Jazz Professional               


Happy again with the trio

My life in and around jazz
Happy again with the trio
There are good vibesaround
Talking to Les Tomkins in 1981

It’s wonderful to be back playing with Tal—he’s such a delight to play with, and we haven’t done much together in the last two years. Over the last fifteen years, we’d never played as a trio before. We did that Concord concert out West a few years ago, with Hank Jones, Ray Brown and Jake Hanna—very nice, but it just wasn’t like working with a trio. It’s a different thing. So we’re getting back to it now. It’s a good format, the Trio is, and it’s a very specialised kind of playing. And there’s so few people that really do it well—in all the respects of what you have to do. Because you have to do so many things. Of course, here in England we don’t have our bass player that we’ve been working with—but it still has the basis of it.

Tal is the bottom of the whole thing, I think.

In the last few years, I’ve been working less and less. I was in ‘Vegas for about three years, in one hotel, starting in ‘70. Then I lost Eve, my wife—and I didn’t play at all for two years. I wasn’t around music, I didn’t go to clubs or anything; I just kinda got away from it en-tirely.

My son was a pilot for Howard Hughes, and he lived in the house we had up in ‘Vegas; I went up to see him one time, to see his prowess. While I was there, I met a pit boss I knew, and the first thing you know he had me working. He got the fellows I’d been working with there out of the other hotels, and said: “You can’t stop playing.

You got to start playing again.” The fellows asked me: “We gonna rehearse?” I said: “No, I don’t think so—we’ll just go in, because if I play at all, I’ll run like a rabbit!” So we just opened, and it took about a month to get so it felt half–way decent. We stayed about twenty weeks there; at the end of that time, I knew that I really wanted to play again.

I don’t know how to say this. . . possibly, at my age I need it more than anybody. It’s something that I need myself, emotionally and physically. I don’t think you can spend your whole life in this business and suddenly just clip it off—it just doesn’t happen. I’ve had to face up to a lot of problems, including operations, but I don’t make any bones about it—if things don’t go the way that they should, I accept ‘em. Yes, I think playing is a real therapy—I have a definite feeling about that. I suppose it’s like anybody that works with their hands—playing is that same way. You’re doing something you like and enjoy. I find the travelling hits me harder than it used to; I can’t over–extend myself the way I used to years back. So I watch that pretty well—I don’t travel too much. As a rule, I’ve been working, I would say, maybe six months out of the year—which is sufficient. There’s a 1ot of places I like to play in the States; I make quite a few festivals, which are fun, and I get to see a lot of musicians that I don’t see normally during the year.

But now that Tal and I have been playing together, and we’ve got the trio back working, my goodness—we’re getting so many offers, I don’t know what to say to half of ‘em. If we’d take it, they could book us all the way into next Summer. Right now, we do our last concert at the University of New Hampshire on November 30th.

After that, I’d like to go back to California for a couple of months, if I could. I do really enjoy it with Tal again. He’s a delight to be around, and we get along very well. I think if there wasn’t any music we’d still be friends—if I can say it that way. Even when we weren’t working together for years, we always kept in touch with each other. That’s usually unusual, I think, with musicians who live three thousand miles away from each other. But he’s known my family since they were kids, and we have that kind of relationship. In June, when we went to New York without much preparation, it just seemed to happen. Everybody was so happy that we’re back playing together. . . it was a great thing. Very fulfilling.

The hearing problem is something I’ve had to adjust to—I have lost a lot. Slowly, playing, I have assimilated a lot of the problems. If it’s a real noisy room, I have problems, because sometimes the noise could be louder than the music—to me. There’s a medical term they call that; you could be two feet from me and I couldn’t hear what you were saying—the noise in the room would be so loud that it would block you out. And the fear of being in situations like that was a thing that was with me for quite a while.

But people I work with know that I’ve had a hearing problem, that I’ve had operations, and it has affected my lows and highs and the pitch. I don’t hear very high, and some of the things down low are not right. I’ve made the adjustments somewhat—as much as I can. And yet I’ve gone in and I’ve made records with no rehearsal, like that “Red and Ross” album with Ross Tompkins; we just walked in and played, and that was it. We hadn’t any plan; we had no idea what we were even going to play—but I guess they got a pretty good album out of it. Well, I’d played with Ross once before, and with Jake Hanna.

A lot of people say they don’t even know that I have this. As I say, the fear of it is greater than the actual things you have to adjust to. If I become scared in a situation, then I just have to stop—I kinda lose my musical reasoning, if I can say it that way. Generally, musicians seem to sense if I’m not hearing ’em enough, or something like that, and then adapt accordingly. So it’s working fine—I’m happy about it.

It’s very satisfying to play, but I’m very grateful that I can still play. Because when it happened a number of years ago, Tal heard about it and called me—and I couldn’t even hear him on the telephone. I just broke up; I had to get Eve to talk to him. But that’s all behind—I don’t look at that. Today’s today, and I live with the day.

I’ve only played on the two Concord albums: “Red and Ross” and “On Stage”. But I did do an album for Flying Fish in Chicago; Joe Venuti was supposed to be on that, but that was just when he got sick. It was Dave McKenna, Urbie Green, Buddy Tate, Barrett Deems, a bass player and myself. We were working there, and they did the album on the job; they were very happy with it, and it did very well in the States. I think that’s what prompted the Concord “On Stage” album. Actually, I didn’t know they’d recorded that concert. I might say that I was instrumental in getting Tal to come out for that; he called me about it a couple of times. and finally we decided we’d go up a week early. He came out, and we just hung around, played, and had fun between us for five or six days. Tal and I were going to make a trio album at that time, but they ended up with Tal making one with Hank Jones and Ray Brown. So it’s just now that I guess it’s possible for us to do some more recording.

Copyright © 1981, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.