October 29, 2020


 In January of 2017 we began uploading our video interviews to YouTube. The Fillius Jazz YouTube channel now contains 400 interview sessions with a diverse list of jazz personalities. We have now created 20 playlists by categories which enables an alphabetical search through players of the same instrument or specialty. Our categories include the following sections:

Banjo Player Interviews

Bassist Interviews

Clarinetist Interviews

Composer/Arranger Interviews

Covid Interviews

Drummer Interviews

Filmmaker Interviews

Flute Player Interviews

Guitarist Interviews

Jazz Historian Interviews

Pianist Interviews 

Producer Interviews

Saxophone/Woodwind Player Interviews

Trombonist Interviews

Trumpet Player Interviews

Tuba Player Interviews

Vibraphonist Interviews

Violinist Interviews 

Vocalist Interviews

Writer Interviews 

To choose, or just browse through the interview playlists, click here.

August 29, 2020

100 Years of Bird

This morning I visited five internet sites professing to rank the greatest saxophonists of all-time. Four of the five bestowed the honor on Charlie Parker, and the fifth put him at number two behind John Coltrane. This accurately represents Bird’s foremost position in jazz hierarchy.
My first exposure to Bird was not a recording, but an arrangement of the bebop classic “Groovin’ High.” When Bird recorded this uptempo tune with Dizzy Gillespie, his 16-bar solo represented perfect balance of improvisation and composition. The arranger transcribed the solo note for note and cleverly added four supporting saxophone parts. The result was an exquisite blend of melodic and harmonic elements. It was as difficult as any classical etude.
Today marks Charlie Parker’s 100th birthday, and his influence has not diminished since his death in 1955 at age 34. Bird and a small number of like-minded instrumentalists changed the course of jazz and brought an enthusiastic cadre of young musicians along for the ride.
Charles McPherson offered a typical story of the effect of hearing Bird for the first time, in our 1998 interview:
CM: I grew up in Joplin, Missouri, which is a little town south of St. Louis. I was there up until about nine years of age then I moved to Detroit. But during the time that I was there, I did have occasion to see various bands, coming from Kansas City, territorial bands. This is when I was  maybe six. Every year in the summertime these bands would come to this park in Joplin and play for a week. I was quite impressed with the bands, with the music and with the way the horns look, just the physicalities of the nice, gold, shiny horn.
During the 50s, you didn’t have jazz in the schools. We just played the regular school type things. We played marches and for football games, morning auditorium and all that. It was fun playing and I really liked it, This is what I wanted to do. There were some jazz records around my house, but not a lot. And I did get interested in jazz and a student at school told me about Charlie Parker. I’d never heard of him. And he said, “You should really check this Charlie Parker out.” So I did. I went to a little candy shop in my neighborhood and on the juke box there was a Charlie Parker record, a little 45rpm. I think he was playing “Tico Tico,” which is a Brazilian samba song. And it just blew me away. I knew immediately that this is what I wanted to do. It made perfect sense to me. I didn’t need to be nurtured or taught how to listen to this music. I was about 14, when I heard that, I had no history of hearing a lot of jazz records, I had no concept of what’s considered bebop and modern jazz or any of that. It was like this is the way music should go. This is the way an instrumentalist should approach this. I felt that. I immediately said okay, I’ve got to get these records. Then I was told that this guy was a member of a group of musicians that play a certain genre of jazz, and it’s called bebop. There was like a school of them. So I said oh? That’s what that is. I had no idea that Charlie Parker represented anything but a jazz musician. I knew nothing about schools and styles. Then I just zeroed in on that. He was definitely my main influence.
View Charles’ YouTube video here.
The draw of Parker’s innovations compelled numerous aspiring jazz artists to New York City. Phil Woods offered his own variation on Bird’s magnetism:
PW: I graduated high school at the age of 16 and I wanted to go on with my music education. I went to the Manhattan School of Music for a summer course. I wanted to be in New York, that’s where Charlie Parker was.
MR:         You had to major on the clarinet, didn’t you?
PW:         Yeah. But clarinet, I think it served me well. I could work on my Mozart and with the keyboard stuff work on Bach, and I went to composers workshops. I sort of minored in composition. But at night I would study bebop, Charlie Parker, I’d have the radio on and listen to broadcasts from Birdland.
MR:         When was the first time you saw Charlie Parker play live, and what kind of effect did it have on you?
PW:         The first music I ever played of jazz, my teacher gave me transcribed Benny Carter solos. And then within that month, Ellington came to town and I saw Johnny Hodges. And then I picked up the latest record of this guy called Charlie Parker and it was “KoKo.” And that was it. I mean between Benny Carter, Hodges and Parker all in one dose, I said yeah, man, let me at it, my course was very clear, especially after hearing Bird. The first time I saw Bird would be on 52nd Street when I was studying with Lenny Tristano, I was still in high school. That’s where I first heard Charlie Parker. I think he was sitting in with Milt Jackson and Howard McGhee.
MR:         What kind of person was he to you?
PW:         Sweet. I remember one day he asked me, “Did you eat today, young man?” I mean he didn’t know me from a hole in the wall, I was just another alto player looking at his heels, and he said, “did you eat today.” The misconception is that Charlie Parker was stealing everybody’s money and using it to buy drugs, but he was very nice to young musicians. That’s often overlooked. This is my only real Charlie Parker story up close — I was working in a place called the Nut Club in the Village, Sheridan Square. Playing for strippers, “Harlem Nocturne” ten times a night. This joint had so much class they would hand you like little wooden hammers as you walked in the door, so you could beat the shit out of the table for your favorite strippers. So somebody said, “Bird’s across the street jamming.” And he was over at Arthur’s Bar, which is still there to this day, it’s a little dinky joint. I walked in and there was Bird and he was playing on the baritone sax. Now let me preface this, at this period I didn’t know if my mouthpiece was right, I didn’t like the reed, I don’t like this horn, it’s not happening, I need new stuff, you know. So I got up my nerve and said, “Mr. Parker, perhaps you’d like to play my alto?” And he said, “That would be very nice, son.” Man I ran across Seventh Avenue and I got my horn, and I’m sitting — Bird was there and I was sitting there and the piano was there, just a drummer — a snare drum and a piano and Bird. And I’m sitting there. I hand him the horn. He played “Long Ago and Far Away,” Jerome Kern. And I’m listening to this guy and it seems there’s nothing wrong with my saxophone. The saxophone sounds pretty darn good, you know what I mean? And he says, “Now you play.” And I says oh Jesus. When kids talk about being awestruck, I know about awestruck. I did my feeble imitation of the master. He said, “Sounds real good, son.” Oh man, this time I flew over Seventh Avenue, and I played the Bejesus out of “Harlem Nocturne” that night. But I mean just those few words were so important.
Here’s a link to the full Phil Woods interview.
The lore of Parker’s talent and life are legion, most prominent among them is the story behind his nickname. Legend has it that a yard bird (chicken) crossing the road fell victim to the band’s car, and Charlie insisted on bringing it to their destination for dinner. Buddy Collette offered an competing tale in his interview in Los Angeles:
BC:  Bird had this meeting with Jimmy Cheatham. He said that all those stories are phony, that’s not what happened. He said when he was 14 years old he used to go out to the park with a couple of his buddies, a drummer or a guitar or bass player. Before school, at 6, 7 in the morning, so they could get a little practice in because at home they couldn’t get it in. They’d get home from school and they’d have to do work, so they’d get this hour or two early to play, just jam and do tunes and things. And he said that the neighbors could hear them. They were about a half a mile from the residential area. The cops would come by and they’d wave to them. They were just friendly neighborhood kids and they’d be jamming. So they said the neighbors called him the Bird. “Oh that’s just the Bird out there practicing in the morning.” So it was a kind of a cute story. They wanted to play so much that they would go out there, but that horn would always be going.
Buddy’s YouTube is located here.
In the 90s I recall a Fed Ex television commercial featuring the world’s fastest talker. His supersonic, perfectly articulated verbal delivery came to mind when I recently listened to some classic Charlie Parker recordings. His rapid-fire ideas matched with peerless technique remains a wonder to behold, even 66 years after his death.

April 2, 2020

Bucky Pizzarelli, 1926-2020

This is a really hard one.
Part of being involved in an oral history project that has lasted 25 years is watching people pass on who you’ve come to know and feel strongly about. It’s the nature of the business, and one of the prime reasons that such projects exist, so that the words, images and stories of these people will stay with us after they’re gone.
Bucky Pizzarelli was a musician’s musician; an overused phrase but highly appropriate in this case. Well-known in the world of guitar players, Bucky was never a household name because he was the ultimate team player, the impeccable guitarist behind the scenes who knew what was required for every gig. His career spanned over seven decades and every conceivable situation, ranging from playing Tiny Tim’s wedding on The Tonight Show, (which included tuning Tiny Tim’s ukulele) to performing at the White House with Frank Sinatra.
Bucky’s attitude about music was, “What is required here? I can do it and feel good about it.” He was one of the many jazz players who moved into the active studio recording scene in New York City in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
Bucky is the only interviewee who has had three sessions with the Fillius Jazz Archive, in 1997, 2003, and in 2014, when my wife and I traveled to his home to interview Bucky along with his lovely and gracious wife, Ruth.
In our first interview, I asked Bucky about playing what was referred to as “three-chord” rock & roll as part of a studio gig:
MR:  How did you guys feel about this music?
BP: Well we were making money you know, and we could play gigs at night, but we got so busy we had no time to play gigs, no time. But I used to do, on Fridays and Saturdays, I played over in Jersey with a trio — piano, bass and guitar — all the time. I always had a little thing like that going on the side.
MR: To keep your jazz chops?
BP: Well not to keep them but I just did it automatically because I felt that this is what I like to do so I’ll make some money and support the family and everything doing the recordings, and go play for — I don’t know it was $35 or $40 a night to play that kind of music.
Like most musicians of his generation, Bucky learned from mentors, relatives, and by listening to recordings. He had a strong attitude about extensive formal jazz education.
MR: You were talking about music education. You seemed to say that the musicians were over-educated these days.
BP: Yes. Over trained. Everybody goes in school and they want to be a soloist today. So they go and they learn how to read and they do ensemble playing and they learn to read so well that when they get with a band, a commercial band, it’s boring. They could play it, like I said before, without even thinking about it. So when boredom sets in on any musician, you better quit the business. You’ve got to like what you’re doing.
Bucky received an Honorary Doctorate from Hamilton in 2003 and Ruth and his children traveled to the college to partake in the ceremony. He was also part of a team of musicians who performed annually at Hamilton College’s Fallcoming event. This annual gathering of jazz luminaries is in its 26th year, and Bucky played at 12 of these events. One of our favorite memories is the year we brought his son John’s trio with John’s brother Martin on bass and Bucky as special guest. When John introduced Bucky to the stage, he referred to his father as “The Pope.” We previously blogged about this event, which occurred in 2004, and you can read it here, entitled Family Matters.
I was in attendance when John’s trio was playing at a swank supper club in New York City. After one virtuosic number, when the applause died down, a voice came out of the audience directed at John, saying, “That’s not so hard.” John said, “What do you mean?” The voice repeated sarcastically, “That’s not so hard.” John replied (acting annoyed), “Well would you like to come up here and try it?” The voice said, “All right I will,” and guess who strode up to the stage? Bucky. He was a plant, a set-up that was artfully executed.
After a number of years booking the Fallcoming jazz group, I was invited to play an entire set and, pretending to be reluctant, I knew I would be striding into a musical heaven. I remember Bucky sitting next to me playing Dick Hyman charts and there is a particular photograph which graces the home page of my website, where Bucky seems to be beaming approval at my soloing efforts.
Bucky’s job was doing what he loved. He played in every possible situation with every conceivable musician both here in America and abroad. He and his gracious wife Ruth had a wonderful family with four beautiful and caring children: Mary, Martin, John, and Ann. What more can you ask for?
The Hamilton community sends its deepest sympathies to the entire Pizzarelli family, for we will always carry loving remembrances of him in our hearts.