Well, another quarter has passed. But before we move on to spring, let's look back. Mindblowers is a quarterly feature that captures favorite quotes from my interviews with jazz legends over the past three months:
Vibist Margie Hyams on the George Shearing Quintet's start: "When Buddy and George parted ways, fortunately I had Buddy's book of songs that he and George had played. I transposed them for the quintet. What a gorgeous player Buddy was. George and Buddy and John [Levy] and Denzil [Best] had all been playing together just before the quintet was formed. Buddy had written out the charts to the songs they had played while they gigged. Buddy had given them to George when he left the group, and George gave the book to me. Then going forward, whenever George came in with a song, we’d work on it as a group to give it the same sound. When I left George in 1951, I wrote a whole book of arrangements of our songs and passed it on to Don Elliott, who replaced me."
Margie Hyams on her least favorite Shearing hit: "Well, we did get a little bored with September in the Rain. But it was one of the biggest selling singles of 1949. Do you know, we recorded that in one take and it sold 1 million copies. One take, can you imagine?"
Margie Hyams on Miles Davis: "As my husband and I were making our way to our table in a club in the late '50s, the bar was jammed. As we passed the bar, I got very close to Miles to get to our table. I whispered in his ear, 'Does the name Margie Hyams mean anything?' His whole face lit up. He kissed me and hugged my husband, and we talked for some time."
Buddy De Franco on George Shearing: "The sound we created in '47 featured George playing the melody with octaves—where the top notes were doubled on the bottom. At the same time, I superimposed my melodic playing on clarinet on top of his melody lines. I was playing the top notes of those double octaves—sometimes with him and sometimes without him. Then he would solo or I would solo. We were both following that pattern. George had that sound in his mind first, and that’s how we tailored the group."
Bassist and manager John Levy on George Shearing: “When George formed the quintet in late 1948 with Marjorie [Hyams] on vibes, Chuck [Wayne] on guitar, me and Denzil, the sound was amazing. Playing inside that group was really something. I felt so moved as a listener and as a player contributing to that sound. George was like a tasteful orchestra on that keyboard. Most people don’t realize that those quintet pieces weren’t written out. They were rehearsed over and over again until everyone knew their parts. I used to write out my part because I couldn’t remember all of that the way those guys could."
Nancy Wilson on George Shearing: "The Swingin's Mutual came along just at the right time. It broadened my audience and took George out of jazz and put him in my thing, which he liked. Interestingly, we both needed that type of album. My style was and is pop of the day. I’m now called a jazz singer, which makes me laugh. I’m a song stylist who sings show tunes, Broadway and contemporary hits. That's who I am. Swingin' gave me a pop-jazz feel and it gave George a jazz-pop feel."
Nancy Wilson on The Swingin's Mutual album cover: "The photo on the cover? I believe those images of me and George were taken at separate times and then they joined the pictures together to make it seem as though we were sitting back to back. In fact, I'm sure of it. I owned an orange dress, so I didn’t have to buy one for the photo shoot. But I didn’t have orange shoes so I had to dye a pair."
B.B. King on playing the Fillmore Auditorium in 1967: "When producer Bill Graham went out on the stage, he gave me one of the best introductions I had ever received in my life. While I was waiting to come on, he said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the Chairman of the Board, B.B. King.' Wow, the chairman of the board. That's when the audience went crazy. I came out, and there I was, standing there crying. I had never had that happen to me. I had never been introduced like that. I didn't think that white people had heard of me or knew anything about my music."
B.B. King on his favorite B.B. King album: "Most people think my favorite album is Live at the Regal , which critics love. It's good, but it's not my favorite. My favorite is My Kind of Blues . No one liked it but me [laughs]. I still love it today."
B.B. King on guitarist Freddie Green: I saw all of the jazz greats—and I emphasize saw. The blues is like high school and jazz is like college. These guys could do things no one could imitate. I'd hang around and watch them. Freddie Green could drive the whole Basie band with just his acoustic guitar. There may have been a microphone in front of him from time to time. But he played an acoustic instrument back then. Now that's really something. Freddie was a whole orchestra by himself."
Arranger-composer Johnny Mandel on bandleader Alvino Rey: "Alvino was a highly technical guy who was into building his own amplifiers for his guitars —before Les Paul. I remember we were at the Strand Theater on 47th St. and Broadway in New York in the mid-'40s. There was a bell right near his dressing room. Every 15 minutes or so the bell would go off to announce an act. Alvino complained that he couldn't get a nap because of it. But when he complained to the theater manager, nothing happened. So he coolly took out his tool kit and took apart the entire system. From that point on, the Strand didn't have a bell, and someone had to go around announcing the cues." [Photo by Carol Friedman]
Pianist Junior Mance on Cannonball Adderley: During basic training in the Army, I was crawling through the mud on a course the length of football field getting ready for deployment to Korea. When I got to the end, this jeep roared up. It was Cannonball [Adderley]. He ran over to the sergeant, a real red neck, and handed him a sheet of paper. The sergeant looked at the paper and shouted over to me, 'Mance, take off. They want to see you at headquarters.' I jumped in Cannon’s jeep. When we were a distance away, he said, 'Listen carefully. These orders are phony. I want you to play for our band commander. We’re going to the barracks now to audition.” When we got there, I played, and the guys were yelling me on.' Long story short, I was put on the band. Cannon probably saved my life."
Junior Mance on Lester Young: "I first played with Lester Young in Chicago in 1949. His pianist missed a flight so I got the job. Later I found out who the pianist was. It was Bud Powell [laughs]. I didn’t know it until drummer Roy Haynes told me afterward. I’m glad Roy waited [laughs]."
Junior Mance on Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong: They were never feuding. It was all exaggerated. They loved each other. Before their only TV appearance together in 1959, they were hanging out backstage doing comedy routines that continued onto the set. I lived in their neighborhood in Queens. They were always hanging out together. Dizzy lived a street over from Louis in Corona. They may not have talked about music all the time, but they loved getting together."
Producer Creed Taylor on Billy Taylor: "I produced Billy's My Fair Lady Loves Jazz. My vision there was to unite jazz and Broadway in an orchestral, hip way, with Billy and his rich style taking the lead. At the time, he put up a fuss over recording Get Me to the Church on Time. Billy was deeply religious and felt at the time that the song had sacrilegious overtones. Later, he thanked me for pushing him to record it once he realized the song's context in the musical."
Trumpeter-arranger Marty Sheller on strings: "How did I learn to write for strings? Trial and error [laughs]. I never studied formally, which may sound strange for someone who spent so much of his career arranging. I was very lucky. I was always around good musicians—learning and asking questions."
Riverside's Orrin Keepnews on becoming a producer: "I've often said I came to producing jazz records through trial and error. There was no school to learn how to do it. But I think you're right. My experience in World War II as a radar operator on B-29s taught me to be precise and relay direction with authority. And my experience at Simon & Schuster as a manuscript reader taught me to be critical. Both skills were key to working in a studio. I never thought of it that way."
Writer-producer Ira Gitler on Sonny Stitt: "I remember Sonny's Imagination session in 1950. [Prestige owner] Bob Weinstock told me that Stitt was having trouble with his alto horn and asked me to bring mine to the date. I was momentarily apprehensive about lending it to Stitt. Sonny had a reputation for disappearing with other people's instruments and hocking them for cash. But I didn't mind since I was going to be there and could keep an eye on it. Sonny took my horn and recorded Imagination and Cherokee flawlessly. When I got my alto back, I did feel as though something special had happened to it. But I didn't sound like Sonny when I played it."
Retired vocalist Toni Harper, who recorded with Oscar Peterson: "Sometimes now, I wake up in the middle of the night and sing, sing, sing. I sing every song that pops into my head. When I have sung myself out, I go back to sleep. I have fond memories of singing with the Oscar Peterson Trio in 1955. And now that I’m willing to listen to the recording, I understand now why so many kind people enjoy it."
Toni Harper on why she quit the music business at age 29: "From age 4 to 29, I constantly was told where to be and what to do. When I turned 29, I thought, 'I don't have to do what anybody says anymore. I am tired of traveling the world alone. No one helps me, and they take all of the money. I don't want to do this anymore.' So I stopped."
Record promoter Dick LaPalm on client and friend Nat King Cole: "As you know, Nat always brought excellent taste and intelligence to the songs he sang along with tremendous polish. Part of the reason for this was the amount of thought he gave to a song's words. When he found a song that interested him, he’d have Charlotte, his assistant, type up the lyrics on 3 x 5 cards. Just the lyrics, and one or two lines per card. He’d keep these cards in his jacket pocket, and whenever he had time, he’d take out a card and study the words. For Nat, the lyrics had to move him, and this was his way of savoring them, putting them to the test."
Pop-rock studio drummer Hal Blaine on jazz drummers who asked to record rock in the '60s: "At first, most of the jazz drummers brushed me off, saying, 'I'll never play that garbage.' Once I started earning, however, they started to call and ask if they could drop by the studio and watch to see what was going on. Which drummers? Shelly Manne, Mel Lewis and Jake Hanna."
Want more Mindblowers? Go to JazzWax and scroll down the right-hand column to the "Best Quotes" heading. There's you'll see links to earlier installments.