Jazz Professional               

Anglo–American Exchange


Tubby Hayes
Sal Nistico
Tubby Hayes Interview

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 music–wise 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 a lot.

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 wall, too.

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 hang–up.

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 tear–up 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—phrase–wise. 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 you.

HAYES: I used to play ‘em a lot. I don’t play ‘em very much these days.

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 340–volt 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 blowing–wise—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 set–up the reed and everything—then I’ve got enough problems trying to create something different, playing–wise, 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 with me.

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 thirty–one—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 twenty–five 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.