Archive: September, 2012

Four Ray Brown Interviews

Here are four great interviews with all-time great bassist and bandleader Ray Brown from the JazzProfessional website. In this excerpt he talks about his bass sound and the difference between bass sounds in his early days and in 1980 (when this interview was conducted):

There is a definite difference between bass players now and bass players in my early days. Growing up in the ‘thirties and ‘forties, you were more involved in sound, basically. You couldn’t afford to get too involved in technique, because you didn’t have any amplification. There was one microphone in front of the whole orchestra, and the bass player was always at the back. Unless you were with Ellington—then you were up front. But it was very difficult to project; the faster you played, the harder it was hear what you were playing. It was a physical problem in those days. That’s one of the reasons the instrument wasn’t played as well—certainly not as fast.

A guy who’s twenty–five years old, at fifteen he started out with amplifiers, so he didn’t have to bother specifically with getting a sound—he never had a problem of being heard. Not having to jump that hurdle—it’s good in one way, and probably bad in another. It prevents them from working out that part of playing which involves projection. The classical players are still involved in that, but the jazz players, by and large, are not.”

The four interviews are:

Bass Quiz—1963
A widening scope—1979
Fusions and phases in jazz—1980
Sound and the bass—1980

Click here to read Four Ray Brown Interviews

—Peter Blasevick


Louis Armstrong 1965

This is a cool 1965 interview with the legendary Louis Armstrong from the JazzProfessional website. Here he comments on his time with King Oliver:

“If you ask me to look back to a highspot in my career—I still remember the days I played second trumpet with King Oliver in Chicago. I came right out of New Orleans, playing with the Tuxedo Brass Band. And we was at a funeral when I got Joe Oliver’s telegram. He had a little band at the Lincoln Gardens, and he told me to come at once. Gee, that was one of the highest lights I’ll ever have! It was the first time I’d been up North, you know. Chicago looked like a great big wonderful city to me.

Yeah, I liked Joe. He never was too busy to help the youngsters, you know. He did a lot for me. It broke my heart to lose him.

They had some good players in those days. Everybody played from the soul, and good notes. At that time there was King Oliver, Bunk Johnson, Freddie Keppard—they were the main three that went down in history. King Oliver was the most popular of all of ‘em, but they were all good boys. And all three of ‘em’s gone now. Lost three good men.”

Click here to read Louis Armstrong 1965

Two 1978 Toots Thielemans Interviews

Here are two great 1978 interviews with the legendary harmonica player Toots Thielemans with Les Tomkins from the JazzProfessional website. Here he talks about his six years with pianist George Shearing:

“It was a steady job, and still good exposure—and it was good music at the time, I guess. It’s still good music, but somehow I flew away a little bit from it. George is still a fine musician, of course. I stayed on there, because it was a good job, and I had no other; it was a matter of security, also. My leaving the band was a mutual thing, after that amount of time, George just wanted to change the faces around, and I was ready to jump in the pool. I decided, well, I didn’t come to the States to be a sideman all my life. Then you have to start to wait for the phone to ring, and that’s not easy. In the States, it can be rough—anywhere, for that matter.”

Click here to read Two 1978 Toots Thielemans Interviews

Gil Evans in 1978

Today is a great two-part 1978 interview with composer and arranger Gil Evans by Les Tomkins from the JazzProfessional website. Here is an excerpt in which Gil talks about his early music involvement:

“Not till I started to high school. I was staying with these people who had a piano; I just started fooling around with the piano, and I realised that I liked to do it.

To start with, I had no background except popular music; that’s what I played then. Later on, I listened to other music, out of curiosity and a desire to know what was happening in my trade. Then I went into the French impressionists and the Russian impressionists; that’s where I started in classical music. I don’t have any background in earlier classical music, like so many people do. I picked up anything I know about Bach, or anything like that, much later—when I came to New York, as a matter of fact, thirty years ago. I started playing Bach, and I realised at that time how people can devote their life to Bach. It’s a fantastic adventure, really, and if it suits your life style, I could see how you could do it, you know; I really could.

And also Chopin. But Bach especially. I could understand completely how people specialize in him, as they do. It seems funny to an outsider—and I thought it was funny, too, until I started playing that music, and I realised how the whole thing can just put you in a trance.”

Click here to read Gil Evans 1978

Erroll Garner Interview

This is a great undated three minute video clip of Erroll Garner in what seems to be a Danish (?) TV clip from the 1950s judging by the look of Erroll and the quality of the clip. Anybody with info on where and where this clip is from, let me know and I’ll update the post! From the interview, Erroll comments on his famously self-taught self:

“Well, I’ve had no musical background; mine is all a gift I was born with. And it’s been up to me, years and years just to teach myself to come up with whatever I can come up with!”

Johnny Griffin 1982

Johnny Griffin was a great tenor player who is probably best known for his time with Thelonious Monk. An excerpt from the linked 1982 interview at the Canadian Jazz Archive:

Q: “Of everybody you worked with, you had the most admiration for Monk?”

A: “Yes, Thelonious. Yes, I admired Thelonious more than anyone else, you know, just for the man himself. I’d been with Monk when he was getting unemployment compensation from New York State in the 40s and I was with him when they acclaimed him as the greatest, you know, working in the five spots, you know, he’s getting all this acclaim and the man had never changed. He never changed. He was a beautiful person.”

Click here to listen to and read Johnny Griffin 1982

Branford Marsalis on Ken Burns’ Jazz 1996

Ken Burns’ epic Jazz has it’s many detractors, and for a whole bunch of good reasons. However, despite its shortcomings, there are so many great interviews from the series. This one, with saxophonist Branford Marsalis, is a long (35 pages!), wide ranging interview on every aspect of jazz imaginable. Here is Branford on the saxophone in jazz:

“Well, the saxophone is, is the jazz instrument, as far as I’m concerned there is no other jazz instrument. Louis Armstrong played trumpet and at that time, that was the jazz instrument. But, the music started to change and the saxophones became a focal point in big band swing music. But when Charlie Parker came on the scene, he made the saxophone king. And we’re still the kings. We, we run the show.”

Click here to read Branford Marsalis on Ken Burns’ Jazz 1996

-Peter Blasevick

2010 Interview with Gunther Schuller

Gunther Schuller has been a larger than life force in the classical-jazz scene since the 1950s. In Part 1 of a wide ranging 2010 four-part interview by Marc Myers, the French hornist, composer, arranger, writer and producer talks about attending grade school in Germany just before World War II, the terrible accident that likely saved his life, arriving in New York and playing with Arturo Toscanini at age 16, and the start of his voracious appetite for the arts that began in earnest in the late 1940s; in Part 2 Gunther talks about meeting John Lewis, recording on the “Birth of the Cool” session, the hardest arrangement the nonet recorded that day, and why Mulligan’s Rocker still sounds so fresh; Schuller talks about the important albums three fascinating jazz recordings: the Modern Jazz Society with John Lewis, Gigi Gryce’s Nica’s Tempo, and Birth of the Third Stream in Part 3; and in Part 4 the pioneer talks about Leonard Bernstein, Miles Davis, and the Third Stream.

Click here to read 2010 Interview with Gunther Schuller

– Peter Blasevick

Brad Mehldau’s Opening, Middle and Endgame

Brad Mehldau is an interesting cat, and interviews with him are rarely just about playing piano, which of course he is. Here is an excerpt from an interesting 2003 talk with him by Mike Brannon at AllAboutJazz:

AAJ: There’s a quote attributed to you, that, “Romanticism implies nostalgia for damaged goods”. How is that so, musically and/or philosophically? Can you explain the reference and it’s meaning to you?

BM: I understand life as marked by certain primary experiences that happen early on that involve pleasure, followed by the pain of being disconnected from that pleasure, and the rest of life spent trying to make sense of that pain. That first moment of disconnection is like a shattering of glass that rings in your consciousness for the rest of your life, informing everything you witness and experience. It’s that shattering that leaves the mark, I think – not the experience of pleasure itself. Nostalgia is trying to beautify that moment when everything shattered and broke – trying to make sense of the pain. Music is heightened nostalgia: music is that lost pleasure in a continuous process of being shattered. It’s like this beautiful thing being held in front of your face that disintegrates if you try to touch it.

Click here to read Brad Mehldau’s Opening, Middle and Endgame

-Peter Blasevick

About My Life In Music by Walter Page, as told to Frank Driggs

Here is a long and interesting interview with the pioneering bassist Walter Page from inaugural issue of the 1958-1961 jazz journal The Jazz Review. Founded by Nat Hentoff, Martin Williams, and Hsio Wen Shih in New York in 1958, The Jazz Review was the premier journal of jazz in the United States. The interview starts:

“I learned to play bass horn before I learned string bass . . . in the neighborhood brass bands. There were three brothers next door to me who played bass horns . . . one played bass horn, one played baritone horn bass clef, the other played baritone treble clef. On the other side of the street there were two other brothers, Joe, who played cornet, and Frank, who played bass horn. I learned how to play bass horn from them and by the time I was in high school I was playing bass horn and bass drum in their band. ”

The link to the interview is the entire Jazz review issue in .pdf form hosted at the very useful The interview starts on page 12, and the .pdf is a bit slow to open, so be patient, it’s worth it!

 Click here to read  About My Life In Music  by Walter Page, as told to Frank Driggs