October 10, 2017

Happy Birthday(s)

October 10th marks the birthdays of two prominent jazz pianists. Thelonious Sphere Monk was born 100 years ago today in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. His piano style was unique among his peers and his original compositions have become celebrated standards, studied and performed by all aspiring jazz musicians. Thelonious appears on any jazz historian’s list of the top ten most influential jazz artists.

Among his many admirers is pianist Junior Mance, born in 1928 on this same day, October 10th, in Evanston, Illinois. Junior enjoyed a successful career as an accompanist to jazz singers, including Joe Williams and Dinah Washington, and as a leader of his own piano trio. He often included Monk compositions in his recordings and a perfect way to acknowledge this October 10th is provided at this link.

Just this week the Fillius Jazz Archive published two videos with Junior Mance. You can view Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Happy viewing.

October 6, 2017

Make Your Own Luck

Some people believe in luck. Some people dismiss the very idea of something occurring without a specific reason. A number of celebrities have addressed the role of luck in their careers, including Oprah Winfrey who stated, “Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity”; and Loretta Lynn who said, “In the long run you make your own luck—good, bad or indifferent.”
Jimmy Owens is a highly accomplished jazz trumpeter, an advocate for jazz education, and a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master recipient. I was recently drawn to a story he told during our interview in 2001, and in a sense it has to do with luck. Jimmy was fortunate to come from a household that appreciated music and his supportive father took him to see the Miles Davis Quintet in a club when Jimmy was 15 years old. This event occurred in 1958, a period where Miles Davis was becoming a household name and leading one of his most celebrated combos who in less than a year would record the iconic “Kind of Blue” LP. Jimmy tells the tale:
JO:  What happened was my father took me to see Miles Davis. I am fifteen years old. And Miles was working at a club called Small’s Paradise doing a matinee, and my father took me to see Miles, and when we got there, the band was off. They were on a break. So my father is at the bar and I’m next to him, and I walked over to the bandstand, which was this high off the ground you know, and I’m standing there, I’ve heard all of these stories about Miles Davis being a nasty person. I’m standing there with my hands behind  my back looking at the trumpet and the piano. I’d never seen a blue trumpet before. And he had this horn that was tinted blue. And all of a sudden someone slides down at the piano, and I see it’s Miles. And he looks up at me and he’s playing some chords, and he says, “You play trumpet, kid?” I said, “Yeah.” He played a little while, and he says, “Play me a tune.” And he gave me his horn. So I took the horn and I was going to take the mouthpiece out and I said, “Take your mouthpiece.” “What you going to do, play without a mouthpiece?” I said, “No, I’ve got my own.” I put my mouthpiece in the horn, and I played “Walkin’.” Okay? At which point the musicians were coming back on the stage. And the last person on the stage — Miles took the horn back you know — the last person on the stage was Bill Evans. And Miles said, “Hey, Bill, you hear this kid play?” “No,” he says. Miles gave me the horn and said, “Go ahead, play it again.” So I started to play “Walkin’” and the whole band joined in. And when I say the whole band, that’s Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb. And I played “Walkin’,” and take a solo, you take it out and Miles says, “Go play another one.”  I play “Bags’ Groove.” And Trane takes a solo you know, Cannonball takes a solo. Oh it was unbelievable.
There are a number of things that struck me about this story. First, the idea that Miles Davis would offer young Jimmy Owens his trumpet, mouthpiece in place. Sharing mouthpieces may have been common back then, but it certainly is not something you do today. And this is the Miles Davis who had built a reputation as the “Dark Prince,” with an aloof and sometimes irascible reputation amplified by his half-whispered, raspy voice. Perhaps Miles was tired and welcomed the opportunity for a guest to fill some time.
The other thing I recognized in this story is that the young Jimmy Owens was making his own luck. The fact that his trumpet mouthpiece was in his pocket was not “luck.” The fact that Jimmy had been working on the Miles Davis composition “Walkin’” and that he knew the tune “Bags’ Groove” was in the  band’s repertoire was also not simply lucky. Jimmy Owens was prepared. He probably thought that even speaking with Miles Davis was a pipe dream. Nonetheless, he prepared for any eventuality. So there’s a lesson to be learned.
I constantly tell my college students who pursue jazz that they have to be ready when opportunity strikes. If they’re asked to sit in they need to be ready by knowing (without music) a number of songs they can play and improvise on. I elaborated more on this on this in our blog entitled Jazz Etiquette: The Art of Sitting in, from March 19, 2013.
It would have been a wonderful, fairy tale ending if after the gig Miles had suggested that Jimmy call a fellow band leader who was looking for a trumpet player, or arranged for a recording session for the 15-year-old phenomena. That did not happen, but the confidence that Jimmy gained that night is an experience money can’t buy.
There is a noteworthy addendum to Jimmy’s story:
JO: I mentioned specifically Jimmy Cobb, because we played together many, many times. And he was teaching at the New School where I was teaching. And one day in the office I bumped into him. And I said, “Hey, Cobb, I want to ask you something. You remember working at Small’s Paradise with Miles?” He says, “I remember working there.” I said, “You remember a matinee that a kid sat in with the band and played with them?” He said, “You know I do recall that.” I said, “Man, that was me.” He said, “What!” I said, “You remember that for sure?” He says, “I really remember that night, because that was my first week working with the band and I look up and at the bar there is Philly Joe Jones and I got so nervous. Well when he told me that story, I just broke up. And he really remembered that night, me sitting in with the band, or a kid, a young kid sitting in with the band.
From the Fillius archive, here is a link to the full YouTube interview I conducted with Jimmy Owens on January 12, 2001.

September 14, 2017

Frank Capp, 1931-2017

Drummer Frank Capp passed away after a long and successful career on September 12. Frank had an arc to his career that was similar to many interviewees from the Fillius Jazz Archive collection. Musicians like guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, pianist Dick Hyman, and saxophonist Ernie Watts began their career playing jazz and swing with big bands and small combos. When the big bands faded from the scene in the 1950s many of these musicians found lucrative work in the recording studios on both the east and west coasts. Their versatility enabled them to play on every kind of recording imaginable. The drums you hear on Sonny & Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” and “I Got You Babe” were played by Frank Capp. He could go from a rock & roll date to a movie soundtrack stage, and in our interview he described such a session:
MR:   Give us a little idea of what a typical studio date would be like.
FC:   Well let me example something like a motion picture session. You’d be given a call by a contractor to be at Warner Brothers Studio or Universal or MGM, whatever, and you’d go to the studio at 9 o’clock in the morning, and there would be 60, 70 musicians, depending. It could be a small group too, but a lot of pictures used at that time, large orchestras. And you walk in, and the librarian hands out the music. You open it to page one and play. Here it is: one-two-three play. And you have to play that music like you wrote it, or like you’ve been playing it for — rarely in those days did you get a chance to play it more than twice. Maybe three times. You’d run it down for notes, to make sure there was no copying errors. And then you begin recording. And if it was a tight budget picture, which is the case now, you don’t get a second chance. You’re on the edge of your seat at all times.
Around 1976 Frank left the 9-5 recording studio life and returned to his first love, which was big band jazz.  His passion was shared by his friend, pianist Nat Pierce. The well known big band named Juggernaut came about serendipitously as many musical ventures do.
FC:   Our first album was just called Juggernaut. And the reason it was called Juggernaut is because Nat and I put the band together for a one-night situation to help a guy who was running big bands at a club called King Arthur’s in the San Fernando Valley. And he had hired Neal Hefti’s band and Neal disbanded before the engagement came up. And I was contracting for Neal, so the club owner asked me to put a big band together. I did. I got Nat, we went out, and we called it “A Tribute to Count Basie.” And we worked that first night, and that was all it was going to be. And the crowd liked it so much, and the club owner liked it so much, he said, “You’ve got to come back next week.” Well we did and we came back subsequent weeks for a couple of months, and Leonard Feather, the jazz critic for the L.A. Times at that point, came out to review the band. And the next day in his article it said, “A juggernaut on Basie Street.” That was the title of the review. So at that particular time, everybody had a name to the band. Buddy Rich had the Big Band Machine, and Louie Bellson had Big Band Explosion, and everybody, they were putting a tag on all of it. So I said, “Nat, let’s use the name ‘Juggernaut.’” So we subsequently recorded that first album, and Carl Jefferson from Concord said, “Let’s call the album ‘Juggernaut.’” I kind of wish that we never used the word quite frankly, because people don’t know how to spell it. They are forever asking me what is a Juggernaut, and a lot of people call it “Juggernauts” and it’s not a plural.
The Webster dictionary defines Juggernaut as “an irresistible force” and the Capp-Pierce big band was certainly that. Their second album, “Live at the Century Plaza,” featured our favorite singer, Joe Williams, in an spontaneously-created 11-minute tune called “Joe’s Blues.”
Frank was a man of strong opinions, especially about the role of music, and jazz in particular:
FC:   This country’s got its values all screwed up. Musicians who spend and devote their life to become really facile on their instruments and help create pleasure for people, make nothing. And some athletic dummy, you know, goes out and bangs his head against somebody else’s helmet and they make millions and millions. But that’s another story.
MR:   Well we feel that this music is such a big part of this country.
FC:   It is, it is. Thank God — I could kiss you for saying that. I mean it’s America’s heritage, you know?
From the Fillius archive, here is a link to the full YouTube interview I conducted with Frank on September 3, 1995.