HAYES: Do you do any kind of practising, Sal, to keep in shape
while you’re with Woody’s band?
NISTICO: Well, when I have time off, I appreciate it musicwise
to get out of a rut, man. You know what I mean? But when I practise, I usually
blow tunes and all that. But I think I’m going to try to get some books
again, and just practise that way. Then, when I go back to a small group,
I think it will be much better for me By practising technical things, it’ll
mean I’ve still got the horn together and my playing will be fresh.
HAYES: Yes, I never practised out of books, but I used to work
out runs, scales and arpeggios. The trouble with that is: you get ‘em all
off in all the different keys, and then you do tend to use that technique
NISTICO: It’s like getting your vocabulary together—and using
it on the gig. When you’ve become familiar with a thing,
then you can play it in different ways. But I don’t think you can
go right ahead. I know I can’t go right in and play what I hear every time.
HAYES: But, you know, I feel, in a lot of ways, that I’ve exhausted
that kind of thing, and I’ve got to try and get into something else. And
it’s very difficult to do that, isn’t it? You can’t just stop overnight
doing what you’ve been doing for nearly twenty years.
The way it’s going towards playing ‘free’ these days—like, listening
to Lee Konitz in Ronnie’s—I find that everything I’ve been practising over
the years is no help to me. In fact, it’s a restriction.
NISTICO: Yes, exactly. I know what you mean. I’m up against that
HAYES: Sometimes I find it best for a few days not to listen to
any music, not to play—just try and figure things out in your mind.
NISTICO: I agree. Because I fall in ruts, you know. After a while
my fingers start playing me.
HAYES: Automatic, sort of thing. I know—I get the same thing.
NISTICO: In a band it’s easy to fall into that.
HAYES: Oh, it is—in a big band. You’ve. got so many choruses, and
then the brass are going to come in behind you.
NISTICO: But I don’t even always know when they’re coming in! And
that’s a hangup.
HAYES: Yes, you don’t know when to build to the climax. And when
they come in, it’s so loud that automatically you’ve got to start screaming
about in the top register to try to get across.
NISTICO: Right—and it has nothing to do with what I was playing
before It’s hard. Especially when they expect a certain thing from you all
the time. But sometimes we like to play something else.
HAYES: It’s the same with me. We’ve got the same sort of problem.
We both like to play ballads, or any kind of thing, but we’re sort of stereotyped.
Everybody expects the tearup tempos all the time.
NISTICO: It can be a drag, man. It’s a lot of pressure.
HAYES: Yes. There was the time I went on a concert with the Quartet
at the Festival Hall. There were about two or three bands on before us—all
good groups—and they were all playing mainly fast loud things. We were closing
the first half, and everybody had overrun, so we didn’t have much time.
They didn’t want us to overrun, because Maynard was going on after the interval.
So I said: ‘Let’s play a ballad.’ So we went on, played a ballad, and it
went down very well. And they wrote it up and said I must have been sick!
NISTICO: That’s terrible, man. You’re sick because you play a ballad!
I mean—I’m not a real good ballad player like a lot of cats but there are
other things besides. Like some good tunes, medium things where you can
think and create. With me, it’s very rare that I can be that creative at
the fast tempo. It gets like turning on a faucet. I appreciate the fact
that Woody regards me as capable of carrying off those spots, but there
are some times that I go on the job and I might not be in that mood. But
everybody in a big band has to go through that.
HAYES: Oh, sure. That’s why it’s nice to be able to work with a
smaller group—especially if it’s your own, and you can go where you want
to, more or less. Although—you can’t always play the way you want to. I
remember working at Ronnie’s old club and trying to stretch out a bit. Sometimes
it came off, sometimes it didn’t. But Ronnie used to say people had complained
the numbers were too long—and they were probably right. Yet, at the new
club recently, I’ve heard Yusef, Sonny and Lee stretching right out—and
nobody says anything about that.
NISTICO: But, you know, Lee has always approached it that way.
I was talking to him the other night, and he said that he never had so much
pressure on him that he had to come across with a certain thing. He just
played from what he wanted to do. And now he’s got it together so well.
I know he fractured you the same as he did me.
HAYES: Oh—tremendous. I’ve never heard him play as good as this,
honestly. That sound of his—it’s beautiful. He’s got the top notes—the whole
thing. And those triplet things he gets into!
NISTICO: I played alto when I was younger, you know. I prefer that
part of the register in music. I like ‘cello, man. I always liked that lower
thing. But it’s harder to play tenor—phrasewise. You read some things
that Bird said, that he preferred the alto because the tenor was too big
for him to play the long phrases. But I think it can be done on tenor.
HAYES: Yes. I played alto a bit—probably not enough. I enjoyed
playing it, you know, but I could never—the intonation in the top register—whew!
Maybe it’s because you’re not used to hearing those things.
NISTICO: Exactly. That’s my problem, too.
HAYES: Do you play the baritone, Sal, at all?
NISTICO: I played baritone a couple of weeks with Slide Hampton—not
enough time for me to get into it. I liked the instrument because it was
novel but after a while—I couldn’t hear that low. I guess—maybe it’s because
I’ve played the tenor so long. Do you think that’s it, man?
HAYES: Yes, probably. Personally speaking—I just didn’t have enough
wind, I suppose!
NISTICO: My problem. I didn’t have the air control. But I think
your ear does get set—you want to get that close to your horn.
HAYES: There again, the tenor is pitched in B flat, while the alto
and the baritone are E flat. One good thing about it—everything you play
is in a different key, so that makes you think more. When you’ve got used
to playing a certain tune in B flat on the tenor for years and years—well,
you can’t always be fresh.
NISTICO: I agree completely, man.
HAYES: That’s why I enjoy playing the flute, because, although
the embouchure is difficult—it’s in concert pitch, and all that—the fingering’s
not so different, except up the top.
NISTICO: I’m told you play excellent vibes, Tubby. I never heard
HAYES: I used to play ‘em a lot. I don’t play ‘em very much these
NISTICO: How’d you get into that?
HAYES: Through Victor Feldman. When he was with Woody—he came over
here for a holiday, or something. It’s about ten years ago now. And we were
working together in a club in town. I used to stand there behind him, listening
all the time—and I fancied playing ‘em. So when he went back to the States,
I bought the instrument off him, that he was using, and I started playing.
But I just found that I didn’t have enough time. I’d go on a gig and by
the time I’d set the vibraphone up, plugged it in and got about a 340volt
shock all up my arm—my hands are covered in grease, I’m sweating—then I’ve
got to get the tenor out, and we’re on! And I’m exhausted In the end it
got to the stage where I used to set the bloody thing up—and play the tenor
all night! And then pack it all away again. I said: ‘What am I doing?’
NISTICO: Great. That’s a wild double, though!
HAYES: Another thing with that was—I started getting calls for
studio work But it wasn’t just playing the vibes. They said. Right, will
you bring a xylophone, a marimba, a glockenspiel.
NISTICO: Jeezus—you gotta hire a truck!
HAYES: I thought: ‘Well I think I’ll take up the flute’!
NISTICO: I can see you driving up in a truck, man, unloading all
that stuff! Later—right?
HAYES: Right So you’ve always played a Conn, eh?
NISTICO: Well, before that I had a Buescher. Which is a good sound
but boy, it’s a big feeling in the fingers, getting around it The Conn is
the same principle blowingwise—like, you blow and it feels like the
metal is spreading. That’s why I think it would take me some time to get
used to a Selmer. If I could do it, I think I would dig it, man—if I could
find a Selmer with a good sound like you’ve got you know.
HAYES: Yes I’ve practically always played a Selmer. A couple of
times, when I have played a Conn, I enjoy that sort of vibrant feeling,
as you say.
NISTICO: I think, maybe it only speaks so that you hear it better
yourself when you play it. Because I’ve heard cats with the Selmer, and
it sounds better out front. It seems to be more compact, or something. Dexter
has a Selmer now, man. Yes—he had an old 10M Conn, and went right to a Selmer.
That’s a big change. I was talking to Ronnie Scott about changing from Conn
to Selmer. He says it took him some time. Boy, he sure sounds good on it.
And Dexter sounds the same to me. Even Gene Ammons—he made the same change,
but he’s still got that old sound.
HAYES: Well I think basically your own sound comes through. To
yourself at first it may sound strange, but it must come round eventually.
I could never get on with a Conn, because I’ve got very small hands. I tried
a King for a while—it had a similar vibrancy to the Conn and yet had the
action of the Selmer. I liked it but I could not pitch the intervals—especially
if I was going from, say, a top E or F down to G, or .something like that
below. I gave it about two months try, but I just couldn’t play in tune
I don’t know why.
NISTICO: Johnny Griffin used to play a King—he sounded beautiful.
I heard Sonny’s playing a Buescher now. He got it from some guy who passed
away in Belgium. He wanted this horn real bad and took a special flight
over there to get it. But, of course he’s got a million horns I don’t know
how he does it man—trying all those different horns and mouthpieces every
night I could never do anything like that—it’s a little too much for me.
But, I mean, Sonny—he’s a fantastic musician. Like he knows the tenor inside
out, and he’s at that peak now where it doesn’t matter any more. He’s looking
for something. I love ‘Trane, but Sonny can generate so much swing, you
know. He gets around so good, man.
HAYES: Personally, if I’m happy with the horn I’ve got, the mouthpiece
the setup the reed and everything—then I’ve got enough problems trying
to create something different, playingwise, rather than keep messing
around changing mouthpieces, instruments and all that. I remember, whan
Sonny was first here last year, he gave Ronnie a mouthpiece. I’d had this
mouthpiece of mine for four or five years—I bought it off Dick Morrissey
before he went to India. So Ronnie went on to this one that Sonny gave him
and tried Ronnie’s mouthpiece, which was much more open than mine. The first
couple of nights I thought · ‘Yeah—this is it—whee!’ But there again your
same sound comes through eventually. And I found that I was struggling,
my lips were getting all cut inside, I had pains in the stomach, and all
that! So I tried a Larsen. I’ve got a Larsen in my case there, if you want
to try it.
NISTICO: I had a Don Menza mouthpiece, man. This friend of mine,
who works with the Max Greger band—he’s making his own mouthpieces now.
He’s trying to get halfway between a Larsen and a Link, which is what a
lot of guys would like. And Bob Pierson, who, as you know, plays tenor with
the band—he’s been using it the last week now, and he gets a perfect sound
on it. I would love it, but I haven’t got the guts to try it on the band
in the section. I’ll tell you—I’ve not really studied about mouthpieces
and the bores and all that. I know very little of that stuff. I just put
on something and if it plays for me, that’s the only way I know.
HAYES: Me too. If people say to me: ‘What do you think of the tone
chamber?’ and ‘Has this got an open tone or a round tone?’ and all that,
I can’t answer ‘em. I just put it in my , mouth and play it. If the reed
suits me—okay. If not, I’ll try another one. But I know I’ve seen guys on
studio jobs—every take they’ve got a different mouthpiece an3 they’re fiddling
about with this, that and the other.
NISTICO: Oh, man—it becomes a real thing.
HAYES: Yes, it’s like a hypochondriac, really.
NISTICO: You can get completely messed up with that. Because I
went through that one time in the band. For months I was hung up. I had
a metal Berg Larsen for years, and I really should have stayed on it, I
think. But I’ve wound up with this Link, and I feel that I get a warmer
sound now. In general, I believe my playing has advanced a little in the
last couple of years. Working in small groups for a spell was good for me.
But, as we were saying, it seems like I’ve come to a standstill.
HAYES: Well, we’re not old men, or anything, and we want to try
and keep up with the times. I mean, I don’t particularly like all the avant
garde music that I’ve heard, but there’s a 1ot of things I do like.
NISTICO: But I don’t think you’re the type of musician that lets
yourself get that restricted. You always fracture me, man. I think everybody
should be a little bit dissatisfied, because there’s no standing still.
You either move forward or you go backwards—that’s the way I’ve found it
HAYES: Sure—if you get complacent, that’s the end of everything.
In the last year or so I’ve felt, not that I’m playing badly, but that,
having played a certain way for fifteen years in the business, I’ve come
to this wall now. I don’t want to carry on coasting along the way I’ve been
playing. I’m only thirtyone—I see no reason to give in now. I’m young
enough to keep on into something else. But, at the same time, I don t want
to just go and play completely another way just for the sake of it.
NISTICO: Grow naturally into it—that’s my philosophy, too. I believe
the best way to improve is to play what you enjoy—right? To me that’s honesty.
I mean, I’m twentyfive years old, and a lot of people say I play like
an old man—dated and everything. But I don’t really hear a lot of this thing
that’s going. I understand Sonny—he knocks me out. I would like to be as
advanced as that. I didn’t think I had any talent until I was about thirteen
or fourteen. Then I started losing myself into it, and I moved and improved
all the way up until just three or four years ago. I don’t feel that I’ve
improved so much since then, and it’s kinda bugging me, man.
HAYES: Well, you’ve had a lot of time in the big band, with so
many choruses to play on a certain number at a certain tempo every night.
But, whatever your playing circumstances, improvement can’t be just turned
on with a switch. I don’t know about the New York scene so much, but there
seem to be a lot of younger musicians here who are trying to be different
for the sake of being different, without actually knowing the roots. They
think jazz started with Ornette Coleman, and anything that went before they
don’t know about. There are certain people—a guy like Jeff Clyne, who’s
been around and knows his instrument thoroughly. What he’s doing is valid
to me. But certain of the drummers around these avant garde places—I’ve
heard them sit in on a normal gig and there ain’t nothing happening!
NISTICO: It’s like—I talked to Coltrane. He used to dig Arnette
Cobb, Illinois Jacquet. Those guys have a firm foundation for what they’re
doing. A lot of cats put down bebop, and they say it’s old and it’s dated,
but that music’s not easy—it’s a challenge to play. You’ve got to know your
instrument, your changes and what you’re doing.
HAYES: And then if you can go past that—and that is the point,
I think, where we’re both at.
NISTICO: It’s amazing, Tubby. You speak exactly the way that I
feel about music. If you can go into this new thing and still retain the
meat, as I call it, it will have validity. There’s got to be some type of
swing, some type of line, instead of just taking the paint and throwing
it on the wall. What kind of expression is that? You can’t just detach something
from the past. Everybody is related to everything. You don’t forget people
like Charlie Parker. That man played as advanced as anybody can play.
HAYES: I can see the point with the kids, in a way. Because when
I started playing, Parker was my idol, and I didn’t want to play in any
earlier idiom, like swing or Dixieland. But I had listened to all that before,
as a kid. And, at the same time, I had to settle down to learning how to
play the instrument.
NISTICO: It’s a matter of really understanding the music, and not just
affecting it. A lot of it sounds superficial, because I don’t think the
guys know the meaning of communication with people.
Copyright © 2000 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.