Jazz Professional               



Preserve me from purists


Let musicians be heard
Let's honour the living greats
One-armed drummer
Preserve me from purists
Reasons for raising hell

Rich responses
My secret weapon
At the Drum clinic
Being intense
Nobody to listen to
  Talking to Les Tomkins in 1981

Perhaps it must always be so, but for those of us who know what a vast wealth of excellent music there is to be heard, it is an inevitable source of frustration to realise that such a large proportion of the public seems to be listening to inferior junk.

Well, you're saying it—and I'm happy to hear you say it. The disappointment to me is that people who dedicate their lives to it will never reap any kind of true benefits. That's the sad part. No matter how much Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie or any of those people make in their lifetime, monetarily or in terms of fame, whatever it is, it will never reach a point where it's compatible with the endeavour that was made by them. They will never gross in monetary terms what they've put out in energy, in learning and in doing.

Unless one day somebody decides that Woody Herman, Count Basie or whoever just made a new album, promotes it, and it's a smash hit, selling twenty million records. The first guy to break that, to get into the open with a runaway hit—you may find that that is the one thing that opens it for jazz. That may be the waterfall, right there.

And then you'll have the purists who say: "Oh, if jazz starts to be successful, then it's not jazz anymore.”

Yeah, but the purist is just as much of an idiot as the guy who doesn't want to hear jazz. The purist defeats his own purpose. What is pure jazz? Mingus—is that pure jazz? Mingus, to me, was a joke. It was chaos—as much as the new thing is chaos. Mingus was a cult man. I played with Mingus; maybe it's not proper to talk about somebody who can't defend, but as a player, I have to say that Mingus was not an exceptional bass man. I'd much rather play with Ray Brown the rest of my life than any tirne with Charlie Mingus. But you have that superficial kind of hipness that goes with the cult thing: "Oh, yeah, Charlie Mingus was the main man!" Wrong—definitely wrong. What did Mingus really do to make him the main man? Discover a new chord, a new change? What is all this mysterious writing about Charlie Mingus? He was a good bass player, and big—that's it. But he certainly wasn't Jimmy Blanton, he wasn't Ray Brown, he wasn't Niels Pedersen. So what's the big mystery? You've got to listen to everybody before you say: "This is the best." That's what the purist doesn't do.

Well, in the same way that the pop scene is afflicted by cults, and people promoting some particular fad for their own reasons, in jazz too you have people building up somebody as a cult.

The purist wants to suffer along with the sufferer, and as soon as the guy who he thinks is a true, pure musician finally breaks through with some good music, the purist resents it—because now he's left alone.

As soon as Dave Brubeck started having hits: "Oh, dear. . . "

Oh, no good—of course. His playing and Paul Desmond's playing were just the same—just as lovely. He finally made it—what's wrong with that? Make it—but make it on taste, make it on honesty, make it on effort. Don't make it on sound, on engineers, on crap music. Don't worry about purist—no such thing. What's pure? Pure as the driven snow, which is dirty the next day? Crap. Can't buy it. Can't buy phoneys. Can't buy the guy who pats you on the back one day because you're a swell guy, and the next day, because you don't want to talk to him when you first get up in the morning, he says you're not a nice guy. If you love somebody, you love 'em with all their faults or you don't love 'em at all. And if you love music and you love jazz you don't find fault because it becomes successful. You find great pride in it: "Oh, look, the audience finally found it. ' That's what's pure.

This should be what we're wanting to happen.

And when you can walk up to the guy and say: "Congratulations", that's even better. Absolutely.

If George Benson does as well as he does, we can only cheer.

There's nothing wrong with George Benson—he happens to be good. And if because he's got a hit record on whatever thing it is: "Congratulations, man. You did not sell out, you sang well, you played beautifully, and everybody loved it. Everybody. You broke the line." It shows that there are people out there who will listen—that's what it shows, and it's okay.

Well, all you can do is just keep pushing in that direction.

All we can do is come over and play, and just keep hoping—that's what it's all about. I have good feelings about it; it's getting better. And at times like this, when everything else seems to be so me, so messed up in the world, with the problems of finances, energy, attitudes to people, whatever, the one thing that remains constant everywhere is that you can go and hear something some place that will take .all of the other things away from your brain, let you relax for a couple of hours, and know that there a people out there who want to play and sing for you and make you feel good. When everything else goes down, that's there.

Yes, it's a safety valve; it certainly is—and I'm glad that I'm a part of it.


Copyright © 1981, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.