Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Philosophy of the Spiritual an Interview with Bassist Richard Davis Part 1 of 3

Richard Davis photo by John Abbott
The rich and  resonant sound of Richard Davis' bass has been around for the better part of sixty years. Now at age eighty four he spends most of his time as an educator of euro-classical bass at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he had been teaching since he left New York back in 1977. He was at the epicenter of the movement from bebop to hard bop and onto free jazz explorations that occurred throughout the sixties and into the seventies. His discography spans major work with Sarah Vaughan, Eric Dolphy, Andrew Hill, Elvin Jones and Jaki Byard to name a few and  his in demand studio work has been an essential part of seminal works by  mainstream artists like Laura Nyro, Janis Ian, Barbara Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Van Morrison. It was a rare treat to spend two sessions speaking to Mr. Davis via telephone from his home in Madison, Wisconsin on August 8th and again on August 20th of this year.

Our conversations discussed our mutual fascination with life of the Ellington bassist Jimmie Blanton, Davis'
career and the people he played with in both the jazz and classical bass worlds, his recollections of some of his predecessors on the bass, his take on the future, his experiences as an educator, his social activism and a lengthy discussion on his perspective on race in this country. 

NOJ: First let me say thank you for taking out the time to speak with me. I have been a fan of your music ever since I listened to your album “Philosophy of the Spiritual” when I was in my early twenties.

RD: You were in your early twenties when you heard it?

NOJ: Yes. It was very profound for me. I had never heard a bass being bowed like that in the jazz format. I came to really love jazz after that and that album dove me into it deeper and deeper. I later came to know about arco bass playing by people like Blanton and Pettiford and others.  I especially was moved by your rendition of “Dear Old Stockholm,” which you did so heart wrenchingly well. This was my first exposure to the bass as a solo instrument of such great empathetic power. It was very moving.

RD: Thank you so much.

NOJ: I guess our communication started with me sending you my essay on the Duke Ellington bassist Jimmie Blanton. You responded kindly and here we are.

RD: Oh Yeah.

NOJ: I was really intrigued by Blanton’s life. I heard you on an interview with Ben Sidran from 2008 that you had Blanton’s bass at the University( of Wisconsin, Madison). How did you get it and is it still there and is it still with you and is it still being used?

RD; See, the bass player who took that bass over after Blanton, and he also played with Duke Ellington, was his cousin Wendell Marshall. He had the bass .So when he was no longer playing I asked him if I could at least take care of it. I didn’t want to buy it, because it had been handled, but I said, I’d like to take care of it.  When he divorced his wife he had left it at home in his basement and I wanted to protect it and he agreed.  I kept it for many, many years, but he finally took it back. Wendel died but one of the student/ teachers in my foundation found the bass, found it somewhere and knows where it is.

NOJ: Interesting. When I did research for my Blanton essay, I found some references to the fact that he may have started out playing in the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra with a three stringed bass. Do you know anything about that?

RD: That’s questionable, because some people said that he recorded with Jeter-Pillars, but it has been found out that he did not.  One of my students, who did a lot of research, found out that he never recorded with that band.  I know from his sister, (Gertrude Blanton) who I interviewed before she died- it was about a four hour recorded interview- she said that when he got the job with Duke Ellington he had to get a bigger bass. She didn’t say anything about a three stringed bass, but just that he needed a bigger bass.

Jimmie Blanton
NOJ: When I did my research on Blanton, I found the information to be pretty sparse. One interview that I found, an oral history with drummer Lee Young, who was Lester Young’s brother,  was particularly interesting. I was very surprised to find out that as Young recounted, Jimmie and Nat King Cole and himself were “running” buddies in Los Angeles, California.

RD: They were?

NOJ: Yeah, that’s what Lee Young told an interviewer.

RD: Well, see one of his (Blanton’s)  good friends was Ben Webster in that band. Illinois Jacquet told me a story that when he first saw Blanton he was at jam session and he had heard so much about him that he was nervous to go into it. I was sitting right next to him when he told me that story. Wendell told me he  (Blanton) was headed toward developing some new harmonies that were in his head.
There is a guy… from somewhere in Europe who is doing his thesis on Blanton right now. He called on my former student, Peter Dominguez who is a bass professor at Oberlin, and he is talking to me through a guy named Lewis Porter, who wrote the book on Coltrane. So the research is still going on. I am planning on giving him, if it works out that way, the tapes I have when I interviewed Gertrude Blanton.

NOJ: I’d love to hear that interview.

RD: I caught up with her in Detroit before she died.

NOJ: What year was that?

RD:  I don’t remember but it was a long time ago.

NOJ: I don‘t know what you thought about the conclusions or speculations in my essay? I was very surprised to find that Blanton had probably played with Charlie Christian at least one time in his short career.  The fact that they both died so young, Blanton was 23 and Christian was 25 within five months of each other from TB, you have to wonder if one may have contracted it from the other?  It’s a mysterious coincidence considering they both revolutionized their respective instruments and both died of the same disease at the same time don’t you think?
Charlie Christian
RD:  U huh. Even when I started playing in 1945, my mother warned me against fast women and drinking.
TB was running rampant at that time.

NOJ: Let’s get back to you. You were born in Chicago 1930 and you were part of a family singing trio is that right?

RD: That was like when I was a kid.

NOJ: Do you still sing?

RD: I wouldn’t say I sing. It is something we just did around the house. We did try out for an amateur hour show called Major Bowes. We didn’t make it but we did it. My cousin, who influenced me to play the bass, used to coach us in singing. It was just something we did as kids.

NOJ: What was the very first concert that you attended that really had an influence on you.

RD: Well see, you know you would go to the neighborhood theater and see the bands on stage, that was before television took over. The Regal (Theater) was about four blocks from my house, (and I would try to go there) anytime they had a stage show and they had shows there very, very often.

NOJ: Was there any specific concert or performance that blew you away?

RD:  I can’t remember any specific concert, but the whole scenario blew me away because there you were listening to these live musicians playing and singing. I was impressed with the bass player, because he was spinning his bass around. It was quite a thing to see.

NOJ: It was very showman- like.

RD: Oh yeah, and they all had showman-like qualities.

NOJ: Well it was more than just music it was entertainment, right?

RD: It sure was. I was very impressed.

NOJ: You have stated in past interviews that your experience with Walter Dyett   your musical director at the famed Dusable High School music program, was instrumental in both your musical and personal development. Can you explain how he inspired you?

Walter Dyett 
RD: Well first off he was a highly spiritual person and a very skillful musician in different venues like jazz and classical. Did you ever hear of the Erskine-Tate band? He played in that band, he played banjo in that band. He was spiritual, he was a Rosicrucian and I learned a lot of things just being around him.

NOJ: Was he religiously spiritual or just secularly spiritual?

RD: He was a Rosicrucian. I understand George Washington was too. Have you heard it?

George Washington our Rosicrucian President
NOJ: I am not that familiar with that following, no. I think they were somehow related to the Masons.

RD: I am not that familiar with it either, but I know he did (practice) it. He was very inspirational with anybody whom he taught.

NOJ: Did he push you to achieve what you were looking to achieve because he saw in you something that was a natural talent?

RD: Yes. He had me at his house once a week…studying theory and harmony. I worked with his professional band. He told me what school to go to, what college to go to. I went to the same college he went to, VanderCook College of Music, and when I went there,( I understood) everything they were saying because I had heard it before… he was a graduate of that school. I was way ahead.

NOJ:  I have read that you pursued the bass because you were shy as a youngster and it was a bit of a background instrument that you felt you could hide behind it, and also because you had a natural affinity for the sound of the bass from a very early age. Can you elaborate how this developed into such a lifelong passion?

RD: Well I guess you just said it all there. I don’t think I can elaborate on that. (Laughing)

NOJ: Well I did read some of your previous interviews, but I wouldn’t want to put words into your mouth.

RD: Yeah, I think you have done a good job with wherever you have gotten that from.

NOJ: Well some of this material came from several sources, but I would like to hear it from the horse’s mouth.

RD:  That’s a good idea.

NOJ: And I hear you’re a horseman?

RD: That’s for sure. I been a horseman since I was nine and I only stopped in 1987.

NOJ: That became a passion too, right?

RD: It was definitely a passion. I did everything imaginable with horses. I only stopped when I moved into the city here (Madison, Wisconsin), because I no longer had a place to keep the horses.

Richard Davis training one of his horses
NOJ:  Getting back to your musical experiences, who was the very first bass player that you saw perform live that you were really impressed with, and when was that?

RD: That I heard?  Well see, at fifteen years of age, when I started playing the bass, there was a student in high school with me named Karl Byrom .I was very impressed when he played. He and I became  friendly and consequently there were all these other (jazz)bass players he knew about.

NOJ: So he introduced you to them?

RD: Yeah he had their recordings. Oscar Pettiford, Jimmie Blanton, Slam Stewart, Milt Hinton all these guys.

NOJ: So let me ask you about some of these guys and as one of the great jazz bass players, I would love to get your impromptu take on them as bass players.
Let’s start with Walter Page?
 Bassist  Walter Page
RD: Walter Page to me was like the Rock of Gibraltar with the walking bass line. He was solid, he had a big sound. He was in a rhythm section that they called the “All American Rhythm Section,” he and Jo Jones, Freddie Green and Count Basie. I was not impressed with any of his particular skills. He didn’t solo at all, as far as I know, but he was inspiring.

NOJ: I would say maybe Blanton next?

RD: Yes, Blanton next.

NOJ: And how did he change the way the bass was being played?

RD:  First, he was soloing and he was bowing and he would come out in front of the band and play a duet with Duke Ellington. I heard him and I said boy I’m impressed. My teacher who was a European classical teacher from the Chicago Symphony had his record too, what he did with Duke.

NOJ: Wasn’t Slam Stewart doing stuff like that at the same time?

RD: Oh I can’t give you a date, but I am sure he was.
Bassist LeRoy "Slam" Stewart
NOJ: In that same interview done with Lester Young’s brother, drummer Lee Young, Lee recalled that Slam Stewart and Jimmie Blanton once had a cutting session. Lester, who was a big Slam Stewart fan, thought he was the tops and was rooting for Stewart, but after he heard Blanton at that session he became a convert.

RD: Oh yeah. I’d wish I could have heard Blanton in a jam session playing with the bow. That was never recorded.

NOJ: What about Milt Hinton?
Bassist Milt Hinton
RD: Well Milt Hinton was an exceptional player playing on both classical and jazz. He did a solo album. I think it was called Ebony Silhouette, he bowed on it. I wish I could find that record. He bowed the melody I know I heard it. I think that was the name of it Ebony Silhouette.

NOJ: What about Oscar (Pettiford)?

RD: Well now you’re talking about (laughing) some sort of monster there man. Did you ever hear him play on Swamp Fire with Duke Ellington?

NOJ: Yeah, he used to play cello too right?
Bassist and Cellist Oscar Pettiford with Duke Ellington
RD: Yeah. He was playing a baseball game and fell down and broke his arm and he picked up the cello as something that put less pressure on it. Oscar Pettiford was a natural and his solos were swinging.

NOJ: What is the difference in your mind between Blanton and Pettiford?

RD: Two different people with two different ideas on how to solo. Pettiford was maybe as good as Blanton, I am not really sure about that, but Blanton was in the world’s eye before Pettiford. I met Oscar, I talked to him a lot. Oh yeah, I met him in New York, He was very egotistical. I was on the (Ellington) bus when they were getting ready to leave, because I knew somebody (in the band). Pettiford said ”I don’t need him (referring to Duke) , he needs me.”  (Laughing) I said to myself wow!
One time, I was hanging out with Wendell (Marshall, Ellington’s regular bass player at the time)  we were both hanging out with Pettiford and Pettiford said to me and Wendell  ”Why don’t you guys come around to this rehearsal  I got so you can learn how to play the bass.” (Laughing) When he played on that record he did Swamp Fire, I was impressed. That record, I think I have got it on the old vinyl.

NOJ: That’s got to be great. What about a guy like Tommy Potter?

RD: Tommy Potter was a good bassist. He was one of the guys in bebop who could keep those tempos. I never really saw him as a soloist. See soloists were taking over from the guys that were just walking, and Tommy Potter and Curley Russell were responsible for doing that (walking) stuff. I remember all those guys. When I met Curley Russell, someone had taken me backstage where he was working to meet him and he told the guy “… don’t tell him to make a career out of music.” (Laughing)He was protecting me.
Bassist Curley Russell
NOJ:  What about Ray Brown?

RD: Oh yeah he was a monster, man. He was out there with all of them.
Bassist Ray Brown
NOJ: How do these guys differ from each other in your mind?

RD: Well they are different spirits of different times in jazz performance. You might say that Ray Brown came up during the bebop era. Now the guy that started playing bebop on the bass was Oscar Pettiford. That is the way I see it.  There is another bass player back in those days… he was with Stan Kenton.

NOJ: How about Israel Crosby was he around then?

Bassist Israel Crosby
RD: Oh man Israel; he was one of these young guys that started. Israel Crosby was ooh. I remember him in Chicago. Yeah, good bassist.

NOJ: And (George)Duvivier?

RD: There is another one. He was known for his beat and his precision and intonation.

NOJ: Yeah he has great intonation.

RD: Yes sir!

NOJ:  How about Red Mitchell?
Bassist Red Mitchell

RD: Now there was a phenomenal player too.

NOJ: He played with a different tuning didn’t he?

RD: I think he did.

NOJ: I loved his work with Hampton Hawes trio. They just cooked. I really liked the way Red played.

RD:  I met him much later.

NOJ: Then of course there was Mingus, who was in his own world.
Bassist and Composer Charles Mingus
RD: Yeah he was in his own world all right.

NOJ:  (Laughing) Brilliant, but sort of difficult.

RD: He made sure of that.

NOJ: What about a guy like Scott LaFaro, who everybody says was a pivotal point on the bass?

Bassist Scott LaFaro
RD: He was definitely a pivotal point on the bass.

NOJ: And why was that?

RD: He just played high on the register and played fast and with alternate fingering. He played out of time. He was basically not just keeping the beat. You know Ray Brown said the first guy that he heard who was doing that stuff was me.

NOJ: You?

RD: That’s what Ray Brown said.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Regina Carter brings her Southern Comfort to the Jazz Standard August 16, 2014

Marvin Sewell, Regina Carter, Chris Lightcap and Will Holshouser
Photo by Ralph A. Miriello

On Saturday August 16, 2014 the violinist Regina Carter brought some Southern Comfort to the New York’s Jazz Standard. It was apropos to be enjoying the Standard’s sumptuous Blue Smoke Barbeque cuisine prior to the first set of Ms. Carter’s delicious treatment of American roots music. It was almost the perfect pairing for an all-American  evening of fine food and even finer music.

Ms. Carter, who is small in stature but commanding in the presence of her violin, was joined by an accomplished group of like-minded musicians.  Anchored by the rhythm section of Chris Lightcap on acoustic bass and Alvester Garnett on drums, the group included two musicians Marvin Sewell on guitars and Will Holshouser on accordion, who seemed to have an invisible tether to Ms. Carter’s musical mind.

The music was from Ms. Carter’s recent cd Southern Comfort, a musical experience which was born out of the violinist’s interest in discovering the music that existed during her father and grandfather’s time. The research took her to the coal mines of Alabama where her grandfather originally worked. The music of the time was annealed from the varied experiences of the workers who came from many disparate European and African backgrounds. It was the discovery of the field recordings from these times, a few of which Ms. Carter shared on stage from a recorder stored on her phone, that made the music so compelling. This was Americana music at its best, work and play music that sustained those who heard it while carrying on with their often difficult lives.

From the impressive glass slide and finger picked guitar opening by Mr. Sewell of “Miner’s Child” and the melancholic wail of Ms. Carter’s violin you knew you were in for a treat listening to music that could clutch at the tendrils of your soul. Ms. Carter has it all, precision, superb intonation and a creative spirit that makes her instrument sing like a plaintive voice. The group was marvelously intuitive in their approach to this music, which they played with a great deal of feeling and reverence.

On vibraphonist Stefon Harris’s fast paced arrangement of “Breakaway/Death Have Mercy,” drummer  Garnett played a moving Cajun-inspired rhythm that led into a stirring solo by accordionist Will Holshauser, who at times made his accordion sound like a carnival calliope.

On the Graham Parson’s tune “Hickory Wind” Mr. Sewell played glass slide on an electric Telecaster-style guitar. His technique was so flawlessly smooth that if you closed your eyes you could have easily mistaken it for a pedal-steel guitar. He lingered on long drawn out notes that hung in the air like wisps of cumulus clouds over a hot southern landscape. On this slow, sauntering tune Ms. Carter took the opportunity play with the heart wrenching poignancy that only a fiddle can elicit. Mr. Holshouser’s harmonies were magically in-sync with Ms. Carter at almost every turn. The two seem to have an empathetic connection that is magical to behold.

Ms. Carter took to the microphone to  explain her journey through her father’s genealogy, where she was DNA tested to  discover she was 73% West African and 13% Finnish. So she quipped her next record might explore Finnish music, tentatively titled “I’m Finnish-ed.”  She related visiting her father’s relative’s in the rural South during the summers of her youth. She then played a brief recording of a children’s school song that was taken from an archival collection of recordings from an all girl’s school in Alabama, titled “See See Rider.”  The song, as played by Ms Carter and her group, was particularly moving. Ms. Carter’s raspy violin repeated the refrain pointedly.  At times during her soloing you could hear glimpses of her quoting what seemed to be Bill Wither’s  soulful “Use Me”. Mr. Holshauser brilliantly complimented her sound with rich harmonies that would swell in and out in sync to the squeezing of his instrument. Mr. Garnett playing with his bare hands on his drums and Mr. Sewell and Mr Lightcap accompanied perfectly.

The group launched into a cacophony of sounds that at once seemed disparate and free. The Garnett penned song broke into the more identifiable sound of  a New Orlean’s inspired march. Mr. Garnett kept the drill step cadence superbly and Mr. Holshauser playfully soloed in a Cajun-styled mode.  Mr. Sewell had an extended solo as Ms. Carter looked on, leading to a bass solo by Mr. Lightcap. Ms. Carter soloed in a style that was reminiscent of Stuff Smith, with a dissonant dual string attack and references to “Farmer in the Dell” and other barnyard favorites sprinkled in along the way.  The song ended with a rousing and  rambunctious drum solo by the ever present Mr. Garnett, who was finally let out of his box to strut his ample chops.

The first set ended with the traditional hymn “I’m Going Home on the Morning Train” which was arranged and played on the album by the tasty guitarist Adam Rodgers. Mr. Sewell started the song off with a soulful bluesy guitar lead in. Mr. Holshouser’s moaning accordion sound gave the song a moving reverence, the feel of a church organ at a bible reading. Ms. Carter’s violin was particularly poignant on this hymn as her Appalachian heritage came pouring through with a sincerity that was tinged with a bit of melancholia; a combination that makes this music so moving. As Ms. Carter has said, the music comes through her, not from her, and to give it to us is a gift, as she does, demands that we accept it with open arms. For those who enjoy this kind of American roots music, played to perfection,  Southern Comfort is a must have in the same category as the late Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny’s memorable Missouri Sky.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Trumpeter Sean Jones Excels with his New "Im.pro.vise"

Sean Jones Im- pro-vise Mac 1080
Trumpeter Sean Jones was a featured voice on Nancy Wilson’s Grammy award winning album, Turned to Blue , from 2006. Since then he has been associated with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra lending his taut, clean lines to the sound of that formidable ensemble.  Now, at thirty-six years of age, he has released his seventh album as a leader, titled Im-Pro-Vise, on the progressive Mack Avenue Label.  Mr. Jones  is maturing into a leading voice on the instrument and has developed as a talented leader and composer in the genre.

Mr. Jones has chosen a solid rhythm section comprised of the bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Obed Calvaire and a worthy foil, in the impressive Orrin Evans on piano.  Jones offers an inspiring collection of music that pulses, soars, at times intrigues and challenges just enough to titillate the ears and stimulate the mind.

Compositions like the opener “60th & Broadway,”  a tip of the hat to his tenure at JALC, sail on a powerful flow created by Curtis and Calvaire. The tight rhythm section pulls you along comfortably while soloists Jones and Evans offer you surprising aural excursions along the way.

The Akinmusire-like pensive and haunting “Dark Times,” could easily become a standard in its own right. Evans approaches his lines with a singularly introspective touch  as he explores the outer boundaries of harmony. Jones and Evans have a strange but powerful simpatico that is on majestic display here as they counter each other’s ideas over drum rolls by Calvaire. Evans rattling the keyboard in an agitated response to Jones calls. The trumpeter has great command of the high register of his voice producing piercing but clarion clear notes to great effect.

On” Interior Motives”  Jones takes up the mute on his bell creating a distinctive Miles-inspired sound, at times sparse and lingering and at times flowing and mellifluous. Calvaire rims and toms rattle with pronounced syncopated lines and a variety accented timbres.  Evans plays a percussive solo that twists and turns in interesting and surprising ways, at times teasing with almost familiar melodic fragments that appear and just as quickly disappear from his solo.

Jones composition “The Morning After” is a beautiful hymn with roots in the reflective music of worship. It has a Americana feel and could easily be played at a religious ceremony or at a dedication. Initially reflective and respectful, the song slowly blossoms into an eruption of euphoric-like playing by Jones over Evans’ deft ‘comping chords. Explosive rhythmic burst by Calvaire come to a powerfully expressive conclusion.

Under the walking bass line of Curtis and the gentle intro of Evans piano, Jones plays a down home blues that could easily be from an earlier time on “I Don’t Give A Damn Blues.”

“Dr. Jekyll” is a three plus minute exercise in musical tachycardia. It features a double time bass line by Curtis that leads into an Evans intro that sets up a jagged, buzzing-bee type statement by Jones, who plays flawlessly in high register with speed, precision and control.

Jones takes on the Lewis/Hamilton standard “How High the Moon” making it into a vehicle for abstract expression. Pianist Evans is particularly angular in his approach to the melody creating a parallel path to the head that holds to its edges without tracking it too closely to the main theme  A brief bass solo by Curtis  and then Jones returns to state the melody with a muted horn in sparse beauty and with little variation.Calvaire plays his brushes with a gossamer touch.

Another Jones composition “We’ll Meet Under the Stars,” played with a muted bell by Jones,is a ruminative and melancholy song that is played in a laconic style that saunters about in no apparent direction .  Despite the wandering feeling Evans piano is expressively soft and sensitive here.

“New Journey” has a lively drive supplied by Calvaire’s  busy trap work, he could do well to tone down the cacophony a bit here to my ears. Jones uses the quick pace to show some impressive Hubbard-like runs on trumpet. Evans, once again provides a nice counterpoint to Jones solo, taking a more divergent path.

On Orrin Evan’s “Don’t Fall Off the L.E.J.” the group seems to be in total sync as they precisely play the breaks and the spaces in between. Jones enters his solo with a smooth confidence that is paced perfectly with controlled slurs that are deeply expressive.  Evans is at his funkiest here in great contrast to the otherwise cool sound of the piece.

The final piece is a composition by Stephen Sondheim “Not While I‘m Around.”  Evans opens the song with a sparse piano intro that leads to the solemn sound of Jones’ trumpet. The two play the melody in a tasty duet that is expressive, imaginative and just plain beautiful. These musicians have an affinity for each other. They obviously respect the emotive power of this song as they play it with a reverence and sensitivity that cannot be easily duplicated. The performance is both captivating and sincere.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Part Three of My Interview with Guitarist Jack Wilkins

Jack Wilkins, Billy Drummond, Harvie S and Sonny Fortune
photo courtesy of Jack Wilkins
The New York City based guitarist Jack Wilkins recently celebrated his seventieth birthday with a jam session at he Jazz Standard on July 1, 2014. In attendance, honoring the master musician, were his contemporaries Larry Coryell, Joe Diorio  Howard Alden, Vic Juris, Gene Bertoncini, Jimmy Bruno and John Abercrombie. By all accounts it was a wonderful evening of guitar wizardry and camaraderie. Wilkins was gracious enough to spend time with me on an extensive phone interview that spanned the gamut of music, history, musicians, education and anything else we could talk about. The experience both enlightening and thoroughly entertaining for me and I hope for my readers. This is the third and final part of that interview the other two parts can be found by linking to Part 1 here and Part 2 here. If this doesn't pique your interest and make you want to go out and see this fine musician perform than nothing will.  In this part we discuss playing with singers, music education, the state of the music business and recordings, his take on listening to himself on records and his obsession with fifties era Sci-Fi movies.

We discussed Jack's biological father, who he didn't originally know and who was himself a fairly famous guitar player, in the last part of this interview. Jack thought  a picture of his dad and one of his album covers from The River Boys might give a little insight into his innate  musical heritage.

Jack Rivers Lewis
photo courtesy of Jack Wilkins

Continuing our conversation:

NOJ: You have played with some great singers over the last forty years including Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughn, Chris Connor, Tony Bennett etc. How does playing for a singer differ from playing with a group?

JW: It’s not that different. With a singer there is more conscious dynamics and I think there are more conscious tempos too. Singer’s always want a tempo that they want. You can’t play All the Things You Are for example fast or slow or any tune for that matter, with a singer it has got to be in their tempo. I like playing with singers, when they are good of course.  One of the singers that I really enjoyed playing for was Morgana King. She was great. I loved her singing. Jay Clayton, Nancy Moreno, wow Sarah was wonderful;. I liked them all. They all had something special.
Sarah Vaughn
One guy that I wished I had played for was Nat King Cole. I played for his brother though, Freddy Cole.

NOJ: I did an interview with Freddy last year. He was great.

JW: Ah what a nice cat and I loved the way he sang. Very funny.

NOJ: He is very smooth. You know he never makes a set list before a show. Poor Randy Napoleon, his musical director has to be prepared for whatever he decides to play on the spot! He has an incredible memory of all these tunes even at his age. I think he is now eighty two.

JW: Yeah I know I played with him. That’s what he did, fortunately I knew the tunes. ( Laughter) He is terrific.

NOJ: Your teaching gigs include Manhattan School of Music, Long Island University, the New School and NYU?

JW: Well I’m an adjunct to all of them. Manhattan was my main school. There are not that many students at this point. I have plenty of private students, sometimes more than I need. I can handle what I have so it is not a burden. I like to teach.

NOJ: So what is it about teaching that you find most satisfying?

JW: When I can hear somebody starting to play better because of my helping them, I am very gratified about that. I am honored that they got something from my teaching. I am very pleased about that, very pleased. I want to help them because they so want to learn. Most of these students want to learn that it gives me great pleasure to help them.  They all usually have great attitudes and if they don’t I won’t take them a second time. They respect what I do and they ask me all the right questions and I am pretty honest.  I don’t hold anything back. That would not be helpful, if I said, that’s great see you next week.
They want the truth so I say your ‘comping is lousy, your single line is a little sporadic, you’re not playing on the right changes, your tone is shrill and your too loud. (Laughter) Your doing just fine.

NOJ: So go home now. (Laughter)

JW:  Sometimes I’d like to say that (Laughter) but seriously. With somebody so needy and so wanting to learn you’re not going to hurt their feelings. You like them and you want to help them.

NOJ:  And you don’t want to dampen their enthusiasm either, right?

JW: No. That is a very fine line.

NOJ: You have spoken in the past as to having learned very early on to play within the music, within the group as opposed to showcasing yourself on the bandstand. With the students you see coming up, is there an emphasis today on chops more than musicality?

JW: Oh, totally, absolutely.  It is sort of disturbing. It does not sit well with me. They are not concerned about the music, they are not concerned about playing the right changes, they’re not concerned about sound, and they are just concerned about their chops. It’s preposterous! Who cares! There is always somebody who can play faster. It is not about the speed, it’s about playing with the music.

Speed is fine if it is organic. A lot times they practice these runs at home and they get on the bandstand and they play exactly the same thing. You can’t do that when you’re playing with a bass player and a drummer that are in the moment. You have to be in the moment when you play music. It’ll happen if you have a good band and they are all playing together, but I had that experience too.  I was a kid, Mr. Hot Shot there, we have all done this. You get up there and you wail away and feel how fast and wonderful you are and then the next thing you know you’re there alone!  That has happened to me, it was an incredible experience. The whole band stopped playing after a while, and I said why did you stop playing?  They said “Oh we were listening to you.” A bell went off in my head.  I wasn’t listening to them is what they were saying.

NOJ: You have several albums out. The latest one is Until It’s Time from 2008.  Is that the last one or do you have a newer one out?

Jack Wilkins :Until It's Time
 Sample Jack's Music here

JW: I have a new one coming out. It is not out yet. I recorded it in Paris and I like it a lot, which is difficult for me to say, because usually I don’t like anything I record. It’s true I don’t. I can’t listen to anything I record, I just hate it.

NOJ: Really, you are that critical of yourself?

JW: Not critical, it’s not that it isn’t good or okay or whatever, it brings back too many memories of what  I was feeling or going through at the time in my life. What happens is it brings all the angst to the surface, again. That was a moment in time. Music is like a portrait, you play something that you are feeling at one time in your life, and then you put it on wax and it’s recorded and it’s there forever. As soon as you hear again, maybe ten years later and you go right back to that spot that you were in. You start reliving the past , you know I didn’t like this or that was great but that part is gone, or whatever.  You know it is a real introspective when you listen to your own music. That is why I am not keen on listening to my own music.

NOJ:  Tell me about the new recording.

JW: Yeah, it was done in Paris. I have a trio, bass and drums and we do a bunch of trio things plus we have a featured vibes player and a harmonica player who is wonderful. I don’t have all the information  but it is done. It is just being ordered and mastered and it should be ready in a few weeks. I’ll send you one when it is done.

NOJ: That would be great. You are now seventy and  have been playing professionally for over forty years. What advise do you have for aspiring musicians?

JW: That is a question that I am asked quite a lot. The answer is to learn the fundamentals. Be on time if you have a gig, don’t be an asshole.( Laughter) Learn as many tunes as you can, learn how to read. Develop your ears so you can play a tune that you don’t  know.  Be cooperative, don’t be nasty. If you don’t like something just don’t do it, don’t do it with an attitude.  All you can do is hone your professional skills, but  therein lies the problem. These kids don’t have a place to play anymore. There are not a lot of venues. I was having some sessions here at my place for my students but it turned out to be too much. There are places, Small’s has a jam session, Cleopatra’s Needle, the Zinc Bar has a session a couple of places in Brooklyn.

NOJ: You Used to have a residency up on the Upper West Side at an Italian joint called Bella Luna, but they don’t do that anymore, right?
Jack Wilkins, Ron Jackson and Tom Dempsey at Bella Luna
JW: No. We had a great run there seven or eight years.

NOJ:  You had a lot of great duos there.

JW: Oh the best. Bucky (Pizzarelli), Howard (Alden), Freddie Bryant, Ron Jackson, Paul Meyers, Carl Barry  the list goes on and on and on. It was fun that place. Then they moved and the new place didn’t last that long. There are places to play, but there are not as many as there used to be, and they not as warm and cozy as they used to be.

NOJ:  It must be humbling to have had all the players that you had at your birthday bash show up and want to honor you for your seventieth birthday celebration at the Jazz Standard? ( The Jam Session Celebration was held to a pack house on July 1, 2014.)

JW: Oh of course, I am beyond flattered.
Guitarist Jack Wilkins 70th Birthday Bash at the Jazz Standard w friends
John Abercrombie, VIc Juris, Larry Coryell, Joe Diorio, Howard Alden and Jack 
NOJ: One of the players that will be there for your celebration is John Abercrombie. I am a big fan of John and his music. His is one of my favorite players.

JW:  Me too, I love John. A wonderful player and a wonderful cat too. One of my favorite records he ever made was a record called Direct Flight.  It was with Peter Donald and George Mraz just a trio date while he was recording for ECM. People don’t realize how straight ahead when he wants to.

NOJ: When musicians are in sync it is an incredible experience and wonderful to behold.
You don’t always see that in performance. You said once in another interview that you are very big on listening and I can understand why, because if you don’t have the ears to listen to what the other players are playing, where they are taking it, then how can you tell where the music can possibly go?

JW: That is essential. That is almost elementary "1A" Be in tune. Listening is to me the most important aspect of playing. John \(Abercrombie) told me a long time ago, John in his inimitable way said “Yeah, listening is my meat and potatoes.” (Laughing loudly).  Couldn’t be more truthfully said.

NOJ:  What do you lies in the future for jazz guitar? 

JW: I think the economy is going to dictate where it goes. Things can become obsolete if no body wants to buy it. That holds true with just about everything. CDs are pretty much obsolete aren’t they?

NOJ: Well I like to get a lot of  hard copy of what I review. I like the packaging; reading about the artists;. how the music was made. Who wrote the tunes etc.
JW: A lot of the kids today they just download it.

NOJ: Yeah they just download the music, but how connected can you be to a digital download?

John Coltrane and Miles Davis

JW: Well, I have an interesting way of thinking about that. A few years ago I asked my students what they were listening to. They would tell me I’m listening to Coltrane, Miles Davis. I said wow, what phase of Coltrane do you listen to?  Because he has had a lot of phases,  you know and no of them are the same.  So they say to me “I don’t know I have this compilation that I listen to. “OK, so what are some of the tunes on that. “ Well they would tell me “ I don’t know.” That surprised me. I said “You mean you listen to Coltrane and you don’t know the name of the tune, you don’t know who is in the band?”  “Nah I just downloaded it.” Now I don’t think that is really learning anything.  You may like it but you’re not ‘going to remember it. I don’t think so. Maybe I am wrong about that. I don’t even know. It’s such a complicated issue, downloading and all that wizardry that goes on. It is so far out for a lot of people in my age group. If you are in your twenties that is all you have, that is what you have grown up with.

Students tell me “ I can’t remember tunes. I play a tune three or four times and it doesn't stick with me.”
I tell them I am not surprised. You didn’t grow up with this music. I did. When I was a kid, my step father and mother used to play Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Nat Cole  and I knew all these tunes.  All the great singers, I grew up with this music.

NOJ: If you never grew up with this music how can you possibly embrace it. It goes back to heredity and environment.  Environmental influences can be so powerful. If you grow up exposed to something you are more likely to have an easier time absorbing it and will most likely enjoy it.

JW: It’s true. Interestingly enough, students from Europe and Japan are way more versed in the ( Great American Songbook) tunes then American Students are.

NOJ: Isn’t that funny. I have a theory about that. The Japanese have been very big jazz fans for decades and you wonder what it is that drew them to this music. Maybe it was the GIs that were stationed there after WWII during the reconstruction, listening to that music that laid the groundwork for the Japanese people’s affinity for the music. The same could be said for the American GI’s stationed in Europe during the Marshall Plan.
GI's dancing to Big Band music with Japanese girls in Japan 1945
JW: That is a great thought. I don’t know about that but that is very possible. The music was big band  with vocalists and they were around then after the war. The music is still around today.

NOJ: Any new player that really impresses you these days.

JW: I can’t even say new but Adam Rodgers is quite remarkable. I think he is just a brilliant, Jonathan Kriesberg, Ben Monder. These guys are not even new are they?  Like I said before, if you can play this instrument at all in a good way, you get my vote right there, because I know how hard it is to play this thing.

You know there are a lot of guitar players that I mentioned, like Barney and Tal and Jimmy and the rest but I would be remiss if I didn’t include Chuck Wayne in the pantheon of the greatest guitar players to have ever played the guitar. The technique that Frank Gambale uses, Chuck Wayne did that in the forties, of course Frank is playing different stuff, but Chuck called it alternate consecutive picking. It is simple to fathom but different to execute.

NOJ: Who is your most influential teacher?

JW: John Mehegan, pianist, and my early guitar teachers Sid Margolis, Joe Monte and Rodrigo Riera, he was my classical guitar teacher. He was amazing. I could never get that right flavor or feel for it.

NOJ:  You live in Manhattan and I understand that you are a SciFi fan. What is your favorite SciFi movie of all time?

JW: How did you know that? I have several favorites. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Forbidden Planet, the first Time Machine, Them.  My girlfriend thinks I am nuts. It is very interesting that the way the world is going SciFi. In my apartment I have a big walk-in closet with maybe five hundred movies. They are copies.

The Original
 Invasion of the Body Snatchers
NOJ: What is your upcoming schedule for live performances after the July 1, 2014 Jazz Standard date?
JW: I am playing a duo with Carl Barry on July 26th at Grata Restaurant. On August 9th I am playing at the Bar Next Door and at the Kitano on  August 29th. Both gigs are with with Mike Clark on drums and Andy McKee on bass.

NOJ: I really appreciate  your time and I look forward to actually seeing you in person in the near future and hearing your new album.

You can hear link to Part 1 of this interview here and Part 2 of this interview here

Friday, July 18, 2014

Part Two of My Interview with Guitarist Jack Wilkins

Jack Wilkins
The guitarist Jack Wilkins has been on the musical scene, in and around New York for the past fifty years. He made his bones playing with the great drummer Buddy Rich. Despite growing up in the midst of the fusion era and dipping his toe in the electronic waters of fusion for a time, he never really dove too far astray from a mainstream approach to jazz guitar. He was always more interested in the sound of the guitar than in the electronic wizardry that fascinated so many of his contemporaries at the time. We spoke to Wilkins just prior to his July 1, 2014, seventieth birthday bash at the Jazz Standard, where many of his fellow guitarists came to honor and celebrate his career. Part two of this interview is a continuation of our lengthy conversation with Wilkins. You can link to Part One by clicking here.

In Part Two we discusses fusion, some of his admired contemporaries, his guitar playing father, whether musical traits are learned or inherited, his time with Rich and some of his experiences as a working musician.

NOJ: Jack, what happened ( to jazz guitar) after (Joe) Pass? You get into the contemporary guys, after Howard Roberts or so you get Pat (Metheny), you, John McLaughlin, John Scofield, John Abercrombie, Alan Holdsworth  where do all  these players fit into the musical tree of jazz guitar players in your mind?

JW: I think jazz guitar took a real division in the mid to late sixties. A lot of guitarists got into the fusion bag, which is great . You know I did a lot of that myself. People don’t know that but I can play the tar out of fusion guitar. (Laughter)

NOJ: I was going to ask you about that. It seems like you were with (Buddy) Rich while the whole fusion scene was exploding around you?

JW: No, I did a lot of that. I was in a lot of bands that had all this wild fusion stuff .... I did all that; it was beautiful, I loved it but it didn't last for me. I sort of stayed with contemporary jazz whereas a lot of guys didn't.  Pat Martino stayed contemporary too, but a lot of guys went into fusion or bossa nova.
I am not dismissing it, I want you to know that. It is just an observation, I see what people play and how they play and to me I am just observing it and ninety nine percent of the times I like it. Sometimes its really terrible its just s*^t  you know.

NOJ: What about a more mainstream guy like Larry Carlton. I think Larry is a phenomenal guitar player.

Larry Carlton
JW: Me too.

NOJ: But he got into playing in a studio arena where the music was much more popular than more traditional other guys.

JW: Oh I think his work, for example with Steely Dan is brilliant. I play those solos, I know those solos. Oh God yeah.  I mean I have played them all because they are so melodic and so perfect.

NOJ: Yeah, they are so melodic and so memorable. You can’t help but remember, wow that was a great line.

JW: Yeah, memorable that’s exactly right. You know some players, that may not be so technically advanced, may play something in a way that just touches your heart and you say wow I want to play this.

NOJ: What about a player like Al DiMeola?

JW: He is a great player, very humble and friendly to me.  Paid me a great compliment, which is rather funny, he said “Wow, man I never heard anybody play as fast as you.’ And so I busted up laughing and I said “Are you kidding, you are the fastest guitar player that ever walked on a stage. ” He said “yeah but I just play the same thing over and over, you are actually playing on the changes.” I laughed and gave him a hug and said “Yeah you keep thinking that.” (Riotous laughter) I loved that story.
Alan Holdsworth

Another guitarist that is a monstrous guitar player, beyond comprehension, is Alan Holdsworth. What he plays on the guitar and the music that he writes is uncanny. I think that record  he made called Secrets, you know that one?Probably one of the great records ever made in the twentieth century.

NOJ: He is a monster, but I don't believe he is known that well to the  public outside of guitar circles.

JW: Is that right? I didn't know that. I have a copy of a recording  he made at a club in England a long , long time ago. It must have been in the sixties, late sixties I don’t remember and he is playing straight ahead.

NOJ: Wow, that is interesting.

JW: With his twists on it , you know. The particular way he hears it. Do you that record John McLaughlin made, with that piano player, Gordon Beck? I forget the name of it a sixties pop record. They do “These Boots are Made for Walking” and all that stuff. It’s quite impressive.

NOJ: Is that right?  I was a big McLaughlin fan. When I was younger I saw the Mahavishnu ( Orchestra) and they just blew me away.

JW: Oh Yeah.
Mahavishnu Orchestra
 NOJ: I was about four feet away from them and he comes out in this white suit with a double neck Gibson  and Billy Cobham had the Fibes drum set that was clear acrylic, and Jerry Goodman and Rick Laird and Jan Hammer and they just said nothing , counted off time imperceptibly and opened up with a fusillade of music. It was like a wall of sound that juts blew you away. I couldn't comprehend how anybody could be that precise, that fast, that together and that powerful.  When they were on they played like a precision clock; a clock on amphetamines but a clock. (Laughter)

JW: I saw the band he had when he was with Tony Wiiliams. That was so loud ohhh. I cannot believe how loud it was, too loud. I don’t mind volume but this was beyond the pale.
Tony Williams Lifetime w John McLaughlin
 NOJ:  Let’s get more into your life. After you found out that your birth father was a successful west coast guitar player, I guess in the western swing mode? I assume you tried to get your hands on his music? Was there much material to listen to and did you find his playing had any relationship to yours?

JW: I found several cd’s and a bunch of 78's that were running around. Was his playing like mine? In some ways, a little bit. In some of the instrumental things he played, yeah there was a similarity. I couldn't say we were the same, it had just a touch of similarity, we weren't the same but close.

NOJ: That begs the question are musical traits inherited or learned?

JW: That’s a big question that I've milled over in my mind for years and years and years. I never did believe in hereditary traits, never. I just figured with hard work you could get what you wanted, but I have come to change my opinion on that. I think there is something to this genetic thing after all.

NOJ:  It seems to repeat itself in different areas, like sports and things that have a mechanical aspect to them.

JW:  You know, yeah, but part of that is sociological. For example if your father was a golfer and he spent his whole life playing golf, you are naturally going to be drawn to the sport. Or you might have the same physical attributes that would make you a decent player or even a great player. But it is a rarity when you find a  father/son or father/daughter or mother/daughter thing where the offspring  does as well or better than the parent. There are a few instances where it has happened. Michael Douglas comes to mind, the actor Kirk Douglas’ son. Michael Douglas has done as well if not surpassed his father in terms of being a great actor and making better movies.

Kirk and Michael Douglas

NOJ: In basketball Stephen Curry is better than his father Del Curry was, right?

JW: Yeah that’s most likely true. There is probably a lot of examples but it is not common. You have to really search for examples where it is true. Jack Nicholas, the great golfer has  sons, and they play, but they are not nearly in the same ballpark as he is. They know that but that is neither here nor there. Sometimes it has to do with desire too.  You can have the talent, but if you don’t have the will it’s not going to happen.

I mean I was possessed for lack of a better word, maybe obsessed is a better way to put it. I spent most of my waking hours practicing, or playing or asking questions or going to hear people play . I was really, really dedicated to what I was doing. Not knowing about my father at the time, mind you. I didn't know he played the guitar and if I had known or I had heard him play, I might not have been as desirous of wanting to play. I don’t know that now. If I did know him and he was part of my life, I may not have gone for it like that. I mean it’s a question that I throw out as a possibility. There are all kinds of possibilities.

Kenny Drew Jr. is a perfect example. His father was a magnificent player but so is Kenny Jr., as good, maybe better. Not better,  it’s hard to say better just different. Kenny Jr. is classically trained and his technique is astonishing. He is ridiculous, a preposterous technician and a musician that hears everything. Just a class act all the way.There is a bunch of others, I suppose I have to keep thinking about it, but that is enough.

Kenny Drew 

Kenny Drew Jr.
NOJ: You once said in an interview that playing along with records is silly. Do you really feel that there is no value to listening to great players and trying to emulate some of what they are doing?

JW: Did I say that?

NOJ: That is what I read in the interview. (Laughter)

JW:  Well, you know what I think that was taking out of context. It was not playing along with records, it was playing along with “play-along” records”.  The Jamie Abersold (records), which I have nothing against, you know playing along with a rhythm section and you play over them, its not going to help you that much. There is no interplay, let’s put it that way. It is just playing with the changes. Playing along with say Horace Silver Band where they swing so hard, I used to do that a lot.

NOJ: What about emulating solos from people who you respect.

JW: Yeah I have done that. Playing along with a real recording where the guys are really blowing and you can keep the time that’s great. I have studied some solos and it’s okay to a point, just to see how they did ( what they did) and how they negotiated the changes, sure. I have transcribed Bill Evans as much as I have transcribed anybody else.

NOJ:  Many people have, he was very influential to many different instrumentalists.

JW: Yeah. I also did a lot of Bud Powell, a lot of Clifford Brown and Freddie Hubbard  a lot of different musicians, trumpets, saxophones..

NOJ: Oh Yeah you did a version of Freddie’s Red Clay  from your Windows album that was ultimately sampled in a hip hop version done by A Tribe Called Quest.  What do you think of that?

JW: Well, they paid me. (Laughter). I like the tune and I like that band actually. A Tribe Called Quest, I enjoyed that record.

NOJ: You met Buddy Rich in 1973 and you have been quoted as saying that at the time you were playing five or six nights a week for 45 weeks out of the year for probably two to three years?

JW:  Two and half years yeah.

NOJ: That is a whole lot of playing and you obviously became very proficient and attuned to the music, but did you find yourself running out of ideas or getting fatigued playing this much?

JW: Oh no, not at all, not even close. No I never got tired. Playing with Buddy you can’t be tired or you wouldn’t play. (Loud Laughter). I was energized every time I got on the bandstand. There was never any lulls there, never, none. The music was always at the highest level of energy and Buddy he was the machine behind it.

NOJ: I just wonder when your playing that much do you fall into a trap of repeating yourself?

JW: I suppose so, a little bit, it’s impossible not to, you can’t help it especially if it is in the same tempos and the same set. But Buddy was pretty cool about changing stuff up. He didn't stay with the same program every night. And he changed bands quite a bit too. There were different horn players, different bass players, and different piano players. Then we went on the road with Frank Foster, Jimmy McGriff, myself and Buddy, that was fun. That was great, we had a great time and the music was killing. Dizzy played with us, Illinois Jacquet, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Fortune and Kenny Baron were in the original band. Pretty impressive, yeah. Stan Getz played with the band for a while, three or four gigs. Buddy and he were co-leaders, whatever that means. All I know I sat there playing and I was having the time of my life. I didn't even realize I was having the time of my life until it was over.
Jack Wilkins and Sal Nistico with Buddy Rich
 photo courtesy of Jack Wilkins
You know who I thought was a great tenor player was Sal Nistico, man. When he got started he was like a machine. He was on fire. Notes came out so lucid and so clear and strong. You never had a problem knowing where the beat was. Him and to my ears Cannonball ( Adderley)  have always been my favorites. There is a lot of great players out there. You could spend the next six months figuring out all the great players.

NOJ:  You were playing straight ahead with Rich’s small groups while the fusion-era was exploding around you.  Did you miss this era of electronically progressive music and what was your take on this development in jazz and music in general?

JW:  I didn't miss it, we did some fusiony things with Buddy. Buddy would try to keep up with what was happening on the scene, so we did a couple of Herbie (Hancock) tunes and like Maynard’s (Ferguson) "Chameleon" and such. Buddy wasn't just straight ahead “Sweet Georgia Brown” type music, plus he had an electric piano at some point. Then the organ, of course, that sort of implies funk, with Jimmy McGriff. I wasn't playing with Buddy all the time. So there were other things I was doing while I was playing with Buddy. I think that forty-five weeks a year is a little bit exaggerated, I don’t know if I said that, it seemed like forty-five weeks a year.  I think it was more like thirty five weeks out of the year. We played a month at Buddy’s Place, then have a couple of weeks off and then go on the road for a couple weeks and then come back to Buddy’s Place for a month. It was that kind of thing.

NOJ: That’s right, he had a club and you were in and out of the club and on the road in between?

JW: That’s correct. We did some European trips which was fun. Buddy didn't really want to travel anymore, so he was delighted to play home at his club.

NOJ: Was he as incredible as they say?

JW: More. Believe me when I tell you more. I sat next to him, right on his right for two and a half years and I got to tell you, the stories about his legendary drumming, it pales in comparison to actually seeing it every night. You couldn't believe anyone’s hands could move that fast.  We were all knocked out by that. Everybody, everybody, Sonny Fortune used to shake his head, we all did. It was stunning to watch that.

NOJ: Could he play really  softly and comp very well?

JW: He listened very well. Absolutely and his brushes were extraordinary. I know a lot of people think he was just a basher, that’s not true at all. He made a record with Lionel Hampton and Art Tatum Just the Three of Them. They made two records actually I have them and Buddy is playing brushes the whole time. It’s ridiculous; I mean that guy was really spectacular.

NOJ: Who did he take lessons from?

JW: You know what, my drumming friends would know. Mike Clark would know that. Davie Tough maybe was an influence on him. A lot of drummers used to come by and sit in with us.  He had a lot of drummer friends, a lot of friends period. Buddy was a good guy.

A lot of people don’t know that, they listen to that stupid tape of him on the bus. That infuriates me actually. What a legacy, the man leaves a musical legacy like that and that’s what people remember him by? That really irritates me. That’s what they all remember. It’s like that book that they wrote on Frank Sinatra. Kitty Kelley. It was a trash on Frank Sinatra from start to finish, but nothing was mentioned about his music. How can you write a book about Frank Sinatra , no matter how vicious and venomous you want it to be and not mention his music? It’s like writing a book about Babe Ruth and not talking about baseball! It’s crazy.

NOJ:  Let’s get back to the second part of my question, the electronically driven music that was fusion. What is your take on that part of music and do you think it was a positive or negative or just another aspect of the evolution?

JW: I don’t think it’s positive or negative, it is just what it is. I dabbled in that myself.

NOJ: But you chose not to go too far down that path so there clearly wasn’t enough there for you?

JW: Yeah, I don’t know it just got tiresome after a little while for me. I mean, I wanted to hear the sound of what started to get me play this instrument in the first place. The beautiful sound of the guitar without the effects and distortion and what not. I did a record called Alien Army where I did a lot of distortion and what not, that is a fusion record. I don’t know if you have heard of it? That’s about as fusion as I can get it, it’s on my website, there a couple of tracks there you can sample.

Sample Alien Army here

I played it for my girlfriend when I first started going out with her. On this one track I sound very much like Eric Clapton. She said “ Wow, who is this.”  I said it’s me. She said “No, no, no who is it? No let me listen it sounds like Eric Clapton, it’s Eric Clapton isn’t it?” Nope it’s me. She thought I was teasing. It took me about a half hour to get her to believe me I had to give her the record. She is still not sure it’s was me.( Laughing Loudly)

NOJ:  Is she still your girlfriend?

JW: Yeah,(Laughing)  She has certainly played that kind of stuff she knows that was me.  You know a lot of the so called “purists,” jazz people, they hated that record. They had no qualms about telling me so. One of them said “What is that shit?” I said that’s not shit it’s a very personal expression of what I felt at the time. “No that’s just shit.”  they would say . Can you imagine?

NOJ: They didn’t hold back did they?

JW:  I would never say that to somebody, ever. Here is another part that I have come to realize about myself that I didn’t know. Turns out if I don’t like something and then a few years later I go back to it and I do like. I’ll be honest with you the first time I heard Coltrane’s Meditations recordings, I said oh  I hated it,  I hated it , I couldn’t stand it. Then some years later and I listen to it now and I think it’s some of the greatest music ever made. So it takes some time to develop as an artist, as a person, as an emotional entity. You don’t just wake up in the morning and say oh let’s listen to Beethoven without knowing anything about it. To me it makes me like something even more when I learn something about it; where the tune came from how it was created and what’s behind it and all the things that go into certain music.

NOJ: That’s what you said about knowing and meeting Baden Powell, it made a big difference to you.

JW: It made a difference to get to meet him and get to know him and Johnny Smith too. I got to know him pretty well too and Tal. So that does make a difference. It is not as simple as just liking or disliking something. You have to have a sort of education. A lot of people, real quick, say of that is shit, but you don’t know anything about it. You can’t like or dislike it until know something about it. It doesn’t hold true only with music, it’s true with everything, it’s true with movies, it’s true with architecture.

NOJ: What other groups did you play within the fusion era?

JW: I played with a group called Elephant’s Memory.  I played with a band called Exit; with a guy called Rick Cutler. I played with a lot of bands that you never heard of.  On my website, there is section as a sideman and a leader, but there is a  couple of cuts from the band called Exit that you would not know it is me.

"...it takes some time to develop as an artist, as a person, as an emotional entity. "