Session conducted by Les Tomkins
The following blindfold test was carried
out in 1964
"Taking A Chance On Love" Curtis Fuller (trombone, with orchestra arranged and conducted by Manny Albam). From "Cabin In The Sky", Impulse.
Murphy: Do you know who it is yet?
Johnson: I think so. Yes, I know who it is.
Murphy: Somebody spent a lot of money, I can tell you that! Is it featuring more than one trombone?
Johnson: No, just the one guy ††I think. I believe it was Curtis Fuller. I know that he did one big orchestral album not long ago, where the arrangements were done by Manny Albam. I thought there were some definite points of interest about the whole project. It's all coming back to me now. I've heard the album through once, and I do recall that the overall thing was very good. Curtis is one of my favourite guys on trombone. He's developed at a very, very fast pace. It's good for him to branch out on this kind of thing, because mostly he's done small band type things. Manny Albam is a very excellent arranger, and I guess you might say this was one of his more ambitious efforts. It was quite a large orchestra - sounded like violins and the whole thing. I even thought I heard Kai Winding there in the background, somehow - and possibly Brookmeyer. I think they might have cornered the market on trombonists on that album!
Murphy: At first I thought it was Bobby Brookmeyer soloing, because it sounded like a valve trombone. Then, it seemed, more trombones came in later, and I thought it might have been a Kai Winding ensemble, because he does that a lot - the five trombones. The arranging made me think of Johnny Richards, at times. I just hope the album says so-and-so's orchestra, featuring so-and-so, etc. It really wasn't the trombonist's. It was half-and-half, with the big half for the band.
Clyne: Yes, it would have been nice to have heard more of the solo instrument. He tended to be enveloped by the band backing.
Murphy: But I didn't mind that, because what was going on was interesting.
Johnson: I wonder if they planned it that way. You're right - there were an awful lot of orchestral passages, where the soloist didn't have anything to do but kind of wait around until his turn again. It was probably a showcase not only of the soloists's talents, but the arranger's, too. Or perhaps it was accidental. It does happen that way. I've dabbled in arranging and composing, and I know that on occasion it comes about, and you don't even realise that's what has happened, that you've put the soloist in a straitjacket, so to speak. Arrangers can get carried away, in other words.
Tomkins: Well, it was who you said. And the other trombones on the date were Bob Brookmeyer, Kai Winding, Wayne Andre and Alan Raph. The idea of the album was to present a jazz interpretation of the music from the show Cabin In The Sky, both from the standpoint of orchestra writing and solo playing. So, in fact, they did have equal importance.
"Let Me Off Uptown" Mel Torme with orchestra. Arranged by Johnny Williams. From "Sunday In New York". Atlantic.
Murphy: Well, it goes without saying, but that was Mel Torme. And I'm pretty sure it was without Marty Paich. The arrangement was right for the tune, but I missed Marty. That twosome is pretty hard to beat. It's that album about New York, I think. It's funny - in that last bit, just before he started the scatting, he made me think of Jon Hendricks, which I've never done before when Mel sings. Two little phrases there. I didn't realise that Mel was such a good scat singer until I heard his "At The Red Hill Inn". And this is also very good. I don't know whether he is completely ad lib. in his scatting or not, but he has a marvellous consistency of performance. This, I'd say, is one of his best tracks, because he seems to get a little hotter than he usually does. He kinda stays a little too cool on some of the records he makes. That would be my only criticism of him. However, he always does everything right.
Johnson: I take it that Mel and Marty do a lot of things together - I didn't realise that. They've done a lot of albums, is that it? Oh, really? With a small band or a big band?
Murphy: I'd say medium-size - usually a tentet.
Johnson: From your comments, it sounds liken it's been a very successful relation. I don't think Iíve heard any of these things at all.
Clyne: The only occasions I've heard Mel Torme he's been with the Paich Dektette. I enjoyed them very much, but I haven't heard this album.
Murphy: They seem to think alike, those two guys. Who is the arranger on this record?
Tomkins: There were three different arrangers on the album, but on that track it was the Hollywood composer, Johnny Williams.
Johnson: I thought he hit the mark with that arrangement. I've liked Mel's singing for years, ever since "Born To Be Blue". That was the first time I heard Mel, on that. And I like Marty Paich's arranging. I'm just not familiar with the combination of the two of them together. But that one was a nice, easy-swinging kind of a thing. Mel's always a lot of fun, and he injected a good feeling into it all the way through. It's difficult to refrain from tapping your foot on it.
Murphy: I seemed to hear a lot of stock phrases from the band in the first chorus, but, in the last part, I think the arrangement got a lot better.
Tomkins: One interesting thing about it, if you know the original version, was that Roy Eldridge's solo was scored for the brass ensemble.
Johnson: Yes - from the Gene Krupa/ Anita O'Day record. I'd just like to say: I thought that selection was a complete gas. I enjoyed it thoroughly. You can play it again for me, if you like!
"Somebody Loves Me" Jack Teagarden with George Wettling's New Yorkers (Hank D'Amico-clarinet, Coleman Hawkins tenor, Joe Thomas trumpet, Jack Teagarden-trombone, Herman Chittison-piano, Billy Taylor-bass, George Wettling-drums. Solos by Teagarden and Hawkins). From "Jazz Makers". Mercury EP.
Johnson: (at Teagarden solo) Let me pick up a few landmarks. Just one I've picked up so far.
Murphy: Funny ending.
Johnson: Kinda took you by surprise!
Moss: I agree that ending was a bit wild and woolly. But Hawk sounded wonderful there. That's the way I like to hear tenor played, as you know. There are still very few people who can roar along like he does, and seem to keep abreast of the times. He just seems to be ageless. He goes on and on.
Johnson: Can I ask a question? I get the impression that so-called trad is very popular in England, and perhaps a lot of other places. Would you call that in the style of trad, as played here?
Tomkins: Well, it's more or less what you call Dixieland in the States. J
Johnson: You know, it's a funny thing. I never really pinned it down. I never had a chance to really listen to it. I thought that's what it was all about. I just wasn't sure.
Moss: No, I wouldn't call that trad. I think it's more what they call mainstream over here - if we have to put all these things into pigeon-holes. I think this was just sort of the old 'forties swing music, played by people with a much more modern approach to it. But most of the actual trad thing in this country was a peculiar copy of something I've never heard on any records - and I've been listening for years and years. They were trying to copy the New Orleans sound, when the trad boom was on.
Clyne: But they sort of got their own thing going out of that, really.
Moss: Yes, a British jazz sound - though I wouldn't really like to call it a jazz sound. It was a funny old thing, altogether. Apart from the very best of them.
Clyne: That was quite a happy sort of record. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves playing.
Johnson: I didn't identify the trombonist †- even yet. He was very good. He really knew where he was going and what it was all about. He just kind of took off there, and never let up. Er - you might tell us who he is.
Tomkins: It was Jack Teagarden.
Johnson: Was it? Well, no wonder it was so good. That explains it.
Murphy: At first I thought of Hawkins, then Ben Webster. But if it's Coleman Hawkins - I'm very happy.
Clyne: For me, it's the type of record that I don't hear very much of. These days, the records I listen to are the ones that are made now, mainly. It's just an unfortunate thing, but I don't find time personally to get down to listen to some of the older records, that must be very good in their own particular sphere. I enjoyed it, anyway.
Murphy: It brought back something to me. My brother is a trombone player, and he introduced me to jazz. He had a whole bunch of records of people in the same 'forties era, and this reminded me a lot of that.
Clyne: When was this record made?
Tomkins: In 1944. Twenty years ago.
"So Dance Samba" Stan Getz and Joao Gilbert0 (Stan Getz-tenor, Joao Gilbert0 -vocal, guitar, Antonio Carlos Jobim-piano, Sebastiao-bass, Milton Banana-drums). Composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim. From "Getz/Gilberto". Verve.
Murphy: (at Gilberto vocal) I had a premonition that you were going to play one of this guy's records next. I don't know why.
Clyne: (at end of record) Yes, very nice. Beautiful.
Murphy: My first comment is: Getz is a genius, but why didn't he let Joao sing another chorus?
Johnson: Yes, I thought for sure he'd come back, and at least sing it out!
Murphy: This is the album where his wife, Astrud, sings too, isn't it? Well, how many A-plusses can you give it?, Wow!
Clyne: I think these two go very well together. The lyricism of the whole thing sort of ties up. Stan Getz plays beautifully in that idiom.
Murphy: I'd like to know just who heard who first in that combination. Because it certainly is a weird and beautiful accident.
Johnson: And very successful. They get a good feeling. I've had very little chance to catch Getz in person at all, since he came back from Europe finally, and began to get into this bossa nova thing. But, of course, his recordings are very popular, and you hear 'em a lot in the States. It's a funny thing - the things that are the most popular are not the things I like best, for my personal taste. On some of the more successful ones, Getz plays very little - just a little dab here and there, and that's it. He really did get to stretch out on that one, though.
Tomkins: And that was a little more aggressive than some of the bossa novas he does, wasn't it?
Moss: Yes, it was. He got stuck in a bit.
Murphy: I read a review of this album, which ended with one of those odd remarks that critics make: "When is he going to make a straight jazz album again?" When something like this is so good and so delightful, I can't understand why anyone would pass such a negative comment.
Moss: If that isn't jazz - what do you have to do?
Johnson: Well, it is true that on a lot of the stuff he's doing now, such as with the girl, he just kind of noodles in the background, and maybe he'll play eight bars. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if that's what that guy was making reference to. But he's doing so much of it, because it's proved to be a format that sells a lot of records. So there's the answer.
Clyne: I was quite surprised, when I heard Getz in person over here, to hear him play in such a forceful manner, compared to the way he used to play.
Johnson: Yes, he went through a change, somehow. Everyone noticed that.
Moss: But what a marvellous thing to hear people like the two tenor players we've just heard, who are completely different, and yet you can tell from the first bar who it is that's playing. And there's no question that it could be an imitator of them at all. They've got SO much authority, plus individuality of tone, that you immediately stamp them. I think it's far too difficult these days to pick out people, particularly among tenor players, unless you happen to know the lines that they play. So many of them have little regard for sound and tone, that there tends to be a terrible sameness about them.
"Till All Ends" The Jazz Crusaders (Wayne Henderson trombone, Wilton Felder-tenor, Joe Sample piano, Jimmy Bond-bass, Sticks Hooper-drums). Composed by Joe Sample. From "Lookin' Ahead". Fontana.
Moss: I didn't like the balance very much. There didn't seem to be enough presence on the rhythm section.
Clyne: I quite liked the edgy sound of the bass, but I'd like to have heard it a bit more clearly.
Moss: Was this a British recording?
Johnson: I believe it was The Jazz Crusaders. I've heard them a few times and there's something about the way they're recorded that I don't like. They don't seem to have the knack of balancing that outfit up right. Always the trombone sticks out too much, for one thing. If my memory serves me correctly, the ensemble is tenor sax, trombone and rhythm section, for the most part. And somehow they never get a good balance between the two horns. It's always more trombone than tenor, and it should not be. You should clearly hear two parts, and often times you only hear the one. He's a very vigorous and aggressive player, this trombonist, if he's the one I think he is. They should hold him down a little, balance-wise, on the ensembles. They come up with some interesting and enterprising things on occasion, but they get loused up by bad balance.
Moss: Do they get a proper balanced sound, when you see them live?
Johnson: Live, they can't seem to find the right set-up, either. Again, the trombonist is always sticking out, somehow. He's a loud player, to begin with, and he plays with a lot of force.
Moss: It needs a very robust tenor player, to match up to him, then.
Johnson: Is it the Jazz Crusaders?
Tomkins: Yes, it is. You're quite right.
Murphy: I thought the record was interesting, and I think it was a combination of 414 and S/4, wasn't it? Clyne: I think they just used a few bars of 5/4 to release into the jazz choruses.
Johnson: Yes, it was a 5/4 interlude type thing - then the rest of it was just straight wailing in 4/4.
"Beams" The Joe Harriott Quintet (Joe Harriott-alto. Shake Keane-trumpet, Pat Smythe-piano, Coleridge Goode-bass, Bobby Orr-drums). Composed by Joe Harriott. From "Movement". Columbia.
Murphy: I have no idea who it is. Is it Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry? If it is, I did enjoy what I don't normally enjoy about their group in that I liked the rhythm section. They kept the time through it all, and the intro and ending passage was fascinating. But I don't understand jazz when it gets this far out. The only reason I was able to get something out of this was because the rhythm section wasn't going its own way, too. With Ornette's group, they seem to play together simply because they happened to fall into the same place at the same time.
Clyne: It sounded like Joe's group.
Moss: Yes, Joe Harriott and Shake Keane.
Johnson: Where are they from?
Clyne: It's an English group. From personal experience, I think that this type of music is often more interesting and enjoyable to play, rather than to actually listen to. A lot of people must find it very hard on their ears to follow exactly what is going on. I've enjoyed performing it, on occasion.
Johnson: Would you say that these people pattern themselves kind of after Ornette Coleman's format, in general?
Clyne: In a general kind of way, but with the Coleman records I've heard I don't find the rhythm section wandering too much. Whatever they do seems to have some relationship to the ensemble. There's always a sort of regular time thing going through Ornette's music. I think there is some similarity in the basic approach of Joe's group, but - in person, anyway - they seem to get even freer than Ornette, and go wherever the wind happens to take them.
Moss: If it is Joe, he explains all this quite logically - to him. Z can never understand what he's talking about.
Clyne: He often compares it to abstract paintings.
Murphy: Well, I thought this record was essentially music - whereas what I've heard of Ornette and Don Cherry, it's sort of anti-music.
Johnson: I personally didn't think it was very musical - that particular side that you just played. I didn't get the musical content at all. I got the impression that they were probably experimenting with some kind of format that I don't know anything about. And. for me, it didn't come off. As far as Ornette Coleman is concerned, I've heard him on many occasions, in person and on records. And most of what he does, I can relate to it and identify with it and I like a lot of it. Some of it I don't like at all - when it gets so far out off the deep end that it loses me completely.
Murphy: Do you think he knows what he's doing, though, at all times?
Johnson: Ornette? I do believe so. I think he has complete control of the situation. I've talked to the guy quite a few times, and he's quite conscientious and serious about the whole thing - contrary to popular belief. People just put him down flat, and they think heís a big joke: "Well, heís got to be kidding.. He can't be serious with that. But he is - and I've heard him play quite well. And Iíve gone back on another night and I didn't think he played so well. He kind of fluctuates, somehow. But Ornette writes most of the material for his groups and some of the things he does are very melodic and really very musical. Off the beaten path, and maybe a little weird - but really good. He's written some excellent jazz melodies.
Clyne: As far as the improvisation side of it - it's very spur-of-the-moment type of music, essentially.
Johnson: I go along with that. I don't put that down. A few people are trying that out here of late. And it's kind of popular amongst a lot of the younger players. They call it "freedom" in the States - kind of breaking the bonds of what we're accustomed to, of playing in conventional chords, and in the 32-bar or 12-bar format. I approve of all that. That's all necessary and very good. Some of it comes off - and some does not.
Clyne: Joe calls his particular things Free Form music, which is the same thing. And it is basically experimental music, so there's no guarantee that it's going to come off every time.
Johnson: Well, that's the premise on which I don't put it down flat, when I hear all these people who are kind of experimenting and groping around.
Tomkins: But should they do that in front of the public?
Johnson: Well, I don't know. That's open to question. That's a good point.
Clyne: Well - why not?
Moss: The whole point of music is to convey something to an audience. And you've got to try these things out somewhere. It's no good just locking yourself into a room and playing music for yourself. It's got to be a means of conveying emotion of some sort. It might be horror, which is what this conveys to me - a nightmare. But if I didn't listen to it I'd never get that emotion.
Johnson: I think so, too. I think the public should be in on it, at all times. Keep it out in the open. There shouldn't be anything going on behind locked doors.
Murphy: In fact, the very prospect of someone doing this behind locked doors is worse!
Tomkins: That was by the Joe Harriott group, incidentally.
Moss: The funny thing about this, with Joe, is that he plays the most magnificent Parker-style alto - and switches to this. Now this is a thing that I can't quite understand.
Clyne: I think he feels that he wants more freedom to express his musical ideas - something beyond the confines of the regular patterns, that will enable him to stretch out a bit more.
Moss: Yes, but he doesn't do it all the time.
Clyne: No, but it's good that he can do the two very well.
Tomkins: J.J., have you ever felt any need to play this kind of thing?
Johnson: I've just dabbled in it on occasions, you know. I've never really gone in for it all the way.
Clyne: Did you enjoy it?
Johnson: Yes, it was a ball. You kind of just go where you want to go.
Moss: You can't just stand still and have nothing happening. I think people have got to try these things. And the best ingredients of it eventually stick - the same as the original bebop movement.
Johnson: It's happened in other art forms, such as symphonies, literature. You always have the innovators - the people who try to step out, away from the past, and go into something else. And that which is good will stand on its own two feet in good time. You don't have to worry about it ever. People do worry about it - but there's no need to. Just leave it alone and if it is valid, has substance, and really has something to say - it'll just be fine.
Murphy: I never would have thought that was an English group, though. But now that I see that it is, there's certainly no reason why it couldn't be.
1964, Les Tomkins. All rights reserved.
1964, Les Tomkins. All rights reserved.