When the going was rough
A & R work - it's a dictatorship
Talking in 1963
For several years now, I’ve been trying to arrange a tour of Britain with my band—and I think that’s been solved. I hope so, anyway.
We were at the first Swedish Jazz Festival at Lanskrona in September. Basie was on it, too. We had a couple of English musicians in the band—Ronnie Scott and Derek Humble. Most of the musicians were European. Some were American—they had been in the band before.
It’s getting rather simple to put the band together now, because every time we bring the band over three or four musicians stay in Europe. So three more trips and I’ll have the whole band here! My early background was mainly what they call Rhythm & Blues today. The only bands that I was really exposed to when I was very young were either Gospel groups or Rhythm & Blues bands from California—by living in Seattle. That’s what we heard most until the records came out with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. And then it became a fusion of all these elements.
Ray Charles was in Seattle at that time and, from what his reputation is today, you wouldn’t even recognise him then. He sang like Nat Cole and he had a very modern group called the Maxim Trio. We had all sorts of projects together at that time—and he was a big influence on my writing. He was very, very modern then—not so much blues.
Though he still incorporates the same elements today even in his backgrounds. He’s wonderful to work with. He knows what he’s doing.
I had been playing trumpet a year or two when I found I was playing wrong. I played on the inside of my lip. which wouldn’t have done me much good when I went with Lionel Hampton finally—because that lip would have lasted about two hours! You really had to blow with Hamp’s band. At that time I think the lowest note he had in the section was a high F! That’s a band where you either lose your chops or they get real strong.
So when Clark Terry came through with Basie’s sextet that he had in 1950, I took lessons from him. We just lived together almost the whole time. I would hardly let him out to eat.
Clark is fantastic. He’s still one of my favourite trumpet players. It was a thrill to have him in the band. It’s wonderful to have your teacher to play for you! He’s always been an individualist. And I understand he had a big influence on Miles as a kid, too. They’re both from East St. Louis.
Anyway, the following year I went to University in Seattle. but there was a little too much mediaeval history there for me. At that point I wanted to get away from home—so I went as far as I could go. I had a scholarship to the Schillinger House Of Music in Boston, so—boom.
I was with Lionel Hampton’s band for three years. When I had the offer to join him it was a matter of deciding whether to stay for the three years left in the scholarship or to get out there in the field of practical experience, travelling, working every night and trying arrangements out—which, in a more professional sense, can be a school, too. It was quite a difficult decision to make. But I ended up with Hamp.
Hamp always had a very good band. At this time he had Milt Buckner, Jimmy Cleveland. When we came to Europe in ‘53 he had Clifford Brown, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce, George Wallington. Annie Ross was the vocalist with the band. It was fabulous. So much so that it became difficult for any of us to ever leave the band, because all the guys were in love with each other musically. Finally, we had to leave the band en masse. Eleven left at once. I think—right after Paris.
It would be pretty difficult to assemble a group of musicians like that in one band. It really would. Because I think Benny Golson, Clifford Brown and Gigi Gryce were the last three guys to join the band—in Atlantic City, when Tadd Dameron’s band broke up. And it would be hard to run into a comparable crop of new, young musicians.
Actually, the first record I made was with Art Farmer for Prestige. I wrote an album for him called “Work Of Art”. That was with musicians from the band, and it was a thrilling moment for us—to have Art get a record session. We rehearsed and prepared for it for two months. We had the luxury of time that we can’t afford today. Incidentally, during my stay with Hamp we had a tremendous awakening in Sweden. I imagine anybody that has never left the States has the feeling that the Americans play far better than most European musicians—in jazz, anyway. In many ways this is a fallacy. It was exaggerated. I don’t mean that we felt that we were superior, but we had a feeling that it wasn’t quite up to the same standard that we had in New York.
I’ll never forget when we came in from Oslo, having just heard a few Dixieland groups—nothing that could shake us up, really. We came into Stockholm by train and when we got off, all ready to wail and tear the place down—there on a baggage cart were eight musicians, including Ernie Englund, Bengt Hallberg, Ake Persson. .and Simon Brehm—and they were wailing! I said: “If the welcome band is playing like this I think we better just leave now!” As a matter of fact they were playing “Flying Home,” with all the modern chords in the middle, beautiful arrangements and swinging like mad.
When I left Hamp I went to work for CBS with the Ray Anthony band. I settled down in New York for a little while and started the freelance arranging thing—records and so on. Once you get involved in that cycle it never ends. You do a little bit of everything. I worked for ABC Studios for a while, various record companies and bands, James Moody’s band, Tommy Dorsey. It was wonderful. It’s good experience and you really get a rounded scope and insight into the music business.
I was almost house arranger for Em Arcy, because Bobby Shad was there at the time and we worked together a lot. He was the A and R director then. And we did things with Brownie, Helen Merrill, Dinah Washington. I used to write quite a bit for them then. But I was not under contract as artist or arranger. I didn’t sign a contract, in fact, until about three years ago—with Mercury.
And I also did some freelance albums for ABC Paramount, Impulse, Prestige and various companies. At that time it was wiser to stay free. I imagine every musician that has been on the road knows it’s like a fever that you never really want to lose. I think every entertainer is prey to it.
Like Sarah was saying the other night how she enjoyed working here with Basic for three weeks—back on the band bus again, with the card games and whatever goes on in band buses. It’s so much a part of your life that you can never really say you’re through with it, and not enjoy it occasionally. I guess that why you enjoy it at this point is that you feel pretty safe that you don’t have to do it steadily.
So in 1956 I got the road fever again and Dizzy Gillespie came up with the proposition of organising a band for him, because he would be occupied with the JATP tour for Norman Granz over here in Europe. You know, Dizzy’s very candid and he says everything in a very simple way. He said: “Put me a band together. We’re going to do a State Department tour. Write a show, a two–hour presentation and meet me in Rome.” And that was it. I didn’t see him again until we had written a show and put the band together. We met him in Rome and went down to the Middle East, Turkey and Greece, Pakistan, South America—everywhere. Dizzy’s a fantastic leader, a fantastic musician—a real giant.
I wish I had been able to write more than I did for the Gillespie band. We had planned to do all sorts of things. But with the practical side of a big band it’s hard to keep your ideals. Ernie Wilkins and Melba Liston were in the band, so there were about four arrangers, with Gillespie. And Dizzy said : “Before you leave on the tour I want you to go down and get seven pads of score paper. No, you better get twelve. ‘Cause we’re really going to write a lot of new music, and we’re going to do this and do that.” But when you’re doing one–nighters you don’t have too much time. Even eating is a luxury. And between seeing all the new things in the city, eating and sleeping, and playing the concert—that’s about all the time you have.
It used to take four of us to get one arrangement out. We’d have to sit down and just force it out, because it was too tempting to try to absorb all the local atmosphere. So we came back with about eleven pads still empty. It was just that time didn’t permit us to do what we wanted to do. It was the same with my band, too. I was occupied most of the time with trying to keep it alive.