Our happy band
Our happy band
Happier than ever
Talking to Les Tomkins in 1973
The band is really sounding at its best now, I think, because we’ve maintained this actual personnel for more than a year now; so we’ve all sorta melded together. The communication is running much stronger now, the sound is big, and all the cats in the band like working together.
As for the reports of our going full–time—well, in actuality, the band always has been a full–time proposition. But lately we’ve changed agencies, and our new agent has gone all out one hundred per cent to get the band bookings. So far he’s done just a magnificent job.
On this particular trip, for instance, we will have been working on the Continent and in Great Britain for a total of five weeks and one day. And that’s a very extended tour for a big band; also our longest stay in Europe.
Out of that, we’re doing three weeks here in London—the extra week at Ronnie’s being due to the Isle of Man Festival postponement.
We were very sorry to read about the tragedy. I’m very sympathetic with the promoter; it must have been a great blow to him, but perhaps he can re–establish it for next year. I think it would be a marvellous thing.
Anyway, it’s always good to sit down in one place for three weeks. I appreciate that very much; you don’t get a chance to do that normally.
You know, situations being what they are, it’s best for a band to be constantly moving, and one–nighters seem to be about the best way to really maintain a band. As I said—so far it’s worked out pretty well.
Our visit to Russia was absolutely fantastic. We spent five weeks there, playing six cities. And each one was so outstanding—the response to the band was overwhelming. The people were so friendly, in giving; you know, they reached out to us as we reached out to them with the music. It was just a wonderful experience for everybody in the band—and I hope it was for the people in Russia, too. We made a lot of friends there, and we’ve sorta maintained contact with them for the past year. For someone who’d never been there before, such as myself and quite a few of the other members of the orchestra, it was a very exhilarating thing to happen. Very heart–warming.
We haven’t made any live recordings lately. We had hoped to do that here, but unfortunately contracts were held up legally, and there seems to have been a sort of a shift in the power structure in different places; I understand it’s going on all over. This creates a delay for us that doesn’t really do too much good. It hasn’t harmed us to a great degree so far, but not having a record on the market in time can be a little bit harmful to you.
Because, you know, we recorded an album called “Suite For Pops”. Which, incidentally, included a tune written by Gary McFarland, who died shortly after the record was made. A tragic loss—because he was such a great writer, such a brilliant musician. He had started writing a suite for the band, called “Toledo By Candlelight”, and we just have the first movement of it, that we maintain in our repertoire.
It’s a great piece of music; we felt that it deserved to be part of the “Suite For Pops”, being representative of the band’s sound. Gary was a great fan of ours; he had worked with Mel and I when we were with Gerry Mulligan, and he wrote quite a few things for that band. So we got to be pretty good friends.
Yes, “Suite For Pops” is in memory of Louis Armstrong, representing his way of life, and perhaps a short history of what his life may have been like. Although we didn’t come in too much personal contact with him; I first met him many years ago, but our trails hardly ever crossed while we were on the road.
Even with Basie; he and Basie were great friends, but I think we came in contact with one another maybe twice during the nine years that I was with Count Basie. However, we all respected, admired and loved him, and the Suite was a tribute to him.
Unfortunately, though, the album hasn’t been released. It would have been on A& M, but it won’t be, because they decided—for whatever reason—to cancel all of their jazz artists. And a lot of people know of this album; they keep asking me, but I can’t tell them anything, as regards a definite release date. Which becomes embarrassing—and it makes me angry.
I think we’ll record with this line–up fairly soon. As a matter of fact, practically the same personnel was on the “Suite For Pops” album; the direction that things seem to be going in right now is that it will probably be released through another company. So we’ll just have to wait and see. I hate to say that again—I’ve said it too many times already! I’d say the style of the band is pretty well established now. Whatever music we play, it’s gonna come out a certain way. Once you get a group of musicians working together over a certain period of time, they automatically phrase things specifically enough to indicate the band’s style. So it doesn’t matter what we’re playing—the style, the identity comes through. And the freedom? Definitely—that’ll never change.
I see definite signs of greater acceptance for an out–and–out jazz band. The very fact that bands like Basie, Ellington. Woody Herman, Stan Kenton have been able to sustain themselves over a number of years has really encouraged a lot of younger musicians to the extent that they feel that there is a future for them in music. And there’s so many musicians coming out of schools now, and they have to have a place to play. While they’re in school, big bands are what they are orientated in. If there are no bands around, they eventually go into rock bands.That’s why you’ve found such a high quality of rock music in, I’d say, the last two years. They’re really very accomplished jazz musicians playing it. So, with the maintenance of these bands, and the formation of new ones all the time, the quality of the big bands will gradually become higher and higher. And you’ll find a lot more bands just poppmg up, seemingly out of nowhere.These are truly dedicated players, who love the music that they’re involved in; they’ve been trained to do this, and they’ve applied themselves very diligently. They want to find the vehicle to express what it is that they have in their heads. Like, what I have in my head, in my ears, heart and mind, I have to surround myself with. And I’m pretty sure they feel the same way. I can’t count the number of musicians that I’ve had coming to me, asking if there’s an opening in the band. But right now, our personnel is pretty well set; so I have to tell them, unfortunately, there isn’t, and I can’t even give them the hope of a possibility.In the future there will be a lot more bands being formed—you can count on it. The future of big bands is on the rise. For instance, in North Texas State they have seventeen bands. That’s a phenomenal number of musicians—all interested in jazz and all very, very good. I’m very optimistic. As a matter of fact, I’ve never been a pessimist, as far as music is concerned. There’s always something out there, in front.
Copyright © 1973, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.