Guys of Great Magnitude


While it is important to talk about guys of great magnitude who are still with us like Jo Jones, it is still important to talk about the talented young players too. Like Steve Gadd-he is comparatively young, but I respect him too on the other end of the spectrum, because he is a fine musician who has also done his homework, and is deservedly in great demand now. In fact, the last time I was over here, Steve had come over with Paul Simon, and we had a chance to visit.

As for Mel Lewis stating that he doesn't consider Steve to be a jazz drummer-there's room for a lot of discussion there, I think, Les. Being this is 1983, and knowing, of course, what the commercial market is-since this young man can do everything well, I'm sure that the bulk of his work is in the contemporary field; that's what they call him for, and that's where the record sales are. However, I've heard him on some jazz records, and for the amount of time. . . I know he excels and spends time on the other thing, but taking that into consideration, the way he plays on those jazz records is really uncanny. I've heard Buddy mention the same thing-and I know Bud is as honest as I am; he's going to say what he thinks. So I would venture to say: if this young man went out and played equally as much in a strictly jazz vein, he'd be a monster in that division. Because I know his teacher, John Beck, and I knew Steve when he was little-I saw him grow up, and I know that he has that kind of talent.

Sure, he's played with people like Art Farmer, Jim Hall, Joe Farrell-and with Chick Corea, absolutely. Now, you see, that kind of contemporary playing I like very much-it's good musically; it's played by top performers. You've got to put it in perspective; you just can't say: "Well, that's junk", because things do change-sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad. We still have the element of being able to know that there are some good jazz players and some bad ones; there are some good symphony orchestras and some that are not so good. I think it's a case of a Steve Gadd knowing that he can get into those difficult slots and play so well. It's like, a lot of guys put down the country 'n' Western kind of music-but I've heard some great country 'n' Western players. In that idiom they play so well-the intonation is right; the interpretation is right. You know, I learned that from Duke; he used to say: "Music is music, man. I don't care what style it is; if it's played well, and by good musicians, that's good music".

It's a good sign today that young drummers are beginning to get away from the limitations of rock drumming. I do some forty to fifty seminars a year in schools, and I remember a few years ago it was amazing to me that the drummers were all locked into this strict eighth-note feel from the rock field. To me, that kind of drumming is just an extension from the old rhythm 'n' blues and from Latin music-which is also strictly an eighth-note feel. Whereas a jazz feel is a rolling triplet feel.

When you would tell a youngster: "Okay, now this is a Swing piece", they didn't even know what that was. As a result, when you gave 'em a Basie-type thing like "One O'clock Jump", they would go "pah-p-ppah" -well, the connotation is completely wrong. But when you made them listen to records; and they be came aware of it, they said: "Ah!" And I'd tell 'em: "If you were able to sit down and capture that eighth-note feel, then you should be able to sit down and capture this feel". When you play drums, like Basie said, you are in the hot seat-you've got to do that and more. That's what's so good about Steve Gadd-he can play everything.

When you think about a guy like Buddy . . . he and I come from a certain era, where at that time it was all Swing.

Now he's sixty-four, and I've heard even Mel Lewis say: "I heard him play some rock things better than the rock players".

It's because of Buddy's validity as a player, the experience he's had, and his relative association with music-which really be comes the most important thing. You can't just be honed into one thing-if that's all you play, you're going to be stuck.

But, thank God, even in colleges now, the youngsters are much more open-minded. Sure, they'll listen to Weather Re port , to Earth, Wind And Fire , to a whole bunch of contemporary things, but they've become so educated that they-on their own; nobody had to tell 'em-know exactly where the roots are.

So they'll listen to Dizzy, to Oscar, to Basie, to some of the Ellington things; then they'll listen to Thad and Mel, to Mel's new band, and to Toshiko's band, where the music is really there.

They've got avenues now-they don't just have one little alley to go down. Now they know where the good music is.

Another happy thing is that some important figures are returning to jazz. I read some great reviews on Shorty Rogers-and rightfully so, because he's really one of the giant musicians.

He always has been-not only as a player but as a writer. One review said what a refreshing thing it was to hear Shorty again.

Well, I've always maintained that when you have a cap on a bottle, that cap has to come off some time. What's inside that bottle is all the little frustrations in a musician, and if you don't take that cap off every once in a while, it's going to explode.

That's the way it is with all those giants, Like Shelly Manne, Ray Brown, Don Menza, Pete Christlieb. I don't put down studio work-that's great; it's a living, but it's not enough for those kind of players, because they've got too much inside that has to come out. Otherwise it's all bottled up, it becomes stagnant and it dies. Talking to Shelly, who's a dear friend, he said: "Lou, I got to get out and play with my trio, my quartet or my quintet. If I don't, I can't make it-I've got to have this re lease".

For a few years there, a lot of guys thought I was strictly a studio musician. I really wasn't. What was happening was. . .

Quincy Jones and I are dear friends, and he's a tremendous force out there. . . when Quincy first came out to Hollywood, he used me on quite a few of his picture calls, records and every thing. And the same thing with Mancini, Elmer Bernstein and all these guys. I just happened to be around at the time, a( though I was still occupied a lot with my big band, my small band, dates with Pearl and so forth. It just so happened that for one or two years there I was really doing a tot of picture work. More recently, I've done some things with John Williams, who is now conducting the Boston Pops-he wants me to go and appear with them soon. Whenever I did it, it was just because it was another challenge for me, that I enjoyed-but to have to do that all the time would be not enough for me, musically. That creativity would be bottled up again.

Because there are some times when you go to the studio that, through nobody's fault, you're just inactive. You're doing a picture call that requires very little music; so you just sit there.

And when you do that for four or five months at a time, you start wondering whether you can play again. Then all the guys, like the Shelly Mannes, who really have a lot of talent, have to get out and play.

Then there is the problem of being typecast. Not that I've been trying to get into the movie writing bag, because I'm too busy playing drums, but it's something I encountered one time in Hollywood. Of course, it happens to the actors all the time. A friend of ours, Robert Mitchum, told Pearl and I: "I once made a hit cowboy movie, and from then on they only wanted me to play cowboy roles. But I wanted to be able to show everybody that I had acting ability in other areas". Like, musically, they stamp me as a drummer-okay, that's fine, but. . . a couple of my friends said: "Why don't you let Lou do the score in this thing?" "Well, he's a drummer." "Yeah, but he also writes." "But he's a drummer." So, you see, you're stamped and labelled, until you have to really prove yourself the hard way. Finally, if you do, they say: "Why didn't you guys tell me he could write?" J. J. Johnson, Benny Golson and those guys had the same hurdle to get over. Quincy Jones was out in Hollywood for a long time, until finally some body said: "Well, yeah-let's give this guy a break, and sec what he can do". And, of course, he came up with some great things.

As I tell the youngsters: all that doesn't bother me; I keep on maintaining my creativity. A lot of kids walk up to me and say: "I want to be a star". I say: "You want to be a star? Stars are in the sky. People are on earth". That's my wife's line-it's a beautiful one, too. I tell them to concentrate on playing their instrument, instead of on being a star. And keep on learning-that's what I'm doing. You never completely learn everything; tomorrow's another day. That's where the total concentration should be.

In writing, I learn something every day. I've got about eight pure symphonic things to my credit now. Two or three of them are with my big band in the middle of the orchestra, and the others are for symphony orchestra only. Unfortunately, none of it is recorded; it's such an expense to get a big orchestra in the studio-thousands of dollars. And, of course, the union won't allow us to tape something on the spot, because they feel that it'll get in the wrong hands. I've done concerts with the L. A. Philharmonic, Glendale, Milwaukee, Kansas City and I'm getting ready to do something with the L. A. again. Pearl and I did the Boston Pops with Fiedler two or three times. So that's a lot of fun.

Talking of unrecorded music-we missed something on June l0th last year. It was either the fifth or sixth time that Buddy and I worked together with both bands -it was up at Berklee in Boston. Buddy played an hour, we played an hour, and then the two of us came out. I told Bud later on that I'd tried to get somebody up to videotape it, because you never know-some concerts are real good, others are just great, and you're sorry that it wasn't put down on tape. Well, that was one of those nights-it was just out of sight. Bud played better than ever, his band was great, I thought our band was great, and the two of us together seemed to inspire one another more than ever. Later on, both of us agreed: "Yeah, it's too bad that was not videotaped and recorded for a double album". It really was magic. Buddy and I talked to Willard Alexander, and he thought it was a good idea-to have both bands together for about a couple of months on a cross-country tour from California to New York, and maybe come over here to Europe. And give eve rybody a chance to hear us play together. I told Bud: "We better do it before we get too old". He gave me one of those looks!

Copyright © 1967 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.