Wednesday, January 20, 2021
© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Perhaps the professor emeritus of bebop saxophone, as it has endured from one century to the next. He got his start in his early teens, even taking a lesson or two from Lennie Tristano, before going to Juilliard in 1948. When he came out, he had already mastered a formidable bebop style on the alto saxophone: fast, lean, sweet-sour on ballads and with the blues always hovering in the background, it was a sound which soon drew parallels with Charlie Parker, although Woods's kind of emotion had nothing of Parker's tragic power.”
- Richard Cook’s Jazz Encyclopedia
When alto master Phil Woods declares that he has "played with them all," it is a statement of justified pride.
He is approaching his 80th birthday in November of this year, and has spent more than 60 years as a working musician, achieving world-wide recognition as one of the greatest jazz saxophonists of all time. The list of his idols, influences, mentors and colleagues is a "Who's Who" of jazz legends: Lenny Tristano, Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Hodges, Charlie Parker, Benny Carter, Quincy Jones, Oliver Nelson, Gene Quill, Clark Terry, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, to name only a few.
From his upbringing in Springfield, Massachusetts to his roots in the Delaware Water Gap region of Pennsylvania and all of his travels in between, the story of Phil Woods is a remarkable account of high personal achievement in performance, composition, recording and jazz education.
In 2007, Phil was awarded the coveted Jazz Master designation by the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor that our nation bestows on its jazz musicians. The Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program was established in 1992 by the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History and has documented to date the stories and experiences of more than 100 historically renowned jazz figures.
The following interview of Phil Woods was conducted on June 22-23, 2010 by Marty Nau and Ken Kimery of the Smithsonian Oral History Program (www.smithsonian.org). Phil passed away on September 29, 2015.
This is the first of a multi-part feature.
Marty Nau [MN]: Okay, this is Marty Nau here with the Smithsonian interviewing Phil Woods, a certain dream of mine come true. And Phil, for the national record ...
Phil Woods [PW]: Yes, sir.
[MN]: ... for the Smithsonian they'd like to have you state your full name.
[PW]: Gene Quill, [laughs] No, I'm Phil Woods. I was born in 1931, November the second, which means today I'm 78 but I'm very happy to say I have the body of a 77-year-old man.
[MN]: I noticed that immediately.
IPW]:I was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. I had one brother, seven years older. Any other facts you'd like to have?
[MN]: Well, could you talk about your parents?
[PW]: My parents. Well, my dad was reported to be a violin player when he was a kid. Music was very important in our family. My mom loved music. There were four or five sisters; and on my father's side, there was an uncle who played saxophone. One of my mother's sister's husbands played saxophone, and I was given the sax in the will when he died. So, music was an integral part of our life in those days.
Of course, in those days, everybody was dancing to the same beat. We all knew who Irving Berlin was. I remember taking rides with my mom and dad. They loved the movies and when we'd go away on vacations and stuff we would sing songs. We knew the score to The Wizard of Oz, "Over the Rainbow" and "Blue Skies" and what have you. It wasn't like music has become, where the youngest kid is up here with his iPod listening to some kind of garbage music, and grandma's listening to Lawrence Welk, and mom and dad are listening to Dick Powell or Bing Crosby or something. Everybody was listening to the same sort of stuff. It was part of the woven fabric of American life. It was the American songwriters, you know, Irving Berlin. I mean, where would Charlie Parker be without Jerome Kern?
As the popular music progressed so did music, from the traditional Irving Berlin kind of basic harmony up to Jerome Kern and Cole Porter. It became more sophisticated. That was part of my life, although nobody played an instrument in my family. Mom and dad always nurtured the arts.
My mom subscribed to the Book-of-the-Month Club. I remember her reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom by D. H. Lawrence, and I remember she was reading Mein Kampf, you know, because he was very popular in those days. [MN laughs] I mean, others would say, "Oh, your mother read Mein Kampf'' and I would say, "Yeah!" It was part of history, you know? The culture was important but not overly. We were lower middle class. My dad was into advertising. He used to buy sides of farms up in New England and put ads on the side of the barn. I remember he was always into commercial advertising. When television first came out and we'd complain about the commercials, he'd say "Well, that's who's paying for the show, god darn it!" [MN chuckles] You know? So, he was aware of the fact that the dollar is important. As he got older he'd say, "Did you make a buck? Did you make a buck?" He was always concerned about that.
My parents were very supportive. My dad and mom said, "Do whatever you want" When I said I wanted to be a musician, they said, "Pursue whatever you want, but just do us a favor. Be good at it." Don't mess, don't jive. If you're serious, be serious. They never said [with a distasteful tone] "a musician," although at times, as life went on, they were maybe not quite so sure, with some of my peccadilloes. But they were always very supportive of what I did. I loved them very much. After my dad did the advertising thing, he had his own sign company. Then he was a fire commissioner in Springfield for 16 years. He was always helping people, I remember that. If a fire went beyond three alarms, they'd call my dad and he'd wake me up. So, I've always had an affinity for firemen. My older brother became a fireman when he got out of the Navy after the Second World War. I used to work very much in support of the local volunteer fire department, which made it ironic when my house burned down, [chuckles] The fire department said, "Oh, not Phil's house," you know? I still continue to support the firefighters. I think those are our heroes, as 9-11 certainly proved.
I went away to New York to study with Lennie Tristano right after high school. I graduated from high school when I was 15; I skipped a grade. I discovered the saxophone when I was 12 years old. I've got to talk about my first teacher, which was Harvey LaRose. I had this uncle, Norman Cook was his name, and there were rumors about him of nefarious dealings with Amazon tribes and digging gold in Alaska and the Klondike and prospecting for oil. I mean, he was into all kinds of stuff.
[PW]: But he had a saxophone and at the time he was very sick. In fact, he was dying of cancer. He lived downstairs from where I lived with my mom and dad. He lived downstairs with my grandmother and my mother's sister. He was the husband of my mother's sister, Phyllis. I discovered this case underneath my grandmother's wicker chair in the living room. So I opened it up and, man, there was a shiny gold saxophone. I said, "Whoa" you know, because at that time, it was during the Second World War, and I was into making toy soldiers. You know, melting lead and all that, and making them and painting them and doing all that. I think when I saw the saxophone my first instinct was to melt the sucker down, you know, [MN chuckles] and make a golden horde of warriors.
My nefarious intent was misunderstood to mean I had an interest in music. So when this cat died I was given the saxophone, which I proceeded to put back in the closet and go about melting lead. I couldn't melt the saxophone at that point, you know. my mother would have killed me. So, after about three, four, five, six weeks my mother said, "Well, Phillip, what are you going to do with this saxophone?" I said, "I don't know. Mom." She said, "Well, you know, your uncle went through a great deal of trouble to leave it to you" And even at that tender age of 12, I realized that dying could be construed as a great deal of trouble, which is one of the reasons I'm saving it for last.
[MN]: [chuckles] Yes.
[PW]: So, okay, I got the Yellow Pages, and I go to "Drum Shop - Saxophone Lessons - Mr. Harvey LaRose." I called the drum shop and I said, "Can I speak to the saxophone teacher, please? Mr. LaRose?" I said, "Hello Mr. LaRose, I'm ..." you know, I made an appointment for a lesson. And Mr. LaRose said, "You got it?" And I said, "Yes. Should I bring the saxophone?" And I could hear this kind of thing, a sigh, a yawn of disgust. He said to himself, "Oh, I've got a live one here." He said, "Young man, it would be a good idea to bring the saxophone to your first saxophone lesson."
[MN]: That would be nice.
[PW]: I didn't know! I had no idea. I thought you had to be anointed. I thought you had to learn to read music. I didn't know that you could just start playing it. So, I went and started playing it. He would give me the first lesson, but I was just pleasing mom. Okay, great, and I put the horn back in the case and went about my business. I'd put it back in the closet, and then I'd go for a lesson a week later. To make a long story short, as they say, I could play the lesson without even trying. I didn't think it was any big deal. And if I had gotten a teacher, one of those straight-laced cats who would say, "Hey, how dare you? You're playing by ear." Mr. LaRose recognized the fact that I must have a fair amount of retention, and I had a good sound. I always had a good tone. I mean, I was built—. That's what I'm here for. I finally decided that was my Kismet -I was meant to be a saxophone player. At that time I didn't know, but I had a teacher that recognized the fact that I could play without even trying. If I tried I could really be something. He didn't yell at me, and within a year I was hooked, man.
He started to give me the four pop songs of the week. You know, in those days they used to have a little three-page thing, you would have four songs from the Hit Parade that week. Now they're all standards, mostly good tunes. There would be an E flat part, a B flat part, a concert part, and then a bass clef part and piano accompaniment. Mr. LaRose played alto and clarinet, primarily - no flute - violin, guitar, piano. He arranged. He taught all of those instruments and arranging, and played with all the big bands. He was not an improviser but what a teacher, man. I'd say within a year, a year-and-a-half, I'd get these four pop songs of the week and I would play the songs and Harvey would accompany me at the piano. Gradually he'd tell me, well, this is a G-seventh here, and here's what you can do; here's a scale, you can play on that. You don't have to play the melody. He'd say, "It's good to play the melody but you can enhance it, you can decorate," and eventually I got into improvisation.
The first jazz pieces I ever played were Benny Carter transcribed solos, and he would accompany me. He would teach me the chords of all of Benny Carter's oeuvre. They were only transcriptions of his solos but they had piano accompaniment and he wrote out the chords for me again. This was getting a little more complex than just playing a song. These were jazz solos by "The King." One week, he gave me a Duke Ellington song called "Mood To Be Wooed." That was Johnny Hodges's feature for that season; you know, every year the book would change because Duke was always writing new music.
There were a bunch of us kids in Springfield; they used to call us The Springfield Rifles. There was Hal Serra on piano, who is still around in New York, I just had lunch with him. Sal Salvador was on guitar, he later went with Stan Kenton. Joe Morello was our drummer. I think everybody knows who Joe Morello was but, in case you were asleep, he played with Dave Brubeck and did the first drum solo in "Take Five," Paul Desmond's song. And Chuck Andrus was on bass. Chuck later played with the Woody Herman band with Nat Pierce. So, that was our kid band, we were pretty good. Hal played piano and he lived right up the street from me, and I used to look over his shoulder. I was into Kenton and big band stuff and he taught me about Artie Shaw and the Gramercy Five and the Benny Goodman Sextet. I got to learn about small group stuff. And then we heard our first Charlie Parker records, and that's all she wrote, pun intended. That really reinforced it. I mean, I knew when I heard Bird that there was some stuff happening.
Meanwhile, Mr. LaRose had given me this solo on "Mood To Be Wooed," and we went to hear Duke's band. Johnny Hodges stepped forward, and all the lights went down to blue, and Johnny came on and played "Mood To Be Wooed," and I said, "Ah, that's how it goes!" That also reinforced; to see someone play live, there's nothing like that. And then our first Charlie Parker records, of course. We all got hooked on bebop. Hal started to take lessons with Lennie Tristano, the great guru from Chicago, the blind pianist who recorded the first "free jazz" He did the first completely improvised music; he was the first cat, as far as I know. In fact, I'm pretty sure, historically, that it would bear me out, that he played the first what they call "free jazz." I like to play expensive jazz, [MN laughs] but that's another story, [chuckles]
So, we'd go to New York City from Springfield, Massachusetts. It's about a three-hour bus ride, and then we'd take a subway out to Long Island, I couldn't tell you exactly where. We'd take a bus to Mr. Tristano's house - he was always Mister, of course, in those days - and take a lesson. It was only for a summer; I took about six or seven lessons and I realized that I had a lot to learn. I wasn't quite ready for what Lennie was putting down because it was pretty advanced stuff. But I took his lessons to heart. A lot of it was playing the piano, and I've always played the piano. From watching Hal play, I'd go home and try it out. I think any musician worth his salt has to come to terms with a keyboard.
You also have to come to terms with the "Big City," and going to New York from Springfield to take a lesson with Tristano was a chance to come to terms with the big city. New York was the center of jazz at that point; it still is as far as I'm concerned. After the lesson we would go to Romeo's on Broadway for some spaghetti, and you knew it was fresh because it was sitting in a big silver 18-gallon pot in the window. Al dente was not in our vocabulary at that time. Then we'd go to Main Stem Records and buy the latest shellac - the latest Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie - whatever was hot, we bought it. Then, if we still had a dollar left, we'd go to 52nd Street and you could get a Coca-Cola for a buck and we'd sit there all night. Our bus went back to Springfield at four o'clock in the morning. We'd be the first ones in line for the Three Deuces or the Spotlight, or whatever. That whole 52nd Street scene was nothing but clubs. At four a.m. we'd get on our bus and go back home. When I hear kids at school say, "We're going out on a field trip," I say you don't know what a field trip is, man, until you've had a lesson with Tristano, had spaghetti at Romeo's, and went to Main Stem to buy Charlie Parker records and then went to 52nd Street, you know? I mean, wow! At 15,I said, "Whoa, this is great."
We went for a lesson one time at Mr. Tristano's house and he said, "Are you kids going down to 52nd Street tonight?" We said, "Yes, why do you ask?" He said, "Well, I'm opening for Charlie Parker and I thought maybe you'd like to meet him." And, you know, to myself I said, "Yeah, I've always wanted to meet God!" This time we held back on the records, we held back on the pasta so we'd have two dollars; we could buy two Coca-Colas and really relish the evening. Tristano's trio opened up the evening's festivities. Somebody had to come get us because Lennie was blind. I think it was Arnold Fishkin, who was the bass player, who came and got us and took us behind the curtain. I mean the 52nd Street clubs were just speakeasies. They were just narrow little cellars; there was no backstage, no dressing rooms, nothing like that.
We came around the back of the bandstand and there was Bird sitting on the floor. The great Charlie Parker, the man who was changing the planet. He had a big cherry pie, and he said "Hi, kids! Would you like a piece of cherry pie?" And I said, "Oh, Mr. Parker, cherry's my favorite flavor." [Both laugh] And it is! But I didn't know what else to say! He said, "Well, you sit down here, boy, and I'll cut you a big slice." He took out his switchblade - bing boom bang - and handed me a big piece of cherry pie. I said, "Oh my God, I'm in heaven." I mean, he was so kind, I never forgot that. That was one of the most important lessons, along with coming to terms with the city and with the new music and getting the latest shellac which I would take home and transcribe all of the heads and analyze the solos. But the kindness; I mean, here was one of the greatest musicians in the world. Accessibility. There was no presidium. There was no, "We're mere mortals and you're ...," you know? "Want a piece of pie?" I always remember that.
That's something that I've always tried to be, kind, even in my curmudgeonly way. I try to share what I know with a young musician, and not dissuade him. I might give him a hard time, of course. But if he can't get beyond my hard time he'll never make it in the biz, so, you know, you give him some reality. But I only saw the good part of Bird. Of course, with the journalists, the only thing that made the headlines was the bad news. You never heard about the sharing part.
So, anyway, that was my modest beginning."
To be continued in Part 2.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“RAY BROWN once defined a bassist's greatest assets as "good time, good intonation, and a big sound." While agreeing that this is a solid, workable definition, Bill Crow would add another factor.
"If you have those qualities," he explained, "and don't find out how to relate them to the musicians you're playing with, you'll still not be contributing much to the group. That may seem like a simple-minded statement of something everyone should know, but it's surprising how often poor contact between musicians is the principal difficulty in playing well together.
Bill Crow made those comments in a 1963 Downbeat interview and guitarist, composer and bandleader Dave Stryker has taken the caveats contained in them to heart by always putting together bands that work well as a unit because the individual members listen to one another and play as a group.
Dave Stryker has been around the music business for a long time and it shows in many aspects of his latest recording [if truth be told - in all his recordings] - from the other musicians associated with the project, to the song or tune selection, arrangement and track placement.
On Dave Stryker Baker’s Circle [Strikezone 8821], he’s given the music and the way it is performed on it a lot of thought which is not only drawn from his professionalism but also from his experience.
Dave does what Dave does best - he’s a straight ahead groove merchant: he just plants his feet and brings it, one compelling rhythmic chorus after another. He rides the rhythm section the way a master surfer rides the wave; always in the curl allowing the tidal current to propel him forward.
Nothing in Dave’s music is forced or strained and before you know it, it engulfs you in what Duke Ellington referred to as - “The Feeling of Jazz” - a feeling of elation and well-being complimented by warm emotions and generous helpings of finger-popings and foot tappings.
Helping to generate The grooves on Dave Stryker Baker’s Circle are some old friends - Jared Gold on organ and McClenty Hunter on drums. They are joined by two new associates - Walter Smith III on tenor saxophone and percussionist Mayra Casales who infuses Latin Jazz rhythms on three tracks.
Jared plays a pivotal role in the music as his comping adds rhythmic riffs but he can also join Dave and Walter as a third “voice” in enhancing both the melody and the harmony. Jared also provides some funky bass lines that add grease to McClenty’s engine room as his drums propel the music forward.
Dave puts all of these musical elements to good use in developing fresh takes on standards such as Cole Porter’s Everything I Love, Leon Russell’s Superstar and Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues, as well as, the four originals he brought to the date one of which - Baker’s Circle - also serves as the name for the recording.
Jared Gold’s Rush Hour, Ivan Lins’ Love Dance and Harold Logan and Lloyd Price’s rhythm and blues workhorse Trouble [No. 2] - a tip-of-the-hat to the late tenor saxophonist and Dave’s old boss Stanley Turrentine - complete this musicfest of jammin’ sounds and grooves.
Trouble [No. 2] is the last of the ten tracks and it could be said of it that it was placed so to end the party - because that’s what this record is - a party, a celebration, a bash. It also features a magnificent introduction to the tenor sax playing of Walter Smith III who channels some of Stanley Turrentine along with Joe Lovano and a hint of Tina Brooks while adding a big dash of his own voice to what has to be the most refreshing tenor saxophone sound heard on a Jazz recording in recent memory.
All of this made possible by Dave Stryker’s musicianship and experience which he brings to bear to create a recording that has a play through quality about it: the ten tracks just flow nicely one-to-the-other, stopping here for a little chop-busting, there for a new take on a standard, and everywhere for surprises. And when it's over, you can’t wait to listen to the whole thing again.
Above all, this group jells as a band that plays TOGETHER and the proof of it is everywhere apparent in Dave Stryker Baker’s Circle.
Jim Eigo of Promotional Jazz Services is handling the PR for the CD and he sent along the following media release for the CD which is due out on March 5, 2021. If you want the music sooner it’s available now via this link to bandcamp.
“After last year's successful big band outing, Blue Soul, guitarist Dave Stryker is back with his hard-driving, deep-grooving B3 organ group on his new recording—Baker's Circle. With the addition of cutting-edge tenor player Walter Smith III, Baker's Circle features Stryker's originals as well as a couple Eight Track gems and a tip of the hat to his former boss Stanley Turrentine. Along with Smith III, this fresh recording features Dave's working band of Jared Gold on organ and McClenty Hunter on drums and adds Cuban percussionist Mayra Casales to three tracks as well.
Baker's Circle starts with three Stryker originals. The hard-hitting "Tough" leads off with exciting sobs by the whole band. Casales’ congas join in on the latin groove of "El Camino" followed by the bluesy 7/4 of "Dreamsong." Cole Porter's "Everything I Love" is a medium swinger after which Gold's burning "Rush Hour" shows why Walter Smith III is considered one of the best of his generation. And Dave adds his Eight Track fingerprint to Leon Russell's "Superstar" and Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues."
Says Stryker: "Composer and educator David Baker was in my corner from the time I met him at a jazz camp when I was 17 till he hired me to take over as guitar professor at Indiana University a few years ago. I used to see him standing outside the Music School on a circular drive waiting for his wife Lida to pick him up. I named the song ‘Baker's Circle' in his memory."
Baker's Circle closes with "Trouble (No. 2)," a grooving shuffle originally recorded by Stryker's former boss, the great Stanley Turrentine. This caps a diverse program that showcases Stryker at his best — modern playing with the groove and soul that comes from years of experience.”
Monday, January 18, 2021
© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Jarrett's spontaneous structuring of his music, his ability to incorporate and express basically European ideas in the jazz idiom, and the ecstatic heights to which he pushed his tone and melodies opened up new territory for other pianists to explore.”
- Len Lyons, Jazz author and record producer
“There are some simple virtues in his playing which any listener can surely respond to: gorgeous melodies, patiently evocative development which can lead to genuinely transcendent climaxes, beatific ballad playing. But it can be hard to tune out musical (and non-musical) matter which is likely to have dismayed as many as it has enraptured.”
- Richard Cook’s Jazz Encyclopedia
If I understand the situation correctly - there is so much rapidly transmitted misinformation these days - Keith Jarrett has been unable to perform since suffering a stroke in February 2018, and a second stroke in May 2018, which left him partially paralyzed and unable to play with his left hand.
Given this situation, I thought a look back to when it was first happening for Keith might be an interesting way to understand his Jazz Journey.
Most of this information and the actual interview itself are drawn from Len Lyons, The Great Jazz Pianists [DaCapo 1983].
“During the 1970's Keith Jarrett was the enfant terrible of jazz piano. He commanded the highest fees ever for solo performances, many of which were staged at opera houses and concert halls that had previously been the exclusive turf of classical artists. He played the role of prima donna to the hilt, sometimes complaining to the audience that the piano or the sound system was inadequate. His smug, quasi-philosophical pronouncements, which might interrupt a concert at any time, elicited oohs and aahs from some fans but probably embarrassed those with less impressionable minds.
When Keith Jarrett played the piano, he broke every rule in the book of good form. Never mind hand position - he did not even sit down much of the time. In especially rhapsodic passages, which abound in his seamless improvised compositions, his genuflecting and gyrating in front of the keyboard made Elvis Presley look like a mannequin.
Nevertheless, Jarrett made the piano sing a new song, and nearly everybody loved it. No one did more to stimulate interest in jazz piano among a broad audience than Jarrett did in his decade of prominence. His Köln Concert album of lengthy solo improvisations was a major factor in establishing the viability of the ECM label. Its sales of a quarter million units or so revived confidence in the commercial potential of the piano in jazz. Most important, Jarrett's spontaneous structuring of his music, his ability to incorporate and express basically European ideas in the jazz idiom, and the ecstatic heights to which he pushed his tone and melodies opened up new territory for other pianists to explore.
One of five children, Jarrett began piano lessons at the age of three and was judged to be a prodigy by some of his teachers. At seventeen he enrolled in the Berklee College of Music in Boston, but he soon moved to New York, where he and his wife lived in Spanish Harlem. Keith studied drums and soprano saxophone, instruments he continues to use on records. A jam session at the Village Vanguard led to four months of work in 1965 with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. But Jarrett's passionate and soulful soloing ripened noticeably when he played with the Charles Lloyd Quartet (1966-69), one of the few jazz groups of the sixties to find a broad audience. With drummer Jack Dejohnette, his colleague from the Lloyd group, Jarrett joined Miles Davis's band in 1970. He formed his own quartet in 1972 with Dewey Redman on tenor sax, Charlie Haden on bass, and Paul Motian on drums.
Since 1973 Jarrett has maintained virtually three careers at once: bandleader, composer, and piano soloist. Inspired by diverse influences - Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans, Paul Bley, and modern classical music - Keith has synthesized his sources into a new and bold individuality- No other pianist has dared play entire concerts of spontaneous improvisations. Few could bring them off successfully if they tried.
The following conversation was taped in the general manager's office of KJAZ radio in Alameda, California. After an on-air interview, the customarily reticent Jarrett revealed his views on the piano, the creative process, and the subtle differences between composing and improvising.
How do you feel about the recent trend toward multiple keyboards?
The keyboard idea is one of the immense illusions in music at the moment. The keyboard is being used like a Parker Brothers game, a version of three-dimensional chess which they can sell to people who can't play two-dimensional chess. To simplify: People are making the problem of getting something out of themselves into an exterior problem of finding the right instruments to get it out with. It's like saying the reason I can't paint a masterpiece is that I don't have the right paints.
Should I infer that you don't think there's any good music being made on electric keyboards.?
You can infer that, but not from this. It's a matter of what electricity really is. The world is electric to begin with. The very fact that we move around is because of electric impulses, and we're not plugged in, so obviously there's a bigger kind of electricity than the kind you plug in. I live in the electric world, and making it electronic would be less strong.
You once said, "My first experience in composing involved adding a note to the last chord of a Mozart concerto," Is that composing or improvising? How do you distinguish between the two in terms of your solo concerts?
Well, there's no distinction between the two in the way I deal with it, although there are many differences in the two processes. You might call it spontaneous composition, which would connect the two. When you write something on paper, no matter how preconceived it is, it's still spontaneous because you can always change your mind when the pencil is about to touch
the paper. Even if you edit three hundred times, it's still spontaneous each time.
The difference for me is that when I'm composing, I can concentrate on each of the lines separately. See, no matter what anyone says, the human ear cannot hear more than two lines at the same time. As a composer, perhaps I can arrange them so the listener has the illusion he can hear all the lines. For example, there is a certain way of playing Bach's piano music when he has four lines going at once in which -if the timing is just off precision - you can hear each line more clearly. If you played them exactly as they were on paper with a metronome, you could hear only one line at a time. Your ear makes the choice. In improvising there's no time to deal with that. But there's a feeling you can get while improvising that makes up for that problem. You can do it spontaneously if you can sit far enough back from your own playing, if you don't identify with your own playing and are not what people call completely involved in your music. If you're aware of what you're playing as a listener, you're waiting to be able to distinguish all the lines. Then, as a player, you can give yourself that as a listener.
I had a hard time deciding whether "A Pagan Hymn" on In the Light was a spontaneous composition or written away from the piano.
It was composed completely away from the piano, but that's a good example of the distinction being blurred.
Where do you see yourself within the pianistic tradition? Do you feel influenced by bebop, stride, the romantic classics?
I rarely see myself as a continuation of a pianistic tradition, except to the extent that I use the piano. I have to identify myself with what the piano has made people aware of. If Chopin wrote piano music that no one conceived of before him, I must consider Chopin an influence. But I don't feel influenced by him musically to the extent that I feel like part of a tradition. In the case of jazz pianists, the tradition is improvisation. I was influenced by the need these people had to improvise - improvise something valuable enough to last for years and years.
Who are some of the improvisers that have impressed you?
The funny thing is that it's the process of improvising that impressed me. That's more important than the product. The people who influenced me were people I never heard, which may sound a little strange.
Yes, it does.
I once went to a "blindfold test" in Paris, and I knew who Bud Powell was, even though I never listened to his records. Well, maybe I heard them without realizing it.
Were there other pianists you recognized without ever hearing them before?
Yeah, there were. When I was at Berklee, someone said I sounded a lot like Bill Evans. I'd never heard him. See, the spirit that actually motivates music to come out of somebody has nothing to do with other musicians that have played before.
Do you think you'd play differently if you had been born one hundred years ago?
Of course, but the spirit would be the same. For that matter, I play differently in a basement from in an attic. But these are unconscious influences that are inescapable. I guess that's not what you had in mind.
Are there composers who have influenced your music?
Yes, but mostly because of what they were trying to do, not so much because of what they did. I feel very close to [Charles] Ives, and the reason is his supposed eccentricities, which were the only ways he could get out what he wanted to get out.
Your own piano playing technique is a bit eccentric, standing in front of the keyboard and so on. Is this a looseness you'd recommend? Do you recommend any particular way to acquire technique?
If someone studied piano playing by watching me play - or making films of my playing - he'd make a disastrous mistake. I play the way I do out of necessity, not because it's the best way in the world for anyone to play the piano. It's the only way I can get the piano to do what I want it to do. If I know what I want it to do, that's what's important.
I'd say anyone who wanted to play piano should start where the piano started in order to learn what people have done. Once they know what's been done, they're more capable of dealing with what they can hear. I don't know of many people who are as unaware of the tool they're using as pianists, which is reflected in the idea of keyboards. "A keyboard attached to a piece of wood that has strings on it and a cast-iron frame that goes out of tune more than they like" is probably what they know about it.
You've mentioned that the tone quality you're looking for can be elicited only from certain pianos. Which ones?
Hamburg Steinways. Occasionally the New York Steinway. The Bremen and Lausaune concerts were on seven-foot and nine-foot Steinways. I'd never do a group recording in a studio on a nine-foot Steinway. The Facing You album is on a five-foot-ten-inch Steinway.
You do get unique tone production, which seems characteristic of improvisers with a strong identity. Is there some way that tone can be worked on?
No, you don't work on that. You do the opposite. If you think about it,
you're making a mistake. That's what's happening all over in music. People are asking too many questions, thinking that the answer will be laid on them. You go to hear someone who knocks you out and then go backstage with some earthshaking question that will change your life, if someone answers it. I don't remember ever having those questions to ask of anybody, like: "How do you do this or that?" It's part of the exteriorization process - like electronic instruments. It's a guru thing. You try to find someone who'll tell you what you should have been doing when you weren't "in." Meanwhile, you stay "out," which makes it harder to get back "in," which is where you live.
That's going to make my next question suspicious, but I'll ask it anyway. Do you think playing directly on the piano's strings, as you did in Charles Lloyd's band, is an effect that can be cultivated and practiced?
No. I stopped doing it because I saw people taking it that way. It was just part of the music I was playing. Anything can be used - you can learn a whole new set of things to do on a piano. That's not the problem. The problem is why? Are you doing it because you can't do something else or because you have to do it? There's a difference. People I've heard playing on the strings now - it's not an organic part of their music. It's a divorced effect. When you don't know what else to do, you might do that.
Maybe it's a type of experimentation.
All the experimenting I've done is between concerts. I don't experiment when I play. Experimenting is practicing being conscious. I know I can be conscious when I'm playing music. Playing is the least important thing. It's the most important to the audience, but the least to the artist. It's the end product, and - this may sound negative, but I don't mean it that way - it could be called the waste product: the waste product of the activity of being musical, Being musical with a capital M could simply mean living a harmonious life with your own organism and projecting that to other people. That's why we need music. You can't project being in harmony with yourself without using a medium, and music is the medium which comes closest to showing it.
Do you listen to much music?
I do, although not a lot of music that's being played now. I know what's happening. I have a barometer inside me. I feel responsible for knowing what's going on, so I dip quickly into things that are happening now and wait for something to impress me. When it doesn't, I also feel responsible not to pretend.
What's your feeling about the music business?
I feel disassociated from any business. I deal with it as though I were into
it, but I'm not. I have a responsibility to my audience to make myself available somehow. If I have to do it by using the music business, I will in some ways. In other ways I won't. I won't go on the Johnny Carson show.
You have to draw the line somewhere.
The line comes a lot earlier than that.
Is there anything you'd like to express that we haven't covered?
Now that we're at the end, I'd like to say something about words. Everything I've said has been a response to something you've said or to the subject matter of the interview. It's not based on thinking I can transmit anything through words. The feeling I have at the end of every interview is: "I didn't say it!" because I can't say it in words.”
Forest Flower: At Monterey (with Charles Lloyd, 1968); AT-1473; Atlantic.
Miles Davis: Live/Evil (1970); CG-30954: Columbia.
Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne (1973); 3-1035; ECM.
The Köln Concert (1975); 1064/65; ECM.
Concerts: Bremen/Munich (1981); 3-1227; ECM.
Fort Yawuh; AS-9240; Impulse.
Backhand; ASD-9305; Impulse.
Survivors' Suite; 1-9084; ECM.
Sunday, January 17, 2021
© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
For those who knew his work, the magnitude of the admiration for Tubby’s achievements was such that Simon Spillett, posits the question of “What would the British Jazz scene [... have been] like without him?”[The Long Shadow of the Little Giant: The Life Work and Legacy of Tubby Hayes [Equinox, 2nd Ed., 2017].
Thankfully, especially most recently, there is much more of Tubby’s work to “know” as newly discovered treasures, complete series of recordings and CD issues of vinyl albums provide additional dimensions and perspectives on his music.
Most, if not all, of these new Hayesian delights have the added benefit of annotations by Simon Spillett who, as regular visitors to these pages have come to know, has researched the English Jazz scene during the second half of the 20th century quite extensively.
A tenor saxophonist who is based in the UK, he leads his own quartet and big band and is the great tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes’s biographer. You can locate more information about Simon by visiting his webpage.
© - Simon Spillett, copyright protected; all rights reserved, used with the author’s permission.
“The release of this new double CD volume from Candid Records - Inventivity [CCS 79101 2] is a timely reminder of the days when Ronnie Scott’s club - then in its infancy  - was functioning as the crucible in which British modern jazzmen met their American opposite numbers, often for the very first time.
Fortunately for the generations of listeners who weren’t lucky enough to have been around when Stan Tracey and his resident trio held forth with the likes of Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Johnny Griffin, Roland Kirk, Ben Webster and Sonny Stitt, journalist Les Tomkins ensured that at least some of this mythic and exciting music found its way onto magnetic tape.
Tomkins’ Ferrograph recorder caught music by all the above names, and more, and after previous associations with other labels, this historic archive is now being extensively investigated in collaboration with Candid Records.
Whilst the forthcoming series of “Jazz Club” releases promises to encompass performances by many of the leading American visitors to Scott’s on those halcyon nights in the mid-sixties, it is especially fitting that the opening salvo is dedicated to newly unearthed treasures by some of our finest UK jazzmen.
Legendary players such as the youthful multi-instrumentalist Victor Feldman, the drum icon Phil Seamen and Ronnie Scott himself are among those to be featured, but it perhaps inevitable that the first issue documents the work of indisputably the greatest British jazz virtuoso of his generation, the late great saxophonist Tubby Hayes, a performer who has latterly achieved almost iconic status among a new generation of jazz listeners.
Hayes reputation as a free-wheeling no-nonsense tenor saxophonist has long been assured, and during the late 1950s and early 1960s, when British jazz often laboured under a crippling inferiority complex, Tubby was widely recognised as one of the few home grown jazzmen who had gifts comparable (and in some cases, superior) to those of his American contemporaries.
The story of Hayes’ US triumphs has been told many times elsewhere, but equal emphasis has yet to be placed on his ability to attract Stateside visitors, eager to blow with the local top gun. There are apocryphal tales about jazzmen like Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard and Philly Joe Jones seeking out and sitting in with Hayes, but these two discs present the first audio verite evidence of Tubby with some of his American friends, relaxing after hours in an equal exchange of musical ideas .
The majority of the performances heard here find these guests augmenting Tubby’s regular quintet of the day, a group whose tight-knit Hard Bop know-how was well showcased on the 1962 Fontana albums Late Spot at Scott’s and Down In The Village. Those familiar with these classic sessions will doubtless be fascinated at how Tubby and his sidemen react to the inherent looseness of these quite different off-the-cuff jams.
An example at one extreme is the approach that the quintet takes to Sonny Rollins Oleo, wherein Duke Ellington trumpeter Cat Anderson eventually prises apart the band’s regular modus operandi to turn things into something much more informal. On the other hand, tenorist Sal Nistico’s appearance on Just Friends transpires to simply be a friendly fire version of the old-fashioned cutting contest.
Disc One begins with two numbers featuring Nistico, recorded in July 1964 at the tail end of a brief but memorable UK tour made by the current powerhouse edition of Woody Herman’s Big Band, in which the saxophonist was then featured.
Sharing an eerie physical similarity, Nistico was a close opposite number to Tubby, similarly renowned for his formidable technical skills and a natural ability at very fast tempo. Nistico’s speedy reputation had been made by his stint with Herman, whom he had joined in 1962, and in some ways he was forever cursed by it, something he explained at length in March 1966, two years after this session, when both he and Hayes participated in an open discussion organised, recorded and then transcribed by Les Tomkins for Crescendo magazine (that same evening the two men jammed with altoist Lee Konitz at Ronnie Scott’s club, an encounter which also found its way onto Tomkins tapes.)
Nistico complained that his image of fast-fingered gunslinger wasn’t entirely of his own choosing; “I appreciate that Woody regards me as capable of carrying off those spots, but there are some times when I go on the job and I might not be in that mood. With me it’s very rare that I can be creative at the fast tempo. After a while my fingers start playing me”.
Hayes knew only too well the kind of expectancy Nistico suffered under: “We’re both stereotyped. Everyone expects the tear-up tempos all the time”.
Included on this double CD is the closing portion of this interview, hitherto never published or broadcast, in which, among other things, this clearly convivial partnership express mutual admiration, talk of their suspicion about some of the Avant Garde trends of the day and of their search for a genuinely less routine mode of expression. They also discuss a two-tenor quintet idea that sadly never came to pass, the similarities of their respective characters (some “that the public don’t know about”, says Hayes, with a laugh) and their straight-jacketed image as jazz automatons (“We’re not circus performers”, Nistico states). At one point Hayes modestly deflects Nistico’s praise for his greater ability, an affecting reminder that beneath his robust exterior Tubby had an appealing ego-free view of his immense talent.
Like Hayes, Nistico was a far more well-rounded jazz musician than his critique ever acknowledged. Inspired by Charlie Parker, Gene Ammons and Sonny Rollins, he was unusual in that, as a white tenor saxophonist growing up musically in the 1950s, he showed no real allegiance to the post-Lester Young “Brothers”. His earliest associations were with hard-bop trombonist Slide Hampton, and Chuck and Gap Mangione’s Jazz Brothers, a group very much in the mould of the Jazz Messengers and, as such, he made an ideal musical partner for Tubby.
Friends’ Blues is an appropriate title appended by Tomkins to what undoubtedly was a regular composition in Tubby’s repertoire, possibly the work of Jimmy Deuchar. The trumpeter is the first soloist, sounding eternally hip and slipping in a quote from Charlie Parker’s Parker’s Mood. If anything, Deuchar emerges from this entire set deserving greater respect and admiration. A player who could suffer from frustrating inexactitude and inconsistency of articulation, his work throughout is harmonically erudite, rhythmically assured and genuinely creative, and ranks with that of far better known jazz trumpeters.
Nistico’s solos on both this and Just Friends are perfect examples of the kind of blunt eloquence he was famed for. His dextrous technique, somehow never as pliant as that of Hayes, presents his ideas in a direct no-frills way with a tone that somehow veers between early Sonny Rollins and that of Sonny Stitt. Rollins’ favourite Lester Young quote, from Count Basie’s Every Tub, appears in the midst of proceedings.
In comparison to Nistico, Hayes is truly ebullient, with a darker, richer tone and an altogether far more “conversational” approach. It was critic and fellow tenor saxophonist Dave Gelly who once delivered the perfect description of Tubby’s style as “cockney tenor - garrulous, pugnacious, never at a loss for a word and completely unstoppable” and solos such as these serve as Exhibit A. in this argument.
Deuchar’s solo on Just Friends, as with several others in this set, is played upon the mellophonium, a peculiar hybrid instrument designed by Stan Kenton for his early 1960s orchestra, and based upon the french horn but with valves replacing keys and an enormous flared bell which faced outwards in order that, in the words of Humphrey Lyttelton, “you can’t get your fist stuck in it”.
Ungainly and awkward looking, the mellophonium never really caught on outside the ranks of Kenton’s monstrous brass section but its mellow sound and lower register somehow suited Deuchar’s playing.
Before the three horns share some exchanges towards the close, with Deuchar quoting Candy, there is a welcome chance to hear pianist Terry Shannon, one of the finest modern jazz pianists in the UK and a regular associate of Tubby’s who simply turned his back on music in the late 1960s and left London, and who now lives a reclusive life in rural Lincolnshire.
Shannon is also present on the next track Stella By Starlight, recorded three months later. Hayes had disbanded his quintet with Deuchar, Freddy Logan and Allan Ganley in late August, publicly citing the growing pressures of writing and arranging and travel to continental Europe for engagements as the contributing factors. Privately, he was also expressing dissatisfaction with the general direction of the band and felt that it was no longer suited to the adventurous musical ideas he was now pursuing.
Nevertheless, without a regular working group of his own, it was inevitable that Hayes and his former sidemen would continue to work together on occasion, and such was the night of October 3rd 1964 when Tubby sat in with Jimmy Deuchar’s quartet, who were appearing at Scott’s opposite singer Mark Murphy.
Les Tomkins’ recorder also fortunately captured another visitor, the bassist Albert Stinson, then working a short cabaret season with drummer Chico Hamilton’s group and Lena Horne at The Talk Of The Town night club.
In an era of some truly startling new bass players Stinson managed to make his mark, and would go on to have associations with such cutting edge musicians as Charles Lloyd, Bobby Hutcherson, John Handy and Larry Coryell before his untimely death at the tragically young age of 25 in 1969.
Indeed, he had just turned 20 at the time of this set but his technique, harmonic understanding and swing are already those of a mature performer. Stinson’s drive in particular has a very positive effect on drummer Benny Goodman, a well-known face among British jazz circles. Goodman was a capable but inconsistent performer, largely due to the hard drug dependency which would eventually lead to his early death some time in the mid-1970s, but here his playing, on brushes and sticks, is marvellously alert, lithe and swinging.
Hayes opts to play his solo without any piano accompaniment, and gives ample evidence as to how he then felt his music was moving forward. There is some hitherto uncharacteristic vocalisation and an adventurous juxtaposition of his own substituted harmonic choices and those of Stinson.
The leader’s trumpet solo here is among his very best work. Ronnie Scott had once written of Deuchar that “when Jimmy’s lip is ‘in’ he is one of the most thrilling soloists in jazz”. This is surely one of those nights, and to hear Deuchar course skilfully through the harmonies of Stella is indeed a thrill.
It was not at all uncommon for visiting American artists touring with regular bands to scour the London jazz clubs for an after-hours blow with the local players. Tubby had jammed together with several of Duke Ellington’s musicians, including the tenorist Paul Gonsalves, at The Flamingo in 1958 and from then on Duke’s men usually sought him out whenever they hit London.
Disc Two presents such an encounter captured by Tomkins on the evening of February 14th 1964, when trumpeters Cat Anderson and Rolf Ericson ventured down to Gerrard Street ahead of their first date of the Ellington tour.
Anderson was first up with Tubby and the quintet. Cat was probably one of the most undervalued trumpeters in jazz. His stunning high note range meant that for most of his lengthy tenure with Ellington he was used to coloratura effect, or on pieces like El Gato, designed to show off his brassy exuberance.
His improvisations throughout this set with Tubby reveal a conception not far removed from that of a young Dizzy Gillespie, and a surprising gentleness. There is little recourse to any super-high gallery playing, save for a humorous bat squeak final pip at the end of the quintet’s theme.
In fact, Cat comes across very well in a more modern context (hear his quote from Parker’s Buzzy on Billie’s Bounce) and clearly stimulates Jimmy Deuchar in the best jam session tradition. The exchanges that the three front-line men share towards the close of Sonny Rollins’ Oleo are joyous. Listen out for Tubby’s reference to Charlie Parker’s Merry-Go-Round. The individual solos are also brimming with quotes, with Deuchar inserting a chunk of his own theme Suddenly Last Tuesday.
One of the beautiful highlights of this session is the incredible groove laid down by Freddy Logan and Allan Ganley, the latter probably at his peak during his time with Tubby’s quintet, mixing his innate good taste with a crispness and precision rarely bettered by any other British drummer.
Mean To Me and Horace Silver’s 1951 theme Split Kick add Rolf Ericson on flugelhorn. A musician with a truly international career in jazz, Ericson was born in Sweden in 1922 but wound up in the US in the late 1940s, subsequently working with artists as varied as Charlie Parker, Harry James, Charles Mingus and Stan Kenton. His swing-to-bop style, with its sing-song tone, was amazingly adaptable but it must be said that on this night he suffers somewhat in comparison to Jimmy Deuchar, who was once again very much on form. Deuchar’s faster than thought quote from Rollins’ Strode Rode on Split Kick is one example, and it may well be Jimmy’s arranger’s brain that came up with the bright idea of having the familiar Perdido backing played behind his final theme statement on Mean To Me.
Tubby himself comes across as totally authoritative and relaxed throughout the evening’s proceedings, with his solos on Split Kick, and especially Oleo (with its allusion to Dizzy Reece’s Bang), leaping down through the years. Playing with two musicians from what was indisputably the finest orchestra in jazz clearly held no fear for him whatsoever.
However, there is a postscript to the Valentine’s Night set; although he couldn’t possibly have known it at the time, Tomkins’ tape recorder caught what was the beginning of a monumental 24 hours for Tubby.
After the gig at Ronnie’s, in the small hours of Saturday morning Tubbs and a selected entourage of fellow musicians, party-goers and friends decamped to Jack Sharpe’s Downbeat Club for an all-night jam session, where once again they were joined by several members of the Ellington band, including Sharpe’s good friend, tenorist Paul Gonsalves.
(Saxophonist Sharpe was a long-term associate of Tubby’s, having worked with him intermittently since the mid-1950s. He also produced four albums featuring Paul Gonsalves with British musicians, including Tubby, Stan Tracey, Kenny Wheeler and others, between 1963 and 1969. Gonsalves was to die at Sharpe’s London flat in 1974)
Besides sharing highly compatible musical outlooks, Gonsalves and Hayes also both knew how to have a good time off the stand. But whereas drink rarely incapacitated Tubby, it often proved to be Gonsalves’ downfall - literally - and by the morning of February 15th it was clear that after a long night of being plied by well-wishers the American was in no fit state to make the rehearsal for Ellington’s opening concert at The Royal Festival Hall. Hayes was unruffled by Paul’s familiar behaviour, and later simply recalled that, “about eight in the morning I went back to bed”.
What happened next has entered the realms of Brit-jazz folklore. Hayes and Jimmy Deuchar had decided to hear the opening of Duke’s first house before heading off to their regular gig at Scott’s. However, upon arrival at the Festival Hall, Hayes was confronted by Dougie Tobutt, road manager for the Harold Davison agency who were handling Duke’s tour.
Hayes wrote in Melody Maker in 1969: “Duke wanted to see me. I went into Duke’s room and he told me Paul was unwell. He asked straight out; could I and would I do the show? I can’t explain the feeling but I was overwhelmed, I agreed to have a go”.
Ronnie Scott kindly agreed to let Tubby take the night off and sent his saxophone down to the Festival Hall by taxi. The band had already begun by the time Hayes tenor arrived and so he made, in his own words, “a lonely entry” on-stage before settling down into the ranks of the world’s greatest jazz orchestra in front of a surprised audience. The response for Hayes’ first solo spot on The Opener, both from the crowd and the band, was rapturous and Ellington himself twisted his well-known patter to assure the audience that “Tubby wants you to know that he, too, loves you madly”.
Hayes was noticeably unfazed by the occasion and contemporary newspaper reports understandably glorified the occasion. In a review headlined Tubby Rides High on the Duke’s Bandwagon, Derek Jewell of The Sunday Times called it “a coup d’theatre rarely paralleled”; elsewhere Hayes himself was quoted as saying it was “the most memorable experience of my life”, and Melody Maker’s Bob Houston probably did more than anyone to seal the legend in print. Tubby had been “yanked from a comfortable seat in the audience” and thrust into “one of the unique moments of British jazz history”. “For a moment”, Houston wrote, “patriotism reigned and Tubby was the hero of the hour”.
The “yanked from a comfortable seat” bit didn’t take long to enter the subconscious of jazz critics. The following year, the editor of Jazz Journal, Sinclair Traill repeated the tale in his sleeve notes to the Hayes-Gonsalves LP Just Friends, recorded ten days after the Festival Hall concert.
In 1998, Pete King, co-founder of Ronnie Scott’s club, and Tubby’s erstwhile manager, recalled that late on the Saturday afternoon he received a phone call at his home wanting to know “if Ronnie Scott was available to play with Duke that very night as Paul Gonsalves had gone missing. I can’t recall if Ronnie was working or I couldn’t reach him. Whatever, I suggested Tubby.”
“I had a seat in the front on the opening concert,” King recalled, “and watched him sail through the arrangements. I was very proud of him, and many of the audience were ecstatic.”
“But”, he added as a somewhat rueful caveat, “and I can understand this, there were some mumblings about his appearance from some musicians and critics. After all, the punters had paid to see Paul Gonsalves with the Duke, not a local boy, however brilliant he was”.
The whereabouts of the grail-like bootleg recording of Tubby’s appearance with Duke Ellington has yet to be ascertained but here on this valuable new volume from Candid we have a belated chance to hear what the “local boy” was up to night after night on his own patch.”