Tag Archives: George Coleman

For George Coleman’s 85th birthday, a 2016 Downbeat Interview and interviews on WKCR from 1994 and 1995

To honor the 85th birthday of tenor saxophone maestro George Coleman, here are three interviews — most recently, a long one conducted in 2016 for a shortish Downbeat “Beat” section article on the occasion of his SmokeSessions album A Master Speaks (his son, drummer George Coleman, Jr., was also present) ; then WKCR interviews in 1994 and 1995, pegged to club appearances.   Several years ago, I posted a 1995 WKCR interview that I did with Mr. Coleman and the great drummer Idris Muhammad, a frequent bandmate,

 

George Coleman (Feb. 8, 2016):

TP: This is your first recording as a leader in 18 years. Tell me how it developed.

GC: Basically, Eric Alexander conceived the idea. He said he wanted to produce a CD with me.  He discussed it with Paul Stache, and Paul thought it was a good idea, too. He selected the personnel, too, which is excellent—Bob Cranshaw and Mike LeDonne, and Junior playing drums, of course. I didn’t need control. They said they wanted to produce the record, and I said, “Go ahead.” There was no conflict.

TP: From what you just told me, doing records has not been your forte.

GC: No.

TP: By which I think you really meant that you haven’t been offered terms satisfactory to you on too many occasions over the years.

GC: That is true. And the record scene out there with a lot of young people doing records just to be doing them… That was one reason… I didn’t want to just do a record to be doing a record. A lot of times when you do records, they just sit on the shelf and collect dust. Some of the record producers…once they get the money that they invested, they’re not too particularly interested any more. At least that’s the way I’ve always felt.

TP: You were saying that you inaugurated Smoke in 1989.

GC: Yes, that’s right. Sometimes when these things happen, I’m really not aware of them. But I’m constantly reminded that I was the founder.

TP: you told me that Joe Farnsworth called you, who used to play at Augie’s a lot…

GC: That’s right. And the late, great Junior Cook. They used to play there quite a bit. Several other good players. James Farnsworth, who I didn’t know and never met, who passed away at a very early age. He was a baritone sax player who I heard was very talented. The Farnsworth family is a talented family. John playing trombone and saxophone now. Great.

TP: I’d think that your agreeing to do this recording after an 18-year gap for the reasons stated denotes a certain respect for and trust of Paul and Frank Christopher and the club.

GC: Yes. Sometimes things are not about money. They’re about integrity. It’s about people really interested in your product, and feel able to put it out in a commercial atmosphere, where you might get some record play. Something that people may have wanted to hear from you. There have been so many times over the course of these 18 years when people said, “Man, when are you going to make a record?”

TP: There was recording in 2002 of a collective group, The Four Generations of Miles recording.

GC: Then I did a thing with the Saxophone Masters, with Joe Henderson and Billy Pierce.

TP: that was the early 1990s, though.

GC: Also Live at Yoshi’s. Danger: High Voltage with the octet in the ‘90s, maybe 1996.

TP: The last one was I Could Write A Book on Telarc, with several things in odd-meters…

GC: There was one thing in 7/4, on “Lover,” just a little tempo change.

TP: So since then, there’s the Four Generations of Miles recording and I guess you played on one of Joey DeFrancesco’s records.

GC: I did some recording with Joey and did some gigs with him. Fantastic player.

TP: I didn’t get everything you told me about playing with Mike, and how it differed for you from playing with Harold, who you’ve played with for so long.

GC: Mike adopted some of the harmonic things that he heard us do. He’d be in the audience, listening to Harold when I’m playing with Harold. So he had a sense…he knew what to do harmonically for me, and he knew what I liked. Of course, I would always tell him about certain harmonic things that I wanted him to do, but he already knew that, because he knew we were inventive when we were up there. We were always trying to invent a different harmonic pattern, or something a little bit…not really unusual, but not done too much in this age, especially by young players.

TP: What’s not done too much? Not working out new harmonic patterns on the bandstand?

GC: Well, not even playing some of the old ones! There’s a lot in the old ones. Back in the dawning of the bebop era, there were so many harmonic things that were happening during that time that people have forgotten about. They don’t even do them now. You can play a standard and inject these kind of things. They’re oftentimes illustrated in original music, too.

I’ve always liked playing different tempos, key changes. That was really my motto. I guess probably a lot of record producers weren’t interested in that concept, because it went into the so-called fusion, rock, funk, jazz, whatever they’d like to call it. So I really wasn’t interested in that. I had some aspirations maybe to do a string album or something. Then I had one of my students from years ago who became a very good string writer, and started writing for Hollywood and California. He told me, “Man, I sure would like to do a string album for you.” But we couldn’t get the money together.” So it’s a lot of different things. A lot of things interject and interfere with certain projects you might feel you want to do. It mostly boils down to money.

TP: Did you do a big with this band before going into the studio?

GC: No.

TP: you didn’t do like two nights at Smoke or something like that?

GC: Well, I guess we did. Didn’t we?

GEORGE JR.: We played with Bob, myself, Big George and Mabern at the Disability Pride thing, but that was a year ago. That was the closest the band was to playing together. But I’ve actually worked a lot with Mike up at Smoke. He’s hired me a lot of times. So I was always very comfortable playing with him. But really, this particular band, we never really played before. The first time we got together was when we were in the studio.

TP: You didn’t even rehearse before you went in the studio.

GEORGE JR.: I came over here a couple of times…

GC: We had a little rundown over here.

GEORGE JR.: Just me, George and Mike, but not with Bob.

GC: Bob was a little under the weather, and it was cool, because he knows…

TP: His ears are amazing. With Sonny Rollins for 55 years.

GC: You don’t need to rehearse with him. That guy! Of course, he was at Sesame Street for over thirty years, right?

TP: On one of these radio shows we did… Remember I was telling you that you brought Idris to the station once in 1995. Here’s what he said: “George is special to me because he’s always working at new things.” He said that the night before you came to the station, you “were playing some stuff, and my left hand was going crazy, and I was trying to play what George was playing in my left hand and keep the rest of the things going, and it was pulling me, and I said, ‘No, I’d better stop myself,’ because I happened to stop my cymbal ride and my bass drum beat, because it’s a challenge to play with him.” He said, “George is a fellow who’s always working on something new and he’s always progressing, and for me to play with him, one of the greatest things is just watching George play, and hear him always reaching for things, new things. When I play with George in the band, it’s always something new. Every time I play with him, he’s always progressed.” Is that still the way you think about things? Are you still trying to find challenges?

GC: Well, not consciously maybe. The things just happen. I just let things happen. But I am trying to think academically when it comes to music. I am always looking at other alternatives. So in that sense…

TP: Would analytically be the word?

GC: Well, somewhat… Things just happen. Sometimes especially with my type of playing, a lot of things are not planned, but we have certain things that we know that we can do. We’re playing “I Got Rhythm,” we’re playing the blues, we have some alternatives that we can do, and we invent those sometimes into the program when we’re playing. We do that. So it keeps things interesting for us. Modulations, so to speak. Because some people shy away from modulations. They said, “Well, you play it in this key. “No, I’m used to playing it in A-flat” or “I’m used to playing it in B-flat” or whatever key. So they don’t want to go to another tonality, but I do. I do. I might take a tune and maybe go to three or four keys. That’s the things I like. That stimulates my mind, my thinking about the harmony and stuff. So what Idris was talking about was probably along that line.

TP: He’s far from the only one.

GEORGE, JR.: What I would say, the interesting thing about… It kind of pisses me off, too. The things that George and Mabern have developed over the years in terms of their ability to take a standard tune with standard changes, and really just reinvent it and look at it in a completely different way harmonically, but not doing it where they’re beating you over the head, like, “Yeah, this is what we’re doing”… It’s just kind of a natural progression and a flow of the great musicality that they have. Part of it, of course, they’ve played these standards a million times, so they want it to be interesting for themselves. But they also want them to be interesting for the musicians they play with and for the people who listen to them. Many times people are like, “Well, these guys are still doing what they did 50 years ago.” But not really. Sure, they might be playing a lot of the same standards, but their harmonic approach to it is different every time. To me, as a person either in the band or experiencing it, it amazes me. I never feel like… I’m not saying this because he’s my father, or Mabern… It just seems always fresh and it’s always interesting, and it’s something you don’t hear from a lot of musicians, even great ones. It’s not something that’s easy to do. They make it look so easy and sound so easy, I think a lot of people think it’s easy to do. But it is not.

TP: Otherwise more people would be doing it, as they say. They also noted that you and Mike played duets at a party celebrating your selection as an NEA Jazz Master at Smoke, and that put the finishing touch on the notion that you’d do a record.

GC: Yes, they had a little press party for me, sort of a little celebration at Smoke. Maxine Gordon organized it. She went to Paul to tell him, “Yeah, we’ll just have a little thing.” A few of my friends came by, musicians and people who had helped me through the years, like Jim Harrison and Matt White and people like that, who had been producers of jazz for many years. So it was a nice little celebration. I enjoyed it, and a number of musicians came by. My son made a nice speech for me, and recognition for the NEA Award and everything. It was nice.

TP: How did you feel about that award? Did it mean something?

GC: It meant something, sort of. But I looked at all the years before, and I saw a lot of other people who I thought deserved as much or more than me, who hadn’t received it. Like Harold Mabern. He’s been over there at William Patterson teaching for over thirty years, and he’s been playing for over fifty years with various artists throughout his history. Wes Montgomery. He was Joe Williams’ musical director. So he has an extensive repertoire.

TP: He played with J.J. for a while.

GC: J.J. A lot of people. I said, “Well, I’m getting it, but Mabern deserves it just as much or more than I do.”

TP: That being said… As we discussed, your discography as a leader is shockingly low for someone of your stature and the respect you’re held…

GC: Well, my personal discography.

TP: Not as a sideman, of course.

GC: There was a French guy who wrote a book about my discography. I’ve got it around here somewhere. But as far as recording with other people, I’ve recorded almost with everybody. There are so many people I’ve recorded with. There’s a lot of material out here, and a lot of material that I don’t even know about that people call me to tell me. “Man, I heard this fantastic recording of you where you were in Italy, you were in Germany, you were in Switzerland…”

TP: There’s a great youtube clip of you in Vittoria with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Billy Higgins. If I could use the word “killing”…

GC: That’s what George says. On that, I played “Dolphin Dance” from that Maiden Voyage thing; I hadn’t played it since the recording.

TP: Let’s talk about the repertoire on  A Master Speaks. As far as I can tell, you’ve only recorded one of these before—“Blondie’s Waltz” on Amsterdam After Dark. Maybe you’ve performed some of these pieces, but they aren’t cited on the online discography I consulted. Was that a deliberate choice?

GC: It was just some tunes we selected that I wanted to do. I figured that it would be good as far as repertoire. That’s how that came about. There was no special thing. I got rushed, because they wanted some original music, and I haven’t written original music in some time. So I had to come up with this original music in a week or so.

GEORGE, JR.: Great stuff, too.

GC: So the stuff I came up with was pretty spontaneous. Nothing really complex. I said, “I’ll just put something together that we can do real quick.”

TP: I think the complexity comes in the interpretation.

GC: That’s just it.

TP: A couple of the tunes made me think of some signposts. Perhaps in discussing them we can touch back on your personal history. “Blues For B.B.”—I guess B.B. King passed around the time you recorded it.

GC: That’s it. Pretty much.

TP: I know you played with him from 1953-55, and I think George, Jr., posted the youtube clip “Woke Up This Morning” on Facebook.

GC: That was his first hit, and probably the first R&B Latin beat, too.

TP: It sounded like a tango in the “St. Louis Blues” tradition.

GC: It was sort of like that, a rumba, whatever you want to call it.

TP: What was B.B. King like before he was B.B. King, so to speak.

GC: Oh, he was a great guy. B.B. was easygoing and very entertaining. He liked the idea of our little jazz concept that we had before he would come on the program. Of course, the people would be asking for him. We’d be playing these jazz tunes. We had a great arranger-composer during that time in Memphis, a guy by the name of Onzie Horne, who later became Isaac Hayes’ musical director.

TP: You’ve also mentioned a guy named Robert Talley, who helped you learn harmony and…

GC: Great piano player and arranger, too.

TP: You said he’d show you things on the piano.

GC: Yes. He’d show you some things that you might learn at Berklee, the chords they call half-diminished chords that he’d call minor 7s or flatted 5s, which is the same thing. That’s the way I learned it back in that day. I didn’t know anything about half-diminished with the slash over the zero. Just minor 7, flat 5, which is a half-diminished.

TP: Did you play piano?

GC: I learned arranging piano, and that’s basically what I do now. But I do know harmony somewhat on the piano.

TP: So when you were learning the saxophone, more or less self-taught…

GC: Same thing with the piano. I was a self-taught pianist. But I was around people during that time when I just started playing, about two years into playing. I was around people who were very learned, and they showed me things. They didn’t sit me down and say, ‘here’s a lesson; we’re going to have a lesson.” I would just sit and… I’d be around them, and if I sat down at a piano with Bob Talley, he would say, “Well, this is such-and-such-such.” So those guys were my teachers during that time. I was teaching, too, during that time. With everything I would learn, I’d show them. Like with Mabern. He wanted to know the changes of “All The Things You Are.” He’d be playing boogie-woogie during that time. This is during the early stages of his development. So I would show them whatever I knew. That’s where my teaching experience expanded to pretty much through my entire career. I was teaching what I was learning.

TP: You mentioned that you transcribed all the Charlie Parker solos you could get your hands on from the 78 records.

GC: Yeah, we did that. Not only me. There were a lot of other people doing that back in that time.

TP: In Memphis?

GC: Yeah. There were some guys in Memphis who did that. But this was all over the U.S.?

TP: Sonny Criss had already split by the time you were playing, right?

GC: Yes. But I met him years later in Paris, when he had moved to Paris. We had a nice relationship. Great player.

TP: But all the saxophone aspirants of your generation and younger were listening to Charlie Parker and forming a style.

GC: Everybody was listening to Charlie Parker. Piano players as well.

TP: And you were initially an alto player.

GC: Yes.

TP: B.B. King bought you your first tenor?

GC: That’s right. It was one of those things where it was a switch. That’s when the switch was made. Prior to that, I was just playing alto.

TP: In an interview I read, you said you had gone on the road with B.B. King and had your first airplane flight when Charlie Parker died.

GC: That’s right. From Memphis to Houston. I arrived in Houston and heard the sad news that Bird had passed away.

TP: Do you feel your approach to tenor is influenced by having played alto so much early on?

GC: Maybe. Probably. The transposition is a fifth. But it’s the same keys. 12 keys is 12 keys. If you’re playing tenor in the key of C, that’s G for the alto. It’s a different sound; it’s a different key from what you’re playing—the two together. It’s like a fifth. Ok. It’s a fifth. Of course, there’s a different embouchure you have to consider when you’re playing alto, and even with the soprano. You’ve got to have chops for all these instruments that you play, if you’re doubling. But since I was pretty well versed in keys, the switch was not that difficult to me.

TP: Keys came pretty naturally to you it sounds like. Obviously you worked hard, but it doesn’t seem to have been that big of a struggle.

GC: Well, one of the things was, we played in these country places where these pianos were out of tune. Terribly out of tune. So sometimes we had to play in the other key. If you were playing in C, you might have to play C-sharp, one of those abnormal keys…I won’t say abnormal, but it was abnormal because…

TP: Unusual maybe.

GC: Unusual. That’s the term. So through that, transposition and tonalities and things like were introduced to me at a very early age through that.

TP: Do you have perfect pitch?

GC: No, I don’t. But sometimes I can hear keys. Right now, I keep a tuning fork right near my bed, and when I hear something on Music Choice on the television I’ll test my pitch to see if I… I’m between 75%-85%.

TP: In those R&B bands when you were a young guy, the musicianship was very high.

GC: All those guys…a lot of those guys could write, and they were writing for some of the R&B people. Like…

TP: Floyd Newman.

GC: Floyd was in the band with me. He was the baritone player. Me and him are the last ones out of those 35-40 people, including the bus drivers, the people doing the booking during that time—all those people from B.B. King’s band, 1955, are gone.

TP: You might have been the youngest player in the band when you joined in 1953?

GC: Maybe the youngest. I’m not sure. I was probably 18 when I did “Woke Up This Morning.” That was the first actual recording I ever did, period, R&B or jazz.

TP: Did you solo on any other B.B. King recording?

GC: No, that’s the only one.

TP: You moved to Chicago in 1956, though. What precipitated your move to Chicago?

GC: It was a rich environment in Chicago. All the great players were there. Gene Ammons. Johnny Griffin. Sonny Stitt would come in from time to time. Of course, Bob Cranshaw. Muhal Richard Abrams.

TP: You played with the MJT+2 for a while.

GC: Walter Perkins’ group.

TP: Muhal was the pianist before Mabern joined.

GC: He was the first one. He was the original.

TP: Wasn’t Nicky Hill the first tenor saxophonist?

GC: Yes, he was. Nicky Hill. He was a great player, too.

TP: But what made you want to go to Chicago? Did you know it would be like that? Did someone suggest it? I think you told me that Chicago was the second stop.

GC: Yeah. From Memphis to Chicago, and from Chicago to New York. That was the geographic transition. The great thing about Chicago, and the great thing about Memphis, too… When I left Memphis, I was fairly equipped to be ready for Chicago. When we came into Chicago, the three of us, me and Mabern and Frank Strozier, they said, “Damn, them guys from Memphis, man…” So we were the rave during that time. All the Chicago musicians said, “Where did these guys come from?” So we were respected. Because we could play a little bit. But we learned a lot from people like Griff and Gene Ammons, all of them. Those were the great talents on the saxophone during those years. Clifford Jordan was there, too, though he’d left before I arrived. I met him later in New York. I think he left probably around the early 1950s, maybe ’53 or something. I got there in 1956 and he’d left.

TP: You had a gig at Budland next to the Pershing. It started at 6 in the morning, with Prentice McCrary on organ.

GC: that’s right. Chicago was 24 hours. There was a place called the Cotton Club that was open… It was Cotton Club first, and then they called it Swingland. They would have a bass on the stand and a set of drums, and guys would come in at all hours of the morning and night to sit in and play. That was the atmosphere in Chicago. The gig on Saturday started at 11 o’clock p.m. and went to 5:30-6 a.m. After that you had a gig that started at 6, or 9. In the Club DeLisa, on 55th and State, all the show people came to the breakfast dance. I’m trying to think of the drummer’s name.

TP: Red Saunders.

GC: Red Saunders had the band there. It was a great scene, man. It was 24 hours of music, polish sausages and barbecue.

TP: All those things that are bad for you.

GC: But it was good for you, too, because the music was so enlightening and rewarding. It was great. I feel very good about that transition I made from Memphis to Chicago. I might have made it from Memphis to New York, too. But that’s not what happened. The Chicago atmosphere prepared me for anything else I might have had to encounter in the New York scene. That in itself was a great experience for me.

TP: Did you have offers to record while you lived in Chicago? I’m asking because John Jenkins recorded for Blue Note, Clifford recorded for Blue Note, Ira Sullivan…

GC: Well, Lee Morgan heard me. He came through and heard me, and he wanted me to come to New York and record with him, which I did.

TP: On City Lights.

GC: Yeah, that was my first recording, along with House Party and all that stuff. All those things were recorded together. I did House Party with Jimmy Smith, and I did City Lights with Lee Morgan. I played alto and tenor.

TP: Are those representative of the way you sounded then?

GC: Heh-heh. I didn’t think I did too well on them. But I got through enough. I just got through. I wasn’t happy with any of the solos that I did. But I was experienced. I could look at a sheet of chord progressions and know how to improvise on that. That’s what happened. Then in the latter years, what I did with Herbie, it was the same thing that happened. On Maiden Voyage we went to the studio, Lynn Oliver’s on Broadway and 70-something, in that area. That’s where all the guys used to go rehearse for Blue Note—two hours. Next day, over to Rudy Van Gelder’s. Pickup at the Empire Hotel and to Rudy Van Gelder’s.

GEORGE, JR.: You told me an interesting story about that record. The first day of the recording, the drummer was different. It was Stu Martin?

GC: Yes. Stu Martin was pretty much under the impression that he was going to do the date. I think there was a little bit of politics involved in this. Herbie had promised him. He said, ‘Ok, Stu, you got…” Stu wasn’t bad, but, you know, he wasn’t Tony. So Alfred Lion, he was very opinionated about the music. “It doesn’t schwing. We can’t do that; it doesn’t schwing.” And if it didn’t swing, shit, he’d cancel the debt, pay everybody off—and that’s what he did on a couple of occasions.

TP: Quality control.

GC: Yeah. If he didn’t like it…ok, you’re finished.

GEORGE, JR.: So you guys just went back to Rudy’s the next day?

GC: We went back to Rudy’s the next day. Stu didn’t even know that he wasn’t on it. There is a cut with Stu playing “Maiden Voyage.” But I can’t remember any other takes on that stuff we did. Once we did the first take, that was it. “Dolphin Dance,” first time. Had to read the changes, because I wasn’t familiar with that harmonic thing. So that’s what happened. Now, “Maiden Voyage” was very simple, but “Dolphin Dance” was not so simple. He had different harmonic structures there that were… To this day… It’s an intricate little tune.

TP: Hard to tell you hadn’t played the stuff before. Sounds like you’d been playing it forever.

GC: I think we got lucky a little bit. What it is, is experience. Freddie hadn’t played this stuff either. We did a two-hour rehearsal, and we rehearsed all the stuff we did on the record. But it’s just two hours. You haven’t had time for that stuff to soak in so that you can really feel you’re in a positive improvisational situation. You’re thinking, “Well, I’ve got to read these chords; I’ve got to play this line.” But it came off ok. If you’ve got a little bit of experience… I didn’t have a helluva lot of experience in recording, but I knew what I could do, and…

TP: You did it.

GC: Yeah.

TP: Max Roach brought you out of Chicago?

GC: Yes, he came through when I was workign with the MJT+2. We were at the Blue Note. Frank Holzfiend was the owner.

TP: Max hired you and Booker Little together. You were very close to Booker Little, like a kind of older brother.

GC: Yes. Well, see, when I joined Max’s band, it was Kenny Dorham in there. When Kenny left, that’s when he got Booker. He called Booker in.

TP: How long were you with Max?

GC: Only about a year.

TP: you’re on 7 recordings with him between April 1958 and January 1959.

GC: Yes.

TP: You’ve called that a “finishing touch” kind of gig. Playing at tempos, odd meters…

GC: Oh yes, that was a really great experience for me. Then with the Slide Hampton Octet was another great experience. These are pianoless groups. But you still had to know your harmony. You still had to know what the chords were. We were playing chords. There was no piano, but we were playing chords. There was a bass there, and the drummer and no one else. So how could you go wrong. Nelson Boyd and Art Davis—great bass players.

TP: Mabern has told me about discovering Ahmad Jamal through Bill Lee.

GC: When I arrived, Ahmad was there. The king of Chicago. It was in a place called Pershing Lounge, right next to Budland, the place I used to start at 6 in the morning.

TP: I’m asking about Ahmad Jamal because you made that wonderful record with him.

GC: Oh, yeah. It was always mutual respect there. I didn’t know him that well, but I knew him somewhat. And he knew about us—meaning the guys from Memphis. Frank Strozier recorded one of his things, a big band thing. He played flute and…

TP: How did that recording with Ahmad Jamal in the ’90s come about? And what was it like playing with someone who comps behind you like an orchestra?

GC: I didn’t get in his way, so to speak. I just laid back and let him dictate. That was the thing when we made the tour. It was just like that. He’d come in and do his thing, then he’d bring me on. I always wanted to stay out of his way. I didn’t want to play while he was doing his trio stuff. But he would call me up, and then we had some special things that we would do with the quartet after he’d call me up. But his thing was… It would have been too complex to try to play with the stuff that he played. Because it was so unusual. Even when I would do those recordings, it wasn’t just straight time patterns… If it was a 32-bar pattern, he might put a tag in there for about 16 bars or so. So it was never anything that was strict. So I had to be listening for all of this stuff. I think that’s one of the things he likes about me, because he knew I could hear all this stuff he was doing.

TP: I guess the last piece here, “Time To Get Down,” a Rhythm piece, has an Ammons-Stitt feel to it.

GC: Yes.

TP: “These Foolish Things,” which you did in duo with LeDonne, makes me think of Ammons, of course, and it also made me think that two of my favorite recordings of yours are tenor-piano duos with Tete Montoliu, on Timeless, and with Richie Beirach on Triloka. Can you talk to me about playing when the drummer isn’t there.

GC: Tete Montoliu was just a fantastic guy. He was blind, but all he had to do was hear something, and then he had it. I don’t care what it was. It was fantastic. He could be all up with the minor third stuff, “Giant Steps” progressions; he could hear that. He could play that. It was remarkable how he would do that. All the double diminished stuff that people play today, he could hear that and play all of that. He was phenomenal. Tete Montoliu was one of the great musicians that I had the great pleasure of playing with.

Richie was great, too. Richie wrote these arrangements for me, for soprano and tenor, and we rehearsed them at his house on Spring Street, and we went to the studio and did them. There was no problem, because we had gone through them somewhat. He had 2 or 3 originals. Then we had a couple of standards that we did, I think. Then we had “Infant Eyes” that I had never played. Wayne Shorter tune. Great tune. I had never heard that.

TP: When you’re playing duo, do you approach things differently when there isn’t a drummer? I guess I could also ask if you play differently when there isn’t a chordal instrument? Those are challenging situations for you?

GC: It’s always challenges. The thing that helped me so much is the fact that, when I used to practice, I’d just pick up my horn, pat my foot, and play like I had a drum there, or everything was in time, in tempo. That’s the way I used to practice. So when it came to playing duos, before I had played solos, nobody but me. I would practice tunes like “All The Things you Are,” with the right tempo, playing all the changes in them. “Cherokee” I would practice with up-tempo, the same tempo, with the changes. So when I got with Max, you know, Max was right there with the time. You didn’t have to worry about the time. He’d bring you back, bring you in and take it out. His sound was impeccable. So you didn’t have to worry about that. In the case of Slide Hampton, of course, he had the octet there. It was six horns that would play backgrounds. So in a sense, you had a bit of harmonic lift there; you had a pianistic accompaniment. He’d play some written backgrounds behind you. But a lot of times, you played the with just bass and drums.

TP: I guess with Elvin Jones, there was no chordal instrument either.

GC: Same thing. Me and Frank Foster had a wonderful time. I had the gig with him in 1968, 1969. I went with Lee Morgan in the early 1970s. Elvin was another great musician. I’ve had an opportunity to be with the greatest!

TP: Well, with Max Roach, Elvin Jones and Billy Higgins, you’re not doing too badly.

GC: That’s the top! For me to come up in that, people like Tony Williams…I mean, that wasn’t no problem. Tony Williams was great, too. But I had been with all of those guys, man. Elvin Jones, Max Roach and Billy Higgins! So time… I was always conscious of time, and they had such a great beat, each one of them, that you could float on their beats. By that I mean they swung so much, to use a better word, the swinging is like a pulse you get from playing the music.

TP: You were never with the Messengers, though.

GC: I was never with the Messengers. But I liked Art Blakey. I think I might have played just one gig with him. Not his gig. We were just on a gig. This was a day when he didn’t have no sticks, so he had to play with a coat hanger.

TP: there’s a tune called “Sonny’s Playground.” Is that Sonny Rollins?

GC: That’s Sonny Stitt. That was one of his signature things, which is a very difficult key to play the blues in—D-flat, concert. Of course, back in the old days, guys…that’s an old thing. “Woodchopper’s Ball,” that was in D-flat, and guys were playing tenor solos. But Sonny Stitt had another plateau with the D-flat blues. He was so technically efficient. That’s what you have to be to play that way in the key D-flat, which is transposed E-flat for the tenor saxophone. But Coleman Hawkins and those guys, like, in that classic “Body and Soul,” that’s D-flat. So D-flat is a key that’s a challenge for any saxophone player, and probably a pianist, too, or any other instrument. That’s why “Sonny’s Playground.” That was his thing. D-flat, fast tempo, very technically involved when it comes to fingering.

TP: There’s a youtube clip of an interview by Brian Pace, I think, where you talk about sitting in with Ammons and Stitt in Chicago, and making sure they knew you could hang with them.

GC: I was on the stand with him and Gene, and I was playing with them, and he tried to trip me up. He went over to Andrew Hill to change the key, and Andrew said, “that ain’t gonna bother him!” So after that, Sonny said, “Ok, look, man, you sit this one out. Me and Gene got it.” That’s the way it was.

TP: After that, you were best friends forever or something like that.

GC: Well, George’s mother used to play with Stitt. She played bass with him and organ. But he couldn’t quite place me. He didn’t know that this is Gloria’s husband. He just thought, “Who is this guy who always comes around and wants to sit in?” But I did one thing with him one night, but he was ok with it.

TP: “Darn That Dream” is another one of those classic ballads that it’s hard to believe you never recorded before. Is “You’ll Never Know What You Mean To Me” your…

GC: That’s LeDonne’s tune. I came and sat in with him one night, and they were playing it, so I heard it from the audience. I said, “Let me try a chorus of this.” So I grabbed Eric’s horn, and the first time I start playing it. He said, “Haven’t you heard this?” I said, “Yeah.” But it wasn’t that hard. [SHOWS ME THE TENOR PART]

TP: To me, it looks hard.

GC: But it’s not! It’s not really that difficult. But it’s got changes in it, and it’s a nice little tune, with a tag on it. But that’s LeDonne’s tune. That was a great little tune.

TP: Has “Shadow Of Your Smile” been part of your repertoire for a while?

GC: Well, back in the old days I used to play it.

TP: But you never recorded it.

GC: No. But Paul Stache mentioned it. He said, “Why don’t you do ‘The Shadow Of Your Smile.’‘ I said, “Ok, sure.”

TP: You’re easy! People think you’re difficult, but you’re easy.

GC: No, I don’t have no problems, man.

TP: “Invitation.”

GC: “Invitation” was something I wanted to play. My wife loved that, God rest her soul—Carol Hollister. So in memory of her I brought a thing out to play it. It’s a good tune.

GEORGE, JR.: It was the last tune we did on the date.

TP: It’s the first tune on the mix on the sequence that I received. I can’t do this piece and not ask you about your time with Miles.

GC: Make that as a conclusion.

TP: You mentioned that apart from Charlie Parker, Coltrane was a big influence on your concept and that Sonny Rollins was someone you were also checking out, but though you listened to many people, there weren’t really other influences.

GC: Strangely enough, I had influences back to the time when I started. People like the R&B players, like Louis Jordan. I think Sonny Rollins mentioned him, too. Louis Jordan influenced me, because I was playing alto during that time, and Louis Jordan was an alto player. There was Earl Bostic, of course, from that era. Tab Smith.

TP: All the lead alto players.

GC: Lead alto players, but great soloists.

TP: Did you hear Hank O’Day, the guy Hank Crawford took his name from, and Sonny Criss dug?

GC: Oh, yeah. I knew him. He was a nice guy. Helluva pool shark, too. He could play all bank, man. Those guys down there, they weren’t playing black ball or rotation. They were playing the whole thing. And five rails in the corner. They could take a ball here, and it would be sitting here, they’d say, “Ok, four rails in the corner.” The ball goes, BING, BOMP, BING, BING, and back, and hit that ball and knock it in, and wouldn’t scratch. Those guys…so they could do more… Slim Waters, my adopted father, who was a trumpet player, he was a pool shark, too. Then there was a guy who was in the barber shop. It was right across the street from the pool hall. I’d be sitting around, looking at them, and then I’d go back to Mitchell’s Hotel and practice. Your horn would be on the bed. It probably never was in the case. I’d take it out of the case and it would be there.

TP: So you were living at the Mitchell Hotel.

GC: I was staying in the Mitchell’s Hotel.

TP: Did you grow up in Memphis proper?

GC: I grew up on the north side of Memphis. Manassas High School.

TP: You had a teacher named Miss Thomas who would play you the Moonlight Sonata and you’d have to analyze it.

GC: See, I had basic elementary music education. I knew what the great staff was. I knew bass clef, treble clef, I knew what the lines and spaces were, and the names. I knew all of this stuff. Because that’s what they taught you in your first elementary education. Then we had music appreciation, where she would play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and you’d have to identify it. What is this? All the basic stuff—whole note, quartet note.

TP: You had a thorough bedrock for a self-taught musician to build on. Then it was up to you.

GC: That’s right. I wasn’t even playing a saxophone during that time when she was teaching basic music, like the lines and spaces and clefs. I was playing a little bit. I could read a little bit. I was playing in the concert ball and also playing football.

TP: Were you a good football player?

GC: Not that great. I could tackle, and I had pretty good hands. Of course, I missed a pass one time that was right in my hands and broke my finger. It’s still bent. [SHOWS ME] I never bothered to have it straightened. I’ve worked with it all these years.

TP: Back to Miles. You sat in with the quintet, I guess, with Wynton Kelly, Coltrane, PC and Philly Joe, and they called something real fast…

GC: I called it. They asked me what I wanted to play, and I called “Lover.” So when they heard me play “Lover,” I think it probably convinced Miles. It was up.

TP: Did Miles or Coltrane know you from Chicago?

GC: No, I don’t think they knew me from Adam, as a matter of fact.

TP: Well, could just anybody sit in with Miles and Coltrane at the Bohemia?

GC: Well, I was there, and I heard them, and I asked to sit in. I didn’t have no horn, so Coltrane gave me his horn and I went up and played. I think they knew a little something about me.

TP: From Max maybe?

GC: Well, maybe. First of all, I think Trane was getting ready to leave, so he needed a replacement. So he recommended me. I never knew that.

TP: But Hank Mobley and Stitt came before you.

GC: I replaced Hank Mobley.

TP: This is what you told me a few years ago, and you fleshed it out more in an interview with a guy called Dan Miller for All About Jazz. The gist is that you were cramping their style because they wanted to mess with the form…

GC: You’re talking about Herbie, Ron and Tony.

TP: Yes. You said to Miller that you’d be out front because Miles would go to the bar for 10-15 minutes, it was cramping their style and it would drive them crazy, and then one night you decided to take your solo outside, and that calmed them down for a while.

GC: Yes. After they heard that, they knew that I could play that shit if I wanted to. But I didn’t want to.

TP: Why didn’t you want to at the time?

GC: Because I was playing the repertoire of the leader, Miles Davis. He was playing his solos and stuff, but we were still playing the standards. We were playing “Autumn Leaves.” We were playing “Walkin’”. All that stuff. But they wanted to take that concept somewhere else when they were on the stand without him. I wanted to continue playing… First of all, as I said (and this is true), people thought I was Miles. When he wasn’t there, they thought I was Miles. Did you know that?

TP: I didn’t know it until I read your remark about that.

GC: Yeah, man, they thought I was Miles. People would come to me at the end of the set and say, “Oh, Mr. Davis, such wonderful music. Really. Thank you so much. Can I have your autograph?” It was something I didn’t like. I didn’t want to be out there trying to be him. First of all, the stature was different. I am 250 pounds, and Miles Davis was maybe, wet, 150 or 160. So they just didn’t know! He wasn’t there. During that time, he was in considerable pain with his hip. And some nights, I guess he didn’t really want to play. He would come in the Vanguard and play one set. After the first set, he’d be gone. So the second set, we’d have to play. Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams.

GEORGE, JR.: He had hip and back problems back in those days?

GC: Well, he had a bad hip, and it would pain him. He was in extreme pain. So a lot of nights he wouldn’t make it. Strange thing about it, though, is the next night when he would come in… The first night, when he wouldn’t show up, there would be lines of people waiting for him. But we’d be in the club, and we wouldn’t show. So the club owner would say, “you guys go up and play tonight, and I’ll tell them that he’ll be here tomorrow night.” So when tomorrow came and he was there, there were still lines of people, probably a longer line than there was originally.

TP: Part of it is, “will he show up or night?” People thought like that then.

GC: Yes, they’d think like that. They said, “I’m going to get there, because I wonder if he’s going to show.” Because he’s like, you know, the high priest. That’s why I decided I couldn’t deal with it no more. Too much friction between them and me. That wasn’t the case off the bandstand. Oh, they were great pals with me off the bandstand, because I would have the girls. See, after the gig was over I’d always have me a girl, you know, a girl who would come to the room, and then they’d be coming, knocking on my door. “Hey, let us in, man.” So it was all pals. But when it came to the bandstand, it was another story. But it was a great experience. Wallace Roney told me (and they all know this), “Man, Miles didn’t want you to leave.” I do remember that day when he called me. “Are you coming back, man? Come on.” I said, “No, Miles.” “Why don’t you come back, man?” I said, ‘you know…” And he knew I was having problems with them. They were trying to get me fired anyway. They wanted to hire Sam Rivers, and after that they got Wayne Shorter.

TP: I guess Sam was Tony’s mentor in Boston, so they were very close.

GC: Exactly.

TP: And then Wayne, I’ve heard, had talked to Miles while he was still with Art Blakey, so politics were afoot in that situation as well.

GC: Sure.

TP: Do you think you’ll record again for Smoke Sessions?

GC: That’s a possibility.

TP: this one is coming out around your 81st birthday. I hope we can have one for your 82nd.

GC: Well, maybe. We’ll see. If this one goes good, and it just might… It might be ok. I’m not crazy about it, and that’s why I’ve been reluctant to listen to it.

TP: Do you have a favorite record?

GC: Some of the live stuff that I did with Wynton Kelly, I think with Ron McClure and Jimmy Cobb in Baltimore, at the Left Bank. Jimmy Heath came over to the house one night, and this guy sent me the transcribed solo of “Surrey With The Fringe On Top”—my solo. I looked at it and I said, “what?” This stuff looked like a classical selection from Stravinsky. It had all kinds of different weird… Jimmy came here, I said, “Jimmy, check this out.” he put the whole sheet on the floor. It was almost ten pages. So we put the record on and he started looking at it, and he said, “man, it looks pretty good to me.” But it was crazy. It was like groupings of 7th with one beast, 5s, 7s… Weird. Did I give you that transcribed…

GEORGE, JR.: No. You showed it to me and I took a look at it.

GC: I’ve got to find it for you so you can have it for the archives.

TP: george, why don’t you tell me what you said about your father at the NEA Party at Smoke, or synopsize it?

GC: Did you record it?

GEORGE, JR.: I didn’t. I don’t know if anybody did. But basically what I said was… This is echoed by anybody who knows George. Besides being…we don’t like to say “unsung,” because there’s plenty of people who love George Coleman. One of the funny things is, I have Facebook… George is not a big social media guy, so I handle all that for him. I remember as soon as I got on, I started getting all these requests, and I’m like, “Who are these people? I don’t know who all these people are.” Then I started getting notes from them, like, “Mr. Coleman, I love your solo on ‘My Funny Valentine’ and I saw you in Italy…”

GC: They thought it was him.

GEORGE, JR.: They thought me was him. I never went to “Junior” or anything. It was “little George” or something like that within the family. So it was interesting to me to see all of these people from all around the world who were touched by what George had done musically, and in most cases didn’t know him, and in some cases they may have saw him live somewhere in Europe or Asia or whatever. So that was really interesting for me.

But the thing I spoke to at the NEA thing was the concept of my dad being a wonderful human being. He’s helped so many people. I don’t know how many times George has had students come over and not taken money from them, basically wanting to share all this great knowledge, or people who were down-and-out and needed help, and George lent a helping hand. I also think that’s a testament to his great playing, that he’s also a great human being. People who don’t know George don’t know that about him. But I think that’s one positive aspect in terms of why he’s always been great with crowds. He’s a very giving person, and he wants the people who listen to music to enjoy themselves and feel like they were really special and part of something, because they are. I feel a lot of the approaches to music these days are less focused on the interests of the people who are actually attending the concert and more about the interesting things that the musicians are doing for themselves on stage, and that’s not what George is about, and that’s the lesson I’ve always gotten.

GC: Whatever you play, you’ve got to entertain.

GEORGE, JR.: You’ve got to entertain. Somebody told me one day “it’s not called ‘show art.’ It’s called ‘show business’ for a reason.” That’s the other thing about George. That doesn’t mean you diminish the sophistication or complexity of what it is that you do musically. It’s just something that you keep in mind. It could be something as simple as feeling the crowd out and maybe wanting to call one particular tune, which I’ve seen George do many times, where we’ll be in the back…I’ll have an opportunity to play with him, I’ll be in the back, and he’ll say, “here’s the set list,” and then we get onstage and we don’t do any of those tunes, because at the moment George feels this crowd just seems different, so this will work better. So it wasn’t like we played any lesser music. We just felt the vibe of the crowd, or he felt the vibe of the crowd…

TP: But he’s describing a very art-for-art’s-sake aesthetic, but then there’s another side that probably comes from playing for people…

GC: Miles Davis liked to play for people, too. All those guys. All the successful guys. Now, you’ve got people like Herbie and Chick Corea…they basically play for themselves. In a lot of instances, the stuff they play is for themselves. That’s their signature. But it might not be palatable to the ears of some people. Now, the staunch JAZZ people…you could take a nickel or a quarter and scratch it on some glass, and people say, “Oh, that’s great jazz.” But for people who really want to hear the people swing and want to hear some nice melody and nice rhythm and things like that…this is what some of the professionals I’ve come into contact with… I’ve been with some of the great professionals, like Lionel Hampton. Now, he was a showman, too. That’s what made them successful.

TP: Talent and showmanship.

GC: Yeah. Not necessarily showmanship… They would play stuff that the people would want to hear, play music the people would want to hear.

GEORGE, JR.: I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been at concerts, especially some of the clubs where a lot of tourists come, not necessarily regular jazz fans or people who live in New York, and they come up to me or come up to George and they say, “I’m not really a jazz fan, I don’t really like jazz, but I love what you guys are doing.”

GC: Yeah, that’s right.

GEORGE, JR.: that says to us that we did our job.

GC: I’ve been with a lot of people in showbiz. Even Max… All the guys I worked with, they played stuff. Max knew the people like “Valse Hot,” and they liked to hear him play 3/4. They knew things… I’m sure when Brownie was in the band and Harold Land, they played stuff that people were anxious to hear. “Daahoud” and all that stuff they recorded, they played that stuff, man, and they swung and it sounded so good, and it was up-tempo stuff. When Sonny was in the band… People liked to hear that. This is back in the day, though, Ted. The ears today, the youthful ears… I think they are somewhat deprived, because they don’t realize what it used to be like.

 

 

George Coleman (WKCR, 4-27-94):

TP: You’ve played so long with Harold Mabern and Jamil Nasser. You must go back at least forty years.
GC: Yeah, that’s true. We’ve been together for quite some time now, and it’s always a great experience playing with these guys.
TP: When did you first meet Mabern? Was it back in Memphis?
GC: Well, we were in high school together. I graduated a little ahead of them — well, him. Jamil was over at Booker T. Washington. We were going to Manassas High, which was on the North Side, and Booker T. Washington was on the south side of the city. Of course, the two schools were rivals. They were the top black high schools in Memphis during that time.
TP: Did they have good band programs?
GC: Yes, they had very good band programs, both of them. Both schools had nice marching bands. Of course, their forte was basically, though, I would say probably athletics. But there were some good musical programs.
TP: There also was probably a lot of work in Memphis for a talented young musician in the late Forties and early Fifties.
GC: Well…sort of. You had the R&B thing during that time. That was the popular music of that day. But of course, there was some Jazz there, too, also.
TP: A few words about some of these early working experiences. A lot of bands either would come through Memphis and would be based in Memphis, and it was a center of a certain aspect of the recording industry.
GC: Oh, yes. Well, during that time we’re talking about the early Fifties, late Forties. We had people like Count Basie’s band coming through. The guys would always come to this little place, which then was known as Mitchell’s Hotel. It’s long gone now. It was right on the corner of Beale and Hernando, and the proprietor was a guy by the name of Andrew Mitchell, affectionately known as Sunbeam. He just recently died, a couple of years ago. But he was very generous to musicians coming through during that time. A lot of times guys would be stranded, and they could always get a meal and a bed.
A lot of guys were coming through during that time. A lot of the R&B bands would come up and sit in. There was just a session. There was always a session there.
TP: It seems to me that having so many musicians come through, you’d learn very quickly how to edit your playing and how to approach soloing and so forth.
GC: Yes. I feel that we did have an advantage coming up in that time period, all the musicians who came up during that time, because there was a lot of exposure to the music — and everybody was trying to get involved with this great music. There was a lot happening. There was a lot happening for young musicians. Not so much today, because you’ve got to search high and wide to try to find a session, a jam session, whereas during that time, man, there was always somebody playing somewhere, or rehearsing some music, some original music or whatnot.
TP: Even so, it must be quite gratifying for an older musician from Memphis to see the talent that’s continued to emerge from there, or the hundred mile area, particularly the great group of pianists.
GC: Yes, there has been quite a talented array of pianists coming from Memphis — Mulgrew Miller, of course Mabern, the late, great Phineas Newborn, James Williams, Donald Brown. So it’s a pianist’s city. There’s another pianist named Charles Thomas who is also from Memphis. And there’s always some younger guys coming up.
TP: Often at the Vanguard you’ve worked with Billy Higgins or Carl Allen, sometimes Idris Muhammad, but I can’t remember you working with Jimmy Lovelace at the Vanguard.
GC: Well, Jimmy, affectionately known as Lace, has been a great drummer for many years. He goes back to that period of the Fifties. He’s always been an excellent player. And although he doesn’t get a chance to play as much, whenever he sits down on the drums, he really gives account of himself. He’s always there swinging and playing with taste and good chops, too. I don’t know how he does it, because he doesn’t play that much. Well, I think he’s playing a little bit more now. Anyway, we’re very happy to have him.
TP: A few words about the two others in the band with whom you’ve been playing for so long, Jamil Nasser and Harold Mabern.
GC: Well, they’re always excellent. They just know what to do at the right time, and their repertoire is always extensive. They know just hundreds of songs, and we have quite a few harmonic devices that we use. We always listen to each other, and that’s how we formulate and really get a groove going, because we listen to each other rather than just close your eyes and just be playing. We’re always listening for something that will help us to communicate.
TP: Will all three of your horns be in evidence this week?
GC: Well, yes, I’ve been trying some new stuff, you know, and hopefully it will work out pretty good. But those are tricky instruments, the alto and the soprano.
TP: Well, you started off as an alto saxophonist, didn’t you?
GC: Oh, yeah. That was my original instrument.
TP: How did the switch to the tenor come about? Because of the function of rhythm-and-blues gigs, you had to play tenor?
GC: Yes, that story was when I went to join B.B. King. That was when I switched to tenor. Because he had an alto player. He didn’t need a tenor player. So I started playing tenor then. That was circa 1955, somewhere around there.
TP: We have a few tracks cued up from recent recordings that you appear on. One is with Hilton Ruiz. There is a partnership there over the years as well.
GC: Oh, yes. Well, Hilton and I have been on tours together. As a matter of fact, he was the pianist on my first European tour as a leader, with a quartet, going back to around ’76 or ’77,.
TP: That was documented on Timeless, an LP called Amsterdam After Dark.
GC: That’s right. Billy Higgins was the drummer on the tour, but Sam Jones wasn’t with us. He was playing with Cedar during that time.
TP: According to the liner notes, you brought this piece in for Hilton’s last date for Novus, A Moment’s Notice, a piece called “Strange” featuring you and Hilton Ruiz as the primary soloists, also Andy Gonzalez on bass and Steve Berrios on drums, dueno and timbales as well.
GC: It’s an old song that a lot of people don’t know about. It was recorded many years ago by Nat King Cole. He was the first artist that I had heard perform the tune. I always liked it. I liked it harmonically, and it had a nice kind of little Latin thing to it. So I thought that would be quite appropriate for Hilton’s date. So I did introduce it, and he decided that he wanted to record it.
[MUSIC: Ruiz-Coleman, “Strange” (1993); Beirach-Coleman, “Flamenco Sketches” (1992); Coleman-Henderson-Pierce-Williams, “Lo-Joe” (1993)]
TP: Are we to assume that “Lo-Joe” is a dedication to your partner on that date, Joe Henderson?
GC: That’s correct, yes, yes.
TP: I was just asking you 30 seconds how long it took everyone to nail that down.
GC: Well, they got it pretty quick, I must say. Of course, when we play it now, we play it very fast. We play it up-tempo.
TP: That wasn’t up-tempo?
GC: No, that wasn’t really as fast as we play it. We use it like for a chaser when we’re coming off. Heh-heh.
TP: People who want to sit in, beware, because George will probably put that one on you and change the key three or four times as well! Preceding that was a duo with pianist Richie Beirach on “Flamenco Sketches” from Kind of Blue. That’s from a date I enjoyed very much that didn’t get distributed as widely as it might have, on the Triloka label, Richie Beirach and George Coleman, Convergence. That brings to mind another duo date you did in the 1970’s with Catalonian pianist Tete Montoliu. And another thing it brings to mind is that George Coleman spent a couple of years with Miles Davis. So I’ll have to ask a question that brings all of that into play. You said that the song itself was new to you when Richie presented it to you.
GC: Yeah, I had no idea of what it really was. I just looked at the chord progressions and just improvised from that. Of course, I’m assuming that that’s basically… The way it sounds, the way I remember it, I might have heard it maybe once, the rendition of Miles Davis. When I heard it, that’s basically what it was. I didn’t hear any kind of profound melody. It was just something that seemed to be a slow ballad-type thing with just changes and free improvisation. That’s what it sounded like to me.
TP: So this one didn’t get played when you were part of the Miles Davis group.
GC: No, that wasn’t a part of the repertoire at the time.
TP: Since we’re on the subject, what were the circumstances that led you to joining Miles.
GC: Well, strangely enough, I think I found out much later that it was John Coltrane who recommended me for the job.
TP: How long had you known John Coltrane?
GC: Well, I didn’t really know him that well. I had met him a couple of times. He was a very, very beautiful guy, always there, very humble, and was just a sweetheart of a person, always there to help you. I remember one time I came down and sat in with the band. This is at the old Bohemia down on Barrow Street. This is many years ago. This is when I first arrived in New York. I was with Max during that time, I think. Anyway, he let me play his horn, mouthpiece and everything. So I sat in and played with Miles, and I guess evidently I had made some kind of an impression on him. Because when Trane got ready to leave, or when he asked him about people, he recommended me.
TP: That must have been an interesting band to play with. Was it different every night? Were the tunes treated in a different way?
GC: Yes. Well, a lot of people oft-times comment about that, wondering if we really rehearsed those things we were doing, or if the rhythm section really rehearsed. No, this was pretty much spontaneous, everything… We had a format, though, of course. I would play counter-lines behind him or some little harmonies, and these were set things. But as far as into the guts of the tune, all kind of things might be happening. There would be tempo changes, or 3/4 in a section which if it was a 4/4 tune it would do. They were very inventive, I must say. The rhythm section was very… They were young guys, and they were interested in doing new, different things. As a matter of fact, I was probably considered the old man, heh, the old post-Bebop player! I was trying to adhere to basic rules of Jazz playing, and they were on another plateau. They were moving out. They were getting ready to do some different things, which they did.
TP: Can you elaborate on that a little more?
GC: Well, yeah. There were times when they felt I was kind of cramping them. Because I was always pretty much a straight player. But one night I stretched out and played a little free something for them, and they were all amazed. All of them including Miles, because he had left the bandstand, and when he heard what was going on and said, “What was that?!” Of course, Herbie and Tony and Ron, they were all very I guess pleasantly surprised — because that was that one night. But I didn’t do it any more after that.
TP: You figured you’d made your point.
GC: I just wanted to show them it wasn’t impossible for me to do that.
[END OF SIDE]
I would love to do something with maybe Ahmad Jamal one of these days.
TP: Were you checking him out when you were living in Chicago in the mid-1950’s?
GC: Oh yeah. He was the house band at the Pershing Lounge for many years. So we would always go there and hear the trio with Vernell Fournier and Ahmad and Israel Crosby, a great bass player. Every night, man, they were there hitting. They were there hitting right in the lounge of the Pershing Hotel, and he was there playing so magnificently every night.
Chicago was such a great place during that time, man. I mean, you had music twenty-four hours a day. I tell people that.
TP: And they say, “What do you mean, twenty-four hours a day?”
GC: Yeah! Well, actually I had a gig that started at six o’clock in the morning at a place called Budland that was adjacent to the Pershing Hotel. They had a little place there, and we used to start at six in the morning. Then there was another place up on State Street…
TP: Who was your band?
GC: There was a guy named Prentice McCrary. Johnny Griffin would know who that is. Most people would not know this guy. But he was the organist, a very good keyboard player. I can’t remember who the drummer was.
TP: What type of people would be going to these six in the morning gigs?
GC: Well, people who have late gigs or early morning. Bartenders and waitresses and people like that, they would be up that early time, at that time of the morning! Just like the after-hour joints that used to be here in New York!
TP: It’s hard these days to conceive of an actual gig that hits at six in the morning.
GC: Well, they had something called the Breakfast Show at the Club De Lisa during that time, the famous Club De Lisa on State Street in Chicago. That started at like 8 o’clock in the morning. Nice show, beautiful show, dancers and singers and whatnot. This guy Red Saunders was the bandleader there for many years. He was a drummer, and he had that gig sewed up for many years.
There was a lot of excitement there in Chicago during that time, a lot of excitement and a lot of opportunities for young musicians to learn the music. There was another place where Johnny Griffin used to play all the time, a place called Swingland on Cottage Grove. He had bands in there. The music was continuous in there. After the regular gig was through, there were instruments on the stand, drums and bass, and people would come in at all times of morning or night. It just never ended.
TP: You had had a lot of experience playing the Blues in Memphis, so I guess Chicago must have been a place where you were able to get gigs and further develop yourself.
GC: Yes, that was a second stage. I had had some experience in Memphis playing with bands and doing a little bit of reading and a little bit of arranging and whatnot. But when I got to Chicago, that really opened up a different thing for me. That really gave me some very good opportunities to learn the music and to continue to develop. And meeting up with Johnny Griffin was one of those inspirational things.
TP: It’s a jam session town, and a tenor player’s town, and it was filled with great tenor players in the 1950’s.
GC: Oh, there was guys there… Also Gene Ammons was there during that time when I was there, and he’s such a wonderful player, and a nice guy, too. Of course, Sonny Stitt would come through from time to time. It was just great. There were a couple of other guys around there that nobody really knows too much about. There was a guy named Nicky Hill, who was an excellent saxophonist, a guy named John Jenkins, who just recently passed, an altoist — he was from Chicago. There was quite a few guys there, lesser-known people, but still great players.
TP: George Coleman is a musician who every time you think he’s topped himself, well, he tops himself the next time, and you can hear him with people he’s been playing with for years at the Village Vanguard this week, Harold Mabern on piano, Jamil Nasser on bass, and Jimmy Lovelace on drums. The next track we’ll hear is from My Horns Of Plenty which you did for Verve a couple of years ago with Mabern, Ray Drummond and Billy Higgins, where you showcase your alto and soprano saxophone.
GC: I like playing these instruments if I can get a comfortable situation with the right kind of acoustical setting. If the mikes are right or if the sound is good, then I feel good about these instruments. But without these things it can be somewhat of a problem, as most people who play these instruments can tell you, especially a soprano. But I’m giving it a try this weekend at the Vanguard. I haven’t been playing them for a while, but I’m going to try to see what I can do this weekend.
TP: We’ll hear “You Mean So Much To Me.”
GC: This is something that I had conceived some years ago, when I was touring with the band that I told you about, with Hilton Ruiz and Billy Higgins and Ray. So I would always be messing around on the piano, trying to figure out what I was going to do with it. So I finally put it together, and thusly that’s what it is. I came up with a title. And Bill Lee, Spike Lee’s father, wrote some lyrics to it. It could be a singer’s tune.
[MUSIC: G. Coleman, “You Mean So Much To Me” (1989)]
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George Coleman (WKCR, 7-26-95):

[MUSIC: G. Coleman-A. Queen, “Soul Eyes” (1987); Coleman-Pierce-Henderson-Williams, “Lo-Joe” (1993)]
TP: You’ve been bringing in different drummers to these Vanguard weeks. Billy Higgins has been in there, last time Idris Muhammad, and this week Alvin Queen. A few words about Alvin Queen, and how you relate to different drummers, how they affect the way you play.
GC: I always try to get the best that’s available, and sometimes that can be difficult because the real good drummers are working. We’ve had Lewis Nash, we’ve had, of course, Billy Higgins, we’ve had Idris Muhammad, Carl Allen — and this week we’re having Alvin Queen, which is a blessing.
TP: How far back do you go with Alvin Queen?
GC: Alvin and I go back a bit. I first became really acquainted with him, so to speak, when I was in Europe touring in the 1970’s, like in 1975, and he came up to sit in with us in Rome. Prior to that, I was not really hip to how well he played. I knew he was a good drummer, but you never know until you play with people and really find out the finer points of what they can do.
TP: What are you looking for in your drummer when you’re playing? Is there a hierarchy of qualities?
GC: Well, there are several things. One of the basic things is keeping time, and then after that, imagination, taste and things of that sort. That goes into being a good drummer. You know, taste is the thing where a drummer can hear you do something, and he’ll dress it up for you. That’s in the vernacular of Billy Higgins and drummers of those dimensions. Of course, Idris Muhammad is excellent for that. But I’ll tell you, the real great drummers tend to be rare. There are a few nice young ones. You have Billy Drummond and people like that (who I haven’t had the pleasure of playing with that much). But the drum chair is a very critical chair. It motivates the structure of everything that’s happening, especially in a quartet situation.
TP: The drummer has to hold it all together.
GC: Oh yeah.
TP: Now, Harold Mabern is known for his very percussive and rhythmic style.
GC: Well, he definitely adds to the rhythmic portion of the band. He sort of anchors everything along with the drummer. He enhances the drummer.
TP: And a great harmonic knowledge as well.
GC: Of course. That’s another one of his fortes.
TP: Has that been there ever since you’ve known him? — I guess going back forty years plus.
GC: Yes, he’s always been interested in doing different things harmonically. And we have sort of a connection there, all of us, including Jamil, whereas we like to do different things harmonically. And sometimes these things turn out to be spontaneous, too; they’re not pre-planned. But that’s the way we think.
TP: Who were some of the good drummers you played with going back to your early days in music, in Memphis, some of the exceptional, strong ones?
GC: Well, there weren’t too many great drummers back there in Memphis during that time. There was a guy named Charles Crosby, who is deceased, who was one of the young drummers during that time who were… There just weren’t that many in Memphis during that time.
TP: I guess they had to keep time pretty well, because they had to play on the Blues circuit and so forth.
GC: Yes. Well, that’s what they were basically involved in. There weren’t many jazz-orientated drummers down there during that time. Only a few, and nobody would know who they are.
TP: Did you start getting involved with big-time, major league drummers when you moved to Chicago?
GC: Yes. Now, that’s when things started happening, because there were quite a few great drummers there during that time. Unfortunately, I missed Ike Day. He was that legendary drummer that Max and Art Blakey and all of the great drummers used to talk about. He was really something. I never got a chance to meet him or play with him. All of the great drummers, Max and Art Blakey and probably even Klook, they knew about him. He was just an exceptional percussionist.
TP: Who were some of the drummers that you did work with? Because when you came out of Chicago, you came out with Max Roach!
GC: Well, I was fortunate enough to have the cream of the crop, see. That was ultimate. And through him, my technique developed, because we were playing fast all night; most of the times, everything we played was fast.
TP: So it’s different dynamics on fast.
GC: Oh, yeah. The emphasis was on fast, really, with him. And of course, he was a pioneer in developing 3/4 in its association with Jazz. Max was the first guy to play 3/4.
TP: How did he link up with you? You must have joined the band in late ’57 or early ’58.
GC: Yes. Well, what happened was, I was playing with a group called the MJT+3 in Chicago during that time, featuring Walter Perkins and Bob Cranshaw, Muhal Richard Abrams, and a trumpet player by the name of Paul Serrano. We were playing a club on the North Side of Chicago called the Blue Note. Max came in one night, and he heard us, and he was very impressed. Then after that he heard Booker Little. As a matter of fact, I think that particular night he heard Paul Serrano, but he was very much impressed with Booker Little, because Booker Little was like what he was looking for in a trumpet player.
TP: What was that? What were those qualities?
GC: Well, he was looking for great technique and an innovative ability, and youth, too. And when Kenny Dorham left the band, that’s when Booker joined. He snatched Booker right away.
TP: You knew Booker Little about as well as anyone.
GC: Oh yeah. We grew up back in Memphis. I was amazed at his talent even when he was just a kid. He had transcribed a Miles Davis solo on “Star Eyes” note for note, and I was very impressed with that. Of course, he was just a phenomenal player.
TP: Can you tell the audience a little bit about Booker Little’s background and what you remember about his first forays into Jazz?
GC: Well, he was sort of like a protege of mine, in a sense, because he was a little bit younger than me, and I was, in a sense, like a teacher to most of the younger players there, like Frank Strozier… Not really a teacher, but I was a sort of a…
TP: …role model.
GC: Yeah, a role model, and I would put them in a catalystic direction as far as Jazz was concerned. I would tell them what to do, and what it was all about, and how to improvise, and what this chord was. And I was still learning, too, during this time. But I have been a teacher… Even during the time when I was learning, I have been a teacher. I am happy to say that and I’m very proud of that…
TP: It probably helped you learn.
GC: Oh, it did. Most certainly. And it has transcended through all the years that I have been involved with music.
TP: But did Booker Little have that incredible sound that we can always identify him with from his early years?
GC: Oh, yes. He always had a great sound, reminiscent of Clifford Brown — very mellow, you know. It’s almost a flugelhorn like sound on a trumpet. He never did have the blare. Even when he would go up to maybe a high D, the note was so mellow. It was not screechy. Of course, that’s a very high note on a trumpet. But he could play up there. He could play high F’s and it would sound so mellow.
GC: Who were the trumpet players that he was really paying close attention to? You mentioned him transcribing Miles’ solo on “Star Eyes.”
GC: Oh, yeah. Well, of course, Miles and Dizzy and Fat Girl and all the great trumpet players, Clifford Brown, that’s the people he was listening to. But he was not copying not one note from any of them! It was amazing, because he was a stylist at a very early age. He was playing like nobody but himself. Which was amazing, you know. If you listen to him, you don’t really hear… I mean, you hear little nuances maybe from different people. But his ideas were his own.
[MUSIC: Max Roach-K. Dorham-G. Coleman, “Parker’s Mood” (1958)]
TP: Right before you came on we heard a track called “Lo-Joe.” You’ve been a student of the tenor saxophone and of other tenor saxophonists for many years. When you came up in the 1950’s, when you started emerging on the scene, who were some of your contemporaries who you were really enthusiastic about at that time?
GC: There were quite a few. Of course, when I arrived in Chicago there was Johnny Griffin and Gene Ammons. Those were really the two that I was most impressed with during that time. Of course, Sonny Stitt would pop in from time to time. There was just quite an array of saxophonists on the scene at that time.
TP: How did listening to them shape your style, if at all? For instance, Gene Ammons.
GC: Well, my style was basically shaped through listening to Charlie Parker. He was the man for me, Charlie Parker. Then later came John Coltrane. But then there were so many others. There was Hank Mobley, of course Eddie Lockjaw Davis, Lucky Thompson, and Don Byas and some of the older players that I was very impressed with — technique and originality.
TP: Did you study their records, check them out live, transcribe solos, things like that?
GC: No, I’ll tell you. Those guys, the solos they played were very difficult to transcribe, man!
TP: Why is that?
GC: Because they were so unique. The stuff that they were playing was really… You’d say, “Man, that stuff’s not even on the horn, what these guys are playing.” Because they were so individual. They knew how to bend a note. I mean, you couldn’t even notate the stuff that they played. Even if you could write the notes, you wouldn’t be able to notate it because of the way they played notes — the way they slurred, the way they would bend the note, the way they would finger. There’s no prescribed way of doing that. Eddie Lockjaw Davis is a prime example of that. He’d hit a note, and it just would sound like it wasn’t even on the tenor, the way he played it. Of course, he was one of my idols, too. I loved the way he played, because he was so unique.
It’s been said in this modern day and age that there are so many young players out there, and they all sound the same. But during that era, everybody sounded different. You had Paul Gonsalves, you know. They were coming from different schools, like maybe Don Byas, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, but they sounded different! All of them sounded different. They played different ideas. Some of them had a tendency to have somewhat of the same kind of sound, so to speak, but even that was different. There was just so much difference in players. It was a challenge for you to come up in that era and not sound like those people. But I never would rely on anybody else’s licks. I would listen to it and analyze it. Like some of the diminished things that Coltrane used to play, all the saxophone players was playing those. And I loved the licks! But I would always turn it around and play it a different way. It would be the same kind of diminished sequence, but I would just maybe invert or do something else with it.
I think all of us have come from somebody. Like, the emphasis of a lot of players, especially the so-called avant-garde ones, they’re saying, “Oh, I don’t want to sound like nobody.” But you know, they don’t sound like nothin’! Most of them don’t sound like anything. They’re not musical. Now, that’s a harsh statement to make, but it’s true in a sense. Because saxophone playing is something that has dated back many years, and the expertise has been handed down through all of these great players. For somebody to just get up and just play meaningless notes without connecting is… But you know, you have the critics, they say, “Oh yes, he’s creative, he’s this and he’s that and he’s that.” That kind of irks me, in a sense. It disturbs me, because they don’t really know. They don’t really know. When I first started playing, I could make a sound, I could make a strange sound on the saxophone. But to put notes in order and to have them mean something, harmonically and rhythmically and melodically, that’s something that requires study, expertise and God-given talent.
TP: In the Fifties, it seems to me you were doing a lot of doubling, alto-tenor. There are a number of recordings with you on alto saxophone at that time. What was the primary reason why you went pretty much exclusively with the tenor saxophone?
GC: Well, I changed to tenor back in 1955, after playing alto maybe four years, because it was an economic necessity. I went with B.B. King, and he already had an alto player; he needed a tenor. So that’s how that came about. The rest is history. But alto was my forte, and was my first instrument. That was the instrument that I first began to play.
TP: What’s the difference between the two instruments for you?
GC: They have different characteristics, you know. Alto is a control instrument. Of course it’s a different pitch. Alto a sixth from Concert and the tenor is like a major Ninth or just a step away from Concert. But transposition-wise, that never bothered me, because I would play in all the keys anyway, even as as kid when I was coming up. So the keys was never a thing that… The transition from one key to another was never any problem with me, because I practiced all the keys on both instruments.
TP: Do you find yourself shaping solos differently on the tenor saxophone because of the different sound?
GC: Yes, that is a possibility that enters into the picture. When you’re playing alto there’s a couple of little things that you might think differently on alto than you do on tenor — and even soprano. They all have their own different characteristics, and it sort of influences as far as what you might play on each one.
TP: Are you playing only tenor this week?
GC: No, I’m struggling with the three! And if I can get some good reeds, that’s going to facilitate my performance a little bit better. But last night I had a terrible time with reeds.
TP: I’ll bet nobody knew but you.
GC: Well, sometimes that’s the case. But if there are musicians in the audience who know, and know about this problem, they can acknowledge the fact when things like that are happening.
[MUSIC: George Coleman, “Father” (1987)]
TP: Are you working on any recording projects right now? Any ideas in mind at the moment?
GC: Well, I am pursuing in my mind… This is something that I have been thinking about for a while. I would really like to do some strings stuff, maybe an album with strings and voices. This is something I would like to do.
TP: What’s the appeal of strings and voices? It seems like every strong jazz musicians wants to do at least one record with strings and voices.
GC: Yeah. Well, with a full orchestra behind you, there’s so much excitement and inspiration, in my mind, that I think I could probably do some things that maybe I haven’t attempted to do before, if I could have that kind of an ensemble, so to speak, behind me, with voices and strings. Because I’ve always liked that. I have some equipment at home now that I just recently set up. I have the music-writing stuff, the Finale and the Encore, and it’s all hooked up to the MacIntosh, and now I have this Roland Synthesizer, and just through that I’ve been hearing some different sounds. It’s inspired me to realize the potential of maybe being involved in a project like that. So that’s what I’m really thinking about doing. I don’t know who is going to help me do it, but…
TP: I’m sure there’s a big pool of arrangers and composers out there to actualize it if the money is there.
GC: Yeah. I’d like to maybe give a stab at doing one myself. That would give me a little more of something different from my octet writing.
TP: How about the Octet? A lot of people miss that group.
GC: Well, we’re going to revive it. Of course, the personnel is different. There’s a lot of younger musicians in it now.
TP: Who would be some of the young musicians you’d use if it were coming down to that.
GC: Of course, there’s Ned Otter, who is one of my students. Adam Brenner, who is another. Of course, Gary Smulyan, an excellent baritone saxophone player; he’s in the band, too. Of course, George, Junior, my son; he’s playing drums. Clint Houston has been playing bass. Of course, Harold Mabern is the pianist. And Bill Mobley from Memphis is the trumpet, another young man who is a great arranger and a great trumpet player. So with all of these ingredients, I think we can really do something. We’re going to start some rehearsals in the near future.
TP: We’ll conclude with George’s interpretation of “Good Morning Heartache,” composed by Irene Higgenbotham and sung by Billie Holiday. I’m sure you heard this one often as a kid.
GC: Well, I had only heard it through the rendition of Diana Ross. That’s the first time I had really heard that tune, and I was impressed with it. The first few bars are kind of strange, you know, but if you adhere to the melody you can get through it and interpret it. But it’s kind of strange. It’s kind of funny in the beginning of that tune!
[MUSIC: G. Coleman, “Good Morning Heartache” (1987)]

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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.

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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

Idris Muhammad and George Coleman, WKCR, April 5, 1995

Continuing  our mini New Orleans drummer series, here’s an encounter with Idris Muhammad from a week in 1995 when he was working with George Coleman at the Village Vanguard, one of three successive Vanguard gigs in an 18-month  span that George publicized with me on WKCR. Not sure whether it was George’s or my idea to have them up together, but whatever the case, Idris was in, as they say, expoobident form.

Not sure what happened to the beginning of the conversation, but I’m quite sure that most of the proceedings are contained herein.

* * *

IM:    …then I tried to play a little something, then we’d stop… And growing up, the school that I went to… All of us went to the same junior high school, grammar school, so it was known that we were going to play the drums.

Were your parents musicians?

IM:   My father played the banjo. He played the banjo with Louis Armstrong.  His name was Nathaniel Morris.  Plus, he was an interior decorator; that’s how he supported us.  But he had a sense of rhythm, that he could go from the kitchen to the living room with a pair of drumsticks, and play on everything, and make it happen.

What about his background?  Did the music go back to your grandparents?

IM:   My mother’s people originated from France, and my mother’s father was a violin player in the opera house in New York.  So she knew music.

So your family, in a way, covers all the strains that make New Orleans a city that has such an incredible wealth of music.

IM:   Right.  Well, you see, the neighborhood that I lived in, musicians lived there and schoolteachers, see, and they had three bands that used to parade through the streets.  And they had two Indian tribes.  So when people ask me about my music, what happened:  I used to follow the bands in the second-line, and I used to dance under the bass drum player.  So as I grew up, I had this sense of bottom, playing the bottom, because I used to walk next to the guy that played the bass drum — and I used to hear this big sound all the time.  And the snare drum player was always on his left, see.  But I used to always march…

GC:    This was marching in the street parades.

IM:    The street, yeah, the Dixieland people!  And the guy used to say to me, “Son, get away from this bass drum before I hit you with this mallet.”  You know what I mean?  And then the next thing you know, when I started playing the drums, I had this sense of bottom, playing the bottom, you see, where a lot of drummers play the top — they’ll be top heavy, but they don’t play the bottom.

So in a certain almost literal way, if someone hears you now playing trap drums with George Coleman, you’re playing an extension of what you heard in New Orleans as a kid.

IM:   Yes.  It’s a mixture between the Dixieland bands that marched through the streets and the Indian rhythms.  You had two Indian tribes.

GC:    And the Cajuns.

IM:    Yeah, the Cajuns.  These guys were playing these tambourines.  See, there’s a rhythm that they play.  See, in our neighborhood, there is a drum-beat that I developed, that I mixed the Second-Line and the beat with the Indians playing the tambourine.  So I came up with this Funk sound that the Nevilles play today — because we’re from the same neighborhood.  So I came up with this certain Funk sound.  I was on the road in ’57 with Arthur.  We had a band with a guy named Larry Williams; he had some records out, “Short Fat Fanny” and “Bony Moronie,” which were big hits in this time, kind of a takeoff on Little Richard.  Then when we got back, the guys was all saying that they never… There was a lot of comments about the drums, and the sound that they was hearing.  Then I was out with Sam Cooke (I was Sam Cooke’s personal drummer), and I came to New York, and I remember playing at the Apollo — and the guys were saying, “What is this drummer playing?”  And I had no idea that it was that different, because up here they were playing a lot of shuffles.

GC:    That’s right.  I’m not cutting you off, but incidentally, Idris is on many of the commercial records, the hit records, with that fantastic beat, that boogaloo type thing that was quite prominent in the ’50s throughout the ’60s.  He was one of the innovators that could play that type beat, that Boogaloo thing.  And he’s been on many, many records that you hear this very distinctive beat.  A lot of people call it a Rock-and-Roll beat, but I like to call it Rhythm-and-Blues

And the more you hear it, it sounds like the New Orleans beat.

IM:    Well, that’s what it is.  That’s what it is.

GC:    Well, it pretty  much comes from there.  Of course, there were some guys in Memphis who could play that, too.

IM:    They could play that also, yeah.

Of course, there was always an interchange between New Orleans and Memphis because of their proximity on the Mississippi River.

GC:    Yes.

Did you know about George when you were a kid?  You’re a little bit younger than George, I think.

IM:    No, I didn’t.  I met George, as we said, we were working with Betty Carter, and we became…

GC:    That’s right.  When he came to New York and we started working together, that’s when we hooked

Now, George, as a young guy,  apart from learning Jazz, you were playing with people like B.B. King and other Blues and Rhythm-and-Blues bands.

GC:    That’s right.  A lot of people don’t know this, but a lot of the great Jazz players came from these bands.  Like, John Coltrane, he was playing with Earl Bostic.  Tommy Turrentine, a great trumpet player, he was playing with Earl Bostic.  Blue Mitchell was with Earl Bostic.

Or Benny Golson with the Bullmoose Jackson band and Earl Bostic.

GC:    That’s right.  And Stanley Turrentine was with Earl Bostic, too.  All of these great players have come from the R&B.  We’re all coming from the R&B.  I’d say a good portion of us started playing R&B in these bands.  And there were quite a few of them out there.  There was Amos Milburn, Sam Cooke, a lot of traveling bands out.  And we used to run into each other out there, because we would be on the same bill sometimes.  I used to run into Louis Jordan, and he had some great musicians in his band.  The musicianship was very good in these bands.  Those guys, the so-called headliners, Sam Cooke, B.B. King, they always kept good musicians in the band.  They realized the value of having guys who could read and improvise — and play Jazz, too!  But we were playing R&B, and on rare occasions we would get a chance to play a bit of Jazz.

Of course, sometimes the audiences might be a little rough.

GC:    Well, see, the way it was, we would go out with B.B. and we’d play maybe a couple of Jazz tunes.  We had a good book, too.  We had special arrangements.  There was a great arranger from Memphis that wrote for the band named R.J. Horn, and we had some nice arrangements.  I think the instrumentation was two trumpets, alto, tenor and bari.  This was the basic instrumentation.  Maybe it was two tenors, because Bill Harvey was the leader, and he played tenor, too.  So we had two tenors, bari, alto and two trumpets.  So we had special arrangements written for this instrumentation.  And it was Jazz pieces, too.  We had Jazz pieces.  A lot of it was original stuff.  And we had another singer in the band who opened for B.B., so we would play a couple of Jazz tunes, the singer would come on, and then after that B.B. would come on.  But before this would happen, while we would be playing, they would be impatient.  They’d say, “Hey, come on!  Where’s B.B.?  Where’s B.B.?  We were playing all of the hip stuff, you know, and they didn’t want to hear it.  They wanted to hear B.B.

So that’s the way that went down, and I think in a lot of the other bands that’s what would happen.  They would warm-up with just a couple of things, band tunes, and then after that you bring on the star.

Back to Idris for a moment, and staying with New Orleans.  When you were coming up, were you basically just self-taught on the drums through picking up what was around you, or did you have people specifically teaching you hands-on?

IM:    I am a self-taught drummer.  I used to practice with two other drummers.  One is named John Boudreaux and the other one’s name was Smokey Johnson.  Now, Smokey played with Fats Domino, and John is living out in Los Angeles.  They used to rehearse in my house.  Now, these guys were more advanced than I was, and they would… Because my mother allowed us to play the drums in the house, and if anybody would say anything, she would protect us, and say, “This is my father’s house; he plays any time he wants.”  So these guys used to come from downtown to my house, and practice.  I would watch them practice, and John would play just like Max Roach, and Smokey had this thunder roll like Art Blakey.  So when I got ready to play, they said, “Okay, now you get to that.”  I said, “Man, I can’t play this.”  He said, “Yes, you can.  Just look.  You put one hand here and you say ‘TING-A-LING,’ and then you do something else with the other hand.”  So I would listen to what they were doing, and try to do something that they did.  That was the closest I knew about Jazz.

When did Jazz start entering your consciousness more specifically?

IM:    There was a saxophone player who used to play with Fats Domino.  He asked me to make a Jazz concert with him.

Was that Clarence Ford?

IM:    Yes, that’s Clarence Ford.  And he asked me to make this Jazz concert, which I was scared to death.  It was Ellis Marsalis and Richard Payne.  So we made this gig, and I rehearsed it at Ellis’ house.  At this time Wynton and Branford was like little kids, running through and disturbing the rehearsal.  So I couldn’t… After rehearsing, I had no… The first time they had me to play 4’s, I couldn’t figure this out.  It just so happened, Blackwell came to the house, and he was saying… I said, “Black, show me how to… I can’t feel these fours.”  He said, “Oh, you can do this.  All you have to do is listen.”  And he played it a couple of times, and then I played it, and then I got it.  So that was the first experience that I had of Jazz.  I was basically a drummer that backed up a lot of singers, so I had a sense of playing to please people.  When you were playing for singers, you had to play what they want, and you had to pay attention, see, because paying attention when playing was very, very important.

I had one lesson that I paid for in my life.  There was a drummer called Paul Barbarin who had played with Louis Armstrong, and I asked him for a lesson.  He said, “Yeah.”  So he came by my house, and he says, “Okay, sit down.  Play the intro to ‘Bourbon Street Parade'” — which is a drum intro.  I played it.  He says, “Okay, now play a Mambo.”  And I played a Mambo.  He says, “Play a Cha-Cha.”  I played a Cha-Cha.  He says, “Play a Waltz.”  And I played a waltz.  He said, “Listen, son, I don’t have time to waste.  You’re wasting my time.”  I said, “But Mr. Barbarin, I want to learn how to read these notes.”  He said, “You’re going to school?”  I said, “Yes.”  He said, “You will learn in school.”  He says, “But I’ll tell you one thing.  One day you’ll be a great drummer.  But when they tell you that you’re great, let it go in one ear and out the other ear — and give me my two dollars.”

I’ll bet it was just like that, too.

GC:    [LAUGHS] But you know, that’s pretty much what happened to a lot of us.  Because I’m a self-taught musician, and I was fortunate enough to be around guys… When I first started playing music, I got the best schooling that you could ever want.  Because I was right there with these guys.  These guys were arrangers, composers, piano players…

Name a few names.

GC:    Oh, nobody would know them.  Some of them are still back in Memphis.  There’s one guy, Robert Talley, who is still alive back in Memphis.  Of course, Onzie Horne is dead.  He was another great teacher.  But Bob Talley, he was the guy who showed me all the stuff about chord progressions, all the stuff that these guys go to Berkeley for.  I knew that stuff when I was about 16 or 17 years old!  I knew about half-diminished chords, minor sevenths, thirteenth chords.  I would sit right down at the piano with my horn, and this guy would show me all of this stuff.  Then there were some elderly players, too, some older guys that played like Jelly Roll Morton — and I would get the basics from these guys, playing just my basic minor chords and dominant seventh chords.  But they were correct!  Everything was correct that these guys would show me.  But then, when I began to get the modern harmony from this gentleman, Robert Talley, he was showing me all about the half-diminished chords, all the stuff these guys go to Berklee to learn.  I knew that stuff when I was like 17 years old, when I first picked up the horn.  The reading, arranging and composing, I began to get all of that at the same time.  All of that stuff; it was right there available for me.  So I didn’t have to… All I had to do was to apply myself, which I did — and study and practice.  That’s all I needed.  I didn’t need all of this going to school and learning the formal stuff about… Of course, I had a basic music education in high school, where you’d find out what the great staff was, the treble clef, the bass clef, a whole note, a half note, valuations, and all that different stuff.  That was basic.  That was just basic music that you learned in high school, from your music teacher.

Your music teacher was, by the way… In high school.

GC:   Her name was Mrs. Thomas.  I can’t even remember her first time.  But this goes back to junior high school.  She was great.  Because she would set us down and she’d play some of the classics, and we had to identify Beethoven and different little things like that.  So that helped the ear.  So I was listening to Classics when I was a kid.  Moonlight Sonata and all those things, you would have to… She would play it on the record player, and then you would identify it.  “Now, what is this?”  Then you would tell her what it is.  This was just basic music.  As I say, you found out about whole notes, half notes, the great staff, bass clef, treble clef, and all that.

Now, these things didn’t mean that much during that time.  But as I grew and began to get involved in Jazz, then these things started making sense.

George, were you also listening to saxophone players and trying to emulate their style?

GC:    Oh, yes, man.  That was the order of the day — transcription.  That was the order of the day.  We were transcribing Bird solos.  As I said, this same stuff that happens at Berklee and the University of Miami and places like that, I was doing that when I was 17.  I was transcribing Charlie Parker solos.  Maybe not writing all of them out, but I would emulate them, I would play them, and I would listen to them on the 78.  And that was the top speed.  You couldn’t slow it down.  Today you can kind of slow things down.  Then with 78’s, you had to hear it right from the speed.

Idris, did you practice off records, too, with other drummers, or was it all functional with you?

IM:    Yes, I did.  I practiced with the radio. [LAUGHS] It wasn’t a Jazz station, but it was a Rhythm-and-Blues station that used to sneak in every now and then with a couple of Jazz tunes.  So I practiced playing… I had to learn the top ten tunes…

So you could play at the dances.

IM:    Right, so I could play with these singers.  And every now and then they’d sneak in one of these Jazz records, and I would play with that on the radio.  Now, my high school teacher was Solomon Spencer, and to play in the high school band, you had to learn how to read.  You just couldn’t play in the band.  I mean, he was teaching us… A strange thing happened.  There was a waltz that I hated to play, because the snare drum he only had to play BUHM-BOOM, and the bass drum says BOOM, and the snare drum answers BUHM-BOOM.  I used to get sick of this.  And he says, “Listen, son.  You can’t…no BUH-DOOMP, BUH-DOOMP.  You must play BUHM-BOOM.  What’s on the music, that’s what you play.  And I hated this waltz.  Now, just recently, in the last six-seven years, I’m living in Vienna, in Austria, and I went to a park to pick up my wife one day, and I heard this orchestra playing in the park — I heard this waltz.  I said, “Gee, whiz, that’s the waltz I used to hate to play!”  And it turned out it’s the “Blue Danube Waltz.” [GC AND IM SING FIRST 8 BARS] [LAUGH] I hated that man!  Johann Strauss.  That’s one of this… Strange things happen.

But musically, you have to… When you’re playing the music, they always taught us to pay attention.  You see, you had to pay attention.  When someone taught you something, you observed and you got this down. So when you had to use it again… I remember I was playing back in the Big Joe Turner band, and he said, “Son, turn the sticks around, backwards, and give me that beat.”  And I gave it to him, and I remember while performing he turned around and looked at me and gave me the greatest smile, man.  It looked like I just hit the drums so hard… Then I remembered this, that my job is to please the people who I’m working for.  If I take a job…

GC:    Give them what they want.

IM:    Yes.  If I take a job, at the end of the night you’re going to be happy with what I’ve done, because I’m going to please you.  That’s why I take the job.  My object, I am the drummer, I am the spine of the band.  You see?  I am responsible for everything that goes down in the band and happens.  I am carrying the band.  I am the carpet under the band.  So I let you ride on me.  But when I take you for this ride, when I let you off, you’re going to be happy.

I want to follow up on one comment you made before about your first official Jazz concert, I guess in the early ’60s in New Orleans with Ellis Marsalis and Clarence Ford.  You mentioned Blackwell coming by and showing you some stuff.  So although you weren’t so familiar with Jazz as such, you knew Blackwell a little bit — and people like James Black as well?

IM:    Well, you see, what happened is that Blackwell and Earl Palmer and Wilbur Hogan, these were Jazz drummers.  These guys played Jazz.  That’s all they did.  They played Jazz.  And Blackwell was known for playing Jazz…

Uncompromisingly so.

IM:    Oh, man, he played Jazz!  And see, I learned these things about playing melodies, playing the melody on the drum by listening to Ed Blackwell.  I had heard Max Roach and them do it, but I saw Blackwell do this.  And he was so intricate the way he did it.  I mean, he played the melodies like the horn player played it.  So I saw it, but it didn’t… You see, I came from Funk and Rhythm-and-Blues.  It didn’t dawn on me that…

What happened to me in the Jazz in New York, I was working at the Apollo Theater with Jerry Butler, and I went down to the Five Spot to hear Roland Kirk.  So I just got enough nerve to ask the drummer to let me sit in — and he did!  We started playing, and Roland got through the melody and says, “Who is that on them drums!?  Who?  Who’s that on them drums?”  I said, “Leo.”  He said, “Keep that beat!  Keep that beat!”  So I ended up playing a couple of numbers.  When I finished, a guy came up to me out of the audience.  He said, “Oh, man, you sound really great, and I’d like you to do a concert with me at Town Hall.”  I said, “yeah, I think I could do that.”  He told me when was the concert, and I said, “By the way, what is your name?”  He said, “Kenny Dorham.”

GC:    Mmm-hmm.

IM:    You see?  And that was my first experience… The first Jazz thing I got into in New York, playing at Town Hall, was Kenny Dorham’s band, Freddie Hubbard’s band and Lee Morgan’s band.  From that gig, I met Betty Carter.  Betty heard me, and Betty hired me.  You see?  The next thing, George and I met up.  And one thing led to another, and the next thing to another… Meanwhile, I’m still recording a lot of Rhythm-and-Blues, Rock-and-Roll, Funk records, because nobody in New York knew how to play these rhythms.  Nobody could play these rhythms.  See?  So I made quite a few hit records with a lot of people.

GC:    Yes, he did.

Name five.

IM:    Well, one is “Alligator Boogaloo.” “Feel Like Making Love” with Roberta Flack.

GC:    Oh, you did some Bob James stuff, too.

IM:    Yeah, Bob James.  We did “Taxi.”

GC:    And you also did that commercial with Bobby Short, “Charley.” [SINGS THEME] During those times, I made a few little things.  Because the recording field was quite lucrative back in those days.  So I used to make a few commercial things, too, just playing parts and stuff like that.  But he was the man.  He was the man for the beats, for that particular thing during that time — and in any other kind of beat.  So when he’s telling you, “Well, I give them what they want,” he’s capable of doing that.

Anybody.

GC:    Anybody.  Whatever you want, he’ll give you.  That’s what makes him so great.  That’s why I’m very happy to have him.  And when the people come out to hear us, they’re going to hear a great drummer.

[MUSIC: George Coleman, “El Barrio”; Idris Muhammad with Gene Ammons, “The Black Cat”]

That track brings up a kind of continuity.  George spent a number of years in Chicago, sort of as the way-station between Memphis and New York.  I’d like you to talk about the quality of those years.

GC:    My stay in Chicago, it seemed as if I spent much more time than I actually did.  I arrived somewhere circa 1956, and I departed March ’58 to join Max Roach.  Now, that’s maybe a couple of years.  But during that time I was there, it’s like I spent ten years, at least ten years there, because there was so much happening during that time Jazz-wise.  As a matter of fact, it was 24 hours a day of music during that time.  As a matter of fact, Norman Simmons and I were just talking about that last night at Bradley’s.  There was so much happening at that time, musically, Jazz-wise, because there were so many clubs… There was just a tremendous amount of music, and great musicians, of course.  Gene Ammons was there, and Johnny Griffin, and a lesser-known saxophone but nevertheless a great player, a guy named Nicky Hill.  Of course, Eddie Harris; he was there.  Eddie is a multi-instrumentalist.  He played five saxophones, piano…

He said he used to play piano off-nights with Ahmad Jamal.

GC:    Yeah, he probably did!  There was just such an exciting array of talent there during that time.  There was one club that was open 24 hours.  I mean, you could go in early in the morning and play at 6 o’clock in the morning, all through the night — a place called the Cotton Club.  It was first called the Cotton Club; then they changed it to Swingland.  But the policy was still the same.  The bass and the drums were always on the stand, and just any time of day or night there were people playing in there.

How would you distinguish, say, the way Chicago drummers were playing from the New Orleans sound? — if there’s a distinction.

GC:    Well, I can’t correlate music geographically.  Because there’s so many guys… It doesn’t matter where you’re from.  It seems to me that whatever you do, or however you play… You could be from Timbuktu, and you could sound like somebody from New Orleans or Memphis or Detroit… There was a little argument just recently about Detroit pianos.  Well, Tommy Flanagan says there’s no such thing as Detroit pianos.  Because they tried to associate all the guys from Detroit as having some kind of connection style-wise.  But it’s not.  All those guys are different!  Flanagan’s different from Lightsey and Barry Harris.  But they’re all great.  It just happens that there are a lot of great piano players from Detroit.  And there are some great musicians in Philadelphia.  There’s great musicians all over the place. So geographically, it’s kind of hard for me…

You don’t want to hear anything about Chicago Tenors, then.

GC:    No.  No, not really.  It’s just that there are so many great musicians all over the world.

Well, Idris, do you think that someone like you or James Black or Ed Blackwell could have developed the type of style you did anywhere but New Orleans?  What’s your take on that?

IM:    Well, because I was raised there, and I had a sense of rhythm and time that we were taught, and it was the experience, you know… As George says, you could have gotten it no matter where you lived at, but it just so happened that I was in New Orleans…

GC:    And there were some great drummers there…

IM:    Yeah, and there was some great guys.

GC:    See?  That’s it.

IM:    They taught us… I remember my father saying to me, “Son, what are you going to do as far as making a living?”  I said, “Pop, I’m going to play the drums.”  He said, “Is that all you’re going to do?”

GC:    You’ve got to go out and get a real job!

IM:    He said, “You’ve got to get a job, boy.”  I said, “Well, Pop, I’m going to play the drums.”  He said, “You’re going to play the drums and take care of a family?”  I said, “Yeah, Pop.”  He said, “Well, how are you going to do that?”  I said, “Well, just play the drums.”  He said, “Just play the drums?”  And after… I think I was in the Tan Magazine (which was a rival of Ebony Magazine in these days) with Jerry Butler.  Also, I spent a number of years in Chicago.  And my mother saw this, and she went to the newsstand, and she bought all of the magazines, and she showed this to my father.  When I came back to New Orleans, I had this nice Brooks Brothers suit, and I bought my father a canary-yellow sport-jacket.  He said, “Son, it seems like you’ve made up your mind that you’re going to play the drums for a living.”  I said, “Yeah, Pop.  And look how much money I have!”  He said, “Yes, I think you’re going to do all right.”

I guess being a musician himself, he had a well-earned skepticism about the life.

IM:    Yes.  Because we were 14 kids, you see, and he was an interior decorator also.  We all learned this business, because all of my uncles are interior decorators.  So as a kid, we were always apprenticed to learn this job.  That’s how he really took care of us.  Playing the banjo, it was like…

GC:    It was fun. [LAUGHS]

IM:    Yeah.  I remember from my older brother, before he died, he told me something that I didn’t realize until… My  brother heard me play with Johnny Griffin one time, and it was the first time he ever heard me play Jazz.  Then he told me some history about myself that hadn’t been pulled out of me.  It’s that when my father played this banjo, he used to sing all of these standard songs, all of these standard tunes that we play today that we call “standards” — “Stella by Starlight” and all of these.  He used to sing them.  We sat on the floor and he would sing to us!  So I knew these standards as a kid.  So when I started playing Jazz and the guy called a standard, I already knew that.  I’d see that the piano players were having trouble with the changes, but I was playing it on the drums.  They’d say, “Well, Idris, how did you know that this went like that?”  I knew this music.

My brother said, “I listen to you solo.  You’re playing the melody, you play the bridge, play the last eight, and you’re bringing them out.  Your father used to do this.”  Then he told me something about my hands, how to balance my hands out, you see.  But I am a musical drum player.

GC:    That’s right.  Exactly.  See, he hears tones as well as percussive sounds.  Idris hears tones.  This one tune we played, he heard the bridge and he said, “Man, that’s a hip bridge; that’s some hip changes on the bridge!”  Now, how many drummers would really be listening to changes?  He listens to changes and melodies.  See, that’s what sets him apart from so many other drummers.

That’s George Coleman’s second encomium to Idris Muhammad.  I’d like Idris to return the favor and talk about George.  You’ve played with some of the greatest tenor players — Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin, Pharaoh Sanders.  What makes George Coleman special to play with?

IM:    For me, George is special because George is always working at new things.  I heard a comment Elvin said about John, that when he worked with John, how John was inspirational to him.  One time I was in the dressing room in between sets, and someone was interviewing Elvin, and they were commenting that Elvin was the number-one drummer and all of that, and Elvin was saying it’s due to John’s always working on new things that makes him reach for other things that he doesn’t know are inside of him.  For me, George has this.  To play with George is a challenge for me.  I was saying to him last night… George, I was playing with you, and you were playing some stuff, and my left hand was going crazy, and I was trying to play what he was playing in my left hand, and keep the rest of the things going, and it was pulling me, and I said, “No, I’d better stop myself in,” because I happened to stop my cymbal ride and my bass drum beat.  See, it’s a challenge.  I don’t have this challenge too much.

George is a fellow that’s always working on something new, and he’s always progressing — you see?  And for me to play with him, I think that one of the greatest things is just watching George play, you see, and being able to play with him to hear these notes — because he is always reaching for things.  I mean, new things.  I have played with a lot of horn players, and a lot of the horn players have tunes that they like to play.  George is playing things that’s always… When I play with George in the band it’s always something new.  Every time I play with him, he’s always progressed.  See?  So it’s a challenge to me, because it makes me reach for things that.. If I hear something that I haven’t heard before, I try it with him.  And if it comes out, then I reach a new area.  So I think he’s a very exceptional horn player, and underrated.

Idris, how do you go about working on new things?  Does it come through gigs, or through your own solitary practice?

IM:   Well, strange as it might seem today, I don’t practice any more.  I don’t have time.  I really don’t time.  I don’t have time to practice.  I’m traveling a lot.  My kids was asking me, “Pop, the drums are down there; I haven’t heard you play the drums in a while.”  When I come off the road, I put the cymbals on the side, and I go to my family duties.  Then the phone rings, and I’m out in a couple of days.

So what I do is, I use a theory that if I have a job, who I’m taking this job with, I think about them, think about their music — then on my way to the gig I’m playing with them already.  So I’m already into you before we have already hit a note.  On the way to the gig I’m thinking about you.  If I’ve got to work with George, which is a rare thing unless we’re working on new tunes, we don’t have time to rehearse.  You see?  So when I’m on my way to the gig, I’ve taken a gig with George Coleman, so I’m thinking of George is playing.  He’s a very strong player, a very devoted player, and I know he’s going to come up with some new things.  So I am putting myself up for this.  So I am playing already; before I set the drums up, I’m playing.

George, talk about your working on new things.

GC:    Well, I’m basically the same way as what Idris is talking about.  I don’t get a chance to practice too much.  Fortunately, when I’m playing, that’s basically when I’m practicing, when I’m trying to create new things or do new things.  What motivates this is my supporting cast, my being surrounded with excellence.  That’s what makes me create and be able to do things, and just relax and play.  If I have players like Idris and Jamil and Geoff and Harold Mabern and people like that, that’s the motivation.  That gives me incentive to try new things and create new things.  Because I don’t have to think about whether the beat is going to be messed up or somebody is going to play some wrong changes.  All I have to do is lay back and just play, and when I am able to do this, then I can come up with some creativity. That’s what happens to me.

Actually, you’re practicing when you’re on the stand.  That’s how you get your practice.  You know when you become a performer and a professional that has been in the business as long as we have (I know exactly what he’s talking about), it’s not so important to practice.

Technique is no longer an issue.

GC:    Right.

This is a hard question, maybe even a corny question, but I’ll ask it anyway.  George, five saxophonists, and Idris, five drummers who influenced you like no others.

GC:    Okay.  Bird, Trane, Sonny Rollins… There’s a host of others.  Of course, Don Byas.  People like that.  And I respect all of the great players.  I like all the guys who are sort of unsung.  And when people tell me that I am underrated, I look at the whole… I mean, I’m at the back of the line.  There’s a lot of guys, like Frank Foster, a great player, and Jimmy Heath, and of course the late Junior Cook — there are so many players.  And then there’s a lot of great young players out there now.  So I put myself in a position to listen to all of them.

But to answer your question about the influence, the basic influences were the aforementionables, the people I mentioned before.  But there are so many other great talents.  And I always find time to listen to guys and hear things, and I say, “Oh, man, that was really nice.”  That’s how I perceive saxophone players.  Even some of the young guys that nobody even knows about.  I’ll hear a young player and I say, “Oh, that guy sounds good.  I kind of liked that.”  Then I might hear a guy who probably can’t play anything, and then I’ll search and I’ll search, and I’ll find out all those funny notes that he plays, and I may find something in there, one phrase that I say, “Mmm, I wonder if he did… Did he luck up on that?”  I’ll weed out all of the negativity and come up with something positive.  That’s how I listen.

Idris, you named some names, but the five drummer question for you.  Or five musicians.

IM:    Well, there was a saxophone player in New Orleans who a lot of people didn’t know about.  His name was Nat Perillat.

He recorded with the Adderley’s and with Ellis Marsalis.

IM:    Yes.  He was one of the first guys who I heard.  And of course, Coltrane, Lou Donaldson, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons.  A number of guys.  A great friend of mine, the drummer Art Blakey, heard me play one time at the Five Spot, and he said, “Son, you sound great.” I said, “yes, Mr. Blakey.”  He said, “Just call me Art.”  He said, “You’re sounding great, but you’re playing on those pot covers.” [LAUGHS] Which my cymbals wasn’t so great!  He said, “You sound great, but you’re playing on those pot covers.  Come with me tonight.”  So him and I and Paul Chambers hung out for a day-and-a-half, and I ended up with the cymbals that I have now, K-cymbals.  It’s something special.  It’s about 26 years I’ve had these cymbals, and everybody likes my cymbals.

GC:    They love them.

IM:    Yeah, everybody loves them.

They were hand-picked by Art Blakey!

IM:    Yes, Art gave them to me.  These were the cymbals that he used to record with.  He gave me this gift.

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Filed under Drummer, Interview, New Orleans, WKCR

Mark Turner Blindfold Test, Uncut

It’s New York’s gain, if the world’s loss, that Paul Motian doesn’t like to leave the island of Manhattan. Fortunately, he doesn’t need to. In the latest iteration of his ongoing residence at the Village Vanguard, Motian will perform the sideman function in a new quartet led by the immensely influential tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, with pianist David Virelles and bassist Ben Street.  For a report on what Turner’s up to lately, read this recent interview with A-list altoist Jaleel Shaw. Then scan the uncut version of the Blindold Test that I conducted with him for DownBeat about five years ago.

* * *

1.   George Coleman-Ron Blake, “Speak Low”(from Joey DeFrancesco, ORGANIC VIBES, Concord, 2006) (Coleman, Blake, tenor saxophone; DeFrancesco, organ; Byron Landham, drums)

I have an inkling of who it is, but I’m not exactly sure. But it’s very proficient playing.  I was  trying to see if I could recognize the drummer, and I wasn’t sure. It could be a few people. I’d like to hear what it is afterwards. I thought I’d figure that one out, but I’m stumped as to who it is. It’s an extremely hard tempo to play well on. But it’s well played. The rhythm section in particular was very proficient, very solid, forward-driving. That’s about it. [Anything about the lines or sound? Do you think it’s a younger player or older player?] It sounds like one of the saxophone players is older and one is younger. The first saxophone player I gathered was older (I’m not sure who it was) and the second one who soloed being younger. I’m don’t know whose record it is. Concept of sound is the first way I can tell, and the types of lines in general – without being too specific about it. Maybe to the point of the phrases, and when a given person decides to play a given phrase – and where. That was my general feeling. I don’t know whose record it is. I couldn’t quite tell. I was assuming maybe it was the organ player’s record. That was my first impression. Maybe the organ player wanted to get young and old together, or something like that, with maybe his rhythm section. Is it Joey DeFrancesco? I’m surprised I got it! But I don’t know who either saxophone player is. I think I could tell at a slower tempo, but at that tempo I can’t tell. 3 stars. [AFTER] I got it!! Well, I had an idea. As a whole, not their most individual playing.

2.   Joe Henderson, “Foresight and Afterthought” (from BLACK NARCISSUS, Milestone, 1968/1994) (Henderson, tenor saxophone; Ron Carter, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums)

Oh, you gave me an easy one. Joe Henderson, “Foresight and Afterthought,” with Jack DeJohnette and Ron Carter. This is one of my favorite Joe records. I have it on a compilation and also on the actual record. But I used to listen to this record every day for two or three years, I was so into it, and others by Joe Henderson around that period. That was around 1989-90-91. It’s just so incredible! I think of Joe as someone who brought together quite a bit of what happened before, so he brought together, say, a certain amount of free playing, a certain amount of saxophone tradition, like bebop playing and swing before that, and players of his generation and before. Also, from a saxophone player’s standpoint, he started a certain type of tune. For example, some tunes that have free playing, and a lot of tunes that have been written since, that are kind of like some through-composed, some not, with sort of compact, condensed areas of changes. That type of tune…he’s the one who started all that, basically. In this period it’s great, because his sound is maybe somewhat lighter than earlier records. It’s incredible, because he gets a feeling of playing live in the studio, which is extremely difficult to do. It sounds like other records that are live records from around the same period. He sort of wrapped together everything that he did before and sort of looking to what’s going to happen in the future, and it’s all done in the studio in one period. It’s incredible. Also, that recording and others around that period, it’s an excellent example for him of mystery and logic and rational playing brought together. He’s the master of that of the saxophone players I’m aware of. 5 stars.

3.  Jimmy Greene, “Take Advantage”(from TRUE LIFE-STORIES, Criss-Cross, 2005) (Greene, tenor saxophone; Xavier Davis, piano; Reuben Rogers, bass; Eric Harland, drums; Harry Connick, composer)

Nice tune. Nice form. It flows very nicely, it’s very melodic, nice motion between the sections. Very well played, very swinging and very well done. Very professional-sounding. Before I heard the solos, I thought it was John Ellis as a sideman on someone else’s record.  I don’t know who else it could be. I thought maybe Jimmy Greene because of some aspects of the size of his sound in the middle register, but the lines and phrasing didn’t quite sound like what I knew to be him from when I played with him and hearing him on other people’s records. I’m less familiar with his playing recently. Maybe Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums. It’s a nice performance that rests on its own terms. It didn’t sound like a standard, or if it was, it was a pretty complex and obscure one. It didn’t sound like a normal standard. I thought it was an original written in a certain style. 4 stars.

4.   David Murray, “Steps” (from 4TET & STRINGS, Justin Time, 2006) (Murray, tenor saxophone, composer; Lafayette Gilchrist, piano)

I thought it was Sam Rivers for the first few  seconds because of the sound and vibrato, but as soon as I listened a little more, I knew it wasn’t. I don’t know who it is. I especially liked the section during the piano player’s solo. Wow, that was beautiful. I really loved that. I liked especially certain sections of the arrangement with the strings. I liked the tenor player. To a certain extent I like that kind of playing over let’s say a string section or something where there’s some clear harmony written, but I’d say the soloist isn’t necessarily addressing tonality in a specific sense, maybe more like sounds and certain colors than addressing tonality. I enjoy that, because there’s a certain amount of mystery that it adds to music. I personally prefer also having that and really addressing the harmony in a specific way as well. I enjoy that even more. But I really like the mystery added, again, by that type of playing. Of course, part of the reason why I enjoyed the piano player’s solo more is because both of those elements were both in play, maybe because of the instruments played. 4 stars.

5.   Chris Byars, “The Lion of Yerevan” (from Ari Roland, SKETCHES FROM A BASSIST’S ALBUM, Smalls 2006) (Byars, tenor saxophone; Sacha Perry, piano; Ari Roland, bass; Danny Rosenfeld, drums)

I’m not sure who the saxophone player is. It sounds like Lucky Thompson, the saxophone player who did the record “Tricotism.”  There’s a tune of his that I play, too. I’m not sure if it’s him, but it sounds like he’s coming out of that tradition. I don’t think it’s him, but it sounds somewhere in that area. Otherwise, I can’t think of who it would be off the top of my head. It’s fantastic. I don’t know this recording. It sounds like it could be from the late ‘50s or early ‘60s; for example, a bass player from the late ‘30s or early ‘40s recording a record later, like maybe in the ‘50s. It’s the harmonic language and the sound of the recording. It sounds like something recorded in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s. That’s my guess. 4½ stars. [AFTER] I’m not surprised. I’ve heard those guys a fair amount of times. It sounded like someone from that period who had their own original material that I didn’t know of. It’s totally fresh. It sounds like they’re completely in it, and it sounds like that music is alive and they’re in that language, as if they were living then and playing it now. It’s amazing. It’s great.

6.   James Carter, “Blue Hawaiian” (from GOLD SOUNDS, Brown Brothers, 2005) (Carter, tenor saxophone; Cyrus Chestnut, keyboards; Reginald Veal, bass; Ali Jackson, drums)

It sounds like James Carter. Why did it take me so long? I’m not that familiar with his playing, and in the very beginning he didn’t play that much, he was introducing the melody, and it sounded like it could be some other people from, say, the Chicago school of saxophone players, if you want to call it that – the avant-garde, more or less, to some extent. I haven’t listened to them a lot; I’m aware of them and have listened to them to some extent. I need to check them out more, but I’m just aware of it. So at first I was wondering which one, but as it went on I was aware of James, one, because it sounded like a new recording, and two, because of the amount that he was playing – as in playing a lot and not leaving any space for anyone else, really. On a good note, as far as the amount of effects and facility on the instrument, it’s amazing. There are some things he was doing with sound that were incredible, very difficult to do. There’s one thing in particular, somewhere on the horn, maybe A-flat to B-flat, something like that, back and forth, and there were some kind of harmonics with something else going on. Sound-wise, it was kind of amazing. Really interesting. That ability is fantastic, and I enjoy that part. I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, there’s the prowess on the instrument, and the sound that the rhythm section was getting together. Even though it was a vamp, the relationship between the bass and keyboard – it was nice, what they had going. There was one little interlude between the solos, right after the tenor solos, that was really nice. My reservation is sometimes a little too much playing. If there was less, it would have been more pleasurable to listen to. I liked the song. It was a vamp more or less with some little interludes to break it up. 3stars.

7.   Greg Tardy, “As the World Rejoices” (from Greg Tardy, THE TRUTH, Steeplechase, 2005) (Tardy, tenor saxophone; Helen Sung, piano; Sean Conly, bass; Jaimeo Brown, drums)

That sounds like  Greg Tardy playing saxophone. I didn’t know if this was his record, because I haven’t heard any of his records or heard him write tunes like this. But I thought it was fantastic. It sounds really beautiful. It was an excellent composition, especially the relationship between bass and melody. It’s nice, because it’s the type of tune where you can hear the harmony just with bass and melody alone. That says a lot about the composer’s understanding of harmony. Also fantastic is the way that even though it was somewhat rubato in some sections, it still had a nice rhythmic tension, which is sometimes hard to get. It was very well done. The sound was great. I think Greg is playing a Radio-Improved that he’s shown me. Totally beautiful. 4½ stars. The only reason I don’t say 5 is just because I reserve 5 for established classics.

8.   Michael Brecker, “Prince Lasha” (from Odean Pope Saxophone Choir, LOCKED & LOADED: LIVE AT THE BLUE NOTE, Half-Note, 2006) (Brecker, tenor saxophone; Craig McIver, drums)

I don’t know what to say about that. I can’t say I liked it very much. Wow. I think I’ve heard the piece before, but I’m not sure. But on that performance the band was…wow. I mean “wow” in the negative sense. The band performance was a bit atrocious, I have to say. The time wasn’t quite happening. I don’t know what was going on. At first I thought the tenor player was Brecker, but it’s not what I’m used to. Maybe it’s other things…I don’t know what happened. It sounds like maybe someone else who sounds like him. There are certain lines that he was playing that I’m not used to hearing him play. Also, part of it is execution. I’m used to hearing even more immaculate execution and time. But on the other hand, if he’s dealing with the drummer, whoever it was, it would be hard to deal with that maybe even for him. So I don’t know. It could be someone else who sounds a lot like him, would be my guess. I was going to say maybe Tommy Smith or… I don’t know that many people. It could be Bob Mintzer, but I’m used to hearing him sound different. Or Bob Berg, But not quite. 1 star. One thing that made me think it was Brecker was sound, and there were other things he executed that were so him, that I haven’t heard anyone else do. Even for him, dealing with that, I can see why he was – for him – not as immaculate on phrases or time or whatever as he normally would be. It sounds like he’s trying to keep everyone together.

I love Michael Brecker. I think he’s fantastic. He’s an incredible saxophone player, musician, person. Musician in an ideal sense, in terms of work ethic, reason for playing, the feeling of emotion that he puts out and gives people. It’s sad for me to hear him in that situation, because it’s pulling him way down, way below what he can do. To me, he’s just keeping them together, baby-sitting them. That’s what I think. I’ll be flat-honest about it.

In terms of recordings, there are so many great ones, but one of my favorites is Brecker with strings, a Claus Ogermann date. Man, it’s super-bad. It’s an immaculate record. [Has he influenced you?] Yeah. He’s probably influenced everybody. Maybe some people would not like to admit it. But of course. Definitely. Absolutely. Yes, in many ways. Should I say how? I don’t know how to put it… Well, specifically, like many saxophone players, when I was in early college and high school, I spent a lot of time trying to sound like him. Actually, in certain ways… I did certain transcriptions, and had books with transcriptions where he kind of, among others, taught me how to play the saxophone, and certain things he could do with it… I mean, there are certain things that he’s done with the saxophone and taking, say, the language of Coltrane and people like that, and done certain things that are characteristically him. He’s not just let’s say a disciple of Trane or whatever. Not to me. He’s really added to the canon. Anyway, so he’s influenced me and maybe others in the sense that he’s kind of stretching certain ways of playing the saxophone very specifically, certain things that he can do on the saxophone. There are certain things that I didn’t realize you could do with it until I heard him play. They’re just technical things that are also musical. It’s hard to explain it. But certain things that are very difficult to do. Certain scalar things, certain patterns very, very fast to play within a range of 2½ to 3 octaves, using the upper register is a big one. The way he plays and improvises certain lines. Also the way he uses false fingerings, certain things he did that are very difficult to do, that are his. It’s his vocabulary. Out of a certain tradition, like all of us, but it’s his thing. And when he’s in an environment not like this one, it’s incredible. [Did you keep abreast of his later records?] Yeah, somewhat. Totally incredible. In fact, another thing that’s great about him is that he’s one of those people that I would like to be like, just continuing to blossom. Just better and better. It’s just incredible. Now it’s like he has all the technique and sound, deeper and more open. It seems on his last records, he’s had more opportunity to show various things he can do and changed his own playing even more. Still evolving.

9.   Ned Goold, “In The Still Of The Night” (from THE FLOWS, Smalls, 1999/2004) (Goold, tenor saxophone; Ben Wolfe, bass; Ron Steen, drums)

It’s Ned Goold. I don’t know the tune; I haven’t played it. I don’t know who’s in the rhythm section. He’s a great saxophone player. I could tell because his lines are very intervallic, but still in the ‘40s-‘50s vernacular. So that’s how I recognized him. It’s very interesting playing. It’s difficult to do that and still play the changes well. 3½ stars.

10. Chris Potter, “Morning Bell” (from UNDERGROUND, Sunnyside, 2006) (Potter, tenor saxophone; Wayne Krantz, guitar; Craig Taborn, fender rhodes; Nate Smith, drums; Thom Yorke, composer)

It sounds like Chris Potter. I’m not familiar with this tune, but it’s a great composition. I really enjoyed that. It sounds like a Radiohead tune or influenced by it. It’s the form and the harmony. There are certain basslines or certain parts of the harmony, certain things in minor thirds that make it sound like that. I don’t remember exactly, but some other spots that are like that. [Can you take a brief tangent and discuss what about Radiohead’s make them appealing to musicians in this period?] I don’t know actually. But there are a lot who are into it, including myself. Maybe because at least a fair amount of musicians are listening to other music besides jazz, and are into various popular musics, whatever they are, and then those that are of that genre, let’s say rock-influenced or whatever. I think that because the sound on their records is so great, and also they’re pretty meticulous about sounds – getting the sounds right, the sound of the record. Plus the tunes. The songs are great. It’s really good songwriting. I think a big part of it is that. Even if you just play the song without really soloing that much, like this one, they’re just nice forms to hear, and there seems to be something close about maybe what some of us are doing and what they’re doing that may be influencing us. Maybe it’s because a fair amount of us are willing to address popular music from our generation. That includes anything from something we listened in high school on – anything from the ‘80s and ‘90s. And Radiohead, among others, seems to be a good example of that. I thought that performance was fantastic, beautiful. I can’t say anything bad about it! It’s all great, fantastic. I wish I could play that well. He’s totally incredible. 4½ stars.

11.   Donny McCaslin, “Soar” (from SOAR, Sunnyside, 2006) (McCaslin, tenor saxophone; Ben Monder, guitar; Scott Colley, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Pernell Saturnino, percussion; Shane Endsley, trumpet; Luis Bonilla, trombone)

It’s pretty bold to start that long with percussion. It’s interesting. I like that. I’m not sure who this is, but it sounds like an Avishai Cohen tune, or something in that scene – an active section of the tune, sort of syncopated in a scalar sense. It sounds like an Israeli vibe, or sounds influenced by it. I don’t know who it is, though. It’s a great song. I can’t quite place the guitar player. Tenor player sounds fantastic. Whoo! Killing. Sounds like some people I know, but I’m not sure if it’s them. Maybe younger people who sound like them. It sounds Latin-influenced, some type of Caribbean-Latin thing. This is a nice interlude section. It’s a great tune, a great composition. It’s really well-done. Beautiful. [FINAL SECTION] This last section is really nice! Wow. What a great arrangement. Great ending, too. Just falls right off. A little arrangement of whatever those revolving changes were. 4 stars. [AFTER] I thought it was Donny, but there was something about his sound that sounded different, so to be honest, I thought it was someone who was sounding like Donny, or checked him out.

12.   Branford Marsalis, “Laughin’ and Talkin’ with Higg” (from ROMARE BEARDEN REVEALED, Rounder, 2004) (Branford Marsalis, tenor saxophone; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Eric Revis, bass; Jeff Watts, drums)

Sounds like Wynton and Branford. I don’t know whose record this is, and I’m not sure if I’ve heard this record. Oh, I figured it would be Branford. I’m not sure if it’s recent or not. It’s Jeff Watts, and I would imagine Eric Revis or Reginald Veal depending on how recent it is. It’s incredible playing, understanding of swing rhythm and all those things – just the obvious things. But not only a great understanding of the swing tradition, but it’s their own language they’ve created. I’ve been influenced by it. Many people have. The way that they play that maybe objectively speaking or maybe, according to some who may be against them or not like what they’re doing, who think they’re too conservative or something… It seems like they have so much control, especially over this, that it sounds like they’re playing really free. They have a lot of creative ability. They’re  really connected, and really complementary to each other, not necessarily a thing where someone will play a certain phrase and someone else will play the same thing, but actually complementing – two different melodies that work together type of thing. They do it very well. And it’s improvised. That’s another thing that’s great, is they’re really improvising, really making up lines, but still in the whole vocabulary and vernacular of the tradition. Rhythmically it’s great, Jeff Watts’ innovations and the innovations of that group of people, whether it’s Branford’s bands or Wynton’s bands, especially Wynton’s band in the ‘80s, like ‘85, like J-Mood and Black Codes From The Underground. This was right before I went to college, so everybody was listening. Not everybody, but those that wanted to play mainstream jazz were into that, and so was I.  So yes, it’s totally incredible. 4½ stars.

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Filed under Blindfold Test, DownBeat, Mark Turner, Tenor Saxophone