Kenny Clare and Jake Hanna talking to Les Tomkins in 1975
Kenny & Jake Hanna Parts 1 2 3
Every night a first night
Atmosphere and adaptability
Well, first Id like to ask you, Jake, what youve been doing in latter years.
Hanna: Ill tell you. Weve got a band over there in the United States called Supersax. Eighteen months wed been rehearsing in a garage, and Capitol took a chance on us. We made some collectors items . . . I have trouble finding the records in the stores, anyway. Were just finishing up the third one nowCharlie Parker With Strings.
Ive got one of them. Youre still playing strictly Parker music, are you?
Hanna: Oh yeahweve got our hands full with that. Hes the hardest guy to play, and the best one. Most other guys do Lesters stuff, Woody Herman already. Theres still a huge repertoire of Charlies left.
Also Im just completing my fourth album with Herbie Elliss little band. The first had Joe Pass and Herbie, plus Ray Brown and myself; that was followed by a live album, then one called Soft Shoe, with Sweets Edison, George Duke, Ray and myself with Herbie. Then we did an In Person album of that, too. Thats what we usually dorecord in a certain format, then go and do one live.
And I think this last live one is gonna be the best of em all. We added Plas Johnson on tenor, and the stuff we heard is real good.
So is your home in Los Angeles fulltime now? How long have you been there?
Hanna: Five years. I stay with A. J. Kahnthe infamous Doctor Deephe was Tinys second cousin. We met in New York in the forties, during the war, when he was stationed up there. Nice little place; all the people come overJimmy Rowles, Bill Holman, all the guys.
At one time it seemed as if the jazz scene in Hollywood was almost nonexistent. But is it coming to life again now?
Hanna: Well, seems to be a little more action now than there used to be. Shellys place folded, unfortunately; he had to get out of his original premises, when Wally Heider took that over for recording, but the other one wasnt the right setup, and he wasnt too happy with it. He always got the good acts, though, and he was a very good ownertreated all the customers great, you know.
Thad and Mel are rarely out on the Coast, but he brought their band in there for a week. The acoustics in the place were about the worst Ive ever heard anywhere, but a restaurant ran it during the day, and they wouldnt let him do anything with ithe wanted to fix it up.
Where do you earn your livelihood, mainly?
Hanna: I work in Hollywood, on a TV show Ive been doing for ten years nowMerv Griffin. Good guys Ray Browns on there, and Jack Sheldon, Bill Berry, Richie Kamica, Kai Winding, Jimmy Cleveland, Herb Ellis, Benny Powellremember Benny with Count Basies band? Its a great bandwithout much music to play.
Youd go nuts if you didnt get out and let off some steam. Its no use professional musicians of the calibre of Ray and those guys sitting there doing that only. You gotta get out there and play, man.
So Med Flory and Buddy Clark had thought it up some time ago: Itd be wonderful if we had a whole book of Charlie Parker stuff. But who the hells gonna write something like that? Anyway, Buddy gave it a shot; hed never written in his life, but he wrote all those charts for the five saxes, trumpet and rhythm. And its a hell of an experienceyou really dont realise . . . well, a lot of people realise how great Charlie played, just from listening to the records over and over. But to see that piece of music, and hear it all the timeman, thats a heavy brain the guy had!
Did you get to hear Supersax while you were over there, Kenny?
Clare: Yes, I did, a few times. I thought it was great; it knocked me out. I saw it with Jake, and with Frankie Capp playing drums.
Hanna: Oh, thats rightwhen I had my busted shoulder.
What have been your general impressions in the States, Kenny, during your time there with Tony Bennett?
Clare: Well, from a jazz point of view, theres a lot happening in some towns. In Pittsburgh, for example, there are two jazz clubswhich is pretty strange. Theres a bar, where I saw Monty Alexander, as well as an upstairs clubDizzy was working there.
Toronto is goodabout three or four clubs. Then L.A. and New York, and thats about it.
Hanna: New Yorks really got some joints.
Is there any kind of a resurgence in jazz clubs?
Hanna: I dont see too many guys taking too much of a chance opening em. Buddy Rich did, but hes like a salmon going upstream; when everything seems to be collapsing, hes doing great, this guy. You know, he starts a big band when theres not a chance of ever making itand he does better than anybody. Of course, hes an exceptional person. A lousy drummer, but . . . !
Clare: If he could just get some chops, you mean!
Hanna:. RightI hate those limpwristed drummers ! But he gets good guys for that big bandhe pays good, I understand. Johnny Bunch is back with him. In fact, him and Marty Flax went out when he started the first band. To tell you the truth, I enjoyed that band as much as any Ive heard. Woody Hermans got a good new one, though.
Would you say Woodys present band is as good as the one you were in? I suppose its difficult to make comparisons.
Hanna: Its totally differentits a very musical band now, not what you would call a Swing band. I think the band we had was a Swing band; it wasnt a bebop band, or a modern band. It had to be, with those guysNat Pierce and myself, Billy Chase, Sal Nistico, Phil Wilson. We kept a nucleus of about four or five guys in there, and the rest would come and go regularly.
Clare: In the band now, hes got a very good first trumpet player, Dave Stahl . . .
Hanna: Yeah, that kids greatthat little blondhaired guy?
Clare: Beautiful. Theres a fantastic trombone player, too. And have you ever played with Greg Herbert?
Hanna: Hes excellent, and so is Frankie Tiberitheyre in very good shape.
Do you think Woody has the right ideaalways recruiting new blood, and reflecting contemporary trends to some degree?
Clare: I dont think he has a choice!
Hanna: For that kind of moneyyou have a lot of people passing through.
Clare: Its just fantastic that he always seems to pick winners, somehow or other.
Youd agree, presumably, that hes to be praised for his consistent efforts to keep that thing going?
Clare: Oh, sureyou cant say enough about Woody. Woodys fantastic.
Hanna: Woody Herman is my favourite of all the bandleaders. I worked with a lot of guyshes the best, as far as Im concerned.
Of course, hes had to try and make money, but the music comes first with him.
Hanna: Absolutely. Hes never sold out at all. Woody loves that excitementits probably why hes still sane. Hes got a great sense of humour, Woodyyou have to. Oh boy, hes really paid some dues; I couldnt begin to tell you the headaches that guys had. I couldnt do iteven if I had to. I wouldnt, either. Hes a strong guystill out there on that road. So is Basie, and so was Duke.
So when these young guys say they cant take the roadforget it; theyre cissies. Woodys over sixty now, Basies seventy, Duke was seventy-five.
Clare: Well, look at Buddy.
Hanna: Hes fiftyseven years old playing harder and stronger than he ever played in his whole life. And with a big band yetout playing all the guys in the band. Harry James is still out there; Harrys blowing, manhe never takes it easy. And he still plays greathes a bitch. Maynard Fergusonof course, hes a younger guy, but he works harder than anybody; its a throwback to the old bands like Artie Shaws, where the leader played better than the rest of em.
Its often said that the best players are in the session field. Do you think thats the way it is?
Hanna: No. Zoot Sims is still my favourite player, and hes no man for sessions. And Maynard Ferguson aint in there. Nor is Jimmy Hall. Ray Brown happens to be in there.
The greatest players are still out there playing. The paper menthats what I call a lot of those session guys. Theyre great readersthats it. You cant beat a band with road chops, man. You can take guys that arent as great as those cats in the studio and make better bands out of em. Just cant beat that fire and that excitementnothing like it.
Clare: And that playing together all the time, too.
Hanna: To do four hundred miles with no supper, and sound goodthats the hard part. You sit down to do a thing in the studio, take a break for a cup of coffeeyou dont get to do that on the bandstand. I dont know how they work it over here, but in America, if its a four hour gig, the first three are on the bandstand. You take a twentyminute break, play the last set and go home.
Clare: Yes, its roughly the same here. Theres some great guys in the studios, obviously, but you usually find most of the ones that are great playing in some dingy jazz club for no money some time during the course of the weekjust to stay sane. Its very difficult in the studios, inasmuch as most of the time you can never get extended. When you do, then youre in trouble.
So, basically, the good players are those who go out and play as well. The biggest problem is : you never see any people, you never get any reactions. Maybe you dont even play the tune all the way through; if it goes wrong, you stop and start again. If youre on a bandstand, with an audience, youve got to play it, right from the start good otherwise theres trouble. Thats the big difference: the pressure you work with on a bandstand is more than in the studio.
But isnt it less of a problem for a drummer, as far as blowing is concerned, in the studio? Dont you get a chance, on some of the charts you play, to blow like mad, as it were, on the drums?
Clare: Not really, no. Its much harder in the studio. Like, with Tony, it was always a thirty-three piece band, and you sat with the trumpets one side, the bass the other side, the trombones and saxophones just in front. Now, Im back again to sitting in a booth, with earphones on, surrounded by screens, where I can see and hear nobody. Its pretty hard to make music that way. The enjoyment of sitting on a bandstand with musicians is much greater than the studio situation, with no contact with the guys youre working with, at the same time as youre trying to make something worthwhile out of it.
Everythings against you. I think the studio players do a great job, in these circumstances, particularly the rhythm section players, who never get to see or hear each other. At least four trumpet players sit next to each other, but the rhythm section dont even sit close, do they?
Hanna: Oh, Ive got that ridiculous set-up on the TV showcant hear or see anybody. Its terrible.
Clare: When you see the show from the front, you can see just the cymbals and your head. And Herbs right down the frontyou must never hear him, ever.
Hanna: Neverno. When he plays solos, I can hear him. I really wish he was up there with us, because he plays great rhythm guitar.
Clare: Righthes one of the greats.
Hanna: He sure isthats right. Well, I got Sugar Ray (Ray Brown) right there with me; so Im safe with him.
And I got Bill Berry in my left earthats it.
Is Ray Brown stifled as a player by the studios?
Hanna: Not the way he is. His personality transcends all of that: he never lets anything get him down. I never saw him create. Hes just so exuberant; he goes leaping straight ahead, and refuses to be brought down by it. He can make anything sound good, too, which is hard to do. In fact, its a dragwho wants to shine up a piece of that garbage? But he willhell fix it up somehow or other, and make it palatable. And when he plays, man . . . Hes played with Supersax once or twicewow, what a heavy stomp! A real pleasure. Thats real muscle.
Hes been doing some writing as well, hasnt he?
Hanna: Hes got a tune or two in the book there. I dont know all of the things Rays into now, to tell you the truth. He produces; hes got his office over there at A & MHerb Alperts place.
So you think he made the right move, when he got out of the Oscar Peterson situation?
Hanna: Whatever move he makes is gonna be okay for him. But he still goes out on the road, anyway. Hes going out this Winter, with Shelly Manne, Laurindo Almeida and Bud Shank. Oh, hes still playing. Herbie Ellis goes out, too.
Clare: Yeah, I saw him in San Francisco with Joe Pass.
Hanna: I remember. He goes out with Barney now, and Charlie Byrdthey do a triple thing. Three guitars. Look like theyre in Mannys window! But they did very good at, I think, Carnegie Hallsold out.
Speaking of Oscar Petersonhow do you find working with Oscar?
Hanna: Ohlike a breath of fresh air, believe me, after being smothered in that nonsense you have to play from day to day. Its my first time with him. I was over in Vancouver when he gave me a call. Hed been there earlier, but our paths hadnt crossed; I saw his wife up in Toronto, and hed just left there, too. He said: Feel like coming over? I said: You kiddin? Try and stop me. Hes got a sensational bass player, Niels Pedersen; theyre great guys, too. Oscar is something else. He likes to have bass and drums, I guess, but actually, he really doesnt need anybody to play with him. When it comes to solo piano, theres Tatum and him. Hes about the only one around today, that Ive heard. Maybe theres somebody else, but I havent heard em. Hes just phenomenal.
Its great, you know, to be up on the bandstand with him, because sitting right there I can hear him better than anybody canI got the best seat in the house now! I just tag along: Im only along for the ride with him.
You dont really have to do anythinghe does it all himself, and you just join in, thats all. Of course, he doesnt need no hundred-and-fifty pound knapsack on him. If its not swingingforget it.
Copyright © 1975, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.