Saturday, September 25, 2010

William “Buddy” Collette, 1921- 2010

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be fun to revisit this feature on Buddy Collette which first posted to the blog in September, 2010 so that we could add the video which is located below this lead-in photo and also to reflect once again about a musician whose music gave us so much personal enjoyment over the years.

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

One of my most enduringly favorite albums is Little Band – Big Jazz: Conte Candoli All Stars.

It was recorded on February 3, 1960 and in addition to a rhythm section of Vince Guaraldi [p], Leroy Vinnegar [b] and Stan Levey [d], Conte’s trumpet is joined by Buddy Collette on tenor saxophone.

I bought the album for $1.98 [+tax] off a rack that was located near a checkout stand at a super market.

Produced by Crown Records [CLP 5162], it is made up of six compositions penned and arranged by Conte [Guaraldi co-authored two tunes].

I gather from talking about the recording with Conte, that this was a hastily put-together session. Yet, as you can hear from the audio track that accompanies the following video, the music is warm sounding and wonderfully appealing.

Aside from the Pacific Jazz recordings that he made with The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet in the mid-1950s, on which he plays alto saxophone, flute and clarinet, this LP was really my first exposure to Buddy Collette’s playing in a more conventional small group setting [Hamilton group included a cello and a guitar in addition to Collette woodwinds and reeds].

It was also the first time that I heard Buddy play tenor saxophone.  I was quite taken with his tenor style which was somewhat different than the Lester Young- influenced sound of tenor saxophonists Bob Cooper, Bill Perkins, Bill Holman and Richie Kamuca or what came to be known as the “hard bop” tenor tone of Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon and Hank Mobley. Buddy played with a more “legit” tone [fuller, richer, sonorous] that was less hollow sounding than the former group and less harsher sounding than the latter.

Ironically, I was to soon hear quite a bit more of Buddy on tenor, as well as, on alto sax, flute and clarinet, because shortly after I purchased the Crown LP, he began appearing regularly at Jazz City with his own quintet with Gerald Wilson [tp], Al Viola [g], Wilfred Meadowbrooks [b] and Earl Palmer [d].

As is recounted in the excerpt below which is taken from Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles an oral history project which has also been published by the University of California Press, Buddy was very instrumental in the integration of Local 767 [black] into Local 47 [white] of the AFL-CIO American Federation of Musicians.

Over the years, Buddy became a fixture at the Vine Street Hollywood office of Local 47. He would drop into rehearsals at one of the halls available there for this purpose, lead and perform with his own group to raise money for the union’s Trust Fund [whose mission is to provide live instrumental programs of high quality as a free, public service] and serve the organization in various administrative capacities.

Buddy was especially generous with his time in encouraging young musicians by conducting clinics at local highs schools and teaching on the faculties of a number of prominent, Los Angeles area colleges and universities.

Not surprisingly, Buddy’s music always reflected his warm personality and dignified bearing.

And as a studio musician, Buddy led by example: he showed up on time, was courteous to all around him and just “nailed’ whatever he was playing on whatever instrument.

The first time I met him, I had just passed the test and audition to gain my musicians’ union card and was exiting the building along with two friends who had done the same.

Buddy saw us coming, held the door open and, guessing at the reason for our high spirits said to us as we passed him, “Be good to the music, now.”

When these same friends and I went to see him perform with his quintet later that year at Jazz City, he recognized us, came back to our table, and honored our request to write out the “changes” for us to his tune Soft Touch.

My life would subsequently move in different directions that took me away from performing music, but some 25-years later I would be back at the union, this time to talk with its leadership about health and welfare benefits.

Buddy was there and when the meeting was over he came up to me and asked if I was still playing!
After visiting for a while with Buddy, I went home and dug out my copy of Little Band – Big Jazz: Conte Candoli All Stars.

While it played on the turntable [no CDs yet], I remember thinking how timeless the music was in terms of its gentle swing, the easy flow of its melodies and its well-constructed solos. The whole album just comes together almost effortlessly.

I’ll bet that Buddy presence had a lot to do with this: he was always “…good to the music.”

What follows are some of Peter Jacobson’s insert notes to Buddy’s Studio West album with vocalist Irene Krall [reissued on CD as V.S.O.P. #104], the aforementioned selections from Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles[pp. 154-159] describing Buddy's involvement with the amalgamation of Locals 767 & 47, and a video tribute to Conte Candoli which features another cut from Little Band – Big Jazz: Conte Candoli All Stars as its soundtrack [Mambo Diane].

© -Peter Jacobson, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“William Marcell Collette, better known as Buddy Collette, has been one of the most active reed men on the West Coast since World War II. Born in Los Angeles, August 6, 1921, he studied piano before turning to clarinet and saxophone in high school. Since then he has been one of the most accomplished multi-instrumentalists both in jazz and the Hollywood studios, displaying equal facility and remarkable technique on tenor and alto saxophone, flute and clarinet. This versatility was the result of an insatiable curiosity and constant drive to expand his musical horizons and abilities. He has studied at the Los Angeles Conservatory, the California Academy of Music, the American Operatic Laboratory and under many leading teachers including Merle Johnston, Martin Ruderman, Sorcorso Pirolo and Franklyn Marks. In addition to this impressive background, he has paid his dues in the many clubs and after hours joints on Central Avenue, on the road and in the Hollywood and Western Ave. jazz clubs of the fifties and sixties.

Beginning in the late 30's, Buddy Collette worked with various bands in and around Central Ave. He played with the Woodman Brothers, Cee Pee Johnson, Les Hite, among others, before joining the Naval Reserve in 1942. After the war, he helped organize a group with Charles Mingus and Lucky Thompson which never recorded. For the next few years, Buddy Collette undertook the rigorous and thorough musical training mentioned above, while backing up the Treniers and Louis Jordan, and performing with Gerald Wilson and Benny Carter, to name a few.

In 1950, he began working with the studio orchestra of Jerry Fielding which performed on the Grouch Marx show, remaining there until 1960. In 1956 he had joined Chico Hamilton in the first incarnation of the Chico Hamilton Quintet. Shortly thereafter, he formed his own band which, with personnel changes, he has kept together over many years, well into the late 1960's. Since the late 1950's Buddy Collette has been in great demand in the recording studios for sound track work and television shows. He has appeared on numerous recordings under his own name, with Chico Hamilton, Jimmy Giuffre, Barney Kessel, Red Norvo, Quincy Jones, Red Callender, and many others.”

© -Central Avenue Sounds Editorial Committee, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The Amalgamation of Local 767 and Local 47

“With gigs in Hollywood, jams on Central Avenue, and classes at schools such as the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music, Buddy started meeting more musi­cians from Local 47, the white union, who were also unhappy with segregated locals.
We thought about it, especially a bunch of the guys who had been in the service, and Mingus, who hadn't been in the military. We kept thinking, "Man, we'll never make it with two unions, because we're getting the leftovers." All the calls came to 47. Maybe now and then they might want a black band for a sideline call, where the music had been recorded and they wanted to show the black group. You'd wind up making a hundred dollars, maybe. That was a lot of money, but that may not happen for another year or two, while at Local 47 that was happening all the time. I knew it was because I was around those guys. I'd go to The Jack Smith Show with Barney Kessel and some other guys at other shows. A bunch of those guys would be doing this all the time, working those radio shows and things. They'd be pulling down maybe two or three hundred dollars a week. But it wasn't going to get better, I felt, with the two unions. That was a real shaft.

The actual beginning of the amalgamation, I'll give Mingus credit for that. He was always fighting the battle of the racial thing. He got a job with Billy Eckstine at the Million Dollar Theatre on Broadway. Mingus was the only nonwhite or black in the band. Since Billy Eckstine was a black leader, he figured, "Why couldn't there be a few blacks in there?" Mingus was the only one, and he let them know that he didn't like it. And he could be tough on you. Everybody in the band had to hear it every day: "You guys are prejudiced! You should have some more blacks. You could hire Buddy Collette there." So my name was being tossed around every day until the guys even hated me without knowing me!

I was finally invited down and I was curious about the band. We wanted to meet people that understood what we were talking about: the unions getting together, people getting together, stopping all this. I met their flutist, Julie Kinsler, who supported the idea and drummer Milt Holland. Milt said, "Man, we've been wanting to do this, too. I know about six or eight people that think just the way you guys do. We can get together and start meetings or something." Mingus and I lit up, because that was the first time we heard anybody who was really excited about it. The next day Mingus and I met with a few of the guys who felt the same way. They wanted to call a big meeting. I said, "Well, I don't think we should call a meeting, because the guys that I know, they don't like meet­ings too much." Instead, most of us had been studying for a few years and I said that we need a thing where we can learn the music, possibly like a symphony rehearsal orchestra together. Milt said, "If that's what you want, that's easy. I know all the people from that world." That was the beginning of the Community Symphony Orchestra.

We also wanted to make sure more blacks were placed in different circuits, because at that time we had only worked clubs. If we did play the Orpheum Theatre or the Million Dollar, it was in a black band or when an all-black show would be there. But the other shows, if they'd need twenty musicians, then blacks wouldn't get the call at all, no matter how good you were. It just didn't happen. So that was the idea: can we show that it can work? So Milt said, "Okay, get as many people as you can, then we'll fill in." Milt was beautiful, is still beautiful. So I got Bill Green, me, Britt Woodman, Jimmy Cheatham, John Ewing, Red Callen-der, and another little kid named James McCullough. That wasn't a big number, but those were the only people that we could say were in the right direction, who had probably enough behind them to take advantage of this thing and who were also interested in playing this kind of music. Mingus wasn't there. Didn't want to do symphony music. He always wanted to do his own stuff. He was with us in a way, but it wasn't his world.

So we scheduled a rehearsal and the excitement started mounting. People were on the phones trying to get people who just wanted to be there. "Interracial symphony? Let's do that." We got the top clarinetists and flutists. Later on we got Arthur Cleghorn, who was one of the finest flutists at that time. Joe Eger was a great French horn player. John Graas was classical, and into jazz with the French horn. A lot of enthusiasm. Some would approach our rehearsal like it was one they were getting paid for downtown. We had something like five flutists, when you only needed three. They just wanted to be there. The orchestra had about sixty-five pieces. The orchestra was at Humanist Hall, Twenty-third and Union, and then we moved every now and then to Hollywood, Le Conte Junior High School, near Sunset and Gower. This was just rehearsals, but people could come.

The first night we had a conductor who was world renowned, Eisler Solomon. And he was excited, he really was. That got us in the papers. The press was there snapping pictures like crazy. People were really buzz­ing. That first night we also had a black bass player named Henry Lewis. He was playing so good he sounded like three basses. Later on he got to be a conductor. He even conducted here for a while. A very fine talent. He was only about nineteen years old then. Later he married an opera singer, Marilyn Home. We had other great conductors, too. Peter Cohen, Dr. Al Sendry, Dr. Walker.

The orchestra kept getting better, and we began to publicize what we were doing. We had a board to set policy. We had meetings, and we wanted to let people know what the orchestra was about. The main aims were to bring about one union in L.A., black and white under the same roof.

Then somebody said, "We're doing okay on the classical. Why don't we concentrate on a jam session for the jazz, and we can also get more of the people who aren't in tune with jazz to also understand that part." So we had Monday night for classical, and then we got Sunday afternoon for jazz, and we'd invite the classical people. The Sunday built up really great. We had great jam sessions.

We then got a hold of "Sweets" Edison, who was working with Jose­phine Baker. We wanted to get her and some other names to appear on one of the Sunday afternoon things. She didn't have to perform, but come out publicly. So she was playing the RKO or one of the theaters down­town, and she agreed to come between shows. And that place, Humanist Hall, you could not believe it; we really exceeded the limit. The place could hold about two hundred people; we had about five hundred in there. When she got on stage, she said, "I wonder why you have two unions," something to that effect. "Well, I think it should be one, and I don't know why you people are wasting time. You've got all these beau­tiful people here." She just kept talking about how there was coming a time when people could work together. Bang! Zing! So finally she looks down in the audience, and there were two little girls, one black and one white, and they're about five years old. She knew when you've got some­thing to work, right? So she said, "You and you, come up here." And they both dance up on the stage, and she whispers. And they grabbed each other and they hugged like that and they wouldn't let go. And she winked. "These kids will show you how to do it" and walked out. And the crowd was [freezes in astonishment] great!

Later on we got to Nat King Cole. He was great and did the same thing for us. We got the Club Alabam and just had all the people in the world. Sinatra didn't do a thing for us, but he sent a statement saying, "Well, there should be one union."

We were building an organization of sorts. We'd get money for mail­ings and notified people. We got Marl Young and Benny Carter into it. But we had a few years of hard work before a lot of the guys came in. Part of it was rehearsals and the jam sessions, and there were meetings.

Then I ran for president of Local 767. You see, we had all the publicity and people were doing fine, but we didn't know how to pull it off. So the next thing would be, "Maybe we'll have to be officers so we can move it from that standpoint." Because our officers at the black local didn't want it. Our place was not a great union. The building was kind of tearing down and the pianos were terrible. We really didn't have that much. But, the way they thought, at least it was still ours. So we set up a whole slate and we ran. The incumbent guy beat me by about twenty votes out of about four hundred. We did win a couple of seats on the board of direc­tors. Marl Young, Bill Douglass, and John Anderson were running also, I think. But we still didn't have enough power.

Elections were every year in our local. So the next year we tried again. We ran Benny Carter for president and he lost to the same guy by the same number of votes I did. But this time I ran for the board and got in. Marl got in. Bill Douglass won the vice-president's spot. Now we got a little power underneath the president, who was Leo Davis, who was a nice man.

So we were able to move through resolutions and proposals toward a meeting with Local 47. And finally we got negotiations going. We pretty much had to drag 47 into it, because it finally got to the point where if we wanted it and they didn't, why didn't they want it? They were getting more members into the thing; we could work better together. But they stalled. James Petrillo, president of the American Federation of Musi­cians, stalled. A lot of people at 47 stalled. But the more it kept coming out that "Is it a racial thing or what is it?" they had to say, "Well, no, it's not that. We just don't know what to call it or how to do it or we can't because it's never been done before and . . ." So the big stall goes. In the meantime we're checking out information, too—how it could be done. Finally, they had no excuse.

It took about three years, but we brought the unions together in 1953. Looking back, the amalgamation helped a lot of musicians, gave them a better focus or a better picture of what they had to do to be on a more broad scope of understanding, not just the Central Avenue—type jobs. The ones who really benefited were the ones who wanted to have a suc­cessful career in music rather than just being a leader or somebody who has a record out. It began to make better players out of the good players, and the ones who weren't doing it had to decide to either back away or get serious. If somebody was just doing nightclubs, they were probably doing basically the same. But anybody who wanted to meet with people and experiment with different kinds of music and do studios and records and be like a top craftsperson, then I think they benefited a lot.

Plus there's better health and welfare, and pension benefits. It wasn't that we weren't doing it well with 767; it's just that it wasn't a big business thing over there. It was just kind of an afterthought. And it did allow some periods to be very lucrative for a lot of black musicians who were doing recording and shows through the years, shows like The Carol Burnett Show, The Danny Kaye Show, The Flip Wilson Show. Those shows began to hire people because they were all in the same union, and the word got around who could play, who couldn't. The other way we were isolated.

It was a step in the right direction. It wasn't designed to solve every­thing. It was trying to get people together. And maybe that's the hard thing, because thirty-five years later, people still have trouble getting to­gether. It was a great historical step, the first time there was an amalgamation in musicians unions. Since then, there were thirty or forty of the locals that followed our method of amalgamating. I think what we found in playing music and being in an artistic thing is that color is not very important; it s what the people can share with each other. And I can look back and say that if there were still black and white at these times, we'd have a lot of problems.