Friday, January 29, 2016

Terri Lynn Carrington

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

“I gravitate to this kind of drumming. It doesn't feel lick-oriented. It feels organic, open, like you're playing off what you're hearing, as opposed to things in your repertoire.”
Terri Lyne Carrington

There are two things about the following Blindfold Test by drummer Terri Lyne Carrington that especially impressed me: [1] she nailed the identity of all but one of the drummers and [2] she describes their respective drumming styles with a vocabulary that is fresh, inventively descriptive while at the same time being expressively clear for those who are not conversant with drum speak.

“Drummer, composer, producer and Grammy winner Terri Lyne Carrington bedrocks her forward-looking musical output with an exhaustive knowledge of the roots and branches of jazz, world music and technology. She plays an array of instruments on her new CD, The Mosaic Project: Love And Soul (Concord).” [Ted Panken]

This is her first Blindfold Test. It was conducted by Ted Panken and appears in the February 2016 edition of Downbeat.

I have underlined those portions of Terri’s impressions that I found to be particularly new, different and helpful as descriptions of each drummer’s style of playing.

Ali Jackson

"Ali Got Rhythm" (Amalgamations, Sunnyside, 2013) Jackson, drums; Aaron Goldberg, piano; Carlos Henriquez, bass.

It's swinging hard. Something in the ride cymbal pattern reminds me of Ali Jackson. I love his forward motion on the beat. It doesn't feel rushed, but it's real edgy. I tend to play more behind the beat than that, but I appreciate when somebody does it well. Usually I'd rather listen to something that was done when the style was fresh, cutting-edge, pushing a boundary, but musicians who preserve a style from another time period are playing an important role. 31/2 stars overall; 41/2 for Ali, because I could pick up his ride cymbal.

Kendrick Scott

"Never Catch Me" (We Are The Drum, Blue Note, 2015) Scott, drums; John EIlis, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Mike Moreno, guitar, Taylor Eigsti, Fender Rhodes; Joe Sanders, bass.

The toms and snare sound like Kendrick Scott, but the bass drum sounds heavier than Kendrick's. Some things remind me of Eric Harland, and there's a beat I've heard Jamire Williams play — there's a school of drumming that's pulled from the same sources. I enjoyed the counterpoint between the two melodies. I like the piano sound. The drums are featured, but aren't overwhelming. It's nice to hear something in 4. So much music now is in odd time signatures, which I like playing, too— but you have to balance it. I would buy this track for sure. 4 stars, [after] Kendrick's playing has grown. His articulation, ideas, everything feels more intentional.

Jeff "Tain" Watts

"Brilliant Corners" (Blu, Vol. 1, Dark Key, 2015) Watts, drums; Troy Roberts, tenor saxophone; David Budway, piano; Neal Caine, bass.

Jeff Watts. From the first beat. Jeff has a distinctive way he plays that swing-funk thing. His triplet is very distinct. With the metric modulations, the tune sounds like either something by [Thelonious] Monk that he arranged or wrote in Monk's style as a tribute. I'm not crazy about the sound of the recording, though it has a certain rawness I like, with everyone playing in a room. At one point, he started playing a hi-hat, and it was overwhelming. I don't know who the tenor player is, but he sounded great. The piano solo was great. 4 stars. The playing is strong enough that I can get past the sound.

Antonio Sanchez

"Fall" (Three Times Three, CamJazz, 2014) Sanchez, drums; John Scofield, guitar; Christian McBride, bass.

That's Antonio. That little sound, the bell, [bass solo] During the ostinato, I couldn't tell it was Christian, but the solo tells me. It sounds amazing. I'm used to hearing Sco play more lines; this is a pastoral sound. Antonio is playing very cinematically and texturally. I love the sound of the recording and his drums—full and powerful, so balanced. 5 stars. The song itself sucks you in; it isn't over-arranged, and it's the right combination of players. Antonio masterfully took up the right amount of space without overplaying. What he played was tasty, but also meaningful.

Lewis Nash

"Y Todavia La Queiro" (The Highest Mountain, Cellar Live, 2012} Nash, drums; Jimmy Greene, tenor saxophone; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Renee Rosnes, piano; Peter Washington, bass.

That song took me back. At first I wasn't sure it was Lewis Nash, with the fingers on the drums (though I've seen him do that), but I knew it was him when he picked up the sticks. He's steeped in the bebop tradition, and plays it in a way that sounds modern and has an excitement factor. It's the ferocity he puts on the tempo, undeniable, like a train. The track is a drum feature, done live, and it's so well-executed ... just great drumming. He's a master at what he does. 4l/2 stars.

Myra Melford

"First Protest" (Snowy Egret, Enja-Yellowbird, 2015) Melford, piano; Tyshawn Sorey, drums; Ron Miles, trumpet; Liberty Ellman, guitar; Stomu Takeishi, bass guitar.

The drummer likes Jack Dejohnette. The sound of the snare makes me think of Brian Blade, though it's a little more on top, and the ride cymbal is brighter. I gravitate to this kind of drumming. It doesn't feel lick-oriented. It feels organic, open, like you're playing off what you're hearing, as opposed to things in your repertoire. When the piece started, the piano soloing with the drums, I thought it would stay in the vein of contemporary classical musicians who also improvise, but then it entered an area where I heard M-Base inflections—someone who has gone through that camp or been influenced by it. I like the loosey-goosey effect in this player's groove as opposed to some others from that school. 4 stars.

Brad Mehldau/MarkGiuliana

"Luxe" (Mehliana, Nonesuch, 2014) Mehldau, synthesizers, keyboards; Giuliana, drums, electronics.

I'd never heard Brad play electronic instruments; I'd never know it was him if I didn't know the record. I like it. Some elements remind me of Weather Report, a little Joe Zawinul creeping in. Mark is a strong, well-rounded drummer. I like the minimalism of the groove: I only heard the toms a few times in the piece, and he really held my interest with just the kick-snare and a hi-hat in the pattern, [keeping] a relentless feeling to the groove while improvising inside of it. His choices never took away from what's making me dance to the track. I like the '70s lope that pops into the beat. 4 stars.                                                        

Monday, January 25, 2016

Bill Evans - Intellect, Emotion, Communication - By Don Nelsen

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

At the time of its publication in the December 8, 1960 edition of Down Beat, Don Nelsen was a 34-year-old feature writer for the New York News, for which newspaper he also wrote well informed jazz reviews. In 1959, he received his M.A., specializing in medieval literature and was at work on his Ph.D. He "studied trumpet privately for two years, and I still practice safely out of earshot of professional musicians." This article on Bill Evans was his first for Down Beat.

It reflects a tranquil Bill Evans, one who had not as yet been besieged by The Time of Troubles which was to be the recurring theme in his life from 1960 until his death in 1980.

The photographs that accompany the essay show a big, broad-shouldered Bill; a man who appears to be healthy and happy with his lot in life.

Bill had recently left the Miles Davis Sextet and formed his trio with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums.

About seven months later, in July, 1961, Scott LaFaro was killed in an automobile accident.

By December, 1961, one year after this piece was published, Bill would be a shell of his former self. Ravaged by an addiction to heroin and an inconsolable depression brought on by Scotty’s death.

As Mr. Nelsen notes in his opening sentence, Bill may not have had a “miserable childhood,” but Life certainly brought him some heavy burdens to bear after that such that he was dead at the age of 51.

December 8, 1960

“It may distress believers in the jazzman legend, but the truth is that Bill Evans has become one of the most creative modern jazz musicians without benefit of a miserable childhood. With candor, he said:

"I was very happy and secure until I went into the army. Then I started to feel there was something I should know that I didn't know."

If the 31-year-old pianist upsets a few cherished illusions about the origins of jazz musicians, he demolishes another held by many jazzman themselves and fondly nurtured by the hippy fringe: that a jazzman must be interested only in jazz.

Evans is no such intellectual provincial. For one thing, he does not believe that jazz—or even music as a whole— necessarily holds the key to the "something" he began searching for in the army. His basic attitude is that music is not the end most jazzmen make it. It is only a means.

A glance into Evans' library provides an indication of what his mind is up to. The diversity of titles shows how many avenues he has explored to reach his "something"— Freud, Whitehead, Voltaire, Margaret Meade, Santayana, and Mohammed are here, and, of course, Zen. With Zen, is Evans guilty of intellectual fadism, since everyone knows that Kerouac, Ginsberg & Co. holds the American franchise on Oriental philosophy? Evans waved a hand in resignation and said:

"I was interested in Zen long before the big boom. I found out about it just after I got out of the army in 1954. A friend of mine had met Aldous Huxley while crossing from England, and Huxley told him that Zen was worth investigating. I'd been looking into philosophy generally so I decided to see what Zen had to say. But literature on it was almost impossible to find. Finally, I was able to locate some material at the Philosophical library in Manhattan. Now you can get the stuff in any drugstore.

"Actually, I'm not interested in Zen that much, as a philosophy, nor in joining any movements. I don't pretend to understand it. I just find it comforting. And very similar to jazz. Like jazz, you can't explain it to anyone without losing the experience. It's got to be experienced, because it's feeling, not words. Words are the children of reason and, therefore, can't explain it. They really can't translate feeling because they're not part of it. That's why it bugs me when
people try to analyze jazz as an intellectual theorem. It's not. It's feeling."

Such a manifesto may pain the academicians of jazz, but Evans is no pedant with a B-plus critical faculty. He is an intellectual in the true spirit of the word: an intelligent inquirer. His flights into philosophy and letters spring not from the joy of scholarly exercise but from the fierce need to comprehend himself. It is this need, whipped by surging inner tensions, that has driven him to Plato, Freud, Thomas Merton, and Sartre. It is responsible for his artistry on the one hand and his erudition on the other. The former has enabled him to catheterize his emotions; the latter has given him the opportunity to understand them. Hence his great emphasis on feeling as the basis of art.

Undoubtedly, the four years he lived in New Orleans and attending Southeastern Louisiana college had much to do with shaping this emphasis. It certainly exerted a powerful influence on his personality and playing. He himself admits it was the happiest period of his life.

"It was the happiest," he said, "because I had just turned 17, and it was the first time I was on my own. It's an age when everything makes a big impression, and Louisiana impressed me big. Maybe it's the way people live. The tempo and pace is slow, 1 always felt very relaxed and peaceful. Nobody ever pushed you to do this or say that.

"Perhaps it's due to a little looser feeling about life down there. Things just lope along, and there's a certain inexplicable indifference about the way people face their existence. I remember one time I was working in a little town right near the Mississippi border. Actually, it wasn't a town. It was a roadhouse with a few tourist cabins out back and another roadhouse about a half-mile up the highway. There didn't seem to be much law there. Gambling was open and thriving. I worked at the first place for months, and I never saw any police. Well, the night after I had left to take a job in the saloon up the road, a man walked in and pointed a .45 at another fellow. As I heard it from a friend, all he said was, 'Buddy, I hear you're foolin' aroun' with my wife,' and Bang! That was all. The second guy fell dead. As far as I know, nobody ever gave it another thought, and nothing was ever done.

"Still, there was a kind of freedom there, different from anything in the north. The intercourse between Negro and white was friendly, even intimate. There was no hypocrisy, and that's important to me. I told this to Miles (Davis) when I was working with him and asked him if he understood what I meant. He said he did. I don't mean that the official attitude is sympathetic or anything like that. Some very horrible things go on down there. But there are some good things, too, and the feel of the country is one of them."

Bill absorbed this feel not only by living there but also by gigging around New Orleans and the rural areas almost nightly. One job took him and his fellow Casuals (the name of the band suited these collegiate artistes to a man) far into the country. After turning off the main highway, they headed up a road, which appeared to have been paved with the contents of vacuum cleaner bags. Small tornadoes of choking grit swirled around them as they pushed along. Each time another car passed, the windows were closed tight to fend off suffocation. They were beginning to taste the Grapes of Wrath in their dust-parched throats when they sighted their target after about an hour.

"It was a church in the middle of a field," Evans recalled. "A boxlike structure about 40 x 20 with nondescript paint on the outside and none on the inside. It was more like a rough clubhouse than a church. I think they built it themselves."

"Themselves" were the 70-odd folk who had hired the Casuals to play for their outdoor do. "You wondered where the hell they came from because you couldn't see any houses around," Evans said.

The bandstand where they were to play was one of those little round summer pavilions you see in films like Meet Me in St. Louis when the town band plays concerts in the park. This one was fenced around with chicken wire.

"It was a dance job," the pianist said. "We played three or four tunes for them, and then blew one for ourselves. They didn't seem to mind. Everyone had a ball. The women cooked the food — it was jambalaya — and served it from big boards. Everything was free and relaxed. Experiences like these have got to affect your music."

Apparently they have affected Bill's, and all to the good, because his playing has caused much nodding of heads among musicians, critics, and fans for the last couple of years. Yet he scoffs at people who claim to hear two or three specific influences in a musician's playing.

"A guy is influenced by hundreds of people and things," he said, "and all show up in his work. To fasten on any one or two is ridiculous. I will say one thing, though. Lennie Tristano's early records impressed me tremendously. Tunes like Tautology, Marshmallow, and Fishin' Around. I heard the fellows in his group building their lines with a design and general structure that was different from anything I'd ever heard in jazz. I think I was impressed by Lee (Konitz) and Warne (Marsh) more than by Lennie, although he was probably the germinal influence. I guess it was the way Lee and Warne put things together that impressed me."

It was the way Evans put things together that brought him to the attention of his fellow craftsmen. In New York less than five years, he has worked with such as Charles Mingus and Miles Davis, who pick their bandstand associates with care and discrimination. Obviously,

Evans has the touch. But he is still not satisfied with his playing and, because he is an artist, it is doubtful that he ever will be.

"I once heard this trumpet player in New Orleans who used to put down his horn and comp at the piano," he said. "When he did, he got that deep, moving feeling I've always wanted, and it dragged me because I couldn't reach it. I think I've progressed toward it, but I'm always looking to reflect something that's deeper than what I've been doing."

What he is seeking to reflect came out in a conversation about William Blake, the 18th century poet, painter, and mystic. Evans had found that Blake's poetry was a sort of intellectual orgasm. Bill, in describing Blake's art, defined what he was looking for in his own:

"He's almost like a folk poet, but he reaches heights of art because of his simplicity. The simple things, the essences, are the great things, but our way of expressing them can be incredibly complex. It's the same thing with technique in music. You try to express a simple emotion — love, excitement, sadness — and often your technique gets in the way. It becomes an end in itself when it should really be only the funnel through which your feelings and ideas are communicated. The great artist gets right to the heart of the matter. His technique is so natural it's invisible or unbearable. I've always had good facility, and that worries me. I hope it doesn't get in the way."

Even a cursory hearing will indicate that the Evans struggle for simple beauty is not without its triumphs. When he plays, it is like Hemingway telling a story.
Extraneous phrases are rare. The tale is told with the strictest economy, and when it is over, you are tempted to say, "Of course. It's so simple. Why didn't I think of that?" He is, in essence, a synecdochist, an artist who implies as much as he plays. And moving all his music, coloring every note, is that deep, rhythmic, almost religious feeling that is the seminal force of jazz.

It was perhaps these qualities that recommended Evans to Miles Davis after the trumpeter lost the services of Red Garland. The move was somewhat of a departure for Miles. Indeed, there were rumbles in some quarters that the color of Bill's skin automatically depreciated his value to the group. But Davis knew what he was doing. The association was a successful one for both.

Bill worked with Miles for about eight months and quit. Just why has mystified a good many persons in the jazz arena. He was playing with one of the most respected musicians in jazz and getting a $200 a week salary. The job meant not only inestimable prestige but a rare opportunity to improve artistically. Bill's explanation of the parting is, like his music, a simple statement of how he felt:

"At the time I thought I was inadequate. I wanted to play more so that I could see where I was going. I felt exhausted in every way — physically, mentally, and spiritually. I don't know why. Maybe it was the road. But I think the time I worked with Miles was probably the most beneficial I've spent in years, not only musically but personally. It did me a lot of good."

Upon leaving the Davis group, he flew to Ormond Beach, Fla., to see his parents. "And think," he said. He stayed there three weeks, mostly relaxing and playing golf, which he had learned as a boy in Plainfield, N. J., where he was born and schooled.

His father, now retired, owned a driving range, and Bill and his brother, Harry, were frequent customers and ball shaggers. According to Bill, Harry was good enough to be a pro — he played in the 70s — but music pulled him as strongly as it did his brother. Harry still lives in Baton Rouge, not too far from where he and Bill went to college together, teaching music in public school and playing three or four gigs a week.

Florida retreat was a productive one. By the time Bill was ready to return to New York in November of 1958, he had cleared some of the fog from his brain and shot a 41 on his last nine holes. Both accomplishments brought him a certain measure of satisfaction, and he came back to grapple with his music problems.

His method of doing this is a familiar one to artists whether they are musicians, writers, painters, or mathematicians. He concentrates on his stone wall intensely and when he breaks through, he explores the new terrain beyond for about six months. Then he gets bored and, as new problems are born, he abandons it to go through the same process.

"I wish it were easier," he said.

For the man who wishes to create, however, there can be no other way. He may hate the time he spends at it and fear that he may not be able to succeed; he may give up in disgust a hundred times, but he goes through with it anyway, because, in the summing up, nothing slakes the artistic thirst except the satisfaction of its own work well done. Yet Evans has some reservations concerning the sustained intensity with which an art should be pursued.

"Sometimes it can happen that you see everything in terms of music," he said. "It's like a fixation. You can't help it. I get that way every time I'm trying to work something out. But it's bad if you can't pull out of it. Nothing should be that dominating. If it is, it is perverted."

Because he respects his craft so deeply, he abhors those who would degrade it through a distorted loyalty. He looks with fascinated horror upon the hippies who try to live something they aren't.

"They live their full lives on the fringe of jazz and yet miss its essence entirely," he said. "They take the neuroses that are integral in every art and blow them up to where they're the whole thing. Do you remember the Platonic dialog in which Socrates argues the definition of wisdom with Hippocrates? As far as I'm concerned, Hippocrates was the first hippy, a guy who was smug because he thought he knew something. Socrates was wise because he realized how little he knew."

Bill's way of life is consonant with his anti-hipster philosophy. Jazz jargon constitutes a small factor in his lexicon. "Dig" and "man" he uses frequently, but overindulgence in hip talk, to him, is an "excuse for thinking." His clothes are just about what's in fashion, he shaves every morning, and his Manhattan apartment is a three-room piece of ordinary.

A bed, a few chairs, and a kitchen table is the furniture complement, all of it thoroughly bourgeois. A piano takes up half the living room. There is a hi-fi set and a television set, the latter of which he sits before almost every afternoon to apprise himself of the sports scene. He has some 50 books in two bookcases, but only two paintings decorate his walls. One, by Gwyneth Motian, wife of his drummer, Paul Motian, is a small but extremely effective abstraction. The other, by himself, is an attempt at design. It's terrible, but this has not stopped him. He continues to paint with this as his credo: "I can be as good as Klee at least."

His view of his piano playing is more in accord with reality. He is no longer the confused youngster whose feelings about music were badly shaken by the military psychology of the army.

"I took everything personally, because I thought I was wrong," he said. "I was attacked by some guys for what I believed and by musicians who claimed I should play like this pianist or that. Pretty soon I lost the confidence I had as a kid. I began to think that everything I did was wrong. Now I'm back to where I was before I went in the army. I don't give much of a damn now what anybody thinks. I'll do what I think should be done."

He is doing it with his own trio, featuring Motian and bassist Scott LeFaro. So far, he is fairly happy with the results and said, "If there is any dissatisfaction with the group, it's only with myself."

The question of whether a group of musicians who play together continually tend to become stale and/or rigid in their attitudes is one of individual capacity, Bill said.

"As a leader, it's my role to give direction to the group," he said, "and Paul and Scott have indicated that they are more comfortable in the trio than anywhere else.

Does a group get stale? It all depends on whether there is continuing stimulation, whether all the musicians concerned want to share each other's progress. As for myself, I want to grow, but I don't want to force it. I want to play as good as I can, not necessarily as different. I am not interested in consciously changing the essence of my music. I would rather have it reveal itself progressively as I play. Ultimately, what counts is its essential quality, anyway, and differences vanish in a short time.

"What is most important is not the style itself but how you are developing that style and how well you can play within it. You can definitely be more creative exploring specific things within a style. Sometimes Paul, Scott, and I play the same tune over and over again. Occasionally, everything falls in right, and we think it's sensational. Of course, it may not mean much to a listener at the time, but, then, most people in clubs don't listen closely anyway."

Up until now, the trio has been a unit for many months and acceptance is, in general, high. The fellows are not playing as many gigs as they might wish, but they are not starving. Evans himself puts no restrictions on the type of club they'll work.

"We'll play anywhere that people will listen," he said.

That should be just about everywhere."                 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Coltrane on Coltrane - Don DeMichael

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

“The first occasion I had to speak with John Coltrane at length was during his recent engagement at the Sutherland hotel [Sutherland Jazz Lounge, Chicago, IL]. In our initial conversation I was struck by his lack of pretentiousness or false pride. The honesty with which he answered questions  —  questions that other musicians would have evaded or talked around — impressed me deeply. We discussed my doing an article about him. But when I saw how really interested he was in setting the record straight, I suggested that we do the piece together.

As it turned out, Coltrane did the vast majority of the work, struggling as most writers do with just the right way of saying something, deciding whether he should include this or that, making sure such and such was clear. The results of his labor is the article appearing on these pages. The words and ideas are John's—I merely suggested, typed, and arranged.”                 

In considering a source for new material for the blog, I suddenly realized that Don DiMichael, a Jazz writer who taught me so much about the music and how to appreciate it, has had too few “appearances” on these pages . The following essay is one attempt to rectify that omission. There will be more of Don’s writings on JazzProfiles in the near future.

The following “interview” is probably one of the first that John Coltrane gave after leaving trumpeter Miles Davis to form his own quartet which finds McCoy Tyner having recently replaced Steve Kuhn but some months before bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones joined John to form the legendary Coltrane Quartet.

Up until his death in July 1967, John rarely give detailed interviews preferring to let his music speaks for itself: “it’s all in the music, he would say”

If you want to know how Coltrane did what he did to achieve what Ira Gitler termed his “sheets of sound,” I doubt that you’ll uncover a better explanation than the one he gave to Don DiMichael in the following essay.

By JOHN COLTRANE in collaboration with Don DeMicheal
September 29, 1960, Downbeat

“I've been listening to jazzmen, especially saxophonists, since the time of the early Count Basie records, which featured Lester Young. Pres was my first real influence, but the first horn I got was an alto, not a tenor. I wanted a tenor, but some friends of my mother advised her to buy me an alto because it was a smaller horn and easier for a youngster to handle. This was 1943.

Johnny Hodges became my first main influence on alto, and he still kills me. I stayed with alto through 1947, and by then I'd come under the influence of Charlie Parker. The first time I heard Bird play, it hit me right between the eyes. Before I switched from alto in that year, it had been strictly a Bird thing with me, but when I bought a tenor to go with Eddie Vinson's band, a wider area of listening opened up for me.

I found I was able to be more varied in my musical interests. On alto, Bird had been my whole influence, but on tenor I found there was no one man whose ideas were so dominant as Charlie's were on alto. Therefore, I drew from all the men I heard during this period. I have listened to about all the good tenor men, beginning with Lester, and believe me, I've picked up something from them all, including several who have never recorded.

The reason I liked Lester so was that I could feel that line, that simplicity. My phrasing was very much in Lester's vein at this time.

I found out about Coleman Hawkins after I learned of Lester. There were a lot of things that Hawkins was doing that I knew I'd have to learn somewhere along the line. I felt the same way about Ben Webster. There were many things that people like Hawk, Ben, and Tab Smith were doing in the '40s that I didn't understand but that I felt emotionally.

The first time I heard Hawk, I was fascinated by his arpeggios and the way he played. I got a copy of his Body and Soul and listened real hard to what he was doing. And even though I dug Pres, as I grew musically, I appreciated Hawk more and more.

As far as musical influences, aside from saxophonists, are concerned, I think I was first awakened to musical exploration by Dizzy Gillespie and Bird. It was through their work that I began to learn about musical structures and the more theoretical aspects of music.

Also, I had met Jimmy Heath, who, besides being a wonderful saxophonist, understood a lot about musical construction. I joined his group in Philadelphia in 1948. We were very much alike in our feeling, phrasing, and a whole lot of ways. Our musical appetites were the same. We used to practice together, and he would write out some of the things we were interested in. We would take things from records and digest them. In this way we learned about the techniques being used by writers and arrangers.

Another friend and I learned together in Philly — Calvin Massey, a trumpeter and composer who now lives in Brooklyn. His musical ideas and mine often run parallel, and we've collaborated quite often. We helped each other advance musically by exchanging knowledge and ideas.

I first met Miles Davis about 1947 and played a few jobs with him and Sonny Rollins at the Audubon ballroom in Manhattan. During this period he was coming into his own, and I could see him extending the boundaries of jazz even further. I felt I wanted to work with him. But for the time being, we went our separate ways.

I went with Dizzy's big band in 1949. I stayed with Diz through the breakup of the big band and played in the small group he organized later.

Afterwards, I went with Earl Bostic, who I consider a very gifted musician. He showed me a lot of things on my horn. He has fabulous technical facilities on his instrument and knows many a trick.

Then I worked with one of my first loves, Johnny Hodges. I really enjoyed that job. I liked every tune in the book. Nothing was superficial. It all had meaning, and it all swung. And the confidence with which Rabbit plays! I wish I could play with the confidence that he does.

"But besides enjoying my stay with Johnny musically, I also enjoyed it because I was getting firsthand information about things that happened 'way before my time. I'm very interested in the past, and even though there's a lot I don't know about it, I intend to go back and find out. I'm back to Sidney Bechet already.

Take Art Tatum, for instance. When I was coming up, the musicians I ran around with were listening to Bud Powell, and I didn't listen too much to Tatum. That is, until one night I happened to run into him in Cleveland. There were Art and Slam Stewart and Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown at a private session in some lady's attic. They played from 2:30 in the morning to 8:30 — just whatever they felt like playing. I've never heard so much music.

In 1955, I joined Miles on a regular basis and worked with him till the middle of 1957. I went with Thelonious Monk for the remainder of that year.

Working with Monk brought me close to a musical architect of the highest order. I felt I learned from him in every way — through the senses, theoretically, technically. I would talk to Monk about musical problems, and he would sit at the piano and show me the answers just by playing them. I could watch him play and find out the things I wanted to know. Also, I could see a lot of things that I didn't know about at all.

Monk was one of the first to show me how to make two or three notes at one time on tenor. (John Glenn, a tenor man in Philly, also showed me how to do this. He can play a triad and move notes inside it — like passing tones!) It's done by false fingering and adjusting your lip. If everything goes right, you can get triads. Monk just looked at my horn and "felt" the mechanics of what had to be done to get this effect.

I think Monk is one of the true greats of all time. He's a real musical thinker — there're not many like him. I feel myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him. If a guy needs a little spark, a boost, he can just be around Monk, and Monk will give it to him.

After leaving Monk, I went back to another great musical artist, Miles.

On returning, this time to stay until I formed my own group a few months ago, I found Miles in the midst of another stage of his musical development. There was one time in his past that he devoted to multi-chorded structures. He was interested in chords for their own sake. But now it seemed that he was moving in the opposite direction to the use of fewer and fewer chord changes in songs. He used tunes with free-flowing lines and chordal direction. This approach allowed the soloist the choice of playing chordally (vertically) or melodically (horizontally).

In fact, due to the direct and free-flowing lines in his music, I found it easy to apply the harmonic ideas that I had. I could stack up chords — say, on a C7, I sometimes superimposed an Eb7, up to an F#7, down to an F. That way I could play three chords on one. But on the other hand, if I wanted to, I could play melodically. Miles' music gave me plenty of freedom. It's a beautiful approach.

About this time, I was trying for a sweeping sound. I started experimenting because I was striving for more individual development. I even tried long, rapid lines that Ira Gitler termed "sheets of sound" at the time. But actually, I was beginning to apply the three-on-one chord approach, and at that time the tendency was to play the entire scale of each chord. Therefore, they were usually played fast and sometimes sounded like glisses [glissandos - a glide from one pitch to another].

I found there were a certain number of chord progressions to play in a given time, and sometimes what I played didn't work out in eighth notes. 16th notes, or triplets. I had to put the notes in uneven groups like fives and sevens in order to get them all in.

I thought in groups of notes, not of one note at a time. I tried to place these groups on the accents and emphasize the strong beats — maybe on 2 here and on 4 over at the end. I would set up the line and drop groups of notes — a long line with accents dropped as I moved along. Sometimes what I was doing clashed harmonically with the piano — especially if the pianist wasn't familiar with what I was doing — so a lot of times I just strolled with bass and drums.

I haven't completely abandoned this approach, but it wasn't broad enough. I'm trying to play these progressions in a more flexible manner now.

Last February, I bought a soprano saxophone. I like the sound of it, but I'm not playing with the body, the bigness of tone, that I want yet. I haven't had too much trouble playing it in tune, but I've had a lot of trouble getting a good quality of tone in the upper register. It comes out sort of puny sometimes. I've had to adopt a slightly different approach than the one I use for tenor, but it helps me get away — let's me take another look at improvisation. It's like having another hand.

I'm using it with my present group, McCoy Tyner, piano; Steve Davis, bass, and Pete LaRoca, drums. The quartet is coming along nicely. We know basically what we're trying for, and we leave room for individual development. Individual contributions are put in night by night.

One of my aims is to build as good a repertoire as I can for a band. What size, I couldn't say, but it'll probably be a quartet or quintet. I want to get the material first. Right now, I’m on a material search.

From a technical viewpoint, I have certain things I’d like to present in my solos. To do this, I have to get the right material. It has to swing, and it has to be varied. (I'm inclined not to be too varied.) I want it to cover as many forms of music as I can put into a jazz context and play on my instruments. I like Eastern music; Yusef Lateef has been using this in his playing for some time. And Ornette Coleman sometimes plays music with a Spanish content as well as other exotic-flavored music. In these approaches there's something I can draw on and use in the way I like to play.

I've been writing some things for the quartet — if you call lines and sketches writing. I'd like to write more after I learn more — after I find out what kind of material I can present best, what kind will carry my musical techniques best. Then I'll know better what kind of writing is best for me.

I've been devoting quite a bit of my time to harmonic studies on my own, in libraries and places like that. I've found you've got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light. I’m not finished with these studies because I haven't assimilated everything into my playing. I want to progress, but I don't want to go so far out that I can't see what others are doing.

I want to broaden my outlook in order to come out with a fuller means of expression. I want to be more flexible where rhythm is concerned. I feel I have to study rhythm some more. I haven't experimented too much with time; most of my experimenting has been in a harmonic form. I put time and rhythms to one side, in the past.

But I've got to keep experimenting. I feel that I’m just beginning. I have part of what I’m looking for in my grasp but not all.

I'm very happy devoting all my time to music, and I'm glad to be one of the many who are striving for fuller development as musicians. Considering the great heritage in music that we have, the work of giants of the past, the present, and the promise of those who are to come, I feel that we have every reason to face the future optimistically.”