At the end of each quarter, I round up my favorite quotes from my interviews over the last three months. This feature is meant to give you a taste of what you might have missed in one convenient post. For others, it's a reminder of how great these musicians are or were. For the full interviews, please scroll down the right-hand column to "JazzWax Interviews." Artists are alphabetized by first names:
Nancy Wilson on her rapid rise in 1959: "Within five months of arriving in New York to accomplish a specific set of goals, they had all been reached. John Levy was representing me and Capitol Records had signed me to a contract. In December, I recorded my first Capitol album, Like in Love."
Nancy Wilson on why she can't teach singing: "Because I’m of the opinion that it shouldn’t matter to you what I think as a teacher. It’s what you think as a singer. Are you doing what you think you should be doing? That’s far more important than me telling you what you should be doing. It’s very important that you know who you are first."
Nancy Wilson on recording for Capitol: "I would pick the songs with John [Levy] and Dave [Cavanaugh]. Then I’d hear the chart for the first time at 8 pm on a Wednesday night or whenever we’d record. The band would run it down. That would be the first time I heard how it would sound. Then we’d record three songs a night over three days."
Nancy Wilson on her Capitol albums today: "It kind of gets on my nerves when I go to someone’s house and they think they’re doing me a favor by playing my records for me. I have all that music in my head. I don't have to hear it again. I know the charts. I can hear them playing and me singing. I prefer to listen to books more than music. And I read. I’m more of a reader and a listener of books."
Nancy Wilson on her 1960s TV appearances and integration: "I was trying to pull audiences together, to make people see that harmony wasn’t that hard, that being black or white made no difference. My message was about artistry, and my audiences were made up of people. I had no idea who was in the camera lens or in a darkened club. They were just people who wanted me to do my best. I was completely comfortable, and they became comfortable, too. Music can do that. It can change the way people feel and think."
Buddy Collette on the impact of unifying the white and black Los Angeles musicians' union locals in 1953: "Well, you learned pretty fast who could play and who couldn’t—white or black [laughs]. You now had a chance to know what all musicians played like and who could handle what and who couldn't. I had been the first black musician hired by a television studio in 1948, so I saw first-hand that the selection of talent for studios wasn't always based on ability."
Buddy Collette on the start of the Chico Hamilton Quintet's sound: "Everyone got in their place on stage. Then Chico started playing, and Fred Katz finally snapped out of playing the solo cello. But Fred couldn't get to the piano fast enough. We were all in place and starting to play. So Fred started bowing something and I played something on the flute. We didn’t have a pianist but we did have a guitar player in Jim Hall that no one can beat. When Fred played the piano, we couldn’t really hear him anyway. As we played, Jim left space for the cello. That’s why the group’s sound was no one’s idea. It just happened by accident, as a prank that turned into a sound we all dug immediately."
Bill Holman on conducting the Count Basie band on his arrangements for I Told You So: "The band had a tough time with most of the charts. All seemed very logical to me, but for many of the guys, it was the first time they had seen any of my writing. So the charts were a little strange for them. Finally Basie said, 'This guy has written a masterpiece and it’s up to us to execute it.' That helped. Basie knew how to speak to his band with authority. I was trying to get them in that direction but I didn’t know the right words."
Hal McKusick on his favorite track from Cross-Section Saxes: "George Russell’s [pictured] End of a Love Affair. I love the mood of it. The arrangement has this certain restlessness, too. It was a very East Coast sound, meaning you hear the energy and sophistication of the city—the close interaction of people, the hurrying, the ambition. That's how the musicians felt. Each of us was striving to break new ground. It was an exciting, experimental time for jazz, and that was reflected in the music."
Nat Hentoff on the jazz musician who taught him an especially valuable writing lesson: "I think Ben Webster. At the time, in the late 1940s, he was touring and clubs wouldn’t pay the additional cost for his working rhythm section. So Ben had to make do with the musicians he could find in the cities where he played. In Boston, he found he couldn’t lift up the quality of the trio with his playing. He was sitting at the bar on a break when I spoke to him and pointed this out. Ben said, 'You know, kid, if the rhythm section isn’t happening, you go for yourself.' ”
Dick Collins on meeting Al Cohn for the first time: "Trumpeter Al Porcino introduced us. I remember the three of us were standing together. Al Cohn turned to me and said, 'That’s Cohn, without an ‘e’ [laughs]. That’s pure Al. I mean, who would even bother to say that? Al, that’s who."
Dick Collins on Les Brown: "As a trumpet player, Les wanted you to play staccato all night long. If you didn’t, you’d hear him bark, 'Short! Short!' He always wanted the trumpets to be crisp, which wasn't necessarily a natural or warm feel. The guys would come off the stand mimicking Les by saying to each other, 'Short! Short!' "
David Amram on Bobby Jaspar: "Bobby had wonderful eyes that talked. You looked in his eyes and you knew you were in the presence of someone that you wanted to know. And the more you talked to him, the more you realized you already knew him and that he knew you. He was like a ship—10% of Bobby was showing above the water, and below the surface was the other 90% that you couldn't see."
Johnny Mandel on Tony Bennett: "I love The Movie Song Album. We did a good version of The Shadow of Your Smile and Emily. Tony always sings the definitive version of every song I write. His interpretations are always the best. He comes to the territory, stakes his turf and winds up owning the song."
Laurie Pepper on Art Pepper's health problems in the late 1970s: "Art had this really monstrous hiatal hernia. His belly would bulge out, so he had to wear a corset when he played to keep everything in. It happened to him while he was attempting a comeback with Buddy Rich in the late 1960s. We suspected it was a result of his girlfriend at the time constantly sucker punching him in the stomach."
Gene Lees on Bill Evans' Waltz for Debby, for which Gene wrote the lyrics: "The only version I ever really liked was by Ed Ames."
Herb Geller on visiting Stan Getz in the late 1940s: "I went to visit Stan in West Hollywood for three hours of lessons. Stan asked me, 'Who’s your favorite tenor saxophonist?' I said, 'I listen to Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Don Byas.' Stan said, 'OK, wrong. Lester Young is the guy. This is how he sounds.' And then he played for me, sounding like Lester [pictured]. I had heard Lester, but I hadn’t been enthralled."
Herb Geller on Tony Scott: "Charlie Parker and Tony started the first tune. Tony insisted on playing the first jazz chorus before Parker. Parker just smiled and stopped, letting Tony play for 10 minutes. Tony played a lot of dull nonsense. Then it was Parker’s turn, and he played beautiful music. You couldn’t humiliate Tony [laughs]."
Herb Geller on Art Pepper: "Art was an impossible person. He was mixed up with drugs and had a big complex about Charlie Parker. What Art was really trying to do was play the alto like Zoot Sims played tenor."
Herb Geller on his wife Lorraine Geller's sudden death in 1958: "When our daughter Lisa was born, her skin didn’t form on one of her legs and there was trouble with her foot. She had to stay in the hospital for six weeks until the skin grew. I was assured that Lisa's treatment would be covered by our health insurance plan. But the insurance company refused to cover her extended stay and treatments. The hospital bill broke us and took every cent we had, including a life insurance policy I resigned to come up with the cash for the hospital payments. With her asthma, Lorraine had a slow recovery after Lisa's birth. The doctors advised her not to work for about a year and to just take care of our daughter. Then Lorraine got a call to accompany singer Kay Starr for $500 a week. Lorraine had rested for months and Lisa was already 1 year old. So Lorraine went to work. One day, in mid-October 1958, my mother called from L.A. She said, “Herb, Lorraine died.” The cause was pulmonary edema, which is what happens when the lungs fill with fluid, leading to a shortness of breath. Add a terrible asthma attack on top of that and you have a disaster."
Lou Donaldson on the start of hard bop: "A Night at Birdland was probably the greatest live jazz recording ever made. But it wasn't a Jazz Messengers date nor was Art the leader. Art already had a band in Brooklyn that he called the Jazz Messengers. The quintet we had a Birdland was a studio band that Blue Note had put together. It wasn't Blakey's. It was just a recording band."
Lou Donaldson on what set him apart from everyone else in the early 1950s: "I wasn’t a junkie. And the sound on my horn was a little better than most other guys. I always prided myself on my tone."
Lou Donaldson on West Coast jazz: "Our thing was the opposite of jazz on the West Coast. We consciously tried to do everything that they didn’t do. We tried to swing hard, not cool. They had a light touch to their music. We had a heavy touch, with a swinging feel underneath. We knew that creating a contrast was going to be the only way to stand out."
Stanley Kay [pictured] on Buddy Rich: "Buddy had a temper that would simmer and simmer and then explode. When I’d sit next to him at New York's Paramount Theater in the late 1940s, I could tell when that pot was boiling. Buddy always liked to put his left foot on one of the three legs of the hi-hat stand. Not the pedal—one of the three metal legs. After he’d play for a little he’d move to the pedal. I knew Buddy was getting into it when his foot wasn’t on one of those legs. So I’d reach over and put his foot on the leg, which would make him laugh and settle him down."
Tina Maini on her late father, Joe Maini: "My father picked up the pistol and started telling a joke. He waved the gun around, unaware it was loaded, and the gun went off accidentally. The bullet cut just under his ear and across the back of his neck through his spine. If that bullet had been just a millimeter off, he would have lived. His death had nothing to do with Russian roulette."
Neal Spritz on his late father, Harvey Lavine [pictured]: "Al Cohn [pictured] named my dad 'The Goof' for being absentminded. But what Al probably didn’t know, nor did anyone else, are the battles my dad had to endure during World War II and how lucky he was to have made it home alive."
John Bunch on Maynard Ferguson: "One night Maynard invited the band to his apartment on the Upper West Side to a party before going to work at Birdland, our regular gig. But later, when we got to the club, it turned out Maynard had forgotten his mouthpiece back at his place. One of the guys threw him a mouthpiece and said, 'Try this one.' Most trumpet players would be uptight about that. They’re sensitive about using only their own mouthpieces. But Maynard had no choice. He just popped it into his horn and played the exact same way." [Photo of John Bunch by Brian Young]
Frank D'Rone on Nat King Cole: "Nat said the demo of Mona Lisa that he had been given originally was done uptempo and bouncy. He played the piano and sang the way the demo sounded. Then he slowed it way down to show me how he had made it a love song. As he's telling me this, I’m saying to myself, 'No one’s ever going to believe me.' "
Frank D'Rone, looking back on his singing career: "Sometimes I wonder 'what if.' But I always wind up realizing that I’m actually happy I didn’t become a big star. I did it the way I wanted. I never got into drugs. I never got into booze. I’ve had a happy, wonderful life. [Pause] I didn’t become a big star or anything, but I’ve had a star’s career."