Return Engagement


Preparing for our return engagement at Ronnie Scott's in November, my thoughts go back to that wonderful initial week last year-and to Ronnie himself. I've known him for many years, and I know Ronnie as a dedicated player. With him, it's music all the way. Every night, at the end of the gig, he'd come to me and he'd say: "Thank you". It was beautiful; I knew, when he said those few words, he meant it-because I know Ronnie, and he's a very honest guy. That really made me feel good, because he knew the band was good, and performing at its peak. He never missed one night.

While we were there, we did an album for Ronnie's own label; I know that many performers do that, when they appear there. Even though we're with Pablo and Concord, Norman Granz and Carl Jefferson both agreed, because Ronnie is one of the few guys who has had a club operating for twenty years, and given all these guys an opportunity to play. The recording.

doesn't hurt them, but it's a thing for Ronnie, to get exposure to the great public over here. So it's nice when you can do things like that, you know.

I know all the great big bands have been in there-Buddy, of course, and Woody, Basie, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. Ellington didn't make it, but I'm sure he would have had he lived a little longer-he'd have been very delighted to go. Sure, the acoustics are good. Any place that you play, Ronnie's included, it always takes a day for the instruments to sort of find the right spot, so to speak. They may press a little too hard the first day, but then after you get accustomed to the sound, you feel the room out and then it becomes great. A club like that is marvellous, because the audience is right there, and they feel the im pact and the excitement of the big band. It isn't like playing in a tremendous hall, where the people are maybe a hundred feet away from you. In a club, you always have that atmosphere-the kind you can't get anywhere else.

In LA, Donte's is smaller than Ronnie's, really. We have a new place called Carmello's now, where most of the guys are playing, that is more conducive than Donte's. Donte's is great for a small group; it's okay for a big band, but when we went in there, I used to have a couple sitting right next to my ride cym bal-and I felt guilty hitting it every time! But it was a great place for us; we gained a lot of recognition, and a lot of very happy moments there. Donte's is still a brilliant place for a lot of musicians. Carmello's though, is like the size of Ronnie's, and we're going to be playing there quite a bit now.

Another thing the band appreciates is the chance to settle in one location for a spell. Because any time you play one-nighters and things like that, you always have to go and get a sound check, because the place is different, the bandstand is different, and you don't know what mike set-up you're going to have. Playing in a club like Ronnie's, as you get into the week, you settle in, and by the second or third night you've really got it together.

Playing with my band, just as Oscar Peterson or anybody, total concentration is the thing with me. I'm forever listening, and making sure that performance is A number one at all times.

You know, that's a big factor at clinics, too. When Bobby Shew or Don Menza do a clinic, the first thing they'll say to the rhythm section: "Can you hear me?"-and invariably some of the college of high school kids will say: "No, we can't." Then Bobby or Don will say: "Well, if you can't hear me, you can't give me the proper backing." You must have a monitor, and the rhythm section should be able to hear the soloists at all times.

Then you've got a soloist plus the proper accompaniment; with out that-you have the airplane with no pilot. Or the pilot with no airplane-in either case, it doesn't make sense. One has to have the other.

Talking of clinics-I'll be doing some on this trip. I did one last year with my great friend Kenny Clare, who is one of the giant players. Buddy and I always talk about Kenny. Before I had a chance to meet him, he did a record with Ella Fitzgerald; the minute it came out in the States, everybody said: "Wow-who is that playing drums?" They could detect that it wasn't Buddy, and it wasn't me, but they knew it was a fabulous, great player. As a result of that, Kenny Clare immediately became a name in the States. Then, of course, later on they heard him not only with John Dankworth and Cleo Laine, but also with the Francy Boland band.

Kenny really did some things on that concert with Buddy and I for Frank King. Kenny kept saying: "Me-play with Buddy and Louie?", but we said: "Wait a minute-let's check him out." I don't know if a lot of people know, but when it came time for Kenny to play his solo, he broke his bass drum head almost immediately-and he finished the solo with that broken head. And he sounded great. Buddy and I felt that he did just a super job on that concert; we love him. It's always a joy for me to do a clinic with Kenny, because I learn something from it-just being with him. Like Buddy says; you always learn something from another player. Specially a great player like that you really learn.

So we'll just keep forging ahead-creating, travelling, re cording, and doing our thing; that's it.

In London again. . .

It's such a delight to see you guys again; I always look forward every month to getting that magazine and reading it, because I still feel that it's really one of the greatest music magazines in the whole world today.

And it's a pleasure to be back here in Britain; this one's only two weeks, but we've been having a ball. This was our third trip with the band, and I hope we wind up doing about a hundred trips. I do feel that this time we've got the soloists and the ensemble sound, and, judging from the audiences and their reaction, I would say that we've got probably the best band that I've ever had, right now. They are just super. Every night I get people coming over and saying that the fire, the enthusiasm and the individual playing that this band has are just uncanny. We're actually doing about a two-and-a-half hour to three-hour con cert every night, and the guys look forward to it-they're on the bandstand way ahead of time. They're just excited about being able to play for the people: It's been a magic tour.

Plus the fact that we had a chance to record again-at the same studio. That's the old Pye Records studio; they call it PRT Studios now-right, where we did the original "Louie In London" LP. Alan Freeman and Ray Prickett again recorded us, and I feel this time we got even a better album than we did last time.

There's a lot of exciting things on there. Matt Catingub played a beautiful alto solo, on an original thing that he wrote. A young man by the name of Gregg Ruvolo, who was working with Gerry Mulligan for a long time, did a nice flugelhorn solo-very much like Bobby Shew, you know. And Ted Nash and Kenny Hitchcock were also featured.

The great George Duvivier has added so much to this tour. Being a rhythm section player, I can only tell you that having him in the band is like having God on your side! And that's really something. First of all, George is basically one of the greatest timekeepers-and I've worked with 'em all. Just to have him there playing time is great enough on its own-but his solo capabilities are just staggering. On the second half of every show, we devote a time to let the audience have their ears come down from the volume, and have just the trio-Frank Strazzieri, George and I. George plays this marvellous bass solo-the message really gets across to the people. We were talking about it the other day: it was over thirty years ago that George and I first started working together. We played a lot of dates with Pearl; in fact, he was over here with Pearl when we played the Talk Of The Town that month, a few years ago.

In Frank Strazzieri we've got a great pianist. Then Walt Johnson came over with me; he's our regular high-note player, and one of our lead players in California. He's been doing a thing on "MacArthur Park" that just floors everybody-because it takes a player like a Maynard Ferguson to play that, and he's got those kind of chops. He gets up there, but they're true notes; he's a marvellous musician. Yes, he's one of the newer genera tion of great players. And Brian O'Flaherty's back with us, after playing lead trumpet with Woody's band; Dave Katz is another fine player. John Eckert, from New York, is a great jazz player, who really hasn't made his mark yet name-wise-but he will.

Clint Sharman is back on trombone. I'm very happy about the whole texture of the band-all the ingredients are there.

Yes, the personnel has changed around somewhat in the last few years. Like, in California now, Menza's no longer in the band, because he's got his own group-he's trying to get his big band together, but he's travelling quite a bit in Europe now; I think he just left Sweden and Finland. Of course, Don has got a big name, and he's in demand; so there's no reason why he shouldn't have a band of his own. The same thing with Bobby Shew, who is one of the most tremendous lead players I ever had. But I've got to say "I told you so". I used to say to Bobby: "I'll bet you play good jazz". He'd always been considered a lead player, and when I had Blue Mitchell in the band, Bobby wouldn't dare to play solos-he loved Blue so much, that he wanted him to play them all. When, sadly, Blue passed away, I told Bobby: "Look, you've got John Thomas, Frank Szabo, Walt Johnson who are all great lead players; why don't you pass the parts out to them, and you play some of the jazz things that Blue did." Finally, he did-and Bobby has emerged as a great jazz artist. Which he's always been. He's got his own quintet now, and he's playing terrific things. Joe Romano is no longer in California-he went back to Rochester. So those three are on their own now; when that happens, you have to do what Buddy does, what Woody does -you have to find replacements.

The talented youngsters are around-that's for sure. My great-nephew is playing second alto; and he's a monster player, a graduate of Howard University in Washington, DC. His name is Billy Murray-he likes to be known as William Santos Murray. We've got brilliant players like that-they play good flute, they play clarinet, they play with good intonation, good musicality; they read, they compose, they arrange. It's such a joy to see that kind of thing happening, you know. It makes you feel like you want to work and not get paid; you don't care, be cause you're contributing something that's going to be valid.

To show you the interest they have. . . we're doing this small band album, with Frank, George, myself and Ted Nash, who's going to be playing tenor or alto; that really comprises our quartet. . . well, Matt Catingub came up to me on the plane, on the way over here, and said: "Forgive me for saying this, but I want to play so much-can I just do one or two things with that quartet when you do it? You don't have to pay me-all I want to do is just play with you guys." Well, that's the kind of enthusiasm; they're interested in music, and they want to play.

He's only twenty-one years old, don't forget-he's really con cerned with doing something that's got value to it. Boy, you can't beat that.

In the future, I hope that we will be able to give our youngsters a little more education, listening-wise. Let them be aware of some good jazz records, some symphony records and know what the opera is all about. In this way, they won't be honed in to just one particular thing. When my son was thirteen and fourteen, like most kids, he was locked into one thing-go ing to the heavy rock concerts, and yelling and screaming.

Okay, if that's what they want to do, fine-but that's all they know, and it's a shame if they're not musically educated. Once my son grew up to the age of eighteen and nineteen. . . he came to see me at the house, and I said: "Hey, as long as you're here, here's some clothes and some records that you left." He looked at the records, and he said: "Those are mine? But, Dad, those are junk!" I said: "Well-you're growing up now. I think you're realising the difference between bad music and good music. If you call that junk, okay-I never like to put anything down, but musically it is not good. Truthfully. You're more educated now; you've had a chance to listen to some good contemporary groups. You've had a chance to know who Basie is, who Oscar Petersen is, who Dizzy Gillespie is-what Weather Report is, if you want to go the other way. I even made you aware of what the Budapest String Quartet was.

" He said: "Boy, you're right, Dad." I said: "Well, that's what it's all about." So I think that's a very important thing that should happen. Youngsters should not be deprived of being educated in that way.

You know, I've been thinking about you for a couple of months. In the States I said: "I know I'm going to be talking to Les Tomkins when I get over there", and I had one big thing that I wanted to talk to you about. Pearl mentioned this: when a great artist grows older here in England, they really respect that artist. They don't say: "Well, you're old and you're over the hill. Forget it-just get out of the way"-which we tend to do.

You still respect them for what their contribution has been; the heavies are even knighted.

We really need to have this attitude much more in the States, I feel. One example: there's one gentleman who's still living, although he's not very well, and he is responsible for a lot of the things that I did.

He's one of my mentors, and, I'm sure, of Buddy Rich, because Buddy and I talked about him. I never had one idol, but if I had to pick one guy, it would have to be him. He's still with us, and yet a lot of the youngsters don't know about him. Which is a shame, because they should go back and know where the roots are.

This guy I'm speaking of is Jo Jones-" Papa Jo" who created so much for all of us; I just can't say enough about that dear man. He came several times to the club where I was work ing, Sweet Basil's . George Duvivier, John Bunch, Ted Nash and I worked there-and he sat at a booth right next to where my drums were set up; he folded out a newspaper, and he asked for a pair of brushes. Right in the middle of the set, I said: "Ladies and gentlemen, there he is-that's the boss." And there he was, on the table with a newspaper, and Jo and I played fours.

Here's a guy that I think all the young drummers should know about. Max Roach made a beautiful statement; he said: "What can I say about Jo Jones? I'll tell you what I can say about him-out of any three licks that any drummer can play, two of 'em belong to Jo Jones." That's great-and it's right, you know. He really laid it all down.

Copyright © 1967 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.