At the end of each quarter, I go back through my posts of the past three months and pull the best quotes from my interviews. I do this so you have a bunch of great quotes from jazz legends all in one place and a taste of what the full interview holds. Full interviews can be accessed at JazzWax by scrolling down the right-hand column to "JazzWax Interviews." For the other seven entries in this series, scroll down the right-hand column to "JazzWax Quotes," where the parts are now linked. Here's the latest installment of Mindblowers:
JazzWax: What’s the message of Way Out West?
Sonny Rollins: It’s a tribute to independence and being self-sufficient, which is what the West really means, at least in Westerns. I was so moved by the West that I wanted to record songs that expressed how I felt and how much those movies I saw as a kid meant to me.
JazzWax: What did Jack Teagarden teach you as a singer?
David Allyn: How to cry. He had a cry in his voice that was impeccable. He was so passionate. He made me think much harder about what I was doing and the lyrics I was singing.
JazzWax: Were you able to sing while serving time in prison for a drug-related charge?
David Allyn: A little, but mostly in my mind. I used to lie on my cot, cross my arms on my chest, and imagine going on stage and singing. I’d do a whole show that way. When I was done, I’d be sweating bullets, just like I did when I came off stage, from the exertion I put into it.
Jimmy Heath: Miles Davis said the only reason he didn’t play like Dizzy [Gillespie] is because he couldn’t. Miles wanted to play like Dizzy, but he found his own niche. That niche was playing ballads... He played with such a good feeling that no one cared about the missing notes. He showed that it’s about the feeling, not about perfection.
Jimmy Heath: I wrote Picture of Heath and For Miles and Miles in prison. I got them out to Chet Baker by passing them to my brother Tootie. He gave them to Jimmy Bond, who was Chet’s bass player on gigs at the time. Jimmy gave them to Chet, and Chet and Art Pepper made an album [Playboys] that included mostly my songs.
JazzWax: What’s your favorite instrument?
Johnny Mandel: There’s nothing like an accordion when used properly. Because it breathes. A listener's body responds to that. Just listen to some of the bandoneon players in Argentina.
Johnny Mandel: I find it hard to arrange my own material. I always want to make it perfect. I do numbers on myself when I’m writing. It’s not an easy process. I don’t know why I do that. I just do. It seems everything is right, but I have to create my own problems. But I don’t tell anyone I’m struggling. It’s just part of the process for me. I’d be much faster if I wasn’t so self-critical.
Leon Ware: The musicians, artists and writers who were around in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s loved the art form before they made a dime. I think we lost that in the late 1970s and beyond. It’s not that I feel that the later generation was short of talent. It’s that their talent was not being challenged... Rap, r&b, rock and most forms of popular music today trivialize excellence and trivialize what art really is.
JazzWax: What do you think of I Want You’s success?
Leon Ware: I love that this piece of work lives in so many people’s households. So many people tell me they play it once a day. That’s a great feeling. To have created a timeless record.
JazzWax: How did you get such a high contrast in your photos?
Herman Leonard: I put one strobe light next to the club spotlight in the ceiling. The other I placed behind the artist in the background. I used wireless units to trigger the strobes, but I'd use these strobes only if I had to. The light was disturbing to the artists. But most of the photos I took were during rehearsals, so it wasn't too bad. [Self-portrait: Herman Leonard]
JazzWax: How did your famous trumpet solo on Mongo Santamaria's Watermelon Man happen?
Mary Sheller: When we went into the studio to record, there was supposed to be a trumpet solo, a tenor solo, a piano solo, the melody and then out. But the song ran seven minutes. Mongo's manager Pete Long said to us, "Forget about those snakes.” Snakes was the word used to mean when a jazz player runs scales for improvisation. Pete added, “You’ve got to cut it down to three minutes. No tenor solo, no piano solo. Just a trumpet solo. And Marty, don’t play no snakes. Play funky.”
JazzWax: What surprised you most about Louis Armstrong?
Terry Teachout: Louis Armstrong was a man who could hold a grudge, and he held some of them for most of his life. In addition, Armstrong was not in any way an Uncle Tom as described by younger musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, who should have known better. In fact, Armstrong was very clear and open-eyed about race relations, in both directions.
JazzWax: What did Armstrong understand about simplicity that was lost on so many other musicians?
Terry Teachout: Louis apprenticed with King Oliver, who ingrained in him the centrality of melody to the jazz musician. Armstrong's exposure to Oliver and his view of melody made him feel that it was not only appropriate to embrace simplicity but also vital to appeal to audiences in an immediate way.
David Sleet on his brother, trumpeter Don Sleet: I had planned to become a musician like Don after he left home. But my father discouraged that, insisting I stay in school. Don had demonstrated that playing jazz professionally wasn't an easy life, and my father knew it.
David Sleet: No matter how much love and support family provides, they cannot control outside influences. I still believe Don's substance use was the result of the friends he kept and the culture he was a part of.
JazzWax: The Palladium must have been some scene in the 1950s.
Ray Santos: It was. A lot of homely guys would meet really great looking girls there. On that dance floor, looks for a guy no longer mattered. How well you danced was the whole thing.
JazzWax: How did Latin bandleaders in New York keep up with what was going on in Cuba?
Ray Santos: I remember Tito Rodriguez had a Webcor reel-to-reel tape recorder hooked up to a shortwave radio, and he picked up on everything being played in Havana that night. So the next night, by the time his band played, he’d know everything that was hot coming out of Cuba [laughs].
JazzWax: Which of the Big Three [Machito, Tito Rodriguez and Tito Puente] was best in your opinion?
Ray Santos: Wow, what a question. That’s very tough to answer. I think I’d have to give the edge musically to Machito. He established the style of his band with those exciting big band arrangements based on swing of the 1930s and 1940s.
JazzWax: Are you a fast writer?
Lennie Niehaus: Yes. I sit and think and write down little ideas and stitch them together. I never agonize, “Is this good or bad?” I just write down what I'm thinking, and it all comes together.
JazzWax: Were Charlie Parker’s recordings used in the movie soundtrack of Bird?
Lennie Niehaus: Yes, but just Parker playing without piano, bass or drums. We dubbed those in with musicians to give Bird's solos a current sound. Otherwise, Bird's music would have sounded like old recordings rather than fresh music you were seeing being created in the movie’s storyline.
JazzWax: How was Forest Whitaker's impersonation of Charlie Parker?
Lennie Niehaus: Terrific. I had to teach him how to hold the alto and finger the notes in place. But he was a quick study. Forest [pictured] had a tendency to roll his shoulders while playing. Bird never did that. Bird played as though his shoes were nailed to the floor. So I put my hands on Forest's shoulders to hold them still, so he'd understand.
JazzWax: What was Shelly Manne's advice when you were considering signing with a West Coast record label?
Lennie Niehaus: Shelly told me to go with Contemporary. He said, “Les Koenig will let you do anything you want. He’ll just record you.” At the time, I wanted to record a new sound. I loved the concept of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, with its contrapuntal exchanges. But I wanted a richer, more textured result in my small groups.
JazzWax: What do you remember about the West Coast scene back then?
Lennie Niehaus: I remember the argument over which was better, West Coast or East Coast jazz. It was all ridiculous, since you had West Coast guys like Zoot Sims living back East and Shorty Rogers, an Easterner, on the West Coast. But hey, record companies were recording West Coast musicians, so who was to argue [laughs].
JazzWax: Your arrangements for Stan Kenton's The Stage Door Swings in 1958 placed a new emphasis on the reed section.
Lennie Niehaus: Stan wanted an album based on Broadway show tunes. He locked me in a room in a Chicago hotel. With my work ethic, if I had an idea at 3 a.m., I’d get up and start writing. They brought an electric piano into my room, and I had headphones so I wouldn’t disturb other guests. After 2 1/2 weeks, I had produced 12 songs, about one a day. I was on a mission. Stan asked me to base the different tunes on riffs—you know, musical patterns that repeat. So with Lullaby of Broadway, I thought, hey, I’ll base it on Intermission Riff. I changed the standard's chords, and that became the hook.
JazzWax: Did hearing the pianists who were around back in the late 1940s and early 1950s ever discourage you?
Marian McPartland: Hearing others never discouraged me. I felt I was part of the scene. I was in it for good. But it took determination to play music that people identified with men. Yet I always seemed to do well.
JazzWax: When you interviewed Bill Evans on Piano Jazz, were you worried that his solemn style would clash with your more playful feel?
Marian McPartland: No concerns at all. I knew how he played, and I know how I play. I knew I could keep up with him, and I did. He liked it a lot. I did feel bad that he was on drugs that day we did the show. I never would have known he was on drugs. He seemed so normal. It's hard to believe that he had gone out and scored somewhere before the show.
JazzWax: Why do you think Joao Gilberto hasn’t recorded more of his own compositions?
Ithamara Koorax: Gilberto is such a creative interpreter that he winds up becoming an unofficial "co-author" of any song he chooses to sing and record. He says that's the reason he never felt compelled to write hundreds of songs. He has always said he knows hundreds of great songs that already exist that he’s satisfied trying to improve or re-do in his own style.
JazzWax: Is Gilberto intimidating?
Ithamara Koorax: He doesn't like to do collaborations. Most of his recent albums are solo projects. He currently performs only solo concerts. Even on his albums Amoroso , Brazil  and João , which were orchestrated respectively by Claus Ogerman, Johnny Mandel and Clare Fischer, Gilberto recorded his guitar and vocal tracks alone. Then the tapes were sent to the arrangers who added the rhythm sections and later overdubbed the orchestral parts.
JazzWax: What’s the secret of getting kids your age interested in playing jazz?
Rachel Rodgers: Listening is important, of course. And your parents need to encourage you. But most important is taking lessons from a jazz teacher at a young age. Classical is essential for the basics, but if you enjoy jazz you need to add a teacher who will show you how to play it.