Jazz Professional               



Looking at the scene

Speaks his mind
On jazz form
Looking at the scene
A Les Tomkins interview

Are you finding that the present—day rhythm sections, with the directions they're going into, are giving you a different stimulus?

Yes—really, the straight four was never the only way. I always liked the idea of being able to open up the time a little bit, and play more melodically together—and when it did reach a tempo, then it would be a more natural tempo.

Stravinsky voiced that, in one of his essays once—about how unnatural he thought the "unrelenting quarter note" was. I do too, when, rather than being really felt, it's just mechanically played.

An album you made a few years ago with the French pianist Martial Solal had some explorations with time that were done in a very musical way.

Recently Martial played in Bath, and there was a review in a paper. Apparently, in all these years he's not had much opportunity to come here, and the writer said that he hopes this will be remedied—and that Martial will team up with me also at some time.

Well, I think you should. By the evidence of that album, you did work very well together.

Well, we did a lot of playing at one time, a few years ago, and I suggested it to Ronnie and Pete a few times, but they didn't go for it. Very soon now, I am actually playing with Martial in Paris for three days at a club.

In Europe generally, you have found there's no shortage of' good people to play with?

I have a rhythm section in Germany, one in Italy, one in Denmark, a couple in France. There's plenty of musicians who can keep me on my toes, you know. So—I just have to stay alive.

And you find a good reception to jazz as an art form?

Every place I go. They're small venues, usually; I don't play for thousands of people, unfortunately—I would like to do that. Young people are there, and they ask for more at the end of the night; so that's a very nice feeling. Two hundred or so of them at a time are getting something out of the music that should continue afterwards, I hope.

Do you encounter music sometimes that is positively objectionable?

Yes, to an extent. I find some playing in the so—called straight jazz way a little overbearing—with the emphasis on facility and energy of expression, it tends to lack the dynamics and the subtleties that make music most interesting to me.

And then some of the heavy rock type of music is similarly not enjoyable. I remember hearing Miles at Nice a few years ago, and I was intrigued for a while—and then I just kind of walked away. I'd had enough; it was just repetitious, and I didn't need any more. I didn't have to criticise it or anything; I started to, and I stopped myself, because it never feels good to criticise things. I prefer to enjoy the effort, and the result when it's done well. Then if it grabs me too. . . someone gave me a tape of Wayne Shorter's band at a concert in Lugano in '86, and he had two women in the band: Terry Lynne Carrington, and Marilyn Masur playing percussion—and it was clearly inspired.

So when you are in the States, what work do you usually do?

Basically, I just rest up for the next tour, teach a little bit privately, and practise—you know, just enjoy being home. But there's not that much opportunity to work in the States; there are no tours like this—for people like me, anyway. I do some of the colleges, but it's not enough.

What sort of teaching do you do—strictly the saxophone?

Well, mostly. I have students of other instruments too—a few guitar players—who just want to get familiar with some basic jazz theory and information. I talk about playing tunes, and the possibilities for looking at a tune.

Incidentally, I noticed your soprano on the stand at Ronnie's, although you didn't play it when I heard you. Presumably, you use it now and again?

I enjoy playing it. I discovered some time recently that you can play the soprano lying down; so I can practice lying down—I like to do that. I got tired having that horn hanging around my neck, and clarinet was my first instrument; so this is some kind of suggestion of that. But the clarinet itself doesn't appeal to me any more. No, you have to specialise on it.—I don't think Eddie Daniels plays the saxophone at all now. He's certainly doing a good job of mastering the clarinet.

Do you think it's a good thing for jazz musicians also to play some classical music?

Oh, yeah—I think it's great. I'll use it for practice purposes sometimes—but the literature didn't appeal to me that much. When I practise it, I like to play along with a record, so that I can experience the orchestral part or piano part, and try to duplicate that concept.

Have you become aware of the apparent saxophone boom these days?

Well, I'm sure that has something to do with why people are coming out, and want to hear another saxophone conception. Certainly, David Sanborn, Michael Brecker and those people have put the saxophone back on the map—strange to say.

Yet it is a fact that there are only very limited opportunities for jazz playing in the States now?

Definitely. There was much more activity in the early years; there was a major club in all the big cities. I know there are a number of clubs around that I haven't worked at, but many other people—Freddie Hubbard, Wynton, McCoy, Stan, Oscar Peterson, and others who are top people in the profession—have places to play. But I haven't get to that level yet—still working on it.

Well—you belong in that same bracket, I would say.

Thank you. But the fact is that you have to make at least one record to put you on the map. In earlier years I made a number of records with people that I was associated with, that helped a lot—Lennie Tristano, Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, Stan Kenton. But, you know—Stan Getz made that bossa nova record, and that put him on the map.

Have you made any albums recently?

Yes—should be one out now, and another one coming out at any time, and I'm going to Brazil to make the new one.

But none of my albums have hit. They get a nice review and everything and sell a fair amount—I haven't figured out how to make a hit yet. So I hope this Brazil thing might reach a larger audience; it's with a company that has some money, and has a big distribution in America. After the music is made, that's what it entails—getting it around.

Yes, it has to be a particular thing that gets through and catches people's ears, I suppose, in some way. You made one in the mid 'seventies for the Groove Merchant label, with a big band, called "Chicago And All That Jazz"—music from a successful Broadway musical, Chicago. You were pictured on the cover with your saxophone, one nubile, skimpily-clad girl and three unclothed female shop-window dummies.

That was originally a quartet date, you know, and they tracked on some horns, a synthesiser and some extra rhythm.

It was the closest thing I've made to a more accessible record. My wife got a CD of it recently, and I enjoyed listening to it. It had kind of a good, old—time swing to it. But in that situation—as compared to Andre Previn and Shelly Manne with "My Fair Lady' and whatever other show albums they made—there were no hits in the album I made. If one song had hit, it could have made the difference. So that was a revelation to me.

I really enjoyed it a lot. How did the album do?

I was told that it was sold to a company in Italy, and they put it in their very well—prepared inexpensive issues, and you could buy it at news—stands. I don't know what the company's name is—but they said they had sold a hundred thousand records. And when I tried to call the man, to find out where my royalties were, he was not to be found. I hope a lot of Italian people are sitting home and grooving with it—that's my reward! Doing that didn't tempt you to try anything on similar lines after that? Just my Nonet rccords. When I was due to record for this company, I asked if he had any ideas about a project; when he mentioned Chicago, which was running on Broadway at the time and indicated to me that I recorded the material, coming from Chicago as I do, I followed through with it. But no one has suggested another project, and I didn't come up with one of my own.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you haven't done an album with strings, have you?

No, just a string quartet thing number of years ago. And recently another string quartet situation with a French violinist named Pierre Blanchard; I play some solos on it—it's basically his album. Then a thing I did with the Danish Radio Orchestra, playing standards — a man from Arlo Records in Paris has been trying to get it from the radio there he wants to release it—but they've been very uncooperative. A year or more later, they still haven't got that settled—God knows why; he's willing to pay for it, and everything.

Well, those kind of hassles don't help matters at all.

Really, it's a shame. There's so much good material that the radio has created over here. If they can get their expenses back, or whatever, I don't see why it shouldn't be spread around.

Copyright © 1976, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.