Anglo–American Conversation

Kenny Clare and Jake Hanna talking to Les Tomkins in 1975

Part 2

Other drummers

Session King
Kenny & Jake Hanna Parts 1 2 3
Drum School
Every night a first night
Atmosphere and adaptability

Would you say there are some really worth—while advances being made these days in drumming as such?

Hanna: I don’t pay too much attention, to tell you the truth. If I go out to hear Stan Getz, I’m listening to Stan mostly. If the drummer’s lousy, he’s gonna stick out, but usually Stan has Billy Hart or somebody like that.

As for advances, I believe a guy sits down and plays himself; Buddy Rich’ll always sound good, whatever the situation. Bill Cobham is making a lot of noise now—he’s a hell of a drummer. I remember when Billy Taylor brought him out of Fort Dix he scared everybody then. Then there’s Alan Dawson—he’s always been great. He’s been a sensation since 1947, and they’re finally just waking up to this guy.

Clare: I went to a clinic that he did in ‘Vegas, and he was sensational. He was singing all those songs in seven . . . playing a solo while he’s singing the song—you say, “Wait a minute . . . ”

Hanna: He’s still the most frightening drummer I’ve ever seen. Now they’re being aware of him. But it’s hard to get out of town. You know, I told Bill Taylor about him years ago, and Billy was so knocked out, he said: “Gee, I’d love to have him”—you couldn’t move him out of town with a bulldozer, this guy. Anyway, Dave Brubeck got him out of Boston for a while. Hey, know what—1 caught Joe Morello a while back, down in Houston. Have you seen Joe lately?

Clare: No—not for a while.

Hanna: He’s bigger than ever, and he’s playing even better than he used to—if that’s possible. Man, he’s wailin’; he had some girl student there, who was wailin’ too. And Lou Bellson sat down and played—Louie sounded as smooth as glass, you know. Very good. And Bernie Purdy —that was the first time I got to hear him play, and he’s great. Sounded even better in person than on records. Larry London was there, too—dynamite.

Clare: I heard a record of Alphonse Mouzon the other day—he sounded frightening. This record was probably two or three years old; I guess he was still playing kind of time, then playing around with the time.

Hanna: I caught him in person in Houston, just before we went down there with the saxes. He was playing time—he was with Larry Coryell —and Randy Brecker. You used to go down there, a hundred bands’d show up, and these guys’d pick out the band they wanted to hire. You’d do a college or something like that. Maynard did it, and did very well. But I’ll tell you who really knocked me out down there—Lennie DiMusio. He played some great stuff I’d never even heard, with the cymbals and the drums—a hell of a drummer.

Tell you another guy who’s really good; I heard him in Dallas—Bill Lacombe. He was playing a gig with a good little Dixieland band. There was no bass fiddle in the band—but,wow, he sounds good. That’s hard to do.

Clare: Yeah, he’s a good guy. I did a clinic for him down there one time, with—what’s that girl’s name—the bass guitar player?

Hanna: Carol Kaye?

Clare: Carol Kaye, yeah—who is great, too.

Hanna: How’d you bump into that?

Clare: Well, she did an hour-and-a half and I did an hour-and-a half.

Hanna: Oh, I thought you played together.

Clare: Well, we did at one point.

Hanna: Yeah—no kiddin’?

Clare: She’s good, too. Fantastic, you know . . . incredible.

Hanna: Nice chick. But—talking about playing without a bass—Georgie Wettling was good at that. Zutty Singleton’s always been a bitch at it —such a good sound. But Bill’s a hell of a drummer. Very surprising.

And Jimmy Zitano—I finally bumped into him again. J. Z.—he’s writing songs, everything! Oh, he’s one of the most imaginative drummers I’ve ever heard. I think Shelly Manne and him are the quickest—witted guys ever to play the drums. Always coming up with something different. Remember him with Herb Pomeroy’s band in Boston many years ago?

Clare: I worked with a Berklee band with Herb—he’s a marvellous player, too.

Hanna: The best musician I ever met, that guy. Herb’s something else.

Clare: Where did we do the gig now? Utacah, that’s it—Torrie Zito’s home town. So we used a Berklee band, you know, and Herb was there. It sounded great.

You’re speaking of working with Tony Bennett, of course—Torrie Zito being his MD. What is this knack Tony has of picking up the best of the local players wherever he goes?

Clare: I think Tony knows more about the good musicians in every town in the States than anybody else ever.

And if he knows that there’s nobodv around, then he brings somebody in.

Hanna: That’s right—he grabs Zoot. He always has Zoot there. He had Ruby there for a while. And Bobby Hackett.

Clare: Now, the first time we worked ‘Vegas, we used Vido Musso. And Vido sounded beautiful.

Hanna: Oh, Vido! He didn’t try to sing, did he?

Clare: Oh, no—not with Tony there! But every time we went after that, Vido could never make it. He had some gig in a bar down the street somewhere. So then Tony got Harold Land in from L.A. And it was always Harold’s gig. Then, when he found that James Moody was in town, the next time Moody did it too. So we had a tune, “It Don’t Mean A Thing”, that people could stretch out on—it was, like, fifteen choruses of saxophones. And Carl Fontana on trombone—or sometimes we had Benny Green and Tommy Turk. Oh yeah, he gets good players—he really knows what he’s doing.

He believes in promoting jazz, doesn’t he?

Hanna: Good music.

Clare: He doesn’t believe in bad music at all. He won’t be pressured into singing anything he doesn’t like to sing—no way.

Hanna: Outside of Sinatra, I think he’s about the only singer who went straight ahead, all through that rock’ n’roll period. And if he did a Beatle tune, he did it his own way, and he fixed it up so it sounded believable.

Tony Bennett is a bitch. He’s a director, producer, the whole thing. He’s always working on his act—always honing his craft, this guy. He’s not trying to be progressive and all that junk. He just gets what he does: “Stardust”—he’ll do it in a way that’ll knock you dead. He does “It Had To Be You”—it’s him and the piano player, and a cigarette. He paints too, you know.

Well, he’s a music fan, and he’s indulging himself all the time.

Hanna: That’s right—he’s just crazy about it.

Clare: He’s not only indulging himself—he’s actually doing it, and it pays off. I mean, I’ve never seen Tony play to a bad crowd, or an unresponsive audience, because of all these factors that he thinks are important. They really prove to be important. I don’t think you can fluff the people off.

Hanna: He’s a pretty sincere guy.

Clare: He really is, yeah.

Hanna: And it always comes out in his work. You’ve seen the frauds up there, and you wondered how the hell they ever got there. Then they’re real jive when they come off, too. You see Tony later, he talks to you just the same way as when he’s right up there.

Clare: Right—and I’ve been with Tony when the show has been fantastic, a standing ovation, everything, and he’s still not satisfied. He still wants it to be better. And not in any egotistical way—just for the sake of music in general. Perfect tonight is ordinary tomorrow night.

That is the musician’s attitude, isn’t it?—never to be satisfied with his own efforts.

Hanna: Should be. ‘Course, I was very satisfied with my work in 1946—I should’ve stayed there! I’ve been scuffing lately!

Clare: I always remember—about three or four years ago, I came home one day, and there was nobody home; so I put on some old records that I made when I was a kid. You know, either they tape a broadcast or you go to some studio and do it with the local guys that you were working with. I couldn’t believe how bad I played! It really sounded rotten, with all the influences on me at that time Don Lamond, Dave Tough, Klook and all that. I thought I was doing something at the time—obviously I wasn’t.

But any influences eventually merge into your own playing.

Hanna: Right, I believe that—it’s a compilation of all the outside influences.

Clare: Well, you have to take the influences, and then take over from there. I mean, there’s a few people that slavishly copy, and that’s no good either. That’s hopeless, because you’re just a carbon copy of somebody, with never the incentive, or the idea of where you’re going to do it, anyway. You have to kind of forget the influences at some point, and become yourself. You steal from everybodythen all of a sudden you’ve .got something of your own.

Hanna: Who was the guy you listened to a lot?

Clare: When I was a kid? Well, I started playing in about 1942, and I saw Buddy in a movie—I didn’t even know who he was. I just said: “That’s what I want to do.” He was also doing a dance with Eleanor Powell; I didn’t want to do the dance—just the drum bit. I liked it. Chewing the gum, and all that.

Hanna: I remember. Buddy was doing all that juggling stuff, too—he’s great at that.

Clare: But then it took me years to find some other people. Like George Wettling, for example. One night I went to see Eddie Condon in a midnight concert at the Festival Hall and George played an eight-bar drum break that was sensational. I’d never heard anything like it. Nothing technical—just one of those things where they play the last chorus, the drummer plays eight bars, then they play the last eight again, with the tag. And he did a beautiful one—it fitted the tune, it fitted everything. And Condon just put him down for it—which knocked me out.

Hanna: Yeah, he’s really the most musical guy I’ve ever heard. But you know, I didn’t get hip to him until the ‘fifties.

Clare: Oh, I didn’t get hip to Duke until the ‘sixties. Well, no—late ‘fifties. And I’d been around a long time by then. I think when you’re young you like everything that’s new; later on you think “Wait a minute”, and then you start to go back to look for where it all started. That’s when you find all kinds of great people. Like, Zutty is great, Chick Webb, Baby Dodds—all those guys were fantastic.

Hanna: One afternoon we played a benefit for Teddy Napoleon, who was with Gene for so many years. It was at one of the old Dixieland joints in New York—Central Plaza. What a turn—out they had; it was packed. And we came down—Woody Herman’s band. It was a hot afternoon, no air conditioning, but the people didn’t care—it was jumpin’ in there.

Just like the old days, I imagine, in the heydays, I was just a kid, couldn’t get in the joints: I was relegated to the radio. Tony Parenti’s band was playing, and don’t you know the guy that tore it up more than anybody in that joint—Zutty Singleton.

Man, did he sound good! I said : “It’s a good thing we got sixteen guys to follow what Zutty just laid down there.” So I used his drums—I wanted to see just what I could really play. And there was the time, too, a guy says to me: “Do you want to hear a great drummer? I want you to hear George Wettling.” I said: “What—isn’t he the old guy used to play with Condon? I don’t want to hear that.” But he persuaded me to go down one afternoon. He was playing opposite Roy Burns, Sol Yaged—they were the hot guys there, supposedly.

George was playing with some hopeless little band—but I’d never heard a guy make music like this with a drum set in my whole life. He was the guy making the music—not the other two guys. I said to him: “Man, you’re the greatest artist . . . ”

Clare: Didn’t that cymbal you’ve got belong to him?

Hanna: That’s George’s cymbal. 1928, Armand told us. They don’t make that cymbal any more—about ‘32 is the latest they could have made it.

Oh man—what a drummer. And Jo Jones, of course—he’s the greatest all around man. But George Wettling —that was an artist. I guess if Billy Gladstone played jazz, that’s what he would have sounded like. Bill was a sensation—he just played with a snare, thrilled the hell out of you. You said : “What the devil is that?” Billy Gladstone wasn’t much of a reader, either. All symphony music, he had it all memorised—he told me that.

Everything he played on the piano, same thing. One of the world’s great piano players—him and Walter Gieseking, you couldn’t tell those guys apart. He wasn’t after Gieseking, it was just the way he played. That was his touch; he was sound—conscious all the time, had to get the sound better and better. Well; Georgie could do the same thing, just dropping his hand on the drum. Whew—what a musical guy he was.

Clare: That’s the best eight bars I think I’ve ever heard.

Hanna: That’s him on “Can’t Get Started” with Bunny Berigan—that little lick he plays there. right on the bridge. Joe Coccuzzo ‘hit” me with that: “Listen to that lick.” I said: “Jeez—they’re using that now, man.” Georgie Wettling. Beautiful tone, everything was matched perfect when he played.

Clare: I was knocked out—I saw Cliff Leeman a few weeks ago. I’ve heard records, but I’d never seen him play before. Oh, he sounded beautiful —1 couldn’t stop laughing the whole time.

Hanna: Yeah, he’s a funny guy. Great drummer. He has to be great, because he’s still here playing great—that’s the only way to survive.

Clare: Most of the new guys don’t have that much to offer. You know, they have a lot of chops, a lot of tricks . . .

Hanna: Ah—Buddy Rich’s got the greatest chops in the world.

Clare: Oh, sure—Buddy’s something different. But I mean, the real new guys, they can play out and the time is not so good; if they play time the out is not so good, or anything. But the older guys just seemed to have the whole thing covered.

Hanna: Well, they know the music. They’re musical guys.

Clare: That’s right, yeah. They make me smile. As much as I might admire the new guys, think what great chops they’ve got, or whatever, meanwhile the old guys are the ones who make me smile when I’m sitting down ‘cause I feel comfortable.

Hanna: A good feeling. ‘Cause you know you can cut their ass!

Clare: Like, I went down to Florida to see Don Lamond play; I hadn’t seen him for years. He sounded sensational.

Hanna: Oh, well, he is sensational.

Clare: Just incredible—I couldn’t believe it. I mean, it was a dance band.

Hanna: Is that the one that Sam Marowitz and those guys are in? Oh, that should be a hell of a band.

Clare: Yeah—Sam sounded fantastic, too. It’s a great band.

Hanna: Dean Kincaid wasn’t there, was he?

Clare: No—I think he might have been sick at the time: he didn’t show. But Gene Traxler was on the bass. On the bass guitar, actually, and sounding marvellous. I can’t remember all the cats, but it was great. They played dance music, and just knocked me out. And they played for Helen Forrest in the cabaret, too.

Hanna: That’s sort of a weird place to get to, isn’t it—that Disney World?

Clare: Yeah. I called Don’s wife, and she told me where to stay; then, when I finally got there. I couldn’t stay there—they were full up. So I called and said “Help”, and they said: “Well, come and stay with us.” So Don came and picked me up at the airport, took me home, and took me up to the gig—otherwise I’d never have got there. It’s in the middle of Disneyland, which is about a fifty square mile area.

Hanna: Don turned drumming around single-handed. One guy did it—not Dave. Dave didn’t do it—Don did it.

Clare: A completely new conception —and still as fresh today as it was then.

Hanna: Well, it cannot be imitated, that’s the whole thing about it. Like trying to imitate Dizzy—can’t be done. No possible way you can do it. Can’t imitate Charlie Parker—believe me, millions tried. No possible way. Can’t imitate Bobby Hacket—totally impossible. A lot of cats tried; they even tried to get other guys to do those records with the strings that Bobby did. Save some money, get a cheaper guy. Nobody even came close; they did it nicely, but nobody can do what Bobby does. That’s the hardest style to do, ever—no extra notes, and some of that hard middle register, where the lip has got to do all the work.

Clare: I did a couple of albums with Bobby, and it’s easy to play with him. That is the criterion—if it’s easy to play, that means it’s right. The minute it’s hard to play, then it’s wrong, because it means it’s putting pressure on you. Because if it’s perfect from the front, it’s perfect every way.

Copyright © 1975, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.