Tag Archives: Brian Lynch

For Andy Gonzalez’ 63rd Birthday, an Unedited Blindfold Test from 2000 and a WKCR Interview From 2006

Best of birthdays to the master bassist Andy Gonzalez, who turns 63 today. A co-founder of the Fort Apache Band with his older brother, Jerry Gonzalez, Gonzalez’ c.v. includes protracted gigs with Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie Palmieri and Manny Oquendo’s Libre. His influence is palpable on such next-generation swing-to-clave bassists as — among many others — Avishai Cohen and Hans Glawischnig. I had the opportunity to interact with and be educated by Andy at least a half-dozen times during my years on WKCR, particularly on such subjects as Cachao and Arsenio Rodriguez, upon whom he would expound with great erudition. I’ll have to transcribe those cassettes one of these days. Meanwhile, here are the proceedings of a DownBeat Blindfold Test that Andy did with me around 2000, and a WKCR interview from 2006, when the Fort Apache Band had just released their excellent CD, Rumba Buhaina.

Andy Gonzalez Blindfold Test:

1.    Ray Brown, “St. Louis Blues” (feat. Ahmad Jamal, p., Lewis Nash, d), “SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS…ARE THE PIANO PLAYERS” (Telarc, 1995) (5 stars)

Well, it’s somebody like Ray Brown or somebody that LOVES Ray Brown on bass.  I hear a lot of Ray Brownish things. [AFTER] [Why did it take you so long?] I had to hear more of him.  At first I thought it was somebody younger, but then I started listening to what he was playing and I said, “Wait a second.”  This is somebody who has some depth to his musical history just by what he played and how he played it.  It had to be somebody like Ray Brown.  I’m not sure of the piano player, though. [Any guesses?] Mmm… That’s not Benny Green, is it?  It could be Oscar. [It's the same generation.] Oh yeah?  [AFTER] I didn’t hear much of the trademark Ahmad Jamal things.  That was quite nice.  It gets 5 stars out of me.  Ray Brown is one of my heroes.  Of the bass players from his generation, like Oscar Pettiford and Mingus… I thought he’s the one that… There’s Blanton in his playing, but I think he took Blanton beyond Blanton.  Mingus I thought sort of took it the other way, and he used a lot more physical kinds of things about the bass, like imitating growls and doing wilder things, where I think maybe Ray Brown is more blues-based.  There’s a lot of blues in his playing.  Not that Mingus isn’t, but… And Pettiford was… It’s like three distinct voices to come out of the same era, and to play with a lot of the same people in the Bebop era and stuff like that.  But very distinct voices, all three of them.  But those are the same generation.

2.    Sam Jones, “O.P.” (Israel Crosby, bass; Joe Zawinul, piano; Vernell Fournier, drums), DOWN HOME (Riverside, 1962/1995) (4 stars)

I’m going to take a stab and say it was Doug Watkins playing cello.  No?  He did do a cello record. [This is someone who is a contemporary of Doug Watkins who did...] Sam Jones?  That was the second person I was going to shoot for.  Because I realized he had done a cello record way back, but I can’t remember the circumstances.  I only managed to cop a couple of Sam Jones records, especially on Riverside — those were a little harder to find.  For some reason it made me think of the Doug Watkins record.  I think Yusef Lateef is playing on it.  When I heard the flute I thought maybe it might be him. [Any idea who's playing bass and drums?] That wasn’t Jimmy Cobb?  Something made me think it was Jimmy Cobb, the way he was riding the cymbal. [AFTER] You know, Israel Crosby is credited with taking one of the first solos on bass on record, “Blues For Israel,” with Gene Krupa.  I mean, an actual bass solo.  It’s a whole thing on the bass.  This is the early ’30s.  The pianist was Zawinul?  Forget it.  I would have never guessed that.  I thought the piece was nice.  It was kind of bouncy and airy.  I thought Sam Jones was very articulate on the cello and very tasty.  As a matter of fact, I never heard him take any bass solos that sounded slick, to tell you the truth! — from what I’ve heard of Sam Jones.  That was excellent cello playing, just so far as getting across the cello.  I’m wondering whether he used the cello the way it’s supposed to be tuned, in fifths, or the way Ray Brown did and some other cello cats did was retune the instrument in fourths to make it like a bass and easier to play.  Now, that might be the case, because he seemed to get around the instrument pretty good.  Playing in fifths takes a little bit more knowledge of how to get around the strings.  So that’s an interesting question to find out.  From what I heard, it sounded like it was tuned in fourths.  Four stars, for Sam Jones especially.

3.    Brian Lynch, “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” SPHERES OF INFLUENCE (Sharp-9, 1997) (5 stars) (John Benitez, bass; Jeff Watts, drums; Milton Cardona, congas; David Kikoski, piano; Donald Harrison, alto saxophone)

Wow!  I’ve grown accustomed to her space face.  That was a beautiful arrangement, man.  It was gorgeous.  It sounds like it was a trumpet player’s record, because he’s got the lead — and a big fat tone.  I’m trying to think of who it could be.  The drummer was on it with the Latin stuff.  He was playing the right kind of beat.  It wasn’t clave!  And the conga player was holding his own.  He’s just an adornment more than anything else.  In the seconds where there was Latin rhythm, he played well.  The bass player did okay.  Gee whiz.  Fat tone on a trumpet is what was getting to me.  I was trying to think who has a fat tone on a trumpet.  It doesn’t sound too dated.  So let me see, who has a fat tone on trumpet these days?  Terence Blanchard has a fairly fat sound.  So does Nicholas Payton.  They have kind of fat tones on the trumpet these days. [What trumpet player might think of that type of arrangement?] Now, that’s a good question, because there was a lot of depth to that arrangement.  It stretched the tune out, it stretched out the phrasing of it, and also took it in different places.  It gets five stars from me, because it was an original and unusual treatment of the song.  Because that’s not an easy song to… It’s a pretty song.  Not too many people, except for someone like maybe Sonny Rollins, have attempted to play that tune.  And then I thought it was nice having the tuba in the orchestration.  That was really pretty. [AFTER] That was Brian Lynch?  No kidding!  I didn’t even think about that.  Excellent.  I’m surprised I didn’t recognize… Well, John Benitez didn’t give anything that I could recognize him on.  Milton, well, that I could hear.  It was very nice.  I enjoyed that.

4.    George Mraz, “Star-Crossed Lovers” (Renee Rosnes, piano), DUKE’S PLACE (Milestone, 1999) (5 stars)

I sort of wish that the bass player would have bowed the melody at the end again, because he played it so beautifully at the beginning.  Good bowing technique is like studying a whole other instrument.  And he had superb control of that bow.  I mean, he really sang that melody superbly, man.  Right there that’s five stars for me, because I’m quite a fan of good bowing.  I wish I could bow that well!  But like I said, that’s a whole study in itself.  It’s one thing to pluck strings and use your hands to get tone and sound, but to use the bow and get the vibrations that the bow makes, and use your hands in that sense, it’s a whole different way of playing the instrument.  Whoever that was playing the bass, I really couldn’t tell you, but I thought that he has an excellent bowing technique. [AFTER] I figured as much.  That’s bounce, man.  He’s got beautiful, beautiful bowing technique.  It bounces!  Gorgeous bowing.

5.    Ornette Coleman, “Women Of The Veil,” THREE WOMEN (Harmolodic, 1996) (Charnett Moffett, bass; Geri Allen, piano; Denardo Coleman, drums) (3½ stars)

Oh, shades of Ornette!  I don’t think it was Ornette, but it was quite a bit of Ornettethology!  Even the trumpet player sounded like Ornette!  I don’t know who it was, but it sure sounded like an Ornetteish kind of thing.  I wasn’t that thrilled with it.  It was all right.  The bass player sure didn’t sound like no Charlie Haden, that’s for sure. [AFTER] It was Ornette?  Charnett Moffett was playing the bass?  This was recent?  Who was playing the trumpet? [Ornette.] Ah, so I was right about that.  The piano is what threw me.  I’m not used to Ornette with a piano player.  3½ stars for that.  I’ve heard Ornette play with more… I like Ornette when there’s more emotion in his playing.  Remember the Town Hall concert, “Sadness,” things like that?  That really moves me.  And the original quartet moves me a lot, with Charlie Haden, Blackwell and Don Cherry.  All that moved me quite a bit.  And Ornette over the years, man… I always dug Ornette.  I like him best in smaller situations, not with all the trappings.  I don’t like Ornette with a piano player.  I like him without piano.

6.    Ron Carter, “Samba De Orfeu,” ORFEU (Blue Note, 1999) (5 stars) (Bill Frisell, guitar; Stephen Scott, piano; Payton Crossley, drums; Steve Kroon, percussion)

It was nice to hear a bass guitar “surdo” and “casaba.”  To me I would have dug it if they had added a tambourine.  That would have really put the rhythm section a little stronger Brazilian.  But they left the space open, which is okay.  The guitar player wasn’t Brazilian; that’s for sure.  And the bass player sounded like Ron Carter to me. [AFTER] Of course!  Ron Carter, one thing, he’s got a great sense of humor.  Throughout that solo, he’s a shameless quoter, a quoter of obscure melodies!  I get a kick out of it.  I mean, that’s like… Unless you know these melodies, you just… He quoted really obscure songs, like “Popeye, The Sailor Man” and “I Want To Wash that Rain Right Out of My Hair.”  You have to know a lot of music to be able to quote these things, and he quoted quite a few different little tiny pieces of melodies from all kinds of things in his solo.  It was nice.  Five stars.  Ron Carter is one of my heroes.  I grew up listening to him, and I know him a bit, and he’s quite a nice man.  One thing I’ve got to say is that I’ve learned a lot from listening to Ron Carter over the years, especially when he was with Miles.  His perception of how to play bass in a rhythm section for that band was unique, and it really influenced me a lot.  Even playing Latin Jazz it influenced me a lot, because just the kind of thing that they had going as the quintet with Miles, this kind of ESP thing that they had going, is something that most bands strive for — that kind of empathy and mind-reading between the members of a band.  That’s something that they brought to a high art.  And Ron was very instrumental in making a lot of that happen.  I’ll always love him for that, that’s for sure.  So he gets my five stars.

7.    Dave Holland, “Jugglers Parade,” PRIME DIRECTIVE (ECM, 1999) (3½ stars)

I’m going to take a wild stab?  Is that Avishai?  He likes things that have odd meters.  Is it a bass player’s album?  Is it Santi?  I remember him writing things that sound like this.  Wow.  So far I made two guess, and both of them were wrong.  I’m not that big a fan of odd meter kind of things.  But it was put together pretty nicely, and if the bass player composed this… Most bass players make good composers, just because of the fact that they always provided the bottom of things, the bottom of the harmonies, and sometimes the bottom of just rhythm and melody.  So I am pretty happy when I hear bass players’ compositions and arrangements, because it’s like they have a different perspective on things and they hear things different.  Most bass players who I know who write, it’s usually very interesting.  And this was no exception.  It was interesting.  But like I said, I’m not a big fan of odd meter things.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s because I’ve got the clave ingrained in me to the point where it’s like… And also, I grew up in the era of real hardbop-swing kind of things, so anything that has odd meters isn’t… It’s just a preference of mine.  I’m not that particularly fond of them.  I would give it 3½ stars.  So who was it? [AFTER] That was Dave Holland?!  I would have never recognized him.  I would never have thought that it was Dave Holland.  It didn’t sound like the kind of music that he used to play before.  There’s something to be said for bass players that write.  Because like I said, they’re coming from a another perspective.

8.    Richard Bona, “Konda Djanea,” SCENES FROM MY LIFE (Columbia, 1999). (5 stars) (Michael Brecker, tenor sax)

That was very nice, man.  Richard Bona.  I met him a couple of years ago.  I think he was touring with Zawinul.  We just ran into each other on the road.  But that was lovely.  You can hear the influence of the African string instrument called the kora, which is a harp kind of instrument.  I can hear that influence in how he approaches the bass.  He’s playing it almost like a guitar, but playing it like a kora.  Just the figures that he’s playing, it sounds like if he was strumming on a kora.  It’s very pretty.  Five stars.

9.    John Patitucci, “King Kong,” IMPRINT (Concord, 1999) (4 stars) (Danilo Perez, piano; Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez, drums; Giovanni Hidalgo, percussion)

Well, I recognized a couple of people in there.  I think that was El Negro playing the traps, and it could have been Giovanni playing the congas.  It could have been.  Those are my cohorts, man.  I know those guys intimately.  Is this Patitucci?  I had a feeling it was him, because I heard he had done something with the Latin thing.  He was cool.  Was this his tune?  The piano player sounded a little familiar, too, but I wasn’t positive.  I was thinking that it might be Danilo.  What made me think it was Patitucci was when it got into the groove part, he was sticking to a pretty generic kind of groove thing.  Unless you’re really sure of the clave and how to mess with it, I would imagine that’s what you would do just to… Because Negro and Giovanni can get very intricate on you, and if you’re not dead-sure where you are, they can throw you off in a minute.  It’s like the clave thing with them is that they know that so intimately.  I’ve played with them so much that I know what they’re about.  Sometimes it’s better to be safe and stick to what you know you can do within that framework.  So it was cool.  The saxophone player I don’t know.  It sounded like a Michael Brecker or someone like that, but I’m not sure.  Chris Potter?  Okay.  There was something in his tone that reminded me of Michael.  But I guess that got a four out of me.

10.    Eddie Gomez, “Footprints,” DEDICATION (Evidence, 1998). (3½ stars)

Mmm, “Footprints.”  That tune, ever since it came out, it’s been a favorite of all us musicians.  Especially when you’re in school and stuff, everybody… It’s easy to play and easy to jam on.  I was just about going to high school when that came out.  I don’t really have a clue.  3½ stars.  The bass player to me sounded like somebody like Alex Blake or someone like that.  Because Alex Blake has that kind of facility; he likes to do those kind of crazy runs and stuff.  Oh, it’s not?  I figured as much.  I just thought of him because I ran into him the other day and I hadn’t seen him for a while.  [The bass player and you have the same alma mater.] Music and Art?  He must have graduated way after me, though.  Before me?  Really.  Hmm!  I know Eddie Gomez went to Music & Art? [That's him.] Really?  That doesn’t sound like the Eddie Gomez I remember.  It’s recent, huh?  I’m a lot closer to the Eddie Gomez of Bill Evans days, and he didn’t play like this.  He played different.  Eddie was an amazing, amazing musician, and he got along so well with Bill.  They were really mind-reading each other.  It’s sort of like the same thing that happened when Scott LaFaro was in the trio.  I got hip to Scott LaFaro maybe four or five years after he passed.  He passed in ’61.  I got hip to him early on because when I was 14 I was studying with Steve Swallow.  I was in junior high school.  He was the first one to turn me on to Scotty.  Then I used to go and check out Bill Evans at the Vanguard a lot, and Eddie Gomez was playing the bass there.  So I was just amazed at the facility that Eddie Gomez had at the time.  Because he didn’t quite do what Scotty was doing.  Scotty liked to mess with counterpoint and things like that a lot more.  But Eddie was all over the instrument, which was amazing to me.  I’m surprised I didn’t recognize him.  I would usually recognize Eddie Gomez, because he’s a guy I’ve been following since I was a teenager.  3½ because as many times as I’ve played “Footprints,” there’s a lot more things that you can say with it than was said there.

11.    Roy Haynes, “Trinkle Tinkle,” TE VOU! (Dreyfus, 1994) (feat. Christian McBride) (3½ stars)

It’s nice to hear pretty much the arrangement the way that Monk and the sax used to play the melody.  The only thing, after a while that three note figure at the end -DINH-DUHT-DAH gets annoying.  Other than that I liked it, but I didn’t care for too much, and to hear it through all the solos was a pain in the ass after a while.  I would have preferred leaving it out and just play it, because it doesn’t do anything.  It sounds like it was a novelty effect more than anything else.  The drummer sounded like someone like Tain.  I didn’t think it was, but it sounded like someone who can take it a little out like Tain can.  But I couldn’t tell you who the cats were. [AFTER] It was Roy Haynes’ record?  I’m surprised why he kept that figure, man.  It sounds annoying.  Is the bass player Ed Howard?  Christian?  I thought it was him while he was playing, but I just didn’t think he did anything… And it didn’t sound like Roy Haynes either to me.  Is it a new record?  Unusual.  Like I said, it was pretty much in the Monk tradition.  I would left out that BINH-BAHT-BAM.  I’ll give 3½ because it was well played.  Who was the alto player?  Donald Harrison!  He played well.  I wouldn’t have recognized Roy Haynes.  It didn’t sound like him.  I heard him the last time a couple of years ago, and he’s always been Mister Taste.  And it was tasteful…except for that.  I don’t mind if an effect really adds something to the music, but that didn’t really add anything to Monk.

12.    McCoy Tyner, “I Want To Tell You ‘Bout That,” McCOY TYNER WITH STANLEY CLARKE AND AL FOSTER (Telarc, 2000) (3½ stars)

I knew it was McCoy from the getgo, because it’s unmistakable, just his tone, his touch, and the kind of things that he plays.  Although I felt it was kind of like… It’s like when you’re trying to get like a funk kind of thing going, you know, almost making an attempt to get like some radio play.  The bass player wasn’t Avery?  I don’t know who it was. [Someone you might think on electric.] Stanley Clarke?  Yeah?  He did play a figure that did make me think it was Stanley Clarke.  But I said, “Mmm, let me see…”  Who was the drummer?  Al Foster?  I sort of came up at the same time as Stanley Clarke, and I’ve been watching and listening to him since the early days when he was with Chick.  He’s a fine bass player, man.  He’s been moving around in different worlds and playing a lot of different kinds of music, but I have deep respect for him as a bass player.  He’s a great bass player.  I don’t think this is one of McCoy’s better efforts.  Just for playing sake, I’ll give it 3½ stars.

13.  Avishai Cohen, “The Gift, DEVOTION (Stretch, 1998) (3 stars)

I don’t know if I could tell you who that is.  It wasn’t exactly a toe-tapper.  The soprano had a dark kind of sound.  That’s an unusual duo, the trombone and soprano.  It’s not something you hear often.  I’m at a loss.  3 stars. [AFTER] That was Avishai, huh?

14.    Red Garland Trio w/ Paul Chambers, “This Can’t Be Love,” IT’S A BLUE WORLD (Prestige, 1958/1999) (3 stars)

It sounded like a few people.  The first name that came to me was an odd name, Monty Alexander — which is weird.  But that’s the first name that popped into my head.  I heard flashes of Erroll Garner, I heard flashes of a lot of people in there.  I probably do know who it is.  Who was it? [AFTER] That didn’t sound like Paul Chambers?  You know what?  This must have been towards the end of his life.  That was ’58?  Paul Chambers articulates a lot better than that — for me.  I’ve heard plenty of Paul Chambers.  Maybe it was the rosin.  Because when you put a certain kind of rosin on the bow you get a certain sound, and different rosins give you a different… When you pull the bow across the string, it gives you a different… This was kind of a rough sound for Paul.  Paul usually gets a smoother attack sound on his bowing.  But I do know that it has to do with the kind of rosin that you use.  Some rosin makes the bow across the strings sound a little rough; it grabs the string a certain way so that the sound comes out rough.  There’s another rosin that the sound comes out a little smoother.  This sounded kind of rough to me.  Really.  Because Paul Chambers articulates a lot better on things I’ve heard him on before than on this particular piece.  From hearing Paul on his best records… This wasn’t his best.  It didn’t move me that much.  3 stars.

15.    Cachao, “El Son No A Muerto,” MASTER SESSIONS, VOL. 1 (Epic, 1994) (4 stars)

That was Cachao, and that was Nelson Gonzalez on the très, who learned to play the très in my house.  I brought home a très from Venezuela in 1970, and he was a frequent visitor to my house.  He was self-taught on guitar.  We started studying Arsenio Rodriguez records together, and he learned how to play the très in my house.  I’m the one who got him the gig with Cachao in the middle ’80s when he did his big concert at Hunter College.  I loaned him my bass and I was at most of the rehearsals, and I got Nelson involved in it.  Because they didn’t have a très player originally for the descarga section.  That’s my daddy, Cachao.  This particular tune was kind of subdued, there was not much happening for him.  The best way to catch Cachao sometimes is live.  I wish they would record him live.  This was part of the records that Emilio Estefan put out?  I don’t think he’s the best producer for that genre.  First of all, I didn’t like the balance of the sound.  It could have been a lot better.  I’ll give it 4 stars because I like Nelson’s playing on it.  Was that Paquito d’Rivera on clarinet and Nestor Torres on flute?  What about trumpet?  It wasn’t Chocolate.  It was?  That was a very subdued Chocolate.  It didn’t sound like him.  And his trademark notes that he likes to play aren’t there.  Something tells me there was maybe some weird chemistry going on in the studio.

* * *

Andy Gonzalez (WKCR–Feb. 23, 2006):

[MUSIC: “This Is For Albert” (Rumba Buhaina)]

AG:   We did a couple of albums where we had to find a way for Jerry to play the horn with Joe Ford, and after he’d state the line, he would take a solo and then jump on the drums. Because there was no overdubbing; this was recorded direct to two-track. That was interesting, to say the, to see him manage the jump back and forth.

TP:   It is one of the great sights in jazz to see him jump up from the conga drums after he’s been abusing his hands for 5-6 minutes, and immediately launch into an improvisation. Even more so when it’s a ballad

AG:   I don’t know how he does it. I like to play percussion instruments, too, but I will not play them because it makes my fingers stiff to play the bass. I don’t know how to he gets to manipulate his fingers that well right after playing hard congas, and pick up the phone and play.

TP:   He plays hard. You and your brother have been playing trumpet and bass and congas for close to 50 years…

AG:   A long time.  I’m 55, and I was 13 when we started to play music. A little more than 40 years.

TP: And you’ve often played in the same bands over the years. With Eddie Palmieri for several years, with Dizzy Gillespie briefly in the ‘60s, as well as the Apaches.

AG:   Jerry was also in the first band I ever recorded with, which was Monguito Santamaria, who was Mongo’s son. Rene McLean was in that band, and Jose Mangual, Jr., was in the band. Jerry was part of that band for a minute, too.

TP:   Let’s talk about the history of the Fort Apaches. Ten years ago, you were playing a lot around and New York and touring, but things changed, Jerry moved to Spain, and the opportunities to play are less than they had been.

AG:   Well, we have been playing some. Jerry would come in occasionally to do it, and there would be a tour set up, and some… The band has been working on and off. It’s maybe not as much as we could because of the distance between us. But we still get together enough. And it sounds like we’d never been apart, just because of the chemistry involved in the band.

TP:   It’s one of the innovative bands of late 20th century jazz, influential on two generations of musicians from South America, the Caribbean, Spain, who heard your ability to fuse Afro-Caribbean diasporic rhythms with jazz harmonies. It’s hard to say if anyone was the first to do anything, but recordings like Rumba Para Monk and things before that have had a tremendous influence on the way jazz sounds today. These ideas were exotic in 1988; now it’s the mainstream.

AG:   They were even more exotic in 1979.

TP:   There are a few streams to discuss. One of the history of the Fort Apache; the other is the present. Let’s stay with the present for the moment, and the new recording, Rumba Buhaina.

AG:   A lot of people don’t understand that “Buhaina” was Art Blakey’s Muslim name. In the late ‘40s, quite a few musicians in jazz were either converting to Islam or flirting with it. It’s just like jazz musicians are always the first to move to things that would probably help them get away from the American stereotype of what a musician is supposed or what a spiritual person is supposed to be like. So Art Blakey took the name “Buhaina.” I don’t know what it means, but all Art Blakey’s closest friends and associates would call him “Bu.”

TP:   I believe that the Jazz Messengers name came from that same origin. Unlike your exploration of the music of Thelonious Monk, Rumba Buhaina explores a number of composers, of tunes primarily from their classic period, say ‘58 to ‘65.

AG:   That was the music that influenced us a lot. We used to go hear Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in person, and that was one of the key groups of those years. Just to hear Art Blakey be as authoritative a drummer… He was an amazing teacher. He didn’t have to tell you anything. He showed you. You just listened to him play, and it was all there to hear. We learned a lot from listening to what he had to offer, and how a drummer is so much the accompanist, and how he sets the pattern, sets the standard for what is to happen in the music. That’s something that really stayed with most musicians who came up around that time. That’s why we always consider Art Blakey one of the true teachers of the music.

TP:   He was also a musician who distilled African musicians within a swing context on the drumkit, with cross-sticking figures and polyrhythmic patterns woven within his arrangements.

AG:   I thought Art Blakey had such a strong force, a force of nature that reminded me a lot of field recordings that I had of tribal music from different parts of Africa. You’d hear, say, a drummer who would be talking on the drum, and not only the pitch, the timbre of the instrument and the way certain instruments…you would communicate a message with that way of playing. I could feel that out of Art Blakey, too. There’s a certain force that’s coming out of that. I immediately identify with it.

TP:   During those years, were you also paying attention to the records Art Blakey was doing with drummers?

AG:   Oh, yeah.

TP:   Orgy In Rhythm, a couple of volumes, and the names are escaping me of a couple of others he did, where he played with the late Ray Barretto…

AG:   I was just going to mention Ray Barretto. He also did a tribute to Art Blakey a few years ago. In fact, I think there’s one tune on the record that we also did. His concept was a little different than ours. First of all, when Ray Barretto first started getting back… He wasn’t playing much salsa any more, and he started to develop a Latin Jazz band. I know he paid quite a bit of attention to Fort Apache and what we were doing, and I think he took part of that as a role model. Which we were quite honored that he would use us as a model for what he was doing.

TP:   But as far as putting the Fort Apache touch on this repertoire, how did the ideas evolve and come to fruition?

AG:   We had the idea years ago. We thought of it as one of the many projects that we had in mind to do. There were other projects, too, that never came about for various reasons. Like, we wanted to record an album with Jose Silva, better known as Chombo, the Cuban saxophonist who was probably like the Ben Webster of Cuban music, and a masterful musician. We were just about setting that up when he had a stroke and he was no longer able to play. We were already starting to pick out the material. When you have a band like the Fort Apache band, you, have a lot of options, and there’s things that pop into your head about what this band could do, what we’re capable of doing. Because everybody in the band is a great musician, and we’re capable of a lot of things.

TP:   But Rumba Buhaina is what we’re addressing.

AG:   Yes. Well, the idea for the Art Blakey tribute… We started thinking about it, and then all of a sudden we had a few days at Sweet Rhythm to play… Before we went into the studio we played and rehearsed for a few days. That’s pretty much the way we did the Monk album, too. We played and we rehearsed different concepts on different tunes until…

TP:   Were they tunes that seemed to lend themselves to dealing with the different rhythmic signatures that you bring to your arrangements.

AG:   We tried to think of ways of approaching the music… Everybody contributed ideas. That’s the way we get it together. It’s pretty simple. From all our experiences, individually and collectively, it was pretty easy for us to put it together.

TP:   Let’s step back to 1991, the album Moliendo Café, and Larry Willis’ tune, “To Wisdom The Prize.”

AG:   I like that album a lot, for a few reasons. One of them was that Miles Davis had just passed away, and we had… We thought about it a lot because he was such a strong influence on us also.

TP:   The album is dedicated to the percussionist Guillermo Barretto. Art Blakey had just passed.  Charlie Palmieri had just passed. Dizzy Gillespie shortly thereafter. George Adams as well. All are mentioned on the inner sleeve…

[“To Wisdom The Prize” & “Along Came Betty”]

TP:   On previous shows, Andy has brought literally a suitcase filled with recordings, primarily obscure and little known, great gems. A lot of this material is now available on CD so it’s a bit easier to track down…once you get the CD. Next week will you be playing primarily this repertoire or digging into the whole book?

AG:   I’ve got a feeling we’ll dig into the whole book, but we are going to feature some of the tunes from the new album.

TP:   Earlier I mentioned that there are two streams to talk about, one the new recording, Rumba Buhaina, but for listeners… As you get older, you come to grips with the notion that younger listeners don’t share core experiences. A lot of hardcore jazz fans may be unfamiliar with how you and Jerry developed your ideas about music, and what in your personal histories led to the formation of the Fort Apache Band.

AG:   Jerry got his first opportunity to record in 1979, and that was an album under his own name called Ya Yo Me Cure, which in English means “I have been cured”—whatever that means. The title track of that album was something that Frankie Rodriguez, who was a percussionist who passed away a few years ago, but was a very talented person and very close to us… He was part of Grupo Folklorico, and he was into culture really deep. I had a record of pygmy chants from Africa, and he heard one chant that was done by kids. It was like some children’s chant. He heard it a few times, and started singing “Ya Yo Me Cure” to it, just putting those Spanish words to the chant itself, and we made a guaguanco out of it. That was a precursor of what Fort Apache became.

TP:   But by then, you’d been professional musicians for more than a decade. Eddie Palmieri, Dizzy Gillespie…

AG:   I played with Ray Barretto while I was in high school, ‘69 to ‘71. In between that time, me and Jerry worked with Dizzy Gillespie. So we were getting arond. I was still in high school, and Jerry was coming out of college.

TP:   Were Eddie Palmieri and Dizzy Gillespie people who helped push you along conceptually?

AG:   It was kind of a mutual thing. We were well aware of Eddie Palmieri; we were big fans. But we brought something new to the table.

TP:   What was that?

AG:   Well, a different sensibility. The sensibility that Eddie Palmieri had before, when Barry Rogers was part of the band, and Barry would bring the harmonic element… When he’s taking a solo, you can feel there’s something that’s really in the jazz world, and it’s very spontaneous and very heartfelt, and there was a lot of feeling to it. That’s one of the things that we learned a lot about, and something about jazz improvisation, that nothing was thought out before time—it was just off the cuff. Whatever came to your mind that you thought was hip enough, that’s what you would play. So we had started to do those kind of things with Eddie. We took Eddie’s band into some new places where he hadn’t ventured before. We all used to hang out at my parents’ house in the basement apartment on Gildersleeve Avenue in the Bronx, and Eddie Palmieri used to come over and Barretto used to come over… If that basement could talk… Dizzy Gillespie used to come over. We used to have jam sessions there all the time. Out of all that stuff, out of a lot of experimentation, came the music we wanted to play.

TP:   Both of you had been deeply into folkloric music for many years. How did you get involved in… Was folkloric music just always there, or did people point you towards recordings and connections?

AG:   Well, there’s different types of folkloric music. There’s folkloric music for dancing, and it was more a commercial music that was provided for dancing, but it still had quite a bit of folklore to it. That was the soundtrack of my childhood. Family parties, things like that. There was always a collection of good 78s that everybody used to dance to, like Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Cortijo Y Su Combo from Puerto Rico with Ismail Rivera singing, Mon Rivera… This was primarily folklore in the Puerto Rican vein and in the Cuban vein. Sonora Matancera, which was a Cuban band. That’s the stuff we grew up with.

TP:   When did you start breaking that stuff down?

AG:   That came a little bit later, because that’s something we got used to hearing. But we didn’t start breaking it down until we became more schooled in music. Both of us went to High School of Music and Art. They give you theory. They give you how to analyze a piece of music, and what happens in these number of bars, and then this section comes, and things like that. But what happened was, when I was 13, we had already been listening to Cal Tjader records for a while… Jerry was two years older than me, and he was starting to play congas, and he was also playing trumpet, and I was playing the bass, and we put together a Latin Jazz quintet like Cal Tjader’s. We started working with it. We started playing… In that music, we were trying to emulate the Cal Tjader sound and what they were doing, which was quite spontaneous and very jazz-like. They always had good pianists, and Mongo and Willie Bobo were heroes of ours. So that was pretty much how we started and where our taste was as far as playing music.

It wasn’t until I got to play with Ray Barretto’s band that I really started studying what came before, especially Afro-Cuban music. Or Cuban music.  The term “Afro-Cuban” that’s bandied about now as THE term, because everybody wants to point towards Cuba as the birthplace of a lot of the music—but I don’t know. I think it was maybe a little more to do with the Caribbean experience. Not just Cuba. Cuba was dominant, but there was also a lot going on in Puerto Rican and a lot going on in other places, too. And New York was the magnet the drew a lot of elements to it. A lot of great musicians from different parts of the Caribbean were moving to New York and bringing their music with them.

TP:   How long did you play with Dizzy Gillespie?

AG:   Almost a year. 1970.

TP:   what sort of experience was that? Was he playing primarily Cuban-influenced repertoire…

AG:   No, he was mixing it up. We had an interesting version of his band.  At the time, when we joined the band, there was no trap drummer. There was just Jerry playing congas, and I was playing the bass, George Davis was playing guitar, and Mike Longo was playing the piano—and Dizzy. I was playing my Ampeg baby bass. Now, Dizzy insisted upon a bass player who could play Latin rhythms and some jazz comfortably. That’s how I got the gig. I was only 19, and I was thrilled. We traveled a bit. It was amazing.

Dizzy was not one to… If you would sit down with him and you wanted something explained harmonically, he’d sit down at the piano and show you. But as a bandleader, he had this great instinct about talent, and he knew when he put a group of people together that the chemistry was going to work.

TP:   Rhythmically did he have anything to show you, or did…

AG:   We had things to show him.

TP:   What sort of things did you show him?

AG:   I remember working in Harlem with him one night, and we were doing a week at the Club Barron—and we brought Nicky Marrero to sit in on timbales. We played one of his tunes (I forget which one at the moment), and after he took his solo, he went by the bar… The bandstand was near the bar. He went by the bar, and we doubled the time on his tune, and we were smoking, the rhythm section was cooking, man. Then he comes up behind me and whispers in my ear, and he goes, “Where’s one?” In other words, as much as he’d been influenced by and heard quite a bit of Latin rhythms, and he’d been surrounded by good rhythm drummers, sometimes you can know a whole lot and still, if you divert your attention for a minute and come back to it, you go, “Wait a second; my hearing just turned around or something; I’m not quite sure where it is.” So while I’m playing and we’re cooking, I just looked at him and I go, “One.” He goes, “Oh, ok.” Heh-heh. Dizzy was a sweetheart. I loved him.

TP:   So as kids, you’re soaking up the music at home. It’s part of the daily fabric of your lives. You’re listening to all the jazz records as they come out…

AG:   And we were lucky enough as kids to journey out the clubs and hear this music in person. I saw Trane play. I wanted to see the quartet play, but they had already broken up. I saw one of his last performances. I saw everybody play. I was quite a regular in all the clubs. I used to go down to the Vanguard to hear the Bill Evans Trio, and I’d go to the Vanguard on Mondays to hear the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. And Slugs was one of my favorite jazz clubs in the world. That was THE place. That had an atmosphere, and the music was exceptional. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers used to play there regularly. Lee Morgan, his band used to play there. I saw so many bands. I forgot that we got to play with Kenny Dorham for a year, before Dizzy… Actually, about the time I had started playing with Ray Barretto, I was playing with Kenny Dorham.

TP:   I think Jerry has related that when he was auditioning for New York College of Music, he encountered him…

AG:   Kenny was trying to get his degree so he could teach. New York College of Music started a jazz program, and they were givimg full scholarships to jazz musicians, and all of a sudden, a lot of musicians jumped in that school. They had a great big band. Great musicians there. So Kenny Dorham was studying there, and he was in Jerry’s trumpet class. The trumpet teacher was a classical teacher, and he failed Kenny Dorham. Failed him! I couldn’t believe that. Kenny Dorham could have taught him a few things. But we’ve been blessed, man. We were blessed that we were really accepted by a lot of people, and taught as well. Just by playing together with someone, you give a little bit of your knowledge, and you get knowledge back in return. There was quite a bit of activity going on for musicians in those days.

TP:   It also seems that the cultural politics of the ‘60s would point people in the direction of incorporating folkloric music into the fabric of their everyday activity and professional work.

AG:   Of course. I saw Olatunji. Olatunji had a group of drummers and dancers, and we got to hear that. There was a lot going on. But there wasn’t much Cuban folklore. Because of the Revolution, the radio stations wouldn’t play much of that music. But around 1969, Felipe Luciano, who was part of the Young Lords, he got a position to start a radio program on WRVR. I had met him while I was with Barretto, and I was studying Cuban folklore with Rene Lopez, who was one of the producers of Grupo Folklorico Experimental. We actually programmed the first month of shows. The first bunch of shows were midnight to six in the morning. We got calls from people saying, “what are doing playing this great music, and I’ve got to get up for work in the morning—are you guys nuts?” Then after a few months, finally, we got the ok to do our show in the afternoon. That was the beginning of… We did quite a bit of teaching by playing the music and talking about it, and opening that door that was closed to a lot of people about Cuban music. There was a lot of live performances…

TP:   Then you started doing it yourself, and Grupo Folklorico came into the picture…

AG:   Oh, yeah. Well, that was a given. When you’re exposed to all this knowledge, it becomes part of you, and you want to do it—and especially if you have the skills to do it. It’s like anything. When you’re studying music and you’re listening to records, it’s a communication, and you pick up on the message that’s being sent to you.

I heard this next tune on a videotape of a rehearsal in Matanzas, Cuba, that somebody gave me, of a folkloric group that was doing bata stuff, which is the hourglass shaped drum where there’s three different drums of different sizes, and they have chants going on with certain drum-beats. So there was one that was done in honor of the deity called Elegua. Elegua is the keeper of the crossroads, and is the one that opens and closes all your paths. So most ceremonies begin with Elegua. When you do a ceremony in that genre, you start with Elegua.

So I heard this chant, and it stayed in my head, and I started playing bass to it, and I figured out two sets of changes to the same melody. That’s what we use as our basis for improvisation. The first set of changes is a pedal tone, and it just stays in that pedal. It’s open. It’s kind of what McCoy Tyner or Trane would do. Then the second time we run the melody down, there’s another set of changes to it. So I came up with that, and then we developed it into a composition.

[“Elegua”]

AG:   The reason I played “Anabacoa” is that it’s a tune that had been done by a few Cuban bands, but the one that caught our attention, and that’s why we wanted to play it, was the recording by Arsenio Rodriguez Y Su Conjunto, and their version was slammin’! That’s where we got our inspiration, but then we took it to another place. And then we had the great Manny Oquendo playing one of his really classic timbal solos. It goes back to what we were talking about Art Blakey being the authoritative drummer. Well, Manny shows that he’s in that same league. He’s a very authoritative drummer.

TP:   The primal feel and the sophistication together.

AG:   Together, yeah.

TP:   That quality could describe Fort Apache, which has been doing it for 27 years, on and off…

AG:   Time flies.

TP:   We’ll move to 1988, and a live performance by an expanded edition of the Fort Apache Band, that was documented by Enja, in Zurich, titled Obatala. I’ve treasured this recording for some time; it’s an expanded version of the Apaches… Mad percussion.

AG:   When we started the Fort Apache Band, it had a large percussion section. But it was very difficult to work with that kind of ensemble, because booking it wasn’t easy. It was a lot of people to fly in and put up in hotels and so on. It was a financial decision and an artistic one to break it down to the bare essentials, which was a quintet and a sextet.

TP:   Who did the arrangement of “Justice.”

AG:   Jerry and I heard a riff on a Cuban record by Frank Emilio, who is a great Cuban pianist, and he had a riff on this record that was so intriguing, and we said, “Wow, this sounds like ‘Evidence’—because “Evidence” has such a quirky rhythm-melody to it. I said, “Wow, let’s see about putting these two elements together, and this is what came out.

[END OF CONVERSATION]

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Filed under Andy Gonzalez, Blindfold Test, DownBeat, Interview, WKCR

A 1997 interview with Buddy Montgomery for the Liner Notes of “Here Again”

In 1997, I had the honor of conducting interviews on consecutive days with Charles “Buddy” Montgomery (1930-2009), the vibraphonist-pianist, who was a kind of unsung hero on both instruments, for the liner notes for a Sharp-9 recording titled Here Again. In putting together the notes, I also called Slide Hampton, George Coleman, Michael Weiss, David Hazeltine, and Brian Lynch, all of whom were close to Montgomery, and admired his art tremendously. On the occasion of Montgomery’s 83rd birth-year, I’m posting the unedited transcript of all of the interviews below — lots of information.

* * *

Buddy Montgomery interview for “Here Again” (Slide Hampton, George Coleman, Michael Weiss, Tommy Flanagan, David Hazeltine, Brian Lynch):

TP:    Tell me about Jeff Chambers and Ray Appleton and your association with them?

BM:    As far as Ray as concerned, I played with him before I got to Milwaukee.  He’s from Indianapolis, like I am.  He’d done a couple of tours with me before I got to Milwaukee.  At one time he and Melvin worked with me in Milwaukee when I was playing vibes a lot.  I went back and forth between piano and vibes.  I used other guys, too.  I used (?)Roger Humphries(?) as a vibes player.  That particular trio was a (?) trio.  Ray I think has the best cymbal ride… I think there’s only a few guys who have that feel of the cymbal ride as Ray.  He has an original feel of it, pretty much from the old school, like Art Blakey, those kind of guys.  He knows the tunes.  We’ve had somewhat a relationship over the years, and it comes out in the music.

Jeff started so young with me.  He was about 18 years old, I think.  And he developed into a helluva good bass player.

I used them because when I write music it’s not always easy to put this music on any bass player or any drummer, so it’s best to use these same guys…

TP:    Talk about what you think is tricky about your music?

BM:    Well, it’s kind of hard for me to say what’s tricky, because I don’t see it as tricky.  I guess it’s the style I play or write or whatever you want to call it.  To me I think it’s simple as all-outdoors, but it seems to be a lot to remember, I guess, especially when I’m playing the vibes with other piano players.  There’s a lot to it.  It’s not just a few notes here and a few notes here.  And then I guess the way that you do it, the way you arrange a tune, your thoughts could be totally different from sometimes the regular case.  It’s a little bit different; I think just a little bit harder to get.

TP:    Did you start playing piano before the vibes or vibes before the piano?

BM:    I started piano first.  I started learning the instrument at 18 in a serious way.  Before I would just kind of sit around a lot and listen to music being played, Wes and other guys in my hometown coming by my house, jam sessions, and they used to try to show me a couple of tunes, and I’d listen to a couple of tunes.  I wouldn’t really get serious, and I would never sit down and try to learn the instrument until I turned 18 — then I decided I would get into it.

TP:    But obviously you must have been listening to music from the very beginning.

BM:    Well, it you want to put it that way, there was music in my soul from the time I was born.  My folks weren’t musicians, but they were singers and…you know, they were church people.  When I say “music in my soul,” that’s what I meant, because there has always been music in my family.  It was always there.  But that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in.

TP:    When did you start playing the vibes?

BM:    I bought a set of vibes in 1955, but they didn’t get delivered to me until 1956.  At that time, as soon as I got them, then I started practicing, and decided I wanted to do a lot of arranging.  I started making up tunes, making up arrangements, and I’d have whoever I could get to play them.  Actually, it was mostly… At that time my brother Monk had left town, so Wes played bass on a lot of my gigs.  He wasn’t a bass player, but he certainly would play the notes.

TP:    Who were some of the pianists in Indianapolis who were interesting to you who might have had some influence?

BM:    Earl Grandy.  He was, in my opinion, the daddy of music of Jazz, period, in Indianapolis.  He I would think is as far as any piano player I’ve ever heard, in my estimation, in terms of his knowledge.  His knowledge and his ear I don’t think could be beat by anybody.  Certainly there were things he couldn’t play as fast as Art Tatum, but his knowledge, as far as I’m concerned was up there.

TP:    Anyone else, or is Earl Grandy it?

BM:    Carl Perkins was about a year older than me.  We were friends, but we didn’t hang out.  We weren’t together that long in terms of being friends, because I got in it kind of late, and he left town a couple of years after I started getting into it.

TP:    You listed Tatum as your main influence in the Encyclopedia of Jazz.

BM:    Oh, yes.  Tatum I would say is probably on the top shelf of all piano players, and Bud Powell, and Erroll Garner, who a lot of folks think is too commercial, but I think he’s too incredible to say he’s just commercial!

TP:    Apart from in your family, did you go out to hear music in Indianapolis when he was a kid.  You’re about two years older than Slide Hampton, I guess.

BM:    Yes.

TP:    He mentioned there was a ballroom in Indianapolis that bands would begin their tours from.

BM:    Sure.  The Sky Club.

TP:    Describe the musical scene in Indianapolis as best you can for me when you were a kid.

BM:    Well, it was very lively, for sure.  There were an incredible amount of musicians for a small town like that.  It was just incredible.  There were an incredible number of good musicians at that time.  There was a tenor player there named Buddy Parker who I thought had a sound as good as anybody in the world, and he had a terrific style which didn’t sound like anybody else.  There was a guy by the name of Jimmy Coe who was an alto player who a lot of guys around the country really loved.  Cannonball heard him and liked him, and a lot of folks liked him.   There were two piano players who were brothers called the Johnson brothers, and they knew everybody.  They knew Art Tatum… They were stride piano players.  They were helluva players.

TP:    It must have been interesting to go to a party at their house!

BM:    Well, we had actually probably more parties than anybody at our house.

TP:    The Montgomery household.

BM:    Yeah.  That was kind of the hangout. [ETC.] Wes was six years older than me, and Monk was a year-and-a-half older than Wes.

TP:    I got some wrong birthdays.  Say a few words about each of your brothers.  Then I’d like to talk about how that family band started to get together.  First Monk, then Wes, musical and personal.

BM:    Before I do that, I’d like to mention something that no one else people aren’t familiar with.  I had an older brother, who was older than Monk or Wes, and taught Monk and Wes.  He was a drummer.  He was named after my father — Thomas.  I wanted everybody to know that, because he was a helluva drummer.  He was about two years older than Monk.  I didn’t know him.

As far as Monk is concerned, Monk was what I call the most colorful guy in the family.  He was kind of a leader.

TP:    He became a union leader in Vegas, I think.

BM:    Yes.  Oh, he did so many things.  He was just kind of a leader type person.  He was kind of head of the family, so to speak.  The older brother always is pretty much like that.  He started playing about the same time as Wes (they both started playing at about the same time), and he decided he wanted to play the bass, I guess, and he got into it, and he became pretty good.

TP:    What do you remember about how he started with the electric bass, since he’s known to be the innovator on that instrument?

BM:    Well, that happened when he joined Lionel Hampton’s band.  That’s when Hamp had him play the electric bass.  From there out he became the electric bass player.

TP:    Tell me about Wes, personal and musical.

BM:    It’s hard    to say about Wes, because the only thing you can say about him is how tremendous a player he was!  Everybody knows about …(?)…

TP:    Do you remember anything about his early years playing music?

BM:    You have to remember I’m 6½ years younger, and whatever I remember I wouldn’t …[CAR HONKING]… Like I say, most of my life I was not interested in music.

TP:    Why was that?

BM:    You’re asking me?  I should probably ask you!  I have no way of knowing.  I didn’t see music as anything that really I could get into it.  I wasn’t coming from the same place…

TP:    Was that because your brothers were so talented, or just because…

BM:    No.  And I never knew how talented they were!  You’re raised with them, you hear this all the time, and they weren’t no giant names.  A lot of people didn’t know who they were, just a few local people.  But Wes Montgomery wasn’t Wes Montgomery, the star.  They went to the table and ate like I did.

Wes was a hard worker at playing his instrument and learning his instrument.  He was a very lively guy.  He was very funny, a lot of humor.  You’d think you could think of a thousand things the minute you say “Wes Montgomery,” but it’s not like… You just need a few things to say…

TP:    I’ve read how hard he worked to get the mastery over the instrument.

BM:    Well, right.

TP:    What was it that made you all of a sudden get interested in music?

BM:    It was Wes.  Over a period of time he kept saying, “why don’t you check this out, or check this out.”  He and I were kind of close.  But I just never had been that interested in it.  I could hear him play, but I didn’t know that much about music.  It didn’t faze me anywhere like it does now.  But once I got into it, then I was a new person.  Then I was able to hear it, and down the line I was able to understand.  I could hear him talk about all those things, but I couldn’t… Hey, I was still a young teenager.

TP:    Did the piano come pretty naturally to you?

BM:    Well, I would have to say yeah, it came naturally, because if you don’t read music or anything like that, it’s a natural gift.

TP:    You don’t read music?

BM:    No.  None of us read music.  I guess that would be pretty natural.

TP:    Or in the soul, as you say.

BM:    Yeah.

TP:    What were some of the situations that the three of you first played together in around Indianapolis?  Did you work as a rhythm section accompanying bands from out of town or soloists from out of town?  How did that work?

BM:    We actually didn’t work that much together when I was beginning, because when I started playing I wasn’t very close to people like Earl Grandy.  I was just a beginner.  I was supposed to have been pretty good for a beginner.  But people always use that pretty loosely about this guy being good; you know, “He’s great” and all this.  You know, they kind of learn the instrument pretty well, they get around the instrument pretty well, but you still haven’t got to that one point where you’re considered a great pianist.  So I wasn’t on the level as Wes and Monk, but I was kind of cheered on as being great. [LAUGHS] But that wasn’t…

TP:    When do you think you started to turn the corner?

BM:    I think maybe kind of late, like ’53 or so.

TP:    So you’d been playing for about five years, and then you started saying something.

BM:    Yeah, I think I started turning the corner, and I started getting compositions… You know, bigger people.

TP:    When did you start functioning as a working piano player, then, with or without your family?  There’s a listing here that you went out with Joe Turner when you were 18.

BM:    That was only the one tour.  I was 18.  I really wasn’t qualifying.  This alto player I told you about, Jimmy Coe, he had the band behind the singer, and he asked me to go with him.  There was another Blues piano player, I think, who was scheduled to go, and couldn’t make it, so I was asked to go.  I didn’t know that much really as far as going on the road and playing on that level.  I was only 18.  I’d just gotten started; I’d only been playing for about six months or so.  But he thought I was good enough to go, so I went, and it was a very enjoyable experience for me.  It was down South.  My first time.

TP:    What was the Hampton Brothers band like?

BM:    Slide had a brother who I felt was one of the best trumpet players and arrangers around, named Maceo.  He and Maceo did arrangements, I think Maceo did most of them, primarily Jazz arrangements.  They had sisters and brothers, and I think the whole band, except maybe three or four, were family.  I had gone over to their house many times just to hang out.  He had another brother named Lucky(?), a tenor player.  The three of those guys were more into a heavier jazz thing, and I played with them off and on.

TP:    Were you playing exclusively Jazz, or a lot of different styles of music?

BM:    It was exclusively Jazz for the most part, except this one trip I took with a Blues singer.  Then naturally, back then, when you played shows, you played whatever the performers you played with were playing, the singer, the dancer, whatever — you played whatever that was.  But in terms of going looking for your own job, certainly strictly Jazz, Bebop and stuff.

TP:    Did you say that your writing and arranging began with getting the vibraphone?

BM:    Yes.  Well, I always did arrangements.  I did all the music for the brothers.  Everybody had a job, and that was my job, to take care of rehearsals.  Every now and then, Wes would write a couple of tunes.  He didn’t do that much arranging, but he had some tunes.

TP:    What was his job?

BM:    He took care of the getting back on time, the bandstand kind of thing, calling the tunes and all that kind of stuff.  Monk took care of all the business.

TP:    Who was Roy Johnson?  Again, the Montgomery-Johnson Quintet from ’55 to ’57.

BM:    Let me explain, because when you ask me a question, then I have to talk about each individual.  But if you mention the particular group, the group that worked at the Turf Club was called the Montgomery-Johnson Quintet.  There were two guys named Johnson and two guys named Montgomery.  Our drummer had played with Slide’s family band for many years, Sonny Johnson we called him (I’ve forgotten his real name).  And Alonzo “Pookie” Johnson was the tenor player.

TP:    A few words about the Master Sounds.  How that evolved, how you got from Indianapolis out to the West Coast.

BM:    The Master-Sounds happened after I brought my vibes.  After I brought my vibraphone is when I started trying to need a new sound, and that’s when I started writing, trying to get a new sound for a group.  That’s when I started using a piano player named Al Plank from the Indianapolis area.  He was never part of any group that I’d had, but he worked on several different occasions when I’d put this group together, and Wes was the bass player.  So this was my beginning in doing this quartet with vibes.  Then later I got with Monk.  Monk had just left our band and went on the road again, then he and I got together, and we moved to Seattle.  First we didn’t just move to Seattle; he was working there, and I called him, and he got a little gig for us — and that’s how it began.  [INAUDIBLE] He’s the one who contacted the piano player for us.

TP:    That’s the situation that brought the Montgomery name to public awareness, I guess, beyond Indianapolis.

BM:    Well, that’s the first time we did it on any kind of level.  Because we had recorded earlier, maybe three or four years before that, but nothing really happened out of the album.

TP:    You were briefly with Miles Davis.  What do you want to tell me about that experience?

BM:    There’s not a lot I want to say about that, because…

TP:    I’ve heard the story, whether or not it’s apocryphal or not…

BM:    There’s 50,000 different stories on that, and they’re all embarrassing.  I mean, that’s been the biggest issue of all!  I certainly can’t blame them, because there’s enough there to talk about.  And depending on how you look at it… It didn’t faze me any…

TP:    It was you and Miles on the front line on trumpet and vibes, or was Coltrane still in it?

BM:    You forgot Coltrane!

TP:    No, I didn’t know if you were in there after Coltrane left or not.

BM:    No, I was in after Cannonball left.  All the same guys were still there.

TP:    I have a clip that announces you joining the band at the Sutherland in Chicago?

BM:    Oh, really?  That was the first gig.

TP:    Apart from the stories, was it an enjoyable experience?

BM:    Well, it was a top-of-the-line experience.  I mean, it had to be with nothing but the top-of-the-line players.  It was the group!  It was certainly fulfilling, and it was certainly a level that kept you on your toes.  I joined them, and it was really weird, he respected me just as much as anybody else…. I got the respect, and I got a good groove, I got a good feeling from everybody.  It was just… It’s kind of hard for me to explain.

TP:    Did you tour consistently throughout the ’60s with Wes, or was there a time when Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb were the touring band?

BM:    I think they only did one or two jobs with Wes.

TP:    So that was primarily for recording.

BM:    As far as I can remember.  I’m not totally clear, but I don’t remember a whole lot that happened.  I remember the record date that they did in California with Wynton, because I was managing the club.  I’m the one that got them there to do it.  I remember they did concerts together then, one or two jobs, but that was it.  I know Wes went to Europe for maybe a week or something like that, and he used Jimmy Lovelace as the drummer (because Jimmy had worked with me in San Francisco), and he used Harold Mabern.  But you know how that is, guys go out with whoever and then they come back.  But that was just for that trip.

TP:    But the brothers toured pretty much until Wes died, I take it.

BM:    Yeah.  We were together up until he died.  I don’t know exactly when we got back together.  We were off and on, and the last maybe two or three years we were together.

TP:    Do you find different sides of yourself come out on the piano and on the vibes, and if so how would you describe that?

BM:    I have a problem sometimes, because the music that I arrange and that I try to compose is more important to me than actually playing.  Sometimes I don’t put as much… And I’ve learned to do it better and better as I get older, because I’m able to play equally or close to equally as well as I’m able to compose, and that’s not always been the case.  It’s like anything that want to do and you’re trying to work to make something happen, that’s the most important thing in your life…

TP:    That’s an interesting thing to say.

BM:    Yeah.  It means more to me sometimes to arrange something than it does to play it.

TP:    And you find that as you keep evolving and getting older, the intensity with which you improvise is becoming more focused?

BM:    It’s coming together to where, when I write a tune, I can somehow play it and feel that I’ve done a pretty good job playing it.  A lot of times in the past, when I was writing arrangements for the group, I would write the arrangement and that would be the only thing that was on my mind, because I knew that I knew how to play the instrument.  It’s just that once I got there, I didn’t spend enough time playing the instrument!  So on my earlier records, my playing was nowhere like what I know I can do.

TP:    Would you rank this record, Here Again, as the most successful, or one of?

BM:    I wouldn’t say that particular record… I’d say that today I’m able to put together… The piano I got to play was the piano I asked for, at least in name.  I wanted a Steinway, and that’s what they prepared for me.  But the Steinway I don’t think had been played that much, and it was a little stiff for my taste.  I might have done a better job with a piano that was a little looser.  It made some things a little sloppy.  A lot of people might not detect it, but…

TP:    Did you write the originals for this date, or are some of these older pieces?

BM:    Oh, some of these tunes I had done… I’ve got so many tunes that I just have not recorded.  A few are things I’ve done before.

TP:    How many tunes would you say you have that are still unrecorded?

BM:    Oh, it’s hard to tell.  I know for a fact there’s over 100.  Some of them aren’t completed.  It’s just that I never worry about completing my songs, because when it comes time I know how to put it together.

[END OF 9-1-97 CONVERSATION]

TP:    “Here Again.”  Mark says this refers to the reunion of the trio.

BM:    Well, let me start a little further back.  I write (or I compose a lot of tunes) and never put titles to them, because I’m not always inspired by a particular young woman or this or that or anything; I’m mainly inspired by the music.  So when I put a tune together, I hear certain things and that’s what I do, and for the majority of people that I know, that’s where I get my titles from.  I mean, not all the time, but a lot of times on titles, people say they heard a tune, they liked it, it sounds like this, and ..(?)..

TP:    Is composition something that you work on in a very disciplined way?  Are you constantly writing tunes, thinking about music?

BM:    I am constantly thinking music all the time.  I don’t think there’s any composer who can say every time he thinks of something he turns out music — or I don’t know of any.  But you hear certain things… I’m lucky to hear a good musical line that I think is creative, and I think has a good sound to it, a good feeling to it, and if I’m able to get anything more than that, then I’m more or less blessed.

TP:    When you are composing a piece, since you don’t read music or write music, does it become sort of imprinted on your mind, and you wind up teaching it to people by getting them a cassette or going over it one-on-one with them?

BM:    Exactly what you said.  I’m not a writer, because I can’t write, but I’m a composer, so when I put a tune together it usually stays in mind.  I can hear voicings over the years, certainly I hear voicings, and I know what I want everybody to play.  It’s the hard way! [LAUGHS] I did this album with my brothers and five others, you know, and that was with Freddie and a whole lot of people and I had to show each guy separate notes.  That’s not the easy way out.  If you can write this stuff down, you’d do it.  But since I couldn’t write, I just remembered everything I wanted.

TP:    I heard Thad Jones did that to some degree also for the Orchestra, although the parts down.  And it makes sense, because his stuff was so different than anybody else…

BM:    Yeah.  Well, Thad was incredible.  The difference is, he could read, too!  But where I’m concerned, I don’t really know how to write stuff down, and it’s nobody’s fault but my own.  But I rely more on my ear.  And I’m kind of comfortable with that.  It’s kind of the hard way out, but I’m comfortable with that, and I like to be able to sit down and show everybody everything, to be able to show the notes, and then if it’s not right I’m able to change the note — but it’s not that much different from what I hear.

TP:    That said, tell me about “Here Again.”

BM:    “Here Again” is a tune that I actually wrote for another record date, and it didn’t come across.  But I had written it some years ago, and… I have many tunes that I have laying around on tape, and when I talked with Mark about doing this, he said he’d like to hear me play more original tunes.  So I pulled some things off the tape that I had along with several other things, and I thought, “That could be one-of,” and another…

Let me tell you about the title of it.  The title of it, when we just got to New York, when the bass player, Jeff Chambers, got to New York, he said, “Well, we’re together again” — meaning that for the last 25 years we’ve been working off-and-on, sometimes a longer stint than the others.  He said, “Well, we’re back together again.”  He said, “Man, I’ve got a title for at least two of your songs, if you don’t mind.”  I said, “No, give it to me.”  He said, “Here Again.”  That’s where that whole idea came from.

TP:    Can you say something about the structure of it?

BM:    It’s kind of hard for me to talk about the structure of it, because I can’t put it in the way I’d like to put it, technical ways.  I’m no good at that.  If I feel I can’t really explain it where it makes sense, I won’t.

TP:    Why don’t we try.  And if it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense.

BM:    Well, I’d just rather… Are you a musician?

TP:    I’m not a musician… [ETC.]

BM:    Well, I don’t know to say it.  It’s just not a tune that I can relate to you.

TP:    Fine.  Let’s talk about “A Thousand Rainbows.”

BM:    I recorded “A Thousand Rainbows” many, many years ago.  It was on a label my brother, Monk, had out of Las Vegas, the Bean label.  Monk used to call his son Bean.  It was on his label that I did this, and I recorded it with a sextet, Harold Land and Carmell Jones.  When he died, nobody knew what happened to the masters.  I have a copy of the record.  You know, they couldn’t find the masters for anything, but I had one because I helped finance the date.  Anyway, I hadn’t played it since, and I always kind of liked the tune.

TP:    Let’s talk about “Blues For David.”

BM:    I recorded that sometime ago; I think twice, I’m not sure.  I did it on a date with Fathead and Clifford Jordan, and I also recorded that with another one of my groups.

TP:    When you’re going in there on a tune like that, or “A Thousand Rainbows,” are you thinking of the previous version and trying to do something to differentiate from it, or has the tune evolved in your mind?  Do your compositions change over 30 years?

BM:    Right.  The basic thing doesn’t change, actually, but there are some parts of it that you want to make it sound more up to date, and you want to… It gives you a chance to do some things that you didn’t do on the first one.  On “A Thousand Rainbows,” the melody varies, especially in the bridge.  The basic structure is the same chord-structures-wise; in how it moves, they’re all the same.  But the melody differs just a little bit here and there.

TP:    The next one is “Hob Nob With Brother Bob.”

BM:    Well, I did a record date with… I actually found that on a date that I used Jeff and Ray and a couple of conga players, and I also used Herman Riley, a tenor player out here, and a trumpet player (the best trumpet player out here; I can’t remember his name) and Kevin Eubanks.  It’s never been released.  I still have the master.  I haven’t been able to get a deal on it yet.  But I recorded that “Hob Nob” on that date, and since that was over two years ago and nothing happened with it, I decided to do it again.

TP:    The last of the originals is “Aki’s Blues.”

BM:    That’s named after my godson, Jeff Chambers’s son.

TP:    Is that a recent composition?

BM:    Yes, within the last year-and-a-half.  I did this on a Kevin Eubanks record date with Ralph Moore and Jimmy Cobb, and he did the same as I.  He still owns the master, but nothing has happened with it yet, so I decided to record it.

TP:    So those two are more recent, and “Blues For David” and “A Thousand Rainbows” are older pieces, and “Here Again” is also an older piece.

BM:    Right.

TP:    Which you never recorded.

BM:    Right.

TP:    I’ll ask you about the standard.  “You’ve Changed.”

BM:    “You’ve Changed” is somewhat of a yesterdays tune for me.  It’s not anything new.  And I’m partial to old tunes.

TP:    Is it something you’ve been playing a long time?

BM:    Off and on, all my life.  But I mean, it’s not something when I go into a club I automatically think of playing.  It’s just every now and then I think of some of those old standards that I like.

TP:    Are you very interested in singers and in lyrics?  I gather you’ve played with a fair number of singers in years back.

BM:    Yes.  I would have to say some singers and some lyrics.

TP:    Let me put it this way.  In the tunes you’re playing that are standards, is the lyric something that’s paramount in your mind as you’re playing?

BM:    No.

TP:    It’s a purely musical proposition.

BM:    Right.  It has a lot to do with, after I play them, how do we come together between the song and me.  Because all of these tunes… I mean, there are thousands of songs I’ve played over the years, and I would play them.  Some of them were nice tunes, some were great, but we don’t come together enough to make a difference, if you know what I mean.  And there are certain tunes, just the way it falls, the changes don’t lay a certain kind of way that interests me.  Sometimes a melody might be great, but I don’t care about the changes.  There are certain things about certain songs.  But then you find a tune that has a nice melody and the changes are beautiful, too, and then it seems to come together with the way my thinking does — and then that’s me.

TP:    In playing piano, were you influenced, apart from pianists, by horn players, in thinking about creating lies and so forth?

BM:    Yes.  It’s kind of hard to get away from being influenced by horn players, because they are the front line, and usually you don’t get anything done until you hear them first. [LAUGHS] So your influence is when you hear them solo.  They can’t play two notes at one time.  I got (?) from Charlie Parker and Dizzy…

TP:    So in the ’40s, you were listening to Bird’s solos and Dizzy’s solos, and internalizing them?

BM:    Oh, so many, many guys.  Sure, all those guys and more.

TP:    Name a few others.

BM:    Sonny Stitt, Dexter, Gene Ammons… Not that I sound like any of them, but just the fact that you get something from each one.  Sometimes you don’t realize what you got from different people.  When I look at it, I’d have to say I got probably more of the chord structure and everything from piano, naturally, but your ideas can come from anywhere.

TP:    Plus I guess hearing your brothers.

BM:    Oh, certainly.  And then my brother had to hear somebody!

TP:    It’s an endless circle, isn’t it.

BM:    Sure.  We have to be inspired by somebody.  But when you hear him play, you don’t necessarily hear those people.

TP:    Some musicians started off copying solos off records, analyzing them, but you sound like someone who had an idea of what music should sound like, and went for that, and put what you heard within whatever situation you were playing in.

BM:    I wish that was true.  I’m more of an honest guy.  Like most everybody else, I copied solos.

TP:    Tell me three solos you copied when you were young.

BM:    Oh, I couldn’t tell you three.  I could tell you a hundred!

TP:    Well, tell me five then!  For instance, Tatum!

BM:    I can’t tell you solos I copied.  I can tell you people.  Bud Powell, Nat Cole, Erroll Garner, the guys who I think were the top players.  Art Tatum.  I mean, there was just so much I could copy from Tatum!  It was just too hard to imagine yourself trying to do some of that stuff.  But I mean, it didn’t stop you from copying some of the things.  But then you had to turn it around and… My good fortune is, you don’t particularly hear it.  You hear everybody at the same time you still hear me, and that’s all I was after.

TP:    That’s what everybody says, you don’t sound like anybody else.  Did those guys come through Indianapolis?  Did you get to see Erroll Garner or Bud Powell or Tatum first-hand?

BM:    Well, I didn’t see Bud first-hand in Indianapolis.  I saw him in New York at Birdland and Chicago.  But I saw Art Tatum… I saw those people there in concerts.

TP:    Where would they play concerts?

BM:    It was a place downtown called the Circle Theater?

TP:    Was that the main black theater in Indianapolis?

BM:    No, that was a White theater downtown.  People in our neighborhood probably couldn’t afford it.  But that’s the place where they had… It was those Norman Granz concerts.

TP:    Was Indianapolis a stop on the circuit for guys like Bird or Sonny Stitt or James Moody?  Would they pick up a local rhythm section…

BM:    They’d bring their own rhythm section.

TP:    So you got to hear all of them, and they got to hear you coming through.

BM:    In the earlier days they didn’t get to hear me because I really wasn’t good enough to play, but I went to hear them.

TP:    But by the early ’50s you…

BM:    Oh, by the early ’50s, when I was playing, sure.  I got to hear them, and they got to come out to jam sessions with us and all that kind of stuff.  If you’re talking about my beginnings, that started when I was 18.

TP:    Slide Hampton said that you and your brothers would practice all day long, for hours and hours and hours together, and you wouldn’t even play a tune in public unless you’d worked on it for several weeks.  Is that true?

BM:    That’s kind of true. [LAUGHS]

TP:    Does that kind of perfectionism mark the association all the way through.

BM:    We practiced all the time.  I’ll put it that way.   Especially Wes and I.  There was a time when Wes and I would practice, and nobody else.  But then the group would practice every day.  Maybe it was the kind of thing where we felt that strongly about what we were doing. [END OF SIDE]

TP:    Describe, if you can recollect it, what one of those days would be like, practicing all day?

BM:    I mean, it would just be putting some material together.  I couldn’t describe it any more than just working hard at what you’re doing.  A lot of that could be just personal practicing, and some of it could be just something you thought of.

TP:    I’m sure you’d mutually inspire each other.

BM:    Well, yeah.  It had to influence you a lot, certainly once you start playing together.  Say, man, you have got to be writing a boo    ok.

TP:    Just tell me what the venues in Indianapolis were that the brothers played.

BM:    The Turf Club.

TP:    Was that the main place?

BM:    That was the main place.

TP:    That’s where everybody came through?

BM:    That was it.  We played certainly a few jobs outside the city, and we played concerts here and there, one-nighters or a concert, but the basic job was at the Turf Club.

TP:    I have to talk to you about your time in Milwaukee.  Since this band is sort of a bringing back together of the trio in Milwaukee, I need to ask you about the circumstances, the scene, etc.  Flanagan and George Coleman both said they met you the first time when you were playing in Milwaukee at this hotel.

BM:    Right.

TP:    What was the hotel?  What were the circumstances of the gig?

BM:    It was inside the Mark Plaza Hotel, and the name of the room was the Bombay Bicycle Room – the BBC is what we called it.  It was just a room where they wanted music in there.  They didn’t care who or what.  They just wanted a guy sitting there playing piano by himself.  So I went in there as a single…

TP:    Do you remember what year?

BM:    It was 1970 or ’71, probably ’70.

TP:    So shortly after you moved to Milwaukee.

BM:    Right.  I went there playing singles, and I played there for several months, and then I got bored.  I said, “Well, I’m just going to have to quit.”  They didn’t want me to hire a trio or nothing, and so I said, “Well, what the heck.”  But then a strange thing happened.  Erroll Garner was working I think about six weeks across from me with his trio, and he used to come over on the break all the time.  We’d sit there and we’d talk.  One night I told him I was bored playing, sitting there playing by myself.  He said, “I know what you mean.  I had to do this a few times myself.”  He and I were somewhat friends.  Then he came out to dinner one day, and he said, “Buddy, I’ve got something to tell you.”  “What?”  He said, “Man, don’t quit the job.  I just heard through a meeting I was at that they’re going to let you have a trio.”  That’s how I ended up staying there so many years.

TP:    Did you stay there until you left Milwaukee?

BM:    I stayed at the hotel until about two years before I left, about 1980.

TP:    I gather from Brian and Hazeltine that you were not averse to letting young guys sit in with you and play with you.

BM:    Oh, no.  I used to do that all the time.  As a matter of fact, I kind of made a stage… Because I was also President of the Jazz Society there, and we brought people out.  That’s how George Coleman and a lot of folks got there.  I’d bring all kinds of people, Eddie Harris, you name them.

TP:    Was it a nice little scene in Milwaukee?

BM:    It turned out to be a nice little scene.  It was terrible before I got there!  But that turned out to be the place.  People would be coming down from Chicago to hear us play.  So we were drawing a lot of folks.  It got to be the place.  Not only that, you’d find a lot of stars every now and then come through there.  But when something comes to be the place, that’s the only place to go when you get there.

TP:    I know you said this yesterday, but just tell me once again how Jeff Chambers came into the group.  And about him as a bass player.

BM:    Well, I was auditioning bass players.  I started in with a different trio than Jeff and Ray.  I had a different bass player and a different drummer, and I worked there for a short while before I decided to change, and I would audition bass players.  Somebody told me about Jeff Chambers, and he came down to audition.  When I heard him, he didn’t know anything about Jazz, but he had a great feeling, and he was strong, he had good time.  I was really fortunate to have somebody who plays good time, and to be so young, he had such great time, and he had a good feeling.  I know that once I could teach him everything else that he needed to know musically, then that would be the guy that I’d want.

TP:    How would you evaluate him now?

BM:    I think he’s one of the best.  I don’t think he has the experience… He’s certainly not Ray Brown, he’s not on that level, but he’s one of the best of the ones that’s coming through.

TP:    When you spoke about Ray Appleton yesterday, your words didn’t come through so well over the phone.

BM:    Ray was working with me for many years before Jeff, off and on, not in a constant way.  I took him on a tour once with me, and then we worked a couple of things together.  But basically, we didn’t start working regularly together until I came to Milwaukee.  Ray has always had two things that I like about any drummer.  He has the cymbal beat, a beat on the ride cymbal that I think is his strength.  When you think about it… When you’re at a club you don’t pay any attention to it, but it’s there.  It’s got a feel.

TP:    You’d know if it’s missing.

BM:    Oh, definitely.  And I don’t mean that any drummer can play it.  He just has something that’s kind of built-in like Art Blakey, those kind of guys.  There’s just something there that you can’t explain it.  They can’t explain it!  It’s just there.  And he’s got that going for him.  And his feel, he’s got a feel that is part of that historical feel that old-line drummers had.  I think that’s the one thing that makes him different from anyone else, and when he’s really up to par and he really plays… He doesn’t always play that.  But when he’s really up to par, you hear some grooves that you just don’t hear.

TP:    I forgot to ask you about “Old Black Magic” and “Invitation.”

BM:    As to “Old Black Magic,” when I’m doing an album, I like to do mixtures of things.  I’d like to think I have a mixed bag of tunes and styles, and I’m not one of those musicians who feel like if I’m not playing Bebop I’m not playing.  I just feel like if I’m playing whatever it is the best I can do, then I’m going to play it.  Because that’s the reason I have it.  I just think that “Old Black Magic” is a different vibe, and the way I play it is a different vibe.  When I play a ballad I sometimes get caught up in it, because I don’t know whether to give it the same kind of feel on the vibes when I’m playing vibes… You can get caught up when you’re trying to play different styles sometimes.  If it comes out right, you’re in good shape.

TP:    How about “Invitation”?

BM:    “Invitation” is pretty much the same thing.  I try to… Some of those tunes, if you’ve got technical ability to do certain things, you can get caught up into the technical abilities without laying back and playing the tune.  That’s what happens to me sometimes.  I can hear both, but then there are times when I think the other, and it …(?)… That’s the only thing.

Slide Hampton on Buddy Montgomery:

TP:    Buddy said that he played with your family band.

SH:    We were already in Indianapolis.  My father and brother and sister and mother were all musicians.

TP:    He mentioned particularly your brother Maceo as being a great arranger and trumpeter, and you had another brother who played tenor.

SH:    That was Lucky who played saxophone.  He was great player, played very good, was also a composer and arranger. Maceo was the most talented one in the family.  He played trumpet and all the instruments, and he was a composer and arranger and everything.  Buddy and Maceo were very close.

TP:    Did you know Buddy when he started playing the piano?  He said he started taking it seriously when he was 18.

SH:    Well, I met him probably around that time, but they were already playing together with the Montgomery group.

TP:    What was that group like?

SH:    They were great.  Very talented guys, naturally.  Of course, they didn’t study.  All of their stuff was self-taught.  But the thing about the Montgomery’s was they used to get together and practice together all day, every day.  They practiced together for hours, and before they’d play a song in public they work on it for weeks!  They were very serious.

TP:    So they were always that thorough, from the getgo.

SH:    How would you characterize Buddy’s style in the early 1950′s or so, around the time he was playing with your brothers and you?

TP:    Well, one of his first influences was Art Tatum.  He and the whole family had really good ears, so they could hear anything and learn it.  They were just exceptional.  And they were very inspiring to us because they were so serious about the way they prepared whatever program they were going to play.  But he himself was just a really talented guy, one of those people who only comes along once in a while.

TP:    He’s one of the only musicians I’ve spoken to who said he has a natural gift.

SH:    It was completely natural.  It was so natural, in fact, it was so natural for them… They took it seriously in a way, but in another way they took themselves very lightly.  They did it because it was natural and they loved it.  They never thought about what trying to impress other people with whatever they did.  They just did it because they loved it.  And their arrangements… Buddy did most of the arranging for the group.  It was just incredible, because when he first started, I think he played usually in the keys that nobody else plays in.

TP:    And that was just a natural thing, what he heard.

SH:    That was a natural thing for him, yes.

TP:    He said his writing is kind of tricky for people.

SH:    It is.

TP:    What is it about his writing that’s tricky?

SH:    Actually, the kind of ensembles and things that he wrote, first of all, were completely different.  They didn’t have 32-bar forms.  I don’t think they ever did anything like that.  Their forms were always different, and they had a lot of different changes of keys and all of that.  It was never limited to any of the things that we… Usually, when we do a form, we do something in 32-measures in the key of B-flat, and most of the key center is around B-flat except maybe in the bridge.  But them, whatever key it was in, which I guess they sometimes didn’t know what key it was in… But they would never stay around the key center very much.  They would go around all the keys, and once in a while, I guess, the key center would show up.  Also, the melodies he wrote very extensive.  He wrote notey melodies with different kinds of patterns in them, patterns that most of the time we wouldn’t… Our things would be based on things that were a little bit more traditional.  But their things were very original.

TP:    Do you think that’s still the case with him today insofar as you listen to him these days?

SH:    I think he tries to be a little bit more conventional, but he’s still very original.  That’s the reason why most of his things are a little tricky for people.

TP:    Do you remember when he started playing vibes?  He said that’s what really spurred him to compose and arrange, because he needed to get a new sound.

SH:    Really?  I know when he first started playing, but I don’t know what year it was.

TP:    He said it was 1956, and he was playing in the Johnson-Montgomery band with Alonzo “Pookie” Johnson on tenor and Sonny Johnson on drums, and Wes was playing bass because Monk was out of town.

SH:    I didn’t know he started it that early.  At that time I was with Lionel Hampton, so I was away from Indianapolis.

TP:    How would you characterize his style vis-a-vis his style on the piano, if you can make that distinction?

SH:    It’s very similar.  Of course, the technique of the vibraphone is different, so there’s going to be some limitations there.  But you still hear the Buddy Montgomery lines.

George Coleman on Buddy Montgomery:

TP:    When did you first either hear or become aware of Buddy Montgomery?

GC:    Oh, I’ve been knowing about Buddy for a long time.  But I didn’t really know how great he was until I had an opportunity to play with him some 20 years ago in Milwaukee when he was living there.  The band was him, with Ray Appleton and Jeff Chambers.  I remember everything being great.  He played piano on this particular gig.  I think he had his vibes set up, and played a couple of vibe tunes, but basically it was piano.  But he’s excellent on both instruments.

One thing I can say about Buddy:  Buddy is probably the greatest musician that I’ve known who’s a natural.   He’s just a natural musician.  Buddy is not a reader and all of that.  Everything he does is great, though.  I mean, his harmonic concept on the piano, the way he voices his chords, and everything he does is like he’s classically trained.  But he’s not.  He’s like a cat sort of maybe like an Erroll Garner.

TP:    Who he said was one of his biggest influences.

GC:    Yeah.  Well, that’s what he is.  He’s one of those kind of guys.  He’s just a natural.  That’s what I mean by a natural musician, and his musicianship is great.  I’m able to determine his ability more from his piano playing,  because I can hear all those great harmonics that he plays, all those great changes and the way he voices his chords.  All of that stuff is original to him, it’s Buddy Montgomery.

Michael Weiss on Buddy Montgomery:

MW:    I think that Buddy and his brother, Wes, not reading music, has had a positive effect in the sense that they are such strong ear players, and players are like that are sometimes better equipped to play in any key easier than other musicians, because their ears are so strong.  That might have resulted in Buddy’s ability to play tunes in less standard keys.  They’re not encumbered by the written page as much, and they’ve had to survive with their wits, with their ears, and as a result are much sharper, have much sharper ears than guys who read music.

TP:    If you can come up with commonalities in his compositions, what would you say are the dynamics of his writing and his improvising style?

MW:    I guess there’s parallels to both.  We has a great harmonic sensibility.  He has a way of reharmonizing standards in a very sophisticated way, and this carries over to his own compositions, too.  He really understands how chords are put together, and when he reharmonizes standards he always finds a way to personalize those tunes with not only reharmonization but the new melodic possibilities that reharmonization presents.  A lot of people try and do this with much less success.  Buddy has a lot of success doing it because he has good taste and good musical sensibilities.  A lot of people try and reharmonize standards, but sometimes it doesn’t have the same kind of effect.  It sounds technical, it sounds obvious…

TP:    And he’s always musical.

MW:    Very musical, right.  However he reharmonizes a tune, or if it’s his own tune, it’s always going to be very musical and very soulful.  I think another things that really makes Buddy stand out as a composer and improviser is there’s just a very strong emotional element to the way he plays.  It’s very heartfelt.  He doesn’t play things that are just like throwaway technical kind of things.  The blues is always an active component.  It’s not in an obvious way; it’s an understated way.  There’s always a lot of feeling in what Buddy plays, let me put it that way.

TP:    How would you distinguish, if you can, between his style on the piano and the vibraphone?

MW:    Well, adding on to playing with a lot of feeling, he has… He can do two things.  He really knows how to breathe.  He can breathe and let… Some of his tunes, like “Waterfall”… When he plays a ballad, for example, he’s not afraid to leave space, to let a phrase hang out there and really sing.  I’ve learned a lot about that from him.  But on the other side of the coin, he can play long strings of lines, but they flow in such a sophisticated way that… He’s really cliche-free.  The thing about Buddy, he’s really his own man.  He is as modern as any of his younger generation, like the Herbie Hancocks and so forth.  I mean, he’s older than those guys, yet he sounds just as contemporary, but without being influenced really by that generation.  He’s really forged his own path in a very modern style without coming through all these accepted influential modern jazz piano innovators — McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea.8

TP:    Well, he says that Art Tatum, Erroll Garner and an Indianapolis pianist named Earl Grandy were the big influences on him.  And George Coleman without prompting said he reminds him of Erroll Garner because he’s such a natural player.

MW:    Right.  He has a lot of Erroll Garner in him.  But he puts it in a context where unless you’re really hip you wouldn’t notice it.

TP:    Buddy said (and Slide Hampton cosigned it) that his music is tricky to play. [ETC.]

MW:    Well, there’s a lot of intricacies that you just have to be ready for, I guess.  I think the main thing is, he doesn’t write music.  Whoever plays with him has to learn his tunes by ear.

TP:    How does that affect the way a band sounds?

MW:    I think it brings them closer to the composer and the leader, for the reason that if they have to learn the music from a tape of him playing it, they’re learning it right from the source.  Sheet music is kind of an impersonal second representation of certain elements of the music; in other words, the melody, the rhythm, the chords.  The music is just a representation.  Sometimes, if you’re just looking at music, you don’t have anything else to go on about what the music is about other than just these symbols in front of you.  But if you have to learn the music from the sound of the composer playing it himself, you will pick up on various nuances that you cannot readily notate.  Therefore, that brings you all the more closer to the music and how the composer wants to interpret it, and the whole feeling behind it.  So actually the best way for someone to learn your music is if they have to learn it by ear, sight-reading it.  Reading is often a very impersonal and kind of cold representation that gives only a bare outline.  The more people read, the less they hear.  When you don’t have music to distract you, you’re forced to give 100 percent to your ears.  And this is what someone like Buddy Montgomery has always been doing all along because he doesn’t read.

TP:    i think that’s really all I need to know, unless you can think of some points that I’m missing.

MW:    Well, Buddy is a big influence on me as an improviser and a composer.  He’s affected my playing quite a bit, a lot from the things we discussed, the strength of the feeling, the soul that he puts into his playing… Just trying to get a lot of depth of emotion in what you’re playing.  Breathing, taking time to say what you want to say.  His sound on the piano, his voicings.

[END OF CASSETTE SIDE]

TP:    …the way he’s influenced your playing.

MW:    The emotional integrity or impact that he has in what he plays, whether it’s chord harmonies or single-line.  There is an emotional intent with everything he plays, and it comes across.  It’s very strong, heartfelt playing.  His choice of harmonies also is very expressive.  He has a unique way of combining very simple harmonies with very complex harmonies, things you would never think of.  Sometimes just a straight triad.  And he does it in a way that it sounds so profound.  It has the same effect as a very dissonant chord just because of how he puts it in there.  We’re always saying jazz harmony has to always be very complex, but he manages to find the beauty in how he uses very simple harmonies combined with more complex ones.  He just has a very sophisticated color palette.

But I think the main thing is just how expressive he plays.  So much of what we hear sounds very impersonal and technical, and sort of going through all the established vocabulary…

TP:    George Coleman said you’ve transcribed some of Buddy’s tunes or solos?  What brought you into his music?

MW:    Well, he hired me more or less to arrange five of his tunes for the record he did on Landmark, So Why Not? from a solo piano tape.  So I had to figure out what was the actual piece, and notate it and write five arrangements for quintet.  As it turned out, Freddie Hubbard didn’t make the date as he was supposed to, and a lot of the arrangements became changed around and so forth, but nevertheless I did them.  I had also transcribed a couple of Buddy’s tunes that I wanted to add to my repertoire years ago.  I had some tapes of him playing some gigs that I really was intrigued with what he was playing, and I wrote out some of the things he was doing just from my own curiosity.

TP:    Were the qualities you referred to what initially attracted you to his playing?

MW:    Well, all the ones that I stated, yeah.

[ETC.]

The main thing is, he’s really his own man, and his playing and his music sound very fresh and modern, yet at the same time it doesn’t show any of the influences of all these major innovators that came along.  It just shows you that other people have come along through the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s on their own path, and don’t sound like Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Bill Evans even.  I think that’s a very important thing.  He doesn’t sound like a guy from the ’40s either.  He doesn’t sound like someone that’s just coming out of Tatum and Erroll Garner.  Try and imagine a musician whose influences are Art Tatum and Erroll Garner.  You wouldn’t come up with a Buddy Montgomery.

Tommy Flanagan on Buddy Montgomery:

TP:    How long have you known Buddy?

TF:    I met him in the Midwest first, when he was in location at a hotel in Milwaukee.

TP:    So that would have been the ’70s.

TF:    I guess so.  I knew Wes before I knew Buddy.

TP:    Just say a few words about the dynamics of his sound and style that    I can quote.

TF:    Well, I guess it’s in the family.  He knows where he’s going, that attitude musically, and he’s a very rhythmic, sure-handed player.  He plays beautiful piano.  I really enjoy his piano playing.

TP:    Slide Hampton was saying how tricky his compositions are, that because he’s a musician who doesn’t read they’re outside conventional forms in a lot of ways.  Is that a comment you would cosign?

TF:    I’d go along with that.  I’ve only tried to play one of his tunes.  They are not conventional, because you find they’re not that easy to remember right away.  They’re just a little out of the ordinary.  I guess it has such an individual stamp that you have to get a little closer to it to play them.  You’ve got to go over it more than once or twice to really get it, or even have it explained by the writer himself.  It’s like Monk used to say, the cats just have to sit with him to learn his music, and he had to play it over and over for them.  It doesn’t matter what caliber the musician was; they all had to go through that.

David Hazeltine on Buddy Montgomery:

TP:    What were the circumstances when you first heard Buddy Montgomery?

DH:    I had been playing some gigs around town, and was involved in groups with Brian and some other musicians.  This was in 1976, my last year of high school.  I’ll never forget the memory of that first night I saw Buddy at that club.  It’s firmly ingrained  in my mind because it was so unbelievable.  I had never really heard him play the piano before.  I had heard him play vibes in some outdoor concert settings, but when I came to the club he was playing piano, and it completely blew me away.

TP:    This was at the Mark Plaza Hotel with Jeff Chambers and Ray Appleton?

DH:    At that time Ray wasn’t there yet.  It was a local drummer, who was very good, somebody who has since dropped out of the scene.  His name is Sam Belden.  But Buddy was just incredible.

TP:    What was it about what he was doing that seemed so astonishing to you?

DH:    A couple of things.  First of all, his harmony was astonishing.  The way he manipulates harmony is totally unique, but it’s coming out of Art Tatum.  It’s sort of like Art Tatum meets McCoy Tyner and everything in between.  The second thing is the way he improvises.  His right-hand styling is very much like a vibes player plays, which is a very unique approach on the piano.  First of all, the percussive effect he gets on the piano is very similar to the vibes, and the way he phrases things on the piano is like a vibes player would phrase; his lines and his phrasing sound like what normally you would hear on the vibes.  Then the way he touches the keyboard, his physical attack on the keyboard is like a vibes player.  It’s very different from other piano players.

TP:    So you see his style as a vibraphonist and pianist being very linked in a lot of ways.

DH:    Oh, definitely.

TP:    There doesn’t seem to be that much separation to you?

DH:    Oh, no, other than the opportunities that are opened up by the piano; it’s possible to play a lot more harmony.  But aside from that, just talking about his improvising, his single note improvising, I think the way he plays on vibes and on piano are very similar.

TP:    Everyone has said that his compositions are difficult to play, or at least to assimilate …[ETC.]…

DH:    Buddy doesn’t read music, so he’s not inundated with the… I don’t think he feels compelled to play music in a formula the way most of us do it.  Actually that might not be accurate to say it’s because of the reading or lack of reading.  But he’s completely natural, completely an ear player, and that’s why it’s so pure, in a way.  What you hear from him is exactly what he is hearing and what his ears tell him to do, which is coming from his soul — it’s very uniquely Buddy.  Although he’s very influenced by Art Tatum and McCoy Tyner and everything else in between…

TP:    He mentioned Erroll Garner as well…

DH:    Oh, Erroll Garner’s one who definitely should be mentioned as well.  But it’s a completely unique approach because of the lack of European influence, the normal…

TP:    It’s very soulful, very blues-drenched, almost like a sanctified but very harmonically sophisticated thing. [ETC.] I gather he was very encouraging to young musicians.  Was that the case with you?

DH:    Yes, it was.  We developed this joking-around relationship.  I always would hit on him for lessons, and he never would give me lessons.  In fact, there was this brief period where he was doing this in-house teaching program at a prison, giving music lessons to these ex-cons, and I went and helped him for a while and did some teaching for him.  There was one day specifically I remember when he was across the room at the piano, and I was at the other side of the room with a singer, and he was saying, “Dave, can you play this song for the singer?”  He played the tune on the piano, and he played so much shit… He was just standing up behind the piano, playing, asking me if I knew this tune and could play it.  I was saying, “Wow, what is that you’re playing?”  I came running around, and as soon as I got behind the piano where I could see his hand he went to a real simple, single-finger version of the fucking thing.  We’ve always had a relationship like that.  He wasn’t going to give it up.

TP:    When he’d play vibes on that set, if it would happen, would you be able to sit in with him, or sit in with other people coming through, or…

DH:    Well, he didn’t play vibes there.  It was all piano.

Brian Lynch on Buddy Montgomery

TP:    When did you first encounter Buddy Montgomery?

BL:    I first heard Buddy around ’73.  I think I first heard him at his outdoor things, but I’d say around the first or second year I was in school I started coming around to the Mark Plaza and hanging out and listening and meeting Buddy.  He knew that I was a young musician, and he encouraged me to sit in with him and…

TP:    What was sitting in with him like?  A very informal thing?

BL:    Yeah, playing tunes and stuff.  I think at that point, in invincible ignorance, I was probably unaware of how much of the music was flying by me, because he was playing so much.  But he must have seen some potential, since he was great enough to actually have me… There was a tenor player named Charles Davis, Jr., who was living there, and we were kind of partners at the time, we’d shed together and play together a lot in school and out of school.  The two of us did a number of gigs with him, special things in the summer and in the parks and things like that.  We were playing his tunes, and that would necessitate getting together and rehearsing and learning them from memory.  He has got some real hip stuff, and stuff that takes more than a minute to get together.

TP:    What are the things that make his stuff so tricky?

BL:    Well, I think there’s a lot of individuality in his style of composing.  One thing that’s very strong in his writing is his rhythm, and the way he uses it… It’s always swinging, but there’s always hooks and things in the rhythm.  A lot of these things were Latin Jazz oriented.  It had that beat.  I didn’t realize the context of how very individual and hip and just… I think it’s some of the strongest Latin jazz writing I’ve ever heard.  I was exposed to that stuff really early.  And a lot of times he’d have percussionists with the band.  So all the elements were there, some things I picked up on a lot later, as you know.  So I was exposed to do so much through working with him and being around him that it stood me in good stead later, in a very informal but strict and rigorous way.  We used to rehearse the hell out of the stuff.

TP:    Talk about trhe rehearsals, the difference of learning something by ear vis-a-vis learning it off the printed page.

BL:    Well, learning stuff by ear, obviously you get the music together in a way that …[INAUDIBLE]… I think it’s good in general to learn things that way if you have the ears to do it.  It might take a little bit longer than just saying “the chart’s up and let’s go.”  But for a young musician, it was very good training because it helped with really understanding the nuances and stuff, too.  Because by the time we got it together, you learn more about how the thing works and how the parts relate to the whole; you sort of understand the music a lot better that way.  We’d write things out afterwards, and at certain points I’d be involved in transcribing some of his stuff so he’d take it other musicians later.  Around that time, ’75, he did a record date, and he used to rehearse with us and we’d write out the music, and then he did the date on the West Coast, a real nice date with Oscar Brashear and Harold Land actually.

Just being exposed to the way he arranged music and his originals…

TP:    Slide Hampton said he doesn’t use conventional or standard forms.  Is that the way it was in the ’70s, too?

BL:    Well, it’s the way he puts it together.  There will be like odd bars and things kind of meshing together in different combinations, phrases, the sections and stuff like that.  He’s very imaginative.  He’s such an imaginative person.

TP:    That’s why it takes such intensive, hands-on rehearsal to really make it work.

BL:    I feel that having had all that experience, doing that with him, I have understanding of his music that maybe I wouldn’t have had if I had just read down his charts.

TP:    Flanagan says it’s kind of like Monk’s music, you have to sit with and play it over and over.

BL:    Buddy’s like that.  Melvin Rhyne’s another person who has an interesting, distinctive composing style.  I think maybe there is some influence from Buddy in it.  He’s another guy who doesn’t write the music down, so you sit and learn it.  When you sit and learn things, you get an insight into the mind of the musician, and having done that with Buddy I really gained immense respect.  Just the totality of what he does is so incredible.

TP:    Do you remember the term of this trio?

BL:    It was like 1978-79-80.  Ray stayed with me for a little while… Well, Ray and Jeff were the rhythm section for my senior recital in college.  I went out and rehearsed with these guys, and boy, they were just playing incredible.  Being around that stuff on a daily basis, it was a real focal point for all the young musicians that were there.

TP:    he was President of the Jazz Society also?

BL:    Right.  He brought some people in.  He brought Freddie in, George Coleman, and some other people.

The Latin influence is very important in Buddy’s playhing and his writing, too.  It’s Latin Jazz.  I remember reading the liner notes to a Cal Tjader record a long time ago, when I was a kid, one of the first Latin Jazz records I was exposed to, and I remember the piano player saying Buddy Montgomery was one of his  main influences.  One really good record is George Shearing with the Montgomery Brothers and Armando Perazza on tumbadora with conga drums, and you can hear Buddy comping in that style.  But he does that all the time.  He’s just very fluent in bringing the Latin tinge into his music.  Just the fact that he likes to have percussion on a lot of his things… I would love to see a Latin Jazz record of his with all the guys on it.

Always strong melodies in his compositions.  His music sort of has some of the same qualities that you’d find in Horace Silver, but filtered through his own unique sensibility.

TP:    Slide said he wrote very extensive, notey melodies.

BL:    Yeah, there’s a lot of details and a lot of just hip things, but bluesy and expressive.  Really expressive.  Soulful.  I’d say soulful.  And with all these little twists and hooks in it.  They’re accessible.  It’s accessible music, too.  It’s not offputting.  It draws you in.  He’s the greatest.  Great man, too.  He’s always stuck to his guns.  He’s more concerned with expressing himself and making the music come off.

It takes high precision to play his music.  You have to be able to play your instrument well, and execute and play with feeling in order to play his music.

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Filed under Buddy Montgomery, Liner Notes, Piano, Vibraphone

Two Conversations With Eddie Palmieri, Who Turns 75 Today

To observe the 75th birthday of maestro Eddie Palmieri, “El Rey de las Blancas y las Negras,” I’m posting a pair of interviews conducted, respectively, in 2003 and 2005. The first is the raw transcript of a conversation with Mr. Palmieri and Arturo O’Farrill for Downbeat in 2003 — trumpet master Brian Lynch dropped  by and joins the conversation towards the end. The second was conducted for the press materials for Palmieri’s 2005 album, Listen Here, on which he convened guest improvisers Michael Brecker, Christian McBride, Regina Carter, David Sanchez, John Scofield, and Nicholas Payton, as well as Lynch and Donald Harrison and Conrad Herwig from his Afro-Caribbean Octet, one of the truly underrated bands of the ’90s.

Eddie Palmieri-Arturo O’Farrill (Birdland, 9-22-03):

TP:    I wanted to start with a comment for Eddie.  I’ve been thinking a lot about you in the last couple of years and listening to a lot of your music.  And it occurs to me that you’re from the same generation as Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner.  You’re a little older, actually, than all of them, but only by a few years.  And all of them within the last decade or so have been revisiting roots, their roots in the music and the things that initially inspired them, with fresh ears.  It seems you’re doing the same thing these days, particularly with La Perfecta and with El Rumbero del Piano.  It seems this last decade has been a period of consolidation.  It’s not a specific question, but could you take it and offer some reflections on what you’ve been doing in the last decade.

PALMIERI:  Well, what happened, after the dance genre really ended, in a sense, of the music called Salsa, then I started to record Latin Jazz.  That’s when I was working with Brian Lynch, Conrad Herwig and Donald Harrison.  We did three CDs, Palmas, Arete and El Vortex.  That was the move.  We started to travel to Europe and started doing concerts, playing Latin Jazz.  What happened was that the last two CDs, which were recorded for RMM, the label company of Ralph Mercado…and we analyzed that to see if we could get back into our main genre, which was, again, the dance orchestra.  Because it’s essentially a dance orchestra.  That’s where you have El Rumbero Del Piano.  After El Rumbero Del Piano, which closed the 20th century, then to open up the 21st century Tito Puente and I did Masterpiece. But Tito passed away, and we were never able to travel or do concerts, which we naturally had planned.  Then I decided to go back… The idea came from a conversation with Conrad Herwig.  He was doing some transcription work on Frank Rosolino, the trombonist, who was his idol, and he said that we should do this for Barry Rogers, who was the co-partner with Jose Rodriguez on the trombone.  That’s where it started.  Then we started to do the work for La Perfecta.  We did the first album, La Perfecta, II. We were quite fortunate to have the flute player Eddy Zervignon, and we took that conjunto to Europe, and it was well received.  Then on the second CD for Concord, Ritmo Caliente, we brought back some of those compositions as well and recorded them again.

TP:    You wrote new music as well.  Was it inspired by the same idea, the same notion?  Did you use the older compositions as a springboard for the new work as well?

PALMIERI:  Well, the old work, as far as the compositions that had been recorded, they knew what we were going to do there.  The new work that was created was from a ballad that we had written, then a gigue    of Bach that I always had in mind, and I knew we could work it out — by adding the batas, it became quite exciting.  That’s how we were able to get some new compositions and mix it with La Perfecta on Ritmo Caliente.

TP:    You just brought up a point that I think is very pertinent for both you and Arturo as bandleaders dealing in this idiom.  This is dance-driven music.  But there aren’t so many venues, I wouldn’t think, for you to play for dancers any more.  I don’t know how many jobs either of you do in a year for dancers, but I wouldn’t think it’s too high a percentage.  Can you address the impact of the function, of the situation on the music that you play and the music you conceive?

O’FARRILL:  It’s funny, because there aren’t really that many great dance halls left.  That’s one of the problems.  In the heyday, during the ’50s and the ’60s, there were a lot of dance halls.  Also, I think this is true.  People don’t know how to dance any more! [LAUGHS] They don’t know how to dance.

PALMIERI:  Yeah.

O’FARRILL:  They’re not taught to dance.  The few dances that I’ve played, I look out on the floor, and there’s no style, no elegance.  So I think there’s an absence of really fine dancing, and that has a lot to do with it.  It has a lot to do with the fact that there’s also no dance clubs.  We played the Copacabana this year with the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, and it was very disappointing, because we didn’t get out as many people as we would have liked, and the dancing was… I mean, it was very lovely, but I think that it’s a lost art.  I think we need to have dancing schools, so people can learn how to dance again!

TP:    When La Perfecta was formed, I’d imagine most of the songs were written and conceived for dancers — and for the greatest dancers around!

O’FARRILL:  You can’t listen to those records without moving.

PALMIERI:  Well, it certainly happened that it was the time and it was the location of the Palladium, and there were the greatest dancers.  To be able to play the Palladium, you had to have an orchestra that was… It was like a challenge between the dancer and the orchestra, who could outlast who, in a sense.  And to be able to get into the Palladium… Then once you got in, then the word of mouth… We were a dance orchestra, and how we presented that with the two trombones and flute was quite interesting and very exciting to dance to.

TP:    It’s the same process as the old big bands, the jazz dance bands, who played with chorus line dancers or played at the Savoy or the Apollo.  A lot of the music, which is an untold story, was done in response to the dancers.  What were the first principles for your compositions?  Rhythmic?  Harmonic?  A combination of both?

PALMIERI:  At the time, it was following the Cuban structures that I heard in the different orchestras that were coming out of Cuba in the ’50s and ’60s.  It never ceased to amaze me how it would excite me to listen to them.  At that time, you could record only within 2 minutes and 45 seconds.  How they were able to get you!  I dedicated all of my time and my career to listening to the structures that were coming out of there.  Once I learned them intuitively, then I learned them scientifically — why they excite.  There were reasons.  There’s a tension and resistance within the forms, and the rhythm section and how it has its own form so it can reach that climax.  That’s what made it interesting for me.

O’FARRILL:  That’s an interesting word — “tension.”  When I listen to your music, man, to me it’s always eminently listenable and eminently danceable.

TP:    And intellectually challenging.

O’FARRILL:  Intellectually challenging, and always with a heavy attention to exactly what you’re talking about — the tension.  The dancing.  The groove.  There’s very few people in the world who have ever achieved what Eddie has done, to make music really intelligently and eminently groove.  I mean, the groove is the factor, too.

PALMIERI:  Thank you.

TP:    Do you think that having intensively played timbales in your early teens… You’ve said that you copied all of Tito Puente’s solos.

PALMIERI:  Oh, yeah.  As a youngster, me and all my friends, we all wanted to be another Tito Puente, and by 13 years old I was playing the timbales with my uncle, who had a typical folkloric orchestra — a conjunto.  For two years.  Then after that, I gave him back the timbales, or sold it to him, whatever, for the next drummer who was coming in.  But that certainly helped me to be able to comprehend what I was listening to later.  In 1955, I went with Johnny Segui.  In 1956 is when I came into the orchestra with the conjunto of Vicentico Valdes, who was also Cuban.  The conjunto that he was presenting was extremely exciting, and the rhythm section was what was happening.  So I was able to capture that also.  After that, I worked with Tito Rodriguez for a couple of years.  By late 1961, then I formed La Perfecta.

TP:    So you had a long apprenticeship.  Your concepts didn’t just come out of nowhere.  You had a lot of time to think about it, and you’ve been playing since you were young.

PALMIERI:  Oh yeah.  And certainly, the different orchestras that I was able to work with and comprehend…

O’FARRILL:  I think it’s very important for all musicians to play some kind of percussion instrument, especially Latin musicians — especially Latin Jazz musicians.  You should be able to play timbal, on the conga, or whatever it is.  To get that concept, you have to play it.  I’m the kind of person who learns by doing.  I can’t learn by rote or by hearing it.  I have to do.  So playing timbales, that has to be a heavy part of your development.

TP:    What percussion instruments do you play, Arturo?

O’FARRILL:  Conga.  That’s it.

TP:    And is playing the drums important to your identity as a pianist, to your tonal personality?

O’FARRILL:  It’s difficult on my hands.  As a pianist, you don’t have to have calluses on the bottom of your fingers.

TP:    You’d better pick up some sticks.

O’FARRILL:  Well, I wish I had thought of that! [LAUGHTER] No, you want the calluses on the tips of your fingers.  But at least for the fingers to have a thorough understanding of the different patterns that come into play in a rhythm section.  A lot of people take Latin Jazz and do a generic thing.  But to really know what each instrument plays, that’s where you begin to have an understanding.  And as a player, you begin to pick up on things.  You can land in places rhythmically, because you’re aware of what the timbal is doing or the bongo.  It’s very important stuff.

TP:    Your approaches to the piano are so different, and yet come from such a similar root.  Arturo is a very florid player.  You play a lot of notes, there’s a lot of facility and elan…

O’FARRILL:  I have to say that’s true.  But when I’m playing… We did this record called… It was a Machito tribute, “Live at Hostos.”  And one of the highlights of my life was that I sounded like Eddie Palmieri! [LAUGHS] On a Papo Vasquez composition.  For a minute there, I had his groove.  It felt so good!  Florid, whatever.  But to have that kind of command of the groove, that to me is very important.

TP:    Where I wanted to take this is: Arturo, even though your father is one of the seminal composers and arrangers in the idiom, you yourself came out of a jazz head and then moved back into the structures of diasporic music and Afro-Cuban music.

O’FARRILL:  Yes.

TP:    And Eddie began as a rumbero type of personality, and then moved to jazz later.  You’re quoted as saying that you hated jazz at first.

PALMIERI:  Yes, I never comprehended it.  Not that I never comprehended it, but I really concentrated on the structures for dancing.  That’s where I really stood, as a dance orchestra leader.  What was I going to do with an exciting orchestra to make the people dance?  But sure enough, then we certainly had to go into the world of jazz harmonics and go into the Latin jazz, as we did on those four CDs.

O’FARRILL:  See, I came from a different background.  It was probably because I did the typical rebellious son thing.  My father was a very great Latin composer-arranger, so I rejected that.  You know how kids are.  You reject what your father does.  So my first influences were Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, and that’s all I played.  It wasn’t until many years later that I started listening to Latin music and playing it.

TP:    What were the challenges you faced in adapting your style to the rhythms and structures of Latin music, coming from the orientation you had.  What are the challenges for a jazz-oriented person in adapting themselves to Afro-Cuban music?  Conversely, what are the challenges for someone who is immersed in Afro-Cuban structures to adapt themselves to jazz sensibility and expression?

O’FARRILL:  It’s very different.  There’s a tradition in Latin piano, and you have to respect it.  You have to really understand and know the great pianists, to be able to play in that style without losing your identity.  First of all, it’s a different technique.  Your hands have to move differently.  It’s not florid.  It’s not Bud Powell.  It’s a different concept.  And I think that if you play enough right-handed, heavy, florid, 16th note type stuff, you lose that percussive sense.  Also, it’s a very Cuban kind of piano style that you have to adopt.

TP:    Elaborate on that.

O’FARRILL:  Well, Rene Hernandez.  Peruchin.  That’s the kind of school you’re coming from, with the octaves, thirds… You’re playing stuff that you can’t really do with 16th notes.  You have to really play that stuff with a heavy touch.  And if you grow up playing Bud Powell, that’s not the school.  Bud Powell is the school of 16th notes in the right hand and spare comping in the left hand.  So I had to basically retrain myself to really be able to play that.  And I had to grow up.  I had to get past my teenager crap, and come to love this music.  Because it’s who I am.

PALMIERI:  And for me, like Arturo said, it was the octave playing, which came from the players… Rene Hernandez was one of the greatest arrangers that we had here, naturally, and his father, Chico.  And when we’re playing in the Latin area, the minimal harmonic changes is…we land up, more or less, on tonic and dominant, I-II-V-IV chord changes.  When you get into the jazz, that really was a whole other world for me, and I had never experienced that.  Because I listened to the jazz artists earlier, but never gave it the time and the effort that I gave the dance orchestras.  So then, it was quite difficult for me.  And still, to work out that different… How to change the style of fingering also, to play certain things.  Because when you’re playing in octaves… And that was a time when there was no mikes, so you had to play really…

TP:    You had to play loud.

PALMIERI:  That’s really the worst position, because the extensions are locked in.  So sure enough, I had to get back to some basic fundamental exercises, thirds and minor thirds and sixes, and double note techniques, so that I could be able to play in a different style.  It’s still difficult for me to go from one to the other.

TP:    Arturo, is going from one to the other complex for you as well?  Because both you record and perform in both areas of the music.

O’FARRILL:  Ideally, you want to blur that line.  You don’t want to have that big a changeover.  What I try to work towards is having the two styles be transparent, so that you can play.  As Eddie was talking, I was thinking that there’s a thing in Latin music that we call “timba.”  It’s a lot easier to fudge and fake jazz type stuff than it is to fake “timba.”  Because when you’re playing in Latin music and you’re not really grooving, people pick up on that — especially dancers!  So you can do all this fast stuff, and that’s like nonsense to me.  But when you’re playing a really heavy groove, you’re playing “timba,” that’s a lot harder to fake.  I don’t think you can make it.  I think it really has to come from your soul.  So the thing that I work with is to blur the line between Jazz and Latin, and kind of come out of this fast kind of stuff right into “timba,” right into a heavy, groove-oriented, clave-aware style.

TP:    Eddie, you’re not just a pianist, but I would think there must be an orchestra in your mind all the time when you’re playing.  Is that how it is for you when you’re soloing?

PALMIERI:  What happens, again, it’s how I’m able to go and extend, if it’s a variation, within the chordal structures that… They’re not variant.  For us to lock up…Arturo said the word “timba.”  For me, it’s always, again, holding onto a dominant, and how am I going to be able to extend on that, what was I going to do on that.  That’s where it started to extend, harmonically or whatever, I was able to perform in the sense of what I was playing.  Whole tones came in, and different kinds of tension chords within the structures that I play.  I still keep working on it and keep developing it.

O’FARRILL:  Eddie plays with a lot of texture.  Eddie plays with what I call sound waves.  He plays with the texture of the piano.  It is orchestral.

TP:    I would imagine that 98% of what you’ve recorded has been your own original music or your own arrangements on music in parallel to what you do.  Which is one reason why, when you played on Conrad Herwig’s “The Latin Side Of John Coltrane,” it was very interesting to hear you improvise on “Africa” or “Impressions.”

PALMIERI:  [LAUGHS] Right!

TP:    So I was wondering if for you playing the piano equals composing?  What’s the relation between improvising and composing for you?

PALMIERI:  To compose for me is what I’m going to be able to…what theme I’m going to work on, what am I looking for.  For me, the majority of the work in Latin was also with the vocalists.  So what theme was going to be on it, what’s the story going to be about.  And naturally, I was more interested always to write constantly more original music, and keep it that way.  That’s why I never ventured into recording with many other artists, except what I recorded on my own.  And then, in improvising, it’s based on those structures that I create within that composition, and what I do with that, and how I move it around is quite enjoyable to me! [LAUGHS] I’m very fortunate that it’s been accepted.  So between the two of them, it’s a great combination, like the composing and the improvisation.

TP:    Were you composing before you left Tito Rodriguez?

PALMIERI:  No, I started really when I formed La Perfecta.

TP:    How many compositions have you published over forty years?

PALMIERI:  I’d say we’re close to maybe 200.

TP:    And how much of that is in the book of your band at any given moment?

PALMIERI:  Well, there’s different books.  I have the enlarged orchestra, you know, with three horns, with five horns, and that’s one book.  Then we have the Latin Jazz.  Then I have the Perfecta work, which is not in its entirety. But the majority of that work, what I’ve written, is unplayed.

TP:    So now you’re revisiting a lot of things, and setting a precedent for going back.

PALMIERI:  I’m bringing some of them back.

TP:    Arturo, you lead the Chico O’Farrill Big Band, which has access to the entire body of work of your father, who was composing as far back as the early ’40s in Havana.  In Ira Gitler’s “Swing To Bop” he said that after he heard “Salt Peanuts” in 1946, he started writing charts for a band he had in a Havana club, and had it for six months.  So from 1946, he was aware of modern jazz.  And he’d arrange for his band and was also an arranger for hire.  So you have a huge repertoire at your disposal. When he formed the big band again in the mid-’90s, how did he choose older repertoire to play?  How did he make his choices?

O’FARRILL:  He chose pieces that were suggested to him.  There’s an old saying that the great composers always have four or five great themes, and they regurgitate them over the years.  Chico has rewritten a lot of music.  So something from the ’40s might show up in the ’90s as a different piece.  It’s smoking. But it has its roots there.  I think it’s a process of working out your ideas that you may not have worked out fully in 1948.  Certainly, a lot of the stuff that we play now… Some of my favorite Chico O’Farrill is from the ’50s.  Some of that stuff is classic.

TP:    The things he did for Norman Granz?

O’FARRILL:  “Almendra,” “The Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite.”  What always strikes me about his writing is that it’s very simple.  It’s not cluttered.  It’s linear.  So over the past three records that we did, people suggested to him what stuff might be brought out of the closet, and then he would rework it.

TP:    Your father did a lot of writing for hire and for studio bands, which is different from Eddie’s experience.  You were always in the Ellington position of having to sustain a performing orchestra and create music for it, and to play for dancers.  Arturo, from your perspective as a bandleader and someone who analyzes music, can you talk about the dynamics of Chico O’Farrill’s music vis-a-vis Eddie Palmieri’s.  Very different perspectives on similar roots.

O’FARRILL:  Right off the bat, you have to remember that Eddie is a monster pianist, too.  My father didn’t play anything.

TP:    He was a trumpet player.

O’FARRILL:  Believe me, as soon as he figured out that he had to practice all the time, he gave it up.  A lot of the music that Eddie writes is for Eddie, and specifically for the unbelievable performance that he gives.  Chico’s music doesn’t do that, because he didn’t create it for himself to perform.  Also, he made the decision early on in his life; he was 21 or 22 when he said, “I can’t play music; I just want to write!”  For him, it was an easier way to be a musician.  It was an easier way for him to work out his musical battles.

TP:    Arturo, you’re obviously influenced in many ways by the example your father set for you, from your teenage rebellion against Latin music to your embrace of it.  I’m sure Eddie was influenced by your uncles who played, but I’m sure the deepest influence for you would have been your older brother Charlie, because you had to follow in his footsteps in bands!

PALMIERI:  Right, Charlie.  And he was the one that would recommend me to the different orchestras.  My brother was nine years older.  We had no other brother, no other sister.  It was just Charlie and I.  So he was certainly my great inspiration as far as his form of attack on the piano.  He really went at it!  That certainly came into me.  I could never really thank him enough for showing me that road.  My brother was quite an exceptional player.  He knew Arturo’s father, Chico O’Farrell, more than I.  I believe I met your dad when he was already elderly; I didn’t know him before.  But Charlie had.  So that was an tremendous asset to me in my playing.

TP:    Arturo, within the last year, you’ve taken on the position as Director of the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra at Lincoln Center, which is an institutional position, and one that involves a lot of responsibility, because you have to accumulate a lot of repertoire that’s representative of this tradition.  How does Eddie’s music, which is so personal… I mean, it’s hard to think of anybody else playing Eddie’s music, because your sound and your vibration is so fundamental to it.  Is there anything you can say about that?

O’FARRILL:  There’s a whole controversy about repertory orchestras.  People always ask me why they exist, and it’s a very good question. Because the people who created this music left an indelible stamp on it.  I just believe that musicians are organic.  They bring to the music a whole nother vibe.  There’s never going to be an Eddie Palmieri. This is the cat!  But to have Eddie’s music continue, whether Eddie’s playing or just sitting in the audience, is very important.  Machito is gone, Mario Bauza is gone; does that mean their music shouldn’t be performed?  Hell, no.

TP:    Which of Eddie’s compositions would be your choices?

O’FARRILL:  It’s a daunting task.  And I’ve got to talk to Eddie, because we’ve got to get some of your music in the book!  Eddie played on the Benefit Gala at Lincoln Center.

PALMIERI:  Yes, I remember.  We had the two orchestras, I think.

O’FARRILL:  The two orchestras side-by-side.  How do you choose?  That’s like asking me…it’s like the kid in the candy shop.  There’s just an amazing amount of music that I would play as a regular part of the canon.  Now, it’s a funny thing, because it’s a very important position…but it’s not. What it is, is just bringing this music forward, bringing it out.  That’s more important than the position or the institution.  And Eddie has been all over the world, playing this music in Finland or in Japan or in Des Moines.  That’s what it’s about.

PALMIERI:  One of the greatest dancers we’ve seen, we saw in Pori.

O’FARRILL:  We played in Pori.  They LOVE his music in Finland.

TP:    One thing about leading a band for forty years is that people come through it and go on to make original contributions of their own.  So in the early ’70s, you have Los Diabilitos, the Gonzalez brothers and Nicky Marrero and people like this, who all went on and added to the vocabulary, Conrad Herwig and Brian Lynch, Richie Flores and Giovanni Hidalgo.  I’m wondering if you can discuss how the vocabulary of Afro-Cuban music has evolved during your career.

PALMIERI:  For me, it’s on the rhythm section side.  But certainly the music that harmonically has been composed going into the Latin Jazz world has extended.  I find it very interesting what’s happening… Again, what we do with it.  How we’re going to present it, where we’re going to present, and how important it is to be presented properly.  It’s a constant challenge.

TP:    How has musicianship changed over the years?

PALMIERI:  They certainly have extended in their preparation, compared to the younger players when… When I started, for example, the elders were very well prepared.  And what I find now, coming out of Puerto Rico, for example, are incredible trumpet players and saxophone players.  Percussion has reached an incredibly high degree.  I have to say that.  Before we would have just a conga player and the bongo who were there to accompany.  But now we have incredible soloists.  You talk about a Giovanni Hidalgo or a Richie Flores, who each came through my orchestra.  I call it my Hispanic Jazz Messengers, with all the different artists who came through my different orchestras.

TP:    Arturo, one of the defining events in jazz over the last 15 years has been the influx of musicians from all over the world who are familiar with jazz and bring their own culture to the music.  How do you see this movement affecting the vocabulary of jazz as a whole?  It seems there used to be more separation between jazz and Latin music.  Now things seem to be converging more. Does that sound right to you?

O’FARRILL:  I think so.  I think you have to be very well equipped to compete in the traditional Latin Jazz world now.  You really do have a wide variety of styles.  You’re talking about Danilo Perez and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and then there’s people also like Papo Vazquez, and Bomba and Plena.  That’s why the world of Latin Jazz is no longer, and actually hasn’t been for many years, just Afro-Cuban. That’s very important to me, because Cuba was very central to the formation of these styles, but now the thing has really gotten quite large.  I mean, you’ve got Chano Dominguez in Spain, and you’ve got… So the world is really opening up for Latin Jazz.  And it’s still Latin.  It still comes from our corner of the world.  But it’s very much more open, very flexible.

The thing I’m proud of is that our musicians tend to really love jazz.  I mean, the ones that come out of our tradition are really very well trained in jazz.  I haven’t quite found that parity in jazz musicians.  Jazz musicians aren’t as well trained in Latin music.  They don’t really research it as much as Latin musicians tend to learn about jazz.  I think it’s a very exciting time for Latin music and jazz to interact.

TP:    It just seems to me that things that used to be considered (and I’ll use the word in quotes) “exotic” in jazz 15 years ago — maybe Dizzy Gillespie was applying them — are now part of the mainstream. Every musician is supposed to know it, basically — at least in New York.

O’FARRILL:  Well, it’s funny, because I run into… Twenty years ago, ten years ago even, drummers…you’d talk about cascara, and they’d look at you like you’re from Mars.  Now every drummer coming out of every conservatory that has a conservatory is learning about cascara and about clave and all these things that were considered exotic 10-15 years ago.

TP:    Eddie, how do you observe this with the musicians who come into your bands?  You do have steady personnel.  How do you see the musicianship?

PALMIERI:  It’s tremendously rounded now.  As Arturo says, we have players coming from all over, and making it quite… For example, from the Afro-Cuban it went to Afro-Caribbean, with the Puerto Rican (?) in the ’60s.  Now it’s Afro-World.  And now it’s all over.  The talent just keeps pouring in.  On my end, I’ve been carrying lately a band of certain personnel.  So it’s not as varied as it was before.  I used to have different musicians coming in and out of the different orchestras.  But now I’m hanging on to certain personnel.  We have Brian Lynch, who comes in and out and performs with us.  But I see it as quite exciting, very educational with the intermixture that’s happening now.  They’re all different players, and they’re interested in the Latin music, and where we’re going to be able to present it and where we’re going to be able to take it.

TP:    In bringing a new piece of music to the band, how do you go about it?  Do you sit down with the drummers and go over their specific parts with them, and ditto with the brass, or is it something they’re expected to know and it evolves over time?

PALMIERI:  Well, with my rhythm section, when we’re doing a recording, they know what they have to do as far as the structure of what we’re playing, and the horn players have their music, and then we gel it together whenever we’re able to have a rehearsal for recordings.  I don’t have that many rehearsals constantly. But when I have new material that’s going to be recorded, certainly I need it.  The problem I’ve had, in a sense, is that in the last certain amount of years I’ve had different types of recordings, and that certainly has hampered the situation of the personnel.

TP:    Well, these days it seems like you’re accessing your whole corpus of work.  You can go to La Perfecta, you can go to the more open ended things of the ’70s, and the vocabulary you built up in the band with Brian and Donald and Conrad.  All those things are there for you, and now you’re consolidating all of them in some sense.

PALMIERI:  Right.  But lately, in the last few years it’s been just the typical La Perfecta orchestra.  When we have certain engagements, the Latin Jazz, we bring out certain other compositions.

TP:    Arturo, you’ve been in the enviable position of having the same big band for many years with very constant personnel.  Talk about how playing every week builds the growth and identity and sound of a band.

O’FARRILL:  There’s no substitute for having a regular gig.  Also, I’m very blessed in that the musicians I have are bona fide Latin players.  They understand how to phrase.  It’s very subtle, it’s very different.  You can’t walk in off the street and be a straight-ahead jazz player and play this music.  You have to be aware of clave, you have to phrase, you have to be aware… Victor Paz once said to me, “You do not wear a tuxedo to the beach.”

PALMIERI:  That was his form of identification.

O’FARRILL:  That’s a very Victor Paz thing.  But what he meant was that you get players who understand Latin music and you put them together, and it’s an invaluable thing.  I am very lucky, very blessed.  I have wonderful musicians who have been doing this for a long time.

TP:    Have either of you been able to do any amount of playing in Africa at all?  Eddie, have you brought your band to any of the African nations?

PALMIERI:  No.  I haven’t been to Africa.  As far as I’ve gotten, we went to Algiers.  Another problem is that to get into an African country, you need shots, and I always wanted to stay away from the shots — at that time.

O’FARRILL:  We went to South Africa.  I’ve been there several times.  The last time we went… They have a Northsea Jazz Festival in Capetown…

TP:    My God, that’s the real extension of imperialism.

O’FARRILL:  You better believe it!  Talk about colonial imperialism!  I was amazed.  I was there with Papo Vazquez, and they loved it.

TP:    Eddie, was listening to African music ever part of your early experience, or was it all Cuban?

PALMIERI:  It was Cuban.  But I knew that the fundamental, naturally, was African.  But it was the music that was coming out of Cuba.  That’s where I really centered my education on.

TP:    How would you describe the difference between the Afro-Cuban approach to these rhythms and the African approach to these rhythms?

PALMIERI:  I think it’s the evolution and crystallization of these rhythmical patterns.  They were certainly coming from Africa, but when the “mulattoes,” so to speak, were born in Cuba, it became a mixture of Spaniard and the African, along with the native who was there, and that combination… They took it into another direction, in my opinion, and it was really more eventually from their religious “abacua,” that was strictly African (naturally) and their religious belief to the dance orchestras that then started to come out from Ignacio Pinero earlier, and his Sexteto Habenero from the ’20s and the ’30s, then they started to use those patterns for people to dance.  That’s where I come in.

TP:    So it’s a stylization of the folkloric, or as you once put it, of the primitive.

PALMIERI:  Exactly.

TP:    Arturo, how influenced was your father by the African aspect of Cuban life?  Was he very involved in the rumbas and the folkloric rhythms, or less so?

O’FARRILL:  He grew up in a pretty rural part of Cuba.  Undoubtedly, he heard a lot of ritualistic music.  I think it influenced him greatly.  That kind of music gets in your blood.  It kind of becomes a part of you.  I remember the first time I heard Los Munequitos.  Man, I started bawling!  I was weeping, man.  Because I’d never heard that profound a sentiment, and a sentiment expressed in rhythm, as when I heard those guys.  That’s such a central feature of “Latin Jazz” — and I use that word in quotations.  It has to be folkloric.  It has to have its roots, and it has to respect its African roots.  It has to respect it in terms of its instrumentation and in terms of its textures.  You can’t just slap a conga on something and call it Latin Jazz.  Whether or not my father transcribed the crostic rhythms of the Gon people… He did not do that!

TP:    But he got Machito’s players, who could put their own stamp on anything he might give them, if he wanted that feeling.

O’FARRILL:  I don’t know how much of that stuff is an oral tradition and how much of it is actually transcribable.  Anybody can write these rhythms.  It takes somebody who really knows that stuff to play it well.

TP:    But Eddie, when you were a kid learning Tito Puente’s solos, or hanging out and soaking up Cuban music with Manny Oquendo in the ’50s, was it an oral tradition?  Were you writing it down or learning by doing?

PALMIERI:  Well, naturally, by listening.  That was the main direction.  And then, when I went on to play timbales, I listened to the older records.  Because the orchestras that were recording here were really happening!  Machito, Tito Rodriguez and Tito Puente, who had conjuntos at that time.  Conjunto meant without the saxophone.  So certainly, by listening to them, that was my guide.  Then eventually, I started to do the same when I got hip to the Cuban recordings.  The main time was when I was with the orchestra of Vicentico Valdes.

TP:    Is it different for you playing for dancers vis-a-vis a seated audience?  As a kid, from the age of 13 or 14, you were playing for people who were dancing.

PALMIERI:  Well, it’s certainly a great feeling when you’re performing and you see some great dancers.  That’s something that gives you balance.  It’s absolutely wonderful.  But again, as the genre changed and the art of dancing is lost now, and mostly what we do when we’re presenting the orchestra is have concerts.  On the concerts, certainly everyone is thinking about how do you excite them, get them moving in their chairs and making them feel… When you’re playing one of the jazz rooms, it’s another kind of feeling.  But again, it’s a musical and rhythmic challenge.

O’FARRILL:  You can’t be a musician in New York without playing dances, salsa gigs and whatever. I’ve been playing for dancers since I was a kid.  To me, there’s something slightly artificial about playing for a seated audience!

TP:    And you play for them a lot.

O’FARRILL:  Oh, I do all the time.  When you’re playing this kind of music, invariably, somebody will get up and shake a little bit, and I think that’s what you want. Cabaret laws notwithstanding, I encourage people to get up and dance whenever they feel like it.  You can’t do that at Alice Tully Hall sometimes.  But that’s the real deal.  That’s what this music is about, and getting people moving is central.

TP:    But the pool of musicians now comes primarily from conservators. They’re very technical.  A lot of jazz we hear now has very complex rhythms, but it’s also a very technical thing.  So it’s an interesting challenge, I’d think, to keep that feeling in the music given the climate of the times.

O’FARRILL:  Yes.  There’s the old saying, “You can be very well trained or you can be very well trained.”  A lot of musicians are coming out of conservatories who can play, but that’s a small part of what music is.  My father always said, “Okay, so you can play an instrument.  So what?”  That’s a small part of it.

TP:    Eddie, are you still doing a lot of composing?

PALMIERI:  I haven’t been writing since the last CD.  I stopped since “Ritmo Caliente.”  But there are a few things now that are starting to work up, and I’m seeing what I can do now to prepare for another CD when the opportunity comes with Concord again.

TP:    Has your process in writing been a project-oriented thing, or is it something that’s just part of your everyday life?

PALMIERI:  Well, sometimes I’ve had a project presented to me.  I did the Ballet Hispanico work, and that music was never recorded.  I have it at home.  But usually, it’s when I get inspired by some theme that I want to present or make a statement on, and once I get that, then I start working from the bass line up, and start layering, putting the structures on to write the arrangement.

TP:    Do you make use of the new technology?

PALMIERI:  No.  I haven’t been able to comprehend that.  I leave it alone!

O’FARRILL:  I can’t make heads or tails.  I’ve had Finale for many years. I still prefer pen and pencil and paper.  I can’t cope with it at all.

TP:    And how much composing and arranging do you do?

O’FARRILL:  I do quite a bit.  And still, I can’t use sequencers or samplers or notation software.

TP:    Is it project-oriented for you?

O’FARRILL:  It’s always project-oriented.  For me, deadlines are crucial.  I have to have something presented, where I have to come up with a project or a writing assignment, because left up to my own devices I’ll just procrastinate forever.  So it always has to do with a project or a deadline that is looming.  My father was very much the same way.  Now, Chico had the unusual ability to churn out an arrangement in an hour-and-a-half, three hours — he would do it in pen!

PALMIERI:  Amazing.

O’FARRILL:  He would do it transcribed.  The instruments would be in their proper… So he was kind of a freak that way.  It’s very different for me.  But he also had to have a deadline, and he had to have a specific goal and a real articulated project for him to be able to do that.

TP:    For many years, you’d go to hear an Eddie Palmieri performance, and he’d be playing a keyboard.

PALMIERI:  The reason is that when I play you can’t amplify the acoustic… The feedback is on it.  For me, it’s the feel of the instrument.  That’s why the keyboard was put on top.  I’ll play solo piano first, and then come in with the keyboard.  I get complications with it, too, because of the volume and complaints, but it’s the only way I feel I can cut through.  It’s very seldom you can find a great engineer… We just did the Monterrey Jazz Festival, and they had two Marcus Berrys, I think, so I got the microphones they had, and the acoustic was quite wonderfully amplified.

O’FARRILL:  That’s rare.

PALMIERI:  But still, when I play with the orchestra, if I can’t be stimulated, then I have a problem to stimulate the band, in my opinion.

TP:    So it’s to hear yourself.  To hear yourself think.

O’FARRILL:  The clarity.

PALMIERI:  Yes, and to hear myself play, so I can cut through with the band.  The rhythm section is quite heavy also.  And we use three horns or five horns. So I use the keyboard on top.

TP:    Arturo, you’re basically leading two bands.  There’s the Chico O’Farrill Orchestra.  Is the repertoire expanding for it?

O’FARRILL:  The repertoire is expanding.

TP:    And where are you getting repertoire?

O’FARRILL:  Original music from the members and from myself, and we’re digging out stuff from Chico’s archive.

TP:    With Lincoln Center, I guess you’re cherrypicking from everywhere.

O’FARRILL:  Absolutely.

TP:    How are you conceiving that?  Where are you getting material from?  How big is the book now?

O’FARRILL:  Some of the stuff we’ve had to transcribe, because it’s impossible to get the actual scores from the sources.  For example, the Machito stuff I can find.  It’s irreplaceable.  The scores are gone.  So we pay a transcriber to do that stuff.  And there’s a lot of material that exists.

TP:    How has leading these bands influenced your own personal growth as a musician?  It’s a huge responsibility, and there’s so much more involved than just playing.

O’FARRILL:  It’s funny.  I’m not a happy bandleader, because I find it very difficult to deal with all the issues.  There’s the issue of playing and there’s the issue of creating music, and then there’s the difficulty of dealing with people’s schedules and people’s idiosyncracies.  I don’t have patience for that, to be honest with you.  But certainly it’s expanded me as a musician.  Being responsible for an evening’s performance and a set group of people has heightened my musicianship, my sense of… When you’re rehearsing a band, you want to make sure the trumpets blend, and you want to make sure the dynamics are honored and the people aren’t stepping on one another. That’s pure musicianship.  That takes a lot of skill.  So all that has honed my musical skills.  It’s also created a larger sense of my understanding of this music, which is invaluable.  I’ve had to listen to a lot of music.

TP:    So it’s made your musicianship richer and imparted more depth.

O’FARRILL:  Yes.  And not as a pianist.  As a musical concept.  As a mind.  As a pianist, I’ve tried to stay out of the way.

[PAUSE]

TP:    Brian Lynch is here, and I’m sure he has a few comments or questions for Eddie.

BRIAN:  How has jazz been something… What has the weave been between… You may not describe yourself as a jazz musician per se, but I think jazz has always been a counterpoint.  I always feel one of the unique things about you is the way you’ve epitomized jazz, even though a lot of times you do music that may not be termed as much.  But you seem to exemplify the jazz attitude in a lot of ways that I see it.  The spirit of improvisation, the spirit of doing things differently each time instead of staying in the same place, the rawness of a lot of your music.  I think you’ve attracted a lot of unique personalities.  The one who comes to mind, of course, is Barry Rogers, who came from being a jazz musician, but I think you and him had the same way of thinking — you came from different sides of the street, so to speak, and you met in the middle.  Has jazz always been something that’s been on your mind, no matter what you’ve been playing?

PALMIERI:  Well, jazz phrasings for sure, in the work we did with Barry.  Then that led to… Well, definitely, when I met you, we went into the Latin Jazz, starting the work of “Palmas.”  Once that came in, that was my inroad to the work I did.

BRIAN:  You’ve spoken of listening to some of the jazz greats in the early years, both in person and through the medium of records, and I remember you saying that you had to make a conscious decision about which way you wanted to go, whether to follow jazz or to follow however you want to term the music you’re playing.

PALMIERI:  Right.  What I followed was definitely the dance orchestra.  That’s where my heart was. But certainly, I developed an orientation from my early listening to records by Art Tatum, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock.  We heard the Count Basie band… Remember, the original Birdland was right next door to the Palladium, so the exchange was quite exceptional.  But it’s certainly helped me in terms of how I structure, how I think of the phrasing and the harmonic changes I want to use — it comes from the jazz idiom.

BRIAN:  Arturo, maybe I can ask you something. I feel that so much of the Cuban music I hear you could call jazz.  If you apply the same criteria that you’d call Count Basie or Benny Goodman or that style of jazz: This music is played for the dancers, it’s got improvised solos, it’s got swing — all these qualities.  Do you feel sometimes people kind of miss the point?

O’FARRILL:  I’ve always maintained that the music that came up in Cuba in the ’20s and ’30s paralleled the music that was taking place in the States in New Orleans and Kansas City.  It’s another branch of the roots.  Just like you have your Kansas City school and St. Louis school and Detroit school, you have a Havana school growing at the same time.  I think where people goof is that they don’t accord it the same kind of stature.  You’re right.  The roots of improvisation are there for both musics.  There’s a similar instrumentation style and orchestration style.

BRIAN:  I think it has to do with the appropriation of a certain word, and the appropriation is the word “American.”  That America means just the residents of the United States of America.

O’FARRILL:  That’s very narrow-minded.

BRIAN:  Well, if you talk about jazz being a music of the Americas, instead of American music… I think a lot of things get left out.  The genesis of jazz, in a lot of senses, is pan-Caribbean.

O’FARRILL:  I’m sure if you visited Congo Square in New Orleans at the turn of the century, you’d hear a lot of clave-inspired music.  Guess what?  New Orleans is the Caribbean!

BRIAN:  I was looking through a book of photos by James Van Der Zee and found a picture of Sexteto Habenero in Harlem in the late ’20s.  It looked for all the world like a picture of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five.  All these things are very much together.  So there’s a case for saying that this is all jazz.

TP:    One thing I could bring in is that musically, the styles may be different branches of the same tree, but I think the scene, in certain ways, was more stratified when Eddie was coming up.  A lot of jazz players played in Latin bands, but I think the musics were seen more as very separate.  With the notable exception, of course, of Dizzy Gillespie, who was fifty years ahead of his time.

BRIAN:  I think in 1945 or 1950, the typical jazz musician knew much more about playing Latin rhythms that he did in 1970 or 1980.

O’FARRILL:  Yes, there was a moment there when it fell out of favor.

BRIAN:  Maybe we’re just about back now to a certain… It’s still the same thing.  Back to what you were saying, “jazz musicians” don’t do their homework as much about Latin music as the other way around.  A lot of times they’re missing something in their comprehension of what the requirements for jazz is.  And this maybe gets back to what we were talking about before, about having an incomplete analysis of what jazz is and what it means.

O’FARRILL:  Well, that’s the $64,000 question.  What is jazz?

BRIAN:  What is jazz.  Or what is swing?  I know in my own experience, playing Latin music helped my straight-ahead swing immeasurably.

O’FARRILL:  Oh yeah.  I have to agree with you there.  Your whole rhythmic concept is broadened in Latin music.  Your ability to hear eighth notes and sixteenth note sequences in a flow.

BRIAN:  And also the idea of consensus and playing a groove together.  I came to town in the early ’80s, and sometimes it seemed that swinging was kind of a lost art back then.

O’FARRILL:  Yeah.  It might be a lost art today!  I would add to what Brian was saying.  I think that to look at jazz as separate from Latin is a real fallacy.  Human beings love to categorize things.  They put things in boxes and make understandable that which is not.  The idea that Latin Jazz is so popular is both a blessing and a curse these days, because it further delineates the differences that people have in their mind about the two.

TP:    What did your father think about it?

O’FARRILL:  I don’t think he gave it much thought.  I think he looked at life as a musical challenge.  The only thing that bothered him was that Latin musicians tend to get paid less, and the music is less well received and not accorded the same respect.  It’s basically an economic issue.  To this day, I think, Latin Jazz tends to pay less, just in terms of economics.  I think my father didn’t care.  He was just a consummate musician.  He just wanted to write music.  He didn’t care if it was Count Basie or Machito.  He just loved what he did.  I don’t think he saw one or the other.

BRIAN:  Jazz is an attitude and a procedure to what you’re doing.  It’s about improvisation.  It’s always about wanting to extend something.  I think a proper relationship with your material is, as Eddie was talking about, extending folkloric materials of one sort or another.

TP:    We were talking about how sophisticated everything has gotten today, and yet the folkloric element is still so fundamental.

BRIAN:  Well, you’re seeing a lot of this trickle back into straight-ahead jazz.  A lot of the polymetric kind of wizardry that’s going on and a lot of the sophisticated bands is kind of coming in through the back door through Caribbean and Afro-Cuban music.  The fact that drummers have a much more pronounced emphasis on the 12/8 in their beat I think has to do with some of that, too.

Eddie Palmieri (for bio for Listen Here) — (Feb. 24, 2005):

TP:   What I think we should do is try to give something to the press so they can see what you think about jazz, why you doing a jazz record is different than what you normally do, and what your relationship has been to jazz, as well as the songs on the record. Plus the different instrumentalists. What’s so interesting is that you have some of the most distinctive personalities out there, and they all sound within your music.  They follow the logic and they’re immediately part of your world. It’s a sort of magic.

EDDIE:   Regina Carter just fell right in.  I had met her, but I wasn’t aware that she also had played Latin music, with charanga bands. So the piece I wrote for her, In Flight, she blew it away.  Her soloing was incredible.

TP:   She played a little pizzicato, almost a tres sound, on “Nica’s Dream.”

EDDIE:   I’ve never done compositions of the jazz artists, because I don’t know the jazz repertoire. But I do know the jazz phrasings and jazz harmonies that I utilize for my own compositions. This time, we utilized some of the compositions like “In Walked Bud,” which we did with Brian Lynch, Conrad Herwig and Donald Harrison. It was going to be for Nicholas Payton, but that composition was just finished, and I gave him another composition, called “E.P. Blues,” on which he plays with the three horns, the band. Nicholas also plays on “Nica’s Dream.” Michael Brecker and Christian McBride just blew me away.

TP:   Let me ask you systematically, tune by tune. Then I can interpolate questions.

EDDIE:   I didn’t use the full rhythm section, which I always do. I missed it in some of the compositions because of the form of the writing, which I turned into more of the Latin flavor.

TP:   Explain how the rhythm you used for this, the drums and conga, is different than using timbales, bongo and congas.

EDDIE:   It wasn’t a major problem. It’s just that when I use the drums, I call that Jazz Latin.  Latin Jazz, if I may, would be when I use my full rhythm which I always had—bongo, conga, and timbal.  But in my opinion, when you put a drummer within that whole rhythm section, the drum is very heavy. He just holds the weight, and it’s very difficult in the mixing.  But usually, when we do it, I either tone down the drum, bring down the volume, or we just eliminate him in certain sections. But I wasn’t going to do that to El Negro; I wanted him to play. Between him and Giovanni, they have a rapport. They did an excellent job. So I left it like that, without the timbales. But in some of the compositions, I missed having my full rhythm section, the conga, bongo and timbales. Just a few of them. The rest were fine. If you notice, we did a duo, we did trio, we did quartet, which I haven’t done.

TP:   Also new, except for the overtures you’ve done. So “In-Flight” was for Regina, and it seemed you were playing with some familiar changes.

EDDIE:   Yes. I came up with the melody, and I figured with the violin it was going to sound real interesting, and that she’d blow it away. Not only the melody, but her soloing on “In-Flight” is extraordinary. I’d met her in Europe, but I hadn’t heard her. I certainly didn’t know she had played in Latin bands. That helped a lot when we started to play.

TP:   I think you told me that you had to change your fingering system to play jazz, that it requires you to alter your actual approach to the instrument.

EDDIE:   Right.  The way you always play in Latin is in the octave, the full octave, and that locks the hand.  The reason for playing the octaves was that there really was no amplification at that time, and hitting four C’s, for example, and lining them up that way so it had a lot of power.  But what happens is you’re not using the fingering the way you would for jazz. So when I went into Latin Jazz, then I had to do some exercises and a different approach of technique to be able to play the Latin Jazz.

TP:   Is there a process of unlearning that goes into this?  You spent so many years creating this unique sound, always with jazz in mind. But this seems to culminate a decade of moving back to a certain element of your early years.

EDDIE:   It was really to let go the form of attack. My soloing, for example. And also, comping behind the jazz players on the Latin Jazz CDs that I did—Palmas, Arete and Vortex. That was a great experience for me at the same time, and I brought it into this CD. So it worked good for me. At the same time that I let go of the other approach in my form of attack, this one helps me in another way. I use more fingering in one of the numbers with John Scofield. I solo…

TP:   “In Flight” is your composition, and there are some changes you work, probably subconscious. “Listen Here” is an Eddie Harris tune. You selected it?

EDDIE:   My son wanted me to do it. We used Michael Brecker and Christian McBride. Michael hadn’t played in a while, and when he came to play, he REALLY played. I had met Michael Brecker with Randy many years ago, from when Barry Rogers was in the orchestra, and they eventually made Dreams together. But I saw them playing once with Horace Silver. Randy had recorded with me at times, but not Michael Brecker. He came and he played incredible in that company.

TP:   Eddie Harris in the ‘60s was one of the most proficient guys at using vamps and boogaloo, which is a sort of pan-Latin-backbeat unity thing. Can you talk about you responded to that in the ‘60s when it was happening? Also, did you know Eddie Harris?

EDDIE:   No, I didn’t know Eddie Harris. But the time of the boogaloo, that was also going into the late ‘60s. There were certain vamps, and then they were singing in English, a few of the young bands coming out at that time.  But in the Eddie Harris compositions I’ve heard, he always simplifies in the harmonic structures, but they have a natural swing ride to them like Listen Here has. And between Michael Brecker and Christian McBride, they certainly had it riding. Then I was right in there in the middle with them.  It turned out great

TP:   What’s it like working with a jazz bass player like Christian McBride?

EDDIE:   He and I met in Aspen. He’s the musical director of the Festival up there. I saw him doing seminars, and he was excellent.  Then we talked about recording. He is tremendous!  His father played with Latin bands in Philly, and one of the Latin bands here… He knew Mario Rivera, people like Cortijo and so on. His Dad was involved in there. He even told me, “My Dad will be jealous that I recorded with you and not him.” But he’s an incredible bass player. You know what he does in jazz.  But he can grab a Latin tumbao and ride that, too. I know because we did a thing together for Donald Harrison, one of my compositions called “Snow Visor.” We did an intro together, and then we played the whole composition.

TP:   Did you have to give them much instruction?

EDDIE:   No instructions. They certainly knew what to do.

TP:   “Vals Con Bata.”

EDDIE:   That has John Scofield and David Sanchez, with Giovanni playing the bata drums.  That’s more or less into the Jazz Waltz, and it came out also… That one was going to be pulled, because it was giving us a lot of trouble in the recording. But we held it for last, and worked on it, and were able to put it on the CD.

TP:   Did you think of it with Scofield and David in mind?  Didn’t David come out of Puerto Rico with you?

EDDIE:   Yes.  He went to Montreux. We closed a show for Miles Davis; Miles didn’t like to close. At the end of his career, he’d rather open and then leave. Then we followed him.

TP:   I wouldn’t want to follow your band.

EDDIE:   [LAUGHS] But David left with me from Puerto Rico. After that, he’s held his own, and he’s very respected in the jazz field and a pride of Puerto Rico.

TP:   Were all the tunes composed for the date?

EDDIE:   “Vals Con Bata” was already done, and I decided to pull it out because I needed a jazz waltz. I love them. It worked fine. John Scofield plays electric guitar, and David solos excellent.

TP:   I guess the jazz waltz is another point of connection between jazz and Afro-Caribbean music because of the triplets. Is that one of the things that appealed to you when you were younger?

EDDIE:   Yes. I always dedicated myself to listening to the Cuban music, and that was really my forte. But if I was ever going to do anything in jazz, it would be in a waltz type thing. I felt very comfortable there. I love them. I’ve recorded 3/4 on certain CDs. I have one called “Bianco’s Waltz,” another is “Resemblance,” which I did with Cal Tjader.

TP:   “Tema Para Eydie” is for one of your daughters.

EDDIE:   One of my daughters who’s here tonight. That turned out to be a duo between John Benitez and I.  John was great, because he can comprehend the Latin playing, and he’s become quite a jazz bass player in his own right, and a great soloist. It was written for the CD.

TP:   Break it down for me a bit.

EDDIE:   It was going to be done like a ballad. On the last CD, I did one called “Tema Para Reneé,” my oldest daughters. This is my second oldest; I’m doing them one at a time. This one was going to be like a ballad with the whole rhythm section. But we were having some complications, not in the recording itself, but in the numbers that were being selected to be done and a few that might change from the instrumental point of view… So instead of doing this one as a ballad with the horns and rhythm section, I decided to do it as a duo. I said, “Instead of playing piano alone, I’ll play with John,” and we did it as a duo.

TP:   Has working on the different fingerings made this a more acceptable thing for you to do on record? Your fans who are into jazz like things like “Cobarde” or “House On Judge Street,” where you make these long, grand intros. But these are a bit different. And what you did with David at Le Jazz Au Bar was also different. Can we say this is something you’ve been evolving to?

EDDIE:   We’re working towards it. Eventually it will be like solo piano, which I do sometimes on sets…

TP:   I wish you’d recorded the opener on this set. And if you do a solo record, I hope it’s on a Bosendorfer. Your left hand deserves it.

EDDIE:   I love the Bosendorfer. I’m working on that. But then the duo made it comfortable for me. At one time, I would never even have attempted to do it. But because I’ve been working on a few things, I thought it should be a duo. And I was very comfortable with John Benitez.

TP:   What makes this the time for you to start working on this. Your place in history would be pretty secure if you weren’t doing this. What was going on in your mind ten years ago that made you start taking this direction.

EDDIE:   Because the dance genre had changed, and my wife said, “the writing on the wall is going toward Latin Jazz.” That’s when I decided to do the Latin Jazz CDs, and then changed my style of playing more. Once I started with the fingering, then I wrote a couple of ballads, like Bolero Dos and Tema Con Reneé, and another one that Brian Lynch put strings on for me. I started to work on other ballads, and that made it more pianistic, more pianistic in my approach to the recording, and played ballads.

TP:   So ballads is more jazz for you… Up-tempo 4/4 swing isn’t really your thing, but playing these beautiful rubato ballads…

EDDIE:   Yes, which I enjoy very much. And then the 3/4, which I use for the jazz waltzes.

TP:   “Tin Tin Deo.” Was Dizzy Gillespie very important to you in the ‘50s.

EDDIE:   [LAUGHS] Dizzy was something special with me.

TP:   Didn’t Jerry Gonzalez go from him to you?

EDDIE:   I don’t know if he went from him to us. The brothers came in around 1974, when…

TP:   Jerry’s on the Puerto Rico concert.

EDDIE:   That’s ‘71. But when we do Sentillo is when we really started to meet. Then Jerry plays congas on one of the compositions on Puerto Rico. Because there was another conga player, [tk]. In the Sing-Sing album also, the brothers were on. As a matter of fact, I wrote the compositions at Andy’s house. I came up with it right there. I said, “I have this in mind,” and then we did it before we went to play at Sing Sing. So in ‘71-‘72, we already were playing together.

TP:   But had you always been aware of Dizzy…

EDDIE:   Yeah. Dizzy went with me to Riker’s Island once. He knew the gentleman who was musical director there, named Carl Warwick. He came with his camera… He was my MC that day. Matter of fact, before he brought me out, he said, “Before I bring out my Latin soul brother, Eddie, have you ever seen such a captive audience?’ That’s how he brought me on to the stage. Then we played and blew them away.

TP:   Let’s say something about Dizzy Gillespie to give the press something. Everyone knows his connection to Afro-Cuban music and what he did with it. But was it personally important to you in the ‘50s and early ‘60s.

EDDIE:   Well, the most important thing for me with Dizzy was the importance of how he got together with Chano Pozo, that one percussionist, coming out of Cuba, was able to change the characteristics of a jazz orchestra. Then that worked, it became very important in the Latin Jazz. So credit must be given to him to the highest degree.  Plus what he did on his own with the jazz bands that he had constantly, and his form of playing. Then how he ended his career with the international band, that he brought in more Cubans. He brought in Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D’Rivera, plus Giovanni and Danilo Perez. They all were in that orchestra.

TP:   So it was more his overall accomplishment than the specifics of his compositions?

EDDIE:   Yes.

TP:   That being said, how did you approach “Tin Tin Deo?”

EDDIE:   Well, I gave “Tin Tin Deo” a Latin intro, and I worked it more like a montuno type thing, the cha-cha-cha type approach to it, a Latin flavor type thing for David Sanchez. Then David took over, and brought that number home.

TP:   So David’s personality is the thing.

EDDIE:   He plays beautifully. You can hear his tone and feeling in the number. It was excellent.

TP:   That’s another jazz characteristic. Not only jazz.  But writing for personalities. You wrote for Barry Rogers… I don’t know what you did when you were writing for Tito Rodriguez. But is that an appealing thing about jazz for you?

EDDIE:   Yeah. Barry was really great, because not only did I write with him in mind and what he did, but we worked together. Working together was great, because I would bring in the composition, and then Barry would add the harmonies of the two trombones, and change them around, and then when we got into different orchestras, he also orchestrated incredibly well. On Santillo, for example, or the composition Puerto Rico. Then when we did The Sun of Latin Music, the Dia a Bonito(?) was a great collaboration between Barry Rogers and I.

TP:   Let me bring this to the ACJO. Have you been influenced by the way that Brian, Donald and Conrad play? Have they inspired your compositional direction?

EDDIE:   In the Latin Jazz, for sure. When I met Brian Lynch and he started to play, he’s the one who was the stimulus for me to write for them. I already had been using Conrad in the Latin orchestra. So between the two… I said, “Well, I’ll write a composition.”  How do I satisfy the personal desires of the jazz player and their changes, and how do I bring it then in the same composition to satisfy my rhythm section desire, which is more Latin and less chordal changes? In the three CDs, I was able to achieve that.

TP:   So really, having them, plus the practical necessity of moving to a different sound, combined to move you toward jazz.

EDDIE:   Right.

TP:   How about “In Walked Bud”? Was Monk someone you paid attention to?

EDDIE:   Sure. Thelonious Monk… In fact, Willie Bobo years ago called me the Latin Monk because of the dissonance playing that I did. But I never did any of the jazz playing, not even Thelonious Monk, until this one.  Richard Seidel sent me certain compositions, and when I was looking at “In Walked Bud,” I liked it. It was a natural to do it in an up-tempo. It came out all right. Even “Nica’s Dream” later on is in an up-tempo also.

TP:   Were you paying attention to Monk in the ‘50s?

EDDIE:   Well, Barry Rogers also made me very aware of him. We’d exchange LPs, and he brings me a Thelonious Monk LP, the one with the stamp, where he does “Tea For Two,” which is a classic. I exchanged that for a Celia Cruz-Sonora Matancera. He also brought me Kind of Blue, maybe for Chappotin or something like that.

TP:   When Fort Apache did Rumba Para Monk, did it make sense to you? Do Monk’s compositions flow easily into Afro-Caribbean rhythmic structures?

EDDIE:   Certain numbers, yes. I met Thelonious Monk once, when I was playing at the Corso, and he came up to hear the orchestra. He was brought up by a bass player named Victor Venegas, and he brought him upstairs. He blew me away.

TP:   Where was the Corso?

EDDIE:   That was a dancehall on 86th Street off Third Avenue.

TP:   What did he say?

EDDIE:   He didn’t say much. But he enjoyed the band, and that was great.

TP:   Did he dance?

EDDIE:   No. He just sat and listened.

TP:   “La Gitana” is a trio with Scofield on acoustic guitar and John Benitez.

EDDIE: He played beautifully. The instrumentation was originally for a larger band, and we rehearsed it, but it didn’t come in.

TP:   So it became a trio track by accident.

EDDIE:   Right. First it became a duo in the studio, and then a trio.

TP:   “Nica’s Dream.”

EDDIE:   Many years ago, in the ‘60s, I bumped into Horace in the street. I knew he liked Latin music, and I’ll never forget that he asked me, “Are you hip to ‘Nica’s Dream?’” I was walking on Broadway, right by Birdland. The Palladium was right next to Birdland. We were going like this, then he said hello, and I said how much I admired him. I wasn’t into jazz until later on, until I had Barry in the band. Then he brought me to Birdland on a Sunday, and I saw the original John Coltrane quartet also. Which by the way, when I started here on Tuesday, McCoy Tyner was at the soundcheck, and we had a nice talk.

TP:   So Horace Silver was another connection for you.

EDDIE:   Except that I met him. So when Richard Seidel sent me the tunes, I said, “I’d like to look at Nica’s Dream.” We did again up-tempo, a little bit more, and then we wrote a Latin thing at the… For that and “In Walked Bud” I was going to use the Latin rhythm section I like later on, but we didn’t do it, and I left it just drums and conga. But we put a mambo ensemble in there, because I changed the chord structures toward the Latin. That’s what I solo on.

“Mira Flores” is a place in Spain called “En Cortijo a la Mira Flores.” I just used the words “Mira Flores.” That’s where I heard and saw the original crushings of the olive to make the virgin olive oil. It was the historical museum, and then they turned on the machinery, because it worked, and the machinery… It gave me an idea again, and another 3/4 rhythm, which I wrote. There Christian McBride and Brecker exchange solos,  and I accompany them. Michael Brecker told me, “Eddie, it’s a beautiful composition,” and I told him, “If you play it and put it in your repertoire, I’ll be quite honored.”

TP:   So it’s a recent composition as well.

EDDIE:   Right.

TP:   “E.P.  Blues” was also for the session?

EDDIE:   I had Nicholas in mind for In Walked Bud, but he falls on this one, and he exchanges with Brian and Conrad and Donald. He was great. And he was comfortable here.

TP:   By the way, does Donald Harrison’s presence in the ACJO have an impact on you?

EDDIE:   Oh, yeah. He can play drums, and he’s a Big Chief. Now he has his own tribe, since his father passed away. Not only that. Donald can dance, he loves Latin rhythms. That’s why he wanted to come play with us. He told Brian, “I’ve got to get into the Eddie Palmieri band,” and he stuck with me for a while. We did the three CDs. I happen to love Donald Harrison very much. He’s not only a great, great player, but he’s a gentleman to the highest degree, an incredible human being.

Conrad is my compadre. I baptized his son Glen. Conrad to me is the greatest trombonist that I’ve ever met. Conrad is an incredible trombonist. He can execute the instrument, and knows about the structures of how to play it, and how to explain it to the students. Now he’s in a great position, because he’s also a professor at Rutgers.

Brian is an extraordinary talent. He’s one of the greatest trumpet players I’ve ever met. How he is able to comprehend… He’s very well known in the jazz world. But when he came into the Latin thing, I saw him make it his business to buy, like Barry did, for example, the essence of these Latin rhythms from the Latin records…to be able to get the right recordings. Brian Lynch has fulfilled that. He comprehends Latin very well, and that’s very difficult to do.

John Benitez is an incredible bass player. His roots are Latin from Puerto Rico, and he knows that, and he’s also become one of the top jazz bass players. He’s rounded.

TP:   Had Negro played with you before?

EDDIE:   He played here with me along with Richie Flores for a whole week. Negro is an extraordinary drummer. At the same time he plays his jazz, he knows his Cuban music. He gives another unique style that only a few drummers can do.

And Giovanni left with me for Europe as a young man, in 1984. His first tour to Europe.

TP:   You end “E.P. Blues” with a solo. You have the last word. Do you always have the last word on your bands?

EDDIE:   Yeah, sure.

TP:   Was it intended to be the set closer?

EDDIE:   Well, it was the most exciting number.

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