SUMMIT MEETING - Part 1
Three famous instrumentalists, now bandleaders—who normally wouldn’t meet—gathered together in a room at London’s Dorchester Hotel and talked on a wide range of subjects. BUDDY RICH from America and the expatriate MAYNARD FERGUSON, from Canada, met JACK PARNELL on his home ground in an interview conducted by Tony Brown and Les Tomkins in 1970
Inevitably, the conversation started with a few words on the Rich band’s televised appearance on the Royal Variety Show attended by the Queen and Prince Phillip. . .
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RICH: I was terrified, you know. The whole idea of the thing.
PARNELL: Did you see it come over?
RICH: No, we worked that night. But a lot of people said they saw it.
PARNELL: The next artist to you was Moira Anderson, a little Scotch girl who sings very nicely. And she came on to your applause. She was on and singing and they were still applauding you. She’s very big, too. I was speaking to my mother about it, who knows show business inside out, and I said: “Was there a dividing line there between the end of Buddy’s applause and her coming on?” And there definitely wasn’t: it just went on and on and on. She was in singing the first number, and they were still going.
RICH: The only thing that bothered me about that: the newspapers completely ignored the fact that we even showed. Did you know that?
PARNELL: Well, they ignored a lot of people on the show. The big thing that put it all out was the Tom Jones thing with the Duke of Edinburgh.
RICH: But he didn’t say anything that wasn’t true.
PARNELL: Yes, but it was big enough publicity to stop everything, wasn’t it?
RICH: It’s amazing. He just asked him if he gargled with pebbles.
PARNELL: He also said something else to the Press at a conference later, that he thought Tom Jones’ singing was hideous.
RICH: Well, that just shows you what a good musical ear the Duke has! I totally agree with that. How can a man walk out and sing eight bars, and then open his tie and his collar like he had just done a day’s work? That’s such a stylised thing today. Tony does it, Frank does it and everybody: but when they do it, they do it for a purpose. They’ve been working for hours.
PARNELL: You know what you want to do? You want to go out drenched in sweat to start off with, and gradually cool off.
RICH: We said that last year. I was gonna come out with everything open and then get into it—
PARNELL: And finish up with a top hat and tails!
RICH: And a cane, and do Fred Astaire’s walk–off! Then fall in a pool of sweat offstage somewhere. But the thing on that show that cracked me up more than anything was Herb Alpert, who had the nerve to sing.
PARNELL: Did he sing? They left it out on the transmission, then.
RICH: Oh, really. Well—okay for them.
PARNELL: You’re costing me money, you know. Every time you come over I have another son grown–up who hears you for the first time and wants a set of drums.
RICH: Why blame me? That’s what you get for having a musical family.
On the subject of today’s youth, the long hair, and this so–called permissive society that we live in, do you think some kind of rot is setting in, and values are upside–down?
RICH: No. I think it’s getting better.
FERGUSON: Yes, we should all learn to follow the young.
RICH: I don’t think we have to learn to follow anybody. We should all do what we want to do. The problem is the following: that’s where everything is going wrong.
Well, they are following with the long hair, aren’t they?
RICH: But if you go back long enough, you know, to the 18th, century, long hair was the most fashionable thing.
PARNELL: And wigs.
RICH: So really the kids are not inventing anything too new; it’s only that they’re just finding it.
If you’re in favour of individualism, it’s a conformist movement now. The first few who started it were the only individualists.
PARNELL: Well, I mean that always happens, doesn’t it; everybody follows the fashion.
RICH: Yes, but remember one thing, that hair always grows, and the thing of cutting it was somebody’s invention. It just didn’t fall off.
PARNELL: I wonder whether we’d talk this way if any of us were barbers!
RICH: The only thing that I object to is the fact that a lot of them don’t bathe. What they wear, and how they wear their hair is strictly an individual taste. A lot of them seem to think that staying unwashed is very hip; that is offensive.
Parnell: Yes, that’s stupid.
What about how they behave, though—the whole permissive idea?
RICH: How do they behave? You mustn’t generalise now about how they behave. Specifics—really. I know a lot of adults whose behaviour is really atrocious. Then there are a lot of young people who behave beautifully, even though they may look a lot different than we may think they should look.
But so far as musicians are concerned, surely they always had a special sort of hipness of their own? Particularly the younger element.
PARNELL: I think musicians are very aware people, in the main, and always have been.
The English musicians’ form of hipness always used to be to become as Americanised as they could.
RICH: That’s too bad.
PARNELL: Well, I think that was really because of jazz music coming from America.
At that time they were seeking to imitate musicians, anyway. Nowadays they’re tending to try and imitate the general public.
RICH: Yes, but did you ever notice that the young American musician today is trying to imitate the English musician?
PARNELL: The world’s getting smaller, that’s what it is.
(The conversation moved on to the subject of how ‘uptight’ America is becoming. Jack asked Buddy what kind of inspired leadership he thought was needed.)
RICH: Basie, I think. Diz or Miles, somebody who knew something about how to swing a country, and let everybody just do their thing, with a minimum amount of law. As long as you’re not infringing on somebody’s personal thing—
PARNELL: An idealistic government.
RICH: Yeah, well, why not? Music is ideal, isn’t it? Why can’t you live that way? People express great emotion through their music, whether it’s love or aggressiveness, then why can’t it be that way in life?
You can’t run a band like that, though, can you? A band needs discipline.
RICH: But you don’t line up sixteen guys in front of a firing squad if they don’t play right. You simply fire ‘em.
PARNELL: Right, but how can you fire people in the country that are not playing right?
RICH: Don’t hire them to begin with. First audition ‘em. Get a person and say : “Okay, you got three weeks out there. If you don’t make it, you’re out.” That way the world would be perfect!
Maynard, you’ve had problems with musicians, haven’t you?
FERGUSON: Problems with musicians? No.
RICH: What? No? I know better than that.
FERGUSON: Well—they’ve had as many problems with me as I’ve had with them.
RICH: Spoken like a leader.
Somebody we know once said to us, talking about a musician in trouble, that all jazz musicians suffer from a prolonged adolescence. Would you agree with this?
PARNELL: All men do.
FERGUSON: Well, I think if they’re lucky they do.
RICH: Isn’t that beautiful? Stay as young as you can as long as you can—in any phase of life.
FERGUSON: As long as we can still go to play instead of to work . . . I still love to play.
PARNELL: We’re the lucky ones. Without any doubt. It’s a gift of God to be able to even love music, let alone to be able to take part in it. That is an even greater gift: And to be as good as he is and as good as he is (indicating Rich and Ferguson) —well, I don’t know.
RICH: What business in the world is there where you can do the thing that you love to do more than anything else, see all parts of the world., meet every kind of personality, every kind of people, and get paid to do it? You don’t punch a clock, you don’t go to the office, you don’t sit there from 8.0 till 5.0 in the afternoon, and you have the weekend off. You do a job, it’s pleasurable, and you’re giving pleasure, which is the most important thing. You’re taking off a lot of people’s minds the problems of their lives. Then at the end of the week you get a very healthy cheque to be doing something that you just love doing to begin with.
PARNELL: It’s so good, sometimes it’s hard to live with, don’t you find?
Because of the nature of the business, aren’t musicians sometimes more human than human beings?
PARNELL: I think they’re much more open. That’s about what it is.
FERGUSON: One of mankind’s hang–ups, of course, is how to cure his boredom. So, in that way, because a musician has a lot more joy and freedom in what he does here, he must also encounter boredom at times—as a constant surprise to him. For instance, he may want to be the top studio man; he’ll get into that disease. And then he’ll discover perhaps, somewhere in his mind, that he didn’t want to be that, and that he really wanted to do the thing that he started out to do. As opposed to the guy who does love to do the studio thing. Then his problem is whether he has the courage to say: “Hey? This is what I want to do within music.” It’s always a question of what he’s going to do in music.
What I love about Buddy Rich so much is that he really does what he loves to do. Unless he’s really been putting me on for a long time!
RICH: Well, I’ll say this, in defence of myself: I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, right? And I hope to continue to do it the same way, because I find, with what we’re doing today, I’m more inspired than I’ve ever been m my life.
Number one: the ability to play with the kids that are playing today; they have really much more talent than guys my age started with.
PARNELL: They’ve got much more to go on.
RICH: They’ve come through a whole lot of things. What had they come through from 1930 to 1940? Only one particular phase of music. which was that traditional–Dixieland thing? and they evolved that from the original blues.
Then they invented the swing era, which turned into the shop era, to the progressive era, to the third stream, and whatever. That all started within a period of maybe fifteen or twenty years.
But the kids today are going back from the ‘thirties right strictly up to the ‘seventies. So they’ve gone through all the different phases of music and they’ve decided what they want to play. And they may not play it as well in the beginning. but they do evolve out of that little rock thing that they get so involved with today, and they become better musicians for it.
I see it in my own band. I have a 23–vear–old saxophone player: when he joined the band he’d just come out of Berklee School in Boston, and he just thought he was the last word, man—he was up there playing so much.
And really he was playing nothing. But I hear him today, a year later—he’s really mastering his horn. He’s playing with some musical sense and integrity, as well as technique.
As Maynard knows, having led a big band for many years, it’s a matter of discipline; it’s also a matter of learning what to play when you’re sitting alongside of four other saxophone players or trumpet players. All of a sudden it isn’t the individual thing that happens: it’s the collective sound; the overall impression that sixteen people are playing together. And then there’s enough area within the framework of the arrangement for the improvisation to be put forth, and to allow that kind of thinking to take place. Then it’s back again to the togetherness. Which is what music is all about, I think. Togetherness.
You were speaking earlier about the idea of the maximum freedom for the individual. If you’re an artist, you get a chance of obtaining this, relative to the recognition of your talent and the fame you acquire. This isn’t available to the ordinary run–of–the–mill person, is it?
RICH: No, I can’t go along with that. Anybody can be as free as they want to be. Decide what degree of freedom you want, and then go out after it.
PARNELL: There’s always responsibilities as well, that you collect on the way.
RICH: The responsibility is one thing: the freedom is something else again.
PARNELL: Mental freedom is the thing.
RICH: Also musical freedom. You have the freedom of saying: “I don’t like what I’m playing, so I’m gonna quit,” or “I‘ll get my own thing going.”
PARNELL: That takes strength of character, to be able to say it when you’ve got four children.
RICH: Tell the four kids to get a gig, if it’s really that bad. Or whatever.
Again I can talk of myself: for a long time I was sitting in a band (Harry James), making a lot of money, which is supposedly a very important thing. But I also found, at the end of four years, I was forgetting how to play. Because I was working for somebody who respected my talent and paid me accordingly, but didn’t respect the fact that I might also be bored with his choice of music.
Whereas. in my own band. I discuss what we’re gonna play with a lot of the guys in the band, to make sure they don’t become bored and make the band sound like: “Oh. here’s another night. We’re gonna play the same thing.— I try to inject not only new blood in the people that I hire but new blood in the music, so that it’s a challenge to them, something to expand on musically and will also be good enough to plav for any kind of an audience, whether it’s a terribly youthful audience, middle–aged, old or whatever.
Because I believe that music belongs to everybody. It just doesn’t belong to musicians, whether they’re hip musicians or square. And it doesn’t belong to the 15–year–old long–haired kids or the college kids. Music belongs to anybody that wants to go out and enjoy it.
The three of you have this one particular thing in common: you made this transition, which to the outsider looks tremendously difficult, that of sitting in the band, maybe blaming the man out front—
—and getting out there, taking up that responsibility yourselves, and—
PARNELL: Getting blamed! I never worked for anybody that I didn’t hate the sight of.
RICH: Right! No, never.
PARNELL: But I can’t understand why they hate the sight of me.
FERGUSON: Perhaps mine was in a reversal. I almost had a band before I worked for a band. Because I had a Canadian band that made a living in music—it’s almost illegal over here, but I was a professional bandleader when I was fifteen, working seven nights a week. So I got away with murder as a bandleader, rather than getting away with murder as a sideman. I broke up my own band in order to go to the States.
RICH: Yes, but you missed all the fun, of getting in there and hating the guy and making him pay you at the same time! You could say: “I know you hate me; but you need me, so give me my money.” What you did, though, Jack, was almost impossible to do, to switch from being a drummer to going in as a non–playing TV MD.
PARNELL: That was difficult, yes. They paid me to learn the job, in fact.
RICH: But the most important point was that he had the talent to make the transition. That’s the whole thing.
But you must have had a lot of difficulty overcoming the feeling that people were against you.
PARNELL: Yes—I still feel that! But I’ll tell you something about being a drummer, that it does have a great resemblance to the position of being a conductor. I mean: in a symphony orchestra, really, the drummer or driver is the conductor. And I know Buddy knows this, because you time a band; you don’t necessarily keep exact strict tempo. You endeavour to get the band to keep as strict a tempo as possible. but you adjust so the phrases sound right.
RICH: Of course. It can’t be mechanical.
PARNELL: This is what a conductor does, in exactly the same way.
FERGUSON: One of the lessons I learned in Las Vegas, conducting a band—now that’s a beautiful one, right?— you know, in our jazz band–bebop thing, we go “One–two” and by that time everybody’s blaming you because you blew five seconds. Well, with the conducting thing, it’s a great cop–out, because you can be juiced out of your brains or whatever your game is, and instead of that, you stand in front of that band, and while Tommy Sands is waiting, you raise your hand and you drop it. And then, if everybody doesn’t love you, you look at the drummer and you say: “Jeeze, man!” Right?
RICH: Right, and if you’re the drummer, you get up and walk off. It’s not your fault, it’s the leader’s fault—every time. Like, it’s my fault now, according to them—I know. Except that I beat them to it. See. when they look at me. I’ve already given them a dirty look; so they’re afraid to look back. Right? It’s a matter of striking the most fear at the most precise moment.
PARNELL: The drummer has the hold, anyway.
RICH: He carries the responsibility. When the band sounds bad, they never blame the band; they say the rhythm section stinks.
PARNELL: Always. I’ve worn out feet standing in front of a band, competing with a drummer that wasn’t where I wanted him to be. If I was in that mood, you know. Made a hole in the floor. Really. Until I got over it, because it started hurting my feet!
You’re all in a somewhat peculiar situation, in that now you can see things as bandleaders, but you also identify with the musician; you practically know what he’s thinking.
FERGUSON: Yes, I think we have a very healthy kind of outlook.
PARNELL: Oh yes—it’s a question of experience.
FERGUSON: I don’t think we’re thought of in our bands as conductors at all. By the band. I mean.
RICH: Not by the audience, either.
PARNELL: You’re thought about as it.
RICH: Actually, you’re thought about as the guy who gives out the cheques on Thursday. Especially if you’re the drummer with the band. Because you’re not the second trumpet player, standing four guys in a row and being a part of them.
When you’re the drummer you’re up there by yourself. The piano, the guitar and the bass player! they’re all around you, but you’re alone, really. The drummer’s the easiest target, if somebody decides that they don’t like you. To get one of the trumpet players, you might miss and get the second trumpet by accident. But you can’t miss the drummer.
He has the responsibility of deciding what the tempo is, and keeping it there, or moving it, depending on how the band is playing. Some nights the band might be a little heavy, a little sluggish, and it’s up to you to decide that it has to be rushed a little bit, or slowed down.
Then everybody looks at you like you’re wrong, because you’re rushing or dragging. But that’s my responsibility, the same as it’s any other drummer’s, to put the thing where you feel it swings the best.
It’s different with Jack, because he stands in front of a band with a baton, conducting. You stand in front of your band and there’s a thing that you can do, to show the band where you want it or anything. When you’re playing and you’re the leader, you have to play that much louder, in order to get the band to understand what you re trying And sometimes with me, I miss the drum and hit a trumpet player on the side of the skull! It adds a little humour, and also gets an extra sound at the same time.
But this band, that I have this time, I think is the best band; it’s the youngest band I’ve ever brought over here.
PARNELL: You’ve got that energy.
RICH: There’s so much energy in the band, it’s really ridiculous. On some of the concerts, we do, like, four sets—two shows. Something we never do at home; I wouldn’t allow it. In our contracts at home we have a rider which stipulates either three thirty–minute sets or two forty–five minute sets; that’s for the whole night. We come over here and we do two forty–five–minute sets, then there’s a forty–five minute intermission, and then two more forty–five sets. I find that the audiences are so beautiful and they want to hear the band, that’s it’s worth it to go out there and do those two extra shows. And the band feels the same way about it; the band has that extra energy because they feel that what we’re doing over here is appreciated more.
The thing that I love about this country and most of the foreign countries we play is that jazz is treated as an art form, rather than the second–class citizen that you’re supposed to be in the States. “Oh—you’re a jazz musician? Well—”
FERGUSON: Yes, I agree with that in theory. I know that being a musician in this country won’t help you to get a mortgage on a house. But it is better—
RICH: Being a musician in the States makes it impossible to get a mortgage. Over here you have a chance; over there you have no chance.
PARNELL: I don’t know: I’ve never worked in America.
RICH: Would you like to come over? I’m looking for a drummer.
You miss this audience response in your work, Jack. It must be terrible, in a sense, for a musician to play and get no reaction.
PARNELL: It’s murder.
RICH: You do miss that, do you, Jack?
PARNELL: Oh yes. I make up for it in other ways, though. I study a lot at home, practise the piano a lot, things like that. It gets rid of energy that way. But I think the whole thing is based on energy, one way and another, even if it’s controlled energy. In a symphony orchestra, in a jazz band, from a drummer, from a soloist, or from the audience.
Your band can play its four full sets because it gets energy from a responsive audience.
RICH: That’s exactly what it is. There’s a beautiful rapport. The applause is like the transfusion when you’re very sick. It’s a magnetic feeling; you can actually see it shimmering out there.
PARNELL: Energy is not the word, but it’s the nearest word, isn’t it?
But you, Jack, know those things you do don’t sound the way they ought to when they go over, because of the nature of the box.
FERGUSON: I’d like to disagree with that one. I’ve heard a lot of your things, Jack, that I thought came through the box just great.
RICH: Yes, I have, too.
Something’s missing, though, isn’t it?
PARNELL: Well, it’s the fact that it’s such a tiny speaker.
FERGUSON: It’s probably missing with Buddy and I. too, when it comes through.
RICH: I’ve never heard my band sound good on television. Ever. They won’t take the time to balance your band, because time is money in the States.
Over here you can do a sixty–minute show in sixty–five minutes, if it’s necessary, and you’re allotted all the time in the world that you want to rehearse and be able to get it as perfect as you can. When you do a major television show in the States, they say: “Okay, the band’s got one hour, from 2.0 to 3.0 to rehearse, and we’re going to try to balance it.” If it doesn’t come out all right, they don’t care, because they’re only concerned about the visual thing.
Over here they’re just as concerned about the sound that comes out as they are about the picture. That’s the difference.
PARNELL: Yes, it’s better here, but I still don’t think it’s enough.
Of course, Terry Henebery is doing a specifically jazz show, and he’s working on the sound aspect more. But you still get dedicated people in your field, don’t you, Jack?
PARNELL: Oh, definitely. Our sound balancers do the best they possibly can.
And they’ve got a hell of a job to do, because not only have they got to balance the band as against the singer, with a microphone that’s way away and open because the producer wants a big shot. They’ve got that, and a swing boom for a bit of conversation; they’ve got to control all this at the same time and try and balance the band. Really, the result that they get is quite amazing for the job that they have to do.
RICH: That’s because over here they’ll take the time to consider all those things. At home they only take the time to consider that so–and–so is singing, and they’re not too thrilled about too much conversation, anyhow, because they don’t think that musicians have too much to say except “How you doin’, man?”
PARNELL: No, but I was thinking more of other parts of the show that they’ve got to control; you know, swinging booms to another set for a sketch and so forth. It’s a very hard job.
FERGUSON: That one word before you can say anything—isn’t that a beauty? When the guys really feel they’ve played well, and they walk into the playback room. “Did that one, baby! Cookin’!” And as soon as they hit the intro, it’s awful to watch their faces and realise that it’s not a first–time experience. It’s a “How could I have been led down the primrose path again?” as for the seventy–eighth time in a row they’re hearing that playback, and knowing that even if the sound does get better by the tenth time they play it, the spirit of the playing is lost by then. So you can forget it, you know.
RICH: I’m still waiting for you to come up and play, Jack. People keep telling me how great you played.
PARNELL: I don’t ever want to play again.
RICH: You’ve been saying that for three years now, and I never believe you. I have it on good authority that you’re one of the few natural drummers that just gets up there and swings a band.
PARNELL: I’ll tell you what happened. I started to conduct the TV band and, over a period of time, standing in front and just getting up and playing one number, very, very slowly the coordination goes. The mind is still there and the hands don’t carry it out. That just gets gradually worse until you get so sick of it that you put it aside. Unless you go back . . . To play the drums, you’ve got to play every day, all day, really. You’ve got to work all the time.
RICH: I don’t agree with that.
You think that once it’s there, it’s always there?
RICH: Absolutely. It isn’t something that you have and you lose. If you don’t have it to begin with, you can have the greatest teachers in the world—
PARNELL: But it’s time, isn’t it, really? I get my kick out of something else.
You can’t be a first–class professional drummer and do your job, which takes up so much time.
PARNELL: That’s it. That’s about what it is.
RICH: We weren’t talking about the two jobs. Naturally, he has another thing that he prefers doing now, but I’m sure that if he lost that thing and he had to go back to playing drums, he could do it as well as he ever wanted to do it before. Because it’s there. It might be in the back some place; it might take an hour or two to get it together.
FERGUSON: Last year I took my family on holiday for a month and a half. I skied, did my yoga and all these games, but I didn’t play at all. We came back, and after two days I went to work.
RICH: Well, that’s the answer. When you have it, you simply have it.
And it would be the same, you think, Maynard, if it were a year that you didn’t play, rather than a month?
FERGUSON: Yes, except I would then be playing for pleasure. I doubt if I would let it go for a year, because I like to play so much. But even if I did, if the joy was there to want to do it, I’d do it. In other words, that’s why if I have to I can do it in two days. It’s because it’s a joy, man.