If you're new to this blog, you should know that at the tail end of each quarter I provide a roundup of my favorite quotes from JazzWax interviews posted over the past three months. Between January and March 2009, I interviewed Jimmy Cobb, Sandie Shaw, Buddy De Franco, David Soyer, Helen Merrill, Phil Woods, Hal McKusick, Billy Joel, Chico Hamilton, Carol Sloane and Simone, Nina Simone's daughter. If you're looking for Volumes 1-4 in this series, you'll find them by typing "Top Mindblowers" into the search engine in the upper right-hand corner of this page.
So, without further delay, here are the past quarter's gems:
British pop singer Sandie Shaw on why there were so many "girl" singers in the U.K. in the early 1960s: In the 1960s, the American scene was still stuck in the 1950s. The U.K. had an amazing free creative environment and a huge establishment to kick against. We had a class war to fight and sexual equality to define within the new liberalism over here. Our male and female audiences directly related to all the musical output and were really ready for change.
Drummer Jimmy Cobb on Dinah Washington: "Dinah had a cruel streak. Probably because she was brought up around Gladys Hampton, Lionel’s wife and the person who ran Hamp's business side. Gladys used to buy Dinah nice things to wear on stage but at the end of the week she’d take it out of her pay. Most of the time it was stuff Dinah couldn’t afford. So Dinah would do the same thing to the girls who worked for her."
Jimmy Cobb on what he learned from Washington: "Feelings. Dinah was a Baptist. When I heard that Baptist sound, it took me over. I wasn’t used to hearing that. It would make the hairs stand up on my arms and neck, where people are singing and shouting in church. That struck me right away. She taught me to put the passion into what I was doing."
Jimmy Cobb on being hired in 1958 by Miles Davis for his sextet: "Philly Joe Jones was starting to come late to Miles' jobs. Cannonball Adderley was especially worried because he needed the job. He was living in [his brother] Nat’s apartment in New York and couldn’t stand not to have a gig, you know? When Cannon saw that Philly wasn’t showing up, he wasn't sure if Miles was going to keep the thing going. So he told Miles about me. When Joe didn’t show one night, I sat in... Then I played on the On Green Dolphin Street session, and Miles dug what I did on there."
Jimmy Cobb on Miles Davis' quirky personality: "One time Miles said he wished I could swing like Wynton [Kelly]. I looked at him and said, 'I sure wish you could, too, Miles.' Miles gave me a look, but we were pretty good friends. He knew I was always there when we played. That was Miles' thing. He was always watching to see what you were going to bring. Miles was a funny little guy. He was always busting in your face to see what your reaction would be." [Photo: Herb Snitzer]
Jimmy Cobb on how Davis' wound up credited with songs he didn't write: "Funny things used to happen in the studio. We’d be in a recording session, and the engineer would say, 'What song was that, Miles?' Miles would tell him, and the guy would write it down and credit Miles. A bunch of songs were attributed to Miles that way."
Jimmy Cobb on Bill Evans and Kind of Blue: "Bill Evans had a bigger hand in writing many of those songs than most people realize. The feeling was very close to the way Bill played piano. Bill kind of got Miles into that groove."
Jimmy Cobb on Miles Davis and Sonny Stitt during their 1960 European tour: "Miles didn’t want Sonny to play tenor on the tour. Miles said, 'Man, I’m going to step on that tenor.' Sonny would get all upset and say, 'Oh, man, Miles.' That was Miles’ way of letting Sonny know how he felt. Sonny took the tenor anyway."
Jimmy Cobb on his famed metronome-like cymbal playing that opens Someday My Prince Will Come: "That was my idea. I thought I had made a mistake by hitting the cymbal too high up and too hard. I thought the engineer might not have been able to control it [with the levels]. But during the playback, everyone liked it just as it was."
Buddy De Franco on Miles Davis and the Metronome All-Stars of 1948-49: "Miles was an up-and-coming guy at that point, a smart alec. He had a way of playing and got very popular, becoming one of the biggest names in jazz and pop music. But next to Dizzy and Fats that day, he was a weak third. He was not that super a trumpet player yet."
Buddy De Franco on Artie Shaw: "Artie's bop band in 1949 was a mistake. Artie underestimated the idea of playing bop. He tried, but it didn’t come off. He didn’t spend enough time learning bop. Artie didn’t really care that much. He was interested in too many other things—you know, writing, politics and other things that took his interest away. The idea of a band was a good idea to Artie until it got boring."
Buddy De Franco on what Charlie Parker said to him when Buddy asked Bird why he didn't play the clarinet: "He was very kind. He said, 'Because you play it' [laughs]."
Cellist David Soyer, who played in the string section on Billie Holiday's Lady in Satin with his wife harpist Janet Putnam, on the 1958 session: "I remember Billie didn't want the guys in the band to hear the playbacks because she didn't think she sounded good. But we all went into the booth after to hear them anyway. She sounded pretty damn good to me."
Singer Helen Merrill on her very first club performance, with Bud Powell on piano: "After I started singing, Bud stopped playing, turned around, looked at me with the biggest grin on his face and then continued to play. It was a huge compliment and a complete surprise. I wasn’t professional yet, but when Bud did that, it gave me so much confidence. He was so sweet."
Helen Merrill on her famed 1954 recording for Mercury with trumpeter Clifford Brown: "We didn’t talk much at those sessions. We just smiled at each other a lot. What we had to say to each other was unspoken. It came through the music, and you can still hear that unspoken conversation on there today."
Helen Merrill on seeing the cover of the album for the first time: "I cried. I didn't think I looked like that when I sang. But I did. As a woman, I thought I was prettier. I don't mean that in a vain way. It's just that you have a certain vision of how you look, and when that image is different, you feel sort of vulnerable."
Helen Merrill on Dream of You, her 1956 album arranged by Gil Evans: "It was my idea to use Gil. He was so gifted. I had remembered his beautiful music for Claude Thornhill, and I thought his music would be beautiful to sing against. When I mentioned Gil's name to [EmArcy head ] Bob Shad, I thought Bob was going to have a heart attack. At first Bob said, 'No' because Gil was famous for keeping orchestras overtime, and studio time and musicians were very expensive. Eventually Bob gave in."
Helen Merrill on Miles Davis: "[In the early and mid-1950s] Miles used to love my sound and always came to hear me sing. We were dear friends. He told me he loved my whisper sounds. That's a technique I used by getting up real close to the microphone. I'd sing almost in a whisper, which created a very intimate sound. I developed this by listening to my voice and trying different things with the mikes."
Helen Merrill on Bill Evans: "Bill called me the night Miles had asked him to join his sextet in 1958. Bill said, 'Helen, do you really think I'm good enough? Do you think I'm good enough to play with Miles?' [laughs]. I said of course. Bill knew he was great but needed the encouragement. I was very touched by what he asked me, and I knew exactly how he felt. It was a big move for him. Even when you know you can do something, you want to hear it from someone who feels the way you do, someone who understands what you're going through inside."
Phil Woods on words of encouragement from Charlie Parker: I came into Arthur's Tavern [in 1953] and there was the great Charlie Parker—playing the baritone sax. It belonged to Larry Rivers, the painter. Parker knew me. He knew all the kids who were coming up. I said, 'Mr. Parker, perhaps you’d like to play my alto?' He said, 'Phil, that would be great. This baritone’s kicking my butt.' So I ran back across the street to the Nut Club and grabbed the alto sax that I hated. I came back and handed my horn to Bird, and he played Long Ago and Far Away. As I’m listening to him play my horn, I’m realizing there’s nothing wrong with it [laughs]. Nothing was wrong with the reed, nothing was wrong with the mouthpiece—even the strap sounded good. Then Parker says to me, 'Now you play.' I said to myself, 'My God.' So I did. I played a chorus for him. When I was done, Bird leaned over and said, 'Sounds real good, Phil.' This time I levitated over Seventh Avenue to the Nut Club. And when I got back on the bandstand there, I played the shit out of Harlem Nocturne. That’s when I stopped complaining and started practicing." [Image of Jazz magazine courtesy of Bird Lives]
Phil Woods on his famous solo on Billy Joel's Just the Way You Are: "People come up to me all the time to ask me about that. My favorite was the young saxophonist who came up to me on some gig I was playing and said, 'Are you the guy on the Billy Joel record?' I said, 'Yes I am.' He said, 'Have you done anything on your own.' [laughs] I said, 'A couple of things.' "
Billy Joel on jazz: "Jazz takes a good amount of technical expertise to get it right. You need a great deal of study and discipline. A lot of people in rock and pop don’t necessarily have that kind of background, and they don’t have that well-developed a technique."
Billy Joel on Art Tatum: "Tatum would play runs with his left hand and just throw them away. You know, like you’d hear it once and you’d never hear it again. I’d find myself sitting there going, 'Please do that again.' I couldn’t hear what the hell that was that Tatum did, so I’d have to lift up the needle and go back, you know."
Billy Joel on playing rock in stadiums: "It’s a blast. It’s fun to make that noise. We manipulate sound. Rockers are kind of magicians and wizards. We take sounds and play with them, you know, and then we put it out there and do magic to people with it, and it gets this big response. [pause] And chicks dig it. [laughs] It’s this great power. But I have a lot of respect for jazz musicians. That's hard in a completely different way."
Billy Joel on why he didn't become a jazz musician: "I'm familiar with a lot of good jazz. I listened to it all through my teenage years. And I still do to this day. I love jazz. I wanted to be a jazz guy. I just didn't. I don't have the chops."
Chico Hamilton on the Gerry Mulligan Quartet of 1952: "Gerry didn’t want me to use my bass drum. And that’s when we went to war [laughs]. I finally went out and got myself a tom-tom instead, a small bass drum, and converted it into a bass drum. Gerry didn't want any bass drum at all. But I told him I needed something there for my right foot, to keep my rhythm. My timing depended on it. I’m still using a smaller bass drum today."
Chico Hamilton on his music for and appearance in the 1957 film Sweet Smell of Success: "The actor Martin Milner, who played the guitarist and the quintet's bandleader in the movie, he didn't know how to play guitar. So what happened was Milner put his left hand behind him and John Pisano, my guitar player, put his hand on the strings. It looked like Milner was playing the guitar, the way Jimmy Wong [Howe] shot it [laughs]."
Chico Hamilton on why he's underappreciated: "I don’t know. Maybe because I've always seen the drums as a melodic instrument, not a percussive one. I developed a touch. It may not have been as loud, but it's mine."
Saxophonist Hal McKusick on arranger George Handy and the Boyd Raeburn Orchestra: "When we were on tour in San Francisco in 1945, the Palace Hotel didn't like the fact that we had a broadcast there each night at around dinnertime. We played straight out for the radio audience, which rattled the staff and guests. To up the ante, [Johnny] Mandel and [George] Handy [pictured] dyed their hair green, which scared the staff and patrons. But the two of them didn't care. The band’s vocalist David Allyn practiced singing in an abandoned tomb in the graveyard. He liked the sound there."
Carol Sloane on Oscar Peterson: "Oscar would watch my set at the Village Vanguard [in 1961] from a dark banquette off to the side. Each time he would ask out loud for me to sing Kurt Weill's My Ship. I'd jazz up the song, and when I'd finish I'd look at Oscar for his reaction. Each time I sang it, Oscar was expressionless. For a week he'd shout out the same request, and each time I'd work harder to make a jazz impression. And each time I'd get the same stony reaction. I finally grew exhausted trying to embellish the song. So one night I just sang it straight. When I finished, Oscar was grinning and applauding. I finally got Oscar's message: A great song doesn't need to be jazzed up. You just have to sing it straight. I've carried Oscar's lesson with me ever since."
Carol Sloane on Barbra Streisand: The first time I met her I was singing at the Village Vanguard in 1961. One of the waiters came up to me to tell me that there was a young girl in the back who looked kind of weird. He said she doesn't have a purse and she's wearing a T-shirt and her hair is long and stringy. The waiter asked if I wanted to see this girl or should he tell her I'm not available. I went to the back of the club and there was this ordinary looking girl. She [introduced herself and] said to me, 'How do you do that?' 'Do what? You mean singing?' I asked. 'Yeah, how do you sing like that?' She said she was just starting out."
Carol Sloane on performing with Ben Webster in 1963 in
Rhode Island: "I listened to every note Ben played. As a singer, I couldn't believe how great he sounded. After the set, he smiled at me. That was enough. He smiled. Then he went straight to the bar."
Carol Sloane on watching the Beatles perform from the dugout at Shea Stadium in 1965 and hearing the mass hysteria: "As a jazz singer, I was nauseous. I could see the writing on the wall with the Beatles. The kids had been drifting away from jazz for years. But by this concert in 1965, they were completely gone, and I knew they were never coming back. You could see it. You could hear it."
Carol Sloane on her stormy relationship with pianist Jimmy Rowles: "It was a tough period for me. I was in my early 40s and had begun questioning everything about my career and my ability. Jimmy was a legendary pianist, the guy who had accompanied everyone. In the beginning he made me feel great. But little by little, things got worse and worse... It got so bad that I tried to take my own life."
Carol Sloane on Ella Fitzgerald's performance anxiety: "[Ella] was pacing and wringing her hands backstage and saying, 'I’m so nervous I’m so nervous.' I said, 'God, Ella, don’t worry, Jimmy [Rowles] will never let you down. You’ve got nothing to worry about.' She said, 'I know.' She had had Tommy [Flanagan] playing for her for over 15 years. So all of a sudden, she had a new guy at the keyboard. They had rehearsed together, but she still was behaving as though the world was going to come to an end."
Carol Sloane on her own stage anxiety: "I was always nervous about performing. To the point of being ill. It was awful... I used to have performance-anxiety dreams. I'd go to sleep
and have nightmares about having to go out and sing. It can't be
helped. It's something deep in your brain. "