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
Beautiful article Mark. John Carter was (is) a beautiful soul.He is always fresh in my memory.
Thanks for the Good vibe.
I enjoyed your story it brings back great memories of my education as a woodwind player. A couple of things for you to consider. My first lp, “Spirits in Fellowship”, was the first time JC played only clarinet on a recorded document. It was at my insistence and John and I got into a little thing about it at rehearsal because he wanted to play soprano on one tune and I wanted him to just play clarinet so I could bounce my horns off his sound on the clarinet. Being the gentleman he was he acquiessed (sp) to my wishes . Shortly after that recording and concert we did the day or so before at Century City Playhouse he only played clarinet. I take great pride in the fact that my lp is the first recorded document of John just playing clarinet.
Vinny, in all the years I was around John I never saw him pick up an alto or a tenor —– he had gotten away from those around 1972 (he plays alto and clarinet on SECRETS) — when I got on the set he was strictly soprano and clarinet, although I vaguely recall when Bobby threw a New Years Eve party at The Little Big Horn that John brought some of his other saxophones — it was an all-night party till 5am and Bobby pulled out his canon of bop tunes, like “Jordu” — I recorded some of that —- Newton was there, Dresser, you were on bari & soprano (I’m looking at my notes from that date) it was January 1, 1977 a whole gang of musicians dropped by ——- BUT at your recording session for SPIRITS at that studio right on the beach during a break I actually caught John (on camera) fooling around with one of your flutes (I think it’s an alto flute), which is the only instrument, besides piano, that I ever saw John play during those years when he was concentrating purely on those two Bb horns the soprano and the clarinet — Bobby wanted it to be like an old Texas all-night jam session and we had a lot of spill-over from the Rose Parade crowd just a block away on Colorado Blvd — after that long night we went to Bradford’s and caught a nap on his couch! because driving in town on Rose Parade Day would have been ridiculous.
1) Gerald Oshita is leaning on the case of one of his odd horns, possibly the stritch
2) In the photo with John’s family at my house you can see my jaw harp on the table! I still have it.
3) That’s John’s handwriting on the cover to ECHOES FROM RUDOLPH’S album
Lovely piece! Who is doing the re-issue?
Gerald Oshita might have a sarrusophone in that case, Mark. Drummer Oliver Johnson told me about his “Japanese-American brother”–‘G’ to OJ–up in San Francisco. When I met Oshita in ’82, he was down in L.A., playing in a Roscoe Mitchell horn ensemble for the Helene Cann-and-Marty-Kahn-produced Kool Jazz Festival. Oshita had his sarrusophone for that gig, something that Sidney Bechet occasionally recorded with. When I introduced myself, mentioned OJ, and the Bechet connection, he was cooly nonplussed but allowed as how the horn was “lower than whale shit.”
Wonderful, Mark – thanks so such for sharing your words and photographs. Do you have any details about the reissue? Thrilling news!
Fascinating, Mark – thank you. In my limited experience John Carter and Bobby Bradford were certainly gracious people and I would dearly love to hear Bobby in Chicago again. Tonight it is 8 degrees below zero here and I’m afraid I can’t imagine why he’d want to come. BTW Bechet played the sarrusophone once on a record and said he hated the sound of the instrument.
. . . and when John finally made up his mind about switching totally to the clarinet there was a calmness in his manner, as if a storm had passed, he was resolute, his resolve was complete
Speaking of sharp cars, conversely, Horace Tapscott, who was same generation as Bobby and John, seemed to always be driving clunkers, big beat-up road warriors like Chevy Impalas, (whereas his wife Celia had a BMW because she had a good job downtown with city government working in the mayor’s office — something like that)—- I remember driving over to a gig at UCLA with Horace in a convoy of 4 cars (the entire Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra) and Horace in front with his land yacht (we had all met up at Horace & Celia’s to make the journey across town)
Memorial Service to Celebrate the Life of Rudolph Ashland Porter
(July 31, 1949 – October 17, 2015) Life-long Angeleno
Sunday Feb. 28th, 2016
1 – 5pm
Ted Eagans Garden
5337 Brynhurst Avenue (Leimert Park near Windsor Hills) Los Angeles
* Steve Isoardi was among those who spoke at the ceremony
Information courtesy of Matt Duersten