Jazz Professional               



Let's get rid of the categories

The timely emergence
The flute's voice
Sophistication, the Samba and the Search
Playing with big orchestras
Enjoying a more interesting life
Let's get rid of the categories
Food for thought
Improvisation: Can it be learned?
Bud Shank Today
Selected performances

Talking to Les Tomkins in 1985

In the market place, one thing they're still locked into that gets in the way of selling our product—everybody has to categorise. For instance, the "Explorations" album I made with Bill Mays, that combined jazz and classical elements: we got very, very few reviews of it (yours in Crescendo was one of them); the sales have not been good. The reason being: when it was sent to a newspaper or magazine, it would be sent to the classical reviewer; the guy says: "This has jazz music—send it to the jazz guy." The jazz guy says: "Oh, there's classical music here—I can't touch that. Send it back to the classical guy." This went on and on and on. The sales have reflected the same thing: the record stores don't know whether to put it in the classical department or in the jazz department. So that album is still floating around up there somewhere, because nobody can put it in their slot.

Hopefully it's going to open some doors—it already has but until people stop that attitude, of it having to be either this way or that way, albums like that will be difficult to sell. There's no reason why you shouldn't be able to mix 'em up together—and some day it will be so. And I hope that my little contribution towards that end has been meaningful—or will still continue to be meaningful, as long as I'm around.

It has been brought up a couple of times—when I do concerts, should I do some of each on one concert? And the promoters of the concerts say: "Well, better not—this either has to be a jazz concert or a classical concert." But—soon! Yes, people like Chick Corea and Charlie Byrd have done it. Well—L. A. Four was put together with that whole concept in mind; we surrounded it by some Brazilian things and jazz things, but the basic concept was that it was a classical/ jazz group. Some of each.

Somebody told me that Andre Previn was approached about doing a concert in which he played some jazz and some classical, but apparently he said he would rather not, because it would be too confusing to the audience. In his career, Andre has had two completely separate sets of followers—and he most certainly realises that. However, it is happening more and more—there is a light down there somewhere, where it'll all come together and music will be music. The more people such as Itzhak Perlman and JeanPierre Rampal start accepting jazz music, even though they may treat it a little lightly, the more audiences are accepting it and seeing that it's all right. Some of those classical audiences seem to think that jazz is undignified, but by Itzhak, Jean–Pierre, Andre and whoever putting their stamp of approval on it, that gives it a dignity that they can latch on to. So maybe the next time some jazz music comes around they'll say: "Well, that's maybe not so bad after all", and they will listen.

An area I would sure love to get into is to perform some of the works for flute and orchestra. On one concert I played a C. P. E. Bach piece of music that was re–orchestrated for flute and strings. And there's a lot of stuff I've already been working on, for when the occasion comes up. Also there' are several new pieces of music for flute and chamber–size orchestra that people have written and sent me, or told me that it's available whenever a concert comes up. So that can all happen in the future; my agency has certainly been made aware that the material is there and that I'm available to do those kinds of things.

Speaking of strings, though—I recently did a concerto for saxophone and orchestra, written by Manny Albam for Jack Elliott's New American Orchestra, and it was one of the biggest thrills of my life. Maybe it was the biggest thrill.

Unfortunately, the recording equipment broke! So it has not been documented. It was not what a lot of people would consider to be a true concerto, but it is a marvellous piece of music, and I know we're going to do it again. It's a jazz work, but for full symphony orchestra and saxophone—it also involves the rhythm section. I would like to do more things like that. I'd like to do a concert some time and play that piece of music and then do one of the classical concertos or whatever for flute and orchestra. That would be a whole lot of work, but it'd be a lot of fun. Vic Lewis is the kind of person who might come up with a way to put all this together—so maybe it will come together right here in London! But what a thrill that was, playing Manny's piece; premiering something brand new is always a thrill too. Actually, there is a possible repeat performance in the works . . Jack Elliott has been approached by some people from Japan to take his library, a few key players and a couple of featured soloists for a Japanese tour. And you know that would be recorded, probably every night—because they record everything over there! If that tour happens, I will be doing Manny's concerto; so I've got the proverbial fingers crossed that that'll come off. Just thinking of doing, say, a two–week–long concert tour, where you play four concerts each week, and playing that same piece of music every night—now, that really appeals to me. That would be a thrilling experience—being able to dig deeper into it by playing it over and over again.

For the original concert, I had two rehearsals, and at each rehearsal we played it down once; so all the preparation that I had was what I did at home by myself—getting the changes out, playing them on the piano over and over, and running up and down. There was not a chance to sit back and say: "Gee, I wonder, if I play this, will it work?" and "Wait till the band inspires me"—you can't do that. I could see what was going to happen—here we are with financial problems; you know, they just cannot afford to pay an orchestra for the rehearsal time to play it over and over. You get two shots at it, period—if you can't make it after those two times, stay home!

Copyright © 1985, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.