Jazz Professional               





One thrill after another
Everything is the answer
Frank conversation
Big band salute

Talking to Les Tomkins in 1985

What are your thoughts about the overall quality of drumming today?

As far as what I’ve heard in the last ten years or so . . of course, rock isn’t my bag; I like all types of music, but I prefer straight–ahead jazz. I was brought up with it, I lived with it, and that is my love. But I don’t turn my ears away. And I’ve heard some great jazz–rock players. Overall, we do hear a lot of garbage and that’s the unfortunate part.

I’m sure you would say of someone like Steve Gadd that, although he works in the pop area, he still maintains a high playing level.

Yes I’ve heard Steve play some beautiful things, you know. What I would like to see is for the jazz scene to move up more—come back more. Again, it’s the companies and promoters making money; whatever they can make money with, that’s the route they’re going to take and they’re making money with rock, punk rock, acid rock or whatever. Like I say, that’s very unfortunate. I’d like to see big bands in the ballrooms again . . . you know.

Well, it could be that the wheel will turn. There’s certainly a growing receptivity for better things.

It seems the resurgence is there; it’s happening again —but not enough yet. I think some of the young kids now are turning to it they’re receiving it well. But we need much more of it. We’re ,getting it, naturally, in the colleges and high schools . .

It just needs to be promoted by the media, by the record companies and what–have–you.

Definitely. There you go!

I mean how does a drummer get any satisfaction out of this electric drum thing? This harsh, metallic sound pervades all these pop records—do you see any value in it?

0h, my God! It’s just a gimmick I really despise it. How can you get a feel out of playing something where you just put a plug in a wall and get some dumb sounds? I don’t approve of/anything electric. Music should come from the heart, the feel, and should be played by a human being. It must be natural. I just can’t buy the other thing. I’ll never forget: I was in Manny’s Music Store, New York, and Danny, the owner, called me over; he says: “I want to show you something” and here are these flat, pancake things.

“Play a little something on ‘em.” I hit a few beats, and I said: “Danny I can’t make these.” He says: “Yeah, but the kids are going to buy it.” But how can a drummer sit on a chair, press buttons and then listen to this dumb thing, with these garbage sounds that come out of it? I can’t see it. And the producers know less than this dumb machine. That’s the problem it’s a money–saver, I guess. It’s totally unnatural.

It’s to be hoped that it will run its course, and that people will see it for the mechanical, non–creative device it is. As soon as the records stop selling, both the players and the producers will discard it.

They should boycott it. It’s so easy to brainwash the public, though and this is proof of it. People go for gimmicks; when they hear it in the movies, or behind a TV programme, what does the public know? As for concerts it’s all visual; people are looking at the star in front, and what they hear in the background is secondary. What they’re seeing is the star, regardless of all these garbage things behind him. And if this is what the public wants, they’re going to get it. So it’s pretty difficult to try and give them good music, by human beings, and to get them to accept it again. There is an audience out there it’s proved by the fact that some of those bands are doing good. Buddy Rich’s band is doing great, wherever he goes. The idea is to get the general audience not just one part of it.

Time will tell. But how much do you intend to pursue the fight on your own account? Obviously you’ll continue to work on all Frank Sinatra projects, but will you be looking to record more Irv Cottler albums?

I hope to do another one some time in 1985; it all depends how this one spreads out. Because I’d like to have two or three in the bag with this, you know.

Frank’s last album, “L.A. IS My Lady”, was something of a departure, in that you didn't play on all of it. Have you not been on all of the previous Sinatra albums in latter years?

There may have been one or two that I’ve missed in the last twenty–seven years—and some that I was just on part of—but that was only a very few. As for this particular one—Quincy, who produced the album, wanted as many players on it as possible. The bass was split up between Ray Brown and Gene Cherico, the guitar between Tony Mottola and George Benson, and the drums between Steve Gadd and myself. My God, I don’t know how many musicians were on that date; I’d have to count it on the record sleeve I forget. It was tremendous.

As a matter of interest, can you recall the tracks you played on?

Yeah, I was on “Until The Real Thing Comes Along”, “A Hundred Years From Today”, “Keep The Music Playing”, “The Best Of Everything” and “If I Should Lose You” —those five. Speaking about the album—the only thing about it that I have to say I didn’t like was the balance. Somebody must be missing some ears; I think the balance was done very poorly—it could have been done much better.

We’re so used to hearing Frank ride over the orchestra—in this case the orchestra was riding over him.

Right. It was very poor. But I have no other comment to make on the album.

Well, over the years there have been certain stand–out albums that Frank has made, and there’s been one here and there that fell below his high standards.

I think this last one isn’t up to standard technically, anyway. I guess the entire thing is not up to his usual capabilities the overall picture. The balance, mainly, is the thing that bugs me. It’s the be–all and end–all of any session. Anyway, let’s hope his next album will have, shall we say, better things going for it.

Well, maybe I can talk him into doing an album with me.

The last time we talked, I remember, you were speculating on the possibility of him doing something on a more jazzy kick even with a smaller group.

Yes—that’s been in the minds of all of us concerned, and it’s been discussed many times, but it never came about. And I still think he should do it you know, get about eight or nine men together and do some jazzy things. There’s so many tunes he can do. I’ll tell you how long that’s been going about—since 1962.

When we made that trip around the world with just six men, including some concerts here, it was discussed then—and that’s twenty–three years ago. So we won’t give up—we’ll still try. Within a show, he could also do two or three tunes with a small band—I think that would be a good idea too. We did a show at Caesar’s Palace many years ago when we did have a small group behind him on a few tunes, and it was very good; he should do it again.

Well, after all, he’s essentially a jazz—based singer. That’s where he comes from—jazz is the source of his style, timing, phrasing .

He swings. Of course, we know he can sing a ballad we know that.

But if it wasn’t for jazz he wouldn’t sing ballads the way he does.

That’s exactly right. He swings on ballads and the jazz things. He swings. Well, hopefully, we’ll do something.

So you’d say he intends to continue travelling. He’s not shown any sign of cutting down his amount of work?

No, doesn’t seem that way. They’re talking about next year again. He’s in good shape, and I think one should never retire specially someone like Frank. If you remember, he tried it once before; he went for a year–and–a–half, and that was it.

Is there not perhaps a time, though, when an artist has to face the fact that maybe his abilities aren’t all they should be? As Buddy has said to me: “If I can’t make it—I’ll be the first to know.”

Of course—that’s a typical remark. One will know when he can’t make it any more. If that ever happened, I would stop if I knew I couldn’t produce any more. I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself and I’m sure that goes for anyone like Frank or Buddy, who give a hundred–and–fifty per cent when they perform.

Now, one would know—and it would be very embarrassing if he couldn’t play up to that level, or sing up to that level. I would stop, definitely, if that was the case; there’s no way I would go out and just go on two cylinders instead of four.

Do you regard the press reviews of Frank’s last London concerts as completely unfair?

Unfair, trash, dishonest, and not in a true sense of criticism. They’re not critics—all they want to do is sell papers. Why can’t they say the good things about him? I’d like to see, in their field, if they can continue to do what they’re doing for forty–five or fifty years. And do it great.

Copyright © 1985 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.