by Les Tomkins
Roland Kirk, Rick Laird
blindfold test was carried out in 1964
Laird: It’s Eric Dolphy, man.
Kirk: You just finding out?
Laird: I just had to make sure.
Kirk: That’s a long track, ain’t it?
Laird: I’m not sure about the name of the album, but it sounded like Eric Dolphy and Tony Williams. I don’t know who the bass player might be, but he played very nice. It might have been Bobby Hutcherson on vibes.
Scott; What do you think of the content of it? Do you like it?
Laird: It’s hard to say, really. It’s a bit too neurotic, really, for me personally.
Scott: To me it’s like emotional noises. I don’t think it’s got much to do with jazz —as I see jazz. It’s a different thing, something else—and different sets of criteria have to be applied to it.
Laird: No, you can’t rate it like ordinary straightforward sorts of music.
Kirk: That was from a new album, called “Out To Lunch”. That’s a term we used to use in the mid-West, you know. When a piano player did something with different changes we used to say he was out to lunch.
Scott: Do you like it, though Roland—that sort of thing they’re doing?
Kirk: Well, I don’t like everybody. I can’t see a bandwagon full of it. But it’s like you said. I mean, I like it for what’s trying to be done on it.
Scott: It doesn’t exactly make you want to tap your foot, does it?
Kirk: No—it’s a European type of thing.
Scott: You mean like a Classical type of thing?
Kirk: Yes. but I feel that—I’m not necessarily saying the horns, but everybody—if they don’t get it together where it’s got a little drive to it, that it could really be messed up. But I don’t put it down.
Laird: No, it’s valid, definitely.
Scott: I don’t put it down, but as far as I’m concerned, I would never buy a record like that to sit and listen to, and get knocked out by anything on it. It’s just a mood, to me. It would make marvellous incidental music to some kind of very good documentary. But on its own, it’s just sounds.
Laird: Yes—sort of abstract, you know.
Kirk: Well, I agree with what you’re saying —but I’ve bought it. I like to see what’s going on. Whatever I can’t use, I just cancel out. But all of Eric’s stuff was very well arranged, and on the album it is, too. Some of these people that’s playing this thing don’t sound like they know if they’re coming or going.
Scott: Right. I think, if you feel like attempting anything like that, the first thing is—you’ve got to be able to play. A lot of guys listen to it and think it’s just a matter of picking up the horn.
Laird: Oh, sure. You’ve got to know your instrument very well.
Kirk: Even before he passed away, I always gave him credit—because he had his own sound and he studied his instruments.
Scott: He did that, yes. You can hear that it’s technically excellent.
Kirk: Almost sounds like Ben, don’t it? Almost.
Laird: Yes. I’m just trying to think if it is Ben.
Scott: I heard Ben in a lot of places, but other things make me think not.
Kirk: Some Vido Musso there, too—out of that school. But it sounds like Ben.
Laird: I don’t know whose band that is.
Kirk: That’s Duke Ellington. Oh, yes, it’s Ben Webster. What record is this from, with Duke Ellington?
Tomkins: It was recorded at a concert at Cornell University.
Kirk: When was that cut?
Tomkins: In December, 1948.
Scott: Ben Webster? Very good, marvellous. I was going to say: a younger man than Ben, but now you tell me it was done in 48—of course, he was younger then than he is now. As we all were. But he’s fantastic, and the band sounded very good on that. Especially since it was done so long ago.
Laird: Yes, and the recording’s quite good for that period, too.
Kirk: I liked it. I can see where Vido Musso got some of his hot licks.
Scott: Well, I think most of those guys stem, in one way and another, to a certain extent, from Ben Webster—I mean, Vido Musso, Paul Gonsalves, Lucky Thompson—Don Byas, even. Ben was the first guy, somehow, to play in that masterful ballad way.
Kirk: I don’t know about Don. Don’t you think all of ‘em was out there together—Ben, Don, Hawk and Chu Berry?
Scott: I thought Don came along a little later than that.
Kirk: No, they all came to New York about the same time. I think Hawk was there first and it all stemmed then. Like you say, all of them got that big sound. I agree with you about Paul Gonsalves.
Laird: At the beginning I thought it might be Paul.
Kirk: No—it was too big for him. But I think Lucky Thompson stems from Don Byas more.
Scott: But to me Hawkins and Webster were always the two giants. The real, great, classic players.
Laird: Just about the first virtuosos on their instrument.
Kirk: Who’s that—Tubby Hayes?
Scott: Very good, Roland.
Laird: Yes, it sounds like a European band.
Kirk: He’s going to hum in a minute, ain’t he? Ha, ha, ha! I ain’t never heard this record before, but I knew that was coming. Is this Tubby’s new big band record?
Scott; Didn’t Harry South write that?
Tomkins: Yes. Of course, you played that with Harry’s band.
Laird: It sounds nice. I guess he got inspired when he was in India.
Kirk: Who was in India?
Laird: Harry South, the guy that wrote this. He spent some time in India working.
Scott: He worked there about a year and he calls this thing “Raga”.
Kirk: Well, why didn’t he play it in a raga?
Scott: I don’t know. Some of it is.
Kirk: He used changes. They don’t use no changes in no raga!
Laird: It would be difficult to get that drone effect. I liked the sound the drummer got from his cymbals.
Kirk: Yes, but I don’t like that if it was supposed to be a raga.
Laird: I guess it’s kind of hard for jazz drummers to know what to play with these kind of things. Because they use tabla drums, and different percussion instruments.
Kirk: You can always play with your hands. They could have put a mike right by the drums. If I went in to buy a record, and it said “Raga”, that’s what I would expect—to hear something like one. I got an Eastern feeling, but I didn’t get the Indian connection. I don’t even get it from Coltrane, when I hear his music. Any time you use changes.
Laird: It becomes something else. But that one note drone is kind of hard to achieve when you have all that brass.
Kirk: No—Gil Evans does it. You pass the drone on—you don’t need changes. When the other cat’s running out of breath he passes it on to you, and you keep that one note going. But, I mean, that’s a secondary thing to the tune. It was a nice sound.
Laird: And a very compact arrangement.
Kirk: Oh, baby—no good. No good, man. You all got it!
Laird: Those horn players are out of tune.
Scott: That’s the guy that does Roland’s thing. He plays two horns at once.
Laird: George Braith? That’s not him, is it? Or maybe it is. There’s an organ playing the bass line, and a guitar.
Scott: He does all right with the two horn thing. It’s not very adventurous, really. That’s the only track I’ve heard from the album.
Laird: I don’t think I’d buy an album like that.
Scott: No, I don’t see much point in playing two horns at once—if that’s all you’re going to do with it. It would have been just as effective if he’d done it with one horn.
Kirk: I used to go up and jam, when my piano player was working with him, and that’s how it was he started playing the instruments together. But the instrument he’s got is not a stritch. It’s a straight alto. In ‘56 I wanted Blue Note to record me, and they said: “No, we can’t record that. It’s a gimmick. We don’t buy that kind of a thing. It’s a visual thing.” And then, after I moved to New York, when they heard me playing with ]ohn Coltrane at the Village Gate in 1960, they wanted to record me. ‘But this time I said “No”. So the first person they got to put two horns in their mouth and take in the studio, they jumped on the bandwagon. And the thing about it that drags me—he plays ‘em out of tune. That’s something that I try not to do. He’s doing everything that I try not to do. Not only playing out of tune, but playing a solo all the way through with the two horns. That’s monotonous.
Kirk: Oh, Sidney Bechet. That’s a beautiful record, ain’t it?
Laird: This is a crazy guitarist.
Kirk: That was recorded a long time ago, too, man. Shows you how modern them cats are.
Scott; Yes, nice—honest, straightforward music. None of this frantic, soul-searching business. I like that.
Laird: About the rightest version of “What Is This Thing Called Love” I’ve ever heard. That guitar player played nice chords.
Scott: Who was the trumpet player?
Kirk: Charlie Shavers. I really enjoyed it. Until recently, I hadn’t heard Bechet as much as I heard Lucky and Don and them —up until four or five years ago. I’d never even heard him at all, when they were saying on the record covers and in the reviews that they thought I’d listened to him. When I did start listening to him, I liked what he did very much. So I’m looking for all his records now. Specially small group records, like that one.
Laird: It’s nice to hear music like this, to sort of keep your bearings, so to speak, on how these things should really be played. There’s no time limit to it. It’s still good music. You can listen to it any time.
Kirk: The people who would dismiss something like that are the ones that’s always got to ride different bandwagons. They always have to wait for something to happen before they can realise where they want to go.
Kirk: That’s beautiful, man. Ronnie, you ought to bring him over here one day.
Scott: Bogey (Wilton Gaynair)? Is this Bogey?
Kirk: No! I dig Bogey, but he ain’t never stretched out this much. Bogey ain’t got nothing to do with this. He’s a mean tenor player, but not this mean.
Laird: I can’t tell who it is, I’m afraid. But it’s nice.
Scott: Don Byas. I’ll plump for Don Byas. Right? To me—it’s good and he’s a wonderful player, but I much prefer him on ballads. I don’t know if that’s a recent record, but his fast things tend to sound a little bit passé. I heard him two or three years ago when he came over and did some concerts, and his ballads were beautiful. But, on a thing like that, there’s a lot of guys I’d rather listen to.
Kirk: Well, I can’t say he’s passé, because I hear cats still trying to play that way.
Scott: I mean the sort of rhythmic feel.
Kirk: Like, Bud Powell came to New York, and he played the same way that he did at the time of “Bud’s Bubble”, and all those things. And people say he sounds old-timey. But how can he sound old-timey? He invented these things.
Scott: I agree with you. I don’t mean that Don’s phrases, or anything like that, sound passé.
Kirk: If you have something that you really put into the horn yourself, then you deserve the credit. He’s playing “I Remember Clifford” and all the new things, but he’s putting his own touch to it. So it can’t be passé.
Scott: Yes, but somehow—I heard a record of Ben Webster recently. Now he’s still playing Ben Webster. He doesn’t play the present-day cliches, or anything. Yet it doesn’t seem to date as much as that does to me. That really sounds sort of 1945 to me.
Kirk: Not to me. Hawk sounds more dated than Don Byas to me.
Scott: Yes? I don’t think so.
Laird: I thought the record had a nice feel. The rhythm section was pretty nice, and together. I can’t say who they were. I liked the piano solo. I couldn’t hear the bass player well enough—you’ve got to hear it real well to pick out who it is on bass. What year was this recorded?
Tomkins: Very recently, I think.
Scott: Oh, it’s not that young Danish boy, it it?
Tomkins: Yes, it is. This was recorded at the Cafe Montmartre, Copenhagen.
Laird: He’s a crazy bass player, man. I heard him just recently in Denmark with Benny Golson.
Kirk: But, you know, it drags me because this man, Don Byas, hasn’t got the credit he really deserves. I can’t understand it, because to me he’s up to date as much as Ben and them, whether on up tunes or ballads. I wish we had time to play some more tracks. Every time I come to Europe I make a point to hear him. As far as the tenor, there’s just a few people in America that I’d go out at night to hear, and can enjoy. Every time I’ve heard him I’ve enjoyed him, and I’ve never felt like it was an antique thing.
Scott: Well, I liked that very much, I’m afraid. Don’t know why I’m afraid—but I liked it. I thought it was very nice. Nothing startling—an innocuous thing. The saxophone player was excellent.
Laird: I just can’t place him.
Scott: Sounded like a cross between Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz, with a touch of the Stan Getz.
Kirk: Coming from Lester Young.
Scott: Yes—sorry, Roland!
Tomkins: It was one of the men who succeeded Getz in the Herman band—Jerry Coker.
Kirk: That was Clare Fischer, wasn’t it? I liked the melody, but—too cool for me.
Scott: Let’s face it—it’s a white sound, isn’t it? Don’t you think so?
Kirk: Well, why’d they use the organ?
Scott: Why not? Is that only a coloured thing, to use an organ?
Kirk: No, but organ didn’t do that tune no good.
Scott: It didn’t have much to do with it, but they didn’t use it obtrusively.
Kirk: They used it to get it commercial. That’s right.
Scott: You think so?
Laird: Oh, man, that wasn’t a commercial record.
Kirk: Look, it goes back to the record company, man. Dick Bock said: “Put an organ on there.”
Scott: You may be right. I quite enjoyed it, anyway.
Kirk: Too cool. It’s a beautiful sound, though—flutes and everything.
Laird: It didn’t have too much fire.
Scott: No—I don’t think they tried to make a big production out of it. I found it a bit easier to listen to, after a lot of things that you hear today.
Kirk: Well, don’t listen to today.
Scott: You can’t avoid hearing them— they’re there. 90 per cent. of the records that are turned out are neurotic, nerve-racking things to listen to. But this, just for a change, I found very relaxing. Excellent musicianship, nice timing, nothing jarred.
Kirk: It threw me, because the West coast doesn’t go that way any more. The West coast has got together with the East coast. Then they brought this record out and took it back ten years.
Scott: Yes, but I think there’s a lot of angry, fist-shaking music going on now— which is at sign of the times, maybe. As far as I’m concerned—maybe I’m getting a bit old or something, but I like to lay back now and again and listen to something that doesn’t put me on edge. I like the old, foot-tapping things.
Laird: Sure—I like to hear a band swinging, man. I like to hear a rhythm section burning up.
Kirk: I’d rather hear Don Byas than hear a whole set of that all night long.
Copyright © 1964 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved