well on the stage.  They play good.  They are clean-cut guys; they don’t deal with no vices.  And a lot of them come out of school.  People like Alvin Batiste are turning out musicians, Nathan Davis in Pittsburgh, and all of this network of people who are in the institutions and qualified performers has come together.

When we were judges on a panel, Dizzy and I, on a Budd Johnson award, we saw so many good young players.  Incidentally, on this particular one, Vincent Herring was the winner.  But Dizzy looked at me and said, “The music is in good hands.”  When we heard all these young people playing the way they are… In my case, at my school, Antonio Hart.  Or I was the chairman of the judges’ panel for the Thelonious Monk Institute when we chose Joshua Redman the number-one saxophone player — and the rest is history.  So there is a coming together of youth and the old vets out there that’s very healthy in attittude, and the music is stronger than ever.

[MUSIC: J. Heath/Mulgrew/Lundy/Nash, "Ellington's Stray Horn" (1994)]

[-30-]

* * *

Jimmy and Albert (“Tootie”) Heath (7-21-93) — Musician Show:

Q:    Jimmy Heath and I have done several shows in recent years, and we’ve talked a fair amount about your activities in Philadelphia as a young musician.  But I don’t think we’ve really spoken too much with Albert Heath about your younger years.  So I’d like to begin speaking with you, if I might.  First, you’re from such a musical family, it’s almost an inane question to ask how you got started playing the drums.  But was that your first instrument?  Was that your first interest?  And with whom did you start playing, when you did start playing?

AH:    Well, the musical influence came from my brother Jimmy, who was always sitting at the piano and studying and learning something about harmony, and he would exchange ideas with other musicians, like some names that I won’t drop right now because I want to stay on the track here… So my brother Jimmy was my main influence, and then Percy started to play much later; he came along later.  But Jimmy was the first and strongest influence in music, in terms of what was called Bebop at the time.

My father was also a major influence, as well as my mother, because she sang in the choir, and my father played clarinet in a marching band.

So I had a lot of music all the time.  There was recordings of people like Fletcher Henderson and Basie and Duke Ellington, of course, and all those big bands that we used to listen to.  My parents used to play the music of Bessie Smith and Mahalia Jackson.  So I got a real good foundation in the music of our culture.

Q:    Now, Jimmy Heath has talked about avidly going to hear the big bands in the theatres.  Were you able to do the same as a youngster?  I know you were younger.

AH:    Yeah.  Fortunately, I was able to see a few bands.  But it meant that I had to kind of skip school to do it.  My parents didn’t know that I was doing that, but… I saw the Ellington Orchestra, and I saw…

Q:    Who was the drummer with the Ellington Orchestra?

AH:    It was Sonny Greer at the time.  And I mean, I was overwhelmed by his appearance and all of the instruments that he was playing at that time.  You know, he had chimes and congas and tympany and bells and all kinds of instruments he had back there in the back of the orchestra.  And he was well in control of everything back there — and I was just like totally impressed by him.  And he had on white tails; I’ll never forget it.  He was, like, immaculate.  And I never forgot that.

Also, I saw Dizzy Gillespie’s band with a friend of my brother Jimmy… For some reason or other… Teddy Stewart was the drummer, and he couldn’t show up for some reason, and my brother had his friend, who was just out of the Service, the military, whose name was Specs Wright, and Specs Wright came in and played Dizzy’s book as if he had sat there all the time and played it for years.  And I was like… You know, I couldn’t believe that, what I was seeing.  So I was fortunate enough to see the Gillespie band.  I saw the Basie band, and that’s about it…

Q:    Was that Shadow Wilson at that time?

AH:    No, I didn’t see Shadow Wilson at that time, but I saw Shadow Wilson at the Five Spot with Thelonious.  So I did see Shadow.

Q:    Well, it’s very important for young musicians to see the older, master musicians so that they get a correlation of motion to sound or action to sound.  And I know that’s something that at that time, with the big bands, musicians really were able to do, maybe more so than today.  You teach.  Do you…

AH:    Yes.  I’m on faculty at California Institute of the Arts, in Valencia, California.  But I think it’s true today also that the younger players… Like, for instance, last night I saw the son of a friend of mine who came down to see us, and he’s a very young person — and I’m sure I’ll see some more young musicians coming down to see us.  And I think the tradition is being passed on to these young people through us.  We’re the old guys now.

Q:    Let’s get back to your younger days in the music.  What was your first gigging experience around Philadelphia?  Who were some of the people you paired off with as a young drummer, and what types of situations were you playing in?

AH:    Well, my first professional performance was done at a place called the Lincoln Post, across the street from where we used to live, which was a marching band — the American Legion is what it was.  And they had a marching band over there.  And somehow, myself and a trumpet player by the name of Ted Curson and a saxophone player by the name of Sam Reed, who were my… We were school mates.  And Sam played an alto saxophone, which he still does today, and Ted Curson played the trumpet, which he still plays today, and is functioning out in the world, playing all over the world — both of them are.  And we had an opportunity to play at this place at night — which was rare, you know, because we were all about 15 or 16 apiece, or something like that.  And some people gave us a chance to play because they’d heard us rehearsing or something.  I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but we did get a chance to play in this place.  And they liked it.  And at the end of the night, we got seven dollars to split up among ourselves.  So that was my first professional job!  And I’ll never forget that.  And the music was horrible.

Q:    What kinds of things were you trying to play?

AH:    We were trying to play what we heard Dizzy playing, and…who else were the guys at the time…?  I think it was basically Dizzy and Charlie Parker, were the Bebop people who were our idols.

Q:    Who were you patterning yourself after?

AH:    I was trying to be Max Roach as hard as I could.  And I couldn’t even keep time.  So you know, it was like terrible.  This was probably the worst music… I don’t see how we got paid for it, I really don’t.  You know, when I reflect back on it, it had to be just awful.

Q:    But what did you think at the time?

AH:    At the time, oh… Well, we got paid.  I thought it was… Oh man, I thought we were doing something!

Q:    Then what were the steps?  Philadelphia was a thriving scene.  There were many musicians who later really made their mark in the world of music.  And I’m assuming that you took your place among them, as all young, up-and-coming musicians?  Was this the case?

AH:    I had an opportunity to play with some wonderful musicians around Philadelphia because of my brothers.  Again, they kind of laid the way for me, and they made friends, and people would come to our parents’ home, or our  home, and I would meet these people, and my brother Jimmy would say, “My brother’s studying drums” and blah-blah-blah.  And that kind of got around.  And sooner or later, after I had got serious about trying to learn something about the drums, I started to be able to play with people like a guy named Louis(?) Judge, and Jimmy Garrison was around there and Spanky DeBrest and Lee Morgan.  And you know, I was really big-time when I got to play with Coltrane, who was not famous at the time, but just one of the best players around at that time even.  I was going to say Benny Golson but Benny came later, I didn’t see… Benny was away at college, I think, when I came up.  But there were people like that.  I may be leaving some names out here, and I hope I don’t offend anybody by leaving them out, but I can’t think of any other names…

Q:    Are the years we’re talking about now, say, 1950, ’51, ’52… Jimmy made a piano thing…

AH:    Oh, a piano thing?  Oh, Ray Bryant.  He did play with Ray… Not around Philadelphia.

JH:    [OFF-MIKE] Bobby(?).

AH:    Oh, Bobby TImmons!  Oh, my God.  Yeah, Bobby Timmons was…oh, man…

JH:    How about McCoy?

AH:    McCoy, we… Yeah, McCoy…

JH:    How about Kenny?  Kenny Barron?

AH:    Kenny?  No.  Kenny was off practicing and getting to be one of the greatest piano players of our time, but he wasn’t around.  He was a little younger than us.  But McCoy, I remember going up to McCoy’s mother’s beauty parlor, and there was a piano in the back.  And we used to have what we’d call jam sessions up there at McCoy’s house — which was way out of my territory, out of my neighborhood, and it was real dangerous to go up there because…

Q:    What was your neighborhood and what was that neighborhood?

AH:    I was South Philadelphia and he was North Philadelphia, and you just don’t go up there fooling around unless you know how to do it.

So anyhow, Lee Morgan was also up there in North Philadelphia, and so were some good drummers like Eddie Campbell and Lex Humphries, and Odean Pope was around, and Donald Bailey… Oh, man, some good musicians.

Q:    So it was a real testing ground, and obviously you have to be dealing, otherwise you’re not going to be able to stick around.

AH:    Well, you fake it real good until you watch enough guys doing it and you learn how to do it, you know.  And if you just surround yourself with people who are better than you, I think you learn like that.

Q:    Did you ever have any specifically drum teachers?

AH:    Oh yeah.  I had a lot of drum teachers, yeah.  The first one that really had a strong influence on me was Specs Wright.  Now, I had teachers before Specs Wright, but it wasn’t a long-term thing.  But with Specs, it was a long-term thing.  Like, as long as I can remember, I could always call him up and go by.  We didn’t have a schedule, but I could go to his mother’s house on some Saturdays and catch him there, and then sometimes he would come down to see my brother Jimmy, and then he’d go off for 15 or 20 minutes with me and help me with what it is that I wanted to learn.  And he showed me a lot of things.  I learned a lot about playing with, you know, groups, and a lot about dynamics and technique and all of that stuff from him.

And I had some other teachers, too.  One in particular that Mickey Roker always jokes…we always have this joke about this teacher, because Mickey always says, “Hey, man, we both studied with the same guy.  But what happened to you?” — as if something’s wrong with what I do, and he’s okay!  But this guy’s name was Ellis Tolin.  And he was around in Philadelphia.  He had a place called Music City, a drum store, and in the back he would give lessons.  This guy had incredible technique.  He loved Buddy Rich, and he used to have Buddy Rich up there, and we could go up there and see Buddy Rich play all the drums you’d want to see.  Then Philly Joe used to come up there also and show off, you know, because he could play better than anybody up there, and he would come up there and just wipe everybody out.

Q:    So his position in Philadelphia was sort of as the King of…

AH:    Yeah, he wasn’t a king, but I mean, he had… Like, some of the better drummers went up there.  Now, everybody didn’t go there.  There were some other places, too, around Philly that people studied, like Granoff School of Music.  There’s a lot of guys that went there who I can’t think of right now… But the guys from South Philadelphia that I knew, like Mickey and Ronald Tucker and Specs and a few other people used to go up to Ellis Tolin’s.  That was kind of the in thing to do.  You just wanted to go through there.  Because they had sessions on Mondays or something like that, and you never knew… Whoever was playing in Philly, the drummer from the group would come up to Ellis’ place and do a little clinic.  But they weren’t called clinics at the time; they called them jam sessions.  And they would come up there and play.  And it was always something special.

Q:    You mentioned that in your youngest years you were always exposed to musicians, because Jimmy Heath was always having musicians over.  Was that involved with the big band that Jimmy had in the late 1940′s?

AH:    Yeah, Jimmy used to have… Our living room at my mother’s house was a little too small for the whole band most of the time.  So he would have like section rehearsals, and he’d have a reed section rehearsal one day, and I would come home from school and here’s these guys with all of these saxophones out, and the music all over the dining room table.  My mother would be busy in the kitchen doing whatever she’s doing.  And they would have, like, a section rehearsal.  So I got a chance to hear the music in sections.  And this is really a wonderful way to learn an arrangement.  And I had my ear cocked on all of this stuff.  At that age, you know, you could absorb and remember a lot of things.  So a lot of that stuff sticks with me right now.  I mean, it’s a part of my upbringing, is that I heard the section rehearsals.  Then I would hear the trumpets rehearse.  Then sometimes it would be the whole band, even, in the house — on some occasions.  Then I would see people like Coltrane and Benny Golson, and Johnnie Splawn and Johnny Coles…

Q:    All in your family living room.

AH:    All of these guys, yeah, would be at my mother’s house, at our mother’s house, with rehearsals by Jimmy.  So I got a chance to meet and be around all of these people, and be influenced.

Q:    Let me turn the mike over to Jimmy Heath now and ask how you got this band together, and what was the impetus for it.  It had a major impact on every musician who came through it in Philadelphia at that time.

JH:    Well, I had come out of a big band in Nebraska called Nat Towles, and I wanted to have a band myself.  So when I came back to Philadelphia…

Q:    Can I stop you for a minute?

JH:    Yes.

Q:    Nat Towles’ band was one of the famous territory bands.  How did you come to join that?  And just say a few words about Nat Towles.

JH:    Well, Nat Towles was out of Omaha, Nebraska.  And there was a trombonist from Philly, who we had been playing together with earlier bands when I first got out of high school, named Felix Leach.  And Felix Leach told the people in Nat Towles Orchestra that when a chair was vacant, or alto chair, that I would like to join the band.  So I went to Omaha, Nebraska.  Billy Mitchell was the straw boss of the band, and he had an apartment with a very small room.  Of the two people that tried out for the band… I couldn’t read as good as the other guy, but Billy Mitchell took a liking to me and said, “Keep the little guy.”  And we talk about that now, Billy Mitchell having later played with Basie and Dizzy.

But when I got back to Philadelphia after leaving that band… Before we leave that portion of it, that band had Buddy Tate before me, and Sir Charles Thompson and others.

But after I got to Philly and I wanted to start my own band… Dizzy had a band then, and I really was in love with the Bebop…the big band of Dizzy.  So I tried to pattern my band and transcribe some of Dizzy’s arrangements, and play that music.  And you know, Trane came out of the Navy, and he was around Philly, and Bill Massey and Cal Massey, who were trumpeters, and they joined my band.  Because I was trying to play Bebop with a big band, as Dizzy had laid the pattern down.

Q:    Were you transcribing off the records, basically?  Or did you get the music and do your own orchestrations?  How did it work for you?

JH:    Well, I was trying to transcribe.  And I had a couple of guys who were pros, who had been with Dizzy.  Johnny Acea had written stuff for Dizzy.  This is a guy from Philly who could play the saxophone, trumpet and piano, and he was an arranger.  So he transcribed a couple of things for me, and  a man named Leroy Lovett also transcribed a lot of the things — and I did the others.  And I was trying to write things in the Bebop style also.

Q:    Now, was the band primarily a workshop situation?  Or were you trying to make a go of it and turn it into a performing big band?  I’m assuming that you would have.  But how did it function?

JH:    Yeah.  Well, it was not just a workshop.  We were trying to gig, and we did gig.  I’ve got a poster at home that says when we played at a place called the O.V. Carter(?) Elks in Philly, Jimmy Heath and his 17-Piece Orchestra with Jimmy Thomas on vocals and John Coltrane on saxophone, and Specs Wright and all — and it cost 75 cents to get in the dance!

Q:    At this time you were primarily an alto player, yes?

JH:    Right!   Trane and I were playing alto.  He wasn’t playing tenor at that point.

Q:    And you were both disciples of Charlie Parker.  Who came before Bird for you, and how did you first get struck with Bird?

JH:    Well, before Bird one of my idols was Mister Benny Carter, and Johnny Hodges, and Tab Smith.  They were the three alto players who I found the most interesting to me.  Then Charlie Parker came along and changed the rhythm and the lines of music that I found really fascinating, and I began to try to play like that.

Q:    Can you describe what the impact was on you when you first heard it, and why — again if that’s not too inane a question.

JH:    When I was with Nat Towles’ Orchestra, we went to Savannah, Georgia.  And I remember it as if it was yesterday, that when we got to the dance hall… We were going to play a dance that evening.  And we got there in the afternoon to set up the band and check the hall out.  And they had a jukebox that you put five cents in; you’d put a nickel in the jukebox to hear records.  And I put a nickel in, and I played a record by Jay McShann called “Hootie Blues.”  And right away, the alto solo struck me, and I called all the other guys in the saxophone section and said, “Man, check this guy out.”  And we all begun to put the money in for this Jay McShann, “Hootie Blues” and “Swingmatism” by Charlie Parker as soloist with McShann.  That was the beginning.

Then later in my stay with Nat Towles, I heard “Shaw Nuff” and “Salt Peanuts” and that stuff, and I didn’t realize it was the same guy at that moment until after I quit and came to Philly — I said, “Oh, that’s the same guy I heard on those records with McShann.”

Q:    You described a few months ago with me hearing Bird in Philadelphia in a club.  The first time you heard him you said might have been 1948 or so?  Or am I wrong on that?

JH:    The first time I heard him was in the Academy of Music,  when they came there for the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert.  There was Al Haig and Max and Curly Russell, I think, and Dizzy and Charlie Parker.  And then came that in ’48, with the band with Miles Davis, Max Roach, Duke Jordan and Tommy Potter.  And at that point, when he played in the Downbeat Club, is when I loaned him my saxophone every night.  And knowing his reputation, I would stay up there the whole night and hear Bird play, and then take my horn with his mouthpiece on it, and bring it back home, and take back to him the next night.  And he would leave the mouthpiece on it, and split and come back to New York to do his business.  I would take the horn in the cellar in my pad and see if I could find some of that Bebop he’d left in there, which it was hard to get it because it went through  there!

Q:    What kind of mouthpiece did he have?

JH:    He had a white Brillheart mouthpiece that he used to leave on there.  It was amazing, because as a kid you’d say, “Wow, I heard Charlie Parker play this horn.  He played all that stuff last night.  I know some of it’s left in here.”   But my stuff would still sound the same.  Band!

Q:    It couldn’t have been that bad, because you had a bit of a reputation around Philadelphia, and broader than that by 1950 or ’51.  Anyway, we’re talking with Jimmy and Albert “Tootie” Heath, and they’re talking about the 1940′s in Philadelphia, and coming up. You mentioned Dizzy Gillespie, who had a Philadelphia connection, of course, because he lived there for a number of years, and he always drew on Philadelphia musicians, it seems, over the years.  You’ve cited Dizzy as really your main inspiration in terms of writing and musical focus.  Over the last couple of years you had a chance to work with Dizzy during that final gig at the Blue Note a year ago, and then Slide Hampton’s group earlier this year.

JH:    Mmm-hmm.

Q:    Just say a few words about Dizzy, and then we’re going to hear a tribute composition you did for him and some of the early Musicraft sides that you were listening to back then.

JH:    Well, Dizzy Gillespie is my Duke Ellington.  He is the master musician that was accessible to me throughout my whole life.  He was always good to me, and I could ask him questions.  He would show me things.  And believe me, he knew so much to show you.  Any time you are with any musician that has been around Dizzy, he says it’s like being in a workshop when you’re around him, because he’s going to give you something every time you’re with him that you can use in your musical life from then on.

Q:    How would he show you?  Would it be different ways each time?  Would it be demonstrating?  A word?

JH:    He would demonstrate on piano chord voicings.  He would demonstrate on his trumpet.  He would demonstrate tapping out rhythms to you.  He would sing ideas to you.  I mean, with his whole being he was music, and that’s what I always wanted to be — just like him.

Q:    Well, you have a composition on your last release, Little Man, Big Band, with the large ensemble for Verve, called “Without You, No Me.”  So this is Jimmy Heath’s tribute to Dizzy Gillespie…

[MUSIC]

We heard quite a set of music, that all is meaningful to Jimmy and Tootie Heath in that last set.  The last piece was Jimmy Heath’s first composition to be recorded.  That’s “C.T.A.,” recorded by the Miles Davis Sextet on April 20, 1953 for Blue Note.  Miles on trumpet, J.J. Johnson on trombone, Jimmy Heath on tenor sax, Gil Coggins on piano, Percy Heath on bass, and Art Blakey on drums.  Preceding that we heard a 1963 session featuring a man that Jimmy Heath and John Coltrane and Benny Golson were all listening to as young musicians in the 1940′s, Dexter Gordon. That’s from Our Man In Paris, Dexter Gordon reunited with Bud Powell on piano and Pierre Michelot on bass, on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night In Tunisia.”  Before that we heard “Lady Bird,” a 1948 for Blue, Tadd Dameron Septet, composition and arrangement by Tadd Dameron, with Fats Navarro, trumpet, the tenors of Wardell Gray and Allan Eager, Curly Russell, bass, and Kenny Clarke on drums, Chino Pozo, bongos, and of course Tadd Dameron on piano.  Preceding that we heard two recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, the orchestra and a smaller group.  We heard “Things To Come” from 1946, and “That’s Earl, Brother” also from ’46.  “That’s Earl, Brother” was a small group that featured a litany of the greats in Jazz.  Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt, Ray Brown, Al Haig and, again, Kenny Clarke.  And we began the set way back with Jimmy Heath’s tribute to Dizzy Gillespie, “Without You, No Me.”  That’s on Jimmy Heath’s most recent release, Little Man, Big Band, on Verve. [ETC.]

That whole set of music inspired lots of conversation while we were off-mike, and many comments,  You were saying, Jimmy, how Kenny Clarke would sustain a real excitement and fire at a medium tempo, and then Tootie interjected that Buhaina, Art Blakey, did it, too — the drummers that we heard on the last selections.  So maybe we can start from there.

JH:    Well, Kenny Clarke… I played with Kenny Clarke in the Symphony Sid All-Stars, and that was Miles Davis, J.J., Milt Jackson, Percy Heath and myself, and Symphony Sid, the D.J., took us on the road, and we did several gigs, including the Apollo, and one in Cleveland, one in Atlantic City.  We didn’t have a pianist.  The groove was always there, because Klook, as he was known, was a fiery drummer at all tempos, and in particular in a walking Swing groove he could keep the fire going.  And Percy and Klook was a love affair from the first time.

Percy still considers Kenny Clarke to be the world’s great drummer ever.  They got together again… I was on a thing in Africa, in Dakar, when it was the twentieth anniversary of the independence of that country.  And I was on a thing with Dizzy and Clifford Jordan and Jimmy Owens and Sonny Fortune, I think, and Kenny Clarke came from Paris, and Percy.  And it was a love affair started all over again.  That was maybe twenty-five years after we had played with him earlier.

Another thing about Kenny Clarke is, in his book that his wife sent me recently, he said that his favorite band… I forgot… He said Sonny Stitt on alto and Jimmy Heath on tenor was his favorite band.  So that’s another reason I have always loved Kenny Clarke, because he appreciated my playing also.

Q:    Tootie Heath, a few words about both Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey.

AH:    Well, my brother has a little advantage here, because he had the pleasure of playing with these people, and I am only going by recordings and live performances.  So I can be objective, but I was never really in it, so I don’t really know the feeling.  But from my perspective, you know, as a drummer and just listening to the rhythm, or the sustenance of the rhythm is the main thing in playing drums as far as I’m concerned — and I learned that from Kenny Clarke and from Art Blakey.  It was always a smooth cushion, and then there were other little exciting things going on, very subtle, with both of those drummers, Art Blakey as well as Kenny Clarke.  But Art Blakey had a little more… His dynamic range was a little wider than Kenny.  But Kenny Clarke would play with a big band as well as with a small group, and be very dynamic also.  I don’t mean that he didn’t have the dynamics.  He definitely had dynamics.  But Art Blakey had a special group experience, I think, that Kenny Clarke didn’t have, because Art Blakey played in his own band most of the time and with his own musicians.

Q:    And he shaped all the compositions as well…

AH:    Absolutely.

Q:    …which I don’t know if you could say that about Kenny Clarke so explicitly.

AH:    Kenny had less time to deal with the material.  Usually it was on a recording session like Dexter’s, he would fly in or come in from wherever… In this instance, he was in Paris, so he would just come in and do the recording.  They didn’t have any preparation time most of the time.  And the results were amazing, I mean, for the time that they put in, with the time he put in with the music, in terms of… Well, other drummers like Max Roach had his own people that he played with for long periods of time also.  But see, Kenny Clarke didn’t have that advantage.  He was always free-lancing, other than with the Modern Jazz Quartet…

JH:    Francy Boland.

AH:    Yeah, he did that for a while.  He sure did.  That was kind of a long-term affair, with that band, and it was basically the same personnel.  And it was about eight or nine years that band stayed together.

Q:    The band Jimmy referred to is the Francy Boland-Kenny Clarke Big Band, with many of the greatest musicians in Europe through the Sixties and early Seventies.

AH:    That’s right.  But that was in a big band context, so that was a little different from the Art Blakey comparison.

Q:    Two more musicians.  We heard “C.T.A.” at the end of the set, and that was recorded as part of a Miles Davis session in 1953.  And I know that Jimmy Heath had a very close relationship with Miles Davis, who recorded a number of your pieces.  One of them, twelve years later, was “Gingerbread Boy.”  Say a few words about your relationship with Miles and your initial hook-up.

JH:    Well, I met Miles when he was with Charlie Parker, in the quintet, in 1948.  And we became friends, and we talked about harmony, and we discussed chords and sequences, and we hung out together socially.  Miles was the same age, and we had a lot in common in that respect.  But he was always a very bright musician who was very changeable.  He’s a Gemini person, and he would change.  He liked to change his music and try to come up with something new, which he would… Throughout his career he did start new trends.  He started the modal playing.  He gave that its birth.  If he didn’t start it, he is the one who gets credit for that.  And there are other phases of the music that Miles went through in his later years with the electronic support and Funk beat.  You know, Miles was always ahead.  Like the record says, “Miles Ahead.”

Q:    And he employed your son, Mtume, in some of those bands as well.

JH:    Well, I think Miles had everybody in our family to play with him at once… Tootie, didn’t you play with Miles?

AH:    Yes.

JH:    And Percy and myself — and my son.

Q:    Then before that, we heard Dexter Gordon playing “A Night In Tunisia.”  While that was playing… Jimmy Heath hadn’t heard that record before, but you were pointing out during a couple of passages in Dexter Gordon’s solo, you said, “Hear that?  Hear where Trane’s sound is coming from?”  And you said indeed that you and Benny Golson and Coltrane were all very enamored with his playing in the 1940′s — as were many other tenor players around the country.

JH:    Oh yeah.  Around the world.  You know, Dexter had that crying sound in the top register of his horn also.  He influenced Coltrane.  In the earlier Coltrane performances and back home in Philly, I knew… Trane, we all were listening to Dexter.  Because Dexter was swinging hard.  He was a Bebop player who swung hard.  He was a connection between Lester and Charlie Parker, and out of that era he found a way to play the Bebop language on the tenor that was unique — and we all wanted to be like that.  Like everybody wants to be like Mike; we wanted to be like Dexter.

Q:    Tootie, you worked sometimes in Europe with Dexter, and there’s a wonderful recording called The Apartment in particular that I can think of on Steeplechase, where you and Kenny Drew and Niels-Henning Orsted-Pederson are backing him.  What was he like to play with for you as a drummer?

AH:    Well, you know, I entered in Dexter’s career at a time when his health had started to be a factor.  And it took him a while to get started, and we kind of had to compensate for Dexter’s…what do you call it…?  It was like a little delay.  So the Dexter Gordon that my brother is talking about is a different Dexter Gordon.  But it was a wonderful experience.  I mean, whenever he got started and got going, it was a wonderful experience.  But at the time, you know, his health was really playing a major role in his performance.  And unfortunately, this happened with Lester Young, too, who is another person that I had the chance to catch…

Q:    When was that, and how did that happen?

AH:    With Lester?  Well, I was locally playing around Philadelphia, and a friend of mine that was a bass player (he doesn’t play any more; his name is Jimmy Bond), he had what was called the house trio at this club called the Showboat.  And the Showboat would employ Lester Young, Max Roach, and people like that, and Dakota Staton and so forth.  And Lester would appear there maybe three times a year.  And  Jimmy Bond called me one time, and said, “Do you want to be in the house trio and play to support Lester Young?”  I said, “Man, that would be a treat.”  So I did it, and that’s how I got to be the drummer for Lester… Whenever he came to Philly and played at that club, I would be the drummer.  And I got a chance to know him, and I got a chance to learn a lot about playing time and things like that.

Q:    Did he say anything explicitly to you?  There are a number of little pearls of Lester Young quotes.  Jimmy is laughing here.

AH:    Yeah, he used to say… He said a lot of things!  A lot of things I can’t repeat, because you know, Lester had a unique way of speaking.  And I can’t say some of the things because you’re on the air, and they have some regulations about that.

Q:    One or two.

AH:    One or two, yeah.  So I’d better not say the things.  I’d have to try to rephrase things, and then they lose…

Q:    The pungency.

AH:    Yeah.  They lose the whole thing. [JH LAUGHING]  But I learned a lot from him as a man as well as a musician.  Just his way of being in the world, and seeing other people and other musicians and so forth.

Q:    While the music was playing, I think Jimmy had a quote from Prez to John Coltrane that I think is repeatable over the air.

AH:    Oh, he said he heard Lady Coltrane playing all of those snakes.  Yeah, he referred to everybody as Lady.  And I think that came from Billie Holiday being Lady Day.  And anybody that meant anything to him special, he would always refer to them as “Lady” — which was a very respectable term.  I mean, when he called you “Lady,” I mean, that was very special.  The same as they called Fats Navarro “Fat Girl”  It wasn’t a derogatory thing.  It was just something very special.  He called George Wein “Lady Moon Beams” because he had a bald head, you know…

Q:    Speaking of ladies and speaking of “Fat Girl,” we heard “Lady Bird” by Tadd Dameron performed by the Tadd Dameron Septet, featuring Fats Navarro.  Fats Navarro was one of the major figures in his brief life, and certainly affected Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan, who came out of the Philly area, and Jimmy Heath was certainly very explicitly affected by Tadd Dameron’s conception of writing.

JH:    Yeah, Fats Navarro came to my house, as many of the musicians did, including Miles, Dizzy and all of them… My mother would invite anyone to dinner who we invited.  She would treat them as if they were their children or their friends.

Q:    What would she make for them?

JH:    Oh, she would make anything that she was cooking, whatever — fried chicken or whatever.  And we had everybody down to my house, Coleman Hawkins and Bird and everybody.  In this particular case, she would be preparing things for anybody that would be there.  Fats Navarro came there and took out his trumpet, and started to play a little bit.  And my Mom always said that she liked Fats Navarro’s tone better than Dizzy and Miles.  She could hear something in his sound that she liked.  And I know for a fact that when Clifford Brown came around Philly from Wilmington, Delaware, he was enamored with Fats Navarro, that’s who his love was — and he began to play something like that until he found his own style.  And the generation passing down passed on to Lee Morgan, who played like Clifford, and the people who came  along… So it was a continuum of the music.

But Fats Navarro was one of the strong voices of Bebop that didn’t last long in his life.   He just died young.  But he was a powerhouse of a trumpet player.  I heard him with the Tadd Dameron…I think it was something like an octet in the Royal Roost, and Dizzy had his big band in there at the same time.  He had just come back from a successful West Coast tour with Chano Pozo and all that.  And Fats Navarro was screaming on Dizzy in there.  I mean, they both were powerful.  But Fats was beginning to gain a lot of recognition, and while Dizzy was out…they both were… But they were different.  Dizzy was the source of where Fats Navarro came from.  But Fats was a very… He could play very high and clear, and with a very clear sound.  He had a warm trumpet sound.

And they all were wonderful musicians.  But Fats was really a talent at that time.  And Tadd Dameron used to like to use Fats to play all his first trumpet parts, because he could play the trumpet parts like he liked to hear them.  Because Tadd was a person whose delicacy musically…you would take him to be effeminate or something.  Because he would sing everything, LA-DEDADA…you know… And he loved the way Fats could sing his melodies.  He was a person who was very lyrical, like a Billy Strayhorn.

Q:    Tadd Dameron.

JH:    Yeah, Tadd Dameron.

Q:    Really all of his compositions were informed by that lyrical sensibility.  Did you know Tadd Dameron?  Were you ever able to sit down with him and go through things?

JH:    Oh yeah.  I knew Tadd very well.  I was supposed to be in one of the bands, but I had had…I got sick at the time and couldn’t make it — and Benny Golson made it.  That was the Dameronia band.  I was supposed to be in that band.  There were a lot of occasions where I was supposed to be in bands, and I got sick.  I had a problem during that time.  Max Roach’s first band, before Harold Land got in, I was the tenor player who Max wanted at that time.  I stayed ill for a few years, maybe four years, five years.

Q:    We’re speaking with Jimmy Heath and Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath, and it’s been an education over the last 45 minutes.  We wanted to play a couple of selections that feature different drummers who again had a big impact on Tootie.  But by the way, I’d like to ask you (I guess it’s sort of obvious), where did the nickname ‘Tootie’ come from?

AH:    Well, you have one.  Your name is Ted, right?

Q:    Well, yes, but…

AH:    Are you named Theodore?

Q:    Yes, I am.

AH:    There you go.  I got mine just like you got yours.

Q:    Albert…

JH:    [LAUGHING]

AH:    Well, it’s just a different name.  My grandfather gave it to me.  And where he came from with it, maybe my brother Jimmy could answer that.  Because I never got a chance to ask him before he died…

Q:    It just got put on you, this name?

AH:    Well, we all had nicknames, the whole family.  But I chose to keep mine, or… I don’t know if I chose to keep it or if it just stuck.  But I still have it, and I like it, and it suits me.  I look like Tootie now.  I don’t look like Albert.  I look like Tootie.

Q:    What was Jimmy’s nickname?

AH:    I’m not going to tell you.  I’ll let him tell you that.

JH:    [LAUGHS]  Percy’s was Percolator.  And mine was Skookum.  I don’t know where that came from, so I’ll let that one go.

Q:    The next selection we’ll hear comes from a 1953 session for Prestige under Miles Davis’ leadership.  This is a very famous session.  Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker both appear here on tenor saxophones, and Walter Bishop on piano, Percy’s on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums.  Now, Jimmy has a comment.

JH:    Yeah, I’ve got a definite comment.  I had that song written, the line that they call “Serpent’s Tooth,” and I was supposed to make that record, but Bob Weinstock or whoever was in charge of Prestige said, “Look, I don’t know any Jimmy Heath.  Let’s get Charlie Parker.  He wants to make a date on tenor, so let’s get him to make the date on tenor.”  So I gave this line to Miles, an untitled line, and said, “Well, Miles, I can’t make the date; would you record my piece?”  And he did, but he put his name on it, “Serpent’s Tooth,” and his name as the composer.  So that’s the way that goes.  And Sonny and Percy are the ones who are left that will tell you that is my song.  And Clark Terry knows about it because he had a big band arrangement from Phil Woods, and Phil Woods knows that that was my song.  But Miles got credit for it.

Q:    Before we play “Serpent’s Tooth,” I’d like to get a couple of comments on Philly Joe Jones by Tootie Heath, who had to come up under him in Philadelphia during those years.

AH:    Well, about Philly Joe.  He was probably one of the most amazing players that you’d ever want to…well, I’ll say musicians — because he played music on the drums.  Philly Joe was… Oh yeah, and my brother’s making the piano sign over here.  He played some serious piano, too.  Philly Joe was probably a major influence on me, as well as many others, and he made a tremendous impact on this music when he finally came to New York and started to record.  Because he was playing… The way that he was playing when he recorded with Miles, he was playing like that around Philadelphia.  If you were lucky, you could catch him playing in a group with some guys like Jimmy Oliver and Shuggie(?) Rhodes(?) and Red Garland, and… I guess that would be the basic quartet, bass, drums and piano.  And like I said, if you were lucky, you could catch him playing with these people.  And when he moved to New York finally, then the world got a chance to hear him, because he joined the Miles Davis group, and then we all know what happened after that.  They made some of the most powerful recordings together that have come about in this particular music, in this genre that we’re talking about since I can remember.   Now, this is only my personal opinion, of course, but I…

Q:    Well, that’s what the Musician Show is all about.

AH:    Well, recordings like Round Midnight, that album, and the Gil Evans series that Philly Joe did with Miles Davis and some others that I can’t think of right now.  But I heard one the other day which was Coltrane’s date, and he used Miles on trumpet, but Coltrane was the leader.  But it was the Miles Davis group… Now, the guy on the radio said this.  Now, I don’t remember whose date it was.  But they were playing some music like I had never heard, something  regular like “I Got Rhythm” or something like that.  I forgot what it was.  Are you familiar with that record?

Q:    No, I’m not.  The one that I can think of is Cannonball and Miles…

AH:    No.

Q:    …but that’s a different date.

AH:    It could have been the Miles Davis group mistakenly… You know, the DJ could have made a mistake and said it was Coltrane.  But they said Coltrane was the leader of this.  But Miles Davis played trumpet on it.  And man, Philly Joe was immaculate on it, like he was most times you’d ever catch him.  He was always…

Q:    He played with a real elegance all the time.

AH:    Man, he had a snap and a sound and a feeling that… You know, it was just big and broad.

Q:    Well, let’s hear “The Serpent’s Tooth,” and then we’ll hear a final wrap-up with Jimmy and Tootie Heath, who are appearing at the Village Vanguard this week… [ETC.]

[MUSIC]

“Daahoud” by Clifford Brown.  That’s from a 1954 session by the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet with Harold Land, George Morrow and Richie Powell. [ETC.]

I’d like to thank the Heaths for their generous comments and just for really a quick cram course on some of the essentials of the legacy of the music today.  Jimmy Heath, thank you very much.

JH:    Well, Ted, it’s always a pleasure to speak with you.  You’re so knowledgeable of the music, and I respect your knowledge and I’m glad to have been here.

Q:    Well, thank you.  And it’s a pleasure to meet you, Albert Heath.

AH:    Well, it was a real pleasure to do a real interview in New York City and be able to talk to all of these people… And Art Taylor, I know I left you out, but please don’t be angry.  And Elvin Jones, if you’re listening, I know I stole your stuff, too.  And all you guys that I left out, please don’t be angry with me.  Just come down to the Vanguard and we can make up.

[ETC.]

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Filed under Albert "Tootie" Heath, DownBeat, Interview, Jimmy Heath, Tenor Saxophone, WKCR