Long-time readers of this site know that at the end of each quarter I gather the best quotes from interviews I conducted over the last three months and place them in a single post. I call this feature "JazzWax Mindblowers," because the quotes I choose contain revelations or shed light on a period of music or recording session. I do this in case you missed the interviews and to ensure that all of the best quotes are in one place for your future reference. (To see the other posts in this series, simply go to the search engine in the upper right-hand corner of this page and type in "Mindblowers.")
Here are my favorite quotes from interviews that were posted over the past three months:
Pianist Billy Taylor on asking questions: "I always deeply regretted not having talked to Fats Waller [when I had the chance as a kid]. From that day forward I promised myself that if I ever got that close to someone I admired, I was going to bend his ear like he’s never had it bent before. Later, if I was in shouting distance of someone I wanted to know, I'd remember the Fats incident and would become a pest, asking dozens of questions. The art of asking questions and listening to the answers is highly underrated."
Billy Taylor on Coleman Hawkins: "Hawk was the first to put bop into shape. When Hawk played it, bebop was no longer just something the crazy younger guys were doing. He demonstrated it, and people began to realize there's more to the new music than they thought."
Billy Taylor on Don Byas: "Don was head and shoulders above everyone else. Don was playing bebop and pre-bop. What I mean by pre-bop is he was playing things that led up to bebop. They were long phrases and new ways of using harmonies so that they sounded like the dominant melody. This stuff hadn't been done yet until Don starting playing them."
Billy Taylor on avoiding alcohol and drugs: "The night I bought my first drink, Jo Jones spotted me at the bar. I didn't see him, though. He told me this later. Anyway, the next night I had a drink or two and then began my set. While I was playing, I looked up and saw Jo sitting there glaring at me. He had Art Tatum on one side and Teddy Wilson on the other. I knew right away what his point was. I never took another drink after that night."
Billy Taylor on Art Tatum: "Art Tatum had an odd way of doing things. He’d improvise before completing the melody. For instance, he’d take a song like Body and Soul and play the first eight bars. Then he'd play the second eight using a harmony line rather than the rest of the song's melody. It's difficult to do, and he did it for fun. Many stride pianists did that. They did it to put each other on."
Billy Taylor on Miles Davis: "There were a lot of guys who could keep up with Bird better than Miles Davis, like Fat Girl [Fats Navarro] and Clifford Brown. Fats drove Miles up the wall. It was years before Miles got to a place where he could stop trying to be Dizzy and focus on his own thing—playing in the middle register. ... Miles came on like he had a sour personality, but it was really a cover up for an inferiority complex, I guess."
Billy Taylor on the origin of I Wish I Knew How It Felt to Be Free, his best-known composition: "I said [to my daughter], 'Kim, [spirituals are] part of your heritage. You can’t be singing a spiritual like that. You have to have more feeling.' I sat down at the piano and said, 'The spiritual is so much a part of our tradition that I can sit here and make one up on the spot. This is the feeling you need to have.' I made up a little ditty. Then I asked if she understood. She said, 'Yes, Daddy,' and went back to playing with her dolls. After she went back to her room, I got to thinking, 'Hey, this isn’t a bad little tune.' So I wrote it down."
Clarinetist Buddy DeFranco on playing with Art Tatum: "I was so ill [with a cold] on that record date with Art Tatum that I had to sit down in a chair for practically the entire session."
Saxophonist Dave Pell on photographing the cover of the first Gerry Mulligan Quartet LP: "I told the guys to lay on the floor with their heads together. ... I told them I was going to shoot down on them from a ladder. They were saying stuff like, "Man, this is a hip album. Why are we doing this corny thing for?"... Then I climbed up on the ladder and shot down. Just before I squeezed the shutter, Mulligan was yelling, “Come on, Dave! For Christ's sake. We can’t spend all day here.” ... You see a great cover shot. I see four cranky guys who wanted to get out of there [laughs]."
Producer Creed Taylor on Warner Bros.' offer to handle distribution for CTI: "I told them that CTI was going to handle its own distribution. A Warner Bros. executive said that if CTI didn’t do a deal, the label was going to pick off CTI’s artists one by one and sign them to Warner Bros."
Creed Taylor on the growing importance of LP covers: "By the late 1960s and early 1970s, you held covers, you left them out, face up or standing against speakers. They were meant to be seen. They were a personal statement. My goal with [photographer] Pete Turner was to create a mood for the covers. I wanted the images to symbolize the feeling and energy of the music inside."
Creed Taylor on the CTI sound: "There was a kind of triplex consideration. CTI was going to deliver music that was confident and smart, like Stan Getz. It was
going to be beautifully orchestrated, like Gil Evans' arrangements for
Claude Thornhill's band. And finally I had a concept for a sound.
Whether that sound was going to come through the arranger or the
soloist would depend on the album. Eventually, Don Sebesky
captured that sound, and he became CTI's dominant arranger."
Creed Taylor on his technique in the studio booth: "I stood with my left ear next to this huge speaker. And today I wish I hadn’t been doing that. Rudy [van Gelder] had it cranked up, and I loved the sound because the energy coming into booth from the studio was magic. It was the best way to hear if the music being played was happening—or if there was a problem. There was a lot to listen to and evaluate during those sessions. ... [Doing that I'm sure] knocked off some of my hearing. I’m probably 10,000 cycles in the left ear today."
Creed Taylor on how Hubert Laws came to record Let It Be on Crying Song before the Beatles tune was released: "CTI and George Martin shared the same U.S. attorney at the time. I had given the attorney a copy of Wes Montgomery’s A Day in the Life in 1967 and he took it back to Paul McCartney. The Beatles flipped out about it. They liked it so much that Paul in 1969 sent me a run through tape of what he had done on Let It Be."
Photographer Hank O'Neal on Berenice Abbott: "She taught me patience. As a photographer, you have to wait for what you want. She told me that for Changing New York, 1935-1938, she had planned the photographs for weeks just to be in the right position at the right time of day with the right light. Photography, she taught me, is about long periods of waiting and moments of action."
Ghosts of Harlem author Hank O'Neal on Harlem of the 1920s and 1930s: "Harlem was a place where [if you were a musician] you stayed, where you made a home. There was no need for these guys to go downtown. Everything was right there uptown. It was a place unto itself."
Jackie Cain on meeting Roy Kral, and the first song she sang with him on piano: "It was Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe. It was a song that Frances Wayne had sung with Woody Herman. I sang it as Roy played, and he was taken by the fact that I not only knew the song but that I sang it in the same key in which Frances recorded it. Actually, I didn’t know what key she or I sang it in [laughs]. I still don’t."
Jackie Cain on starting to sing vocalese with Roy Kral: "We had heard Davey Lambert and Buddy Stewart's records with Gene Krupa’s band, and Charlie Ventura had come out of Krupa’s band. One night, after listening to What's This? I said, 'Hey Roy, why don’t we try to do something like that, only our own thing? You could write something.' So we gave it a shot."
Jackie Cain on the origin of Euphoria: "There were no words, just our voices singing like instruments, which is what vocalese is, really. Charlie [Ventura] had asked Roy [Kral] for an arrangement of 'S Wonderful, as an instrumental for the band. As Roy wrote it, he came up with this bop riff. We took the riff and turned it into Euphoria, which is based on 'S Wonderful's chord changes. We just lengthened the riff and put something in there that was distinctly ours."
Jackie Cain on Charlie Ventura's ability to hold a grudge: [After Roy and I were profiled in a newspaper instead of Charlie], he wouldn't talk to us. When we were singing at the Blue Note in Chicago, if I got too much audience attention on my solo number, Charlie wouldn’t let me do another during the next set. This went on for the entire time Roy and I were with the band. I never understood his reaction. We were part of his band. We couldn't control what the newspaper was going to report. And whatever happened good for us was good for him, too. I think he was just terribly sensitive. And jealous, I guess."
Bob Brookmeyer on composing: "Composing is the hardest thing I don’t know how to do [laughs]. Frankly, I usually just want to get the damn thing done because there’s something else to write after that. It’s satisfying to finish a piece of music."
Bob Brookmeyer: "[For Ray Charles' Genius album], Ralph Burns, the credited arranger, wrote one chart for the album and got
so drunk for some reason he couldn’t finish the job. ... I arranged Just for a Thrill and You Won’t Let Me Go.... For Genius Hits the Road, Al Cohn arranged Georgia on My Mind and a bunch of others. I arranged Moonlight in Vermont, Basin Street Blues, Mississippi Mud, Chattanooga Choo Choo, Deep in the Heart of Texas, Alabamy Bound and New York’s My Home."
Bob Brookmeyer: "[The Ivory Hunters with Bill Evans] was supposed to be a quartet date, or at least I thought it was. I showed up at the studio with my horn. But when I walked into the studio, I saw two pianos pushing together, facing each other. [The producer] had heard Bill and me do a four-hand thing at an earlier United Artists record date and wanted to try it out for the record. ... So for Bill and me, it was just two friends who got dumped into a crazy idea. We looked at each other and said, 'Hey, why not?' ”
Bob Brookmeyer: "[When I rejoined Stan Getz in Los Angeles], Stan and I began playing after work with Gerry and Chet. Just the four of us. Both Gerry and Stanley said it was the best band they had ever played in. But nothing came of it. Stan and Gerry couldn’t decide who would be the leader."
Valve-trombonist Bob Brookmeyer on the slide trombone: "Who likes the slide trombone?"
Bob Brookmeyer on choosing the valve-trombone: The stories about me starting to play valve-trombone cold with Claude Thornhill’s band are wrong. ... The truth is I started playing the instrument when I was 13. I didn’t want to play slide trombone, so I found some old baritone horn in the band room and learned to play the valves. Then friends gave me an old Czechoslovakian valve-trombone. I learned to play the instrument by watching trumpet players."
Nat Hentoff on Jo Jones: "[Drummer] Jo Jones was a missionary about the music, like Art Blakey later. Jo figured it was his job to keep jazz writing and the music itself free of imperfections. He didn’t like people who were on junk, for example. He knew I was beginning to write seriously about jazz. So he sat me down one night at the Savoy in Boston and gave me a lecture. He said, 'You gotta be careful about what you do. Know what you're doing and get to really know the musicians, because that’s what the music is all about.' His comments were invaluable."
Nat Hentoff on interviewing Duke Ellington by phone: "When Duke and I had met face-to-face [to talk] in the past, he had always been 'on.' He was an entertainer and a huge personality, so that was to be expected. But over the phone, there was a transformation. Without having to be 'on,' Duke was very serious and open."
Nat Hentoff on being fired from his job at Down Beat.
"Everything was going well. By 1957 we had offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. But we did not have any blacks on staff in any capacity. And much of what we were writing about originated with these folks. One day we needed a receptionist or someone who did more than that. A woman came in. She was very bright, and I hired her. She was black. The boss in Chicago, the owner, was furious."
Nat Hentoff on the musician whose words continue to echo most in his head: "I guess Charles Mingus. I learned so much from him—not only about the music. What I remember most from Mingus is him saying, 'The problem in our society isn’t race. There is a race problem, for sure, but the real problem is that most of us get so caught up in the rhythms of work—work we don't like to do—we lose who we are."
Nat Hentoff on how he wants his jazz writing to be remembered: "[Laughs] Probably something like this: 'You could hear the voices of the musicians in just about everything he wrote.' "