In 1997, I had the honor of conducting interviews on consecutive days with Charles “Buddy” Montgomery (1930-2009), the vibraphonist-pianist, who was a kind of unsung hero on both instruments, for the liner notes for a Sharp-9 recording titled Here Again. In putting together the notes, I also called Slide Hampton, George Coleman, Michael Weiss, David Hazeltine, and Brian Lynch, all of whom were close to Montgomery, and admired his art tremendously. On the occasion of Montgomery’s 83rd birth-year, I’m posting the unedited transcript of all of the interviews below — lots of information.
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Buddy Montgomery interview for “Here Again” (Slide Hampton, George Coleman, Michael Weiss, Tommy Flanagan, David Hazeltine, Brian Lynch):
TP: Tell me about Jeff Chambers and Ray Appleton and your association with them?
BM: As far as Ray as concerned, I played with him before I got to Milwaukee. He’s from Indianapolis, like I am. He’d done a couple of tours with me before I got to Milwaukee. At one time he and Melvin worked with me in Milwaukee when I was playing vibes a lot. I went back and forth between piano and vibes. I used other guys, too. I used (?)Roger Humphries(?) as a vibes player. That particular trio was a (?) trio. Ray I think has the best cymbal ride… I think there’s only a few guys who have that feel of the cymbal ride as Ray. He has an original feel of it, pretty much from the old school, like Art Blakey, those kind of guys. He knows the tunes. We’ve had somewhat a relationship over the years, and it comes out in the music.
Jeff started so young with me. He was about 18 years old, I think. And he developed into a helluva good bass player.
I used them because when I write music it’s not always easy to put this music on any bass player or any drummer, so it’s best to use these same guys…
TP: Talk about what you think is tricky about your music?
BM: Well, it’s kind of hard for me to say what’s tricky, because I don’t see it as tricky. I guess it’s the style I play or write or whatever you want to call it. To me I think it’s simple as all-outdoors, but it seems to be a lot to remember, I guess, especially when I’m playing the vibes with other piano players. There’s a lot to it. It’s not just a few notes here and a few notes here. And then I guess the way that you do it, the way you arrange a tune, your thoughts could be totally different from sometimes the regular case. It’s a little bit different; I think just a little bit harder to get.
TP: Did you start playing piano before the vibes or vibes before the piano?
BM: I started piano first. I started learning the instrument at 18 in a serious way. Before I would just kind of sit around a lot and listen to music being played, Wes and other guys in my hometown coming by my house, jam sessions, and they used to try to show me a couple of tunes, and I’d listen to a couple of tunes. I wouldn’t really get serious, and I would never sit down and try to learn the instrument until I turned 18 — then I decided I would get into it.
TP: But obviously you must have been listening to music from the very beginning.
BM: Well, it you want to put it that way, there was music in my soul from the time I was born. My folks weren’t musicians, but they were singers and…you know, they were church people. When I say “music in my soul,” that’s what I meant, because there has always been music in my family. It was always there. But that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in.
TP: When did you start playing the vibes?
BM: I bought a set of vibes in 1955, but they didn’t get delivered to me until 1956. At that time, as soon as I got them, then I started practicing, and decided I wanted to do a lot of arranging. I started making up tunes, making up arrangements, and I’d have whoever I could get to play them. Actually, it was mostly… At that time my brother Monk had left town, so Wes played bass on a lot of my gigs. He wasn’t a bass player, but he certainly would play the notes.
TP: Who were some of the pianists in Indianapolis who were interesting to you who might have had some influence?
BM: Earl Grandy. He was, in my opinion, the daddy of music of Jazz, period, in Indianapolis. He I would think is as far as any piano player I’ve ever heard, in my estimation, in terms of his knowledge. His knowledge and his ear I don’t think could be beat by anybody. Certainly there were things he couldn’t play as fast as Art Tatum, but his knowledge, as far as I’m concerned was up there.
TP: Anyone else, or is Earl Grandy it?
BM: Carl Perkins was about a year older than me. We were friends, but we didn’t hang out. We weren’t together that long in terms of being friends, because I got in it kind of late, and he left town a couple of years after I started getting into it.
TP: You listed Tatum as your main influence in the Encyclopedia of Jazz.
BM: Oh, yes. Tatum I would say is probably on the top shelf of all piano players, and Bud Powell, and Erroll Garner, who a lot of folks think is too commercial, but I think he’s too incredible to say he’s just commercial!
TP: Apart from in your family, did you go out to hear music in Indianapolis when he was a kid. You’re about two years older than Slide Hampton, I guess.
TP: He mentioned there was a ballroom in Indianapolis that bands would begin their tours from.
BM: Sure. The Sky Club.
TP: Describe the musical scene in Indianapolis as best you can for me when you were a kid.
BM: Well, it was very lively, for sure. There were an incredible amount of musicians for a small town like that. It was just incredible. There were an incredible number of good musicians at that time. There was a tenor player there named Buddy Parker who I thought had a sound as good as anybody in the world, and he had a terrific style which didn’t sound like anybody else. There was a guy by the name of Jimmy Coe who was an alto player who a lot of guys around the country really loved. Cannonball heard him and liked him, and a lot of folks liked him. There were two piano players who were brothers called the Johnson brothers, and they knew everybody. They knew Art Tatum… They were stride piano players. They were helluva players.
TP: It must have been interesting to go to a party at their house!
BM: Well, we had actually probably more parties than anybody at our house.
TP: The Montgomery household.
BM: Yeah. That was kind of the hangout. [ETC.] Wes was six years older than me, and Monk was a year-and-a-half older than Wes.
TP: I got some wrong birthdays. Say a few words about each of your brothers. Then I’d like to talk about how that family band started to get together. First Monk, then Wes, musical and personal.
BM: Before I do that, I’d like to mention something that no one else people aren’t familiar with. I had an older brother, who was older than Monk or Wes, and taught Monk and Wes. He was a drummer. He was named after my father — Thomas. I wanted everybody to know that, because he was a helluva drummer. He was about two years older than Monk. I didn’t know him.
As far as Monk is concerned, Monk was what I call the most colorful guy in the family. He was kind of a leader.
TP: He became a union leader in Vegas, I think.
BM: Yes. Oh, he did so many things. He was just kind of a leader type person. He was kind of head of the family, so to speak. The older brother always is pretty much like that. He started playing about the same time as Wes (they both started playing at about the same time), and he decided he wanted to play the bass, I guess, and he got into it, and he became pretty good.
TP: What do you remember about how he started with the electric bass, since he’s known to be the innovator on that instrument?
BM: Well, that happened when he joined Lionel Hampton’s band. That’s when Hamp had him play the electric bass. From there out he became the electric bass player.
TP: Tell me about Wes, personal and musical.
BM: It’s hard to say about Wes, because the only thing you can say about him is how tremendous a player he was! Everybody knows about …(?)…
TP: Do you remember anything about his early years playing music?
BM: You have to remember I’m 6½ years younger, and whatever I remember I wouldn’t …[CAR HONKING]… Like I say, most of my life I was not interested in music.
TP: Why was that?
BM: You’re asking me? I should probably ask you! I have no way of knowing. I didn’t see music as anything that really I could get into it. I wasn’t coming from the same place…
TP: Was that because your brothers were so talented, or just because…
BM: No. And I never knew how talented they were! You’re raised with them, you hear this all the time, and they weren’t no giant names. A lot of people didn’t know who they were, just a few local people. But Wes Montgomery wasn’t Wes Montgomery, the star. They went to the table and ate like I did.
Wes was a hard worker at playing his instrument and learning his instrument. He was a very lively guy. He was very funny, a lot of humor. You’d think you could think of a thousand things the minute you say “Wes Montgomery,” but it’s not like… You just need a few things to say…
TP: I’ve read how hard he worked to get the mastery over the instrument.
BM: Well, right.
TP: What was it that made you all of a sudden get interested in music?
BM: It was Wes. Over a period of time he kept saying, “why don’t you check this out, or check this out.” He and I were kind of close. But I just never had been that interested in it. I could hear him play, but I didn’t know that much about music. It didn’t faze me anywhere like it does now. But once I got into it, then I was a new person. Then I was able to hear it, and down the line I was able to understand. I could hear him talk about all those things, but I couldn’t… Hey, I was still a young teenager.
TP: Did the piano come pretty naturally to you?
BM: Well, I would have to say yeah, it came naturally, because if you don’t read music or anything like that, it’s a natural gift.
TP: You don’t read music?
BM: No. None of us read music. I guess that would be pretty natural.
TP: Or in the soul, as you say.
TP: What were some of the situations that the three of you first played together in around Indianapolis? Did you work as a rhythm section accompanying bands from out of town or soloists from out of town? How did that work?
BM: We actually didn’t work that much together when I was beginning, because when I started playing I wasn’t very close to people like Earl Grandy. I was just a beginner. I was supposed to have been pretty good for a beginner. But people always use that pretty loosely about this guy being good; you know, “He’s great” and all this. You know, they kind of learn the instrument pretty well, they get around the instrument pretty well, but you still haven’t got to that one point where you’re considered a great pianist. So I wasn’t on the level as Wes and Monk, but I was kind of cheered on as being great. [LAUGHS] But that wasn’t…
TP: When do you think you started to turn the corner?
BM: I think maybe kind of late, like ’53 or so.
TP: So you’d been playing for about five years, and then you started saying something.
BM: Yeah, I think I started turning the corner, and I started getting compositions… You know, bigger people.
TP: When did you start functioning as a working piano player, then, with or without your family? There’s a listing here that you went out with Joe Turner when you were 18.
BM: That was only the one tour. I was 18. I really wasn’t qualifying. This alto player I told you about, Jimmy Coe, he had the band behind the singer, and he asked me to go with him. There was another Blues piano player, I think, who was scheduled to go, and couldn’t make it, so I was asked to go. I didn’t know that much really as far as going on the road and playing on that level. I was only 18. I’d just gotten started; I’d only been playing for about six months or so. But he thought I was good enough to go, so I went, and it was a very enjoyable experience for me. It was down South. My first time.
TP: What was the Hampton Brothers band like?
BM: Slide had a brother who I felt was one of the best trumpet players and arrangers around, named Maceo. He and Maceo did arrangements, I think Maceo did most of them, primarily Jazz arrangements. They had sisters and brothers, and I think the whole band, except maybe three or four, were family. I had gone over to their house many times just to hang out. He had another brother named Lucky(?), a tenor player. The three of those guys were more into a heavier jazz thing, and I played with them off and on.
TP: Were you playing exclusively Jazz, or a lot of different styles of music?
BM: It was exclusively Jazz for the most part, except this one trip I took with a Blues singer. Then naturally, back then, when you played shows, you played whatever the performers you played with were playing, the singer, the dancer, whatever — you played whatever that was. But in terms of going looking for your own job, certainly strictly Jazz, Bebop and stuff.
TP: Did you say that your writing and arranging began with getting the vibraphone?
BM: Yes. Well, I always did arrangements. I did all the music for the brothers. Everybody had a job, and that was my job, to take care of rehearsals. Every now and then, Wes would write a couple of tunes. He didn’t do that much arranging, but he had some tunes.
TP: What was his job?
BM: He took care of the getting back on time, the bandstand kind of thing, calling the tunes and all that kind of stuff. Monk took care of all the business.
TP: Who was Roy Johnson? Again, the Montgomery-Johnson Quintet from ’55 to ’57.
BM: Let me explain, because when you ask me a question, then I have to talk about each individual. But if you mention the particular group, the group that worked at the Turf Club was called the Montgomery-Johnson Quintet. There were two guys named Johnson and two guys named Montgomery. Our drummer had played with Slide’s family band for many years, Sonny Johnson we called him (I’ve forgotten his real name). And Alonzo “Pookie” Johnson was the tenor player.
TP: A few words about the Master Sounds. How that evolved, how you got from Indianapolis out to the West Coast.
BM: The Master-Sounds happened after I brought my vibes. After I brought my vibraphone is when I started trying to need a new sound, and that’s when I started writing, trying to get a new sound for a group. That’s when I started using a piano player named Al Plank from the Indianapolis area. He was never part of any group that I’d had, but he worked on several different occasions when I’d put this group together, and Wes was the bass player. So this was my beginning in doing this quartet with vibes. Then later I got with Monk. Monk had just left our band and went on the road again, then he and I got together, and we moved to Seattle. First we didn’t just move to Seattle; he was working there, and I called him, and he got a little gig for us — and that’s how it began. [INAUDIBLE] He’s the one who contacted the piano player for us.
TP: That’s the situation that brought the Montgomery name to public awareness, I guess, beyond Indianapolis.
BM: Well, that’s the first time we did it on any kind of level. Because we had recorded earlier, maybe three or four years before that, but nothing really happened out of the album.
TP: You were briefly with Miles Davis. What do you want to tell me about that experience?
BM: There’s not a lot I want to say about that, because…
TP: I’ve heard the story, whether or not it’s apocryphal or not…
BM: There’s 50,000 different stories on that, and they’re all embarrassing. I mean, that’s been the biggest issue of all! I certainly can’t blame them, because there’s enough there to talk about. And depending on how you look at it… It didn’t faze me any…
TP: It was you and Miles on the front line on trumpet and vibes, or was Coltrane still in it?
BM: You forgot Coltrane!
TP: No, I didn’t know if you were in there after Coltrane left or not.
BM: No, I was in after Cannonball left. All the same guys were still there.
TP: I have a clip that announces you joining the band at the Sutherland in Chicago?
BM: Oh, really? That was the first gig.
TP: Apart from the stories, was it an enjoyable experience?
BM: Well, it was a top-of-the-line experience. I mean, it had to be with nothing but the top-of-the-line players. It was the group! It was certainly fulfilling, and it was certainly a level that kept you on your toes. I joined them, and it was really weird, he respected me just as much as anybody else…. I got the respect, and I got a good groove, I got a good feeling from everybody. It was just… It’s kind of hard for me to explain.
TP: Did you tour consistently throughout the ’60s with Wes, or was there a time when Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb were the touring band?
BM: I think they only did one or two jobs with Wes.
TP: So that was primarily for recording.
BM: As far as I can remember. I’m not totally clear, but I don’t remember a whole lot that happened. I remember the record date that they did in California with Wynton, because I was managing the club. I’m the one that got them there to do it. I remember they did concerts together then, one or two jobs, but that was it. I know Wes went to Europe for maybe a week or something like that, and he used Jimmy Lovelace as the drummer (because Jimmy had worked with me in San Francisco), and he used Harold Mabern. But you know how that is, guys go out with whoever and then they come back. But that was just for that trip.
TP: But the brothers toured pretty much until Wes died, I take it.
BM: Yeah. We were together up until he died. I don’t know exactly when we got back together. We were off and on, and the last maybe two or three years we were together.
TP: Do you find different sides of yourself come out on the piano and on the vibes, and if so how would you describe that?
BM: I have a problem sometimes, because the music that I arrange and that I try to compose is more important to me than actually playing. Sometimes I don’t put as much… And I’ve learned to do it better and better as I get older, because I’m able to play equally or close to equally as well as I’m able to compose, and that’s not always been the case. It’s like anything that want to do and you’re trying to work to make something happen, that’s the most important thing in your life…
TP: That’s an interesting thing to say.
BM: Yeah. It means more to me sometimes to arrange something than it does to play it.
TP: And you find that as you keep evolving and getting older, the intensity with which you improvise is becoming more focused?
BM: It’s coming together to where, when I write a tune, I can somehow play it and feel that I’ve done a pretty good job playing it. A lot of times in the past, when I was writing arrangements for the group, I would write the arrangement and that would be the only thing that was on my mind, because I knew that I knew how to play the instrument. It’s just that once I got there, I didn’t spend enough time playing the instrument! So on my earlier records, my playing was nowhere like what I know I can do.
TP: Would you rank this record, Here Again, as the most successful, or one of?
BM: I wouldn’t say that particular record… I’d say that today I’m able to put together… The piano I got to play was the piano I asked for, at least in name. I wanted a Steinway, and that’s what they prepared for me. But the Steinway I don’t think had been played that much, and it was a little stiff for my taste. I might have done a better job with a piano that was a little looser. It made some things a little sloppy. A lot of people might not detect it, but…
TP: Did you write the originals for this date, or are some of these older pieces?
BM: Oh, some of these tunes I had done… I’ve got so many tunes that I just have not recorded. A few are things I’ve done before.
TP: How many tunes would you say you have that are still unrecorded?
BM: Oh, it’s hard to tell. I know for a fact there’s over 100. Some of them aren’t completed. It’s just that I never worry about completing my songs, because when it comes time I know how to put it together.
[END OF 9-1-97 CONVERSATION]
TP: “Here Again.” Mark says this refers to the reunion of the trio.
BM: Well, let me start a little further back. I write (or I compose a lot of tunes) and never put titles to them, because I’m not always inspired by a particular young woman or this or that or anything; I’m mainly inspired by the music. So when I put a tune together, I hear certain things and that’s what I do, and for the majority of people that I know, that’s where I get my titles from. I mean, not all the time, but a lot of times on titles, people say they heard a tune, they liked it, it sounds like this, and ..(?)..
TP: Is composition something that you work on in a very disciplined way? Are you constantly writing tunes, thinking about music?
BM: I am constantly thinking music all the time. I don’t think there’s any composer who can say every time he thinks of something he turns out music — or I don’t know of any. But you hear certain things… I’m lucky to hear a good musical line that I think is creative, and I think has a good sound to it, a good feeling to it, and if I’m able to get anything more than that, then I’m more or less blessed.
TP: When you are composing a piece, since you don’t read music or write music, does it become sort of imprinted on your mind, and you wind up teaching it to people by getting them a cassette or going over it one-on-one with them?
BM: Exactly what you said. I’m not a writer, because I can’t write, but I’m a composer, so when I put a tune together it usually stays in mind. I can hear voicings over the years, certainly I hear voicings, and I know what I want everybody to play. It’s the hard way! [LAUGHS] I did this album with my brothers and five others, you know, and that was with Freddie and a whole lot of people and I had to show each guy separate notes. That’s not the easy way out. If you can write this stuff down, you’d do it. But since I couldn’t write, I just remembered everything I wanted.
TP: I heard Thad Jones did that to some degree also for the Orchestra, although the parts down. And it makes sense, because his stuff was so different than anybody else…
BM: Yeah. Well, Thad was incredible. The difference is, he could read, too! But where I’m concerned, I don’t really know how to write stuff down, and it’s nobody’s fault but my own. But I rely more on my ear. And I’m kind of comfortable with that. It’s kind of the hard way out, but I’m comfortable with that, and I like to be able to sit down and show everybody everything, to be able to show the notes, and then if it’s not right I’m able to change the note — but it’s not that much different from what I hear.
TP: That said, tell me about “Here Again.”
BM: “Here Again” is a tune that I actually wrote for another record date, and it didn’t come across. But I had written it some years ago, and… I have many tunes that I have laying around on tape, and when I talked with Mark about doing this, he said he’d like to hear me play more original tunes. So I pulled some things off the tape that I had along with several other things, and I thought, “That could be one-of,” and another…
Let me tell you about the title of it. The title of it, when we just got to New York, when the bass player, Jeff Chambers, got to New York, he said, “Well, we’re together again” — meaning that for the last 25 years we’ve been working off-and-on, sometimes a longer stint than the others. He said, “Well, we’re back together again.” He said, “Man, I’ve got a title for at least two of your songs, if you don’t mind.” I said, “No, give it to me.” He said, “Here Again.” That’s where that whole idea came from.
TP: Can you say something about the structure of it?
BM: It’s kind of hard for me to talk about the structure of it, because I can’t put it in the way I’d like to put it, technical ways. I’m no good at that. If I feel I can’t really explain it where it makes sense, I won’t.
TP: Why don’t we try. And if it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense.
BM: Well, I’d just rather… Are you a musician?
TP: I’m not a musician… [ETC.]
BM: Well, I don’t know to say it. It’s just not a tune that I can relate to you.
TP: Fine. Let’s talk about “A Thousand Rainbows.”
BM: I recorded “A Thousand Rainbows” many, many years ago. It was on a label my brother, Monk, had out of Las Vegas, the Bean label. Monk used to call his son Bean. It was on his label that I did this, and I recorded it with a sextet, Harold Land and Carmell Jones. When he died, nobody knew what happened to the masters. I have a copy of the record. You know, they couldn’t find the masters for anything, but I had one because I helped finance the date. Anyway, I hadn’t played it since, and I always kind of liked the tune.
TP: Let’s talk about “Blues For David.”
BM: I recorded that sometime ago; I think twice, I’m not sure. I did it on a date with Fathead and Clifford Jordan, and I also recorded that with another one of my groups.
TP: When you’re going in there on a tune like that, or “A Thousand Rainbows,” are you thinking of the previous version and trying to do something to differentiate from it, or has the tune evolved in your mind? Do your compositions change over 30 years?
BM: Right. The basic thing doesn’t change, actually, but there are some parts of it that you want to make it sound more up to date, and you want to… It gives you a chance to do some things that you didn’t do on the first one. On “A Thousand Rainbows,” the melody varies, especially in the bridge. The basic structure is the same chord-structures-wise; in how it moves, they’re all the same. But the melody differs just a little bit here and there.
TP: The next one is “Hob Nob With Brother Bob.”
BM: Well, I did a record date with… I actually found that on a date that I used Jeff and Ray and a couple of conga players, and I also used Herman Riley, a tenor player out here, and a trumpet player (the best trumpet player out here; I can’t remember his name) and Kevin Eubanks. It’s never been released. I still have the master. I haven’t been able to get a deal on it yet. But I recorded that “Hob Nob” on that date, and since that was over two years ago and nothing happened with it, I decided to do it again.
TP: The last of the originals is “Aki’s Blues.”
BM: That’s named after my godson, Jeff Chambers’s son.
TP: Is that a recent composition?
BM: Yes, within the last year-and-a-half. I did this on a Kevin Eubanks record date with Ralph Moore and Jimmy Cobb, and he did the same as I. He still owns the master, but nothing has happened with it yet, so I decided to record it.
TP: So those two are more recent, and “Blues For David” and “A Thousand Rainbows” are older pieces, and “Here Again” is also an older piece.
TP: Which you never recorded.
TP: I’ll ask you about the standard. “You’ve Changed.”
BM: “You’ve Changed” is somewhat of a yesterdays tune for me. It’s not anything new. And I’m partial to old tunes.
TP: Is it something you’ve been playing a long time?
BM: Off and on, all my life. But I mean, it’s not something when I go into a club I automatically think of playing. It’s just every now and then I think of some of those old standards that I like.
TP: Are you very interested in singers and in lyrics? I gather you’ve played with a fair number of singers in years back.
BM: Yes. I would have to say some singers and some lyrics.
TP: Let me put it this way. In the tunes you’re playing that are standards, is the lyric something that’s paramount in your mind as you’re playing?
TP: It’s a purely musical proposition.
BM: Right. It has a lot to do with, after I play them, how do we come together between the song and me. Because all of these tunes… I mean, there are thousands of songs I’ve played over the years, and I would play them. Some of them were nice tunes, some were great, but we don’t come together enough to make a difference, if you know what I mean. And there are certain tunes, just the way it falls, the changes don’t lay a certain kind of way that interests me. Sometimes a melody might be great, but I don’t care about the changes. There are certain things about certain songs. But then you find a tune that has a nice melody and the changes are beautiful, too, and then it seems to come together with the way my thinking does — and then that’s me.
TP: In playing piano, were you influenced, apart from pianists, by horn players, in thinking about creating lies and so forth?
BM: Yes. It’s kind of hard to get away from being influenced by horn players, because they are the front line, and usually you don’t get anything done until you hear them first. [LAUGHS] So your influence is when you hear them solo. They can’t play two notes at one time. I got (?) from Charlie Parker and Dizzy…
TP: So in the ’40s, you were listening to Bird’s solos and Dizzy’s solos, and internalizing them?
BM: Oh, so many, many guys. Sure, all those guys and more.
TP: Name a few others.
BM: Sonny Stitt, Dexter, Gene Ammons… Not that I sound like any of them, but just the fact that you get something from each one. Sometimes you don’t realize what you got from different people. When I look at it, I’d have to say I got probably more of the chord structure and everything from piano, naturally, but your ideas can come from anywhere.
TP: Plus I guess hearing your brothers.
BM: Oh, certainly. And then my brother had to hear somebody!
TP: It’s an endless circle, isn’t it.
BM: Sure. We have to be inspired by somebody. But when you hear him play, you don’t necessarily hear those people.
TP: Some musicians started off copying solos off records, analyzing them, but you sound like someone who had an idea of what music should sound like, and went for that, and put what you heard within whatever situation you were playing in.
BM: I wish that was true. I’m more of an honest guy. Like most everybody else, I copied solos.
TP: Tell me three solos you copied when you were young.
BM: Oh, I couldn’t tell you three. I could tell you a hundred!
TP: Well, tell me five then! For instance, Tatum!
BM: I can’t tell you solos I copied. I can tell you people. Bud Powell, Nat Cole, Erroll Garner, the guys who I think were the top players. Art Tatum. I mean, there was just so much I could copy from Tatum! It was just too hard to imagine yourself trying to do some of that stuff. But I mean, it didn’t stop you from copying some of the things. But then you had to turn it around and… My good fortune is, you don’t particularly hear it. You hear everybody at the same time you still hear me, and that’s all I was after.
TP: That’s what everybody says, you don’t sound like anybody else. Did those guys come through Indianapolis? Did you get to see Erroll Garner or Bud Powell or Tatum first-hand?
BM: Well, I didn’t see Bud first-hand in Indianapolis. I saw him in New York at Birdland and Chicago. But I saw Art Tatum… I saw those people there in concerts.
TP: Where would they play concerts?
BM: It was a place downtown called the Circle Theater?
TP: Was that the main black theater in Indianapolis?
BM: No, that was a White theater downtown. People in our neighborhood probably couldn’t afford it. But that’s the place where they had… It was those Norman Granz concerts.
TP: Was Indianapolis a stop on the circuit for guys like Bird or Sonny Stitt or James Moody? Would they pick up a local rhythm section…
BM: They’d bring their own rhythm section.
TP: So you got to hear all of them, and they got to hear you coming through.
BM: In the earlier days they didn’t get to hear me because I really wasn’t good enough to play, but I went to hear them.
TP: But by the early ’50s you…
BM: Oh, by the early ’50s, when I was playing, sure. I got to hear them, and they got to come out to jam sessions with us and all that kind of stuff. If you’re talking about my beginnings, that started when I was 18.
TP: Slide Hampton said that you and your brothers would practice all day long, for hours and hours and hours together, and you wouldn’t even play a tune in public unless you’d worked on it for several weeks. Is that true?
BM: That’s kind of true. [LAUGHS]
TP: Does that kind of perfectionism mark the association all the way through.
BM: We practiced all the time. I’ll put it that way. Especially Wes and I. There was a time when Wes and I would practice, and nobody else. But then the group would practice every day. Maybe it was the kind of thing where we felt that strongly about what we were doing. [END OF SIDE]
TP: Describe, if you can recollect it, what one of those days would be like, practicing all day?
BM: I mean, it would just be putting some material together. I couldn’t describe it any more than just working hard at what you’re doing. A lot of that could be just personal practicing, and some of it could be just something you thought of.
TP: I’m sure you’d mutually inspire each other.
BM: Well, yeah. It had to influence you a lot, certainly once you start playing together. Say, man, you have got to be writing a boo ok.
TP: Just tell me what the venues in Indianapolis were that the brothers played.
BM: The Turf Club.
TP: Was that the main place?
BM: That was the main place.
TP: That’s where everybody came through?
BM: That was it. We played certainly a few jobs outside the city, and we played concerts here and there, one-nighters or a concert, but the basic job was at the Turf Club.
TP: I have to talk to you about your time in Milwaukee. Since this band is sort of a bringing back together of the trio in Milwaukee, I need to ask you about the circumstances, the scene, etc. Flanagan and George Coleman both said they met you the first time when you were playing in Milwaukee at this hotel.
TP: What was the hotel? What were the circumstances of the gig?
BM: It was inside the Mark Plaza Hotel, and the name of the room was the Bombay Bicycle Room – the BBC is what we called it. It was just a room where they wanted music in there. They didn’t care who or what. They just wanted a guy sitting there playing piano by himself. So I went in there as a single…
TP: Do you remember what year?
BM: It was 1970 or ’71, probably ’70.
TP: So shortly after you moved to Milwaukee.
BM: Right. I went there playing singles, and I played there for several months, and then I got bored. I said, “Well, I’m just going to have to quit.” They didn’t want me to hire a trio or nothing, and so I said, “Well, what the heck.” But then a strange thing happened. Erroll Garner was working I think about six weeks across from me with his trio, and he used to come over on the break all the time. We’d sit there and we’d talk. One night I told him I was bored playing, sitting there playing by myself. He said, “I know what you mean. I had to do this a few times myself.” He and I were somewhat friends. Then he came out to dinner one day, and he said, “Buddy, I’ve got something to tell you.” “What?” He said, “Man, don’t quit the job. I just heard through a meeting I was at that they’re going to let you have a trio.” That’s how I ended up staying there so many years.
TP: Did you stay there until you left Milwaukee?
BM: I stayed at the hotel until about two years before I left, about 1980.
TP: I gather from Brian and Hazeltine that you were not averse to letting young guys sit in with you and play with you.
BM: Oh, no. I used to do that all the time. As a matter of fact, I kind of made a stage… Because I was also President of the Jazz Society there, and we brought people out. That’s how George Coleman and a lot of folks got there. I’d bring all kinds of people, Eddie Harris, you name them.
TP: Was it a nice little scene in Milwaukee?
BM: It turned out to be a nice little scene. It was terrible before I got there! But that turned out to be the place. People would be coming down from Chicago to hear us play. So we were drawing a lot of folks. It got to be the place. Not only that, you’d find a lot of stars every now and then come through there. But when something comes to be the place, that’s the only place to go when you get there.
TP: I know you said this yesterday, but just tell me once again how Jeff Chambers came into the group. And about him as a bass player.
BM: Well, I was auditioning bass players. I started in with a different trio than Jeff and Ray. I had a different bass player and a different drummer, and I worked there for a short while before I decided to change, and I would audition bass players. Somebody told me about Jeff Chambers, and he came down to audition. When I heard him, he didn’t know anything about Jazz, but he had a great feeling, and he was strong, he had good time. I was really fortunate to have somebody who plays good time, and to be so young, he had such great time, and he had a good feeling. I know that once I could teach him everything else that he needed to know musically, then that would be the guy that I’d want.
TP: How would you evaluate him now?
BM: I think he’s one of the best. I don’t think he has the experience… He’s certainly not Ray Brown, he’s not on that level, but he’s one of the best of the ones that’s coming through.
TP: When you spoke about Ray Appleton yesterday, your words didn’t come through so well over the phone.
BM: Ray was working with me for many years before Jeff, off and on, not in a constant way. I took him on a tour once with me, and then we worked a couple of things together. But basically, we didn’t start working regularly together until I came to Milwaukee. Ray has always had two things that I like about any drummer. He has the cymbal beat, a beat on the ride cymbal that I think is his strength. When you think about it… When you’re at a club you don’t pay any attention to it, but it’s there. It’s got a feel.
TP: You’d know if it’s missing.
BM: Oh, definitely. And I don’t mean that any drummer can play it. He just has something that’s kind of built-in like Art Blakey, those kind of guys. There’s just something there that you can’t explain it. They can’t explain it! It’s just there. And he’s got that going for him. And his feel, he’s got a feel that is part of that historical feel that old-line drummers had. I think that’s the one thing that makes him different from anyone else, and when he’s really up to par and he really plays… He doesn’t always play that. But when he’s really up to par, you hear some grooves that you just don’t hear.
TP: I forgot to ask you about “Old Black Magic” and “Invitation.”
BM: As to “Old Black Magic,” when I’m doing an album, I like to do mixtures of things. I’d like to think I have a mixed bag of tunes and styles, and I’m not one of those musicians who feel like if I’m not playing Bebop I’m not playing. I just feel like if I’m playing whatever it is the best I can do, then I’m going to play it. Because that’s the reason I have it. I just think that “Old Black Magic” is a different vibe, and the way I play it is a different vibe. When I play a ballad I sometimes get caught up in it, because I don’t know whether to give it the same kind of feel on the vibes when I’m playing vibes… You can get caught up when you’re trying to play different styles sometimes. If it comes out right, you’re in good shape.
TP: How about “Invitation”?
BM: “Invitation” is pretty much the same thing. I try to… Some of those tunes, if you’ve got technical ability to do certain things, you can get caught up into the technical abilities without laying back and playing the tune. That’s what happens to me sometimes. I can hear both, but then there are times when I think the other, and it …(?)… That’s the only thing.
Slide Hampton on Buddy Montgomery:
TP: Buddy said that he played with your family band.
SH: We were already in Indianapolis. My father and brother and sister and mother were all musicians.
TP: He mentioned particularly your brother Maceo as being a great arranger and trumpeter, and you had another brother who played tenor.
SH: That was Lucky who played saxophone. He was great player, played very good, was also a composer and arranger. Maceo was the most talented one in the family. He played trumpet and all the instruments, and he was a composer and arranger and everything. Buddy and Maceo were very close.
TP: Did you know Buddy when he started playing the piano? He said he started taking it seriously when he was 18.
SH: Well, I met him probably around that time, but they were already playing together with the Montgomery group.
TP: What was that group like?
SH: They were great. Very talented guys, naturally. Of course, they didn’t study. All of their stuff was self-taught. But the thing about the Montgomery’s was they used to get together and practice together all day, every day. They practiced together for hours, and before they’d play a song in public they work on it for weeks! They were very serious.
TP: So they were always that thorough, from the getgo.
SH: How would you characterize Buddy’s style in the early 1950’s or so, around the time he was playing with your brothers and you?
TP: Well, one of his first influences was Art Tatum. He and the whole family had really good ears, so they could hear anything and learn it. They were just exceptional. And they were very inspiring to us because they were so serious about the way they prepared whatever program they were going to play. But he himself was just a really talented guy, one of those people who only comes along once in a while.
TP: He’s one of the only musicians I’ve spoken to who said he has a natural gift.
SH: It was completely natural. It was so natural, in fact, it was so natural for them… They took it seriously in a way, but in another way they took themselves very lightly. They did it because it was natural and they loved it. They never thought about what trying to impress other people with whatever they did. They just did it because they loved it. And their arrangements… Buddy did most of the arranging for the group. It was just incredible, because when he first started, I think he played usually in the keys that nobody else plays in.
TP: And that was just a natural thing, what he heard.
SH: That was a natural thing for him, yes.
TP: He said his writing is kind of tricky for people.
SH: It is.
TP: What is it about his writing that’s tricky?
SH: Actually, the kind of ensembles and things that he wrote, first of all, were completely different. They didn’t have 32-bar forms. I don’t think they ever did anything like that. Their forms were always different, and they had a lot of different changes of keys and all of that. It was never limited to any of the things that we… Usually, when we do a form, we do something in 32-measures in the key of B-flat, and most of the key center is around B-flat except maybe in the bridge. But them, whatever key it was in, which I guess they sometimes didn’t know what key it was in… But they would never stay around the key center very much. They would go around all the keys, and once in a while, I guess, the key center would show up. Also, the melodies he wrote very extensive. He wrote notey melodies with different kinds of patterns in them, patterns that most of the time we wouldn’t… Our things would be based on things that were a little bit more traditional. But their things were very original.
TP: Do you think that’s still the case with him today insofar as you listen to him these days?
SH: I think he tries to be a little bit more conventional, but he’s still very original. That’s the reason why most of his things are a little tricky for people.
TP: Do you remember when he started playing vibes? He said that’s what really spurred him to compose and arrange, because he needed to get a new sound.
SH: Really? I know when he first started playing, but I don’t know what year it was.
TP: He said it was 1956, and he was playing in the Johnson-Montgomery band with Alonzo “Pookie” Johnson on tenor and Sonny Johnson on drums, and Wes was playing bass because Monk was out of town.
SH: I didn’t know he started it that early. At that time I was with Lionel Hampton, so I was away from Indianapolis.
TP: How would you characterize his style vis-a-vis his style on the piano, if you can make that distinction?
SH: It’s very similar. Of course, the technique of the vibraphone is different, so there’s going to be some limitations there. But you still hear the Buddy Montgomery lines.
George Coleman on Buddy Montgomery:
TP: When did you first either hear or become aware of Buddy Montgomery?
GC: Oh, I’ve been knowing about Buddy for a long time. But I didn’t really know how great he was until I had an opportunity to play with him some 20 years ago in Milwaukee when he was living there. The band was him, with Ray Appleton and Jeff Chambers. I remember everything being great. He played piano on this particular gig. I think he had his vibes set up, and played a couple of vibe tunes, but basically it was piano. But he’s excellent on both instruments.
One thing I can say about Buddy: Buddy is probably the greatest musician that I’ve known who’s a natural. He’s just a natural musician. Buddy is not a reader and all of that. Everything he does is great, though. I mean, his harmonic concept on the piano, the way he voices his chords, and everything he does is like he’s classically trained. But he’s not. He’s like a cat sort of maybe like an Erroll Garner.
TP: Who he said was one of his biggest influences.
GC: Yeah. Well, that’s what he is. He’s one of those kind of guys. He’s just a natural. That’s what I mean by a natural musician, and his musicianship is great. I’m able to determine his ability more from his piano playing, because I can hear all those great harmonics that he plays, all those great changes and the way he voices his chords. All of that stuff is original to him, it’s Buddy Montgomery.
Michael Weiss on Buddy Montgomery:
MW: I think that Buddy and his brother, Wes, not reading music, has had a positive effect in the sense that they are such strong ear players, and players are like that are sometimes better equipped to play in any key easier than other musicians, because their ears are so strong. That might have resulted in Buddy’s ability to play tunes in less standard keys. They’re not encumbered by the written page as much, and they’ve had to survive with their wits, with their ears, and as a result are much sharper, have much sharper ears than guys who read music.
TP: If you can come up with commonalities in his compositions, what would you say are the dynamics of his writing and his improvising style?
MW: I guess there’s parallels to both. We has a great harmonic sensibility. He has a way of reharmonizing standards in a very sophisticated way, and this carries over to his own compositions, too. He really understands how chords are put together, and when he reharmonizes standards he always finds a way to personalize those tunes with not only reharmonization but the new melodic possibilities that reharmonization presents. A lot of people try and do this with much less success. Buddy has a lot of success doing it because he has good taste and good musical sensibilities. A lot of people try and reharmonize standards, but sometimes it doesn’t have the same kind of effect. It sounds technical, it sounds obvious…
TP: And he’s always musical.
MW: Very musical, right. However he reharmonizes a tune, or if it’s his own tune, it’s always going to be very musical and very soulful. I think another things that really makes Buddy stand out as a composer and improviser is there’s just a very strong emotional element to the way he plays. It’s very heartfelt. He doesn’t play things that are just like throwaway technical kind of things. The blues is always an active component. It’s not in an obvious way; it’s an understated way. There’s always a lot of feeling in what Buddy plays, let me put it that way.
TP: How would you distinguish, if you can, between his style on the piano and the vibraphone?
MW: Well, adding on to playing with a lot of feeling, he has… He can do two things. He really knows how to breathe. He can breathe and let… Some of his tunes, like “Waterfall”… When he plays a ballad, for example, he’s not afraid to leave space, to let a phrase hang out there and really sing. I’ve learned a lot about that from him. But on the other side of the coin, he can play long strings of lines, but they flow in such a sophisticated way that… He’s really cliche-free. The thing about Buddy, he’s really his own man. He is as modern as any of his younger generation, like the Herbie Hancocks and so forth. I mean, he’s older than those guys, yet he sounds just as contemporary, but without being influenced really by that generation. He’s really forged his own path in a very modern style without coming through all these accepted influential modern jazz piano innovators — McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea.8
TP: Well, he says that Art Tatum, Erroll Garner and an Indianapolis pianist named Earl Grandy were the big influences on him. And George Coleman without prompting said he reminds him of Erroll Garner because he’s such a natural player.
MW: Right. He has a lot of Erroll Garner in him. But he puts it in a context where unless you’re really hip you wouldn’t notice it.
TP: Buddy said (and Slide Hampton cosigned it) that his music is tricky to play. [ETC.]
MW: Well, there’s a lot of intricacies that you just have to be ready for, I guess. I think the main thing is, he doesn’t write music. Whoever plays with him has to learn his tunes by ear.
TP: How does that affect the way a band sounds?
MW: I think it brings them closer to the composer and the leader, for the reason that if they have to learn the music from a tape of him playing it, they’re learning it right from the source. Sheet music is kind of an impersonal second representation of certain elements of the music; in other words, the melody, the rhythm, the chords. The music is just a representation. Sometimes, if you’re just looking at music, you don’t have anything else to go on about what the music is about other than just these symbols in front of you. But if you have to learn the music from the sound of the composer playing it himself, you will pick up on various nuances that you cannot readily notate. Therefore, that brings you all the more closer to the music and how the composer wants to interpret it, and the whole feeling behind it. So actually the best way for someone to learn your music is if they have to learn it by ear, sight-reading it. Reading is often a very impersonal and kind of cold representation that gives only a bare outline. The more people read, the less they hear. When you don’t have music to distract you, you’re forced to give 100 percent to your ears. And this is what someone like Buddy Montgomery has always been doing all along because he doesn’t read.
TP: i think that’s really all I need to know, unless you can think of some points that I’m missing.
MW: Well, Buddy is a big influence on me as an improviser and a composer. He’s affected my playing quite a bit, a lot from the things we discussed, the strength of the feeling, the soul that he puts into his playing… Just trying to get a lot of depth of emotion in what you’re playing. Breathing, taking time to say what you want to say. His sound on the piano, his voicings.
[END OF CASSETTE SIDE]
TP: …the way he’s influenced your playing.
MW: The emotional integrity or impact that he has in what he plays, whether it’s chord harmonies or single-line. There is an emotional intent with everything he plays, and it comes across. It’s very strong, heartfelt playing. His choice of harmonies also is very expressive. He has a unique way of combining very simple harmonies with very complex harmonies, things you would never think of. Sometimes just a straight triad. And he does it in a way that it sounds so profound. It has the same effect as a very dissonant chord just because of how he puts it in there. We’re always saying jazz harmony has to always be very complex, but he manages to find the beauty in how he uses very simple harmonies combined with more complex ones. He just has a very sophisticated color palette.
But I think the main thing is just how expressive he plays. So much of what we hear sounds very impersonal and technical, and sort of going through all the established vocabulary…
TP: George Coleman said you’ve transcribed some of Buddy’s tunes or solos? What brought you into his music?
MW: Well, he hired me more or less to arrange five of his tunes for the record he did on Landmark, So Why Not? from a solo piano tape. So I had to figure out what was the actual piece, and notate it and write five arrangements for quintet. As it turned out, Freddie Hubbard didn’t make the date as he was supposed to, and a lot of the arrangements became changed around and so forth, but nevertheless I did them. I had also transcribed a couple of Buddy’s tunes that I wanted to add to my repertoire years ago. I had some tapes of him playing some gigs that I really was intrigued with what he was playing, and I wrote out some of the things he was doing just from my own curiosity.
TP: Were the qualities you referred to what initially attracted you to his playing?
MW: Well, all the ones that I stated, yeah.
The main thing is, he’s really his own man, and his playing and his music sound very fresh and modern, yet at the same time it doesn’t show any of the influences of all these major innovators that came along. It just shows you that other people have come along through the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s on their own path, and don’t sound like Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Bill Evans even. I think that’s a very important thing. He doesn’t sound like a guy from the ’40s either. He doesn’t sound like someone that’s just coming out of Tatum and Erroll Garner. Try and imagine a musician whose influences are Art Tatum and Erroll Garner. You wouldn’t come up with a Buddy Montgomery.
Tommy Flanagan on Buddy Montgomery:
TP: How long have you known Buddy?
TF: I met him in the Midwest first, when he was in location at a hotel in Milwaukee.
TP: So that would have been the ’70s.
TF: I guess so. I knew Wes before I knew Buddy.
TP: Just say a few words about the dynamics of his sound and style that I can quote.
TF: Well, I guess it’s in the family. He knows where he’s going, that attitude musically, and he’s a very rhythmic, sure-handed player. He plays beautiful piano. I really enjoy his piano playing.
TP: Slide Hampton was saying how tricky his compositions are, that because he’s a musician who doesn’t read they’re outside conventional forms in a lot of ways. Is that a comment you would cosign?
TF: I’d go along with that. I’ve only tried to play one of his tunes. They are not conventional, because you find they’re not that easy to remember right away. They’re just a little out of the ordinary. I guess it has such an individual stamp that you have to get a little closer to it to play them. You’ve got to go over it more than once or twice to really get it, or even have it explained by the writer himself. It’s like Monk used to say, the cats just have to sit with him to learn his music, and he had to play it over and over for them. It doesn’t matter what caliber the musician was; they all had to go through that.
David Hazeltine on Buddy Montgomery:
TP: What were the circumstances when you first heard Buddy Montgomery?
DH: I had been playing some gigs around town, and was involved in groups with Brian and some other musicians. This was in 1976, my last year of high school. I’ll never forget the memory of that first night I saw Buddy at that club. It’s firmly ingrained in my mind because it was so unbelievable. I had never really heard him play the piano before. I had heard him play vibes in some outdoor concert settings, but when I came to the club he was playing piano, and it completely blew me away.
TP: This was at the Mark Plaza Hotel with Jeff Chambers and Ray Appleton?
DH: At that time Ray wasn’t there yet. It was a local drummer, who was very good, somebody who has since dropped out of the scene. His name is Sam Belden. But Buddy was just incredible.
TP: What was it about what he was doing that seemed so astonishing to you?
DH: A couple of things. First of all, his harmony was astonishing. The way he manipulates harmony is totally unique, but it’s coming out of Art Tatum. It’s sort of like Art Tatum meets McCoy Tyner and everything in between. The second thing is the way he improvises. His right-hand styling is very much like a vibes player plays, which is a very unique approach on the piano. First of all, the percussive effect he gets on the piano is very similar to the vibes, and the way he phrases things on the piano is like a vibes player would phrase; his lines and his phrasing sound like what normally you would hear on the vibes. Then the way he touches the keyboard, his physical attack on the keyboard is like a vibes player. It’s very different from other piano players.
TP: So you see his style as a vibraphonist and pianist being very linked in a lot of ways.
DH: Oh, definitely.
TP: There doesn’t seem to be that much separation to you?
DH: Oh, no, other than the opportunities that are opened up by the piano; it’s possible to play a lot more harmony. But aside from that, just talking about his improvising, his single note improvising, I think the way he plays on vibes and on piano are very similar.
TP: Everyone has said that his compositions are difficult to play, or at least to assimilate …[ETC.]…
DH: Buddy doesn’t read music, so he’s not inundated with the… I don’t think he feels compelled to play music in a formula the way most of us do it. Actually that might not be accurate to say it’s because of the reading or lack of reading. But he’s completely natural, completely an ear player, and that’s why it’s so pure, in a way. What you hear from him is exactly what he is hearing and what his ears tell him to do, which is coming from his soul — it’s very uniquely Buddy. Although he’s very influenced by Art Tatum and McCoy Tyner and everything else in between…
TP: He mentioned Erroll Garner as well…
DH: Oh, Erroll Garner’s one who definitely should be mentioned as well. But it’s a completely unique approach because of the lack of European influence, the normal…
TP: It’s very soulful, very blues-drenched, almost like a sanctified but very harmonically sophisticated thing. [ETC.] I gather he was very encouraging to young musicians. Was that the case with you?
DH: Yes, it was. We developed this joking-around relationship. I always would hit on him for lessons, and he never would give me lessons. In fact, there was this brief period where he was doing this in-house teaching program at a prison, giving music lessons to these ex-cons, and I went and helped him for a while and did some teaching for him. There was one day specifically I remember when he was across the room at the piano, and I was at the other side of the room with a singer, and he was saying, “Dave, can you play this song for the singer?” He played the tune on the piano, and he played so much shit… He was just standing up behind the piano, playing, asking me if I knew this tune and could play it. I was saying, “Wow, what is that you’re playing?” I came running around, and as soon as I got behind the piano where I could see his hand he went to a real simple, single-finger version of the fucking thing. We’ve always had a relationship like that. He wasn’t going to give it up.
TP: When he’d play vibes on that set, if it would happen, would you be able to sit in with him, or sit in with other people coming through, or…
DH: Well, he didn’t play vibes there. It was all piano.
Brian Lynch on Buddy Montgomery
TP: When did you first encounter Buddy Montgomery?
BL: I first heard Buddy around ’73. I think I first heard him at his outdoor things, but I’d say around the first or second year I was in school I started coming around to the Mark Plaza and hanging out and listening and meeting Buddy. He knew that I was a young musician, and he encouraged me to sit in with him and…
TP: What was sitting in with him like? A very informal thing?
BL: Yeah, playing tunes and stuff. I think at that point, in invincible ignorance, I was probably unaware of how much of the music was flying by me, because he was playing so much. But he must have seen some potential, since he was great enough to actually have me… There was a tenor player named Charles Davis, Jr., who was living there, and we were kind of partners at the time, we’d shed together and play together a lot in school and out of school. The two of us did a number of gigs with him, special things in the summer and in the parks and things like that. We were playing his tunes, and that would necessitate getting together and rehearsing and learning them from memory. He has got some real hip stuff, and stuff that takes more than a minute to get together.
TP: What are the things that make his stuff so tricky?
BL: Well, I think there’s a lot of individuality in his style of composing. One thing that’s very strong in his writing is his rhythm, and the way he uses it… It’s always swinging, but there’s always hooks and things in the rhythm. A lot of these things were Latin Jazz oriented. It had that beat. I didn’t realize the context of how very individual and hip and just… I think it’s some of the strongest Latin jazz writing I’ve ever heard. I was exposed to that stuff really early. And a lot of times he’d have percussionists with the band. So all the elements were there, some things I picked up on a lot later, as you know. So I was exposed to do so much through working with him and being around him that it stood me in good stead later, in a very informal but strict and rigorous way. We used to rehearse the hell out of the stuff.
TP: Talk about trhe rehearsals, the difference of learning something by ear vis-a-vis learning it off the printed page.
BL: Well, learning stuff by ear, obviously you get the music together in a way that …[INAUDIBLE]… I think it’s good in general to learn things that way if you have the ears to do it. It might take a little bit longer than just saying “the chart’s up and let’s go.” But for a young musician, it was very good training because it helped with really understanding the nuances and stuff, too. Because by the time we got it together, you learn more about how the thing works and how the parts relate to the whole; you sort of understand the music a lot better that way. We’d write things out afterwards, and at certain points I’d be involved in transcribing some of his stuff so he’d take it other musicians later. Around that time, ’75, he did a record date, and he used to rehearse with us and we’d write out the music, and then he did the date on the West Coast, a real nice date with Oscar Brashear and Harold Land actually.
Just being exposed to the way he arranged music and his originals…
TP: Slide Hampton said he doesn’t use conventional or standard forms. Is that the way it was in the ’70s, too?
BL: Well, it’s the way he puts it together. There will be like odd bars and things kind of meshing together in different combinations, phrases, the sections and stuff like that. He’s very imaginative. He’s such an imaginative person.
TP: That’s why it takes such intensive, hands-on rehearsal to really make it work.
BL: I feel that having had all that experience, doing that with him, I have understanding of his music that maybe I wouldn’t have had if I had just read down his charts.
TP: Flanagan says it’s kind of like Monk’s music, you have to sit with and play it over and over.
BL: Buddy’s like that. Melvin Rhyne’s another person who has an interesting, distinctive composing style. I think maybe there is some influence from Buddy in it. He’s another guy who doesn’t write the music down, so you sit and learn it. When you sit and learn things, you get an insight into the mind of the musician, and having done that with Buddy I really gained immense respect. Just the totality of what he does is so incredible.
TP: Do you remember the term of this trio?
BL: It was like 1978-79-80. Ray stayed with me for a little while… Well, Ray and Jeff were the rhythm section for my senior recital in college. I went out and rehearsed with these guys, and boy, they were just playing incredible. Being around that stuff on a daily basis, it was a real focal point for all the young musicians that were there.
TP: he was President of the Jazz Society also?
BL: Right. He brought some people in. He brought Freddie in, George Coleman, and some other people.
The Latin influence is very important in Buddy’s playhing and his writing, too. It’s Latin Jazz. I remember reading the liner notes to a Cal Tjader record a long time ago, when I was a kid, one of the first Latin Jazz records I was exposed to, and I remember the piano player saying Buddy Montgomery was one of his main influences. One really good record is George Shearing with the Montgomery Brothers and Armando Perazza on tumbadora with conga drums, and you can hear Buddy comping in that style. But he does that all the time. He’s just very fluent in bringing the Latin tinge into his music. Just the fact that he likes to have percussion on a lot of his things… I would love to see a Latin Jazz record of his with all the guys on it.
Always strong melodies in his compositions. His music sort of has some of the same qualities that you’d find in Horace Silver, but filtered through his own unique sensibility.
TP: Slide said he wrote very extensive, notey melodies.
BL: Yeah, there’s a lot of details and a lot of just hip things, but bluesy and expressive. Really expressive. Soulful. I’d say soulful. And with all these little twists and hooks in it. They’re accessible. It’s accessible music, too. It’s not offputting. It draws you in. He’s the greatest. Great man, too. He’s always stuck to his guns. He’s more concerned with expressing himself and making the music come off.
It takes high precision to play his music. You have to be able to play your instrument well, and execute and play with feeling in order to play his music.