The Coda interview with John Carter | 1976

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

9 Comments

  1. A really interesting article. I met John Carter briefly to audition as one of his students in the 1980’s. I ended up going on the road and never got together again with him…unfortunate for me.

    John really set the bar high when it came to playing the clarinet. He had complete control and a range that was truly unbelievable. He could play exremely aggresive and his sound and sounds that he could make were truly original.

    A fantastic composer!!!

    ONE OF THE GREATS!!!

  2. Lenny Tischler

    May 29, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    Mark, John Carter came to our Jazz Festival in Westcliffe, Colorado in, I think, 1990. He was such a kind and dignified man and a master musician. I agree with the above that he had unbelievable control over his horn. But more than that was the content of his music. He wrote/played/recorded the history of the African people and their migration to the Americas. A massive project for which some writers put him on an equal level with Duke Ellington. Some may or may not agree with that. I happen to agree.

  3. NOTE the jaw harp (aka “Jew’s harp”) in the photo from October 23, 1976 on the table in my little alley pad. Ha ha ha. I still have that thing. Played it with the Bubbadinos.

  4. Some great historical photos. Look how high William Jeffrey’s cymbals are. And Vinny looks a little pained listening to the playback. It really captures the moment. I also really like the way John Carter describes the music. His descriptions are so clear and straightforward and detail exactly what is happening in the music. Hopefully some of the critics read this and understood what he was saying.

  5. Great interview. I really enjoyed that.
    Thanks for posting it.

  6. NOTE: The Art Ensemble of Chicago played four nights during this June performance in Los Angeles — June 24, 25, 26, 27 — and John sat in for the entire second set of the third night (according to my report in July CODA #149) as well, Rasul Siddik sat in during that same set, which is recorded on the dozen or so photographs I took. Even though, this is the 5th jazz event I ever photographed according to my log (see the UCLA archive) I still hadn’t consider’d being a “jazz photographer.” On this date I had merely told John I’d take some shots for a memento. I do remember that by July 2 when I photographed Frank Lowe Quartet @ Century City Playhouse, and worked the prints up in the darkroom, that the decision had been made to shoot more often jazz subject matter. Still, my main relationship with music is as a listener. And “jazz photographer” is secondary to my main preoccupation as a writer of words & sentences & stanzas & paragraphs & essays & lyrics & poems & suchlike.

    AEC were in California most of June & July using a big black customized retired school bus to jump back & forth between San Francisco and Los Angeles. According to J.N. Thomas’s report from SF in CODA #151 they had several gigs in the Bay Area those months. I remember one of the Muhammad Ali fights were on television during the four nights the were at Studio Z and Bowie was glued to the TV in the side room. Studio Z was David Hammond’s 2nd-floor art studio at 2409 Slauson Avenue (at 2nd Avenue) produced by Rhino Records (Lee Kaplan). I still have the broadside. The only other event that I remember happening at this location was John Carter produced his Ibedon Presents: First Annual Festival in the Performing Arts over three nights May 20, 21, 22, 1977.

    The AEC nights corresponded with a heat spell where the thermometers hoovered around 108 – 110 — it was scorching, that’s why you see Bowie holding a can of beer, they had trucked in several cases of cold beer.

  7. Henry Franklin took me around to meet John Carter a few months before he passed. I was in L.A. playing with Henry, Sunship Theus, Michael Session. I was so happy to meet John, but was so sorry to see him so ill…I will never forget that meeting.

  8. more people need to know about the brilliance of john carter. i have never seen a clarinet player play with such power, creativity and virtuosity. his mastery and fleetness in the high upper registers was amazing. to see him in person was to experience a force of nature, like a strong wind. his dedication to the music and his family was admirable. i heard that he would teach music in school all day, then come home and practice for hours. with all the power and breadth of this playing, he was a soft spoken person; very thoughtful, reflective. there is some nice film of him playing.
    thanks very much for posting this interview. i hope that younger people will become aware of john carter’s remarkable contribution to music.

  9. Joachim Inkmann

    March 31, 2016 at 9:20 am

    John Carter passed away 25 years ago today. I will celebrate his life and music by listening to some of his work tonight. I am forever grateful for the day I discovered his music. I wish some of his work were more readily available and sincerely hope there will be a reissue of the Roots and Folklore albums some day. Mark Weber, thank you so much for providing this invaluable source of information about John Carter and Bobby Bradford.

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