May 24, 2016

Joe Temperley, 1929-2016

Joe Temperley, in 1997

We’ve learned of the passing of another stellar jazz artist. Joe Temperley was a master of the big horn — the baritone saxophone. He was one of the numerous musicians from around the world who responded to the spell of jazz and the desire to come to the country of its birth.
Joe was born in Scotland and experienced practical schooling with Scottish bands, including the well-known ensemble of Humphrey Lyttelton. Visits by American jazz musicians were rare, but Joe took advantage when they happened, and was able to see Harry Carney, his baritone saxophone idol. In our 1997 interview he related the story of a visit to Scotland by Duke Ellington’s Orchestra:
MR:  How did you meet Harry?
JT:   I met him in England when the band used to come. When the Ellington band used to come to England, Humphrey used to buy tickets for everybody in the band. And we used to go, the first time the Ellington band came to England, they did maybe 26 concerts. And we probably saw maybe 21 or 22 of them. We just used to follow them around, all over the place. And every night we’d walk in and see everybody, and they’d say, “Oh you guys are here again.” You know they couldn’t figure out why we were at the concerts all the time. But Duke Ellington, that was such a thing, to go and watch that band and see all those people that were in the band.
MR:  That was the prime: [Johnny] Hodges and Harry—
JT:   Harry [Carney] and Paul [Gonsalves] and Jimmy Hamilton. It was amazing.
MR:  Were they on every night, from one night to the next? Can you remember that?
JT:   Well yeah. No, no they weren’t on every night. I mean sometimes they sounded like a high school band. And then they could be sounding terrible and 10 or 15 minutes later, they sounded like something you’ve never heard in your life before. They were just absolute — the way they could turn it on — maybe if they saw somebody walking in or if somebody came in to see them — all of a sudden the band would be transformed into something entirely different. Because you know that band traveled all the time. They were tired.
MR:  Years and years on the road.
JT:   It was an amazing band. And it still is, it’s still the premier jazz orchestra of all times, in my opinion.
Joe immigrated to the U.S. in 1965, his destination was New York City, the jazz capital of the world. He had to “pay some dues” before he was able to enter the music world.
MR:  Did you have to wait to get into the union?
JT:   Yes. It took six months to get into the union, Local 802. It doesn’t take that, it takes six minutes now, or even six seconds. They’re dying to get people in the union.
MR:  They need the dues.
JT:   Oh, yes. But at that time it was like a six month wait. So I waited it out.
MR:  What did you do during those six months?
JT:  I worked in Corvettes, selling audio equipment. And that was an experience too of course. All of a sudden you know I went from playing every night, playing my saxophone and all that, all of a sudden I’m working in a retail store. But it served its purpose.
MR:  That’s right. It puts things in perspective for you.
JT:  Yes, absolutely, yes. And living in New York I started going out to hear people and became friendly with people like Pepper Adams and Cecil Payne and different people. And then I spent maybe 18 months with Woody’s band. But it was very hard then. It was very rigorous. I couldn’t deal with all those bus trips.
The most creative big band of the late 60s was led by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. When their baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams needed a sub, Joe Temperley got the call. He was in awe of the musicians with whom he shared the stage:
JT:  I must tell you this. When I actually played with the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Band, I was so over-awed by the feeling of playing in that band and I couldn’t play for looking at everybody. You know looking at Snooky Young and Jimmy Nottingham, and Mel Lewis and Richard Davis and Jerome Richardson and Joe Farrell and all these people that were in the band. It was just a humbling experience for me. I would like to do it now you know. I would like to really do that again now.
MR:  That was quite a roster. Everyone was a soloist.
JT:   The saxophone section was Jerome Richardson, Jerry Dodgion, Joe Farrell, Eddie Daniels and myself. It was amazing.
Joe became a founding member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra under Wynton Marsalis, holding down the baritone saxophone chair until his death this month. Like Wynton, he agreed that paying tribute to jazz icons does not include trying to reproduce their sound note for note:
JT:  I’ve played the soprano a long time. But you know I play the tenor quite a bit. I like to play the tenor. But I don’t play the tenor as much as I would like to but I play in school. I have two or three tenor students in school so I get to play the tenor. And then I do some gigs and things, odd things, and sometimes with the Lincoln Center band sometimes I play the tenor in different situations, sometimes I play the soprano, and at first I played the baritone and bass clarinet. So I’m kind of a utility man there as well as being the baritone player there. Like in this upcoming Sidney Bechet concert I’m going to be playing the soprano, which I’m looking forward to.
MR:  In that situation, are you trying to emulate him as close as possible?
JT:   No. Not at all. Wynton doesn’t encourage that. Like we play Ellington music. He likes you to play your own idea of what you think it should be, rather than just play the solos note for note. Then I don’t think it’s a fair reproduction because you can’t play like that. I can’t sound like Harry Carney. And somebody else can’t sound like Cootie Williams, and somebody else can’t sound like Paul Gonzalves. You can’t do it.
MR:  We can listen to their records if we want to hear them.
JT:   Of course. Yeah. And you can play your own way in that particular feeling but you can’t impersonate them. I don’t think that’s a good thing.
Joe handled the baritone saxophone in a muscular yet delicate way. Some of my favorite recordings of him occurred in the company of pianist Junior Mance. Here’s a link to Junior and Joe playing one of Duke Ellington’s iconic recordings, “In a Sentimental Mood.”

May 17, 2016

Buster Cooper, 1929-2016

“Being in a band” usually means you’re part of a four, five, or six piece group. But during the Swing Era a band meant an organization of up to 20 people — saxophone, trumpet, and trombone sections supported by a rhythm section. The best of the bands, such as Basie, Ellington and Miller lasted beyond the big band years and provided employment for a significant number of musicians. Among them was George “Buster” Cooper, trombonist.
Buster was born in St. Petersburg, Florida on April 4, 1929 and passed on May 13, 2016. Like many working jazz musicians, he made a life on the bandstand and in the studios. He rose to the top of the big band world during his seven year stint with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
Buster was interviewed along with fellow Ellington alum Bill Berry in a 1995 interview for the Fillius Jazz Archive. They spoke about Duke Ellington, his persona and his special relationship with co-composer Billy Strayhorn:
Buster Cooper, in 1995
BC:  Well it seems to me like a perfect collaboration. And okay, Duke and Strayhorn was fantastic. I’ve seen Duke, he started tunes, he’d say, “Here, Stray, I can’t turn the corner now on this one. Fix this for me.” You can tell.
Bill Berry, in 1995
BB:  Or over the phone, “Strayhorn, I’m stuck here, you know with this, do something with it,” and the way the stories go I’m sure it’s true, is Strayhorn would send something out that was like perfect, like as though they were reading each other’s minds.
BC:  Exactly. Fantastic.
BB:  The perfect solution, you know. Also, Duke Ellington was the smartest, brightest person I’ve ever met. Period.
BC:  Exactly. I used to sit and watch him man and I’d try and figure him out, you know. I used to be looking at him and he wasn’t aware of watching or nothing like that because he didn’t even know what the time was. That didn’t mean nothing. Obviously he thought maybe that’d make you rush through the day, you understand what I’m saying? And I used to sit up on the bandstand and I’d just watch him you know. And I finally came to the conclusion one night. I said Duke Ellington knows who Duke is. Period. Believe me.
BB:  He’s the only one that knew.
BC:  Believe me. He knew what Duke was all about. Fantastic man. I’ve just seen people come into a room you know, after Duke would walk into this room right now, and it would be something like a halo right around him.
BB:  Yeah. The room lights up.
BC:  Really. It does.
BB:  There’s very few people like that. He was one of them.
BC:  He’d walk in this room and — boom — the whole room would go up.
BB:  Yes. I was at the White House for his 70th birthday. And there were like not only a bunch of great, world famous jazz musicians, but there was the President, the Vice President, the Cabinet, the Supreme Court and heaven knows who else. And the spotlight was on Ellington at all times. I mean you’d have sworn there was somebody following him around with a light, and there wasn’t. You know I mean this is in very fast company. You know the most powerful people in the country, in the world.
After Buster’s tenure with Ellington, he followed the familiar path for big band players and entered studio work in Los Angeles. As a sideline, he played with big bands led by Bill Berry, Frank Capp, and Nat Pierce. His nickname, “the bumble bee” apparently was derived from his ability to play at a furious tempo.
If you’ve read my blog in the past you may know that I’m an ardent fan of Cannonball and Nat Adderley. In Chris Sheridan’s book Dis Here, a Bio-Discography of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Buster has a brief but significant mention. According to Sheridan, in June of 1955 the Adderley brothers drove to New York City from Florida to test the waters with a professional career in jazz in mind. On their first night in the Big Apple, Nat’s friend and former band mate from the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, Buster Cooper, took them to the CafĂ© Bohemia in Greenwich Village. A band led by bassist Oscar Pettiford was in residence. Saxophonist Jerome Richardson was missing from the bandstand and Cannonball was invited to play a few tunes. For the Adderleys, the rest is history. So thank you Buster for your role in that fortuitous meeting.
Throughout Buster’s life he remained humble and acknowledged where he felt his talent came from:
BC:  Actually I don’t play the trombone. Okay, a supreme being plays the trombone through me. I am the instrument. You understand what I’m saying? So I mean I just put that clearly now, you understand what I’m saying?

May 3, 2016

The Basie Bus

Imagine your job required you to ride an average of 190 miles before you begin your workday. At the end of your shift you travel another 190 miles, but you will not be home. Instead you will arrive at a second- or third-rate motel room to be shared with one or two other co-workers. This was basically the life of a sideman in the world-famous Count Basie Orchestra in its early iterations.
The Basie band was originally a Kansas City organization. In the mid-1930s William “Count” Basie took over the Benny Moten Orchestra after the death of its leader, and in 1936 they ventured out from this swinging Midwestern city. Some of their early engagements were relatively comfortable, with multiple weeks spent in one location. The Grand Terrace in Chicago and the Apollo and Famous Door in New York City hosted the Basie band and offered them an opportunity to hone their soon-to-be-distinctive sound. But these location gigs were not the norm. Author Chris Sheridan reconstructed a multi-year itinerary derived from band member diaries and the records of the William Alexander Booking Agency in Count Basie: A Bio-Discography. This fascinating book includes a travelogue that gives us an acute sense of the dues paid by big band musicians during the swing era.
In 1938 the Basie band played a week-long stint at the Savoy Ballroom in New York City. The following day they left on a tour of 46 one-nighters in 51 days. Here is the documented itinerary for one month of that journey. Beginning on March 19, 1938 in New York City, they traveled to Harrisburg PA, Wheeling WV, Akron OH, Lexington KY, Dayton OH, Huntington WV, Mt. Hope WV, Bluefield WV, Charleston WV, Louisville KY, Memphis TN, Birmingham AL, Chattanooga TN, Atlanta GA, Bowling Green KY, St. Louis MO, Kansas City MO, Omaha NE, Kansas City MO, Topeka KS, Wichita KS, Tulsa OK, Muskogee OK, Oklahoma City OK, Ft. Worth TX, Shreveport LA, and Waco TX. This totaled 5,154 miles or an average of 190 miles between gigs. The road trip continued with 19 additional one-nighters, ending with a 488-mile trip from Durham NC to New York City.
Established bands like Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway traveled by private Pullman railroad cars, but the early Basie band spent most of their waking hours either performing or riding on the bus. There are loyal Basie fans who insist that the personnel from this era was never equaled. Among the future jazz legends were trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison and the tenor saxophone duo of Lester Young and Herschel Evans. What would later be known as the All-American Rhythm Section consisted of Jo Jones on drums, Freddie Green on guitar, Walter Page on bass, and the Count on piano.
In the segregated society of 1938 America, black musicians were denied opportunities in classical and radio orchestras. What they could aspire to was a chair in an established, working ensemble. In the Fillius Archive interview from September of 1995, Sweets Edison recalled the necessity of this lifestyle:
Sweets Edison, in 1995
SE: There was no place for us to play but dance halls. I joined Count Basie in 1938 and he used to do like 300 one-nighters a year. Where Benny Goodman or one of those bands would be in a hotel six months in New York and the hotel in Chicago for three months, you know, they always were sitting some place where they could do balls or whatever they wanted to do. They could be with their families, you know? But we had to take to the road.
Fast forward 20 years, the band bus is upgraded and an occasional trip by air is called for, but the grind of the one-nighters remained the same. Tenor saxophonist Frank Foster was part of the 1950s “New Testament” Basie ensemble, and in his 1998 interview he reminisced about life on the road, and how it was taking a toll on his family life:
MR: The decision to leave Basie — was it just the length of time you were there?
Frank Foster, in 1998
FF: It was a number of things, mostly I had a family that was growing, I had two children in my first marriage, and not being able to stay home more than a few weeks at a time, I was not able to really watch my kids grow up. And then gradually the audiences changed. I guess these people died off or something, and the audiences became mostly families, like people, maybe one guy, he loves the band, he brings his whole family, his wife and his sister and her husband and their children. And not everybody is feeling the way he’s feeling about it. And it got to appear as though a lot of people were coming just out of curiosity, like well let’s go see what this Basie band is about, I’ve been hearing about them, let’s see what they are. Oh, they’re not The Beatles. Oh, they don’t play rock & roll.
MR: Well you anticipated my question. I wondered if that was what was causing it, was the rock & roll.
FF: I think the advent of rock & roll and how the big beat just inundated the world, and I think that just kind of put a damper on things. The crowds, the big band groupies disappeared in the early, mid, late 50s we had big band groupies by the busloads. And that was all off. But it wasn’t so much that as the nature of the audiences was changing and it didn’t appear that everyone there was a devout jazz lover and a devout Basie lover. And so trips to Europe got to be not so exciting. And sometimes accommodations were a little touch and go. And I began to get tired of the bus. We began to become weary of smelling each other’s armpits.
MR: Basically living with each other all the time.
FF: Yeah. Basically living with each other all the time. And some guys who came to the band couldn’t get along with guys who were already there and there were a couple of even fist fights, and all manner of things that were making road life not as glamorous and as fun and as happy as it had been. The novelty had worn off and I had gotten involved in so many different kinds of undesirable affairs and personal life was just in a shambles. And I wanted to be closer to these children. So all these influences. And plus, oh the big thing was I wasn’t getting to play enough.
Young musicians of every era can read these stories, and even if they hear them first-hand from those who lived it, they still decide for themselves that they want to do it, and eagerly inquire, “When does the bus leave?”