Anglo–American Conversation

Kenny Clare and Jake Hanna talking to Les Tomkins in 1975

Part 3

Talking about Jazz

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

Hanna: I worked with Bobby Hackett quite a while, you know. One night we were at Condon’s, and Gene Krupa and Pete Fountain came in: so we had ‘em sit in. Then we had a whole group of well–known trumpet players come in; I won’t mention their names, but nobody was over five feet—that’ll give you some hints. Hackett was the tallest guy there! Real great players—but Bobby sounded so much better than everybody else. And he didn’t even want to play; he wanted to get off, because, you know, he’s not the most enthusiastic about playing all night long. He just played this one chorus. which was just wonderful.

Carl Fontana was there—we were at the bar listening—and he said: “You never know how great Hackett plays till some other heavyweights get up there with him, and he starts shining over ‘em.” Without trying to—because he doesn’t even want to blow, man.

Yeah, Hackett’s a great player. Knows how to put those little bands together—Dave McKenna, Johnny Bunch, just these few guys he likes to play with him; he’s got to have the right piano player. I’m afraid he’s overlooked, though—he’s not spectacular enough for the people nowadays. They don’t realise he has that perfect time, perfect ear, perfect taste —everything is perfect that this guy does.

Clare: Lots of people get overlooked to the point where their style doesn’t catch on with musicians who want to copy it. For example, I remember in the middle ‘forties Ray McKinley put a sensational band together, with Eddie Sauter doing all the charts for it, but nobody ever took up on it. Consequently, that style got lost as attention was focussed on other bands. But it was a great shame, because that was a cracking band.

Hanna: He had one with Will Bradley earlier, but that one you’re talking about was the one. Of course, Ray is the one who started that Disney World job; he went down and became the MD, I guess you’d call him. He called Dean Kincaid to go and help him out. I’m sitting in the house one day. and I get a phone call, and it’s Dean. He says: “Have you got Nat Pierce’s phone number?” I said: “Gee, I do, but he’s out of town right now; he’s working with Stan Kenton’s band, helping him out. Stan’s a little sick.” Dean says: “I gotta have a piano player right” away for this job at Disney World down here.” I said: “Well. look—how about Dave McKenna?” He says: “It’s not that kind of job!” Women and children are down there, you know!

Clare: Oh, he’s a tremendous pianist. The tape of that album that you laid on me . . .

Hanna: Isn’t that a classic? That’s my all—time favourite album: “Dave McKenna—Solo Piano.” Nobody’d believe it till they heard it. What a piano player he is. You can’t get the album; it’s a collector’s item, and it’s a gem—people guard it with their lives. Dave lives in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, now. He’s one of those special guys, like this Irish guitar player over here—Louis Stewart. I consider him one of the greatest guitar players in the world; I put him right up there with Jim Hall and Eddie Bickert from Canada. Louis Stewart thrilled me, man. Oh, I’m gonna get that guy a gig with somebody—under the right circumstances.

Dave is equally as good on the piano, but he just won’t go down to New York. Like Carl Fontana, the world’s greatest trombone player—he’s not gonna leave that town, for some reason. I think Carl should be presented well; I think he should use Louis Stewart—that’d be a hell of a deal. Great guitar players like him —they should be making the money that these other fools are making. But that’s the way it goes—money ain’t your reward in jazz; it’s as simple as that.

Have you heard Stan Getz lately? He was up on the Coast for a while, and he came down and sat in with Supersax one dav—and this is the old Stanley. He and Oscar Peterson are probably playing more music than anybody in the world right now. He’s a genius. He’ll take you right out of your seat, this guy. Oh, can he hear! —We played Charlie’s thing on “Embraceable You”: we had Stan play a couple in front—so great, man. We said: “Play another one”. As good as Charlie’s thing was. Stanley was just as great, or, depending what you like, maybe even better. So pretty—so gorgeous. Very few people playing beauty any more. It’s considered passť, like brush playing. Are you playing much brushes?

Clare: Yeah, I like to play brushes—you bet. Recently I did an album with Monty Alexander where I played a lot of brushes.

Hanna: But you use the plastic on that, uh?

Clare: It’s a pretty new head, though.

Hanna: That’s okay, right, but it’s hard to get good calf now. Cymbals are getting better, though. Well, the rockers break a lot of that equipment; so that’s why they make it so heavy. It’s a whole different type of music—or non–music, whatever you want to call it. I don’t care for it myself. I haven’t heard anything there that compares to Cole Porter or Zoot Sims yet.

Clare: But some of the drummers have got some chops, though.

Hanna: Oh, the drummers are the best thing about it; that’s the only part I really like. The bass players and guitar players are all nonsense—dull, boring . . . But what’s this about amplifying drums? They’re not loud enough already?

Clare: Not when you take the front heads off, they’re not. To me, it’s incredibly insane. The whole basis of a drum is the fact that you hit one head. and that pushes the air through, makes the other head vibrate, and—at the same time makes the shell vibrate.

Once you take the front head off, you’ve got nothing. All you’ve got is one head moving, and there’s no sound from that; it’s just like hitting a table, a chair or something. So then you put a microphone in, and try to get an engineer to make it sound like it should with two heads on! Incredible.

Hanna: It’s the same thing as iced tea; you make it hot, but you put an ice cube in to make it cold. What the hell is all that?

Clare: It’s one of the beautiful cons of our time.

Hanna: I’m trying to play softer, and leave out more licks. Every day I try to edit my playing. I hear Buddy Rich is playing more brushes lately.

Now, Buddy always claimed he couldn‘t play brushes. He sat in one night, man; he said: “Well, I’ll play the brushes”—and he wiped me out! I said: “Well, that’s the last time you’re ever sitting in!”

Oh, there’s nothing Buddy can’t do on drums. It’s sort of like Ted Williams in baseball—don’t try to throw him a pitch you think he hasn’t seen, because he’ll put it right out of the ballpark. Don’t try to give Buddy music you think he hasn’t heard—“This is the new thing, man.” “Really?”—Buddy played it in 1932!

Clare: I had a good night one time with brushes, when Jo Jones and I went to see Max Roach play. Now, Max was accompanying a bass solo, and all of a sudden he got stuck with playing the brushes. And he played sensational. Well, with Jo there, he was really in trouble.

Hanna: Oh, Jo’s the master brushman; he’s the greatest of all time. Well, I got a good beat off Max. They had a little jazz club on 54th Street called the Downbeat, and I saw Max work there, standing this far from him. I’ll tell you—he’s a very big influence on my playing. The way he thinks: he puts solos together about as good as anybody I ever heard. He’s a hell of a guy, too. As far as guys that have advanced drums, I would say he would be the one that has done the most of all—taking ‘em out of the way they used to play.

Clare: Oh, I must admit I think Klook more than Max. Max is an extension of Klook. Because Klook was busted off of so many bands for playing the way he wanted to play—he’s fantastic. I think Max took it a step further.

Hanna: Kenny Clarke to me is still basically a swing drummer; he’s got the greatest time I’ve ever heard. Oh, man, that’s my biggest influence. I’m nuts about him—love that ride beat. With the Boland band, you had the best seat in the house, didn’t you?

Clare: Right—you don’t get any closer. Yes, after Klook. Max, then Philly Joe took it steps further.

Hanna: Roy Haynes is a pure bebop drummer. You want to hear how bop drums sound? Go hear Roy—that’s exactly how it sounds. Yet he was with Lester Young, who hated that style—but he was crazy about Roy Haynes. So it has to be good, what he did. That “Focus” record he made with Getz was sensational. He has a touch like a jewel, this guy. Another guy again that they’ve overlooked; he was rated well when that style of music was in its heyday, but they overlook him now. He’s still a great player.

Clare: I’ve got a Chick Corea record with him on. He sounds fantastic on that.

Hanna: Yeah—again, You can’t second–guess this guy. He, Alan Dawson and Clarence Johnson all came up at the same time in Boston, but Roy left town real early, before all the other guys did. He was the first of these guys that really made it.

Before that, guys like Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges, Maxie Kaminsky came out of that area. Cliff Leeman’s from up around Portland, you know.

Clare: Jimmy Woode’s from there, too.

Hanna: But he left years later, though. Roy was the first of that generation to go out and play that style. Don Fagerquist was from Worcester—he was never around Boston much; he made it years later, too. But Roy—he made a hell of a record with Cannonball; great—the drumming sold the record, for my money. And, of course, he did a lot of stuff with Charlie.

Styles don’t matter, though. Good is good, that’s all, and I do believe you can put ‘em all together playing, as long as they’re good players, all have that swing. You put Harry Edison right in there with Dizzy Gillespie, and it’s gonna come out like a gem. And Roy Eldridge, Louis Armstrong, Ruby Braff—it’ll all sound perfect, believe me. I mean, a guy like Carl Fontana’s always gonna sound good, no matter what he plays.

Clare: Yeah, I’ve seen him play in Dixieland bands, modern bands—he sounds great, wherever you put him. How about the Supersax record with him on? Did that come out good?

Hanna: Whew! You gotta hear him on it. He walks off with that album; sounds like Carl Fontana and his Octet! He did it under difficult circumstances, but, oh man, it’s frightening, and I love him. The guy’s out of sight. I got some tapes from Baltimore; I didn’t know the bard sounded that good in person. Frank Rosolino is devastating on this thing. As for the album with strings—l think it’s the best one we’ve ever done. “April In Paris” is very good. And we did “Cool Blues”, “If I Should Lose You”, “Just Friends”, though, was on our first album; should have saved it for the fiddles, but we didn’t know they were gonna let us use ‘em at the time.

Oh, jazz is a healthy scene all right. The healthy guys are still here. Zoot Sims is here, Buddy Rich is still working, Johnny Bunch is still playing—they’re all here. Sweets Edison sounds better than ever. You’ll never kill that thing; jazz ain’t dead—just those dumb players, man, and the people that say it are dead. You can’t give up—not when the stuff is that good. All of a sudden, Picasso happens to be in—so Michelangelo’s no good any more?

Clare: Unfortunately, jazz has always been like this, hasn’t it? The newest thing is good; anything before is rubbish. It’s the only art form as such that puts everything away that was done before.

Hanna: Supposedly—but it always comes back. Naturally; when the tide goes out, it’s still there.

Copyright © 1975, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.