Jazz Professional               


Stan Reynolds and
Rob Pronk

Talking in 1967

Pronk: It must be 16 years since we first met—July, ‘51, in Spain. I went there in the trumpet section of a Dutch band, and they decided to hire you as lead trumpet.

Reynolds: You should have been on piano—because we had a bad piano player!

Pronk You were like a big brother to me. You taught me a lot of things—for which I’m still grateful to you. It was the idea of playing in a section—a big band is very rare in Holland. Also I picked up the trumpet very late—I was 20 years old. I played piano before that.

Reynolds: I’ve only ever played the trumpet and flugelhorn, which is the same family. I wish I played piano. I started at an early age with the usual brass band in Lincoln. I was working professionally when I was twelve—going to school, playing at night. As a young musician, I went all round the world—practically speaking, you learn a lot of things this way. Though nowadays I think it’s better because you get more training from the beginning. You had to pick it up more off the cuff in my day. Now the kids can learn at school—they’ve got bands,, and there are professional people teaching them, which is a good thing. They’re learning to play correctly.

Pronk Yes, I think the same goes for the kind of work I’m doing now—writing, arranging. There are a lot of kids doing big business—and I’ve been waiting for that chance for 20 years. Young kids come in—they’re able to find their way within a couple of years.

Reynolds: The same thing has happened here, too. Some of us older people say: “They’re being paid to learn”. Suddenly they’re in front of whatever combination they wish, and they’ve written things they shouldn’t have done. We cut it out—and eventually they get something that’s a good disc, when basically it wasn’t. But at least they’re getting the chance. And some of them are paying off—and are going to be good arrangers.

It’s certainly more of an arranger’s world now. Mind you, it’s always been that really, hasn’t it? Under other guises. For instance, take Ted Heath—at the time when he was making his most money, it was really Reg Owen’s band. He did just about every arrangement. Before that we had Bob Farnon, Alan Bristow, Norman Stenfalt. They were the band, I think, as far as the actual music was concerned. Ted was the figurehead—he steered it along, and he got bookings. This has happened all the time in bands—the arranger has been the worker.

In America the difference has been that the leader is usually a very good instrumentalist, or a very good arranger. Like Glenn Miller. Or Harry James—he’s the front man, and every arrangement’s built around his style. Mancini, for instance—it’s his writing that gives him his style. The same with Kenton, I don’t think it’s any different now except that the arranger’s getting the credit more. People like Laurie Johnson and Johnny Scott are being recognised for their talent—which is the way it should be. It’s a healthier sign. Although, if bands had to tour again, you’d find that the people who are gifted musically, although they can write and get sounds, can’t run the business side. When you’re on the road, you need people like Ted—who can organise and put a band over to the public. The records are selling it now—not personalities.

Pronk I’ve been out of Holland since ‘57—before that I did quite a lot of  arranging, but not that much. I had the possibility to develop my writing in Germany with Kurt Edelhagen—who I quit about five years ago and became a freelance arranger.

Kurt gave me a chance—but success is something you can only achieve yourself. This is where the work starts. I’m very grateful for the foundation he gave me, but sooner or later I had to leave him, because I found out that my ambitions go a lot further than writing jazz. I’ve always wanted to write other kinds of music.

Being an arranger for the Edelhagen band can put you in a bad spot. Because then you’re considered to be only a jazz arranger. It took me about four years and I’m still trying to rid myself of that jazz reputation. In one year, I’ve written ten pop shows for Edelhagen so at least the producers could see that I was capable of writing other stuff than jazz.

Reynolds: Yes, you do get this. In leading my own band, I’ve been handicapped the same way. Everybody thinks of you as a trumpet player—it’s taken a long time for me to break out. I’ve just done a couple of albums. I financed one myself—in a completely different field which I before really never thought of doing It’s light music—a show album, which meant conducting colla voce things. I didn’t know I was capable of it, but you can seem to do it when you put your mind to it. You’ve got to do it yourself, before you can get the opportunity. I think.

You get typed, definitely. Like at the BBC—sometimes I lead the band on trumpet, but if I don’t play and I have another trumpet in they accent it. but they still seem think, “What’s he doing?” They don’t give you the credit that you’ve broadened your mind.

I’ve always said I’d like to give it in, but basically I don’t think I would, really. But it’s a hard instrument. If it’s going wrong, it’s really wrong—if it’s going fine, there’s nothing better, You’ve got to be on top of it—this is the case with any instrument_ really. I don’t think there’s anything you can lay down on.

With trumpet, though, there’s your lip to consider. Personally, I find that if I practise at home, it doesn’t mean a light. There’s a different physical effort involved in practical playing. If you play at home with the mute in. it’s nothing like what you play on the stand. An hour at home may improve a bit of technique, but it’ll probably kill your lip.

Pronk Recently I unpacked my horn—I couldn’t resist it. I don’t seem to be able to get away from it completely. But, of course, I wouldn’t play sessions or anything like that. I started practising for one month, then played a club date and I found out that I could still do it. Naturally. the quality of the sound and the endurance wasn’t there. I’ve been very lucky in the last two or three years to develop a good system.

Reynolds: I’d like to buy the system!

Pronk I mean, not playing for years doesn’t affect my range. I can play top F or G any time—even after not having played for two or three years. It’s the sound that suffers.

Reynolds: You’re lucky, Bob, in that you play jazz, though. You’re completely free to play what you like in a club. Not like me.

Pronk Yes, you’ve got to play what’s written there.

Reynolds: I think that’s the thing I don’t like about it—at 9 o’clock in the morning you’ve got to produce.

Pronk As far as I was concerned, I had to give up the instrument five years ago —at least temporarily. Playing regularly, that is to say. While I was with the band, I was practising one or two hours daily. Leaving the band meant I had to practise at least five hours a day—and the result would not be that satisfactory, anyway. So I decided to concentrate on writing—and I don’t regret it.

Reynolds: I don’t write very much. It’s the other fields I’m interested in—getting my own band the way I want it, I’ve got people I know that write well, whose ideas and mine seem to click off. You’ve got to go through theory very hard if you’re going to write. It certainly means packing ,up playing—and I can’t afford to do that.

Pronk Well—I simply started to write. Admittedly, I had studied at the Conservatory at the Hague.

Reynolds: Of course, the piano’s a big help, isn’t it?

Pronk Yes, at the beginning. But right now it hampers me. It staggers my work —because it tempts me to fumble around and find a chord that’s maybe better than the previous one. Then you find another chord that’s better than that—and you wind up writing nothing! So the piano is good—to me, at least—to find some new changes or a melody as soon as I’ve got the basic structure. I don’t even have a piano at the moment.

Reynolds: Did you learn your theory on the piano?

Pronk Basically, yes.

Reynolds: And it would have been twice as hard without a piano? This is my problem.

Pronk Oh, yes. But that’s 20 years ago now.

Reynolds: Do you find you work better under pressure—if you’ve got a deadline to meet, does this help you? The majority of arrangers I know are always under pressure—the copyist is always waiting, pen in hand, round the session door. Many of them have told me that if they put down what they think of first, it usually turns out as well as it could have been anyway. Or does it vary on certain things?

Pronk Right now I think I can judge how much time I would need for a piece—without even thinking of a conception. It’s funny—it’s a feeling I got about two years ago. I found myself sitting there doing nothing for a spell and it always worked out. I don’t know —1 think it’s the experience that does it.

Reynolds: What was the set-up with the suite that you wrote?

Pronk Well, I knew I had to write a suite in four movements—and I was loaded with work. I had to meet the producer in a week’s time. And I wrote the themes in one hour the day before I had to meet the producer. I sat down at the piano and thought of the four themes.

Reynolds: There again—it was the pressure that brought it out, wasn’t it?

Pronk I think the point is, I’ve become a little more self—confident. Which doesn’t mean that everything I write is good. I’d never claim that.

Reynolds: But you’re the —only one that will believe in it, until it’s proven. You’ve got to be something of an egotist. I think it’s connected with your playing trumpet, Bob—because if you’ve not got a forceful attitude, the instrument will beat you. If you’re leading a section, you’ve got to shout: “Right, this is it—bang!” In you go, head first, and everything’s on your shoulders, regardless, whether you want it there or not. And it gives you this kind of attitude.

I’m quite an unassuming person normally, until I do a job. I’ve taken radio programmes on that I thought at first were not my style—but once you get in the studio, you can handle it. This aggressiveness comes out in you. It’s a trumpet player’s first requirement. and it does help in other fields. Most good players on any instrument are like that. I think not that they’re self-opinionated, but they’ve got to have this sort of inner drive. I think the standard’s higher now than it’s ever been. It’s incredible now—the standard is frightening, really.

Pronk As for young trumpet players—well, Derek Watkins and Greg Bowen are amazing, to name a couple. Then there’s this guy in the States, Bud Brisbois—who is still young. And the guys with Buddy Rich.

Reynolds: Oh, marvellous. I figure trombones are the ones that have gone far ahead of anyone. —Specially on The West Coast—they’re just out of this world. There’s not much to choose now between the standards in Britain and America. You get the different stylists among the soloists, maybe. They’ve probably got more good drummers than we have. We’ve got a few.

Pronk But still—compared to a couple of years ago...

Reynolds: Kenny Clare can hold his own with anybody. He’s sensational.

Pronk Oh yes, most definitely.

Reynolds: But for me—rhythm sections in America are that much better. There may not be much in it now. Front—lines sound roughly the same. Generally, though, the gap is narrowing everywhere.

It’s so close now—that’s why we’re doing so much work for Americans over here. There’s been a hell of a lot of film work done here in the last three years—I’ve been on’ a few of ‘em. It must make a hole over there. And from listening to records, I’d say Germany has improved out of all recognition within the last five years. There doesn’t seem to be as much rubbish played over there as we play here. If I put the radio on, I always seem to hear big bands on the German stations. All the stations have their own big bands, I believe.

Pronk But then, Stan, the other side of it is that this situation brings down the standard of playing. Because all the programmes are being produced—so, if you crack a note on trumpet, you have the possibility every few takes of editing and splicing the tape. Then there’s such a lack of competition. In Cologne there’s only one really good big band—Kurt Edelhagen.

Reynolds: But, in relationship to here, there seem to be more regular big bands over there. We have the Radio Orchestra. Jack Parnell at ATV—and that’s about it. After that, it’s the same general team that does everything else. The pop big bands that we’ve got don’t seem to play anything, other than copying. They don’t get off the ground with anything of their own, I’ve just got this feeling from the last few records I’ve bought. I think the stereo sound on German records is out of this world—Bert Kaempfert’s recordings are beautiful. You can literally hear everything.

Pronk The Germans work on a completely different basis. Most of the time they dub in the strings. A session like the one I saw with Marty Paich and Sammy Davis—he had a big band. strings and a singer all recording at the same time you’ll very seldom find that in Germany. It’ll be done in at least two separate pieces. But now they’re closing the gap between Germany, England and America concerning this way of recording. From the stylistic point of view. German musicians are not the greatest. They’re pretty good section players.

Reynolds: But they need to import a good lead on each chair?

Pronk Yes. To improve their time which is not too good usually. This is particularly noticeable in the rhythm sections. in Germany a good rhythm section is very rare. And I don’t think the musicians work as hard as they do in England. I don’t know of any drummer in Germany who works as hard as Kenny Clare.

Reynolds: Do you mean the amount of dates or the way he plays?

Pronk No, I mean the number of calls he has. It’s the same with first trumpet players. I’ve seen Stan Roderick now on four sessions in two days here. This doesn’t happen in Germany. They don’t work that much.

Reynolds: Maybe they’re lucky, and making as much money for less work.

Pronk Well, the guitarists are doing a lot of work. But it’s true—they all get more money for what they do.

Reynolds: Apparently it’s the same in America. They do work very hard on the Coast. I was talking to a couple of trombone players—all they work is three days. and then they go out in their boats for three or four days. They don’t have to knock themselves out, because they’re getting a good wage. This is what everybody’s looking for, really, isn’t it?

Pronk But you take a guy like Ernie Royal, though—he has at least two sessions every day.

Reynolds: Of course, some people just thrive on working all the time. Stan Roderick’s one of those. If you took it away from him, he wouldn’t know what to do. It’s a way of life to him. He likes his fishing—but he loves the instrument. There are other things in life, and you realise it more as you get older. As long as I can make enough money to keep my family all right, I’m satisfied. On a fine Summer day I’d rather be out on the golf course than sitting in the studio sweating. I feel it’s doing me more good. You can only buy material things with work—you can’t buy health.

Pronk Competition is one of the most important things, I think.

Reynolds: This is why we’ve improved over the last few years—it’s got tighter. There’s no way in today unless you can play. It’s a buyer’s market now.

Pronk Cologne has maybe two good soloists on tenor saxophone. Now when one of them happens to be out of town —there’s only one. So if this guy gives me trouble, I have to stick to him. And there’s not more than three lead trumpet players. Compared to London—this is ridiculous.

Reynolds: But London’s quite unique, isn’t it? The main players from all over the country have come down here, and the amount of studios give them the work. There’s literally everybody down here that can blow. And now there’s no bands touring about, you’ve got everybody concentrated in the same spot waiting for the phone. All champing at the bit, as you might say. As you say, if you get a bit of trouble from anybody here—there’s plenty of others. It’s a matter of personal choice as to the very best—because a lot of people are of the same level—but even if you lost your favourite lead trumpet, you could pick up the phone and get another one. And within hours he’d be playing the same way as the guy you thought was the greatest. This is what you can get here. People can turn on and give you the results quickly.