A Battery of Highlights
This last JATP tour was a very busy period for me-but a very enjoyable one. Being able. to get on the bandstand every night with people like Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Niels Pedersen, Dizzy, Clark, Roy, Joe Pass, Milt Jackson, Zoot Sims and Lockjaw Davis is really something-that's quite a line-up there. It was a fabulous tour, and on seven or eight of our particular nights, out of the three weeks, we did our concerts with the great Basie band and also Ella Fitzgerald. A beautiful thing to realise, too, was that we had good turnouts; I would say ninety per cent of the time we played to sell-out houses. Which is a strong indication that people all around the world still like some good music. Also, the bulk of the audiences were a lot of young people; that shows they're interested not only in certain contemporary music, but also in jazz and being able to listen to some of the all-time greats like Basie and Ella.
Me? Well, I'm one of the younger group in that category, I guess. But I really feel honoured. 'On our last night in 'Zurich, I told Norman: "Thank you again for giving me the pleasure of playing with these great artists." It's just wonderful to be able to play with somebody like Dizzy, Oscar, Ray Brown and all of them, because they play so well. Sometimes I almost have to pinch myself to realise that there I am on the same bandstand. Oh yes, I've been involved with them before, many times.
I had the extreme pleasure to do that television series with Os car Peterson and Niels; in January, Oscar's going to do some thing again, in Toronto, and he asked me to do that with him. I feel very proud to be a part of all that. I think we did the eight shows in the space of less than a week, in Vancouver. That was a joy; Oscar did a fantastic job, handling that-not only musically, but his rapport with the audience, speaking ability and everything. And the guests were simply magnificent-Dizzy Gillespie and, of course, Basie did two of them.
On one, he had the marvellous Cleo Laine and John Dankworth. Johnny is a tremendous musician, and as for his wife-we just enjoyed her, both musically and as a person too.
Fantastically talented people. There's an example of some peo ple who are really worthy of being recognised all over the world. Cleo and Johnny are big favourites in the States now; I've heard nothing but rave reviews on their concerts in New York, California and all over. Terrific.
This kind of exposure for Oscar is way overdue. But one thing that really makes me feel bad: that television series has been accepted here, also in Canada, but they haven't accepted it in the United States. Now that bothers me, because we are sup posed to be forerunners-you know, the first in jazz-and yet our people in the industry will say: "We will not accept any thing like that." And they're good shows, by a tremendous artist-I just don't understand it at all. Yes, it really is a blind spot with them. It gives me the feeling that, in a lot of departments, some of our television in the States is going the wrong way; I don't put it down completely, because I know there are people who are trying to satisfy everybody, in every category Musically, I think we suffer a great deal, as far as television is concerned. I miss things like the great youth concerts that Leonard Bernstein did for the young people, things that are really educational and done with class. There's always a spot for things like that. In the many years that went past, there'd have been nothing wrong in having a great man like Ellington conduct some thing on television. I think somebody's missed the boat there.
But-all in due time, I guess; we all hope for things like that, to be able to present things that people of all categories will enjoy listening to and watching, because it has texture to it. Certainly, jazz has the personalities who can put it over.
You can take a marvellous musician like Dizzy Gillespie, who has a humour, who has depth; if you got him to conduct some kind of a television show, music-wise, I'm certain that the people would enjoy it to the nth degree-not only musically, but he's so well versed on all kinds of music; he's been a world traveller. Look at the knowledge that he would be able to pass on to people, and the way he could present it.
Dizzy, by the way, has made me feel good-he's given me an assignment to write something for his big band. He went into Buddy Rich's place in New York a few months ago, with his big band; it was very successful, and he's going to return in December. I'm very honoured; here's a ,guy that's a composer and writes great arrangements himself, and he's given me a chore.
Another thing I spoke to Dizzy, and also Joe Pass, about, was the idea of doing things with the symphony. Dizzy, first of all, would be a tremendous drawing power, and musically he would meet all the standards that are required; a guy like Joe Pass would be terrific also. It would be just a matter of getting the right person to write something.
Robert Farnon wrote a suite for Dizzy. Well-that's it.
Then you've got the top of the pile right there. That's the gov ernor-right? The first time I heard the things that he wrote, I made up my mind that this man had to be what all musicians would consider, the Pres. At that particular time, the man that made me aware of Robert Farnon was Buddy Baker, who is one of the great composer/ arrangers at the Disney studios. He sat me down one day, and he said: "Now I'm going to let you hear something by someone who writes so beautifully-a man who knows all the instruments, and has complete command of the orchestra." When I'd heard the music, he told me it was Farnon.
Then I joined the ranks with everybody else in the States who agreed that this is the man . As Buddy Baker says, he is a modern-day Ravel-not only a great orchestrator, with intimate knowledge of every instrument; he has the natural ability for orchestrating, composing and writing. And he used to be a jazz trumpet player-isn't that something? I guess anybody that has Robert Farnon to write for them, they are indeed fortunate. I have to try to contact him now, and have him do something for our band instrumentally, because he promised me he would; I'm certainly going to hold him to that.
With the symphony, as I said, I think Joe Pass would be beautiful. On our three-week JATP tour, we had a chance to get together and talk about a lot of things; I put that to Joe, and he said: "Gee, that's a good idea. I never thought about that." So if a master musician like Robert Farnon would write something to feature Joe with the orchestra, it would be a big success all over the world. Because Joe has suddenly come into his own, so to speak; people are now aware of Joe Pass. Yes, he's a late arrival.
He's been playing this way for years, but he's been sort of buried in California, just playing in places like Donte's. All the other people didn't realise that here was a great artist. So I'm happy for him. It was very nice of Oscar to hire him, then for Norman to expose him on Pablo Records. And now Joe is right where he should be.
That's right-he really has contributed to the revival of interest in the true guitar. On the tour, what was very interesting-Joe played with all of us, and then, in the middle of the programme, Norman decided to have him just out on the stage by himself, completely solo. And the reaction to this, even in these tremendously big places, where the acoustics weren't that great-you could actually hear a pin drop. Which was clear evidence: the audience was really ready to hear the perfection and the wonderful artistry of Joe Pass. It was great.
And I think the way the programme ran this time was very good, with Oscar coming on alone, then being joined first by Ray Brown, next by Joe Pass; then they brought me on, with the great Milt Jackson. And by the way, though Milt and I have been friends for years, these concerts and those at Montreux in July were the very first times we had a chance to play together.
Of course, I've admired him for many years, but, you know, when you start working with someone, you realise their potency-how great a musician they are. Living with him, I really got to know him, and it was such a joy; I hope we have the pleasure of playing together again, because he's such a superb artist. Yes, he is an all-round percussionist, and he's got an enormous knowledge of music, chord structures-just a very complete musician.
In London, Ray Brown was the only bassist with us, but about five days later, Norman sent for Niels Pedersen. Originally, I think, he wanted both bass players on the tour, but Niels was in Japan. After he joined us, the two bass players played together, with just a backing of myself playing brushes, and Oscar Peterson. And that was a great highlight on the programme-really magic. I think they recorded it somewhere-I hope so, anyway.
This particular year on JATP, Norman wanted us to do a different programme every night; so every concert was completely unrehearsed. Like, when he introduced Milt Jackson, we didn't know what Milt was going to play until he actually got on the stand. You could say it was improvisation at its highest level; that's what Norman intended-as you say, this is the ultimate in the jam session. We did revert to maybe the same tune we played five days ago, but each show was essentially different. Which I thought was very good; it kept us on our toes, so to speak, and it made us listen to one another a little more. This is the test in true musicianship, also.
Yes, it is a treat not to have to look at any music. Even with my big band; I do quite a bit of that. So it's a joy to really be able to set your mind to what you can do, as far as the spontaneity of something is concerned. It was very interesting also when Zoot and Lockjaw played together; then what the three trumpet players did together. Here again, it shows the great compatibility that players like Clark Terry, Roy Eldridge and Dizzy have; three different styles, yet they have great communication and total respect for one another on stage.
When I first joined JATP in '54, there were two drummers-Buddy Rich and myself. And, of course, near the end of the show we had the Drum Battle, which he likes. Now, eventually, Norman would like to have Buddy and I do something together again. He spoke of it, and we almost had it lined up a few months ago, but Buddy was tied up with another record company, I think. But after a recent conversation with Norman, I understand that he would like to get Buddy to record for a Pablo series. And his idea is to do twosomes, like Buddy and myself, maybe a Carl Fontana and Frank Rosolino, Zoot and Lockjaw, Dizzy and Clark, whatever. Then again, Ray Brown and Niels Pedersen-that would be fantastic for an album, to have those two play something, maybe with backing by myself and Oscar, or myself, Oscar and Joe. Oh, there are a lot of possibilities.
To speak of Norman Granz himself now, there's a gentleman who deserves a lot of credit. He's really gone out of his way, and spent a lot of money, because he believes in that tremendous creative art, jazz. His objective is to bring it really to the foreground, so that people all over the world can enjoy it. Setting up a tour, such as he did, is a colossal amount of work.
Only a person who really has extreme dedication would do anything like that. And, of course, I really take my hat off to him-I have for twenty years, and I still do, because of all the great work he's done. It's a labour of love, that's what it is.
Incidentally, I have a new album coming out on Pablo, with the big band. And I think this is probably the greatest band I've ever had, because I have people like. . . in the trumpet sec tion, for instance, I have Blue Mitchell. Also Bobby Shew, who was a long-time member of Buddy Rich's band; he's a fantastic lead trumpet player, a good jazz player, as well as a great flugelhorn player Dizzy said he's one of the greatest he's ever heard. The others are Snooky Young-there's another great name-and a couple of young players, Stu Blomberg and Richie Cooper, who was also with the Buddy Rich band. So we have those five tremendous trumpet players, and on two of the sides we brought in Cat. Anderson to screech a little bit! Then I have Nat Pierce playing piano, and a fabulous bass player, John Williams, who has been working quite consistently with Doc Severinsen on the Tonight show-yes, another John Williams. On tenor saxophone, Don Menza-and, of course, Pete Christlieb, who is another giant saxophone player. Dick Spencer is on lead alto. And. . well, all the guys in the band are tremendous players. I'm very proud of the album-it came off good. Norman seemed to like it very much. Of course, RCA will handle most of the chores of distributing the album in the States; I guess Polydor will be responsible here.
So we're quite excited about that, because I think with the release of that album it's going to give us a chance to play a lot of colleges, and maybe make a trip to Britain-which I'd like to do very, very much. Yes, it is about time-I really feel that, be cause the great players like Buddy Rich, and Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, they've all had a chance to bring their own groups over, and I guess I'm the only one left out so far. I've been very fortunate to come over with JATP and things like that, but I would like one time to bring my own unit over, to be able to say: "This is my organisation". In fact, I'm going to make it a point to work that out-even if I have to come over for nothing ! But I think Norman has spoken to a lot of people over here, and we can manage maybe a week at Ronnie Scott's, as well as probably recording while we're here, doing some television and also some concerts. It would be great, I think.
No, it's not really all my writing. I've got a lot in there, with a gentleman that I do a lot of writing with, Jack Hayes, who happens to be an excellent studio musician, working a lot with Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini, Johnny Mandel, people like this. Jack and I compose and write together; of course, he does a lot of things on his own, and I do a lot on my own also. But then Bill Holman has contributed heavily in this album; also Don Menza-who, by the way, is really writing some beautiful arrangements. He's a great natural writer. The four of us covered most of the album.
The bulk of the charts are modern jazz things. Plus a couple in rock vein-one thing in particular is "Chameleon", Her bie Hancock's piece From the "Head Hunters" album; Bill Holman did a very fine job on that. Then a young composer and arranger, who does the Tonight show, by the name of John Bainbridge-he's also a great alto saxophonist-did a composition called "Movin' In", which has a sort of a contemporary sound to it. And there we had Snooky Young give us a little growling with the plunger-right, as only he can do. It's wild.
When we did that Norman Granz was in the booth, and it was almost like he came to life when he heard Snooky he recognised that marvellous trumpet playing by such a great artist.
Yes, I'm happy about it; those people who have heard the test pressings so far are very impressed. Norman calls the album "The Louie Bellson Explosion". There are many exciting moments in it, some fantastic playing by the people I've mentioned. We tried to space it, so that we would have not only all fast compositions. Tempo-wise, we tried to pace it right, with one or two ballad things in there, a couple of contemporary things, some medium swing things, a couple of fast things, and, of course, a vehicle for me. We got the title of the production number for drums from Ellington; he used to speak of some body being beyond category. So we stole that title, "Beyond Category", and we made a twelve-eight into a fast three and a fast four composition, featuring me on drums.
I'd like to say something here about the young man who is doing such a wonderful job with the Basie band right now-Butch Miles.
All the time Butch was with Mel Torme's band, I didn't get a chance to hear him-but I heard raves about him. Mel himself said to me: "Louie, you got to hear this guy-he's fantastic." But on this last tour, we had the opportunity of playing together, I was able to listen to him, and I found out about him for myself. He's one of those rarities-not only a good soloist, but he knows how to take care of business with a band. He's only going to go higher and higher, because, if you pay attention to Basie, which he is doing, he's going to make you a better rhythm player. By working with this great band, he'll gain a lot of knowledge. Butch Miles is someone to watch out for, because he certainly has all the attributes of being a giant drummer in the future. In fact, he's doing it now.
Those concerts where JATP, the Basie band and Ella Fitzgerald were on the same programme were close to four hours long. In a lot of places, we played two concerts a day-it started about four or five in the afternoon, and the last concert ended maybe about one o'clock at night. Butch and I thought it would be. wonderful if I joined the Basie band and we did something, but the time element was not suitable for that. I had to play my solo at the front part of the concert with the JATP members, and later he did his solo with Basie; then they had to allow time for the great Ella. By the time she finished, there was nothing more to say! And I must say: I marvel at that lady, really. Pearl and I agree that this is the most incredible singer in the world. She's singing better than ever, and what she did with the audiences, her artistry-it was magical. I don't think I missed one of her performances on those seven or eight concerts. Well-it's a gift. She is an artist who has all that natural ability, and there it is.
I guess you would say that I'm a member of the Norman Granz organisation, but I have no signed contract with Norman-that's the beautiful part of it. I don't think he likes to sign up anybody. His two main people are Os car and Ella, and I don't know what his contractual agreements are with them, but with me, he'll just call me and say: "Can you come and do this?" And if I can work it out, which I try to do most of the time, we do it. Other wise, even as far as recording is concerned-he will maybe sign me up to do one or two albums; but he's the kind of a man who will never stand in my way. If I say: "Well, I have a chance to do an album for Columbia, and they're going to pay me a lot of money", he will say: "Okay, I'm interested in if they're going to, give you a good deal." If they are, he's happy.
He's always been this way; so, under those conditions, any big move that I get ready to make, I call him first, and I say: "What do you think about me doing this?" He's been just a hundred per cent honest with me. I have a tremendous amount of faith in his good word, because there's a lot of experience in back of everything he says; he's gone through these things with a lot of other artists.
And I really feel, as I say, that he will be the man who will eventually
get me over to London with my big band; he' s working on it now.
Copyright © 1967 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.