Now that his gem from the vaults has been released on CD by Dark Tree Records under the title No U Turn (DT-RS-05) I thought to ask Bobby to explain what these compositions are about. We sat down in his studio in Altadena early afternoon of August 13, 2o15 and talked, forty years after this great concert took place. The KPFK jazz radio host John Breckow produced the concerts (there were two others in the series: BB & JC were the 3rd) and Bobby says he got the call and asked John to join him on the date. I wrote extensive liner notes for the release which explain everything. Bertrand and his team did an exemplary job of producing this CD package: graphics, engineering, and feel are all perfect.
Bobby Bradford Interview — Love’s Dream — Track 1
MW: How is the tune “Love’s Dream” constructed? What’s the form?
BB: Well now, if I understand the question, often when we talk about form in jazz, we’re talking about groups of bars, and so many of the tunes that we do are often 32-bar form, often referred to as AABA or ABAC or something like that. Well, this tune doesn’t fit any of those. It’s just a little melody that unfolds but you can’t put it in any of those song forms. (Just to make it go really fast here), we play it twice, we repeat it when we play it.
MW: In the opening?
BB: Yes, in the opening, and going out, too, I believe we do, too. But, sometimes when I’m playing that . . . I mean, when I say “sometimes,” I don’t play it that often, but when Trevor Watts and I used to play it, some nights we’d be really wired, man, we’d only play the head once, we were so anxious to get playing we’d go right into the improvisation. We’d go: [scats the melody]. So it’s a very short thematic piece, and it doesn’t break up enough to call it an A and a B part. But you could if you had to. You could make the A part [sings the melody calling out possible bar lines], but it’s not worth it, it’s too short.
MW: How many bars is the piece, how many measures?
BB: Gawd, I don’t know, I couldn’t even tell you right now. We could sit down and figure it in bars, but that doesn’t have a lot of mean, because we often stretch it out over bar lines. [Demonstrates it in a strict manner] But we never play it evenly like that, see what I mean? So, if you sit down and try to notate it so that someone in Tibet could read it [laughing] and put it in bars it’d sound really funny, if you forced it into bar lines, that takes some of the flexibility out of it. See what I mean? It’s like about a ten bar tune.
MW: So, is it just a line?
BB: Well, you could call Charlie Parker’s tunes “lines.” Now, it doesn’t have chords but it’s such that if you wanted to you could sit down and put some chords underneath that melody. But, it wouldn’t work, you see, when we were playing because you wouldn’t know when to play them. That’s the idea of playing a free melody like that. You couldn’t ask a piano player to second guess you about when you’re getting ready to move to the next section.
MW: Is there a tonal center, there’s no home?
BB: There’s no tonal center that you could keep using, like if you’re going to play Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology” or “Anthropology,” that has a basic tonal center that you could play all through the tune, even though it goes to some different chords, what we call secondary dominants if you want to. But you can see that when Charlie Parker is playing “Ornithology” that it’s in the key of G and you can relate to that all the way through the tune. But you can’t do that with this tune.
MW: Did you write this in England? 1973-ish?
BB: Yes, I wrote that while I was in England.
MW: Did you first write it with bar lines?
BB: Uummmm, yeh, but they weren’t bar lines. I would just have a group of notes and I might have had a bar line some place but it wasn’t like I had 4 beats in every bar. It’s like “H.M. Louis,” I don’t know how many bars that is. Now, I have some tunes that I could tell you how many bars it is because it’s about bars, like “Sideman,” see that’s 32 bars because that’s the form and it’s AABA and you keep playing that over and over when you’re playing that tune.
MW: And your “Birdzeg” is based on “Confirmation.”
BB: Right. Now, I wouldn’t play “Birdzeg” and then take it out, or, what’s that other phrase you use?
MW: Open it up?
BB: Right. I don’t use that phrase but I know what people mean. When I play “Birdzeg” I will play those “Confirmation” chords over and over.
MW: Is “Confirmation” rhythm changes?
BB: No, no, no, that’s Charlie Parker’s flag waver, that’s his masterpiece, even he said that. Oh man, that’s brilliant. There’s lot of amazing tunes, even Tin Pan Alley tunes that have lovely chords, but in jazz I don’t think there’s anything before it. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t other tunes just as complex, do you know what I mean? “Prelude to a Kiss,” Duke Ellington ain’t easy (rueful chuckle).
MW: So, you were using the same “Confirmation” chords when you wrote “Birdzeg”?
BB: Yes. I would sit down at the piano and play those chords [plays “Confirmation” on the piano]. I played those chords over and over because that helped me hear the line. “Birdzeg” wasn’t intened to be played without the bass and the piano playing the chord sequence, I enjoyed that, but I wouldn’t want to play like that all night. See, when I play blues, most of the time I play it like 12-bars, but sometimes I play things that are blues-like, that are not 12 bars, but it has all the tonal properties of blues music, but it’s not 12 bars.
MW: What does the title mean, Love’s Dream?
BB: Oh man, whew. That’s, whew (laughing). One of Trevor’s friends asked if it was like that tune by the classical musician, I think Franz Listz, who wrote a piece called “Liebestraum,” which is Love’s Dream. I wasn’t thinking about that then, at that point I was thinking of a romantic kind of thing, like what people mean when two people fall in love. It’s like you know better but you fall in love. My mother, and my elders used to say Yeh well you were just climbing fool’s hill, that’s what the old people say. You just go gaga, there’s no explanation for it, it’s just the dream of what love is about.
Bobby Bradford Interview — She — Track 2
MW: Let’s talk about “She.”
BB: Okay. Well that was originally recorded as “Woman” and that’s on one of those records with Bob Thiele, and they kept moving the publishing around to different people, and right now, you see, when that record is being played some place, I never get a nickel of that, it’s been screwed around, it’s been subletted to Hokey Dokey, and that’s the way they do and I never see a nickel of that. So, anytime that I have recorded or played it since, like when I play it on concerts in Europe where you have to itemize what you played on the concert, I call it “She.” And the money comes right directly to Gethsemane Music. I said something to Bob Thiele about it when I made that record Dedicated to Malcolm X with David Murray and I said Hey, what’s happening? and he said Well it doesn’t amount to much money, and I said I don’t care what it is, I want it! If it’s a nickel, I want it. And he got pissed off, we were having a conversation and he walked off, it really ruffled his feathers.
MW: So, “She/Woman,” what’s the form?
BB: It doesn’t have a form, either. It’s a very short melody. You couldn’t call it AABA or any of that, it’s only about ten bars long. Now, let’s look at the melody [he pulls out the sheet, and counts the bars] Oh, it’s twelve bars long, but it’s not a blues.
MW: So, when you originally wrote it you didn’t put bar lines?
BB: I don’t think I had bar lines, I just had phrases. See when I copyrighted it I put in the bar lines, because you have to send them something.
MW: At one time was this tune called “Omen”? You told me that, ages ago.
BB: Oh, yeh! At first it was “Woe-man,” I don’t know who changed it, maybe somebody at the record company. I had it written down, you know, like in the Bible it says Woe unto you or whoever. I was just being silly, but that’s what it was. And then when it came out they had it changed and so everybody would ask me what woman was that you were thinking about, (laughter).
MW: When did you write it?
BB: I probably wrote it six months before we made that first record on Flying Dutchman FLIGHT FOR FOUR. See, if I had written it earlier we would have used it on our first record that we made that came out on Revelation.
MW: And when you write a tune like that, do you specify the instrumentation?
BB: No, I play that whatever. Of course, most of the time when me and John were going to do anything I wasn’t thinking any bigger than a quartet, ever, you know? We always wanted some material that we could get off on. Like when I was working with Trevor, all those tunes I wrote in Europe were tunes that two horns can play and generate some feeling and just bang.
MW: You once told me that “Woman” was your best effort as a composer.
BB: That’s one of my better tunes, just in terms of a melody that I didn’t have to keep chipping on it, trying to change something, you know, how you edit and change it and change it, I didn’t change a note of that. It came just right out. Like “H.M. Louis.” I wrote “H.M. Louis” in like thirty minutes.
MW: But, you do have tunes that you chip on for awhile?
BB: Oh yeh! Like “Ornate,” I chipped on that for over a year trying to get out of that.
MW: And you still rewrite bass lines for it.
BB: Well, sometimes if a bass player hasn’t played with you before, I write something out for them to get them going. But that tune, man, I kept getting trapped in this one place where it wasn’t working and the more I worked at it the worse it got! that was a motherfucker!
MW: And you also write new counterpoint lines for the other horn on that.
BB: Yeh, sometimes. I get tired and want to hear something new. Now, going back to “Woman,” Tom Williamson played something underneath that with some smears, that’s really good. Eventually, I changed the bass to that ostinato.
MW: Does “Woman” lend itself to having a counter melody?
BB: Well . . .it depends. Let’s just say you were going to do that in a duet, with just me and another horn. I wouldn’t want a horn to play that ostinato. See, because on the bass it has a certain percussive quality that you don’t get on the clarinet. That’s the beauty of the bass, where you’re plucking it, it’s percussive and it’s tonal. Like the piano, you hammer it. But you can always have another line.
Bobby Bradford Interview — Comin On — Track 3
MW: Okay, tell us about “Comin’ On.”
BB: Right. Okay. Let’s see, I’m trying to think if that has a form in the way that you mean it. No, that’s just a short melody, too. But now this is a tune where if I’m playing with people I haven’t worked with a lot because it takes you into the free form really easy. When you get done playing this melody it’s easy for you to get out there, without thinking about a key. But I do have some things that people can play behind “Comin’ On” or can play while the soloists are playing, what I call an obbligato. And everybody’s got something different to play on their parts. The main line is [sings] see, that’s a short line, it’s only [looking at the sheet] one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, uh, ten bars. But then I have some written stuff, something different for everybody, and [ruffling pages] . . . see, here’s the trombone part, and Michael (Vlatkovich) can play any one of these lines lettered A, B, and C. And I say You play those at will, any place you feel the urge to play, you could play those while I’m soloing or I might play them while you’re soloing.
MW: You wrote “Comin’ On” a long time ago?
BB: I think the first record that I used “Comin’ On” was LOST IN L.A. (June 1983)
BB: Yeh, with me and Kousakis.
MW: But, you wrote it a long time ago? You wrote it back in the New Art Jazz Quartet days.
BB: No, no, no, we didn’t have that then. The Revelation period? I hadn’t written that then. I didn’t play this with John Carter, see, if we had that, it would have been a part of our regular repertoire, because we used it a lot later on.
MW: When you were singing it right now it sounded kind of boppish.
BB: You could say it’s boppish. You could say “His Majesty Louis” is boppish, just based on the articulation. See, when we play “Comin’ On” we never play it even like that, I was just singing it [straight] to bring the tune into focus. Sometimes we speed it up or slow down, we never play it in that bop mode.
Bobby Bradford Interview — Come Softly — Track 4
MW: So, on this November 17, 1975 concert you sit out on John’s composition “Come Softly,” but you’ve played this tune many times over the years.
BB: Oh yeh, I’ve played that lots times with John, as a duo.
MW: So, what’s the form on that.
BB: Well, pretty much like a lot of John’s, it’s a very short tune, it’s not long enough to have, like a bridge, you wouldn’t call it that. If you had to, though, you could break part of it and say this is the A part and this is B, but that would be pushing it. But you could. But, you see it’s not long enough to even worry about the form, there’s not enough bars . . . see, when you say “a form,” well that’s like what people say when you write in the longer forms, it’s more difficult. See, if you were going to write a piece like a symphony, that’s more difficult than writing a march, because the form is so long you have to have some ideas that you develop, like an A section, and then an A2 and then B and C and D and as it gets longer, you know? You can’t write a novel that’s only eight pages (laughter)! A lot of John’s tunes were short, they were intended to be a duet piece. So, a lot of this is dictated by what and who is going to play it and when. So then, when John started thinking about that octet stuff, when he started writing things that were longer, then they do have these sections. Very deliberate. Sometimes the form might be AB or ABCD or ABCAD or three A’s and two B’s, so you could keep track of the form.
Bobby Bradford Interview — Circle — Track 5
MW: And the last track on the album is John’s “Circle.” You and John played that for years. (Appeared first on the fourth album SECRETS, that track recorded November 11, 1971)
BB: Yes. Now, “Circle,” is a very short line, too. That was designed where you play first, and then you play the head afterwards. We didn’t play the head in the very beginning, you blow, and then you play the head at the very end of it. We played that a lot. And we’d play it lickety-split, but if you’re not listening carefully you’ll miss the head on this because we’re just blowing until the very end until we start slipping the head in there.
MW: How do you know when you’re going to go to the head, between you and John?
BB: Well, it depends, if we’re playing in a group, like a quartet, one us might lead back to it, and in duo where we’re standing shoulder to shoulder there, it’s just instant. You know when you’re standing there playing a duo the contact is instantaneous. But if you add drums and bass then you have to cue each other some kind of way. Sometimes, you know, each of us is going to play a long solo, which we did, and then if you’re going to give a solo to the drum or bass, usually we just look at the drum or the bass, so the form for that particular tune was solo + solo + solo + solo + the head at the end. But ordinarily, you play the head, then solos, then maybe group improvisation, then back to the head at the end. Going all the way back to New Orleans, the Swing Era, cool jazz, bebop, post-bop, and it gets to be kind of a habit, that’s why I avoid it now, sometimes, because it sets you into a place where pretty soon you get fixed in the thing and you can’t get out of, you’re trapped into that. This forces you to re-group in your head.
MW: And that was John’s compositional idea all along with “Circle”?
BB: Yes. And I’ve got a Charlie Parker tune where he comes in blowing and doesn’t play the theme until he goes out. So, what I’m saying is, that is not a completely new idea of John’s, like nobody had done that before. Gerry Mulligan has a couple pieces where they start blowing and they don’t play the head till the end. He and Chet Baker would be playing over the changes and then work up to the head. But, by and large, the idea is to play this thematic piece and then try to develop the improvisation based on that, so that’s why you work hard on a piece, so that it has a lot of goodies that’ll catapult you into improvisation.
MW: So, why did John call this piece “Circle,” does it relate to something in the arrangement?
BB: I guess, because sometimes he’d say, we would all improvise in a circle, he’d play, I’d play, then the drum and bass would play, and then maybe we’d go around again. And then we’d go to the head finally.
MW: So, are you just supposing that might be the reason he called it “Circle”?
BB: Well, I don’t remember him saying that, but that’s a good way to describe what happened.
This is the uncropped photo for the Lp cover of SEEKING (Revelation 9) released 1969 — photo by John William Hardy from the collection of Bobby Bradford
New Art Jazz Ensemble: Tom Williamson, John Carter, Bobby Bradford, Bruz Freeman — circa 1968 photo shoot for album cover of their first album SEEKING (Revelation 9) — photographer John William Hardy — at the old Watts Local stop at 103rd & Grandee (the Red Car went out of service Sept 1961) — from the collection of Bobby Bradford
Stanley, William, and John — November 17, 1975 concert — from the collection of John Breckow
Stanley Carter, bass; William Jeffrey, drums; John Carter, soprano; Bobby Bradford, cornet; Robert Miranda, bass — November 17, 1975 — photographer unknown — from the collection of John Breckow
Bobby Bradford outside his practice room at home — August 12, 2o15 — photo by Mark Weber
John Carter: Some notes about ECHOES FROM RUDOLPH’s
John Carter grew up in the country way out on the grassy prairie outside Fort Worth, mostly small farms and fishing holes.
He was a bright and precocious kid who graduated high school early and onto college taking a degree in music (1949) by age 19 at Lincoln University, Missouri, followed by his M.A. (1956) from University of Colorado at Boulder.
By the time this record was made he had been living in Los Angeles 15 years. Arriving in 1961 he worked around town with a Ray Crawford Quartet that included Philly Joe, he joined the union and tried to find work in the Hollywood film, tv & pop music machine, he played all the woodwinds: flutes, saxophones, double-reeds, and when that didn’t come to pass he took employment with the L.A. public school system as an itinerant music teacher responsible for half dozen elementary school’s music curriculum, traveling to a different school each day of the week in his Porsche. May 1967 Ornette hired him to conduct his “Inventions of Symphonic Poems” at the UCLA Jazz Festival, it was during this residency that Ornette brought to John’s attention that Bobby Bradford had recently relocated to Los Angeles and was out there somewhere in the vast 300-square-miles of suburb that make up greater Los Angeles metropolitan cosmology. Ornette had the telephone number and John called Bobby who was living in Pomona at the time and working in San Bernardino. A long stretch of road: Culver City (where John lived) to Pomona to San Bernardino, but these guys were used to the long stretches of road in Texas. This was 1967, the Civil Rights Movement had made itself fully felt, as well, the philosophy of self-determination was the watchword, racism was at an all-time high, or all-time low depending on how you looked at it. John and Bobby were young men with families and a vision of what they wanted to do in music and so they got together and formed The New Art Jazz Ensemble. (You cannot leave race out of the picture when considering this music. The Watts Riots of the summer of 1965 were still reverberating in a great big way.)
In the 60s & 70s jazz was all about New — not that jazz hadn’t always been expanding in all directions over its history, but in the 60s there was an element of anarchy, because you must remember, by the 60s the pop music industry had grown into a behemoth (and some good music was being made in that field) but they smothered all other forms of musical expression. For those interested “serious” music you were working against this giant elephant in the room, and it was quite daunting. Jazz almost died in the 60s because of it. So the anarchy was reactionary. There was a lot of bombast . . . . John and Bobby kept their cool. Their music was always considered and intellectual and deeply about culture.
Rudolph’s Fine Art Center (aka Rudolph’s Chamber Music Recital Center) was at 3320 West 50th Street just off Crenshaw (less than 2 blocks from where Horace & Celia Tapscott lived). It was a small place, used to be a dentist office, you parked in back or on the street and either walked along a skirt sidewalk from the parking lot, or up the stairs if you parked on the street, entering from the front was the recital room with a few rows of folding chairs, counting the band and Rudolph (who lived there) there would be no more than 30 souls in attendance and some Sundays much less than that. It was my first encounter with such low expectations, a music of a limited audience, so different from the mass convocations of the rock world I grew up with, here was intimacy, you could actually talk with the artists after the performance, that would never happen with Joe Rock Guitar God, and there were no drugs, it was purely wholesome, and deeply about the music, it was at Rudolph’s that I learned about recital spaces designed for presenting an uncompromised music, that was so outside the direct focus of money, that it took a minute to readjust, this was L.A., after all . . . . Piatigorsky and Quincy Jones lived in spacious abodes up in Brentwood and Stravinsky lived above Sunset Blvd and Nelson Riddle lived in Larchmont Village and all the rock stars lived in Bel Air and Beverly Hills and Laurel Canyon — the Hollywood pop world could not imagine that down here in Watts a saxophonist was transforming himself, on his own terms, into a clarinetest, and on his own time, taking his time to do it right (John wasn’t fully committed to the clarinet until at the age of 49 in 1977 he added the solo track on RUDOLPH’s that marked that evolution).
The raised stage (6 inches) was at one end of the room and at stage right was the green room, which must have once been the doctor’s office. At stage left was the door to individual rooms and the bath. In between was the little table for the wine & cheese. John wore denim a lot these years: pressed blue denim pants with a center crease with a Levi jacket with sailcloth buttons. He’d park his immaculate yellow 1963 bathtub Porsche in back and once inside start getting his horns ready, he was very relaxed, that was his nature. I was there with my crew almost every Sunday during it’s 2 1/2 year reign and happen’d to miss the Sunday that Burt Lancaster, the Rainmaker himself (!) showed up. (Burt’s daughter had been flirting with the idea of getting into artist management and she had brought her father.) When I walked in the following Sunday, John said, “Where were you? Burt Lancaster was here wearing his sailor cap.”
In fact, there was no way John could have known, even as thoughtful as he was, that he was becoming a supreme clarinetist, it happen’d to him naturally, as he stripped away elements he no longer needed, as he poked around modes and scales (having long since dispensed with chords) the last saxophone he’d play was the soprano and then one clear smogless day it hit him like a bell that the only horn left to him was the clarinet, and he had the resolve to know that that was the way it was to be. And then set to work boiling everything out of the clarinet, long roiling solos ten fifteen minutes running up & down, testing corners, learning where the cul-de-sacs were, finding the sweet spots, the alternate fingerings, the overtones, the echoes of culture that reached back to Africa, all of everything that reverberated in his memory under a Texas sky out in the country, maybe it was a dirt road sound he found? I remember he once told me about the MG he had before he graduated to his dream car Porsche, how it had been in an accident and thereafter never tracked right until one afternoon on the highway it caught fire and John said he pulled over, calmly grabbed his briefcase and saxophone and stepped away and watched it burn, didn’t bother one inch to stop it, and in Texas, out on the highway could mean miles away from anywhere, standing under all that sky. John said it takes a long time to find out what horn is suitable, but he seems to be the extreme, having run through a lot of woodwinds over the years, but once he got there he went right to work, and what a torrent emanated from his pen, the Roots & Folklore suite and hundreds of individual pieces, he was quite prolific, and all the younger players were starting to come around and warm to his fire, John never wavered, he went straight into it, and this record ECHOES FROM RUDOLPH’S shows that interesting time within mysterious self-knowledge and transformation, if he was Arthur, then he had just pulled Excalibur from the stone. This record is within the very cusp of that transformation.
ECHOES FROM RUDOLPH’S was released late October or early November 1977 in an edition of 550 copies + ten test pressings on John’s own label Ibedon Records. The word Ibedon is a southern idiom in Black culture from Bobby and John’s time. Bobby explained that it translates to: “I be done” as in: I be done go upside yo’ haid. Etcetera. John used it tongue-in-cheek because out of context it had an exotic ring to it, maybe African.
I should also mention that the summer he started his weekly Sunday series at Rudolph Porter’s place (Rudolph is a bassoonist) John on summer break has traveled to Paris on a reconnaissance mission, to see what his possibilities were for Europe. He sat in with the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band. When he returned to Los Angeles it was later in that summer of 1973 that the series began it’s two and half year run.
Regarding this music he played those years at Rudolph’s: “Amin” was played many Sundays at Rudolph’s — this was before we found out Idi Amin was a tyrant and a homocidal maniac — I believe John looked to Amin as a return to sovereign rule in the African countries — (John wasn’t overly political) —- but you can tell by the time of this release the bad news was out and John says in his one-liner: “What can you say about Amin . . .” Elipsis dots were his and no question mark.
As to the track “To a Fallen Poppy” that Melba sings and John’s youngest son Chris plays finger cymbals. John wrote the lyrics “To a Fallen Poppy.” I did not know John to write poetry — and I’ve never completely understood what this poem was about, and embarrassed to reveal where some of my thoughts have ranged as to its meaning. I suspect that it was something he wrote when he was in high school (this is only a guess) and means all the things a young man means at that age. What is that thing we say in poetry?
: It means what it means at the time that it is saying it.
TO A FALLEN POPPY
My sweet, sweet poppy It grows and grows From first its start, one purpose clear To steal my heart . . . My sweet, sweet poppy Its fragrance warm and bright as day Melts all my cares And floats away . . . . My sweet, sweet poppy
Other tunes played on Sundays were: A vastly different version of “Enter from the East” than what eventually appeared on album DAUWHE (1982) —- Stanley would play this on electric bass with an ostinato figure.
“Come Softly” – “How About a Little Dance” – “Sunday Afternoon Jazz Society Blues” – “Ballad of Po’ Ben” – “Wonderlust” – “Run John” – “In a Pretty Place” – “Over the Rainbow” (all tunes by John except this and Bobby’s “Love’s Dream” one Sunday when BB showed up) “Blues for Ruby Pearl” — this tune was a composition for soprano saxophone and on the original acetate master for the album — the album was minutes away from being pressed with this track included when John decided his path was with the clarinet and returned to the studio on July 14, 1977 to record the solo clarinet piece that replaced “Ruby Pearl” and signaled his decision.
Another memory: As John worked on this album he gave both Bradford and I each a cassette of the master as it came along — I was still somewhat unsophisticated in the ways of making records — Did I say “somewhat”? Let’s be honest: I was totally unsophisticated in these processes. So, my only contribution was enthusiasm. Although, when John said he was intending to add a little reverb I was quite dismayed and voiced my apprehensions about the inorganic idea of reverb, John said, “I only want to add just a little to warm it up.” Of course he was right. This was the first record I was ever involved with during its coming into existence, pretty heady stuff. That’s the way John was: Very generous to allow a young guy like me be a part of his thing.
*My generation had grown up with the relative starkness of ESP records. They sounded cold & of the big city scuffle, instilling romantic visions of penurious dedicated artists living in 4th floor walk-up cold water flats in the East Village — there was nothing warm about those records, they were stark.
A lot of other musicians came and sat in at Rudolph’s but mostly it was just John and his trio. I do remember one Sunday he had surprised us with a young adult orchestra he had assembled to play a few sketches of what was to become his magnum opus, the Roots and folklore suite.
Mark Weber | June 2o15 Albuquerque
John Carter — January 3, 1978 — Los Angeles — photo by Mark Weber + Chris Carter who plays finger cymbals on the track “To a Fallen Poppy” — photo by Mark Weber — May 1977
John Carter & Bobby Bradford — April 24, 1977 — photo by Mark Weber
John Carter at The Little Big Horn — April 17, 1977 — photo by Mark Weber — it must have been cold that April afternoon for John to be wearing his knit cap.
Stanley & John Carter in duet at Ibedon First Annual Festival in the Performing Arts, Studio Z, 2409 W. Slauson, Los Angeles — May 22, 1977 — photo by Mark Weber
William Jeffrey & John Carter in duet (we have a recording of this afternoon and it is incredible) — October 3, 1976 at The Little Big Horn — photo by Mark Weber
Melba Joyce & Ernie Andrews — Watts Towers Jazz Festival — July 16, 1983 — photo by Mark Weber
Azar Lawrence & John Carter at Ibedon Festival — May 20-22, 1977 Los Angeles — photo by Mark Weber
I was out of circulation for awhile and John decided to write me a letter and catch me up on all that was going on —- June 22, 1982
John Carter and his yellow 1963 bathtub Porsche — June 16, 1984 Hollywood Bowl — photo by Mark Weber
JOHN CARTER & ECHOES FROM RUDOLPH’s
Liner notes for a Re-issue
Bobby would show up in his Camaro. John’s 63 yellow bathtub Porsche would already be parked in the little parkinglot out back — this is another reason why BB & JC were Southern Californians: they are both car guys.
You can’t be a car guy and live in NYC. They both had sharp cars, always. And both of them can talk cars. I was a mechanic those years and was kept around on that level alone, forget the music, or that I was all ears. They wanted to know if they should re-jet their carburetors. What was my opinion on glasspacks? (too noisy). Did I know anything about throw-out bearings on the clutch? (Yes.)
This record shows the absolute cusp of John’s decision to completely dedicate his life to the clarinet. In my CODA interview (1976) he talks about how it took till he was almost 50 to realize that he was purely a clarinet player. John played the entire woodwinds family. But, somewhere immediately after the first recording session for RUDOLPH’s he arrived at the finality and the decision. He had been in contemplation regarding this path for maybe a year. I started hanging around Bobby & John in 1974 and I never saw John play anything but the soprano saxophone and the clarinet (oh, I saw him comping on piano a few times at gigs, and another time I saw him pick up Vinny’s flute) and he played them both equally on gigs. On the original sequence & master for RUDOLPH’s there was a gutbucket soprano blues called “Blues for Ruby Pearl,” that John removed so that he could add the solo clarinet piece. That was the turning point. You only saw a clarinet in John’s hands after that.
John Carter at home — 3900 Carol Court, Culver City, California — August 31, 1976 — photo by Mark Weber
Rudolph’s wasn’t quite a house, but it was the size of a domestic house, set back one lot away from Crenshaw, down 50th Street. Horace & Cecelia Tapscott lived just around the corner. I think it used to be dentists office? It had a promenade entrance up a modest set of brick stairs and once inside there was the tip jar and directly across the room was the table with the wine & cheeses & bread & cookies. Rudolph Porter was a bassoonist and lived in a side room. Another side room served as the green room, stage right. I was there almost every Sunday for those two years and the average attendance was around 20 souls. 75% of the time it was just John and his Trio. On occasion young musicians from the neighborhood would drop in — I remember Eric Ajaye playing electric bass, once — but, usually they’d hear that John was way way out there, and would keep to themselves. Not too infrequently Bobby would show up. Bobby lived clear up in Altadena and that’s a long haul across Los Angeles to 50th & Crenshaw so he wasn’t a regular.
Mark Dresser would drive up occasionally from San Diego where he was enrolled (in school, not the military) (San Diego has a lot of military “presence” ) Dresser grew up in Los Feliz up alongside the Los Angeles River behind Silverlake, (Silverlake was the 60s boho neighborhood of L.A.) and now he was a student at UCSD. Quite often the John Carter Ensemble would include Roberto Miranda plus Stanley for a double double-bass thing (I have a stunning recording of Bradford directing the two basses in a sort of bass choir arrangement of his “Woman” while JC played bells) and of course James Newton dropped by now & again still dressed his Sunday church best. Stanley Crouch, never. I don’t think John represented the sort of radical politics that Stanley was involved with those years. John was a family man with a day job. So was Bradford.
William Jeffrey keeps several drumsets, but when I caught him with BB’s Mo’tet at a gig at Claremont Colleges in April 2o12, he was using the old 18″ bass drum he had during his Rudolph’s days! Still has it. (He keeps several drumkits.) William was raised in Dallas, born there June 23, 1949. Flutist Bobbi Humphrey went to the same high school and they formed a group The Jazz Informers. During those years he caught Sonny Payne with Basie “twirling his sticks,” Ellington, Brubeck with Morello, Osie Johnson “but I can’t remember who he was with,” and Roland Kirk “sounded like Basie with those three horns in his mouth, and the nose flute. I think it was Burton Greene on piano. And Clifford Jarvis was so good and he was unknown and I was thinking How am I ever going to get that good. He was so great I almost quit playing! That was at the Green Parrot.” Other than that, “there was no jazz in Dallas, except Red Garland, but he was ancient to me.
John Carter — January 7, 1977 —- Century City Playhouse, Los Angeles — photo by Mark Weber —- this is the original uncropped photo that we used for the cover of album ECHOES FROM RUDOLPH’S — John was part of this concert entitled David Murray Trio + Guests — Trio was Roberto Miranda (bass) and Oliver Johnson (drums) and the guests were James Newton(flute) and John Carter (clarinet)
I had that album NO ROOM FOR SQUARES and I was amazed, here was the pianist on that album playing near my high school, at the club Arandas. ” On a visit to L.A. with his family summer of 1967, “it was right around the time Coltrane died. And I heard this music from our motel and I thought Man, I never heard a stereo this good before! It was middle of the day, 11 o’clock or noon, and I walked over.” They had taken lodging in a motel adjacent to the renowned jazz club Marty’s on the Hill and Oliver Nelson was rehearsing his big band for what became the album LIVE FROM LOS ANGELES (Impulse!), the drummer was Ed Thigpen. Back home in Texas William enrolled at Texas Southern University, Houston (1968-1969) but when TSU received funding to have construction improvements to the music department, classes were suspended and he wasn’t interested in transferring to academics, so he went back to Dallas, shortly thereafter departing for Los Angeles September of 1970 “With only 150 dollars cash, no place to live, no job prospects, I’d never drove more than twenty miles, in Dallas there was no place to go!” He drove his beloved white 1962 Oldsmobile 98 “I could fit my entire drumkit into the trunk, I lived with Onaje (Woody Murray, the vibist who he worked with in Houston), and hooked up with Charles Owens. I lived at the Lighthouse and Shelly’s in those days.” He can not remember when or what the circumstances were that he met John Carter, “I know I took over for Ndugu. I had a call for a rehearsal, somewhere.” There are a lot of Texans in southern California. He became music director for Ronnie Laws, a position he held for many years.
Of Rudolph’s: “I remember Mark Dresser, the principle bass player for the San Diego Symphony sat in, he was the first guy that made me realize I should be eating more oatmeal and cornflakes! I’d never heard the bass played with such a full sound, it was like going from monaural to stereo!” Regarding the spelling of his patronymic I asked why you see it spelled Jeffery or Jeffrey. He grew up under the name Jeffrey but after some research found an earlier variant used by his family and now he prefers Jeffery, although “both spellings are correct! [laughter] For awhile I had two names!” William still lives and works in Los Angeles and is still in the drum chair in Bobby’s Mo’tet (alternating with Chris Garcia) and on the day of this telephone conversation he and his wife celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary. [telcon 27june14] *In 2002 JLo recorded another mega-hit and used part of a song (sampled) that William had co-wrote for Debra Laws (Hubert & Ronnie’s sister) and he made some money on that.
Besides John’s Sunday Afternoon Jazz Society at Rudolph’s (that tune was written a few years before the Rudolph’s era but John played it at Rudolph’s — there were a group of regulars that made it appropriate) I know of a presentation there by Harold Land and I know Rudolph gave a recital on his bassoon. Mostly it was John’s trio on Sundays.
Dresser was driving a red 1970 VW bus those years “that Paul Maddox aka Pheeroan ak laff dubbed The Kidney Bean.” Mark confirmed that he was indeed a member of SD Symphony bass section, but was not the principle. Bertram Turetszky was teaching at UCSD at that time, Mark’s mentor. This was also during the time when MD was member of Stanley Crouch’s band Black Music Infinity based out of Claremont.
My other big memory of Rudolph’s is that every Sunday as the audience arrived he played “In a Sentimental Mood” — I still cannot hear that track by Coltrane & Ellington and not think of Rudolph’s Fine Arts Center. (Bobby confirms that it used to be a dentist office.)
John’s playing was vast and coruscating and luminous. Huge long solos pulling the rhythm section along behind him. William was still investigating how to play this sort of music, a very intelligent man also from Texas, he was the MD for Hubert Laws [and a couple pop bands–?] < Stanley is John’s 2nd son and was a college student these years also, as well as home studies in music under his father’s tutelage. He no longer plays music and is involved in security guard outfit, now, after a short stint in the LAPD.
8 1/2″ x 14″ poster — 1973-1974 Los Angeles
Those years John worked for the L.A. public schools as an itinerant music instructor going around to several grade schools. He practiced at all the stops. His daughter Karen told me that after dinner every night he’d get out his horns and practice in the living room of Carol Court (the TV was in the kitchen, so the living room was cool for music, where they kept a spinet. This living room has large plate glass picture windows in the northeast corner that looked directly at downtown L.A. about fifteen miles away, and on smogless days you could see the San Gabriel Mountains, as southern California was blanketed in smog those years.
There are 3 photos of John that circulate that I took of him one afternoon sitting on the couch with his clarinet in that room, with his characteristic big Texas smile. John was a measured talker, he chose his words carefully, and he was thoughtful about what he said, often ending a large global statement with a laugh, to remind us that there are no absolutes, that he’s just speculating. He was one of these guys that graduated high school at age 16 and shipped off immediately to college. I think he was even at North Texas State for a minute. But most of his music conservatory was done at Lincoln University, Missouri, and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Upon graduating conservatory he was back in Texas with a growing family and a job as a high school music teacher, in Fort Worth, where Julius Hemphill was a student.
Those photos were not staged or posed. They’re actually what photographers call “lucky shots.” They’re good, and real. We were just hanging out and I snapped them while we talked.
John Carter released ECHOES FROM RUDOLPH’s himself. John hadn’t been in a recording studio since April 1972 when he and Bobby recorded the second half of SECRETS (Revelation 18) and a lot had been going on in his music. Gone were the alto and tenor and flutes. He spent the entire 70s on the soprano saxophone and the clarinet. If not for RUDOLPH’s this period would be undocumented. John’s next session under his own name wouldn’t be until August of 1979 and things really started to heat up then. RUDOLPH’s was the only release on Ibedon Records. (Only last month I thought to ask Bobby whatNheck does “Ibedon” mean — and he said that it’s southern Negro dialect for “I be done go upside yo’ haid if you don’t get that rent money together” or “I be done go to the store,” and that John gave it an African look and used it for his record company name.) The Ibedon release was vinyl long-player in an edition of 550 copies.
Bobby & John were a flagship to all the younger players coming up who were interested in the avant. We called it “avant garde” in those days, or “New Music.” John approached the clarinet like a legit player, he was very serious. You could watch him assemble this instrument like someone who paid dearly for it. Master clarinetist Bill Payne, who reveres John’s playing, says he never heard anyone play as aggressively as John. Kenny Davern was aware of John and appreciated where he was going, they both had a repository of alternate fingerings and notes not found on a conventional Bb clarinet. John loved to do that warbling thing in the chalumeau as a launch pad to a stratospheric burst of carefully worked out lines. James Newton says that between students at The Wind College (c.1982) that you could hear John in his room working over a figure for an hour or more. John was concerned with the sonic possibilities of the clarinet, in retrospect I think of him more as a 20th century composer than purely a jazz guy. By the time of RUDOLPH’s he had left chordal music far behind. In fact, to my young ears I sorta thought of him as Coltrane-derived with those long ever-widening solos on soprano, but of course, with a little more education one realizes John had a completely different thing. Bradford says that the only chordal things John condescended to play on were some of Bobby’s compositions (BB writes in several formats: rhythm changes, blues, various song forms, omens, non-tonal, marches, free & open, bebop, spontaneous composition, etc).
John was an intellectual, he had a touch of the academic about him, and he was a nice guy, something we always attributed to his Texas upbringing, which was in the deep woods way outside Fort Worth in a community that was from other times. John’s mother was visiting with them for awhile and John tried to introduce her to me and she was so shy he had to hold on to her to keep her from running away, she was laughing, but I got the feeling she hadn’t spent much of her life around white people, or worse, that her experience with white people had not been good.
Rudolph’s Fine Art Center (sometimes also known as Rudolph’s Chamber Recital Center) was in Watts — probably why there were so few whites in the audience. Watts was still smoldering these eight years later after the 1965 riots (more properly known as The 1965 Insurrection)(and what we called “Watts” in those days is now more properly known as South-Central L.A.). Still economically depressed and still the availability of work disproportionate if you happen to be black in Southern California. Still a lot of racial tension. In fact, I remember one time as I came in the door to Rudolph’s and bypassed the honor-system entry fee tip jar and headed straight to the men’s room a guy tackled me intent that I pay my share (I had to pee bad) and John had to pull the guy off me from the floor. Watts was a tinderbox. L.A., to this day, is still a racist city.
John Carter & Gerald Oshita — February 13, 1981 during the New Jazz Festival at the New College in San Francisco, produced by trumpeter-educator George Sams — photo by Mark Weber — If anyone finds the recordings of poet Anne Sexton & Her Kind I’d sure like to hear them, Gerald played woodwinds in that group
John also liked sports on tv and kept in shape as a member of an Akido dojo. Los Angeles is a working man’s town. Sundays take on a different aspect in a city that works Monday through Friday. Sunday afternoons are set aside for cooling down and recharging for the week ahead.
Bobby Bradford is not on this record because he was in London the year John asked Rudolph if he’d care to co-produce a Sunday afternoon family-oriented concert series. Thereafter they always kept separate bands even as most of their public performances were together.
Speaking of families, it seemed to me to be a Texas thing: Charles Moffett kept a family band, and Ornette kept his family close, and one time at Rudolph’s John had a gang of kids playing his earliest renditions of what became his masterwork, the Suite of American Folk Music.
You have to hear the note before you can play it. At least, in the wide-ranging harmony that John & Bobby employed in their art. They never play a spurious note, even as they enjoyed and approved of their contemporaries forays into free blowing, throwing everything they have at the wall and seeing if anything sticks, with John & Bobby there is a uniformity to their out harmony. I’ve often thought of it as listening to three-dimensional chess.
When I first met John I was still driving my turquoise (factory color!) 1963 Volks hippie van with the tie-dye curtains. Then I got into a 1965 blue Volks bug with a sunroof for a few years. John loved Volkswagens. The counterculture thrived on Volkswagens.
22&23une&4july2o14 | Mark Weber
Mark Weber’s 1963 Volks van — 1972, Upland, California — photo by Mark Weber
John Carter sits in with Art Ensemble of Chicago — June 26, 1976 Los Angeles — Joseph Jarman, John Carter, Rasul Siddik (also sitting in), Lester Bowie — Studio Z on Slauson Avenue — photo by Mark Weber
Roberto Miranda & Stanley Carter — John Carter Ensemble — June 21, 1976 at The Speakeasy (not Southerland Lounge West as the neon signs says in some of these photos) on Santa Monica Blvd, just west of LaCienega) — I believe this venue was a showcase for VeeJay Records — photo by Mark Weber
John Carter Ensemble: Roberto Miranda, Stanley Carter, JC, William Jeffery — June 21, 1976 — photo by Mark Weber
John Carter Trio —— October 24, 1976 —- Stanley Carter (bass), William Jeffrey (drums) at The Little Big Horn, Pasadena, CA — photo by Mark Weber
John Carter — June 21, 1976 ——- John called these trousers his “happy pants” ——- these were the years he’d retired all of this other horns except the soprano saxophone and the clarinet —- photo by Mark Weber
John kept a spinet at home in his living room but here he is on grand piano during a break at the soundcheck for the Vinny Golia Large Ensemble at UCLA Schoenberg Hall — March 14, 1982 — photo by Mark Weber
John Carter and his son Stanley — May 28, 1976 at Garden Theatre Festival, USC — photo by Mark Weber
John Carter family visit my home in the alley (400 1/2 Laurel Avenue, Upland) — young Chris, wife Gloria, and daughter Karen, and John sitting on floor talking cars with my brother Brian (out of the frame) — October 23, 1976 — photo by Mark Weber
Bobby Bradford-John Carter Quintet: James Newton (flute), Roberto Miranda & Noah Young (basses), JC (clarinet), BB (cornet) — Avery Auditorium, Pitzer College, Claremont, California — October 27, 1980 — photo by Mark Weber
John Carter at home, 3900 Carol Court, Culver City 90230 | August 31, 1976 (during the CODA interview) | Photo by Mark Weber
MARK WEBER: Ornette’s early music sure caused a stir, how did you observe that? Looking at it now it’s obvious how blues based it is.
JOHN CARTER: Yes it’s real folksy music. Well in 1960, the post bop period, the jazz crowd generally catered to the organ trio, which grew out of the club owners’ efforts to hire three people instead of four, the organ kind of cut out the bass player. So the characteristic group was tenor, drums and organ. That was just one thing that was going on in the sixties. In an art sense, you know the evolutionary process hadn’t quite come around yet so that there was an acceptance of what Ornette was doing. The sound was too revolutionary, and people just hadn’t come to a point of even wanting to understand what that music was about. By the mid-sixties things were a little better, more musicians were playing that kind of thing and people were beginning to listen a little more.
Mark: Recently I was reading a treatise on “tempered intonation” and “just intonation.” Now I was led to believe that “just intonation” is like the way a piano is tuned, 440 cycles per second at A above middle C. And “tempered intonation” is like the way Ornette plays, just color it, take it up a little….
John: Ornette’s intonation is what this music has been about all the time. For one thing, this music stems so much from African music that it’s very difficult to establish guide lines for criticizing the music. What the’average western “critic ” does is to apply western standards to the music, where the intent is not always completely western. Now I don’t mean that jazz is not a western art form, I mean that some of its roots go back to eastern sources. You read in books about the blue 7th and so on, now I don’t even know what that is. Eastern music is taken from different scales, from scales that are different than scales generally used in western music that make the music sound a certain way, so when you start to justify this or that which has its roots as eastern by western standards, well then you run into a lot of problems. And western critics used to, and some now, say that jazz is one of the illegitimate forms of music. The fact that musicians don’t play in tune, you know? And musicians are playing what they want to play, so that it is very properly in tune. But not in tune to what they, the critics want to listen to.
Mark: For my own edification; when you play a tune you’re not necessarily in a key, right? You improvise on a theme or “head arrangement”? Like what Bobby (Bradford) says in a previous interview that harmonically it’s not in any one key, what structure do you work within? What’s the harmonic base? Is it fluctuating?
John: Well, there’s no structured harmonic base. Well academically there’s no harmonic base. If there are three or four people playing, the harmonies that come together are extemporaneous harmonies, they come together at that particular time, generally they are not intended harmonies, generally players do not set about to listen to see if such and such harmonies come about. Like when we started to play, the night I sat in with The Art Ensemble of Chicago, and the three of us came out (Roscoe and Joseph), well, we had gotten together on what we were going to use as material for a head before we came out and we adjusted as we went along to suit ourselves, but here again the harmony was extemporaneous, we didn’t sit down and say we’re going to play the Bb major chord and the Eb6th and so on and so forth, we just said we’re going to use this certain set of ideas, the harmonic base of which would be free.
Bobby Bradford Quintet | April 14, 1979, Pasadena City College | Glenn Ferris – flugelbone; John Carter – clarinet, Bobby Bradford – cornet, Bert Karl – drums, Noah Young – bass | Photo by Mark Weber
John Carter sits in with the Art Ensemble of Chicago | June 26, 1976 | Studio Z, Slauson Blvd, L.A. | Photo by Mark Weber
James Newton Wind Quintet + koto | @ Pasquales, Malibu, California | September 28, 1980 | John Nunez, bassoon; John Carter, clarinet; James Newton, flute; Red Callendar, tuba; Charles Owens, oboe & English horn; Alan Iwohara, koto | Photo by Mark Weber
Mark: Did you set up any kind of bar structure?
John: No, you see that music wasn’t written. Now if we were to go back and listen to that and structure it all out, it would be pretty difficult to write the solo parts but it could be done. That (the head) wouldn’t be hard to write at all, because of the way it was put together. All you do in that situation is figure out what note each of the musicians is playing and put that in big whole notes and put a hold on top, that would only take about five minutes. But now other things are much more difficult to do, you know of course that the Art Ensemble perform some very difficult music and some of Bob’s music, and some of mine gets to be very intricate, like the thing we did on the first Flying Dutchman record, Call To The Festival is a very intricate piece of music. We must have taken a dozen takes on that one just to get the head played correctly. Even though we played it all of the time, very intricate. I was commissioned to write that music. Commissioned! (laughter) The only music I was ever commissioned to write.
Mark: What festival was that for?
John: During that time I was working for the Studio Watts Workshop, it was one of the post-riot things they had set up, like the writers’ workshop and the teen-posts that were like community centers, and other pacifying activities for the youngsters to get into so they wouldn’t be out on the street fightin’ the policemen. Now this thing we were doings’ emphasis was on art; pottery, painting and music. So as part of the studio outlet the workshop coordinator, Jim Woods, set up the Los Angeles Art Festival, the first year it was music and the second it was dance. Most of the festival was done at Shelley’s Manne-Hole, we played there three nights, and were paid through the studio. One of these days I’ll be commissioned to write some more music. I hope.
Mark: How’s your new record coming along?
John: The music is ready. We’re going to record Echoes From Rudolph’s Suite. I would like to record Plantation Songs From The Old South, I think that’s a good suite too.
Mark: You seem to have more unrecorded music than recorded.
John: Well all my music is new, because nobody’s heard it. Material is no problem, the problem is elsewhere.
Mark: Have you thought about recording or performing solo?
John: Yeah, I’d like to record an album of ballads, of free ballads, solo. I’m going to record one ballad on this latest thing solo, well ninety percent of It’s going to be solo, everybody else will come in on the end.
Mark: A Little Dance, Boy more or less throws you into a solo position.
John: Yeah we might not record that, 1 haven’t figured out how to put that into a good record format. Actually there are two pieces in there that I was going to re-write, A Little Dance, Boy and At The Big House. At The Big House is a duet for two basses, actually I’ve written four duets for basses, and none of them have ever been played, really. I wrote a couple for Henry Franklin – it was going to be a duet but Henry was going to play both parts, you know? Over-dub the second part for an album he was going to do last spring but it never came off. My thinking now is, I feel very strongly about putting out a record myself.
Mark: From your early days in Texas, do you remember any blues players around Fort Worth or any of the popular records of the day?
John: There were a good many blues singers and guitar players during that time, but not any players that would be nationally known. As far as records we listened to all of the regular things, Bird, Diz, Lester Young, Ellington and Basie.
Mark: How about this Red Connor that Ornette talks about in his early interviews?
John Carter & Buddy Collette (Red Callendar in background) | September 28, 1980 | Photo by Mark Weber
John Carter & Gerald Oshita | February 13, 1981, San Francisco | Photo by Mark Weber
Vinny Golia & John Carter listen to a playback during recording Vinny’s album SPIRITS IN FELLOWSHIP | October 18, 1977 | Photo by Mark Weber
John: Yeah, we went to high school together, played in the high school bands, and played at the local clubs, all of that. We were very good friends, all of us that were coming up together. The reason Ornette is always talking about Red is because he was so much farther along than most of us were, although we were all about the same age. Like when we were in high school he already knew the blues form, the 32-bar form, the I Got Rhythm type of thing and all of that, and was just about to go into the early bebop things, while the rest of us were still playing high school-type music. He was really on the threshold of professional-type things. He would show us the things he knew about playing, this riff here and how that one fits, and this is the 12-bar form rather than so and so, so that years later when all of us had started to find out what it was all about, Red was already a really fine player.
He died – in the mid-fifties, at the hospital where my wife worked. He had just used his body up, he was about 29, and he had just dissipated and used his body up. I would go out and visit, and he was doing fine, we’d laugh and talk about what he was gonna do when he got out and the pretty nurses who were passing the medicine and, you know, things like that that cats would talk about, and one day he died, just flat out. But he was quite a player. Played with a number of blues bands, stuff like that. Played with a fellow named Bobby Simmons, he and Red were really good friends, he was a trumpet player. Bobby’s still alive and used to come around to our concerts at Rudolph’s (Fine Arts Center). He moved back to Arizona or something like that, Bobby even played with Bird for a little bit. But Red, man listen he would have been one of the finest players that you would have heard in your life, you know what I mean? Of all the fine players that you listen to, he would have been one of those players, one of the finest that you would have heard in your life.
John Carter checking the time | Rudolph’s Fine Art Center | June or July 1975 | Photo by Mark Weber
John Carter Trio | June or July 1975 | Rudolph’s | Stanley Carter, bass; William Jeffrey, drums, John Carter, clarinet & soprano sax | Photo by Mark Weber
John Carter Trio | June or July 1975 | even though this is quite fuzzy I wanted you to get a picture of what the recital room looked like at Rudolph’s Fine Arts Center, 3320 west 50th Street, Los Angeles (near Crenshaw) (around the corner from Horace & Celia Tapscott’s home) | I was between cameras at the time and was using some cheap Instamatic job, in fact, even though I trained in photography in 1970 I had had no eyes for photographing jazz | I only took these as a memento because we had been attending so many of these Sunday concerts at Rudolph’s to hear John’s trio | these represent very nearly the first photographs I took of jazz players at work (the first being a Stanley Crouch ensemble in May 1975) | Note the little table with the wine & cheese! | Sunday afternoon jazz concerts were a tradition in Southern California those years | This was bassoonist Rudolph Porter’s place | Photo by Mark Weber
Mark: Charles Moffett was in those groups?
John: Yeah, at that time Moffett and Red used to play together, we all used to play together from time to time, have jam sessions and that kind of thing. Back in those days there were really true jam sessions, where musicians just came together and played. We were a little beyond the cutting contest era of the ’20’s, ’30’s and ’40’s, but still basically the same kind of idea, you know? If you pulled your horn out and got ready to play, it’d be good if you kind of knew what you were going to play, (laughter). And so at one time or another we would all play together, Ornette, Red, Lasha, “Ditty” Moffett and Dewey Red-man, and earlier LeRoy Cooper, who did not live in Fort Worth. LeRoy plays baritone sax with Ray Charles, he used to play alto, I can remember one time I heard him play How High The Moon beautifully on alto. David Newman who lived in Dallas used to get over sometimes too. So eventually we all played together.
Mark: Do you know anything about when Ornette was with PeeWee Crayton?
John: Well PeeWee would come through there from time to time, he tried to get me to go with him one time. Red Connor played with him one time, and Bobby Simmons. He was always trying to get good saxophone players to go with him.
Mark: From what I’ve read PeeWee took Ornette around 1950 right after Ornette got back from being stranded in New Orleans by a carnival. Then PeeWee stranded Ornette in Los Angeles after firing him.
John: Yeah I don’t know the conditions surrounding Ornette’s playing with him, but I know it probably had to be like that. I wouldn’t be surprised, Ornette probably was not playing what PeeWee wanted to hear. You know PeeWee lives here in L.A.? It was very difficult to be on the road with a blues band, living conditions were bad and the money wasn’t very good, whatever money there was wasn’t definite. You know it was very difficult to find places to stay back in those days because you just didn’t go to a motel. If you went to a little town that didn’t have a Black motel, then you wound up sleeping at the hall or with somebody, at somebody’s house, and you would have to eat at little hole in the wall cafes, things like that.
Mark: Did you do much touring like that?
John Carter entering The Little Big Horn, 34 N. Mentor, Pasadena, California, USA | October 31, 1976 | Photo by Mark Weber
John Carter @ Little Big Horn | January 1977 | Photo by Mark Weber
William Jeffrey, drums; Chris Carter, bongos; John Carter, clarinet | @ Little Big Horn | September 5, 1976 | Photo by Mark Weber
William Jeffrey, drums; John Carter, clarinet | September 5, 1976 | Photo by Mark Weber
Bobby Bradford, flugelhorn; John Carter, soprano sax?; Roberto Miranda, bass @ The Little Big Horn | November 28, 1976 | Photo by Mark Weber
John: I did it, but I didn’t like it very much (laughter), so I didn’t do it very much. Between the years ’45 and ’49 I was in college and when I came out I began to teach, so I didn’t have to go on the road with a band. During the time I would have been on the road, say between the years ’45 when I got out of high school and the early ’50’s I was doing something else. I left Kansas City with a band once, on our way to New York City. We were going to work all of the middle part of the country, that was the time of the territory bands. So we left for the first job, and the station wagon was using oil so badly that they had to.. .well they didn’t have enough money, so the guys were ripping off the oil when we stopped at the stations. So we finally got to Omaha and got a place to stay, our accomodations for the night. We were going to be there three days it seems to me. But the club owner wouldn’t let us play because we were late, so we had no way to pay for our motel. So we went back… now I remember this place as having a porch all around it, with windows leading out to the porch, (laughter), stealing our own stuff, right? (laughter), so we wouldn’t have to walk past the desk, because we didn’t have the money to pay.
Then we got into the car and left for Wichita, Kansas. But I went home that summer, eventually. That group was led by a guy named George Baldwin, out of Kansas City. PeeWee used to be or is one of the old style Kansas City blues shouters, it seems to me I’ve seen him do battle with Big Joe Turner. Those guys in the blues cutting contests would stand up and sing one verse after another, oft times just making verses up as they went along, and listen man, those were really blues singers! Boy they don’t sing blues like that any more. That’s a Kansas City type blues. Kansas City used to be quite a crossroads for the music.
Mark: What about your teaching Julius Hemphill?
John: I was not really teaching him “jazz” as such, at that time. You see I had just got out of college and was nineteen and I remember Julius as being one of those first people that I was teaching. I was teaching him at the junior high level.
Mark: When did you meet Bobby Bradford?
John: I met him when I got out here, about ’65, Bob was living in Pomona and teaching out there, and I was teaching out here (L.A.). I was very frustrated with what I was doing. I had come here in 1961 and had aspirations for playing my music and I thought I could get as much studio work as I wanted to do when I got out here, that’s what Frank Kofsky talks about in his book (referring to “Black Giants”, The World Publishing Co.). I play good lead alto, tenor, soprano, good flute and clarinet of course. I can play oboe and bassoon, all well enough to do session work. And as I said in that interview, the same is true now, playing well isn’t what it’s about, not only do you have to be a really fine player, but ah… the right people have to know you.
Mark: You work exclusively on clarinet now, and some soprano saxophone.
Lester Bowie, John Carter, unknown, Bobby Bradford | June 25, 1976 Los Angeles | Photo by Mark Weber
Left to Right: John Carter, Bobby Bradford, Rudolph Porter, Lester Bowie | June 25, 1976 | Photo by Mark Weber
John Carter, clarinet; James Newton, bass clarinet | Century City Playhouse, Los Angeles | August 7, 1976 | Photo by Mark Weber
John: Yes. I think that certain personalities go with certain instruments. While I have known that all along it took me a long time to associate that with myself – because it takes a long time to try and see yourself, and I’m still trying. Like I know that I am not a tenor player, but I’ve spent a lot of time fooling with the tenor saxophone. I played tenor in college because that was the only way I could get into the dance band. In those days I couldn’t read as well as other fellows could but I could solo better than they could so they needed me in the band for that, (laughter) So I got in on tenor.
Mark: Where was that?
John: Lincoln University (Jefferson City, Missouri).
Mark: Was that the celebrated jazz band school?
John: You’re thinking of North Texas State, I went there too. They were one of the first schools and one of the few now to offer a degree in jazz performance. Man, they have all kinds of bands there, the one o’clock band, the two o’ clock lab band, the thursday night band, all kinds. Their musicians regularly go from college into the big time bands. At any rate, during my first years here in L.A. I was trying to get somebody to play with me, you know I wanted to organize a group but the cats were playing other things, they weren’t interested in playing the kind of music I was going to play. So in a conversation with Ornette about it Bob was mentioned. Bob had been with Ornette up to ’62, then went back to Texas and taught for a couple of years, and then moved out here. Well so Bobby really wasn’t doing anything either, on any kind of regular basis so we got together, it was very natural for us to try to get a group together. We got hold of Bruz (Freeman) and Tom (Williamson) and started to get it going.
Mark: I was reading last night that Bruz played with Bird, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins.
John: And Sarah Vaughan. Oh man, he was playing good way back, Bruz was one of the first really free players. One of the forerunners of the free drum thing.
Mark: You conducted for Ornette at the UCLA Pauley Pavilion in 1967.
John: It was a suite that Ornette had just done for the Guggenheim Grant that he had just got, whatever year that was. A very difficult piece. The band was in the festival house orchestra, whoever was playing brought along their charts and we played them. Carmen McRae was on that and Clark Terry. Ornette’s piece was written for big band against his quintet.
John Carter & Oliver Lake | solos & duets concert Tuesday, January 3, 1978 @ Century City Playhouse | Photo by Mark Weber
Bobby & John at Smudge Pot, Claremont Colleges — November 17, 1978 — photo by Mark Weber
Mark: How big was the group?
John: Full group, five trumpets, four trombones, five reeds and a full rhythm section, and violins and cellos. He played that music a lot of times, he played it with the San Francisco Symphony, he played it in Europe and back in New York.
Mark: About 1973 you went to Europe, how long did you stay there?
John: Only about three weeks, 1 did a lot of running around and some playing there. When I got to London Bob came over and we played several places, played with all of the guys who played with him on that record he did for Emanem. You know Trevor Watts and John Stevens and those guys. I think Trevor and John are probably two of the real free players that I heard around London, both fine players. Then in Paris I played a couple of times, the highlights of that were one night when I sat in with Jaki Byard and one night with Kenny Clarke, strictly bebop. Or I just played what I could play, they probably didn’t think it was bebop, but we had a good time.
Mark: And when you got back from Europe you met Rudolph Porter to form the Art’s Center and your Sunday concerts.
John: Yes. We did that for two years before we had to move on, now of course we have Bob’s place (Bradford’s 34 N. Mentor, Pasadena).
Mark: Burt Lancaster even came down to Rudolph’s once, how did he like the music?
John: He really liked it. We were very surprised, we walked in one day and there he was with his skippers cap on and looking like Burt Lancaster. Oh, quite a few people used to drop by from time to time. During the first year Black Arthur Blythe used to drop by quite often. He and I have played a lot together over the years.
Mark: Do you make very much money off your records?
John: Very little. Made a little off the Revelation records this year. Never made any money off the Flying Dutchman records. Just got some front money, but that wasn’t supposed to be all, we were supposed to get a regular percentage of the records as they were sold wholesale.
Mark: How do you straighten out things like that?
John: Well, you have to be where the record company is, and you have to get a lawyer and a CPA and you have to request to audit their books, and it has to be done at a certain time during the year. So you see there are very few cats who can do that. Once you have done that you’ve got to sue, and you have to pay the CPA, and the lawyer. Well the average performer does not have the time or the inclination to do that, and then on top of all that you cannot be sure that they will show you the correct set of books anyhow.
Mark: There has to be a way that artists in this country can be subsidized regularly on a federal basis, because you cannot rely on the public to follow the artists exploring music on the vanguard and therefore getting enough money into their hands so that they can further develop and sustain themselves and their families. If people treated it like the “commodity” that it is, things would be a little different and so would their lives.
John: Well the government is doing a little better, I mean a little more than they used to, but I haven’t seen anything myself. There are the grants, the NBA and the states are giving a little more, probably led by New York state. So the government is starting to help out a little bit but it’s still far from really setting out to develop an artistic climate, far from it.
Interview taken August 31, 1976 at John’s Culver City home, a suburb of Los Angeles where he and his family have lived since 1961 when they moved here from his birthplace Fort Worth, Texas.
John Carter at home, 3900 Carol Court, Culver City 90230 | August 31, 1976 (during the CODA interview) | Photo by Mark Weber
John Carter & son Chris | @ The Little Big Horn, 34 N. Mentor, Pasadena | either December 1976 or January 1977 | Photo by Mark Weber
Gloria and John had 4 children: John Jr, Stanley, Karen, and Chris | here’s Chris, Gloria, Karen, and John Carter visiting my little alley pad in Upland, California | October 23, 1976 | John had drove out ( I lived an hour east of Culver City) to drop off one of his Porsches with my brother, who was his mechanic) | we also were discussing his album ECHOES OF RUDOLPH’S which was then in production | Photo by Mark Weber
John Carter at home, 3900 Carol Court, Culver City 90230 | August 31, 1976 (during the CODA interview) | Photo by Mark Weber
The interview was taken from CODA Jazz Magazine Issue October 1977
See those radio & television broadcast towers to the left? That’s KUNM’s signal shooting out over the state of New Mexico, and in this shot, that’s Albuquerque, that dark swatch is the Rio Grande of yore —- Sandia Crest —- September 2, 2o19 — photo by Mark Weber at 10,679 feet elevation.
October 3, 2o19 Jazz @ Noon every Thursday (starts at 12:07 after the satellite news) Host MARK WEBER KUNM Albuquerque, USA 89.9 FM (Mountain Standard Time) also streaming on the web KUNM.org Current time zone offset: UTC*/GMT -6 hours (*Coordinated Universal Time)/Greenwich Mean Time)
IN THE WORLD
At lunch the other day with Arlen I was telling him how I sure can see how someone would opt to become a hermit, you know, just stay inside and don’t go out, because once you get out in the world the world can be complicated and weird. Arlen agreed wholeheartedly. You get out into the world and the world happens to you. How often I have thought of the old Chinese mountain hermit poets but even Han Shan came down from his cave now & again to wash dishes at the monastery.
You have all your worries, concerns, health of friends & family, climate change, what’s for breakfast? Will someone please get a flyswatter and take that fly out?
Here in Albuquerque last Friday evening outside a MacDonald’s on our main drag (Central Avenue) a good Samaritan intervened in a fracas between a man and a woman and the man shot the Samaritan dead. Who could foresee such a tragedy? You think of that lyric “. . . let me fly Out of this World.”
You’re landing at LaGuardia this Tuesday which is a giant construction zone these days, the last time I was there it took the shuttle almost as long to get across the Tri-Boro Bridge as it did to fly across the country.
Charley’s picking me up. The magnetic pull of Manhattan can’t get jack across the East River. Traffic snarls and the world awaits. Pray for us. If you don’t hear anything before long that’s where we’ll be.
All of a sudden the gas pedal flops to the floor. The cable has broke. You’re in traffic on the Hollywood Freeway (this really happen’d). You pull off onto the berm. Throw away your beer can, (in case a CHP drops by). Find a length of string, tie it to the throttle on the carburetor. Quickly jump back into the driver’s seat and with string in hand hanging out the window you regulate the gas & speed. World here we come.
Hungry dude —- Lunch with master musician Arlen Asher —- August 21, 2o19 —- photo by Mark Weber —- We’re at Mannie’s, at Girard & Central, which has been there a long time, back in the 1940s on one of these corners, maybe where Mannie’s is? there was a big dance hall during the big band era.
Charley Krachy in his studio —- April 7, 2o19 Garrison, New York (that’s his father’s drumset on the floor) —- photo by Mark Weber
Still Life with Trumpet Mutes and Plastic Horns —- September 20, 2o19 at Bobby Shew’s studio —- photo by Mark Weber
Clarinet impressions in velvet —- My wife’s Selmer — photo by Mark Weber – August 2o19
Session in Studio A —- woodwinds master Alex Murzyn moved to Santa Fe from the Bay Area last June (2o18) and we’ve been catching him around town playing in the clubs and at sessions at Bobby Shew’s studio and so we scheduled this recording session at KUNM and threw him into deep water: Michael Anthony(Gibson ES-775), Cal Haines (DW drumset), Colin Deuble(bass), Alex on tenor & flute —- great session August 19, 2o19 —- photo by Mark Weber —- (view from the control room, through the glass)
You can’t just point & shoot with these new digital cameras, like you could with a film camera, I gotta break the habit, you get these shots where the computer in the camera hasn’t done its focusing hoodoo, yet —- That’s KUNM engineer (and guitarist) Roman Garcia and his aide-de-camp John Strader (Cal Haines at the drumset) —- Studio A – August 19, 2o19 —- photo by Mark Weber
Tahnee Udero, a talented new disk jockey at KUNM (she started a year ago, or so) – August 25, 2o19 —- photo by Mark Weber
Still Life with Water Bottle & Contrabass at Intermission: John Blackburn’s bass — September 8, 2o19 —- photo by Mark Weber
I love this amp, I always request Michael bring it along —- guitarist Michael Anthony that is —- August 19, 2o19 —- photo by Mark Weber
Photo shoot for album cover SEEKING (Revelation Records REV-9) The New Art Jazz Ensemble: Bobby Bradford, John Carter, Tom Williamson, Bruz Freeman —- 1968 – photo by John William Hardy
The Bobby Bradford Ensemble after rehearsal for Bobby’s “Stealin’ Home” extended work in honor of baseball legend Jackie Robinson —- Sunday, September 15, 2o19 Altadena —- photo by Terry Cannon —- See the Bobby Bradford TimeLine for details
Clarinets and line drawing by MW —- August 2o19
Shooting into a mirror —- August 23, 2o19 —- Self Portrait with my tile job I laid in last summer, looks kinda like a NYC subway stop doesn’t it?
was a big deal. In Los Angeles there was a lot of buzz about this band that intended to play the music of Charlie Parker. The jazz radio stations kept us apprised of their impending flight. And it was a big deal that they set for themselves, to play the music of Charlie Parker is no walk in the park. But these guys grew up with Bird’s music, they revered his music, and walk in the park or not, they saw it as pure love. As well, they always looked like they were having fun. Perfectly capturing Bird’s joie de vivre, the buoyancy, the exhilaration Bird put into the amazing thing to be alive. And playing five saxophones in harmony straight into the sky.
That was always one of the extra bonuses of seeing Supersax live was Med Flory’s humor and old-school hipster demeanor. Always a comfort to know that hipsters still exist. Being a hipster in such a conservative town like Los Angeles is tantamount to being a political statement. Keep the squares guessing. ( I was wondering why I don’t have more photos of Supersax until I realized that I didn’t start taking my camera to jazz functions until the summer of 1976.)
And in the wake of their success two other similar outfits popped up in Los Angeles. Dave Pell put together his immortal Prez Conference playing the music of the master of time & space, Lester Young. And Tony Rizzi & His Five Guitars jumped up to play the music of Charlie Christian.
And then, by extension, in a similar vein, and to a lesser degree (because they didn’t harmonize iconic solos) was Bobby Knight’s Great American Trombone Company that worked around North Hollywood 1977-1978. Six trombones + rhythm section. The one CD that exists sports Carl Fontana, Rosolino, Charlie Loper, Lew McCreary, Phil Teele, & Knight on trombones, with Lou Levy, Chuck Berghofer, & Frankie Capp.
Supersax was 5 saxophones plus rhythm section. This was the basic band — a nonet — augmented with addition of a trumpet (most usually Conte Candoli) or a trombone (Frank Rosolino or Carl Fontana) — And on their third Capitol album a string orchestra, and in later years the addition of L.A. Voices for three albums.
They had the town sewn up. Gigs everywhere. Their fledgling formal debut performance was at Donte’s in the Valley, (aka San Fernando Valley), December 1972. Then Shelly’s Manne-Hole, the Parisian Room, repeatedly at Dontes, every Sunday at Dontes, the Playboy Club in Beverly Hills, The Times in Studio City, the Improv in Santa Monica, then up north to Monterey Jazz Festival (September 1973 –Dizzy sat in! ) which was broadcast over the southland via KBCA (Where are these recordings?) Onward to Hollywood Bowl, Hungry Joe’s (Where Stan Getz sat in! ), Pilgrimage Theatre, and all over town and down to San Diego. Subsequent gigs in NYC on 52nd street, back and forth from Detroit to Chicago (at Ratzo’s Zoot shared the bill with them, and sat in on their set! ) Wow. Med told me, “Chicago and Detroit were really our best towns.” They loved Supersax.
The idea for this project laid its seeds in 1955 when Med Flory caught Woody Herman’s Band at Basin Street in NYC and they played Shorty Rogers’ arrangement of “I’ve Got News For You” that incorporates Bird’s chorus from “Dark Shadows” amongst the scenery. (Recorded Dec. 22, 1947.) (Ralph Burns wrote the “Dark Shadows” chorus for Shorty’s arrangement.) This would be the inspiration.
The genesis of Supersax seems to follow a thread surrounding “Just Friends.” In the liner notes to the first Supersax album Med talks about his friend Joe Maini: “Joe was working in a big band I had around Los Angeles when I wrote out the Parker solo on ‘Star Eyes’ for full saxophone section. Then I did the introduction on ‘Just Friends’ and Joe, who memorized Bird’s solo note for note gave me the lead line for the rest of the chart.” (Note that this is Med’s big band The Jazz Wave that was borrowed by Terry Gibbs)(also interesting to note that of the 7 CDs extant of this Terry Gibbs Dream Band there are no recordings of Med’s two charts mentioned above). Never the less, “Just Friends” has followed Med around for years. He has adapted it for almost every format available in jazz. In it’s nascent stages there is a tantalizing aside among Med’s liner notes to the Supersax JAPANESE TOUR cd that . . . “we taped ‘Just Friends’ in ’64 just before Joe died.” WHERE IS THIS RECORDING? Wow. As well, the co-founder of Supersax, Buddy Clark, speaks of listening to this recording, too. After Maini’s untimely death the idea of harmonizing Bird for saxophones was shelved for awhile until 1971 when Buddy put a fire under Med to get it going again. In the intervening years Med brought this tinkered chart onto Los Angeles mainstay Mike Barone’s Big Band . . .
Regarding “Just Friends” with the Mike Barone Big Band, Gary Foster told me he remembers playing Med’s chart with Mike’s Big Band (1968-1969) at their regular gig at Donte’s,
here’s Mike’s email [April 16, 2011]:
Mark, I just remember that Med brought the sax chart in and we read it on the gig. Then after a while (weeks?) he brought the big band chart in and same thing. I think we played it every week after that. “Supersax” did start in my band. Can’t tell you the date. — Mike Barone
And when I asked Med about Supersax beginning in Mike’s big band, he said, “In a way, yeh.” And added, “Mike is a terrific, talented, great guy, hell of a trombone player, too.”
Have you ever heard Med’s additional lyrics to “Just Friends”? He’s a certifiable wordsmith. On volume 2 of SUPERSAX WITH L.A. VOICES(Columbia Records, circa 1984) here’s Med’s introductory verse:
There they are In their favorite bar;Wondering where their love has gone;In their favorite bootSmiling sadly at the truth that it’s time to say goodbye
Co-founder Buddy Clark left the band in late 1975. The bass chair after his departure was held down mostly by Monty Budwig and Fred Atwood. Med said, “When we started Buddy used to write the charts and he didn’t know anything then, so I was teaching him how to write for saxes and he turned out to be a genius. Buddy was tough, he was tough.”
It’s not like this sort of idea was new, composers and arrangers have been harmonizing music since the cave man days. What was new was the idea of taking a genius solo off a record and re-imaging that as composition in itself. Proof that improvising is actually spontaneous composition. That improvisors are essentially spontaneous composers.
My mind immediately gravitates toward Lennie Tristano when it comes to the practice of learning iconic solos. Connie Crothers clarified that Lennie asked students to try three things.
1) Sing along with solos on records. 2) Sing away from the records. 3) Then play the solos on your instrument, learn the notes, internalize the notes, go to the feeling behind the notes, understand the solo on the feeling level. Lennie wanted his students to get away from the written note, to learn to listen, to learn by ear. “The written note is nowhere in this,” Connie said, adding, “and Lennie wasn’t concerned that you memorize, to memorize implies that you are working at it and he wasn’t for that. Singing was the big door-opener for me.”
Transcribing solos off records and/or playing along with records is certainly not new, but Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz, and Ted Brown would memorize these iconic solo improvisations and use them for launching into further improvisations. Most commonly using Lester Young’s recordings.
Saxophone sections have been harmonizing in jazz as far back as Don Redman and Bill Challis in the early 1920s. Duke Ellington’s saxophone section and Jimmy Lunceford’s saxophone section are extreme examples of what mellifluous heights can be achieved by these reed buzzing metal tubes with holes in them. Other obvious predecessors would be Zoot Sims’ 1956 album PLAYS TENOR & 4 ALTOS arranged by George Handy. And you could look to the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, the Benny Goodman Orchestras of the 30s, and certainly Nelson Riddle’s studio orchestras of the 50s. As well, all the harmonization going on in vocal quartets from The Four Freshman and the HiLos and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross in the 50s all the way back to the harmonizing quartets of the black Mississippi Delta of the 30s. Also, you have to take into account the Hollywood Saxophone Quartet, who were not strictly jazz players but A-list studio musicians, who recorded a couple memorable albums in 1955 for Capitol with arrangements by Billy May, Lennie Niehaus, Russ Garcia, Marty Paich, and others.
The isolated instance of Bix Beiderbecke’s solo from “Singing the Blues” (rec. Feb. 4, 1927) had been used as a vehicle for singers and horn sections simply because it was such a sensation for its time, and even an orchestrated version recorded by Frankie Trambauer’s Orchestra where Frankie’s original saxophone solo that he recorded with Bix was orchestrated for this larger outfit (rec. Jan. 10, 1929). Prettier sounds you’ve never heard — I’m listening to it right now, wow.
In the strictest sense, the first harmonized Charlie Parker solo for four saxophones you have to hear Hal McKusick’s “Now’s the Time,” where Hal commissioned Ernie Wilkins to write the chart for this masterpiece (rec. 1958). Hal says that the only previous instance of harmonizing a Bird solo was the Ralph Burns “Dark Shadows” but he hadn’t heard that at the time of his recording. “Ernie was a saxophonist so I knew he could have some fun with it, otherwise, I could have written it out.” Ernie Wilkins used a canon-like idea, “like one sax was slightly behind the beat, very effective.” Then he harmonized Bird’s solo in a flight so beautiful for four saxes it raises you up out of your chair and you want to shout. Hal went on to say that as a teenager he would write out Lester Young’s solos so that he could play them, and doubts that he was the only one to do this. But, as to harmonizing Bird solos his “Now’s the Time” is the first, subsequent to the “Dark Shadows” quotes.
A most obvious precursor to me would be Jimmy Giuffre’s writing “Four Brothers” for Woody Herman’s Orchestra recorded in December of 1947. (Jimmy Giuffre fully acknowledges the influence that Gene Roland’s ideas had on this four saxophone concept.) And then there was the 1959-1961 Terry Gibbs Dream Band in Los Angeles that sat most of the saxophone section that would become Supersax.
And don’t forget Jimmy Giuffre’s 1958 recordings of multi-tracked tenor saxophones done in the Music Barn at the Lenox School of Music. (See the cd THE SWAMP PEOPLE.)
And then you must factor in the 1959 Art Pepper + Eleven album with arrangements by Marty Paich on several Bird tunes and Bird-associated tunes.
ALSO the 1966 album BUD SHANK & THE SAX SECTION with charts by Bob Florence for four saxes + rhythm section — Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Bill Perkins, Bob Hardaway, John Lowe, all Hollywood stalwarts backed by Ray Brown, Dennis Budimer, and Larry Bunker. AND an absolute close relative is the December 4 & 5, 1957 sessions by a Gerry Mulligan Octet that recorded seven tunes that are indispensable to the history, released as THE GERRY MULLIGAN SONGBOOK, with saxophonists Lee Konitz, Allen Eager, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, and Gerry + rhythm section of Freddie Green, Henry Grimes, & Dave Bailey, arranged by Bill Holman ( ! )
So, you see, the concept is not new, but what was new was the idea of harmonizing not only the original melody but also the subsequent improvisation thereupon. Certainly, one of the high-points of this approach has to be Lee Konitz & Gary Foster’s quintet recordings (and concerts) in Japan during November 1995 where they used Warne Marsh’s recorded improvisations upon previous iconic improvisations to further add their own improvisations! (see the cd BODY AND SOUL.) Later developments in saxophone harmonization began with the one tune on Anthony Braxton’s immortal album NEW YORK, FALL 1974, that has the nascent beginnings of the World Saxophone Quartet, which along with ROVA, took this idea and ran with it. Also, Steve Lacy’s equally immortal five-saxophone album SAXOPHONE SPECIAL, 1974. And in the 1980s Odean Pope’s Saxophone Choir for eight saxophones + rhythm section (hear their album THE SAXOPHONE SHOP, 1985 and their cd LOCKED & LOADED, 2004). AND Sam Rivers eleven-saxophone ensemble The Winds of Manhattan with the cd COLOURS, 1982.
Supersax made eleven albums and four tours of Japan. The saxophonists that passed through its ranks were all veterans of the big bands and therefor were knowing in the ways of horn section blending. ( I asked the tenor saxophonist Doug Lawrence of the current Count Basie Orchestra what his most important job was and he said without missing a beat: “Blending.”) Saxophonists involved were Med Flory, Joe Lopes, Warne Marsh, Jack Nimitz, Jay Migliori, Lanny Morgan, Ray Reed, Don Menza, Bill Perkins, Bill Hood, Gary Foster, a short but staggering list.
The pivot note between a half diminished chord and the minor seven The avocado seed sprouting in a water glass on the windowsill suspended with toothpicks The stillness before the ghost of Santa Ana sends his winds The eucalyptus, bamboo, and bougainvillea The mystery of it all, a Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach radiating a pulsing beacon orange groves
In Los Angeles we got a big kick over that top-40< song about how “It never rains in southern Calif- ornia,” ha ha ha, you’d hear it on the car radio as we were hydroplaning down the freeways when it rains in southern California it is hard and torrential and doesn’t stop for nine or ten days When those storms blow in from the Pacific you better check the air in your life raft
It’s a car thing And Los Angeles is all freeway Much of a jazzer’s life is spent late at night traversing the city by freeway And before GPS and Mapquest we all used spiral-bound Thomas Bros map books or directions from a friend, “Take the 110 south, get off at Artesia, take that west to 101, bring that south to Pier” (remember when the 110 was the 11?) and remember when gas stations used to give out maps?
Driving you never feel the quakes — you get home and turn on the TV and they’re chattering like monkeys at feeding time at the zoo (newscasters imported from the East) like this never happens, a 3.2 earthquake, so what? you were on the road and missed it, driving home from Thrifty’s Surrounded by mountains and mountain lions salamanders, lizards, ground squirrels, crows & hawks incense cedars, pines, and Doug fir California is alive and crawling . . . And then out of your car radio comes Bird played by five saxophones carrying the night, connecting the lights
I sometimes wonder if the arrival of Supersax in 1972 was exaggerated in my mind simply because this was the year I was first looking into Charlie Parker’s music ( I was age 19 ). These were the years that Bird’s Dial recordings were finally re-issued on the English Spotlite label and we paid dearly for those six volumes (on LP). The Verve recordings had remained easily available but the Dials had been out of print for years, until 1973. The Savoys were in disarray until finally compiled and re-issued in 2000.
Los Angeles jazz scholar Kirk Silsbee (same age as myself ) reminds me that: Supersax appeared when the renewed interest in bebop and innovators was stirred up by Ross Russell’s Bird biog and the prodigious jazz reissue programs that were flooding the market with twofer sets of the original recordings. No one was using the term “jazz repertory” yet but that’s precisely what Supersax was doing: interpreting classic material in a creative way.
Why were there no saxophone solos on Supersax records? As Med told me, “Supersax is all about Bird, period.” Supersax played the line unadorned. In fact, Med harmonized the line all within the octave so as not to detract from what Bird was saying. There are no impressionistic harmonies employed or vast intricate extension of chords other than what illuminates exactly what Bird said. Supersax was not conceived as a vehicle for its star saxophonists to take solos. That was not the premise. Even though, as a matter of verisimilitude indicative of the arrangers mind solos did exist in Supersax, almost merely as architecture. This band wasn’t about solos. It was about Charlie Parker. One imagines that someday more live Supersax recordings will be released. There are certainly enough performance recordings in existence, circulating among collectors. This was the era of the portable cassette recorder ( in the 1970s a “portable” was the size of a Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).
Because in their concerts Supersax did not eschew saxophone solos. The thing is, once you add 3 or 4 solos at 4 or 5 choruses apiece you wind up with a ten-minute tune. Which translates to only 4 tunes on an LP. It was executive producer Mauri Lathower that stuck to his guns and requested they lose the solos for their Capitol releases, and I think Mauri was right. Those shorter versions got themselves onto the radio where the longer versions would have been reserved for 3am radio.
It was Mauri who heard them at Donte’s at their public debut and the reaction was so electric that he knew he had to sign them. Donte’s was your standard jazz club of that era — I’d guess the capacity was about 100 — you could pay $2.50 to sit at one of the tiny little round tables or in booths surrounding the walls OR for free you could stand at the long bar that faced the band stand on the opposite wall, separated by a pony wall (cut off at four feet). At the front door was a night blooming jasmine bush who’s luscious aroma was so strong we had to wash it down with extra beer.
When I asked Med how involved John Palladino was as a producer he said that he was totally on the job, “He was the greatest, don’t leave him out.” And his opinion of Mauri Lathower, the executive producer, is equally as high, “…just the greatest, don’t ignore him, just the greatest.” So, in early 1973 Supersax recorded their legendary first session at Capitol Records studios (the studios are on the rectangular bottom floor of the famous ten-story round building in Hollywood.) Med tells me that Bill Perkins was on these first sessions. And so, John Palladino takes the tapes upstairs to Mauri’s office and it was Mauri who realized then that to make this work we needed shorter versions. So, rather than edit the first session they went back into the studio (February 1, 4, 10, 1973 ) and put together the album we’ve come to know as SUPERSAX PLAYS BIRD. Bill Perkins had left the band prior to these sessions and Joe Lopes replaced him. Jay Migliori replaced Pete Christlieb. Lou Levy came on the band in the middle of recording their second album SALT PEANUTS, replacing Walter Bishop Jr. To those that lament the lack of saxophone solos please note that from what Connie Crothers tells me Warne Marsh thought the whole Supersax thing was great, “Warne was very excited about it, he thought it was the greatest thing, he was on fire with it.” (Warne was with Supersax July 1972 – mid-1977.)
Talking with Med in North Hollywood over the telephone:
“When Bill Hood left, he was playing tenor, that’s when we picked up Warne Marsh. He was fixing tv sets at the time, ‘course they were into movie money, his mom had this great place with a tennis court and swimming pool on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, but he was just sensational, that guy, Warne Marsh, you know I listened to him for years, he must have been on the band ten years, at least. Everywhere we’d go back east there’d be a bunch of strange-looking people coming, they didn’t give a rat’s ass about the saxes, they just came to hear Warne. You know, so I’d turn him loose and gawd he was good. The only time I ever heard him choke was when we were playing down at Hungry Joe’s [Huntington Beach] and Stan Getz sat in. Did I tell you this story? Maury Stein, who had Stein on Vine [music store across street from Local 47], great guy, good tenor player, terrific in his time.
Anyway, he brought Stanley down with him to the gig and I said, “Come on.” So, he’s standing behind me looking at the tenor part, or my part [alto], it didn’t matter which because he wasn’t playing on it, you know, but I could see his hands shaking, like that, and it was weird, and then he started to play and I’ve never heard anybody play that good, before or since, he just tore it up! And a good tempo, too, “Moose the Mooch” boop be bah, right in there, great tempo for tenor, you know, and he just killed it, and he went on and on and on and got better and better and better and the joint fell down! And then Warne got up to play, I don’t remember if they were playing a duet, or what, but he couldn’t play, everything he started he’d have to break off in the middle, because his mind wasn’t clear. He took a bath that day, you know, but that was the only time he was below his potential. Gawd, he was unlike, I mean, there was nobody played like Warne! He just had his own thing.”
I asked the same question I had asked Connie Crothers about how I sometimes get the feeling that Warne is thinking about chords too much when he’s playing. (But, when Warne is thinking about chords, it’s stratospherically beyond what we normally think of as changes.) And Connie said, No, Warne had it all ingrained and was mostly concerned about making music. He didn’t have to “think” about chords. Med picked it up from there, “Oh, yeh. Just like Bird he had every key down. He was at home in any key. I’m 84 and there’s still a couple of keys in there [chuckling] I sometimes have to think a little bit. No, he wasn’t encumbered by any kind of rules, you know, he made his own rules, he was too much. Nobody like him. Had a lot of great players in that band . . .”
I asked if Conte was on the band when Dizzy sat in at Monterey?
Med said with satisfaction, “Yeh.”
I asked, “Did Conte and Dizzy just trade?”
Med said, “I don’t know how it went, really, it’s been a long time, but Count, whew, you know, just being on stage with Diz…. I told you what Diz said about Conte? He said that Conte was the closest to him when it came to playing bebop, that Conte was the most like him. He told me that so I didn’t get it from anybody else. He knew. Just listen to Count on those L.A. Voices albums, what he does is just so fuckin’ gorgeous, so unlike anything else. ANd then you got Lou to listen to, his brain, he played with singers so much he knew how to fill in, he was the greatest at it.”
I asked if Dizzy played the entire set?
Med said, “I don’t remember but he showed up pretty early.”
I said, “He must have been in ecstasy.”
Med said, “He loved us. He said, Why don’t you do something in unison? I said, No, we already tried that, it’s gotta be harmony. (He said) Well, you oughta do it. And I said, No, no, no. You know, he had to give me some advice, ha ha ha, what a great cat, geezus.” Then I why some enterprising record company didn’t record Supersax + Dizzy Gillespie, then I said, “Well, you had Count.” Med said ruefully, “Yeh, we weren’t looking for a trumpet player.” I asked if Supersax ever played dates without a trumpet or trombone. “I don’t think so. If we did, I forgot. But it had to be way way back there. Once we got started it was always nine guys.
I asked about Bill Perkins departure after the first (unreleased) Capitol session. Apparently Perk didn’t want to mess with re-recording “KoKo.” Med said, “Those poor tenor players in the middle playing all that stuff. We used to tacit everybody else out and just play the two tenors together. It sounded like a couple drunken bees. You know, at record dates when we were just screwing around, we’d already recorded the thing, so we’d just play those two parts in the room just for laughs, and it was funny.
I asked about his technique of utilizing a rub in the harmonization. He explained that a rub is a half-step interval between either the 2nd alto & 1st tenor, or the 1st tenor & 2nd tenor, or the baritone & the tenor. Now that Med has explained that to me I can hear it plain as day. I asked what would it sound like if you didn’t put the rub in the sax section, would it be too sweet? Med said, “It’d sound like every other sax section in the world — sixth diminished, sixth diminished, sixth diminished — that kind of thing, but it’s lazy, pre-school. I do it (the rub) in the brass, too, everything. When I got a big chord with the brass I’m looking for something to really screw it up in there, you know? to make it sound [like]: What kind of animal is that? I like to think of the band like it’s a gawd damn big animal, so if you’re standing in front of the stage your hair will blow back!
Then we talked about his upcoming sessions with his big band The Jazz Wave and the work on the new album called BEBOP 101. I asked him about the eight year span between the first sax charts he wrote and the demo recording session of the three tunes at Tutti Camarata’s studio in Hollywood — “Just Friends,” “Chasin’ the Bird,” & “Star Eyes” — recorded just before Joe Maini got away from us (d. May 8, 1964). Med & Joanie had left NYC for the Coast on the evening of Christmas Day 1955. Shortly thereafter in Los Angeles his old friend Joe Maini came by and sold him the record player of dubious origin and among the stack of records was Bud Powell’s MOODS album . . . “So, I started playing that thing and the first thing I wrote was ‘Blues for Alice.’ ” So, this was 1956, I asked, and you harmonized it for five saxophones? Med said, “Yeh. Lead alto and baritone doubling the lead an octave and everything else filling in. So, then I wrote ‘Star Eyes’ and ‘Just Friends.'”
So, maybe this demo has four tunes? All of us Supersax fanatics would sure love to hear this stuff.
At such speeds the Supersax must turn themselves over to telepathy floating in the gravitational field of Charlie Parker loquats, lemons, California’s cornucopia
“When I first heard Supersax I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I couldn’t believe it, it was so together — being a big band freak and a saxophone player I was tuned into each individual player, and the artistic vision of Charlie Parker,” sayeth clarinet master Bill Payne, who was on the road playing horn with Barnam & Bailey for 13 years.
Tenor saxophonist Ted Brown sends this note [email 17apr11]:
We were visiting my family in Long Beach over the Christmas Holidays in 1972 and spent one night in Pasadena with Warne, Geraldyne, Bill Hood and Julie McDonald at her home. Supersax had just played their first gig at Donte’s and Bill Hood had a tape of it which just blew my mind… especially when I heard the 5 saxes doing Bird’s break on “Night In Tunisia.” He said they had been rehearsing those charts in someone’s garage for 14 months before they did that gig. But maybe there is more to the story. Another unique characteristic of Supersax was that counter to what some artists will do with a project like this: pick a composer and cover their music for a couple concerts and an album and be done with it, Supersax took on Bird and stuck with it for twenty-plus years.
Woodwinds maestro Gary Foster sent me this email [April 15, 2011]:
Dear Mark, Your writing about Supersax is very interesting to me. In the late 1960’s I was Bill Perkins’ sub on the second alto chair with Mike Barone’s big band. The band played at Donte’s every Wednesday for six months and was off for six months. Mike’s sax section was Med Flory, Perk, Tom Scott, Bill Hood and Jack Nimitz. I was waiting by the phone each week for a call from Perk. In the Barone book was the first orchestrated Bird solo I had ever played – that was Bird’s solo on “Just Friends” from Bird With Strings. I am sure that Med wrote that arrangement. It was thrilling to play and, of course, Med knew and played the lead alto (Bird’s solo) perfectly. The baritone sax part was an exact duplicate of the lead part (sounding an octave lower) so the voicing was four part harmony ala Guiffre’s Four Brothers voicing with the solo voice doubled on the bottom. All other SS arrangements that followed were written in the same way except for a few written by Warne. More on that later. I believe that the “Just Friends” arrangement had been played by Terry Gibbs band earlier. Med also played in Terry’s band.
From 1971, I was a member of Laurindo Almeida’s quartet, replacing Bud Shank there. Buddy Clark, who became co-leader of SS was the bass and Chuck Flores was the drummer with Laurindo. When SS formed for their first club dates, the band was Med, Perk, Jay Miglori, Pete Christlieb and Nimitz. The first added soloist was Count and the rhythm was Buddy, Jake Hanna and Lou Levi. As they got started with regular nights at Donte’s it was very exciting. I went to hear them and Perk called me to be his sub there. It was very challenging music. Occasionally I subbed for Perk on second alto. One night working with Laurindo, Buddy asked me to sub for Pete C. at a rehearsal the next day. I wasn’t available and suggested Warne. That was the first hook up of Warne with SS. As the recordings reflect, there were no saxophone solos on the early recordings. The soloists were trumpet or trombone and piano. I remember driving Warne to the airport for their trip to Japan. Warne eventually wrote a few arrangements for the band. Bird’s solo on “Now’s The Time” was extraordinary. Warne, however, would not write in the always parallel voicing style of the other arrangements and his arrangements had contrary motion in the baritone parts. SS played Warne’s arrangements live but did not record any of them that I know of. Regards, Gary
The Los Angeles drummer Dick Berk used to sub for Jake Hanna (post-1975 — because before that he was touring with Cal Tjader) and I called him in Portland OR and asked him to give me a quote, and he thought a minute and then said: “If you couldn’t play with Bird, at least you could play with Supersax!” I told that to Med and he laughed, “Yeh, Dick Berk, great drummer, New York time, subbed for Jake, terrific drummer, great cat, salt of the earth,” pronouncing it salt of the oith.
Regarding Lennie Tristano’s pedagogy Ted Brown email [April 16, 2o11]:
Hi Mark, It is true that Lennie encouraged his students to memorize some of the great solos of Pres, Bird and others but that was just a learning tool. He mainly wanted students to sing the solos to develop a feel for a good melodic line. He never suggested they play them or write them out or do them in a group of 4 or 5 horns. Some of us wrote them out and played them for our own use…in fact I had been doing that before I started with Lennie…and we did use one with Willie Dennis and Ronnie Ball on Tickeltoe in 1956.
The earliest group I remember using that approach was Woody Herman’s band around 1945-46 when one of his arrangers took part of a Dizzy Gillespie solo and harmonized it for the trumpet section…but that was only for 8 or 16 bars…not a whole tune…but it was very impressive.
There was also a great solo that Bird made on a blues with a male singer….. Woody’s band took that Bird solo and slipped it into another one of their charts…perhaps I’ve Got News For You?…or The Goof And I?…can’t think of the title…but that also worked out great.
Also, Dave Pell and Bill Holman did some charts of Lester Young solos which they called Prez Conference…but that never had the same impact that Supersax did. And in 1956 Warne and I did Prez’s solo on I Never Knew…also Warne, Art Pepper and I did Prez’s solo on Broadway. Hope that helps. — Ted
Lester Young was a poet John Muir was a poet and even though I have written thousands of poems, alas I am merely a writer of words
I’ll let you in on a little secret: most of the people who write poems are not poets they are merely good people who write poems
Lester Young was a poet John Muir was a poet What was Charlie Parker? a combination astro-physicist and adept at time travel
Over the telephone with Charles McPherson we spoke at length of the grandeur that is the musical accomplishments of Charlie Parker and he explained many of the complexities of this music that Supersax faced.
Mark Weber : Charles, I regard you as one of the world’s preeminent Charlie Parker scholars and feel lucky you’ve always welcomed my questions when it comes to Charlie Parker, so, as I’ve been immersing myself in the work of Supersax lately, I wondered what your thoughts were on that band?
Charles McPherson: Well, I think they did about as good a job as you could do on some things. On a project that complicated and tricky, they were about pretty clean, the saxophone players, and it was a novel idea for sure, and great to hear Bird. It’s almost like Bird in more than one voice, harmonized like that, it was great. I thought it was interesting, I wish they were still around doing things. Yeh, I was quite impressed, actually. And Bird is a very very tricky guy to do this with because rhythmically there’s some stuff that Bird does that damn near defies notation. I mean, to get it exactly like the way he might have really done it rhythmically is almost — you know — What guys almost always do is they end up rounding off, if you will, boxing it. You know, putting it in a box, to make it more defined or more easily put in a box, let’s put it that way. And Bird’s rhythm was so subtle, about as micro as you can be in terms of slicing the beat up into little bitty pieces. Okay, now these pieces, you know, it’s just like slicing an atom you can slice forever and things just get smaller and smaller. Well, where Bird would start phrases would be so in between in between. And he could nail it. But, to write that? and actually have people play that? is quite difficult and these guys [Supersax] came pretty close to doing that.
MW: You know how Bird would do that horse laugh-like thing, like on “Blue N Boogie” — would that be possible to notate?
CM: Yeh, you might be able to do that. You could get close to that. I think the hardest thing about Bird is the rhythm. I can remember there were people like Lou Donaldson who was around at that time, and still around, when he talks about the old days when Bird was in New York, he said — this is interesting — he said: That when we heard Sonny Stitt then we understood Charlie Parker. Because, Sonny Stitt rounded off, he put it in a place rhythmically where it’s sort of boxed. He boxed it. And we went AH! Okay, now I see! [Stitt] just made it [obvious], Lou said. But, we could never to the nth degree do what Charlie Parker was doing. You just can’t do it, it’s too forensic. To get that forensic to really nail the rhythmic nuances of that, is like we couldn’t do that, we couldn’t hear that. But, Sonny boxed it, you know, rather than this little micro-beat hear, he just made it a bigger micro, and made it maybe a half-a-macro [chuckling] and that boxed it and it was: Ah ha, I see. He just made it more understandable, or maybe attainable, let’s put it that way.
Because, Sonny Stitt, compared to Bird is a straighter. He’s more of a straight line. In other words, let’s say if you would take accents and make it a line going from point A to point B, or make it from one basketball end of the court down to the other basket at the other end of the court. Okay, there are several ways you an get down there. You can get down there in a straight line, just run down there and just make the basket, fine. Or, you can zigzag like Michael Jordan where it is so tricky that you can’t — I mean, he’s so, whew — that’s why people are falling all over themselves trying to check him, because he’s not going to be where people think he is, ’cause he’s gonna turn on a dime. So, when he goes down the court it’s going to be serpentine. And in a zigzag fashion and the accents would be him pivoting in a point in time in unexpected places. That’s different than going down the court in a straight line. That’s the difference between Charlie Parker and about 90% of everybody else.
MW: Parker never sounded like he was affecting a consciously modern approach, even though he most certainly was a modernist composer. It seemed so natural.
CM: Oh yeh. He was a natural. And, I don’t think he was “trying” to do anything. You know, you see that’s the difference, it’s more Zen than that, there’s no “trying.” He just is. There’s no “trying.” That’s for other people. Bird was just what he was. He was a natural-born genius and that’s it. Nothing else to say. Even though, he had left brain — like that interview he did with Paul Desmond, lets people know that he had both left and right brain, he had the whole shebang, maybe that’s what real genius is, because, in that interview, Paul asked Where did you get this technique my gawd, and Bird says: Well, it wasn’t done with mirrors. I practiced eleven to fifteen hours a day every day for about three years.
Well, okay, so that’s left brain right there. So, he’s natural — then he also said in that same interview: It’s like an old pair of shoes, you can have a good pair of shoes but if you put polish on them then there it is. See, he’s got the whole shebang, he’s got the ability to know that the technique is the polish, so, he got the whole thing, he’s got the cognitive thing, but he’s also got this other inspirational natural thing. And they facilitate each other. You can’t beat that. When an artist has technique and inspiration, that’s what genius is. That separates a craftsman from an artist. Or: ordinary from genius, they have the whole thing.
MW: Do you think Charlie Parker was one of these guys like Muhammad Ali who reputedly could slow time down? So that he could see in between the seconds?
CM: Yeh, I think Bird had that. But you know what that is? because you know he’s not really slowing time down. What he is, is that he’s just fast as hell.
MW: But, in his mind he perceives it as slower, a second goes by slower for him than for us normal people.
CM: Yeh, because in that second he can see more or do more. Or, the second is longer because there’s more to the perception. This is all about perception, right? You know, a second is a second. And there’s a lot of other stuff, too. And there’s that fast reflex, so you have speed, which makes a second not the same for everybody. And then you got muscle memory. And Charlie Parker had that, from what I understand.
MW: Charles, could you explain muscle memory?
CM: Muscle memory is — the term is used to describe athletes and athletic ability, where a person has a better muscle memory than other people. Like a guy bowling, for instance, if someone says Here’s what you do if you want to get a strike: Angle your wrist this way, and look right between those two pins, and you make your arm and your wrist control the ball to go right between those two little pins, and if you were able to do that you’d get a strike every time. Okay, some people, once they’re shown, they will remember to make their wrist a forty-five degree angle, (if that’s what it was), and do it every time and that’s why they get more strikes than everybody else.
But, playing a musical instrument is part athletic, also. You’re using your fingers, your arms, your body. So, if you are told a certain thing, to hold your hand a certain way, well, the difference between those people, is that most people would have to be told that a hundred times before they maybe finally do it. Where a person with muscle memory, once they’ve been shown the physicality of a particular movement, they just remember it. Now, if you have that, can you imagine how much time is taken off when you’re learning anything?
MW: Yeh. I wonder what the pathway is to that?
CM: Well, the pathway is probably a focus and a concentration that is off the charts, number one.
MW: Could it be equated to, say, when you’re playing saxophone, you could rely on muscle memory to automatically hit the right note depending on what the harmonic landscape is?
CM: Well, musicians will know the tune. Which means you know the melody and the harmonic structure, and the physical structure of the tune. So, knowing the tune means knowing those things. But, your ear, because you hear what is, and where what is, then you just play what you hear. And that should be informed by the particular emotionality that that sound evokes from you. Or, — at least — if you are interpreting what that composer might have wanted to evoke emotionally. There’s a bunch of informing going on when you play. So, all you do as an improvisor is to maybe understand the general emotional consensus of this particular tune and then you work with the spirit of what that is, and the physicalities of what it is. That should be no more than knowing the English language for a writer who’s going to write something. You know the sentence structure, and the function of a verb and a noun and a prepositional phrase, those things are known. You don’t even have to think about that. What you do think about is: What is it that I want to say?
MW: Can you fake the emotion?
CM: You can try to fake the emotion, but if you fake the emotion then that’s already speaking for itself. That means it’s a fake emotion. So, you can’t fake it. You can attempt to fake it. It’s like watching an actor attempt to play a scene where he’s suppose to be really crying but he’s not crying, so, I guess you can maybe bring false tears, maybe you can do that. But, I think for the moment even an actor is feeling whatever it is, so he can bring about the tears. So, the musician has to be able to — if you’re playing — first of all, music is a weird thing. You don’t have to feel nothing that you’re playing. You don’t have to feel it. You can just do it, but you don’t feel it. To do the act of playing or singing a note just requires the physical capability of doing that. Now, what you mean behind the note, what you feel about it, is totally a different thing. So, that’s why there’s such a thing of you hearing somebody and they might not move you. That’s what that is. Even though it’s subjective. A lot of people can do it, but there’s nothing behind it.
That’s the difference between a singer like Billie Holiday, for instance, who you do get the impression that every note, every word, every lyric that she is actually singing, that she really, not only intellectually understands the meaning of the words, but actually the meaning of what the words mean emotionally. That’s a difference, than somebody mouthing a word that’s in the English language. That’s a big difference.
MW: When Supersax first came out did you think that these guys were our of their minds to attempt this?
CM: I didn’t think that, no. But, I knew that this was going to be a hard thing. But these are guys that can read and do that. So, I knew it would be possible. When it first came out, it was novel, right? because nobody had really conceived of something like that and so the novelty of it was interesting. But I knew it was daunting, pretty challenging stuff here. And those guys did a pretty damn good job of doing that.
MW: My perception of it at the time that they hit was that it was a big deal. Did it seem like that to you, then?
CM: Yeh, it was. And it got a lot of attention, a lot of people liked it, it was startling. You know, since then, you can go and hear a big band and hear their saxophone section play a solo, which is kind of like what they were doing, but they did it first, and they conceptualized it and organized it in the way that they did, and created a body of work dealing with it, not just one solo. It’s a body of work. So, that’s different. Now, I play gigs all the time where maybe we’re playing a chart that Bird played and they’ll have eight or sixteen bars of his solo, but that’s only one chart. Supersax had several charts with Bird’s solos, so they certainly organized this in a very conceptualized way, which is good.
MW: In a great big way.
CM: Yeh !
In some ways Supersax is the key backwards into the 1950s Los Angeles jazz scene. A period of such depth and dimension that it is only now becoming apparent what incredible jazz was being made in L.A. then. What happened was: After the triple-whammy of the decade-long 1930s Great Depression, and the Dustbowl Migration, and WWII, America was a changed place. The doughboys shook off the mud of Europe but never returned home to the family farm. Many of them went to southern California. Likewise, many of the big bands, like Woody Herman and Stan Kenton, rolled in for a pit stop. Came off the road and decided to hang out for awhile in the canyons of Sunset Strip. The cats in Supersax are part of this history.
Bobby Bradford is a cornet player renowned for his work with Ornette and John Carter and professor of music at Pomona College since the mid-70s and one of America’s leading scholars on Charlie Parker and when Stanley Crouch’s biography of Bird ever comes out, you’ll have a lot of Bradford’s perspective therein. I called Bobby to hear his thoughts on Supersax.
Mark Weber: Bobby, I was wondering what your first impressions were when Supersax first hit.
Bobby Bradford: Well, first of all I thought it was a great idea. And then, number one, you got a hell of a problem — to get down and get that stuff notated somewhere near where it is. Even though it’s impossible to notate some of that stuff Charlie Parker played, those guys had all heard the records. He [Med] had to have really really good players, not just a guy who’s a good studio reader, but somebody who had heard this music and could play those kind of delayed phrases like Bird.
MW: Great point. Sometimes we over-look the obvious. And in this case it’s absolutely imperative that the players know Bird’s music from hearing the recordings.
BB: Yeh. Some of the that stuff Charlie Parker played, you get a studio musician who could just sight read anything, I mean, he couldn’t play that, not effectively. So much of Bird’s stuff goes [sings a line] You can’t write that [laughter] You had to have guys who had heard it and who really liked it, too. Because there was no money in the beginning. All that rehearsing that they did.
MW: Yeh, somewhere between eleven and sixteen months, depending on who’s telling the story, before they ever presented it live.
BB: And no money. That’s like John [Carter] and I rehearsing for a year before we got anything, and then just a little funny job. But, he [Med] had good people in there. I was just looking at a photograph the other day where Warne Marsh was in the group at one point. I think Med did most of the hard work, didn’t he?
MW: Mostly, yes, Med. But in the early years Buddy Clark wrote some arrangements, and Warne contributed maybe half a dozen charts. And Med’s idea was to put a “rub” in the sax section — a whole step between two of the internal sax parts, so it wasn’t what you’d call unison harmony.
BB: You see what happens is, it’s not like he’s doing some far-out harmony. He knows that with a full saxophone section it can be really colorless if you don’t know how to voice for five saxophones. Now, somebody like Benny Carter, he had that nailed down. And so did this guy Ralph Burns who used to write for Woody Herman, there’s a bunch of guys who know how to do that, and what’s the guy here [Los Angeles], plays tenor, has a tricky eye, Bill Holman.
MW: You know, Dizzy actually suggested that they write in strict unison — Dizzy played with them at Monterey — but Med said they’d tried that and rejected it. You know Med wanted the line to be clearly what Bird played, and part of that was that he voiced the saxes within an octave.
BB: Well, you can see that that right there — within an octave — that creates some interesting problems . . . . What happens when you’re writing for five parts, whether you’re writing for Supersax or anybody else, one of the techniques is to have the melody on the top line and have the baritone, or the lowest voice, play the same thing. But you see where you run into problems is that when Charlie Parker’s solo goes to a place that’s kind of high, then you’re forcing the baritone into Squeakysville. See what I mean? Now, Charlie Parker tended to play in the sweet spot of the alto — he didn’t play those altissimo things, like someone like Braxton would do on some of his stuff. Where they stay up there in the super high high register. Charlie Parker explored the best part of the saxophone.
Everything he played you could hear the pitch. It wasn’t a squeak, or something you sort of reach for where you got half of it or you didnt. So, you see, what happens when you are writing for five parts, whether you are writing for Supersax or anybody else, one of the techniques is to have the melody on the top line and have the baritone, or the lowest voice, play the same thing. But you see where you run into problems is that when Charlie Parker’s solo goes to a place that’s kind of high, then you’re forcing the baritone into Squeaksville. See what I mean? Now, Charlie Parker tended to play in the sweet spot of the alto — he didn’t play those altissimo things, like someone like Braxton would do on some of his stuff. Where they stay up there in the super high high register. Charlie Parker explored the best part of the saxophone. Everything he played you could hear the pitch. It wasn’t a squeak or something you sorta reach for where you got half of it or you didn’t. So, as it goes up you force the baritone up higher, too, into a tough range for them to be able to play.
And then you also have the problem, as Charlie Parker played all those strange notes against the chord, how to deal with the other three notes that your going to put in there, because the chord, most of the time, has to contain the good notes in a chord. When I say ‘the good notes’ I mean, if it’s a dominant seventh chord you want to make sure you’ve got the 3rd and the 7th in there somehow. Because that’s what makes a dominant seventh important. Because sometimes you’ll be playing, depending on how you are writing this, say it’s a C7 chord, there might not be a C. Because you can get along without that C, being that that’s the root of the chord, you don’t always have to have a C when you’re writing — you could write a C7 chord and it could very effective, and the notes you might have could be D, which is the 9th, which is not part of the chord, but it’s okay. And an E natural, and a Bb. And maybe a G. But a dominant seventh chord doesn’t do what it’s suppose to do if it doesn’t have the 3rd and the 7th in it. Like, in the C7 chord that would be the E and the Bb.
See what I mean? So, the writer has to really sit down with a sharp pencil, and spend a lot of time, often, sitting at the piano trying to figure out how to make that work. And it also makes those inside parts hell to play, you see? Because they are often not melodic, like what Charlie Parker is playing. Or what the baritone saxophone is playing, doubling below, which is very singable. You know, Charlie Parker will be playing [scats a bebop line]. Now, if you’re going to harmonize that with those other notes in the middle, those parts are going to be awkward. With awkward leaps, just because they have to be obedient to what the chord is.
MW: Lanny said it was agony.
BB: Of course it is. It takes a hell of a player. And the writer, of course, has to try to have some consideration for what the people are having to deal with in the inside voices. It’s just like the inside voices. It’s just like the inside voices that the Woody Herman band when he was using three tenors and a baritone, the Four Brothers. If you played the inside parts, it was agony. But if you played it, it sounded great once they got everybody in there doing his part.
MW: So, those Four Brothers inner parts were kind of weird?
BB: Oh yeh! And difficult to play! ‘Cause you see they have to leap around according to the mechanics of harmony. Where the top part and the bottom part are playing the tune.
MW: Lanny was telling about the night Stitt sat in with them at the Parisian Room and I asked if Stitt played one of the parts? and Lanny was laughing so hard at that idea, he said, No, he wasn’t going to put himself through that kind of agony. He stayed away from those parts.
BB: [Laughing] Not only is it hard work, but you can’t remember a lot of that.
MW: Yeh, Lanny said that the only way to learn those parts was to play them over and over again, because they’re nearly impossible to memorize. Because it doesn’t do anything.
BB: In other words, that’s like: You look out on the football field and you see the wide receivers running looking great catching passes and the quarterback running back and you don’t pay a lot of attention to those guys on the line, those big refrigerator guys bumping each other, to protect the quarterback. There’s a lot going on in there. See, fans tend to watch the quarterback and those guys running out to catch passes. And all that noise out there, that BAM, CLASH, CRASH, all of that is the defensive linemen trying to keep those other guys at bay so the quarterback can throw the ball and look pretty. And those guys playing those parts inside — if you played that inside part without the hearing the top you’d say: This is noise.
MW: The only concession is that it move forward.
BB: Oh yeh. But the thing is, you see, it follows the curvature of a Charlie Parker solo. And if you can finally get those notes under your fingers, it’s a hell of a sound.
MW: And it wasn’t parallep harmony, either.
BB: Oh no. You see that’s kind of boring. And first of all, parallel harmony will get you into trouble trying to stay inside the octave, if that’s what the game is. Often [in other settings] you want a bigger sound. So, you go outside the octave. You may have the baritone saxophone with a big gap between him and the trombone, because you want a totally different sound, more — for want of a better word — a more orchestral kind of thing. And these guys were trying to stay within that octave and make that thing swing like the reality of Charlie Parker’s solo.
MW: Yeh, and the only reason Med had that rule was that he wanted to keep it strictly about Bird’s solo.
BB: Yeh, yeh. Of course, that was the whole project. It wasn’t about his orchestration. This is just to put Bird on paper and to hear it harmonized. That’s why I’m sure he rejected the idea of everybody playing a Charlie Parker solo in unison.
MW: Yeh, Med gets all burned up if you even mention the word unison.
BB: If you played Charlie Parker solos in unison with five saxophones, after about thirty minutes you’ve had enough.
AND I called Los Angeles trombonist Michael Vlatkovich to get the lowdown on what Frank Rosolino was all about.
Mark Weber: Michael, what are the distinguishing characteristics of Rosolino’s trombone style?
Michael Vlatkovich : He really capitalizes on how the trombone works, using the overtone series and lip slurs.
MW: This is something that other players don’t employ?
MV: Other trombone players don’t use it to the extent that he did. The overtone series, he really works the overtone series. Because you hear him doing a lot of arpeggiated stuff. He isn’t that much of a diatonic player, he leans more toward what’s available, he utilizes what the trombone can do. I think he realized early on that it was a way to move quickly around the instrument and it was relatively easy.
MW: Do you use this approach yourself?
MV: Yes. I would say that I do it more than many. Certainly not the most.
MW: Are they standard positions on the horn?
MV: In some cases, no. You’re really only utilizing a particular position, rather than moving the slide, you’re using one position or two positions.
MW: So, from one or two positions you can extract a half-dozen notes? Is it all lipped?
MV: Yes. Of course, the higher you go the overtones get closer together, so there’s a point where the position doesn’t matter, at all. In fact, I hear there’s this European guy who plays really high and doesn’t move the slide at all. He just plays fast bebop lines and doesn’t move.
I was telling Lanny Morgan how it seemed to me that the sax section did all the work in Supersax and the trumpet and trombone got to have all the fun. Lanny said that my observation wasn’t too far from the truth. And when I mentioned this to composer and bassist David Parlato he said that it was genius to have the brass take solos because sonically it works as a momentary departure from the sound of saxophones. David was a working musician in Los Angeles at the time Supersax came on the set and caught them many times at Dontes. See the David Parlato Timeline @ the Metropolis website for more about David. What follows in the next paragraph are David’s thoughts on Supersax excerpted from our conversation.
“It is actually a brilliant orchestration idea because it relieves the orchestration of the saxophone sound coming at you all the time — from a listeners point of view. So, when that would be done you would hear a rhythm section take off with a soloist that was not a saxophonist. Of course, if you were a saxophonist in the band, I would have wanted to play some solos. The Beatles really changed everything, the scene shifted, and never came back. And that’s a good example of what Supersax did, even though it’s a little later after the Beatles, this is when Supersax really gets their thing together. SO, in that sense they’re actually masterfully presenting an historical statement: Charlie Parker’s music. They’re breathing life into it in a beautiful way. And that’s at a time when BITCHES BREW is history. So, it’s a very retro thing, even at the time that they did it. And the beautiful thing about it is that the power of the music made it really live — their faith and belief in that music and the way they executed it brought it to life and it was really powerful to hear it done that way and kind of showed how eternal Charlie Parker’s vision, as a musician, was.
And as you know, when that stuff comes on it still sounds hip, hip as a bitch right now, you know, no question about it. And that’s because Charlie Parker was a genius and he channeled that through and reinvented the whole approach, took it to another geometric level of what improvising could be, so that’s the power, and they matched it by bringing it to life, it wasn’t half-hearted, they couldn’t pull those things off without — can you imagine how many hours they rehearsed? But, it was a labor of love, and that shows when you hear the Supersax recordings, it definitely lifted off. It would sound good if it was happening today, if somebody decided to do that today, you know. That stuff will always sound good. Now, it’s an acquired taste, you know? You’re going to have to know — have to feel the Charlie Parker revolution and understand that, and like it, and then Supersax makes all the sense in the world.
[ At this point I told David about the impending debut of Supersax New Mexico. Then, I added that a fact that we intend to over-look, and that Bobby Bradford points out is that you wouldn’t be able to replicate Charlie Parker if you hadn’t heard Charlie Parker’s records.]
I agree with that and that makes Supersax really powerful because they were all influenced by Bird by actually hearing him play live and being around him. They were all of that generation. For them to have the baton passed on to them that soon after has a great bit of power. But, every saxophone player after Parker is influenced by Parker, whether they want to be or not [chuckling]. I can confirm that Bill Perkins was very hard on himself and a perfectionist like you say. Now, I didn’t know him they way they did, but I did know him to be very hard on himself as a perfectionist would be so the “KoKo” story doesn’t surprise me.
I still think it’s genius to have a different instrument play a solo, not that they’re not all great saxophonists, but to have a different instrument other than a saxophone, so that there’s no way that you could compare it to a Charlie Parker solo.
[ I asked about the saxophone voicings and Med’s keeping it all within an octave.]
Right. It’s called close voicing, because you get the whole chord inside one octave. So, the lead alto plays the melody and an octave lower the baritone plays the melody, so they’re in unison but they’re an octave apart. So, it’s not strict unison, they’re spread, and in between them are the three other voices that never go above the lead alto sax or below the baritone sax. So, they’re all moving along bookended at the top by the alto and the bottom by the baritone. And then as the chords move those inner voices move with the melody and cover the harmony, you know? flesh out the harmonic sound. So, you can get a really rich thing, and that’s also like the sound George Shearing had.
So, what you’re doing is putting the melody note on the top and the bottom and the three other voices have to cover whatever that chord is in there. So, the intervals are going to be moving around, they’re not going to be the same, [ I had asked if the inside saxes had a strict intervallic relationship with the lead sax] the second alto, for instance, is not always going to be the same interval beneath the first alto, that’s what’s called parallel organum, and that has a certain sound but that’s not what Supersax did. And a lot of piano players can do this. On a solo they might decide to play a section of their solo where they do that voicing. George Shearing did that, the vibes played the melody in a different octave than the piano, and the voices were filled in on the piano in between these two. So, it defines the melody really well. It makes it really full and fat because you have these three voices in the middle that are moving around showing what the harmony is as the harmony is moving by.
[ I mention Med telling me about how they’d sometimes for fun just have the inner saxophones play their parts sans the melody and how I’d love to hear some of that. And even though all of this science is going on inside the voicing it sure always sounds to me like they’re all moving forward straight ahead.]
Exactly. It’s a side issue. Really, the main way to enjoy it is to listen. Because the main thing in that voicing that you’re going to hear is the melody because the top voice is definitely what the uninitiated ear always goes to, is the highest voice. And then to have that doubled below with the lowest voice makes the power, so you’re always going to hear that melody. So, the real way to listen to it is to just enjoy the momentum, the forward motion that it has. And the richness is created by those three inner voices.” —David Parlato.
Lanny Morgan has always been gracious and a regular guest via telephone on my KUNM Thursday radio show, so, I gave him a buzz to get some clarification on the intricacies of playing in Supersax. He was the 2nd alto in the band.
Lanny Morgan: Yes, the two tenors and the 2nd alto play the inner parts.
Mark Weber: Med says that for fun, in private sessions, he’d have the three inner saxes play their parts, sans the lead lines. Just for a laugh.
LM: Yeh. We did that in the studios. It’s not that much fun, really. Because, actually, they’re almost impossible to play, and they’re not much fun to play, either. It’s just a matter of playing them over and over until you finally get it, almost by rote.
MW: When did you join the band?
LM: I joined the band in 1975. They started in ’72 and they rehearsed in Bill Perkins’ garage for a year, then they opened at Donte’s, and then they recorded three albums for Capitol and the first one won a Grammy, then they didn’t do another until DYNAMITE in ’78. We recorded that for BASF. And that was at the end of a road trip. We did a month over there in Germany and wound up in Villingen [April 24-28, 1978] where MPS Studios are, and we did that record there. I’ve always thought it was a good record.
MW: When did John Dentz join the band? Because DYNAMITE is the first time we see him on record with Supersax.
LM: Let’s see, when I first joined the band Jake Hanna was playing drums. And Jake stayed about a year, or a year and a half. When I joined it was Buddy Clark, Jake Hanna, and Lou Levy, and Conte, and sometimes Frank Rosolino. And then it was Med and I and Warne Marsh and Jay Migliori and Jack Nimitz.
MW: You started in 1975, when?
LM: Actually I started subbing on the band in 1974. And I joined the band permanently in 1975, probably spring 1975.
MW: And you replaced Joe Lopes.
MW: When you had features on the band did they always remain the same or did those move around after awhile?
LM: No, they always stayed the same. We tried to get Med to let us mix it up a little bit but he didn’t want to do it. He wanted everything to remain the same. I always played on “Ornithology,” and Nimitz and I always played on “Moose the Mooche,” we used to trade choruses, then eights, then fours. And Jack’s main feature was “Night in Tunisia.”
MW: “Ornithology” was Warne’s chart.
LM: Yes, that was Warne’s. A very hard chart.
MW: Did Warne also double the lead with alto and baritone?
LM: No, Warne used five-part harmony.
MW: And that was his solo vehicle as well.
LM: Right, Warne used to play on that in the beginning. Then, later, it became my feature. When I first joined I played a little bit on everything. They kind of mixed things up a little more than we used to do at the end. It was so set there at the end. I always wanted to play on “Cherokee.” Med’s feature was a blues in C, I can’t remember the name. But, “Cherokee,” was always the two tenors. So, normally, all of us got to play once a set. So if you played three sets, you got to play three times a night. And you got to stretch out pretty good. I think on “Moose the Mooche” I played four choruses, maybe five.
MW: At the time that Supersax was really going strong was that your main job?
LM: No, I was still doing a lot of studio work, too. And I was playing with Bill Holman, Bob Florence, Bill Berry, and everybody. In fact, I got in trouble once with Bill Berry, my old friend, because I turned down one of his jobs because Supersax had a gig, and he said Why do you always turn me down for Supersax? And I said, Bill, you try getting a sub for Supersax. You can’t get one! But of course he didn’t want to hear that. But, it worked out okay, anyway.
MW: When was Supersax last gig?
LM: It’s been a long time. You know everybody’s gone except Med and I. And I wasn’t in the original band, so, Med is the only one left of the original band. Joe Lopes is gone. And Bill Perkins is gone.
MW: Is John Dentz still around?
LM: Yes, but he hasn’t played in years. He lost his hearing, you know. His wife was a dental technician, maybe still is, and inherited a dental lab. So, they’re living up in either Big Bear or Arrowhead.
MW: Remember how he used to cock his head sideways while he was playing like he was trying to hear the reflection off the wall? And that look on his face.
LM: Yeh, yeh, [chuckling]. He was a funny cat. He would look up at the ceiling, too! Eyes wide open.
LM: We always used to laugh at him, it was pretty funny. He was a good guy, I like John. He was a great drummer. He was one of the most steady drummers I ever heard in my life. Any tempo.
MW: He was with Supersax over ten years.
LM: Yes. And I remember after that [John’s hearing loss] we went to Japan and took Ralph Penland with us. We played a little club in Yokohama called The Bird. A lot of guys were going over to do that. That was about a week’s work.
MW: When was that? Had you done the L.A. Voices albums, yet? [December 1982 through January and February 1983] John was on those dates
LM: You better let me dig out my datebooks and look into that.
MW: [ I told Lanny about Supersax New Mexico]
LM: Really? That’s great!
MW: Yeh, their first date is May 21st in Santa Fe.
LM: That’s wild! I’d like to hear them! They’ll be fine, it just takes a lot of work. You know, Med tried to put the band back together again but, you know, I just don’t think it would ever work again because most of that was the feeling — just being together for all that time — a lot of empathy and feeling for what everyone was doing. And so, he put it together, he got Danny House on baritone, and Pete Christlieb on tenor, and Gene Cipriano on tenor. But, no matter how good those people play it just didn’t sound the same. When we used to work with that band — I’m talking maybe two weeks out of every month — the band was really tight.
MW: How did Supersax set up in the recording studio?
LM: We did it several different ways. One of the ones, I remember we were in a circle. I don’t think we were ever in individual booths. I think we were in a semi-circle. Everyone might have had their own mike. I know most guys, including myself, don’t really approve of that way of recording [individual booths], it gives the control booth too much control. Some of the best recordings I ever made — sound-wise — were with Wally Heider where he set one mike in front of the whole group.
MW: I like recording with one ambient mike and also have everybody miked individually for insurance purposes, in case we need to raise that instrument in the mix. But mostly rely on the single mike as the fundamental track. I’m also partial to raising the drums and bass in the mix.
LM: I like the sock cymbal.
MW: What was the fastest tempo Supersax ever played?
LM: I can’t give you a number, but I think it was “Salt Peanuts.” Yeh, we did “Salt Peanuts” and “Koko” pretty fast. And another one, “Bebop.” And another one we recorded called, “The Bird.”
MW: Like 300 bpm?
LM: No, I think they were closer to 400.
MW: So, you didn’t necessarily thin about that? Somebody would count off and you’d go?
LM: Yes. Med always counted us in. A couple things started with drums, so, drums would just take it and then we’d come in. “Salt Peanuts” starts like that. And it was right up there.
MW: Did tempos ever change? Like a radical change just to see?
LM: No. Everything was right where Med wanted them. A lot of those things were a lot faster than Bird recorded them — but they were right where Med wanted them, so that’s where we played ’em.
MW: Med told me that Bill Perkins took issue after the first sessions when Capitol wanted to re-record everything sans solos. That Perk balked at doing “Koko” over again.
LM: Well, it was more than “Koko.” It was some other tunes, too. Perk was such a perfectionist that he wanted to get every note — you know? you have to skate on some of those, you just have to play with feeling. Bird sorta did that, too. So when they told Perk they were going to have to re-do it, he just wigged out, and said that he couldn’t do it. So they brought in Joe Lopes. Joe Lopes is an excellent reader, he wasn’t the jazz player that Perk was but he sure got the parts down.
MW: Tell me about the time Zoot sat in with Supersax.
LM: That was at Ratzo’s in Chicago. There were two groups on the bill. It was us and Zoot’s band and Zoot played a couple tunes with us. The exciting one was down at the Parisian Room when Sonny Stitt sat it. Yeh! I forgot exactly when that was. I think John Dentz was in the band and Buddy Clark was still in the band, so that was awhile back. And I think Menza and Jay Migliori were on tenors, so, Warne wasn’t there. Stitt was a good friend of Red Holloway’s — Red used to be the doorman there at the Parisian Room.
MW: Wow. I saw Stitt and Red play tandem tenors at the Parisian Room. It was billed that way. So, did Stitt just solo with Supersax or did he play one of the parts?
LM: [Hearty laughter] No, no, no, I don’t think he would have wanted to put himself though that kind of agony. I don’t remember what he played, probably a rhythm thing. But, whatever it was he played the shit out of it.
MW: So, he didn’t play over the top of the sax section, he’d wait for a chorus?
LM: He’d wait for a chorus, then he’d play a bunch of choruses and when he got through, Blue would play. Blue Mitchell was playing with us then. Blue was a tremendous player, I mean, they both were [he and Conte]. I never heard Blue make a mistake, ever. I never heard him fluff a note. Everything was perfect. It was when we were working at a place in San Diego, for a week, that Blue started complaining about headaches. So, we took him to a doctor and they gave him some medication, something strong, and then when he got back to L.A. they found out he had brain cancer. That was quite a loss.
MW: He was a nice guy.
LM: Yes, he was. A nice guy and a hell of a player. So was Count. Nice guy and hell of a player.
MW: My claim to fame is that Blue bought me a beer at Donte’s, once. I think I had given him a photograph.
LM: Wow. Yeh, he was a good guy. I had known him, and Junior Cook, from New York when they were working with Horace’s band. Yeh, Blue really impressed me when he played with us.
MW: Well, what are you working on these days, Lanny?
LM: I’m writing some more things for my sextet. Doing the Lighthouse every few months. I’m working at a place called Typhoon, down at Santa Monica airport, Emil Richards has a big band there, and actually we did a DVD with that band. That’s about it.
MW: When I caught you last year at Charlie O’s [April 10, 2o10 Van Nuys, CA] with John Heard’s Trio with Roy McCurdy I was blown away. I think I was high for a month after that show. In fact, I wish I had brough along a Zoom to record it. Unbelievable.
LM: Well, there you are.
Biscuit Evans sed he could play the sax like that any day any time just as soon as God kissed him on the forehead right where his third eye would be
PART TWO of same conversation with David Parlato:
“You could say that Supersax is the quintessential tribute to Bird. Enough to make a grown man cry, really. It’s wicked, wicked good. When I talked with Buddy Clark [Clark lived briefly in Albuquerque toward the end of his life, circa 1998] he said that they slowed down Bird’s recordings so they could hear what the ghosted notes were, what the quickest notes were. So they could transcribe. What I got about Buddy was — he was a very determined, very aggressive personality. You know, he fell out of a hang glider, or something, and survived!
[ I mentioned how Med had taught Buddy how to write for saxophones.]
Okay, going back to that voicing thing. Once you have the harmony, all those tunes had harmony, they came with harmony, and then you had the melody — to fill those three voices in, to somebody who knows what they’re doing, is somewhat formulaic, okay? It’s ‘somewhat.’ I don’t mean to say it’s mechanical, it’s just that you know that’s the sound that we have, that’s the signature sound. It followed a pattern. I say ‘somewhat’ but it’s definitely not rubber-stamped or mechanical. The only way that would be the case is if every part was moving the same way. That’s called parallel and they’re not doing that. That would be totally formulaic, mechanical, rubberstamp. But still, there was a routine to what they were doing, that the arrangers would get very fast at.
[ I mention how Med said each tune presented its own set of problems.]
The main problem would be to get the melody the way they wanted. And the other problem would be to figure out how to imply the chord with the three inner voices when the note that Bird played was distant, in the chord, you know? Like a flat thirteenth or something like that. So, you’ve got two notes by two of the fives saxophones [in Supersax that was the lead alto and the baritone] that is like a distant note from the chord and how do those three voices in the middle anchor that chord and reflect the fact that it’s a flat thirteenth and anchor that to show that it is in relation to this chord. And you have to do it with three voices. And then the next note is an eighth note, probably the same chord, but a different melody note so you want to move those three voices, even though the chord hasn’t changed, the melody note has changed. So, this is why it’s not exactly formulaic. So, the next note is not a flat thirteen, say it’s a third, of the chord, then those three voices inside have to move in a melodic way and still cover the same chord. So that becomes challenging. And with note-y music like Bird’s there would be a number of notes in one harmonic space of two beats or four beats during which time the melody notes would be changing but the harmony notes would have to be moving, but the harmony wouldn’t be changing! It would be challenging.
[ I mentioned how Connie Crothers and Charles McPherson both emphasized and wanted to make clear that it’s not about working or trying. That implies that you’re stressing the value of effort and it’s not about that.]
That’s very intelligent to know that. You know I’m doing hypnotherapy now, and the thinking along those lines is beautiful because what your doing is you are programming your subconscious mind to have that attitude about the creative work that you are going to do and so you don’t use the word try because that implies that you could fail. You don’t use the words I will do it because that implies that it is in the future. You don’t use the word work because you want to be in the zone and be relaxed and be able to be in touch with the intuition and subconscious. So, I applaud that kind of catching the self talk that has failure built into it. They want to make sure that they’re not operating on that level. So, I understand that. I understand the purpose of it.” — David Parlato
FROM HERMANN HESSE
“Perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find,” said Siddhartha, “When someone is seeking it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking.”
VARIOUS ODDS & ENDS FROM TELEPHONE CONVERSATION WITH MED FLORY April 27, 2o11
Med Flory: It wouldn’t hurt to mention Dave Pell — that he had that octet that was pretty gawd damn great all those years. Long before we did what we did, you know? It had no effect on it [Supersax], but it was there. As a matter of fact, Buddy and I were playing on his band for awhile.
[Legend has it that it was after a Dave Pell Octet gig at the Crescendo on Sunset Blvd — 1957 — they were over at Med’s place winding down and Buddy asked for Med to play “that thing with saxes — Just Friends.” And it was on this night that Buddy and Med decided to get Supersax off the shelf and running.] [ Again, there seems to be two dates that are attributed to this legendary demo of four songs for five saxes, including Joe Maini — 1957-ish and just before Maini died in 1964.]
MF: So, that’s how that got started, was a gig of Dave Pell’s.
MW: What about Roger Kellaway’s involvement — those string charts he wrote for the third album.
MF: Johnny Williams was going to do it and then he got a movie, so, I don’t remember who recommended Roger but I got him. And Don Specht wrote one but it was in a different mood, it wasn’t really modern string writing, it was traditional strings, it kind of puts you to sleep.
MW: Warne wrote four arrangements for the band, “Salt Peanuts; Ornithology; The Song is You; and Now’s the Time.”
MF: Yeh. I think I’ve re-written all but one of them.
MW: So, you rewrote the same charts? [see “The Song is You” on Vol. 1 w/L.A. Voices]
MW: Did Warne use the same thing with the baritone and alto playing the lead melody?
MF: Pretty much. He got kind of strange every now and then, but yeh, it sounded really good.
MW: And he kept everything inside the octave?
MF: Yeh, that was The Rule, you know, you gotta do that because it’s Bird. It’s the line that matters, not what expertise you have as a harmonist. You can do all that but you got to do inside the octave, which is plenty tough. And you got to keep it rolling. The other parts got to move like the lead does. Dick Grove had this jazz college where he taught cross-voicing, which, jezus crhist, there’s nothing worse. It always sticks out like a sore thumb. Like when you got a note doubled, so one goes up and the other goes down and then they end up where they were and nobody is going dah dah dah dah on the same note. It never works. You juts gotta keep doing it and you can do some pretty strange stuff inside of the octave, in order to make it work and also augment the harmony, to the point where you’re into second-degree harmony, in order to make something work maybe you go to another key for two beats, you know? in order to get the thing to flow linearly exactly like the lead, like Bird. When it goes up, go up, you know? When Perk was on the band he always wanted to, “Hey, let’s play it again only slower,” and frankly, I didn’t have the time to go back over things slow. We have to do it up to tempo, when it goes up, go up!
MW: David Parlato said Perk was a perfectionist and really hard on himself.
MF: Yup. And that doesn’t always work with this band ’cause it ain’t about how good you play, it’s about how good Bird played. Sounds weird but that the way of it.
MW: How well did Supersax records sell?
MF: The first one sold 10,000 copies in the first three weeks, so that got it going. Not like it should, but, that’s the way it’s still selling, people are still buying it.
MF: I used to go into Birdland with my wife Joanie, the best lookin’ chick in New York City, flat-out, man, she was something else. And Pee Wee, that little fart, he’d upt us right down in front, you know, to attract some attention. And be right in front of Bud, you know, I could just reach out and almost touch Bud’s right hand, you know? and he’d be playin’ and he’d check out Joanie, and he’d play a ballad, man, that was so gawd damn’d gorgeous it’d just rip your heart out. And then he’d play something like “Hallelujah,” or one of those up things. He was the best. He was my favorite jazz piano player of all time.
[ Regarding Hal McKusick]
MF: Yeh, he was my mentor on Claude’s [Thornhill] band. He hipped me to a lot of stuff. I was just out of college and didn’t know shit, and he was so hip it was unbelievable.
MW: Did Hal always talk with that slow laconic laid-back voice, maybe it’s from Boston, did he talk like that back then?
MF: He wasn’t from Boston was he?
MW: Newton, a suburb of Boston.
MF: No shit. He’s not like that school at all. All those guys sound like Boots Musulli, whatever his name is, all the alto players.
MW: Was Hal always laid-back?
MF: Yeh! He wasn’t a cheerleader if that’s what you mean [chuckling].
MW: He just seems to take everything as it comes — very calm.
MF: Well, he was hip and cool. A lovely combination. He and Joanie left NYC the evening of Christmas Day 1955. Just prior to that he had went back to Indiana and bought a Dodge convertible — a 1952 model he seems to recall. “I drove it back to New York, we packed up, the drove it back to Logansport for a few days, and then hit the trail — Route 66.”
MW: How did Supersax set up in the studio?
MF: Facing each other, three on one side, two on the other. More or less. Whereas, on the gig it was me and the alto and the baritone on one side and the two tenors on the other. Normally, they used to split the tenors, but I like to write tenors as a section, together, so you can’t have them on both sides of the section when you want them to be playing thirds or a unison or something like that. I’m not sure that’s the first band that ever did that, but I did it, because it makes sense. So, like that. And we had baffles around. So that one horn wouldn’t leak into the other we had baffles between each horn. About four feet, something like that.
MW: And you could see over the top.
MF: Yeh. We could see, and hear, but it didn’t leak.
MW: So, obviously, you all had your own microphones.
MF: Oh yeh. And one on top and one for ambiance. That was at Capitol, they knew how to do all that.
MW: I kind of thought you would all just be around one microphone?
MF: We’ve done that, too. You can do it, but that ain’t how they do it when they’re doing it, you know.
MW: So, did you set in on the mix session?
MF: Oh yeh. We’d mix, John Palladino and Mauri, and me. And on break we’d go down the street to the Brown Derby. They had a Cobb salad there, I’m tellin’ ya, those were marvelous days.
JAMMING ON KEROUAC’s 239th, 240th, & 241st CHORUS
Charlie Parker looked like Buddha Charlie Parker, who recently died Laughing at a juggler on the TV was called the Perfect Musician And his expression on his face Was as calm, beautiful, and profound As the image of the Buddha Represented in the East, the lidded eyes The expression that says “All is Well” — This was what Charlie Parker Said when he played, All is Well his Eternal Slowdown In the Great Historic World Night And wailed his little saxophone, The alto, with piercing clear lament And how sweet a story it is When you hear Charlie Parker tell it
*NOTE regarding 15th paragraph:
from one of the chief consultants on my advisory committee, Dan Morgenstern of the Rutgers JazzArchive, perceptively pointed out that the 1929 “Singing in the Rain” recording was never formally released, so would not have been an influence. It surfaced on bootlegs in the 1970s(?)(because Leonard Feather refers to it in his linernotes to the first Supersax album). It can now be found on the BIX-TRAM-TEAGARDEN Mosaic box. And I would be remiss to forget the Benny Carter sessions with ten saxophones of 1964 in Hollywood, somewhat of a predecessor of Odean Pope’s Saxophone Choir, in a way. Bobby Bradford in his interview of April 30 stressed the importance of Benny Carter’s saxophone writing. Here’s Dan Morgenstern’s astute remarks:
“. . . when you first talk about saxophone sections and rightly mention Duke and Lunceford, you should include Benny Carter, who may have been the greatest writer for this instrumentation of them all, and for decades–there was the l937 Hawkins All Star Jam Band saxophone quartet doing Crazy Rhythm and Honeysuckle Rose in Paris, and the revisit to that concept with Further Definitions in 1961…and in 1964, Benny leading 10 other reeds (a Vee Jay session from which for years only one track was issued until Blue Moon (Spain) put out eight others in ’99 (but I don’t suggest that being mentioned, just FYI, kinda fun). But Benny was the King of sax section writing, I humbly submit. And I’m mystified by your citation of a Trumbauer 1929 recording of his Singin’ the Blues transcribed for section–the first instance of that I know of is Fletcher Henderson’s 4/10/31 recording. a Bill Challis arr. (with Rex Stewart doing Bix but the whole sax section doing Tram). I can’t find a Jan. 1929 Trumbauer band session…..
PS: I saw Supersax in NYC but forget what club it was, except that it was downstairs and maybe on 52nd St…had to be shortlived if there…think Fontana was the brass. I dug the concept but was sorry that when Warne was in the band he didn’t get more to play….. Cheers, Dan”
(c) Mark Weber / Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA / April 2o11 / All photos by Mark Weber
Supersax at a morning music clinic and evening concert June 6, 1980, Cal Poly, Pomona, California – photos by Mark Weber
Saxes: Med Flory, Jay Migliori, Lanny Morgan, Ray Reed, Jack Nimitz Bass: Frank De LaRosa Trumpet: Conte Candoli Drums: John Dentz Piano: Lou Levy
Bibliography and sources:
1. JazzWax blog interview with Med Flory by Marc Myers 2. Jack Goodwin’s discography of Warne Marsh > www.warnemarsh.info 3. Mark Weber’s Thursday KUNM jazz radio show interview’s with Med Flory and Lanny Morgan 4. telcon w/ Hal McKusick 13apr11 5. Med Flory’s liner notes to Vol. 1 cd SUPERSAX THE JAPANESE TOUR 6. Gene Lee’s LIFE OF WOODY HERMAN, p.152 7. YouTube : Supersax playing “Night in Tunisia” @ Ford Anson Theatre, probably October 21, 1979 w/ Jay Migliori, Ray Reed, Lanny Morgan, Med Flory, Jack Nimitz (superb solo), Conte Candoli, John Dentz, Monty Budwig, Lou Levy — could be the reputed KCET television broadcast footage professional shot and produced, utilizing at least two cameras — simulcast over KKGO radio 8. Med Flory Archive at Library of Congress 9. Leonard Feather liner notes to SUPERSAX PLAYS BIRD (their first LP) 10. email consultation with Kirk Silsbee 13apr11 11. email consultation with Gary Foster 13apr11 and 15apr11 12. email consultation with Connie Crothers 13apr11 and telcom 16apr11 13. BIX biography by Jean Pierre Lion (2005) 14. email consultation with Ted Brown 16&17apr11 15. telcom w/ Med Flory in North Hollywood 17&19&27apr11 16. telcon w/ Bill Payne in Vegas 17apr11 17. Safford Chamberlain’s biography on Warne Marsh AN UNSUNG CAT 18. telcon w/ Dick Berk in Portland OR 19apr11 19. telcon w/ Charles McPherson in San Diego, CA 22apr11 20. telcon w/ Bobby Bradford in Altadena, CA 23&30apr11 21. telcon w/ Michael Vlatkovich in Culver City, CA 23apr11 22. telcon w/ Lanny Morgan in Van Nuys, CA 24apr11 23. telcon w/ David Parlato in Santa Fe, NM 26apr11 24. email consultation w/ Dan Morgenstern 4&5may11 25. Don Menza states in the liner notes to his 1981 Lp HIP POCKET ” . . .at various times I played both
alto and baritone parts with Supersax.” 26. Note that Buddy Clark’s arrangement of “Night in Tunisia” for their first album SUPERSAX PLAYS BIRD (1973) is the same arrangement as on JAPANESE TOUR (winter 1975 with Rosolino in for Conte) — but by their 4th album CHASIN’ THE BIRD (July 1976) Buddy is out of the band and Med has wrote his own arrangement of “Night in Tunisia” and this 2nd version appears on CHASIN’ THE BIRD with Blue Mitchell sitting in for Conte on this track — this came to light when Cal Haines noted the differences (his band SuperSax New Mexico plays the Buddy Clark version, published by MCA Music).
An aging man and his can of craft IPA!…. Playing your town/The Outpost was a true pleasure. ————–Nels @ Outpost —- photo by Mark Weber
THEN & NOW
One hopes that maybe some- How, homo sapiens has a recessive gene Laying dormant, that Will come out of hiding and save us With whatever magic characteristic We need, so far unknowable to us, We can’t grasp it, continuing Headlong into disaster, not so unlike The fall of Babylon (539BC) where a vain and impious ruler, an idiot king flush with his own importance (one papyrus reads:
He muddled the rites He confused the oracles He ordered an end to the most important rituals He looked at the sacred images in the temple of Esagila and uttered blasphemies
Then as now, we’re on a merry-go-round with a crazy man at the switch ——— In the 50s and 60s we had Rachel Carson with her majestic & poetic warnings that the natural world was heading toward collapse (at our hands) and then, remember that other best seller THE POPULATION BOMB? and still, in our naivete we thought it possible that each of us not produce as many babies as Queen Victoria & Albert (9) This path seemingly of planned obsolescence Continuous bickering Decline & catastrophic collapse This time there won’t be a box office like at Stonehenge and a nice docent to show us around our ruins (there won’t be any of us left) Even the insects, who some of us comforted ourselves would carry on Life, are now dying off in mass numbers, thank you pesticides, the meek shall not inherit the earth, apparently —————- The trees will be uprooted by Apocalyptic winds Tsunamis as tall as the Empire State Building will engulf the earth . . . .
GEEZUS, how did I get so far off track? I sat down to meditate on these two photos of Nels and myself and innocently write about Then & Now, but an Old Testament prophet took me over and I lost control of my quill
Tom Rainey = absolute MASTER. I am so lucky I get to play with him! The man has played with practically everyone at one time or another, and after tons and tons of mostly “straight ahead” jazz gigs ended up on the more avant-garde/improvised end of the spectrum, expressing and innovating and otherwise seriously committing to the moment and to ongoing mastery. Check out his trio with Ingrid Laubrock and Mary Halvorson!
A brilliant young man and his blurry guitar pick…. I can’t rally say enough about Julian. He is a great friend/collaborator/supporter and one of the greatest musicians ever. And this is a cool portrait, Mark!
A true giant of the bass (and yes – he’s taller than me…), Chris Lightcap!
(This is NC4 at Soundcheck —- not their “stage attire” —- Feb. 8, 2o19) Yep! Except me, I think. Wore the same shirt all day! This was only the second stop on the tour, but I remember the gig fondly. Some seriously cogent improvising went down AND I got to return to El Patio for dinner and hang with you!
The NC4 hits Albuquerque! With bassist Chris Lightcap standing in for Jorge Roeder, (and drummer Tom Rainey + guitarist Julian Lage), this concert was one of my favorites from our 2-week trek through the western United States. Great space, great staff, great audience = some really cogent improvising. Many thanks to everyone there! ———- photo by Mark Weber —- February 8, 2o19 Outpost Performance Space
Tom Rainey —- February 8, 2o19 —- Outpost Performance Space – photo by Mark Weber
NC4 @ Outpost Performance Space —- February 8, 2o19 – photo by MW
It’s hard to trick this modern techno digital camera to snap blurry photos, so, I just fired a dozen bang bang bang until a few of them came out like this——————-February 8, 2o19 – photo by Mark Weber
AS OLD FROST SAID OF FIRE & ICE
Listening to Nels Cline 4 in concert I think of dichotomies, mixing and matching, and drama, in that life is so many mirrors reflecting back and forth layer’d, tumbled, tumultuous, parallax: where foreground, background, and the camera are all moving at same time Like a poem in parataxis The quartet spinning in circles around the steady drummer triangulation, parallax, fire & beauty As our man Ralph J Gleason once said: “a particularly happy amalgamation of individual talents, stewed, brewed, and cooked together long enough to emerge as a single thriving throbbing organism” NC4 seesaws back & forth between moments of extreme tender beauty and everything going up in flames the flickering of light on the surrounding forest from our fires at night the constellations wheeling in the sky
Nels Cline —- September 26, 1997 —- photo & line drawing by Mark Weber
Nels Cline & Mark Weber —- May 15, 1982 Los Angeles
Then and Now, or is that Before and After? The intervening years and all that ——– I remember recording my first Cd (1995) out in LA and ever-faithful Nels slipping out of a studio across town to join us for an hour and lay down some tracks before returning to work on the Fibbers record, I think it was ————— This replication was shot by Roch Doran on February 8, 2o19 Albuquerque
John Fahey: I first heard John Fahey’s classic album “Days Have Gone By” at my Junior High friend Alan Eder’s house. His brother Bob owned it, and the Fahey name/image came to us in anecdotal fragments imbued with mystery: He lived in Venice and was a stone alcoholic, he had studied at UCLA and collected 78s from all over the Deep South, he had a connection to Alan Wilson/Canned Heat, he owned his own record label, which was unusual then… All of these stories/details ended up possessing a pretty high degree of veracity. But what about the music? I remember listening in Alan’s room during a sleepover, lights off and strobe candle burning (we may have smoked some weed…) and listening in silence to “Days Have Gone By”, the train sounds mixed in with this rather haunted-sounding yet distinctly folk-blues fingerstyle guitar. Very enigmatic, full of pauses as he strummed dissonant discoveries in his open-tuned compositions. I loved it! Not much later, he released what may be my two favorites of his solo guitar recordings: “America” and “Fare Forward Voyagers”, that latter a kind of tour-de-force, recorded during his sober yoga association with Swami Satchidananda and his devotees (and still quite underrated, I think). “America” made a deep impression, what with it’s amazing and slightly bizarre album art featuring pages depicting Fahey and the artist Patrick Finnerty in the desert, cavorting with turtles, etc., and containing the now legendarily abstract/episodic “Mark 1:15”, which made a deep impression on me compositionally and sonically. All of this said, I did not become a total Fahey worshipper simply because he released a lot of records I wasn’t all that fond of. But that itself is part and parcel of his iconoclastic, contrarian genius. He was NOT seeking to be loved/worshipped. And, much like Frank Zappa, he openly expressed distrust and disdain for the Hippie culture of the day.
It was a few years later, in maybe 1980, that I finally heard Fahey ‘live’ at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, an intimate and legendary venue in which I heard many inspiring musical performances. I went with my friend George Winston (yes, THAT George Winston, who I had befriended as a record store customer and who had recorded initially for Fahey/Takoma and was yet to record “Autumn”). Fahey was apparently fighting a virus of some sort and was sweating a lot as he swigged beer from a huge pitcher onstage. He ended up being in pretty bad shape, so George drove John’s car and I followed him to Palms (West L.A.), where we put John to bed as his then-wife slept and crept out into the night.
When Fahey left Los Angeles for Salem and got sober again, my friend Mike Hogan – then putting out my records along with many other on his small label little brother (lower case letters important) – had befriended the erratic Fahey and managed to release a double 7″ of echo-laden solo guitar by him. Somehow, I ended up doing a short Northwestern tour with my old Trio + Fahey solo and a fine post-Sonic Youth band from Portland OR called Her Number Thirteen. Weird, I know! Fahey insisted on playing last and each time he played he managed to clear the room almost completely – particularly while performing a plodding waltz that repeated without variation until almost no one but we musicians and the employees of the venue were left. In Eugene, at Sam Bond’s Garage, the only people remaining were my band, Her Number Thirteen, the employees of the venue, and Chan Marshall (AKA Cat Power) and her friend Mike, who had come down from Portland for the show (Chan was living in a sketchy neighborhood with members of Truman’s Water back then and we were friends from her early NYC days). In Portland, Fahey was spotted driving by and seeing the sketchy venue/neighborhood and just kept on driving! But he was very friendly and respectful to me – in his off-hand way, at least – and was enjoying a period of renewed energy/interest in his work as he became fascinated by what we might now look back on as the Indie-rock underground, “noise” music, etc.. It was maybe around this time that the term “American Primitive Guitar” was born and being attached to John and his work but it, like so many other such imprisoning epithets, does not resonate with me.
The last time I saw John was at The Ash Grove in what I guess was its last iteration on the Santa Monica Pier. I had been asked by my old record store mate Sam to play a half-hour solo set. This German singer-songwriter I had never heard of named Sebastian or something was sort of the headliner, and a tribute album to him had been released, spurring interest in a man who had become a hermit out in the High Desert or something. He was a killer slide player. Anyway, my half hour seemed to upset the mostly-KCRW crowd who had only come to hear this Sebastian fellow, but Fahey seemed to really like my set and, while balancing a huge bowl of tortilla chips on his copious belly said to me (from behind his then-trademark dark glasses), “So Nels. You just played everything I was going to play! I guess I’m gonna have to really step up tonight and play some new stuff!” Hah hah. Quite the joker! He got up and played (McCabe’s booker) John Chelew’s crappy Washburn acoustic/electric directly into the P.A. and drenched in reverb. And yep – played that plodding waltz until almost everyone in the place had left.
As I said goodnight, Fahey discovered that I had not been paid. I had done the gig for free – just to be included, to hear him, really. I was just sort of tacked on to the show. He became furious and wanted to go back into the Ash Grove and raise a big stink, but I talked him down. We said goodnight and I never saw him again.
John Aloysius Fahey’s death had an unexpectedly powerful effect on me. I, like everyone, knew he was not a healthy man. Au contraire! But the world without Fahey roaming around in it felt….wrong. I was sad. And I want people to know how important he is – on more levels than just guitar playing. I recommend a recent biography of him by Steven Lowenthal called “Dance With Death”. It’s balanced and concise and gives one a pretty good picture of this complicated, alienated, childish, brilliant man who happened to find himself through Delta blues and other music of the 20s and 30s in the Deep South and took it to heart, made something personal yet reverent with that input, with that inspiration. ———–photo by Mark Weber @ The Lighthouse, Hermosa Beach, California – June 1, 1976
I have completely lost touch with Bruce — an amazing guy who recorded us — even Alex and me in our parents’ garage when we were 13 years old! He was always an electrical engineer wizard, even as a teenager. His parents sold Amway and for a sec Alex and I got roped into that, a total mistake! Bruce’s father worked at Lockheed, I think, and after graduating from Harvey Mudd in Claremont, Bruce took a job very briefly in the aerospace industry, only to leave in disgust early on and turn his back on what would surely have been a fancy career. I believe that on the last few days he worked at – was it Hughes Aircraft? — he wore a gas mask the entire work day! Around the period shown here Bruce had recorded James Newton’s first record, Horace Tapscott, David Murray, etc., etc., and set up his remote recording equipment for me to record that short film of John Carter & Bobby Bradford as he had a previous commitment that morning (the morning after he recorded Eric Von Essen and my first record, “Elegies”, I think). Remarkable… Love to Bruce wherever he is! —————photo by Mark Weber —- Bruce Bidlack doing sound for Sun Ra (that’s Marshall Allen behind him) —- April 2, 1981 Los Angeles
I remember these concerts very well. In a bold move, Eugene and John played the Century City Playhouse on 2 nights: the usual Sunday and a following Monday night. I attended both nights, and one of the two (sorry I can’t recall which one) left me slack-jawed with amazement as they fell into a sort of cyclical pattern and gradually sped it up; Chadbourne licking a balloon and rubbing it on his acoustic guitar, etc., long-haired Zorn in cutoffs and a football jersey holding his clarinet between his legs and with his alto and curved soprano saxophones hanging around his torso… All-improvised in what I suppose one might at this point call a unique response to the developments of the avant-garde improvised music of Derek Bailey and Even Parker, among others. When I later learned that Chadbourne and Zorn were touring via Greyhound bus with maybe one change of clothing – maybe NO change of clothing! — and seeing Eugene in full milkman whites… well, I became doubly amazed by them! ———–photo by Mark Weber —- November 28, 1977
I see one of Alex’s old drum rugs on the left, so maybe this was a double bill of some sort? I met Wayne Peet and John Rapson one night at the Georges Sand Bookstore when they played one evening during the work week. Lee (Kaplan) had heard about them and their trio with experimental guitarist John Stevens (was it John?) and wanted me to check them out for possible booking into the Century City Playhouse series. They had all come in from Santa Barbara. I guess one could say the rest is history. We all became — and still are — friends and collaborators. Wayne has recorded me and practically everyone in his garage studio Newzone in West Los Angeles and has played on/arranged/recorded tons of music of all sorts. John Rapson just retired from his position as head of the Jazz Department at Iowa State. And that trio that I heard back then — I believe they were called The Joe Doppler Quintet even though they were a trio – was unremittingly avant-garde and GOOD. Wayne and Vinny (pictured here) ended up collaborating on everything from Vinny’s Large Ensemble arrangements to movie soundtracks. And Wayne played on and recorded/mixed/co-produced one of my favorite of my own records, “Destroy All Nels Cline”, while I spent time in his groups Doppler Funk and The Wayne Peet Trio (there are recordings out there, people!)… Photo by Mark Weber —- February 7, 1981 @ Storie-Crawford Studio, Santa Monica, this trio of Vinny (woodwinds), John Rapson(trombone), & Wayne Peet(piano) on a double-bill w/ Nels & Eric Von Essen duo
Chris has been playing in The Grandmothers for years now, I guess. This shot having been taken in 2002, I think it’s around the time my brother Alex and I were playing with Don in a trio he called The Akashic Ensemble wherein he played only prepared piano and an EMS Synthi suitcase synthesizer and recited poems and whatnot about the cosmos, science…. It was really fun – mostly entailing graphic scores of various sorts. Don asked me around 2003 or so to play in The Grandmothers, then I didn’t hear from him for over a year, during which time I joined Wilco (!). Don is one of the great musician characters of all time and has a fascinating history. Someone should make a movie about him! Chris is a phenomenal drummer and soulful dude. He and I had a duo for a hot minute in which he played tabla and kanjira (sp?) and I played baritone guitar and bass recorder. We played themes from Keith Jarrett’s “Survivor’s Suite” in fake raga style. —- photo by Mark Weber —- August 23, 2002 Los Angeles
I don’t remember VAT! No drums? This looks like a variation on the band formed for Tim by my brother Alex for his first recording, “The Five Year Plan”. Of course everyone looks so young here because they were! Glenn Ferris moved to Paris not long after this and continues to play amazing trombone as far as I am aware. An amazing guy in all ways and a monster trombonist who had played a lot with Bobby Bradford, Frank Zappa, et al. Vinny bringing the power to the baritone saxophone… I wrote a song dedicated to him on my first record, “Angelica”, called “The Lung”, an appellation inspired by his immense lung power. Sorry that I don’t recall this concert, though! —- October 28, 1979 photo by Mark Weber (the drummer on this date was Alex Cline)
(Nels is writing most of the Commentary on these photos, but I jump in now and again: I had asked what the acronym VAT might mean —- Vinny Alex Tim?) ———- photo by Mark Weber —- October 28, 1979 Century City Playhouse ————–and now Nels: I knew it! Great photo capturing Alex in his full late 70s glory! I have no idea where VAT came from, though! Your guess is a good one, though that makes me think it should have been GRAVT or something….!!!
Horace Tapscott and his ardent supporter/documenter/producer Tom Albach, caught in a recording studio somewhere. Tom took it upon himself at some point in the 1970s to document anything and everything Horace was doing/wanted to do, which resulted in dozens of recordings that would never have happened otherwise, from records of Horace’s Arkestra to many solo piano sides, trios with Roberto Miranda and drummers Donald Dean and Fritz Wise, all through the 1980s… Tom was quite an irascible fellow; a cigar-chomping loudmouth who was über-passionate/opinionated and a really sweet man down deep. I never knew him well, but I am certainly grateful for his dedication to Horace and his music. I hear Tom is still around at an advanced age battling various serious physical challenges. Sending healing vibes to you, Tom!… ———–photo by Mark Weber —- January 27, 1981 @ United-Western Studios, Sunset Blvd
I remember this photo very well because you gave me a print of it long ago! I think this may have been taken after a Quartet Music concert at the L.A. Press Club. We’re sitting in Alex’s old Chevy van. ——————photo could have been taken by Eric Von Essen – May 15, 1982 —- that’s Nels Cline & Mark Weber
January 31, 2o19 Jazz @ Noon every Thursday (starts at 12:07 after the satellite news) Host MARK WEBER KUNM Albuquerque, USA 89.9 FM (Mountain Standard Time) also streaming on the web KUNM.org Current time zone offset: UTC*/GMT -6 hours (*Coordinated Universal Time)/Greenwich Mean Time)
Nels Cline & Our Affinities
I have no memory of when I first met Nels, it’s buried back there in the haze and smog of 1970s LA. Probably in the halcyon days of concerts at the Century City Playhouse every Sunday night where all us Out cats, and kitties, depended on for our sustenance.
We grew up in the days of Addams Family, Gilligan’s Island , Hogan’s Heroes, MAD magazine, Maynard G Krebs, Rat Fink, girls with beehive hairdos, summer vacation, Beatles, Motown. We were a shade too young for Monterey Pop Festival (1967) and Woodstock (1969) was too far away. Among everything else coming over the radio airwaves, Nels was into Roger McGuinn & the Byrds, and Jimi, among others. I was into Dylan, Judy Collins, and KPPC. Then I got deep into Jackson Pollock and Nels was into Robert Motherwell, we both read as much Henry Miller as we could find, his uncompromising nonconformist bohemian starving for his art appeals to young artist types fresh out of high school. Capt Beefheart was our God. Is it any wonder that when we first heard Cecil, Sun Ra, Ornette, Dolphy, Coltrane, we did a cannonball off the high dive right into Avantgardesville, we went bats. I always said we came into jazz by the back door: via Free Jazz.
By 1976 I was the Los Angeles correspondent for CODA and also a monthly tabloid called FOLLIES (edited by the great Terry Cannon). I want to thank Nels right here, that, over the years I’ve wrote the liner notes to only two-dozen albums, but Nels’ duet record with Eric Von Essen (ELEGIES, Nine Winds) was the first. A real vote of confidence in that meat grinder called Los Angeles, back when I thought I could make it as a professional writer. And now I have bragging rights that I wrote the notes to Nels’ first album. His concert with his quartet here in Albuquerque February 8 at Outpost Performance Space sold out months ago, I guess he’s famous now? and more power to him, as we used to say.
I sent Nels a whole gang of photos and he wrote about them.
The Century City Playhouse, on Pico Blvd. near Prosser Ave. and almost next to the Cheviot Hills golf course, where Lee Kaplan put on Sunday evening concerts by local improvisers/jazz artists as well as by some of the most important and/or obscure but now-legendary improvisers of the day. As a sort of extension of Rhino Records, where Lee and I both worked, I often worked the door and thus heard almost every concert. A partial list would include Wadada Leo Smith, Charlie Haden, Bobby Bradford, John Carter, James Newton, Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill, Henry Kaiser, Eugene Chadbourne w/ John Zorn, Sonny Simmons, Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Wayne Horvitz (with White Noise), Kurt McGettrick, David Friesen w/ John Stowell, Marty Ehrlich, Baikida Carroll, Horace Tapscott, Michael Gregory Jackson, Vinny Golia…. It was where local upstarts like yours truly/Quartet Music could start to play out, develop our music. And they did have plays there. I am actually surprised that “Bleacher Bums” and/or Jules Pfeiffer’s “Little Murders” aren’t on the marquee in this photo, since those productions ran there for eons. I was a little black box inside with a few theater seats and some folding chairs for closer views on the floor. A man named Ivan Spiegel ran it. It was the 70s! Interestingly, I learned in around 1983 or 84 when I met Kim Gordon (of Sonic Youth/Free Kitten/Body/Head fame, among other things) that she and her family lived about 2 blocks from there then. ————-photo by Mark Weber —- October 28, 1979 Los Angeles
This is a rare shot of what Julius called The Janus Company — a trio of Julius Hemphill (alto saxophone, maybe flute), Baikida EJ Carroll (trumpet), and my brother Alex on drums. They played a mere handful of concerts in the U.S. — in Los Angeles (seen here at the Century City Playhouse), in Berkeley at a place called Mapenzi, and later in Philadelphia (at The Foxhole maybe?) with Abdul Wadud added on ‘cello. I think this photo may portray the first gig Alex ever did with Julius. As was often the case, when someone asked creator/curator of the concert series Lee Kaplan who in Los Angeles should play drums on a concert, he recommended Alex, and Julius LOVED Alex’s playing right away, which led to those future gigs. I think Alex was about 22 years old at the time (which means I was, too). They actually recorded an album for Lee’s emerging Aten label which was never released. But they went on to tour Europe — a tour which did not go especially well as I understood, owing to Julius’ self-destructive impulses and some other complications. Alex and I had already been made aware of Baikida’s playing from Julius’ recording “Dogon A.D.” from his St. Louis years, and Baikida was phenomenal on trumpet as well as being a sweet human. He also made some really fantastic records of his own around this time.
Years after The Janus Company, after Julius had had to have one of his legs amputated at the knee (an alcoholic/diabetic gang green scenario), Julius took some down time at his aunt’s in Oakland CA and got himself together, and during this time he contacted Alex about his desire to start an electric band with him, along with Jumma Santos (percussion), yours truly on guitar, and a bassist. Julius asked Alex who he recommended, and he suggested Steuart Liebig (who eventually started calling himself “Steubig” around this time for some reason I have never understood, in spite of his repeated explanations). This became Julius Arthur Hemphill and the JAH Band (as in Julius Arthur Hemphill…). We played some gigs in Hollywood, San Francisco, and Minneapolis (Minnesota arts funding!) and went to Europe — my first time playing there. In fact, our very first concert there was recorded and was released in a severely edited form as “Georgia Blue” on the Minor Music label out of Germany. Perhaps it’s unnecessary for me to say that this is NOT my best work on record — I was extremely nervous and still trying to figure out how to play Julius’ music — and even Julius’ chops were not quite up to speed yet after his break. But that was kind of typical in some way, as much of Julius’ recorded work and career doesn’t represent his strengths all that sufficiently. Julius could very effectively short-circuit his most advantageous opportunities. This said, he was a true musical genius, a kind and laconic and erudite gentleman. He was dauntingly handsome and charismatic (and about 6′ 5″ tall) — a Texan by birth, who had played (usually very briefly before being fired for one reason or another) with Ray Charles, Ike & Tina Turner, and god knows who else. His work in St. Louis with the Black Artists Group (BAG) was legendarily unique and badass and that reputation preceded his eventual move to New York. There are dozens of stories that I could tell you, and I only played with him and on and off for about 4 years. On subsequent European tours in ’85 and ’86 Julius added a second guitarist to the JAH Band — the first being Bill Frisell, the second being Allan Jaffe. Yep! Julius took a lot of shit from certain of his immediate musical community and the press for doing this band, but he really didn’t give a shit what anyone thought. Julius was a true artist, a quiet iconoclast. His writing for the World Saxophone Quartet, his later saxophone sextet, and his Big Band show the true genius of his composing, I feel. And then there were theatrical/multi-media works like “Roi Boyé and the Gotham Minstrels”, wherein Julius, dressed in a silver lamé suit and white fedora, performed as the character Roi Boyé along with pre-recorded saxophones, flute, and narration….
In 1994, about 8 years after the JAH Band had ceased to play, I found myself in NYC recording on Mike Watt’s massive record “Ball Hog or Tugboat?” and I decided to call him up and thank him for believing in my abilities back when few of his stature would have known about me or taken the chance to put a novice like me in their band. I knew he had been struggling with kidney disease so was often just sitting at home. We chatted and caught up a bit — he was wryly funny and had a few sharp words with which he skewered the then-ubiquitous “young lions” on jazz neo-traditionalism. In another year he was gone. I am still waiting for the world to discover or rediscover his genius, but I know that his close and deep musician friends Ursula Oppens and Marty Ehrlich are taking special care to preserve his legacy and tend to an archive of his often brilliant work. I know that we are all individuals with unique qualities, etc. etc., but man, they/he/she/it really broke the mold when Julius Hemphill was created. ———— photo by Mark Weber —- September 11, 1977
Lee Kaplan, old High School friend, bassist in Alex and my High School band (which later included Trio drummer Michael Preussner on miscellaneous percussion as we attempted to create our own version of Dom Um Romao and/or Airto Moreira…). Lee got so into improvised music and so irritated that our musical heroes weren’t playing in Los Angeles that he found a place – the Century City Playhouse, a grungy little black box of a place — to attempt to present the music and truly managed to lure many legendary and nascent wizards to play there, in spite of his general social awkwardness and lack of familiarity with music “business”. Here he is playing his Serge modular synthesizer, inspired by Richard Teitelbaum of Musica Elettronica Viva. Back then Lee almost never wore shoes and carried around a gallon plastic jug of Arrowhead water everywhere he went – years ahead of the bottled-water-as-personal-accoutrement craze! It looks as though Alex was playing with him that night or perhaps Lee borrowed his gongs. I do recall Lee owning that Thai gong and bell plate, though. WAY too much could be written about Lee/this period! ———————-photo by Mark Weber — November 26, 1978 Century City Playhouse
Horace…. This trio — a brief moment – was quite SMOKIN’, I think. It was so amazing to Alex and to me that this ever happened: Horace Tapscott with Roberto Miranda (who played with Horace for years and years) and my longhair brother Alex… I think that Peavey amp right in front on the right was Roberto’s wacky bass rig at the time, set up way far away from him. Roberto had many eccentricities…
Horace is a bit difficult to describe/explain to those who know nothing about him (which may be more people than I care to think about). His regular concerts with the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra (please check my spelling) had a scope and significance beyond music. But musically speaking, it nurtured the talents of so many musicians, many of whom really stood out and the most famous of whom was Arthur Blythe. But Jesse Sharps, Fritz Wise, Donald Dean, Adele Sebastian (someday I suppose someone should write something about this talented and charismatic young flutist who died so young – a truly beautiful human)…a lot of wonderful players. Horace was like royalty or something. We were in awe of him. His earlier stance was pretty intense and a little fearsome, but he was really one of the warmest people, and he really represented art/jazz, his community, and the dignity and power of an African-American. His presence was almost staggering, his playing knotty and unpredictable. He was a real leader. And he could disarm anyone with that smile of his and with his embrace. Alex and I attended his funeral, which was in a huge church with a huge crowd attending. And I don’t want this to sound weird, but looking at him in the open casket lying in state with a fez on…. he looked like a king. Regal. Stunning. I guess I’ll stop there. —– photo by Mark Weber – February 10, 1980 Century City Playhouse
I wasn’t at this concert — Derek Bailey and Evan Parker at the Century City Playhouse — and for the life of me I can’t remember why, but I must have had some sort of family dinner or something or been out of town (the latter is unlikely, however). No way I had a conflicting gig back then! But Derek borrowed my Music Man amp. I sure wished I had heard this! Weirdly, Derek played solo years later at Miles Playhouse in Santa Monica and again I loaned him my amp and AGAIN I couldn’t attend the concert! What the-?! NO clue as to why I missed that one, either! It wasn’t until around 2005 that I was able to hear Derek play ‘live’, and that was in Barcelona where he and his wife had moved to get Derek out of the dank cold of the UK. Derek was so lovely to finally chat with and I thanked him for his intrepid and exhaustive innovations, his bravery and brilliance. He passed away about a year later.
Evan played solo at the Century City Playhouse back in those days and I did get to hear that. It was utterly remarkable. —————photo by Mark Weber ———- October 15, 1980
I still have this flyer in a box in Los Angeles. Spiral: mostly improvised full-on space music with Brian Horner, whom I met when I was going to Occidental College in the mid-70s. And Alex, of course. We ended up playing at Occidental a few years later (this show) I guess because Brian still had connections there through the electronic music studio there and with the late great pianist/teacher Richard Grayson. I suppose it should be noted that coming up back then and well into the late 80s almost every concert I played was something the musicians set up and attempted to publicize themselves. ———————— 1979 —- Design by Alex Cline
This is really blowing my mind…. Roberto Miranda and Eric Von Essen – two very different types of bassists/musicians – conferring about…bass! So much to say about both these gentlemen… Roberto is still around and mostly teaching, I think. Eric died in 1997 in his early 40s from too much everything (except music). ————————-photo by Mark Weber —- August 25, 1979
Eric “preparing” his bass for a percussion jam or something with a sheet of music paper! ————–photo by Mark Weber of Eric Von Essen – May 15, 1982
Oh man… I made this flyer by blowing ink around with a hollowed out Bic pen… Very early concertizing with Eric, who was a true musical genius and who ended up being kind of my musical partner for almost 17 years, and Vinny, whom I met in 1975, I think. The Georges Sand Bookstore was right down the street from Rhino Records on Westwood Blvd., where I worked for almost 9 years. The bookstore was small and quite lovely, and the owner, Charlotte Gusay, was unerringly sweet and supportive of us and of creativity in general. I don’t remember much about this concert, however. I DO recall playing there once with a bassist named Wayne Roberts for a book signing event for Leonard Feather, the Los Angeles Times’ jazz critic who was syndicated all over and who had a radio show, too. It was really uncomfortable as no one showed up to have their book signed and Mr. Feather spent the awkward hour or two trying not to look at us and trying to charm Ms Gusay into…something that seemed sexual. Nothing happened, though!
I’m seeing not only details of the drums/percussion set that Alex created for this group (Chinese tom toms, roto toms, smaller/quiter/darker old Zildjian cymbals, shakers, etc.) but also my cuica that our parents brought from Brazil along with a bevy of other samba instruments and a berimbau. I guess I played cuica during the concert at some point! We were very inspired by Oregon (Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless, Glen Moore, Collin Wolcott) and Miles’ Quintet with Wayne, Herbie, Ron, Tony, among others….. ————–photo by Mark Weber — June 29, 1980 Century City Playhouse
As much as you are bummed out by this photograph’s poor film quality, it afford’s a good look at Alex’s unique setup. I am also seeing the stool that I took everywhere for these concerts as well as the pillow I always brought (!!) I am playing my 1952 Martin 00-17 — probably still my favorite acoustic 6-string guitar and which I still own (of course). Eric loved this guitar, too. I bought it at Walecki’s Westwood Music in maybe 1977 for $225 from Fred Walecki himself — a remarkable man and back then a rather influential figure equipment-wise in the worlds of artists like Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Lowell George… He was always really nice to me. Around 1978 or 79 I also bought a Taylor 12-string from him (yep — still have it!). The company was just starting up then and the guitar is fantastic. For many years it remained the most expensive guitar I ever bought – it cost $950 including hardshell case. I took little chunks out my Rhino Records salary every week for so long trying to pay for it that my parents finally loaned me the money to get it so I could at least play the thing! Fred was so kind to let me do that, though. Fred has since passed away. He was quite an amazing character. ——-photo by Mark Weber @ LA Press Club, 600 N Vermont Avenue — Quartet Music on a double-bill with Joanne Grauer Trio – May 15, 1982 (yes, this was some horrid bulk film US Army surplus I got for $4/a roll of 100 feet —– I was shooting it before realized it was junk)
This was “Tim Berne & Alberan” — Tim, Alex, Roberto Miranda, me — playing at the now legendary / infamous Cathay De Grande in Hollywood beneath a Chinese restaurant. It was a punk haven/hell. Phast Phreddie Patterson booked us there but couldn’t make it to the show (he was a regular DJ and charismatic presence there). When we arrived the floors were completely wet with almost an inch of water because during the previous night’s punk rock show some kids had ripped the latrines out of the wall in the men’s room… squish…squish…squish… I recall that I met Kid Congo Powers upstairs that night, that Kristine McKenna was in the audience. But I can’t for the life of me remember what “Alberan” is/was. This band played maybe one other time, in Santa Barbara. ————photo by Mark Weber —- February 17, 1981 ———–
You asked whether the Strat in that Alberan photo was my first one. So, to that question:
The Stratocaster I am playing here was purchased from a man named Lew Camerata (maybe misspelled), the lead guitarist in The Zippers, a sort of punk-inspired power pop-ish band ubiquitous in Southern California back then (my then-wife DD Faye managed the band and her sister Danielle played bass with them). It was a horrible guitar but I had no clue at the time — and I am still pretty clueless about guitars and other things… Anyway, this was a 70s 3-bolt with a Kahler tremolo added plus toggle switches replacing the slider pickup selector. I think it had Seymour Duncan pickups (which I generally adore to this day). I can feel guitar geeks shuddering as I write this! I bought it to play in a Strat-centric rock/funk band called BLOC, which was formed by my pal (bassist) Steuart Liebig and in which I played for almost 8 years. A guitar repair fellow once saw it backstage at the Club Lingerie in Hollywood and, after asking whose it was, asked me whether it bothered me that the strings were not only uneven widths from each other but also uneven heights! I hadn’t noticed….
Nels sent me a postcard that said: If you don’t go see The Blasters you’re blowing it! Nels was immersing himself deeply into the Hollywood scene and the outskirts of punk, of which, I knew zero. I was up in the Valley at Donte’s and Carmelo’s checking out the 1950s. [ I probably still have the postcard, I’ll look in my Nels Cline file ]———————–mw. The Blasters @ Whisky-a-Go-Go – Sept 11, 1981 ————photo by MW
My first wife DD and I used to go hear The Blasters every time we could. They were amazing! Crazed energy but still in control, with Phil Alvin’s classic voice and Dave Alvin’s wonderful songs, going full-tilt. Here seen with Gene Taylor on piano, who joined up with them a little later (along with periodic visits from saxophonist Lee Allen). So damn good, classic, ROCKIN’! ————–photo by Mark Weber at The Whisky-A-Go-Go — September 11, 1981
Quartet Music at the Century City Playhouse? This may have been our first gig. Eric Von Essen, Jeff Gauthier, Alex, me… We soldiered on for about 11 years until there was just not enough interest and when Eric became increasingly immersed in jazz lexicon and stopped composing for awhile. He became a first call jazz bassist as a result and I went back into “rock” – a natural and tensionless drift apart. Jeff went on to create Cryptogramophone Records and is still one of my best friends – one of the kindest and most generous friends a lad could ever have in life. ————–photo by Mark Weber @ Century City Playhouse —- June 29, 1980
Ah – Too bad this isn’t one of my flyers. This one was made by the club. I did monthly flyers – mostly handwritten at first – with my descriptions of the performers and their music. I still have copies of them in my storage space in Los Angeles, and upon looking through them a few years ago before I moved to New York I was amazed at who played. Eugene Chadbourne was a special out-of-town guest on this particular week and needed as much dough as we could accrue (my concert series New Music Monday was a door gig), so my Trio opened and then handed the stage over to Eugene, who stayed at the house my then wife DD and I lived in mere blocks away. He drank a lot of grapefruit juice… He also went to a tape copying place and made about 25 copies of a ‘live’ recording of a prior gig somewhere that someone had just given him, xeroxed some info, bought some baggies, and assembled a little package in our living room. Then he sold them at the Alligator Lounge show! Eugene is a national treasure to my mind. There’s no one like him!
Mary and I are friends — she and Tomas (Fujiwara) live rather close to Yuka and me in Brooklyn. I sometimes run into her at a nearby market. She s amazing on every level — a totally unique voice on the instrument as well as a monster reader/technician. It was Ches Smith who first exposed me to her playing maybe 15 years ago, when he was still living in the Bay Area. It was a track on some compilation record — possibly the first and only evidence of her playing recorded at that time, before Trevor Dunn’s Trio Convulsant. I was immediately enthusiastic. I feel lucky that she and I have been able to play together every once in awhile, but I feel even luckier that I/we get to hear her playing and writing. ——-photo by Mark Weber with Mary Halvorson visiting the Thursday jazz show at KUNM – December 19, 2o13 —- When I saw that she had a sheet on “Ida Lupino” I beseeched her to play it, and she did, even though she confessed she was still learning it’s mysteries, what a trouper, she has since recorded it proper and put it on a CD ——– It was Nels years ago that pulled my coat as to what a beauty of a tune “Ida Lupino” is, written by Carla Bley
Interesting zit or something on my nostril….!!! So I guess I’m maybe 42 years old or something here.
That’s me over 20 years ago: every necklace filled with personal significance…. Carla Bozulich made me the bead necklace – I can now see that as a harbinger of our eventually falling in love and being together for many years… The yellow cat I.D. necklace was a spare from “Rincy” (Nancy Sandercock), the drummer from one of my all-time favorite bands, The Polar Goldie Cats (each member of the band wore one of these with their band moniker on it). I felt so honored to have been given Rincy’s spare… And the heart, the Om…they’re just me, my things…. ———photo by Mark Weber —- June 28, 1997
This is Fibbers drummer Kevin Fitzgerald (he later went on to play a lot with Circle Jerks and Eleni Mandel, among others – a massively talented multi-instrumentalist/songwriter, though few know he possesses such skills), our then-crew person (on the right – I am embarrassed to say that I am blanking on her name now) and one of the members of The Eyeliners – a classic garage rock girl trio who were really fantastic and ever so crushworthy. I am blanking on her name, too – sorry! I wonder what happened to this Albuquerque treasure. ——— photo by Mark Weber —- September 26, 1997, the day after the Geraldine Fibbers played The Launchpad, Albuquerque
I am still happy and rather moved when someone comes up to me and tells me that they are a Fibbers fan. I was a huge fan before I ever played with them, so I get it! It was Mike Watt who introduced me to them/their music. The passion and emotion that Carla and Co. brought to bear were almost excruciating — certainly exhilarating – and not about guitar solos/histrionics at all. It was a mini-orchestra. Much drama and lots of blood, sweat, tears… I could say so much more. But what shirt am I wearing?? I don’t remember that one! The Fibbers were visionary thrifters and had cool style, and they freed me to try outfits/looks that I never would have dared to attempt previously. In many way, my association with them had the effect of personal liberation. I became much more MYSELF in many ways, and I am grateful for this. ——————-photo by Mark Weber – September 25, 1997 the Geraldine Fibbers band in Albuquerque
This is an amusing portrait of Fibbers bassist William Tutton wearing some wacky sunglasses that Carla may have bought for me – they were some weird designer deal that made us all chuckle. I had them for years and they may still be in a box somewhere. Bill was an amazing force in the Fibbers, playing the loudest upright bass in Christendom, and always coming up with fresh-sounding bass lines/parts. He’s still in Los Angeles and has started getting back into playing more. I love Bill. —————-photo by Mark Weber —- September 26, 1997
I booked every Monday at The Alligator Lounge for about 4 years, and when we were all in town / available, which was most Mondays, my Trio played cleanup while also generally being the main draw for the evening. I feel bad now (I felt bad then, too) that because this was a door gig situation and I had to pay two other “acts” Bob Mair (bass) and Michael Preussner (drums) didn’t make shit in terms of money. And after doing the monthly calendar and mailing myself – I was really poor in those days, too — I lost money most months. But still, Bob and Michael weren’t making much and they deserved a lot. They really hung in there with me through thick and thin. Well, at least until they didn’t/couldn’t. ——-photo by Mark Weber @ Alligator Lounge, Santa Monica —— November 25, 1996
Yeah – – – We set up really close together as though on a boat. Watt didn’t shave his beard until all four tours were finished. The last show was at The Viper Room in West Hollywood. Watt shaved the beard off (well, almost all of it) onstage. Petra Haden sat in on that show. I am playing the same Jazzmaster that’s in this photo to this day with Wilco. It’s my favorite, and I bought it from Watt in ’95. I call it “The Watt”… . . . photo by Mark Weber —- September 23, 1998
1998 – the last tour Mike Watt did (number 4 of 4) playing “Contemplating the Engine Room”, his first “opera”, and the only tour that I did playing the piece. Though Steven Hodges and I are on the record (still one of my favorite sessions – absolutely brilliantly conceived by Watt – and a record few seem to have heard to this day even though it was released on Columbia Records). Bob Lee played drums on tours 3 and 4, I think, and he is just such a treasure – rock ‘n roll power but with versatility and a tireless work ethic on the road. Joe Baiza played guitar instead of me on the first 3 tours – I had joined The Geraldine Fibbers by late ’96, but by late ’98 they were no more. So back into The Boat (Watt’s van) I went. It was a tough tour but I can safely say that we kicked ass. ————photo by Mark Weber @ The Launchpad, Albuquerque – September 23, 1998
My old Trio: Bob Mair on bass and Michael Preussner on drums, all the way from Los Angeles to play in my favorite city, New York City. I think it’s safe to say that the chemistry of this rather long-running band was starting to get a bit raggedy after my tours with Michael in Mike Watt & the Crew of the Flying Saucer in ’95 and my own treks with The Geraldine Fibbers in ’96 and ’97. But we did our best, and maybe even “killed”… I can’t remember at this point. It was the second (and last) time this band played NYC, the first being at the original Knitting Factory on Houston on a bill with Tim Berne’s Blood Count. Yes! ——————Nel Cline Trio —- June 28, 1997 South Street Seaport Park NYC – photo by Mark Weber
Another Trio shot. Back then I always played a 1966 Fender Jaguar as my “jazz” guitar. Pretty funny, right?! Steuart Liebig called it my “jazz slab.” I had earmarked “The Watt” (my Jazzmaster) as my “rock” instrument, so I guess that’s why I’m not playing it here. I am silly sometimes! —- photo by Mark Weber —- June 28, 1997
Andy Laster’s Hydra kicked off the afternoon with their complicated and ultra-creative music. I had already met Herb Robertson (trumpet) then because he had played a lot with our old friend Tim Berne. I think that’s Ratzo Harris on bass, right? And I recall Gregg (Bendian) nudging me and saying, as they played, something like “check out the drummer Tom Rainey. He is incredible, man!” So true! And you will hear him next month in my band, over 20 years later! He is a true master. And I ended up performing a recording with Andy Laster a couple of years ago with Satoko Fuji’s big band. Amazing…. . . . June 28, 1997 photo by Mark Weber
I played this set as well as one with my Trio that day as part of the jazz festival. Then Trio drummer Michael Preussner and I went to play with Thurston Moore at The Cooler in the meat packing zone on W 14th St. A lot of playing that day! Alex generally played in Gregg Bendian’s Interzone (seen here), but couldn’t make the trip to New York, so the great Michael Sarin played. Mark Dresser on bass – an amazing combo! This band – with many different bassists – went for several years and made some good records, even toured a little. Gregg leading, composing, and flying around the vibes like the maniac he is. ————- photo by Mark Weber —- June 28, 1997 South Street Seaport Park NYC
When did irony creep into the human psyche? Did Neanderthal have irony? It occupies the area of consciousness where symbolic language came on board: words, circa 150,000 years ago. I’m a believer that children invented language, and irony is not anything a child’s mind can ascertain. So, part of understanding irony, is that you have to have some years under your belt. It is so much more than the dictionary definition: Saying one thing mockingly to mean another. If it was merely deceptive talk then the language of war could bear investigation, or Mother Goose for that matter. Then you have the psychoanalysts who assert that irony is a form of passive aggression. There is a school of thought in linguistics that believes that words come before meaning (took me years to grasp that one), that the meaning accrued around the utterance. Which is why the meaning within words changes over time. To me, this photo is ironic: The rueful juxtaposition of nature vs the industrial mechanical world, and the sadness thereof. In the old books, certainly the Greeks used irony; and the ancient Chinese used it very subtly, like a quiet breeze; I can’t think of any irony in Anglo-Saxon, certainly none in Beowulf or the northern myths; Aesop the Ethiopian, yes; (For the Greeks irony was more like three-card monte); in India? Is there irony in the Vedas or Upanishads, possibly in the Mahabharata, but nothing in the Dhammapada, Buddha was a straight shooter; Chaucer? O gawd, yes; The Decameron (1350) is an ocean of irony, irony as polite double-talk: Is there irony in the Pentateuch? I’ll have to look. Is irony pejorative? Can it be otherwise? Irony certainly betokens a less innocent time. I shouldn’t think parody is related to irony, that’s a little more overt. Irony hides in the wink and shrug. Nor is it satire or euphemism or burlesque. Irony is shadow, literally. Maybe all existence is irony? Not as a joke, but futile. The existential dilemma. — Photo by Mark Weber ——— May 1978
January 24, 2o19 Jazz @ Noon every Thursday (starts at 12:07 after the satellite news) Host MARK WEBER KUNM Albuquerque, USA 89.9 FM (Mountain Standard Time) also streaming on the web KUNM.org Current time zone offset: UTC*/GMT -6 hours (*Coordinated Universal Time)/Greenwich Mean Time)
Come back to it Some other time Time being important, or rather: Timing Even as everything being in dispute Time shapes it all, or seems to, gawd don’t stumble, like I did this morning innocently, into “evolutionary musicology” fat book, to refresh memory on the origins of music, Not a lot of agreement in that field, and a whole lot of specialized jargon one must decipher and/or disregard I go outside for a minute and our kitty cat comes over and rubs my legs and I say “Are you enjoying this cultural moment we’re having?” she keeps rubbing hoping I’ll give her her 3rd breakfast (not going to happen, I need delve back into those anthro books) the brain telescopes associative extrapolation: . . . cultural moment? are we enjoying it? Well, one hears talk of “checks and balances” Isn’t it about time some of those kicked in? Well, it all comes back to timing I suppose
1984 Albuquerque (Annapurna’s Vegetarian World Cafe at this location these days)
Trombonist George McMullen had only recently relocated from LA to NYC when this photo was taken —– I know him through our mutual friend Bill Plake (saxophonist) and Carol Liebowitz had run into him somewhere in town and invited him to Connie’s jam session —- I introduced them and CC asked if George wanted to play something together —- Studio 410 at 475 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn —- November 16, 2o14 —- Connie had told me how she so loves trombones and how infrequently she gets to play with them.
Alison Miller – October 9, 2o14 —- photo by Mark Weber
Nick Lyons & Birgitta Flick —- November 16, 2o14 at Connie Crothers studio in Williamsburg NY – photo by Mark Weber
Biggi Vinkeloe’s Desert Sweets Trio in Albuquerque – March 14, 2o13 – Biggi(alto & flute), Mark Weaver(tuba), Damon Smith(bass) – photo by Mark Weber —- Biggi is what you’d call peripatetic, from what I gather off the web she doesn’t stay put very long, born in Germany, she’s consider’d a “Swedish musician,” but lived long years in France, and thereafter is anybody’s guess, having been spotted in Oakland, California, quite often, but also, Gothenburg (w/ violinist Nema Vinkeloe, daughter?), Stockholm, London, Rome, Copenhagen, Berlin, South Florida, Bangalore, Cologne, NYC, and FaceBook — She’s an improvisor & composer
Eva Lindal – May 29, 2o16 Stockholm – photo by Mark Weber
Two Violins for Eva Lindal ——————- Line drawing my Mark Weber
Half of World Saxophone Quartet – David Murray and Julius Hemphill AND those crazy chicken wire music stands that Julius had made that afternoon before the concert on a double-bill with Vinny Golia Trio at U.C. Irvine – January 20, 1980 – photo by Mark Weber
Babatundi Olatunji at Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival – September 23, 1984 – photo by Mark Weber
Karen Borca —- November 13, 2016 at Connie Crothers Memorial Concert at Roulette —- photo by Mark Weber
Kazzrie Jaxen ————– November 13, 2o16 at Roulette, Brooklyn – photo by Mark Weber
Did I already tell this story? Sitting backstage with Big Mama Thornton at San Francisco Blues Festival in the hour before she went on —- I’m hanging out drinking beer from a can, the trick to taking photographs is not to be a pest, just be cool, there’s artists & stage hands milling about —– So, I’m in back there behind the bandshell in Golden Gate Park and Big Mama is sitting in a folding chair with an over-sized suit coat, she’s very skinny by this time, she lives across the Bay in Oakland, it’s a typical summer day in San Francisco, not cold but not warm either —- Next thing I know, Big Mama is pointing to me and motioning for me to come over to her, it was something of a command, I walk over and she pats the chair beside her and wants me to sit down, I sit there and she is content with that, I don’t remember her actually saying sit with me, but that was the message and I totally understood, I grew up among stoic people, and I realized she probably just didn’t want to be alone, and she didn’t feel like talking, only the comfort of abiding —- If I took photos of her while we sat there, which I kind of doubt, they must be at my UCLA archive —– I sometimes wonder if she could see my ghost, that she recognized, subliminally, we shared a similar fatal thirst —— Photo by Mark Weber —- Saturday, August 11, 1979 —- Big Mama Thornton with Mark Naftalin on piano.
You couldn’t separate these two: That’s my little brother Brian Weber and John Carter (Brian is actually bigger than me but is 4 years younger and therefore when he was much younger and smaller I always called him my “little brother”) —- John is the renowned clarinet master, and Porsche aficionado (he was a regular listener to KPFK’s Saturday afternoon Car show), and my little brother was his mechanic —– John’s main car was his beloved 1963 yellow Porsche 911 (where is it now?) which he had for years, then he added to that a 914 but it was a lemon and that’s when he found out Brian could fix anything, he’d leave it with Brian on a Saturday and Brian would fix it and then take his dates out that week (John was cool with that, and always laughed, what better way to have your mechanic get the bugs out than drive your car around) —- I’d bring Brian along to concerts and he and John would talk mechanics —- September 23, 1984 Watts Towers – photo by Mark Weber