ANGLO AMERICAN EXCHANGE
ROLF ERICSON and
Talking in 1964
Hawdon: Well, Rolf, as they say in interviewshow did it all start?
Ericson: I started out when I was approximately eight years old, in the school bandin Sweden, of course. Then I heard Louis Armstrong andthis was around 1930Duke Ellington for the first time. So I tried more and more to play jazz. From working around as an amateur, I eventually got in to the professional side of it.
Hawdon: My first professional playing was in traditional bandsDixieland to you. I can still slip reasonably naturally back into the idiom.
Ericson: Ive never been involved with that style, but Ive done just about every kind of work you can imagine, so fareverything from ice shows to circus bands.
Hawdon: Thats one I havent donebut Ive no doubt itll be coming up very shortly, the way things are going! Those circus trumpet players really earn their money, too.
Ericson: Ive worked the Bop Hope Show, marching bands, Lester Laninand with all the bands there are. Everything possible.
Hawdon: Was it because you were interested in progressing professionally that you went to America? Had you realised that youd come up against some sort of stone wall?
Ericson: Yes, thats rightI did. I went there in 1947, when I was 25, for the sole purpose of music. And in such bands as Benny Carter, Benny Goodman, Charlie Barnet and Woody Herman I had to progress. At first it meant changing my whole approach to playing. Practically, I had to go to school again.
Hawdon: Before you were ever in the Ellington band, did you think about it the way I doas a sort of dictionary of big band jazz?
Ericson: I think its the dictionary of musicperiod. Definitely. Duke Ellington is like Debussy or anybody else in the Classical field.
Hawdon: I believe it was Clark Terry who suggested you, wasnt it?
Ericson: Well, actually, I was hired about three years before I got on the band. You see, at the time Clark Terry left the band and went into NBC, Duke called me up and said Clark had recommended me. He hired me, we agreed on a salaryand thats as far as it got. All of a sudden Duke was in Paris. I said: Ill hear from him soonsome day. But the time went on, and nothing happened. Then Duke came back, and I had a sudden call at my hotel to say they were leaving in two hours for a ten-day road trip. I just couldnt go with them then, because I was now contracted to Maynard Fergusonand we were going out that same day.
The next thing I knew was one day when I was playing a session with Gerry Mulligans band. Clark, for whom I was substituting, came running down and said: Do you know the band bus has left? I said: What band bus? He said: Dukethey were looking all over for you. Eventually, I gave my notice and left the Ferguson band, figuring: Im going with Duke Ellington. I got to New York, called Duke up and I said: Here I amIm ready. Duke said: Oh no\ Im sorry, Rolf, Ive hired too many trumpet players now. Cat Anderson just came back. So there I wasout of a job.
When they called me back from the band I had just signed to go on a State Department trip with Buddy Rich, so it was my turn to say Sorry again. Next timeI was doing very well in New York, and I decided I didnt want to go out on the road. Finally, things began to slacken up a little and, when they asked me, I joined the band.
Hawdon: Ive heard some marvellous stories about the state of the parts, though I dont think they could be any worse than some of mine.
Ericson: I had to figure out my own parts, really. And it takes time. Some parts arent there, so you have to do a little guesswork here and there about what the notes are. You have to feel the music. Theres three or four months of confusion before you even know whats going to happen next.
Hawdon: I dont imagine the parts tested your technical skill too much. Not like the Ferguson band, for instance.
Ericson: Not really, but thats such a different field. Dukes band is more of an emotional affair. You have to have a good quality of sound and a good feeling for music, you knowmore than just the mechanical requirements. It takes a natural musician to play with this band.
Hawdon: I enjoyed your feature on Perdido. Have you been playing flugelhorn for long?
Ericson: Only about 2½ years. It took me two or three months to get familiar with the horn. Then I fell in love with it.
Hawdon: Lovely instrument, isnt it? And a lot less work than a trumpet.
Ericson: Yes, you dont have to play loud on high notes.
Hawdon: Its not as flexible as trumpet and the range is very small in comparison. I was playing it all the time when I first had it. I dont think I touched the trumpet for about a year. That was with the Don Rendell Sextet in 1954. Ronnie Ross was in the group. Hed just taken up baritone. We found that tenor, baritone and flugelhorn was a much easier blend. Its like a trumpet with a bucket, slightly, isnt it? After that, when I came back to trumpetI really found it hard graft.
Ericson: Its funnyI found I was recording more with flugelhorn than trumpet in New York. I started playing it more or less for my own personal kicks. And all of a sudden I was getting most work on it. Have you heard of Dan Terrys band? I did quite a lot of work and recording with him around New York. He used four sopranos, five saxophones, flugelhorn and four trombones.
Hawdon: Its hard to get four soprano saxophones in tune, isnt it?
Ericson: It was terrible. But they sounded beautiful on the recordings.
Hawdon: You can play a flugelhorn with other instruments, whereas a trumpet nearly always sticks out a bit.
Ericson: It blends better, and it fits very good with ballads and pretty things.
Hawdon: One big difference between your work and mine is the touring aspect. There arent any bands actually touring over here now. Its not a business proposition any more. For instance, this weekend Im staying out of town one nightand its only about the second occasion this year. I havent been away from home more than three nights in fourteen months.
Ericson: Really? Thats marvellous. Thatll never happen in the States. Ive been lucky in that respect. Since Ive been on the band weve made several State Department tours. On the first one we were five weeks in Swedena free trip home.
Hawdon: Did you notice any great changes in the scene there?
Ericson: Ive been back quite a few times, but these last two years its been very disappointing musically. I was part of that big movement in the forties, when there was so much enthusiasm among the musicians. I think you must have had the same thing here in England.
Hawdon: Of course, you dont realise at the time whats happening. Its only afterwards that you look back and see what it all was.
Ericson: You come back and see the rock n rollers there with their guitars, and you realise how the whole picture has changed.
Hawdon: Later you took some part in the West Coast movement, didnt you?
Ericson: Well, when Shorty Rogers band left the Lighthouse in California we came in with a new band in his place. Max Roach was the drummer. We took over the scene of the old people, who had been there about four years at that time.
Hawdon: Would you say you helped .to bring in a more hard-blowing approach?
Ericson: I think we did. But I was kind of confused in those early days. I hadnt found myself. I didnt know where I was going, really. Because there was a certain way of playing out thereand if you didnt play like that you werent really accepted. And I couldnt fit into that at all.
Hawdon: Did you do any studio work while you were in Hollywood?
Ericson: No, I wanted to get into that, but I didnt. I tried my bestbut I failed some way along the line. I think it was more political than musical, actually.
Hawdon: Yes, theres a lot of people failing to get into it over here, too.
Ericson: I know. That whole situation isnt based upon artistic merit, talent or anything. Its based on who you know, which contractor happens to take a fancy to you, and how long youve been in that business. The same set-up exists in New York basically, too.
Hawdon: One comforting thought is that most of our top session trumpet players in this country were very good jazz players at one time or another.
Ericson: Thats true. But then, when you try to get into studio work they usually stamp you as a jazz playerand thats thumbs down on what you can do. If youre known as a jazz player you dont get studio work.
Hawdon: I wouldnt say that its quite that fierce over here, though I do know what you mean, because Ive had the tag on me, too.
Ericson: Ive had people say to me: I thought you just wanted to go out and blow somewhere. I didnt know you were interested in playing this kind of music. But a trumpet player is a trumpet player.
Hawdon: Though I havent seen America, I did see New York when I went over to do the Newport Festival with Johns band. On the whole, I dont think Id care to live and work there.
Ericson: Well, it sort of grows on you, and you find your place. But the pace is extremely fast. You cant just sit home and wait for the phone to ring. You have to go to this bar and this bar and this bar. And you have to drink in all these bars, and meet everybody every day during the whole week. You have to be seen on the sceneit has to be known that youre in town, and available. Also, you have to be at the right place at the right time. If luck is with you, you make it. If notyou can still hang around. And you can get pretty drunk, too.
Hawdon: Its not really the same here. People ought to go around and meet one another, but there are no specific places.
Ericson: In New York we have four or five places where all the musicians go. On 48th Street they have Jim n Andys. All the working musicians get together there. In there and youll see dark Terry, Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Simseverybody you can name in the recording field. You have to know the schedule of these bars to get to see any particular man. Maybe some contractor will be there, and all of a sudden a job will come up. Theyll say: Any trumpet players around?, and if you happen to be there you can get your horn and go to the session. Thats happened to me a lot of times. But its so competitive because there are so many good musicians around that can sit down and play anything.
Hawdon: Thats the thing. Youve got to get yourself in a position where you dont care what it isyou can just go and sit down, knowing very well that youre going to make a damn good job of it.
Ericson: And theres no excuse if you dont. If you fail one timeyoure out for another two years. You not only have to make it the first timeyou have to do a better job with the parts than the other guy. Of course, theres hundreds and thousands of bad players around, but theres still a huge supply of good players. But this does you good, I think. The competition forces you to make yourself the best. You have to practise and study. If you want a certain thing its up to you to go out and get it.
Hawdon: The question is whether it becomes simply a calculated commercial matter. I mean, you always start off playing because you like it, and for no other reason. I know lots of people who dont like it nowIm not one of them.
Ericson: Unluckily, after a while it becomes business too much. I guess it has to, because you have to make a living, too.
Hawdon: Yes, thats the main drawback about the whole thing.
Ericson: Thats the worst part of it. When youre working in a band it becomes just work at times. Other times its a lot more than that.
Hawdon: It certainly has its magic moments.
Ericson: Thats why we stay in music, isnt it?