Tag Archives: trumpet

For the 84th Anniversary of Art Farmer’s Birth, A Few Interviews From 1994

In 1994, I had the privilege of conducting three interviews with the magisterial flugelhornist Art Farmer on WKCR, one during a quintet engagement at Sweet Basil on which he shared the front line with Jerome Richardson (Clifford Jordan had recently passed), and was promoting a two-trumpet recording with Tom Harrell on Arabesque, followed a pair of 5-hour Sunday Jazz Profiles where he was present for the entirety. In honor of the 84th anniversary of Mr. Farmer’s birth, I’m posting the complete transcripts of the interviews.

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Art Farmer (WKCR, 11-27-94, 12-18-94):

[MUSIC: Jazztet (1961), "Farmer's Market"; (1993) "Turn Out The Stars," (1992) "Modulations",  (1991) "Isfahan"; (1953) w/ Clifford Brown, "Keeping Up with Jonesy", (1953), w/ Sonny Rollins "I'll Take Romance", (1954) w/Gigi Gryce, "Blue Concept"]

TP:    You’re originally from Iowa, and grew up in Arizona.  What were your earliest musical experiences like?

AF:    I started off studying the piano, because that’s the first instrument that I ever heard.  My mother used to play the piano with her father’s church choir.  At that time it was very customary to have a piano in the house, and someone played it.  There were a lot of music students in our family, and it just seemed the natural thing to take piano lessons.  Then after that, when we were living in Phoenix, Arizona, a man gave me a violin, and I studied that for a couple of years.  Then I switched from the violin to the bass tuba.  I was playing with a marching band that was part of a church organization in Phoenix.  I heard some of the older guys in the band jamming around one day, and I wanted to play a horn, like I said, but the only horn available was the tuba.  Then the War started.

TP:    So by this time you were 12 or 13…

AF:    Yes, about that.

TP:    …and sort of going between the violin and the brass instruments.

AF:    Yes, right.

TP:    Who taught you?  Did you get instruction in some sort of organization, or private teachers?

AF:    I had a teacher for the violin, who was employed by what then was called the WPA, the Works Progress Administration, to see that everybody had a job in the United States.  That’s the only teacher that I had.  I also had a teacher on the piano who was employed by the school system out in Phoenix.  So teaching was rather scant, I would have to say.

TP:    So you got your experience basically picking up from other people and playing in different situations?

AF:     Right, picking up from other people.  Well, Jazz was on the radio.  There was a lot of airplay for Jazz then,  big bands playing for dances, and all kinds of wonderful things happening.  The first live music that I heard actually was the real Country Blues.  I used to sell papers, and I would walk around in the migrant workers’ camps and sell them papers, and after work they would be sitting around, playing and singing, playing the Blues on the guitar or whatever.

But I heard all this Big Band Jazz on the radio.  Then when the Second World War came along, there was an Army camp around Phoenix, and I heard the Army dance band.  There was one guy in the band by the name of George Kelly, who is still around here in New York, and he used to come around to our rehearsals and help us out.  He was a great guy.  He used to write arrangements for us.  But that’s the first time I heard a big band live, was the U.S. Army band.  Then the traveling dance bands started coming through on one-nighters, like Jimmie Lunceford and Erskine Hawkins, Buddy Johnson, people like that.  The greatest thing in life that I could imagine was to hear these bands.  It was so exciting that it never has left me.  My brother, Addison, myself and our friends, we would go around and introduce ourselves to the musicians, and ask them to come by the house to have a jam session — and they were very nice, and they would.

TP:    Your brother, Addison Farmer, was your identical twin and a bass player.

AF:    Right.

TP:    Was he pretty proficient at this time also?

AF:    Well, he was, but at this time he really hadn’t gotten into it as much as I had.

TP:    I think you mentioned Roy Eldridge particularly as turning you around.

AF:    Right.  Well, Roy came to town with the Artie Shaw Band, and I met him then, and I have to say he was really very kind.  He came by the place that I was playing on a night off, and he sat in and played the drums.  Then after about a set of that, he went back to his room and got his horn, and came around and played.  I didn’t know anything to ask him, really; it was just sort of a listening thing.

TP:    Now, you said he came by where you were playing.  By this time were you working locally around Phoenix?

AF:    Yes, I was.  I was working with some friends of mine at a place that was the kind of place that we would then call a bucket of blood, heh-heh, sort of a rough place.  But that’s all the town had to offer.  We were frankly very ignorant about what was going on with music, didn’t know left from right or 3/4 from 2/4, but we knew that we liked music and we knew that we wanted to play, and I guess that’s what Roy heard.  So he was gracious enough to come up and play the drums, because he was a drummer also, and he enjoyed the situation enough to go back to his room and get his horn.

TP:    Would you be playing mostly Blues at this time?

AF:    Yes, mostly Blues, very simple riffs, riff-type tunes based on “I Got Rhythm” or “Honeysuckle Rose,” something like that.

TP:    And at this time you would have been 15 years old, let’s say?

AF:    Yes, around 15 or 16.

TP:    Who were some of the trumpet players who were shaping your idea of how the trumpet should sound?

AF:    Well, the most dominant trumpet player that you would hear in a small town like Phoenix then would be Harry James, because he was on the air all the time.  Harry James was a very fine trumpeter.  Of course, his style was much different from what really grabbed me later on.  But at that time, why, he was the man.  Even Miles said when he started trying to play, he was captivated by Harry James.

TP:    When you heard Roy Eldridge over the air, that grabbed you?

AF:    Oh, sure.  Certainly.  Then later on, I heard other people when the bands came through, say, Erskine Hawkins, where there was a trumpet player named Dud Bascomb who took a solo on a very successful record called “Tuxedo Junction.”  Also there were other fantastic trumpet players with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, like Freddie Webster, for instance.

TP:    Andy Kirk for a brief moment had Howard McGhee and Fats Navarro in his band.  Did they ever come through Phoenix when you were there?

AF:    No.  They never came through Phoenix.

TP:    So you didn’t have a chance to hear them right away.

AF:    No, they never came through Phoenix, nor did Billy Eckstine.  A lot of bands didn’t come through Phoenix.  Phoenix was relatively a small town.  Billy Eckstine never came through, Earl Hines never came through, Duke Ellington never came through, nor Count Basie.  But I certainly remember the ones that did come through.  When I heard Jimmie Lunceford’s trumpet section, well, I knew what my life was going to be instantly.

TP:    Why is that?  What was the sound of that trumpet section like in person, up close?

AF:    Well, if you’ve only been playing trumpet just by yourself, and suddenly you hear four guys that are really playing a nice arrangement, then it’s such a big difference.  It’s like a revelation.  You hear the trumpet players playing their solo with the band in the background; well then, that sort of shows the way to you.

TP:    When you were 16 or 17 years old, you and your brother went to Los Angeles and finished your last year of high school there.

AF:    Yes.  We actually went there supposedly on a vacation.  We had had our little day jobs and saved our money, and we went over to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks.  But the music scene was so alive on Central Avenue in Los Angeles, and we heard so many people, it just seemed senseless to go back to Arizona.  So we decided to stay there and finish our high school there, and support ourselves by whatever means were possible.

TP:    Did you have family in Los Angeles?

AF:    No, we didn’t.  We didn’t have any family there.  But the school didn’t know that.  Our mother told us, “Well, if this is what you really want to do, go ahead and do it, but at least graduate from school.”  So we did.  And we wrote our own excuses and things, so the school never knew.  If we didn’t want to go to school, we would just write an excuse supposedly from our parents, which was accepted by Jefferson High School.

Now, there were some teachers that were very helpful to us — music teachers.  There was one man in particular by the name of Samuel Brown, who also taught Dexter Gordon.  Because Dexter went to the same school, although he was a few years in front of us.

TP:    What was Mister Brown like as a teacher?

AF:    Well, anyone who came to town that he knew, he would ask them to come over and play some, and talk to the students, and that would be the students’ first time able to talk to real professional musicians.  He organized what is now called a stage band, and we would go around and play assemblies in other schools in the Los Angeles area.

TP:    What sort of repertoire were you playing?

AF:    Well, it was a repertoire with, for example, “9:20 Special” written by Buck Clayton, and “Take The A Train,” and something by Woody Herman.
TP:    Dance band things.

AF:    Yes.  Dance band things that were popularized by the big bands.  It was mainly big bands, because there were also people in the school orchestra who were already writing arrangements.

TP:    Like who?

AF:    Well, I can’t remember the names right, because this was a long time ago.  Besides Dexter, some of the other active players were people like Sonny Criss and Cecil McNeely, who later turned out to be a great Rock Star by the name of Big Jay McNeely.  Hampton Hawes was around.  I figured that I should have been there a long time before I was.  I got there for my last year.  If I’d been there two or three years earlier, it would have been a lot of help.

TP:    Was Samuel Brown helpful to you in developing your brass technique?

AF:    No, he wasn’t a brass teacher at all.  I didn’t have a brass teacher.  I had never had a brass teacher up to this point.  Up to then, I was just sort of hit and miss.  Mostly miss.  Trial-and-error.

TP:    There was another teacher in Los Angeles, Lloyd Reese, who taught privately…

AF:    Yes, I heard about Lloyd Reese, but I never went to him.  Lloyd Reese was a professional teacher, and you had to pay him, and I didn’t have any money to take lessons.

TP:    You arrived in Los Angeles at the time Bebop was first starting.  Howard McGhee was out there and…

AF:    That’s right.  That’s the first time I heard Howard, and Howard with his group was really a revelation to me.  That sort of pointed me in the direction for my life.  He was moving around on the horn more than the usual soloists in the big bands.  They were playing what were then called ride solos, where you’d just sort of Jazz the melody, and you don’t actually move around the horn that much.  That’s what most of the guys were doing when the solo time came.  Players like Dud Bascomb and Ray Nance came along and created their own things, and they were so interesting and beautiful.  But then Howard came along, and he was much more fluid than them.  Much more.  I heard Howard McGhee’s group before Dizzy and Bird came out, so that was the first so-called Bop group that I heard.  They had a wonderful tenor player named Teddy Edwards in there, who became a close friend of mine.  We worked together later on.  I didn’t meet Howard, but I used to go out and listen to them play every night.  I was amazed at the way he was able to play the instrument, because I hadn’t heard Dizzy or Miles or Fats or Kenny Dorham at that time.  He was the first one that I heard who could get around the horn like that.

TP:    Who were some of the other players in Los Angeles who impressed you?

AF:    At this time, I don’t remember any local trumpet player that impressed me anywhere like Howard did, and then, shortly after that, when Dizzy came out with his group.

TP:    And did you go to Billy Berg’s to hear the band?

AF:    Yes, I’d go there, and when I was able to get in, I’d get in.  Sometimes someone was on the door who said, “Well, you don’t look like you’re old enough,” so I couldn’t get in.  Then Miles came out with Benny Carter’s band, and I met him; we used to wind up at jam sessions together, and I would get a chance to listen to him.  I used to go around with Charlie Parker, too.  I wouldn’t play, but I would just listen.  A tenor saxophone player that became very influential in my life, Wardell Gray, came out there with Earl Hines’ band; I went around and met him — later on we wound up working together.  Wardell was a very nice man, a very intelligent man, and it was really a tragedy, not only to him, but to all of us who knew him, to have lost him at such an early age.  He was very kind and very helpful, and I was very glad for the chance to work with him, and also with Dexter at this time, because the two of them organized a group, and we worked around the Los Angeles area.

TP:    What other work did you get in Los Angeles at this time?

AF:    I worked for a group that was led by a drummer by the name of Roy Porter, who used to work with Howard McGhee.

TP:    Roy Porter had a big band, too.

AF:    Yes, he had a big band, and actually we did some recording for the Savoy label with this big band.  Eric Dolphy was in that band.  Also I worked with a big band that was led by Horace Henderson, Fletcher Henderson’s brother.

TP:    Horace Henderson was supposed to be very adept at organizing a band and getting a good band sound.

AF:    Right.  Well, that worked.  He had a very fine swing style trumpeter by the name of Emmett Berry.  Emmett could play.  Emmett gave me some tips and some pointers.  Still I had never had a trumpet lesson.
TP:    How much Bebop were you able to play as a youngster in Los Angeles?

AF:    I would say not very much. [LAUGHS] I was mostly captivated by it.  But see, playing Bebop is not the easiest thing that you can find to do! [LAUGHS]

TP:    It sounds like you had a lot of the new ideas in your mind while you were playing gigs that required other things from you.

AF:    Well, Bebop came out of the Swing Era.

TP:    Talk a little bit about that.

AF:    Well, everybody that was involved with Bebop, as far as I know, the main guys played with the big bands.  I mean,  Miles and Dizzy and Max Roach and J.J. Johnson, all did, and Dexter Gordon — all these guys came out of big bands.  Where else would they come from?

TP:    And because of World War Two, there were openings for young musicians in those bands.

AF:    Right, there were.  There were openings for guys of my age.  The older, more proficient players were mostly in the Armed Forces.

TP:    Los Angeles was a thriving musical community at this time, with clubs everywhere and lots of work for musicians.

AF:    Yes, there were a lot of clubs.

TP:    Talk about what an average night might be like on the Central Avenue strip.

AF:    Well, you could just walk up the street and go from one club to the other.  Within an area of about 20 blocks there would be like five or six clubs.  These clubs were forced to close by one o’clock because of wartime restrictions, but then there were some other clubs that would open up.  I don’t think they were quite legal, but they got away with it some way.  They would open up when the first clubs closed, and they would stay open until maybe six or seven o’clock in the morning.

TP:    Were there places that had breakfast dances also?

AF:    Yes.  But these places were called breakfast clubs.  There wasn’t a lot of dancing going on at these clubs, but there was an audience there for listening at this time.   There was no big play on it from the press.  No Jazz Critics ever came around, and you never read about it in Downbeat or nothing like that.  But the players came around, and after they had finished their big band gigs, their dance gigs, why, then, they came over and sat in and played.

TP:    That was sort of graduate school for a lot of musicians at that time.

AF:    Yes, it was.  Graduate school, that’s what I would call it.

TP:    When did you first go to New York?

AF:    I first came to New York in 1946 with a band that was led by a drummer by the name of Johnny Otis, who had a big band that was working on Central Avenue.  The band was patterned after the Count Basie Orchestra.  In fact, Count Basie used to send us some arrangements that he didn’t want to play.  It was a good band, a straight-ahead Swing band.  The tenor player Paul Quinichette was in the band.  I was able to get the job with Johnny Otis, because some of the people who had been playing with the Otis band didn’t want to travel.  That gave me a chance, and I came with them to New York.

TP:    How long were you here?

AF:    Well, I was here that time for a couple of weeks.  We were on tour, and we played a place in Chicago called the El Grotto which was owned by Earl Hines.  We played there for about ten weeks.  Then we played at the Apollo Theater for  a week, and then we played the Paradise Theater in Detroit for about week — and then Johnny Otis fired me.

TP:    Was this your first time seeing the country?

AF:    Yes, it was my first time.

TP:    What was Chicago like then?

AF:    Oh, that was great.  The El Grotto was very nice.  Such a nice club, with a chorus line and showgirls and comedians.  It was really a nightclub, which there is nothing like that now.  It was a big show.

TP:    Chicago had a number of clubs with elaborate shows then.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Did you get around in Chicago?  Is that where you met Gene Ammons, let’s say?

AF:    No.  Gene was on the road with Billy Eckstine at that time.  I didn’t meet Gene until I recorded with him for Prestige in the Fifties.

TP:    What was your first impression of New York?

AF:    Oh, New York was a great place.  It was another city compared to now — completely different.  But there was a lot of music going on, and music was all around the town.

TP:    Where did you go to jam?  I’m assuming that you did.

AF:    Well, no, I didn’t go to jam at that time.  I would go to listen.  I went down to, like, 52nd Street, and to Minton’s up in Harlem.  This is after the job.  We were playing at the Apollo Theater, and our last show would be finished close to midnight, and so then we would go out to other places — like I said, 52nd Street or Minton’s.

TP:    And you heard everybody who was creating the new music at that time.

AF:    Well, everybody was on the Street.

[MUSIC: AF w/G. Russell, "Ballad of Hix Blewitt", "Concerto For Billy The Kid" (1956); AF w/H. McKusick, "Alone Together" (1957); AF w/Horace, "Home Cookin'" (1956); AF/Jaymac/S.Clark, "Sippin' At Bells" (1958); AF/Gerry Mulligan, "Blueport" (1958), AF/H. Jones, "Nita" (1958)]

TP:    In our last conversation segment, Art Farmer was on his first trip on the road with Johnny Otis, when he worked in Chicago and New York for the first time.  But basically, I gather you stayed in Los Angeles pretty much until joining the Lionel Hampton band in the early Fifties?

AF:    Yes.  You see, there was an institution called the Sunday afternoon jam sessions, which happened in Los Angeles and New York and other places, too.  I used to go around to these clubs for the jam sessions, and one Sunday I went there, and there were some guys from Lionel’s band.  Quincy was there, Buster Cooper was there, for instance.  A couple of days later I got a call from a friend of mine, saying that he was going over to talk to Lionel, that Lionel wanted him to make an audition, and he had heard about me and would like for me to make an audition, too.  I think Quincy had something to do with it, really.  So I went over there, and the audition wasn’t to see how well you read the music or played the parts, but to see how well you could play in general.  He said, “Okay, let’s play ‘All God’s Children Got Rhythm,’” which is a real testing tune for young players.  So I did it, and then he said, “Yes, well, if you want the job, you’ve got it,” and that was it.

TP:    What was the salary?

AF:    Oh, it was around $17 or $18 a night when you played. [LAUGHS]

TP:    When did Clifford Brown come into the picture?

AF:    Clifford came in about a year later — less than a year later, because I was there only a year myself.  When I came in, Benny Bailey was still there.  The reason why Lionel Hampton hired me was because a very great trumpet player by the name of Benny Bailey was getting ready to leave.  So when I came in the band, I was the sixth trumpet player, and then Benny left, so I was the fifth.  Then there was a guy named the Whistler, who was called the Whistler because all he played was high notes all night long, and he left, and Brownie took his place.  It was, say, in the summer of ’53 when we were playing in New York at a place called the Band-Box, and we were getting ready to go on a tour over in Europe, where we made all those records.  Gigi Gryce had come in the band, and James Cleveland, and Alan Dawson also…

TP:    What was your immediate impression of Clifford Brown?

AF:    [LAUGHS]

TP:    I know it’s sort of a softball question, but…

AF:    Yeah, that’s really… [LAUGHS] Everybody had the same impression of Clifford Brown.  The nicest impression was what Louis Armstrong said, “It sounds like you got a mouthful of hot rice.” [LAUGHS]

TP:    But you were up next to him every night, I guess, for a number of months.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Did that have an impact on your conception?

AF:    Yes, it did.  I would say that from the standpoint of style we both came from the same inspiration, which was Fats Navarro.  But Clifford was much more proficient than I was, and he was able to do what I really wanted to do, and he could do it perfectly, and be completely relaxed and creative, and improvise.  He was just wonderful.  There were a whole lot of people that wanted to do the same thing, like Idrees Sulieman, for instance, Ray Copeland, and other people, too.  We all said, “Well, this is the guy who really got it together.”

TP:    Did your proximity to Clifford in any way inspire you to work out a niche for yourself, a certain sound that nobody else would get to, such as what, making a rough analogy, Miles Davis faced with Dizzy Gillespie?

AF:    No, it really didn’t.  It just inspired me to get the best sound that I could get.  I certainly loved Brownie and Fats, and Ioved a whole lot of trumpet players, and still do.  A lot of younger guys, the guys like Brownie and Fats and Miles, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, you’d listen to  these guys, and you’re not going to say, “Well, if I could just sound like that, I’d be happy for the rest of my life.”  I would say, “Well, if I could just sound as good as that, and then whatever came out that I figured sounded as good or sounded nearly as good, at least I’d figure like I was pointed in the right direction.

TP:    Back to your experience with Roy Porter, a caller was interested in your having known Eric Dolphy as a very young musician.

AF:    We were very good friends.  Eric was the same way with Charlie Parker as I was with the leading trumpet stylists at that time.  If you listened to him, you could tell immediately that he loved Charlie Parker.  But the difference between Eric and Charlie Parker was that Eric… Eric was more like John Coltrane.  He lived for the saxophone.  That’s all he thought about, was the saxophone all the time, all the time, and whatever he could do.  The first inkling I had that he was going in another direction than just playing Bebop was that he started imitating the sounds of birds.  He’d listen to birds, listen to what the birds sing, and then go home and play it on the horn.  That was happening when I was still living out there, before I left Los Angeles with Lionel Hampton in the Fall of 1952.  But even then, he was consumed by music.

TP:    By the way, did you encounter Ornette Coleman at all in Los Angeles?

AF:    Yes, Ornette came on the scene while I was still there.  We didn’t think much of him, because he would get up on the stand at a jam session, and he would play, like, licks that were associated with Charlie Parker, but he would play them in the wrong place.  He had a hair style that made us call him “Nature Boy.”  There was a tune called “Nature Boy” written by Eben Ahbez, and we called Ornette “Nature Boy.”  We really didn’t realize the contribution that he was going to make to the music — which he made a great contribution.  At that time, when he would get up on the stand, a whole lot of guys would leave the stand.

TP:    You mentioned taking the music beyond Bebop, and indeed, when you came to New York in the mid 1950′s you were associated with a lot of composers who were involved in stretching the form somewhat.

AF:    Well, when I came to New York after I’d left Lionel, and settled down here, then for some reason I got a reputation as a guy that was willing to really try to play people’s music, no matter what it was.  There were a lot of people that were not playing Bebop at that time.  Well, not a lot, but there was George Russell, Teddy Charles, for instance, and they would call me when they had a gig or something to do.  And I would give the music my best shot, and take it home, and study it.  There were some guys that just didn’t care that much about it.  So that was the start of my reputation around there.

TP:    That must have kind of a mind-bender for you, and certainly must have taken you to a lot of interesting places.

AF:    Yes.  Well, I wound up in some interesting places, like playing a concert with the New York Philharmonic of a concerto that was composed by Teo Macero, who later on wound up to be main record producer of Miles Davis.  He wrote this symphony called “Fusion” that was to be performed by a symphonic orchestra with a Jazz group.  So those were the kind of things that were happening.  We played things by creative composers who were not completely in the Jazz idiom, but were using it as best they could, at the same time using their Classical background.  This is not to say that I was a Classical player by any means, but still, it was just a matter of being the guy around town that could sort of straddle the ditch.

TP:    Now, you said that let’s say up to 1950 or so, you hadn’t had a brass teacher.  By this time had you been getting some formal tuition?

AF:    Yes, I had by then.  After I came to New York with Johnny Otis, and my deficiencies came to the front, and he wound up firing me, and I decided to stay in New York and get some professional help.  I worked around here for a couple of years as a janitor in the theaters, and at that time I studied with a teacher by the name of Maurice Grupp.  He didn’t have anything to do with Jazz at all.  But I started taking lessons with him every week, and practiced every day, and at night-time I would go to 52nd Street and listen to the guys who were doing it.  I was supposed to be on my job at 12 o’clock.  Sometimes I was late, because I was busy listening to Miles and Dizzy, etcetera.  I used to work at Radio City Music Hall and a place called the Criterion Theater, and other places like that, cleaning up, because that was the only way that I could stay here and study.

TP:    You did what a lot of artists do when they’re organizing themselves in their earlier years.

AF:    Well, sure.  You’re glad to have the opportunity to do it anyway, any way you can.  I remember some nights I would be late getting to my job because I just couldn’t leave the Street.

TP:    After leaving the Hampton band, you began working around New York with fellow band-member Gigi Gryce for several years.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Talk about the formation of that group and its evolution.

AF:    Well, after leaving the Hampton band, I was able to get some jobs because I had recorded a tune that was subsequently named “Farmer’s Market” out in California with Wardell Gray.  Ira Gitler gave the tune its name.

TP:    What was your name for the tune?

AF:    I didn’t have a name for it!  So Ira decided to call it “Farmer’s Market,” which he did me a great favor.  So I came back here, and went over to the Prestige company, and introduced myself to Bob Weinstock, who was the owner of the company.  I said, “I’m Arthur Farmer.”  He said, “Oh yes, you’re Art Farmer.  You’re the guy who made that record with Wardell Gray.”

TP:    No wonder you’re sick of that one song!

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Gigi Gryce himself was a very ambitious composer.

AF:    Yes.  Gigi was a great composer, a great arranger, and a great saxophone player, and he’s one of the people that we lost too early.  The music has lost a lot because he wasn’t around.  He was from the generation of Quincy and myself, and his contribution was lost, other than a very few things that he did for me, and, oh, yes, he had a group with Donald Byrd, but this didn’t show his full capacity as a player or a writer.  If he had just been able to hang on a bit longer, then I think he would have had a great influence on the music.  Just like Freddie Webster; I think he would have had a great influence on the music if he had been able to hang around longer.  Some people just leave too early.
TP:    You did some wonderful recordings with George Russell.  How did your relationship with him begin?

AF:    Well, it was during a time when I was in the studio with anybody who figured that they had something unusually difficult to be played, and they would call me.  I met George at a record date with either Hal McKusick or Teddy Charles, and after that, when he decided to do his own record, well, he called me.  After that I studied with George for some time, and still he is one of the greatest factors in my playing.

TP:    Would you be a little more specific about the applicability of his ideas?

AF:    Well, it’s a matter of being able to use the harmonic form in a certain way that you always know where you are and you know how to handle yourself.  There’s no point to go into musical terms about it, because I’m not speaking to musicians at this time.

TP:    Later in the Fifties you worked with Gerry Mulligan in a group that stretched form in a lot of different ways.

AF:    Oh, yes.  That was a very important time for me, and a very important occasion.  I learned a lot working with Gerry.  Just before I worked with Gerry, I had worked with Horace Silver, and Horace is a very dominant pianist.  When you’re playing with a group that Horace is in, well, then, you have to respond to what he’s doing.  There’s no way you can ignore him! [LAUGHS] Anyway, I went from Horace’s group to Gerry’s group.  Well, we probably had a couple of weeks’ rehearsal before we went to work, and then I remember the first night that we worked was at a place in Westbury, Long Island, called the Cork and Bib.  We got up on the stand and we played, and I felt like I was up there with no clothes on.  Because I didn’t hear Horace’s piano.  I didn’t hear any piano.  I just heard this baritone saxophone and the bass violin behind me.  It was a completely different environment.  But it worked out.

TP:    Had you heard his pianoless quartet back in Los Angeles in the early Fifties?

AF:    No, I didn’t hear it there.  The first time I heard it, actually, I think I was in Philadelphia, working with Lionel Hampton, and I went to a club, and he had the quartet.  Chet had left by then, and Bobby Brookmeyer was with the group.  And it sounded comfortable, it sounded musically interesting, but it wasn’t the thing that I was really pointing towards.  It was a little bit too laid back for me at that time, and I wanted to bash.

TP:    Well, the group with Gerry Mulligan that you were in sounds less laid-back than those earlier groups.

AF:    Yes.  It sounds less laid-back, and I guess that’s what I brought into it.

[MUSIC: AF 5, "The Touch Of Your Lips" (1958), "The Very Thought Of You", AF Tentet, "Nica's Dream" (1959), "April In Paris" (1959), AF 5, "Mox Nix" (1958); AF/B. Golson, "Five Spot After Dark" (1959)]

TP:    Benny Golson had his hand in that last set quite a bit.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Your musical lives, careers, and I guess personal lives have been intertwined now for about thirty-five, almost forty years.

AF:    Yes.  Well, Benny is one of my musical brothers, and we love each other dearly.  I don’t know where I would be without his tunes.

The first time that we met was with Lionel’s band.  Benny was there for a short time, but then he decided that he didn’t want to stay with the band.  He’s told me many times after that he was really sorry that he didn’t, because this was the band that had his good buddies Clifford Brown and Gigi Gryce and Alan Dawson, James Cleveland and people like that in it.

TP:    When that band got going, it must have been a real powerhouse.

AF:    Well, it was a musical band, when the music called for it, and when the music called for entertainment, it could do that, too.  Lionel is a great musician and he is also a great entertainer, and some people who would be unable to absorb, to appreciate the musical side of it, could appreciate the entertainment side of it.

TP:    I guess you’ve played with a lot of bands like that, and indeed, that was the situation for many musicians of your generation, to get their functional experience and make a living.  That was sort of the side of the music you had to deal with.

AF:    Yes, you had to deal with it somewhere.  But being a trumpet player, about the most entertaining thing I would say that we did, we would just march through the hall.  Actually, when we were playing at the Band-Box, which was next door to Birdland, I remember one night, Lionel marched us out in the middle of the street, and stopped the traffic, and then he was going to march us downstairs into Birdland.  Billy Eckstine was singing there.  The doorman held up his hand and wouldn’t let us go in.

TP:    What did Benny Golson sound like in the early Fifties?  Was his sound already formed at that point?

AF:    I think his sound was formed at that point.  I don’t think that he had found his own unique identity, but he was very much influenced by Don Byas, I think.  Not that he was playing the things that Don Byas played, but it was just that type of playing.

TP:    Were you aware of his writing at that time?

AF:    At that time, no.  When I first him, I was not aware of his writing at all.  The first time that I became aware of his writing was when I heard Miles Davis’ recording of “Stablemates,” which I think may have been the first one of his pieces that was recorded.

TP:    What are the distinctive aspects of his writing that suit you so, his characteristics as an arranger?

AF:    Well, the thing that really attracted me to Benny was the warmth of his ensemble writing.  That was one of the things that you could hear in the Jazztet.  With three horns you could get a certain depth that you couldn’t get with two horns.  Nobody was writing for three horns until Benny came along and started writing for the Jazztet; other than him you’d have to go all the way back to John Kirby, whose group was in existence in the late Thirties into the mid-Forties – after that it was all two horns and a lot of unison writing for two horns.

I’m just thinking of Benny now as an arranger.  As a composer, why, he was able to write melodies that sounded like melodies, didn’t sound like something that came out of an exercise book.  Benny is a master musician, a consummate artist who recognizes the value of a melody, and he can construct a melody that sings and that stays in your head once you hear it.  Tunes like “Whisper Not” or “I Remember Clifford” are real songs.  That’s just not la-de-da-da-da-dah-da-dah. These songs don’t just go in one ear and out the other.  He’s also able to construct a harmonic framework that the improviser feels very comfortable with; not that it’s always easy, but feels very comfortable with to construct their own melodies during their improvisation.

I think Benny is a very rare person to be able to do this so well.  Because we have a lot of writers, who are not bad writers, but a lot of them are weak on melody, and then when they get to the harmony, the harmony is just not compatible to improvise on.  It’s either too many chords or too little.  They might have two chords all the way through or 222 chords. [LAUGHS]

TP:    I guess a lot of his conception came from the small group writing of Tadd Dameron.

AF:    That’s right.  He would be the first one to tell you that he learned a great deal from Tadd Dameron.  I was just talking to Benny a couple of days ago, and he mentioned that he learned a great deal from Ernie Wilkins also.  Ernie used to write for Count Basie’s band.

TP:    Speakking of Tadd Dameron, I’m sure he always had the sound of Fats Navarro in his ear.

AF:    Oh yes.

TP:    And I’m sure you must be one of the major sounds that Benny Golson is hearing in his ear when he’s writing his tunes.

AF:    Yes, no doubt about it.

TP:    Prior to the Jazztet, Benny Golson had been with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and, as he tells it, had really organized the Messengers into the Messengers…

AF:    Yes.

TP:    …and sort of given them an approach that lasted for the next thirty-plus years.  Was the Jazztet kind of a conscious effort on his part to do something similar with a group of young, contemporary musicians, less drummer-oriented?  How did it come about?

AF:    Well, I never thought about it that way.  How it came about was, as you said, Benny had been playing with Art Blakey and I had been playing with Gerry Mulligan for the year prior to the organization of the Jazztet.  Then Benny decided that he wanted to do something that would have more of his imprint into it.  Mulligan was getting ready to organize the Concert Jazz Band, and at that time I didn’t feel like I wanted to be part of a big band, so I was looking for something to do.  Benny and I had been running into each other in New York at various record dates and things, either I was playing on his date or he was playing on mine.  So I was thinking about calling him and asking him if he would like to work with me, when he called me.  I said, “I was just getting ready to call you.”  So we said, “Okay, then let’s work together.”  That’s how the Jazztet came about.

Trombonist Curtis Fuller had worked with Benny for an extended engagement down at the old Five-Spot, so he was the first sideman Benny suggested, to which I said, “Fine,” because I had worked with Curtis on various record dates, and we knew each other and we got along well.

TP:    He was also a very strong acolyte of J.J. Johnson…

AF:    Right, very strong!

TP:    …and a very strong musical personality in his own right.

AF:    Yes, in his own right.

TP:    McCoy Tyner was the pianist in the first Jazztet.

AF:    Right.  Well, Benny recommended McCoy to me…

TP:    Did he know him from Philadelphia?

AF:    He knew him from Philadelphia.  In fact, working with the Jazztet was the first job that McCoy had outside of Philly.  As I said, Benny recommended McCoy, and he recommended him so strongly that…when Benny recommends someone that strong, well, you can trust that recommendation.  So I said, “Okay, let’s go with it.”  McCoy was interested, so we brought him over, and that was his introduction to the world of Jazz other than in Philadelphia.

TP:    The Jazztet was known as group that combined hard blowing with discipline, almost in the space, say, between the Messengers and the MJQ.  That may be an inaccurate way of framing it, but it’s a roundabout way of talking to you about the repertoire of the group.  Did it have any sort of a laboratory quality?

AF:    No, it didn’t have a laboratory quality, as far as I can remember now.  Benny wrote the arrangements, or whoever wrote the arrangements, we would rehearse them, and if there was something that didn’t work, we would take it out.  But that happens with any group.  What it didn’t have was, it wasn’t the type of situation where you get five or six guys together, and they play the first chorus, and then everybody plays a ten-minute solo, and then they play the first chorus again, and take it out.

TP:    Then the set’s over.

AF:    [LAUGHS] It wasn’t like that.  It was like you didn’t have all night to say what you wanted to say, because you had to make way for someone else.  We had it that way on purpose, because we didn’t want any boredom to set in, but we still wanted people to have enough time to say what they wanted to say.
TP:    Which I guess also reflects your early experience in big bands, jump bands, and so forth and so on.

AF:    Mmm-hmm.

[MUSIC: AF 4, "Kayin'" (1961); A. Farmer/O. Nelson, "Street of Dreams" (1962); AF 4, "Lullaby Of The Leaves" (1961), AF 5, "Happy Feet", AF/J. Hall, "Swing Spring" (1964), AF/S. Kuhn, "I Waited For You" (1965); AF/J. Hall, "What's New"; AF 4, "Die Salde Sin Hemmin" (1966); AF/JJ, "Shortcake", "Euro #2" (1966); AF/J. Heath, "The Shadow Of Your Smile," "Blue Bossa" (1967); AF/O. Nelson, "Raincheck" (1962); AF/Vienna..., "God Bless The Child"]
[MUSIC:  Jazztet, "Serenata" (1960); Jazztet, "Wonder Why" (1960); AF/Jazztet, "My Funny Valentine" (1961); "Django" (1961); "Rue Prevail" (1962)]

TP:    On the 1962 performance of “Rue Prevail” you played the flugelhorn, and in 1960 you were playing the trumpet.

AF:    Right.

TP:    You subsequently became identified very much with the flugelhorn.  What was happening during that time?  Because changing your sound is really the most personal thing an improviser can do.

AF:     Well, I started around that time playing the flugelhorn, but not limited to the flugelhorn.  I would play it on tunes that I felt the flugelhorn was the best horn I could play it with.  Other than that, I would play the trumpet.

TP:    When did you start working with the flugelhorn?

AF:    Oh, it must have been around 1962.

TP:    What inspired you?  You weren’t getting the sound you wanted on certain things?

AF:    Yeah, on certain things, certain times.  In certain rooms the trumpet sounded very brassy and piercing, and it just didn’t blend in the way I wanted it to do.  I remembered that I had heard some other people, like Clark Terry, for instance, playing the flugelhorn, and I had heard a recording that Miles had done playing the flugelhorn, and I felt, “well, I should give that a try.”

TP:    So how was it initially?

AF:    Oh, it was fine.  The sound was there right from the start.  But when you ask a little bit more of horn, when you want the projection that the trumpet has, well, then you come up sort of lacking, because the flugelhorn does not have that.  So most guys double, and they go back and forth between the trumpet and the flugelhorn.

TP:    Why didn’t you?

AF:    Well, I found it inconvenient.  You see, when you put one horn down, it cools off, and then you pick it up and start playing it, and it’s flat for the introduction and maybe part of the first chorus, and that sort of gets things off to a rocky start.  So I would rather just stick with one.  So I wound up sticking with the flugelhorn with the Jazztet, and then shortly after that the Jazztet broke up, I organized a quartet that had the guitarist Jim Hall in it.  Jim Hall is not a loud player, and it seemed to me that the flugelhorn was more compatible with his sound than the trumpet would be.  So I wound up playing the flugelhorn exclusively, and I guess I kept the trumpet in the case for about two or three years.

TP:    Well, what did you have to do to elicit as full a complement of sound projection from the flugelhorn as you could?

AF:    Actually, it’s not possible to fully get the projection.  You can approximate it, but you don’t really completely get to it — you just go in that direction.  Sometimes, if you go into the high register, the flugelhorn can have a tendency to sound like a squealing [LAUGHS] instead of playing.

TP:    Well, I guess if that happens with Art Farmer, he’ll make it musical somehow.  But in the last several years you’ve performed on a customized instrument that hopefully blends the attributes of both the trumpet and flugelhorn — the flumpet.

AF:    The flumpet.  I hate that name, but I’m stuck with it. [LAUGHS] That was made by a trumpet-maker named David Monette, who makes trumpets for a lot of very fine trumpet players, such as Wynton Marsalis, for instance, and the principal players for the Boston Symphony and the Chicago Symphony and the Chicago Symphony, etcetera.  I asked him to make me a trumpet, and he made it, it was very fine, and I started really working on the trumpet.  Then he got the idea that it didn’t really sound like me, but he wanted to make a flugelhorn for me — so I told him to go ahead and do it.  Then he called up one day, and he said, “Well, I made it very carefully and put every part in order, made it by hand [because everything is made by hand], but it sounds like hell, and I really don’t like it.  But I have another idea.”  So I told him to go ahead and make it.  Then a couple of months later, he called  and said, “it’s ready.”  I went to Chicago, where I was booked, and he brought it on the gig — and right from the start, it sounded like the  answer to my prayers.

TP:    How so?

AF:    Well, you could go one way or the other on it.  You could approximate the warmth of the flugelhorn or you could approximate the projection of the trumpet.  If you really wanted to put a note out there, you could do it, and if you wanted to be more intimate, you could do that also.  So it seemed like what I was looking for.

TP:    [ETC.] In the next set of music, we’ll hear some incarnations of the Jazztet’s second life, between 1983 and 1987 or so.

AF:    Some time around there.

TP:    I guess reorganizing the Jazztet was just a natural thing to think about at a certain point.

AF:    It came about because a Japanese promoter came up with the idea of getting the Jazztet back together to make a tour of Japan.  Then someone else in Europe heard about this idea, and said, “Yeah, we like that idea, so why don’t you make a tour of Europe first and then go to Japan?”  So that’s how we got it back together.  We brought Curtis back in the group, too.  Then we were able to get some dates in United States also.  I think that we kept the Jazztet going the second time for about two years.  During that time we didn’t work all the time, so I would work with my own group also, and Benny would work with his own group.

TP:    Apart from all of you being twenty years older, with that level of maturity as musicians, were there any changes in strategy, orientation or approach of the group?

AF:    Yeah, there were some changes.  We wanted the group to be more loose, where the members still had more space to be themselves without being hampered by obligations to play backgrounds and interludes and things like that.  Although that was certainly part of it, too, but we didn’t want people to feel that they were hampered by that.  We still wanted the players to feel free.  That was the only change I could think of.

[MUSIC: Jazztet "Moment To Moment" (1983), "From Dream To Dream," "Are You Real?" (1986)]

TP:    Around the time the Jazztet was reformed, you organized a tremendously creative quintet with Clifford Jordan, which first recorded in 1984. Did you first meet Clifford during your time together with Horace Silver around 1956-1957?

AF:     No, I first came in touch with Clifford Jordan around 1951 or ’52, when I was still living in California. Clifford had come out there to spend some time with some family members of his.  I met him through a personal friend of the two of us, a mutual friend. I was introduced as a trumpet player, and Clifford said, “Oh, yeah, you play the trumpet.  Well, I used to play the saxophone.” [LAUGHS] He wasn’t playing at the time.

TP:    He used to play the trumpet, too.

AF:    Yes.  He started off with the piano, actually.  Then he went to the trumpet, and then he went to the saxophone still in Chicago.

TP:    When did you first hear him play?

AF:    When I first heard him was with Max Roach, after Sonny Rollins left Max Roach.  I heard him in that context, and then he came with Horace, who I was working with at the time, and that’s the first time I played with him.

TP:    You played side by side for about a year.

AF:    Right, for about a year.

TP:    Describe Clifford Jordan’s personality.  He was a very witty and…

AF:    Well, he was very witty.  But his middle name is Laconia — and he was very laconic.  You know, there was a certain style about him, especially about what he would say.  It was like it was serious and putting you on at the same time.  You had to know Clifford to know what he was really getting at.

TP:    There must have been a lot of musical jokes on the stand as well.

AF:    Well, there were some, but we usually didn’t joke that much about music. [LAUGHS]  We might joke about the people and about the various situations that one would find oneself in.  But the music we didn’t joke too much about, unless you find yourself in deep water.

TP:    Well, as two very quick-witted improvisers, I’m sure you could find your way out of that.  What was the impetus for the Art Farmer Quintet Featuring Clifford Jordan?

AF:    I had been living in Europe, and I had been coming back and forth, working over here with quintets and quartets, mostly quartets.  I always liked the way Clifford played; I always liked the way he played very much.  I found myself in a situation where I could add another horn, and he was the first one that I thought of.  I had done quite a bit of work in the mid-Sixties with Jimmy Heath, who is another great tenor saxophonist, but Jimmy was working with the Heath Brothers.  To make a choice between Jimmy and Clifford was very hard to do.  You’d choose who was available, and be glad that one of them was available.  I was very glad that Clifford was available.

Clifford was a saxophone player that had his own personal sound, especially by that time, and there was no one better at giving you this feeling that you were listening to an individual player, that instead of listening to the tenor saxophone, you were listening to an individual person.  That’s what Clifford had that is so hard to find.  You know, you can find musicians, especially tenor saxophone players, it seems like there are so many of them that are so great as far as mastery of the horn.  And once they master the horn, they’ve mastered the whole thing.  They have ideas galore, and they play the tune inside, outside, up and down and around.  But when it comes to an individual speaking to you, Clifford does that better than anyone I know.

[MUSIC:  Art Farmer/Clifford Jordan, "Smile Of The Snake" (1988); w/ Horace "Moon Rays" (1957); AF/Cliff, "Raincheck" (1987), "The Summary" (1989), ""Prelude #1" (1984)]

TP:    I’d like to ask you about the qualities of certain writers you favor and how they fall on the horn.  This is sort of impressionistic and maybe not so easy to put into words.  But for instance, in selecting an album of Strayhorn compositions, it’s a kind of complex decision…

AF:    It is complex, because those songs were created for big bands, and then to record them with a five-piece group is not a very easy thing.  You have to try somehow to maintain the color, the harmonic color of the piece with two horns instead of twelve horns.  So you have to be careful.  Some tunes just don’t work out, so you have to find something that you can work with.  Luckily, Billy Strayhorn was such a great composer that even with the simplest line, it could happen.  But then, if you go into a tune like “Bloodcount” [Contemporary] where you want to get the color on it, then you have to be careful what you do.  Of course, we like to play ballads, so we were very careful.

This “Prelude #1″ [Soul Note] was written by the Classical composer Frederic Chopin, and there certainly was no idea that it would be recorded with a Jazz group, with a quintet.  It was arranged by the Austrian pianist that works with me, Fritz Pauer.  He’d just brought it in.  It was written just for the left hand of a pianist.  I liked it.  I liked the way it was treated.  It just worked.  Some things work and some things don’t.

TP:    Well, in the case of Thad Jones, “The Summary” [Contemporary], you were dealing with a composer who was also a great…

AF:    Oh yes.  A great trumpeter.  He was really a monster.

TP:    Talk about his writing.

AF:    Well, his writing was some of the greatest writing that has ever happened for a large group.  I haven’t heard as much of his writing for small group as I would like to.  When I first came east with Lionel Hampton’s band, that’s when I heard him with his group.  He had a group out in Detroit, he and Frank Foster and Billy Mitchell, and I think Tommy Flanagan was in the group, too, and Elvin Jones.  That was great music.

The first time I heard Thad, I was playing with Jay McShann in the late Forties, maybe ’48 or ’49, something like that.  We were in Oklahoma, either Tulsa or Oklahoma City, and we had a night off, and we were jamming one night.  In comes this guy with an Army uniform on, he was like a Lieutenant or a Warrant Officer or something like that, and he takes out his horn and starts playing it — and I said, “Who is that?”  Because he was playing like only Thad can play.

TP:    That sounds like a scene one might have thought of from Kansas City in the 1930′s.

AF:    Well, this was in the Forties, in the late Forties, maybe ’48 or ’49, something like that.  I never had heard about any Thad Jones.  I had heard about Hank Jones, but Thad Jones, well… And he really just blew anybody away.

TP:    You didn’t mention earlier that you’d played with Jay McShann.

AF:    I played with Jay McShann for a year or two.  We didn’t make any records as the Jay McShann Orchestra.  I think there was a record ban on or something.  We made some kind of record backing up a singer, called “When I’m In My Gin.” [LAUGHS]

TP:    Was he doing any of his older repertoire?

AF:    Yes, he was then, sure.  “Jumpin’ The Blues.”  You know, you can’t get away without doing “Jumpin’ The Blues” and things like that.  That was a great experience playing with McShann.  I never will forget that somebody told him, “Mister McShann, when you play those Blues, you sound just like Art Tatum,” and he said, “No, Art Tatum sounds like me, sonny.”  Because he was the master of playing the Blues on the piano.

TP:    How many pieces was that band?

AF:    Oh, maybe it was about 14-15 pieces, something like that.

TP:    Hearkening back, you were in a lot of these type situations in your apprenticeship period — Johnny Otis, McShann, Horace Henderson, Lionel Hampton.  I guess all of these experiences really accrue and become part of what happens to you as an improviser.

AF:    Certainly.  I just thank God for the opportunity of playing with Jay McShann.  I played with Benny Carter in the late Forties and early Fifties; not traveled, but just in the Los Angeles area.

TP:    Playing with Benny Carter, as well as with Horace Henderson, must have been a real learning experience, as far as playing in section and musical discipline.

AF:    Yes.  The music wasn’t easy.  I was lucky to be there.  And the more experienced sidemen that were there were very helpful.  That’s one thing about the music business, is that when people see that you’re serious about learning, well, then, they’ll bend over backwards to give you a helping hand.  That’s what keeps the music alive, I think.

TP:    Passed down from generations.

AF:    That’s correct.  That’s the best way you can learn, sitting next to someone who knows what’s happening, who’s been there, and they’ll steer you right.

TP:    Well, it certainly seems to be a principle you’ve followed in your groups.  For at least fifteen years you’ve employed top young musicians, and…

AF:     Well, it’s to my advantage.  I mean, I’m not doing anybody any favors.  People are there because they should be there.  If I can tell them something, well, fine.  But they’re there to fulfill a function.

TP:    We spoke earlier about the long process of finding a sound.  Was your style formed exclusively from trumpet players, or did you listen to other instrumentalists and try to get some of their qualities?

AF:    No, you listen to everyone, and you try to get some of their quality.  I certainly listened a whole lot to saxophone players — Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker and Ben Webster and Lester Young — for dynamics and for phrasing, and just getting around the music.  The last thing a person should do is just listen to their own instrument, because that limits you so much.  It’s just unnecessary to put yourself in a situation where you’re dealing with that kind of limitation.  It’s like you’re just listening to half of the world, like you don’t want to…you’re just saying, “I don’t want to know anything else.”  There’s no point in that.

I listen to pianists, because I like the way pianists are able to play a line of notes, and all you hear are just the notes, nothing in between.  I would like to execute on the horn the way, say, Bud Powell would execute on the piano, for instance.  The saxophonists I listen to for the warmth of the sound.  The alto for the clarity, and the soprano saxophone for the emotion that comes through that horn so easily, comes right at you; if you listen to John Coltrane or Clifford Jordan, Jimmy Heath, and people like that, it’s right there.

I would say that the main thing about playing is listening.  You have to really concentrate on what you’re hearing, because you can easily think it’s one thing, and then it’s something else.  Sometimes when we go around and participate in classes, we’ll play something and ask somebody to play it back, and they’ll play something quite different from what was really played because they hadn’t really listened close enough.  Then I’d say, “Well, that shows you that you have to get your listening chops together, so you can be sure that you’re playing what you heard.”

Jazz is not just a matter of what’s on the paper, but it’s a matter of what you hear.  That’s how you learn.  Some guys, guys who are really well-trained, have well-trained ears, you play something one time, they got it.  They can throw it right back at you as fast as you can play it.  Then some other guys, their ears are not that well trained.  You have to take a thing and break it apart and play it note by note by note for them to get it.

TP:    Where do you stand?

AF:    I’m somewhere in the middle!

TP:    When we were chatting while the music was on earlier, you said that you wanted to talk about the individuality of some trumpet players.  So I’m going to throw some names at you, and please speak about them at whatever length you’d like.  I’ll start with Freddie Webster, who you’ve mentioned already.

AF:    Well, if Freddie had lived longer, I think he would have become just as influential as Dizzy was.  And I’m not taking nothing away from Dizzy.  Freddie was a great player in his own way of playing.  He had the sound, as Dizzy would say.  I remember one time when I first came to New York and I went to talk to Dizzy about getting a job with his band, and Dizzy said, “Well, what I’m looking for is a trumpet player with a sound like Freddie Webster.  I can do everything else myself.”  That was the main thing, the timbre of the sound and the emotional content that he was able to project.

TP:    Miles Davis admired him tremendously also.

AF:    That’s right.  Well, they were buddies.

TP:    Now, he wasn’t recorded that much.

AF:    No, he wasn’t.

TP:    In person what did he sound like?

AF:    I never got a chance to hear him in person.  I met him, but he wasn’t working at the time.  I just never got a chance to hear him.  So all I had to go by was what I heard on the record, and with the recording technique as it was then, there was no way that that sound could be embellished.  What you heard was what was there, and nothing else.  But I heard him on the live broadcasts with the Jimmie Lunceford band.  He played this tune, “Yesterdays,” and it just blew me away, as it does many people.  I heard him on some recordings with Sarah Vaughan.  The sound was there, the broadness of the sound.  No one else had a sound like that, as far as I can remember.

TP:    Did that quality of sound sort of enter your mind’s ear as something to strive for?

AF:    It certainly did.  If you want to have a broad sound, I don’t know anyone who had a sound broader than that.  And he was able to make it work for him.  He was one of a kind.  If he had been able to stay alive longer, and to make more records where he had a chance to play, I think his influence would have become very great with horn players, and all of us would have benefitted.  I think the person that benefitted the most from Freddie was Miles Davis, because he really listened closely to Freddie.

TP:    Well, let’s make Miles Davis the next trumpeter we talk about.

AF:    Well, Miles is very special, because in my opinion, he’s the first trumpet player that came along that…it’s very hard to hear Louis Armstrong in Miles’ playing.

TP:    And why is that important?

AF:    That’s important because Louis Armstrong was the well, heh-heh, where you go to for the water.  You know, he was the source.  And if somebody could come along and say as much as Miles said, and you couldn’t hear Louis Armstrong in it, that was really a miracle to me.  I’m certainly not putting down Louis Armstrong.  As I said, I haven’t heard anything greater than Louis Armstrong, nothing as far as an individual instrument.  The emotion that he could get out of that horn, there’s nothing around like that.

TP:    You first met Miles around 1946 when he came out to California with Benny Carter.  Did you maintain a pretty good relationship with him in New York?

AF:    Well, we didn’t hang out, but I would run into him sometimes.  I used to see him, like, on the Street (when I say the Street, I mean 52nd St), and then sometimes just run into him, you know, uptown or downtown.  We were always friendly.  He never had this attitude that he’s famous for, or that people always attribute to him as being hard to talk to.  That’s not the Miles that I know.

TP:    I gather that he had quite a bit of respect for your playing, and Thad Jones as well.

AF:    Yes, I guess so.  He was always very approachable and helpful.  I can’t think of any negative thing that ever happened with Miles.

But I’d like to break into this conversation and say that one of the greatest trumpet players, who was virtually ignored during his life, was Kenny Dorham.  He was playing at a time when there was a lot of traffic out there, you know.

TP:    Talk about a distinctive sound, I’ve never heard anybody with a sound quality quite like his.

AF:    No, it was personal.  A personal sound.  It didn’t  sound like he was copying anyone.  He just had his own sound, and that was it.  It wasn’t a big, broad sound.  It wasn’t the kind of sound that I was trying to get.  But it was a unique sound, and he could use it very well.  He always sounded very hip, the way he could phrase and the inflections that he could put on a note which identified him right away.

TP:    I’m going to ask you now about the three sort of major voices of the period you came up in — in no particular order: Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie, and then subsequently, Clifford Brown.

AF:    Well, you could hear Fats.  Fats had a big, fat sound.  No pun intended, but he had a great sound.  He was a master trumpet player, and he sounded like he could do anything he wanted to do on the trumpet with ease.  But still, without Dizzy, there would have been no Fats Navarro as we know him.  No way.  He was very strong on harmony, but the way he used harmony, you could hear where it came from.  So I’m saying that the credit has to go to Dizzy, because that was the main influence of a great trumpet player.

TP:    Indeed, Dizzy Gillespie’s harmonic and rhythmic innovations are the fount for a lot of things still happening today in Jazz.

AF:    Still.

TP:    I’d like you to talk about your early impressions of him.  Now, you heard the band that came out to Billy Berg’s in 1945 as a 17-year-old.

AF:    Yes, I saw Diz and Bird.  But I have to say this.  One night I was playing in a place in Paris, and a lady who used to book some dates for me, said, “Dizzy is coming down tonight.”  So I’m thinking, “Well, I’m going to play something that doesn’t have anything to do with Dizzy at all.  I played and I played and I played, and it seemed like everything I played I could trace right back to Dizzy!  It was very frustrating.  I wanted to play something unique.   But I could see my sources then for sure.  Like, if you just play and don’t think about where this comes from and where that comes from, you might start thinking that you’re doing something original.  But that’s very rare.

TP:    Were you familiar with the early Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie records when they came out to the West Coast?

AF:    Yes.  You see, when I was still living in Arizona, before I came to the West Coast, the first time I heard people playing that way was on some of the Billy Eckstine records.  Dizzy took a solo on one thing, and Dexter and Gene Ammons took a solo on something else.  Then when my brother and I moved to Los Angeles, some kids our age played these quintet records that Dizzy and Bird made, and that turned everything over for me.  Because I was hearing intervals and notes that I never had heard anyone else play before.  Dizzy was in another universe as far as picking notes to play.  In the quintet, the solos had more time to play than in the big band, so I could really hear what was going on.  It just grabbed me.  And I’m still where I was then.

TP:    Well, not quite, I wouldn’t think.

AF:    [LAUGHS]

Q:    I’m sure you hadn’t heard anybody play at that velocity.

AF:    No.  But I had heard a lot of the Jazz greats, like Roy Eldridge.  I had heard Johnny Hodges and the wonderful trumpet players with Duke Ellington’s band, and Buck Clayton and people like that.  The Ellington trumpet players were the ones that really got me, because they all sounded different.  Everyone there sounded different.

TP:    Of course, Ellington put them in situations where their individuality could be most fully exploited.

AF:    Yes, absolutely.  But Dizzy got all the kids.  Because the kids, when you grab a trumpet, the first thing you want to do is play up high, and see who can play the highest.   But Dizzy could play up high, and play something, too.  He wasn’t just screeching out a note, the way you hear some people do it, trying to see how high they can play.  But he was playing melodic ideas, with the swing and the clarity; his attack and intonation, everything was there.  He was really a harmonic pioneer for a horn player.  There had been pianists who were playing great notes, like Art Tatum, but Dizzy was the first one I heard that really was playing notes like that on a horn, and that, as I said, before, turned me upside-down.  So he had us all right from the very start.

Going back to Miles again, you have to give him credit.  When I first heard him, he was under the influence of Dizzy, but then he found his own way, and it was quite different.  Somehow he had managed to put it together and really talk to people through what he played on the horn — you know, get to the heart.

TP:    You spoke earlier about Clifford Brown, who you sat next to in Lionel Hampton’s trumpet section for a year, which I’m sure was a simultaneously enlightening and probably somewhat humbling experience as well.

AF:    [LAUGHS] Yes, it was.  Lionel liked to have battles, tenor battles or trumpet battles, whatever.  When Brownie came in the band, I had already been there for maybe about a year, and I was taking almost all the solos.  So then Brownie comes in the band, and Lionel, instead of taking some solos away from me and giving them to Brownie, he just opened up the arrangement, so I would go up first, and then Brownie would come out and play after me, or vice-versa.  But any time I went out first, I would figure, “Well, this guy is breathing down ny neck, and I’d better play the best I can play, otherwise he’s just going to wipe me away.”  We had the same influence.  We both loved Fats Navarro very much.  But he was much more developed than I was, and he could really take care of himself on the horn.

I learned a lot being there, and being able to listen to him every night.  There’s no words to describe how great he was, playing that horn consistently.  He could do everything.  He had technique and harmonic knowledge, a big fat sound.  He was able to articulate on the horn no matter what the tempo.  Even with all these great things, he had a great feeling, and he played musically.  He’s not a guy who was just running notes just to be running notes.  He’d put together a string of notes just like a string of pearls.  Each one matched the other in the string.  He could play ideas.  He could play with humor — which is very rare.  It’s very rare to find someone who can play with humor and still be playing musically, but he could do this.  He could play ballads.  He’d play race-horse tempos.  I don’t know anything that he couldn’t do.  He really had it together.  He sounded like he had been playing a hundred years.

TP:    Old soul with young chops.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    I’d like to now ask you about some of the trumpeters from the generation that followed you.  My mind makes the leap from Clifford Brown right to Booker Little.  Were you at all close to him?

AF:    No, I wasn’t close to Booker.  Of course, we knew each other, and I heard him play.  He sounded like he spent 23 out of 24 hours on the horn.  He really died too soon.  He had gotten the technique on the horn, and these records that he and Eric Dolphy made, the live records down at the Five Spot, were very good and very interesting, but I think that if he had lived longer…

TP:    They were the beginnings.

AF:    Yes, they were at the beginning as far as Booker Little was concerned.

TP:    Well, two trumpeters who were born in the same year as Booker Little who went on to make huge impacts were Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan, who were also deeply influenced by Clifford Brown and Dizzy Gillespie.

AF:    Mmm-hmm.

TP:    Were you paying as much attention to the younger trumpeters…

AF:    Oh, certainly.  I was paying a lot of attention to Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan.  I used to hear Lee every night, because he was playing with Dizzy’s big band at Birdland, and I was playing with Lester Young’s Quintet there opposite Dizzy.  So I listened to Lee every night.  And I know Lee was a master on the trumpet.

You know, the trumpet is an instrument that really makes people suffer.  It makes the listener suffer sometimes!  It makes the player suffer almost all the time!  — you know, to master that thing.  The trumpet is the Master, and it makes you suffer to get to the point where you can do anything with it at all.  And you hear someone like Lee Morgan come along, who is really a kid, and he plays it with nonchalance, and he plays it, “Oh, well, it’s just a trumpet.”  That’s the attitude that comes out when you hear him playing all these things, things that I would never dream of being able to do.  He was just playing with such ease.  He’d take the mouthpiece out and play the horn just with the leader part.  It seemed like he could do anything with the horn.

TP:    It seems like trumpet players are sort of divided between ones for whom the technique of the instrument isn’t really a problem and ones who create their style out of their limitations.

AF:    Yes, that’s right.  Some people have some sort of a gift for playing this horn, and Lee was one of them for sure.  Then Freddie Hubbard came along, and he sort of upset the whole thing, because he was so great, with such strong emotion and such power.  He had a certain fierceness in his playing which was kind of rare at that time, because people were under the influence of Miles.  Freddie was completely different.  He was unique in that respect.  He was like…the first word that comes to my mind is, I would say “gladiator.”  When he took that horn out, it was like somebody had taken out one of these chains with a big metal ball on the end with spikes and stuff that he’s gonna knock anybody down that got in his way!  Don’t mess with Freddie!  Because Freddie could do it all, too, but he had a certain masculinity in his playing that was like he’s the greatest one around here, and if you don’t believe it, he’ll show you.

TP:    Were you friends with or close to Woody Shaw?
AF:    I wasn’t really close to Woody, but we were certainly friends, because all trumpet players are friendly competitors.

TP:    Well, he took the trumpet into a somewhat different direction than Freddie Hubbard.

AF:    Oh yes, he certainly did.  He was another one that went another way, like Miles went another way.  Everybody does.  But he was successful.  He brought something into the trumpet that wasn’t there before, as far as the way he constructed his lines.  There was no one that was any place near him with the trumpet, and you would have to go to John Coltrane to find anyone who was able to deal with pieces harmonically the way Woody Shaw was — and Woody Shaw died, and there’s no one doing that now.  It seemed like it was just impossible.

It’s so difficult to play that way.  You know, the way I play is completely different from Woody Shaw.  I’m looking for pretty notes, to put together some notes and get a pretty phrase.  But Woody never played that way.  That was not what he was about.  He was looking for something that was really interesting to the ear, something that your ear had never heard before.  That’s what you would get from Woody Shaw.  You got that from Woody Shaw more than anybody else, including Lee Morgan or Freddie or Kenny Dorham or anybody you want to name.  Nobody could put together a string of notes like Woody Shaw, and he did it over and over and over again, consistently.  He was a miracle.

TP:    Who among the younger trumpet players who have emerged in the 1980′s has caught your ear, and why?

AF:    Well, everyone I hear catches my ear.  I haven’t had the chance to hear as many as I would like to hear.  The last one I heard was the trumpet player Roy Hargrove.  He’s a great Jazz player.  Then the trumpet player that was the stand-in for Miles at Montreux, Wallace Roney.  I heard him a couple of years ago on a tour, and he certainly caught my ear.  What he is able to do, what the young guys, in general, are able to do, to me it’s miraculous.  The things they play are so difficult, and they’re in such control of the horn.  Like I said, Brownie sounded like he had been playing a hundred years.  Well, these guys, they sound like that, too.  The stakes have risen.

TP:    All that literature, of course, is available to them, and many have had the tuition to be able to learn how the masters did it.

AF:    Yes.  Well, the educational possibilities are certainly much better now than they were fifty years ago.  But it’s more than that in the game.  Because if it was just a matter of education being more available, then you would have a hundred times the players that you have now.  So these guys, I have to say that they have done a heck of a lot of work to be able to do what they do.  I can’t name all of them, but I haven’t heard one yet that couldn’t play.  I haven’t heard a single one that sounded to me like I would say, “Why don’t you go home and get in the shed.”  They just don’t sound that way.  They sound like all they have to do is live a little longer, live life, and transfer that into the music.

[MUSIC:  Art Farmer/Jim Hall "I Want To Be Happy" (1964), "Embraceable You" (1962); 'Big Blues" (1978)]

TP:    On the face of it, Mr. Farmer, it would seem that you and Jim Hall would be a perfect front-line match in your sensibilities and the way you think about music.

AF:    [LAUGHS] Oh, that’s funny.  The crux of the whole thing is that Jim can make anything sound good.  Anything I would play, he is so quick to do something with it.  If I played a wrong note, which I certainly easily would do, he could make it sound right.  And there are few people who can do that or even would take the trouble to do it.  Jim is just a beautiful player.  Always has been.

TP:    I guess he came to you after working with Sonny Rollins for a few years.

AF:    That’s where the idea of this group came from.  Sonny had taken a vacation for a year or so, and then he organized a quartet with Jim Hall, Walter Perkins and Bob Cranshaw, I think.  Jim and Sonny sounded so beautiful in this setting and so loose, that…

TP:    You stole him?

AF:    No, not quite.  Sonny decided to make a change in his style of playing, and he got Don Cherry in the group and Jim came out.  So I asked Jim if he would like to do some dates with me.  But the whole inspiration of it was from what Jim and Sonny did.  They were reacting to each other in such a spontaneous but musical way.

TP:    I would imagine that not having a piano would have had an impact on your approach to your solos..

AF:    Well, it gives you more freedom.  But I had gotten used to that working with Gerry Mulligan.  That’s the first time I had worked in that type of a context.  You have to get used to it.  As I said before, the first time I played on a job with Gerry Mulligan, I felt like one of those nightmares where you find yourself walking down the street with no clothes on.  I was bared.  There was nothing there to hide behind.  You had to do something that made sense without this harmonic background behind you, which can be a great help.  If you have someone playing harmony behind you, playing a group of notes, well, then, that’s going to enhance what you do, and give it a sense of direction and meaning.  But if you’re just playing one note and the bass player behind you is playing one note, well, then, it’s hard to relate what a person plays on top, because there’s not enough there to relate to.  So you get help out of someone playing a chord instrument like a guitar or a piano.  When you go out there by yourself, you have to make sense by yourself.

TP:    I would imagine that this was the first time you led the same group for a sustained period of time.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Comment on how that impacts the music, however it does.

AF:    Well, it should impact the music, but I don’t remember it impacting the music when we played.  We just got up and played whatever we wanted to play.  That’s all I can think of.  Sometimes I might ask Jim what he felt like playing, but usually I would call the tunes, and the way I called the tunes was based upon what I feel I can do best at that time.  Trumpet players have to consider the physical part of playing more than other people do.  You have to play something that you feel you can get through without too many blooies.  If you overdo it on one tune, then you have to back off a little bit on the next tune.

TP:    Is that the case now, too?

AF:    It’s always the case.

TP:    How do you work it?  Do you have a book of maybe 30-40 tunes that everybody’s familiar with, and then you select from it?

AF:    Yes, that’s right.  I have a book that has maybe around a hundred tunes in it, but at any given time I would probably be using about 30 of those.  You can’t play the same tune all the time, week-in and week-out.  You have to give these tunes a rest.  Sometimes you give them a rest and never come back to them.

TP:    So within that book of a hundred, you might be adding ten to that and dropping ten…

AF:    Yes, right.

TP:    …and within like two to three year cycles, say.

AF:    Yes, I always bring in some new tunes from time to time.  That sort of keeps you awake.  If you play the stuff that you know all the time, you can get bored on the job.

TP:    Your groups perform an extremely venturesome and challenging repertoire.  How do you go about selecting tunes?

AF:    Well, usually guys in the group just bring the tunes in, and I run them down.  If it seems interesting to me, if it seems like it’s worth working on to perfect my playing in it, then I would say, “Yeah, okay, let’s do it.  Let’s go for it.”  Then I’d take it home and go in the woodshed with it, and stay there until I feel able to play it in public.

TP:    It seems that the challenge of performing very difficult music in some ways is what keeps you fresh.

AF:    Yes, certainly it does.  Because you have to keep learning.  If you play things that don’t give you any challenge… It’s hard to learn anything on these standard tunes.  But some of these tunes like on this disk that  you’re getting ready to play now, you have to be on your toes.  Of course, like I said, I would listen to the tune, and if I could hear myself in it and thought that eventually I would be able to play it, well, then, we would start working on it.  That would go for the other guys as well.  But you don’t want to spend your lifetime on one tune.  It has to show some reward somewhere, I guess you’d say light at the end of the tunnel or something like that somewhere.  You don’t want to just work on a tune forever and ever.  But  sometimes it winds up that way.  I’m working on a tune now, and we’re playing the tune in public sometimes; I’ve been working on this same tune for about four or five years.  I still haven’t got it where I want it to be.  But I’m going to hang in there.

TP:    Although you haven’t written many compositions, what’s there is choice.  Talk about your attitude towards writing.

AF:    Well, first of all, you have to like the tune, and then, you have to figure out that you can learn it well enough that you can play it and bring something to it.

As far as writing tunes was concerned, well, I never have had reason to consider myself a composer.  A tune might come to me sometime, but if I don’t get it from beginning to the end in a short period of time, that means I never will get it.  So I just leave it for the scrap that it was, and that’s it, and go on to something else.  I am really not a composer, and there are enough good composers around and enough good tunes around that I don’t feel obliged that I have to rely upon myself.  Some guys only play their own tunes, and usually no one else plays their tunes but them, and the only reason why they’re playing the tunes is because they wrote them — you know, it’s some sort of ego or royalty trip for them.  But that’s not the way I think about music or business.  So I just can’t do it.

TP:    I would imagine that preparing for records is a way of bringing in new material as well.

AF:    That’s right.  But a lot of times I find myself playing tunes on the record, and I never play them again.  But then sometimes it works out the other way.  But in order to make a record on a tune that you come anywhere near doing something you like, I have to do it so many times, that sometimes I never want to hear it again.

TP:    I hope that’s not the case with the tracks we’re playing on this show.  Though I gather from the liner notes that you did something like 47 takes on the version of “Embraceable You” that we heard…

AF:    [LOUD LAUGH]

TP:    …(I’m joking) before you found one that you were happy with.

AF:    I was laughing, because I remember one time I was on a date that Benny had written and arranged.  It was called Brass Shout.  Philly Joe Jones was the drummer.  Now, I didn’t know that this was supposed to be my date.  I just called up Benny from the airport.  I was working with Mulligan, and had some time to kill.  He said, “Where are you?”  I said, “I’m at the airport.”  He said, “You’re supposed to be in the studio today.”  I said, “What?”  Then he explained that we are recording today, what became an album called Brass Shout.  Lee Morgan was on the album, and a lot of great players, just brass players and rhythm.  During the course of the date somebody said, “Well, you know this is your album.  You know that.”  I said, “No, I didn’t know that at all.”

We played a ballad, “April In Paris,” and we made we the first take, and I said, “I’d like to do it again.”  Philly Joe says, “No, that’s good enough, that’s good enough.  You don’t have to do it again.”  I said, “Man, I want to do it again.”  He says, “Well, so what, you want to do it again.  It’s good enough.  It’s good enough.  You don’t have to do it no more.”  I said, “Well, look, man, it’s my date, and I want to do it again.”  He said, “What?  It’s your date?  If I had known it was your date, I wouldn’t be here.”  I said, “You’re right.  If I had known it was my date, you wouldn’t be here either.”  We just looked at each other and laughed.  Of course, we did it again, though.

TP:    I’d guess the nakedness of the lone improviser is most evident in a quartet date.

AF:    It is.

TP:    And because of the chops thing for a trumpeter, a quartet date (apart from trios) must be a tremendous challenge.

AF:    Yes, it’s a challenge.  Because you’ve tried to keep from doing something that you would cringe when you had to go to a Jazz show on the radio and listen to it, and feel like just sneaking out the door, if you have too many blooies on the thing.  So you have to be careful.

TP:    The next set will focus on Art Farmer as featured soloist, and then we’ll return for more conversation.  This track comes from the release that you said was your favorite record, done for Argo, entitled, simply, Art.

AF:    Right.

TP:    What is it that makes a date be able to go well?  I guess one thing is that Tommy Flanagan is the piano player.

AF:    Yeah, that’s one of the most important things.  He made such beautiful intros.  He set you up so wonderful that when you started to play, you just had to follow him.  So that made it happen.

But it was just one of those things where everything fell in line.  It was very simple.  What I did was, I went to the music store and bought some sheet music.  Take a song like “Younger Than Springtime,” I would buy one copy for me, one copy for the bassist and a copy for Flanagan, then I would transpose my part and go in the studio and do it.  We had no rehearsal.  Just put the sheet music on the stand, and go ahead and play it.  But the feeing was so good because the rhythm section was so nice, with Tommy Flanagan and a great bassist who doesn’t live any more by the name of Tommy Williams, who was a remarkable player.

TP:    He was with the Jazztet.

AF:    Yes, he was with the Jazztet at this time.  And Tootie Heath on the drums.  But Tommy Williams played great on this record.  After playing with the Jazztet, he went to work with Stan Getz, and worked with him a couple of years, then  he got out of the business.
TP:    This one has seven standards, music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gershwin, Irving Berlin.  In your style, in improvising, do singers have an impact?  I know you worked with Lester Young, who was a big advocate of knowing the lyrics for all the material.

AF:    Right.  Yes, they certainly have an influence on me.  Certainly.  Not as much as I would like to, because the ones that I love, like Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, are just thousands of light years away from me in what they were able to do with a tune.  They could really bring a tune to life, and that’s what I try to do.

The first thing you have to do is get a good tune.  And the guys who wrote these tunes were songsmiths.  They really knew what they were doing.  They could write a song, and the words meant something.  Not just “Oh, I love you, baby, and I’m feeling so blue.”  They’d say more than that.  The songs were fun to play.  I had worked with Lester Young, and I heard the way that he would treat a song, and I tried to do some of that, too, have it loose and free, put yourself in it.  You have to believe in the song.

[MUSIC:  AF4/Flanagan, "Younger Than Springtime" (1961), AF/Cedar, "Brownskin Girl In The Calico Gown" (1975), AF/Hank Jones, "Nita" (1958), AF/O. Nelson Orch, "Fly Me To The Moon (1962), AF/Hamp Hawes, "I Can't Get Started" (1976), AF/Flanagan, "That Old Devil Called Love" (1961)]

TP:    One thing that set brought out was the presence of so many the great piano players, the great solos, and the relationship between you, the soloist and the pianist.

AF:    These guys play so good, they could just fall out of bed and play that way.  All of them are just fantastic, and you couldn’t find anyone better than them to play with.  Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Hampton Hawes.  Hampton and I, we grew up together out in California, and we used to go over to his father’s church and try to figure out what was happening.  But he certainly figured it out very well.

TP:    There are some very early recordings with Wardell Gray in the early Fifties, not only the original “Farmer’s Market,” but also a recording on Xanadu that captures you at some length in a club.

AF:    Oh yeah, that was unknown.  We didn’t even know that had been recorded, and I wish it hadn’t been, but you have to live with those things.  But Hampton certainly found his way at a very early age, and he was the king out there of the pianists.  Like what I said about Jim Hall earlier, Hampton was able to make anything the soloist did sound better than it would sound without him.  That’s the way these guys are.  You couldn’t find anybody better to play with than Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones and Hampton Hawes.  They’re just great, you know.  The solos, comping, introductions… Like I said about Flanagan, when they play an intro, all you had to do was just follow them.  It’s like they’re saying, “Here’s the way; just follow me.  Everything is going to be all right.”  They set it up so well.  You couldn’t get any better introduction with a 60-piece orchestra than you can get from a good rhythm section.

TP:    Speaking of which, it seems you’ve always worked with extremely dynamic drummers.  In the last set we heard Billy Higgins, Roy Haynes, Tootie Heath.  Talk a little bit about what you’re looking for in the drummer when you’re playing over an ensemble.

AF:    Well, I’m looking for a drummer to give me some help.  I remember one day I was talking to Miles, we ran into each other on the street, and we were just talking, and he said, “Yeah, you and I, we need strong drummers.”  It’s true, to really put some fire underneath the line.

TP:    And you can sort of float on top of it, feint in and out…

AF:    Mmm-hmm.  The drummers keep it going.  And that’s very, very important.  I like to have drummers that bring some fire to the thing, because then I can lay back and sort of come in a little bit after them.  I don’t have to worry about keeping the thing alive.  You can’t lay back too much, but it gives you some room.  And if you lay back too much, you’re making the work too hard for the drummer.

TP:    I guess Lester Young, your former employer, was one of  the great masters at doing that.

AF:    Yes, he certainly was.

TP:    It sounds like your time with Lester Young was very valuable for you.

AF:    Oh, it was.  It really was.  We never had a rehearsal.  He just called up and said what time the gig started.  He had a contract with Birdland where he would do a certain amount of weeks each year, and he wanted to have another horn on the stand other than just him, because the nights were very long — we used to do either five or six sets a night.

TP:    35-minute sets?
AF:    Well, sometimes it was 35, sometimes 50, sometimes an hour.  It varied, so everybody wound up doing the same amount of time.  But the last set finished at 4 o’clock.  So it was a long night.  If you were playing with just one horn, the night gets longer.  Lester would say that you hire people that play, and if they can play, well, that’s what you hired them for.  If you’re not going to let them play, you shouldn’t have them there.  You should have someone else.

TP:    In all those combos he used trumpet players, like Jesse Drakes, Shorts MacConnell.

AF:    Unless he went out on the road, and then it was just a rhythm section.  But anyway, it was a great experience, because there was no rehearsal, and very little ensemble play.  He would usually play the melody, unless you were playing something like “Lester Leaps In,” which is just a riff, really, where everybody would play at the same time.  But when he’s playing the melody on the first chorus, well, then it was my chance to listen to how melody should and could be played.  So I look to keep that forever.  Then when the time came for his solo, he wouldn’t… You had to come to him to hear him play, to hear what he was doing.  He wasn’t going to get into some sort of honk-and-scream tenor thing.  He could do his own way of honking, which he used to do with Basie’s band, but in the context of a small group, he was usually pretty laid-back and cool, unless he took some breaks on “Lester Leaps In” or something like that.  But he showed how to get intensity without what we used to  call flag-waving.

TP:    I remember in the famous late interview with him, he was talking about getting the horn some days to sound like a baritone, a clarinet, and that he’d try to evoke a wide range of color and dynamics out of his horn.

AF:    Yes, right.  He would play low on the horn and play up high on the horn sometimes, too.  I know a strange thing, when he would come to work, he would take that horn out of the case and he would play so soft that you couldn’t hardly hear it.  That’s the way he would warm up.  It was like he was coaxing a sound out of the horn, like he was saying, “Come on, now, you know you can do it.”

People thought that he was weird and strange, but he wasn’t weird, he was just individual.  He had such a great sense of humor.  He would walk sideways on the stage.  He was really a character.  One night I was playing, and he sensed that I was getting ready to stop playing, and he sidled over to me and whispered in my ear, and he said, “I wouldn’t stop now, Prez.”  I never will forget that, because he called everybody “Prez”.

TP:    Did he nickname you?

AF:    No.  I think he called me Lady Farmer.  He called everybody either “Prez” or “Lady.”

TP:    The next set of music we’ll hear brings out an aspect of Art Farmer’s musical experience over the last twenty-five years, which are recordings made in Europe.  You’ve been in residence in Vienna for quite some time now.  So I guess the first question is what led you Europe, to Vienna, and then I’ll ask you about certain aspects of your musical experiences there.

AF:    Well, I went there to participate in a Jazz competition as one of the judges, along with J.J. Johnson, Cannonball Adderley, Ron Carter, Mel Lewis and Joe Zawinul.  This whole thing took about three weeks, and while I was there got to meet some of the local musicians.  There were some very good players there, and they told me that the radio was in the process of organizing a Jazz band — and they asked me if I would like to become a member of it.  The conditions were very lenient, because I would only have to work about ten days a month, and I would be free to do what I wanted to do the other time.  So that sounded too good to turn down, because I found myself spending more and more time in Europe, and I just thought, well, maybe I should get away for a couple of years, because things were at a certain state here…

TP:    How so?  This was the mid-1960′s.

AF:    Yes.

TP:    Talk about that a bit.

AF:    Well, the places where I could play were usually in what is called the ghetto area of the town.  There was a lot of civil strife going on, and a lot of fires and riots and things, and people were scared to go out at night — they didn’t know what was going to happen.  This was at the time when Rock really took over, the Beatles and everything like that took over the popularity that should be spread among all kinds of music.  So Jazz was way down on the totem pole.  Not too many were going out, and they were afraid of whether or not they were going to be able to get home.  All kinds of things were happening.

So I thought it would make sense to get away from here, and get some place where I could think more about the music than be forced to think about other things that didn’t have anything to do with the music at all.  So I took them up on it.

TP:    What was the climate like in Europe in the mid to late 1960′s?  Now, you certainly weren’t the only prominent American improviser to take up residence in Europe.

AF:    Yeah, there were a lot of guys over there — Dexter Gordon, Kenny Clarke, Ben Webster.  Even going back to the New Orleans days, Albert Nicholas was living there, and I got to hear him play; I never heard him play here, but I got to hear him play there.  Don Byas.  I’m going around playing on concerts with people like that, who I wouldn’t come in contact with here.  It was educational from that point of view.  So I really enjoyed being over there.

TP:    One thing that’s almost a commonplace about Europe is that the rhythm sections there weren’t quite up to par vis-a-vis American rhythm sections.  Was that true?

AF:    Well, it was true in many cases, but it wasn’t true all the time.  Even going back to the Sixties, there were some players who could really take care of the job.

TP:    In Vienna were there…?

AF:    In Vienna there were some who were close enough that you didn’t feel like walking off, certainly.  Everybody wasn’t straight here either, you know.

TP:    Well, the group you currently work with in Europe is very strong, as New Yorkers were able to hear at a recent engagement at Sweet Basil.  I guess Fritz Pauer is the one you go back the farthest with.

AF:    Yes, Fritz was the first one that I met.  I was invited over to participate in a jazz competition which was organized by Friedrich Gulda, and Fritz was one of the competitors — actually he won First.  Since he lived in Vienna, I got to know Fritz quite well.  We’ve worked together many times throughout the year, and I have played and recorded a lot of his songs, because in my opinion, he is a great Jazz composer.  His songs are really in the idiom.  They really sound like Jazz songs.  It doesn’t sound like Third Stream or semi-Classic or half-Jazz or Crossover or anything like that.  It’s just Jazz, and it’s fun to play it, and I learn a lot from playing it.  That’s most important to me.

TP:    Harry Sokal is the saxophone player.

AF:    Well, Harry was introduced to me by Fritz, and the other players I think Harry introduced to me.  The bassist is actually not from Europe; he was born in South America, but he lives in Germany now — Paolo Cardoso.  The drummer, Mario Gonzo(?), is Austrian-born.  His father was a bass player.  Gonzo is one of the most outstanding drummers in Europe, as far as I know, and I would be happy to have him playing with me any place that I can get him.  We’ve played together quite a bit over in Europe.  As you know, this is the first time that we’ve been able to come over here.  Our trip was sponsored by the Austrian Cultural Institution.  I guess they felt that it would be nice for it to be known that Jazz was also honored and respected in Austria, although Austria is one of the strongest homes of Classical European Music.  But there is a large audience for Jazz there also, and I guess they thought that the other places should know that there is something happen over there.  So I’m glad that it was made possible for me to bring the group over here.  That’s certainly not to say that the groups that I play with here are not great in their own right.  But just to have a little bit of difference, there’s no harm in that.

TP:    It seems like Jazz had a special meaning to people who lived through the Second World War.  Jazz had a certain political meaning to Europeans, it’s been written about by a number of people.  Can you comment on that?

AF:    Well, it seemed like the idea of Jazz would be more freedom, you know, where a person is able to do what they want to do, but they’re still thinking, as opposed to over here, where the idea of Jazz that we’ve had to fight for a long time was that Jazz was just an entertainment music, and you really don’t have to listen to it.  That’s the American idea, that as long as you’re paying your money to get in, you don’t have to listen to it.  You can talk and holler and scream, shout at each other, and bang your glasses on the table, whatever.  You’re there to have a good time, and you’re paying for it, so nobody better not say anything about “be quiet!”

TP:    That’s not so much the case in the European clubs?

AF:    No, it’s not the case.  It might be the case in some club where someone is playing music that induces that type of behavior.  But I can’t say that it’s the case in the places where I play.  You can’t hear a pin drop when you’re getting ready to solo!

TP:    Do you think it’s a better educated audience?

AF:    I think it must be, because they are really very attentive.  Which makes a lot of sense.  It’s crazy to think that people go into a club where you have a fifteen dollar music charge, and drinks are eight and nine and ten dollars a piece, and you have to have two drinks each set.  If you have a date with you, you’re getting into some real money.  Now, you’re going to sit there, and you’re paying for something that you’re not even listening to.  And other people sitting next to you are hollering and screaming, and it’s just like if you go in restaurant and order a nice meal, and then somebody comes along and spits in your food.

TP:    Now, I assume you’ve experienced rowdy crowds from your apprenticeship days.

AF:    No.  But some music encourages that kind of thing.  Some people feel that if there’s not a lot of noise going on, they’re not having a good time.  That’s the style of  restaurants.  They make the noise part of the ambiance.  If it’s too quiet, people say, “Oh, this is a dead place, let’s go some place else.

TP:    Vienna has been a fount of European musical culture over several hundred years, and its musical history is legend.  How much has that tradition seeped its way into your aesthetic, your outlook on music?

AF:    Oh, not much, because I already had that before I got there.  That’s the way I felt about music.  Music has always been a very serious part of my life, as far as I can remember.  I didn’t have to go to Vienna for that.  But it was certainly nice to go to a place where people like and respect music as much as they do.  That doesn’t mean everyone does, but the people you see at the concerts certainly give you that idea.

TP:    It seems that since you’ve been there, and this apparently is partly the responsibility of your pianist, Fritz Pauer, a couple of generations of very talented young Jazz musicians have emerged in Vienna and Austria.

AF:    Oh, yes.  There are some.  There are some that are really doing it, and I’m sure that there will be more, because people do take the music seriously, and they know that if you really want to do something, you have to put your energy into it.  It’s just not going to happen by itself.  You just can’t talk about it but you have to do it.

TP:    [ETC.]

AF:    Thank you very much.  It’s been my pleasure, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed here so long.  And I never sit down and listen to four hours of my records.  It’s the first time in my life.

TP:    How has it been?

AF:    It hasn’t been too bad.

TP:    One or two things you cracked a smile on.

AF:    A couple of winces there, but that’s about it.

[MUSIC: A. Farmer/S. Shihab/K. Drew/Thigpen, "Passport" (1981), AF/J. Heath, "Cocodrillo" (1970), AF/F. Pauer (duo), "Azure" (1987), AF/R. Mitchell, "A Bitty Ditty" (1974), A. Farmer/T.Harrell, "Santana" (1992), AF/Cliff, "Blame It On My Youth" (1988)]

* * *

Art Farmer (WKCR, 8-10-94):

Q:    A few words about the present, the new CD at hand, and the group that you’re performing with.  The two-trumpet concept, particularly one dealing with an improviser as lyrical and creative as Tom Harrell, who reminds a number of people of you, I think, in his approach to improvising.
AF:    Well, the first time I did an album with another trumpet player was during the time I was playing with Lionel Hampton, and Clifford Brown was in the band, and we did some  recording over in Sweden and some recording in Paris, and then later on in New York two trumpets with Donald Byrd, and then a little later on with three trumpets, with Idrees added.  It  seemed to be always something that wakes you up, when you listen to another trumpet player and you want to clearly define your own voice.  You want to sound like yourself, so people can tell the difference, certainly.  And I think one of the greatest records of all time that I have heard, and I never stop enjoying it, is “Double Talk” with Fats Navarro and Howard McGhee.
Q:    How did this recording come about?  How did you decide on Tom Harrell, first of all, and doing the two trumpet format, second.
AF:    Well, I decided on Tom because I have been an admirer ever since I first heard him, I would say, maybe twenty years ago with Horace Silver.  Not to say that there aren’t other fine trumpet players around that I’d be very happy to play  with.  But Tom was here, and he seemed to be very enthusiastic about the idea, as well as myself.  So that’s how it came to be.
Q:    After the second formation of the Jazztet disbanded, you’ve been working steadily in New York with various quintets, always with a saxophone in the front line, Clifford Jordan for many years, and now Jerome Richardson.
AF:    Yes.
Q:    I’d like you to say a few words about the very creative band you’re working with this week, which includes some of the strongest young players performing in Jazz right now.
AF:    Yes.  Well, we’ve been working with this same line-up for a year or so, especially the rhythm section.  Jerome has just taken the place of Clifford.  It was certainly wonderful to play with Clifford, because he and I went back many years.
Q:    You were the front of…
AF:    Horace Silver’s group.
Q:    …almost forty years ago.
AF:    Yes.  And  Jerome and I first played together with the great Oscar Pettiford, but not in a small group.  Well, we might have done some gigs at some clubs down in the Village, Cafe Bohemia or something like that with Oscar.  But the group that we have now, that I usually have, is the same group that’s on this record and that’s at Sweet Basil now, with an amazing pianist, Geoff Keezer, the truly also amazing Kenny Davis on bass, and Marvin Smitty Smith on drums.  I can’t say how much of a pleasure it is to play with these people.
Q:    One thing I’ve always been impressed with is how much leeway you give the performers in the group.  You always seem to have very creative players, give them free rein to express their ideas, and you just go right with it, say your piece… Talk about your philosophy of group-leading.
AF:    Well, I learned this actually from Lester Young when I was working with him.  He said, you know, you hire people that play, and if they can play, well, that’s what you hired them for.  If you’re not going to let them play, you shouldn’t have them there.  You should have someone else.
Q:    I said I wouldn’t talk about the past, but you brought up Clifford Brown, Lester Young and the old days for Prestige.  Did you play with Lester Young when you were living in Los Angeles?
AF:    No, never.  Never.  Never saw him there.  I played with him here exclusively at Birdland, because every time he went  into Birdland he brought in another horn.  The original trumpet player was Jesse Drakes, and Jesse called me up one day and asked me did I want the gig, and I said, “Sure.”  Lester had a contract for a certain amount of weeks every year, and when a date would come up he would call me and ask me if I could make it.
Q:    This was ’53-’54-’55, something like that?
AF:    No, it was just about the same time I was working with Horace.  So it was in the Fifties, the mid-Fifties.
Q:    According to the information I’ve read, you got to Los Angeles when you were about 17 years old, and you were born in Iowa and raised in Phoenix, Arizona.  Just a few words about your origins in music.  You seem like the type of person who has been playing ever since you could pick up an instrument.
AF:    Yeah, that’s true.  At that time it was very customary to have a piano in the house, and someone played it.  There were a lot of music students in our family, and it just seemed the natural thing to take piano lessons.
Q:    Your parents?
AF:    Yes.  My mother played the piano in the church choir.  So I had been hearing music ever since I could hear.  I started with the piano because it was there.  Then someone later on gave me a violin, so I played that some, but I didn’t hear anyone playing Jazz on it in Arizona, so I gravitated towards horns — and that’s how it happened.
Q:    How did the sound of Jazz enter your ears?  Was it just around you all the time?
AF:    No.  It was on the radio.  There was a lot of airplay for Jazz then.  They had big bands playing for dances, and all kind of wonderful things happening.  The first live music that I heard actually was the real Country Blues, because I used to sell papers, and I would walk around in the migrant workers’ camps and sell them papers, and after work they would be sitting around, playing and singing, playing the Blues on the guitar or whatever.
But I heard all this Big Band Jazz on the radio.  Then when the Second World War came into being, there was an Army camp there, and I heard the Army dance band.  There was one guy who is still around here in New York now by the name of George Kelly, and he was in the band, and he used to come around to our rehearsals and help us out.  He was a great guy.  He used to write arrangements for us.  But that’s the first time I heard a big band live, was the U.S. Army band.
Q:    Were you playing trumpet by then?
AF:    Yes, I had started.  And some of the traveling bands would come through on one-nighters.  The greatest thing in life that I could imagine was to hear these bands.  It was so exciting that it never has left me.
Q:    You mentioned specifically in the liner notes for an older record being impressed by the trumpet section of the Lunceford band.
AF:    Right, the Lunceford band was great.  They had some fine trumpet players.  But just the sound of their section was…it just blew the top of my head off!
Q:    When you began to improvise on the trumpet, who were the people who inspired you in forming your own mode of expression?
AF:    Well, people such as Dud Bascomb, Roy Eldridge — the ones who came there.  Then I heard Dizzy Gillespie on a record with Billy Eckstine, and that really turned me around completely.
Q:    You were about 16 years old then.
AF:    Yeah, around that age.
Q:    Along with many other people who were born around when you were, who came up right under the excitement of this whole group of musicians.  A few words about the impression that it made on you.
AF:    Well, it’s hard to express my excitement in a few words, but…
Q:    You play so concisely, I’m sure you can do it!
AF:    But I had heard the Swing trumpet players, like I mentioned, Dud Bascomb and the people who played with Lunceford and Jay McShann and Tiny Bradshaw, etcetera.  When I heard Dizzy, that was completely a revelation.  I just wondered where he found those notes, you know, that sounded so different from what everyone else was playing.  And it’s not to say that the other players were not playing good, but he was into another universe as far as picking notes to play.  A lot of guys, me included, were certainly excited. And his great technique, the fact that he could play so high and play so clearly.  But if you slowed down, you could hear that the notes were something that no one else was doing.  He was really a harmonic pioneer for a horn player.  There have been pianists who were playing great notes, like Art Tatum, but Dizzy was the first one I heard that really was playing notes like that on a horn, and that, as I said, before, turned me upside-down.
Q:    Had you heard that before you went to Los Angeles at 17?
AF:    I heard the records but I didn’t hear Dizzy until I went to Los Angeles.
Q:    So you heard the group at Billy Berg’s and so forth at that time?
AF:    Yes, I went there.
Q:    And that really turned you around, I gather!  You decided to stay in Los Angeles and finish high school there.
AF:    Yes.
Q:    A few words about that process.  You and your brother, Addison, went to Los Angeles for a vacation, the story goes…
AF:    Yes, we went there for a summer vacation in 1945, and  the scene was so active that we decided just to stay there.  Our mother said it was okay with her as long as we graduated from high school.  So we enrolled in a great high school by the name of Thomas Jefferson that had a wonderful teacher named Samuel Brown.  There were other active players such as Dexter Gordon, who went to that school a few years in front of us, and others such as Sonny Criss and Cecil McNeely, who later on turned out to be a great Rock star by the name of Big Jay McNeely.  Hampton Hawes was around.  So they were very interesting young guys to run around with.
So we just went to school there.  We would write our own excuses, just as if we were living with our parents.  And so we developed a very good reputation like that!
Q:    I guess being in Los Angeles at a time like that, when so much was going on, must have just been the best for a young musician.
AF:    Oh, yes.  Well, as far as being in the right place at the right time, I’ve been lucky all my life.  I’ve been very lucky to be in Los Angeles at that time, and then to be here — looking back, to be able to have played with the people that I’ve played with.
Q:    It seems like there was a little design involved in that process as well.
AF:    There was some.  When I played with Lester, when I played with Coleman Hawkins; you know, it’s just fantastic to look back on experiences like that.
Q:    Also you got to meet Charlie Parker when you were out there.
AF:    Yes.
Q:    It seems that that had an indelible effect on your aesthetic.
AF:    Well, the Jazz community was like an extended family, and if you were in there with them, you would meet whoever it was in there.  The people were very nice to younger people.  If they saw that you were serious and what you were doing, why, then, they would help you in any way they could.  You didn’t have to feel hesitant to ask them any questions.  So long as you knew the questions to ask, they would be there.  And there wasn’t any attitude, “Well, I’m too busy to bother with you.”  And that goes for Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie and all the guys that I had the good fortune to meet.
Q:    It seems coming up and listening first to the trumpet players from the Swing bands must really have given you a sense of melodic necessity…
AF:    Yes, certainly.
Q:    And it seems that your distillation of Parker and Gillespie has concentrated on that aspect of what we do.  Can you comment on that?
AF:    Yes.  Well, if you listen to guys like Roy Eldridge and Dud Bascomb, you certainly are going to have a sense of melody.  Because they were basically very melodic players, especially Dud Bascomb, who was a real story-teller if there ever was one.  You never hear his name, but I remember Miles used to copy his solos note for note — of course, not only Miles.  But he really spoke when he played.  So that’s where the urge to create melodic solos came from on my part.  Because at that time there were trumpet players who were called Ride Players.  The ensemble parts that say “Ride Solo,” where you just sort of Jazz the melody.  But then when players like Bascomb and Ray Nance came along, well, they really created their own things, and they were so interesting and so beautiful.
Q:    Art Farmer seems never to have discarded anything that he’s picked up, and it all seems to come together every year in something new, different tunes and so forth.  We’ll hear a tune that’s sort of the antithesis of what Art Farmer seems like to me.  It’s called “I’m Old Fashioned”, and it’s taken from a recording on Enja called Soul Eyes that was taken I guess live to DAT at one of the Japanese Blue Note clubs in 1991.
AF:    Yes.
[MUSIC: "I'm Old Fashioned" (1991), "TGTT" (1994)]
Q:    You’ve been recording Ellington always, and there’s one amazing album of all Strayhorn compositions done for Contemporary with Clifford Jordan, and another from the Seventies with Cedar Walton, Sam Jones and Billy Higgins.  “TGTT” you said comes from the Second Sacred Concert.
AF:    Yes, this was made aware to me by Geoff Keezer, and it was recorded by the Ellington Orchestra, the Second Sacred Concert, as a vocal with the singer Alice Babs singing, and it was done in 3/4 time.
Q:    Were you able to see the Ellington band much as a youngster?
AF:    No.  No, not that often.
Q:    But were you very influenced by it, though?
AF:    Oh, very much influenced by the Ellington band.  I saw the band, first of all, in Los Angeles at the Million Dollar Theater, and since then I saw the band every chance I had.  Of course, I don’t see it now because they don’t work in New York any more.  But it certainly was an education to me, and I liked the way the trumpet players played very much.
Q:    They were all true individualists in that trumpet section.
AF:    Yes, very much so!
Q:    [ETC.] Did you work with Mingus in the late 1940′s and early 1950′s in Los Angeles?
AF:    No, I never worked with him there.  Shortly after I went there, then he left.  He had one period where he didn’t work as a musician, then he went to work with the Red Norvo Trio, and after that he settled down here in New York City.
Q:    You did share an employer, though, Lionel Hampton…
AF:    Yes, but…
Q:    Of course at a different time.
AF:    I worked with Mingus here in the City on various projects, so we knew each other and were pretty good friends.
Q:    I just want to ask about a couple of the people you’ve encountered and played next to over the years.  One of the first you mentioned coming up here was playing alongside Clifford Brown in the Lionel Hampton Band in 1953, I guess.
AF:    Yes.
Q:    A few words about Clifford Brown, and your relationship.
AF:    Well, Clifford Brown is known for being a person that no one has ever found a bad word to say about him.  He was really exceptional.  He was just a warm, beautiful person.  And he played so good, he didn’t have to say that he was good.  He didn’t have to say that anyone else was bad.  He just went ahead and played.
Q:    Would you say his sound was pretty much fully formed around the time when you were together?
AF:    Yes, I would say so, certainly.  He was already recorded, and every record I ever heard he made was a masterpiece.
Q:    Gerry Mulligan, who you worked alongside for several years in a pianoless quartet and who wrote a commissioned piece for you in last Friday’s concert at Lincoln Center.
AF:     Yeah.  Well, Gerry is playing better than ever.  Some people I know were amazed at the way he was playing Friday night.  He’s always been a very good player, but now he’s an example of somebody who never stops…who just doesn’t find their style and just go through the motions, but he’s always stepping forward.  I just find the things the does very creative, and certainly it was a pleasure to play with him. It was a pleasure with him again, just as it was a pleasure to play with Benny Golson again.
Q:    That’s the next name I was about to mention.  That’s a relationship that goes back 35 years or more.
AF:    Right.  Well, I also met Benny through working with the Lionel Hampton band.  I have to say that Lionel Hampton has  been a great benefactor to Jazz music in this world, in the fact that he has given a start to so many people such as myself, and given us a chance to meet other people of our ambitions.  Working with the Lionel Hampton Band was a key to the Jazz Universe, in a certain sense, you know, working with Brownie and Gigi Gryce and Quincy Jones and Monk Montgomery, James Cleveland.  I don’t know where I would have gotten such a chance to work alongside these guys every night as with Lionel Hampton.
Q:    I think that may be one of the distinguishing things that separates musicians who came up around when you did from people who came up after, that there were still functioning big bands where you could get that type of night-after-night practical experience.
AF:    Yes, that’s right.  That’s very rare now.  That’s very rare.  Maybe you could count them on one hand.  Other than Count Basie, it’s hard to think of anyone else who’s out there.
Q:    Extending from Benny Golson, another superb composer, not so well known in the States, but who you work with frequently in Europe, in Vienna, is Fritz Pauer, who you will be bringing here in November.
AF:    Yes.  He is scheduled to come over with us in November.  Well, Fritz is very well known to Jazz musicians who tour Europe and happen to go to Vienna, Austria.  Everyone who has had a chance to… He’s played with everybody over there.  I mean, Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, I can’t think of anybody who ever did a thing that Fritz didn’t play with either in Vienna or in Berlin.  He’s a great writer.  He’s one of those guys like Gigi Gryce who write all the time.  You know, you don’t have to tell him to write something.  I just let him write whatever he wants to write, and he brings it in.
Q:    He knows you.
AF:    Yes, we’ve known each other for quite a while now.
Q:    Again, you live in Vienna a good chunk of the year, and tour for part of it.  How does that work for you?
AF:    Well, I spend about 40 percent over here, and I would say about 30 percent I’m at home in Vienna, and other times I’m traveling somewhere else.

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For Charles Tolliver’s 70th Birthday, A 2005 DownBeat Feature

In 2005, I had the honor of writing a feature piece for DownBeat  on the great trumpeter-composer Charles Tolliver, who turns 70 today. Happy birthday, Charles, and many more.

Since the piece was somewhat attenuated, I’m also appending the first of two interviews that I conducted with Mr. Tolliver for this article.

Charles Tolliver (DB Article, #1):

On the final night of Charles Tolliver’s week-long engagement with his big band at Manhattan’s Jazz Standard last October, the leader was dressed for battle. Outfitted in a black leather jacket, black shirt, black pants, and black beret, Tolliver strode to his microphone a step below the bandstand, cued the 17 instruments, and nodded in time as they articulated the complex-funky theme of Ruthie’s Heart with machete sharpness. Tolliver turned to the audience, primarily African-American and middle-aged, placed lips to trumpet, set his feet, and plunged in. His sound was big and fierce and raw; the lines were intricate, the dynamics nuanced, the rhythms drumlike. Concluding his solo, Tolliver spun 180 degrees, one step per beat. He pointed his index finger to signal the band to restate the theme. Emerging from the mix, alto saxophonist Todd Bashore launched a solo. Tolliver lifted a clenched right fist to call for a supporting riff, pumping it to ratchet the intensity.

Tolliver is 63, and the iconography of his gesture and attire conjured flashbacks of the radical ‘60s politics that backdropped his coming of age. So did his music, primarily written or arranged during the era, and defined, then as now, by heady intellectual content and an animating inner fire. “What we were doing in the ‘60s is still so alive and well that it’s fresh and new when you work on it,” Tolliver commented a few days later at a Greenwich Village diner, down the block from the New School, where he teaches orchestration and the repertoire of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. “Anything coming in at this point can’t really supplant that.”

On this Sunday night, Tolliver sustained a level of energy that might have reminded some witnesses of Slugs Saloon, a Loisida venue on a rough block where young lions of the ‘60s cut their teeth before cutting edge audiences on a nightly basis. There Tolliver played his first gig, a 1964 matinee with Jackie McLean that kicked off the room’s jazz policy. Six years later, he booked a quartet with Cowell (they met in the 1967-68 edition of the Max Roach Quintet), hired an engineer to document them, and issued Live At Slugs on Strata-East, the musician-run imprint that Tolliver co-founded in 1970 with pianist Stanley Cowell. Mosaic Records reissued it on their Select series in October along with the 1973 quartet date Live in Tokyo, and added an hour of previously unissued material from the sessions. These take-no-prisoners albums and Live at Loosdrecht, a searing double-LP, clarified Tolliver’s consequential contribution to the lineage of trumpet vocabulary. In contrast to the saxophonistic harmonic explorations of generational contemporary Woody Shaw, who like Tolliver pricked up ears with his playing as a Blue Note sideman but had to wait until the ‘70s to sing his own song as a leader, Tolliver’s voice is trumpetcentric. He imbued his lines with sass, nasty accents, and rhythmic thrust, eschewed front-line partners, and dominated the proceedings with an against-all-obstacles attitude and vibrant personality.

That Tolliver’s tonal personality emanated as distinctively from the pen as from his horn became manifest on a pair of influential Strata-East orchestral projects, Music, Inc. And Big Band (1970) and Impact (1975) for which Tolliver assembled a cast of New York A-listers—George Coleman, Charles McPherson and James Spaulding solo on the latter. He performed his charts with various European radio orchestras during the ‘80s and ‘90s, but a 2003 engagement at the Jazz Standard was his first-ever big band gig in a New York City venue. He returned to the Standard in 2004, played a week at Dizzy’s Club in August, and was booked, as of this writing, for a week at Birdland in January.

Tolliver followed “Ruthie’s Heart” with an arrangement of “Right Now,” a boppish line with a slick turnaround that McLean introduced as the title track of a 1966 quartet session, which followed three Blue Note albums that showcased such well-wrought inventions by the promising young trumpeter as “Truth,” “Plight,” and “On The Nile.” Both charts featured declarative, intricate section conversations, but perhaps the most startling performance was a show-stopping arrangement of “Round Midnight.” After an opening fanfare, Tolliver, unaccompanied, limned the melody, a cry in his tone, displaying total command of the spaces between the notes. The band entered with a bravura Gil Fullerish chord, and he tripled the tempo, eliminating all connotations of midnight melancholia in the manner of a New Orleans parade band marching home from the funeral. Finally, he reprised the rubato mood, and again counterstated with an efflorescent fanfare.

Artists like to talk about taking risks in the crucible of performance, and  Tolliver embraces the principle wholeheartedly. He also followed the example of Max Roach by risking his own capital as an independent entrepreneur. “I’m a believer in ownership of your intellectual property or art form,” he says. “But it has nothing to do with politics. A lot of people have tried to read political and racial into the creation of Strata-East Records. It had to do with ownership, pure and simple.”

Self-taught as an instrumentalist, composer, arranger, Tolliver seems constitutionally averse to doing things the easy way. “I like to rumble,” he said. “I take the most difficult routes for improvisation. It’s actually easy to play a number of choruses effortlessly and never make a mistake, never break down. That’s no fun. You need to get in hot water by trying something out right from the jump, get yourself out of that, and move on to the next chorus.”

To transmit that predisposition for risk to his orchestra, Tolliver functions as a creative conductor. “Jazz is about improvisation and changing things around, to fit the mindset of the men on the bandstand,” he said. “Say the soloist is gathering steam or the drummer moves the soloist to another gear. I then have the liberty to move things around; by eye contact or a hand movement, they know immediately that I want to take a section or part of a section and put it somewhere else. It takes some time playing together to do that, but it means that each night the guys are refreshed, and not just reading the stuff the same way all the time. Thad Jones did that, too, with some of his pieces.”

Although the references are more spiritual than direct, Thad Jones’ footprint  looms over Tolliver’s conception. “As great as Gil Evans is, Thad is a whole nother level of greatness,” Tolliver said. “He could write a perfect arrangement without going to the piano. I thought that’s like God at work!  And he had men who could PLAY this difficult stuff. I watched that, and thought I could never hope to be in that position.”

Nearly forty years later, Tolliver is fulfilling this dream. His October orchestra included saxophonists Billy Harper, Craig Handy and Bill Saxton, baritone saxophonist-tubist Howard Johnson, three lead trumpets (Jimmy Owens, Earl Gardner and Chris Albert), and a world class rhythm section of pianist John Hicks, bassist Cecil McBee—both veterans of Tolliver’s early ‘70s units—and drummer Greg Hutchinson. They had to draw on every ounce of skill to execute Tolliver’s challenging parts.

“I’ve never heard anything like Charles’ music,” said fourth trumpet David Weiss, leader of the New Jazz Composers Octet, which, among other things, backs Freddie Hubbard with Weiss arrangements of Hubbard repertoire. After listening to reunion of the Tolliver-Cowell quartet at a Tribeca concert in 2002, Weiss asked Tolliver about the status of his big band charts. “I said, ‘It’s collecting dust,’ Tolliver recalled. “I meant, occasionally I’d dust it off, look at something, maybe add something here or write something off of that. David said that perhaps he could interest some of the venues here in New York. After several months, he got the Jazz Standard to agree to have me for a couple of nights, and it was very successful.”

“Charles is the culmination of his period,” said Weiss, who has booked all of the band’s subsequent New York gigs. “He encompassed everything that happened in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, the highest level of harmony and rhythm and technique, and pumped it up even more. His trumpet parts are very tight and dissonant, in a higher range than most people dare to write. The saxophone parts are tough, too. He doesn’t write them to show off a busy, notey line, but so that something can counter against it. The line becomes the constant, almost like the rhythm section, and the other horns bounce off it and make all the accents.”

A Thad Jones alumnus, Harper—his Strata East date Capra Black is a ‘70s hardcore classic—acknowledges the gnarly singularity of Tolliver’s saxophone lines. “Most big bands have a traditional format, with soli that sound the way saxophone big bands may sound,” Harper said. “But a lot of what Charles writes feels exactly like what you might play on the spur of the moment in a small group. I don’t know if he went to church that much, but some of his things sound like heavy music from black roots in church. Thad Jones sounded that same way. The rhythm and fire is a necessary part of it.”

“I came up in the church the same way he did,” responded Tolliver, who spent his first ten years in Jacksonville, Florida, before migrating to Harlem in 1952. “I noticed the rhythms of the church and the communal thing that happens between the parishioners and the pastors—especially in the Holiness Church, where my grandmother was. They’d get up and have the call-and-response with each other, and some of them would actually fall out and froth at the mouth, like the Haitian voodoo business. Other parts of the family were in other denominations, but it was all communal, and the music came out of the old hymn books by James Weldon Johnson and others from the 19th century. There were all different types of rhythms in it. So early on it was apparent to me that rhythm, as personified in the modern drumkit, is integral for this kind of music. I require the drummer to really lay it on. A lot of my compositions and arrangements sound as if I wrote them for the drums, and in my playing I work off rhythm a lot, moreso, let’s say, than playing linearly.

“Big band jazz is not about over-writing to the point where all these different sections are playing in different time signatures and all that nonsense. It doesn’t have to sound as though you’re writing for a symphony. After all, we are playing this so-called thing named jazz. Jazz is about theme, melody, call-and-response, counterpoint if you want, but not overly done—and always improvising. If you take away improvising and swing, then it seems to me that you are removing two of the prime elements that allow us to call ourselves jazz musicians. You know what jazz is because of the way the drummer plays. If you hear TING, TING-A-LING, TING-A-LING, that’s jazz. If you don’t hear that, then it’s some other kind of music—which is fine. It’s the rock-solid base that allows you to do all the other things. Improvising is the meat of jazz, and the drummer propels that improvising. Therefore, I take careful consideration in selecting the drummer.”

With drummer-of-choice Ralph Peterson unavailable for the October week, Greg Hutchinson played the charts with crisp aplomb. “The music I write is intended to play the musician,” Tolliver remarked. “To gain control of it, he will take the music even further, as Greg did. The language makes the artist play. Thad needed those all heavy-duty guys in order to play his music, and when I do the big band I want the best players I can get, the big-time horses, to pick up the language and take it to the next level.”

With three major New York club appearances within five months and the Mosaic reissue, enough buzz may exist to make this the moment for Tolliver to actualize his ambition. Negotiations are underway to record the orchestra, and this winter he will reissue Impact, which he licensed in the ‘90s in Japan and Germany. In keeping with the philosophy of Max Roach, his former employer, he will continue to do everything in his power to control his creative output and the means by which he produces it. He intends to spend his sixties “firing up on all cylinders.”

“No matter what’s happening, even if you play a ballad, Charles wants it always burning,” Harper said. “It seems like a very young approach to the big band. He’s still a young lion.”

“It comes from the style of ‘jazz’ that we played, which is high energy music,” Tolliver concluded. “As a young child I listened to Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke and Max, and they were on all cylinders all the time. It’s in my blood.”

* * *

Charles Tolliver (Oct. 26, 2005):

TP:   How long have you been teaching at the New School?

TOLLIVER:   12 or 13 years now. [1992] Reggie Workman asked me if I was interested in teaching Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and it sort of came that way. I teach the repertoire.

TP:   You also teach composition and orchestration. Have you stayed in New York the whole time, from the ‘70s and ‘80s until the early ‘90s.

TOLLIVER:   I’ve been here since 1952.

TP:   You’ve been a New Yorker for 53 years, except for four years in D.C.

TOLLIVER:   Yeah, but I was always coming home.

TP:   You spent your first ten years in Jacksonville.

TOLLIVER:   Right.

TP:   From the end of the Strata East years and…

TOLLIVER:   There’s not an end. We need to correct that. It never folded. It always was alive from its inception.

TP:   Before ‘93, when Live In Berlin comes out…

TOLLIVER:   There was a full operation from inception until ‘82 or ‘83. Then I decided to shut down the office operation. Financially, it was just too expensive. Anyway, I was already given an early cue that the compact disk format would be soon coming, so I basically gave myself a five-year rest from looking after that situation day to day.

TP:   During the ’80s, were you a full-time musician?

TOLLIVER:   Of course.

TP:   I’m sorry to ask, but there was the impression among so many people that you were doing this, you were doing that…

TOLLIVER:   For over ten years, I went all over the place, playing and performing and then looking after this baby of ours, the Strata-East thing. I decided to give myself a rest from that around ‘83. But as you know, the market for straight-ahead playing that I’m known for was such that it was difficult to be working all the time in the States. I did have a route to take bands to Europe, so I was doing that a lot between ‘83 and ‘88. So consequently, I wasn’t playing in any venues here in New York City or the ten major markets in the United States. That might be a reason why people thought I was off the scene.

TP:   So your activity was mostly in Europe.

TOLLIVER:   Just Europe.

TP:   Were you teaching during those years?

TOLLIVER:   No. Full time music. I did a lot of writing of big band music and performing it with a lot of the European radio orchestras.

TP:   So these days you’re playing a lot of your compositions from the ’80s and ‘90s.

TOLLIVER:   Right, I’m playing them now.

TP:   Let’s jump to 2003 and the reemergence of your big band in this country. By the way, did the big band play publicly in the ‘70s?

TOLLIVER:   No. Just made the recordings for the fun of it, to see if we could do it, and that was it. There was never a thought of fielding a big band.

TP:   Have you played your charts in any of those workshop situations in New York?

TOLLIVER:   No. I just wrote the music, hired the musicians, and did the recording.

TP:   That’s quite a feat. Almost all the great arrangers talk about the trial-and-error process, hearing their stuff played and…

TOLLIVER:   Right.

TP:   Not you.

TOLLIVER: I just sort of seized the moment to get the best musicians in town that I could, and did the recordings.

TP:   You’re saying that so nonchalantly.

TOLLIVER:   Well, the guys who are on there did a terrific job. We just rehearsed a day or so before the recording and hit!

TP:   Before we talk about resurrecting the band, did your thinking about big bands and composition evolve over the years? You mentioned a few days ago that you still think the way you did in the ‘70s.

TOLLIVER:   Right.

TP:   But you’ve evolved and grown in various ways.

TOLLIVER:   Yes and no. I haven’t thought to hit the ground running with a big band after doing the recordings. I had hoped to make a good recording with the music I had written. Then I put it away. As I said, in the mid-‘80s, I pulled it out again and did a lot of work with that as a soloist, and sometimes with a quartet in Europe with the radio orchestras. So that writing stood me in good stead at that point. Then in the mid-‘80s that gave me a little more emphasis to add a few more big band charts to what I already had, still never thinking about, “well, this is something I want to do full time.” A quartet setting, that’s how I burst out here, so that’s my real love. And still is. Although I love what’s happening with the big band thing now. Which is really basically an extension of what I do in the small group, with a lot of orchestral stuff written around that.

That’s basically how it evolved, just little bit by little bit. My style of writing I think is basically the same, which is a forward-looking harmonic and rhythmical thing. Which just goes to show… By example, the John Coltrane Quartet and what they created by 1965, it’s still as if it hadn’t even been played yet, or conceived. That’s how modern it is. My whole thrust is coming out of that sort of style.

TP:   Trying to extrapolate those ideas onto the trumpet.

TOLLIVER:   Yes, and also orchestrally.

TP:   Did you know Coltrane?

TOLLIVER:   Yes, I did.

TP:   Did you ever play with him?

TOLLIVER:   No. I was too quiet and too… I wasn’t the kind of guy who pushed John. It was wonderful to be around them and to hear them and watch them do their thing. But in his case, he was such an unassuming guy that you hardly knew he was around when he was in your presence. But I did know him a little bit and met him. He was a very quiet individual.

TP:   Was Africa Brass a very important recording for you?

TOLLIVER:   Yes, I would say so. Because it was again him expounding on the quartet idea. As we were to find out, Eric Dolphy was the one who actually did those arrangements, and he actually said, as has been written, that he just tried to use the McCoy Tyner chording and expand that with the big band. Ultimately, though, what made that happen is the rhythm section – John Coltrane himself, of course, and the rhythm section. When I’m writing big band stuff, I’m always thinking about the rhythm section first to get the best support that a rhythm section normally would give to a soloist, to then move that a step ahead with the big band support, but the same idea. It’s always a problem to find individuals who are thinking along those lines, who can give you that.

TP:   Were most of your big band charts written with Stanley Cowell and Cecil McBee in mind?

TOLLIVER:   To some extent, yes, because we had been playing together for quite some time. So I knew they would be able to add the support I needed for those charts.

TP:   It must be nice for you now to have Cecil McBee playing in the big band, because his lines seem to be  in synch with the way you think. There’s a certain synchronicity between the motion of your trumpet lines and the way his basslines lock in.

TOLLIVER:   Stanley was in the first formation of this recent big band business.

TP:   You and Stanley think alike harmonically, I’d think.

TOLLIVER:   Oh, yeah. I would think so. We came up together and played in a lot of different settings.

TP:   But you were playing with John Hicks back in the day, too.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. Before I met Stanley, John and I basically started out together. So I’m as close with him musically as I am with Stanley.

TP:   So what led to the resurrection of the big band in this country?

TOLLIVER:   Do you mean what led to me now dealing with the big band? Not necessarily in this country. Well, a fellow named David Weiss, who is a trumpetist and composer – and a good one, too, at that – and who was doing some things with Freddie Hubbard in an octet… A few years back, there was a tribute to the scene that was happening in Alphabet City in the ’60s – a tribute to Slugs basically. Since I was the only one who had made a recording there, they asked me to do a concert at BCC for this remembrance of Slugs, in which Stanley Cowell and Cecil and I, and a drummer who had worked with me also for a long time, Clifford Barbaro. David Weiss attended that performance, and we exchanged numbers, and we talked later… He was asking me what I’d done with my big band stuff, and I said, “It’s collecting dust.” I mean, occasionally I’d dust it off, take a look at something, maybe add something here or write something off of that. David said that perhaps he could interest some of the venues here. That took several months, and finally he got the Jazz Standard to agree to have me for a couple of nights. I put together the best available musicians that I wanted to have, and it was very successful. So I decided I’d do this again if the opportunity presented itself. That’s happened 4 or 5 times in the last two years.

TP:   Mostly at the Jazz Standard, but also this summer at Dizzy’s Room. Has the music developed over the last couple of years?

TOLLIVER: I’ve written a lot of new things, which I’m performing with this big band project. Some of it may be a little more evolved from let’s say 30 years ago. I’ve been writing this stuff for over 35 years, I guess. Actually more than that, because I actually started messing around with big band stuff in the late ‘60s.

But again, to answer the question you asked previously: What we were doing in the ‘60s is still so alive and well now that you can work on that, and it’s still fresh and new. Anything that’s new coming now at this point can’t really supplant that. I mean, the music created in the ‘60s…

TP:   A lot of very talented students have come through the New School during your time. Let’s talk about the ways they’ve built off that body of music in building their own sounds. And let’s talk about how the music you came up in, and that incredible scene you came up in, that golden age where the whole history of the music was available every night if you were willing to take it in…

TOLLIVER:   Everybody was still alive, with the possible exception of Clifford Brown and Charlie Parker and Fats Navarro and perhaps Hot Lips Page.

TP:   Is it attitudinal? Is it vocabulary? What are the dynamics that separate the musical vocabulary of the ‘60s, which stops being recorded by major labels after ‘69, and certainly not after Miles goes electric…

TOLLIVER:   Alfred Lion made the rest of the boys toe the line by just bringing out new, great talent all the time. But he got tired and by the time I arrived, he had sold the company and retired.

TP:   Otherwise you would have been a Blue Note artist.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. After that, Creed Taylor came along with his new idea for mating the…I don’t know which description you can say except that it was a grand idea, I think, because he gave some of our great artists a chance to really see some financial rewards by still soloing great but with a more, let’s say, accessible to the general public… It was not geared to jazz fans at all. Jazz fans would buy it simply because they wanted to hear the solos on it. But it was geared to a wide audience and it worked. So what happened was that all that great innovative stuff that was going on both compositionally and improvisationally in the ’50s and ‘60s sort of was in a vacuum. The newer generation began to feed off the crossover that was happening in the ’70s, and of course, Miles made a move after 7 years or so off the scene and came back, which gave it even more impetus in the ‘80s and ‘90s…

TP:   What did you think of what Miles was doing in the ‘70s? Did you like those bands?

TOLLIVER:   It would be imprudent of me to pass judgment on any way Miles went.

TP:   What was your own opinion at the time?

TOLLIVER:   I decided not to have an opinion, because I enjoyed his bands of the ‘60s, and I sort of just watched with a lot of interest how he was running this in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He was having fun in his senior citizenry.

TP:   But in the ‘70s, when he started to go that way, it coincided almost exactly with Strata East. Wayne leaves, Keith Jarrett comes in…

TOLLIVER:   I had no interest in going in that direction, because I already had a direction I was going in, and I knew I was going to expound on that for a while. So it was of no interest to me to go in that direction that they were going in. It would have meant changing the beat. It would have meant no longer jazz drumming. It would have meant rock drumming, and I wasn’t going to have that. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with rock drumming. But that’s rock.

TP:   Well, you’ve got some funk beats, or rhythms that can be interpreted as such anyway. But you’ve been teaching for 13 years at a school whose students have a lot to do with the way the music is evolving. The music of the ‘60s, let’s break it down, not socially, but the actual musical ideas, how the kids who have come through the New School, like the Stricklands, Robert Glasper…

TOLLIVER:   They all came through me.

TP:   Brad Mehldau probably preceded you.

TOLLIVER:   No, he didn’t precede me. He just wasn’t in any of my classes.

TP:   These musicians all know the Blue Note food groups by heart. I’m just thinking about the ideas that were animating the Blue Note sound, and which are still your lodestone, which you still draw upon. Why is it such a rich vocabulary?

TOLLIVER:   You mean the Blue Note sound?

TP:   The Blue Note sound and the sounds that still inspire you.

TOLLIVER:   Because Alfred and the musicians themselves put together different groups to play the repertoire of themselves to such an extent that you could almost bet that, no matter what the pairing of a particular group of musicians, this would be a first-rate recording for history. That happened time and time again, and hundreds of LPs issued in that manner. So the vocabulary that was developed through the Blue Note catalog – and to a certain extent Prestige also and Keepnews’ companies – were for the most part repertorial work played by great stylists. This body of work is lasting because it’s repertorial.

TP:   By “repertorial” you mean it’s canonical…

TOLLIVER:   I don ‘t know the exact dictionary definition of repertory, but it’s something like playing several compositions a season with a set group, so that each group gets a chance to expound on this repertory. The language that was developed by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, off of them harmonically, permeated through the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, only changing a couple of times, with Trane making his entrance and doing some things harmonically a little different, and with Elvin Jones making the move progression-wise after Max Roach – and of course, Roy Haynes. But the language, the repertory, actually played the musicians. The repertory itself made the artist play. For me, that’s the reason why when I’m doing this big band stuff, I wanted the guys that I picked to do it, so that they then pick up on that and make it even greater.

TP:   Within jazz historiography, when people think about the line of trumpet vocabulary, you and Woody Shaw are the culmination of a timeline, and then there’s a ten-year gap, and then Wallace Roney and Terence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis pick up on it and go in some different directions. But you and Woody Shaw, before the “end of history,” where musicians begin to embrace the whole timeline of vocabulary… You and Woody Shaw sort of end the thing. Is that accurate?

TOLLIVER:   Yes, it is accurate. Woody and I… Alfred would not give us a record date. Woody had recorded with Horace Silver and other artists. I had recorded with Horace and of course Jackie McLean. But because he was retiring, he wasn’t going to “make any more trumpet stars.” The way you got in, if you got to Blue Note and you got a deal with Alfred to do one-two-three records a year, you would then be Downbeat’s New Star on the trumpet and then off you go. Woody and I got caught right at the end, and Alfred wouldn’t give us that in, even though we had already been tapped by other greats to record on Blue Note and worked… By that time, we had already worked with some of the heavy-duties. This could have been, and was devastating probably to both of us… A little bit more to him than me, I think, because I made a decision that I was going to do something about that, which was to make my own recordings. It took Woody another four-five years before he was able to deal with Muse and then Columbia with Dexter. Historically, with the two of us being the last of that group of trumpet players… There was a period… Of course, Miles and Freddie were the guys the industry was dealing with in terms of the crossover stuff in the ‘70s…

TP:   Once you decided that you weren’t going to be a pharmacist and that you were going to be a musician… This happened in the middle of the Civil Rights movement and all these roiling ideas…

TOLLIVER:   I probably never was going to be a pharmacist unless I could have continued in school while I was doing what I was doing. Because in my junior year, I had found certain ways of playing a trumpet that I’d been looking for. So there was no need for me to stay in school down in Washington, D.C.

TP:   What were you looking for?

TOLLIVER:   My own way of playing the trumpet.

TP:   Can you break that down a bit? If you care to.

TOLLIVER:   A style. That this is me. That someone hears me, they know that’s me. Rather than playing some of my heroes. And playing that well enough to get gigs. It wasn’t good enough for me to just emulate some heroes well enough that you could  get gigs, because you sounded great playing them.

TP:   Your phrasing seems completely unique to me. The way you organize rhythm…

TOLLIVER:   I’m working off rhythm a lot, more than I am let’s say linearly playing lines. That’s true. I’m working off rhythmical things. But if I could have brought my classroom from Howard University back up to New York with me while I was trying to get into this thing, then I probably would have done both at the same time. But there was no way to stay in Washington, D.C. at that moment when I felt I was ready to try this thing and finish my studies. I was lucky to get in with Jackie McLean almost instantaneously when I got here, so there was just no need to go back to school.

TP:   You must have reminded him of a souped-up Kenny Dorham or something, because you have a sort of cry in your sound, a vocalized thing…

TOLLIVER:   Maybe. He certainly was one of my heroes, and any serious trumpet student of this music. Kenny Dorham is big.

TP:   The other reference I’m hearing a lot is Dizzy. You seem to have soaked up more Dizzy than some…

TOLLIVER:   Rhythmically. But no one can play like Dizzy Gillespie. Actually, there was one person who gave you the feeling of Dizzy – Lonnie Hillyer.

TP:   Speaking of pre Jon Faddis players.

TOLLIVER:   Well, Jon Faddis only in the way Dizzy plays high. Jon can do that, of course, with this phenomenal ability he has. But I mean, to actually tell a story in improvising, Lonnie Hillyer was the one who came the closest that I ever heard.

TP:   So you come upon your own style when you’re about 21…

TOLLIVER:   Since I was 18.

TP:   You said your second or third year. Did you go to college early?

TOLLIVER:   Let’s see…Yeah, about 20.

TP:   You’ve pretty much been adding iterations and refinements to that style for 43 years.

TOLLIVER:   Mmm-hmm.

TP:   Sounds really modern.

TOLLIVER:   You know, I was in a freshman class at Howard University that had some heckuva young people. Fabulous… Andrew White. Other politicals, like Stokely Carmichael…

TP:   Did you play a lot with Billy Harper back in the ‘60s?

TOLLIVER:   No. This is the first time we’re playing together. We were always good acquaintances because of the Strata East project. We have one, Capra Black, which I think is one of his best recordings ever. So we’ve been knowing each other for over 40 years. I remember when he first came to New York, the night when he first hung out. He’s a home run hitter, to use a phrase, and that’s what I want. I want home run hitters. Whenever there’s a chance to have him, I expect to have him in this setting. Well, he did a lot of playing with Thad Jones. Big band is not new to him at all.

TP:   So did Jimmy Owens.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. Actually, Jimmy and Billy only recently have been playing with me on this big band thing. Originally, I started using some other musicians whom I wanted to hear in this setting, and then it was time to call on Billy and Jimmy, and they were available the last few times.

TP:   What are you looking for from the drummer? You had Greg Hutchinson last week, and by the end of the week, he was destroying that music!

TOLLIVER:   Right. Again, this music will play you… The music that I write is intended to play the musicians. To take no prisoners. And in order for him to gain control of it, he will then play that music and take it even further. That’s what happened with Greg Hutchinson, and it must happen with the kind of music that I write and what I expect out of the men I call on to play it.

TP:   The music has so much energy. Most big band music you hear now is orchestral, there’s an arc, crescendos, decrescendos, colors, a broad harmonic palette. But yours is energy all the time.

TOLLIVER:   Well, there’s such a thing as overwriting. After all, we are playing this so-called thing named jazz. Jazz is about theme, melody, call-and-response – but improvising. If you take away improvising and swing, then it seems to me that you are taking away two of the prime elements that allows us to call ourselves jazz musicians. Well, a lot of people could say, “Well, I’m not a jazz musician. I don’t want to be called a jazz musician. I’m a total musician.” Well, that’s fine. But for whatever the reason, we have a name called “jazz” for this music, and you know it when you’re listening to this music because of the way the drummer plays. If you hear TING, TING-A-LING, TING-A-LING, that’s jazz. If you don’t hear that, then it’s some other kind of music. And that’s fine. Therefore, if you overwrite, you are taking away from those elements which I just mentioned, which is theme, melody, counterpoint if you want, but not overly done. Because we want to hear the solos. We want to hear some improvising. Improvising is the meat of jazz, and the drummer propelling that improvising. Therefore, careful considerations have to be taken when you select the drummer. Because the wrong drummer can destroy everything. Not literally speaking…

TP:   But if they’re not in synch with the concept… I mean, you don’t have to play TING, TINGALING, TINGALING with certain music. In fact, it might not be appropriate for certain music. But for your music… It still needs to be more than that. It needs to be very elaborated.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. But it’s not jazz if it’s not TING, TINGALING, TINGALING. I’m sorry. TING, TINGALING, TINGALING, TINGALING is jazz. It’s what we are about. Now, if I want to play other forms that are coming off of this, like free forms, then… Okay. When Trane went free, totally free, Elvin exited. The reason why is because free forms of music requires everyone to be in synch with doing that and not worrying about supporting the soloist strictly in time. I like free form, but I don’t necessarily call it jazz. If I’m going to call it jazz, I’m talking about TING, TINGALING. I’m sorry. I am talking about TING, TINGALING, TINGALING. The reason why I am dogmatic about that is that Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk – and of course, Kenny Clarke and Max Roach after that – helped to create this language in such a way that it requires, just as in classical music, there are certain things which happen, that you can do a little differently here and there, like all the modern techniques which are important with classical music, but at the base sitting underneath that is this rock-solid thing which allows you to do all these other things. For instance, free form coming off of that, and huge elaborations in an orchestral way. Even with the things which Gil Evans did for Miles Davis, they never lost that entity of jazz.

TP:   Let me ask you about your early big band charts…

TOLLIVER:   But do you understand what I’m saying? I’m very dogmatic about that.

TP:   You’re saying that jazz is a specific thing, and other things are related to jazz but aren’t jazz as you know it?

TOLLIVER:   No, I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that the language, the repertoire, the underpinnings of jazz is a specific thing, and the reason why… You asked me about the drums. The drum is just about one of the most important links to that. If you took away the drums from my music, you could actually call it a lot of other types of music. You could call it all the new words they use for describing music. Crossover. A lot of nomenclatures. If you took drumming away from Miles Davis’ groups, if you took Elvin Jones away from John Coltrane, then it would be totally free-form jazz. This is very important. People don’t understand that, that the drum… I might as well say it. The drum is the most important thing in jazz. If that element is not there, whether it’s straight-ahead swing, which is what they call mainstream of straight-ahead jazz; or more loose and free, where you have more modernistic approaches to whatever the song is and improvisation and so on; or totally free, which is still cool… But you have to have the musicians who are in synch to do that. If you bring a bebopper over here and ask him to do that, and he doesn’t know how to do that, this is ridiculous.

TP:   You played with all the great drummers, just about.

TOLLIVER:   Yes, but I also plant my ears what the leader intended. I was with Archie Shepp when he was writing all that stuff. I mean, he’d come down to my loft and he’d bring this piece that stretched from one wall to the other, and we’d play this stuff. But the ears are in synch. You can’t take a fellow who’s coming up now and put him in the element of what you’re talking about, the ‘60s, if he hasn’t already done his homework on that. Fortunately, the students who have come through me at the New School, in particular Keyon Harold, has done totally his homework. To me, he’s the best thing I’ve heard of the young fellows playing trumpet today. He has big ears and he can apply that base to any modernistic things that are going on now. But again, the drums is the most important element for me in jazz, and there’s a reason why my music has so much rhythm to it and has so much energy. Because I require the drummer to really lay it on.

TP:   Maybe that’s what makes it sound so modern and fresh. Someone like Greg Hutchinson has that base, but he’s also very contemporary.

TOLLIVER:   Right. He has a wide base.

TP:   That night at Iridium, I asked if Thad Jones was an influence. There are some obvious parallels. You’re both trumpet players, you’re both self-taught…

TOLLIVER:   That’s just by accident!

TP:   Nevertheless. You’re both self-taught arrangers and composers. You both got into big band chart writing…

TOLLIVER:   From small groups.

TP:   …from small groups and sort of by accidents. So how much of an influence?

TOLLIVER:   That was my hero.

TP:   Well, talk about that band… [END OF SIDE A]

TOLLIVER:   I was about 24 when he formed that band. I‘d go there just to hear him, and he’d say to me I could play with him if I wanted to. But I had too much respect for that. I thought you had to have honed your skills… Even though I had already worked with Oliver Nelson and Gerald Wilson, Thad was so… There’s no words to explain Thad Jones. As great as Gil Evans is, that’s a whole nother greatness. But Thad Jones could write an arrangement without going to the piano. I thought that’s like God at work! Every note would be correct. Everything would be perfect. And he had the men who could PLAY this difficult stuff. That was the marvelous thing. So I watched that, and I thought I can’t possibly hope that I was going to happen like that. That’s the reason why I never mentally wanted to think about having to have a big band, because this would be too much. Watching that happen, how could it possibly… That you could do that, you could write that kind of  music, and then have the musicians to play it! I never thought that I would be in a position where I could have that, so I never wanted it, because it would have been too much mentally to hope for or want that, and know that you actually could write music like that, but then to find the musicians who could PLAY it…

TP:   Thad Jones is like a post-Ellington writer, He gave everyone a melody. You tend to use the sections more as homophonic units. Was that deliberate? Were you trying to differentiate yourself…

TOLLIVER:   Well, a lot of times I want the sections to talk to each other.

TP:   A lot of call-and-response

TOLLIVER:  Absolutely. That’s one of my devices. In that respect, it becomes more personal. People recognize me right away. But there was no device that was not available to Thad Jones.  That was the incredible thing. He’s a big influence on me. Total.

TP:   But it seems that the influence is not a direct thing can be traced into your sound.

TOLLIVER:   Not in the way I write. No, you can’t.

TP:   It’s more spiritual.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. I can tell you one thing which is apparent, is to have the best players alive available. I saw how he did that. There’s a reason why all those heavy-duty guys are in that band, because he needed them in order to play the music that he wrote. That stuck me with all the time. Whenever I would do big band stuff, I had to take time, way ahead of time, to find the guys who were available…the big-time horses, make sure they were available so I could call on them. So if I wanted to take this big band to the next level, I had to also make sure those men are available. It’s not easy.

TP:   They want to be paid, and it’s a big band!

TOLLIVER:   Even though they love me, they still want to get paid.

TP:   You’d be the same way probably.

TOLLIVER:   Well, yes and no. I think they probably would go a long way with me until things happen, which is what’s been happening. That’s the same thing that happened with Thad, how they got started. All those great studio guys they were using, they already were doing okay, so a Monday night they maybe started without any money being paid to them…

TP:   So why haven’t you done a Monday night thing?

TOLLIVER:   Because there’s no time for that. There was a lot of time then, to build something like that. You’ve got to go big with this NOW. It’s now or never. I don’t have time to wait to build that.

TP:   Because you’re 62.

TOLLIVER:   Well, not just that. It’s that, man, I wrote some of those music over 20 years ago! If I’m going to play it, I want to play it big time.

TP:   Did music ever have a political connotation to you?

TOLLIVER:   It may be read in, but absolutely not. I’m not there.

TP:   But you’re going up there, you’re wearing the beret, you’re wearing the leather jacket, when you conduct you have your fist up, the Huey Newton thing…

TOLLIVER:   [LAUGHS] Yeah.

TP:   You went to college with Stokely Carmichael, and jazz was a political thing in the ‘60s. Apart from any particular political platform…

TOLLIVER:   There’s only one thing that I am guilty of, if you will, and that is ownership. I’m a believer in ownership of your intellectual property or art form.

TP:   I lived in Chicago in the ‘70s and I knew a lot of people in the AACM…

TOLLIVER:   Well, we were doing that at the same time as they were, but I wasn’t even aware of them.

TP:   All I’m saying is that I think it’s coming out of a similar consciousness: Own your means of production, don’t let yourself be exploited, and express yourself with autonomy.

TOLLIVER:   Yes, but it’s not political. It has nothing to do with politics. A lot of people have tried to read the political and the racial overtones into the creation of Strata East Records. It had absolutely nothing to do with that. It had to do with ownership, pure and simple.

TP:   What’s the status of Strata-East Records right now?

TOLLIVER:   Strata-East is alive and well. At one point there were 40 or 50 product, and I cut it down because after ‘82, as I said, I needed a rest. It went down to maybe 20 or 30 [items in the catalog]. Every few years I’ll lease overseas or to Japan just to keep things going that way. The label was never created to put artists under contract, so it’s a completely kind of concept. It was created as a conduit for artists to get their product to the marketplace, pure and simple.

TP:   But now it looks like you may enter into a relationship with Mosaic.

TOLLIVER:   I have entered into a relationship with Mosaic. Michael Cuscuna goes back to the days when he was an intern at Record World, just being brought in to do his writings for LPs. He had a paid on West End Avenue, and when I came out with the first big band records to launch the label, I sussed him out, and we’ve been acquaintances ever since.

TP:   But let’s be concrete. There’s a Mosaic Select box within the purview of this story.

TOLLIVER:   It was just released last week. We’ve been tossing around for a couple of years how we could get involved with further distribution of the Strata East stuff, and it just dawned on him, I guess, since I’ve got this thing going now with the big band, that it might not be a bad idea to get started, and better sooner than later, and to kick things off sequentially, the way the label developed, which is the quartet things, the early things at Slugs, and perhaps next the big band things, and then other artists following.

TP:   But what’s coming out now is Slugs and Live in Tokyo, so it catches you live and in performance…

TOLLIVER: And unissued, I might add. Over an hour’s worth of stuff. The thing is to find unissued things and put those together as well.

TP:   Do you have intentions to record this big band?

TOLLIVER:   Oh, I have every intention.

TP:   How close are you to realizing that? Might you undertake it yourself again?

TOLLIVER:   If I have to.

TP:   It’s a much less complex proposition to record yourself.

TOLLIVER:   And convoluted. Obviously, I’m going to record the present big band project. It’s only a matter of when. Shortly, I hope. Whether I’m doing it myself or someone else, it’s a question of the costs, like always. Hopefully, that can be resolved soon.

TP:   You’ve said a few times that big band isn’t your primary interest, that it remains small group, trumpet playing, improvisation, rhythm, energy. But what do you think you’ve accomplished with the big band? What’s your position on the timeline?

TOLLIVER:   Well, I feel that if I am successful with picking the right musicians to play my music, there shouldn’t be any obstacles with getting the music out to the public in the short term. In the long term, I’m still loving the small group situation, but one way I can have my cake and eat it, too, is the way in which I write the big band music, I’m still playing small group inside of it when I play.

TP:   But can you evaluate your accomplishment as an orchestrator and composer? I think you can find objective language.

TOLLIVER:   I want to continue to write music which reflects I was talking about before – the essence of jazz. By example, my arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight. To take songs that represent the essence of jazz, the repertoire of jazz, which is the underpinnings of our music… Because most of the great writers and composers of jazz were also great improvisers. To me, it’s inextricably tied together. Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, they wrote like they played. They were compositional geniuses off of their idiom. You can go down the line from there. All the great players, almost to a man, were great composers and arrangers. So to me, the repertoire is the underpinning of this music, and I would hopefully like to compose and of course arrange for the big band, in my style, music that will keep that alive.

TP:   Did you ever have any formal lessons in orchestration?

TOLLIVER:   No.

TP:   Not one. It’s all self-taught.

TOLLIVER:   The whole thing is self-taught.

TP:   You had lessons on trumpet, though.

TOLLIVER:   Well, if you could call my uncle giving me five dollars to go downtown to a place called Hartnett Studios, which had some teachers on staff who would come down on Saturdays, and you’d sit there in a chair, and you’d put an (?) book up, and you’d play the book, which you’d already mastered, and the guy would say, “Very good, thank you very much,” and he’d take your money and you’d go home. So it was just a reaffirmation that you had done your homework at home.

TP:   Were you a natural trumpet player?

TOLLIVER:   Yes. My grandmother got a cornet for me when I was 8 years old. There was a wonderful old gentleman down in Jacksonville, Florida, named Mr. Walker. Geez, I can still remember his name. He was the person that you would go to for learning your instrument. I went there, and he said, “Can you hold the instrument?” I held the instrument. “Do you know where the fingers go?” I knew where they go. Then he said, “Let me hear you play something,” and I played something, then he said, “Okay, I can’t show you…”

TP:   That wasn’t the first time you’d picked up the instrument.

TOLLIVER:   No. When my grandmother got it, I’d already taken it at home and I said, “Oh, well, this fits…”

TP:   The trumpet is not an easy instrument.

TOLLIVER:   No, because of the embouchure…

TP:   And to play the way you play is probably the most difficult… You don’t like to make things easy on yourself.

TOLLIVER:   No, I don’t. You hit the nail on the head. I take the most difficult path for improvisation. Because it’s easy to actually play a number of choruses and never make a mistake, never break down. You just play them effortlessly. That’s no fun. You need to get in hot water by trying something out right from the jump, get yourself out of that, and move on to the next chorus. I rumble. I like the rumble.

TP:   Do you still practice every day?

TOLLIVER:   Not every day. I should. Because a trumpet player should put their lips to the mouthpiece at least an hour a day, just to keep the embouchure dead-on. You do need to put your chops on that iron, because the lips… It’s trained to sense the molecules of this iron, and it only needs to touch it a little bit, a half-hour or an  hour every day, and it stays just right. Now, if you leave it for a few days, or whatever length of time, it won’t respond right away, and if you ask it… It’s just like a racehorse. Those stallions, you can see they’re all wound up when they get them in the gate. But boom, when that gate opens and they’re out there, not every one of them… If they haven’t been brought right to the right moment in the weeks prior, with running every day up to a certain clocking on the time, they’re not going to get to that eighth pole, and they’ll break down. That’s what happens with a trumpet player. You’ll break down if you don’t stick with the instrument every day or every other day, if possible.

TP: Most cats when they hit 60 don’t play with the…

TOLLIVER:   Well, Clark Terry is just the greatest. He plays just as well as he did when he was 20. There’s nobody even in that world, in that class. He’s a very rhythmical player.

TP:   There was this dichotomy in the ‘60s between jazz as entertainment and being an art. It seems like you always put yourself on the side of being an artist.

TOLLIVER:   Yes. But if the musicians… If all of you are playing well together, it is both stimulating and entertaining to the fans of the music. Because even though they may dig how well you’re executing something, they also can be entertained by the fact that you’re all having fun playing that stuff together, even if it looks hard and mean, if guys are frowning and all that sort of business. But it can be entertaining if the listener and the fans go away with a feeling that the group played well together. For me, that’s entertaining. If you’re executing that art very well, then it can also be entertaining to the listener.

TP:   Do you like club gigs?

TOLLIVER:   I like anything in which you can professionally present the music.

TP:   But the notion of playing five nights with the same ensemble, and as you said, allowing the repertoire to play them over that time must be…

TOLLIVER:   Yes. Actually, I miss the way the cabarets used to be in the old days, which is that we’d get started around 9 o’clock and we’d go until 3:30 or 4 o’clock. Now, starting at 7:30 is really a bit early. Way too early. You’re home at midnight in bed. You’re through by 10:30, and 11:30 on the weekends. It doesn’t feel right.

[—30—]

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Filed under Charles Tolliver, DownBeat, trumpet

Miles’ 85th

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MILLER:  Yeah, that’s true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MILLER:  Yes, I meant live performance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    So he was greedy.

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

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

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

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

MILLER:  Oh yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TP:    What from Siesta do you like the best?

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

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