Jazz Professional               


Sax Viewpoint

Talking to Les Tomkins
in 1972

The personality of Paul Desmond
The jazz audience

Back in the crook

Giant jazzman, gentle wit...

Sax viewpoint


On saxophone tuition: I once spent a dismal year in the States sort of wandering around with a lantern looking for a teacher. It’s very awkward on saxophone. On piano or drums you can go along with the teacher, even if you hate the way he sounds, because he’ll show you technical things that you can use any way you want. Whereas on alto the first thing the teacher does is work on your sound—and if it’s not the sound you want you might as well forget the whole thing. That’s the problem. You always end up sounding like Al Gelladoro— which doesn’t work so good with jazz!

On time signatures: We didn’t really have too much trouble getting into these unconventional signatures—but it takes a while. At first, in 5/4 , we had to keep sort of popping up and looking round to see where we were, but now it feels natural. It’s something you don’t have to think about any more—just like 4/4 or 3/4. The 11/4 is the hardest for me and even that is beginning to feel somewhat natural now. The only one I would really want to spend a long time with is 5/4. For jazz this is a good groove. 

On Al & Zoot: Whenever they’re at the Half Note in New York, I practically live there. Listening to them is like having your back rubbed: it’s pure self–indulgence. I think they’re wonderful.

The muse: Maybe musicians aren’t all that different from other people, in that anybody can get a silly tune stuck in their head that just won’t leave them. It’s like interior Musak. It can be kind of annoying, but you can’t do much about it; it just runs on and on.

Very unpredictable: When it comes to writing tunes, you sort of send up a request for ideas, they send down a batch and you look them over. Most of them are trite, which is to be expected. So you keep scratching away at it until one appears that you like.”

An Interesting Situation: There was a thing I would have loved to have done— maybe we’ll still get around to doing it. When Gerry Mulligan and I play together . . . we made a couple of records and we played together a lot, before we got into playing with Dave, and Gerry is really superb at playing a counter–line. As a matter of fact, I often like what he does as a counter–line more than when he’s playing solos. (Don’t tell him that!) But he is so good at that, that warming up backstage before a concert, when we’re just making noise, quite often we just stumble into a musical pattern of some sort—with no rhythm, no barlines, no chords—and it does kinda give you a giddy feeling. And I thought of planning something like this.

Actually, it’s a situation, more than a piece or a tune as such. As long as there was some way of involving the rest of the group ultimately—it would come to a certain point, and have maybe one tiny thing set that would bring the others in. Then maybe end it the same way—I’m not sure about that. But I thought we could do this kind of theatrical thing: just sort of wander out onstage, unpack the horns, sort of vaguely tune up, and start doing this. And fall into a pattern; then the other guys come on—and suddenly we’re in the middle of a tune. I think it would be kind of nice. Somebody’s gonna do this. That always happens—I get these marvellous ideas. talk about them, and don’t do them myself. I should stop doing that.

Do I feel that I’ve fulfilled myself musically? Oddly enough—no. This is really immodest— especially since I’ve spent five years now really not playing, except for occasional quick tours, and records. I feel I’m operating at less than capacity—much more so than most musicians I know. Which figures, you know; they’re playing all the time, although some of the time they may be playing things they’d rather not play.

I just mean I think I could play immensely better than I ever have before at this point. I hope I can prove this to you some time. Or to me—as far as that goes.

It’s just a feeling I have. Yes, I do feel I have a lot more to come out. In a way, taking that long period of time of not playing...

Copyright © 1972, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.