Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bill King Trio - Five Aces - 7Arts

It was the summer of 1963 when I earned my first lesson in the blues from piano giant Oscar Peterson.

I was sitting nervously in Mr. Peterson’s office at 21 Park Road in Toronto with a head full of questions. “Mr. Peterson – what should I be listening too.” I do remember a slight tremble in my voice. This was my musical hero - one big imposing presence. “Bill, you’ve got to learn how to play the blues – it’s in everything.” Peterson paused for a moment then reached behind and pulled two LPs. “This one is about the blues – Junior Mance at the Village Vanguard and this one is about things to come – Claire Fischer - Surging Ahead. Peterson then points to the Vanguard album and says, “If you want to play blues piano – it’s all there. Just listen!”

When I returned to Louisville, Kentucky after six weeks studying with the master at the Advanced School of Contemporary Music, I went on a serious hunt for both recordings. Magically, I found both.

As soon as I was safe at home I dropped the needle on the first track of Mance’s blues declaration - ‘Looptown,’ nice - but way too fast to comprehend – then ‘Letter From Home,’ now we’re talking, and finally ‘Smokey Blues’ - a blues that builds from an ember to a firestorm – something I could transcribe. I heard it - every phrase; the storied territory between the notes - the place where the blues takes shelter – and fell madly in love.

As the years passed I would discover Booker T. and the MGs on a jukebox at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana sounding ‘Green Onions’ – Little Anthony and the Imperials ‘ Hurt so Bad’ on the radio. I couldn’t get enough. Then it was the bands I played with -The Shadows and the Chateaus and Cosmo and the Counts – nothing but the blues – Bobby Bland, James Brown, Travis Womack and Lonny Mack.

Then one day I was on the road like the old guys – Southern California, Greenwich Village, Jersey Shores, and San Francisco. “Hold on I’m Comin’, Midnight Hour, 634-5789, I Can’t Turn You Loose.” Otis, Ray, Carla, Aretha, The Four Tops, Vanilla Fudge, Free, the Rolling Stones- the greatest era to be a living musician and I was a traveling student.

‘Five Aces’ is my recollection of that time and a tribute to every keyboard player who memorized those ubiquitous parts. With bassist Collin Barrett and drummer Mark Kelso at my side I feel we capture a sense of what it was like to be emboldened by a sound that claimed the best of soul, gospel and rhythm and blues with a sprinkling of jazz that empowered a cadre of talented players to invent something so incredibly powerful it spilled over decades later to the young players of today.

Oscar got me rolling; Junior made me sound good, the bands gave me experience and late great Canadian keyboardist Richard Bell defined gospel piano playing for me. Love and respect you all!

Bill King.
Contact: billkingpiano@gmail.com Available at iTunes www.7artsmusic.com 416 530-2524

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Interview with Otis Blackwell (1987) Great Balls of Fire! (Interview)

When you piece together the history of contemporary North American music, you discover composer/pianist Otis Blackwell is the rightful owner of the title, King of Rock 'n 'Roll. Throughout the past 30 years, Blackwell's hit songs have been recorded by Elvis Presley - 'All Shook Up, Don't Be Cruel, Paralyzed, Return To Sender, Please Don't Drag That String (Around), One Broken Heart For Sale', Jerry Lee Lewis 'Great Balls Of Fire, Breathless, Let's Talk About Us', Little Willie John and Peggy Lee 'Fever', Dee Clark 'Just Keep It Up' and Jimmy Jones, Del Shannon and James Taylor 'Handyman'.

Bill King: You've been in the studio working on some new projects. What type of sounds are you recording?

Otis Blackwell: Actually, I've been finishing up three albums. I'd been in Nashville recording and a fellow in Baltimore is helping me start a little record label. How is it up there?

B.K: Warm and rainy.

O.B: It's been raining like crazy here.

B.K: It can be a problem year after year in southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee. After the drought of '88, this must come as a surprise.

O.B: It's definitely a wet one.

B.K: I first met you at a club in the early '80s, when I was playing with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks. I managed to get one of your promotion leaflets and was astonished at the number of hit rock 'n' roll songs you have written. Where did all this music come from?

O.B: I really don't know. When I was young, I just sat down and started playing Chopsticks at the piano. I got so far and then lost interest. Eventually, I regained it and started writing songs.

B.K: Was there music you heard when you were young that helped you develop a style of writing?

O.B: I didn't play much early on. What I really liked was cowboy movies. I was a big cowboy fan and liked western music. You couldn't get that stuff where I lived, so I hung out at a little theater that played Gene Autrey and Tex Ritter movies. Tex Ritter is still my favourite singer.

B.K: Did you listen to a lot of radio?

O.B: Yeah, but I didn't get to listen to country music. When the radio was turned on in my house, you had either spirituals, the news or Chuck Willis and Larry Darnell.

B.K: Was it difficult to get people interested in your songs?

O.B: When I started writing it was kind of hard getting people to do my stuff. They say they couldn't do my style. At one point I decided to open an office at 1650 The Brill Building, which is supposedly where all the great music writers have theirs. I opened it and down the hall was a business school. Students would pass by my door, and, eventually, some came in. They looked around and asked, " Are you a songwriter?" I said, "Yeah." " You wrote such and such.Yeah, I did." On my wall I had people like Elvis Presley, Peggy Lee, James Taylor and six or seven other white artists and the kids said, " How come you don't have any black artists on your all?' I told them. "That's my gold wall, and they're the ones who sold millions. I've never had a black artist do that with my songs.

B.K: Were black artists recording your songs?

O.B: No, I was getting a lot of covers, but either they weren't getting out or just weren't clicking. I think the one that really happened was Fever with Little Willie John. But, it only went so far because Peggy Lee jumped on it.

B.K: Was there more interest from black producers and artists after your first successes?

O.B: There were two gentlemen. One was Henry Glover, he dug what I did. I got a bunch of records through him. The other fellow, Calvin Carter, was from Vee Jay Records and he recorded a lot of my material. Other than those two, I didn't get much interest.

B.K: How were you able to get you songs to Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis and Peggy?

O.B: A writer by the name of Leroy Kirkland took me to a publishing house called Shalamar Music. A fellow there by the name of Al Stanton was a friend of another fellow named Paul Cates, who was with the Elvis Presley people. He got my songs through. When Moe Gail, who owned Shalamar Music, passed away, I moved over to another publishing company.

B.K: Did they treat you right?

O.B: Oh, you better believe it. It was slow at first. You had a lot of late hours, but that's all part of it. Now, you don't have to wait to record. You can spend five to eight dollars on a cassette and they don't even listen to it. I'd hate to be a songwriter starting a career today. So many independent publishers and they're all important. They've done a lot of wrong things, but some good as well.

B.K: When the movie 'Breathless' came out, did things begin to turn around again?

O.B: Oh yeah, I've noticed it usually turns around every nine or ten years.

B.K: Years ago, I met Don Covey, Tommy Tucker and Johnny Nash in a New York studio called A-1 Sounds. They were all selling songs to the owner, Herb Abramson, who held the publishing on 'High Heel Sneakers'. It seemed every few years his fortune would increase when Elvis or Jose Feliciano would record the tune.

O.B: I talk to Herb every time I go to California. We hung out a lot and had many a good time. He's still driving, but he can't see right; he drives that car like he's crazy.

B.K: He's the first producer I met in new York when I was there in 1967. I was down and out, had a couple of songs and he bought them.

O.B: He was the original partner and founder of Atlantic along with Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun. They all started it together.

B.K: I always wondered why Herb and the others parted ways.

O.B: I think he went into the service and, by the time he got out, things had changed. I really like doing that old stuff and he's got a good ear for that. That's the way he wants to record. His thing is rhythm 'n' blues.

B.K: His door was always open to black artists.

O.B: He understood the music. We're all in it to make money, but hew really loved it. He talks it all the time.

B.K: How did Peggy Lee get hold of 'Fever'?

O.B: I used to be with a publishing house called Roosevelt Music. A gentleman there told me he had seen Peggy Lee perform Fever in Las Vegas and I found out later she wanted to record it.

B.K: Did you ever meet her?

O.B: No, I didn't meet her, but came close about three years ago - it was too crowded. I was to meet her after the show, bit I didn't want to hang around and deal with the crowd.

B.K: Did you ever attempt to talk to any of the artists that had considerable success with your songs?

O.B: I never really wanted to meet them because there's the problem of getting between the artist and the manager. It can get kind of funny at times. I always figured it was best if I write my songs, take them to my publisher and just lay back. There used to be so many things going on - getting to the artist, getting to the publishers - you know, politics. I just didn't want to get mixed up in all of that.

B.K: Did you ever do anything with Sun Records?

O.B: I met what's his name.

B.K: Sam Phillips?

O.B: Yeah, I met him a couple of times when I went down to Memphis. That's as far as it goes. I used to go down every year for the remembrance of Elvis' birthday. Memphis State College invited me to sit in the auditorium and speak to the people for one of those Elvis days.

B.K: When are they going to have an Otis Blackwell Day?

O.B: I don't know - it might be nice. I'm very low-keyed. There have been many times when I've been asked to appear and I'd say to myself, "What am I going to talk about?' Early on, when I did interviews, I'd tell everyone, "Don't ask me about dates. I don't even remember what I did yesterday."

B.K: How did you come up with those wonderful bass lines that were at the core of the music?

O.B: I started as one of those two-fingered players, then graduated to three and four fingers and, eventually five. I played a little boogie-woogie and the shuffle, so I wrote over that. Then the Beatles came over and knocked that out.

B.K: Where did you grow up?

O.B: I was born in Brooklyn and still live right around the corner from where I was born. Everybody used to tell me to go to Nashville, and I'd say, "OK, where is it?" I started coming here years ago to hang out, and now I love it.

B.K: Any plans for the future?

O.B: I've decided to run back in forth between Brooklyn and Nashville. I like this town, it's really great. They've put me in The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. This town is about music. It's about the kind of music I like. I've also started a small record label, so I've done an album. People always talk about what I've done, but this is what I'm doing now. I got behind that pencil and nothing happened for many years, but since they put me in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, I've turned around. I took a good look at myself and said, " I think it's time to get back at work."

B.K: How has your writing changed?

O.B: You know my thing was always about I Love You. Your Feets Too Big and that kind of stuff, so I figured I'd sit down and write something different. One of the new songs deals with the situation with guns, and another one deals with the homeless. I've got two or three rock 'n' roll tunes. It's the best stuff I've done in a long time. I've taken my time and worked on them for a couple of years.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

High on Hoops in L.A! (1976)

Bill King

I met Devon Haines on the basketball court in Poinsettia Park one warm sun-drenched California afternoon in 1976 . He’d been waiting patiently to enter the next game and needed one more player to complete his team. I was new to the court and a bit leery of invading the fracas without a semi-formal introduction. Rather than eagerly volunteer I decided to watch before joining the battle.

My mate and I, drove from Toronto to L.A. stopping briefly in Arizona for a round of clay court basketball at the home of the Arizona Wildcats. After a couple thousand miles of sleet and frigid temperatures the dense blue sky and soothing heat proved most inviting. A few games of two on two were a blissful prelude to the months ahead.

As beautiful as it was in Arizona, L.A. was where the real basketball action was. There was an air of coolness on and off the court that made hands sweat and mind sharp. The brothers in the park regarded Devon “The little man from Detroit”. Somebody always knew someone who had a cousin related to a neighbor living near a basketball court.

The brothers in L.A. came from every playground in America, and were somehow interconnected. The object to this scene was to maintain cool and float in and out like a near visible slab of Greenlandic ice. Only then would one be invited to join in conversation. The best introduction was made by making a modest showing on the court. This meant don’t throw the ball away. Don’t pass to the other team; which I must admit was my first mistake, and feed the ball to the guys who earn their reputation jamming the ball through the hole daily. If at some point you found yourself open with the ball and shot it cleanly through the cylinder you were rewarded a small amount of respect, usually in the form of a passing slap at a sweaty palm or an opportunity to touch the ball on another occasion.

As I awaited my call to glory, Devon gave me one of those black men, white man intros. Eyebrows spread, voice deepened, triceps pumped, then the words. “Where you from big man”? When I said Toronto, he thought I said Tonto. In my broken southern and partial Canadian dialect I guess it must have sounded like the Lone Ranger’s sidekick. Devon soon warmed to our regional commonality and ran off a list of homeboys he thought I may have had occasion to meet. Suddenly the game ended and it was our turn to burn the pavement.

When teams were divided and play ready to resume I made a mental note of those players assigned to my team. One white dude - nine brothers. Faces I’d never seen in my life. Fortunately, Devon was on my side so I knew one person I could pass to without throwing the ball away.

As soon as the ball was inbound I gripped it and a voice bellowed,” Over here”. That’s when I quickly reacted with a well - timed pass in the hands of the opposition. This brought a wild chorus of laughter. Devon was no help with his size and awkwardness. With Afro Devon measured a tall 5’11”. But in actual body distance he was more like 5’6”.

As he dribbled the ball his legs spread like a figure skater in a side to side glide making any forward progress implausible. The other players were well-conditioned athletes used to the fast pace and hungry for a struggle under the boards.

The game passed quickly, which didn’t disappoint me. Besides this was my first time in this climate and I knew my body would eventually thaw. I’d just made my first conversation with another ball hound and nothing could have been sweeter.

After the wipeout, Devon and I shared our first laughs. He had a broad smile, infectious laugh and desire to know more about me. During our exchange we discovered common ground, our love of music and sports. He spoke of Lou Rawls, Sarah Vaughan, Little Richard, Ray Leonard, Ali, Kenny Norton, Eddy “the Animal” Lopez, Carlos Palomino. Singers and fighters! He lived to be outdoors. Detroit winters robbed him of precious moments in warm sunshine. Devon dreamed of being on stage traveling the world like his heroes.

Haines was handsome with light brown skin partially dotted with small freckles. He was momma’s boy away from home with too much pride to call and confess things weren’t progressing in Hollywood as he’d envisioned. In fact it was the environment that impeded his maturing into the entertainer he’d hope to be. He loved the taste of cheap weed. Shunned all alcohol, and loved playing family man with his adopted wife and son. This was a family at ease with the lifestyle and under a lot of pressure to stay afloat. Their apartment was always heated to the point of inducing drowsiness in all visitors. The kitchen counter was the entertainment centre stabilizing the super- super eight projector, making daily viewing of boxing’s great moments, the main event.

Devon owned an upright piano located at the apartment’s entrance. From there he gave the occasional singing lesson to aspiring young singers. The pocket change afforded him the luxury of buying a dime bag of twigs, seeds and a bit of dust for a short high.

There were about six of us from the court who would pile in the tiny living room and whoop it up. We’d be on our feet for every “Sugar Ray” blow and on the carpet for every DarrylDawkins slam. On the ceiling for every Dr. J. skydive, pumped and ready for a return confrontation in the park. We traveled as a group, Bruce, Ron, Devon, myself, and two other brothers not as tightly wound to our scene.

We hit Cahaunega Park every day at 4:00 p.m. and at least once a week the midnight game at San Vincente Park. Each playground had its own cast of superstars and hacks. The right combination of personalities took the afternoon to euphoric proportions. One bad seed brought out the pre-evolution traits all males should aspire to exorcise from the body.

I booked Devon a few cameo-singing interludes at a weekly amateur night called Skippy Lowe’s Showcase ‘76, of which I was the house replacement pianist. For awhile it offered him an opportunity to perform in front of a neutral audience. He was received enthusiastically until Lowe decided to fill the position with white boys he thought he could prey on. The brothers from the court encouraged Scott, but after awhile it alienated both of us from the pasty-faced predator. I was fired and Devon's limitations as a vocalist became more apparent. He relied too much on the gospel thumping mannerisms and vocal inflections of Little Richard. He never ventured far from the tradition. It was like his potential had been straight-jacketed.

Remember me mentioning the heat in Scott’s apartment? When we’d visit, Susan, Devon and young John, would nod-out simultaneously as if someone had asked them to participate in group hypnosis. The same would happen when they’d visit our cottage. My wife and I played a little game with Devon’s car keys. He’d usually slope unconscious upright in a wooden chair. We’d dangle the car keys around his ears inducing a smile and a few garbled sentences. Eventually the neck would weaken and the head would collapse. We’d repeat the sequence until we’d almost bruise a gut muscle. Susan and John were usually pronounced dead. No pulse, no party. After a couple hours of unconscious merriment we’d gently awaken and deliver them to the van.

The two years spent in this environment made me believe life would stretch into one endless series of jump shots and aerial moves. My work took me beyond the neighborhood for months at a time. When I returned, my friends were all there, as if time had held them in place.

Devon cruised his way around Hollywood smiling like a Cheshire cat, with Afro comb in hand and body perfectly toned from hours spent pumping iron courtesy parks department.

Towards the end of our hang we made one last drive for the elusive Colombian Ganga. SDevon had a friend who knew someone on Sunset Boulevard who possessed the real buzz -less twig and more smoke.

We drove around in Devon’s white and red pinstriped van eventually locating a number which corresponded with some homeboy’s instructions. A rap on the door brought one of the meanest looking dudes I’ve ever come face to face with. Devon used the cousin from Detroit bullshit line gaining entry to the playpen. While Scott quietly looked over the shoulder of the dealer who had a revolver placed strategically on the table, I was interrogated by a PCP addict who informed me of his desire to kill someone. Killer was recently released from an L.A. jail, barely capable of restraining an urge to extract retribution. Devon contained the room by assuring everyone I was cool. I felt like Woody Allen in one of those implausible situations only an unsuspecting idiot would invade. Fortunately, for the both of us the headman’s old lady lost her patience with the whole situation and began arguing with her lover/dealer. That allowed the both of us an escape route past PCP man, out of a potentially dangerous situation.

While the twosome fought on the street we sped off to Watts and an extended night of adventure. Devon had a friend who knew some guy who was, ‘The man’ in Watts . He liked music, in fact owned expensive high-end recording equipment. The whole proposition seemed risky to me. But off we drove intent on buying a dime of herbal bliss.

As we approached our destination, police helicopters circled above us. The moment we park a penetrating beam strikes a pedestrian shuffling along the street. From the clouds above comes a commanding voice demanding to know the name, reason, and travel details of the old gentleman. After viewing the suspect for a few moments, the copter quickly disappears on a mission more eventful than this. We froze with fear in Scott’s van, but the thought of smoking the real ganja kept us focused on our mission.

Surprisingly, the old man was heading to same address. The young man who answered the door was like one of the young black militants I had met in the Fillmore district of San Francisco a decade earlier and with hair was wound tightly in corn-rows. He was cautious, yet sharp enough to read us as no threat. Besides we had to be crazy driving down here together.

The three of us sat around the living room as he stood over a baby’s crib, reached under the mattress, and pulled out a plastic bag. He gave us a handful of joints each a different
color, labeled with some kind of inscription. He then asked how high we wanted to go - From Mexico to PCP land. We settled on Colombia. The old man wanted to fry his brain on PCP, way out of our league.

The young brother had a beautiful upright piano resting peacefully in a corner. Devon introduced me as a bad-assed blues and jazz pianist. This got me a place situated behind the keys. I played and played and played. Each piece sounded better than the previous. The room resonated with the rhythm of the vibrating strings. When I figured I’d exhausted the moment, the fellows keep encouraging me to play on. We laugh, sing, we listen. We share one of the most special moments in our lives. There was no uneasiness over color. No fear of being in the wrong neighborhood. No need to compete with each other - just magic.

When Devon and I drove away that night we sensed we’d never spend another evening together as precious as this. There was a quiet calm during the ride back to Hollywood.

Devon and I went mountain climbing, more driving and found ourselves in many hilarious situations, but time on the loose was running out. I needed to move on with my family and Scott had to come to grips with his.

Seven years later I returned to L.A. and located Devon. He had changed dramatically. The family was gone and laughter missing from his eyes. Con man had entered his soul along with addictive Asian powder. His pants were stained and pride diminished. His dreams were more a distant excuse for living a life he had never intended. I loved him as a true friend and was shattered by what I had witnessed. I was now the intruder with little time to bring him back.

I ran into Bruce near a liquor store. His life had succumbed to begging quarters for another pint. The basketball court where we earned one another’s respect was now vacant. The neighborhood was all the more dangerous. Our game had become a ghostly memory. None of us were pro material or a threat to unseat the street legends. We were guys who found a world of friendship, shared interests, and a whole lot of laughter, at a crossroads in our lives.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

An Interview with Tony Bennett – The Streets of Astoria (December 1993)

New York-born Tony Bennett is one of the most respected vocalists in the world today. With a 56 year musical career that includes performing with the Count Basie Orchestra in the 50s, classic recordings with Bill Evans in the ‘60s and an incredible solo performing and recording career spanning five decades, Bennett has always been accompanied by an impeccable collection of jazz musicians. His passion for music is equaled only by his love of art. As a painter, he continues to study and show his work at galleries throughout the U.S. Bennett was open and giving during this interview. In 2009, I had the privilege of photographing him live in concert at the Festival du Jazz de Montreal. At 84, he’s still a powerhouse.

Bill King: You’ve had a remarkable year, beginning with a Grammy for your tribute to Frank Sinatra, ‘Perfectly Frank’, and now the release of ‘Steppin’ Out’, a tribute to Fred Astaire. Is this one of the most fulfilling periods of your life?

Tony Bennett: Yes, it is. Producers often try to change the creative instincts of performers instead of trusting them. They’ll want you to do a quick novelty song or something silly to sell records immediately. A good artist avoids that.

We did ‘Steppin’ Out’ and ‘Perfectly Frank’ as they say “unplugged”. Actually, I’ve been “unplugged” for years. We just did it the way we know how to do things; very naturally.

Winning the Grammy was a very gratifying experience because no producers interfered with this project. The fact that we were able to do the album in an uncompromising way win in an age of heavy metal, rap and hip-hop, is very exciting.

B.K.: How important was it for great composers like George Gershwin, Jerome Kern Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and others to have Fred Astaire introduce their songs?

T.B.: From what I understand, they wouldn’t make a move without Fred. His colleagues mention it and so do the history books. He was part of the Golden Era. They respected him so much. He would bring shows in, not just songs. This was way before he did films and was on Broadway.

It’s interesting that not one of those songs hit the charts, yet they are heard internationally and have become our ambassadors all over the world. If I sing ‘Dancing in the Dark’ in Japan or ’A Foggy Day in London Town’ in Italy, everybody knows those songs as American songs. Like jazz itself, the cream rises to the top.

B.K.: it’s been the jazz players who have kept these songs alive through all the changes that have occurred in popular music.

T.B.: Yeah. All the famous - Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins records, -Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and now Wynton Marsalis keep the music fresh. There are so many artists, I could go on. Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Duke Ellington. All of them interpreted those songs.

B.K.: it speaks a lot for the dynamics of an inspired composition.

T.B.: They are our tradition. We are such a young country and don’t realize it. We’re always craving for something new, something that will be bigger than the Beatles or Elvis Presley. The industry just wants the big cash. Businessmen are blinded by that, all they want is more.

Jazz deals with the truth, with honesty and sincerity. Sooner or later, when people hear it down the line, even 2000 years, we’ll be hailed for giving the world some of the most beautiful music it’s ever heard.

B.K.: Do you think any of the songs in the last 15 to 20 years will have the same kind of longevity?

T.B.: I’m positive they won’t. There are just a few by people like Stevie Wonder, Billie Joel, Michel Legrand, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Stephen Sondheim and Burton Lane – they are all great composers of mature popular craft, but they aren’t played on radio.

Everybody’s hyped up. This is the age of obsolescence. People want something that will increase sales.

B.K.: Are you an artist who lives in the recording studio, or one who devotes the bulk of his time to pre-production?

T.B.: I spend time preparing so that when I go in, I do it fast. I spend months in preparation. I memorize everything. On the latest album, I planned the sequence of the songs instead of waiting until later. We just went in and started with the first tune should be placed and what kind of concept it should have.

B.K.: How many songs did you record to arrive at 18?

T.B.: I did 24. Fred Astaire’s advice was whenever you have an act that feels perfect, pull out 15 minutes no matter how good you feel it is. The reason is to avoid staying on stage too long. I feel a record has to be the same way. You don’t want to be predictable or monotonous.

B.K.: Do you have a philosophy for linking songs together?

T.B.: I look for songs that uplift the human experience.

B.K.: Pianist Ralph Sharon has been with you for over 30 years. What has made this a perfect match?

T.B.: He’s my favourite musician. He’s the best colleague a guy could ever have. I just love being with him. He’s very intelligent and doesn’t throw it out at everybody. He’s much understated, but very educated.

He grew up in Britain and was on the top of the jazz magazine charts there. He was number one for 12 years. He used to play piano for Ted Heath who had the most famous band in England. Ralph also did a lot of movie scores. He’s a jazz player who also loves the public and likes to entertain them.

As a result, he’s very good at selecting songs. He’s found all the songs for me the past 30 years. We consider ourselves tunesmiths and collaborate on introducing songs. We’ve introduced 135 so far, and out of that 50 of them are real blockbusters. Everybody, musicians and singers, performs them now.

B.K.; You find jewels like ‘Drifting’.

T.B.: Ella Fitzgerald suggested that song for me. She said,’ Do that song Drifting,’ and you know when Ella suggests a song you better give it a listen.

B.K.: What makes an accompanist like Ralph Sutton invaluable to a singer?

T.B.: I consider those guys high artists. When I say those guys, it’s just a few people who really know how to accompany, like Tommy Flannagan and John Bunch. There is just a handful of guys who really know how to play behind a singer. Bill Evans, of course, was just ideal.

B.K.: Do you have to be a great soloist?

T.B.: It’s someone like Count Basie, another great accompanist, who made all of his musicians sound magnificent. It’s a gift that’s in them where they want to help other cats out. There’s niceness about them. They decide to sublimate themselves to make everybody else sound good. I think that’s a wonderful quality.

I think they are high artists who aren’t respected enough because they’re in the background, but that background is what makes the whole thing happen. It’s like Jo Jones who took a newspaper, wrapped it up backstage at Newport and just hit his knee and kept time and the whole band knew it. Everyone picked up on it and it became the best Ellington live performance record ever made - just done with a newspaper.

Some guys play too much and it interrupts the singers. You’ve got to breathe with the singer. You’ve got to know every move the singer is going to make. Ralph knows me like the back of his hand. He knows what I’m thinking from phrase to phrase.

B.K.:A vocalist like Shirley Horn understands herself so well it would be impossible to find a better accompanist.

T.B.:I love the way she sings. I heard a cut she recorded recently called ‘Too Late Now’ by Burton Lane and Allan J. Leonard, it’s just perfect. She accompanies herself absolutely perfectly.

B.K.: Personnel changes in your rhythm section are a rare occurrence. What inspires you to alter the chemistry from time to time?

T.B.: I’ve always had very superior musicians like Joe LaBarbera and Paul Longosch who were with me many years. They’re perfect guys and Joe is just the sanest person I’ve ever met. He wanted to settle down. He bought a house and is working in L.A. and doing very well. He’s getting married. What happens is that after a while certain guys get tired of the road. I’ve brought in some wonderful guys like Douglas Richeson from Ohio and Clayton Cameron who played with Sammy Davis Jr. for seven years. All of the musicians say he’s the in-thing right now. He’s everybody’s favourite drummer.

B.K.: Do you find travelling a strain?

T.B.: No, I’ve been doing it 45 years and have gotten used to it. If you look around at people who live in one place, they’re strained too. I love to read. When I get on an airplane, especially on overseas trips, I can finally get into some long-term reading. There are no phones. Other people say,”Oh, God, what a long flight”. To me, it’s like a dream. I can get into a book without having to pick up a telephone.

B.K.: Have you modified your style over the years?

T.B.: I think I have. You get to learn what to leave out. I keep trying to get better. I work at it and take good care of myself. I’ve done almost everything to experience life in the past and now I feel very mellow about the fact I’m in control of myself. I’m disciplined, eating good foods, exercise properly. I’m 67 and in good spirits. I feel very good about life. I know that doesn’t make news, but I’ve never felt better.

B.K.: With all of the radical changes in popular music, you’ve managed to withstand the excesses, wore a smile and attracted new fans. Were there periods which tested your confidence?

T.B.: Yes, Abbey Mann, a good friend I grew up with and the author of ‘Judgment at Nuremburg’, said, “Do you realize how many produces we’ve been through and we’re still here.” That was very astute.

Executives of the record companies and other media like television and film feel very superior in their positions, but when they’re out of it, they have no power. Each new guy decides to change everything.

Once the companies have enough of your catalogue, they get somebody else. If they sense you’re predictable, you’re out. To get into the game of longevity, you have to bob and weave.

B.K.: When performing, where do you direct you art - to yourself, the audience or the musicians?

T.B.: First to myself. The whole idea is to communicate with the audience. I can’t wait to hit the stage. I’m that kind of performer. Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, we all went for the audience. We want to entertain.

B.K.: Are you more at ease in concert or in the studio?

T.B.: I like all of it. You have to prepare for it. If you’re going to get nervous, it should be with live performance because there are no retakes. With recording, you have at least four takes for every tune. You don’t have to release anything you don’t want to. With that many takes, you can usually find one that is near perfect.
With live performance, you’re going out there and if that one shot isn’t right, it’s gone with the wind. If you’re going to get shook up, it better be on stage, not in the recording studio. The studio feels really comfortable with me.

B.K.: Do you ever fear they’ll release the ‘out-takes’ on a compilation?

T.B.: They shouldn’t. It would be disastrous.. I also paint and one of my big jobs is to tear up the paintings that don’t work. You should never present a picture unless it’s absolutely excellent. It’s representative of you. You have to shoot for a very high level and that doesn’t happen every day. Most of the time, you’re just doing exercises in painting and once in a while you hit one and say, ‘Look at that, it’s really good’.

B.K.: Have you always painted?

T.B.: I’ve gone to art schools my whole life. I’m still studying. I study with the best painter in America, Everett Raymond Kinstler. I feel so fortunate that he’s teaching me. Painting gives you a happy life. You’re studying nature. Every day you paint, you learn. You always feel fulfilled. It’s meditative and knocks out any of your worries. When you’re painting, four hours go by like four minutes.

B.K.: Would you give some brief thoughts or impressions on some artists? Sarah Vaughan.

T.B.: Sarah Vaughan was blessed with the most wonderful voice - a four-octave range without falsetto. She was really the essence of a singer. When you say Sarah Vaughan, I say she was born to sing.

B.K.: Frank Sinatra.

T.B.: Sinatra is the king of the entertainment world. He’s conquered all the mediums. He’s the Al Jolson of today. He was also blessed with a golden voice.

B.K.: Billie Holiday.

T.B.: Every once in a while there are singers that are very rare. I can think of three. -Hank Williams down south, Edith Piaf in Paris and Billie Holiday. There is a destiny about those three singers. Their lives have become legendary.

B.K. Joe Williams.

T.B.: A magnificent singer. He was with Basie’s band. I was the first white singer to sing with the band and he was the vocalist at the time. Those were some of the greatest days, being around the Count Basie band in the ‘50s.

B.K.: Betty Carter.

T.B.: She’s a wonderful singer. You’re hitting on something that’s so interesting to me because when someone says to me what your category is, I find I dislike that word. I sing all kinds of songs, but I do lean towards pop-jazz singing. Like Ella, God goes through Betty on every note.

B.K.: Harry Connick Jr.

T.B.: I think he’s got a lot of talent. For a young guy, he’s come a long way. I had a lot to do with getting him into films. We had the same agent and I suggested it right at the beginning. He’s just a grand guy.

B.K.: What jazz artists do you listen to?

T.B.: I’m still bewildered by Duke Ellington. I just think that he’s timeless and so avant-garde. Each guy in his legendary orchestra was an artist: Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Ray Nance, Cootie Williams. All these guys were part of an era of individualism. I love that era.

B.K.: With all the new reissues, artists like Ella Fitzgerald are topping the jazz charts with recordings that were classics in another era.

T.B.: That’s very good, you know. When there’s a change on the entire music scene, there are a lot of different reasons why it happens. The big thing has been the compact disc. All of a sudden everybody’s hearing recordings without any surface scratching. They’ll hear a production of an early Erroll Garner record and say, I never knew it sounded like that.

It’s an education for people who have never heard this on the radio. For 30 years, we’ve been rock-saturated. Young people have had to live through this obsolescent age and don’t know about great performers like Fats Waller who made some magnificent records and is really fun to listen to.

The Beatles generation now has two or three young children and all of a sudden they’re discovering their folks weren’t wrong. Young people are starting to come on- board with artists like Natalie Cole and Harry Connick Jr. In fact, I was even in in Rolling Stone this week.

Monday, January 31, 2011

An interview with Phil Nimmons – Head of State (November 2005)

Clarinetist, composer, conductor and educator Phil Nimmons, was born in Kamloops, British Columbia on June 3, 1923. He later graduated from the University of British Columbia and went on to study at the Julliard School of Music in New York City and at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Nimmons is a founding member of the Canadian League of Composers established in 1950 and was a co-founder with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown of the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto from 1960 -1966. Along with leading and composing for his various bands, he is currently Director Emeritus of Jazz Studies at the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto. His compositional work includes contemporary classical works and over 400 original jazz compositions.

Bill King: Reading through your discography with titles like Atlantic Suite, Harbours, Islands, Tides and Horizons, PEI, Jasper and Caribou County Tone Poem, one can’t help recognizing you have a great love for this country. Does the remarkable landscape influence your composing?

Phil Nimmons: In the beginning, as far as writing is concerned, I don’t feel that’s necessarily so. I think the creative process is in all of us in some shape or form. In my case, I think there was this drive to be creative right from my teens.

I think the landscaping tendencies started when I began writing dramatic music for the CBC in Vancouver in the late ‘40s. I wrote some things at the time for Dick Diespecker who was a war correspondent and had written a program called Anthology. I wrote dramatic music for that before I went to New York and studied. That would have been around 1944 or ‘45.

Leaping beyond that, I eventually came to Toronto to study at the Conservatory and ended up writing for J. Frank Willis, who was a producer of dramatic shows on the CBC who came from Halifax. At First, we did nothing but sea stories.

Even before I got to the east coast, I felt I had been transplanted from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. We did a program called the Days of Sail, which was all about the sailboats and slave trade. So I wrote about Peggy’s Cove, Luneburg and Sable Island before I got there.

Eventually, my sister and her husband became residents at the University of New Brunswick. I would say, not overtly, but by osmosis. I’m developing a relationship with the geography of the country. People still ask when I am going to do something about the Pacific Ocean, which I guess is in the back of my mind.

B.K.: Do you have a favourite workplace that inspires you - a room or locale?

P.N.: No, not necessarily. When you ask that question, I wonder how the heck I created some of those lovely things when they came from my debris-filled studio in the basement. It was a mess of papers, pens and ink with cigarette burns on the ivory keys of my piano and glass stains from drinks.

I do like having a piano handy when I get an idea. I really work it to death, trying to see how many mutations I can get into it. Eventually, I often end up doing the original idea.

I used to work at it hard and shout up to my wife, Noreen. ‘Listen to this.’ Then I’d say, ’Listen to this other one.’ Do you hear it? It would be only a difference of a 16th note or something. Noreen would reply, ‘Just write it.’

I know when I teach, I tell my students to be quite curious about the potential for variations. But I can do that in my head, it doesn’t matter where I am.

B.K.: How does the writing process begin, with a motif, an unusual harmonic sequence?

P.N.: All of those things could be sources, but ideally it is to find some kind of motif that is the seed so full of potential that once you start to work with it, it almost writes itself.

I’ve had a couple occasions where that happens. The musical seed will be strictly musical. In addition to that, I look for all kinds of ways of developing ideas, like maybe taking my birth date and make a tone row out of it. You mentioned Caribou Tone Poem, well, that’s based on my birth date and mixed with thoughts.

Being born in Kamloops, I have really vivid memories. We left there when I was seven in 1930, but my grandparents remained. We used to go back and forth all of the time.

I remember Kamloops being so hot you could almost fry an egg on the sidewalk. It’s located on that plateau between the coastal range and the Rockies where all of those cities like Kelowna and Vernon are. I also remember tow mountains, Peter and Paul, which were north of where we lived. There used to be great electrical storms with the lighting bouncing from one peak to the next.

I use my birthday as a tone row and make certain changes to it, I might come up with something that’s not precisely based on my birthday, but becomes the initial motivator to do something different. Eventually, you’ll come up with something that has potential for development whether melodically, harmonically or rhythmically.

I’m a great believer in form. It’s probably the most important thing everywhere - even our lives have to have some kind of form to communicate effectively.

B.K: If you were to sit down at this moment and begin a long form piece, what do you think the mood and tome of the exercise would be?

P.H.: Thankfulness. I’m in that particular mood at this particular time.

B.K.: What would be the instrumentation?

P.N.: Whatever the budget could afford. The experiences I had with the CBC, writing dramatic music without me knowing, was the greatest teacher I had because I heard everything I wrote at the time.Depending on the content of the show or the budget, the instrumentation I would write for could be anything from a trio to a symphony orchestra.

One of the first things I did for J. Frank Willis was The Cricket on the Hearth the Charles Dickens thing. We used English horn, harp and violin or viola. I had never written for harp before, so I got out my Cecil Forsyth orchestration book.

Even when Nimmon ‘N’ Nine was formed, the plan was not necessarily to include 10 musicians. When it first came together, there were only nine people. Then, Eddie Karam comes to town from Ottawa. I can remember Jerry Toth coming to me saying, ‘We’ve got to get this guy in the band.’ Everyone was a studio musician and they were all such great musicians that could play anything I wrote.

Eric Traugott is just mind-boggling in this regard. I have not met another trumpet player who had as great a sound from G above the staff right down to a G below the staff that can be done within a bar.

We never took the horns out of our mouths. Obviously, we were much younger then and played all the time.

B.K.: How much has your writing changed through the years and can you give an example?

P.N.: I don’t know if it’s changed so much. I still try to write melodically. I try to write interesting parts for every player right down to the fourth trumpet player.

B.K.: Was Robert Farnon around then?

P.N.: Yes, I knew Bob at the time. I had two dear friends in Vancouver while I was growing up as a teenager and working at the CBC. I worked with the Ray Norris Quintet when I first started and we had a comedian who played the piano while the late Barney Potts sang. We began lifting Nat Cole recordings.

I was also in Vancouver CBC Chamber Orchestra and two individuals, in particular, became great friends of mine – John Avison, who was the conductor and a great classical accompanist and Lawrence Wilson, who was a trumpet player who was in the mainstream back in the late ‘40’s who eventually became vice-president of the CBC. We would do shows and afterwards go to their homes and listen to recordings from Palestrina to Schonberg. Here, I was 15 years-old, hearing people talk about music all the time – I just soaked it up like a sponge.

B.K: What has been the most difficult assignment to conquer and why?

P.N.: There’s nothing specifically that comes to mind because I’ve done such a variety of things. I did a Commonwealth thing a way back that I had to research and come up with all the national anthems from all the Commonwealth countries, back when there was quite a few of them. It was a difficult assignment and I didn’t want to do, but I did.

Fortunately, I Learned awhile back I had to do things I may have not wanted to do to pay for the monkey on my back, which was jazz. I wrote some Gilbert and Sullivan things, and rather enjoyed it even though it wasn’t stylistically something I really did relate to. The same can be said for opera. I have done overtures from operas and that’s been an education.

I’ll tell you one thing I find difficult is when someone sends me a tape to lift that’s been generated electronically through synthesizer. I have to keep listening to it over and over because I don’t have perfect pitch, but instead a very good ear, and that’s like torture.

I begin to wonder if every old guy generation to generation has gone through this. I try to cope with it. I ask myself is the problem because I’ve grown up with acoustic sounds.

B.K.: I think you got caught in transition. Electronics erased the acoustic studio musician in the 1980s and ‘90s. Now, there’s a realization we can work with both. For jazz players, it’s back to acoustic.

P.N.: Fortunately, I may not be able to comment on the question truthfully because I’m 81. I’m just so thankful of the things that are happening.

B.K.: If you had a choice of musicians throughout history to assemble under one roof to play your music, who would be on the bandstand?

P.N.: That would take a lot of thought.

At first, I think I would like to get people who relate to my philosophies, but then I realize it doesn’t matter. What matters is what happens on the bandstand.

I’d like to thank Duke for setting the pattern. It didn’t matter when the band showed up as long as they got there. I was privy to a few events when we had the school with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown. We’d go to Chicago for meetings and stay at the Palmer House. After they finished playing the London House, we’d go down to the south side of Chicago around one o’clock to hear Duke’s band play.

One night, we went down there and the only person to show up was Duke, so we went home. He was just so great as opposed to other leaders I know that just gets some uptight. I imagine a third world war might have started on Tommy Dorsey or Benny Goodman’s bandstand.

In Nimmons ‘N’ Nine, I had all of those wonderful people starting with Roy Smith, Jerry Toth, Ed Karam, Jack McQuade, Murray and Teddy Roderman and Ross Cully.

When the band changed, Rob McConnell was in the band along with Guido Basso, Freddie Stone, Herbie Spanier, Moe Koffman and Eugene Amaro. All of those fellows brought something different to the band.

I was blessed to take something from all of these people. I try to keep an open mind, which sometimes makes things difficult. But, it you do, the benefits are so great. I have lasting relationships with all of these people.

B.K.: You suffered great loss with the recent passing of your longtime companion Noreen. Has teaching and performing helped ease the pain?

P.N.: Yes, but I’m still dealing with the process. I will cope, but I’m not quite prepared at all times. I’m very lucky to be busy which gets me out of the house and away from being by myself.

At the same time, I do that because I can’t help but think this would not have been possible without her. I drank my butt off up until 1970. I did a very good job of being down in the basement writing. I’d come upstairs and Noreen would say to the kids. ‘That’s your dad, not the plumber.’ She had to put up with me and she did.

In retrospect, she looked after the kids. I came from the old school where the woman stayed home and raised the kids and the man worked. I even sold real estate for two or three years. That was not difficult to do because part of my philosophy was that when I got married, I made a contract with a young lady that we we’re going to do something together, and I would have to do whatever it took to fulfill. It’s very easy to say, but not as easy to do. You never know what will happen. She put up with so much, but I don’t think I’m unique in that respect.

B.K.: Loving relationships can be critical in freeing the soul to create and release that which is hidden below the surface. Was Noreen often the keeper of the key?

P.N.: No, I think we both were. I say that because I think that’s a deep desire as well as something I believe in. Nothing happens without two and a lot happens with three. Two people can start, but an odd number can put the vote up for grabs. It creates a lot more interest.

Being the fundamental part of the pyramid as the parents of this family or household, whichever way it goes, it really took the two of us. There has to be a lot of bending, giving and compromise because of what you want to achieve.

I think she bent a little bit more than I did, but I was eight years older that she was. Maybe that gave me a certain sense of conviction.

Plus the fact, I say with great profundity, we’ll never be as brilliant as they are. The male is such a dolt by comparison and I really believe that. Some people ask the question: ‘Would you have done things different knowing what you know today?’ Of course you would, but that will never happen.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lorne Lofsky - Kind of Blue (2003) (Interview)

Lorne Lofsky Interview

Bill King: You point to one album as being pivotal to your introduction to jazz.

Lorne Lofsky: The Kind of Blue album. It’s one of those things that are hard to put into words. There was something about the music that touched something in me that I’d never experienced before? There was a certain mood I experienced. The fact that it was very understated. I wouldn’t call the playing hard flat-out playing compared to the Coltrane quartet when they were wailing or Miles band later on. There was this cool understatement that was happening and a sense of mystery I got from listening to it. It was something I had never heard before and there was this little light go on in my head that said wow! What is this? I quess I was ready for it.

Many years before I had a friend who played trumpet – I played bad third trumpet in junior high - put on My Funny Valentine album. For what I heard I wasn’t ready to understand what was happening. There wasn’t anything that pulled me in. Not like when I’d turn off the lights and listened to Kind of Blue and try to pick up things subliminally. I was still playing rock & roll and blues at the time and feeling rather limited. I knew my three or four B.B. King and Eric Clapton licks and just kept playing them over and over mindlessly.

Bill: Did you isolate and listen to the flow of certain instruments?

Lorne: I paid a lot of attention to Bill Evan’s solo on “So What?’ It was almost like watching a movie in another language without sub titles.

Bill: Did you search around for private instruction?

Lorne: I did take a few guitar lessons with someone named Tony Braden in the early seventies. We didn’t talk about music per se or improvising. He tried to show me the mechanics of the guitar - some scales and things. I started hanging out with friends of mine who were getting into jazz and listening a lot. We’d go out to places like George’s Spaghetti House. I used to go and listen to r Ed Bickert and Lenny Breau play. Sonny Greenwich. Ted Moses when he was in town. I was just absolutely amazed these players knew what to do and when to do it. I had no idea about listening and reacting and having a certain amount of skills to naturally react.

Bill: Did university studies with John Gittins answer some questions for you?

Lorne: To a certain degree. I was at York in the early to mid seventies as a part time student one year and took some theory. At the time I wasn’t ready for that kind of thinking. I found it to complicated and didn’t really understand it. The next year I went to a jazz workshop and in my free time played constantly. If I wasn’t playing I was listening at home or in a club or jamming. I really didn’t go the music school route. The main thing I got from university was the importance of playing with a strong time feel. The two people I learned the most from were John Gittins and Bob Witmer. Another thing that caught me at the time was that album with Paul Desmond “Pure Desmond” that took me to another universe. I was hearing a guitar that sounded like an orchestra and I had no idea what was going on. I get kind of compulsive about things and go for it. I would spend untold hours lifting Ed Bickert’s solos. I asked Ed years before in this long defunct club called Meat & Potatoes if he taught and I said he didn’t and recommended Tony Braden.

Bill: How about the live playing at the time.

Lorne: Ted Moses opened the Mother Necessity Jazz Workshop around Queen and Victoria and I did some playing. A couple years later I started doing jobbing gigs – weddings and casuals to make some money and club dates playing wallpaper music. The late great Jerry Toth heard me – this I won’t forget – I met him at Mt. Pleasant and Eglington and we were chatting about one thing or the other and he asked if I’d like to work with him at George’ Spaghetti House. I think he was the first to hire me at George’s. I was on cloud nine. It was the greatest thing in the world. After that I slowly broke into playing some of these places.

Bill: Did that opened the door to backing touring international artists.

Lorne: I was fortunate. George’s was going strong and Paul Grosney was booking Bourbon Street and I guess he took some sort of shine for me for a while and started booking me there. I got to play with a lot of great people there - Chet Baker, Carl Fontana, Groove Holmes, Jimmy McGriff, Phil Wilson, Georgy Auld. It was great for me as far as I was concerned. I was getting paid to learn. I always asked questions. I’d ask if what I was playing behind them was O.K. or if I was getting in the way or did they want me to learn other tunes. I did one gig with Bob Brookmeyer who had these great arrangements that was incredibly educational.

Bill: Is this where Oscar heard you play?

Lorne: No, that was at George’s Spaghetti House. I was there with Butch Watanabe a mainstay of the Toronto scene. Oscar came in to hear the group and I met him briefly. A month or two later he telephoned me about doing a recording. I thought to myself, why me? I was blown away by it.

When it was time to record it was a huge deal for me. I’d never recorded on my own before. I went on to do some playing with him in the early eighties in Edmonton and he featured me at the Forum at Ontario Place that doesn’t exist no more. It’s funny how things work. A few years before I remember going to hear Oscar with Jerry Fuller on drums, Neils Pederson bass and Joe Pass on guitar and sitting up on that hill overlooking the Forum and listening to the band and thinking to myself that one day it would be unbelievable to be down there doing something like this - not necessary with him or whoever. Several years later I wind up playing in Oscar’s quartet for three years and the same thing happened with Ed. In 1983 Larry Kramer and Jane Bunnett had this series at a place called Harpers on Lombard Street. One day Larry telephoned me and asked if I’d like to play in a quartet with Ed Bickert. My hero! I said, “Are you kidding – does he want to play with me that’s the question?”
Needless to say I was quiet nervous the first gig. It was fun and he was totally accommodating.

Bill: Did it take long to find a comfort zone with Oscar?

Lorne: The first gig was at the forum and he actually let me do some trio tunes. What he did in the situation was first play a few trio tunes and then he brought me out as a featured performer with Terry Clarke and John Heard. There I was before this huge crowd. All I remember was it was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Dizzy Gillespie played somewhere earlier that evening and I’m in the middle of a solo with my eyes shut and I hear this wild applause. First of all I know it’s not for me and second I know what I’m playing isn’t that good and then I hear this trumpet chime in on the tune. It was an incredible experience.

I was out in Edmonton with Oscar and Dave Young and we started playing some of Oscar’s original tunes I’d had never heard before. I’ve always had pretty good ears and pick up things quickly. The first night he started playing on “ Sweet Georgia Brown” and he was ripping it up – definitely in his prime. There were flames coming off the piano and as he’s winding down to the last couple of bars he gets down lower and lower on this Bosendorfer piano with the extra bass notes I call those thunder storm notes cause when you’re down so low it’s not the pitch you hear but a storm system moving in off the lake. Anyway, I’m just sitting there figuring he’s going to do more and he just turns to me after hitting this low F and says you got it. So right away I had to do something so I started playing “ Sweet Georgia Brown” by myself. He got me! Every night after that I knew the routine. I’m really thankful about going through the trenches. It’s a great way to learn. Looking back it’s made me stronger player. You don’t get this in music school.

Bill: At present you teach a lot. By choice or evolution?

Lorne: I’ve been married several years and have a son and need a certain amount of stability. I can’t just pick up and run off. I guess if I were a little bit younger and still single I would probably be pursing more traveling gigs and more. The best way for me to take care of business being a musician is teach. I’ve been doing it for years. I do a fair amount at home. I’m now concentrating on just teaching at York University. They’ve instituted private instrument instruction. I can be more selective teaching. I don’t have to take every gig I get called for and realize time is more valuable.

Bill: Two videos: Approaches to Jazz Vol. One and a second New Standards.

Lorne; A few years ago I chatted with somebody by the name Bill Piburn who lives in the Nashville area and hooked up. A friend told he was getting into doing these video things. He did one for Jack Wilkins and a few others. We talked and I found he had a great heart and really supported the projects he was involved in so he arranged for me to fly down to Nashville during a Chet Atkins tribute – three or four years ago. I performed a short set. While there I went into a little studio with a good local bass player, Jim Ferguson and did it all in one day. Jim and I did the performance video first which was good since it allowed us to relax in front of the cameras. It’s not the most comfortable situation. You’re there in this little room with a white backdrop to absorb the glare with four or five cameras trained on you. You’re supposed to be relaxed, articulate and trying to be creative. I have to say most the playing considering the circumstances is quite good. We might make a CD version of the performance video.

We had about an hour break. Then I played for an hour without a break. I had these sub titles jotted down on a piece of paper on the floor so when I got to the end of whatever topic I was talking about we wouldn’t need to edit anything. I went as long as I could. I was on a bit of a roll and went and hour or hour and fifteen and talked about things that are important to me – fundamental things. Things that are practical that I use when I play and a lot of musicians use when they play. The instructional thing comes with a little booklet. They seem to be doing well. I have people e-mail me saying that they’ve purchased it.

Bill: You have a fairly sophisticated website. Does it do the job?

Lorne; There’s a good story behind that. There’s this guy Greg Blake I guess you’d say is a hobbyist guitar player who has some incredible computer Internet skills. We were talking and he suggested I have a web site. I really didn’t have the money to do something sophisticated and didn’t want to do something that looked cheesy. He volunteered to do it for me. I said, “You’ve got to be kidding?” Slowly but surely he began working on it and another dear friend Brian Behie teamed with Greg and they worked together. Greg did a lot of the technical work and Brian had some fabulous ideas. Greg is so skilled he’s in great demand from companies. I enlisted the help of Lucy Frigault. I prepared an ad hoc lesson on diminished harmony and emailed them as attachments to her and she did incredible things in making them navigatible. She posted it and made it available in such a way that it’s very user friendly. She also helped polish the look of the site and help me set it up to do business. She’s a great lady and did such a wonderful job. The lesson is there for purchase. lornelofsky.com

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Jeff Healey - In His Own Words - (2002)

Healey Interview:

Bill King: From musician to managing a club. How has your world changed?

Jeff Healey: It’s a learning experience and will continue to be. I could sit here for a couple hours and go over things I’ve learned in the last eight months. It certainly has made me appreciate a lot more from the musician’s side. Also what a club has to put up with when it’s offering entertainment to the public. I try to be as fair as I can possibly be coming from a musician’s side. I hope musicians feel they can trust me being a musician. I’m going to be looking for the best deal for the musician and make sure myself and my partners are able to pay the rent.

Bill: Do you have bands that draw better than others?

Jeff. Certainly! The bands that work out the best are those who have a following. It’s not a guarantee. I’ve had band’s in I thought had a following but did nothing for whatever reason. A priority over having a following is those bands or artists who are willing to get out there and bust their butts to get people out to the show. When we see that happen, by in large that artist will be back.

Bill: Is the club sustaining itself?

Jeff: Yes! We’ve got a long way to go and we’re still in the middle of the forest but I would say we’re a little further along than what most clubs can claim from when they opened up. We’re just eight months in. We’re able to cover bills and pay the rent and take little bit of a salary out of it for ourselves. Money is slim.

Bill: Do you find there’s pressure on you to anchor the club because of your following?

Jeff: I’ve tried to avoid that. I don’t really think that’s the case. I do have musicians come to me who wouldn’t have the nerve to go to some of these other clubs looking for work thinking that I’m a musician therefore I would react differently but I have to be a businessman at this point. As far as the draw on my name – possible to a degree. It’s understood I’m not always there but I try to be there at least two or three days out of the five during the week. I want the club to sustain and people know that any night of the week when they come in, it will be quality entertainment.

Bill: You’re a guy who loves to play. Are you a bit obsessive about that at times?

Jeff: I like playing. I suppose in moments of deep meditation and totally honest with myself – I’d admit I’ve never wanted to be the center of all that attention or receive all the accolades. I like being a musician and am just as happy to sit off to one side in the back of the stage with a guitar you can hardly hear and just strum along. I love music, listening and interacting with quality musicians- and I always will. The purpose of the club was to enable me to book in quality players and get up and play and not call in the songs, tempos or keys.

Bill: How long has Sensation Records been around?

Jeff: We’ve been putting out issues on the label for about two and a half years. It’s intent initially was to be a label that specialized in reissues of vintage material and packages of artists from the classic period; the twenties, thirties and forties. Ironically, in spite of that concept, the first release on Sensation was a contemporary recording by Alex Pangman. It has done extremely well for us. In a time when it’s difficult to recoup a project cost we did it in two years.

Bill: Did the success with Alex help cover some of the expense assembling the reissues and what about the choice of artists?

Jeff: Simple! The choices are people and things I would like to buy myself. We’ve been a little slow out of the gate and over the past two and a half years we only have eight releases. We’ve got at least a half dozen in the can. One of the toughest things about doing these projects is getting the right people to write the liner notes. You can get the material together pretty easily from other people and get it transferred nicely. If you call the right people you can get more than adequate photos of the right thing.

Bill: Not enough survivors from this era?

Jeff: Just not enough people doing this job. Most are swamped. I’ve been waiting on a guy for a year that’s been working on a package and it’s been sitting here mastered and ready to go.

Bill: Do you draw mostly from your collection and a few others?

Jeff: When one goes to put this kind of thing together, you can’t work miracles. You don’t want bad conditioned discs. You want the best copies you can get preferably close to new. It’s telephone and leg work. It’s calling around the world. One call leads to another. I remember a project I did with Jazz Oracle and I was looking for a good copy of a particular performance. Someone directed me to a fellow who had copies of not only that performance but also two other takes we didn’t even know about. All of the sudden the project gets bigger. It’s the fun in the discovery.

Bill: What about re-mastering?

Jeff: My re-mastering has been done by John.R.T. Davis who lives just outside London in Burnham. He is still the master of the art although he will argue against that. He is a first class musician who has been known to play just about any instrument. His main instruments are alto saxophone, trombone – outstanding on trumpet-a bit of piano and guitar. He came to this as a collector and musician and also has the brain of a mad scientist. He has been throughout his seventy-five years trying to find the best way to get the sound buried in the grooves of these recordings to the surface, as fresh and clear as he can. I still think he does the best job.

Bill: Most people know you with a guitar in hand but I mostly see you with a trumpet.

Jeff: Thanks to your photo exhibit they see my trumpet shots here and there. The first time I sort of exhibited this after the Healy Band in the early nineties I took the Hot Five Jazzmakers into the CafĂ© New Orleans. We had a ton of people come out and we’re playing “Jazz Me Blues”, something totally different. I will say ninety-five percent stayed and had a good time, which it was meant to do. The music of that era by and large was meant to entertain. There wasn’t a lot of jazz aimed at the conosuiers- certainly not on disc. They couldn’t afford to. On a then inch disc you only had three to three and half minutes and on a twelve inch disc four minutes, so you didn’t have much time to self-indulge. You had to deliver. I think that we’ve forgotten that music was meant to entertain. There was a conscious albeit serious effort in the early forties by jazz musicians to make a left turn. They did and succeeded. From that point on jazz has been appreciated by a smaller percentage of the public. This is why I don’t buy those who moan why their art form isn’t appreciated. Sixty years ago there was a small bunch of people at Mintons that intentionally meant for it not to be appreciated.

Bill: Early on players soloed off melodies and the texture of the tune. Nowadays many recycle scale patterns.

Jeff: There is no question about it. Charlie Parker is one of the last and probably the bridge between having a strong melodic sense yet having boundless technical facility. If people would look back at what Parker was listening too rather than starting with Parker, you can hear Lester Young and others. It all comes from somewhere. It is sadly astonishing to me particularly that horns do not know how to play a melody. It isn’t something that was taught. The shift away from melody is almost complete. I’d love to find a trumpet player around that knew how to come out and do a first course of a tune like Wingy Minone or early Louie Prima or Armstrong and his big band. These players played the melody off the top- not in a square way. Most know the chord changes but that’s it. I’ve been laughed at by some for insisting on collecting just straight square dance bands from the twenties and thirties. But it’s from that I got a sense what a melody is supposed to be. I’ve got my jump off point.

Bill: What about singers? Do they pay enough attention to the melody?

Jeff: Few! Most don’t try and research where the song came from so that they know what they’re doing. No matter where I’m at in a performance that melody is going through my head. It’s like there’s an orchestra behind me spinning the tune. I work off of that.

Bill: Guitar and blues. Where’s that stand with you now?

Jeff: Let’s not fool anybody; we were essentially a rock band that played some blues, some ballads and a variety of things. I grew up with that. I had the endorsement of Stevie Ray Vaughan and B.B. King that helped the press find and easy niche for me. I got thrown into the blues category. Meanwhile, my most successful song was “Angel Eyes.”What I discovered in high school was I could take the jazz mentality, philosophy and love of it and put it through an amplifier with a lot of wattage and a fair amount of distortion and all of a sudden I turned from geek to cool. If you’re going to get any interest from girls that’s what you’ve got to do.

Bill: You had to have a passion for it. You played it so well.

Jeff: I can do it but once I got out of my teen years are started to think more along Armstrong and Teagarden when I’m playing. Even guitar.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Word with Doug Riley - (Fall of 2001) (interview)

Doug Riley…

Bill King: You’re making a documentary with David Clayton Thomas?

Doug Riley: Clayton and I knew each other when we’re teenagers back in the 60’s.
He just drove up from New York to get me involved in this thing where we can talk about the old days. The Yorkville days and the Bluenote. They want to interview me and want me to tell a whole bunch of lies about Clayton.

Bill: You go back to the Bluenote era in Toronto.

Doug: I was there from 1962-1964. It was Thursday Friday and Saturday nights with Shawn Jackson, Diane Brooks, Sherry Matthews, Steve Kennedy in my band the Silhouettes. We used to go down to Buffalo on the weekends and buy R&B records bring that back and put them in Al Steiner’s jukebox and learn them ourselves. None of them were on the air locally.

Bill: Is this where the B3 was put to good use?

Doug: I didn’t have a B3 then but an M101, a smaller Hammond version. A year or so later I bought my first B3. It went into storage when the synthesizer came in vogue in the eighties.

Bill: Did you ever get used to that?

Doug: No. I refused to play them. I just went back to playing acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes.

Bill: Was it a time thing? The synthesizer came with a new language.

Doug: I would play it in the studio for string sounds and other sounds but if someone wanted an organ I refused to play it from one of those presets. I’d tell them get a Hammond!

Bill: What is your set up now:

Doug: I have two B3s and a C3. I have one B3 in the basement I bought back in the sixties. It was my touring organ especially when I crossed the country five times with Doctor Music. It’s a little wobbly. Otherwise I use a mint condition B3 and C3 and several Leslie’s for my live gigs.

Bill: Coming through the seventies, eighties and into the nineties when you were consumed with studio work did you ever envision a return to live performing?

Doug: No! One of the main reasons was the B3 came back in vogue. I would play piano gigs. After twelve or so years of people trying to replace the B3 all they could say was the instrument they created was lighter. It certainly didn’t compare musically or sound wise. People are hauling them around again therefore I got interested in playing again.

Bill: You don’t hear much about synthesizers anymore.

Doug: No! We know they are out there and have a use and are great for making demos.

Bill: The character of the sounds hasn’t changed much in years.

Doug: You hear the same sounds over and over again on loops and samples and sound patches. You hear the same sounds again and again on every film and television show. You’ve got to get sick of it after a while. At least when someone’s playing a piano or an organ each has a different touch. Therefore you can hear the different musicianship in each player.

Bill: When the Rhodes and Clavinet were introduced in the sixties they found specific rolls.

Doug: And they still do and they are wonderful instruments. I regret getting rid of my Wurlitzer electric piano and my Clavinet. I still have two Fender Rhodes bought the first week they were introduced at Manny’s in Manhattan.

Bill: As sounds changed and the synthesizer gained prominence, the role of the keyboardist within popular music was diminished. It was no longer about performance but coloring. It was more about posing that participating.

Doug: I started writing more and more and playing less. It was something that didn’t interest me. I liked the records Herbie Hancock did with it but it just wasn’t my thing. I wrote and wrote and wrote and made more money than I could ever expect from playing. Eventually you get sick of that and bored.

Bill: Where you writing more for commercials or films?

Doug: A combo. Besides film and commercials I was writing for a lot of artists and many different styles of music. From jazz, rock, pop, country to Placido Domingo with the London Symphony. If someone called I wouldn’t turn it down because it was this or that kind of music.

Bill: Are you still like that?

Doug: Right now I’m more into playing. I’m creating that new balance; more playing less waiting. Writing has been secondary in that sense but primary in my earning capacity.

Bill: You retreat to Prince Edward Island four months a year. Are you able to shut it down?

Doug: I’m semi-retired now. All that means is I’m not really less busy but saying no to many things and only taking that which I really want to do. I’m playing much more golf. Walking on the beach with my dogs, reading books and lying in a hammock. I still fly out of there to do concerts in fact in the four months I was there I probably flew out of Charlottetown ten times. When I go back it’s my center and I’m much more relaxed. The pace is like twenty or thirty years ago. The people are so warm and relaxed.

Bill: Is the atmosphere conducive for composing?

Doug: Oh yes. I write a lot out there. I was commissioned by the Toronto Symphonietta
to write an concerto combing classical and jazz. I’m writing with piano, bass, drums and alto sax in mind and orchestra. I started working on that in P.E.I.

Bill: Are the skills you have for orchestration something you developed early on?

Doug: I studied it when I was at the faculty of music in the sixties. Still again, that was learning from books and studying scores. The only way to learn it is to play it and be made a fool several times. I learned on the job and in the studio. The stuff sounded terrible at times then others pretty good. Eventually, you find ways to make it sound good most all the time.

Bill: Do string players scare you?

Doug: They always did and still do for many different reasons. They will sometimes get to the point in the music and won’t play. They question things all the time. I mean if you put two string players playing a semi tone apart they will always question it. For brass and reeds that’s normal in jazz. In classical training you just don’t do these things. It’s new training for them.

Bill: Do you go through periods where you have to spend a lot of time at the piano to keep the hands in shape?

Doug: When I first started working with singer Michael Burgess six or seven years ago I did a lot of practicing. His performance covers a wide breath of pianoforte. I don’t practice when I’m playing live so much. When I was in university I practiced basically eight hours a day for five years. Four hours in the morning before lectures and four hours after in the dungeons of the faculty. I lived like a monk. If I haven’t done something for twenty or thirty years I will sit down and work my way through it. I don’t sit down and play scales and arpeggios every day and I bet you don’t either.

Bill: You were once part owner of Revolution Records, partnerships with Larry Trudell and Tommy Ambrose in an extremely successful commercial house and other business ventures. Have you closed the pages on that period and work mainly freelance?

Doug: Totally! I’ve eased out of the jingle business and just write for clients I’ve had for many many years. I’m not going out hustling any new business. I did it for over thirty years in a pressure atmosphere with deadlines all of the time, constantly competing with what’s out there and always dealing with committees.

Bill: You’ve going to Edmonton in the New Year to work with PJ Perry.

Doug: Yes! We’re playing the Yardbird Suite in February hopefully in Calgary in January. I want to start recording these dates. I’d love to have a recording with PJ and the B3 quartet. He’s been wanting to do it all of his life. We played last year in both cities and it was just fantastic and had a wonderful time together. I’ve got a duo CD with Guido Basso, organ and flugelhorn that are to be released on Justin Time.

Bill: Always a pleasure.

Doug: Just one other note. I’ve put a new quartet together with Chris Mitchell on Saxes, Jake Langley guitar, Terry Clarke on drums and my son Ben when Terry can’t make it.

Bill: Jake got good mileage out of his debut with you.

Doug: He most certainly did. I’m sure all involved are happy.