Every night must be a first night

Talking to Tony Brown in 1969

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

For about four months now, on and off, Iíve been travelling with Tony Bennett. We worked our way all over the States, and itís been very enjoyable. A great experience, in point of fact. We did two weeks with Count Basieís bandówhich was fantastic for me, you know, to play with that band. And we also had some other very fine bands at various places, like San Francisco, Dallas, New York. The concert we did at the Hollywood Bowl was really beautiful in every wayówith the Los Angeles Symphony, augmented by a few bigĖdeal studio players.

To me, the music scene in the States didnít look too healthy. Jazz seems to be getting into even smaller rooms and darker cellars. Apart from the Half Note, thatís just opened up on 54th Street in Manhattan now, as opposed to being down in the Villageóthatís a nice club now. But basically, with Shelly Manneís closing and everything, it looks a little bit depressing, quite honestly. Still, weíll see.

But I also spent a fantastic time down at North Texas State University, where they have the Lab Band. I played with the One OíClock band, and I heard the Two OíClock band. I talked to a whole bunch of drummers there, and it was just tremendous, because Iíve known Leon Breeden for a while, anyway, and we had two or three guys from the band on the gig we were doing in Dallas; so one of them took me over one day.

Thatís certainly a very good thing for the futureóto see these young kids. Well, some of Ďem are not young, but the fact that theyíre that interested, to go to college and to play together like thatóitís great. Itís hard to explain, the whole thing. Itís just an incredible experience, to see all these people running from classes with their instruments to play in the band, then run back again, then try and get their practise in at some time, you know. So it seems that not all youth is messed up, one way or the other. These certainly arenít, anyway.

As you know, Iíve been to the States a few times, anyway, and know a lot of people there, as well as having worked for a lot of Americans over here. But Iíve really got no intention of staying there. I mean, itís nice for me to visit there, because I have many, many friends, particularly drummers that Iíve known for years, and various other musicians, relations and so on; so I have a very nice time when I go.

I still like England. I love England, in fact. I donít want to leave itóno way! To be quite honest, I donít really know why I should be considered a singerís drummer. I try to play behind singers as if they were horn players; you catch the buildĖups with them, and try to fit with what theyíre doing. And good singers donít sing the same every timeóthatís the fun of the gig. Like, Tony never really sings the song the same ever. So this is a great kick, and it keeps you awake. I enjoy playing with singers.

I enjoy playing with bands, tooóbut this gig is perfect, because I get a bit of both. I always get a big band and a good rhythm section to play with, good charts and a good singer. Now what more can you want than that? Thereís no playing downóIíve got the wet suit to prove it!

Tony? Heís fantastic; a real artist. Every nightís like a first nightóand thatís the way it has to be. I couldnít work with anybody who didnít have that kind of spirit. I certainly have that kind of approach to it; otherwise you would get bored to tears. And I donít need to travel three or four thousand miles to get bored!

I canít say I regret anything Iíve ever done. Iíve always wanted to do whatever I was doing at the time, as good as I could. Thatís the only ambition Iíve ever had. Just to play that gig that night, to the best of my ability, and hope I was working tomorrow! Really, thatís it. If I ever sit down and think about all the things that have happened to me, itís beyond the wildest dreams I had when I was a kid.

I like pop music, too, and I enjoy playing itóthatís another challenge. Everythingís a challenge, really. The hardest challenges, and the ones that are really very satisfying, are when itís completely against what you want to play, or like to play. It might be a Come Dancing, or something like that, but the fact that thatís not the normal way you do things makes it even more of a challenge to do it without making them look round and say: ďWhat the devilís going on back there?Ē Fitting in with whatever the situation is, thatís to me very satisfying.

This has kept me going. Sometimes itís hard in studio work to maintain interest, because it can be boring if you let it be. It doesnít have to be. I always get annoyed when pop groups put down studio players as having no feeling or anything. This is not really true at all; they really do have a tremendous feeling. Theyíre also very professional, obviously, and they can get the required feeling very quickly.

When they gloss over all the rest of it, thatís annoying. Session men are just as keen to do a good job. I know thereís been one or two instances where the amalgamation of studio musicians and pop group players hasnít come offóbut itís really only very isolated cases. Normally, itís a very good union between the two, with give and take on both sides. Most professionals are very willing to let the other side of things come through. You can lose a certain kind of feeling professionally, I guess, but ówell, you just mustnít; thatís all there is to it.

Iíve always tried to put a little bit of myself in, whatever the situation is. Even if itís sometimes funny. It brings to mind a thing I once did with Tony Fisher in Sweden. It was with a real oldótime kind of act, in a show based on The Good Old Days that is on BBCóTV; apparently itís very popular there. We had a kind of an old time jazz thing to play, but we didnít take the mickey out of it; we played it in the idiom. We kept playing this same one chorus round and round, and repeating a certain funny thing in the middle eight. In the end, we couldnít play for laughing! Nobody would have even noticed who didnít know what was going on, and we werenít upsetting anybody; it was just something that was pretty funny to us.

†Copyright © 1969, Tony Brown. All Rights Reserved.