Tag Archives: Slide Hampton

For Slide Hampton’s 81st Birthday, a WKCR Interview From 1994

In recognition of the 81st birthday of Locksley Wellington “Slide” Hampton, the great trombonist-arranger, here’s the transcribed proceedings of a “Musician’s Show” that he did with me on June 22, 1994, in which he selected music that had influenced him, and discussed his life and times.

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[MUSIC: Jazz Masters, “Tour De Force,” 1993]
SH:    …I think that first composition we played there, “Tour De Force,” was a great way to start the show.  It made me feel real good.

Q:    Me too.  The three trumpets, Faddis, Roy Hargrove and Claudio Roditi all conversing.

SH:    Yes!  It’s good to hear the guys playing like that.  And each of the guys have such a different style.  Right in  that piece alone, you’ll hear a lot of the influence of a lot of the music that we’re going to hear during the show, and where their influences are coming from.

Q:    We’ll be begin with music from several periods by the source of modern jazz, Louis Armstrong. and parenthetically, we’ll hear some of the seminal early trombone players playing at somewhat later in their careers, like Jack Teagarden and Trummy Young.  When did you first hear Pops?

SH:    Well, actually Pops had been a favorite of mine for many, many years.  I was born into a musical family, so we were listening to some music all along.  We were hearing everything that was available which was on the radio at the time.  And one of the most popular artists at that time was Louis Armstrong.  He’s had a big influence on me; and he’s had a big influence on all of the musicians actually.  I heard the group in person with Trummy Young and I heard the group also in person with Jack Teagarden.  I had the opportunity to play for a week in Atlantic City opposite Louis Armstrong’s sextet with Trummy Young, when I was playing with Lionel Hampton — and also Ella Fitzgerald was also on that same time.  So I spent a week there listening to Louis Armstrong.  The amazing thing was that every time he played it was wonderful.

Q:    Was it different every time?  Did he have a set solo, or was it a fresh improvisation every time?

SH:    Well, it always felt fresh.  What I noticed, though, is that he was very organized in his approach to the composition.  What he played always had a very, very strong relationship to what the composition was and the harmony of the composition and everything.  He was never just playing at random.  He was an improviser that really did try to interpret the composition that he was playing, and make his soul a part of that composition.  It was really wonderful.

Q:    It also seems to me when I listen to him, that the trumpet is an extension of his incredible voice.  He’s my favorite singer as well as my favorite trumpet player.  I see the two as intertwined somewhat.

SH:    I feel the same way.  And the thing that’s really wonderful, which I’ve remarked about Pops, is that he came along at a time when the musicians didn’t have a chance to do a lot of formal training, the black musicians in this country, because of the race situation and everything that existed then — and it still exists, in fact.  But he was just a natural player.  He could pick the trumpet up after maybe singing a song, or singing a couple of choruses, and start playing incredible stuff that you would think most people would have to do a little warming-up or something.  But in his solo, he’d just pick the trumpet up after singing a chorus of some song, and play some fantastic music.  I saw him do that kind of thing in movies and in person often, and it was tremendous to see that.

Q:    You share a background with musicians like Louis Jordan and Lester Young of being born into a family band that played carnivals, circuses, so forth and so on.  I read in one of the liner notes that you started blowing when you were three years old!

SH:    Well, actually, at 3 I had to take part in the family… Actually, it was the family profession by that time.  I was too small to play the trombone certainly; I couldn’t have gotten past third position or something.  But I danced.  I first danced and sang in the band.  Then I actually played trumpet a little while, and then I finally started to play the trombone at 12 years old.

That was a wonderful period, because in this country at that time the pop music was the music that all the musicians were actually creating, and the artistic music that was being created was Pop music at that time.  That’s what the audience was listening to.

Q:    The dance music of the period.

SH:    Yes.  And the people going to the dances… There was always a group of people that went to the dances, and they would stand right in front of the bandstand, and listen to the band, and then there was a group behind them that would do dancing.  It was a wonderful period in music in this country.

Q:    A few words about your family that organized this band.  What was your father’s musical background and your mother’s?

SH:    Well, my father was the one that organized the band.  He was a tenor saxophonist and he played drums.  My mother played harp and piano.

Q:    Where was he from?

SH:    Virginia.  They’re both from Virginia.  A wonderful man, my father — and my mother.  And to have twelve kids and keep them together the way they did, you had to be really something special.  He taught all of us.  He was a schoolteacher also.  He was an artist and a carpenter — he did everything.  But at that time you had to do everything to just maintain your existence.

But he put the band together, and everybody in the family had to participate in the musical part of the profession, in the band.  So made that a rule.

Q:    Would the band play all year, or only during the warm-weather months?  How was that organized?

SH:    We played whenever we could get a job, and usually that was all year.  We were playing different kinds of jobs.  There were fairs at that time, and circuses, and political things going on.  We played anything, any time they would ask.  They could call us at 3 o’clock in the morning and say there’s a job, and we’d go play it.

Q:    This was during the late 1930’s and up until about the end of World War Two, I guess.

SH:    Yeah, up to the Forties.  The band still existed even in the Fifties.  We came to New York, I guess, in the early Fifties.

Q:    Did it function as a territory band, or did you travel around the country?

SH:    We traveled all around the country, in the strangest transportation you could imagine, but we went everywhere.  We went to the South, and we played often concerts opposite Louis Jordan.  That’s one of the guys who really left a big impression on me.  I remember playing opposite that group.  We had about a 12-piece band then, and he had his five pieces; and man, they would swing you into bad health with five pieces.  We’d usually go up and play a set, and then he would go up and play a set, and we would play one and he would play one.  So it was a great experience for us.

But we came to play at the Apollo Theater at Carnegie Hall in the early Fifties with the band, had a big success here.  I tried to talk my brothers and sisters into staying in New York at the time, but they wanted to go back to Indianapolis, so we had to go back.

Q:    Did your father also take care of your education?  You said he was a schoolteacher.

SH:    Well, we actually went to school in Indianapolis.  We did have a private teacher for a while, too.

Q:    Is that where you were based, in Indianapolis?

SH:    We stayed in Indianapolis most of my childhood.  But for the rest of the kids, we were moving around to different places.  But after we did move to Indianapolis, we stayed there, and that’s where we went to school, and that’s where we actually developed most of our orchestra repertoire and everything like that.

Q:    What kind of repertoire would you be dealing with at the time?

SH:    Well, from a lot of the orchestras that we’re going to hear today.  We were playing music from Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton, Fletcher Henderson, all of the guys.

Q:    Let’s get started, because this is too exciting!

SH:    Yeah, I’m ready!

Q:    We’ll hear Louis Armstrong doing “Chinatown” from 1931.  I guess if you were a young trumpet player, this must have just thrilled you.

SH:    Louis Armstrong inspired you whether you played the trumpet or not.  He inspired everybody.

[MUSIC:  Louis Armstrong, “Chinatown,” “Weather Bird,” w/Teagarden, “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue,” w/Trummy (only obbligatos), “I’m Crazy About My Baby”]

Q:    In this next set of music we’ll explore some of the pre-World War Two, pre-Bebop, so to speak, trombone players, such as Trummy Young and Jack Teagarden and Lawrence Brown and Vic Dickenson and so forth.  By the way, Slide, when did the trombone become your main instrument and vehicle of expression?

SH:    Well, as far as my family is concerned, it became my main instrument when I was born, because they didn’t have any trombone players.  They only waited for my arms to get long enough, and they said, “You’re going to play trombone.”  That’s how it happened.  They gave it to me on the left side, so I play it left-handed — although I’m right-handed.  But that’s how it happened.  Actually, they chose it for me.  If I can ever thank them for anything, I do thank them for choosing the trombone, because I love that instrument, and the more that I scuffle with it and try to learn how to play it, the more I love it.

Q:    How analytical were you about the trombone?  You said you would listen voluminously to records and the radio.  Would you try to copy solos?  How did you go about learning to play it?

SH:    Well, in the beginning we were very enthusiastic about  learning, and we were in a very great musical environment in Indianapolis.  There were a lot of young musicians that were coming up there.  Also at the time, a lot of bands were constantly coming to Indianapolis to play; every week there were four or five bands there.  So we were very inspired, the public was very into music, and we thought that if you just practiced hard enough, you’d learn how to play good.  We didn’t know that you really had to have a sort of process of practicing to develop.  So we practiced all day long.  Sometimes we’d practice so much that we couldn’t play anything, you know, because we’d just kill our chops by practicing.

But it was a wonderful environment anyway.  We did learn a lot about music in general.  And I was constantly listening to all of these musicians that we’re listening to today.  Whenever we could get records… We were very poor, so we didn’t have that many records available to us.  But whenever we could get records, we were always listening to Trummy Young and Vic Dickenson and Jack Teagarden and Tommy Dorsey and all of the guys at that time.  So we were very inspired by that.

A lot of people don’t know that the trombone was quite popular at that time.  In the Sixties and Seventies, you didn’t hear the trombone very much at all on recordings, but right from the Forties and the Fifties back, the trombone was a very popular instrument.  Some of the great bands were actually led by trombone players.

Q:    Let’s talk a little more about the trombone in this period.  I guess Don Redman was the first to use the three-trombone section, and then that became pretty much it in the big bands of the 1930’s.

SH:    Some bands, of course, didn’t use any trombone players, but there were usually two trombones (maybe); there were a lot of bands that had two trombones.  A few bands started to use three trombones a little later.  But the trombone was one of the solo instruments, so that’s the reason it was constantly heard much more than it was later.  It was a solo instrument, so whenever there were any recordings you would hear somebody like Trummy Young, Vic Dickenson, any of the guys that we mentioned.

Q:    I guess in the Tens and Twenties, there were a lot of marching bands… Well, the trombone has a fair amount of volume, which would have made it very good for days of pre-amplification.

SH:    You can’t have a marching band without trombone, so I guess I’ve always had a lot of regard for the marching bands.  I got a lot of my training in marching bands, too, and I think all musicians did actually at that time.  What happened out of those marching band ensembles… Most of the jazz bands in the Twenties were small groups, any amount of musicians they could get together.  The tradition of an organized group was usually six people.  But the marching bands were the thing I guess that inspired some of the composers to start to write music for larger ensembles, then you started to get some of the big bands come into existence.  The marching band probably had an influence on all of that.

Q:    Slide Hampton is also an arranger, so we’re going to hear a number of these trombonists in different situations, beginning with Trummy Young in the Lunceford band, and one of his great features, “Margie,” recorded in 1938.  A few words about the Lunceford band and Trummy Young.

SH:    Well, Jimmie Lunceford, of course, was one of the really great bands.  Jimmy Heath is always calling me and telling me, “I’ve got something by Jimmie Lunceford I want you to hear.”  He’s very much into Lunceford.  Lunceford was really one of the great bands.  I guess the reason that he maybe finally didn’t have the popularity that Duke had is because Duke himself was such a strong guy.  But a lot of people feel as though Lunceford was one of the main bands of the whole big band period.

Q:    Lunceford’s main arranger, of course, was Sy Oliver, who was responsible for what became the established sound of the band.

SH:    Yes, he did.  Sy Oliver was very important in that band.  Also, after he left Lunceford’s band, he went to help develop the repertoire of a lot of other bands.  A lot of people, when they hear the music that he did later, don’t relate it to the Jimmie Lunceford repertoire.

Q:    Well, let’s hear “Margie,” featuring the virtuosic trombonist Trummy Young.

[MUSIC: Lunceford/T. Young, “Margie (1938),” Dorsey/Teagarden, “The Blues (1939),” Vic Dickenson, “Keepin’ Out Of Mischief Now,” “Battle Axe” (1941)]

SH:    Ted, as I was listening to this music, as I remember, in a lot of the arrangements that I hear in some of the big bands, I hear some of the riffs and things from the small groups of the time, so that the small groups actually had a big influence on the whole concept of orchestration and arranging.  Actually, I guess a lot of the guys that were doing the writing were guys that had been in some of the small groups, and they were bringing some of that music right into the big band concept.

Q:    Talk a little bit about your ideas about the relationship of dance music in the 1930’s to the emergent new music of musicians who were to be the founders of Bebop, including Dizzy Gillespie.

SH:    Well, I saw a show on television a while ago about how important dance was in all the different societies.  And at one time in this society, dance was also very important.  So most of the music that was written was usually written with people dancing in mind.  When I went to hear Dizzy Gillespie’s band for the first time, at the Sunset Terrace in Indianapolis, people had said that it wouldn’t be a very danceable music, but I must say that they danced more to Dizzy’s music than they did to a lot of the bands that we know as being the really great dance bands, like Lionel Hampton and the guys.  Dizzy had the people dancing.  They were hanging off the rafters, really having a great time dancing.

Really great music, I think, unless it’s something that’s really specially written only for listening, will be music that will make you want to dance.  Dancing is a very important part of the development of any society, and the more that we’ve gotten away from it, I think it’s had a big effect on society.  I think that we have to employ more music in what we do that makes the people want to dance again.

Q:    In the next set of music, we’ll hear a few selections featuring Lawrence Brown with the Ellington band, which was a band that could function equally well as a listening band, a dance band — any type of band.

SH:    I danced especially to this composition that we’re about to play now.  I danced to this many times myself.  Actually, Duke’s band could play the same composition either for concert or they could play it for dancing.  They had such a variety…such a great ability to be able to do everything with their music.  The great thing about Duke, too, that I tell a lot of young guys, is that Duke continued to play a lot of the same songs he’d played twenty or thirty years before.  It shows you how long it takes to really get the most out of a song.

Q:    Well, he was always tinkering with his compositions, finding new ways to orchestrate and so forth.

SH:    Well, he probably didn’t actually premeditate to do it.  As he was going along, he heard different things on the composition, so he kept writing them over, not really trying to accomplish any great level of quality or anything, but just that he’d hear “Solitude” or something this year one way, next year he’d hear some other things on “Solitude,” so he kept writing it.  I think it’s very important to realize that in order to really get to know a composition, you have to play it a long time.  You might know the melody and you remember it.  But to really know it, you have to play it a long time.

[ETC., MUSIC: “I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So” (1945), “Slippery Horn” (1932), Woody Herman w/Bill Harris/Earl Swope, “Lollypop” (1949)]

Q:    Did you get to hear the Ellington band in Indianapolis a fair amount?

SH:    Yes.  In fact, all the bands came there.  I got to hear Count Basie’s band there.  In fact, I heard Billy Eckstine’s band there when Art Blakey was playing with him.

Q:    Was Charlie Parker in the band at that time?

SH:    No, he wasn’t in that band at the time, but…

Q:    This was after he left.

SH:    After he had left.  I think Dexter Gordon and some of the guys were still in the band, and I was lucky that I… I don’t know how I got in.  I guess we didn’t have an age limit on the dance-halls, because there wasn’t any alcohol being sold there.  People were just going there to dance.

Q:    What were the names of the main dancehalls in Indianapolis?

SH:    Let’s see… We had one that I remember all the big bands used to come to.  I think it was a dance hall in a place called the Claypool Hotel.  There was a dance hall in there.  It was a big place.  Several hundred people could get in there.  And all the bands, from time to time, would play there.  There was one theater that the bands used to come to, too, downtown.  I can’t remember the name of it right now, but I saw Stan Kenton’s band there with Charlie Parker, in fact — Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.  I guess that was the one time I heard Charlie Parker in person, was there, with that band.

Q:    A few other words about the musical community in Indianapolis in the mid- to late-1940’s.

SH:    Well, I was raised there with Wes Montgomery and J.J. Johnson and Freddie Hubbard and David Baker.  It was a real great musical environment there.  We all were very enthusiastic about learning.  I guess sometimes we were a little more in love with music than we were with really trying to face the reality of what it takes to really be a good musician.

Q:    How so?

SH:    Well, a lot of times you think that if you love it enough, that’s going to actually help you to develop the musicianship that you’ll need to take part in the professional musical world.  But that’s not really the case. It takes a lot of experience and a lot of understanding, a lot of help from a lot of people — which we did get from guys in the different big bands.  They were very helpful to the young musicians.  If they felt that you were really serious, they would give you all the help they could from their experience.

One great thing at that time I remember is that the musicians were very sincere and very critical of each other.  If there was something that was weak about what you were trying to do with a musician, they would tell you about it.  It wasn’t always patting you on the back and saying, “Great.”  I mean, they were telling you when there was something that you were doing that was not good also.  And I think that that was very healthy.

Q:    Of course, your family band was primary in your musical background.  But what were some local clubs and some of the strong local musicians who you learned from?

SH:    Well, there was a place called the Sunset Ballroom.  All of the big bands came there.  The Ferguson Brothers, who owned this ballroom were booking agents, and all the bands that were travelling throughout the South would usually come in first to Indianapolis to get their contracts and things, and then they would go and travel through the rest of the country.  Whenever you came there to get your contract, you usually had to play that ballroom.  Now, we were too young to go inside, so we would go to the back door and listen to the different bands.  But after we were old enough, we played there with the family band, too.

Then there were clubs on a street called Indiana Avenue.  There were clubs all up and down the street, and bands were playing there every night.  There was music every night, and it was just wonderful.

Q:    Talk about what the music sounded like.  Were they small combos?  Larger ensembles?  What sort of music were they playing?

SH:    Well, at that time the radio was a really great outlet for music.  You were hearing Count Basie and Duke Ellington and Jimmie Lunceford and Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey.   You were hearing that music over the radio all the time.  And in the clubs… You know, often you’d have a big band playing in a very small club,  The people were just so glad to be there, they didn’t even care whether it was crowded or too much smoke.  They were so glad to be there that they just went under any kind of circumstances.  There were more big bands at that time than there were small groups.

Q:    And we’re talking now about the years during World War Two?

SH:    Yes, and before the World War, during that time.  I guess you’d find that the main small groups were usually local musicians playing, and they were playing in some of the very small clubs.  And there were some talented musicians there in Indianapolis, too, people that never became popular at all.

Q:    Mention a few of them.

SH:    Well, one man, I remember his name was Earl Grandy.  He’s a pianist that was just an incredible musician.  Earl Grandy was a guy that had perfect pitch.  You could go to the piano and play a string of notes, and he could tell you what they all were.  If you’d go put your arm dow on the piano on a whole couple of octaves of notes, he could tell you, “Well, you heard this note down there, and that note,” and he could… He was a tremendous man, and he helped a lot of us that were just starting to become musicians.  He  helped a lot of us.  I remember he’d tell us from time to time, you know, “You’ve got to go home and practice; you’re far away from the mark.”  He was very critical.  But he was a real good musician, and certainly was a man that I’ll always have a great esteem for.

Q:    Any others who made a mark on you?

SH:    Oh, yes.  In town at that time there were guys who were coming, and they lived there, but they were going out with professional bands.  I remember Earl Walker was a great drummer that was there who played with Lionel Hampton, and of course, Wes and his brothers were there.

The great thing about Wes Montgomery and his brothers is that they were very, very devout musicians and very sincere.  They were practicing every day for hours.  That’s all they did.  When they weren’t playing out somewhere, they were at home practicing.  You could go there and find a group of them, all of them together practicing.   They would practice one composition for weeks before they would play it in public.  It was incredible, the dedication that they had and the kind of standards that they had set for themselves, how they wanted to have their music to sound before they would perform it in public.  I learned a lot from Wes and Buddy and Monk Montgomery and those guys.

Q:    In this next set we’ll hear a track by a trombonist who had a great impact on J.J. Johnson, who was a few years your elder and out of Minneapolis.  I guess he heard Fred Beckett after first going out on the road with the Snookum Russell Band, and had taken the first steps to becoming a professional musician.

SH:    Well, you always wonder about a guy like J.J. and we’re still wondering about him.  All the trombone players constantly, when J.J.’s around, we’re looking at him, trying to see, “What is it about this guy that’s so different?”  I’ve certainly asked him the question, and I imagine many other people have, too: “What was your influence?  What gave you the idea to take music in the direction that you did?”  And I very clearly remember him saying that Fred Beckett was one of the people that really influenced him.

At that time I had not heard much of Fred Beckett.  Of course, I had heard so many great trombone players.  You see, J.J., like Charlie Parker, came out of a period of music when there were a lot of great trombone players.  So if you were going to come up with something new, you had to really be doing something special, because there were already a lot of guys that were playing the trombone incredibly well.  When Charlie Parker came along, for instance, he came out of that period when the alto saxophone was really something special.  And those guys were all great players before Charlie Parker.  They were great readers, they played great in the ensemble, they were great soloists, their intonation was good.   So that had a big influence on the level of quality that you finally heard from guys like Charlie Parker and J.J. at that period; it was just fantastic.

Q:    The implication, then, is that really what Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and J.J. Johnson were coming up with wasn’t particularly any radical break, but more or less a natural evolution of things that were happening organically within the big bands and the dance music of the time.

SH:    If you go back and listen to some of the guys, like  Roy Eldridge and Lawrence Brown and those guys, you can definitely hear the link that J.J. came from, for instance, and where Dizzy came from.  If you go back and listen to Lester Young and Willie Smith and some of those alto saxophonists, you’ll hear where Charlie Parker came from, and how they were inspired to finally develop something that was even more sophisticated.  Because they were coming from a very sophisticated period of music.  When they started playing, music had already arrived at a very high level of  sophistication, because of Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson and all of the bands that were in existence at that time.

Q:    The great arrangers of the time.

SH:    Yes.  Those arrangers actually inspired a lot of the soloists with their concepts of harmony that they wrote in the music, that caused guys that wanted to be soloists to hear things that they might not have heard otherwise.

But then, you had Art Tatum and guys like that, that were those once-in-a-lifetime people that came along, who inspired everybody.  Art Tatum just had this natural thing for music.  I don’t think he even thought about what what one chord had to do with another as far as resolution was concerned.  He just resolved everything naturally.  It was the same way when you were listening to Louis Armstrong.  It’s incredible when you listen to that and you hear that he played with a rhythm section that sounded like it was recorded in the Twenties or playing in the Twenties or something, and then he comes out sounding like he’s years ahead of that, almost like he didn’t record at the same time that they did.  That was natural for him.  That was natural for Art Tatum.  If you go back and listen to Louis, you’ll hear a lot of things that Dizzy and Miles all the guys did that was coming out of that same concept.  Very close.

Q:    Fred Beckett didn’t record that much, which is why I think his being such a source for J.J. has perplexed people. I’m sure he heard him live, and was able to hear him stretch out.  Fred Beckett’s recordings are with the Harlan Leonard group.  Undoubtedly Charlie Parker would have heard him, too, because he played briefly with Harlan Leonard shortly before coming to New York.  Tadd Dameron did arrangements for the Harlan Leonard group as well, so there’s also that connection.  The piece we’ll hear is “A La Bridges,” a Tadd Dameron composition and arrangement from 1940, and it features, amongst other things, a trombone solo by Fred Beckett, as we continue on the Musician Show with Slide Hampton.

[MUSIC: Harlan Leonard/F. Beckett, “A La Bridges” (1940);  J.J. Johnson, “A Night In Tunisia (1955),” “When The Saints Go Marching In (19610”; F. Rosolino with Stan Kenton, “Frankly Speaking (1952)”]

Q:    What did you think of Fred Beckett’s solo?

SH:    He played beautiful.  He really played beautiful.  I can understand why, especially at that time when J.J. was listening to him, he must have been a great influence and really very impressive.  When you think about the fact that at that time the recording technique and everything was much different than it is now, and the instruments that they were playing were much different than the instruments are now, and those guys played wonderful on those instruments… It’s hard to understand, except that it’s a very natural thing that brought about the possibility of them being able to play like that, at that period of time.  You should have heard more of the flaws and more of the difficulty of playing, but they made it sound easy!

That’s one thing that was really wonderful about J.J. and about Louis Armstrong.  It sounds very easy when they do it, and it’s very consistent.  You don’t find after they’ve played, for instance, eight measures or a chorus or something, that they start to lose the control of their embouchure.  Their embouchure stays intact, even with all of this great improvisation that’s gone on and everything.  And that’s really something that’s very difficult to do, even for good musicians, to keep that consistent control over the sound of what they’re doing when they’re improvising.  Because of course, there’s a lot of energy that goes into improvising alone.  But to be able to keep the technical aspect of it together and all of that is just… Louis Armstrong was just fabulous for that.  I guess I can never understand that.

Q:    Well, I don’t think there’s any better person than Slide Hampton to give us an encapsulation of what is it about J.J. Johnson that is so great.

SH:    Well, I was playing with Maynard Ferguson in the early Sixties, and we played a concert opposite J.J. for two weeks — and it was impossible to understand that a human being could play that well.  It was every night, from the time that he would warm up.  It was perfect!  Just everything that you would imagine that a person should only do only once in a while, he played that way for the whole two weeks.  For the trombone players, of course, in the band, it was very intimidating.

Then I was at one of his recording dates, I remember.  This is the time when J.J. was playing that King 3B.  He sounded so wonderful that they couldn’t get that sound on the record.  It sounded marvelous on the record, but it didn’t sound as wonderful as it sounded in the studio.  It was like the microphone would only accept so much of the sound, and the rest of it wasn’t there.

Q:    Well, I think that’s another quality of his, that apart from all the technical virtuosity, he has a huge, warm, encompassing, enveloping sound.

SH:    It’s incredible, you know, when you think that he’s playing a normal size instrument, a 3B, which is an instrument around the size that a lot of guys play on.  But  he would get this huge sound, like he was playing on something that had a big bore almost like a Bach-36 or something like that.  And he kept that sound.  Even when he was moving all over the horn, he was keeping this sound, and at the same time improvising incredible things.

Q:    This is the Musician’s Show with Slide Hampton, and I guess now is a good time to mention that Slide Hampton and The Jazz-Masters primarily has been performing Slide Hampton’s arrangements of Dizzy Gillespie’s music. Is the repertoire of the band expanding?

SH:    We’re developing our next repertoire, which is going to be on the music of Charlie Parker.  The next album that we do will feature arrangements from all of the musicians in the band who are arrangers and orchestrators.

Q:    In some ways I think arranging Charlie Parker’s tunes would almost present more of a challenge than Dizzy Gillespie’s compositions, which had that sort of arranger concept within them and many of which were written with his big band in mind.  Most of Bird’s tunes were, if it all, only parenthetically done for big bands, and were performed in small combo situations.

SH:    Well, that’s true.  See, the thing about Dizzy’s compositions is that you heard them performed by large ensembles, and you heard Dizzy with large ensembles.  All of his compositions at one time or another have been played by some large ensemble.  So that gave you a lot of ideas, or at least a place to start with them.  Charlie Parker’s compositions, his really great compositions were usually never orchestrated in any way.  But I have always, even listening to them, remarked, man, there’s so much stuff there that you could do if you start to develop this thing and make an orchestration out of it or to arrange it.  I’ve found that it’s really, really a lot of fun writing his music.

Q:    Well, we’ve spoken about your development as a trombone player and we’ve spoken a little bit about the arrangers of the big bands, but we haven’t really discussed your career or avocation as an arranger and composer of music.  And I’d like to talk about your first exposure to Bebop.  I’d imagine, coming up when you did, you were an avid listener to all the records as they came out.

SH:    Well, yes.  Actually, the thing that happened to me and all of the musicians that I was raised with that actually directed us into the area of orchestration and arranging was that we felt this was all a part of being a musician.  In order to be a well-rounded, a complete musician, you had to learn about arranging and orchestration and composition.  So it wasn’t really something that we felt was separate from playing.  We felt that you couldn’t really be the best player unless you knew about these things.  If you wanted to play with other people playing ensembles, if you wanted to conduct orchestras, you had to learn to orchestrate and to arrange so you knew what you were dealing with when you were doing either one of those things by taking part in an ensemble or being a conductor, or even playing in front of an ensemble.

So we all were learning about orchestration, because we were hearing music all the time, man.  In our sleep we were hearing music.  We went to sleep listening to music, we woke up listening to it, we played and we rehearsed and practiced all day, and we listened to music all the time.  So arranging was a very natural thing.  When I asked Dizzy Gillespie, “Who inspired you to become an arranger?” he said, “Well, I was playing in bands that would have guys like Tadd Dameron and Gerald Wilson and those people, and I was listening to their arrangements.  I was hearing eight brass play this harmony all night.”  He said, “When I went to sleep at night, I was hearing harmony from these guys.”  So actually it just became a very natural thing for him to start to take part in that himself.

Of course, most people might not know it.  Dizzy was just a natural harmonic genius.  I mean, harmonizing things and voice leading and stuff is very natural for him.  He showed all of us a lot about that stuff when he was alive.  One of the great things that we remember about Dizzy beside the incredible music that he played on the trumpet is that he was a great teacher — and a very humble person about it; he never took himself very serious.  But man, the stuff that he could do as far as composition and harmonizing and arranging was concerned was just fabulous.  It was so natural.  It was like he didn’t learn it anywhere, just it was a part of his character that he could do it.

Q:    Not to mention the incredible rhythmic understanding that he evinced.  It really changed the whole rhythmic cadence and velocity of big-band music, and small-group as well.

SH:    Well, he was hip enough to go to the Latin musicians and learn from them about rhythm.  And you know what?  You just can’t imagine how natural it is for them… The complicated rhythm that some of us would never use, for them is just us like playing a common time, a 4/4.  It’s just natural for them to be able to deal with very complicated rhythms.  So Dizzy went to those guys, Mario Bauza, Chano Pozo and a lot of guys like that, and he learned a lot from them.  A lot of people don’t know that one thing that was just fabulous about the Latin musicians, when they came into New York, is that they gave a lot of work to all of the musicians.  Everybody worked with them.  They were not prejudiced against anybody working with them.  With their strong traditional background, you would imagine that they’d always want guys that understood that background better.  But they let everybody work with them.  Dizzy worked with them, Charlie Parker worked with them, all kind of guys.  So we all had a great advantage with them.  Dizzy really took advantage of it, and learned from them.

Q:    Let’s hear a few examples of the artistry of Dizzy Gillespie, including one of his very earliest big band compositions, recorded for Guild in 1946, “Ray’s Idea.”

SH:    I really love this arrangement, which I think is by Gil Fuller.  I don’t know whether it was inspired by whoever wrote the composition, but it’s a wonderful arrangement.  When I first heard “Ray’s Idea,” I heard this trombone solo on it, and I’m thinking, “Now, this guy, we’re going to hear more from him.”  We never heard one more note from this guy that plays the trombone solo on it.  So when I was spending some time with Kenny Clarke in Europe (he was living in Paris at the same time I did), I asked Kenny, “Who was this guy that played this great solo?” — see, because the solo was just fabulous.  Kenny said, “I know it was, because I wrote the solo for the guy to play!”

Q:    It was either Alton Moore, Taswell Baird or Gordon Thomas.  [ETC. WITH PERSONNEL]

[MUSIC: Gillespie BB “Ray’s Idea” (1946); Slide, World of Trombones “Con Alma” (1980), Bird/Diz, “Hot House” (1945)]

Q:    Slide Hampton mentioned while “Hot House” was playing, when you heard that, it absolutely floored you.  You couldn’t believe how people could make music sound like that.

SH:    Yeah, I had been listening to all of the bands before that.  I had been listening to Duke and to Count and Stan Kenton and a lot of the guys.  But man, when I heard that music, I couldn’t understand what kind of intervals they were using to make music sound like that.  So it kind of got past me at the time.

The thing that I found so incredible as I was listening to it now is that usually, when you start to deal with theory on a very sophisticated level, it has a great effect on the amount of creative input that you’re going to have into compositions.  Often theory will not allow you to really be that spontaneous when you’re going to improvise, or even when you’re going to develop or compose melodies.

But the thing that I found was very wonderful about the music we were listening to is that it related a lot to the level of spontaneity that Louis Armstrong had in his music when Dizzy and them were playing.  They were playing, sounding very at home in the music, like they were very comfortable with improvising and being able to relate their solos to the compositions.  You often find that when you hear really sometimes good compositions, but when the improviser plays, you don’t necessarily hear how the solo relates to the composition.  But you can hear these solos, and what you’re hearing is almost a part of the melody. They felt so natural with it, it was so relaxed and so just swinging along in a very natural kind of feeling.  I think that was one of the great things about that session.

Q:    Sid Catlett’s presence I don’t think hurt much.

SH:    That helped.  That helped! [LAUGHS]


Q:    You mentioned that you’d listened to Ellington and Basie at the time of Bebop.  You can hear some of the harmonic implications in…well, particularly in one of the pieces we’re about to hear performed by the Ellington band in 1942, “Johnny Come Lately.”  I’d like you to say a few words about Billy Strayhorn’s contribution.  Everybody knows about his great lyric gifts and poetic sensibility.  But he was really involved in very advanced harmonic structures and putting them into the flow of the big band context.

SH:    Well, Ellington, of course, but Billy Strayhorn is one of the unsung heroes, also like Thad Jones.  And it’s a pity… Now, there was a time when those guys actually would have been held in much higher esteem in this country.

Billy Strayhorn is a guy that had a tremendous natural ability to compose and orchestrate.  He wrote some compositions that people have played from the time that they were written until now; also some of the great orchestrations that you heard in Duke’s band were actually done by Strayhorn.  He was very influenced by Duke, because Duke was such an imaginative guy.  But Strayhorn was a guy that actually could put that stuff down on paper exactly the way Duke heard it, in a very sophisticated, thorough, complete, organized way, you see.

When I think of Strayhorn, I also think of another man who is very much in that same kind of category or level of music, who is Thad Jones.  He’s another guy that had this great natural ability to orchestrate.  If you go look at the scores, you don’t see no theory in there that you ever studied before.  You don’t understand anything you see there.  All you understand is that when you hear it, it sounds great.

Q:    I’ve been told by people in the band that he was self-taught, and he would write out each part separately, and then sort of layer them together.

SH:    Unbelievable.  It’s true.  And I’ll tell you, to do that is just not thinkable.  Because usually, when you’re writing for an ensemble, you’re looking at each chord and making sure you’ve got notes there that are going to be harmonious, whether it’s dissonant or not.  Thad would write a part out for maybe a chorus, and then come back and write another part out, and write the whole thing down like that, and then put it together, and you’d hear all this organization of all of the harmony and everything.  It’s just uncanny when you think about it.  But see, for him it was natural.  That’s how you do that.  You don’t do that by studying, you know.  You don’t learn that in school.  It was natural for Thad to look at the voicings, and be able to orchestrate them and see which way they should move.

So Thad Jones could do that.  Billy Strayhorn was that kind of guy.  Tadd Dameron was like that.  There were several guys.  Duke was like that.  If you go back and look at Duke’s music, you would never think, if you were going to make an orchestration, to actually put these instruments together to make an ensemble that he would use.  Duke wrote music that used the very instruments that nobody else would use to make an ensemble or a family of instruments.

Thad Jones had a lot of that.  I go down often and hear the music that he wrote maybe thirty years ago, and I’m telling you that that music written thirty years ago is frightening, to hear something that’s that modern and that sophisticated, and you hear it today and it sounds like something somebody that really writes incredibly great might have written today!

Q:    Well, let’s hear a set of music.  I think we’d better dig up something by Thad!


Q:    “Johnny Come Lately” was recorded in 1942 by the Ellington band.  Of course, this features trombone solos (given the theme of the show) by Lawrence Brown and Tricky Sam Nanton after Billy Strayhorn takes the first chorus.

[MUSIC: Ellington, “Johnny Come Lately” (1942); Curtis Fuller, “It’s All Right With Me” (1959); Coltrane, “Countdown” (1960); Thad Jones, “Tiptoe” (1970)]

Q:    …there’s nothing in the music like those Thad Jones charts.

SH:    Well, you know, it’s funny, because I know the guys have other arrangers that are writing for them now, and they have good arrangers that are writing for them.  But man, you can really see the difference when they get back and play some of Thad’s music.  And the sound of the band when they play Thad’s music is so different.  He’s got this thing that you would think, well, this guy must have studied orchestration in every way that you could.  But it was just natural for him, man.  When you listen to one of these arrangements, let me tell you, the amount of work that would have to go into doing something like that under ordinary circumstances would be incredible.  And he was writing these things fast!

Q:    Of course, I guess in a band like the Basie band, it would be like how you described Dizzy Gillespie, hearing harmony when you go to sleep every night…,

SH:    Yes.

Q:    …and having been immersed in the musical culture of Detroit before that.

SH:    That was a good environment to grow in, the Basie Band.  I loved that band, man!  I’ve gone to hear them when the magic that they weave is just unbelievable.  And so Thad certainly did get a big influence from that, and he took that and actually interpreted the music in his way, with that influence from Basie and all of the other bands that he had been in.  It’s just tremendous.  The accomplishment and the outcome of what he’s done is really tremendous.

Q:    [ETC.] We’ll move now to an album that  Slide Hampton recorded in 1985 for the Criss-Cross label entitled Roots, with Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone, and the stellar rhythm section of Cedar Walton, David Williams and Billy Higgins.

SH:    I remember this album very, very well, because the day we recorded it, Cedar Walton and his rhythm section had just come from someplace far away, and they got there just in time to come right in to the recording date.  What I was thinking, I said, “Well, man, these guys are going to be tired, so you’re going to hear that.”  But Cedar, when he gets in the recording studio in front of a microphone, it seems to transform into something unbelievable, and he just plays incredible.  From the first note, you think some of the songs are maybe new to him, the whole situation is new.  But he comes in, man, and just plays one solo after another.  Any of the solos that he played on the date that are not on this album were just as good as these that you heard on here.  He played marvelous on everything.  And the guy should have been tired; they all should have been.  But then you had Billy Higgins there, and Billy is always giving a lot of happy energy to everything, and David has such a beautiful attitude, too.  And working with Clifford… It was a beautiful experience.

[MUSIC:  Slide/Cliff Jordan, “Roots,” (1985); Dexter Gordon, arr. is Slide, “Laura” (1977)]

Q:    What’s most impressive about “Laura” is that it shows Slide Hampton’s gift for making mid-sized ensembles sound as rich as a big band, as he amply demonstrated at the beginning of the 1960’s on a series of currently out-of-print octet recordings.  “Laura” sounds as though it were played by a 12-13-14-piece band, just as the Jazz Masters, at 10 or 11 pieces, gives the illusion of having an extra horn in each section.  So great writing by Slide Hampton, great playing by Dexter Gordon.

SH:    Well, thank you very much.  It was a beautiful experience working with Dexter.  Of course, I asked you to play that last composition because my mother’s name was Laura, and I was very happy to write that arrangement on the album for that reason.  It was just a beautiful album, and  working with Dexter was wonderful.

Q:    Well, we wouldn’t ask Slide to give away his arranging secrets, and even if we had the inclination to, we wouldn’t have time.


We’ll conclude with one of the classics of the big band repertoire of the 1950’s, Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings” done by the Basie band.  You said before that you could listen to that band all day.

SH:    I have to tell you that first of all, the Basie band, all the way back from the beginning, is just one of the bands that brought me probably more wonderful moments in music than anything that I can think of.  Now that Frank Foster is the leader of the band, he is just one of the greatest musicians and people that I’ve ever known.  And “Shiny Stockings” has always been one of my favorite compositions.  I think that Frank probably doesn’t like to play it any more, but you can play it every day for me, and I love it.

[MUSIC: Basie, “Shiny Stockings” (1956)]


Filed under Dizzy Gillespie, Slide Hampton, Trombone, WKCR

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

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

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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.


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.


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.


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

It’s Dizzy Gillespie’s 94th Birthday Anniversary: Slide Hampton, James Moody, Jimmy Heath, John Lee and Claudio Roditi on the Master in 2006

To observe the 94th birthday anniversary of Dizzy Gillespie, I’m posting the uncut transcript of a conversation with five of his distinguished acolytes — James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton, John Lee, and Claudio Roditi, all playing with the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Band at the Blue Note five years ago — that ran in edited form in DownBeat.

Dizzy Gillespie Forum (Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, John Lee, James Moody, Claudio Roditi) – (Blue Note, June 20, 2006):

TP:   My first question for Slide and for Jimmy Heath is: What are the dynamics of Dizzy Gillespie’s music that make it possible for a band like this to function in 2006. What makes the music so fresh and such a vehicle for your creativity?

SLIDE:   I think that Dizzy’s music when he was writing it was so far in advance that today it sounds like something that might have been written today. It was a big inspiration, because a lot of people don’t know that Dizzy was a great arranger and orchestrator, and he inspired a lot of the guys that were orchestrating and arranging at that time. That was their thing that they did mainly, was to arrange, and Dizzy wrote some wonderful arrangements, and we’re going to play some of them tonight. The approach to the arrangements that he made is the thing that inspired us to write. Actually, when we hear his stuff, it makes us feel like he’s the teacher and we’re the students.

TP:   Just to get technical about it, what are some of the things he innovated that are very present in the vocabulary of modern jazz?

HEATH:   I think Dizzy instituted the rhythm aspect of the music. He really concentrated on that as well as the harmonic. Between the two, the marrying of the two the way he did, it brought about a different sound because of the Afro influence and the European harmony with this Afro groove. That’s what made it so special. The combination is a marriage like bread and butter.

TP:   Was that modernity always there from when he and Gil Fuller did the first charts for the big band in 1946?

MOODY:   I think it was always there. Now, I can’t speak from the standpoint of Slide or Jimmy because I don’t write, and I’m not as knowledgeable as they are, and I wasn’t then, but I’m trying to come to grips with what WAS happening then. It was so deep, because when I joined the band, Thelonious Monk was the piano player, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, Cecil Payne – like that.

TP:   Jimmy just made a genuflecting gesture.

MOODY:   What happens is, I look back and… Jimmy wrote a composition called “Without You, No Me,” which meant that if there had never been a Dizzy Gillespie, there wouldn’t be a Jimmy Heath. I feel the same way myself, even though I have to say what Jimmy said – but what he said first was true. People always ask me, “Well, what was it like being there in 1946?

TP:   In the Spotlite Club on 52nd Street, right?

MOODY:   Yeah, in the Spotlite. Man, all I know is, I was there, I was 21, and it felt good and nice, but man, what was happening around me, I didn’t know.

TP:   Do you have any recollection of how the audience responded?

MOODY:   Well, they were wonderful. But let me get to this point. Gerald Wilson brought an arrangement… No, it wasn’t Gerald Wilson. I guess it was Gil Fuller who did it. He kept doing it… I said, “This note is wrong here, just this note.” “No, it’s okay. Cool.” I said, “Diz, this note is…” He said, “No-no.” I said, “Diz…” “Moody, shut up!” It was a flat five. I mean, if you don’t know, you don’t know. But the point is that… What I’m saying is, like, you don’t have to tell somebody you don’t know. People know when you don’t know. And I didn’t know for the longest time. Now I’m trying to come to grips with what it was…not what it was, but what it is. Because I’m telling you. It will take a lifetime. Nicholas Slonimsky said in his book on the source of  melodic patterns that in order to exhaust the possibilities of a chromatic scale, you’d have to live 2000 years. But what’s coming out of Diz and Monk, I mean, you have to live 2000 years to be able to do it. Unfortunately, a lot of us are only going to make it to 100.

HEATH:   There’s one thing that I want to say, and that is: What WAS good, IS good.

MOODY:   You hear that?

HEATH:   What was good, IS good.

MOODY:   You hear that?

HEATH:   So Dizzy’s music was good during that time. It still is good. If you say Bach and Beethoven, if that was good, it’s still good. Stuff don’t just disappear and change and be bad over a period of time – if it’s good! But if it’s sad, it’s sad. And it’s going to stay sad. But if it’s good, it’s going to stay good.

TP:   Jimmy Heath and Moody, when did you first become aware of Dizzy Gillespie.

MOODY:   I met Dizzy when I was 18 years old, and I was in the Air Force at Greensboro, North Carolina. Dizzy came down and played at the place where we had our entertainment. It was a segregated base. One quarter was Negro; the other three quarters was Caucasian. He came and played for us at a place called the Big Top, and it was the Big Tent. That’s where I met him. That’s where I met him with Dave Burns and Joe Gales. So what happened was, Dizzy said… We were going to be discharged in about 3 or 4 months, and Dizzy said, “Come and try out for the band in New York.” So after we were discharged, that’s what I did. I went with Dave and we tried out for the band, and Dave made it. I didn’t, because Walter Fuller said, “You don’t play loud enough!” So I went home, man. I was doing a gig, making $7 a night, man, a lot of money, at Lloyd’s Manor. About three months later I got a telegram from David Burns saying, “you start with us tonight.” So I went and joined the band at the Spotlite, and David Burns told me, “The only thing you got to watch out for is this thing,” [SINGS LINE OF “Things To Come”] He showed me the line on that thing. So the other part, I read… So I had it down!

TP:   Didn’t Percy meet Dizzy before you did?

HEATH:   Percy was a Tuskegee airman, and I was on the road with Nat Towles’ Orchestra in Omaha, Nebraska. Percy told me, “Jimmy, you should quite and come back home if you like this new music, bebop, so much, because I met Dizzy Gillespie.” When I quit the band, which I was going to quit anyway, I came back to Philly. And I found out that Dizzy didn’t even know Percy’s name. He just called him “Lieutenant.” Because it was an honor to have a black pilot and a Lieutenant. So as it happened, I got in the band before Percy did. What we did as the Heath Brothers, me and Percy, we put on our berets and our artist ties, like Dizzy’s band had, and followed him. If they played in Wilmington, Delaware, we would be right in front of the band. If they played at the Savoy, we’d be right there. If they played the Apollo, we’d be right there. Dizzy said, “There’s the Heath Brothers!” – until we got a gig!

MOODY:   Jimmy told me, “We followed the band until he gave us a gig.”

TP:   What did the music sound like to you when you first heard it? Was it shocking to you?

HEATH:   Extremely.

SLIDE:   It was a shock. We had been hearing about “Things to Come.” I was in my house once, and coming from another part of the house I heard this music start. My brother had found the CD, and I didn’t know it. When he started playing, I said, “That’s ‘Things To Come.’” – and I had never heard it before. But when I heard this new music, I knew what it was. It was really a wonderful, wonderful shock. The first thing I heard was “Our Delight,” and I was sitting in an outdoor place having a sandwich, and they started playing this introduction – and I almost fell off the stool that I was on because the way they were moving the harmony, which was not usual.

But the thing that I’ve got to say is that I do realize when I hear the great arrangements of Gil Fuller and Dizzy and Tadd Dameron, that the music that came before, the arrangements of Jimmy Mundy and those guys had a big influence on those orchestrations. Because those guys wrote the ensemble so that it sounded really full, and when Gil and them came along with the new music, their ensembles sounded really full, too. It wasn’t a weakness because it was a new harmony. They still had that fullness that actually came from the period of guys like Jimmy Mundy, Ernie Wilkins and all of these guys…

HEATH: And Sy Oliver.

SLIDE:   Sy Oliver and Benny Carter.

HEATH:   But I had heard “Bebop.” I had heard the records because my mother and father had a friend who had a record store in Philadelphia. So whenever anything new would come out, boom, they’d get it. “Hey, we got a new Dizzy Gillespie, come on by,” and we’d go get it. That’s how it happened. And when I heard “Things To Come,” I was very excited by it. But I heard “Bebop” with Billy Eckstine’s band. They used to do that in 1944.

TP:   The tune “Bebop” or bebop the style?

HEATH:   The tune. They used that for a signoff to take intermission. [SINGS IT] “Now we’re going to take a break.” That’s what Billy Eckstine would say. They were playing that in that band. Because Dizzy was the musical director of Eckstine’s band. So the bebop sound came before Dizzy got his band.  It was from Earl Hines into Billy Eckstine into Dizzy’s COMPLETE bebop band.

TP:   Did either Jimmy Heath or Moody hear Charlie Parker in Earl Hines’ band?

MOODY:   No. I heard records…

TP:   Well, they didn’t record with Earl Hines.

MOODY:   I heard the record Dizzy did with Cab Calloway, where he took that solo. [SINGS SOLO ON “Pickin’ the Cabbage.”]

TP:    Did this music immediately become a banner for you to follow as a stylistic improviser?

MOODY:   I’ll tell you. Everywhere the band played, everywhere, even on the stage, there would be people, because the place would be sold out, and everyone would have on a beret and horn-rimmed glasses and bow-tie. Everyone would have it. Then it got so hip that if you came to the place and you wanted to get in free, all you had to do was look exactly like that and you got in.

HEATH:   The music fascinated us in Philadelphia so much, Coltrane and myself eventually getting in the band in 1949… But what had happened, we had tried to learn all of those things before we got in the band. We went to Little Rock, Arkansas, to play a gig – before Faubus – and the people sent out scouts and said, “We don’t need no bebops. Why don’t you’all go back and send Buddy Johnson down here?” Or Count Basie. They wanted to dance! See, we was playing a dance. So we could have beat the audience up in a fight, there were so few people in there. So Dizzy right away, he gets mad, and he pulls out “Things To Come,” like he’s going to shock us, like we couldn’t play it. But we had already shedded on that back home! We learned that, and some of the things he had recorded. Like “Cubana Be, Cubana Bop,” all that stuff in different meters and all that. John Lewis’ music, and George Russell, and Tadd. Tadd’s music always had a mellow quality. He was a romantic style orchestrator, whereas Gil Fuller was a cat with fire. And Gil was arrogant to the point where he said, “Tadd’s music, that’s background for my stuff.” [SINGS REFRAIN FOR “Our Delight” – SLIDE LAUGHS] He said, “That’s a background.” Because he was coming up with [SINGS “Things To Come” WITH FLOURISH] But that’s Dizzy’s intros. Those ideas are not Gil Fuller’s; in some cases they are Dizzy telling him what to write. He orchestrated Dizzy’s idea. So Dizzy is the master.

SLIDE:   But isn’t it amazing, though, that he could orchestrate those ideas so well?

HEATH:   Sure it is!

SLIDE:   With that new music, to be able to orchestrate it so well.

JOHN:   No one had orchestrated like that before. Right?

SLIDE:   No.

HEATH:   Dizzy had orchestrated some of them. He could do it. So he was the one responsible for Gil writing like that. But Gil Schillinger, and he knew how to put stuff together real quick. So that was a marriage. What Gil was doing was writing Dizzy’s stuff the way Dizzy wanted it to sound. And bebop was the strongest thing that I had heard to date.

TP:   Claudio, as a young trumpet player, I assume you heard all these records, or subsequently heard them and absorbed them.

CLAUDIO RODITI: You have to understand that growing up in another country than the United States, the music would get there later. But things would take a few years.

TP:   But you did hear the records.

RODITI:   I heard. But in 1959, when I was 12 years, I had a very pleasant experience. You’ll understand why. People kept telling me, “You’ve got to buy an album by Chet Baker; this is the latest thing you’re going to hear in modern trumpet.” So I went into a record shop and asked for a Chet Baker record, and they said, “We don’t have any Chet Baker right now, but we have this other record here.” They handed me an album. It was Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge, with Oscar Peterson playing organ. I said, “I’ll take it.”

MOODY:   Oscar Peterson playing what?

RODITI:   Organ.

MOODY:   Damn!

RODITI:   Yeah. I still remember this album.  So I took this album home and I said, “Wait a minute. What is all of this?” It was something completely new. Because I had heard a little bit of jazz, but via albums that you could find – Louis Armstrong and things like that. But nothing that modern until them for me, especially being a 12-year-old kid. I had already started with the trumpet. But I was in for a shock.

TP:   Did you try ever to emulate Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet style?


TP:   It seems to me that a lot of trumpet players have not. Jon Faddis, obviously. But remarkably few for how influential Dizzy Gillespie is on the history of the music. Now, Jimmy Heath is laughing, and I know the answer to the question is obvious…

HEATH:   They couldn’t do it.
TP:   Why couldn’t they do it?

RODITI:   First of all, technically. He had a range that very few people have to play it. Now, Fats Navarro came close, and Fats Navarro had something different. When I started copying and transcribing some solos, I started with Fats Navarro.

SLIDE:   That’s Jimmy’s man, too.

RODITI:   Moody mentioned a name that I just got hip to now, because I heard something on the radio the other day. Dave Burns. Now, that was a master trumpet player. Totally forgotten.

SLIDE:   Now, you know that Miles said he personally wanted to play like Dizzy himself, but he couldn’t.

HEATH:   He said the only reason he didn’t play like Dizzy is because he couldn’t. A lot of people tried. But Fats Navarro told me he was trying to play more like Bird instead of Dizzy, which is close, but it’s not exactly the same.

MOODY:   When Dizzy would play things like… There was something about the fingering and his jaws that did something that just other trumpet players couldn’t do.

SLIDE:   Yes, the fingering that made it possible to play those phrases in certain registers probably would be difficult, especially if you were going against the grain with the fingering going out that way… He had a way that the fingering seemed to be coming this way, and he could play in those registers and play the lines.

TP:   You were moving your fingers backwards when you said “against the grain” and moving them forward when you said “that way.”

SLIDE:   Yes, it’s like if you’re playing something and the line is going up, and you have to go down the fingering, then of course, you’re going against the grain. But if you play the same thing coming up the fingering, that means you might start in a place where it would be a fifth position on trombone and then come up. If you’re going to play a line, it’s easier to go that way than it is to go out this way in certain ranges, and Dizzy had that all worked out some way.

RODITI:   What we call alternate fingerings on the trumpet. I remember when he was teaching me “Birks Works,” there was one simple thing where he used an alternate fingering, that if you tried to do it an alternate way, it doesn’t sound the same.

MOODY:  The only one that I know who came close to Dizzy and loved Dizzy was Lonnie Hillyer. He was trying to play like him. But Jon Faddis got him.

HEATH:  But also Dave Burns… When Dizzy had a hair in his lip in the Apollo… Were you with the group at the Apollo when David was taking all the solos because Dizzy had this hair?

MOODY:   Oh, I was there. He had a hole in his lip as big as a lollipop. I don’t know if he got it when we were playing baseball on the road or something.

HEATH:   Dave Burns was playing all the solos. And Dave Burns played like Dizzy, too. In a way. The best he could.

MOODY:   The best he could, right. Lonnie Hillyer from Detroit…

HEATH:   You thought so? Closer?

MOODY:   Yeah. He was closer.

TP:   In previous conversations, each of you have referred to Dizzy Gillespie as a tremendous mentor. Can you discuss his characteristics as a bandleader?

MOODY:   If anybody was nervous or if they was funky, as soon as Dizzy walked in, the whole atmosphere changed. Everything was cool. Everything was nice. Dizzy could calm the most ferocious storm. He’d cool it right out.

TP:   How would he do it?

MOODY:   Just his presence.

JOHN LEE:   His personality.

MOODY:   Just Dizzy.

JOHN LEE:   I was there almost ten years, and you had multi-relationships with Dizzy. There was Dizzy who was your bandleader, then he was like a brother on some things if you needed help, and then he was just like a… That’s like a brother-father kind of thing – right, Moody? [Yeah.] Then just purely as a friend at some point. Being in his room late at night, some of the stories he told. He could be tough and kick your ass, but he was also very sensitive. I went through a lot of marital problems when I was with Dizzy, and he was very sensitive to that. He even altered his schedule at sometimes wanting to know how I was doing. You just came to love him so much beyond the music thing because he cared so much.

MOODY:   And didn’t take any shit. Excuse me for putting that way.

TP:   That’s something I was about to ask. There are stories about him and Billy Eckstine touring the South and not taking any stuff from people when that was a very radical thing to do.

MOODY:   Wait a minute. They knew when to act and when not to act. Because if you’re someplace and you’re outnumbered, like, a billion to one, don’t be a fool. Because I remember seeing Dizzy down South, the bus flying down the highway, and he got Eppie, the bus driver, by the collar, telling him he was going to kick his butt, and we’re saying, “Dizzy, no-no, wait til we get to Washington.” Because Eppie had said something to Lorraine, and it touched Dizzy the wrong way. And Diz had him by the throat. So-and-so and so-and-so. “Dizzy, that’s okay,” and Dizzy cooled it.

But we had a lot of instances like that down South. Man, they had what’s his name out there, the trombone player who just died in San Francisco. He was mugged and he said he had played with Dizzy, and then, when I saw him, he was the same one that we were sitting on the bus while this sheriff with his big hat was sitting there at this whitewashed barn, hammering a door, that the sheriff had said that he broke the door. He didn’t break the door, but he had to do that. Then we were there another time when Ella Fitzgerald… We were late for the gig, and when we got there everybody had gone except this guy, and he asked Ella Fitzgerald to get off the bus and sing to his wife, because “she loves the way you sing.” “Miss Fitzgerald, come on there and sing for my wife, now, because she loves your singing.” Ella was saying, “Yeah, but the band, and I odn’t know…” – and she was in her bandanna.

SLIDE:   Did she go sing?

MOODY:   No.  But it took a long time.

JOHN LEE:   Dizzy defended her?

MOODY:   Yeah.

HEATH:   But you know, the thing about it… What’s really interesting about Dizzy the teacher… Dizzy, every day that I was in his company, he was always conscious of something musical, and he would show you things every time. If it wasn’t something, he’d be tapping out some rhythm, “and this is how you play in five, and this is how you play in seven – it’s all the same. You’ve just got to syncopate it differently.” He would be doing either rhythmic patterns, or he’d get on the piano and show you some harmonic sequences. He was always teaching. He was a master teacher. As far as that is concerned, that’s one of his assets.

The other thing is being a nice guy, too. He was very proud of me because I had messed up in his band and went to jail, and when I came back and had straightened out my life, man, he just… He was almost like my father. “I’m so glad that you’re back.” It was like taking me back in prodigal son returns.

SLIDE:   You can’t imagine him being in jail, can you?  You know the thing that was amazing about Dizzy. When we had the rhythm section that was… We had a Cuban, a Puerto Rican, a Brazilian, a guy from Panama, two Americans. And Dizzy could stand on the front of the stage, way away from that rhythm section, and never get lost. And they were playing the most complicated rhythms. I was sitting there and I was lost ALL the time. But he would never get lost on those fast things like that. “Tanga.”

JOHN LEE:   We had Giovanni Hidalgo, Airto and Ignacio, a Puerto Rican, a Brazilian and a Cuban, and all at the top of their game. Giovanni’s the Charlie Parker of the congas, and Airto probably the greatest multi-percussionist of his time – or ever. And you’re right. Dizzy knew every rhythm they were doing. He’s like the father of it all.

HEATH:   There was a statement someone made that Dizzy could be playing in a hall, and the band would be playing: he could go outside one door, and come back in the other door playing right in meter and right in the song, like he’d been standing on the stage. He never would get lost in meter or anything. He’d come back right in place.

SLIDE:   He would try to keep the rhythm section close to the source. Because the longer the distance, the more difficult it is to communicate. But he could be a long distance from the rhythm section and be playing something that most people might get lost on anyway, and stay right in time. And playing very complicated. Very complicated!

MOODY:   No matter where we went, no matter where we were, it could be the quintet or the big band, whatever, as soon as we got to the place, the first thing Diz would do was go over to the piano and sit down. Because a lot of these compositions that I hear now, I heard at the beginning on the piano, different places. I used to hear [SINGS FIRST FEW BARS OF “Con Alma]…  All the different compositions. I heard them in concert halls or dance halls way before Dizzy finished them. I’d hear him sitting there playing.

JOHN LEE:   One thing we all had is you just wanted to be around him. It’s hard to explain how much he gave to you – in everything, not even just music. He always had fun, too. I noticed that when I’ve worked with people who have internal struggles or are so wrapped up in themselves. Dizzy had fun every night. We could travel 18 hours and he might be a little cranky, but when we got to the gig, he was going to have fun and enjoy it.

MOODY:   but you know what? The difference is… Jimmy Heath and Slide Hampton are writers and orchestrators, so they were hearing everything different from me. I was just sitting there, and I didn’t know anything about the harmonies and things. I have to be truthful with that. I got into Dizzy’s band; if a C-VII would have jumped in my face, I wouldn’t have known it.

HEATH:   What ears!

MOODY:   so what I did, I was just in the band, but I was there, and all I know is it made me feel good and I liked being there and I liked what I heard. But if you had asked me to explain it to you, what it was, I wouldn’t know. All I knew is it just sounded good, man, and I liked it. Like, at the beginning I liked Jimmy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet and those people, and it was okay, but when I heard Dizzy and Charlie Parker, I said, “Unh-oh, that’s it.” I liked Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. I liked Lester Young better than Hawk, because Hawk knew the changes better than Lester Young, but I didn’t like [SINGS HAWK LINE] that lope thing that he had; I liked [SINGS PREZ LINE] like that. You know what I mean. But then when I heard Dizzy and Charlie Parker, I said, “Oh, man!” So now, I thought, well, Dizzy and Slide, they’ll tell you now, boy – I’ll be asking. I said, “slide, show me this section,” “Jimmy, show me, man.” I’m beginning to see some things now. A good thing now is, I’m beginning to see SOME of the light.

RODITI:   The one thing I noticed in the five years I was with the United Nations Orchestra… You were talking about Dizzy being fun, and he was. He was also funny to the band. Sometimes, when he conducted the band, he made some faces that the audiences couldn’t see, but they were absolutely unbelievable. But I always noticed that at the same time, when Dizzy… I said this before, but I would like to say this one more time. When he put the trumpet to his face, he was serious. There was no fooling around, no dancing around, no clowning; it was just absolutely pure music.

TP:   As an instrumentalist, was Dizzy a constant improviser? Did he repeat solos?

MOODY:   Hell, no.

TP:   Did he always play things fresh?

SLIDE:   Never repeated.

HEATH:   Everybody has cliches. But they wouldn’t be in the same place. Everybody got cliches. But Dizzy was a true improviser. They would be in different places. It wouldn’t be the same solo.

SLIDE:   He started in a different place in the phrase, started in a different key in the chord…

HEATH:   A true improviser.

MOODY:   Yes. You’re right. He’d make you say, “Damn.”

HEATH:   I’ll give you an example. Me and Coltrane was in the section together, and we were playing alto and Paul Gonsalves was playing tenor. We would look at each other every night to see what kind of break Dizzy was going to take on “I Can’t Get Started,” which is a ballad. When the band said [SINGS PHRASE TO THE BREAK] and he’d make a pickup, it would be different every night. Trane said, “Jimmy, you hear that?” I said, “Yeah, I heard.” Next night it would be different. That’s on a ballad!

TP:   For a career as long his, he had a lot of different phases. Several different big bands, the quintet with Moody, which covered all his bases up to the time, from bop to Brazilian. Do any of you have favorite phases? Or is the whole thing your favorite?

MOODY:   You mean a favorite group? I like the band with you and Coltrane and Benny Golson. That was the band, man.

HEATH:   That’s what Dizzy said in the book, but I said the one with YOU. I listened to you and Howard Johnson and Cecil Payne, John Brown – that reed section. That was the one I like!

TP:   Still?

HEATH:   Yeah. That was great. The one in the ‘50s I didn’t hear enough of. But I heard it on record. ‘56. That’s the one with the guy who used to play with Tadd playing lead alto and Phil Woods playing second.

SLIDE:   Jimmy Powell?

HEATH:   Jimmy Powell, yes.

SLIDE:   I was fortunate enough to play in that.

TP:   That’s when you first joined Dizzy, right?

SLIDE: I played with that band, although I was out of place in it. It was a fantastic band. They were playing music by Quincy Jones and by Benny Golson and by Dizzy and by Melba Liston, and the arrangements were just shocking, man, for a young arranger.

HEATH:   Were you there with that singer?

SLIDE:   I was there with Austin Cromer.

HEATH:   That’s the one I’m talking about.

MOODY:   “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” Unbelievable.

SLIDE:   He outsang Billy Eckstine and everybody. “Wonder Why.”

HEATH:   I’ve got that on my I-Pod.

MOODY:   Austin Cromer, man, from Detroit. He was bad!

HEATH:   The problem with critics is they believe that music can only be coming from one person at a time. What’s the matter with these people! Ain’t no one person got all the music.

MOODY:   You’re damn right.

HEATH:   Everybody got some!

MOODY:   That’s right.

HEATH:   I love Coltrane. I love Miles. But come on! You know what I’m saying? What about the other guys? The critics get on something, and he’s this and he’s this, Miles and Miles and Miles. Fats Navarro kicked Miles’ ass in a band I saw with Dexter and Lucky Thompson, Miles and Fats Navarro, Bud Powell, Percy I think, and Kenny Clarke. And man, Lucky Thompson was eating Dexter up on fast tunes and Dexter was kickin’ his ass on medium swing. But Fats was kicking Miles’ ass on both! Miles was a great musician, man. He ain’t the only one that got…

MOODY:   They never gave Diz the credit he was due. Did you ever notice that? It’s always Miles-Miles-Miles. But they don’t give it to Diz, man. He doesn’t get the credit that he deserves.

TP:   Why do you think that is?

HEATH:   Miles got on Columbia Records. Dizzy said to me in Palm Beach, down in Florida, when I told him that the Heath Brothers were on Columbia, he said, “You’re on Columbia Records?!” Because he never got that kind of a contract. Miles stayed on there so long, that’s what made Miles popular. He was on a major label for a long time – him and Johnny Mathis! So they got famous.

MOODY:   Do you know what Diz did? He looked at me and said, “Moody, you had a hit, but I never had one.” I said, “Yeah, but I’d rather be you.” You hear what I’m saying? I’d rather be Dizzy, boy.

TP:   Is there any sound from Dizzy’s different periods that’s the template for this band? Does it go back to the ‘56 band that Slide was in?

SLIDE:   This band has some of all those different periods in it.

JOHN LEE: All the periods. We have “Round Midnight,” “Lover Come Back To Me,” “Things To Come.”

SLIDE:   “Two Bass Hit.”

HEATH: Yeah, and “Emanon” and all those…

JOHN LEE:   Moody had a famous solo on “Emanon.”

TP:   That was your first recorded solo with Dizzy, wasn’t it?

MOODY:   Yeah, and it wasn’t supposed to be mine. It was supposed to be Billy Frazier’s solo – the baritone player. He didn’t show up for the session, so Diz said, “Blow, Moody.” And that was me. But other than that…

JOHN LEE:   One important thing about this band, which Slide started… We’re not going to sit still with… First of all, a lot of those arrangements are still lost. We’ve been trying to rewrite them. Now, Jimmy and Slide and Dennis Mackrell are writing new stuff. The new album is going to have new expressions on a lot of these tunes. We don’t want to just sit still with that.

TP:   Has the band been primarily Dizzy’s charts or transcriptions of his tunes…

JOHN LEE:   Remember, Dizzy commissioned a lot of charts. Benny Golson, Quincy Jones, Tadd Dameron…

HEATH: Ernie Wilkins.

MOODY:   “Without You, No Me.”

JOHN LEE:   Ernie Wilkins. Slide.

MOODY:  Let Jimmy tell you what happened.

HEATH:   First, you asked the question about this band. This band has got more great soloists than the band I was with with Dizzy. This band has more great soloists than any band that Dizzy had, in terms of number of great soloists. In all the bands, they had a few great soloists and the rest of the guys was playing parts. In this band, you can point to any one of them guys. They stand up and it happens every time. That’s the difference. As an almost-80-year-old, I feel like this is a university. This is the Dizzy Gillespie University in action.

MOODY:   Now, about the song “Without You, No Me,” I’ll let Section… We call each other  Section, because we’re the saxophone section. I’ll let Jimmy Heath tell you. Dizzy called him and commissioned him to write this for him. You finish the section.

HEATH:   Well, Dizzy called me and he said, “I’ve got Slide, Benny Golson, Thad Jones, Frank Foster; I’m starting another band, and I’d like you to write a piece for me.” I felt so honored to be in that group of great arrangers and composers. So he put it on tape, because I wasn’t home, and it was on the tape machine. I kept that tape. I don’t know where it is now, but I had the tape. So when he told me that, I said, “Well, yeah, I’ll write an arrangement,” and I wrote that arrangement. This was a commission when he’d call you up and tell you to write something for the band. When I got finished with it, certain things he told me to change because he didn’t like the nomenclature or the name-calling that I was using, the Lochrian mode or something. He said, “No, just minor with the VI in the bass.” He called it a minor with the VI in the bass, and I changed it to that. He took it and went on the road and played it, and they taped it somewhere, and I have a copy. But he never mentioned any money. So he just never paid me for it. But the thing is, I never asked him for any money. All the money that Dizzy gave me, I would be stupid to ask him for money! If he’d asked me to pay for every lesson he gave me, I’d be in his debt.

TP:   I want to ask Claudio something about this. Getting back to the first thing Jimmy Heath said, that Dizzy Gillespie combined harmonic and rhythmic innovations… I don’t want to put you in a position of being representative of all Latin American musicians who play jazz, but can you discuss his… He was influential on a world scale and addressed the different vocabularies on their terms.

RODITI:   The only thing I can tell you about this is from my experience of being Brazilian, and knowing that Dizzy went there before some other folks that we know who made a lot of success with the new music called Bossa Nova at the time.

JOHN LEE:   That’s the biggest one, too. Because Stan Getz gets all that credit, but Dizzy…

RODITI:   Yes, and Dizzy was there before. He went there, and he heard the new music, and he brought some of it. But he did not have the success that he deserved with that music. We always felt in Brazil… I never told any of you this. But I can speak for a lot of musicians, and say that when we heard the recordings of Joao Gilberto and Astrid Gilberto with Stan Getz, we didn’t particularly like what we heard in Brazil. We liked the music. But we had heard that music before, done only by Brazilians. Had Dizzy had the opportunity to really develop with the Brazilian music, it would have been something very, very special. Now, I must also add that there was another guy that went there and he incorporated that music for the rest of his life – Herbie Mann. Herbie went to Brazil in the early ‘60s and also heard the new music, and was very touched and very influenced by it. He had a very nice feeling. But when we Brazilians heard Stan Getz playing, we felt that something was wrong. What was wrong was that the pulse, the way Stan Getz was playing the music was wrong. He was feeling the music in 4/4 when the music was in 2/4. It was half of that.

HEATH:   Kenny Dorham went down there, too.

RODITI:   But that was later. That I remember, because that was about 1963. Dizzy was there in the late ‘50s.

MOODY:   When I joined the Quintet, Dizzy gave me the little book and he wrote this stuff out, and I said, “Diz, you’ve got 2/4 here; why didn’t you just write it in 4/4, so I could…” He looked at me and he said, [SINGS PHRASE] I said, “Oh, okay. That’s it.” The feeling is altogether different in 2/4 than 4/4.

TP:   Cuban musicians also felt that Dizzy had an idiomatic command of those rhythms, too, through Mario Bauza and Chano Pozo, and this influenced a lot of young musicians who themselves are influencing the way jazz is heard today.

MOODY:   Did you know that Chano Pozo had three bullets in his body that they couldn’t remove. Because we roomed together, and just before we’d go to bed or something, Chano would say, “Moody,” and he’d have me feel the different bullets, where they were. Now, the reason the bullets were there was because Chano… I don’t know what the song was. I don’t know if it was “Babalu” or what it was. But he wrote this composition, and the guy at the publishing company hadn’t given him the money in Cuba. The guy said, “Come back at 1 o’clock.” And Chano, who was very menacing, you know… Chano had a thing on his shoulder! So when Chano got there at 1 o’clock, there was a guy waiting, and he shot him and tried to kill him. But Chano lived, so that’s what it was.

JOHN LEE: Do you know what’s very important to mention about all this stuff we’re talking about. Moody, you tell me if it’s right. But what I noticed, we’re talking about Getz’ success and different people’s success, but Dizzy never seemed bitter in all of that. He just kept moving on to something else. I never heard him say anything like, “Oh, Stan Getz did this or that.”

MOODY:   He liked Getz.

JOHN LEE:   He liked Getz a lot. They were friends. But there was no bitterness about…

HEATH:   He liked Miles, too.

JOHN LEE:   With Miles’ success and everybody, Dizzy just kept creating and being about music and having fun.

MOODY:   But Dizzy, somehow or other he knows that the proof is in the pudding. When you hear things, your ear should tell you, “well, that’s what it was and that’s where it was.” So anything you hear by Dizzy, you’ve got to say, “wow.” No matter what it is. Wow. And the people who are supposed to be so great, you hear them and you say, “Oh, okay.” But you don’t say “wow.”

TP:   Can anyone illuminate who were some of the people Dizzy was listening to as a young guy?

MOODY:   Art Tatum.  Art Tatum was the man.

HEATH:   Roy Eldridge.

MOODY:   And Louis Armstrong.

TP:   How about composers?

SLIDE:  He told me when he was playing in the bands, before he really started composing himself, Jimmy Mundy and all of these guys. He said he learned to arrange just sitting there listening to those arrangers. At night in his dreams he’d be hearing the brass section playing these things.

HEATH:   That could be!

TP:   Was that in Earl Hines’ band, when Jimmy Mundy was arranging for Earl Hines?

SLIDE:   Yeah, in Earl Hines’ band.

HEATH:   Budd Johnson, too.

SLIDE:   He said he learned it from all those guys who were writing in that band. He had such an ear. That’s the thing a lot of people don’t understand, that the key to learning is having a good memory and a good ear. If you’ve got those two, you learn fast. Because you just hear stuff, you know what it is, and you remember it. Because even if you see a score and you see what something is and you don’t remember it, then you haven’t learned it. For people who have good memories, learning is easy, and Dizzy had a helluva memory and he had an incredible understanding of music – because he loved music so much and he was so dedicated. That’s another thing that’s very important. A musician can be a talented musician, but he doesn’t have to be dedicated. That’s a choice. If you really respect music, you’ll dedicate yourself to it. So you can give something back to it and not just be taking from it. Dizzy was giving more to music than he was getting from it.

TP:   Jimmy and Moody both were saying that Dizzy Gillespie, on a certain level, didn’t get his due. What are some of the things people don’t understand about the magnitude of his accomplishment?

MOODY:   First of all, I want to get to Coltrane and say this. When Coltrane played, the critics said, “there is somebody who is really full of crap, because he’s not playing anything but a bunch of notes and a bunch of noise.” Then later on, as time went by, people began to see, “Wow, wait a minute,” what he played made a lot of sense and it’s cool. Now you have people that are saying that people who are playing a lot of these other notes are great, when in essence, they know their butt from a hole in the ground what they’re playing. Now, when it comes to Dizzy: America is a land of mediocrity when it comes to anything with art. If it’s something dumb, oh, give me some more of that. But what Dizzy was playing, the people… See, if you love somebody, you give them what you know is good. Now, if you don’t know if it’s good, find out whether it’s good or not, and give it to them. America, they don’t do that. What they do is: Give me something that’s dumb and the people will like that, and I’ll give them that – and I’ll make more money.” So in essence, what Dizzy did was… If people had known what Dizzy was doing and if they knew now what he’s doing, people would be healthier, there would be less crime, and there would be more love. You know where I’m coming from? Mainly because of what he played. And his music was knowledgeable. All the music you hear today, there’s no intelligence to it. It’s a bunch of crap. But what Dizzy played, you had to use your brain a little bit to understand it, but later on, when you did, you could feel it emotionally, too. It was wonderful.

TP:   He was also a great entertainer.

MOODY:   Yeah, he was a great entertainer. But he did that mainly because he said, “Well, the people are sitting there looking at me like I’m nuts, so I’ll just do something to make them…” But that’s fine.

SLIDE:   But before him, there was a lot of entertainment going on. Bandleaders all were entertainers. Lionel Hampton, Cab Calloway. He played with all those guys. So when he became a bandleader, it kind of seemed to be the right thing to also add some entertainment. Which is a good idea, because it kind of brings the people in, gives them a chance to hear some…

RODITI:   If I may just interject on the same thing. You notice the way Paquito D’Rivera leads a band has a lot of Dizzy’s influence in that particular thing of entertainment also.

MOODY:   Look at me. Look at me when I’m on stage. I mean, hey, man… That’s Dizzy, man!

HEATH:   When I conduct my band, I’ve got a little of that in me, too!  That’s where we came from.

JOHN LEE:   People want to be entertained. They really do.
SLIDE:   Yeah. It helps bring them into something that calls for a very sophisticated outlook, a sophisticated listener. Just that alone, most people wouldn’t be able to hang with it that long. But if you give them a few other things as a reason why they’re out there paying their money, then they start to listen to some music that’s on a very high level of sophistication, and they start to get it emotionally. Because that’s what the final result of the music is about, is about the emotional effect that it has on… But some people, if you give them something like this without something that brings them into it, then they’re never going to get to the place that they can really listen to it. And getting people to listen to the music is the first thing you have to do to see whether they’re going to like it or not.

TP:   I’d like to get back to the question of what, concretely, is not properly understood about Dizzy Gillespie.

SLIDE:   That he was a very intelligent guy. The reason they didn’t understand him is because he was able to deal with people on all different levels of intelligence. He could deal with the guy in the street that spoke bad English. He could deal with a person who had a very extensive vocabulary. You see, he was a very intelligent person, but not where he looked down on other people who didn’t have the same intelligence development that he had.

HEATH:   He was a people person. Dizzy liked all people, and they liked him for that reason.

SLIDE:   He liked to talk to the janitors and the…

JOHN LEE:   The man had an amazing understanding of logic. Dizzy would do shit, and you’d go… The best story I always tell that a lot of people don’t know about is when him and Sarah Vaughan took Earl Hines to the White House just as a guest. When they played during dinner, Nixon snuck up behind Dizzy and said, “Diz, uh, you think Earl would play for us even though he’s not here to play?” Dizzy dropped his fork and said, “You’re the President; you ask him.” He asked Dizzy to ask him. Just think about that. “You’re the President. You ask him. I’m not the President.”

MOODY:   Dizzy was a helluva speller. Dizzy could spell damn near anything. You know how he got his name? They said he was dizzy because he did little funny things. But that saying goes, “Dizzy was dizzy like a fox.”

TP:   So he was a very precise person. He could spell out all the rhythms, he could spell out all the chords, and he did that for four generations of musicians.

SLIDE:  Yes. He loved grammar, he told me.

TP:   Grammar musical and verbal.

SLIDE:  Yes.

HEATH:   Dizzy was a born genius, man.

JOHN LEE:   that’s it. That’s the bottom line.

HEATH:   He was a born genius. When he went to school he was throwing spitballs around at the other kids, because he already knew what the teacher was saying anyway. He was bored.

TP:   Dizzy was married fifty years to a very strong woman. What effect do you think she had on his success in the music business?

MOODY:   If it wasn’t for Lorraine, Dizzy… For everything that Dizzy did that was wonderful and brilliant and like a genius, he squandered. He’d spend. No matter what it is, if he saw it, he had to have it. He’d buy it. He could get it, but Lorraine kind of put a rein on him, like, “Cool it; you don’t have to do this, you don’t have to do this…” She slowed him down. Because Dizzy was going 90,000 miles an hour, boy.

JOHN LEE:   He recognized that she was his anchor, would bring him down to earth all the time.

MOODY:   Yes.

JOHN LEE:   She had amazing common sense and amazing discipline. Lorraine had amazing discipline. She was a very devout Catholic.

MOODY:   You know what cracked me up? She said, “I damn near burned the house down trying to save his black ass.” Because you burn candles in the Catholic religion. She said, “I damn near burned the house down trying to save his black ass.”

JOHN LEE:   There’s a famous story about Lorraine when someone was coming through… Do you all know this story about when someone was coming through the kitchen?

HEATH:   No.

JOHN LEE:   Dizzy had bought Lorraine a shotgun. Someone knocked the screen out the window, and he got up, he got his arms in… Lorraine is around the corner with the shotgun, standing there. Got his arms in, and the guy had… God saved him. They say he got halfway through and he stopped, and he said, “no,” and he backed up and left. She would have blown his head off. She was going to shoot him when he got through that window.

SLIDE:   She wouldn’t shoot     him halfway through.

JOHN LEE:   No-no. She said, “Okay, if he comes all the way in here, he’s dead.” But he thought about it. This guy got kissed by an angel, went “wait, no,” and backed out.

SLIDE:   A guy who goes into people’s houses to rob should be shot.

JOHN LEE:   The gun was cocked. She was right around the corner. She was watching him.

RODITI:  I feel if it wasn’t for bebop, the music would have made no sense in my life. Bebop created everything that I am now. All the pleasure. The pleasure of playing, the pleasure of composing, the pleasure of composing in a Brazilian vein even is influenced by bebop as well.

JOHN LEE:   The challenge of it.

SLIDE:   I’m with Claudio on that. Bebop brought something to music that was so important for music to have, to make music become all that it can be. There’s one thing that was missing. Because we had the European harmony, we had the African rhythms, we had influences from a lot of people. But we didn’t really have the importance of making the most music out of whatever you do, more so than all of the rules and all of the customs. Bebop is the thing that made musicians develop the whole respect for what they make in music. Made musicians respect music and respect what you have to put into music to get whatever you want out of it. Bebop was very important in that way. If you hear a musician who doesn’t have bebop in their playing, and you’re a good musician, you will know it.

HEATH:   Bebop took the Afro-American classical music to a higher level.

JOHN LEE:   And it’s a lifelong challenge, isn’t it. Still practicing and learning stuff.

HEATH:   As musicians we get as much fun out of… I enjoy finding things. Like the piece I’m writing now called “The Endless Search.” That’s what we’re all involved in. The endless search.

TP:   Does playing Dizzy’s music now, after 50-60 years of knowing it and playing it, hold the same sort of excitement… Obviously, it would be on a different level. But does it hold the same sort of excitement now as it did then?

HEATH:   To us. And the audiences we’ve been playing for.

SLIDE:   It has the important energy of guidance to it, and giving you something to judge, whatever you play. No matter what style you play, if you have a real firm understanding of the tradition of bebop, then you have a way of looking at whatever you play and telling whether it has any real value or not. You can play a completely different style, but you have something to judge what you’re playing, what music is there really in what I’m doing. Because you can easily get into a style that’s very exciting and very impressive. It doesn’t have to be musical.

HEATH:   Because bebop is, like I say, the endless search. That means if we are trying to learn something and striving to get better all the time, we are not thinking about getting to the level where we want to make a whole lot of money. We’re not thinking about that. And watering things down so the general public will like it. We’re not catering to that. In bettering the music, we are bettering ourselves as human beings. That should make everybody want to be better.

TP:   And Dizzy Gillespie was an exemplar and an avatar of that attitude.

MOODY:   That’s what I was saying. People ask me what I do… When I play, I play for myself. And the reason I play for myself is because my goal in life is to play better tomorrow than I did today for myself. What I’m saying is that I am going to give you the best that I can give you. I can’t do any better than that. That’s what bebop is. When people are giving you something that is great… I mean, you can’t get anything better than that. Because Dizzy didn’t say [SINGS THEME OF “Bebop”] He didn’t do that so people could say, “Wow!” But if you want to make somebody’s mind grow, [SINGS “Bebop”…] That’s spiritual and mindblowing. And that’s why bebop I think is more valid than any kind of music that you have. Even classical music. Because in classical music, nobody plays bebop through the keys. Beethoven’s minor or whatever symphony, just one thing. If they want to say classical music is better than jazz, play all those things through different keys, and then I’ll go along with them.

JOHN LEE:   The best explanation I’ve ever heard is that classical music is the expression of one man, the composer; everyone else is an interpreter. In jazz, everyone… Listen, I do want to say one thing, Ted. It’s the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band. Slide Hampton is our Musical Director. The small group is the Alumni All Stars, because we recorded like that. And the record is coming out in September.

TP:   I have one final question for each of you, counter-clockwise, starting with James Moody.  It’s perhaps a little more complicated for James Moody, because you played with him for so long. But let’s say three favorite recordings or performances by Dizzy Gillespie.

MOODY:   I couldn’t answer that. When you hear music, it’s like eating. Today you might want some beef, you might want some fish. If you listen to a recording, it might be the greatest thing you’ve ever heard at that time, and then later on it won’t be, then next month… I can’t say.

TP:   Fair enough. Slide Hampton, can you say?

HAMPTON:   I can. “Things To Come,” “I Can’t Get Started,” and “That’s Earl, Brother.” The first piece I ever heard in this style of music was “That’s Earl, Brother.” That was Sonny Stitt and Dizzy, a wonderful composition written by Ray Brown, and the solos… The great thing about Dizzy’s solos is that they sound like a part of the composition, a part of the arrangement. I heard the recording of “I Can’t Get Started” and also in person, and it always makes me feel great to hear it. “Things To Come” was just one of the most exciting things… This was one of the biggest changes that came in music, and also the thing that made people realize that music has to change, like everything else – and it has to get better. All of a sudden, people have taken music to a very low level of quality. It’s the wrong thing to do. It’s wrong to do this. Dizzy and them were the exact contrary of that. They were putting their whole lives into music to make it better, so people’s minds would be more stimulated by music, not only in music, but in their lives in general.

TP:   Jimmy Heath?

HEATH:   I think the first one would be “Shaw Nuff,” with Charlie Parker and Dizzy and Sid Catlett. That’s the first thing I heard, and that just blew my mind. There are so many by the big band that I love. “Things To Come” is one. Also some of the later ones. Dizzy’s arrangement of “Lover Come Back to Me” is one that I think was exceptional, and I’d say some of the things he did with… That’s very difficult. Some of the things… “Con Alma.” I think “Con Alma” is one of the greatest compositions ever written. When I hear it, it touches my heart and soul deeply, and I think about Dizzy and it makes me want to tear up and cry. When I hear it, it just puts me in a solemn mood of understanding that such a beautiful composition is just like Dizzy was – a beautiful man.

RODITI:   Of course, I would have to say that first recording of Dizzy with Roy Eldridge stays in my heart as one of my favorites. I also am very fond of the 1949 Metronome All-Stars, “Overtime,” with Dizzy, Fats Navarro and Miles Davis in the trumpet section. To me, they elevated the trumpet to such a height that this remains with me, very much so. But there are so many recordings. I should say also “The Eternal Triangle,” Dizzy with Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins is another. There are so many. But these come to my mind at this moment.

JOHN LEE:   I’m the youngest in the room. My father brought home Dizzy On The Riviera and played “Desafinado” over and over and over again, so that made a big impression on me. Then “Night In Tunisia.” Are we talking about an album or a tune.

TP:   Either way.

JOHN LEE: It’s hard to pick. I was going to say “Things To Come,” but that song was licensed on so many albums. Sonny Side Up for me, and then Dizzy On The Riviera, and then Dizzy Live at Newport with “Dizzy’s Blues,” with the great Al Grey solo and Wynton Kelly on it – an amazing record. But I’m a lot younger, so I wasn’t exposed to “Shaw Nuff” and all that stuff.  That’s what I was exposed to first through my whole childhood – Dizzy at Newport, Dizzy On The Riviera and “Things to Come.” But I can’t really tell you what album my father had of it. My father loved Dizzy, though.

MOODY:   You see what I’m talking about? Everything that everybody said, I dug. Each thing. “Things To Come.” “Con Alma.” But I can’t tell you what, because when I hear all of it, each one is “Ah, boy, yeah,” “Ah, boy, yeah.”

JOHN LEE:    The one thing I’m going to miss tonight is that we’re not going to play [sings  refrain of “I Can’t Get Started.”] Slide, can you take that off the album. It’s about time. We’ve got to have that.

SLIDE:   We have to play that, man. That’s everything. That’s all of life, man! If we play that, that’s going to make everything on the planet better.

JOHN LEE:   These arrangements got lost. We could play it in the small group. But the big band arrangement Slide is talking about is only a 4-minute arrangement.

SLIDE:   See, that was a piece that was recorded by a lot of trumpet players. And to imagine a guy who plays so modern to be able to make another recording of it that would stand up against the recording that came before is incredible.

JOHN LEE:   We’ve got the two best ballad trumpet players alive in the band.

HEATH:   You can send me home after that.

TP: Everyone’s been laughing about Jimmy’s reactions to a photograph of Dizzy in the Roy DeCarava book doing… What would you say he’s doing?

SLIDE:   That’s a pirouette.

MOODY:   Dizzy got all that dancing stuff from Lorraine. She was a chorus girl, you know.

JOHN LEE: We pack them in everywhere. Tanglewood, Kennedy Center.

MOODY:   If we could make a movie with Jimmy and his brother following Dizzy’s band around with the ties and berets. We could get Spike Lee to play the part of Jimmy! It would be a great movie.

TP:   Who could play Percy?

HEATH:   I don’t know. That stuff with Fats and Miles, man, that ain’t necessary. That’s bush. All them guys had something. They were wonderful.

SLIDE:   Well, Miles was wonderful, man.

HEATH:   we know that.  I got him in my car, all the ballads.

SLIDE:   Miles showed a way that a person who didn’t have all the technique, all of the impressive technique that Dizzy had, and still make a lot of music. And Miles made a lot of music with his simple way of playing.

HEATH:   He sure did. A voice.

SLIDE:   He took all these great musicians and helped them become more popular. They came through his band; when they left his band, they could have their own band.

HEATH:   I don’t need no Miles Davis fans coming to holler at me for what I said about Fats. Fats was an incredible trumpet player. Miles wasn’t at that time. The thing is, at the time… Fats didn’t live long enough to be recognized by the world like Miles.

SLIDE:   Miles became more popular than Dizzy or any of the guys. Because he played the songs. If you want to become popular, there was a time when you could play songs. Not now, but there was a time. Now, actually, some of the guys are starting to go back and sing the songs again.

Let’s start with “Whisper Not.” You can’t go wrong with that. Then let’s do “One Bass Hit,” then come on up into the new stuff.

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