Jazz Professional               

SAL NISTICO

The most exciting thing in the world

Everything's a rhythm
The most exciting thing
Tubby Hayes meets Sal Nistico
With the Buddy Rich band. Talking to Les Tomkins in 1965

My last stay in Europe ended in Ď66, after I went back with the Woody Herman band. Iíd been living in Sweden, I joined Woody in London, and went with him on a State Department tour through Africa. After that, I went back to live in the States, worked with Basie for about eight months, followed by another spell with Woody. Then I lived in Los Angeles for a year or so, back with Woody, and then I lived in BostonóI was teaching a little bit up there. My next move was to go home to Syracuse, New York, where 1 worked with my brother. Iíve been in New York for the last three years, actually.

In New York, Iíve worked with a Latin band, Tito PuenteóI enjoyed that. And Iíve done some things with Chuck Israelsí National Jazz Ensemble; we played some concerts along with the groups of Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans. This was a big band, but not your typical situation at allóit was a sort of jazz repertory company. The line-up varied all the time, but would include cats like Randy Brecker, Mike Lawrence, Curtis Fuller. Completely eclecticóyouíd do ďRockiní In RhythmĒ one tune, and next you might do ďNefertitiĒ, completely free, without any chord changes. What I really found enjoyable was the broad approach to music óno pigeon-holing at all. I only played on about three concerts, but we did a lot of rehearsing.

I work around on my own account outside of New York. I havenít done any New York club dates, although I believe I was due to. For a while I wasnít too well, but now Iím just working my way back through to what I want to do. During this tour with Buddyís band, I seem to have been getting back into shape. Over at Ronnieís the other night, I had a ball, sitting in with Pete King and Stan Robinson. Right now, I think Iím on the verge of playing as good as Iíve ever played óin fact, better than I have in a long time.

Iím still looking for a direction, you know. But if I just follow the hornís lead, let it tell me what to do, without being pretentious or anythingóit seems almost like a museum piece. Unfortunately, the way everything is going now, itís hard for me to work and be myself. Because what I really like to do is just get a good rhythm section and swing. And if that happens, Iím sure the people dig it.

See, Iíve been working for other people for so long. I wouldnít mind working with somebody who was into what I want to do. After a while, you get tired of always having to compromise and adapt. I mean, itís good when youíre young; it teaches you discipline, certainly. But I want to have a group where I can . . . not really experiment. but feel like it can evolve. Like, you get with a certain bunch of cats, and just let it go, let it grow. I havenít been able to do that. Iím just going to work and trying to adapt to whatís there already, instead of going in and playing the way I feel.

The trouble is today, everybodyís so depressed that you have to be feeling better than they do, in order to make them feel better. Youíve got to be really together, to be into that. I was on a health kick for a time; I wasnít drinking or anything. I was really feeling good, you know.

I was never a big band player until I joined Woodyís band. The first gig I had was with the Mangione Brothers bandóChuck and Gap. That was a good band; Roy McCurdy and Jimmy Garrison were on it. I was twenty years old, I did that for two years, and that was the best gig Iíve ever had. Now, I dig big bands but itís not what I really wanted to do at the time. As a young musician, the road sounds like a lot of fun, and all thatóbut for me it proved to be a detour. My real intention was to get with a small band, stay there, and develop my playing. I feel like Iíve been biding my time for the last ten years.

Iím on my way to doing something now; I donít even know what it is, but on occasions like the other night I get reminded that as long as itís swinging it doesnít really matter. But itís not the kind of swing that is limited.

As far as thinking about the public, you should be conscious of them as some kind of presence, an intellect, but theyíre actually with you. The best way to think of the audience is as part of the band, but theyíre not playing at that time. It may sound corny, but the whole thing should be like a family. Youíre just trying to raise everything to a level of happiness. And when you create that real warm feeling, you get a feedback.

Communicating is the only important thing to do. I guess Iíve become conscious of this since Iíve been hanging out with kids that dug rock. Iím not saying that rock is more honest or anything, but I used to dig rhythmíníblues, and thereís something about what theyíre saying as far as pure enjoyment through the senses, instead of sitting downóand taking it as a purely intellectual exercise. You shouldnít have to force yourself to do anything; people should be drawn in by something other than the mathematics of the music. I donít even know if you can just say itís the pulse; itís that momentum, that extra thing that makes people dig it. Thatís what jazz was all about.

The really big mistake that jazz players make is to limit themselves. If you have a band, when the cats really know each otherís playing, you donít think about whether itís rock,

jazz or whatever.\You just call a tune that expresses what you want to express at the timeóand usually itís the same thing the people want to hear. Labelling is bad, because instead of being inner-directed, youíre being directed from outside to put out a certain set thing. Itís bad to think of yourself as a particular type of player, having to remember how you play all the time: itís like a circle that closes in on itself. What you should do is just play, let your insides tell you whatís happening, and if itís really honest, if youíre in a healthy physical and mental condition, I believe the people will respond. When they donít respond is when youíre attempting something unreal, trying to contrive what they want, thinking of them as all-important. They are all-important, but they came to hear you play you.

However, the problem is that the musician is not allowed to do that todayóunless youíre already accepted. If people accept you as an artist per se, then theyíre going to accept anything you do. Youíre free to be free. So you have that feeling that nobodyís going to be listening to you negatively, judging you harshly, to the point where you have to prove something. But if youíre playing under that kind of pressure, itís just not going to happen. Thatís why the best players are cats that really donít care. I mean, they care, but they donít let it dictate to them, you know. People that are in positions of being accepted no matter what they doóthey make better art, because they have a positive idea of themselves. The answer is: you have to maintain that self-respect; you have to have faith that you can play. And even during the periods when itís not accepted, you just go straight ahead.

I know I was to the point with Woody where I was accepted. That wasnít really what I wanted to do, but people seemed to really dig that more. Sure, it was fun, but it was a compromise, because it was a big band, and rhythm sections are not as sensitive on big bands as they are in small bands. You donít get that real sense of telling a story, the way you do in a small group. There you have a chance to stretch out, you get that interplay, where you leave spaces, and the piano playerís comping for you, and all this. When everybodyís really sensitive to what youíre doing, you can lose yourself and let it flow, without attempting to do anything in a short span of time.

On a big band, you have to condense everything, you have to open up burning, and usually itís a more superficial level of soloing. You go more for effects than substance. Thereís substance there, but itís not like having the chance to play until youíre finished.

Like, on Woodyís band, lots of times I never knew how long I had. That way, you canít pace yourself.

You should know that youíre going to have as long as you want, or that youíve got to do it right away. and get off. Iíve lost my fluency from big bands, in a wayóthat facility of stretching out and really getting to my gut level. But Iím starting to get it backóthat natural rhythm of space and music. Although thatís all changed now, thatís the way I still like to play. I guess you could call it old-fashioned.

When something is good, you canít call it old-fashioned. Kenny Dorham never sounded old-fashioned to me, but he wasnít playing like Freddie Hubbard; he was playing Kenny Dorham, and it was as hip as anything else.

Today the rhythm section has changed around. The comping has so much more energy, the feelings are so intense, that itís not as controlled as it was. Before, you were just focusing on the linear development of the soloist, and you would get into the story. Now itís the overall mood that people are affected by, The people go into a club now to be enveloped by the sound, since this electronic thing came in. Itís almost like going back to the womb.

For myself, I dig acoustical instruments, because thatís where the saxophone is. The way I want to play the instrument, I like to get the quality of the sound. Maybe I havenít got into the Varitone, maybe I will like it, but right now I still enjoy playing this way and, if Iím getting my sound, going for quality. I identify with that, itís plugged into me, and then I can tell my story. With the volume and everything today, I have to get a mouthpiece that is well out, but Iím sacrificing quality for that. So itís another kind of playing.

Itís a question of the overall effect of what Iím doingódoes it fit in with the background, with the sound thatís already going down? In previous small group playing, the soloist would set the tone, and everybody else would complement and camp for you. Now, itís the tune thatís all-important, and when you play you adhere to that, more or less. I kinda prefer the old thing, but I think the best music is that which has both approaches going.

The result of this volume envelopment on the listeners: when they go in and hear an acoustical band, I donít care how intense it is rhythmically, they donít think it is. Theyíre not listening that closely, and theyíre not that conscious of what rhythmic intensity is, even if itís soft. Iíve seen them get bored. It seems like they donít respond unless itís loudóthat kind of excitement as opposed to rhythmic excitement.

Ballads, standards or just a swinging, straight-ahead blues, up-tempo or medium tempo; if I get into some linear thing and thereís a give-and-take with the rhythm section, to me thatís jazz. And the people can still be attuned to that, when itís really happening. Because Sonny Rollins is still doing that; heís exciting, and people come in to hear that. I think everything else is a transition; thatís the nuggetóswinging and the communication that way. But it can be done with the newer harmonies and all that.

When I think about my favourite playersóJoe Romano has always been one of them. Weíve known each other for years. Heís actually a tenor player, Joe, and we used to do a lot of playing in up-state New York, with good rhythm sections. And thatís the kind of feeling Iím talking about; the people just loved it. You get in there, and when the group is cooking, you can be between sets and you still feel a great warmth from the people in the room. Thatís what I miss a lotóthat can be the most exciting thing in the world.

Copyright © 1965, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.