Jazz Professional               



Food For Thought

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 1987

This must have been my fifth time at Ronnie's—after three engagements with the L. A. Four and one with the Quintet with Shorty Rogers. My rhythm team here was excellent—John Horler on piano, Andy Cleyndert on bass and Mark Taylor on drums. I had known Mark Taylor from my previous quartet tour in Britain, and I really like the way he plays; he's got a good future, I think. The real surprise was John Horler; I had not met him or played with him before, and I was really impressed with him—a fine pianist.

As for young Andy, he's a marvellous bass player. One night Ron Matthewson came in on bass: a great musician, who I've worked with before—it was really fun, seeing him again.

As for my wanting to get my own travelling group—I'm starting to do a few things on the West Coast, at places that are near my home, where I can use my Seattle rhythm section. Then I've got sort of an organised rhythm section in L. A., that I'm using whenever I work there, and in that area. So at least I have two regional rhythm sections that are always the same. Being able to go out and do a five or six week tour with my own band hasn't materialised yet.

The reason it hasn't happened is purely financial. Just being able to move three other people and a bass and a set of drums around is a tremendous cost; the club–owners are aware of that, but they just won't come up with enough money.

I'm starting to take less money for myself on the few jobs that I'm doing on the West Coast, so that I can take my own band—that's how much it means to me.

That's a marvellous idea Phil Woods had, about making essentially a cooperative group; so those guys that have been with him all this time have a big financial interest in that quintet. That was very smart of him. It doesn't help pay the plane fare, though! On the subject of the Stan Kenton Convention in Oldham: we ex–Kenton guys in the States and in Europe were invited to participate in this thing, and I would imagine everybody felt: "Oh, what is this going to be? Some local band in Manchester's going to sit up there and play, and we have to play with 'em. But if they want to do it—fine, we'll do it." However, when we got to Oldham, we were greeted royally by a bunch of lovely people, and—I think it was the first night we were there—we had the opportunity to hear that big band. And that band is unreal—I could not believe what I was hearing, up there in that area. If the band had been from London, you would have expected that kind of standard. But it's marvellous; it's comprised of some young kids and some older guys, and it is extremely well–rehearsed. They have access to a lot of Stan Kenton arrangements; I guess they had some that were published, some from the States, and the rest of them they took off records, but it's an extensive library. They've got a screaming trumpet player, a marvellous drummer, a great trombone soloist, a great alto soloist, a couple of tenor players that play very well—all the ingredients. It was great.

I was not there necessarily to perpetuate Stan Kenton's music. I'm glad to see him honoured—Stan was a great man, and a very important man to many, many people, including me. But the biggest thing that I got out of it was seeing so many people have so much fun. The three hundred or so guests included quite a few from Canada and the United States, who paid some monstrous air fare to be there and spend those four or five days. They were having just the best time of their lives, and that made us feel good—not only to see it, but to participate and help it a little bit. That was a good feeling.

I've really got to be proud of the two guys who put this thing on, Arnie Chadwick and Ernie Eyes—Ernie being the leader of the band. They worked on it for a couple of years, I think; they had never done anything like this before—so there were some problems, but they got fixed. But to pull something like this off, you've got to give them a lot of credit.

Another thing that was good for me was seeing some people that I hadn't seen in a long time, like Charlie Mariano and Bob Burgess. Rolf Ericson was supposed to have been there, but he was ill and wasn't able to make it. It was a good bunch.

I see Perk (Bill Perkins) all the time. In fact, we did another album together in January; it should be out some time soon. We're a lot older and wiser than when we first worked together, but we still have as much fun. Well, Perk and I have been really close friends since the early 'fifties. He and Bob Cooper are probably my closest friends, and they're my two favourite tenor players too. Perk is really good; I really like him. He's still got his feet in the studio world, with that Johnny Carson show; I think he could even do more and do better if he'd get away from that—but that's his decision, his option. I'm so happy about the fact that he's playing and is starting to get some records made—and he is really playing well. I wish Bob Cooper were getting more records; he's playing just fantastically. He did one with Snooky Young, but he should be doing some quartet albums. Naturally, he was invited to Oldham, but there was some kind of a schedule conflict that meant he and Christy weren't able to make it.

The nearest it came in Oldham to any sense of nostalgia was: we did a panel discussion with the eight or nine ex–Kenton players, moderated by one of your TV personalities, Bob Holness, who is also very much of a Kenton fan. A lot of the questions that came from the floor were really involved in what life was like on the band. The interesting factor about it was that Shorty Rogers and I were on the "Innovations In Modern Music" 'fifties band; then there were a couple of guys from 1953, a couple from '57, a couple from the mellophonium band of the 'sixties. So it was a spread across a wide spectrum.

The questions would get us thinking, and telling funny stories; and with that band there were always funny things that happened, that you may forget until somebody needles them out of you. Not only with the band I was on—all the guys told of funny or hilarious happenings with the various bands. Naturally, statements were called for about our personal relationships with Stan—and that required going right back and reliving some moments. It was a good thing, and the people really asked good questions—again, I was proud of them. Which made it easier for us to give answers.

Did we have an awareness of making jazz history in those days? I knew that the Innovations orchestra was something new and different; everyone connected with it had that feeling, because it really was a momentous and great occasion. But as far as playing with the jazz band after that—I don't know that we were making jazz history. We were just doing a job, and playing some good music. It's amazing how much people know about those particular bands, though.

You tend to think that nobody remembers those days, or are even concerned with it. I guess Stan's bands were a big part of a lot of people's youth, and those memories stay with them.

Certainly, I'm very conscious of the saxophone vogue that has been going on. For quite a while now the alto saxophone, especially, has been an `in' instrument. Probably the most well–known so–called jazz musician today is David Sanborn—an alto saxophone player. I've got to quickly say that I don't necessarily consider Dave Sanborn to be a jazz saxophone player—but that's not for me to decide. I do think that Woods has a lot to do with that—Woods in his integrity and just sticking with it during some awful lean periods, and doing it so well. I'm sure he has a great deal to do with the popularity of the alto saxophone right now. But if you turn on jazz radio shows in the States, it's mind–boggling to hear it: there is a lot of tenor and soprano, but it seems like the alto saxophone is more predominant. In any particular hour of music you're going to hear it a lot—more so than any instrument. Which suits me just fine! Another bizarre thing to say at a time like this: in past years, when I walked through an airport security area with my saxophone, most of the security guards, peering through the X–ray, said: "What is that?" But now they know what it is; I very seldom get questions—they say: "Oh—saxophone" in a whole bunch of different languages.

With regard to recent recordings: I did a quartet album about three years ago called "This Bud's For You", with Ron Carter and Kenny Barron, which is available here. Then in February, 1986 I recorded another quartet album for the Contemporary label, that is put out here by Boplicity Records. It's called "That Old Feeling", with George Cables on piano, John Heard on bass and Tootie Heath on drums, and that's the current one that's out in the States. Added to those, there's a recording on Mole of the "Concerto For Saxophone And Orchestra" written for me by Manny Albam, that I did with the Royal Philharmonic, conducted by Manny, a year–and–a–half ago. That side is completed by a marvellous arrangement of "Body And Soul" by Rob Pronk, which I play flute on—actually, the last time I ever played flute. And on the back of it is a quartet thing that we recorded at Southampton a couple of years ago. That, unfortunately, is not available in the States yet; it's only out here in England and on the Continent.

But I do have another new quartet album, which came out in the States in May—again on Contemporary. It was recorded live at a club in Seattle called Jazz Alley; in fact, that's the name of the album—" Jazz Alley". I used two guys that you don't know and one that you do. The piano player and bass player are from Seattle, the town I live near to now.

For the piano player, Dave Peck, who is in his middle thirties, this is his first recording; the bass player, Chuck Deardorf has recorded before, but mostly on little local labels in the Northwest—so not too many people have been aware of him.

And the drummer on the session was Jeff Hamilton, who, of course, was associated with me in the L. A. Four group.

It's one that I'm really happy about. We did an original of Dave Peck's called "Wales"; that's because he is Welsh, and he wrote it with his heritage in mind. I've got three or maybe four originals of mine on there. Then we did a Billy Barnes tune called "I Stayed Too Long At The Fair"; also Gershwin's "Porgy" and the Eric Maschwitz standard "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square". It's a nice programme. We worked in the club all week long and Contemporary Records recorded the last three days of it. Incidentally, those are the guys that are in my Seattle–based quartet—Jeff when he can make it, but most certainly the piano player and the bass player.

We mentioned the Bill Perkins album. Then, about two weeks before I left to come on this tour, which makes it now about five weeks ago, I recorded another album at Jazz Alley live—this time with the alto saxophone player Frank Morgan and myself. It was again George Cables on piano, John Heard on bass—Jimmy Cobb on drums. A marvellous rhythm section. We followed the same format: the five of us played all week, and did the recording during the final three days. Now it's just a matter of editing it and cutting it down into something meaningful; which is Richard Bock's problem.

It was fun.

There's also a second album from that first Jazz Alley date, that has been mixed down, to be essentially Volume Two. I don't know whether they will release it or not, but it's there; so I've got a lot of stuff in the can. They are also negotiating with Mole Records, who own the Manny Album "Concerto" record to get that released in the States through Contemporary. They'll probably say: "Enough for now. Let's sit back and wait a while." Which, in any way, suits me; I would like to think about what I want to do next.

Was there a tendency to get into too many breakneck tempos on some of those West Coast Jazz sessions? I never analysed that, but I guess it's just being young and dumb. It takes some experienced, thorough musicians to play in a finger–snapping mid–tempo kind of a groove. Young kids really don't do it—and that goes for young kids who later turn out to be pretty good pros. Nobody ever asked me that question before—but off the top of my head I would think that would be the reason. And there were some things recorded by some of those West Coast bunches, of which I was probably part of, in tempos like that, and I don't think they were that effective—it was the other things that were. Maybe that was Shelly Manne's fault; maybe that was what he wanted to do sometimes. It could also be that some record producers didn't realise it when they were putting albums together. One of the problems that young musicians have is the exhibitionism thing—wanting to show off. What they have to learn is that it's ridiculous and unnecessary. It's a whole interesting area to think about.

Copyright © 1987, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.