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Interview One: Where the Seed is Sown
Les Tomkins chats to tenor saxophonist Stan Getz in 1964 and again in 1966 about his musical career.
Source: Jazz Professional
It was nice to be back in London, which I love more every time.
It's a nice club. I enjoyed playing for British people. The people in Europe, I find, are very gracious, polite, well-mannered— and they all seem to like jazz very much. You notice the enthusiastic audiences all over the Continent.
I wouldn't say American audiences are indifferent. People in America are the best jazz audiences in the world. They might not act like they're the best, but they know more about jazz music than anybody in the world—because they hear more of it. Therefore they're the most discriminating. Maybe they're not as effervescent as they are in Europe, but they're good audiences.
I was a little wary of coming over and working with a strange rhythm section, which I haven't done for a long time. But I was very happy with, Stan Tracey; Malcolm and Jackie. They're really good; they have big ears.
I usually keep my own rhythm section—as I have done since I went back to America from Europe three years ago.
Of course, no matter how much you travel, you have to be in America to play jazz music. And, being an American, I always like to return. You have to live in New York, the centre of jazz music. That's where the seed is sown. But I would also like to spend half a year on the Continent. However, I have five children who have to be put through school—and going back and forth is not so good for them.
It certainly isn't the fact of having a hit record that keeps me in the States. As a matter of fact, the success of "Desafinado" gives me the means to live anywhere I want. But if my hit hadn't happened, I'd still be playing jazz music. Some people forget that there were 15 to 20 years before "Desafinado" that I was making good money and playing music for people.
In the first place, I didn't choose to play saxophone. It was the only instrument my father could afford to buy me when I was young. As a matter of fact, he bought a little alto saxophone that was supposed to be silver, but was turning green. I played bass briefly and bassoon in the high school orchestra—for as long as I went to high school, which wasn't very long.
You might call me self-taught. But I learned from practical experience—meeting, playing with and listening to other musicians. So you're having help.
Yes, I play mostly by ear. It's good exercise for the ear to use it, and not use symbols and chord changes. It's a little mechanical to do it that way. There has to be a certain element of naturalness in jazz.
In my early years, working with Jack Teagarden's band had the most effect on me. That was a very good introduction to professional music for me. Teagarden was a great musician. His playing is timeless— and it's logical.
Stan Kenton? I think my lungs got a lot of exercise from blowing hard. That's about all.
My opinion of Woody Herman's "Four Brothers" band couldn't be valid, because it would be too subjective, but I felt that band was the greatest he ever had. You only heard the recordings, but it was wonderful playing with it every night and seeing the high level of consistent musicianship on the band. A significant phase? It's hard to say what's significant and what isn't. Everything's a slow process. You don't make big leaps and bounds. But it felt very good to me to be on the band.
That's where I first met Jimmy Raney. And Lou Levy, too, was on that band. I worked out in Los Angeles recently and Lou came in and played with us. He's as great as ever.
For the next few years I made most of my records with a rhythm section. But for the past two or three years I've recorded with all kinds of different instruments. A small group leaves more room : it's more flexible. I like to do both if I can.
People keep telling me about the more aggressive, hard- blowing element that has entered my playing in recent years.
They want a man to play like he did when he was a boy. Unfortunately, I grew up and became more virile in my playing.
And— especially in jazz music— a man only plays what he feels. At that time I felt that way. I certainly don't feel that way any more. I still have tender moments. But it feels good to flex your muscles.
There's nothing premeditated in any of my playing. I would like to think that I can convey some emotion and I'm glad that I'm technically capable of doing it.
As for my displaying the melodic side in the jazz sambas and particularly in the "Focus" album— of course, you like to be a nicer, more beautiful person. But I'm not consciously aware of trying to develop any certain part of my musical personality.
The music that is at hand— the music of the moment— makes you play those certain ways.
The "Focus" album came about because I had admired Eddie Sauter's writing for so long. I played his arrangements when I was on Benny Goodman's band in 1945. And he seemed so neglected. He was writing music for jingles and for television programmes. I thought: "Why should a man this great have to do things like that?" So I asked him to write something for me. He said: "What?" I said: "I don't want any arrangements on standards, pop songs, jazz classics, or anything. I want it to be all your own original music— something that you really believe in." And we met over a period of nine months, talking about instrumentation, approach— and should it be one long piece or should it be broken up into short suites, and so forth. He evolved the idea of writing this piece of music for a double string quartet. The piece can be played as a finished piece, but it leaves just enough room for someone else to add an extra line by ear.
Some of them were one take and some were two. There was one of them that I think was about 23 takes. You see, about four out of the seven of those pieces had to be recorded without me. At the time the recording session was set up my mother had passed away, and so I didn't feel much like playing.
So they went ahead and recorded it, anyway, and I did it with earphones— and that's very hard. You can't hear yourself play if you have the ear- phones on, and if you take them too far off you can't be close enough to the band to get anything done. Plus the fact that it's very delicate music, and there was no rhythm section, except Roy Haynes on drums. So some of it was quick and some took a while. I think we did it in about four sessions.
For it to sound as complete as it does, the bows go to a great remastering engineer, who was also the engineer on the date— Ray Hall. He liked the music very much and he took special care with it when he remastered the record.
Bossa Nova? Well, the business people got into it. Right away they pounced on it when my record came out and they just beat it to death. They took all the beauty out of it. They had I don't know how many hundreds of Bossa Nova records out.
Nevertheless, I think it definitely has been assimilated into jazz. Because it, like jazz, is folk music. People's music. The people of Brazil have their music; the people of the United States have jazz. And I think any kind of folk music can mix.
So it's going to be around for a long time.
All folk music has a certain joy, a certain sadness in it— and it has the pulse, the beat. That's how the peoples of all countries derive pleasure— from their own sweet music.
And Bossa Nova is pretty music. You know, I've never been to Brazil, but I think the people there must be very beautiful.
Something about their music makes me feel that when they play it they've taken the gift from God of art, of music— and they give it right back to God by the way they produce it, with all humility.
Anybody who has a gift to give music, or any kind of art, should always remember that it has to complete the cycle— from God to man, from man to God.
Yes, I always like to change the personnel of my own group around.
It's interesting to play with different musicians. As for dispensing with the piano— I don't go by the instrument that a man plays. I go by now he plays the instrument. And Gary Burton is a very wonderful vibraphone player. I also have Chuck Israels (bass) and Joe Hunt (drums).
Announcing? I do usually with my own quartet. But since I was just a guest soloist in Ronnie's club, I let him introduce and give the fellows and myself the bows.
I don't know— I think it detracts from the music to announce. The music is supposed to speak for itself. Of course, you can always help it or embellish it a little bit with announcing.
Other tenor players that I particularly like are John Coltrane, A1 Cohn, Zoot Sims, and the tenor player with Woody Herman— Sal Nistico. And there's a good tenor saxophonist in Sweden called Eric Nordstrom. I won't say they're necessarily contributing most. Everybody just donates a little bit.
My future projects include another album with Eddie Sauter. David Rose is writing an album and I've asked George Russell to write one. Another Bossa Nova album is coming out now, and there's one more in the can that we did with Laurindo Almeida. Then there'll be a record by this new quartet, playing some of the music you've been hearing here.
And there's this movie we're doing. Eddie Sauter and I are going to make the music for this Arthur Penn picture, Mickey O. It's the story of a disillusioned comedian who is saved by a girl.
We're going to use the same idea as "Focus". But this time, whereas I just play on top of the string music, the saxophone is supposed to be the musical counterpart, or alter ego, of the main character in the movie.
To me, it's a very interesting idea— to try and portray something like that in music. It might turn out terrible— who knows? Undoubtedly this is one of the best groups that I've ever put together— individually and as an ensemble. I'll venture to say that you're going to be very impressed with it.
Roy Haynes is, to me, one of the really great drummers in the world. This is the third time since 1951 that he's been on this group. He comes and stays a while, then his wife wants him home— so he leaves the band. Then, a few years later, you just turn around— there he is again, ready to go on the road.
For my playing, for the way I like a drummer to sound, for the musicality of' drums, I think he has no peer. He's not just a thumper— he's great with dynamics.
Most drummers are the farthest thing away from being musicians. As far as I'm concerned, drums is in a class by itself.
It's not an instrument that makes music. The best they can do is keep time. But if you find a drummer like. Roy, it becomes more than a timekeeping device. It actually becomes part of the Quartet, where the shading and the things that he adds— the things that he leaves out— are all very musical. We find it very interesting to play with a drummer like that.
And Gary Burton has learned a lot In the three years that he's been with me, he has advanced his career probably as much as if he'd stayed ten years with any other name band. Because I give him full scope. And I don't think Gary has ever played with this kind of real professional rhythm section before. His whole time conception has changed since Roy came on the band.
Being 23 years old— you know how young people tend to discriminate very much, for or against. They're very impressionable. But Gary has finally got it across to me that he likes Roy's playing.
When Gary first came on the band, I had my share of trepidation. I'd always used a piano or a guitar for the rhythm section. So I had qualms about using a vibraharp other than as another solo instrument, to function and comp as part of the rhythm.
Then I watched him with these four mallets that he uses— enabling him to play a full chord. Of course, it doesn't have the percussive touch that piano or guitar has. And I never cared for vibraharp as an instrument, anyway. I used to call it a "clank- pile". You connect these big pieces of metal up with some electricity— and you've got a musical instrument! Previously, the only one I could ever stand was Milt Jackson— he made more of it.
But Gary has adapted himself very well— as far as fitting in with us. He's a very talented musician. His playing has definitely made the instrument more acceptable to me personally.
And I've adapted to him very much. Because he'll bring in arrangements or originals that are in terribly hard keys for tenor saxophone. Like; a concert key of E would be my F#. So I've learned to play in a lot of keys that I never would have done otherwise.
As for Steve Swallow— now there's a bass player that is really something. He's only been playing bass about— maybe less than ten years. Here's a brilliant fellow that could have been just about anything he wanted to be. He has a couple of books of poetry in the Library of Congress. I think he quit Princeton to play jazz music.
As of 1966— he is the man on bass to watch out for. He's been on this band over a year now, and the experience of working with Gary, myself and Roy— especially Roy has improved him a million per cent.
His technique isn't as fluent yet as maybe it could be. I mean, don't get me wrong— he plays all over the instrument, plays it fine. But his forte is his depth. His depth of music is tremendous, and keeps increasing every day. And when you know him, you realise why— because he's just like that in person. He's one of the nicest people you'll ever want to meet in your life. And he's only 26. Roy and I are the two old guys— we're both 40. So it's the two elements— youth and experience.
It's not a show kind of Quartet— shoving the music down your throat. Everything is really concertised. We can play a whole two- hour programme— just a ten- minute intermission— without any trouble whatsoever. Which we do now— we do 60 college concerts a year in the States.
In a club, if you don’t make it in one set, you've got two more sets that night. But concerts are a challenge— to know you've got two hours to get across, and that's it. Those are your two hours— let's see what you're going to do with 'em. I like working under that kind of pressure.
We have enough tunes in the book to do it. Gary's arranged a lot of them, and we play some of his compositions. He has an original ballad that he plays as a vibraharp feature by himself. Then we have a ballad called "Sweet Rain" that was written by Michael Gibbs, who came from Southern Rhodesia and lives in London now. He's an excellent writer. And he's writing some more things for us. The book is a conglomeration of everything. We've got a lot of things that we've just faked— just evolved an arrangement on.
Naturally, we play three or four Bossa Novas. And by the way, the Brazilian guitarist, Baden Powell is joining the band any moment now. He's tremendous, a 28- year- old virtuoso— he plays gut- string guitar. His last name I don t know but he was named after the founder of the Boy Scouts.
So he's coming up from Brazil and we'll incorporate him into some of our Bossa Novas, make new arrangements of some of my favourite Bossa Novas with him in it, then arrange some of his tunes. He'll also play featured numbers alone.
If we get him up in time, he'll be on this trip. They're working on it now, but with passports from Brazil to get— you know what it is down there. Everything is manana . But, if not this time, he'll be here eventually.
You know, we have a whole library list that I can keep on the bandstand, but I never look at it. We play what we feel— we never have a set programme, because it changes. By the time you get up there, you might feel something different from the audience. You might feel as if: now's the time for a flag- waver; another time a ballad would be right. So we play it by ear. We gauge it from them, and also from ourselves. If we're not tense in any way, then it'll flow the way it should.
Some numbers somebody'll really stretch out on, and another won't. Other numbers I won't even play a solo on. In other words, we keep the tunes so that they're not all the same chorus after chorus of— what? How much can you say on one tune? What are you re- writing the Bible? How profound can you be by playing a million choruses? No matter how great the tune, it's still got to be boring after a while, According to what went before and what comes after, we'll build up the first half, then the second half to the climax, judging just what we should do. That way, instead of having, in a concert, six pieces that all last twenty minutes, we'll play sixteen pieces— and the longest of them might be Roy's drum solo. He has a feature, where he'll play for at least five minutes, just by himself.
It's the same with presenting Astrud Gilberto I know how long to keep her on I always leave them at the point where they've heard what she can do— and she comes off looking good, getting a nice round of applause.
When I first heard Astrud, I thought there was something innocent and demure in her voice— such an opposite to these chesty- voiced girls singing rock 'n' roll. It was like a breath of fresh air. I was doing an album with her husband, Joao, who I love— he's a genius. She was just a housewife then, and I put her on that record because I wanted "The Girl From Ipanema" sung in English— which Joao couldn't do. But "Ipanema" hit and sold over two million— so that was a lucky break for her. And I'm happy for her.
But, on this Quartet, as it turns out— we're very lucky, Everybody has proved to be aces as gentlemen. We all like each other; nobody says a harsh word You know, when you're travelling on the road, you go into these towns— and after a while they all look alike. And you don't know anybody. Well, you might know a few from the last time— but not really as friends.
In fact, it's like travelling with your wife or your family. The four of us are just married together on the road. We see each other at work, on planes, trains and so forth After or before work, we have something to eat or go to the movies together.
So— if there's somebody in the band that’s a drag personally, it can make life unbearable: Some guys like to act like stars, and they want to be the last on the bandstand, so they come late to work. I don't have to worry about anything like that. These guys make sure they're on time We get along very smoothly.
That's why I wouldn't like to work as a single again. I wouldn't want to be away from my group for four or five weeks.
And, as much as I enjoy playing with strange guys, this is really polished music. We spent all this time making it into such a special Quartet. It's something different— and it should be heard, Judging an audience is a hard thing to do. All those great people— like Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee— they really know how to feel an audience. That’s a gift in itself. I'm just a saxophone player— but I still like to be able to apply it for my own little world.
Jazz musicians think showmanship is a dirty word. But showmanship is not getting up there and being showy, or showing off, or playing show- off music. It's trying to get across your music. No matter what you do; how you can get it across. If you can give people enjoyment— that's good showmanship.
And people said to me : "Boy, that record you made— that `Girl from Ipanema'— you really knew how to hit it. You hit that commercial thing right on the head." I said : "Daddy— I recorded that because I loved the music. I thought it was beautiful. I never thought it would be a hit; I didn't even think of a hit." As a matter of fact, when I recorded that, the company begged me not to release it. They said : "Since your hit record of `Desafinado' came out, everybody's jumped on the wagon." I think there were something like 23 `Desafinado' records out.
They said: "Bossa Nova is dead." I said : "I don't care; nothing is dead if it's good." But they still kept on : "You've had it.
Bossa Nova is finished. Go into something else." And I came out with another Bossa Nova record; and sure enough, it broke records. It was on the charts for 94 weeks— almost two years.
That's where the promoters made a big mistake; they thought it was just another passing gimmick. They didn't realise that it was musically valid. I don't think there's anything nicer than playing a concert of jazz music and ballads, and once in a while interjecting some delightful Bossa Nova time. It's a different feeling; it makes the whole concert more enjoyable.
It's the simplest beat in the world. You take a drummer like Roy Haynes— he'd never played Bossa Nova until he worked with me. And now he's got his own Bossa Nova beat going that's better than the original. He plays the hell out of it.
Another thing: I've played Bossa Nova mainly without a guitar; and that's the main instrument, supposedly.
When I took my band down to Brazil, I had some qualms, naturally, about playing Bossa Nova for the Brazilian people.
But we played it our way, and they loved it; they thought it was terrific.
What I've been told since is something that I originally heard from the horse's mouth, as it were— from Jobim and Joao Gilberto. I always knew this anyway, but I wasn't going to say anything: let everybody think it's Brazilian music in a new style, and that’s it. But it’s not so. Bossa Nova is actually hybrid, using the traditional Brazilian samba, which is more cut- and- dried, more square; the beat is on one and three.
Jobim told me that 15 years ago he used to listen to records of myself, of Miles Davis, of Gerry Mulligan— the supposed Cool school, according to the name they gave us. He listened to that, heard our approach to jazz and he took some of these modern chord changes that we used. Instead of playing the stiff samba, what came out was this smooth jazz— smooth is a word I don't like to use, but it's for lack of another one— with these modern harmonies, approached with a beat that flows in eight- bar phrases instead of just every bar, one and three, one and three.
So he told me himself that Bossa Nova is actually a mixture of traditional Brazilian samba and American cool jazz. The two countries got together. Which is the way it should be.
I felt very proud. Because when I got to the airport there were thousands of people waiting, the mayor of Rio, the key to the city— this whole thing. I'm not used to that, you know; I'm actually a very withdrawn person.
They gave me a great big silver cup, and another award saying : "To Stan Getz who, by playing our music, has brought it to the attention of the world" and one to "the foreign artist who has sold more records than any other since we had foreign recordings in this country." They really appreciated what we had done for their music.
Look, nobody had heard of Jobim or Joao and Astrud Gilberto. It's made those people. Jobim had the biggest success; then he went through a kind of artistic soul- searching phase. Which is horrible; it happens to all of us at times.
Giving people pleasure is my main idea of still going on playing. Otherwise I wouldn't play any more; I have no need to, economically. But the reason why I play now is just to bring music to people who want to hear music. To me that's the ultimate. It's part of my life, too. I couldn't do anything else if I wanted to; I'd be lost.
Although I might do other things alongside it. Like, I've also been producing records at MGM. Including rock 'n' roll and folk music. The way I feel is : kids hear so much trash; why can't it be rock 'n' roll, with that beat, but still have a good song with intelligent lyrics? I don't mean highbrow or anything; just intelligent, and something which reflects what's happening in our society at the present time.
I don't have any prejudice about rock 'n' roll. As a matter of fact, I sort of like it myself. If I hear a good rock record, I like to beat my feet to it. I like to do the dances they do; it's a good release. It's fun: I think the Beatles are terrific. Especially the songs they write, such as "Yesterday." And those movies were tremendous; that director, Dick Lester, is great. There's a talented guy, because what he did with those guys in there was very special. He let them be themselves; they didn't lose their identity, and that was perfect. Both of those movies I could see again—and I seldom see a movie again.
Sure, I like working at Ronnie s club. Believe me, Ronnie and Pete are angels by comparison with some club-owners I've encountered. They're angels, anyway, as human beings. But some of the ones in the States are out of sight—forget about it ! I mean, they have no respect for an artist. They don't care about the music; they care about the buck, and that's it. They try to take out as much money as they can, and then they close up.
It's a rare thing for a club to be run by musicians. There's a Los Angeles club which has a musician as a front man. He has a piece of it, but he doesn't really have anything to do with the running of it. If he does, then he's doing a terrible job, because that's a horrible club. And the atmosphere in there—they've got a manager that just makes you feel very ill-at-ease.
For instance, the day I opened there I called up the manager and told him : "I got a call from the agency saying that big men from the Press are coming down. You want to get good coverage, don't you, for the two weeks we'll be here?" I named a particular columnist and I said: "The TV men are coming down too. They might want to shoot down here for the newsreel. Would you make sure they all get a nice table?" "Sorry. Can't do that. The tables are already sold out." As a matter of fact, I did turn-away business every night for two weeks. Like, I broke their record there. But still, they should have found room for the Press.
It would have helped the club, as much as helping me, but he couldn't be convinced of that. That's why I got angry at him.
I was going to quit but for some reason I stuck it out. I didn't falter. Which I'm glad I did now, anyway. Nobody was able to criticise me over it.
One thing that does my heart good is to hear fine jazz being played all over the world. You know, jazz has really done a lot for America. Our politicians don't realise what our music has done for our image. I mean, we're in a lot of trouble, but we in jazz are certainly ambassadors of goodwill.
I've had this quartet almost a year I now, and they're good fellows. The group has something on its own, something different. I've even sacrificed playing with a bass fiddle, because Eddie Louiss can play the bass on the organ. As for René Thomas, he's an excellent guitarist. He's a disciple of Django Reinhardt and Jimmy Raney — who was on my band for three years once. My reason for not using a guitar for many years was that I hadn't found the right one— until now.
Certainly, this is a much more compatible group for me than that one I had a couple of years ago— with Stanley Cowell, Miroslav Vitous and Jack De Johnette. Those fellows are interested in trying to push for an avant garde , and such things should come naturally. Unfortunately, I was caught up with them, and trying to do the same thing; but that's definitely not my milieu— excuse my French.
Working with these European musicians is part of my 'having become something of a European. I live in Spain now, and I spend a lot of time in London.
How did I come to move from the States? Well, I'll tell you. Three of my children go to school now within an hour- and- a- half of London. We lived in New York City and the schools got bad; so we moved up to Westchester County, about twenty miles North of the city, which at one time had the best school system in the United States. But even that got to be terrible. So I just packed up, bag and baggage. And my children have thrived on the wonderful English schools.
They have shown musical ability. One daughter plays guitar and sings. My eldest son, who has a Master's Degree in Political Science, has thrown it away for a while, and has his own quintet. Modern jazz he plays— not pop. His instruments are drums and piano. Yes, he's coming along fine— but I'm thinking about the thirty thousand dollars I spent on his education ! No, no— I don't care, really. Let him do what he wants.
I can't say I'd ever recommend to him the life of a jazz musician. To work in clubs till three in the morning— the whole idea is contrary to the way the human body should be treated. But I can't help it; I just love music so much that I'm caught in it. And that's what he tells me. I try to talk him out of doing it; he says : "Dad, what'll I do? I love it." So— as long as he's happy. . . As long as you're capable of loving something— fine, I'm for that.
Why did I choose Spain to live? Well, I'm only allowed to stay here six months a year, I think. I travel around, and I come to visit here in London as much as I can. Spain is the warmest place in the Southern point of Europe; it's a good base to commute from, too. From Malaga airport on the Costa Del Sol there's direct flights to New York and so forth.
And it’s a place to unwind. I notice, when I get there, for the first week or so everybody else seems to be moving slower than I, whereas it's actually I who am city- fied in my tempo; my pace has quickened. After a week or two, I simmer right down into the natural, relaxed attitude that they have down there. Like, you know the saying— manana .
I tend to space out the actual playing that I do. I make three records a year, and I just work the jabs that I want to work. I can afford to do this now.
Recording- wise, the past six months have been very productive. Six months ago at Ronnie Scott’s club, we recorded a double twelve- inch LP called "Dynasty," with this quartet. Then on June 15 we made a swinging big band album with the Clarke- Boland band. And we're about to start recording a Michel Legrand Swingle Singers LP. Also we're going into the studio with the quartet and recording it again, because we have all new material now, and the band is so much more cohesive. Everybody in the band writes for it.
The live quartet record is on release now. I don't usually like to do it, but I thought it was ,better for a jazz band to be recorded live. We did it this once, and I feel that it was worthwhile. It was a lot of trouble, editing three nights of material.
We were lucky, because the remastering engineer was able to make the fidelity just about as good as it would have been if we'd recorded in e studio.
The big band LP is made up completely of original material by Francy Boland, who I think has got to be insane to write such beautiful music! I mean, he just wrote something that's so far- out— it's the greatest advance in big band music in twenty or thirty years. It's fantastic; I'm proud of it. This is what I consider natural avant garde , to refer to what we were saying earlier.
There's all kinds of things on it. Ad lib passages out- of- tempo; everybody in the band plays solos; there are duets, quartets, trios, sextets— with six saxophones ad- libbing at once. My God, there's just everything. The other tenor players were Ronnie, Tony Coe and a young English fellow, Stan Sulzmann, who was also very good; so we had a lovely time.
We had solo exchanges between Tony Coe and I; then we had Sahib Shihab and I playing duets together, on the baritone and on the soprano. It was marvellous.
England really has some fine musicians. All of Europe has changed, as far as music goes. When I first came here twenty years ago there was nothing, but with the influx of jazz musicians and records coming here, it's become great. Well, I'm taking my European band to the United States; so that proves I believe in it! The last ballad LP I did was "Didn't We?" Sure, I love to play beautiful ballads with a string section— who wouldn't? But never in my life have I recorded something that I thought was going t o be commercial; I liked what I was doing and believed in it— that's the truth.
Oh, there is one exception to that last statement. Two years ago MGM asked me to make a record of "this year's and last year's pop hits"— that was "Marakeesh Express." That's the only time I ever didn't record exactly what I wanted to— I gave them their wish. And it fell on its ass ! Of course, I just love big bands. Coming from my background, playing with Woody Herman, Benny Goodman and Stan Kenton in my teens, I'd have to love 'em. But as for hearing them nowadays— I don't really get to hear much.
I just came back from four- and- a- half months in Spain, and I didn't hear nothin' except the tapes, cassettes and records that I have down there. It's impossible to follow everything that's going on, anyway. All you can do is be lucky enough to hear one little iota of what's actually happening.
No, I don't think jazz is moving in any good directions, particularly, right now. But to me jazz, even though it has temporary spells where it seems to be only crawling along, is always getting better and always more people are liking it.
It's a slow, slow creep upwards; I've always believed in that.
It has to be slow, because it’s an experimental music. Any kind of music that is not played from notes, that is all ad lib, must move slowly. After all, how old is jazz— fifty, seventy years old?— and everybody's just searching around. And that's the thing that keeps me interested and gives me a young approach towards jazz— because of that very search, trying to get some decent music.
As for anybody saying that jazz needs a shot in the arm from pop music— that's bull. There's no such thing; the only kind of shot in the arm jazz ever gets is: once in twenty or thirty years a guy like Charlie Parker will come along. Or a Lester Young. That's a natural, quick evolution— a jump ahead. Otherwise it's creeping along, nice and slow and sure. Making a lot of mistakes, but getting up again and climbing up the stairs; falling down, but not hurting itself too much.
You can never say that jazz has gone past the era of the absolute giants, because you just don't know who's going to pop up and scare the death out of you! Tomorrow you might hear a record that'll knock you on your ears, and it'll be some young kid or some guy that's started something new. You never know with jazz.
If I felt disillusioned in any way, I wouldn't still be here playing. And if you feel blasé, you might as well not get up on that stage, because the people are going to hear it. Every little mood inside your deepest, innermost heart comes out when you play.
Copyright © 1964, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.