- How and when did music first come into your life?
- Did you play an instrument?
My next instrument, starting at 13, was the trumpet. To be more precise, it was a 12-dollar cornet that belonged to the junior high school band. Eventually, I saved enough from a paper route to buy a used Olds Special, an excellent horn that I still have but rarely play. Much later, Clark Terry got me a factory deal on a CT model Olds flugelhorn. For several years I’ve had the Bobby Shew Yamaha trumpet and the Shew model Yamaha flugelhorn. Lessons with Bobby during my
The commander of the air wing was Lt. General Carson Abel Roberts.
One night when I was sitting in legally at the officers club on base, General Roberts introduced himself as a fellow player who as a youngster had known Bix Beiderbecke. On that thread, an unlikely friendship developed between the war hero three-star general and the greenish first lieutenant. If I had been under his command, that would have been unlikely. We were on a first-name basis; he called me Doug and I called him General. Sitting-in in town couldn’t have been too serious a violation of regulations; one night, General Roberts showed up at the Crown with his cornet and asked if he could play “Green Eyes,” which he did—a bit shakily but with the right changes.
- What are your earliest recollections of jazz?
- Many conversations about jazz invariably turn to “impressions” and “favorites.” Why do you think this is the case?
As for favorites, most non-musicians and casual listeners develop them early on and maintain them as their standard for the rest of their lives. Here’s how Woody Herman put it when we talked following a dance job in
“Most of them stop listening as soon as they leave high school. That’s their last really firm connection with music. In that period of their lives, it’s all-important, and from the time of their first responsibility on, it becomes background to everything else, which is very natural and correct, I guess. But then they still want to tell me how the band isn’t making it now and it was so great then. And that really aggravates me. It’s about the only thing that does.”
One customer had asked that night for “Johnson Rag.” Another said to Woody,
“Don’t you have any Russ Morgan pieces?”
“And they get some very terse replies,” Woody said, “like ‘No’ or ‘He quit the business’ or ‘I’ll play that when I get to the big band in the sky.’ It becomes a kind of standup routine. Certainly anyone has a right to ask for anything, but I can’t for the life of me think why I have to do those tunes.”
The quotes are from the Herman chapter in my book Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers.
I’ve been listening to him for more than six decades. I’m hearing new things and rediscovering things that astound me. I recently put up on Rifftides his “Summertime” from the Porgy and Bess album with Ella Fitzgerald. His expression of the melody of that song is an apotheosis of pure music. His introduction to “West End Blues,” which I have heard 4,372 times, still devastates me. When Dizzy said, “No him, no me,” he wasn’t kidding. I’ll take it further; no Armstrong, no jazz as we know it.
A magician. An alchemist. There’s a story that some of the most gifted
Bird called him “the other half of my heartbeat,” but to a large extent Dizzy was also the brain of the bebop movement. For him, teaching was a calling. James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Ray Brown, Mike Longo and countless others have recounted Dizzy’s patiently giving them insights into harmonies and structures central to the music. On the heart side of the equation, he was the embodiment of rhythm in all of its power, simplicity and complexity. He recognized the catalytic importance of Chano Pozo, and Afro-Cuban jazz became a part of the jazz mainstream. Let’s see, there must be something else. Oh, yes, he was the most gifted and influential trumpet soloist of his generation and a few generations since. No him, no Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Conte Candoli, Miles Davis, Art Farmer, Idrees Sulieman, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Brian Lynch, Ryan Kisor. Feel free to complete the list. It may take a while. When you have time, listen to his solo on “Night in
In 1962, I was working at KYW-TV in
He had a great ear for emergent talent among players and arrangers and a dedication to massive sound. The two qualities often conflicted but, as in the Contemporary Concepts period, at their best his bands produced stimulating music of great importance. Kenton was a better pianist than he is generally given credit for, and some of his arrangements from the 1940s and 50s are superb.
He was a brilliant arranger and composer who synthesized the spirit of the big band era and the innovations of the Birth of the Cool band into a highly personal style. Those early 1950s Giants recordings with Art Pepper, Hampton Hawes, Shelly Manne and all hold up as well as anything from the period, regardless of coastal origin. His work on the East Coast-West Coast Scene album he shared with Al Cohn, particularly “Elaine’s Lullaby,” is masterly.
His writing made the Kenton band swing regardless of its leader’s inclination. His charts for his own big band were brilliant, but he stretched himself so thin that he didn’t do enough writing for it. His pianoless quartet had a brief existence but is inspiring musicians more than half a century later. Mulligan was the baritone saxophonist who could sit in—and fit in—with anyone. His sextet with Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer, Jim Hall and
I’ll refer to what I wrote not long ago on Rifftides about putting on the Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers album as background music to begin the day.
Horace’s own bands that followed—with Art Farmer, Clifford Jordan, Blue Mitchell, Junior Cook, Joe Henderson, the Brecker Brothers and Ryan Kisor, among others—comprise an important chapter in the history of the music. I am sorry to hear that he has been ailing.
Miles Davis-Gil Evans collaborations
Recently I contributed an historical essay to Bob Belden’s pending Miles Español project. Working on it brought home again that the pervasive influence of the Davis-Evans Sketches of Spain has reached virtually all precincts of music, as Belden’s video and CD show. From his arrangements for the Birth of the Cool band through Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain and Quiet Nights, Gil’s understanding of Miles’ temperament, inclinations and leanings made it a perfect partnership. I wish that it had lasted longer, but what they gave us will endure.
A great singer. He sometimes went overboard in the melisma department, but his intonation, swing, diction and lyric interpretation were flawless. His collaborations with the Marty Paich Dek-tette, particularly Mel Torme Swings Shubert Alley, and his duets with George Shearing belong in the vocal hall of fame. Is there a vocal hall of fame?
She learned—absorbed—from Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer and developed a recognizable style. Now, she herself is an influence. Like most category-based criticism, assessments that she has gone beyond or outside jazz are meaningless. Forget labels; she writes wonderful music. If you’ve ever watched her work in front of her big band, you know that she is an inspiring leader. Sky Blue was terrific. I look forward to her next album.
- What made you decide to become a jazz writer?
I’m not sure that I decided. It happened. In the eighth grade, a teacher told me that I should be a reporter. I considered law and architecture, but ultimately majored in journalism. The junior year at the University of Washington School of Journalism was total immersion in the newspaper process. We put out a daily paper. Music was one of the beats the editors handed me. I wrote frequently about jazz. I’ve never stopped, although three years in the Marine Corps slowed my output. My career has been in newspapers, broadcast news as an anchor, correspondent and news director; then as an educator of professional journalists. I have had a parallel career or sub-career as a writer about jazz and free press issues and as a novelist; one novel so far.
- Is there a form of writing about jazz that you prefer: insert notes, articles, books …?
- If you could write a next book about jazz on any subject, what or who would be the focus of such a book?
I’m working on a book that will be, essentially, a collection of liner notes, which, done right, is a form of journalism. I’ve written a few hundred sets of notes. Some of them hold up.
- You’ve accomplished many wonderful things in your life both personally and professionally. Why is it that jazz has continued to play a role in your life?
Because it goes to the core of what I value: individuality, freedom of expression, human interaction, beauty.
- Switching to the subject of “favorites:”
Why must we have favorites? Why not evaluate every book, film, composition, solo, or painting on its merits, without ranking it? For that matter, why must we have favorite musicians, actors or newscasters? (
I’ve come to dislike the very word “favorite,” but I can’t come up with a suitable synonym.
- What are some of your favorites books about jazz?
There you go again. All of Whitney Balliett’s books, all of Martin Williams’,
- What are some of your favorite jazz recordings?
Talk about traps! I’ll name 10, with the understanding that I could name 50 or 100. If you asked me tomorrow, it could be 10 others. Not in rank order:
- Who are your favorite big band arrangers?
- Who are your favorite Jazz vocalists?
- Who among current jazz musicians do you enjoy listening to?
- Of all your writings about jazz over the years, which ones are you most proud of?
Recently, the notes for the MJQ Mosaic box and that Miles Español piece, but overall, probably the Desmond biography and the non-jazz novel Poodie James, because so much of my blood, sweat and being went into them.
It is clear that there are no rules for blogging. My conviction is that the standards of accuracy, fairness, thoroughness and reliability that go into any responsible writing must apply to blogging. Opinion should be plainly identified as opinion, if only by context and usage. The medium offers wide possibilities for sound, photographs, video, even a certain degree of interactivity. Many jazz blogs just sit there looking like pages out of an academic journal or a thesis.
- If you could host a fictional “jazz dinner,” who would you invite, and why?
Good conversationalists. Most jazz musicians are good conversationalists.
- If you could put on an imaginary three-day jazz festival in
- If you were asked to host a television show entitled – The Subject is Jazz – who would you like to interview on the first few episodes?
Sorry, Steve, Gilbert Seldes and WNBC-TV took that title half a century ago. We’ll have to choose another. How about The Steve Cerra Show? I would ask Sonny Rollins, George Wein, Branford Marsalis, Bill Mays,
- What writing projects about jazz have you recently finished? Are there any that you are currently working on?
- You have done a lot of writing over the years on the subject of jazz. Have you given any thought to “collecting” these and leaving them with a college or university library for future reference?
Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers is a collection. So, more or less, is the next book. That’s one way of making the work available beyond the moment. No university has been pounding on my door but all reasonable offers will be considered.