A vibes virtuoso comes to town
Buddy De Franco and Terry Gibbs
a big band
A vibes virtuoso
Jazz - Rock and me
To speak of technique
Success of the partnership with Buddy De Franco
My approach to the vibes
The return of straight-ahead jazz
Speaking to Les Tomkins in 1980
My first time ever in this countrymy wife and I are really having a lot of fun, almost as tourists. My wife has something planned for me every day; I never know what it is, but when we get up it'sgo somewhere. What I like about the job: it starts at eleven o'clock at nightwhich gives me a chance to rest up in readiness for the job. Because you've seen me workI sweat a lot; it's just my naturewhen I play, I really don't hold back.
Actually, I play for meI never really play for an audience. I hope they like what I'm doing, but I feel that if I can please myself, that's about as much as I can do. If I go out to please them, then I don't go home happy. I started out in the music business not looking to make any moneyI was a child, anyway. I looked to play music for myself, and I continued that wayfor me, that works the best.
Like, last night I came homeI was bugged, because I really didn't feel like I played well. To start with, Im not playing on my own vibes set. They have a rented set, and its a good one, but it took me a whole week to get with the pitch of the sound of the instrumentthey're all different. Then we had a day off, and going in the next night was like starting all over againI just couldn't get with how to hit it. It's just my own personal thing; in fact, sometimes I'll play twenty extra choruses, just to get something out that I would like.
I'm not sure if all your English audiences are that way, but they've been great to me, and to Buddy. Last night, it sort of helped, in a way, that they applauded and liked what I didbut I didn't like what I did. What I think it is: if you're a pro you know your instrument, you may never really play bad for an audiencebut you may play bad for yourself. I'm my biggest critic. Of course, I want them to applaud for me, because that's the name of the gamebut if I played something good, even if they didn't applaud, I'd feel good about it. And sometimes you can feel awfully bad when they applaud after you play something bad ! It's knowing yourself, and not ever kidding yourself. I'm the one that has to get up there and suffer if it's wrong; if it's right, I'm the one that reaps all the benefits out of it, much more than an audience. Most of my life, I've been very lucky in having audiences that like what I do.
But I don't go out to play for anybody. You know, I've actually been on the road travelling fortyfour years, getting paid for it; and, to start with, I never play requests, and I don't accept tipsyou couldn't give me a ten thousand dollar tip to play a tune. Luckily, I've been a leader since 1950; so I play the tunes I feel like playingbecause I'll play better if I do. If I'm in a mood to play in a minor key, I'll play much better than if they wanted to hear "Stardust", or whatever it is. I pick the tune I want to play, because I'm in the mood to play that tune. Really, I've gotten away with a lot of things that a lot of musicians wouldn't, and I think one of the reasons is that it's a visual instrument I play. Even if they don't know what I'm doing, they can watch itand I can get away with a lot more. And I've taken advantage of it, I must say! As for working with Buddy De Francowe just wrote a letter to the Willard Alexander agency, and told them that we'd like to do a lot more work together. It's a good chemistry with us; he plays his bunch of tunes, I play my tunes, and then we play together. And I don't care if it's the worst clarinet player and the worst vibe player in the world, that instrumentation is a marriageit fits very well together. We're good for each other in a certain way: I'm more of an extroverted, funloving person than Buddy is, and I can bring that out in him; then again, he's such a monster player, that he keeps me honest, to where I have to play up to him at all times. There's no letting down, you knowwhich I love. I love the challenge, because I've been doing it such a long time, and there is a tendency to get a bit lazy sometimes: Little by little, as we listen to each other. . I'll play some kind of phrases that he may pick up a little bit, and I find myself doing that after hearing him; it's not that we're playing the same notesit's certain articulation, a certain way of going into that phrase. We've known each other thirty years, and played together for the first time on this London engagement.
I've always admired Buddy as a clarinettist; he also happens to be a beautiful person. Every once in a while, we hit a peak, and it's just great. I've been very fortunate to play with some of the great clarinet players; I worked with Benny Goodman for a few years, and all the others I've worked with have been in the same style as him. But playing with Buddy, it's the style I'm used to playing for myself, because we're both from the same era. When we play that last chorus, of what they call jammingwhere you both go for yourselfit's a different way of playing with him than I did for Benny Goodman. I can be more of myself; I can play more lines. Although I do underplay with Buddywith clarinet, the vibes should underplay a little bit; you have to let the clarinet stick out that much. If you try to do as much as he does, then it's going to sound wrong. It's like comping, in the rhythm section; so I comp, and when I hear a line he's going to, that I can join him with, that's what I do.
Yes, an album together is a great idea. I have a record company I'm vicepresident of, called Jazz A La Carte; it's a new label in the States, and I only do live albums. I've made three of my own, and I've recorded Joe Farrell live, with Victor Feldman, John Garrett and Bob Magnusson. I recorded an album that's going to surprise a lot of people, with Della Reese; we made her a party, she invited seventy of her friends, and just sang for usjust as if she were in the audience, and I invited her up to sing.
I didn't play on it; I surrounded her with Lou Levy on piano, Kenny Burrell on guitar, Jimmy Smith on drums, Bob Magnusson on bass, Bob Cooper on tenor and a conga drummerand she gave us a giant performance.
My job with the whole thing is to add spirit. Plus I love mastering them; I spend a lot of time, looking for certain things. Especially when there's no arrangements involved, and it's almost like jam session styleI listen to every instrument individually on each track, to see what they've contributed to the tune. We know the bass and the drums have to be miked right, so that we get a good sound, but it's what the soloists, Kenny Burrell and Bob Cooper, have added to enhance what Della's sunglifting them up a little bit in volume at that point always helps. I'm having fun with that.
Our British rhythm section? They're all goodbut that piano player, Johnny Taylor, is something else. He can play a whole lot of different styles. He plays a little more out than what I'm used to hearing, but the other night Louie Bellson and George Duvivier sat in, and they're straightahead playersJohn played as straightahead as they did. He can play it allhe's very talented.
And the other two guys are beautiful, toothe bassist Kenny Baldock and the drummer Allan Ganleythey're both doing a very good job for us. You know what's a nice complimentthey walk off the stage soaking wet, and I say: "Are we working you too hard?"; they say: "We love it. It's not working hardit's having fun, that's what it is." Another compliment is that a lot of musicians have been coming in; once again, even though you play for yourself, when musicians come in you just give it that little extra.
It's true that I was a child prodigy. At one time, the biggest radio show ever in the States was the Major Bowes Amateur Hour, and I won that contest by playing "The Flight Of The Bumble Bee" in fortyfive seconds.
People would phone in votes, but they actually chose a winner in advance; sometimes they'd pick what they thought was the best, and then they'd send you on a tour. I was about eleven years old, and they told me I was going to win. I was going to play "Czardas", but a day or two before, they asked me could I play something else that would be shorter; they wanted to put me on at the beginning, so I could catch a train in the middle of the show, to leave for Pittsburgh, where they were opening up with this unit. So I memorised "The Flight Of The Bumble Bee" in about a dayandahalfI was very good at those things.
When I was young, I had a beautiful teacherhis name was Fred Albright. He would keep me honest. What I would do: instead of really learning how to read well, I would memorise my lesson immediately. After a few weeks, he saw that I was doing something wrong, because I wasn't looking at the music all the time. So he'd say: "Could you start over here?", and when he'd point to it, it would throw me a bit of a curve, because I wasn't sure what he was really pointing to.
Like I say, I've been very lucky. I got into music because I loved itnot because it was a business. In fact, I come from a family of musicians; both my father and my brother were bandleaders. My father was an old European, and he couldn't understand why I would want to give up a twentyeightdollar job to go jam somewhere for nothingI mean, twentyeight dollars in those days was like a hundredandeight today. He couldn't understand that at allbut I have a son right now, sixteen years old, who would pay someone like McCoy Tyner to play with his group. I can relate to his feeling for music.
My brother Sol played xylophones, and they were in the house; so, when he wasn't around, I would fool with it. But actually I'm a percussionist; my two favourite instruments at the time were drums, which I still love to play, and timpani. I had a scholarship to Juilliard offered to me as a timpanistbut I wanted to go out and play music. Fortunately, my family was very understanding about it; I was only seventeen years old, wanting to playand they let me do it. I went with a band as a drummer; in fact, I played drums in the Army. See, what it actually was: I was a classically trained xylophone player, and, though my basic idols were Benny Goodman, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Buddy Rich and Jo Jones, I had too much technique on xylophones and vibes for the instrumental jazz that was being played then. Consequently, I was frustratedso I just stopped playing them, and only played drums.
Then, in 1943 the Musicians' Union was on strike; and there was a record ban; I came home on furlough from the Army. . there was a fellow I grew up with, a drummer whose name you'll knowTiny Kahnour windows faced each other, and, from when I was six years old till I was eighteen, we were together every night; he was too big to be draftedhe weighed about four hundred pounds. Well, he could hardly wait for me to get home; he said: "There's a new music you must hear. It's called bebop." That word sounded strange to me, to start with, and then he mentioned two names I'd never heard ofCharlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. So I went down to 52nd Streetand flipped out. I knew immediately that was what I was looking forthey were playing tripletime and doubletime things. I was home on furlough for fifteen days, and I don't think I saw my folks; I went to 52nd Street until they closed at four in the morning, then to Minton's till about ten o'clock, then another place called Small's. We went around in circles just listening to Parker, Gillespie, Fats Navarro, whoever was around.
I went back to Dallas playing doubleand tripletime runsand every note was wrong. The timing, the notes fascinated me, but it took more than fifteen days to catch on to what they were doing. When I came out of the Service, I started experimenting and listening a lot. Today, I hope I'm playing the right notes.
After I became aware of bebop, it was woodshedding harmonically that I had to do, more than technically because the technique I always had, having been a classically trained xylophone player. But I had to find out why they were playing those notes, and it was a completely different articulation. Well, the more you listen, like anything else, you get their clichés, and little by little you would interpret it your own way. I think we've all stolen from somebody elsethat may be the word to use. At one time every cliché that Charlie Parker played, every alto played; Sonny Stitt still plays some of those, and they sound great. They may be the same notes, but the articulation changes, and it becomes your own kind of phrase.
Those two guys, Bird and Diz, were my two biggest influences of anybody. Of course, I'm always compared to Lionel Hampton I also play twofinger piano. At one time, I was called "the white Lionel Hampton". I had very, very big black audiences; it's not that Red Norvo wasn't accepted by the black people, but he wasn't their type of player. Red was never a hard swing playeralthough he's always played the instrument incredibly well. Lionel and I are both hard swingers, but I don't think we sound alike at allmy style is completely different. I must say, I was very honoured to be compared to Lionel; as old as he is, he's got more spirit than anybody livingand I love Lionel Hampton as a person. To start with, he feels the same way about me, which is very nice; every time he's been asked about vibe players for print, he's always said the nicest things about me. Plus the fact that he's been very helpful to many, many young musiciansthere's a lot that people really don't know. And all he knows: put him on stage, and he doesn't know time is passing; he'll play eighteen hours if nobody tells him otherwise. He just wants to play.
And in that respect, I may be like Lionel, because I love to 'play; I could be sick, with a very high temperatureput me on stage, and I don't realise I'm sick. I play for myself, as I say, and I have to please myself. I used to be a boxer, by the way; no matter how I felt, when I got in the ring it was a different thing. It was a personal thing yes, I had to win. The coordination of boxing, I think, has helped me in my playing also.
Well, I don't tripwhich helps a lot! When I came out of the Army; the first group I actually played with was led by Bill De Arangothat was a real fun group. Bill taught me one thing that I have never forgotten; he said: "Give 'em a first chorus they'll understand, and a last chorus they'll understandthen you can do anything you want in the middle." And it's worked for me, in a way. In New York, you can play "Confirmation" and "Scrapple From The Apple" and they'll love you; in Ohio or ;Milwaukee, they might not accept those tunes, but if you play "How High The Moon" or "Honeysuckle ' Rose", which those are based on they'll accept you. It's like getting away with something, but you're not prostituting yourself in any way; there's'' nothing wrong with the tune "Honeysuckle Rose"you can't miss with any of those old standards.
Anyway, you've got the structure of the chords to build your own songs out of that's the challenge of jazz to me. I teach, and I keep one student in California at all times, for myselfso I can stay up with it. Because if I'm going to bring a student in I'd better practise a little bit and keep with itotherwise he'll be teaching me. When somebody says: "Can you teach me some jazz?", the most important thing to learn is the mechanics of the instrument. You can't teach somebody how to createthey have to have some creativity in their own head, or in their own system but you can teach 'em the mechanics of something. Then, I have found a way of teaching a little bit of how to play jazz. What I do is: I teach 'em how to compose. I will take, say, "How High The Moon" and, for ten or fifteen weeks, I'll have 'em work on it and write me a melody on those chord changes; then they'll bring it in, and we'll take it apart, see why they added this note, and maybe they should take this one out. Next week we'll do it again, and then again; after about fifteen weeks, I'll take all that away from them, I'll play the chord changes on the piano for them, and I'll say: "Using some of the things you've written, and whatever you hear, play some choruses on 'How High The Moon': ' In this way, little by little, they start playing some jazz.
Instant composing is what good jazz is. I think every jazz musician living is really a composer. You know, you would be surprised how many great jazz musicians have never written a tune; that's a shame, but every chorus they play is a tune. To meand it's why I carry a cassette of Supersax around with methe greatest songs ever are Charlie Parker's choruses. They're the most beautiful thing ever put down; it's amazing how, on splitseconds of just ad libbing, he played that well. I'm still amazed by thatand it's been nearly forty years since those choruses were played. Yet it sounds better than anybody playing today; I don't think anybody has that melodic mind that Charlie Parker had. Not yet, for me, anyhow.
I must tell you about something that happened in 1946. While I was still with Bill De Arango's band, I got a call to join Tommy Dorsey in California. I didn't understand why he would want me on the band; I later found out that he heard Benny Goodman was going to call me and he and Benny did not like each other. I'd never been on an airplane before, and my mother would not let me fly; so Tommy Dorsey paid for a compartment on the train, and it took me three days to get out to California.
When I got there, they rushed me out to where he was playing, in Casino Gardens, I set up my vibes, and I played one tune with the band. Now, I must say thisI'm a pretty levelheaded personfor a jazz player, who are supposed to be pretty wild. I've had my wild days, but pretty levelheaded wild days. I've never fooled with junk; needles don't get to me, to start withI'm a coward; if I have to get a shot for a cold, I cringe and hide my eyes. So anyhow, I played my first song with Tommy Dorsey's band, and it was time for them to take an intermission; I went over to the manager, and I gave him notice. I said: "Mr. Jacobs, I don't know how to tell you thisbut I want to go home." You're supposed to give two weeks' notice on jobs. He says: "Really? You just got here!" I said: "Wellthe music that's being played here has nothing to do with what I want to do." And by the way, in those days, if you worked a whole week you made sixty-six dollars, and I may have worked one week out of every fourteenand the Tommy Dorsey job was going to pay me a hundred-and-sixty-five dollars a week; it was, like, rich to me. But I gave my noticeand then Tommy Dorsey came running over to me, like a ferocious lion; if you know much about Tommy, you'll know he had a terrible temperhe would hit you in two seconds. He was twice my size, and he came over; he said: "Did I hear that you just quit my band?" I said: "Well Mr. Dorsey. . "I tried to explain it to him. He said "Nobody quitsyou're fired!" I said: "Well, if you're firing me, you've got to pay my way home." He said: "No, no you quit. You pay your own way home!" I'll never forget that.
The thing was, I wanted to play musicI really wasn't interested in money. I was just learning how to play. In my chorus on that one tune I did play with Dorsey, I played four million notes, and he looked at me as if to say "What the heck are you doing?" They're playing one of those Swing things" Well, Git It" or something which was nothing to do with what I was doing. It was two completely different things.
Then I went with Chubby Jackson to Swedenand that was a great experience. Once again, money was really no factor to it. I think we got a hundred-and-forty dollars each a week, of which seventy was left in the States.
When we got off the boat, we changed to the local currency; they all looked like cigar-store coupons to me, because I'd never seen anything but American money. We got in a cab, andlet me talk in poundsmaybe the cab ride came to a pound, and we were giving the guy thirty pounds for a tip.
He kept saying: "Nay, nay"; we said: "Yeahtake it"we didn't know what we were doing.
It was Conte Candoli on trumpet, Frank Socolow on tenor, Lou Levy on piano, Denzil Best on drums, and myselfwith Chubby on bass, of course. Those single records we made then, like "Crown Pilots" and "Boomsie", still sound good. I think we were one of the first bebop bands to ever play in Sweden. What was a great feeling: in America at the time, if you played bebop you were considered a freak or a weirdo, but when we played concerts in Sweden, they'd bring flowers on stage. When you're accepted that way, it makes you play a lot better.
My first big band was the Buddy Rich bandwhich was beautiful. Buddy also knew a lot about boxing, and we'd been talking about going out for some time. Buddy was going to bill me as the New Star Of The Year; he was going to make me a big star, and he didn't want me to hang out with the other guys, and go to the wild parties that they were going to. You know, Buddy's a beautiful guy He hides a lot of things. Outwardly, people can think he's a monster but he's a softie, as you know. One time, he gave my son a set of drums for his birthday. He's a man I'm proud to call a good friend today.
We had some great players on that bandincluding Johnny Mandel, who write "The Shadow Of Your Smile", "Emily" and a great bunch of tuneshe was playing bass trumpet. Al Cohn was there. And we made fifteen dollars a nightwhen we worked, which was not more than four or three nights a week. Once againwe made it; we managed to live well. Two of us would check into a room, then eight of us would go into the room later on, spread out the mattress and sleep all over the floor. We didn't careso long as we got a chance to play; that was the big thing.
The Woody Herman band was around then, and we wanted to show that we were as good as Woody's band, because we had some great young musicians. In fact, Buddy's band was the learning ground for going into Woody's banda lot of us went right from Buddy to Woody. Because the Herman band was the greatest band in the world at that time. But we were there with Buddy; he would come on stage and pick us apart. He'd say: "Why don't you shave?" and "You make any wrong notes tonight, you'll be fired." He'd pick on everybody one at a time, but he wouldn't pick on me. I'd always say: Why are you picking on the guys?" 'Hey, listenwho asked you?", and there'd always be a fist fight. Every time.
Now, the band used to travel in a bus that didn't go any more than fifteen miles an hour, because that's all Buddy could afford, it was really beat up. But Buddy would take me in his Cadillac. He'd drive this convertible at about hundred miles an hour; we used to go so fast, I'd hide on the floor of the carI was so afraid. And every time we'd get in that car; we'd get a little mellow with each other, and every night I would tell him: "Listen, the guys in the band want to play. They love Johnny Mandel; tonight when we go in, why don't you let him play?" He said: "You think so?" So that night we'd get on the job, and he'd feature Johnny Mandel more. The next night we'd get back in the Cadillac, a hundred miles an hour, and I would tell him "Listen, you ought to let Nick Sands have a feature. He's a real good alto, and they all love him." What I was doingI was actually telling him what a soandso he was.
And this went on for a week, and I'll never forget this: we're going through the Arizona desert, and it's about four o'clock in the morning, pitch black, just before the sunrise; I started to tell him, once more: "Listen, you know something why don't you. . " He said: "I've had enough of this. I don't want you to tell me any more! Get out of my car! ' And he stopped the carand threw me out, in the desert. I was just a young kid; I thought he was just putting me on. He pulled off, but I figured he was going to come back. A half-hour went byhe never came back to get me. I was out there twoandahalf hours, not knowing if the band bus was taking the same route. I'm desperately afraid of a cockroachand I knew there were snakes out there. I must have jumped in the air seven thousand times, because every time I heard a sound I thought it was a snakeand I couldn't see anything. Finally, the bus came along and picked me up; Buddy knew it would get there some time. Every time Buddy and I see each otherwe've done some television shows togetherI always bring this up.
That Buddy Rich band of 1948 sure was thrilling. It was a fullsize bandfour trumpets, three trombones, four saxes. We didn't make any records; it was a young band, and it wasn't a hitwe worked three or four days a week. And Buddy was some hellraiser thenhe'd insult everybody; I don't think we ever played the same place twice.
One time, we were playing at a place in Philadelphia; it was one of the class placesthe only bands that ever worked there were of the Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman calibre. Buddy had a new band, but the guy who ran the placehe also ran the townFrank Polambo, thought Buddy was just great, and so he put us in there. By the way, you couldn't tell Buddy what to do ever in those daysunless you wanted to get insulted like you'd never been before.
So one Saturday afternoon Frank Polambo came over, just before we were going to play our matinee, and said: "Buddy, could you do me a favour and have the guys play in mutes, because we have a private party of all old womenthey're all over sixty years old." And Buddy says "Lookyou run your saloon, and I'll run my band!" I was standing there, and I knew immediately that was the wrong thing to say to that man. Like I said, this guy ran Philadelphia.
About fifteen minutes later, three or four of the biggestlooking hoods you ever saw in your life walked over with open coatsand you could see actual guns in their holsters. In a polite, quiet manner, one of them said: "Mr. RichMr. Polambo would like you and your band to pack up, and leave town in a halfhour." We never packed up so fast in our lives; I took my vibes apart in about fourteen seconds! We got out of town inside that halfhour including Buddy.
Working with Buddy was an experience; because he was that type of guy, it really was fun. We were going to fight each other so many timesbut I think he respected me, and I respected him very much. The band was a tremendous training ground for me, too.
Four of us quit the band in San Francisco at the same timeJohnny Mandel, a trumpet player named Frank Le Pinto, and a trombone player whose name I can't remember. We just had enough money to get back to New York City, where we lived; a hundred dollars was all we had for gasoline and food, and it took five days to drive there. None of us could drive except the one guy so he had to do all the driving. We'd buy salami, so we could eat, and it stunk up the whole car. We got to Elko, Nevada, where there was gambling, and we figured we'd try and win some money, for getting home withwe lost it all. And Frank Le Pinto had to call his mother collect, to wire us some money. Anyway, after five or six days in a sweaty car, we got to the Lincoln Tunnel in New York Cityand in the middle of the tunnel the water heater blew up. All the car horns were blowing; it was just horrible.
I got home about three in the afternoonI swore I'd never go on the road ever again in my life. At five o'clock the same day, I got a call from Woody Herman's band, asking me to join him in Chicago that day. I left for Chicago at eight o'clock that night. Well, that was the band with Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and everybodyI didn't believe that they would call me.
That was one of the greatest experiences I've ever hadthat personnel was something else. And I really learned a lot from WoodyI love and admire him. Without mentioning names, there were a lot of very sick people on that band. . . Woody put up with a lot of things that I don't think many bandleaders would put up with. But musically, when that band got onstage, it was phenomenala red hot bebop band. Also, he lost so much money, because the band was so good that we hardly ever did onenighters. He put us in the Royal Roost for a month; we played a club in California for a month, then Chicago for a month. You don't make any money in clubs; it's onenighters where you make it: But he wanted the people to hear that band. It was one great soloist following another and it got better and better. We used to play "Four Brothers" every night; it didn't make any sense how guys could play that good at that age. You knowthey were all young.
"Early Autumn" was a big thing for me; I think it actually won me my first Down Beat award. I had eight bars; Stan Getz had the big solo on it. Stan and myself were both disappointed, in a way, when they put out that take, compared to another one we thought we'd played better on. But Woody knew what a band should sound like; he didn't go by just soloshe went by the full performance of the whole band. Which I learned later on; when I had a band of my own, I really incorporated that into my thinking.
A lot of funny things happen when you deal with that many great musicianseverybody had their own personality. Serge Chaloff, the baritone player, for one; unfortunately he became a drug addict, and died from that eventually. But Serge was the greatest liar in the world.
When you checked into a hotel with him, if he was on the eighth floor, you made sure to get on the third floor, because Serge would fall asleep smoking a cigarette and burn a hole in every mattress. The manager would always come to him and say: "Mr. Chaloffyou'll have to pay for this." Serge would stand there, with his neatly combed hair, and look outraged: "How dare you, sir ! Do you realise you are talking to the leading saxophonist in the country, the regular winner of polls? How dare you speak to me like that! " After about fifteen minutes of this, every manager would apologise to him: "Oh, I'm sorry Mr. Chaloff. I didn't realise. . . " This would go on, everywhere we stayed.
The band had a thing one timewe all bought air pistols. So Serge was in his hotel room, with a telephone book up against the door, and he was aiming his pistol at the bookbut he was so stoned out, he missed completely and made a hole in the door. I'm carrying my suitcase out, and I hear Serge arguing with the manager as I go by his room. Serge is saying: "How dare you, sir I am the. . . " The manager says: "I don't care who you areit'll cost you twenty-four dollars for that door, or I'm going to call the police ! " He tried again: "How dare you, sir. . "it didn't work. Serge said: "'Okay if I'm going to pay for the door, I want that door. Terry wait a minute." The manager got a screwdriver, unhinged the door, and Serge and I walked out of that hotel with our suitcases and a door! I felt like a complete idiot.
There were so many crazy things like thatit was a great band to be around. As for the music, every night was a thrill. Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Shorty Rogers, Red Rodney, Earl Swope, Bill Harris, Lou Levyevery soloist was a gem. I was with that Woody Herman band for a full year, and some other guys came on, like Gene Ammons, Jimmy Giuffre. Once the band that made all those classic records started being taken apart, though, with guys leaving and others taking their places, the music was still as good, but there was a certain chemistry missing. It was like the big band I had. If it was a quarter-note, everybody breathed at the same timejust the feeling we had as a band. When one guy would leaveit's another whole band.
At the time, of course, the idea of a big band playing like a bebop small group was new. I think Neal Hefti may have started that, with those trumpet unisons on "Caldonia", with the first Herman band; that was bebop writing for a big bandno big bands did that in those days. Then it was carried on even more with our bandthe second Herd.
Last October, Woody came in to see me when I worked New York City. I introduced him on the microphone, and I thought that what I said was being kind of cute and cleverbut actually it was the truth. I said: "At one time, I used to look on Woody as my fatherbut now I'm too old." It's true: when you're twenty-two or twenty-three and somebody's twelve or fourteen years older than you, that's a lot. Later on in life, that narrows right down. Specially with Woodyhe stays on the road, like a little kid; he's travelling constantly. He's an amazing man.
Through the years, I've heard his band and seen it a few times, and I think, of all the bandleaders, Woody always has one over the other guyshe picks the best soloists.
His soloists are always a little better. He's had people like Sal Nisticoa giant player. He manages to find some young kids who can really play wellnot just in the section, although that's very important; Woody has a great ensemble band also. But where Buddy Rich's band is built around Buddyeven if the band wasn't good, it would be outstanding because of Buddy RichWoody has to have every player really having to be that good.
I love Woody as a person; I always will. Indirectly, without even realising it, I may have patterned my big band after his, in some respects. Although I have a different thing in mind; the band is built around the vibes, of coursethe same way Benny Goodman's was built around the clarinet. Plus we have a lot of solos. But I'm an ensemblelover; if you're going to have sixteen musicians, there's nothing like hearing sixteen musicians play.
For all the albums I did, I told all the arrangers: "Write me three minutes of ensemble, and put in interludes for solosand I'll put 'em where they belong." That's the way to show off a band.
Copyright © 1980, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.