Iíve lost my taste for jam-sessions
The virtues of Victor
Talking to Les Tomkins in†1965
Itís been very exciting for me to come over this time. My wife and I have been able to bring our two children over and let my family see them. When weíve spoken about my friends and family here in England, my three-year-old son didnít know who we were talking about. Now itís kind of nice that heíll be in on the secret. They both caught colds here, but apart from that they had a good time.
Iíve enjoyed playing at Ronnieís, and we did an Itís Jazz programme the other day that was very enjoyable.
I have a trio in the States consisting of Monty Budwig on bass and Colin Bailey on drums. Colin is from Swindon, Englandóand a terrific drummer. What Iíve done is brought over music that we play. But weíve played it for months and months. Iíd never worked with Rick and Ronnie before and I think itís marvellous the way they picked it up so quickly. Unbelievable, in a way. But naturally, Colin, Monty and I feel that the three of us have got kind of spoilt, because weíve got such a good thing going. Which is inevitable, after the right combination of people have played together for a long time. We really seem to have empathy for each otherís playing. Itís the same in Los Angeles, when we play separate gigs. We enjoy playing other things, but the peaks for us have been the last couple of years, working together as a trio.
Weíve recorded for Vee-Jay, and Iím very excited about the album we did. Most of the tracks werenít more than about three or four minutes long. At one time, I never used to like making short jazz records and I still think doing so just for commercial reasons is a drag, actually. But, in another way, I find that to keep on playing a long solo, when youíve said what youíve got to sayóI donít think thatís too good, either. And, in this album, I managed to stay away from that. I approached it from that standpoint so that weíd have some cohesion through the whole thing. To be honest about itósome of them were short because they could be made into singles, of course. But I felt it was as much of a challenge to condense what you have to say into capsule form. A few of them I didnít allow to be cut down, because it would have lost the whole point of the piece.
I find the trio context very satisfying. Iím always looking for new tunes. I donít find it easy finding tunes that I can mould to the way I want to play, but Iím sure there are a lot around that would be suitable. The trouble is, Iíve never been one of those peopleóI donít think I know the lyrics of one tune. I donít know the authors to many tunes, Iím ashamed to say. Now itís becoming annoying to me, because I think it would help me to find new material if I knew more about what standard tunes have been written by various people. We have about 60 tunes that we play with the trio, and thatís quite a lot, really. But we need new things to rehearse. In fact, the last rehearsal we had, I had written a piece that was in 6/4 alternating with 5/4ónot just for the sake of writing a 5/4 piece. Thatís the way I heard it, so it just came out that way.
When we got to the solos, we still played the same time measures. A lot of groups play 5/4 at the beginning, and then go into 4/4. Iím finding it a challenge now to try and play in 5/4 and make sense out of it. Itís hard not to play phrases in 4/4 or 3/4. You find yourself chopping notes off the phrases youíre playingóand that isnít really the answer. You have to start hearing new phrases and playing a different way.
Iíve heard some music from Venezuela that I have some tapes of at home. Everythingís in 6/4. Thereís a harp player, a maracas player, a guitaróor, actually, itís a quartoóand a guitarone on there, playing the bass notes. And itís the first time Iíve heard a harp player really swing. Iíve heard people try to play the harp in jazz, but itís syncopation, rather than swing. This guyís fantastic. Thereís a few of Ďem in Venezuela. I canít recall his name; itís on the tip of my tongue.
The maracas player is also a marvellous musician. He makes fill-ins at the right time into the bridges, he can make trills on the maracasóall kinds of amazing things. And the sound these guys get with what they do! It really swings. Iím going to try and incorporate it into something I do on a record, and let it be sort of an influence. Te harmonic structureís so simple. Thereís 7th chords and major chordsóbut itís a matter of knowing how to improvise on that. Because when youíve improvised on the chord structures that I commonly useóthis is entirely different. So Iím working on it.
There have been challenges of all kinds for me in the past, itís true. But I think the hardest thing is to try and do something really original. I mean, I think I have done it in some ways, in the way I play. I do quite a lot of things that I think are my own. Itís always hard to draw the line where youíre being influenced by someone, and what youíre actually doing thatís original.
With me, itís both. I donít know which is the greaterówhether the people that have influenced me come out in my playing more, or whether my self comes out more. But I would like to do something thatís a higher percentage of myself, and thatís very hard to do. Becauseóin jazz, anywayóyou canít just do something by yourself. Unless youíre someone like the bass player, Francois Rabbath. He plays all his own things and he has a drummer that fits in great with him. But, in California, if you want more than two people, itís pretty difficult. Everyoneís so spread out. Itís not like New York, where everyone gets together more and plays, in apartments and things.
I donít enjoy going to jam sessions any more. Lots of guys say: ďDo you want to come round and have a blow?Ē I donít do itóIíd rather stay at home and practise, or start thinking about arrangingótry and write something down. Iíve lost my taste for jam sessions, because mostly I was playing pianoóand Iíd be comping for ten horn men. It just got very wild, and there was very rarely any experimentation going on. So I havenít been doing much of that lately.
Copyright © 1965, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.