Tag Archives: Miles Davis

For Freddie Hubbard’s 75th Birth Anniversary, A DownBeat Piece From 2001

In 2001, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours with the late Freddie Hubbard for a DownBeat profile. It took a bit of negotiating, but Freddie met me at the appointed hour, and spoke at length about his life and times. In this case, I have to depart from the  “raw and uncut” policy I’ve followed for the most part on the blog, and will decline to print the verbatim conversation—it’s a bit too real and profane, and he named names. But I was able to distil from it for print what I thought was a reasonably compelling first-person account, which I offer on the occasion of his 75th birth anniversary.

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During his lengthy prime, Freddie Hubbard embodied excellence  in trumpet playing.  He had a big sound, dark and warm, almost operatic.  His breathtaking facility allowed him to play long, melodic lines of saxophonistic complexity; depending on the situation, he’d cover all the changes or navigate lucid paths through soundscapes comprising the most abstract shapes and timbres.  In every situation, Hubbard projected the persona of trumpeter-as-gladiator, an image of strength, force and self-assurance that told several generations of aspirants, “I’m Freddie Hubbard and you’re not.”

Hubbard blew out his upper lip in 1992, and has since lived through a hell-on-earth that might make Dante pause and reflect.  The recent recording “New Colors” [Hip Bop] — Hubbard on flugelhorn fronts the New Jazz Composers Octet through well-crafted David Weiss arrangements of seven choice Hubbard originals — makes the problem clear in the most poignant way.  Hubbard’s ideas sparkle, but he plays tentatively, with a palpable lack of confidence, and has trouble sustaining his sound for any duration.

At a conversation in the coffee shop of New York’s Mayflower Hotel last May, Hubbard retrospected candidly on his life and times.

* * *

My sister played trumpet, and I picked it up as a competitive thing. I followed her to Jordan Conservatory, and studied privately with Max Woodbury, who played first trumpet with the Indianapolis Symphony. I wanted to play like Rafael Mendez, able to triple-tongue and so on. My brother played piano just like Bud Powell. He had all the records, the Dial Charlie Parkers and so on, and he got me interested in this music. The record that really turned me around was Bird’s “Au Privave.”

Wes Montgomery lived two blocks from me, across the railroad tracks, and to get to the conservatory I had to pass by his house. I’d hear Wes and his brothers rehearsing, and one day I stopped and went in. At the time, everything I knew was reading, and it amazed me how they were making up the music — intricate arrangements, not jam stuff — as they went along. After that, I was at his house every day, and then Wes started inviting me to a Saturday jam session in Speedway City. The Montgomery brothers didn’t care about keys. At home I was practicing in F or B-flat, but at the jam session they’d play in E and A — the funny keys. Practicing in those keys opened me up, made me a little better than most of the cats.

My brother had the records by Mulligan and Chet Baker, and we played the solos that were transcribed in the books. That motivated me. Then I heard “Musings Of Miles,” with Philly Joe Jones, Oscar Pettiford and Red Garland. That record made me start skipping school. Miles’ style was melodic and simple, and I could hear it. Then I started listening to Fat Girl (Fats Navarro) and Dizzy, which was quite a contrast. Then Clifford Brown. Clifford was a conservatory type of cat, and I tried to play like him. I’d sit with James Spaulding, who lived up the street, and transcribe Clifford’s solos and play Charlie Parker’s tunes.

Indianapolis was a bebop town. It was a filler job for guys on their way to Chicago. Charlie Parker might come through, or James Moody, or Kenny Dorham. I invited a lot of musicians to my house, had my mother wash their clothes and and give them a good home-cooked meal. We had a nice house. My father worked hard in the foundries, and everybody was clothed and clean and had money. Whatever I wanted, my mother tried to get for me. She took me to the music store in downtown Indianapolis for a trumpet. I said, ‘Mama, we’ve got no money for this.’  She said, ‘No!’  She told the guy, ‘Let him take it home and practice on it.’  She was a very strong lady; they KNEW that they would eventually get their money.

While I was going to Jordan Conservatory, Spaulding and Larry Ridley and I formed a group called the Jazz Contemporaries. We worked gigs all over town, all the weddings and concerts, until I got busted on suspicion of burglary. I was on a date with this white girl, a nice girl — we were just friends. I’d been aiming to be a teacher, but I had to leave school. Hearing Clifford’s music kept me going. It made me say, “Forget it. I can’t let this stop me. The music is forever.”

A friend named Lenny Benjamin, who was from the Bronx and wrote for the “Indianapolis Star,” told me he was going back to New York, and offered me a ride and a place to stay. I’ll never forget coming into the Bronx. It was July, and it was hot. It was like “The Blackboard Jungle.”  I’d never seen so many brothers and different people in the street.  For the first five days I didn’t come out of the house, I was so scared. I just looked out the window. I saw anything imaginable — robberies, cutups, shootups, a couple of attempted rapes.

After a while, I moved into a small pad Slide Hampton had in back of the Apollo Theater. I used to follow everyone backstage — James Brown, Wilson Pickett, even Moms Mabley! — and hang out. At the time Slide was working with Maynard Ferguson. I would watch him write out arrangements without a piano; it helped my reading. Then he got enough money to buy a house on Carlton Avenue in Brooklyn, and I moved there with him. The house was like a conservatory. Eric Dolphy was in there blowing on his horns; also [trumpeter] Hobart Dotson, and “Prophet” Jennings, a painter.

I was in California with Sonny Rollins when I first met Eric. He was working with Chico Hamilton. He sounded like Cannonball then; it surprised me in Brooklyn how much he changed his style. Maybe he wanted to play like that all the time; in California he invited me to his house, and the music was so weird his mother made him practice in the garage!  Eric could play some Funk and get deep down and play some Blues, but he didn’t want to. He really wanted to get into Ornette’s thing. He was a better musician than Ornette, but he didn’t have that swing that communicates. Some stuff he wrote sounded square, like kindergarten music. But the way he would play it!  He was such a jubilant, happy guy. I liked his spirit. A lot of people wouldn’t give Eric gigs. They thought he was trying to be weird on purpose.

Sonny had heard me at Turbo Village, at Reed and Halsey in Bedford Stuyvesant, where I started playing four nights a week shortly after I came here. Philly Joe Jones lived in Brooklyn; he’d come by the club to play, and he started inviting everyone to come listen to me. One night he brought Bud Powell to sit in; the next thing I know, Sonny was coming by. I stayed there about a year and a half, I met all the other musicians — Hank Mobley, Paul Chambers, Walter Davis. Those were the beboppers, and by me liking bebop so much, we hooked up.

Sonny called me right before he quit. He didn’t have a piano, and he was still playing songs like “Ee-Yah” real fast; he played “April In Paris,” which sounds weird without a piano, and I had to learn the chords. I learned so much about being on my own, playing by myself. Sonny’s way of playing is rhythmic. He would practice by going over and over his ideas, and he taught me how to do that — make it stronger. He brought my chops up. Coltrane’s concept was more linear. I’d take the subway to Trane’s house every day he was in town. I had a headache when I left there because he was practicing so much.

I thought trumpet players weren’t able to express themselves as freely as saxophone players. Playing like a saxophone is harder on the chops, but it opens you up; saxophone isn’t so brassy and doesn’t attack your ear. I figured if I could mix it up, it would make me sound different from Dizzy and Miles. I was expecting Newk and Coltrane to play Charlie Parker’s stuff, but they’d learned that, and they were studying books like Slonimsky’s “Thesaurus of Scales,” which Coltrane introduced me to. You can’t compare them. They had strength in different ways. But for some reason, I leaned more towards Sonny.

Philly Joe was the first one who hired me to work at Birdland. It was a Monday night session, and we were playing “Two Bass Hit.” I had copied Miles’ solo note-for-note. When I opened my eyes, I saw him sitting down at the front of the stage. I almost had a heart attack!  I knew he was thinking, “Who is this motherfucker playing my solo?”  Anyway, he saw me make up my own ideas, and right there in Birdland he told Alfred Lion to give me a contract. Sure enough the next day, Ike Quebec called me.

I’m the only one from VSOP who wrote a song for Miles — “One Of Another Kind.”  Miles was one of the strangest, most arrogant individuals, but so beautiful. I’ve never seen anything black that pretty. He glowed. That’s the way his sound was to me. He wouldn’t speak to me for a while, but after he heard me with Sonny, we became tight. I’d go by his house, and sometimes he’d let me in and sometimes he wouldn’t. I think he liked me in a funny, uncanny way, even though he started messing with me. Did you ever read that article in Downbeat, ‘Freddie Who?’  When I asked him about it, he’d say, “Do you believe everything you read?”  It was like he wanted to keep me at a distance. Which I can understand. I mean, the man’s been great so long, then comes along a young whippersnapper and all of a sudden he’s going to jump?

When Booker Little came to New York, we started hanging out. He was a nice, clean-cut cat with nothing bad to say about anyone. I’d met him at jam sessions in Chicago around 1956-57 when Spaulding and I would drive up from Indianapolis to sit in. After I heard him play, I said, “I’d better go in and practice before I mess with that.”  He was like a machine. I mean, he had a way of playing so FAST, man. I used to try to play out of the books with him, but I never could play those duets. I wasn’t that advanced!  We ended up working together around town with Slide Hampton’s Octet. Every night it was good to go to work because there was going to be a challenge. We’d try to kick each other’s behind, but we liked each other.

Same thing with Lee Morgan. Lee was ahead of both of us, because he had been with Dizzy, played with Coltrane and Clifford Brown. That boy could play. He had a bigger name, he was from Philadelphia, and he was cocky. I could relate to Lee better than Booker, because we had more of a street thing. Lee knew how to SWING; Booker never got to the swing like Lee. When you’re young and up-and-coming, people start comparing you, and there was a competitive thing between me, Booker and Lee at that time around New York. After a while I thought: Why am I beating my brains up trying to out-do Lee Morgan?  Let me work on MY thing. I took some of Sonny’s stuff, some of Trane’s stuff, put it into my style and made myself different.

I’d go to Birdland every night to hear Lee and Wayne Shorter with Art Blakey. They were blowing so hard that when Art asked me to join, I wondered if I was ready. Art took a lot of younger trumpeters out; the harder you played, the harder he played. Art taught me about uniformity, that the group must be presented as a GROUP. It was like old show business. And he made us all write something. He’s a Messenger, a Muslim, and he said, “Here’s what your message is.”  We’d rehearse a piece, he’d listen and then come up with a drum feel hipper than what you can think of. He knew dynamics from playing in all those big bands. The difference between Art and other drummers is that he could go down and come up. A lot of people think Art was crazy. I mean, he had his periods. But almost everybody I know that worked with that man became a leader. I’m still a Messenger.

One of my dreams was to play with Max Roach. Like I said, my main influence was Clifford Brown; I carried the records he made with Max anywhere I went. I wanted to play like Clifford Brown played with him, stuff like “Gertrude’s Bounce,” but I guess Max didn’t want to play no more of that. Max got me into a thing where I stopped liking white people. I’m basically a country cat, and I think everybody’s nice until they fuck with me. But going back to what had happened in Indiana, I was getting ready to explode!  I was hanging out with the Muslims, and I almost joined the Nation. Being with Max — reading the books he suggested, meeting people like Nina Simone and Maya Angelou at Abbey and Max’s place — gave me a consciousness. We were the guys who were not trying to say that we aren’t aware of what’s happening to us as a race. Max enlightened me as far as life. But I couldn’t work with him because he was too intense. Art could get intense and get loose. He was down to earth, and he knew all the same things; he’d been hit on the head, too, on racial stuff.

I did a lot of avant-garde stuff with Archie Shepp, Sam Rivers, Andrew Hill and guys like that. They were kind of militant, too, trying to voice their protest. There was a whole movement in the Village. I was a mainstream cat, trying to make some money and get famous. But when they talked to me, I went over to see what was going on. Me coming from Indiana, I knew what they were talking about, and it was a chance to voice my opinion. It was good musically, although I knew some of that stuff wouldn’t work — I don’t care how good they played it. There was no form. I had met Ornette and Cherry in California with Sonny Rollins, before they came to New York. I had no idea where they were going, but their music didn’t seem that avant-garde to me. I could hear melody and form. When Ornette did “Free Jazz,” I think that’s when he wanted to break out. Free. No bar lines, nothing set except what he and Cherry knew. I went to Ornette’s house to practice. The first thing he did when I came in was play all of Bird’s licks. And he had that Bird sound.

I put two tunes on “Breaking Point” in the style of Ornette, and one funk tune that got radio play. I’d brought Spaulding and Larry Ridley to New York, and recruited Ronnie Matthews and Eddie Khan, and we practiced for about six months until we went out. We went to this club in Cincinnati, and the place was packed. Like a dummy, I opened with a free thing. The people got up and started RUNNING, not even walking toward the exit. I said, “Is there a fire in here?”  I don’t think we got any money for the week. We kept that group together, but made the music more mainstream.

Atlantic was my funky period. That’s when a lot of people got confused with me. One minute I want to do one thing, then I want to jump over and do something else. Then Creed Taylor brought me to CTI. Creed got my recorded sound to my liking, made it stand out. I’ve had people who know nothing about jazz tell me how pretty and clear my sound is on ‘First Light.’  Creed made me more popular to the masses, but I got a lot of flack from the musicians because I jumped out and started thinking about making some money.

I got even more flack when I started making records at CBS. A couple of them sold, “Windjammer” and that stuff. I was at the Roxy, and playing venues in New York that no jazz cats ever played. The money went way up. I was getting ready to get a divorce from my first wife, and she was messing with me, coming to clubs. I decided to move to California. People said, “Man, Hubbard, don’t go out there. Ain’t no Jazz out there. You’ll get fat and die.”  I think it was a mistake. Ever since then, my playing went down. But I was doing movies, making record dates with Elton John, earning good money and living the way I wanted to live, up in Hollywood Hills with my new wife. We’re still together.

During the ’70s Herbie, Tony, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and Chick Corea all moved to California. Everybody was trying to include Pop and Fusion. In California, everybody’s spread out; you get projects and see each other in the airport. In New York, you’re close, you can go to somebody’s house. When I went to California, it was party time, and I got hung up in that. Which was cool. I wanted to hang. But it had nothing do with maintaining embouchure and playing good.

In the ’80s, I had together whatever I was going to do. It had become a Freddie Hubbard sound. I was a free agent, sinking or swimming, doing a lot of singles, making dates where I’d play 16 bars and get 3500 bucks. I was making ten a week just myself. I was so busy recording in the studio that I wasn’t practicing as much as I should, and I started playing licks, not trying to come up with no new shit. I thought it was automatic, that I didn’t have to warm up, like when I was young. Though I started thinking like that, I was still trying to play all the high stuff and play real hard. By the late ’80s, I was going to Europe and Japan every month by myself for some all-star group or clinic. I was doing too many different things. I was switching styles so much, one time I woke up and said, “What am I going to play today?”  Keeping that schedule, plus going out to hang — it waxed me!

I saw it coming, but I decided I’d continue and make as much money I could. I should have stopped and got some rest, worked on some new ideas. But if you were getting $3500 for an hour’s work two or three times a week, what would you do?

I was playing so long and so hard that my chops got numb!  They didn’t vibrate. It got so bad that I didn’t think I would ever play again. Now I’m beginning to get the vibe back to want to play. I’m beginning to get a feel. Whenever I pick it up, I’ve got to get over the feeling aspect of it. Is it going to hurt like it did before?  It gets progressively better.

If you want to play like Freddie Hubbard, I don’t know what to tell you. It took me about ten years of hanging out with the people I hung out with, picking up certain ideas and putting it into my thing, to develop that style of playing. Young people will never get a chance to do that. They’re able to jump right in behind a certain style, but they weren’t here when the styles had to be developed. I used to have gigs with Maynard. I’d be trying to blow high notes, acting a fool, and luck up, and hit them!  How would a young cat know what I know from hanging out with Maynard?  Who you going to get to fuck with Maynard?  Clifford?  Miles?  Dizzy?  They were so strong!  Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham and Blue Mitchell were right here, too. Woody Shaw went through it. He was so worried about me, he finally had to break down and say, “Fuck Freddie Hubbard; I’m going to go and do my thing.” I spent half my life trying to develop something to make it me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    When did you start playing the vibes?

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

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

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

TP:    Anyone else, or is Earl Grandy it?

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

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

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

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

BM:    Yes.

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

BM:    Sure.  The Sky Club.

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

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

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

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

TP:    The Montgomery household.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    Tell me about Wes, personal and musical.

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

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

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

TP:    Why was that?

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

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

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

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

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

BM:    Well, right.

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

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

TP:    Did the piano come pretty naturally to you?

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

TP:    You don’t read music?

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

TP:    Or in the soul, as you say.

BM:    Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    What was the Hampton Brothers band like?

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    What was his job?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BM:    You forgot Coltrane!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    So that was primarily for recording.

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    That’s an interesting thing to say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[END OF 9-1-97 CONVERSATION]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    I’m not a musician… [ETC.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    Is that a recent composition?

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

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

BM:    Right.

TP:    Which you never recorded.

BM:    Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BM:    No.

TP:    It’s a purely musical proposition.

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    Name a few others.

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

TP:    Plus I guess hearing your brothers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    Where would they play concerts?

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

TP:    Was that the main black theater in Indianapolis?

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

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

BM:    They’d bring their own rhythm section.

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

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

TP:    But by the early ’50s you…

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

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

BM:    That’s kind of true. [LAUGHS]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BM:    The Turf Club.

TP:    Was that the main place?

BM:    That was the main place.

TP:    That’s where everybody came through?

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

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

BM:    Right.

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

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

TP:    Do you remember what year?

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

TP:    So shortly after you moved to Milwaukee.

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

TP:    Did you stay there until you left Milwaukee?

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

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

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

TP:    Was it a nice little scene in Milwaukee?

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

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

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

TP:    How would you evaluate him now?

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

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

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

TP:    You’d know if it’s missing.

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

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

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

TP:    How about “Invitation”?

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

Slide Hampton on Buddy Montgomery:

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    What was that group like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SH:    It is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Coleman on Buddy Montgomery:

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Weiss on Buddy Montgomery:

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

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

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

TP:    And he’s always musical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[END OF CASSETTE SIDE]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[ETC.]

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

Tommy Flanagan on Buddy Montgomery:

TP:    How long have you known Buddy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Hazeltine on Buddy Montgomery:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DH:    Oh, definitely.

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

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

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

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

TP:    He mentioned Erroll Garner as well…

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Lynch on Buddy Montgomery

TP:    When did you first encounter Buddy Montgomery?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    Do you remember the term of this trio?

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

TP:    he was President of the Jazz Society also?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Buddy Montgomery, Liner Notes, Piano, Vibraphone

A 2002 DownBeat Blindfold Test with Butch Morris (Happy Birthday, Butch)

For Butch Morris’ 65th birthday, here are the proceedings of a Downbeat Blindfold Test  that he did with me in November 2002.

Butch Morris Blindfold Test (11-21-02):

1.    Thad Jones, “One More” (from THAD JONES, Debut, 1991) (Thad Jones, tp; John Dennis, p; Charles Mingus, b; Max Roach, d) – (2 stars)

Is that Sweets?  Howard McGhee?  Is it a youngster?  Roy?  I mean, Roy Eldridge.  This is a modern crowd we’re speaking to; we don’t want them to misunderstand.  You kind of stumped me.  And then the drummer… Play it again.  The trumpet player’s velocity was amazing, especially the way he played those dynamics and his capacity for strength.  Amazing.  He’s probably a real good section cat, too, along with being a good improviser.  But somehow to me he sounds like he could have been a big influence, but also he’s been influenced by a lot of people.  I mean, all of those people I named, I think.  There was a lot of originality, because I think at the time everybody was pretty much original.  It could even have been late ’40s, for that matter, but I think the ’50s.  I hear a little Diz, I heard a little Sweets, I hear a little Fats, I hear a little Howard McGhee.  But at this point, I’m guessing.  Do I have to give it stars? 2 stars. [AFTER] That was Thad Jones?  What year?  2 stars only because he was quoting from so many sources.  Not to say Thad wasn’t original.  But he seemed to go from… I mean, there was some Fats in there, there was some Howard McGhee, there was some Roy Eldridge.  He was all over the map.  That’s probably what made him such a good arranger that he knew the terrain.  I probably put my foot in my mouth from saying he’s not original.  But I’d prefer to hear Thad in the late ’70s.

2.    Miles Davis, “White” (from AURA, Columbia, 1985/2000) (Miles Davis, tp; Palle Mikkelborg, comp.) (5 stars)

It sounds like Don Cherry.  Huh, that’s strange.  It sounds like Don Cherry, it sounds like Miles Davis, it sounds like Ron Miles a little bit.  It’s very nice music.  But the first few notes were very deceiving.  Immediately I thought of Don. Then I thought of Miles.  Miles Davis.  I’ve never heard this before.  Whoever it is, is all over Miles.  It’s probably Miles, some Miles I’ve never heard.  It sounds like the record could be around the “Siesta” thing.  I think the music is way up in Gil territory, too, for that matter, but I don’t know where it is or what period is from.  In a way, it sounds like a lot of stuff me and J.A. Deane and Wayne Horwitz used to do, too. I’d give it 10 stars.  Even though I hear more and more similarities between Don and Miles, it’s interesting the way Miles uses history to reevaluate his present.  Because you hear his quotes, you hear things he’s going around, you hear even maybe “Stella By Starlight,” you hear things that maybe preceded this recording by 20 years in there.  But the way they’re fragmented are very interesting.  And the more it goes on, the more you realize it is Miles, by the way he says things.  But I don’t know this recording.

3.    Jackie McLean, “A Fickle Sonance” (from A FICKLE SONANCE, Blue Note, 1961/2000) (McLean, as, comp; Tommy Turrentine, tp; Sonny Clark, p; Butch Warren, b; Billy Higgins, d) (5 stars)

[IMMEDIATELY] Tommy Turrentine.  That’s probably Tommy Turrentine at the height of his game — on record.  Oh, Jackie.  Is the drummer Pete LaRoca?  No?  Oh, that’s Billy Higgins.  Tommy is a motherfucker.  That is Tommy.  I know a lot of motherfuckers slept on Tommy, but I didn’t! [LAUGHS] I shouldn’t say Tommy makes me think of him, but there’s two cats I really like right in here — Richard Williams and Tommy.  They just kill.  They took care of some territory that a lot of people just didn’t.  Actually, Roy Hargrove reminds me a lot sometimes of Tommy and Richard Williams — a tiny bit. Is the pianist Cedar?  Herbie?  Wynton Kelly? Sonny Clark!  Oh, shit.  Goddammit.  I take my bebop very seriously.  I love that.  Especially in this period, I really like Jackie’s stuff, and I really like Tommy Turrentine.  What was that, “Fickle Sonance”?  Great track.  5 stars.

4.    Franz Koglmann, “Make Believe” (from MAKE BELIEVE, Between the Lines, 1999) (Koglmann, flugelhorn; Tom Varner, fr.horn; Tony Coe, cl; Brad Shepik, g; Peter Herbert, b)

Sun Ra?  Is that some of the Delmark stuff? [As in AACM?] As in AACM. [No.] I’m starting to hear what the tune is. [Kenny Dorham once recorded this.] It’s strange.  The guitar player is starting to sound more familiar to me than anybody else.  But I can’t say I know who it is.  The name of the tune is on the tip of my tongue. Is it “I Can’t Get Started”?  It’s in that vicinity.  I don’t know who this is, but let’s go on to the next one. I thought it was Sun Ra.  I think it’s a concept. [What do you think of the concept?] It’s all right.  It still reminds me of Sun Ra.  It reminds me of Fletcher Henderson, too.  It also reminds me of Gil. [FINAL SECTION] Is this from the same record?  Can I hear something else?  Is the bassist Martin Aaltena?  Whoever they are, they have good company.  So let’s go on to the next.  I don’t have to rate it as high or low.  Let’s put it like this.  They were in good company.  I don’t have to give it stars. I’ve been reading the Blindfold Test for thirty years!  I think throughout the process, until this record, I was very clear at least in stating my opinions about these.  I stated my opinion about this in the beginning, so I stated the kind of company I feel they’re in.  Now, if I have to give them stars, I’ll give them stars.  I give them stars.  Stars.  Stars.  Stars. [AFTER] Franz Koglmann.  The trumpet player.  Good company.

5.    Ryan Kisor, “Duke Ellington’s Sound Of Love” (from POWER SOURCE, Criss-Cross, 1999) (3 star)

Is that a Mingus song?  Oh, yes.  “Ellington’s Sound of Love.”  It’s nice.  Can we go on to the next?  I think they’re giving a very nice rendition of this classic.  I think it’s nice.  That’s all.  It’s very nice.  It’s nice.  It’s very nice. [Can you be a little more substantive than that?] Than what? [Than "it's very nice.] It’s very nice.  I think the expression was way over the top.  It was a modern rendition of something that was a modern rendition of something.  I mean, it was Mingus’ expression of Duke, and it’s their expression of Mingus. [Do you think they did justice to Mingus?] Oh yeah.  I think they did justice to Mingus.  I mean,they didn’t do him any harm.  Let’s put it like that.  It was nice. [Did the trumpet player catch your attention, for better or for worse?] Neither, for better or for worse.  I certainly don’t mean this in a negative way, but I’d like to hear somebody like Lonnie Hillyer play that.  But I thought it was good.  I think it was a little bit over the top in terms of expression.  It seemed to try too much to make it sound like sound-like, like “I can play in that groove” or “I can do that.” It was cool.  I can give it a star.  1 star.

6.    Leo Smith, “The Year Of The Elephant” (from GOLDEN QUARTET: THE YEAR OF THE ELEPHANT, Pi, 2002) (Smith, tp; Anthony Davis, p; Malachi Favors, b; Jack DeJohnette, d) (4 stars)

The drummer sounds like Philip Wilson.  Is that Leo Smith?   Oh, is that Jack?  [LAUGHS] Oh, God!  That’s Anthony and Malachi.  Well, it took me a minute to find out that was Leo, but the way he was putting that composition together with Tony, the way they were expressing it, it became clear it was Leo.  Actually compositionally more than… I mean, it came together at the same time compositionally and his sound.  The way he started to bring the piano into his lines, when he was playing.  Like, how the piano will go away from the line and then come back into the line was interesting.  And then I could hear it was Leo.  This is only an observation, but he still sounds like Philip to me! [LAUGHS] That’s by no means an insult.  I heard Philip immediately.  And I’m still hearing it, is what I’m saying. They played in Lisbon last year.  I didn’t hear the performance, but I saw them there, and I went to a rehearsal there. It’s a band of wonderful musicians.  A star for each person in the band.  4 stars.

7.    Ron Miles-Bill Frisell, “We See” (from HEAVEN, Sterling Circle, 2002) (Miles, tp; Frisell, g)

Monk.  Thelonious Monk is the composer.  Is this “We See”?  It should make me want to dance.  When I think Monk, I want to dance.  I think it’s a nice rendition, let’s put it that way.  I don’t want to guess here, because I could guess wrong.  I thought Tom Harrell at first.  But it’s not.  I can’t guess who it is.  Or the guitar player. He sounds out of Jim Hall somehow.  But I don’t know. 3 stars. [AFTER] Oh, I should have known that was Ron Miles. Actually, Ron is one of the few trumpet players I’ve heard in the last few years that I like a lot.  He’s got something I like.  And I like Frisell a lot.

8.    Johnny Coles, “Jano” (from LITTLE JOHNNY C, Blue Note, 1963/1996) (Johnny Coles, tp; Duke Pearson, p., comp; Joe Henderson, ts; Leo Wright, as; Bob Cranshaw, b; Walter Perkins, d) – (5 stars)

That sounded like Philly Joe at first.  Is it Philly Joe?  It’s not Billy again. The alto player’s got that hard Jackie thing again — that edge.  Almost like between Jackie and James Spaulding.  He’s got some kind of angular thing, like Braxton.  Did you play the head?  Did you start this tune at the beginning? [Yes.] This is strange, because the rhythm section almost sounds dated, like you could put them in one area of history, and then the horn players come on with this other, more modern thing.  I mean, the way the piano player is comping, the way the drummer is playing the time. [trumpet solo] Wow!  Sounds like K.D. now.  I’m on the warm side?  [tenor solo] When was this recorded? [Early '60s.] Sam Rivers?  John Gilmore?  Wow, that’s familiar like a motherfucker!  I mean, that’s FAMILIAR. It’s not Billy?  Dennis Charles?  My God, I’m lost somewhere.  The pianist sounds like Cecil now. [Cedar?] No.  Cecil Taylor.  I mean, only… It’s very interesting, not only because I’m trying to think of who it is, but it’s a convolution of a lot of things to me.  That’s not Sonny Clark?  Can you play it again?  I don’t know who the alto player is at all.  Can you run the trumpet player one more time?  Strange, because it’s got this Kenny Dorham thing, and it’s got some Bobby Bradford stuff in there… That’s classic!  Listen, can we go on to something else and come back to this?

This appealed to me because…how can I say… It’s very attractive.  It’s a simple line.  It just happens to be 9 bars.  They could have made it 12 if they wanted to, and they could have made it 8 if they wanted to, and they could have made it 10 if they wanted to.  But it was very, very attractive, I think. I didn’t feel I was hearing it from the beginning… That’s why I said, “Did you play it from the top?”  It begins like it’s a continuation of something.  When you started it, and it began, it felt like a continuation.  It never felt like it was the beginning to me.  Which was appealing.  But I’d like to come back to it. There’s something there that I’d like to get my hands on.

The trumpet player reminds me of Wilbur Hardin.  But then there’s a couple of other players right in that period who had… The other cat’s surname is Young, but I can’t think of his surname.  The tune has challenging edge because it is 9 bars or so.  To turn around. So it’s not Wilbur Hardin.  It’s not Idris Sulieman. 10 stars. I’m sure I know everybody on this.  But I just can’t put them within my context right now. First tell me who the piano player was.  Duke Pearson?  Was that his tune?  Was it Donald Byrd?  Wait a minute.  Shit.  I would have got Joe Henderson on a good day.  I want to say Woody Shaw, but no… Actually, at this point I can’t identify. Johnny Coles!  Oh, God.  I love Johnny Coles, but I certainly wasn’t thinking in his direction.  I used to have this record.  Of course.

9.    Bob Brookmeyer, “Child At Play” (from WALTZING WITH ZOE, Challenge, 2001) (Brookmeyer, comp.) – (3 stars)

You’re out for blood today, Ted!  Right?  I’m out for blood.  Is that recent? [Yes.] It’s really great writing, I think.  Good writing and an interesting stream of thought in terms of what they’ve written.  Is that Marty Ehrlich on clarinet?  Definitely good writing.  I mean, they work that one motif to death, which is cool, that’s what you do.  It’s nice.  With this kind of band, it would be great to hear… They didn’t get a lot of chances to play through these charts.  And it would be great to hear this music after it had been played for a while, like for a year, by the same people.  It just sounds over-read to me.  Really over-read.  It’s trying to feel relaxed, but I don’t hear that.  Often, music, when it’s not read enough, it sounds too contrived.  Not to say this sounds contrived.  It’s pretty music.  It’s wonderful music.

10.    Bill Dixon, “Pellucity” (from VADE MECUM, Soul Note, 1993) (Dixon, tp., comp; Barry Guy, William Parker, b; Tony Oxley, d.) – (3 stars)

Is that Bill Dixon?  Bill’s interesting, because he gives you the impression that he’s wrapped up in every note, that he’s emotionally involved in every note, or every sound he makes, every phrase.  His flugelhorn work is really intimate, I think.  Highly personal.  Highly emotional.  I don’t know who the drummer is.  Certainly somehow out of Milford.  But I don’t know really know who it could be.  Oh, Tony Oxley?  It’s nice. 3 stars.  It’s a trio?  Two basses?

11.    George Russell, “The Outer View” (from THE OUTER VIEW, Riverside, 1962/1991) (Don Ellis, tp.; George Russell, p, comp; Paul Plummer, ts; Garnett Brown, tb; Steve Swallow, b; Pete LaRoca, d) – (4 stars)

I really don’t like this music.  The piano player keeps doing something that irritates me.  [trumpet solo] Is it Dave Douglas?   Is it Wynton?  [When do think this was recorded?] In the ’80s or early ’90s. [It was recorded in '62.  Does that change your assessment?]  Yes, of course it changes things, because it makes it a predecessor to all this stuff that’s being played now like then.  I mean, it’s not Sam Rivers on piano. [No.  But I think the pianist is a Schillinger guy.] I’ve heard so much of the bad examples of this lately that my view of this… That it’s in the early ’60s certainly changes my view.  I’d have to listen to it in a new light now.  Could you play the trumpet player’s solo again?  Is that Bill again?  This was recorded in ’62?  Okay, who is it? [Don Ellis] Oh, of course!  Yeah, I can dig that.  He certainly was one of the predecessors to all this shit that’s going on now that sounds like that.  I’ll tell you probably why I thought it was so recent.  That is an excellent recording for 1962.  So again, yes, sure, the quality not only of the music, but the recording. [Any idea who the composer was?] Should I know by the tune?  [Not necessarily.  But you'll feel bad if you don't get him.] George Russell?  It sounds like George Russell.  But when you said the ’60s I was really confused, because I was trying to figure out who had control over that kind of recording in 1962.  Where was it recorded, and who recorded it? [Ray Fowler.] Really.  Wasn’t he recording a lot of singers back then? 4 stars.  4 stars for a lot of reasons.  Like I said, that’s been done over and over, especially in the ’80s and ’90s — that kind of arrangement, that kind of playing. I must admit, I was dumbfounded, because I was listening a lot to the sound of the recording, and the sound of the recording made me think of ’80s-’90s, and so I started to think in that area.  When you told me it was recorded in the ’60s, I couldn’t hear who was playing, because I was trying to figure out who made recordings that good in the ’60s, not in terms of the quality of the music but the quality of the recording.  I think this is interesting in itself.  I don’t think there’s too many records on your shelf where you can go to 1962 and find any record recorded as well as that record is recorded, unless it was done by a singer.  I like Don Ellis.  I liked him better with his electric recordings.

12.    Italian Instabile Orchestra, “Sequenze Fugue” (from LITANIA SIBILANTE, Enja, 2000) (Giancarlo Schiaffini, comp.; Enrico Rava, tp) – (5 stars)

Is this the beginning of the song?  Oh, they’re Italian!  It’s Enrico Rava.  Enrico’s covered a lot of ground better than a lot of people in terms of the trumpet thing.  He’s a motherfucker.  Motherfucker.  I’ve heard him kick butts on many, many nights in Paris in the ’70s and in Italy.  He’ll step on the gas, jack.  He’s a bad cat.  What can I say?  Is this the Instabile?  It’s interesting.  They seem to have covered a lot of ground that is non-European. It’s just their Italian thing that covers an area of jazz that is kind of clear.  This is their fresco, and it’s clearly theirs.  Really clearly theirs.  So it’s Enrico Rava with the Instabile.  It’s cool.  I think you hear Instabile one or two times, and you see the kind of… I’m not saying that’s all.  But they made a statement.  And certainly Enrico; Enrico has, too. 5 stars for Instabile and 5 for Enrico. The thing is, they’re Italian, and that’s Enrico, and this is their fresco.

13.    Fats Navarro, “The Tadd Walk” (from GOIN’ TO MINTON’S, Savoy Jazz, 1947/1999) (Navarro, tp; Tadd Dameron, p., comp; Ernie Henry, as; Curley Russell, b; Denzil Best, d) – (5 stars)

Fats Navarro.  I was trying to figure out who the piano player was first, and then the trumpet player.  Around this time, I’d think K.D. and Miles, in that range.  I was waiting for the trumpet player to go up a little higher to understand a little better where he was, and even some areas where Miles sounded a little like Dizzy, I thought it could be… I also thought Fats, but I was also thinking Dizzy and Fats would have gone up in terms of register by then.  But Fats.  Fats was such an articulate motherfucker.  Who was the piano player?  Tadd Dameron! 25 stars for everybody.

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Recent Pieces For The Morton Report

For the last few months, I’ve been contributing pieces to a general interest zine called The Morton Report, which is starting to make its presence felt in the more mass market regions of the Internet. If anyone’s interested, I’m offering links to an interview with guitarist Stanley Jordan in conjunction with his new recording, an interview with graphic designer Cey Adams on the branding of Def Jam, a review of Columbia/Legacy’s recent official issue of five Miles Davis concerts in Northern Europe in the fall of 1967, a review of the new Manfred Eicher documentary, Sounds and Silence, and an email interview with Pat Metheny about his recent Nonesuch release, What It’s All About.

Also, if you haven’t seen it, the current issue of DownBeat is running a feature article of mine on Steve Coleman.

I’ll return to the archives next week

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Miles’ 85th

I’m sure all the bloggers will offer their two cents on Miles Davis’ 85th arrival anniversary, and, as I never had a chance to meet Miles or write about him til he’d left the planet, I don’t have much to add that hasn’t been or won’t be said.  So I’ll focus on my single  Miles-related assignment, for Jazziz, which was framed around a prospective 5-CD reissue of his output for Warner’s in the ’80s. Of all of Miles’ epochs, this  is the one that I find least engaging; however, many  friends and peers whose acumen I most respect feel differently.

Now, most people looking at this blog know enough about jazz to know that just staying ahead of the curve wasn’t enough for Miles, who still holds  the sobriquet “The Dark Prince,” two  decades after his death. He was a son of the Mississippi Valley, and students of archetype and myth might surmise that he cut some sort of Faustian crossroads deal  imparting Nostradamian gifts that enabled him to occupy aesthetic space a great distance from the pack at each stop on a 45-year career timeline. With a introspective sound that, as Olu Dara once noted, “sucked the juice out of each note like a stick of sugarcane,” his instrumental voice changed over the years by degree but not in essence, and with it he created definitive statements that resonate vividly for successive generations of hungry spirits.

During the first 28-year phase of his recorded corpus, which begins with a 1947  date on which Charlie Parker played tenor, Miles favored  the crucible of collective dialogue with musicians of similar ability and mutual affinity (perhaps the iconic collaborations with alter-ego Gil Evans are the exception, but not really). In conjunction with the  most individualistic young musicians of the day — a short list includes pianists Horace Silver, Red Garland, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea; saxophonists Lee Konitz, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Hank Mobley, George Coleman, Wayne Shorter, and Dave Liebman; guitarists John McLaughlin, Pete Cosey, Mike Stern, and John Scofield; bassists Oscar Pettiford, Paul Chambers, Ron Carter,  Dave Holland, and Michael Henderson; drummers Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Cobb, Tony Williams, Lenny White, Jack DeJohnette and Al Foster — he designed a succession of ensemble sounds that exactly suited the mood of the time during which he conceived them. He was fearless, discarding universally popular approaches that bore his signature for untrod territory.

But  the context of real-time interplay that defined Miles’ first four decades is almost entirely absent from the ’80s music documented on Warner. Though his chops were somewhat diminished, he constructed a series of pithy, sometimes classic set pieces over a backdrop of various contemporary rock, funk, and hip-hop beats. It’s not that Miles didn’t stay on the cutting edge, but the goalposts shifted. He continued to work with the most talented, hungriest musicians of the era. But his interests  now centered on the Warholian, Fashi0n-centric, technocratic, MTV notion of pop culture that mainstreamed during the Reagan era. To my admittedly idiosyncratic way of looking at things, his musical production provided a pitch-perfect soundtrack for the apolitical, consumerist, Yuppie-Buppie, gentrification climate of the decade. From today’s perspective, it seems kind of apropos.

My pontifications aside, you’ll get a much more useful perspective from the remarks of the great electric bassist-arranger, Marcus Miller, Miles’ primary muse of the era, the producer of the prospective aforementioned box set, and the primary voice for the  Jazziz article. Here’s the verbatim interview, from May 7, 2002.

By the way, for Mr. Miller’s perspective circa 2011, read this comprehensive interview conducted by George Cole on http://www.thelastmiles.com/interviews-marcus-miller-tutu-revisited.php

* * * *

TP:    When you were recruited to do the music for Tutu, was that your first encounter with Miles?

MILLER:  I played bass in Miles’ band on his first comeback stuff, Man With A Horn and We Want Miles and all that kind of stuff.  I left in ’83.

TP:    Did you during that time have a vision of the way you would want the music to sound if you ever had that opportunity?

MILLER:  I began to imagine stuff for Miles when I heard that he had left his old record company and moved to Warner Brothers.  I talked to Tommy LiPuma and said, “If I can come up with something, would you guys be interested?”  He said, “Yeah.”  That’s when I began to imagine things that could happen.

TP:    How much of what’s on Tutu was existing in your head at the time you went in?

MILLER:  A lot of it. A lot of it was arranged in my head.  The stuff that I didn’t imagine, obviously, was what Miles added to it.  There were some things that Paulinho DaCosta added and some things that Adam Holzman added musically, but mostly… I have a demo you can hear that sounds pretty close, except it’s not as cool because it doesn’t have Miles on it.

TP:    ’81 to ’83 is when Miles was getting used to the trumpet again and re-finding his sound and all this… Can you talk about how that music evolved toward what he wound up doing for Warner Brothers? The two entities sound rather different, with a few exceptions, at least the recorded examples.

MILLER:  To me it sounds like… The stuff that we did with Miles in ’81, when he first came back, a lot of it seemed like it was along the same thread as the stuff that he was doing before he retired.  Obviously, there were big differences, and there were big differences in the players.  But the way he was putting the music together and the way the music came to be, when I listened to the stuff he was doing with Michael Henderson and Mtume and those guys… I think Miles was still on that track when he came back.  Eventually he started listening again to what was going on in the music world in the ’80s, and began to slowly incorporate that stuff and those kind of musicians into his scene.

TP:    How would you distinguish musicians like Michael Henderson and Mtume  from the people he played with when he was coming back?

MILLER:  I think those guys, at least toward the end of their stay with Miles, were pretty comfortable with themselves and were comfortable with the fact that they had to bring a lot to the game when they would play with Miles.  When the ’81 band first got together, I don’t think they realized that.  I think a lot of guys in the band were looking to Miles for real specific instruction, and it took probably a year or two to realize, “You know what?  I’ve got to bring some personality and bring my thing to this, and then Miles will shape it. But I’ve got to bring the raw materials.”  I don’t know how Mtume and those guys started.  They might have started the same way. But by 1975 or whenever it was when Miles stopped playing, they seemed like they were there.

TP:    As I recall, being alive in 1973 was a very different proposition than being alive in 1981.

MILLER:  Yeah, and I think that’s the main difference, that the 1973 band was very much a product of its time and the 1981 band was very much a product of its time.

TP:    But one qualitative difference, and maybe the most notable one between the stuff you’re responsible for with Warner Brothers and before that is that most of the music is created within a context where Miles is dialoguing with a group of musicians.  The content is created through that dialogue in a lot of ways.

MILLER:  Yeah, that’s true.

TP:    It’s somewhat a different proposition with you, which I’d say is to your credit, because the environments you came up with resonate so well.  But does that make it a different experience listening to it in a detached way, or does it not, from your perspective?

MILLER:  From my perspective, it’s very different. In 1985, when I looked back at the last 15 years of Miles’ music, it had been all done in a certain way, which is the way you just described, where it’s a dialogue between musicians — some great musicians.  That was fantastic.  There was fantastic music done there.  What I felt was an exciting idea was to maybe begin a different kind of sound with Miles.  When Tommy LiPuma called me, he said, “Miles is looking to do something different; let me send you something George Duke did with Miles.”  He sent me this song George did called “Backyard Ritual,” very obviously done with overdubs, and it was done with a lot of technology involved since George was a heavy synclavier guy at the time.

This was exciting, because this was something new for Miles, and Miles is about new.  There’s dialogue on those new records, but it’s not a dialogue between the individual musicians as much as it is a dialogue between the guy who composed and arranged it a lot of the time, who was me, and Miles. . .more like Miles had dialogues with Gil Evans when he did those records.  Those Gil Evans records weren’t really about dialogue between Miles and the other musicians as much as they were about dialogue between Miles and Gil, where Gil had ideas and he had environments that he wanted to set up for Miles.  They fit Miles well, and Miles really thrived in those environments.  So I tend to compare the stuff that I did more with those settings than with the music that came right before it.

TP:    Do you have ideas on Miles’ own attitudes toward framing his sound… It’s obvious that he never did anything without thinking a lot about it, that he knew precisely what he wanted to do, or at least knew the environment he wanted to put himself in or knew where to look for that environment.  Do you know what was going on in his mind at that time?

MILLER:  I think he got excited by things that are new and, besides being new, have an obvious substance. I think that he knew that he’d been making music a certain way for a while, and I think he was excited by the prospect of doing something different, especially when he heard it back.  Because it was a different process for him also.  A lot of times he and I were in the studio by ourselves, just kind of talking about music, and then rolling tape and playing.  The thing that I think he dug the most, even though he never said this… Miles was really into painting at the time, and when you paint, you draw something, then you stand back and you look at it.  You go back and maybe refine it.  It stays there.  And when it stays there, it’s something you continually look at.  The way we did the music with Miles was more like a painting, where we’d sit there, we’d listen to the music, we’d roll the tape back and say, “Hey, try it this way.”  We’d play it this way and sit back and look at it.  So it wasn’t music in such a continuum as it normally exists, the way Miles had been making it before.  It was more like doing paintings, where we tried different colors.  If you listen to the way I put that “Tutu” stuff together, you can hear that I was experimenting with different sounds, and the music kind of sat there, and you can just look at it and roll it over in your mouth and taste it.  So I think he was excited about that new way of making music.

TP:    By the way, was that your basic process in constructing the music on the rest of Tutu and also Siesta and Amandla?  Was that basically your process?  Would you start from the bottom up?

MILLER:  Each song, whatever the heart of the song is… In some songs it was the rhythm, in some songs it was the melody… Whatever the heart of the song, that’s usually what I started with.  Sometimes I work from the bottom up, sometimes I work from the top down.  It was always based on what the tune was.  As we began to work on Amandla, it began to become a more live thing.  In my imagination, I always imagined the Tutu and Siesta stuff as being a period in Miles’ life.  I didn’t think it was something he would actually stay with for any considerable amount of time.  So in my mind, I was trying to help him transition back to some kind of live situation, which is what got him to Amandla.

In other words, on Tutu I played on almost all the instruments.  It was real painting.  It wasn’t like a bunch of guys in the studio capturing a performance.  We captured Miles’ performance, once I had kind of laid this tapestry down for him.  That’s a different way of making music from having five or six guys in the studio kind of vibing off of one another.  And I thought it was a very unique way for Miles to make music in that period.  I don’t think he ever intended to do that for any long period of time.  In other words, a couple of albums like that was cool.  It was Miles trying something different, just like he did those things with Gil.  But he always went back to his band, which was kind of the heart and soul of what he did.

TP:    So when you said “live” you meant live performance.

MILLER:  Yes, I meant live performance.

TP:    You played a fair amount with him in the latter part of the ’80s, then Daryl Jones came in, and I’m not sure who was between you…

MILLER:  Tom Barney was in there.  There were a couple of guys.

TP:    These studio recordings are quite pristine.  There’s something very elegant and holistic and organic about them.  They’re like beautiful images unto themselves.  It can be a complex proposition translating that to a live situation, especially in concert halls, with amplification and those sorts of issues.  I don’t know if you have anything to say about that…

MILLER:  You mean in terms of trying to take the music we did on Tutu and perform it live?

TP:    Yes, and evolve it and transform it, and did it come off live…

MILLER:  I was never in the band with Miles when I was writing for him, so I was never really involved in that process.  So I really witnessed it like everybody else did.  My impression was that I think they did it correctly.  They took elements from those records that helped identify the song.  I put these huge orchestra staffs in front of Tutu, where you’ve kind of got to start with those.  But then they opened it up and found windows where they could jump through and explore the music and open it up, and it became a living thing.  I think that’s the way to handle the situation.

TP:    You’ve talked quite a bit about how it was intimidating for you to be proactive with Miles, to tell him where he needed to go to realize your vision.  Could you talk about the obverse, the input Miles gave you after you’d executed your end of the process?

MILLER:  When we were doing Tutu, he’d come in and out as I was layering these parts.  For instance, we were doing the song “Portia,” and he said, “Marcus, that’s beautiful.  You know what?  Write another section at the end.  I want to hear an ensemble section at the end.”  He’d leave, and I’d do it. When I came back, he said, “Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.”  He said, “Keep writing stuff, man, because you’re in a fertile period.  I remember when Wayne was in this period.  Just keep writing.”  And “I don’t want any acoustic piano on this; take the acoustic piano out.” I’d take that out.  He said, “Man, this reminds me of this rhythm that we used to do with J.J. Johnson,” and he’d play me that rhythm on the trumpet.  I’d go, “Man, let’s put that on there.” We’d roll the tape.

We were doing the album Amandla and we were doing “Mr. Pastorius.”  There was always this tug of war with the band and Miles, because we were always trying to slip him back into that 4/4 rhythm, at least for a taste of it, just because he was the master of that, but he really kept wanting to move forward.  So when I wrote this song, “Mr. Pastorius,” and it was a melody that he sounded beautiful playing on.  Then after the melody was done, I went into a slight two-feel, a shuffle feel, not going all the way into the 4/4 feeling, but just enough to kind of give him a hint of that, and I thought maybe I could urge him into that a little bit.  So he began to solo, with just me, I’m playing bass and he’s playing trumpet, just the two of us, and he holds up his four fingers to me like, “Play in four; what’s wrong with you?”  I just jump into the four thing, and he played chorus after chorus after chorus in this “Mr. Pastorius” song.  He probably played around six or seven choruses. It was beautiful, and it was so amazing because he had kind of resisted that for so long.  Then I went back and orchestrated around what he had done, and added some other instruments based on what Miles did.

But that’s the kind of input Miles would have.  Sometimes he would talk and give me ideas.  Other times he would just come in and begin to do stuff, and I’d try to capture it on tape and maybe work some things around it.

TP:    Your reference to “Mr. Pastorius” makes me think about two things.  One is Miles’ sound during this period. Listening back to all of this at once, he was really in great form on the trumpet, better than I remember contemporaneously.  He seemed to have command over all the sounds he wanted to get out, which wasn’t the case in 1981.

MILLER:  It evolved over time.  In’ 81 and even into Tutu, I don’t think he was as strong as he was by ’88-’89.  By the time we did “Mr. Pastorius,” I think he was in great form.  He wasn’t relying on the mute as much any more.  In fact, “Mr. Pastorius” is all open horn, which is another thing I love about it.  He really found himself again, which is pretty incredible for a guy in his late fifties and sixties to rediscover the trumpet and find his sound again.  I think that’s amazing.

If you listen to Man With A Horn, his sound was at times kind of small.  There are some songs, like “Aida,” where he kind of let loose, but I don’t think he could sustain it for a long time, because the trumpet is such a physical instrument.  When we would play concerts, there were times when he really couldn’t sustain his notes.  He got really sick when I was in the band around the time we played Saturday Night Live, and his tone was pretty shaky at the time.  But then he began to get his health.  He was married to Cicily [Tyson], who put him in touch with some doctors who really helped him.  And by the time I began to write for him, he was coming into his own.  I think if you listen to a song like “Mr. Pastorius” and compare to The Man With The Horn, you can hear the development of his playing.

TP:    As a bassist of your age and generation, it’s self evident why you would call a tune “Mr. Pastorius.”  But in listening to this, one thing that stayed at the back of my mind is that it sounded, in my imagination, the way Miles might have sounded if he’d been playing with Weather Report, if Weather Report had a certain type of sensibility toward constructing the music.

MILLER:  That’s an important thing, though, the last thing you said.

TP:    Was Zawinul’s approach to creating these great tapestries of music something that was important to you as a composer and arranger?

MILLER:  In a general sense, absolutely.  I know I wasn’t trying to recreate that with “Mr. Pastorius.”  But precisely for the reasons you listed.  The generation I came from, that was a powerful influence on me, and a lot of guys my age, the way Joe orchestrated things.  Guys my age, we grew up with that sound, and I think a lot of people who were older and maybe some people who are younger can’t relate to that sound.  It sounds kind of cold to them.  But guys like Joe Zawinul and George Duke — and Herbie, too, to a certain extent — really humanized the synthesizer for me, and there were, in my mind, ways to use it that were really human and represented the sound and feeling of our times.

TP:    Off the Miles track, I’d like to ask you about your circumstances, growing up in Queens as a teenager in the ’70s.  You were born in ’59. So you grew up with Kenny Kirkland, Lenny White was a bit older than you, but he’s from around there… A bunch of people from around there made their mark.  Can you address what was percolating in your group or clique or whatever in Queens that led you in this direction?

MILLER:  You could do a whole thing just on Jamaica, Queens.  We’re talking about Billy Cobham and Lenny White, Omar Hakim, Tom Browne, and we’re also talking about John Coltrane and James Brown living there at the same time.  We’re talking about L.L. Cool-J and Run-DMC and A Tribe Called Quest.  We’re talking about one of the most fertile musical areas in the world.  Its proximity to Manhattan had a profound effect, but it had enough distance where there were homes with basements.  It was a suburban area… Not suburban, but it was an area with homes, where young guys could get in there and really make some noise, unlike Manhattan.  But we could go to Manhattan or we could go to clubs in Queens.  We would do gigs with Weldon Irvine, who was one of the elder guys there in Jamaica, Queens, who was always creating opportunities for us to play.  The first tune is a straight-ahead tune, the second tune’s a funk tune, the next tune is a samba.  It was New York at its best.  I mean, all the influences that came from all over the world landed right there in New York, and we were really the recipients as young musicians.  So you end up with a breed of musicians who are very different than the guys who came from the Midwest or from Louisiana, you know what I mean, who really had a more centralized idea about what music should be.  We were pretty open and pretty all-encompassing.

TP:    You’re a year or two older than Wynton, so that’s true.

MILLER:  Yeah.  Wynton has a very clear idea of what he feels he has and a very clear idea about what he thinks music should be, and a lot of it is a product of where he came up.  For me, coming up in New York, I played with African bands, I played with Reggae bands, I played with Salsa bands, I played with big bands — just about every type of music that came through New York, I had a good, healthy experience with.  So that shapes you.

TP:    Did Miles talk to you about those types of bands?  Did he ever speak about Prince or Fela, etc.?  Can you address his listening during your association?

MILLER:  The thing that really impressed me about Miles and a lot of the great genius musicians like Wayne Shorter and Herbie is that they’re always listening and they’re always excited about new things.  Miles was always like, “Man, listen to this.”  He’d play me Prince all the time, or a band called Kassav that he was really into for awhile.  He’d play me whatever came his way that he was excited about.  Then when I played him stuff, I’d explain to him. . .I’d even play him Janet Jackson records and say, “Look, Miles, see how they’re using the drum machine there.”  He’d giggle, because he got a kick out of it.  But it was always a search for new, fresh stuff to infuse his music.

TP:    So he was greedy.

MILLER:  Yeah, he was hungry.  Man, the guy was 60 years old, and he’s still hungry.  He’s still searching.  He’s still not afraid to change his music and to do things… Who else at that age is going to take those risks with their life, with their reputation, with their money, with all sorts of things?  His fearlessness was just incredible.

TP:    Are these records things that you go back to?

MILLER:  I hear them every once in a while.  But they’re in my head so clearly that I don’t have to…

TP:    Is it possible for you to listen to them in a detached manner?

MILLER:  Oh yeah.

TP:    Looking at them in 2002, how do they stand up?

MILLER:  To me, listening to a record like Tutu, I go, “that stuff is very obviously from the ’80s, but there’s some stuff that’s still cool.” At first I felt funny about that reaction.  Then I remembered my reaction when I heard Charlie Parker.  Not to say that Tutu is on the level of anything that Bird did.  But the point I’m making is that my first reaction when I heard bebop, was, “Man, this stuff sounds like ‘Our Gang.’” [LAUGHS] But then I began to realize, “But there’s some stuff in here that’s cool,” and that stuff is what’s stayed with me for the rest of my life.  I’ve talked to other people who hear Tutu and say, “Man, this record did this for me, this record did that for me,’ and I realize that, to some degree, the record is doing that for younger people.”  People say the record changed their life.  They say, “I heard that, and said, ‘that’s so cool,’” and they went out and bought everything with Miles’ name on it — which takes considerable funds, by the way.  But they went out and bought all Miles’ discography and discovered him just through that record.  There are people who say that record kind of defined that period of their life for them.

TP:    So do you think it’s because you helped Miles define himself through the most advanced aspects of Pop language at that time?  Or the cutting edge of Pop expression?

MILLER:  I think we took a lot of elements from Pop music at that time, absolutely, and created an atmosphere where Miles sounded natural.  The thing that I’m most proud about is that we took some things that you wouldn’t expect, and it sounds like it always existed.  Miles sounds very comfortable in that environment.  When I hear it, it takes me right back to 1985-86.  And I think that’s what music has to do first.  It has to represent the time it was created.  Then you have to hope it has something great about it that will make it transcend its time and last, and that people can still listen to it.

TP:    Do you have a favorite of the three albums?

MILLER:  I think Tutu represents exactly everything that we were at that time.  It represents our relationship, between Miles and myself.  It represents the time.  The fact that it was dedicated to Desmond Tutu represents where our heads were at.  If we had to play one song, I think I’d play that.  If I had to choose a favorite of the three, I wouldn’t.  What I’d do is I’d probably take “Tutu” and make it the first song on the Amandla album, and then make sure there were a couple of those cues from Siesta in there also.

TP:    What from Siesta do you like the best?

MILLER:  I like the things Miles played with his open horn.  Because on “Tutu” it was mainly mute, and I was really starting to miss that beautiful open sound he had.  In Siesta we got to explore that a little bit. I really love that stuff.

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