Disc Discussion

Session conducted by Les Tomkins 

Johnny Keating, Ronnie Ross, Al Winnett and Norman: Fripp

The following blindfold test was carried out in 1962
but time would hardly change the opinions expressed here.
They could well have been uttered today - or even tomorrow.
Jazz lives on!

“Skater’s Waltz” (Roland Kirk—stritch; Jack MeDuff—organ; Joe Benjamin—bass; Art Taylor—drums).

Ronnie: Is it a tenor player playing alto? He sounds as if he doesn’t play alto all the time. I liked it, I must say. The rhythm section was marvellous.

Al: The electric organ was rather obtrusive.

I don’t think they swing, anyway. The sax swung like mad, but it would have been better with a piano.

Johnny: It was much too fussy for me.

Les: What do you think of the use of a non— jazz theme?

Ronnie: What was it?

Les: That was “The Skater’s Waltz” by Waldteufel.

Ronnie: Oh, is that out of copyright? Johnny: It must have been the reason for using it. Terrible. It was far too commercial to be considered of any quality. The theme, the organ—even the saxophone was a bit contrived.

Ronnie: Which part of “The Skater’s Waltz” has got a “Honeysuckle Rose” middle eight?

Les: In point of fact, it was this musician whose name is being passed around — Roland Kirk. He was playing what he calls a stritch.

Ronnie: Oh. that’s a straightened—out alto, isn’t it?

Johnny: Boy, that’s commercial!

Ronnie: Tubby was telling me about him. He plays three saxophones at once? Doesn’t he? You haven’t got a track with him doing that, have you?

Les: Here he’s playing the three together— tenor, manzello and stritch. The manzello is sort of an extra large soprano.

“Three For Dizzy” (Roland Kirk).
“Kirk’s Work” (Roland Kirk).

Johnny: That manzello sounds like an Eastern instrument. I’d like to get a set of them for the band. It’d be great.

Ronnie: You commercial swine, you.

Les: Do you think unusual instruments should be used more?

Johnny: If you want to make money and impress people, yes. That’s the story of my life at the moment . . . I fancy this has got me going. Let me have a look at that sleeve. Did he just find them or are they making them? Is he the only one who possesses one?

Tonight (Stan Kenton Orchestra).

Johnny: I know who this is going to be.

Les: What do you feel about the arrangement?

Johnny: They spent a lot of time on it. It’s rather pretentious—fairly well played. There’s a lot of thought goes into the harmonies and the voicings. I don’t know if it’s all worthwhile, though.

Al: I enjoyed it very much indeed. As mood music it was really beautiful. There’s only one complaint I have. It was too short.

Ronnie: Wonderful control there in the playing, especially the trumpets. Marvellous. It sounded rather like Stan Kenton.

Johnny: Yes, it was Kenton.

Ronnie: I’ve heard some marvellous Kenton bands. There’ve been some duff ones as well.

Johnny: This is a good one. I’ve heard some of the tracks on this LP. It’s nicely scored, very musical — the dynamics are great, if you like instruments used in extremetics—like the French horns blowing away at the top of the register all the time for effect, and the same with the trumpets. And the use of no vibrato does get on my nerves after three minutes. That’s contrived in itself. The natural way to sing or play is to use vibrato. But I do happen to know the record made money for Kenton. This “West Side Story” was in the American best—sellers, and that’s quite a feat. It’s good to see bands selling.

“Taunting Scene” (Stan Kenton Orchestra).

Al: That’s much ado about nothing—everybody blowing their top. Admittedly the unison passages by the trumpets were great, but it didn’t excite me really at all.

Ronnie: What is so marvellous about these things to me is that whatever they do has that intensity about it and that directness of approach, like “Here it is—you like it or you don’t like it—I don’t care”. Whereas over here we tend to be very apologetic about the way we play. Over there they’re so positive that it comes over on the record.

Johnny: I don’t agree with that. I doubt if the musicians who were playing it even liked that one. I wouldn’t be surprised if they thought it was all a load of ——. Because that’s what it is. It didn’t get away to a start or a finish.

Les: They used a section of mellophoniums on it.

Johnny: Well, they’re worth forgetting about. Thev sounded like French horns to me. And they’ve weakened the saxophones so much that it’s a shame. Let’s face it—the saxophone is the greatest instrument in the dance band. It’s the body and the guts.

Norman: With the rhythm being so loud, it sounded to me as if they were all overblowing.

Johnny: That’s the impression you get from the record, but hearing the band in the flesh, they play very quietly and get a very good sound. We blow much louder than they do.

Ronnie: They really sound like five trumpets, or whatever it is.

Al: On American recordings the sound is made by the engineers.

Johnny: But it’s like knocking yourself out for nothing. I don’t see any value in great workmanship if it doesn’t amount to anything. I think the musicians took the money and said “Here we go again”, you know. But “Tonight” is a different proposition. I’m sure they enjoyed playing that. Some other things on that LP are nice, too, such as “Maria” and a faster one, “Something’s Coming”. Some of the “West Side Story” music is a handicap to a jazz band.

Norman: Why was it necessary to score for trumpets up to G when they could very well make do with E flat?

Johnny: I don’t think it’s necessary at all. I don’t like it. I used to write up there all the time and it makes me shudder when I think of some of the old things I wrote. They were dreadful. Basie and Ellington don’t really play up there—only in short snatches. They’re my yardstick of what’s right. And there’s nothing pretentious about them— even Ellington.

Ronnie: If anyone wanted to buy an LI’ of the “West Side Story” music, Manny Albam’s version is a lot better than Stan Kenton’s.

“Blues Bittersweet” (Student Orchestra of the Berklee School of Music; Steve Marcus— soprano and tenor; Gary Burton— vibes; Dusan Gojkovic—flugelhorn. Composed by Quincy Jones; arranged by Mike Gibbs).

Ronnie: Was that the same guy playing tenor as played soprano? I’d have liked it without the soprano. I couldn’t stand that. I thought the writing was very good.

Johhny: Yes, it was, in a lot of places.

Ronnie: It was a marvellous arrangement. All the playing was very good, apart from the soprano.

Norman: I think he had good control.

Ronnie: It was a sound I don’t like. I liked the tenor soloist. It sounded like Gil Evans’ type of writing. It would take a few hours’ rehearsal to get that off. (The sleeve was then shown). Oh, Dusan Gojkovic—he was with Kurt Edelhagen for ages. I think you’ll find most of these guys have years of experience. Just because it says they’re students it doesn’t mean they don’t all work as well. It’s not the way you associate students over here.

Johnny: That’s one of the biggest—Berklee and there’s another one—Westlake. Actually I wouldn’t mind hearing that all the way through.

“Out Of Cigarettes” (Bill McGufie Quartet).

Norman: I liked the beginning. It was very musical. But towards the end it got very boring. I prefer a different type of left hand.

Ronnie: It was very pleasant, but there was nothing sensational about it. A good piano player, good rhythm section—that’s about all.

Al: It didn’t impress me.

Ronnie: I can’t even think who it might be.

Al: It could have been anybody.

Johnny: This is not to be derogatory.

Ronnie: If it was an American, there are about eight or ten people over here who can play just as well as that, if not a lot better.

Johnny: Is it fair to judge him on that?

Ronnie: An ordinary commercial release? Things are looking up!


Copyright © 2000 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.