Tag Archives: Jazz at Lincoln Center

For Bill Holman’s 87th Birthday, A Brief Interview From 2011

It’s the 87th birthday of the superb arranger, Bill Holman, who made his name generating charts for Stan Kenton during the early ’50s, and made some of the more phantasmagoric big band recordings of the ’80s and ’90s. I had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Holman at the end of 2011 when Jazz at Lincoln Center assigned me to write program notes for a Kenton tribute concert. The unedited transcript follows.

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Bill Holman on Stan Kenton (December 28, 2011):

TP:   Let me ask you a general question. It’s been written about, and I’m a little embarrassed to ask it, but: what do you feel that you brought to the Kenton band, and what do you think Kenton was looking for from you?

BH:   I don’t think I’ve ever been asked this before. I think I brought a little more of a jazz element into the band. Stan kept saying that he didn’t want a swing band, he didn’t want a Tommy Dorsey band or a Count Basie band. He was talking about rhythm, I think, mainly. He didn’t want that dancey, kind of jazz rhythm. He wanted straight eighth notes and everything very serious and solemn. I lightened up the band quite a bit, I think. The contrapuntal approach that everybody talks to was just a feature of the way I wrote. But I actually tried to write more jazz music for the band, and…

It’s funny. I was talking to somebody yesterday about the predicament that Buddy Childress was in. He was the lead trumpet player, he was the concert master of the band, and he was kind of responsible for the way the band phrased and the way the band played their eighth notes. Stan was still insisting that he wanted the straight eighth notes, and I was writing more of a swing feel eighth-note—and the two were different. So Buddy had to figure out a way to kind of get it in the middle, and he came up with a very strange conception that people have since called holding eighth notes. They weren’t mine, really; they were Buddy’s. I think after the first two successful charts that I wrote for the band, Stan probably realized that he was faced with a different kind of conception. He didn’t try to talk me out of it, and kept on with it, and finally, in 1955, a couple of years after I left, he had Al Porcino and Mel Lewis, and it was a swing band. Not one of the swingingest bands, but it was a swing band, and Stan went along with it for a while. Then finally, he had some kind of epiphany or something, and he let Porcino go and he told me to stop writing. It slipped back a little bit, but he was still doing more rhythmic things than he had in the past.

TP:   It seems that what you were doing in ‘52 and ‘53 and ‘54 was very suited to the band’s personnel—a lot of individualistic soloists, influenced very much by Lester Young and Bird and swing music, as you were. So your conception seems to have been a nice for the band.

BH:   I think probably the best arrangements for any band are written by people who are playing in the band, because night after night you get the feeling of what the band does well, and when it takes off, and you hear the soloists and hear what they can do… It’s a big advantage to be a member of a band.

TP:   In the charts you wrote for Lee Konitz, were you taking any particular factors into account?

BH:   No, I just wrote for Lee as a very capable soloist. I didn’t think too much about his…well, what I found out later, that he tries to do things that are completely original. He leaves out most of the jazz vocabulary that we know and love, but he prefers to just start at zero and do his own thing. I didn’t know this at the time. I was pretty young and inexperienced. So I just wrote the best chart that I could, hearing him. It’s funny. When we first rehearsed “In A Lighter Vein,” which was the up-tempo feature for him, he said, “I can’t get any feeling from this melody at all.” [LAUGHS] I said, “Jesus!—it bombed.” Then he turned around and played the shit out of it.

TP:   You and he are the same age, from different parts of the country, but both deeply influenced by the big bands and soloists you heard in your formative years. I know music became your avocation a little late. But were you a fan of the Kenton band in the ‘40s?

BH:   Oh, yeah. I thought they were terrific. I grew up close to the Balboa Rendezvous, where they got their start. We used to hear the band when it still had Lunceford influences. So I was aware of the band from the very start, and I really liked the things that they were doing in the ‘40s, which was before I became a jazz player and found out what real jazz was like, and realized that what they were doing wasn’t jazz.

TP:   Was there any sort of ambivalence for you when you joined the band? I’ve read 4-5 fairly thorough interviews on the Internet, and it seems as though and Kenton had a somewhat ambivalent relationship. Not that this needs to be part of the note… Was there any sense for you, joining the band, that the way you were thinking about things didn’t necessarily sync up with Kenton’s?

BH:   If I had been a functioning writer at the time, more than a player, I think there probably would have been. But I joined the band as a player, and I was just happy to join such a good band with such a great record. I was just happy to be there. I didn’t write for the band for quite some time. I’d written a couple of charts before I joined the band, but they were just total flops. I was trying to do things that I wasn’t hearing. So when I joined the band, I was just happy to be there, and Stan remembered that I was a writer, and pretty soon he started encouraging me to write. He paid me for everything I did. I did several charts before I really connected with the band, and he paid for those, and had them copied, and we rehearsed them and even played them a couple of times. I wrote one chart on “Star Eyes,” and it was just counterpoint from beginning to end. We played it one night, and Stan said, “You know, Holman, that sounds like a merry-go-round.” That’s a pretty good line.

TP:   Was his input helpful to you in developing your style?

BH:   [SIGHS] I’m trying to think, now… He didn’t talk to me much about writing, aside from egging me on to write. He gave me one assignment, which was a thing for Maynard Ferguson and Sal Salvador. It was “Invention For Guitar and Trumpet.” He kind of laid that out, what he was looking for. It turns out to have been a very successful piece, although I don’t like it at all. But it always seems to get put in the reissues and so forth. But mainly, he didn’t talk to me about what he was expecting or needing.

TP:   if I may ask you this for the 8-millionth time, what are some of your favorites of the charts that you wrote for the Kenton band?

BH:   Well, I always liked, “What’s New” and, of course, “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” which is a lot of people’s favorite. I like “Stella By Starlight” for Charlie Mariano, and “Yesterdays,’ and some of the early things—“Fearless Finlay” and I can’t think of the other name.  Does that give you enough?

TP:   Yes, I think that gives me enough. May I ask a more general question. What do you think were the qualities of Kenton as a personality and bandleader, and the band itself, that made the Kenton band so popular? It was a huge operation. What do you think people were responding to?

BH:   It’s hard to say. I don’t really know. In the ‘40s, he was doing his progressive jazz and the Rugolo thing. It’s hard to say. Maybe the precision and the brassy sound. I don’t really know. It’s a large band. I think large bands tend to be more impressive than small bands to certain people. Kenton’s personality. He was a very striking figure in front of a band. You got me on that one.

TP:   He’s one of these people, like Woody Herman or Ellington, who kept the organization going for years and years and years, building a body of music… If nothing else, it’s a real act of will, I guess. It strikes me in the course of thinking about him for these last few days.

BH:   I think that a lot of people had an affection for Stan, the person. He was always very gracious to the public, and took time-out to talk to people and kids… I meet these people now who come to the Kenton reunion concerts out here that Ken Poston puts on occasionally, and they seem to love the idea of Stan Kenton. He got to these people somehow.

TP:   Apart from the NEA Jazz Masters thing a couple of years ago, when the JALCO played one of your charts, is this your first collaboration with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra?

BH:   Yes, aside from that one shot.

TP:   Have you followed their history over the last 20 years?

BH:   Pretty much.

TP:   Do you any remarks about the orchestra, and the way they might or might not match up with the way Kenton thought about music?

BH:   Hah. Well, I don’t know. I’m kind of curious about that myself. Their emphasis has been on Duke and mostly black music, and this is the whitest of the white bands, I think.

TP:   Did you say ‘the whitest of the white bands’?

BH:   Yeah.

TP:   Perhaps that phrase might apply a little less to the stuff you put out 55 years ago, and the way the band treated it.

BH:   Yeah, but I think still, Kenton encompasses all of that. Stan Kenton stands for a certain kind of music that is kind of unemotional. I don’t know if that’s the right word. Clean. Well, you know how some musicians use the term “greasy” when they’re talking about funky jazz? Stan’s band was never greasy, regardless of who wrote for it. There, I’ve finally figured it out.

TP:   I guess it will be fascinating to see how the concert goes, and I’m sure you’ll be hearing more from them after the new year. You’re not presenting anything new for the band…

BH:   No.

TP:   All older stuff.

BH:   Yes.

[END OF CONVERSATION]

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Filed under Bill Holman, Interview, Stan Kenton

In Honor of Guitar master Jim Hall (Dec. 4, 1930-Dec. 10, 2013), a WKCR Musician Show From 1999, Program Notes for a Tribute Concert, and a Downbeat Blindfold Test live in Orvieto from January 2010

When master guitarist-composer Jim Hall passed away in December 2013, I posted a tribute that included the proceedings of three separate encounters with Mr. Hall — first, program notes for a November 2013 tribute concert with Peter Bernstein and John Abercrombie; a public DownBeat Blindfold Test that we did in Orvieto—where he was performing all week in a two-guitar context with Bill Frisell, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Joey Baron—right after New Year’s Day in 2010, and a conversation for a piece I wrote for DownBeat about the emergence of modern jazz in Greenwich Village during the ’50s. Today I’m augmenting the post with a transcript of a WKCR Musician Show (bottom of the post) that we did on March 17, 1999, on which Mr. Hall played music that had influenced him and selected choice cuts from his own corpus. For further biographical particulars, check out this documentary from the late ’90s, written by his daughter, Devra Hall, and  this conversation with Larry Appelbaum, as well as these DownBeat articles, from 1962 and 1965, respectively.

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Jim Hall Concert with Peter Bernstein & John Abercrombie – Program Notes:

“Jim Hall is, in many ways, to me, the father of modern jazz guitar.”–Pat Metheny

“I used to focus on playing like Jim Hall, trying to play slow and really hear whatever I was doing, not let my fingers get ahead of me. I love Jim because it’s not a whole lot of notes, but he generates so much intensity with such a poetic vibe.”—Mike Stern

“Jim Hall is like a magician that makes the rabbit pull him out of the hat. He’s so quirky and unorthodox, but always musical, with a purpose to everything that he plays and does. There’s so much beauty in his playing. Most guitar players go for the jugular vein. Jim Hall showed us that it’s okay to go for the G-spot, too.”—Russell Malone

“Jim plays the baddest stuff I’ve ever heard. It’s like guitar playing from the future, but yet it’s happening right now.”—Julian Lage

* * * *

On this evening’s concert, guitarist Jim Hall, 82 years young, augments his trio with fellow plectrists John Abercrombie, 69, and Peter Bernstein, 46. Both regard the elder maestro as a preeminent signpost figure in their stylistic development, while most closely resembling him in the individuality of their respective voices.

A game-changer for the last four decades, a key figure in assimilating and coalescing the various streams that entered jazz expression during the ’70s, Abercrombie—like Hall—remains a work in progress in his golden years, as is evident on 39 Steps, his lyric, harmonically erudite 2013 release on ECM (his 24th for the label since 1974), and on its immediate predecessor, Within A Song. On the latter date, Abercrombie reconfigures in his own argot four songs from ‘60s recordings by Sonny Rollins, Art Farmer and Bill Evans to which Hall made consequential contributions. Among them is “Without A Song,” from Rollins’ 1961 masterpiece The Bridge.

“I heard it in a record store when I was 17, and had an epiphany,” Abercrombie told me last year. “I didn’t know what he was doing, but it sounded so perfect. That was the strongest reaction I’ve had to any piece of music from the jazz world.”

Bernstein experienced his own epiphanies as Hall’s student at the New School during the latter ‘80s. “Playing duo with him then, I’d wonder how he kept the harmony and time so clear,” he recalls. “He’s such a great listener, so supportive, so empathetic—all the things that he is as a human being come through when he accompanies.” Over the subsequent quarter-century, he’s  earned the esteem of peer-groupers like Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman, and elder masters like Rollins, Jimmy Cobb and Lou Donaldson for his touch, the voice-like quality of his tone, the melodic and harmonic clarity of his solo declamations, and, as Hall notes, “his complete avoidance of cliches.”

“Jim introduced a completely new aesthetic,” Bernstein says of his mentor. “He came out of Charlie Christian and Freddie Green, and doesn’t shy away from playing the blues and bebop, and doing things that the guitar wants to do as an instrument. At the same time he’s a very intellectual musician with an advanced harmonic concept.”

As always, Hall will follow the core principles by which he’s operated since his debut recording with Chico Hamilton in 1955. “I try to make each performance kind of a composition,” he says. “The idea of improvising in the first place is doing whatever it takes to appropriately get out of the guitar whatever goes through your mind. Ideally, all of us on stage—whether it’s three or four or five—will always be listening with that same target in mind, to make it into a nice composition.

“I picture myself as a listener when I’m playing or writing. That’s one reason why I solo the way I do. I like to leave space for the listener to reflect on what’s been played already, and then take them some place else.”

Ted Panken

* * *

Jim Hall Blindfold Test (Raw):

1.   Julian Lage, “Lil’ Darlin” (from SOUNDING POINT, Decca, 2009) (Lage, guitar; Jamie Roeder, bass; Tupac Mantilla, percussion; Neal Hefti, composer)

I actually know him. That’s Julian Lage. I’ve known him since he was 11 years old. I think he’s 21 or something now. I really admire him. He’s very different. A lovely young guy. On this record also, although not on this track, he has a banjo player, Bela Fleck, who is outstanding. That was a Basie tune, right? Right, “Lil’ Darling.” It was a completely unique treatment of a standard jazz tune. Basie’s guitarist, Freddie Greene, was amazing. He really kept the Count Basie band together. When Freddie left, they sounded great, but it just was not the same without Freddie Greene on guitar. In fact, I wrote a piece which we’ll play this evening called “OwedTo Freddie Greene,”

2.   Egberto Gismonti-Alexandre Gismonti, “Aguas & Dança” (from SAUDAÇÕES, ECM, 2009) (Egberto Gismonti, acoustic guitar, composer; Alexandre Gismonti, acoustic guitar)

That’s amazing guitar playing, and I have no idea who it is. Egberto Gismonti wrote it and played it? I know Egberto Gismonti, and he is a fantastic musician. He plays fantastic piano, and he’s a composition… I think he lives in Rio still. That’s one of the marvelous things about music. You just played a record by a very young guitarist, and now you played one by a slightly older Brazilian guitar player. [Brazilian music has been in your repertoire for many years.] It’s kind of a gringo version! I just admire Brazilian music so much. We’re playing a piece this week called “Cavaquinho.” I was in Brazil several times, starting in 1959 or 1960. It felt like everybody in Rio played the guitar. Music was coming out from everywhere. It was a great experience.

3.  Bobby Broom, “In Walked Bud” (from PLAYS FOR MONK, Origin, 2009) (Broom, guitar; Dennis Carroll, bass; Kobie Watkins, drums; Thelonious Monk, composer)

I don’t know who that is either. [SINGS REFRAIN] I’ve forgotten the name of the tune. “In Walked Bud,” that’s right. Fantastic guitar playing. I could have used a little more harmonic sense, maybe a chord now and then just filling in, but it sounded great. Tell us who it was. Bobby Broom? I just know the name. [He’s played with Sonny Rollins since the early ‘80s.] I know Sonny Rollins. [LAUGHTER] That’s why Sonny doesn’t call me any more. Working with Sonny was probably my most important job. I first heard him with Max Roach’s group with Clifford Brown and Richie Powell, and I admired his playing. I joined Sonny in early 1961. I was only 12 years old. It was very challenging, because it got me practicing. I’m serious. Sonny was and is one of my heroes. I was in the hospital for a long time this year with back surgery, and Sonny called. He never talks very much, but in the hospital we talked for 45 minutes on the phone one day. I almost hesitate to get into this, but in those days there was still a lot of racial crap going on, and Sonny made me aware of it. All of my early heroes were African-American—Charlie Christian, Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, and then Sonny later. It was just fascinating. I was so honored to play with him. This may not be appropriate to say, but I think with our new American President, it’s gotten so much better just in terms of getting along together.

4.  Kurt Rosenwinkel, “Fall” (from REFLECTIONS, Word of Mouth, 2009) (Rosenwinkel, guitar; Eric Revis, bass; Eric Harland, drums; Wayne Shorter, composer)

I don’t have any idea who that is. It seemed like it was in an odd meter, 7/4 or 5/4.. I don’t know what they were performing. . It sounded a great ensemble, and I admire the guitar player—it sounded good to me, but I don’t know anything about it. Oh, it’s Kurt. It’s interesting. A lot of this is brand-new to me. If I listen to music, generally it’s classical music. If I listened to great guitar players, it would be depressing. Bela Bartok. He plays good guitar. It’s amazing how guitar playing has just opened up and gotten better. Bill Frisell and I have known each other since Bill was a teenager, I think. Now I’m learning from him. That’s how it goes. It seems to me that one of the requisites of being involved in music, or any art form, is that it keeps growing, and if you’re open, then you will grow as well, and not stop someplace and say, “Well, that’s over; now I’m just going to keep playing this G-7 chord.”

5. John McLaughlin, “Stella By Starlight”(from THIEVES AND POETS, Verve, 2003) (McLaughlin, acoustic guitar, arranger)

Again, I don’t know who that is, but it was an amazing guitar player. I know it’s “Stella By Starlight.” It sounded like B-flat. For me, I love that melody so much, I think that I would not have put all that filigree. I would have concentrated on the melody and the words to the song. I think that needs to be presented. It seems like each piece, especially if it’s a song, should probably be presented in a different way, and this is a love song, and it has nothing to do with flashy picking like “I Got Rhythm” or something. This is an amazing guitar player; again, I didn’t particularly like the way the song was treated. This song came from a period where there were so many fantastic songs that I think need to be played more. I feel like, in a lot of ways, younger people are cheated because recording stuff all got into the hands of marketing people. It’s great to hear lovely compositions performed and recorded again. [AFTER] That was John? I knew I’d insult a friend. Again, I wish I could do that. I’m sure I have a lot of things which would embarrass me.

6. Wolfgang Muthspiel-Brian Blade, “Heavy Song” (from FRIENDLY TRAVELERS, Material, 2006) (Muthspiel, guitar, composer; Blade, drums)

Again, I don’t know who that is. It’s interesting, and it made me think about amplification. It sounded like an excellent guitar player. It’s funny. I still like the sound of the acoustic guitar just being amplified a little bit, but that was a whole different genre, I guess. I hope you’ll hear, when we play later, that I like to be able to hear Scott Colley on bass fiddle, not necessarily amplified, and Joey Baron, who is close to me and I can hear everything he plays. I understand amplification and the need for it, but I think it needs to be, in general, kind of tuned down a bit. Maybe start over with Andres Segovia or something—I don’t know. Because when you perform as a quartet, you’re part of a group of four people, and I like to be able to react to what Scott plays in the bottom of the texture, and then what Joey does. That’s just my personal preference. On the other hand, I don’t want to sound like some old fogey up here. I enjoy all of this music. It’s just that my feeling about music is different. Because I couldn’t hear the individuals in the group at all, and it puzzled me. [AFTER] It would probably make one interesting track on a CD, I guess. Again, I love all the guitar playing. [It’s interesting. I’m selecting one piece from a CD that reflects a broad spectrum of music.]

7.  Adam Rogers, “Sight” (from SIGHT, Criss Cross, 2009) (Rogers, guitar, piano; John Patitucci, bass; Clarence Penn, drums)

That one I really enjoyed. Again, I have no idea who it is, but in relation to what I was saying earlier, I could hear the whole texture very clearly. Marvelous guitar playing, and he or she… Do you know Sheryl Bailey? She’s a great guitar player, too—I hate to say “he” all the time. The guitarist would listen to what was happening and react. It seemed like people were listening. I love that. And it sounded very original, too. The shape of the piece, the chord changes, the bassline—it really kept my attention. It wasn’t Les Paul, was it. [LAUGHS] I loved Les Paul.

8. Pat Metheny-Brad Mehldau, “Ahmid-6″ (from METHENY MEHLDAU, Nonesuch, 2006) (Metheny, guitar, composer; Mehldau, piano)

Again, I do not know who it is, but it’s another amazing guitar player. Again, I wish that somehow or other, there was some clarity at the beginning of the piece, so I would know what they were improvising on. The playing was amazing, but it just sounded like playing over chord changes pretty much, and I would like to have… Like with a painting—you have a background and then some stuff added. But I thought it was great playing. I never had great facility, so I just play slowly, and then, when I play a little bit faster, they say, ”ooh, it’s fantastic.” [AFTER] I’ve known Pat since he was about 15 years old. He’s done so well.
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9. Jonathan Kreisberg, “The Best Thing For You” (from THE SOUTH OF EVERYWHERE, Mel Bay, 2007) (Kreisberg, guitar; Matt Penman, bass; Mark Ferber, drums; Irving Berlin, composer)

That I enjoyed a lot, too. Whoever it was really presented “The Best Things Thing For You Is Me,” presented the tune very clearly—and again, the guitar player was amazing. I enjoyed it. On every selection you played, I thought the guitar playing was pretty stunning. But that one was clearer to me, because whoever it was played the melody so well.

* * *

Jim Hall (Vanguard 70th) – (Jan. 30, 2005):

TP:   70 years in one place in Manhattan. It’s staggering.

HALL:   I agree.  I don’t know how old he was when he died…

TP:   He was born in 1903. He was close to 90.

HALL:   I remember when he had the Blue Angel uptown.

TP:   And he had it for 20 years. He got it when the Vanguard was already ten years old.  Billy Taylor, Jimmy Heath and Roy Haynes all were here before you.

HALL:   Yeah. I visited with Chico Hamilton and played at Basin Street East, but I finally moved here around 1960.

TP:   The clubs I can ask you about would be the Five Spot, the Bohemia…

HALL:   I played the Bohemia with Jim Giuffre and Bob Brookmeyer, and we played opposite Miles’ sextet.

TP:   So it was a trip to New York before you moved.

HALL:   Right.

TP:   I can ask you about the Bohemia, the Five Spot, the Half Note, and Bradley’s.

HALL:   The place where I first worked with Sonny Rollins was owned by the Termini Brothers – the Jazz Gallery.

TP:   Let’s start with your first trip to New York with Chico Hamilton and Basin Street, and the Bohemia. What was Basin Street like?  Do you recall the layout of the room or the ambiance?

HALL:   It was my first trip to New York as a musician, and the whole thing was kind of overwhelming.  It was Chico’s quintet, and I think Jerome Richardson played with us instead of Buddy Collette, because Buddy was doing the Groucho Marx television show or something. We played opposite Max Roach with Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown, Richie Powell and George Morrow. As I remember, it was laid out like a big board meeting room or something, and there was a bar and lots of tables.  All kinds of people came in. One time I looked up, and Richie Powell was sitting there with his brother, Bud Powell.  Erroll Garner came in. Sammy Davis, Jr., came in and sat in on drums one night!  I don’t know how long the place lasted, though.

When I was with Jimmy Giuffre… Later on he was managed by Norman Granz. But there was a guy doing the booking whose name I can’t remember, but he also managed Mort Sahl, and Mort had a show on Broadway for about three weeks called The Next President.  Jimmy, Bob and I played there with Mort Sahl, and then we’d go down to the Bohemia and worked there, too.

TP:   What was the Bohemia like?  It was a big room on Barrow Street?

HALL:   Exactly.  It looked like a high school auditorium.  I remember there were lots of tables set up, and the bandstand was kind of raised in the back, like an auditorium, kind of.  As I said, we worked opposite Miles’ great group with Bill Evans.

TP:   What was the atmosphere like, the clientele?  I guess it was a lot different than Basin Street. Maybe not.

HALL:   This was all so new to me… I remember Stan Getz came in one night, and down in the dressing room he was trying out one of John Coltrane’s horns, and I played a couple of tunes with Stan.  Another time I remember Neshui and Ahmet Ertegun came in with Queen somebody… Her husband was King Hussein of Jordan, I think, and he had fired her because they couldn’t have kids together. So the Ertegun brothers came in with her, and I was sitting with Charlie Persip.  Charlie was working with Art Farmer someplace, and he came in to hear Miles’ band.  I said to Charlie, “You see that beautiful lady? That’s Queen Saroya (I think) of Jordan.” Charlie said, “No shit?”

Anyway, it was great working opposite Miles and…

TP:  Was the place full all the time?  I get the feeling reading about it that it was a very popular room, and all the cats would go down there to hear.

HALL:   Probably.  It was hard to have a perspective.  First of all, I did the show with Mort Sahl.  David Allyn sang on Mort’s show, too. The club didn’t have the coziness of the Vanguard, certainly, or the magic, I think.  It was more like a theater, I felt.  So was the Jazz Gallery, a bit.  They had an interesting background at the Gallery, though, with moving lights or something behind us.

TP:   Did you also play the Five Spot?

HALL:   Yes.  I remember it being crowded all the time, and very… I was staying at the Van Rensselaer Hotel in the Village at the time, and I worked opposite Ornette Coleman’s group there once with Jimmy.  It was Ornette and Charlie Haden and either Ed Blackwell or Billy Higgins, probably Billy. That was a thrill.  I also remember hearing George Russell play with a ten-piece group or so there. I remember the Five Spot as being small and kind of dark, and it seemed like the epitome of hipness, sort of.  Thelonious Monk came in one night. Then Leonard Bernstein came in; that was the time he jumped up on the stage and kissed Ornette or something. Cecil Taylor would sometimes come in late at night.  He and Buell Neidlinger were buddies, I think, and Cecil would play sometimes after work, or…
TP:   Sit in after the last set?
HALL:   Yeah.  It just seemed like an extremely hip place, that’s all.

TP:   The epitome of hipness is a nice phrase. What do you remember about Ornette being there?  That’s an engagement that sort of rocked the world.

HALL:   I guess.  I had known Ornette in California.  Actually, he was doing a date with Red Mitchell and Shelley Manne and Don Cherry.  Red was a close friend, and he invited me to the record date.  When I got there, I was in the control booth, and Red was sitting in the control booth, and they were playing without him.  Red was very controlling, and he kept asking Ornette, “Well, how many measures before this? How many bars?”  Ornette would say, “Just trust me.”  So Red got frustrated, and he bailed.  He was sitting in the control booth for a while. But I loved Ornette’s playing right away. I’d gone to a conservatory of music, and I heard Bartok and Hindemith and Schoenberg and all those people, so it didn’t surprise me.  But I loved his playing right from the start.  But it was great being around Ornette when he was kind of breaking ground.

Then John Lewis had Ornette and Don both up at the School of Jazz at Lenox…

TP:   Oh, I forgot that you were on Jazz Abstractions.

HALL:   Right.  And John would bring in ringers to go to this music school.  It was every summer for two or three weeks, I think, at the end of the summer up at Lenox.  He got Don Cherry and Ornette there as students, and Attila Zoller was there as a student, Gary McFarland… It was kind of a rich period. But obviously, you don’t realize it when you’re living it.

TP:   Of course not.  What were the Termini Brothers like?

HALL:   They were great.

TP:   Soulful guys?

HALL:   Yeah, they were just nice guys. When I was a kid, all the club owners were these guys with the broken nose and cigars and stuff, and the Termini Brothers seemed like they would have been good neighbors or they could run a grocery store, or something like that.  Really nice.

TP:   And you played with Sonny at the Jazz Gallery.

HALL:   I  did. It was on St. Marks Place just east of the Bowery.

TP:   I know you played at the Half Note quite a bit.

HALL:   Yes.

TP:   It seems that all the musicians enjoyed playing there.

HALL:  It was really relaxed, and the Canterinos, Mike and Sonny, they were great. The bar made a sort of oval around the bandstand, and they had this great guy, Al the waiter, who wore this tuxedo all the time, and he would kind of drag his feet when he walked, and he would call out orders. It’s probably on some records. He’d say, “Son-ny!!” when he wanted beers or something.

TP:   Is he the guy who would always light people’s cigarettes?

HALL:   Yes.  We called him “the torch” sometimes.

TP:   Back when you got to town, all the clubs went to 4 a.m., right? Three sets, 2 a.m. last set?

HALL:   Yeah.  When I worked at the Five Spot, they had this Budweiser clock right above the bandstand that would kind of circle around slowly, and I’d look at the clock and it would say 20 of 3, and I’d play about an hour, we’d play an hour, and I’d look up and it would say 15 minutes to 3!  I think it went to 4.  You played long.

TP:   And the Half Note was isolated, so it had to be a destination.

HALL:   That’s right.  It wasn’t in the heart of things at all.

TP:   It seems the mid ‘60s is when a lot of the small piano rooms downtown cropped up.  But Bradley’s, the Knickerbocker, Village Corner.

HALL:   I wasn’t a regular at Bradley’s, but I did hear a lot of… I heard Jimmy Rowles there with Red Mitchell, and stuff like that.  The Knickerbocker somehow seemed not as important to me. Bradley’s was a fun hangout, and I liked Bradley, and I got to know Sam Jones really well there.  In fact, when Sam was dying… Sam was a big fan of boxing, so anything having to do with boxing, I cut it out of the newspaper and would mail it to him.

TP: In the ‘60s and ‘70s, were there other places you’d wind up trying to get to?

HALL:   Just to hear music?  On the one hand, I loved Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and they were at the Half Note a lot.  The Half Note moved uptown or to midtown for a while, but it didn’t seem to gel. I played there with Paul Desmond, Ben Riley and Ron Carter, and we played opposite the Bill Evans Trio there.  I remember the Cantorino brothers and the old man wearing tuxedos. They were all dressed up. That seemed kind of weird to me.

TP: How did the clubs in New York differ from the clubs in L.A. and Cleveland?

HALL:   I’m not sure. In Cleveland there was a club called Lindsay’s Sky Bar that was very hip. I heard everybody there. It was a bit like the Vanguard.  It was small and dark, and I heard Charlie Parker there. I heard Art Tatum. I heard Red Norvo with Tal Farlow; that’s where I heard Tal.  I heard Stuff Smith; that was great.  That was a very hip club. There were a couple of them in Cleveland. Later I heard Charlie Parker with Miles Davis and Max Roach at a different club. So there was stuff to hear.

But for some reason, my brain always goes to the Vanguard.  The sinkhole!  I mean that in a good way.  You go down there, and you’re in an environment. After I spoke with you the first time, I made a list of all the people I had heard there and stuff.  I lost part of it.  But Jesus, I remember hearing Jack Teagarden there, and Slam Stewart was playing with him. I heard Ben Webster there. When Giuffre was playing at the Bohemia, Ben Webster was at the Vanguard, and I went over before I knew him.  Oh, and I think I worked opposite Mike Nichols and Elaine May.  Irwin Corey was there a lot, and I remember hearing Lenny Bruce there.  I think Mort Sahl, but I’m not sure.  I heard Wes Montgomery there with Paul Chambers and Wynton Kelly, I think. And I worked in a duet with Miles’ group with Wynton and Jimmy Cobb and Paul and Hank Mobley.

TP:   So you’ve been working at the Vanguard for almost fifty years.

HALL:   Seems like it!

TP:   Has it changed?  New sound system, they removed a post…

HALL:   I’ll have to check with Jed about this, or maybe you could, but there was a Japanese company that came in, and they wanted to get the sound of the Village Vanguard somehow, and they measured it from top to bottom, everything, and then as a payoff they gave them a new sound system.  So that changed the whole thing!  It cracked me up.

TP:   For better or worse?

HALL:   I really don’t know. I’ve just always enjoyed playing there somehow.

TP:   What does it? Is it the spirit?  The sound?

HALL:   The sound is good. It’s mostly just the ambiance, all the pictures on the wall.  So many memories.  And Max Gordon sitting in the back there.  And that kitchen is… Talk about magic meeting.  One time, on Paul Desmond’s birthday, my daughter cooked something for his birthday, and afterwards my wife and I and Paul went to the Vanguard. Thelonious Monk was working there before his son. I think Thelonious was not doing too well then. It’s the only time I’ve ever had a conversation with Monk, was with Paul Desmond and Thelonious.

TP:   And you’ve continued to play there steadily since ‘57 or ‘58.

HALL:   Right.  I remember hearing Joe Lovano with Bill Frisell and Motian there. That almost got me in a fight with Stanley Crouch later on. He put them down… I saw Stanley and Wynton Marsalis on Charlie Rose, and Stanley was pontificating, and they started putting down Miles Davis by his later bands. Stanley said, “I could tell he was going out by the way he was dressing?”  I thought, “Shit, what about Duke Ellington?” That really infuriated me, and I thought especially Wynton to say anything negative about Miles, and Miles opened so many doors for people… I always thought Miles could play silence better than most people could play notes. So I went in to hear the trio with Lovano and Bill Frisell and Paul Motian, and I was knocked out. I came outside, and Stanley was outside.  He said , “Oh, Jim Hall, down there listening to that junior music, huh.” So that got me bugged, and I started arguing with him.   P.S., Stanley called me the next day to have lunch after we had a shout-out!

TP:   Are clubs different now than they were when you first hit New York?  Are the audiences different? The general run of clubowners… But you don’t play that many other clubs.

HALL:   The Blue Note sometimes, and the new Birdland. Somehow the Vanguard… Maybe it’s because it’s underground. But somehow it seems like home to me.

TP:   There’s something about it that is jazz, nothing but jazz…

HALL:   Exactly.  I was working there once with Don Thompson and either Elliott Zigmund, or maybe Ben Riley, a trio, and some guy came down the stairs and robbed Cliff Lauder at the door with a gun while we were playing “Body and Soul” or something.

TP:   But the Vanguard has stayed the same pretty much.

HALL:   It really has.

TP:   It’s so rare in 2004-05 to have anything similar to what it was 20 years ago, even 50 years ago.

HALL:   Part of me likes to move forward and not live in the past, but nevertheless, the Vanguard has so much poignancy and nostalgia.  Did I tell you about Lorraine Gordon and Henry Kissinger? Jed told me that Havel was there, and a few minutes into the set Henry Kissinger came down the stairs and Lorraine wouldn’t let him in!  She said, “You can’t come in; the set’s already started.”

TP:   I think eventually she let him in, but made him pay.

HALL:   She said, “Okay, that will be thirty dollars.”

TP:   Who are you going to play with on your night?

HALL:   I’m not sure yet.  I might just do it as a duo. Maybe Henry Kissinger will come in and make a speech.  He says, “Perhaps you don’t know who I am.” She said,”Oh, I know all about you; that’s part of the problem.” You’ve got to love that, no matter what kind of pain in the ass she is.

 

****************

Jim Hall (Musician Show – March 17, 1999):

[MUSIC: Hall-Metheny, “Django”]

TP: Our special guest this evening is the eminent guitarist Jim Hall, who enters the Village Vanguard next week with his quartet, as well as a special concert at the New School a week from Monday with guitarist Satoshi Inoue. Jim Hall has brought seemingly his whole library of music…

HALL: I’ve got a ton of stuff.

TP: I’d like to thank you for participating in the Musician Show this evening.

HALL: Thank you, Ted. I have ulterior motives. I want to change the world for music. In favor of music. I want to play some nice music.

TP: That was John Lewis’ “Django,” one of the classics of the lexicon, named for Django Reinhardt, played by Jim Hall and Pat Metheny on acoustic guitars from Jim Hall’s most recent release on Telarc titled By Arrangement: New Arrangements and Composition by Jim Hall, with Scott Colley on bass and Terry Clarke on drums. It takes 9 different tunes, 7 by others and 2 of yours, and a cohort of special guests. It’s the latest in a series of ambitious recordings for Telarc that in many ways you elaborate the goal you say you want to establish on this show— that music is not defined by genre, by boundary, or category.

HALL: yeah, or by ethnicity or gender or age, even. Music doesn’t seem to know about that stuff. It’s just something that one person, or some people, express to other people. It’s the same as painting or writing. I’ve played music with people in different countries, and… I was going to say people that I couldn’t even speak, but then, some of them were Americans probably, recently. Yes, music just jumps across all boundaries, and that’s one of the lovely things about it, I think.

TP: I think one thing musicians get to experience that “civilians,” as they say, do not, is this ability to communicate with symbolic sound across all language barriers.

HALL: Yes. I’m playing a concert on the 22nd with Satoshi Inoue, as you mentioned. Satoshi is from Kobe, Japan. I’ve known him 5 or 6 years, I guess, since I came here. And Pat Metheny is from Missouri.

TP: In recent years, you’ve done a number of guitar duos, including your next album on Telarc, which all duo performances with Pat Metheny. How did the relationship begin?

HALL: I’ve been telling this story a lot recently. I met Pat when he was 15. He came to New York. I kid him about having been a juvenile delinquent. He sort of took a leave of absence from home. He was with Attila Zoller. We just lost Attila last year. Pat had been at a couple of Attila’s summer jazz camps, and he was in town with Attila. Attila brought him in to this club called The Guitar, which was on 10th Avenue and 49th or 50th Street. I think Kenny Burrell had part of the club. I was playing there with Ron Carter, and Pat came in with Attila. He came in every night. He also heard Bill Evans during that week, and Freddie Hubbard was playing uptown.

TP: Pat had quite a week.

HALL: Yes, he did. He had a great week. So I remembered him from that, having met him, and I kind of kept track of his name, through Attila. This is a long answer, Ted. To make a long story short, Pat and I have been talking about recording for years. In 1991, we played 4 duet concerts together in France, with almost no rehearsal. Then Pat finally said, “Why don’t we just go out and start playing, and see what happens.” And we were able to just kind of trust one another. We did some spontaneous pieces that went great. So Telarc was naturally interested in having Pat on board, so we did this.

TP: Is it spontaneous-impromptu, or are there compositions and arrangements?

HALL: there’s pieces by Pat that are written, there’s some by me that are written, there’s a couple of standards, and there’s a piece by Attila, took, called “The Birds and the Bees” — Pat and I both wanted to do that. And there’s 5 just improvised pieces that we did.

TP: When did you start doing guitar duos?

HALL: Oh, boy. I had a quartet with Jim Raney for a while. I played duet with Bill Frisell in the 80s. I did a couple of little things with Joe Pass. He played fast and I played slow. That was our arrangement.

TP: Pat Metheny has a very distinctive tonal palette.

HALL: Yes.

TP: You also have a very distinctive tonal palette. One could never mistake one of you for the other.

HALL: Yes. Pat played gangs of stuff on this. He played an acoustic guitar. He played this thing he calls the Pikasso, which literally has 40 strings on it — it has some sympathetic strings that you kind of have to bang on. He played nylon string guitar with a pick. He played classic guitar. I just sat there with my electric. I was the straight man.

TP: I know you’ve been interviewed about this a lot, so let’s go into different territory — your roots as a musician. Coming up, Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian.

HALL: Probably the first music I heard was my uncle Ed in rural Ohio. He played probably a bit like Willie Nelson, “Wabash Cannonball” and that sort of thing. “Crash OnThe Highway.” Then my mom got me a guitar when I was 9 or 10, something like that. When I was 13, I started playing with little groups in junior high school. The first one was accordion, clarinet, drums and guitar. No bass. The clarinet player was a Benny Goodman fan. He went to a record store. I went along with him. You probably remember, you could actually play the records in stores in those days. So I heard the Benny Goodman Sextet play “Grand Slam” with Charlie Christian. The more I think about it, that was my version of a spiritual awakening. It really changed my life. I didn’t know exactly what that was, but I knew it was something excellent and I wanted to be able to do it. It was two choruses of blues in F that Charlie played. I still remember the solo. It’s one of the few solos that I memorized.

Later I studied with a guy named Fred Sharp, who introduced me to Django Reinhardt. I played some transcriptions of Reinhardt solos that were written out and stuff like that.

TP: By this time had you moved to Cleveland, Ohio.

HALL: Yeah, I moved to Cleveland when I was 8, I guess.

TP: A few words analytically about Django Reinhardt, his contribution to guitar.

HALL: Obviously, I never saw him play. I never saw Charlie Christian either; Charlie was gone by the time I heard the record. But Reinhardt had a damaged left hand. It had been burned. He basically played with two fingers, just the first two fingers. Speaking of what I said earlier, music doesn’t care about those things. He just said, “I’m going to play this guitar,” and he did. He was an incredible accompanist. He would play something like a drum roll sometimes on the guitar, played beautiful harmonics. He had outrageous technique, and the spirit and drive, and played guitar just unbelievably well. He was really inspirational — his spirit, I think.

[MUSIC: Django-Hot 5, “Tiger Rag”; Charlie Christian, “Solo Flight” and “Grand Slam”]

TP: You credited hearing “Grand Slam” as changing your life around – an epiphany.

HALL: I think it did. As a matter of fact, the quartet that Joe Lovano and I get together with sometimes we call Grand Slam, partly out of respect for that moment, and also I’m a tennis fan, and that’s winning the four national tennis titles.

TP: I thought it was a baseball reference.

HALL: That, too. That’s probably where it started. I think Bobby Jones coined it for golf. Don Budge won the first grand slam, I think…a while ago.

TP: A multitude of references, as we do on tonight’s Musician Show with Jim Hall. That was an Eddie Sauter arrangement, and we’ll hear a track by the Sauter-Finnegan band coming up. Were you an avid listener to the big bands, the dance bands as a youngster?

HALL: When I was a kid (this was in Cleveland, Ohio), they would show up at the Palace Theater in Cleveland. I heard so much great music there. I heard Duke Ellington’s band there the first time. I heard the Nat King Cole trio with Oscar Moore on guitar. I saw Artie Shaw’s band. Actually, I saw Artie Shaw’s band at a dance, too, when Jim Raney was with him. I don’t even dance. I was just hanging out, listening to the band. I heard Claude Thornhill’s band. So yes, I listened to whatever music was… I heard Charlie Parker a few times in Cleveland. Art Tatum.

TP: Tatum was from fairly close by, from Toledo.

HALL: Yes, he was born in Toledo.

Bill Finnegan is a close friend of mine. I still talk to Bill. Before I knew him, he was a big influence on me, because I loved his arranging from when he was with… I think the first thing I heard might have been “The Continental” by Tommy Dorsey’s band. I brought that along. I never got to see the band that he had with Eddie Sauter, but I played a bunch of those arrangements. There was some kind of anniversary concert-tribute a few years ago, and I played the guitar parts on there.

TP: When did you start playing out in public, making money, developing proficiency on the instrument? I mean, you may think that you haven’t yet. I have a feeling you’re a self-critical person…

HALL: Oh, man. Well, I was realistic.

TP: …but in objective terms.

HALL: My intelligence tells me… It’s like a carrot on a string. Which is also part of the charm of it.

I started playing in groups when I was 32, playing for dances and weddings and that kind of thing. Then my first… They’re called “venues” now. My first venue was Molly’s Bar in Cleveland…

TP: Sounds very grand.

HALL: Oh yeah, it was lovely. That was tenor, accordion, drums and guitar. But as I said, after I heard Charlie Christian, I consciously tried to sound like that for years. In fact, there’s an Art Farmer record I’m on from the Half Note, from 1962 or something, where I can hear it… It was late at night, and I was really trying to sound like Charlie. It was fun.

TP: Were you an incessant practicer?

HALL: I must have practiced some, because I still do… Yeah, I practiced a lot. Then I also got interested in writing and orchestration, and I took arranging lessons from a guy when I was about 16. That’s when I got interested in Bill Finnegan and Duke Ellington from a different standpoint — from the writing. And I started hearing classical music as well. I liked Hindemith because it reminded me of Stan Kenton, I think, and I liked Stravinsky because he had written a piece for Woody Herman’s band. But I made my living at jazz from when I was 13. Also working at golf courses and setting pins and stuff.

TP: When did you get struck by the bebop bug, if you did? Did it turn you around, as it did with many people of your generation?

HALL: The first Charlie Parker record I had was a copy of “Koko,” that real fast version of “Cherokee.” I think it was warped. That’s got a bizarre bridge anyway; the bridge goes through a bunch of different keys. I loved Charlie Parker. It probably took me a little while to get on to Charlie Parker. But I remember the moment that I heard that Miles Davis 10-piece…was it a 10-piece band…that Gerry Mulligan and John Lewis wrote for – it was called Birth of the Cool. That was some moment when I heard that.

TP: Awakened a sense of possibility?

HALL: Yes. Oh, man. We had this group of musician, maybe 10 of us, that would get together. We called it a club. We paid a dollar a month dues, and we would get together and talk and listen to records. I think Symphony Sid was on the radio from New York, and was playing those records of “Moon Dreams” and all those things. I remember the feeling in that room was, “Man, something has really changed here tonight.” I didn’t bring any of that stuff with me. That was a big moment for me.

TP: Coming up, “Doodletown Fifers” by Sauter-Finnegan.

HALL: I think that Ed Sauter and Bill Finnegan wrote some of this stuff together. I know that “April in Paris,” which is the second track, is Bill Finnegan’s arrangement. It’s an unbelievable arrangement of “April In Paris.” “Doodletown Fifers” sounds more like Eddie Sauter’s writing, but I’m not positive.

[MUSIC: Sauter-Finnegan, “Doodletown Fifers” and “April in Paris”; Tommy Dorsey, “The Continental”; Artie Shaw (Al Cohn), “S’Wonderful”]

TP: it seems listening to arrangers and big bands inspired you in directions beyond your instrument as a youngster in Cleveland and I guess into your twenties, which is the period these recordings span.

HALL: Yes, and it’s still going on. It’s been interesting, digging this stuff out of my collection the last few days. Basically, I’m not into nostalgia, and I sort of feel like the past is a nice place to visit and I wouldn’t want to live there – that sort of thing. I’m more interested in tomorrow and tonight and the next note. But I have to admit that it really kind of hit me that…it saddened me that this stuff is pretty much gone. I mean, those were bands that were danced to. I think something happened when we lost the dancers probably. But man, the level of musicianship in just the big bands even… Duke Ellington’s band is just… I have something by Duke’s band from a dance in Fargo, North Dakota!

TP: Did you play for dancers?

HALL: Yes. Oh, sure..

TP: With any big bands in Cleveland?

HALL: Not so much with big bands. A bit. Even if we’d have jam sessions, there would be people dancing. At the clubs, of course, there were dancers for a while. It’s an interesting life, having spent most of it on the bandstand. You get some kind of…I was going to say a bird’s eye view — but a different kind of view of life. I think your sense of humor evolves in a certain way.

I didn’t play much with big bands. But I love playing rhythm guitar, though. I do it whenever I can, even with my trio.

TP: Over the last decade with Telarc, you’ve had pretty much carte blanche to do whatever you want and realize your compositional ambitions.

HALL: they’ve been great.

TP: Never more so than on the recording, Textures, all music composed and arranged by you. It’s a pan-genre record.

HALL: Joe Lovano is on the track we’re going to hear, “Ragman.” Another Clevelander.

TP: did you know his dad?

HALL: I did. Tony. I played with Tony. When I had hair, Tony… Tony had a barbershop, too, and he cut my hair.

TP: Was he a good barber?

HALL: Well, look what happened to me. I don’t know. I guess he was a good barber. He was a great character. There’s actually a story that goes with “Ragman.” When I was a kid, 5 years old… This is in Columbus, Ohio. There was a man who used to drive a horse-drawn wagon through the back alleys in Columbus, and I didn’t know anything about accents, except a hillbilly accent maybe — so I assumed he was from Eastern Europe. I thought he was hollering “Paper” and the letter “X” — “Paper X.” He was saying “Paper and Rags,” of course. So this is about that ragman. I was going to call it “Paper X” but that sounds political now, so I just called it “Ragman.” It opens up, you just sort of see the empty alley with wind blowing through it and stuff, and then the ragman arrives and makes his call, “paper, X…” – that’s Joe Lovano. Then nothing much happening, so he does a little dance on the cart. Then he goes off down the alley. That’s it. That’s the ragman story. Appropriately, Joe Lovano is the ragman on this.

TP: This features 15 string players from the St. Luke’s Orchestra, with Scott Colley on bass, percussionist Gordon Gottlieb, and Kenny Wollesen on an array of percussion. Is it scored specifically for those instruments?

HALL: No. Gil Goldstein conducted it, and he got Kenny to bring in a lot of stuff. We encouraged Gordon Gottlieb to improvise on the tympany, too. Some of the tympany part is written and some of it he improvised.

TP: There’s also the dumbek, the triangle, the finger cymbal, and Kenny Wollesen plays clay pot, wood drums, cymbals, tambourine, goat hooves, and fruit husk rattle — appropriate for the peddler idea. Joe Lovano plays soprano saxophone.

[MUSIC: Jim Hall, “Ragman”]

TP: We’ll start the second hour with a section from a string quartet by Maurice Ravel.

HALL: He was pretty good, Ravel. Obviously there’s not much I can say about him that hasn’t been said. His sense of harmony, his sense of form… I think Gershwin wanted to study with him or maybe did study with him. Bill Finnegan says he doesn’t think Ravel ever wrote a bad note, or a note that Bill didn’t really love. In this movement, it actually sounds kind of “jazzy” to me. It starts out pizzicato. It does everything right — swings and moves, has arrival points. The way that the first theme kind of sneaks back in…he hints at it, little by little, and it comes right back in. It has a great shape to it. It does everything right, I think, that music should. It’s played by an all-woman string quartet that’s in residence at the Institute of Music in Cleveland, Ohio, which is where I went to school.

[MUSIC: Ravel, String Quartet, Assez Vif tres Revener); Tatum, “Elegie” and “Willow Weep For Me”]

TP: You were just loving Tatum, exhaling at the various harmonic twists and turns.

HALL: Oh, it’s outrageous. The first record that I got was the Benny Goodman sextet, the stuff with Charlie Christian. I didn’t even have a record player then — I would take it around to friends’ houses. Then I got some Art Tatum records, which I’d play after my mom went to work in the morning, before I went to school — this is when I was 13 or 14, I guess. And I had a Coleman Hawkins with Eddie Heywood, “Sweet Lorraine.” Parenthetically, a lot of times I’m being interviewed, and people ask me about rock-and-roll, and I try to be gentle and say, “I don’t know much about it, and I think it’s more related to sociology,” blah-blah-blah. Finally I say, “Man, I was ruined at an early age. I heard Art Tatum. It doesn’t mean anything to me.”

TP: Perhaps because you play guitar and you’re from Cleveland…

HALL: Oh, right. The Hall of Fame. How do you qualify for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Is it how many leaps into the audience you make? Anyhow, not to digress and be negative.

I was telling you earlier, I was on a George Wein tour in Europe a few years ago, and I sat next to Thelonious Monk on a bus, just by coincidence. He was over there with that kind of enlarged group that he had with Phil Woods and Johnny Griffin and those guys. Art Tatum was on the radio on the bus. George Benson was sitting in the back. I don’t think George had really heard Art Tatum then. I was sneaking looks at Thelonious Monk; I wondered what he was thinking about. Then the next day George Benson went out and bought tons of Art Tatum records.

The first time that I saw Art Tatum play was at Lindsay’s Sky Bar in Cleveland, which was on 105th Street (I think) and Euclid. The thing that amazed me… I was kind of familiar with how he sounded. I still can’t figure it out; it’s unreal. But it looked like nothing was going on. I expected to see hands and feet flying, and it looked like he was floating over the keyboards. That was a big lesson to me.

TP: Ram Ramirez said he had small hands.

HALL: I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised. It didn’t matter!

TP: Did you try in any way to emulate Tatum within your style? Your style is known for being very pared down. But are there spaces where you’d imagine him leaving out something… Did he have that sort of impact on you?

HALL: he probably had an impact… Again, I’m inferring a hundred years later. But he probably had an impact harmonically. He was so incredibly brave, and he would just dive into a chord and make it sound… Every piano player that I ever knew who had run into him or been around him has a Tatum story. One guy said he cried the first time he heard Tatum. Jimmy Rowles had a kind of non-repeatable story about the effect Tatum had on him.

A terrific piano player, whose name I’m drawing a blank on now, said he worked opposite Art Tatum for a while, and he noticed that… He tried everything. He would practice all day and he’d have to come to work – didn’t make it. He noticed that Tatum was drinking something or other. He said, “I tried that, I went on…” He said, “Alas, I over-trained.”

TP: Now we’ll hear a set of some Clevelanders, beginning with Bill DeArango. He’s a bit older than you.

HALL: He’s maybe ten years older or something. He’d already been to New York and played with Dizzy Gillespie and Ben Webster, and had returned to Cleveland. He was kind of the famous guitar player. I talked to Bill sometime last year. It amuses me when one thinks of old geezers, blah-blah-blah. Billy is ahead of everybody still, as you’ll hear on these things. I didn’t know him real well, but he was one of my heroes when I was a kid.

TP: So you looked up to him, but weren’t directly inflected by what he was doing.

HALL: Again, just that he played the guitar great, and that’s always an inspiration.

[MUSIC: DeArango-Lovano, “Duo #1” from Anything Went-1997; DeArango-Ben Webster, “Jeep’s Blues”-1946; Benny Bailey-Quincy Jones, “Meet Benny Bailey”; Tadd Dameron, “If You Could See Me Now”-1962]

HALL: The Sinatra thing that I brought was particularly strong for me. It’s a Duke Ellington-Frank Sinatra CD, and it’s “Indian Summer,” and there’s a Johnny Hodges solo on there that’s just outrageous. Ben Webster used to talk about Johnny Hodges all the time.

[MUSIC: Ellington-Sinatra, “Indian Summer”; Ella-Ellis Larkins, “Nice Work If You Can Get It”-1973; Ben Webster-Tatum, “Gone With The Wind”]

TP: These pieces have some connections to your own personal biography. I hadn’t known that you’d worked with Ella Fitzgerald. You spent about a year with her.

HALL: It was about a year. I was actually working for Norman Granz. I was with the Jimmy Giuffre Trio. It kind of overlapped. Then I took Herb Ellis’ place with Ella for about a year. It was great. Most of the time it was a quintet with Roy Eldridge, Gus Johnson played drums, Wilfred Middlebrooks played bass, and Paul Smith was the piano player and conductor – because a lot of places we’d have an orchestra with us. I’d heard the duo records that Ella and Ellis Larkins had made before then. They’re just great. Janie, my wife, and I were on our way to vacation two-three weeks ago and we heard the stuff that you just played from Carnegie Hall, 1973 or something, and it knocked me out so much – I was glad you had that. I was with her for a year or so. Went all over Europe and South America.

TP: Was there a fair amount of freedom for you, relatively speaking?

HALL: I mostly played rhythm actually. Then I sang on “Tisket, A Tasket.” We all had to sing. “So do we, so do we, wonder where my basket can be” or something like that. I actually sang a vocal with her. Did you like that?

TP: Not bad.

HALL: My career never took off.

TP: “Good enough for jazz,” as they say.

HALL: Not really.

TP: She was an improviser, she’d change up every night?

HALL: Oh, absolutely. And her intonation was so good. I used to tune up to her. If it was a choice between her and a dicily tuned piano, I’d tune up to Ella. I heard her just mess up one time. We did the Academy Awards in 1960, I guess, and we had an orchestra, and we were about 10 miles from the orchestra, and there was a quick change of key, and I think she missed one note on that key change. I only knew it because I’d heard the rehearsals.

TP: So in this virtual, compressed biography, we’ve taken you from Cleveland to Los Angeles in the mid-1950s. You’ve played with Chico Hamilton, you’ve played with Jimmy Giuffre, you’ve played with Ben Webster and Jimmy Rowles, and established yourself nationally as a guitarist on your first record for Pacific Jazz. Then you moved to New York, I guess you said, when you worked with Ella Fitzgerald.

HALL: Yes. Actually, I had got to know John Lewis pretty well, and John was kind enough to use me on…

TP: “Two Degrees East.”

HALL: Right. Then sometime in the late 50s I got this phone call in Los Angeles, and it was John. He said, “You have to get back to New York; we have a lot of stuff for you to do.” I said, “Where am I going to stay?” He said, “Stay in my place because I’m never there anyway.” John had this terrific apartment on 10th Avenue and 57th Street. Miles Davis lived right down the hall.

TP: That’s when Jazz Abstractions happened.

HALL: Yes, exactly. I kind of forget the sequence, but I was with Ella Fitzgerald about that time, or slightly after that, I guess, and I did quite a bit of stuff with John. John did some movie scores. He did a movie score for a Harry Belafonte movie called Odds Against Tomorrow. I did some things with the Modern Jazz Quartet, with Jimmy Giuffre. When I was with Sonny Rollins we played a concert with the Modern Jazz Quartet, too.

But it was great with Ella. And it was a thrill playing with Roy Eldridge as well.

TP: We mentioned your association with Ben Webster in Los Angeles.

HALL: The first time I met Ben was on that TV show called The Sound of Jazz. He was on with Lester Young and that incredible rundown of talent. Billie Holiday was on it. But I didn’t really know him. I was in Los Angeles, kind of between things, and Red Mitchell was working with Ben – Red and Jimmy Rowles and Frank Butler. So I went down to sit in, and I just joined the group – and it was great. I was Ben’s chauffeur for a while. I’d pick him up for work every night and then take him home, sometimes the next morning or the next afternoon. It was great. He talked a lot about… He loved Art Tatum. He loved Duke’s band. Those were two of his heroes. And he used to talk about Duke Ellington’s band a lot, and the fact that most of the time when he was with Duke he didn’t have any music – Ben didn’t. I think he was the fifth saxophone. Before that, it had been four saxophones.

When I was with Sonny Rollins, we played a concert in Washington, D.C., in a great big auditorium, and Duke’s band was on the concert – and Ben was there. So I got to stand in the wings with Ben, listening to Duke’s band play all this stuff. It was great.

I learned so much from Ben about sound, about pacing, about space. He was great.

TP: I guess within this period, you formed your association with Paul Desmond, with whom you did 4 or 5 albums for RCA, which were included in a Mosaic box set. Did that begin in New York?

HALL: I met Paul in Cleveland, when he was with the quartet. But I got to know him later. It must have been when I was with Chico Hamilton. We would keep bumping into each other in different cities. I can’t remember how the records came about. I believe he was no longer with the quartet, but I’m not sure. But we did a bunch of them. One with an orchestra that Bob Prince arranged for. Mostly with quartets, with either Percy Heath or Gene Wright on bass. One with Gene Cherico actually. And Connie Kay, of course. Paul loved Connie’s playing.

There was a great incident…I thought it was great anyway; guys still talk about it. George Avakian, whom I love, was almost between jobs then, and he was in the control booth, and he was on a telephone all the time, which guys do in the booth. Sometimes we’d finish a take and we’d be waiting to hear whether it was good or bad, and we’d hear George say, “Ok, have a nice trip,” BANG, and then he’d hang up. So Desmond got fed up with that. After a take, he sent us all in the booth. Ray Hall was the engineer, and Connie Kay and Gene Wright. He went in the booth, and George Avakian… Nothing was happening. All of a sudden the phone rang, and it was Desmond. He was down the hall. He said, “George, this is Desmond; how was that last take?” That was Paul’s sense of humor. He was great.

TP: Was that a band that worked, went on the road, or was it more for the studio?

HALL: No. We just did those things in the studio, and then we did a week or two at the Half Note when it moved into Midtown, with Ben Riley and Ron Carter. We worked opposite Bill Evans’ trio there, which was nice.

TP: We did a profile a couple of years ago, and within those five hours we didn’t have room to cover the magnitude of his career, so we certainly don’t on the Musician Show, where the focus is on other people’s music. But we will hear him on a jazz standard by Benny Golson from By Arrangement, from 1996. “Whisper Not” is the sextet – Tom Harrell, flugelhorn; Alex Brodsky, french horn; Jim Pugh, trombone; Jim Hall, guitar; Terry Clarke, drums; and Scott Colley.

HALL: Just a quick word about the arrangement. I was thinking about the title, “Whisper Not” and trying to figure out what it meant. So I fooled around with that a bit. You’ll hear it.

[MUSIC: Jim Hall, “Whisper Not”; Astor Piazzolla, “Milonga del Angel” from Zero Hour]

TP: You told me you first heard Astor Piazzolla around 1960 when you were out with Ella Fitzgerald.

HALL: Yes. We were in Argentina, and some people took me to… I didn’t actually see Piazzolla perform, but I heard a composition of his. It might have been something called “Picasso,” which I actually brought a version of, too. In any case, I heard that music, and then I got to know him later. But I went through a period where I listened to that CD, that Zero Hour thing, over and over. I really loved his music. It’s incredibly free, as is the Brazilian music, by the way (more about that later). The changes in tempo...in that piece. It’s so gorgeously composed. The changes of keys are just great. I love how free both the Argentines and the Brazilians — especially the Argentines, I guess — are with tempos.

TP: There’s a rubato quality.

HALL: Rubato quality. Exactly. All the time. A couple of years ago, for the first time, I played in Sao Paolo with Brazilian musicians – great group. I went down there with Oscar Castro Neves. It was terrific. We played some of my stuff, some of Oscar’s stuff, and some Brazilian music from… I forget. My point is I’d be playing and I’d think, “Ok, I’m lost but it’s going to be all right.” Because the guys would be shifting stuff behind me all the time. The bass player would be moving things around, and the drummer… Again, it’s quite different than the backbeat jazz that I grew up with.

TP: It seems you’re making every effort to get as a broad a template of textures and rhythms and colors and sounds as you can find to frame your guitar sound.

HALL: I have a low boredom threshold, I think. Also it’s fun.

TP: What do you do in a trio format to keep that diversity?

HALL: Same stuff. Even though a lot of times we play kind of a planned-out program, which is similar every night, I change the set around, I change the order of solos around. I trust Scott and Terry so much (and I hope vice-versa), that we’ll sometimes just start things. Especially Scott. Scott will follow you any place, to the Moon. Scott and I played a week of duet in Buenos Aires two or three years ago, and it was just great.

TP: You seem very fond of the duo format as well.

HALL: Yes. That’s really nice with the right people, because everything that you play has a big impact on the texture and what happens next. It’s important to get guys who listen well and react well. But yes, I love playing duets.

TP: You partnered quite a bit in the 70s with Ron Carter, and I guess it’s hard to find better than that.

HALL: That wasn’t bad. That’s true.

TP: And in the 60s with Bill Evans, in a very different context. A few words about both partnerships, which are landmarks in your discography.

HALL: Bill Evans was an incredible influence on me. I first heard Bill with the Tony Scott Quartet in 1955-56, something like that. In those days, I would say his playing was somewhere between Bud Powell and Lennie Tristano. Sort of Bud Powell, but across the barline maybe. I watched Bill evolve. I heard him a lot when he was with Miles Davis. I worked opposite that group with John Coltrane and Julian Adderley, with Jimmy Giuffre and Bob Brookmeyer, in Greenwich Village (I’ll think of the room later). I was really struck by how beautifully Bill listened. This is in the group with Miles. His use of dynamics and chord voicings, and his touch were kind of unique at that… Piano playing had got a little bit like boxing. It was sort of hard bebop stuff, a lot of it. Bill took it in a different direction. And he was so easy to play with. I’ve said this a lot, but it felt like he was in part of your brain. So did Ron Carter, too. Ron could just follow and/or lead beautifully. And Pat Metheny. I had the same experience with Pat.

[MUSIC: Mozart, “Gracias” section of Mass in C-Minor; Faure, Pavanne, Opus 50, Boston Symphony, Ozawa, conductor]

TP: We spoke before about Paul Desmond. We have cued up a track by your quartet with him from the early 60s – “My Funny Valentine.”

HALL: That was a date that Bob Prince arranged. It was done at Webster Hall. Different size… I forget how many people we had in the orchestra there. I know Milt Hinton was on bass. That’s the main thing I remember. And Bob Prince conducted.

TP: For most of the dates with Paul Desmond, was much rehearsal involved?

HALL: No. They were pretty impromptu. For the quartet stuff, we’d go over stuff a little bit. I remember Paul coming over to the apartment, and we were rehearsing in the bedroom because that’s where the airconditioner was — just Paul and me. Very little rehearsal. I think his philosophy was to get the right guys and let them play.

[MUSIC: Jim Hall-Paul Desmond, “My Funny Valentine”; Sonny Rollins 4 w/Jim Hall, “Without A Song”; Bill Evans-Jim Hall, “Spring Is Here”;]

TP: “Without A Song” is from The Bridge, which Sonny Rollins recorded after a long hiatus, around the beginning of your tenure with him. This album influenced a couple of generations of guitarists…

HALL: Sonny got my attention. He got me practicing! We were talking about practicing earlier. He got your attention. I loved the way he played. I still love the way he plays, and I love what he did on “Without A Song.”

TP: You reunited with him a few years ago, did you not?

HALL: I played on his Carnegie Hall concert a few years back, with Bobby and…I’m drawing a blank on the drummer’s name now… But we played a quartet, and then I played a bit in a larger group with him on that same concert. I’m still in touch with Sonny.

TP: Can you speak a bit about your comping concept?

HALL: I can’t really say. I was fortunate to be in lots of situations where the guitar was used in a sort of unusual way, like with the Chico Hamilton group and the Jimmy Giuffre group, and I paid a lot of attention to the way piano players accompanied. Sonny of course had his own idea of accompaniment. For instance, what I mean is, when I was with Art Farmer my feeling was that Art liked to hear a chord and then play over it, whereas Sonny didn’t want to be led — he liked me to kind of listen to him. So I played these little sort of like brass figures sometimes behind him. Also Sonny had some lines that we played together, like behind the Bob Cranshaw solo. I guess it was just a mixture of all this stuff I’d heard my whole life.

TP: Did you develop any particular fingerings that are specifically Jim Hall…

HALL: [LAUGHS] It makes me laugh because the guitar is so impossible for me. When I was with Giuffre especially, Jim had a lot of things written out for me, and if he heard pick strokes on the string, to him that sounded like tonguing I think on a trumpet or something. He would say, “Can you figure out a way to finger that so you don’t have so many pick strokes?” So I got involved with trying to just set the string in motion with the right hand and do most of it with the left hand, and I used the amplifier to kind of compensate, so there was some of that…

Also, I was influenced by the kind of arpeggiated stuff that John Coltrane was doing around then. It’s so long ago, Ted, but I probably worked out some things.

TP: You’re a victim of your history here. I’ll ask for a few words of evaluation on the Jimmy Giuffre years.

HALL: It was really important to me. Jim had been a hero of mine ever since I heard “Four Brothers” with the Woody Herman band, and I got to know him a bit. The first time I met Jimmy he was playing with an all-star group in Los Angeles with Shelly Manne, Shorty Rogers and those guys. I went up to him and I said how much I admired him, it was a pleasure to meet him, and in his Texas accent he said, “Same to ya!” I called Jim on his birthday a year or so ago, and I said the same thing, “I learned so much from you, working with you, and it’s been great being your friend” — and he said, “Same to ya!” So it’s a nice closure there.

TP: That was a working band.

HALL: We had first a trio with Ralph Pena, and we traveled all around the States. Then a guy named Jim Atlas was with us for a short while, and then Bob Brookmeyer was the third trio member. We played quite a bit together.

TP: It’s been a pleasure and an honor to get a lesson from Jim Hall. I’m sorry it can’t be a longer one. Fortunately he’s not charging by the hour here.

HALL: I thought you were charging.

TP: We’ve heard a wide array of music this evening. We’ll conclude with two tracks, very different in tone and temperament. One is Tony Bennett and Zoot Sims doing “Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye,” a warhorse made famous by Al Jolson.

HALL: Zoot has such a great solo on it, I thought you should hear it. He was a buddy of mine.

TP: Then a trio from a forthcoming release on Telarc, Jim Hall with one of his numerous disciples, Pat Metheny, on Telarc – “Summertime.”

HALL: Thanks, Ted. Thanks a lot.

TP: Thank you, Jim Hall. And same to ya, as Jimmy Giuffre said.

[END OF SHOW]

 

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Filed under Blindfold Test, DownBeat, guitar, Jim Hall, Obituary, Uncategorized, WKCR

A 2006 DownBeat Feature On Wynton Marsalis, Who Turned 50 Yesterday

I couldn’t attend Wynton Marsalis’s four 50th birthday concerts in which he presented repertoire from his 30+ years in the music business. All accounts state — no doubt accurately — that to witness them was an extraordinary experience.

I’ve admired Marsalis since 1981, when I heard him playing with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams at the Chicago Jazz Festival. The feeling was reinforced not long thereafter, an extraordinary concert at New York’s Public Theater with Alvin Batiste, Ed Blackwell, his father, Ellis Marsalis, his brother Branford, and bassist Mark Helias. A decade before this piece, I’d conducted two extended interviews with Wynton, resulting in this article, which has been on the Internet for a while.

In 2005, DownBeat gave me an opportunity to write an extended feature on Wynton. Unfortunately, for space reasons, they had to cut my final draft — here’s the “directors’ cut,” so to speak.

* * *

That Wynton Marsalis does not think small was evident last November 14th, when Jazz at Lincoln Center threw a thousand-dollar-a-ticket fundraiser to celebrate its Artistic Director’s quarter century in the spotlight.

When the Rose Theater’s lights dimmed, television journalist Ed Bradley, the evening’s host, brought Marsalis on stage to a standing ovation from a crowd  primarily of donors from New York’s finance, real estate and media industries, intelligentsia, and eminent entertainers, all attired in black ties, cummerbunds, and designer gowns. Themselves tuxedoed, Bradley and Marsalis turned to a projection of 1979 high school yearbook photo of an Afroed, grinning Marsalis, trumpet in hand. “Pet peeve: Sucking valves,” read the salutation. “Biggest weakness: Bach Stradivarius trumpets.”

Another slide popped up. “Always saying: ‘Be cool, white boy,’” read the top inscription. The crowd laughed uneasily. Marsalis shook his head with a rueful smile, and Bradley joked about youthful indiscretion. The line below stated: “Ambition: ‘Transcend the f****g music being played today.’”

Interrupted by testimonials from various JALC dignitaries,  Marsalis spent the next 90 minutes demonstrating how assiduously he had applied himself to the latter aspiration. He played standards with flair—a burnished, elegant “Embraceable You” in duo with Hank Jones; signifying with the mute behind Diana Krall on “East Of The Sun”; stretching out with old piano partner Marcus Roberts on “Cherokee”—but he also prepared a tasting menu of ambitious compositions from the ’90s that reflect his omnivorous interests. The material was decidedly not about conceptualism, nor juxtaposing materials, nor conveying philosophical notions at the expense of human feeling. Rather, Marsalis pursued an aesthetic propagated by his intellectual mentor, Albert Murray, and actualized by painter-collagist Romare Bearden, who expressed a modernist sensibility through deploying an iconography of American vernacular archetypes.

For example, on “Many Gone,” a spiritual from At The Octoroon Balls, the Kronos Quartet conveyed Stravinsky-like harmonies with timbre and attack drawn from American fiddle music. The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra displayed its mastery of Ellingtonian erotica behind two Alvin Ailey dancers on “Home: Beyond This Rage,” a vignette from Sweet Release. Gospel diva Kim Burrell raised the roof on “Oh, What A Friend We Have In Jesus/God Don’t Like Ugly,” from Blood On The Fields, Marsalis’ 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz oratorio.

With Joe Lovano standing in for Branford Marsalis and Jason Marsalis for Jeff Watts, Marsalis played “Hesitation” from his eponymous 1982 debut, engaging Lovano in extended, abstract counterpoint. Herlin Riley displayed his assimilation of New Orleans drum vocabulary on “Uptown Ruler,” a Coltrane-esque blues in 5/4 from the late-’80s Soul Gestures In Southern Blue series that marked Marsalis’ embrace of an across-the-timeline aesthetic. To conclude the evening, LCJO played “The Caboose,” the kaleidoscopic end car of Marsalis’ complex, Ellington-inspired 1998 suite, Big Train, replete with intricate ensemble dialogues, highwire brass unisons, instrumental onomatopoeia, a shouted question from Wycliffe Gordon (“somebody, somebody, somebody, please tell me; I want to know just how the big train goes”), and an inclusive choral response from the band in a hymnal subtone (“big train from the east, big train from the west”).

The lyric is emblematic of the scope of Marsalis’ ambition and accomplishment. At 44, he’s perhaps the most visible jazz artist on the planet—he’s filled clubs and concert halls since he formed his first band at 20, and became a bona fide mainstream celebrity at 23, when he won his first Classical Grammy. But he feels, with some justification, that the impact of his corpus on the sound of jazz today is less than it might be.

“I know people haven’t listened to the music, because they tell me so,” Marsalis said on the first press day of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s 2005-06 season. “Musicians who come into the band always say, ‘I didn’t realize it was that hard,’ or ‘I never heard it.’”

“I think his major contribution was on the political side, raising the visibility of jazz, but I don’t hear anything within his music that I see as a big contribution to the SOUND of today,” says trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, voicing a sentiment expressed off the record by a cross-generational sampling of musicians. “Now, he has influenced a ton of trumpet players, though not really me. He’s very akin to Clark Terry in his phrasing, the way he ghosts the notes. I saw Wynton on a PBS special with Kathleen Battle when I was starting out. I was very classical music oriented then, and it excited me, partly because it was a black person playing the shit out of the trumpet. So I decided to check out The Majesty of the Blues. I returned it right away. With his band, it feels like he wants to educate you. That’s great, but after a while, you feel like you’re  in a seminar or clinic.”

But what a clinic!  “To be to able to hear things the way he hears them is pretty amazing,” said pianist Eric Reed in 1997, after six years in Marsalis’ employ. “It’s like, ‘Oh my God, dude, what’s going on in your head?’  To be able to commit that to paper is even more amazing, and getting a group of individuals to play that compounds the amazement. Wynton has unlimited resources, and he’s able to commit to a musical vision, which is unique in the jazz world.”

“Wynton developed in a fishbowl,” says David Berger. “He’s a big risk-taker, and any mistakes he’s made, the whole world watched, whereas most of us did that] while we were in school.”

“You haven’t heard me talk about other people’s music since I became a man,” Marsalis says, referring to the famously irascible statements of his youth, but he remains anything but shy in conveying strongly held ideas about what jazz is and is not, and hews to this pedagogy in selecting repertoire. In response, disaffected jazzfolk have attacked his motives with almost prosecutorial suspicion, disparaged his talent, critiqued his taste, and caricatured him as a musical analog to Reagan-Bush Republicanism. More often than not, the nay-saying has a tabloidish and assumptive connotation, eschewing concrete musical issues and presenting personal tastes and resentments as objective declarations of fact.  Now it’s hard to find an article about JALC in the mainstream press that does not include the C-word.

“It’s our house,” Marsalis likes to say about Jazz at Lincoln Center, showing thick skin in public. But he hears the catcalls.

The trope that the musical community is more attuned to the external trappings that frame Marsalis’ career than to the actual particulars of his production dates to his early years in the spotlight. “The unfortunate circumstance of Wynton being Wynton prevented any real acceptance of the importance of what they were doing,” said trombone playing brother Delfeayo Marsalis on the response of his mid-’80s peer group at Berklee School of Music to Wynton’s first quintet. “They were paying attention to Branford and Wynton—moreso Wynton—as a commodity.”

“I agree with that,” Wynton said. “Because so much of the response was anti, it cheated a lot of musicians out of the chance to figure out how to get to the next step in their evolution. They ended up just imitating stuff from the ’60s or ’50s, erroneously thinking that’s what we were doing. But that’s not what we do.

“My conception is holistic. Instead of being relegated to our time period, we can be in time. We had Afros in the ‘70s. Everybody used suss chords then. Now we can use suss chords and triads and New Orleans grooves, and do the 1960 jazz imitation of what the avant-garde musicians played in Germany in 1912—the chaos element. All the music that’s in one consciousness is the same. We are free to utilize all that we know, because we don’t have to appeal to a tradition, and we can create a truly modern music that sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard, but is also traditional. It’s revolutionary in its implications. All of it exists at one time.”

[BREAK]

Two days before Christmas, Marsalis spoke about  ‘All Rise,’ his 90-minute, 12-movement, millennial opus for symphony orchestra, big band and vocal choir, in which he weaves together the various genres, styles and forms that he explored during the ‘90s and incorporates a global array of rhythms, melodies and scales.  “I thought about it way back in high school,” he said at his Upper West Side highrise. “I was always dreaming, and I thought, ‘What if you could put all of the music together and everybody played at one time, but they were all playing stuff that was hard for them to play?’”

An edition of Yeats’ poems lay open on the table in front of his living room couch, and a floor compartment beneath it contained a washboard, the recent Fagels translation of The Iliad, W.C. Sebold’s Austerlitz, Walter van de Leur’s biography of Billy Strayhorn, and Runaway Slave Advertisements.. On a coffee table across the room stood side-by-side sculpted chess sets with matches in progress. Occupying the southwest corner is a piano, piled with books (the Joyce Carol Yates-edited “Best American Essays of the Century,” Eileen Southern’s “History of Afro-American Artists”), scores (among them a folio of Bartok’s String Quartets), and tools of the composer’s trade, such as tuning forks and a slide rule with chords.

Marsalis wrote “All Rise” on commission from ’90s New York Philharmonic head Kurt Masur, and premiered it in 1999. “He brought the idea of using a lot of different traditions and of it being a full evening, which was a risk for him,” Delfeayo said. “He wanted to continue that strain in Gershwin and Bernstein of dealing with Afro-American music and music from the European tradition.”

During a well-received October 2005 U.K. tour of “All Rise” that received reviews with such words as “herculean” and “brilliant,” Masur told a journalist that Marsalis’ understanding of his “basic idea—to reflect how jazz began,” was “absolutely philosophical.”

“In classical music that’s a plus,” Marsalis responded to Masur’s comment. “In jazz, it’s a minus, like something is wrong with you. People who are intellectuals in this music, like John Lewis or Dizzy or Duke Ellington, their music is not dealt with for what it is. People kept crying for Ellington’s music between 1938 and 1942, that it was his best period. All of his music has such depth and complexity. From a philosophic standpoint, what he actually put together begs to be treated on a serious level.”

If he wrote a book about Ellington, what points would he emphasize?

“First would be what in his philosophy allowed him to have such an unbelievably long, sustained development,” Marsalis said. “In the ‘New Orleans Suite’ from 1970 and ‘Black And Tan Fantasy,’ which he wrote in the ’20s, he deals with the same thing—blues, call-and-response, the antiphonal relationship between brass and woodwinds, mood pieces, shuffles. What does his development teach us in terms of his sustained seriousness of his art?

“I could pull out hundreds of  technical things that he invented. How he uses the blues inside of voicings and in the progressions he wrote, how he used the sound of the blues to modulate, how he used metric modulations in ‘Harlem.’ Why he liked that real straight vocal music. How he appropriated New Orleans counterpoint. What he looked for in vernacular music to put in his style. More than the technical things, why did he want to do that? The majority of his songs were not what his audience wanted. Nobody was clamoring to hear ‘Such Sweet Thunder.’”

What drove Ellington to do it?

“He wanted to be great,” Marsalis exclaimed with a long, it-ought-to-be-obvious laugh. “That’s why he searched around to figure out what in all this experience would lead him to the deepest regions of his musicianship and help him to develop his greatness.”

It’s impossible to interpret Marsalis’ assessment of Ellington as anything but a self-descriptive aesthetic manifesto. “Wynton does not want to equal anybody,” said multireedist Victor Goines, who first met Marsalis in kindergarten. Hanging out with Marsalis when both were 14, Goines heard him play Coltrane’s “Countdown” solo and decided that jazz was what he wanted to do. He joined the Marsalis Septet in 1993, allowing Marsalis to add the clarinet to his tonal palette.

“He has to surpass,” Goines said. “The only yardstick that is an accurate length for him is Duke Ellington.”

Stanley Crouch and Murray introduced Marsalis to Ellington during the ’80s. Gunther Schuller and then David Berger schooled him on Ellington’s scores. By 1985, when Branford and Kenny Kirkland jumped ship to join Sting on the cusp of the release of Black Codes From The Underground, the groundwork was set for Marsalis to realign.

“I heard that Albert Murray told him something along the lines of, ‘You will be more able to achieve your goals and vision whenever you start to do more things with musicians who are not your peers, and will more readily focus on what you’re trying to do,’” Watts recalled.

“The first band broke up too soon,” Marsalis acknowledges. “We had some impact, but it could have been greater if we’d stayed together longer. It seemed like everybody picked up on Black Codes From The Underground and liked it. It was high-energy playing. Tain’s combination of fusion and jazz; Kenny Kirkland’s rhythmic propulsion and sophistication; my interplay with Branford on ‘Hesitation,’ which comes from the New Orleans way of playing and the vocabulary of modern jazz. We put a New Orleans Two-Way-Pocky-Way groove and extended rhythms—stuff I’d heard from James Black and my father, using six-bar phrases or 3/4 bars—in the middle of Black Codes. Modulating into different keys within a song, like on ‘Delfeayo’s Dilemma,’ where I play in one key, Branford in another, and Kenny Kirkland in another key. On ‘Twilight,’ we improvised counterpoint at the same time. We phrased our melodies with a funky New Orleans flavor, but still in modern jazz.”

“The early band will have to go down historically as one of the more important small ensembles, but the way things have developed, you almost have to pretend that period didn’t exist, because you can’t find the individuals to re-create it,” Delfeayo Marsalis said. “These guys were going for a high level of intellectual expression. The compositional structure was well-conceived and different, but also it was a great improvising band. Those guys came together, and that hardcore jazz was the right thing for the right time. It was fortunate and unfortunate that it broke up. The level of intellectual challenge that he personally has received after early 1987 is limited. But he will always figure out a way to work the situation, and he became a great sculptor of greater works of music.”

“That’s the type of commentary you always get from people who don’t know what they’re talking about,” Marsalis says. “I think that at a certain moment Delfeayo liked that particular band.”

In Marsalis’ view, the period to which his younger brother refers was a time of philosophical solidification. “First I had to put the history of jazz together in my mind,” he says. “When Albert Murray’s book, Good Morning Blues came out, I played at a party at the Village Gate with Rudy Rutherford, Freddie Green, Buck Clayton, and other older cats who’d played with Basie. I’d played with the bebop musicians, like Max Roach and Art Blakey and Philly Joe, and I knew Miles and Dizzy and Art Farmer. I’d played with Herbie and Tony and Ron Carter. I’d played with Lester Bowie. But I’d never played with musicians from that generation. That was my missing link.

“To sit with all of them and check out their way of playing, the life in their music—it’s like what I knew my whole life. I could fit in easily with the essence of what they were playing. I thought I was going to play modern music—some scales, D over G, all the chords, playing in 5/4. That wasn’t something they could play on. They started just playing riffs. I’m from New Orleans, and grew up hearing riffs. Now, they weren’t men who were going to patronize you. They were like, ‘Damn, that’s a hip-ass riff. Shit, youngster, you might be for real.’ That night I went home and said, ‘Now I understand something.’

“In 1985 Sweets Edison told me something that had a profound effect. He said, ‘Don’t wait for nobody to validate you. You’re from New Orleans. You grew up a certain way. I knew you when you was a boy. You ain’t all this shit that they’re sayin’. You’re not from the North. You’re already yourself. All you got to do is be what you are.’”

Edison’s reference was to Marsalis’ upbringing in the hothouse musical culture of ‘70s New Orleans, where, as Marsalis put it, “musicians work—the gigs don’t pay that much, but you play. I always had a job. I would come home at 1 or 2 in the morning and go to school at 7. I played as much as I could possibly play.”

From 13 to 16, Wynton and Branford earned up to $100 a night with a funk band called the Creators, playing covers of ‘70s R&B hits at outdoor dances, receptions, weddings and the like, subverting the surroundings, Branford recalls, with segues from, say, a Parliament line into a tune by Deodato. Wynton played show tunes with a community band comprised of band directors, marched on parades, played classical music with his high school peer group in the New Orleans Youth Orchestra, with adult amateurs in the New Orleans Civic Orchestra, with symphony brass quartets and quintets. Himself no churchgoer, he played the black church circuit with pianist Kermit Campbell, internalizing the ritual of the service. He played Chick Corea tunes and “‘70s things on the cusp of fusion” with an adult band at Tyler’s Beer Gardens in the French Quarter. And he practiced four or five hours a day, an hour before school, an hour at lunch, an hour before dinner, an hour after the evening’s gig.

“In jazz, the thought always was you play whatever you feel,” Marsalis said. “But to achieve something and be successful in classical music, it was a given that you had to know the history.” Branford Marsalis recalls Wynton coming home from his trumpet lesson “with this big-assed book on Austria. He said, ‘Mr. Janson said that I will never be able to play Mozart unless I understand the people and the times that created him.’” Towards that end, Wynton bought natural trumpets, and systematically taught himself the instrument’s history and literature. Afternoons from 1 to 5, he attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, where his father had established the jazz curriculum. There he learned theory from “my great teacher” Bert Braud, whose theme-and-variation class subsumed Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Bach.

Perhaps most importantly, Marsalis rejected the generation gap. “They were so much hipper than us,” he laughs, referring to Ellis Marsalis and such family friends as Clark Terry, Blue Mitchell and Sweets Edison. “We had our lifestyle. But compared to Blue Mitchell? Shit! Jazz musicians don’t get dated. You’re not going to rebel against them. My Dad’s vibe was always, ‘If you really want to rebel against me, come up with something that I don’t understand. Don’t come to me with some bullshit.’ Or ‘the greatest rebellion is self-financed; you’re not really serious about rebelling.” He was serious when he told you that. He was ready for you to be gone! ‘Man, I don’t need you to tell me what to do. Leave! Get your own crib. It’s hard out here with all these kids. I don’t have time to be up babysitting you while you’re trying to live out the American Dream with no money.’”

Stories of prodigies who didn’t fulfill their promise are commonplace in the arts. But Marsalis—who was getting local press by 15 and enjoying the attention of women who found intriguing the sight of the studious, bespectacled young trumpeter doing his homework between sets while “everyone was getting drunk or high”  (“The older ones would say, ‘Are you doin’ your homework, baby?’ ‘Yeah, can you help me with this?’)—did not allow approbation from neighborhood down-homes or local gentry to turn his head.

“I wasn’t impressionable,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to fit in with anyone. My Daddy’s friends were too much older, and I wasn’t trying to fit in with guys in my neighborhood. There’s a certain allure of being in the street and ignorant, but once I determined I wasn’t going to act like them, I didn’t care what they thought. I could play ball, and I would fight. Even to this day, I don’t like to be fucked with. If you want to find out, we can go ahead and do that. I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about it, though. Even when I had to kind of integrate a school and deal with being just one black person being picked on, I always said, ‘If you call me a nigger, we’re gonna fight.’”

[BREAK]

Three years after that party with the Basieites at the Village Gate, Marsalis—with New Orleanians Reginald Veal and Herlin Riley in the bass and drum chairs—began to change his sound. “Wynton is good at adjusting direction based on the talent of the individuals he has around him,” said Marcus Roberts, who replaced Kenny Kirkland in 1985. “It became more of a blues-based, groove-oriented way of playing. He explored different colors, and his concept of blues on the trumpet evolved. He matured in his ability to merge older trumpet styles into a more modern abstract vocabulary that he himself was codifying.”

Goines adds that the effect of a stable personnel is that “Wynton started to write for the individual personalities, like Duke did, as opposed to the saxophone chair.” The primary personalities were Wess Anderson, Wycliffe Gordon, Eric Reed and Goines, and Marsalis used the first iteration of Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra—including such ex-Ellingtonians as Jimmy Hamilton, Norris Turney, Britt Woodman, Willie Cook, and Joe Temperley—as a template for incorporating their sounds as he built the repertoire for the Wynton Marsalis Septet and the next edition of LCJO.

“I always tell this story,” Marsalis said of his stylistic volte face. “A girl came to a concert we gave with the quintet at Blues Alley, and in five minutes she gave me the best critique of what we played that I ever got. She said, ‘I came to hear you all play, and I don’t like jazz, but I took my boyfriend, because I read an article on you all in Ebony and I wanted to see what it was. The first song, you all played together, and then everybody played individually. I thought that’s a great way to introduce the band, but you all played that way on every song.’ So at first it was a critique of the basic form of playing. Then she said, ‘Everybody plays for a very long time; you can follow it, but why do you all play so long?’ So the solos are too long. Then she told us that we played so loud she couldn’t hear all that was going on, and then she said, ‘I liked when you played the slow song, but then you started to play fast, and you played fast longer than you played slow.’ I followed what she said almost to the letter.”

It is interesting to compare Marsalis’ evolution to that experienced by his ‘70s outcat and funkster targets, who shaped their own predispositions in an age when the idiomatic tradition was in the air. His focus on self-determination through institution-building, educational outreach, and constructing an idiosyncratic body of work from a panoply of styles, is not so different from the tenets propounded in ‘60s Chicago by the AACM, comprised of musicians who are generational contemporaries of his father and such other independent-minded ‘70s New Orleans modernist improviser-educators as Alvin Batiste and Kidd Jordan.

“The word ‘conserve’ means to keep what’s good of what we have, like conserving trees,” says Berger. “But we also want to grow new trees. In some ways Duke Ellington was conservative, but he was also avant-garde. That’s what Wynton is. He throws down the gauntlet and says you’ve got to master the past before you can move into the future with any kind of success. How can you say that ‘Blood on the Fields’ is a retro piece? Yes, he uses a lot of Ellington’s conventions, but there’s so much modern stuff that was never heard before, and concepts from all over.”

“I think Wynton decided that whatever was going on in jazz was wrong, and he was going to go back and do it the way it had been done 55 or 60 years ago,” said Branford Marsalis. “I don’t necessarily disagree. Today’s musicians are far more versatile in the things they can do but have light, small, compact sounds and massive limitations in terms of swing. The emphasis of the songs becomes harmony and odd-meter forms. It’s more of a race toward scholarship. Wynton’s band was the absolute antithesis of that. He decided not to use monitors on the stage, not to have a bunch of musicians playing with their bells attached to the microphones or using pickups, which changes the nature of how a band sounds. Neither the song forms nor the meters were complex, but based on either the 6/8 Spanish tinge or straight 4/4 swing. It sounds simple until you get your ass on the stage and try to do it.

“On the standard jazz song, everyone is in the same key when the song starts and plays over the same set of themes. Wynton would have a guy solo on a blues in one key, then have an interlude which leads the next player to solo in a completely different key. It forces the musicians out of their comfort zone. It’s what Duke Ellington used to do. It’s what Jelly Roll Morton used to do. There was an easier and more difficult way of playing back then, and we gave it up for a more difficult, easier way of playing now.”

“You have to be as complete as possible in your knowledge of the history of the music,” says Ali Jackson, 29, who assumed the LCJO drum chair in fall 2005. “To be able to fit the styles of Jelly Roll Morton or Wayne Shorter. To play like Big Sid Catlett or Baby Dodds, or then like Buddy Rich, or Elvin Jones, or Tony Williams, but do it by playing what you know. Wynton is interested in musicians have a vested interest in all of the music. I believe in a style of jazz that runs all the way up to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and we’re similar conceptually.  His perspective is to encompass it all and find the divine paradox, that strain that runs through everything, that ties it all together.”

Jackson adds that because Marsalis writes what he hears, irrespective of instrumental limitation, that perspective also involves a high degree of difficulty.

“The demands of his book on the clarinet are extraordinary,” says Victor Goines. “But Wynton has a certain vision to be able to anticipate someone’s learning curve. I used to make a point of saying, ‘Look, my learning curve has not peaked yet. Whatever you want to write, you should write it. Don’t pigeonhole me.’”

“I like for the music to be hard,” Marsalis said. “As a trumpet player, why do I want to play the Brandenberg Concerto? Because it’s hard. I want to play the pieces that challenge me the most. I don’t just mean velocity. Some music is emotionally complex, too. But a degree of complexity, balanced with a certain spiritual substance and emotional weight, ensures that your music will remain.”

[BREAK]

My first conversation with Marsalis occurred two days after Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the turf he had traveled as a youngster. His parents and brother Mbaya were safe in Baton Rouge, and their house suffered minor damage in comparison to some. Still, friends of Marsalis reported that the trumpeter, whose life and career reflect a fundamental, inexorable optimism, was shaken, suffused with the sense that everything could end.

“It’s not going to end,” Marsalis countered the day after New Year’s, concluding our final conversation. “We’re still going to be out here.” He did not elaborate. Two weeks later, the Cultural Committee of the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, which Marsalis co-chairs, requested $600 million in Federal funds to build a jazz museum, expand the city’s arts distract, and implement a jobs program for artists. A week after that, President Bush reneged on his earlier promise to provide sufficient funds to rebuild the Crescent City.

Perhaps such concerns diminished whatever pleasure Marsalis took in celebrating his astonishing quarter century. “It doesn’t mean anything to me,” he said. “It seems like a short time, in any case. I have a good friend who says, ‘I forgive everybody; we’re only out here for 80 years.’”

It’s a good bet that Marsalis will sustain his pace for much of that timeframe. In January, he completed the score for Ken Burns’ forthcoming opus on World War Two, and in April he’ll film a piece on Congo Square that will include African percussionist Yakob Addy. Also forthcoming is a small group piece with singing called “From The Plantation To the Penitentiary,” while on the grand scale he’s preparing an opera on the Civil War and, at Masur’s instigation, a mass.

It might take Marsalis 180 years to absolve his antagonists, though. “They call me conservative and all this bullshit, because I’m not of the Rock ethos,” he said heatedly. “Nothing in my experience as a musician would make me look up to that. Jazz was revealed to me from too young an age. In this era we have 50 Cent and these rappers playing over a machine, playing a beat, talking about ‘nigger,’ and ‘I don’t care what my parents like,’ and the use of all these equations to construct something philosophically. But I’m not using a philosophical equation. I’m using what I know, which is music.”

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