For those of you who are new to JazzWax, at the end of each quarter I feature a roundup of my favorite quotes from legends I've interviewed over the past three months. It's sort of a greatest hits feature that gives you a taste of what you might have missed. [Photo: The Dream of Fire, c. 1961, by Yves Klein]
For the other 10 Mindblowers in this series, simply scroll down the right-hand column to the "Best Quotes" list. And for the complete interviews, scroll to "JazzWax Interviews." Without further delay, here are this past summer's legends, in their own words:
Little Richard on jazz: "Oh no, no, no. I didn't kill jazz. I don’t believe rock 'n' roll could kill jazz. Nothing can kill jazz. Jazz is an original. Jazz is beautiful music. I don’t believe that. Jazz is still here. Real rock 'n' roll musicians love jazz. A real musician loves all types of music."
Little Richard on Long Tall Sally, his follow-up to Tutti-Frutti, which was covered by Pat Boone: "I sang Long Tall Sally as fast as I could because I knew Pat Boone wouldn't be able to knock off what I did [laughs]. I ran for my life with that song and made it hard to copy."
Sonny Rollins on improvising: "I let the subconscious take over. That’s my thing. My subconscious takes over quickly and I don’t know what I do after that. I surprise myself by what I play, and that’s great. That’s my whole thing, leaving the stage mentally, the process of improvising. You have to know your materials, the songs, the harmonics—all these things. You have to learn those back and forth. Then when you get on the stage, you forget all of it [laughs]. See what I mean?"
Sonny Rollins on self-discipline: "Do I think I'm too self-critical? No. I don’t think I’m too hard. I probably could be harder."
Jerry Lee Lewis on the intensity of his performances: "People have always thought that what I do is an act. It's not really. I'm just so deeply into it, the music comes out that way. If you want to move an audience, you have to be able to do that. It's hard to do but you have to get there. When I come on, I'm aiming to take control of the audience and work them into a frenzy. They're expecting it. It's the music that does it because music is pure. When I'm performing, I'm telling, I'm not asking. It's a different approach."
George Wein on Charles Mingus' 1960 Rebel Jazz Festival in Newport, R.I.: "Mingus had a beef about life. Mingus’ concern was getting the focus of attention. He was a brilliant musician who was the first to discover that if he talked enough he’d get more publicity. He was built-in copy for anyone writing an article about a concert."
George Wein on Charles Mingus: "In 1962, when I produced his concert at Town Hall, he told me that he wanted the concert to be a stop-and-start recording session. His point was to show the audience what a recording session was like. But a paying audience doesn’t want to see a rehearsal. They want a concert. I said, 'What the hell are you doing?' Mingus said, 'Don’t worry, George, we’re going to make a lot of money.' For Mingus, it was all part of the carnival."
Ira Gitler on the origin of Sippin' at Bell's: "At 147th and Broadway, the Bells owned a cocktail lounge, a restaurant and an ice cream parlor. The Bells had taken Miles Davis and his wife Irene around New York and gave her a job as a cashier. In 1944, when Miles would return from his classes at Juilliard, he and Irene would sip ice-cream sodas at Bell's."
Designer Paul Bacon on his cover for Monk's Music: "The guy who took most of the photos for me at Riverside was Paul Weller. He had a big studio. We wanted to get a photo made of Monk for the album cover. At the time, the art director was Harris Lewine. Harris had this idea to find a Trappist monk outfit. But when we got to Weller’s studio and mentioned this to Monk, he flared up: 'What kind of shit is that?' he said. I knew we had to get a photograph. So I said to Harris, 'Listen, Monk’s mad at me. But we have to do something.” We looked over at Monk and he was half-sitting in a red wagon writing on sheet music. Paul had all kinds of props for photo shoots. I looked at Harris, and Harris looked at me. Monk looked up. There was this pause. Then Monk said, 'Yeah, go ahead.' ”
Paul Bacon on the only artist who disliked one of his album covers: "I did a cover for Steve Allen and Irene Kral in 1959. It was for United Artists, not Riverside or Blue Note. They gave me the record to listen to and told me who was on it. I thought it was a smart album. I called it SteveIrene-o!—as a play on 'Steverino,' Allen's nickname. I thought it was clever. Soon after the album came out, I was in an elevator, and Steve Allen was in there. Someone in the elevator said to him, 'Hey, I saw your new album.' Steve said, 'I know. Isn’t that terrible?' I sneaked out on the next floor [laughs]."
Gary Burton on rehearsing with Stan Getz: I went up to Stan’s house north of New York. Unlike George Shearing, who had this huge library of charts, Stan had no music. He had records. He’d put on a record and say, 'Let’s play this tune.' "
Gary Burton on the start of jazz-rock fusion in 1967 with the formation of his quartet: We called what we were doing jazz-rock. We were really the only ones doing this at that point. Others were beginning to, like Gabor Szabo. I was a huge Beatles fan. I discovered them through saxophonist Steve Marcus [pictured], a friend. I was fascinated by what they were doing musically. I looked at what Stan Getz had done. He had combined Brazilian music with jazz. I asked myself, 'What do I relate to emotionally?' The answer was rock and country. Also, audiences for Stan were twice my age. I had this sense that straight jazz was not a good long-term set up. I wanted to connect with listeners my own age, and I was digging the new rock that had arrived. It seemed natural to incorporate them into my band."
Denny Melle on husband Gil Melle: "Gil often liked to tell a story about Blue Note's Alfred Lion and Gil's early association with engineer Rudy van Gelder at the start of the 1950s. Gil said that when he first told Alfred about Rudy and how blown away he was by the new form of recording that Rudy was using called 'tape,' he wanted Alfred to come over right away to Rudy's studio to take a listen. Alfred, with that thick German accent of his said, 'Vas ist tape?' Of course, the rest is history."
Phil Schaap on Charlie Parker's recording of Ko-Ko in November 1945: "On a break early in the recording session, Parker went downstairs to pick up his instrument from the repair shop. When he returned, he tested the repair by playing the most ambitious piece in his repertoire in terms of technique—Cherokee. Oddly enough, Savoy owner Herman Lubinsky, who for the most part was non-artistically oriented, heard what Parker was doing and said, 'Hey, man, that’s what we should record!' Bird agreed and the group recorded Warming Up a Riff and Ko-Ko, both of which were based on Cherokee."
Phil Schaap on Miles Davis' Milestones session for Savoy in 1947 with Charlie Parker on tenor sax: "The tracks certainly are the zygote of cool and clearly embryonic to what’s coming. But it’s a bebop record date, too. This is what Miles and pianist John Lewis were about at this point in time. Their thinking was, 'Let’s do bebop but with Lester Young’s phrasing.' "
Hal McKusick on Joe Albany, who gave away Hal's custom-tailored suit in 1946: "When I went to the closet to get my suit in Joe Albany's house in Los Angeles, it was gone. When I asked Joe if he had seen it, he said matter-of-factly, 'I gave it to Bird.' Joe wanted to give Parker a welcome gift. In Joe's state of mind, he found it easy to lift my special attire from the closet with no thought that I would mind. Strangely, though, he was right. I was happy to hear Bird, and never mentioned it to Joe or Bird. We were so happy to be able to hear Parker in person. That seems to have been the most important thing. I was honored that he was wearing my suit at Billy Berg's."
Mose Allison on the writing of Parchman Farm: "Parchman Farm is in Parchman Miss. That’s what they used to call the Mississippi State Penitentiary. They used to take prisoners to work in the fields. When I was 10 years old I was in a gas station in Tippo when a team of horses and bloodhounds came thundering through, looking for an escaped prisoner. It left a deep impression on me."
Pianist-singer Mose Allison on Stan Getz: "Stan had a lush intensity. We talked a lot. I liked him. He was a great player."
Guitarist Royce Campbell on playing pretty: "The secret is keeping it simple. But that's hard. If you play notes that don’t fit the melody or you play too fast, you start to lose your listeners. A guitar is different than most other instruments. It’s highly audible and most often you're playing one note at a time. So listeners’ ears catch every one of them. If you play notes that don’t fit or you jam in too many notes, audiences stop listening to the instrument's storyline."
Royce Campbell on working with Henry Mancini:
"A lot of arrangers get carried away. They write cluttered arrangements or go too far. Henry learned early what not to do. He told me one of his first arranging jobs was for Benny Goodman. Eager to impress, he wrote a chart that was hard on the trumpets. The first trumpet took him aside and told him that he had to learn to write cleaner lines. That was a wake-up call for him. He learned that when it came to writing and composing, you have to take out all the fluff. He said, 'You just want to leave the meat and potatoes.' "
Laurie Pepper on beating European bootleggers of Art Pepper's recordings at their own game: "I bought a copy of Art Pepper: At the Jazz Showcase in Chicago in 1977, offered by the Spanish Disconforme label. Then I transferred it into my iTunes library, uploaded the recording to my label [Widow's Taste], registered the album at CD Baby and now I'm offering it as a $4.75 download at CDBaby."