Monday, June 27, 2016

"Introducing Scott LaFaro" by Martin Williams

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

“The Jazz Review was founded by Nat Hentoff, Martin Williams and Hsio Wen Shih in New York in 1958. The Jazz Review was the premier journal of Jazz in the United States. Short-lived as it was [1958-1961], it set an enduring standard for criticism.

Thanks to Nat Hentoff’s generosity, the entire run of The Jazz Review is available online and you can visit it via this link.

The following piece is drawn from the August, 1960 edition.

"It's quite a wonderful thing to work with the Bill Evans trio," said bassist Scott LaFaro. "We are really just beginning to find our way. You won't hear much of that on our first record together, except a little on Blue In Green where no one was playing time as such, Bill was .improvising lines, I was playing musical phrases behind him, and Paul Motian played in free rhythmic drum phrases."

LaFaro is dissatisfied with a great deal of what he hears in jazz, but what he says about it isn't mere carping. He thinks he knows what to do about it, at least in his own playing. "My ideas are so different from what is generally acceptable nowadays that i sometimes wonder if I am a jazz musician. I remember that Bill and I used to reassure each other some nights kiddingly that we really were jazz musicians. I have such respect for so many modern classical composers, and I learn so much from them. Things are so contrived nowadays in jazz, and harmonically it has been so saccharine since Bird."

Charlie Parker was already dead before Scott LaFaro was aware of him, even on records. In fact Scott LaFaro was not really much aware of jazz at all until 1955.

He was born in 1936 in Newark, New Jersey, but his family moved to Geneva, New York, when he was five. "There was always the countryside. I miss it now. I am not a city man. Maybe that is why Miles Davis touches me so deeply. He grew up near the countryside too, I believe. I hear that in his playing anyway. I've never been through that 'blues' thing either." LaFaro started on clarinet at fourteen and studied music in high school. He took up bass on a kind of dare. "My father played violin with a small 'society' trio in town. I didn't know what I wanted to do when I had finished school, and my father said — half-joking, I think — that if I learned bass, I could play with them. When I did, I knew that I wanted to be a musician. It's strange: playing clarinet and sax didn't do it, but when I started on bass, I knew it was music."

He went to Ithaca Conservatory and then to Syracuse; it was there, through fellow students, that he began to listen to jazz. He got a job in Syracuse at a place called the Embassy Club. "The leader was a drummer who played sort of like Sidney Catlett and Kenny Clarke. He formed my ideas of what jazz was about. He, and the jukebox in the place — it had Miles Davis records. And I first heard Percy Heath and Paul Chambers on that jukebox. They taught me my first jazz bass lessons. There was also a Lee Konitz record with Stan Kenton called Prologue."

In late 1955, LaFaro joined Buddy Morrow's band. "We toured all over the country until I left the band in Los Angeles in September 1956. I didn't hear any jazz or improve at all during that whole time." But a few weeks after he left Morrow, he joined a Chet Baker group that included Bobby Timmons and Lawrence Marable. "I found out so much from Lawrence, a lot of it just from playing with him. I have trouble with getting with people rhythmically and I learned a lot about it from him. I learned more about rhythm when I played with Monk last fall; a great experience. With Monk, rhythmically, it's just there, always."

LaFaro remembers two other important experiences in California. The first was hearing Ray Brown, whose swing and perfection in his style impressed him. The other came when he lived for almost a year in the mountain-top house of Herb Geller and his late wife, Lorraine. "I practiced and listened to records. I had — I still have — a feeling that if I don't practice I will never be able to play. And Herb had all the jazz records; I heard a lot of music, many people for the first time, on his records."

In September 1958 LaFaro played with Sonny Rollins in San Francisco, and later he worked with the same rhythm section behind Harold Land. "I think horn players and pianists have probably influenced me the most, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Bill Evans, and Sonny perhaps deepest of all. Sonny is technically good, harmonically imaginative, and really creative. He uses all he knows to make finished music when he improvises.

"I found out playing with Bill that I have a deep respect for harmony, melodic patterns, and form. I think a lot more imaginative work could be done within them than most people are doing, but I can't abandon them. That's why 1 don't think I could play with Ornette Coleman. I used to in California; we would go looking all over town for some place to play, I respect the way he overrides forms. It's all right for him, but I don't think I could do it myself. "Bill gives the bass harmonic freedom because of the way he voices, and he is practically the only pianist who does. It's because of his classical studies. Many drummers know too little rhythmically, and many pianists know too little harmonically. In the trio we were each contributing something and really improvising together, each playing melodic and rhythmic phrases. The harmony would be improvised; we would often begin only with something thematic and not a chord sequence.

"I don't like to look back, because the whole point in jazz is doing it now. (I don't even like any of my records except maybe the first one I did with Pat Moran on Audio Fidelity.) There are too many things to learn and too many things you can do, to keep doing the same things over and over. My main problem now is to get that instrument under my fingers so I can play more music."

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