Jazz Professional               

Ron Simmonds


The star-studded Eurojazz concert

What a way to start the summer. Apart from the near-tropical heat-wave we’re having at the moment we’ve just experienced what I should say was the biggest jazz event this city has ever had. The last concert of the Friedrich Gulda Eurojazz orchestra took place here on Tuesday, May 31st, in the ultra-modern Philharmonic concert hall close to the Berlin Wall, and what a concert that was! It was terrific.

Here’s the lineup: Trumpets: Ernie Royal, Rolf Ericson, Kenny Wheeler, Ray Premru. Horn: Ralf Isakson. Troms: Erich Kleinschuster, Rudolf Josel. Tuba: Alfie Reece. Saxes: Herb Geller, Tubby Hayes, Hans Salomon, Ronnie Ross. Piano: Joe Zawinul. Guitar: Pierre Cavalli. Bass: Ron Carter. Drums: Mel Lewis.

With that little lot they could hardly go wrong, could they? Just to make sure Gulda added a trio to the big band’s rhythm section and called the ‘group The Members of the Jury. The trio consisted of Art Farmer, J. J. Johnson and Cannonball Adderley and the group got its title from the Contest of Modern Jazz in Vienna where they sat and judged about 200 contestants last week.

The concert opened up with Overture which was by way of introducing the various jazz soloists in the band who all got about eight bars each. This was just about all they did get for the whole show, the rest of the jazz being taken by the members of the group.

I thought it was a pity; I’d have loved to hear Tubby doing a feature and Kenny Wheeler would have brought the place down I’m sure. Instead of which we were treated to what must have been the most complicated bit of scoring ever to be performed by a jazz band, incredibly boring to listen to and as I later gathered, equally boring to play. Even with this rhythm section it couldn’t swing and with the short solos no-one had a chance to get going at all. So it stayed right where it began—on the floor.

My God, I said to myself, and looked around for the exit. I was thinking of the TV show I’d seen the previous week taken from Gulda’s 1965 jazz concert. Long-suffering as I am, I’d had to switch the thing off in the middle. I saw quite a few people leaving just before the end of this first number; one of them must have been the music critic for the Berliner Zeitung because the next morning he wrote a piece consisting of two or three sentences dismissing the whole thing as rubbish.

He should have stayed. The second number Variations for Two Pianos and Band featured Joe Zawinul and Friedrich and was one of the most moving works I have ever heard. I hope they recorded this one; words can’t describe how beautiful it was. Herb Geller said he got tears in his eyes every time he heard it.

Joe Zawinul, like Gulda, comes from Vienna. There must be something about that place that bewitches all of its musicians for Joe completely entranced everyone when he started, to play. Talk about romantic! I was convinced that his piano had a different, softer and rounder sound than that of Gulda. But when Friedrich took over the same instrument later on it sounded just the same as the other one. Zawinul gave us soul, longing, beauty. Gulda was glittering, hard, ice-crystals and frosted glass. Together they played fifteen minutes never to be forgotten.

The applause was incredible, lasted well over two minutes. Now J.J. took the stand, fronting the band with his newly composed EuroSuite. Beautifully written, and he played like an angel.

The most impressive thing about the band was the terrific bite coming out of the sax section. Their sound was enormous and crisp and zippy. Ronnie and Tubby looked as if they were having a real ball playing this one.

After the interval came the Members of the Jury, half an hour of some of the nicest sounds I’ve ever heard. Best thing for me was a beautiful flugelhorn solo by Art Farmer. Cannonball and J.J. were superb, but Joe Zawinul stole the show again.

The group were joined by the band again for the last piece, Music for Four Soloists and Band which was equally as complicated as the overture but due to the combined efforts of Ernie Royal and Mel Lewis took off like a rocket soon after it started and roared its way to a very exciting finish.

Summing up, a wonderful, memorable show. I hope it proved to be a financial success, too, Friedrich must have put a tremendous amount of work and money into this band, which only played four concerts all told.

Ernie Royal played magnificently throughout. He told me he works in the studio band in ABC New York together with the original trumpet section he had with him when he was with Woody Herman, way back. On top of that he does about three record sessions a day, six days in the week. No kidding, I saw his date book.

He took this job to have a rest and it turned out to be a killer. The way Gulda had written the music called for two first trumpets, instead of which he’d only booked three trumpet players, Ray Premru being on bass trumpet. Ernie was a bit mad about it, and reckoned he could have used my help, but I don’t know why because he appeared to be sailing through it all quite unperturbed.

We spent quite a lot of time together before he left for New York, talking about the past. I found out a lot of startling things about some of the big band records of those days. One which really surprised me concerned the session where the Herman band recorded Ain’t Gettin’ Any Younger around 1948 or ‘49 and Ernie played his now famous high solo.

He said it was the day before a general musicians’ strike was due to begin and everyone was rushing to get as many records done before the ban went on. The band had been playing for eleven hours and it was nearly midnight when they started to play this particular piece. Ernie said everyone thought Woody must have been kidding, they didn’t have time to rehearse the number or anything. So they didn’t consider the take as anything other than a gag. It sounds to me as if they’d been polishing the piece up for weeks. It was, and still is, one of my favourite records.

Ernie had brought over a whole load of Jet-Tone mouthpieces of his own design. He gave me three which he thought might suit me. I put one of them in my trumpet the next day and BANG, there it was. Just what I’ve been searching for all these years.

Mel Lewis impressed me tremendously. I used to think he was too busy when he was with Kenton, now he has a great beat and plays wonderful solos. Everything he does fits in with the brass so well, I guess that’s why I like him so much. He told me he and Thad Jones have started a big band in New York. I’m looking forward to hearing something from them soon.

After the show the whole lot of them poured into Doug’s Night Club where the club boss Bob Harrell set up a big table by the stand and kept up a running supply of hooch well into the early hours. The guys were treading on each other’s heels to play. Ake Persson was working there that night. He started off a very fast Out of Nowhere, played three choruses and got nudged over by a very eager Tubbs who quite understandably was bursting to go after his week of rigid discipline with Gulda. Hot after him came Rolf Ericson, Leo Wright, Fritz Pauer and Mel Lewis.

Then came the most incredible bass solo of all time. A tall bearded Hungarian named Aladar Pege started to play and inside ten seconds had the whole club in dead silence, drunks and all. The guy’s a wizard. He plays the bass like a violin, and has the most breathtaking technique imaginable. He stands there throughout this dizzy recital laughing hugely at our faces and having one heck of a good time.

Willis Conover, who was sitting by me, had a glazed look on his face and kept shaking his head and muttering something under his breath.

I think we all got a bit of a shock. After that whenever a soloist had played a couple of choruses everyone started shouting: ‘Bass player, bass player’, and off he would go again.

Fritz Pauer, regular pianist in the club, just walked off with the first prize in the contest in Vienna I mentioned earlier. He won about £400 and choice of a free piano as his reward. He chose a Schimmel. As Joe Zawinul was one of the judges you can bet Fritz thoroughly deserved his win. And he’s yet another pianist from Vienna.

Francy Boland recently recorded another LP in Cologne with a band containing, among others, Kenny Clarke, Benny Bailey, Derek Humble, Jimmy Deuchar and Dusko Goykovic. The record should be released soon and the results ought to be very interesting.

Fatty George just arrived back from Paris where Selmers fitted him up with their new electronic clarinet. It’s still experimental, I gather, and involves the lumbering around of a big guitar amplifier but Fatty says he likes the sound and will be trying it out in the weeks to come. He finds one advantage with the instrument is that he can drown out the drummer if he gets too ambitious.

Ronnie Ross and Hans Koller are currently at Herb Geller's Jazz Galerie together with Hans Rettenbacher, bass, and a new arrival from Holland on drums, Peter Ypma (pronounced Eepmah).

Carmen MacCrae spent a couple of weeks’ vacation in Berlin and gassed everyone in the club one night when she sat down at the piano about three o’clock one morning and sang. She told me she was knocked out with Dudley Moore’s piano playing when she did her recent TV show in London.

Carmel Jones is wandering around at the moment, having just been to the Frankfurt Festival. Now I hear he’s in Norway. Benny Bailey starts at Doug’s Night Club for two weeks on 20th June.

I’m doing this year’s 1966 Jazz Workshop at Recklinghausen, starting on the 20th. Should be interesting. Look who’s there: Myself, Ted Curson, Carmel Jones, Dusko Goykovic, Bosse Broberg, trumpets; Ake Persson, Albert Mangelsdorff, Emile Vilain, trombones; Herb Geller, Dominique Chanson, Sal Nistico, Danny Moss, Helmut Brandt, saxes: Jan Johansson piano, Spike Heatley bass and Pierre Favre drums. The bandleader will be clarinettist Bill Smith. I think Attila Zoller will be coming on guitar, too. Should be interesting.

1966 Jazz Workshop, Recklinghausen, Germany

Call  together eighteen jazz musicians from seven different countries and shut them up with about twenty new jazz compositions in a small hall in the middle of the Ruhr for four days. On the fifth day throw open the doors, turn on the spotlights, the tape recorders, the TV cameras—a new Jazz Workshop has been born! To kindly, chubby, white-haired Hans Gertberg, founder of the Workshops and chief jazz producer for the Norddeutscher Rundfunk in Hamburg, the organising and producing of such a gigantic affair must have been a tremendous strain, but he sailed imperturbably through all of the many difficulties, secure in the knowledge that although the four days’ rehearsals seemed to be catastrophic, the concert would be a humdinger.

On the last of these series of Workshops, number forty–six in the series at Recklinghausen on June 24th, he was right as usual. But only just! Because in order to get all of the twenty pieces of music rehearsed to perfection the band had to work on them for up to ten hours a day. You can imagine the effect this had on the poor brass players! Worse still on the bass player—poor Spike Heatley was soon to be seen wandering around the local apothecaries dipping his right forefinger into all sorts of brightly-coloured liquids in an attempt to get the swelling down.

The trouble was that quite a few of the scores were avant garde and none of us had seen anything quite like them before. It meant that we had to keep on playing them over and over again in order to get them sounding even half decent. Quite frankly it was hopeless task. Hans had got a whole bunch of swinging players together, and with the right music it was a real swinging big band, but avant garde was the new big deal and he mistakenly imagined that a big band jazz workshop would be the place to try it out. The only guys in the band who may have had any idea of what was going on were Ray Pitts, Albert Mangelsdorff and Ted Curson, but even Albert looked baffled at times.

The line-up was: Trumpets: Ron Simmonds, Dusko Goykovic, Bosse Broberg, Carmel Jones, Ted Curson;
Trombones: Ake Persson, Kurt Järnberg, Albert Mangelsdorff, Emile Vilain;
Saxes: Herb Geller, Dominique Chanson, Danny Moss, Ray Pitts, Helmut Brandt;
Jan Johansson, piano; Spike Heatley, bass: Pierre Favre. drums.

Sal Nistico had previously been booked, but couldn't make it, unfortunately, so Ray Pitts came in his place. Ray was Pierre Favre, Spike Heatley, Danny Moss, Ron Simmonds and Ake Perssoncurrently employed as bandleader of the Copenhagen radio band. He was experimenting with a Moog Synthesizer, the latest toy of contemporary arrangers, and he brought it with him, worse luck. Trying to get his arrangements to sound right used up a great deal of our rehearsal time and was mainly responsible for the lip and finger fatigue mentioned earlier.

The bandleader this time was the American clarinet player Bill Smith, who had just the right sort of cool personality to calm things down. Bill mostly makes his living touring around for the State Department, but prefers to live in Rome in his slack periods. He's a talented arranger and we saw quite a lot of him at that time in Europe, spending an enjoyable week or so with him in the band at RIAS, Berlin later on.

Bosse Broberg, as well as being a fine strong trumpet player, is also the head of the jazz music department in Radio Stockholm. He’s asked me to go up for the jazz festival there in September, too. That’ll be nice. Apart from him I received no less than six other offers of work while I was there. You might say that Recklinghausen is a sort of international Archer Street.

So. Fifth day... The place was packed, all systems were go and go we did. The four pillars of the show were tributes to Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman. The only similarity between any of these names and their respective arrangements was that Louis’ piece featured a trumpet solo and Benny’s a clarinet. Carmel took the trumpet feature and played great, both then and later on when he took about six terrific choruses in Dusko’s Jolly Parade. But what the piece for Ellington was all about I still don’t know because that was where the dreaded avant garde crept in.

Best new composition for the show was by Ted Curson, dedicated to the late Eric Dolphy and called Tears for Dolphy. Together with Ray Pitts’ tenor he created such a beautiful soulful sound that the whole audience was visibly moved. But this was nothing to the impression made by Dusko in the second half when he played his now well–known arrangement of  I Remember Clifford on flugelhorn. Many of you may have heard him play it with the Woody Herman band earlier this year. As far as I am concerned he stole the show. The fact that he was the only one to get more than one feature spot (he had three) showed, too, that his considerable talents hadn’t escaped the eagle eye of Herr Gertberg. One of the features turned out to be a double–feature, Wailin’ Waltz, where he shared the honours with Danny Moss. This was the only bit of a feature that Danny had, but he played like a dream and knocked everyone in the place right out. Spike did the same with his bass solo later on in Jolly Parade. In fact Åke Persson said to me later that he had never heard a British musician who wasn’t absolutely first class.

Other points in the concert: Pierre Favre played impressive drums throughout the show, reaching his climax in a number written for him by bassist Peter Trunk. I worked for a year or so with Pierre in Munich with Max Greger’s band and he used to be good then, now he’s sensational. And guess what he does now for a living? He tests cymbals for M. M. Paiste and Son in Lucerne. I don’t know whether cymbals and gongs made by this firm are available in England. If they are, rest assured that they have all been tested by an expert.

Pianist Jan Johansson composed and played a piece that was obviously written during a very strong attack of the George Russells. On one passage he used everything available for his attack upon the keyboard, including his elbows. For this piece Spike’s part had no notes or chord symbols, merely a percussive guide like a drum part. He did a magnificent job; really throwing himself into the spirit of the piece, wounded finger and all. It wasn't quite jazz as we know it, but the audience seemed to like it, for they shouted and screamed at the end. Maybe they were shouting Get off! Rubbish! Who knows?

In fact: eighty per cent of the show was pretty weak in material. Many of the arrangements wouldn’t have been accepted by a regular band, playing a normal jazz concert—not because they were badly written but because from beginning to end they never seemed to get anywhere. But that’s why it's called a jazz workshop. The remaining twenty per cent of the stuff was great, and for that alone I would say that this 1966 Jazz Workshop was a success. I only hope that after this article I get asked again next year. Na bitte! Herr Gertberg. (I was, too, on French Horn! See below.)

Photo: Pierre Favre, Spike Heatley, Danny Moss, Ron Simmonds and Ake Persson

Keeper of the Flame
Back in the 1960s Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Ross and I went over to do a Jazz Workshop in Recklinghausen. Friedrich Gulda was the bandleader and he wanted me to play French Horn on the gig. I’d never even held one in my hands before, but he insisted on it so I toured the London symphony orchestras, trying to borrow one. This caused some consternation amongst the horn players, who thought I was trying to bust in on their session work, but I told them I wasn’t otherwise interested in the damn thing, so Jim Brown loaned me his Bb and F.

You have to play them left-handed, right? And with the big end pointing to the rear. First number up on the stand was Anthropology and because I was new on the horn they very kindly took it faster than usual. I had a solo in the middle of it, so on the concert I stood up, turned around and ripped out a passable imitation of Ernie Royal’s trumpet solo in Woody’s The Keeper of the Flame which cleared the first ten rows of the stalls. Up in the extreme high register of the horn you can get practically any note you want with the first valve, and that’s what I did. There was none of that shoving my hand up into the bell to damp it down, either. Nat Peck, who was sitting right beside me, said he had bells ringing in his ears for days after.

Gulda, a world renowned classical pianist was playing baritone sax in the concert, and he conducted us with his left foot. He did this admirably, but that is all I can remember about that particular jazz workshop, except that I shared a hotel room with Rolf Ericson, who told me, over the seven days we were together, about practically everything that had happened to him in Duke Ellington’s band. Later on I did other workshops, where I was booked on trumpet. No one ever asked me to play horn again.

Copyright © 1966 Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved.