I'm from Buffalo—that's upstate New York. It's funny, a lot of tenor
players come from around there—Sal Nistico, Joe Romano, J, R, Monterose.
And Nick Brignola, the baritone player.
Nobody in my family had ever
played, or was even musically inclined. One day I heard a jazz record—"Body
And Soul". Then the next day somebody let me listen to a Gene Ammons
record. And three weeks later I had a tenor saxophone. That was it. I was
15, and I hadn't played till then. I never studied; it was something I went
after, and there it is. I learned by practical experience only.
In the army I got a chance to
do a lot of experimenting, and to meet a lot of other good musicians. Stationed
in Stuttgart, I was in the 7th Army band that is legendary now. Don Ellis
was in the band, Leo Wright, Lex Humphries, Cedar Walton, Lanny Morgan,
Eddie Harris. Ooh, what a band that was. One of the best I ever played on.
I couldn't believe it. I had the opportunity to write for the band; so it
was a beginning for that.
Don Ellis was into his experimental
things then. He was writing in 5/4, and all kinds of times and sounds. It
was quite an experience. Having got to know Don, after the army he invited
me to stay in New York with him. And I quit playing. All the way through
the army, I'd just told myself I didn't want to play any more. When I got
out of the army I was going to go into a normal life. At some kind of day
job. So I did—I quit for almost a year, between 1958 and '59. Before the
end of 1959 I had started playing again.
In 1960 I went with Maynard
Ferguson's band for a year and a half. Wonderful. I did a lot of writing
there, too, The great thing about that band was the enthusiasm—bubbling
over. Even when everybody was really dragged and depressed and down, making
a one-nighter from New York to Chicago—boy, the band used to get up on the
bandstand and really cook.
I don't know what caused that
enthusiasm. I can't figure it out. We didn't make any money; when we didn't
work, we didn't get paid. You know, it wasn't a band where they guaranteed
you so much a week, or where you could live off it. It was like a hobby
The important thing was, I think,
that everybody really had a chance to stretch out and play what and how
they wanted to. Maynard let them do that.
I, for one, used to get really
depressed on the band. And, now that I look back at it, I guess I was more
bugged at myself than anybody else. Because there were many things that
I couldn't make, and I'd really get up tight about it; I'd find all kinds
of excuses to put down other things.
Sectionwise, it was fantastic.
Lanny Morgan was playing lead alto, with Willie Maiden and Frank Hittner.
The band was fairly stable while I was in it—almost two years. The trumpets
were Don Rader, Chet Ferretti and Rick Keifer. Rick's in Cologne now. He
was in the Greger band with me; he's with Kurt Edelhagen now.
As well as being, like, one
of the cats, Maynard was a great leader. It was very, very conducive to
playing good jazz; he was beautiful for the whole spirit of the band. Outside
of the money thing; that was the only drawback. It seems like you've really
got to pay some dues if you're dedicated to jazz.
It wasn't like a big band—that
was the idea of it. He kept it small; and everybody in the band was a soloist—with
the exception, I think, of the lead trumpet player. And sometimes the lead
trombone, who really couldn't stand up and play a whole bunch of jazz. But
even then, he used to have that when Slide Hampton was in the lead chair,
and a few of the other cats.
So it was no easy problem for
Maynard, with the band never becoming a big commercial success. It's a shame;
because when they look back on it in another ten years, it will be considered
one of the really great bands. I'm glad to see that he's getting a little
active again in Europe.
I left Maynard to go to a money
job. I went to play with Stan Kenton—and stayed for about six weeks. It
was such a letdown; not because the band wasn't good or anything. It's just
that I didn't get to play as much as I did on Maynard's band, and I was
making all kinds of money. I suddenly realised what I had done, and panicked.
I left Stan Kenton, went back home—and quit playing again.
Well, I didn't really stop playing.
This time I went home and did a lot of practising; we started a small group
in Buffalo with Sam Noto and a few more local musicians. It enabled me to
get myself a little bit more together.
Right then, in 1964, I just
didn't know what I wanted to do. I didn't want to go in Woody's band at
the time. Nor did I want to go back with Maynard's band; they were starting
to scuffle even more about bread. I knew Dusko Goykovich from 1956 when
I was in the Service; he gave me Max Greger's address, and said: "Write
him a letter." So I wrote Max, told him who I was and what records
he could get to hear me on. Three weeks later I was in Europe.
What a switch that was! Now
I was working and I was getting a chance to play jazz on my own. I couldn't
believe it. I had so much time off from my studio gig, almost every night
I was running some place to play. Not immediately—it took me four or five
months to really get the jazz thing going. But once I did, it was beautiful.
I was given my own record date while I was there; then after a year and
a half I made the record with Max. Not to mention all the commercial things
that we did. My writing had full scope, too.
The four years in Europe was
priceless experience. Through working in the studios, I learned to play
all the saxophones and flutes. I hadn't played flute before, other than
a very small amount with Maynard.
Musicianship, I found, was of
a high general standard. The only thing was the studio. The band really
wasn't a jazz band; so it was kinda hard when Max decided he wanted to make
jazz things. As far as the small groups were concerned, there are quite
a few good rhythm players in Germany. Which was no surprise; I knew that
from the army days. It was just a matter of getting back, finding out who
were the new young cats, where they were and how to get them together.
And in Munich, at the new jazz
club, the Domicile, an awful lot was going on jazz-wise. I was able to play
every night for the last two years of my stay. Really beautiful; a very
exciting scene. That I really miss. Since I left Munich, I haven't had any
chance of stretching out the way I could there.
Of course, I get to play quite
a bit on Buddy's band. But it's a completely different kind of playing in
big bands. You talk to Sal Nistico, or any jazz player, he'll tell you this.
It's the way it should be; you should listen to what's going on around you
and build upon that. Because if it has nothing to do with the overall context,
what's the sense of playing it? Buddy has a pretty straight-ahead band.
I sit there, and he plays right in my ear. And I dig it. I dig drummers
that really beat on them, you know. I think that’s the way drummers should
play. There comes a time to get sensitive; but when it’s time to swing and
to really lay it down, he does it.
The British tour last year was
my first trip over here since October,'79, when I came as a member of the
Louie Bellson band. It was also my very first time as a single. It looked
like I was going to try to put it together about three years ago, when I
went to Scandinavia. I was in Sweden for almost two weeks, and then I went
on to Helsinki—that was my third time there as a single. In Sweden, I did
a single in a club, made an album with Hector Bingert, a Uruguayan tenor
player who has a jazz/salsa band, and toured with a Swedish big band at
all the various folks parks that they have. In Helsinki I played a jazz
club, the Club Groovy, and did a live album there also.
I don't know why I didn't put
the British thing together earlier—or even Germany, for that matter. It
always seemed like I was so busy, getting involved in different projects
in the States. I always said: "I'll work on it six months from now;
I'll try to set it up for next Spring"—and there was always something
else that came up. Last year's trip was arranged six months in advance,
and it worked out real good.
For a couple of years I've been
playing the first flute chair in Cats in Los Angeles; that's at the Schubert
Theatre in Century City. It's been very nice to get a steady pay-cheque,
and to play my flute all the time—the book is ninety per cent flute. L.A.
is really not a theatre town; it's probably been one of the longest running
shows they've had there.
This was another first for me—I
hadn't done pit work before. And it's a totally different set of rules.
I thought it would just be: go there, play the music, smile through it all—but
night after night playing the same music involves an extreme amount of discipline.
You start to memorise all the cues real quick; what is essential is: not
to get bored with it, to keep it sounding fresh—to keep it interesting is
the big thing to do, I think.
A lot of the guys sit there
and read—and it bugs the hell out of me. I feel they should be listening,
and constantly aware of where the pitch is. I don't know—maybe I'm taking
it too serious. But I take music very seriously—and music has been my whole
Of course, you can't get too
creative with notes that are expected to be the same, and phrasing that
you have to adhere to every single night. There are a couple of little things
that are just out-and-out solos, which have absolutely nothing to do with
anybody else except you alone. At the beginning of the second act there's
this short one—well, you consider it short by jazz standards, but when you're
playing it al1 alone in front of a theatre packed with people, it suddenly
becomes very long! But I try to take a little bit of liberty here and there,
and play it slightly different. You keep trying things—you know, nothing
ventured, nothing gained. You have to take chances—but when you do, sometimes
you'll slip. I am an interpretative artist; so I'm liable to do it that
way. And sometimes I'll get the high sign from the conductor; sometimes
not! It's okay, though.
It gives me an extra interest—and
people around me. There's a short tenor solo in the first act, and I promised
myself that every night I was going to play it different. It's a rock 'n'
roll, honking tenor solo, with a lot of high notes in there. They want it
in the contemporary vein, and that's the way I do it. I use that pinched,
squealy sound—it works perfectly. I've been having more fun with it; every
night it's a different trip.
Listen, I've played on a lot
of rock 'n' roll records. I've played solos that in a million years people
wouldn't think that it was me. Nobody would pick it out and say: "Oh,
that's Don Menza". It doesn't work that way. I turn into a chameleon;
I wouldn't dare go in there and approach it like I do when I'm on the stand
playing "Airegin" or something—that would be totally out of context.
And if you've got a rock 'n' roll tenor solo to play, you give it that contemporary
thing. I'm not talking about a 'fifties tenor sound; I'm talking about the
sound that's right here and now—there's a certain element in it that you
But after more than a year in
this job, you can imagine how much I needed a little break, to go out and
play some jazz again. I started to feel that irresistible urge to do something
else—oh, I had a terrible appetite for playing. When you're not out playing
every night, you start to get the feeling: "Gee, am I forgetting how
to play?" It took one night; the next night everything started to get
very clear again, and I felt much better.
Working with changing rhythm
sections is no problem, really—it's the same situation in L.A. Somebody
comes to town, and if they're going to work a club for, let's say, four
or five nights, any given night you'll never know who's going to be in the
rhythm section. They'll hire one rhythm section, and when any of them can't
make it they have to worry about their own deps (or subs, as we say).
For me, going out as a single
has always been very good—whether it's up in Toronto or Buffalo or Phoenix
or San Francisco or San Diego. They always understand that, in spite of
those anonymous records, I'm not there to play rock 'n' roll. So long as
they pick a good jazz rhythm section that is fully acquainted with the jazz
concept—fine. And I'm talking about anywhere from early Swing to avant garde—I
don't care which direction they go; so it makes it easy. But I can usually
sort it out—and I'll usually go their way.
I've talked to some people about
it, and they've said: "Why don't you play more of your original tunes?"
That's difficult; I come to a town, and if I have one rehearsal with one
rhythm section, that means I have to rehearse every day, any time there's
a new player—unless they're tremendous readers. It's not worth it—it's far
better to go in, have everybody have their best foot forward and play it
as relaxed as possible. I know sometimes for the people it's not as interesting,
because they wind up hearing the same tunes from everybody that comes in.
Sorry—but that's the way the whole thing is set up.
If I went to other towns, or
came over here, with my rhythm section, or with my piano player and drummer,
or piano player and bass player, it would be easy to ask one or two of the
guys to start to follow what we were doing. When I play with my own group,
if I play one standard a set, that's a lot. Back home we usually wind up
playing three sets—here it's only two. So, in the single set-up, I try not
to repeat tunes, and try to dig into the past and come up with a whole bunch
of different songs to play.
No, I don't carry a note of
music, nor a list of tunes and keys—nothing. It's more exciting that way.
Just start playing, and everybody jumps in. And I try to treat things in
a different way—either play a tune as a fast samba or a bossa nova, or something
that normally would be played very fast played very slow, or play it on
flute. It makes a more interesting show for the people out there, because,
like Buddy Rich said: "We don't play requests".
When I've psyched out where
they're at, I try to pick tunes that will make the other guys feel comfortable.
By the same token, I don't like to play a tune that I don't know, and I
don't expect anybody else to. If there's music to it, that's simple— I can
read changes real fast. We simply find a common ground. Well, these are
musicians that are playing every night— they understand it all. I have to
say that sometimes I have to take a deep breath and try to get my composure
together, because it tends to be a little boring. I am tired of playing
"Green Dolphin Street"; I am tired of playing "Stella By
Starlight"—but under these conditions, you do the best you can. You
try to make it sound fresh. I'd rather do that than not play for the people,
I'll tell you.
Is there a kind of a 1950 barrier
for songs? Well, there are certainly a lot of sensational songs that were
written pre '50. I started playing around '51-'52, and most of the ballads
I learned originated before that. And I still play them: "I Can't Get
Started", "Body And Soul", "These Foolish Things",
"My Foolish Heart", "Fools Rush In"—I think most of
those songs were from the 'forties and earlier. They were the war ballads—the
love songs. And everybody seems to know them; it makes it simple.
But if you're going up and playing
a jazz ballad, there's a lyrical approach to it that you should have. I
think all the great players knew how to do that. You can separate the men
from the boys real quick: let somebody play a ballad, and you can tell right
away who knows how to sing, who has all that lyric quality. I'm a stickler
about that; I'll talk to young students all the time—I'll tell 'em: "Learn
how to play long notes. Do you know the words to the song? If not, learn
Listen to a good singer, and
imitate what he does." That's all the instruments are, anyway—they're
just an imitation of the human voice.
I know many of the songs I play
are songs whose lyrics I've learned. Then you learn how to phrase and how
to sing. The whole thing about vibrato or non-vibrato—I don't care about
that. There's some singers who will sing a note dead on. Joao Gilberto's
a prime example of that; most people would probably say he's got a terrible
voice—but, boy, can he tell a story! Does he know how to get that lyric
quality happening! He has that beautiful, easy approach to it. He's one
of my heroes of all time—then on the other hand I'm a Pavarotti fanatic.
How does it add up? Well, it's all music. Absolutely.
As to whether the older songs
are the best ones—I don't know. Lionel Richie's come up with a whole bunch
of beautiful songs. "Lady" is a wonderful song to play. It's just
that it seems like... how much do I listen to contemporary pop things these
days? Not a lot—I've discovered Mahler; so I'm going even farther back now,
and all of a sudden I'm into a whole different aspect of music.
I have been putting the majority
of my time and effort into learning how to write film scores—I went to school
for that. I studied conducting and orchestration; I'm still doing that,
and I'm anxious to get into it. I've started knocking on doors, and it's
funny now, the answers I get: "Well, we always considered you a jazz
writer." Well, they never commissioned me to write any jazz scores
either! Now I'm interested in the area of dramatic film writing—suddenly
I'm a jazz tenor player and writer. Well, then hire me for that! But it's
been extremely rewarding. I'm finding I know more about music than I gave
myself credit for—and I'm winding up with a bit more confidence. Now I want
to get into music that much deeper. I've started writing a whole bunch of
new charts. It sounds like I've taken a step... I don't know if it's forward,
but in a slightly different direction. Harmonically it's turned into something
else. I'm writing a lot more for woodwinds, mixing colours and instrumentations
far better, and getting some contrasting things happening.
I just wrote a new chart on
"Caravan", and it's a totally different approach to that song
from what anybody has ever done.
Hopefully, it'll be on the next
album with my big band. All the ballads have woodwinds; there's no high
notes, screaming and everything—it's all very nice. The ballads sound like
ballads. It's all acoustic, for five, five and five, and three rhythm—but
at times you'd swear you could hear strings, or you can almost hear French
horns. I do it by different couplings of instruments, different colourings.
I may work some electronic instruments
in there eventually—but there's something sacred about it, and I've made
very few compromises in my life, as far as music has been concerned. Sometimes
maybe I should have. If I were to say which ones did I make—I raised a family,
and I definitely had to make compromises for that, in some of the music
that I had to play. Playing in a studio is much the same as being on the
Ford assembly line, or working in a factory somewhere. But I raised a son
and a daughter, and I still have a beautiful wife—I have a lot to be thankful
for. On the other hand, I'm anxious to get on with it now. Here comes another
phase of it.
I don't think the dues-paying
aspect was too bad, really. The music that I played, for the most part,
was very good; I worked for most of the good writers in Los Angeles. The
Munich years were certainly very productive; I had a steady job there, and
they treated me as one of their own. I never felt like I was a foreigner
when I was there—it was sensational.
And I have a lot to thank Max
Greger for—to hire a jazz tenor player—well, he knew my reputation somewhat
from when I was in the Army; I sent him a couple of records that I had done
with Maynard Ferguson, and on the strength of that he hired me. Those were
four very productive years.
I didn't play the flute with
Max – I would say its in the last five or six years that I got real serious
about that instrument.
But that came from going out
with Henry Mancini, and not wanting to have to sit there all the time while
the full symphony orchestra was playing. I said: "Well, print up a
fourth flute book, so I don't have to read over somebody's shoulder."
I learned how to play all the parts, and I started to hear all the great
flute players sitting next to me in all the orchestras-and it didn't take
long at all. I mean, I learned how to play saxophone that way—from listening
to records. So once the sound got in my head, I knew what I was doing wrong.
It's been very worth-while, the last fifteen years with Mancini. That's
an education in itself—watching him conduct, and listening to the music
that he's written. Aside from his jazz awareness, I'm talking about his
approach to the orchestra—how he treats all that. Yes, he has his own sound;
his colours are very lush, very beautiful. He's very much aware of what's
Concerning my own band—I must
mention the "Burnin' " album on the Real Time label, because I
don't believe that showed up over here, due to distribution problems. The
saxophone section was great: Joe Romano, Ray Reid, myself, Larry Covelli,
Gary Herbig, Jay Migliori; Jack Nimiz played all the baritone parts. There
were three dates, and the four saxophones varied in different chairs. I
fronted the band; I didn't play in the section, because I felt at that point
in the studio I'd have a little more control over it. The trumpet section
was real good; it was Frank Szabo, Bobby Shew, Ron King, Chuck Findley and
Don Rader—not bad at all! The rhythm section was Frank Strazzeri, Nick Ceroli
and Frank De La Rosa. On trombones were Charlie Loper, Bill Reichenbach,
Dick Hyde, Myo Tiana and Dana Hughes. I did all the writing; there was one
standard—Duke's ballad, "Don't You Know I Care?"—which Louie Bellson,
I understand, recorded here. Now I've got enough music for two more albums—I'm
looking forward to them.
The week at the Bull's Head,
Barnes Tin February turned out real nice—it's always fun to go there and
play. It's a jazz joint—there aren't too many places like that any more.
Germany still has them; I was there recently, and they have their Jazzkellers.
You walk into a jazz place and it feels like: "Okay—let's play!"
Last year's short tour of Germany, plus one concert in Italy, resulted from
my previous time over here. Gaby Kleinschmidt came into the Bull's Head,
and she wanted to know if I would be interested in doing something with
Conte Candoli and a bunch of people from the West Coast. But the farther
down the line we got, the more people started backing out, due to various
other commitments. So we wound up putting the band together with Chuck Findley
on trumpet, Frank Strazzeri on piano, Frank De La Rosa on bass and Jimmy
Smith on drums.
It turned out to be quite an
eventful tour, to say the least. The first concert in Hamburg and the last,
at the Berghausen Jazz Festival, were televised. Then after the tour Frank
Strazzeri and I went to Barcelona, Spain, where we did some recordings for
the Fresh Sound label. Frank did a trio album, and I did a duo album with
him—all ballads. Just me on tenor and Frank on piano. Hearing the record,
one doesn't miss the bass and drums; it's very complete musically, very
laid-back. We did all beautiful standard tunes, such as "My Foolish
Heart", "You're My Thrill", "Darn That Dream",
More Than You Know" and "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes", plus a
jazz standard, "Soultrane", which Tadd Dameron wrote for John
Coltrane, and a slow blues, "Blues In The Dark", which still has
all that relaxed ballad feeling. It was a one-shot deal; we went in and
did twelve tunes in a couple of hours—it came out nice.
The ballad album has already
been released; it's here in London—I had to sign a few copies for some people
at the Woody Herman Tribute concert. Also we did a quartet album, which
will be released very shortly; I understand they're going to release both
of them on CD—so that'll put it out there for a while.
Since then, I've been doing
some dates with Louie Bellson—some small group things. I went to Boston
with him last September, and then in October we were in Chicago for a week
at the Jazz Showcase—we did a live album there for Concord. That was a quartet,
with Louie, myself, John Heard on bass and Larry Novak, a Chicago piano
player; it turned out nice—that's going to be out on CD as well. They're
also reissuing the "Horn Of Plenty" album, with Chuck Findley,
Bill Reichenbach and myself, and a rhythm section.
In December Louie and I did
a week at Fat Tuesday's in New York. Then the following week we went in
the studio for two days and made a big band album, with all New York musicians.
I did a bunch of writing for that; we wound up recording five tunes of mine,
including a big band ballad arrangement on "My One And Only Love"
and a three-part suite that was originally written for an all-star New York
State youth band—which played it magnificently as well. It's called "Blues
For The Uncommon Kids"; the title refers to the acoustic kids—they're
all into bebop. Anyway, Louie recorded that; we also did a thing of mine
call "Tenor Time", and a new arrangement of "Caravan"
which sounded really good— this one is definitely different! That album
will be out soon on Music Masters; I think that'll be strictly CD. I had
a chance to play some on there, as well as to write more—it made it worth-while.
I just came back from a week
in Cologne with the West Deutscher Rundfunk band; Chuck Findley and I went,
with Terry Clarke, the drummer from Rob McConnell's Boss Brass. We had three
or four days' rehearsal, did some back-up tapes on two-track in the studio,
and then on the Friday night a live concert which they recorded. They're
already talking about a return thing; the concert was a very big success—the
band played real good.
Rick Kiefer was on trumpet with
the band; he's been in Germany for about twenty-two years now. I went over
in March of '64, and he showed up around October that year. He seems to
be doing well. It was fun being back in Cologne, and to see some old friends—I
hadn't played there in twenty years. Everybody I talked to seemed to be
working—especially the jazz players, the people that have managed to stay
out there and keep playing.
All of a sudden the studio thing
seems to be dwindling slightly, for whatever reason. People blame it on
electronics and everything—I'm not so sure about that. It may have a little
bit to do with it, but I don't think we can point our fingers at that. Maybe—the
jury is out on the real reason why. Thank God I can still play; I'm still
writing, and I still have a big band in Los Angeles.
It was hard for me to get the
band started again after Nick Ceroli died—finding a drummer that really
had what I was looking for. Frankie Capp played with the band a couple of
times—of course, he plays with his own band, although it's a completely
different style of music—but he made our band sound really good. He's rather
busy workwise; so I decided to try Roy McCurdy. He played with Cannonball,
and he's been out with Nancy Wilson for a long time. I didn't want anybody
to be so wrapped up in reading that they forget about the jazz thing—and
above all Roy's a jazz drummer. That's what I needed first, and it seems
to be working out. It's hard , to find somebody who's got both ends of the
spectrum covered. We had a couple of rehearsals, and he was doing great.
Sensational The last time we worked at Donte's, the band was sensational.
Although we did it without piano, and everybody sort of missed it. In a
big band I don't miss piano at all—I don't miss it in a trio. Either it
gets swamped or it gets miked so hard that it winds up sounding louder than
the whole band—and there's no way acoustically that a piano sounds that
loud. If you get it to where the piano player feels comfortable, then it
wipes the band out, out front. And if it gets to the point where the guys
in the band can hear the piano when they want to stand up and play, then
it's too loud out front—and I've never been able to figure out a way of
doing it so that both sides are happy. If it is that way, then when I'm
hearing the band playing, I hear too much of the piano part. So it's crazy.
And I don't want that thing where I need somebody back there controlling
dials—the band should be able to do that acoustically.
Is the California scene a productive
one? Well, I don't find the most sophisticated jazz audiences in Los Angeles,
by any means. No, sir—I don't see it that way at all. On the other hand,
there are some opportunities to play. But there are some clubs where you
walk in and play, and you may as well be in a Las Vegas lounge. It doesn't
work. I mean, there are people there that talk all the way through a solo,
and at the end of the solo applaud, because they know the guy's done— and
: "Oh, doesn't he play beautiful!" Yes, it's a facade—exactly.
It's all part of what that town is—and it is showbiz, it is Hollywood.
Then again, on any given night
at Donte's it can turn out to be a really, really good jazz audience—you
Carmello's was fantastic when
it was happening—it was really a good jazz scene when it was going on. This
whole thing with Donte's...he finally sold the club; I'm not sure who bought
it, but I understand they're going to renovate the place and keep it running
under the same name. Hopefully, we'll still have the same privileges we've
had for the last twenty-five years. You could walk in there any night, and
the musicians didn't have to worry about paying a ten-dollar cover charge.
Everybody knew everybody there.
This is also the nice thing about Alphonse's: there's never a door charge
or a cover charge; you walk in and drink—that's in Toluca Lake, in the San
Fernando Valley, North Hollywood. I just had a couple of calls from some
people; I don't know if the Baked Potato is about to start their Sunday
night bebop thing again. Don Randi called while I was out, and I'll get
back to him when I get home.
But I'm still basking in my
Cologne recollections—specially that Friday night. We opened with music
from the Louie Bellson album, followed by some new charts. I did a ballad
version of Henry Mancini's "Moment To Moment", which is normally
a flugelhorn solo; Rick Kiefer played it on trumpet—as he knows how to do
that soft, airy, Ben Websterish kind of thing, and he broke it up. Same
thing with Chuck Findley's solo on "Estate", which is an Italian
pop tune that Gilberto recorded a few years ago with Claus Ogerman—the people
loved it. All the new ballads have very lush woodwind writing, with flutes,
bass clarinets, muted brass—almost symphonic in nature. They really went
for it, and then when we played the hot things—the burning, up-tempo, two-tenor
battle—the people snapped even more, because of the contrast.
I think learning how to programme
it has been real important for me. And writing mood pieces, that have other
sounds other colours. Just because you have fifteen horns doesn't mean that
they have to all be playing at the same time. I've used the Latin feel a
lot; we played "Sambaandrea Swing", which Louie recorded here,
when we did a live album at Ronnie Scott's some eight years ago. In the
last chorus the rhythm section goes into a straight-ahead four-four, but
the rest of it is all samba. And burning samba too; the way that band played
it was dynamite.
There seems to be a lot happening,
all of a sudden. Some people are interested in the out-takes from the "Hip
Pocket" album, which was done live at Carmello's. That was with Shelly
Manne, Andy Simpkins, Frank Strazzeri. I only played alto and baritone on
that; I didn't play any tenor. Sal Nistico played tenor—which may have been
a real good reason why I didn't! Everybody said: "Why didn't you play
tenor, man? It would have been sensational—you could have doubled up..."
I explained that the book was originally written for tenor, trombone and
trumpet, and we were going to do it with myself on tenor, Carl Fontana on
trombone and Sam Noto on trumpet. Carl couldn't do it—or we never could
get in contact with him, and time was running out. I had the rhythm section
set, I had Sam set; so finally I said: "I'll tell you what I'll do—I'll
play the trombone parts on baritone or alto. Let's get Sal to come in from
New York." Sal flew in, we did it, and it was as simple as that. I
could have just as easily played it on tenor, but the sound of the trumpet/tenor/baritone
seemed to work a little better. It was an on-the-moment decision, and we
went with it. And the colours, the different sounds of the instruments made
it a little nicer, I think. Anyway, I've got enough for two more albums,
and I'm talking about that to the same people that are reissuing "Horn
I enjoyed the Woody Herman concert,
on which I was a last-minute substitute for A1 Cohn. I'd been a sub in Woody's
band for quite a while, probably starting around '72; since then any time
Woody needed help he would call. I remember I got a call from my wife while
I was working one time, saying the band was on its way to Disneyland, and
they'd called to say they needed a tenor player, as somebody had got hung
up. I got into my car after work, drove to Disneyland, and jumped up on
the bandstand just in time to play "Caldonia".
I was never really a permanent
member of the band; I was never on the payroll per se, but I managed to
keep working with the band—any time Woody wanted me, I'd put whatever I
had aside. I went to Hawaii with the band for two or three weeks; then San
Francisco, and we worked our way down from there to Los Angeles with a bunch
of one-nighters. At one point Sal had to leave for a while, and I found
myself on the band for about six weeks. It was beautiful; Woody would say:
"Here he is—my sub for all seasons!" I've played two of the three
tenor chairs—I always enjoyed it.
I'm sorry I never got a chance
to write for Woody's band—it would have been nice. Because I understood
that concept, and from listening to that band I learned a lot about writing.
Actually, that Disneyland week
was the first time; Woody had really never heard me play before that. I
remember running through crowds of little kids, balloons and everything,
with my tenor over my shoulder. As I got to the bandstand, they had already
started "Caldonia"; I stepped over the stand, and it was time
for the tenor solo. Woody was pointing at Frank Tiberi, but Frank pointed
to me: "Let him play." I played for ten minutes, at that breakneck
tempo, and I could see Woody looking at me, with a big smile on his face;
when it was over, he called out; "Yeah—Don Menza!", as only he
could. After the applause had died down, he came over, looked at me and
said: "Another upstate New York tenor player!" Of course, he had
a history of upstate New York tenor players—including Sal Nistico, Joe Romano,
Jay Migliori—all from that Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse area.
When they had the Benefit Night
for Woody last October, Shorty Rogers asked me to play; he had "More
Moon", about three or four things he wanted me to come out and play
with the band. But I couldn't do it; I was on the Norway, out in the Caribbean
somewhere. The night of the concert, the radio man came down and told us:
it had just come across that Woody had died.
I saw Woody maybe six months
before he died; he was still out on the streets, and going into Donte's,
Alphonse's, wherever. Anywhere there was some jazz music, he'd come in to
hear people play. One night he went in to hear Joe Romano play; Joe was
working at a place which was then the China Trader, also in Toluca Lake—which
is walking distance from Donte's. And it was just down the street from Alponse's;
then a little further on was the Money Tree.
At a certain point, it was like
the late 'forties in New York—I mean, there were a half-a-dozen jazz clubs
real close to each other. It was wild. I'd leave Cats, I'd be in the Valley
by 11.30, and there was any one of five or six places I could stop. All
of a sudden it's changed now: we're back down to two or three. But that's
okay—at least it's happening. There are people that have learned a lot from
it—if you're going to run a club, you'd better run it.
That's another story—learning
how to run a jazz club; having a bit of consideration for the people. If
you don't have that nucleus of the society, of the jazz peop(e, that feel
good about the club, it isn't going to work. If the musicians don't feel
comfortable playing there, they don't play good, and the people can tell
The closest we've come to the
Bull's Head kind of ambience would have been Donte's, really. And Carmello's
was when it started: one long bar, they'd fit a big band in a small area,
and the entrance was right at the far end of the place. You'd walk in, and
there it all was in front of you.
Concert halls tend to lose that
intimacy; when you play bars and everything, and people are, like, looking
down the bell of your horn, it's a different feeling, absolutely. And anybody
that doesn't feel that, but feels that it's become a black tie affair...I'm
sorry. It's great that jazz has made its steps in becoming more intellectual,
with people studying it harder, finding out what made it work. But jazz
is an experience, a lifestyle. I'm not sure that I have all the answers,
but I see it real clear, from people that learned how to play that way—and
you can hear it- as opposed to the people who have the socalled `schooled'
approach. Regardless of the style you're playing in, it has to be music
that arouses the emotions, that brings forth a great spiritual reaction.
Copyright © 1968, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.