Marty Krystall — March 25, 1981 — photo by Mark Weber
Marty Krystall Purely Innocent
The obvious draw, for my age group, was to hear legendary bassist Buell Neidlinger of whom we knew from those great 1961 Cecil Taylor records released on Barnaby/Candid LPs (I still have mine!) There were no records of any of Buell’s Los Angeles jazz until the self-produced Lp READY FOR THE 90s came out in 1980, followed shortly by OUR NIGHT TOGETHER in 1981. So, we quite innocently go to see the El Monte Art Ensemble (1976) and get blind-sided by the guy on tenor saxophone blowing the paint off the walls. Marty Krystall was a here-to-fore unknown (to me) fire-breathing dragon, just roaring and cavorting and shredding and furious. We loved it, but, WHO is this guy?
Krystall Klear & The Buells — @ Carmelos in the Valley (Los Angeles) — March 25, 1981 — Peter Erskine, drums; Marty Krystall, soprano sax; Buell Neidlinger, bass; Jerry Peters, piano — photo by Mark Weber
And Deborah Fuss on an irregular drumset sitting low to the ground so oblique and like nothing I’d ever heard on jazz drums tinkering away amongst the maelstrom that was Buell and Marty and Don — there she would be in her own little world keeping time on the ride like it was a flashback to the 50s while on the following tune she’d sound like Joe Morello meets Milford Graves on a surfboard, while her husband is taking his bass out for a walk — Other times she sounds almost “legit,” but like an Ed Thigpen who had wander’d into the Los Angeles jazz scene of the late-1970s and decided to cast her cares to the wind. Meanwhile, Don Preston sounds like nobody else on those hybrid electronic black boxes he utilizes. If he sounds like anyone, it’s like that guy who undermined so much of the early Mothers of Invention. Don’s generation loves monster movies of the 1950s. The El Monte Art Ensemble was a pretty loose group although they played structures.
“Here’s Krystall Klear and the Buells a few months before we recorded “Our Night Together” on K2B2. Buell was great on the mic as announcer and usually broke up the audience with his sardonic wit. Wow, that’s Trinidad sitting directly behind Jerry.” — Marty Krystall
Krystall Klear & The Buells — March 25, 1981 @ Carmelos — Peter Erskine, Marty Krystall, Buell Neidlinger, Jerry Peters — photo by Mark Weber
There was a strong element of Dadaism in Los Angeles in the 60s & 70s. Think early Zappa, Captain Beefheart, the art debris of George Herms, the cast-offs of Consumer Society Gone Off the Rails, Ed Rusha, the sensibility that spawned architects like Frank Gehry, even David Hockney’s laments for endangered Mojave Desert Highway 395 and his backyard pool weariness of Southern California — the cere atmosphere of hazy skies and the horrendous death-rattle of smog lungs of those years. Maybe we could call it: Smog Dada? Most certainly.
The Ferus Gallery, and Cal Schenkel, and Ed Kienholz’s installations, and one of the most mind-boggling installations I have ever seen: Michael C. McMillen’s “Garage” at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, (January 31, 2000 to be exact, when I was there to catch Vinny Golia’s Very Large Ensemble perform) and never forget the influence of Ed Big Daddy Roth and his monsters and the bent cars they drove.
And who was that guy that for an “art” event had someone shoot him? If I remember correctly from the film he was shot in the arm. This was Los Angeles in the early 70s. Purely nuts. Another one of this guy’s installations required him to lay on a bed in a gallery for a week doing absolutely nothing — it fell to the gallery people to feed him and clean up his bodily functions. Another one was a film I saw where he wiggled half naked through broken glass on Hollywood Blvd at the same location where Marilyn Monroe photo of her dress blowing upward was staged. Strange guy. Chris, I think was his name. Last name unknown to me.
“291” combine fence painting by Mark Weber — 1979 @ 400 1/2 — (291 was the New York photography gallery in the early 20th century of Alfred Steiglitz) — smog dada?
In jazz, dadaism didn’t raise its head until Marty & Buell came along. I’m pretty sure I’m correct in this. There was a strong rejection of the status quo, as we used to call it. What cartoonist Matt Groenig called “sneer.” (Mr Groenig interview talking about his teenage encounter with Frank Zappa’s music saying that up till then he had never encountered so much sneer.) Now, previous to all of this, in regard to dadism in L.A., I must mention the under-appreciated work of Don Preston in the early 60s, his Monster Dada (my term). Maybe the monster was L.A., after all?
You also might want to factor into the picture the prevalence of Disco in Los Angeles, the burgeoning Punk scene, the Cock Rock scene (go see movie ROCK OF AGES, what a hoot), and the Reggae scene. The jazz scene was mostly underground. The old black blues scene was only word-of-mouth down in Watts. It was there, but you had to know someone.
“Equivalencies — after Alfred Steiglitz” — November 1979 by Mark Weber
INTERVIEW via EMAIL with MARTY KRYSTALL — July 9 – 11, 2o12
Mark: What’s it mean when we hear that someone is a “legit” clarinet player? I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it said of piano players, or that someone was a “legit” double-bass player. And I’m sure I’ve never heard anyone point to being a “legit” banjo player.
Marty: A legit double bass player is a symphony bass player or chamber musician who plays classical music and is a specialist in that. The same holds true for musicians who play all of the members of the woodwind family including saxophone. A legit saxophonist can play the shit out of the Glazunov sax concerto, or the solos in the Berlioz symphonic works that has an alto sax part, but cannot improvise or play jazz or rock or any other style of music. Unless he’s like me – a hot sax player who also can play legit. Yes, I worked on tenor with the Bolshoi Ballet at the Shrine Theatre in LA in the pit playing Prokovieff’s Romeo and Juliet, which has a famous tenor sax solo. I also recorded Anton Webern Op. 22 with TASHI at RCA in NYC in 1977 for tenor sax, clarinet, violin and piano. And just a few years ago I released a live version of that piece recorded with that group in LA before the RCA session and tour.
Now Buell was raised as a classical cellist, but started playing jazz bass while still in his teens. He is without a doubt one of the greatest and most accomplished bass players ever. He was personally selected by Igor Stravinsky to go to Venice Italy to premiere his new work, and also selected by conductors who knew his playing, like Leopold Stokovski, Erich Leinsdorf (with the Boston Symphony) and Neville Mariner (with the LA Chamber Orch.) But he’s most famous for playing with Cecil Taylor. No doubt, he’s a legit bass player but one of the only that crossed all boundaries, working with Ringo and Paul and George and Roy Orbison and Billie Holiday, Barbara Streisand, Tony Bennett, Ben Webster, Sonny Rollins, et al. in New York. When Buell showed up at the LA studios, Danny Wallin, a top engineer turned on the bass mic for the first time in decades. He told Buell that before he came on the scene, it was better with the mic off, due to the sub-standard arco of the day. Hear that bass section in Jaws? Buell Neidlinger with the mic on.
I was also a trained classical clarinetist, hoping to join the LA Phil when I started out. But then my dad exposed me to high-end Hi-Fi shows and I was stunned by recordings of jazz artists like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and I decided when I was 14 that I wanted to be a pro woodwind doubler and studied saxophone and later flute and oboe, because all successful woodwind studio guys doubled on other instruments. Luckily in 1979 I had a connection to the contractor of the pit orch at the Pantages Theatre and started working Broadway shows as a clarinet doubler. You see, in Hollywood then, all of the doublers had a “main” instrument that they were known for. Ronny Lang – alto solos and flute solos; Gene Cipriano: tenor solos and oboe /english horn solos. Me: tenor sax and clarinet. But legit clarinet. None of the other doublers in town could touch me on legit clarinet. Word got around, and I was busy in TV work, like “Columbo” – once I played contrabass clarinet and alto flute all day, then at the end of the day played the slow movement of the Mozart clarinet concerto. I was also the only doubler to play legit clarinet, Eb and bass and contrabass clarinets for motion picture calls after doublers were forced out of the movie business. That was a result of the popularity and success of John Williams score to Star Wars. Pretty soon, most directors wanted the symphonic sound, and doublers were out. A few composers still used doublers for a while, like Henry Mancini and the Newman brothers, but eventually even they used legit orchestras with an added sax section. As Bobby Tricarico once said: “God bless the bassoon”, or in my case: “God bless the legit clarinet” because that’s how I made my living for 4o years.
Buell Neidlinger and Deborah Fuss — September 18, 1976
MW: Tell us about the name of your band you co-led with Buell Neidlinger — Krystall Klear & The Buells. What was the origins of that? And was Art Ensemble of El Monte more Buell’s band? Explain the back story on that name, as well. [ Art Ensemble of Chicago? El Monte Legion Stadium 50s rock concerts?] People who didn’t grow up in Southern California will not know the inside jokes on some of that.
Marty: The El Monte Art Ensemble was named by Buell as a gag: El Monte is in the industrial heartland of LA and consists mostly of railroads and warehouses. It was a joke on groups like “The Westwood Chamber Players” and “Santa Monica Symphony” etc. , named after affluent suburbs. That was the first time Buell called me for a gig at an art patron’s house for a soireee. Experimental, like, dig?
MW: Tell us about Deborah Fuss — where did she come from, literally and figuratively? How do you classify her drum style?
Marty: After playing with Buell for a year or so we became good friends. He introduced me to Peter Ivers and Van Dyke Parks and Fred Myrow (the composer of the movie “Soylent Green”, my first film gig). He also recommended me for teaching gigs (jazz instructor) at the Aspen Music Festival and Cal Arts. It was during this time around 1972 or 73 that Buell met Deborah. They were my best friends then – I even recuperated from a hernia operation at their house. They were married in 1973 I think. We played the theme from the TV show, “The Untouchables” for the wedding. I first met Deborah in 1972 when Buell sublet a beach house in Malibu, and she played conga drum with us. Just a trio. It was really a duo with conga (played with mallets and super-balls) accompaniment. I was living in Topanga close by, so we jammed all summer and worked on our material. Later he got her a kit and we recorded “Marty’s Garage” and played a lot of local gigs in the 70s. With Don Preston too. We played mostly free, because she couldn’t really play on 2 and 4 with the hihat, she was totally free. But it didn’t matter, because Buell laid down a solid groove or vamp. it was hip. We dug it. We preferred her playing to most of the drummers in LA, who didn’t swing that hard anyway. I mean swing like Philly Joe Jones or Billy Higgins. And the economy was roaring. I still had some students, was teaching once a week at Cal Arts and never even thought about money in 1973. My rent was $65 a month, and at Cal Arts I made $120 a week working only on Mondays.
September 18, 1976 — Los Angeles
MW: I’ve heard just enough of 20th century composers like Ralph Shapey and Stefan Wolpe to act like I know what I’m talking about. And of course, I’ve heard most of the foundations that those two come out of : Schoenberg, Berg, Webern. Who are the composers in that realm that are touchstones for you? I keep many versions of Stockhausen’s “Klavierstücke” around the pad, and quite regularly listen to his monumental “Kontakte.”
Marty: Well, when I was 8 or 9 my father put a speaker in my bedroom connected to his receiver in the den. So I fell asleep listening to the classical station play the weird avant-garde stuff like Messian, et al. late at night. Some of it gave me weird dreams. Still does. I grew up playing clarinet in community orchestras that played the classics, and community opera groups that played the classic operas. But by the time I was 15 I bought all the recordings of Shoenberg, Webern, Messien that I could find. Edgar Varese, all of em. And I started to improvise in that style too. I would have to say Anton Webern had the most meaning for me. Especially after I met Peter Serkin at Buells house, and later on he invited me to tour with TAHSI and record the piece. It was far out, suspenseful while still containing a lyrical song element. And it was most like a tapestry of sound. The most difficult to play because of the rests in the music. Buell encouraged me to play Webern-like in our jams. And I studied his Op. 22 for 3 months, like 6 hours a day to master the saxophone part to my satisfaction for the recording on my 1920s Conn tenor sax. I used that horn because I could play softer to match the violin. Like the one Prez played on. Then later on I was hired fairly regularly to play saxophone for the Monday Evening Concerts – a new music venue featuring new works of composers of that vein. Just not as good. In fact, downright awful, mostly. That’s when I got bored with “the same old new music” (I quote Fred Sherry telling Michael Kamen what was new on the street in NYC from a story Kamen told from the podium). See, after playing with Frank Zappa (that’s another 5 pages) and seeing Sun-Ra, and playing with Buell, the same old new music sounded boring and out-of-date.While on the road with TASHI I only played the Op. 22 (6 minutes long), so Peter asked me to also play a solo piece. So I played Igors Blues on solo tenor. First, Richard Stoltzman played a clarinet solo by William O. Smith that was 8 pages long. Then I played Igors Blues on solo tenor and brought down the house. Afterward Stoltzman said, “Why do I bother with these new pieces when you sound much better improvising?” I replied: “It IS a tenor sax.”
Oh, about “Krystall Klear and the Buells” – Buell came up with that name when he decided to form our record label. K2B2 for short. (actually K log B squared in algebraic terms (my idea). For our first release Buell hired a studio and engineer and Billy Higgins. I picked Warren Gale from the bay area because I didn’t know any trumpeters in LA up to the task. That was just before Buell and Deborah split up. Buell met Peter Erskine at a session and asked him to rehearse, and it was a game changer. Now we could play free and also swing like mad. Billy Higgins was sublime, but he was always on the road with Cedar Walton and others, and we needed someone in town more for our local gigs. And most other drummers didn’t get what we were doing. If we were in NYC it would have been a lot easier to find a drummer who could play free without drowning us out.
It’s actually amazing that I escaped from being typecast as a wild tenor player and able to play legit clarinet in studio orchestras for decades. And never got caught much. Because they needed me on 2nd, 3rd, 4th and sometimes principal clarinet. God bless the clarinet.
MW: Wow, did you know Ronny Lang? ……Wasn’t he Nelson Riddle’s main guy? great alto player, he made some beautiful West Coast Cool records in the 50s that I love. And Cip, too. He’s still making great records, what a sound on the tenor. Wasn’t Cip on Zappa’s great LUMPY GRAVY album? Did he ever talk about that session?……. [ When I asked that question about Ronnie Lang I had mis-remembered and meant to say it was Mancini that Lang worked so often with.]
Marty: I first met Cip in 1972 on my first film gig – “Soylent Green” (MGM). Buell recommended me to the composer Freddie Myrow, who’d just arrived from the east. He was a “serious” composer who just released an album on Nonesuch called “Songs From The Japanese” that took him over a year to compose. Now he was the head of the music department at MGM. He was looking for a woodwind doubler / modern hot sax player who also played electric. That was me at age 21. They moved Isaac Hayes (the former music director) out of the huge office upstairs near the main gate, and Freddie in. I made three trips up those stairs carrying my many horns and electronics in for my audition. Then I got the call for the picture. All the top players in town were there, but I didn’t know it. I was first woodwind, and Freddie wrote all of the clarinet solos, electric jazz flute (with echo-plex and ring modulator) solos and alto sax solos in my book. And I was too dumb to be nervous, because I had no idea who these guys were, except for Ronny Lang, because i was once invited by Joe Harnell (“Fly me to the Moon”) to visit the scoring session to Wonder Woman at Universal and was intimidated by Ronny’s expert piccolo, flute and clarinet playing.
Also, my clarinet teacher, John Neufeld was there, and he introduced me to Cip and Ronny and Hugo Raimondi and Dominic Fera who was the number one legit clarinetist for the next three decades. I couldn’t believe how cool and hip and funny these old guys were. And what great players! Cip and Ronny were in their early forties and I was 21. And these cats were laughing and carrying on. “Who has more fun than us?” Cip would ask me. Cip was the only one besides Neufeld that was interested in what I was doing and would say things like: “Man, you’ve got a lot of shit going on!” We became good friends and as I was looking to improve my instrument collection i would wait for Cip to sell something, because he always had the best instruments. I bought a soprano sax and bass clarinet from him.
A decade later I’d be working regularly in TV with Cip and Ronny for Artie Kane on TV shows like Matlock, Columbo, Love Boat, Dallas, etc. Once on a picture call I was 1st clarinet and Ronny and Cip were 2nd and 3rd. But no way were they following me. It was one of the most enjoyable dates of my life. The music was swinging, and sometimes Ronny would lead, and sometimes Cip, from the 2nd or 3rd chair. These cats had already been working almost every week together for 20 years, including the Academy Awards every year. And I was sitting between them. And the section was like butter. And we’d almost be doing steps, like waving our clarinets in sync and acting crazy. Everyone loved it. Once I heard Ronny play a hip sexy alto solo on an Artie Kane date and he was as great as I ever heard Johnny Hodges. Blew me away. It was so much fun working then. Everybody was loose and relaxed and getting one-liners in to Artie, who carried a briefcase with a bumper sticker that said: “I’m schizophrenic and so am I” Cip is still working and sounding more like Prez than ever, and last week we (all sax players) celebrated his 83rd birthday at Langer’s Deli.
“This is the nucleus of Krystall Klear and the Buells – the trio. Half the time we worked as a trio, other times we added Jerry Peters on piano or organ or keyboard when he wasn’t in the studios recording his string arrangements for R&B stars. This photo of me at 145 lbs. and my fairly new tenor bought new in 1970. The velvet suit my wife found at a store on Pico for $100 including the vest. I also had a white silk one. Size 38? This was around 1976-78? We went to NYC in 1977 to record with TASHI. We were living on Howland Canal in Venice.Great shot! Carmelos in Studio City! This might have been the night that Charlie Ventura showed up drunk, and said to his pal Chiz Harris: “Let’s go, Chiz, these cats are playing like faggots!” loud enough for everyone (except me, cause I was blowing) to hear. “ — Marty Krystall
MW: So the naming of El Monte Art Ensemble was not a take-off from the group Art Ensemble of Chicago that was coming on the scene about that same time?
Marty: You’d have to ask Buell. He probably used that as a pun.
MW: What part of Los Angeles did you grow up in? Was your upbringing a typical suburban Southern California thing. What impact did the Beatles have on you? What was your first car? Did you surf?
Marty: I grew up in Mar Vista, a suburb of LA on a hill overlooking the ocean, about six or seven miles from the beach. We were the only Jews on the block, and most every other kid on the block would gang up on me except for my one friend who was the biggest kid on the block – my protector when he was around. I’d go out to play and see these eight kids running towards me and thought they wanted to play until I heard “Get the Jew, Kill the Jew!”. Then I ran. Other times they were totally cool like nothing had happened. My father, a WWII hero got pissed off when he heard about this, and instructed me how to fight off a mob with a large stick. That worked for awhile, but I ended up fighting almost everyone except the girls. Then when I was 10 my dad sold that house and bought a bigger one a mile east and down the hill for $22,000. By then he had the first women’s sportswear store in Westwood Village near UCLA and did well selling pants to Kim Novak and Natalie Wood and Elizabeth Taylor. He was the first one in L.A. to sell women’s pants in the 50s. I learned how to play pop music and read piano music on the clarinet in middle school at Webster Junior High. The music teacher encouraged me and formed a clarinet quintet to travel to competitions. He was a real eccentric dude. Verne Martin, almost seven feet tall, 280 lbs, with a huge head. He looked a lot like Bela Lugosi. He played alto sax, trombone and viola. He invited me to a house in Hollywood where he played in a string quartet. That’s the first time I played the Mozart and Brahms clarinet quintets. He wrote all of the arrangements for the band and was an expert copyist as well. He wrote an arrangement of “Singing the Blues” (My Momma Done Told Me. . .) featuring me on clarinet, which I memorized for months and pulled it off.
Then just before I entered Venice High School, some older kids already in the band asked me to play tenor and audition for “The Crescendos”, the Venice High jazz band. So my grandmother bought me a tenor and got me a teacher and I studied all summer and joined the band. The instructor, Bill Paney, used to play baritone and bass clarinet with Si Zentnor, and new all the arrangers, like Bob Florence and Bill Holman, whose charts we played. These charts were hot, featuring plungers and hats and mutes in the brass sections. And fast, driving sax section solis. Pete Christlieb was the most famous tenor player to graduate. A few years later when Doc Severinson asked Cip to recommend a tenor man for the band it was Pete. He was a real prodigy. He was an early inspiration for me, as I heard him when the Crescendos played at Webster.
You see, everything I learned about music was at home and in public school. I learned counterpoint and composition from Bill Paney’s classes. I was composing by then. When I got to UCLA they wouldn’t let me take compositions until I spent a year studying elementary piano. So I studied Chinese music for a year and dropped out and went to work at the Soul’d Out club in Hollywood.
I graduated high school early (I skipped a semester) in 1968 and got a job teaching clarinet, flute and sax at a music store in Culver City when I was still 17 and moved out of my parents house to live with other musicians. I used to ride my bicycle everywhere, but finally bought a 1957 VW bug for $200. No one I knew had car insurance. There weren’t many cars on the road. One could ride his bike down the middle of Venice or Pico Blvd. with no fear of traffic.
All I did was practice my horns, take lessons and listen to or go see music when I wasn’t working or teaching or buying instruments or audio gear with my large disposable income. See, I made around $180 per week teaching and playing R&B clubs. My share of the rent was $65. Gas was 25 cents a gallon, and large avocados were 25 cents each. I finally bought musical instrument insurance for $45 a year. So I was loaded! Rich! Making under $3,000 per year!
MW: Was “Marty’s garage” in Venice. Tell us about Venice Beach. Didn’t the Doors germinate there in one of those bungalows along the canals? Venice is known as Beatnik neighborhood of the 1950s — did it seem that way to you?
Marty: In 1970 I moved to Venice, around a mile from the beach in a court of four bungalows occupied by musicians. Behind the bungalows were a set of garages, and I rented two, put a piano in one and a friend’s Hammond organ in another for jam sessions.
The rent was $135, which I split with Glenn Ferris, the trombonist. I met Buell around this time – he’d drive in from Cal Arts, where he taught bass, to jam with us. This was after my year-long stint in a rock band. My neighbor, a pianist went on the road with Helen Reddy and gave me his dog, a 120 lb malamute lab to look after. He trained this dog to come home from the beach to his dinner with a dog whistle. So he gave me the whistle. This huge dog walked himself. He walked the 2 or 3 miles to the beach, crossing Main Street and Pacific Avenue, the two busy streets with traffic lights. He knew when to cross with the light. The dog was a genius. We’d swim in the ocean together. I would body-surf. Then a girl we knew broke her back body-surfing and we were more careful, but still didn’t give it up.
I moved back to Venice after living in Topanga in a converted garage 1/4 mile from the beach. Topanga was magical. Durning the fall of 1972 I lived in a tent below the garage I would move into. I practiced under a sycamore tree that a wood pecker lived in, keeping time for me. My friend David Crane let me use the garage to store my horns in. I remember packing my VW to the gills with soprano. alto, tenor, bari saxes, flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo, and all of the clarinets and my electronics and amp to work at MGM after sleeping in the tent.
Before we were married Trinidad and I scored a house on Howland Canal in Venice around 1974. We waited in a line of a dozen people dying to rent this cute bungalow on the water. The landlord grilled me, I was a musician, no chance, but then I mentioned Peter Ivers, whose band I was in and he KNEW Peter! We got the pad that day. There was a crazy lesbian couple with a monkey next door, and a vacant lot on the corner. Fred Seykora, the studio cellist, lived across the canal. We’d walk the husky to the beach and sometimes take our canoe out around the canals. Sweet. One time I came home and Trini was in tears. She was listening to a Bob Marley record when some producer rudely knocked on the door and yelled at her to turn it off, as they were filming “Police Story” next door on the vacant lot.
So, naturally, I took out my loudest metal mouthpiece, put on a hard reed and blew my tenor out the windows as loud as I could, which was LOUD! I was watching the film crew. The actor-cops were looking around for the Albert Ayler-like demon tenor sound, getting confused. I kept this up for hours. The sun was starting to set. Finally a knock on the door. This producer says: “Are you the sax player? Look, man, I’m just a small-time director trying to finish this scene. A cop is shot and dying in the back seat! Could you stop practicing for 15 minutes?” “No way, man” I replied, I have to practice. And you yelled at my girl friend. You should have asked our permission if you wanted to disrupt our lives.” And I slammed the door in his face. 20 minutes later, “Please, man what’ll it take for you to stop playing for 15 minutes?” “One hundred dollars should do it” I replied. “I knew it would come to that!” he yelled. Then he gave me the money and asked, “What is your name? I’ll make sure you never work in this town again!” And I told him: “Gary Herbig.” The funny thing was, I wasn’t working at all then. We just got back from the TASHI tour in 1977 and I had no work, and Trini was waiting tables part time. I was working clubs for $25 a night part time and the rent was up to $150. To make matters worse, we had to leave the Canal house or buy it for $16,000 in 1978. I needed $5,000 down and they’d carry the paper. But I didn’t even have $500, so we moved to Echo Park to a large 2 bedroom bungalow in a court for $200 on Douglas Street, near Dodger Stadium. Mickey Rooney grew up in that court. Trini was pregnant with Ben. Then in 1979 I lucked out and landed a full-time gig playing woodwinds at the Pantages Theatre, and soon the Music Center. And Ben was born.
El Monte Art Ensemble — September 18, 1976 — photo by Mark Weber
MW: Well, I’m all ears if you want to go into Zappa territory. First time I caught the Mothers was 1969 at the Santa Monica Civic and the group had just changed but he still retained Don Preston. And the Underwoods were in that group. I saw Zappa many times around Los Angeles and even caught the rehearsals for the Bongo Fury tour and hung out with Don Van Vliet for hours upon hours afterwards for two nights talking poetry and out-jazz. He loved Roland Kirk and knew Ornette and Steve Lacy. Was it 1969 or 1979 at the Santa Monica Civic? I remember George Duke was in the audience, front row. And I was backstage when Flo or Eddie (the heavy one) introduced his parents to Frank, he very exuberantly said, “Mom, Dad, Frank Zappa!” I was just a mere 17 so didn’t have much to say to Frank, but he was kind. My impression was how clean he was. He was immaculately clean. At least, that night backstage. But then, I was raised on a cinder-dirt road in Cucamonga and everything seemed clean to me, ha ha ha. ( I would walk right past Studio Z on Archibald Avenue after school not knowing that one of my future heroes was inside fooling around with reel-to-reels! I understand that’s where “Wipe Out” was cut, remember that one?) I was collecting Rat Finks about that time.
Marty: I’m beat. I dunno about Zappa. I don’t want to get sued. What is this book for again? Please explain this book to me and I’ll consider how much to disclose about Frank. And, clarinets, wow, that’s a very involved subject. I’ll have to answer that one later as well. Great questions, tho!
MW: Too bad you weren’t able to buy that Venice house on the Canal, you’d be millionaires, now. Well, tell us about clarinets. Isn’t the Buffet R-13 the one to have? Kenny Davern was co-host on my radio show his last years and he found out that he liked those Zyloid (plastic) clarinets toward the end of his career. And you could find them for $150.
Marty: Well, to be a clarinet player means always trying to stay in tune. The clarinet is a real bastard instrument. That’s why it was only played on the street for three centuries. Have you ever heard a tarragoto? It’s like a wooden soprano sax. That’s an improvement over the clarinet, because, like all saxophones, tarragotos are based on octaves, and have octave keys, like the other woodwinds. The clarinet, however, over blows at the 12th, so it could never be designed with a scale that had proper intonation. Like, play a low E on the oboe, press the octave key, and bingo, it goes up an octave and is in tune! Not the clarinet. play a low G on the clarinet and press the “register key” and bingo, you have a D a 12th higer that’s lower in pitch than the G. Actually, the low G will be sharp to begin with. You really have to love the sound of the clarinet to make it worth all of that hassle. But that’s what gives the clarinet it’s glorious tone. The 12th harmonic. Makes it sound rich and dark and thick, while also giving it a range greater than the other woodwinds, and a capacity for volume to blast through the orchestra like no other woodwind. The most versatile, definitely.
“Equivalencies # 2” — November 1979 by Mark Weber
When I was 10 and watched the Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock, Have Gun Will Travel, etc., I was gassed by those Bernard Herrman scores, where sometimes he used only clarinets for the score. Eb sopranino, 4 Bbs, 3 bass clarinets, and 2 contrabass clarinets. A clarinet choir. What a sound when orchestrated properly! that’s what first drew me to the instrument – it’s use in television in the late 50s.
When the Albert bros. developed their fingering system for their big-bore clarinets around 1870, it took until 1940 to “perfect” the scale by adding keys, adjusting tone-hole sizes, etc. So Barney Bigard was able (because he was a genius) to lip the notes in tune. He played a Selmer. When the Selmer bros came up with the K series in both Albert and Boehm (the modern ) systems in 1927, the horn had a gradual taper from the bell to the mouthpiece. And probably the best scale of all time. But then in the late 50’s Buffet came up with the R-13, a poly-cylindrical model. Each joint had a different bore. Nothing gradual. This wreaked havoc with the scale, but made the sound sweeter. This is the first professional instrument I bought. Since the 50s the Buffet was the legit clarinet everyone used, with a few exceptions on the east coast. Until Selmer came out with their 10-G model, which greatly improved the scale, and later their “Signature” model, which was based on the 1920 gradual taper in 1990. Not only was the scale almost perfect, but the sound was darker too. I’ve been playing one since they came out, and so do players around the world. Only half the players, if that, play Buffet now.
Another big problem with the clarinet is the barrel. They warp inside which throws them out-of-round, and ruins everything. This can take years or weeks. Wood contracts and expands, and not evenly. I know established pros who always order barrels every year. It’s like getting a new instrument for them. Selmer solved this problem by inserting a hard-rubber tube (called an insert) in the barrel that never warped on their 10G models, which I started playing in 1978, when I bought one from the designer who retired from Selmer.
Then Rheuben Allen invented a bronze insert fit into a wooden barrel that made the tone more responsive, and we went into business in 1990 selling those bronze-insert barrels with my specs and called it “The Convert-a-bore” because you could use different model inserts to match what model instrument you were playnig . So I finally solved the barrel issue for myself, and sold enough to pay for my habit, but so many new model clarinets from different manufactures came out that I couldn’t keep up. You see, from 1950 through 1990, there were only two or three manufacturers of clarinets. Now there are 25, plus a dozen new models a year. And they’re still out of tune! How many recordings have you heard where the clarinet is in tune in the low register? Hardly ever. They’re flat on the low E and F, and sharp from F# to B. Changing bells also can help. For as long as I can remember, no teacher ever even tried to make his student play in tune. Because they were out of tune. The instrument was BUILT out of tune.
Now I had a lot of talent and worked hard, and when I was 14 there were no electronic tuners, so I played with my dad’s piano and tried to lip the notes up or down, like everyone else. . Later, when the Korg tuners came out, clarinet players ignored them, only used them for the A=440. But not me. I would go to the repair man and have him open up a tone-hole or adjust a key height to be able to play with that tuner chromatically. In other words play in tune like the other woodwinds.
Don Preston and Buell Neidlinger — September 18, 1976 — photo by Mark Weber
Buell Neidlinger and Marty Krystall — September 18, 1976 — photo by Mark Weber
September 18, 1976
MW: For those of us who have never worked in a pit band for a stage show, could you give us a blow-by-blow of your work day? From the minute you wake up till the minute you put your horn back in its case and go home. I gather it’s not a humdrum 9-5 gig where Trinidad hands you a lunch bucket and a kiss before you head out the door to your Ford and the freeway? Is there a lot of anxiety in a job like that?
Marty: The best part of being a working studio musician is, you never know what music will on the page you’ll sight-read that day. That’s exciting, driving to work, not even knowing what instruments you’ll end up playing. That’s why I always leave the house almost 2 hours before the downbeat, because it takes 40 minutes to park, walk the 1/4 mile to the scoring stage, unpacking and setting up the horns, and checking the reeds out, not including the driving time.
But working a show in the pit is just the opposite. You have at least one rehearsal and dress rehearsal before the opening show, so you know what exactly you’re going to be playing. The difficult part of the job is usually dealing with either your colleagues or the conductor. By the end of the first rehearsal you usually know whether the conductor likes or hates you. I’m speaking of myself as a soloist, because the woodwinds always have solos, as does the principal trumpet and horn. The other cats can slide and the conductor will usually never notice them. What I mean by colleagues, is, who you’ll be sitting next to and whether they can play or not. You see, in the 80s, when work was plentiful, only the best musicians worked in the studios and usually turned down shows because it wasn’t worth the aggravation of going overtime in the studio and having an hour to make another downbeat in rush hour across town.
Doing a show in the 1980s was fun, because at the Pantages and the Music Center shows would run up to 4 months, so you knew you were good for $1400 a week all summer, and you could send a sub if you were on a movie call and didn’t want to sweat it. In my 40 year career as a pro I never missed a downbeat. Well, one time I forgot about a rehearsal for Fiddler on the Roof when my son Matthew was born, and raced from the hospital to the theatre, burned out my brakes, and was 15 minutes late, so I should say I never missed a downbeat in a performance or recording.
When I played Fiddler I was first clarinet and had some klezmer solos, especially during the wedding scene there was a huge cadenza while Hershel Bernardi waved a prop clarinet around. After the first performance he told me I was the best he ever heard since the opening. In fact, I got to wail and word got around. I owned that solo. But this schlemiel from New York, about 10 years older than me hated me because he wasn’t first, but second, and he played like a pig (meaning he deliberately played badly and out of sync with me – refused to follow me) for a week before I got in his face and threatened to kick his ass. Then he came around.
Musicians who only play pit shows turn into old-timers quickly, because they never play with higher caliber musicians and improve. They just get worse. All the bad habits they started with take over. I was blessed because the contractor that called me got run out of town after four years, and the other contractors wouldn’t call me.
The scene was like this: On Tuesday leave the house at 6:30, get to the theatre at 7pm, set up, warm up until 7:30, schmooze with the cats until 8pm. Play the show, take a 10-minute nap during the huge tacet (where I had no music to play), wake up and finish the show, get home by 11:30. Unless I worked that day in the studio, then I’d grab dinner and rush to the theatre. Which I did twice a week. Repeat Wed, Thurs, Friday. Then on Saturday make a matinee at 2pm, hang out for 4 hours and do the evening show at 8pm. Repeat on Sunday, sometimes with a 7:30pm show. 8 shows a week. And sometimes the contractor would send me to another show at another theatre while a sub played my chair. So sometimes even 9 shows a week if that theatre was open on Mondays. Sometimes when a show ran really long, like over 2 months, I would be able to fall asleep during a 40-bar rest, wake up and come in on a solo, because I knew when to come in even in my sleep. I never missed an entrance. On most shows, there wasn’t really that much to play, except for Fiddler. On Fiddler, I’d get my adrenaline worked up before the solo. And after the cadenza I’d be wired, like a real performance. But that was the exception.
The real exciting events occurred during movie calls. Once I was playing 3rd and bass clarinet for a picture and the contractor told me at the end of the day to stay home in the morning and not show up until the afternoon. John Neufeld was orchestrating for Michael Convertino and he faxed me this ridiculous bass clarinet part and phoned me to see if I could play it. It was all 32nd note arpeggios way up high and low. I told him I could play it on my smaller low-Eb instrument, not the larger one with the low-C extension. He said to have both horns at the gig.
So at 10am the next morning the contractor calls me and says: “We need you after all. How soon can you get here?” I told her 15 minutes if I could park at the studio door. So I load up my 1972 450sl with my stuff and race to CBS. I pulled up and ran out and waited for the red light at the studio door to go out, then opened that huge door, walked in and saw a huge orchestra and conductor staring at me. Artie Kane, my friend, was the conductor and he joked, “So, you decided to show up, eh? OK folks, lets do M11.” And he started that cue with the ridiculous bass clarinet solo. He saw me unpacking the horn, and started counting measures for me. I got the horn to my lips just in time to wail on those screaming arpeggios. The orchestra broke up laughing, and then we took one. One take. This helped me get a reputation for nailing anything too hard to play. If a composer asked the contractor if there was a clarinet player who could play a really fast and difficult solo, or a jazz improvisation, she’d call me.
Nowadays nobody bothers to write difficult or challenging clarinet solos in movies. Usually clarinet solos in films today are whole notes tied together that sound insipid. Like trying to polish a turd. Very few composers working today know what they’re doing. Most just copy down synth scores and give it to the orchestrator. That’s why most of the music work left Hollywood. Any orchestra in the world can play that shit.
Buell Neidlinger plugs in — September 18, 1976 — photo by Mark Weber
El Monte Art Ensemble — September 18, 1976 @ Century City Playhouse, Los Angeles — Don Preston, synthesizers; Buell Neidlinger, electric & acoustic basses; Deborah Fuss, drums; Marty Krystall, bass clarinet & tenor saxophone — photos by Mark Weber
MW: Tell us about your saxophone and saxophone set-up.
Marty: On tenor I play two Mark VI’s #174000 that I bought new in 1970, and Ian Underwood’s #154000 gold-plated (specially ordered from Selmer) with the high F# key that is unnecessary, that I’ve owned since 1988. And sometimes I go to a balanced action Selmer like Ben Websters – #22000 series depending on how they feel. I usually stick to one or another for 6 – 18 monhths. I still play the Otto Link that Glen Johnston refaced to a 7 star, or .104 inch opening with a Rico #3 Medium Jazz Select Filed reed. On occasion I play a hard rubber Otto Link 7 star that Glen refaced that’s more open with the same reed. And a Woodstone ligature from Japan.
MW: Tell us about the scene at the Soul’d Out club in Hollywood — that was an R&B thing?
Marty: The Soul’d Out club was a pimp’s hangout. All of the dudes wore bright blue or pink suits and shiny shoes and hats. The white trumpet player got me the gig, and no other whites were ever seen. It was R&B with organ, guitar, bass and 2 horns. We played cover tunes of the day, like “Brick House.” The band I worked with (I don’t remember their name!) lasted 18 months there.
MW: I have a Boulez version of Anton Webern’s “Quartet for violin, clarinet, tenor saxophone, and piano, Opus 22” and listening to the rondo movement a person can’t help feeling this would be a great piece to improvise on. When you perform this piece do you step outside the lines? When you with the quartet TASHI did you also perform “The Quartet for the End of Time” that they are famous for?
Marty: No, the whole point of Webern’s music is to weave a sonic tapestry, and each part is interwoven by precise ensemble playing. When I toured with them in 77 they also performed that Messien piece with Richard Stoltzman on clarinet. He owned that piece. I haven’t heard anyone play it better. In fact, Olivier Messien coached them before their RCA recording. I did perform a solo tenor sax piece at Peter Serkin’s requiest. I played Igor’s Blues on that tour. The wildest time was at the Lincoln Center Recital Hall. I introduced the piece as an homage to Igor Stravinsky and Igor the hunchback in the Frankenstein movies, when he played that funny horn portrayed by an english horn in the soundtrack. Afterwards backstage, a huchback about 4 feet tall (yes, with a huge hump on his back like Quasimodo) came up to me and asked “What was that about a hunchback?” I was speechless. Trinidad was a witness.
Bobby Bradford Extet @ The Little Big Horn, Pasadena, California — November 28, 1976 — James Newton, flute; Bobby Bradford, cornet; Glenn Ferris, trombone — photo by Mark Weber
MW: Is Glenn Ferris a great trombonist or what?
Marty: Glenn and I were on the same wavelength as room mates. We’d play Bach inventions on soprano sax and bone, and worked on music together. He was the most exciting and avant-garde horn player I’d ever met.
MW: Have you spent much time with the Tohono O’odham?
Marty: You mean, aside from Trinidad and her mother, who was Tohono O’odham? Not much since we visited the reservation in Sells, AZ years ago. That tribe’s music left a big impression on me, though. I taped a lot of their songs and wrote them down. Trinidad’s cousin learned all of those songs by the time she was nine. And then she made up he own whenever she visited someplace new, like Venice Beach. Trini’s father was a Cahuilla. They are from Palm Springs, Indio and Thermal and the Salton Sea. My family (except me of course) is enrolled in the Torres-Martinez Band of Cahuilla Indians, which is a small rather poor tribe whose reservation is in Thermal. Unlike the Morongos, who have a huge casino that brings in millions a month, or the Agua Calientes, who own most of Palm Springs. The only reason the Agua Caliente tribe owns Palm Springs is because two elders of the tribe both around 85 years old in 1920 drove in a Model T to Washington and lobbied congress to kill the “Checkerboard” act, which was an attempt to make individual indians sell their personal parcels. They convinced congress to keep the land in the tribe. And then 20 years later leased the entire city, block by block. They’re loaded.
click the thumbnails to enlarge the images please…
MW: What’s Buell Neidlinger working on these days? And what are you working on lately?is
Marty: Buell is working on the Bach cello suites. He’s recorded most of them and is trying to finish recording the complete works on cello. He says the bass is bad for his back, so he doesn’t play the bass much. He also helped me edit my new album Liquid Krystall Displayed and counseled me on some of the mastering too. He’s got great ears and vast experience recording and producing.
I’m working with my trio, Mojave with J.P. Maramba on bass and Sinclair Lott on drums and writing new material that’s funkier than our last album, released earlier this year called “Gunsmoke.” I’m also considering adding a violin and cello to the group, since I’ve been playing with them as a trio as well. We play Haydn flute sonatas, bebop and original material. I’d like to form a quintet from both groups. But if this new LKD album takes off, I’m hoping to work with Jerry Peters on organ or piano and Calvin Keys on guitar with J.P. and Sinclair and go on the road. Because it’s difficult to play anything besides Autumn Leaves in L.A.