At the end of each quarter, I select the most revealing quotes from my JazzWax interviews with jazz legends over the past three months and post them here. This convenient summary allows you to catch legends' most telling and revealing comments in one place. The post also gives you a taste of the full interviews, which can be found by scrolling down the right-hand column of the JazzWax home page to "JazzWax Interviews." Here are highlights of what you might have missed from January through March 2010:
Dick Hyman on Bix Beiderbecke: "People have been fascinated by his legend. The idea of a young man living it up to excess and dying at age 28, with only eight years in jazz, but so in command of what he was doing. There’s some old mythology at work here: The artist who dies young after burning himself out. That legend was always an aspect of Bix that drew me to him."
Dick Hyman on playing piano with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker on TV in 1952: "Those guys played with such good time and feel. It’s a terrific performance considering that my TV show was a pop program with just two cameras. It was another night at the office for me. I was doing a lot of things in those days."Sammy Nestico on his first arrangement for Count Basie: When I met Basie, he asked me to write a couple of arrangements. I had already written The Queen Bee and Quincy and the Count. The second one wasn’t fully formed yet but The Queen Bee was real nice. I gave that to him and a couple of others. After about three months, Grover Mitchell called me and said, “The Chief likes your charts. Write some more.” So I wrote more and more, and we finally had enough for an album [Basie: Straight Ahead, 1968].
Sammy Nestico on Norman Granz: "Many of the albums Basie and I did [after Straight Ahead] for Pablo Records were never as good. It wasn’t the music. It was that Norman Granz was producing Basie at the time and never seemed to care how the music went. I think Norman just disliked big bands. He kept telling Basie to start a combo and to hell with the band. Basie wouldn’t hear of it. Norman also would keep first takes on almost everything, even if there were mistakes. A song would end and from the engineer’s booth he’d call for the next tune."
Arranger Bob Freedman on And We Listened: "Maynard Ferguson's band needed one more tune to complete Message From Newport. There was a 10-minute gap on the record. So Maynard pulled out my chart and said, 'Let’s run this down.' They played it once, apparently even faster than the tempo Herb Pomeroy had rehearsed it. Drummer Jake Hanna shouted out to Maynard, 'It’s actually supposed to be slower than that.' With a 10-minutes hole on the date, he decided to slow the tempo way down. The result is what you hear on the album. I think it’s much more dramatic and powerful the way he recorded it."
Gunther Schuller on merging jazz and classical: "One of my obvious rationales for combining jazz and classical was that both musics had a lot to learn from each other. They may not have known that at first, but they discovered it soon enough. Especially the form. The forms of jazz back then were primitive, despite the enormous dexterity and skill of the musicians. In a very short period of time, jazz steadily became much more intricate and developed."
Gunther Schuller on Birth of the Cool: "The hardest arrangement that day we recorded, without a doubt, was Gil Evans’ arrangement of Moon Dreams. That’s the ultimate masterpiece of the session. The coda at the end goes into atonality and counterpoint. There are five different layers of contrapuntal lines. No one had ever written anything like that before in jazz."
Gunther Schuller on Porgy and Bess: I say this with all modesty: [Columbia producer] George Avakian went to Miles and said, 'Listen, I think there are only two people here who can turn Gershwin into modern jazz orchestral works—Gunther Schuller and Gil Evans.' Miles went with Gil, and I played French horn on the session."
Gunther Schuller on Miles Davis: "I know how he struggled on Porgy and Bess. At one session, his lip started to bleed. The endurance, all that slow playing. It’s very hard on a trumpet player. But he came through beautifully."
Buddy De Franco on Sonny Clark: "Sonny was a great person. He not only was a great jazz piano player but he also was easy to work with. Some players you get in your group have an air of hostility or they present problems. Sonny was different. He was upbeat most of the time and had a great sense of humor."
Dave Brubeck on not being able to read music: "You can’t teach me. Everyone has tried, starting with my mother. I have some kind of block... Darius Milhaud told me not to worry about it, that I’d just have to become a composer. He said, 'You can’t give up jazz. It’s something you do so well. Just incorporate jazz into your compositions for school.' "
Dave Brubeck on the start of his famed quartet: "I wrote to Paul [Desmond] from my hospital bed after my swimming accident in Hawaii. I told him, 'I think it's time to form that quartet you've been pushing for.' I urged him to find a rhythm section, which would give us the quartet. I had to write to him in traction, with my hands over my head. Paul kept that letter in his wallet all his life."
Dave Brubeck on writing The Duke: "The Duke I wrote after taking my son Chris to nursery school. On the way home, it was raining and I was watching the windshield wipers. The wipers were loud and sounded like a cushioned metronome. I wrote the melody to the beat... Marian McPartland has said that The Duke’s bass line is the best one ever written in jazz."
Architect Beverly Thorne on designing the Brubecks' famed modernist home in Oakland, CA: "The rock on which the home was built was very important. As I understand it, Dave and [his wife] used to go up to the rock just after they bought the lot in the 1940s to see the San Francisco view, dream about building on it one day and, I would guess, smooch a bit."
Benny Powell on Thad Jones: "You see, deep down, Thad Jones' thing was all about happiness. When he'd conduct the Basie band, his body language got everyone going. He had a way of shaping his hand like a brick and showing you what he wanted with subtle movements of his fingers. He was one of the most amazing conductors. Thad was effervescent. He could tell you what he wanted with sign language."
Roy Haynes on playing with Charlie Parker and Red Garland in Boston: "When you've got a genius up front like Bird, he's listening to everything and absorbing it. Red was doing the same. You could hear them listening to each other. They were a nice fit. Hey, what do you expect? They had a great drummer [laughs]." [Photo by John Abbott]
John Levy on why Don Byas went to Europe in 1946 and remained there: "Don had marital problems. His wife was suing him and it was the only way he could escape her."
John Levy on George Shearing: "Every night during the period I played with Buddy Rich's band, George used to be escorted to a seat right beside the bandstand. George was blind, you know, but he had razor sharp ears and enjoyed being in front of the bass player, to hear the swinging thing."
John Levy on the formation of the Shearing Quintet: "The vibes and guitar were added to replace the sound of Buddy De Franco's clarinet."
John Levy, 97, on the secret of a long life: "Clean living, no hate, no animosity, no trying to keep up with the Joneses and plenty of laughter. I’m 5 foot 11 inches tall and have never been over 160 pounds in my life. I keep my weight down, and I don’t indulge in anything to any great extent. And I have the greatest wife in the world."
Bobby Shew on rooming with Charlie Shavers: "Charlie always wanted to take a bath, not a shower. He’d fill the tub up with scalding water, grab a bottle of vodka, light a cigar and climb in. Man, I couldn’t even stick my foot in that water. Because of his condition, I had to pull up a chair and watch him bathe, to make sure he didn’t fall asleep."
Bobby Shew on Buddy Rich's relationship with his father: "When his father showed up, Buddy was a different person. He'd become downright evil. He was spiteful, throwing chairs around and everything. Being around his father re-stimulated all that stuff from when he was growing up. Buddy always reacted to things from his past."
Bobby Shew on Buddy Rich's favorite TV Show: "Combat! with Vic Morrow [laughs]. I think he identified with the character."
Bobby Shew on Bill Reddie's Channel One Suite: "The Dunes floor show in Las Vegas included a paper prop of a humongous TV screen. Showgirls came through the back of it. The channel on the prop was set to Channel 1. Bill just took that piece he had written and brought it into Buddy's band. It was a great chart."
George Avakian on getting Miles Davis out of his Prestige contract early: "I decided that Miles should record enough material to complete the remaining four Prestige albums, to finish up his deal with the label right away. Prestige’s owner Bob Weinstock knew that Miles was going to sign with Columbia, so there was no real expectation that he would re-sign with Prestige. It was just a question of whether that contract ended sooner or later." [Photo by Hank O'Neal]
What George Avakian's brother said to George while they listened to Miles Davis at Newport in 1955: “He said, 'George, stop worrying about signing Miles [to Columbia Records]. You can go ahead. He’s back. You can hear that he’s back. You’ve been listening to him.' ”
George Avakian's advice to Miles Davis: "The first thing I said was, 'Look, you’ve got to get a group together and hold onto the musicians.' Consistency was important then."
George Avakian on his vision for Davis: "I heard and saw jazz’s first modern superstar. What struck me was that Miles was the best ballad player since Louis Armstrong. I was convinced that his ballad playing would appeal to the public on a very large scale."
George Avakian on shaping Miles Davis' conservative look: "Let’s put it this way. Miles established the look and then I persuaded him to standardize it, which I didn’t have to work hard to do. He kept that meticulous look for quite a while." [Photo by Herb Snitzer]
Jim Hall on June Christy: "She was a singing star who beat herself up terribly."
Jim Hall on developing his sound on the guitar: "Jimmy Giuffre worked with me to get my sound more fluid, like a wind instrument. To do this, he encouraged me to ease off on the picking with my right hand and to use my left hand more on the neck for slurring, so notes would blend with what he was doing on the clarinet and saxophones."
Jim Hall on working with Sonny Rollins on The Bridge: "We’d be in a middle of a tune and he'd bring it to a halt and we'd just dig in and start exploring it. My role was not to get in Sonny’s way but to follow him."
Jim Hall on Paul Desmond: "Paul could play a line over a standard that was so much better than the song’s original melody line."
JazzWax note: For previous JazzWax Mindblowers posts in this series, scroll down the right-hand column to "JazzWax Quotes," where you'll find links to all nine volumes.