Tuesday, May 5, 2015

An Interview at Mid-Career with Bob Brookmeyer - Parts 1 and 2 [From The Archives]

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

One of the earliest features of this blog was the following interview with Bob Brookmeyer. When it originally posted in two parts in July, 2008, Bob was still going strong and writing up a storm for various big bands both in the United States and in Europe.

He died on December 15, 2011 and with his passing went one of the most unconventional "traditionalists" that Jazz ever had.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles wanted to remember Bob on these pages by combining both parts of the early posting into one feature for ease of access in the archives and in order to add a video at its conclusion that highlights Bob's considerable gifts as an composer-arranger.

Bob Brookmeyer has always been a man of strongly-held opinions and, after reading this interview from 1980 with Wayne Enstice and Paul Rubin from their Jazz Spoken Here: Conversations with 22 Musicians [New York: Da Capo Press, 1994, pp. 59-75], I’m sure you will agree that not much has changed in this regard.

In addition to explaining how he got started in music, he shares many revealing anecdotes about and the musicians and groups he has worked with, especially those from the 1950’s and 60’s, and discusses the Jazz scene in and around 1980.

Never one to shy away from expressing his views, he also “holds court” on such far-ranging subjects as teaching improvisational skills to the ‘current’ generation of Jazz players, going back to the source as the proper place to begin one’s education in a particular style of the music, and his views about what he personally needs to do in order for Bob Brookmeyer to have a future in Jazz.

Obviously, in the intervening decades since this interview was conducted, Brookmeyer has been doing what needed to be done and has been able to add many more years to an already distinguished career. During the past 20 years, Bob would move to Europe and concentrate on composing and arranging large pieces for some of the state-supported, resident orchestras in The Netherlands [The Metropole Orchestra] and Germany [The WDR Big Band]. He now maintains dual residences in the USA and Europe and is currently the director of the New Arts Orchestra based in Lubeck, Germany.

© -  
Wayne Enstice and Paul Rubin, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"Deep‑toned and incisive, the playing of valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer is one of the most unmistakable sounds in jazz­. The only important jazz musician other than Juan Tizol [played valve trombone in Duke Ellington's orchestra from 1929 to 1944 and again from 1951 to 1953] to concentrate on the valve trombone, Brookmeyer is also an accomplished pianist and composer‑arranger.

Born in 1929, the Kansas City, Kansas, native studied piano and com­position at the Kansas City Conservatory. He began his professional career as a pianist in the early fifties, comping for various bandleaders, including Tex Beneke, Ray McKinley, Louis Prima, Claude Thornhill (with whom he played trombone and second piano), and Woody Herman. Brookmeyer started doubling on valve trombone in 1952, and in 1953 he did a year's stint with the Stan Getz Quartet that included the Paris Jazz Festival. It was not until the spring of 1954 when he replaced Chet Baker in Gerry Mulligan's West Coast‑style piano-less quartet, however, that Brookmeyer achieved national prominence.

Brookmeyer worked steadily with Mulligan's sextet and quartet until 1957, then finished the decade by playing with the Jimmy Giuffre 3 and free‑lancing as a player and a writer in New York for a year. He toured with Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band in 1960, contributing charts and taking key solos on trombone and occasionally piano. In 1961 he found a kindred spirit in trumpet player Clark Terry, and the two began a five‑year association co‑leading a popular and critically well‑received quintet. The series of recordings they made for the Mainstream label persuasively captured the solid, straight-ahead blowing, the fresh arrange­ments, and the contagious joy that were consistent features of this con­genial unit.

Brookmeyer was a charter member of the famed Thad Jones‑Mel Lewis Orchestra in 1965, dividing his chores between arranging and playing, and he found steady work as a band member on television's Merv Griffin Show. Beset by personal problems, Brookmeyer left New York in 1968 to resettle in southern California. For the next decade he did some studio work but was relatively inactive as a jazz musician.

Bob Brookmeyer came out of jazz retirement in 1978. He returned to New York and in 1979 began a long‑term relationship as composer-arranger and musical director of Mel Lewis' retooled big band. Although Brookmeyer has concentrated on writing over the last thirteen years (the American Jazz Orchestra premiered one of his works in 1986, making him the first composer to be so honored), he continues to tour and is particul­arly popular with European audiences. Since 1979 he has also released some memorable small‑group recordings on the Gryphon and Concord labels, which demonstrate that despite this versatile jazzman's devotion to composition, his gifts as an improviser and his abilities as a technically dazzling stylist have not diminished.WE: We enjoy the humor in your music. Do you hear humor in today's

BB: Well, I think there's been a slight change. To me, there's a broader way to look at it. In the times, say, from the late twenties through the thirties and the early forties, we had a period of great individualists. We had Lester Youngs, Charlie Parkers, Thelonious Monks, Duke Elling­tons, and Count Basies, and I guess the magic of the gift made them very innovative in what they did. I think probably if you're extremely different you become very secure in what you do. So I would think that a sense of humor would be implicit in a way to face and deal with life.

In the sixties we had some very outstanding musicians, but we didn't have quite the individuals that we had before. I've talked this over with some friends of mine who are writers and who are painters, and I think there is a general, if you want to call it, a cultural malaise. I'm not looking down my nose at it‑it's a comment‑that we have very fine musicians now‑great musicians‑but the character of the timber of the land doesn't seem to be suitable right now for producing the great individuals et twenty or thirty or forty years ago. And I'm not one who looks back to the good old days; to me, today is a good old day. I think that maybe that's one of the reasons that the humor might be‑if it is missing - ­might be missing.

PR: One reviewer once said that "of all the dropouts from the ranks of active jazz men in the sixties few left less conspicuously than Bob Brook­meyer or were more missed." How do you respond to that?

BB: Well, when I moved to California I was in the process of dropping out of life. I was fairly ill at the time, and I went to California a sick man. I spent ten years there, and I got my health back. So it wasn't "I'm fed up, I quit." It was a confused "I wonder what's going wrong" or "what's going worse," and everything seemed to go worse. When I got my health back, things began to dramatically improve, and I am glad that they missed me.

PR: What was it like when you returned to New York?

BB: When I went back to New York I hadn’t been active there really for about fifteen years as a functioning jazz musician. So it was a new world to me. There were a whole generation of people around town who were playing and working that I had to get to know again, and they didn't care what I'd done. They wanted to know what I could do.

PR: Could you give us an example?BB: I think the best example was Mel Lewis' band. They were all new to me. And I came down, and I was the old geezer who'd written some of the fifteen‑year‑old arrangements that they were playing. They could look at me and say, "Well, he did that," but that was no wedge for me in the door. I had to spend the first year and a half in New York getting to know them and saying, "Well, now look, here's what I do, what do you think of that?" So it was really reestablishing credentials, because not many people of the younger generation would say, "Gee, that's really great you played with Gerry Mulligan or Stan Getz." They couldn't care less, you know. If I'd played with maybe Herbie Hancock or Chick Corea or John Coltrane‑those were people who were important to them. So it was a different set of heroes and a different set of judgmental values.

WE: Did the response of those young band members strike you as nar­row‑minded?

BB: No. When I first started playing my life was Count Basie and Bill Harris and Woody Herman. I didn't like Duke Ellington. I thought the man was sloppy and out of tune. That's how much I knew when I was m my late teens. And so I had firm opinions. I used what attracted me. I didn't say, "Well, I should like I heard Stravinsky, and I liked that first, then I learned to like Bach, and then I learned to love Bach, and I learned to like Mozart and like Haydn, you know. You can't say to some­body, "This is the right way, read this Bible and you will feel better to­morrow." They have to find for themselves what they want.

WE: What do you think of young players that you meet in clinics?

BB: The general rap that I heard before I began to do any clinic work­ – and I've not done a great deal‑ is great ensemble, no solo. That has been somewhat borne up by my experience. Once again, I'm speaking from a very small frame of reference.

What I think is most needed now are some traveling improvisational teachers who can teach people to begin to play a song on a C‑major scale or make up a melody with four notes and make up another melody on four notes. To learn to instruct your mind to become an improvisational organ. You know, it's a skill. And then, when you start writing songs, you would naturally, I think, go around Lester Young and graduate to Charlie Parker to hear how things get refined and broken up.

WE: Do you think that improvisation has become a lost art?

BB: Well, it isn't a lost art, really. I think people imitate what's before them, that they find attractive, and what is being imitated now is a refine­ment of a basic. I have some friends in New York in their early thirties I advised to stop listening to Cedar Walton and Bill Evans and to Richie Beirach and whoever, and go back and listen to Bud Powell. This person wanted to be a hot piano player, "hot bebop piano player," end quote. I said. "Well, go back to where it began." If you listen to all of these other people they are reflecting what they heard in Bud Powell. It's like listening to Phil Woods to try to find out how Charlie Parker played. Phil Woods is a fantastic saxophone player, but we all listened to Charlie Par­ker to learn that lesson. So go back to the source.

PR: Let's turn to your early years. Since you were born in Kansas City, did the jazz scene there have any influence on you?

BB: I was about eight or ten years old when I first heard Count Basie, so I wasn't gettin' around town too much then. My limit was about four or five blocks away from the house. The radio did [influence me], because we heard a lot of big bands. And I liked all the big bands. That was the closest thing to jazz music we could hear. I liked dixieland on the radio from Chicago.

When I got old enough to get around in the clubs, there was, I think at that time, a Kansas City sound from rhythm sections. It was a very smooth, fluid sound, much like Count Basie had. And I knew a few play­ers that had been, say, with Lionel Hampton that played that way, and they were magical to play with. The younger, white players tried to play like Max Roach or Buddy Rich. But from the black musicians that I was around a lot, I got more of a good feeling about the music.
When Charlie Parker left, the soloists were all gone. Right before I left, I worked a bit with Ben Webster. He had come back to town when I was about twenty. He came back for a few months. But it was pretty quiet by that time, and it's been, I think, fairly quiet since then.

PR: We read that you began on clarinet and played some piano before picking up the trombone.

BB: Well, it's a little out of sequence. I went from clarinet to trombone. I was shanghaied into playing trombone by my parents and the band di­rector that needed a trombone player. I wanted to be a trumpet player or a drummer, for which I'd saved money. So after being sold down the river, I didn't really care that much for playing slide trombone, and I learned quickly how to finger like a trumpet. That was my second choice of instrument, drums being first. I began to play the baritone horn all I could. And as soon as I could, I got a series of exotic valve trombones and finally, when I was eighteen, got an official one from Reynolds. So I wanted to be something else than a trombone player. I still do, but I would like to look like Robert Redford and sound like Walter Cronkite. So I'm a trombone player. That's my voice, I guess.

The piano came by accident, kind of. I wanted to write music also. When I was about thirteen I began to teach myself how to write. And by the time I was fifteen, I was selling arrangements to a territory band company in Omaha, Nebraska. I sent them a copied arrangement every other week for twenty bucks. And I then finally got a piano just before I was sixteen, so I began to learn officially how a piano went. And since valve trombone players didn't work too much in Kansas City, maybe one night a year, I began to learn how to play piano so I could support myself playing piano ‑ which I did. I supported myself in New York for my first year largely by playing piano.

WE: Your trombone playing abounds with vocal references. What's the source for that?

BB: The biggest impact on me as a trombone player was Bill Harris. He was a very emotive vocalese‑type player. That's the way I tried to play on slide trombone, and that has hung over. I would tell anybody that if you want to play something through an instrument that you should be able to sing it with some conviction and authority and pleasant feelings in your heart as you do it before you can play it. I think it's still a melodic singing process. Beating on something and singing are the things that we start with before we approach an instrument or a chord.

PR: Early on, you played with the Claude Thornhill and Tex Beneke bands. In your estimation, were those dance bands or jazz bands?

BB: I would consider Claude Thornhill very close to being a jazz band. Gil Evans had written almost the entire library, and we had Gene Quill and Brew Moore in the band, Teddy Kotick was the bass player, so we had a very good band. Tex Beneke was obviously a Glenn Miller‑type dance band. I was playing piano, Mel Lewis played drums, and Buddy Clark played bass, so we had fun. We had a band within a band. I did a lot of other dance band work. My first road job was playing piano with Orrin Tucker for six months. I got to travel, and I was in Chicago for three months, and I met an awful lot of people there.

PR: How old were you at the time?

BB: Twenty. And in California I met some people, so my philosophy was then to take the first job you can get leaving town, and when you're on the road get out and play all you can. That's what we did.

WE: Let's talk about J. J. Johnson. He is credited in the media as having been the translator of bop for the trombone. Is that true?

BB: I'm a friend and fan of J. J.'s. Yes, he was the man, as probably Dizzy Gillespie was, and Charlie Parker. The transition to playing bebop on trombone was very difficult, and J. J. solved it, I think, probably about as good as you could at that time.

Obviously, you don't have the upper range that is still desirable as you do in trumpet and alto. The timbre of trombone is dark and muddy and gets swallowed up by the overtone series of the drums and the bass. So it’s sometimes a fight for total survival ‑ acoustic survival ‑ down there. But he found really a good way to do it. J. still plays that way, and he plays better every year, so he found a true vein. He was an innovator. He’s the Charlie Parker of his instrument, I think.

PR: You played with Woody Herman.

BB: Briefly, yeah. All these big band stints were brief. In my first year in New York were stints with six or seven bands, I think. I went through a whole bunch of bands in a hurry. I didn’t like any of them. They were all bands past their prime, and I was looking for something, I guess. I'd had a chance to join Woody Herman a little earlier when I was in Kansas City, and that was the kind of band I wanted to be on ‑ the one with Doug Mettome. The bands I was on were not that good, so I quit. I figured I'd find something else. And I did.

WE: In the early fifties, didn't the melodic emphasis in your playing and Stan Getz's run counter to the bebop mainstream?

BB: The group in New York, of which Stanley became known as the leader, I guess ‑ he received the greatest notoriety ‑ would be Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, and Herbie Steward. They were the saxophone players I liked, because my instrument was very close to the tenor, so I heard as a tenor player. So I became, I guess, a Lester Young‑type player. Because that's what I liked. That's the way I liked to speak.

It's what we were attracted to. And I think most of the alto players that I was around liked to play like Charlie Parker. Very few Johnny Hodges alto players or Ben Webster tenor players in those days. We all, as now, we all rode the crest of what was popular. Those were the voices that we heard that we liked and understood. Much more than we'd have heard Chu Berry or Coleman Hawkins and said, "Oh, that really turns me on. That physically excites me." Lester Young physically excited us, and that process of making music was what physically excited us.

I was about ten years old when I first heard Count Basie live at the Tower Theatre in Kansas City. I heard six shows a day and saw a rotten movie five times [laughter]. It was the only time I ever cut school in my ­life: four or five times a year I spent seven days a week there. And in the morning for the first show the band would be behind the screen. And to hear the first note ‑ it was the severest physical thrill I think I've ever had. Drugs and sex and all that stuff ‑ it was just the most powerful thing. ­Playing still gets that way. It's still just viscerally the most thrilling thing that I can do, and most guys, I think, feel that way.

So this is to say that when you pick somebody to play like, it's not a selection process, like you sit down rationally and choose a car, it's what really moves you, and that man's playing really thrills you. And that's all there is to it ‑ it's like falling in love. That's the woman you must have at all costs. So it's the same process.
WE: That seems to contradict something Lee Konitz told us. He said that he consciously avoided listening to Charlie Parker because at first the music was too hard and then later because Parker's influence would have been too strong.

BB: I'm speaking for most of us. Lee is an exceptional man. He's a great artist, and there is a big difference. Lee has been aware of the process most of his life, I think. Jim Hall is another one. Jim Hall is aware of what goes into his music, and he treats his musical life much as a classic artist would. He keeps going back, enriching and working on fundamentals.

PR: In the fifties, the term chamber jazz emerged in reference to, for instance, the piano-less groups of Gerry Mulligan and Chico Hamilton. Was that term just a media invention?

BB: Yeah. Bebop is a shorthand; chamber jazz is a meaningless phrase.

PR: We figured as much. We know that you worked with Jimmy Giuffre with no piano and ...

BB: No drums and no bass. Just Jim Hall and Giuffre and I. We liked it. We stuck with that for a long time. The first three months we almost didn't make it. We were really scuffling in New York, and finally the booking got better. What I look back now and find is that we didn't know it then, but we were a truly avant‑garde band. We played everything from folk‑sounding music, which Jimmy was writing then, to ‑ we used to im­provise all the time. We had free improvisations every set.

And sometimes I played piano, and we'd sound like twelve‑tone mu­sicians. Sometimes we sounded like, I guess, a lot of the free music today, ‑ [we'd] bash and clatter about. There were different ways we liked to play. And not different ways we contrived to play so we could sound like some­bodv ‑ these were just ways that we would play if we were let alone to play. So that was it. It was nice. There was no word for it. They just said we were the guys with no bass player and no drummer [laughter]. But the words like chamber jazz don't mean much.

PR: Are there any good recordings from that period?

BB: We made two records‑ one when we first started [The Jimmy Giuffre 3, Trav’lin Light, Atlantic, January 1958] and one just be­fore we broke up [The Jimmy Giuffre 3, Western Suite, Atlantic, December, 1958]. If we'd have had tape recorders then like we do now, we would have had a lot of good tapes. But we don't.

PR: Was that a popular band?

BB: We did pretty well. My fondest memory is when we began to work in New York with the band we did eight straight weeks at the then Café Bohemia. And we started off, I think, against Wynton Kelly's Trio, and Wilbur Ware had a quartet, and somebody else ‑ the dynamite was get­ting hotter. And the last two weeks Miles [Davis] was there with a roar­ing band with John [Coltrane], and Bill Evans had just joined. And we thought, "We're really going to get killed because they're goin' to scream through us," because we at times were very soft, and "They're just gonna love Miles." Max Roach was down one night, and we were talking. He was saying that everybody talks through Miles and listens to you guys and it was the damnedest thing we ever heard.

I guess we were so soft and we were really serious about what we were doing that they'd stay quiet, I think, out of curiosity probably. But yes, I think people liked it, and they liked it not because we told them that we have a new way to play. They liked it because we sat down and played for them, and they appreciated what they heard. They weren't warned in front that it was going to be different. There weren't so many severe labels like they got to be later on. Like "this is really an eclectic experi­ence" and "this is gonna blow your mind." Rock 'n' roll hadn't come into the merchandising yet. So we were still just a jug and country and string band gonna be in your town next week.

WE: About 1960 you joined Gerry Mulligan's Concert jazz Band. How did that come about?

…. To be continued in PART 2

WE: About 1960 you joined Gerry Mulligan's Concert jazz Band. How did that come about?

BB: Gerry came by early in that year and had a week at Basin Street East and wanted to know if I'd write an arrangement for him. We hadn't played together for a couple of years. And I think he was kind of de­pressed that I quit in '57. So we got to be a little tighter, and the one week at Basin Street East turned into a band. I saw the opportunity to be part of a band that I'd wanted since I'd been a kid. The band I couldn't find when I first came to New York. Every band I played in was dumb. I mean, this was not the way it was supposed to go. The bands I played in when I was a kid were OK, but they should have been better, and we always had final points we couldn't go beyond.

This was a chance to work with a supreme musician‑Gerry is a great writer and player and a great leader‑and it was a ready‑made circum­stance. So I really tried to keep his interest up as much as I could, and I got some people for him to listen to. We finally wound up with a great band‑we had Mel Lewis, and Buddy Clark, and Nick Travis‑a really excellent band. And that was an achievement, I think. We stayed together for about four years.

WE: Were you and Mulligan co‑leaders of that band?

BB: I wasn’t a co‑leader. I played first trombone, and I did some of the writing. My investment was emotional. I wanted that band, more some­times probably than Gerry did. That's what I lived for in that year. I wanted to keep that going.

WE: So it was a spiritual co‑leadership.

BB: Yeah, I wasn't going to let it die.
WE: But the band folded in the mid-sixties. What happened?

BB: I think a lack of work and a lack of interest, and Gerry's interest was getting ‑ it's a helluva responsibility to be a big‑band leader. It's a mess. And my interest was getting scattered around. My personal life was cha­otic ‑ up and down. So with both of us kind of in and out emotionally and with the work situation getting hard, I think that we just decided to concentrate on the quartet.

We never talked about it much. Maybe we felt that we had gone far enough with it, I don't know. My feeling was that I wished we had gone further. After 1960 I wanted us just to keep on expanding and get new music from George Russell, get Gil [Evans] to write for us, and do all this stuff, you know. I'm quite childlike and enthusiastic about that, I guess. But realities kept surfacing. So we did four years, and that was our time.

PR: Gary McFarland wrote for the Concert jazz Band. What do you recall about him?

BB: Well, Gary was just different. He was one of those people that just seemed to hear everything and translate everything differently. He called me in early 1961. Gerry's band had just started, and he wanted to know the personnel, and he asked me if it would be OK if he brought something in. I said sure and encouraged him to please do that, and he brought in t first piece, an arrangement of "Weep."

PR: Was he known at the time?

BB: I'd never heard of him. Just a little bit through John Lewis and the [Lenox] School of Jazz, where I taught for a couple of years. He brought it in and it was quite successful and very different. So he did another for us, and people began to hear about him, and Creed [Taylor] heard about him at Verve and took the chance on McFarland's first album.

I think it was How to Succeed in Business. So that was it, and he was off. He was a very nice man; I liked him very much. We miss him now, be­cause in my estimation what we're still looking for the most are good music writers. We have good soloists and good ensemble players, but we're still short on really good writers.

PR: Do you think that McFarland's recordings turned commercial dur­ing the last years of his life?

BB: I wasn't seriously around Gary after about the middle sixties. We shared some office space with a couple of other guys for a long time. He liked to socialize very much. He liked the Cary Grant‑type of life ‑ the cashmere coats and the cocktail hour and all that ‑ as we all did but in varying degrees of assiduously persevering on it. He might have gotten turned, I think, a little bit to being something that would be a hit.

You know, it's a helluva thing. We were talking the other night with somebody about being true to what we do. If somebody were to come to me and say, "Here's a hundred thousand bucks, we'd like you to do this project," my only answer is that I've gotten myself down to such a place that I really wouldn't know what to do with the money. It would be nice to have, but it wouldn't change what I do. I've become, not monkish, but I've become pretty austere in my personal life. But it's a big decision.

If they say, "You wouldn't have to be that much different. Just do some of this, and just like that, just this one shot." And of course, that's a se­ductive drug-like atmosphere ‑ you find all these things are possible. You can go to here and there and wear this and bank this and drive this, you never could before, so just one more. It's the Las Vegas syndrome. I know people in Las Vegas that have been there twenty years that just went for six months to get some money together.

But it's a real‑life situation, and you can't say that somebody denies their art to do it. It's too complex for that. A lot of people remain true to their art because nobody likes what they do [laughter]. But they keep doing what they do, and later on ‑ a hundred years later ‑ somebody finds out, hey, they were really good. They were pure artists. Well, I think that might've been rot. They just couldn't sell anything they wrote. So it's once again a real‑life process, I think.

WE: You were signed with the Verve label in the sixties. There were so many Verve recordings in those days with basically the same roster of musicians. Were you all over-recorded?BB: I think we recorded too much then, probably. The band you heard was what they called the "A band" in New York. They had the best jazz people, that they thought were the best, anyway, that they would get for all the records. One thing we had then that we have a severe shortage of now, we had some very good producers: Creed Taylor first at ABC Para­mount, and later on at Verve, Bob Thiele did some good work. We had Jack Lewis in the early fifties and the middle fifties who did some great things at Victor and later on at United Artists. We had people to start projects for us and who had the funding. We have some people now with good ideas that have trouble getting money because the record business has become so catastrophic and such a really big business venture. But the producers then were really instrumental in giving us ideas. They'd think of a project and say, "What do you think of this?" And we would be off on it, so that was a great help.

WE: Have you done much studio work?.

BB: Yeah, all my life until about two years ago.

WE: Did you find it stifling?

BB: Well, I'll tell you, in the fifties it was fun because they had jazz‑type backgrounds. We had a Bobby Darin date, Al Cohn and Ralph Burns would write the arrangements. And we had a forty‑five‑piece band you could pat your foot to. But by the sixties, when rock & roll really began to hurt ...

As I went to California, I really felt I'd sunk into something because I went everywhere and nobody smiled, nobody joked or laughed, you never drank on a date. You never snuck out and got high or anything, you know. It was really serious business, and you were supposed to really act like you respected what you did. And for me, with my personality, it was just mur­derous, so I couldn't do it; I failed the studio work. A lot of people can do it ‑ work all day with earphones and do rock and roll and come out at night and play for five hours. They have my admiration and gratitude. I couldn't, you know. I just do what I do, that's all.

PR: In the sixties, we'd go to New York's Half Note one night to heat the quintet you co‑led with Clark Terry and return the next night to take in the John Coltrane Quartet. Did you and the members of your band ever exchange views with Coltrane?

BB: Not really, not between John and us. My recent experience tells me that people who are now about thirty‑five have a very reverential attitude towards those days, toward John and his music, because John is their hero, you know. The day after John died they ran a radio interview in New York, and Bill Evans was speaking of Miles's band and Miles's attitude towards Coltrane, which was supportive. Bill said the rest of us used to wonder why Miles hired him, because he wasn't playing too well. But Miles heard the true Coltrane.

So therefore, when I'd hear John, he'd play one tune for forty‑five minutes, and he'd play an awful lot of notes. I'd enjoy it up to a point. So my ears were responding ‑ I didn't feel reverential. He was another man in the same business. I probably should have been more reverential, but there wasn't cross‑pollinating between us because John was much more advanced than either Clark or I were. He was consciously trying to ad­vance as an artist, and Clark and I were doing what we did.

PR: Were there jam sessions in the sixties when younger players could get on the bandstand with you and test their mettle?

BB: No, I don't think so then. There weren’t the chances. When I first came to New York, I was twenty‑two years old, I played piano at a place on the Lower East Side, and it would loosely be called the Dixieland Place. And some nights the four or five horns would be Coleman Haw­kins, Pee Wee Russell, Harry Edison, Buck Clayton, and maybe Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz. One night we had a rhythm section of George Wallington, Baby Dodds, and Pops Foster, and I played trombone. So I got to play with a lot of different people.

My observation on somethin' that was true then that may not be true now, I think, could be interesting. When I was in my early twenties and middle twenties I became friendly with the guys in Duke Ellington's band because we did a couple of tours together. I was with either Mulligan or Getz. They were very warm and supportive, and I established, I guess, what the psychologists would call a "father‑son relationship," not quite that heavy. But they were fully grown up in my eyes: they were men, and they played like men and lived like men. I was very young, and they would come down gratuitously and say, "Now look," and we'd talk about stuff, rarely music. But we'd talk about the way to live your life or "Where you gonna settle in L.A.?' We'd rub each other, and we'd get warm over the process. So it was an older generation warming up a younger one, saying, "It's OK, I approve of you, and I support what you do. Now, go out and do it."

They could have hated the way I played music, but they acknowledged me to be in their business, as John [Coltrane] and I, without saying any­thing, acknowledged [that we were] in each other's business. We didn't have to love each other's playing, but we were in the same area. There was no "He can't play," "He should play this way," or "He can't play at all." We were in the same business, and the guys in Duke's band taught me that, and Count Basie's also.

WE: Do you think that some of the younger so‑called avant‑garde play­ers today, like George Lewis, are extending the jazz trombone tradition?

BB: Well, sure. I just heard a bit a couple of years ago of a solo trombone album. Obviously the man can play. I don't, as much as I used to, say "Gee, he really can't play, I don't like that." I don't care what I don’t like, it's not important. I try to support what I do like, and what I do like are people who are trying to make things better, trying to find ways to ex­pand the language.
In George's case, he is working hard at what he does. People could sit down and say that he doesn't swing. I say, well, OK. There are some jazz musicians who don't swing, and I'm among'em sometimes, but what else does he do? Jazz is a language. It's now a way of thinking and writing. I'm beginning to write music for jazz orchestra that doesn't bear an awful lot of relationship to 4/4 swing, and it's going to get more and more that way. And I'm going to fight to have my music considered music by a jazz composer. 'Cause that's what I am.

If I were a classical ‑ this is varying it a bit, but I think it's explana­tory ‑ if I were a classical composer coming in to write jazz, obviously I would be unsuited. I would say all classical composers are unsuited to write jazz music. That is not their experience. That is not what their feet say. My feet say jazz music, so anything I write I think would come that way because that's what I am.
If somebody comes along in my world and wants to make jazz music better, I say go ahead. I don't have to like it, but I do have to encourage them to keep on doin' it, I think. That's my job, because out of that, you we ‑ I'll maybe explain something that I've come to feel, that all artists kinda work a general field, however big you want to make it in your mind. It's a field of earth. Our job is to go out every morning and work that field all day doing what we do. Once in a while, the musician, whoever it is, comes and drops a seed, and we get a Coltrane or a Charlie Parker or a Jelly Roll Morton or a Louis Armstrong. But the rest of us go out there and plow every day anyway. That's our job.

PR: Is your playing a way for you to find out more about your own identity?

BB: Yeah, well, it is for me, because I need to keep on top of things, you know. I'm a sober alcoholic, and I've been sober for about four years, and my penalty for not living my life in some kind of reasonable and advanc­ing way is probably not living.

So my choices are clear‑cut. I'm fortunate: I either live or die every day. It's not dramatic like that, but everybody's choice is life or death. So far, anyway, I opt to live, and my choices toward music are that way. And I've been, fortunately, given a clear‑cut choice. A lot of people have the pull between "Shall I be rich today and rich and famous tomorrow" and then "Thursday I'm gonna cut out this nonsense and settle down and really work hard for a couple of days." It's not important because I'm almost fifty‑one, and my time has become finite, as everybody's is. When you’re twenty‑one your time is finite, you know.
Yeah, I'm seeing things clearly, more clearly now for many reasons. That's why I explained the other thing ‑ the alcoholism thing. So a lot of things are clear and getting clearer. I'm in a very fortunate position hav­ing been where I have been to get where I am. I think that was worth it. So yes, I try to get more control over me, because that's going to give more control over what I do. Like Lee [Konitz] was talking about. That's why I admire him very much, because he's been an artist and some people are born that way, They just see artistically. It's taken me a long time to even get close to that. Now I'm working probably to where he's been, mentally.

The following video features composer-arranger and valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer's New Art Orchestra performing "Jig," the first movement of Bob's Celebration Suite with baritone saxophonist Scott Robinson as the featured soloist.

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