Bill McGuffie: Interview 3
Bill Perkins

Talking to Les Tomkins in 1987

The jazz tenor saxophonist talks to Les Tomkins about his musical career and collaborations in 1987. 

Interview: 1987

Source: Jazz Professional

Bill Watrous

Bill Perkins

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When Bud and I play together... it’s just like water rolling off a duck’s back. 

It’s hard to describe that, and it’s very rare.

Welcome to Britain, Bill, and in particular, to the Bull’s Head, Barnes, where I’ve just enjoyed some superb jazz by the two tenors of yourself and Tommy Whittle, plus Tony Lee, Dave Green and Terry Jenkins. How did you like working with Tommy?

Oh, that was a reunion it was a joy, you know; we hadn’t played together for thirty years. It was so much fun we just got carried away, and kept playing. Real nice. I’m enjoying this whole trip very much.

The previous time with Tommy was when he depped in the Stan Kenton saxophone section, wasn’t it?

Yeah, 1956. I’ve seen him since then he came into the Canteen Club about four or five years ago, when I was playing there. He sounds lovely you can tell he’s been playing all the time.

It’s wonderful that you’re still playing that tenor as beautifully as ever—in fact, probably better than ever..

Well, thank you—I’ve really been devoting time to playing jazz now, in the last four or five years. I’m back to doing what I started doing, and enjoying it tremendously.

And you recently took part in the Stan Kenton Convention, I gather.

Yes, up at Oldham; it was Friday, Saturday and Sunday last weekend, and I thought it came off very well. I know those people put a lot of work into it, and Ernie Eyes’ band did a great job on a tremendous variety of Kenton music, all the way from 1941 to 1978. There was a wonderful spirit—the audience just got completely wrapped up in it. It was also nice seeing some of my ex–Kenton associates, like Charlie Mariano, that I hadn’t seen for around twenty-five years.

I suppose you were playing some charts that you hadn’t looked at for a long time too.

Well, we were each featured on individual tunes. As an example, I played “Yesterdays”, because I played that with Stan’s band. Then we also stood behind the band and played some of the music just for the fun of it.

It sounded as if it was a really happy occasion.

It really was. I think the Saturday night.. . everybody thinks it really hit a peak; it was quite a memorable occasion.

Well, I wish I’d been there. You were sort of a late starter as a professional musician, weren’t you?

Yes most of my life, ever since as far back as I can remember, I was planning on being an electrical engineer, and I did indeed go all the way through college and get a degree in electronics. It wasn’t until I got out of the Navy after World War Two that I began to realise that what had been a hobby for me, and that I’d never seriously considered as a profession, suddenly was pulling me more and more. So then I went back to school and I studied music. And I do not regret my electronics background, because it’s made it very fascinating for me, and I have a few inventions that I’ve made, with regard to saxophone and trumpets and synthesisers; so I think it’s all to the good. But I would never trade what I have done in music for an engineer’s life. I’ve been very lucky, though.

So your knowledge has stood you in stead in the electronic revolution of recent years, you’d say?

It certainly has. I think it’s a very fascinating time we’re going through now.

You started on piano when you were eight, I believe, and went through clarinet before you actually got to the tenor.

At a very early age my mother had me take clarinet lessons and some piano lessons, but it really didn’t stick at all. I hated the clarinet, and that’s a pity; if she’d kept me on the clarinet I would have been better off, because in most of my life the clarinet has come back to haunt me in studio work, very often you have to play the clarinet. But she gave in when I wanted that second-hand Buescher tenor saxophone in the store window and I don’t think I touched the clarinet for twenty years. Then I realised how much I needed to practise, and I tried to make up for it.

But it was going to Westlake School of Music at the age of twenty-five that really turned you around, wasn’t it, as far as becoming a full-time player?

Yes I went to the University of California at Santa Barbara and got a degree in music, but, especially in those days, it was not much of a preparation for being a jazz musician. And Westlake was an early effort at doing something—like Berklee School of Music, and like North Texas State did so well. But there were great players there, because it was just after World War Two, and a large number of fine professionals had come on the scene and were studying at Westlake—such as Milt Bernhart. And Bill Holman was there—I have known him since 1948. So as a student it was a great experience for me; I did learn a great deal at that school.

And, in fact, you went from the school virtually into the Woody Herman band, didn’t you?

Just about—you’re right. I used to gig around town a little bit in Los Angeles, and I had a job with a gentleman named Jerry Wald; he was sort of an Artie Shaw imitator, and he had a band in Los Angeles that played an Al Cohn book at a place called Earl Carroll’s, which was once a famous showgirl type of venue. And it was he who recommended me for Woody’s band. It was one of those sudden lucky breaks. Woody needed a tenor player at the last minute, about ten o’clock on a Sunday night, and I got the call. Everybody has some particular lucky turning point in their life—that was the one for me.

You stayed with Woody for.. . what—four years, was it?

Well, not really—I was there 1951, ‘52 and most of ‘53; then Woody broke up for a while, and I left the band, with the idea of coming back, after practising at home. But I got a call at the end of ‘53 to work with Stan; he’d just had that bus accident, in which some of the people were badly shook up. It was that time with Stan that I got the chance to hear Bird and Diz and Errol1 Garner and Stan Getz, because they were doing a package show—that was an incredible education for me. Then when that band broke up in 1954 I went back with Woody; now I had done my homework and I felt a lot better about my playing. I guess they called that the Third Herd, with Richie Kamuca and Al Porcino—that was, I think, the best band of Woody’s that I played on. Although that’s not completely true—years later I came back and for a week I played with the ‘63 band, with Bill Chase on it, and, of course, that was a magnificent band too. For that matter, as you know, Woody’s present–day band is just marvellous.

He just goes on. Would you make any kind of a comparison between the Woody Herman experience and the Stan Kenton experience—would you call them very different kinds of bands?

Very much so, although, in retrospect, both of those gentlemen...and, of course, Woody is very sick now, as you probably know; he’s in the hospital—I hope he’ll be with us longer.. . both of them were forward-looking bandleaders. Unlike most of the bandleaders of the big band era, they both always looked forward, and they didn’t look back. And Stan just did it in a different way to Woody. Woody is more of a gut feeling type of person, whereas Stan was much more into the planning and involvement thing of what he called “progressive music”.

Woody’s was strictly a swing band; Stan favoured larger types of organisations, and he really loved brass and so forth. Although it is to his credit that he gave so many arrangers, including Bill Holman, their full, free rein. The band of Stan’s that I joined in ‘55—some of us called “the Bill Holman band”, because Stan just gave Bill free rein, and most of the book was by him. That was my favourite band that I played in with Stan, although there are many of his bands that were great. For playing in it, that particular ‘55 band was a joy—yes, that one was a real swing band. But the experience of playing with Stan, of course, was substantial; the variety of music that I got to play with Stan that was the plus factor. Everything from the Bill Holman band to the Neophonic Orchestra which prepared me for future work. They’re just two different approaches, but, I stress, both of a forward nature.

And they were always giving exposure to very good musicians.

Oh, yes especially Stan. The number of careers that have been launched from Stan’s orchestra is incredible. Woody had not so much opportunity to do that, because it wasn’t that much of a showcase. But in recent years I notice that Woody is absolutely meticulous in announcing the names of every soloist, and giving them full credit and that’s awfully helpful.

Now, the early ‘fifties was the time Zoot played with the Kenton band. Were you together in the section at any point or not quite?

No, well he left; I was replacing him, because he was going home. He’d been shook up in that accident. Conte Candoli’s wife was injured, and the band manager, a good friend of mine, went right through the windshield. Zoot leaving after that was how I got started with Stan.

Somehow, I always think of you in the same kind of bracket with Zoot. Would you say you are the same kind of happy, outgoing player as he was?

Well, I might have been at one time, although my playing in the last five years has changed a great deal, because I’ve been doing a lot of listening.

But with the right kind of incentive...like, playing here with Tommy Whittle—that just put me into a mood. I mean, Zoot’s spirit was there; Tommy reminds me of Zoot. And I respond to surroundings; some musicians don’t, but I have to—sometimes you get in trouble that way, if you respond too much. But in this particular case, to me, it was a joy.

You tend to react to given situations?

Yeah but left to my own resources, I’m trying to... you know, you’ve heard it a thousand times—it’s a cliché but there’s only one Zoot, and the imitator is only an imitator. In Tommy’s favour, I just say he has a flavour of Zoot in his playing, but he’s very distinctive himself. But you can’t improve on Zoot—he’s one of those that come around every fifty years—one of the greatest swingers of all time.

But when we started to hear you on those Pacific Jazz and Contemporary albums, you were proving your individuality. In particular, I remember the “Grand Encounter” album—do you recall that?

Indeed I do, because it was really the first album that I was featured on. And I owe John Lewis a great debt, because he had listened to me, he could tell what I could do at the time, and he knew my limitations; so that it was just like duck soup playing that album—everything he brought to me was in line with what I could do. Most of life isn’t that easy; most of the time you’re thrown up against situations to which you have to respond, but they may not be comfortable for you. But that was just very easy.

And you have to remember that both Zoot and I, and Stan Getz, and a whole generation of tenor players were influenced by one man— Pres (Lester Young). So the similarities that we may have really, in my opinion, go back to Pres. But then Zoot launched off, and kept just developing his own style as did Al Cohn and Stan Getz. They are more Pres–oriented than, let’s say, Coleman Hawkins–oriented—that would be more of a Sonny Rollins. In recent years, once again, I’ve become much more appreciative of what a giant Sonny is, and John Coltrane; now I can hear what they’re doing, and appreciate it more. In those days I didn’t you tend to be pretty narrow–minded, I think, when you’re young. You just do your thing. When you get older, that’s one advantage, I guess I have nothing to lose by listening to all these people.

Are there certain other people that you feel have influenced you, as far as what you play on the tenor?

Well, I’m very impressed with Mike Brecker—I think he’s extended the limits of the instrument. You know, it might not be everybody’s cup of tea, because it’s so high-energy sometimes; there’s not too much mellowness. But I think his technique and harmonic knowledge is just mind-boggling. I listen to him a great deal, to just see if I can understand some of the things he’s doing.

My favourite ballad player on the tenor is Ben Webster. And, of course, Stan Getz—obviously when I joined Woody’s band, everybody came under his influence, and I had the task of trying to play the “Early Autumn” solo. When Woody was still working around Los Angeles, I used to go home and I’d try to imitate Stan. A gentleman named Bob Graettinger (who wrote some music for the Kenton band) used to come over; we were sitting there drinking wine, and I complained to him: “Why can’t I sound like Stan?” He said: “Some day that’ll be a blessing to you, because you’ll be able to develop your own style.” And that is very true: you imitate at first, but you must sooner or later break away. In my case, I just couldn’t imitate; so that’s how I developed a style of my own I had to just find it.

Well, I mean, there’s always a jumping-off point.

Absolutely. Everybody has some influence. Pres had some influence; it must have been lonely for him, because nobody sounded like Pres, although he says that Frankie Trumbauer influenced him, to some extent. Some people, like Pres and Bird, seem to almost spring full–blown from nowhere; in a sense, they do, being the great geniuses of our time but they also had their influences.

Have you found your contemporaries have given you some impetus someone like Bud Shank, for instance? That initial album you did as co-leader with him was a classic too.

I’ll tell you why Bud Shank influences me—because he’s a better player today than he ever was. In other words, when you hear Bud now, he just has expanded; to me, that’s an inspiration, because he’s roughly my age and it shows that you don’t necessarily have to stay static. Some people don’t like it; even if I’m a fan of somebody’s and I want their record, I might say to myself: “Gee, why didn’t he play that solo the way he did thirty years ago:” But you can’t stand still in one place and be creative, you know. I understand both sides of it.

Then Shorty Rogers is back doing his thing and playing, and I’m encouraging him to play more and more, because I love to play with the Quintet. I’d much rather play with a small group, for one simple reason I’m selfish. That’s when you get to play with a big band, it’s usually very short solos.

You went on that trip to Japan with Shorty’s band, didn’t you?

Yes—that was a small band, though, and it was nice; we all had a lot of space. The only regret I have about Japan is that we only played three jobs in ten days there, each of them for forty–five minutes or an hour and that was it but we wanted to play.

You became embroiled in the studio scene, and it’s true to say, isn’t it, that for a long time you were virtually unheard of?

Yes - when I left Stan Kenton’s band, I got a job working with Dick Bock at Pacific Jazz. He hired me, and I worked as an editor and so forth. Then I got a job as an engineer at Bill Puttnam’s United Recording Studio—which turned out to be the turning point in recording studios on the West Coast and all over the United States. His was the pioneer of the modern recording studio. But I was playing more and more, and I was studying flute, clarinet, bass clarinet and all those instruments. I got more and more into studio work; so I finally quit the engineering thing and worked full-time studio. But the sad thing about it, looking back on it now: I also turned my back on jazz. And the less jazz you play, the less confidence you have; you’ve heard that story over and over again. I really regret that, because it’s taken me about five years of playing as much as I can with a small group to feel some kind of joy in playing jazz like enjoying playing with Tommy Whittle. But I guess you do what you feel is right at the time, and I did make a good living I raised four children and so forth.

Well, that has been the course of events that many musicians have undergone to go through before they came out and found themselves again.

One must admire those who devote their full lives to playing nothing but jazz. The material gains that they get out of it are so minimal that’s the ultimate sacrifice. People like myself we copped out, in a way; but you do what you feel is a survival route for you. You mentioned that I was a little older than average coming into it; it’s a good thing, perhaps, because if I’d been a nineteen–year–old tenor player in New York City, maybe drugs would have taken me. But I was just old enough to look and see: “Boy, that’s horrible—this guy is dying.” So it may have saved my life. And night-clubs are not my cup of tea, either... it’s very easy to get drinking, you know. Instinctively, I guess, we do what’s safer for us too.

Yes—you’re to be applauded for it.

The saddest case, of course, is Art Pepper, whose talent was massive but who died in the end as a result of the wrong turnings he took.

And yet he came back, and played wonderful music over and over again. It was a miracle.

He certainly did. Thanks to his determined efforts, aided immensely by his wife Laurie, we were given seven extra years of his recorded greatness.

I really treasure my friendship with him in the later years. I didn’t know him too well, even when we were doing records many years ago, but in the last ten years of his life he and I used to play together, and we rehearsed with a saxophone sextet. I treasure that, because then I got to know him, you know. He was a very lyrical person; no matter what he played, or what the instrument was, it was always a song.

It was wonderful to hear him do something on clarinet, I thought.

Oh, he’s a lovely clarinet player. Tenor—it doesn’t matter what he plays. Some people have that.

Nowadays your main situation is the four days a week in Doc Severinsen’s band on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show, I gather.

That's the main thing. I do whatever work I can on the outside, but that job has been wonderful; it gives me a steady income. Besides that, it’s a great job to play, because it’s a jazz band; in the United States at least, I think it’s the only jazz band that has a full-time job on television. I don’t think I would have lasted fifteen years on that band if it had been just a studio band, because I hated especially doing studio television work. Film calls were interesting; they could be very frightening sometimes, if something was too difficult to play. But normal television variety shows were very boring, because you sat around for three days doing nothing. With Doc Severinsen it’s not that way; the adrenalin flows, and we play. During the commercial breaks we play for the studio audience.

Is there something recorded by that band?

Well, Doc did his first album last year with the band, and won a Grammy. Which was great, and as a result of that we’ve completed a second album, that has just come out. As a matter of fact, Doc is planning on going on the road this July, but I don’t think he’s going to take more than a few members of the band for economic reasons. Most of his jobs are in New York, and just transporting a big band across the country by air is economically unfeasible. I think that’s a shame, because the people who come to hear the band should hear the band. We’ve been playing for fifteen years together, and no matter how good the New York players that are brought in are, it’s not the same.

But by the same token, I sound like I’m talking myself into going on the road which I don’t particularly want to do, because they’ll be long one–nighters. Yes, I had plenty of that—it’s forgettable.

How do you work that job in with your jazz playing? Do you play on the weekends?

Yes, I play at night and on weekends and I really do subsidise my jazz playing. For a local player.. . I don’t care who he is in Los Angeles and I’m sure it’s the same in London, having talked to musicians here—you can’t command enough money to make a living. I mean, you can make twenty dollars or twenty–five dolIars a night, and musicians can’t live on that kind of money. So, in a sense, if I use a rhythm section, I sometimes pay them extra out of my own pocket and I don’t take any money at all. But I couldn’t do that if I didn’t have a good job and I’m totally aware of it. Bud Shank now is making a good living as a jazz musician, but he has to travel a lot, and he’s put in a lot of groundwork for it.. He told me that the first couple of years that he was trying to play jazz he was not making a living at it—whereas he did very well in the studios. But now he gets to play jazz as a total livelihood, and that’s wonderful that’s like having your cake and eating it too.

Would you like to do that, if it were feasible?

I would—although I’m not too much of a traveller, but I would love to do that; I would love to work here. I’ve been coming over to England and paying my own air fare sometimes.

This year was the first year they paid my air fare. And I’d love to play on the Continent too; Bobby Burgess gave me his card, and said he could line something up for me in Germany. I just want to play—that’s what it is. I won’t say I’d love to do the jazz festivals, because personally I’d rather play in a place like the Bull’s Head. Jazz festivals are a little bit of a circus, but they do give you good money, they get you over here, and it means exposure; so it’s a chance to be able to subsidise your jazz career.

But you prefer to be close to the people, in a more intimate set-up?

Definitely—there’s no doubt about it. It’s much better for playing jazz. On a festival, you may play a short time on a large, uncomfortable stage, usually outside, with feedback, and acoustics that it’s very hard to adjust to, especially with a small group. If you could stay in one place, it would be better—but they move you around all the time.

What is on record of you these days? Have you had some things out?

I made a record in 1978 called “Bill Perkins Plays Lester Young”. It was a tribute to Pres, honestly done, and that’s the last time I’ll ever do something like that. But since he was my guiding light, so to speak, I did it. It was only released in Japan, but I think I’ve seen it here in England. Then I did an album with the late Pepper Adams about the following year and that was a fulfilment of a long–time dream of mine. When he came with Stan Kenton’s band in 1956 he just turned me around musically and mentally, although it didn’t come out in my playing till many years later—but in my mind I heard this incredible player, and when I play baritone I hear him. In 1979 or ‘80 I did an album on my own, in which we used some of my saxophone synthesisers.

But quite frankly, I was not prepared for playing in those days—I wish I could do them over now. I hadn’t been playing jazz for years, and I wasn’t really ready to play with Pepper. It was a lifetime opportunity, you know, and I did the best I could, but I should have had about four years under my belt, like now. Now I would really enjoy playing with him; I could feel comfortable about it. I did make an album on Fantasy about two years ago on my own, when I was just starting to play again; it’s a quartet, and that’s currently available. Then we did an album with Bud Shank and myself, and Alan Broadbent, just this last December, which hasn’t been released yet— that’ll be on Fantasy. And I’m going to Spain, and doing an album there for Fresh Sound with Claude Williamson—remember him? So I’m looking forward to that; that’ll be a quartet thing.

How was the experience of playing with Bud on a record date again, as opposed to years ago?

Well, I’ll tell you—there’s something about old musical associates. When Bud and I play together.. . we used to do a lot of studio work, but we may not have played jazz together for five years, or something like that... it’s just like water rolling off a duck’s back. It’s hard to describe that, and it’s very rare you don’t get that, no matter how professional the players are. So that was the least of our problems. We had a little problem logistically on it, because I had to fly up to San Francisco and he had to fly down from Seattle, and we were exhausted; we were working in a club at night. When it comes to playing it’s always take one or take two. That’s a rare experience—I treasure that.

I imagine that was also the case on that original album you made together, in the ‘fifties. I remember, for instance, what you did on “Royal Garden Blues” a traditional tune, but somehow you gave it a different kind of lift, and it j swung like mad.

Yes, that was a very spirited album; when I look back on it now, I’m amazed, because I didn’t know what the heck I was doing—maybe it’s better that way; who knows? Today I think Bud and I, hopefully, play with a higher energy level in some respects, because of the surroundings of what’s happening. You can’t replace that thing you have when you’re young, but in later years you can be more selective in what you do in playing. What I mean is: you don’t play a thousand notes if they’re not necessary; maybe when you’re young you like to spray ‘em out like machine-gun bullets!

Although you haven’t been actively participating until recent years, I’m sure you’ve continued to listen to jazz. How have you felt about what’s been happening? Would you say you approve of the electronic developments?

Oh, yes I do. I must say: there are a lot of elements about electronics that are unfortunate. The economic part of it And the displacement of musicians is terrible. And also there’s a lot of garbage played with electronic instruments. You have to remind yourself that a synthesiser, no matter how sophisticated, is another instrument, and you’re not going to learn how to play that instrument by just plugging it in. It takes a lot of work and effort to get sounds out of it. I’m not in favour of imitating acoustic instruments—I think that’s stupid. They do it to save money. But when someone like Chick Corea uses synthesisers, to me he uses them very musically, and I love it. Yet he’s a completely eclectic musician—he can swing, play bebop and everything else. So he’s not trying to fool anybody.

However, there’s a lot of music that comes out under the guise of jazz today pop/fusion jazz that’s pretty boring, because there’s no content to it. I mean, that’s the thing—you can’t just use a bank of synthesisers, and put no musical effort into it. That’s the only objection I have to that—but I like Miles’ latest album; I think it’s fascinating. A lot of my colleagues my age just hate all that, but I’m afraid I’m a child in that respect.

Your mind is open to it, in fact.

There’s a lot of good things going on. The rock’n’roll era may have brought a lot of noisy, dull music, but the drummers of this era... that’s what’s produced great drummers like Steve Gadd and Peter Erskine today—it’s that influence. And personally, I don’t like to play with an old–fashioned drummer any more—which is kind of amusing. I don’t want just chunk-chunk-chunk; I want that drummer to completely enter into my solo, But, you know, we get in arguments about that, because a lot of players my age do not like that at all. They want the drummer to just play a steady beat.

Your feeling is for something more positive from the drummer.

Yes—instead of just putting down the time continuously, a good drummer could just imply the time. Then as a soloist, instead of feeling that you’re just sewed up in little boxes, you can be free to cross bar-lines. It’s the most exciting experience to playing, as far as I’m concerned, and when I don’t have a rhythm section that plays that way, now especially—I feel like I must go to another style of playing. There’s nothing wrong with that but never in my playing before recent years was I even aware of those things. I’d just go up and play, and sometimes I’d feel uncomfortable. Now, at least I get to be more analytical. Yes, that kind of drumming’s what I like.

Well, it’s a similar situation with bass players too.

Same idea. Oh, there’s just no doubt about it today’s rhythm sections are just superb, in what they do with the time. And I think the rock era has brought that about, because of the different times: the straight eight and the more use of Latin and everything else and swing too. Players my age shouldn’t shut their minds, because if they could just work at it a little bit, they could find that playing was a much more thrilling experience for them. Instead of playing the same things, all of a sudden you can expand it’s hard to describe it. Maybe I had to wait all those years, and finally realised, well, I only have so many years, and I love things that are going on today.

Have you had any thoughts about the freedom movement that has gone on the so–called avant garde?

If you’re talking about the music that’s done a lot in Germany, and some here in England too—the only reservations I have about that is that I do believe you should have some form. And some freedom—music, I suspect, is like: you can give a chimpanzee a paintbrush, just let him daub on a canvas, and you can sell that canvas to some unsuspecting sucker for a thousand dollars. My point is: how much is it just self-indulgence? I do like freedom, and I like to get away from what’s happening, but if you just sit there and play completely chaotic, anarchistic music, I think it’s boring to listen to. It may be a nice, cathartic thing for the player, and a good experience to do it, but to stand up in front of people and do that all night—I wonder. I’ll just take each case as it comes; I’ll go listen to one of those groups and see what they have, and then I’ll just make my own opinion.

But what I like is the tension of the things like Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw do they’ll work from a certain chord pattern and then they’ll pull away from it, and go into related or unrelated fields.

That creates tension in the music then they come back. But if you start with total chaos, one wonders if you’re really doing anything at all. I don’t know. That sounds a little old-fashioned, perhaps.

What’s your feeling about the freedom thing?

Well, I agree with you. I think that if you start like that, there’s nowhere to go. And I understand they manage to get most of the public money too for that kind of music, and they sort of dominate the field because they’re given that support.

In my opinion, it’s a kind of a confidence trick in some cases. At times it seems inferior talents may be getting exposure, getting paid whereas if they were forced to play, as you might say, ‘properly’, you would realise that their talent was inferior.

Could be—yes, I suspect that. An interesting case in point there is that Charlie Mariano has gone into many extensions of his playing, and when we were asked to play with a small group up at the Kenton festival, we paired off. Shorty and I played together, Bud and Jiggs Whigham played together, and then Charlie played just with bass and himself. And he played an extend ed Indian raga.

Some of the people in the audience were dumbfounded, because they expected him to recreate something he’d done with Kenton, but in fact it was a beautifully formalised piece of music—but it was not done by Western harmonies. Generally, the response was positive, which made me very happy. Now, Charlie went on the next day and played “Stella By Starlight”—he went right back to that style to show people he could do it with the best. The point is: in 1956 Charlie was one of the great Parker–style soloists; so where do you go from that spend thirty years trying to improve on Parker? You can’t improve on him: he’s the original. So I’m in favour of what he’s doing.

Well, the difference is to my mind, that Charlie Mariano is a superb musician. He applies musicianship of a high degree to whatever he does.

That’s right. So what he does, even if you don’t like that particular thing, you at least know that he knows what he’s doing. If someone comes at it from another approach, and really can’t play at all, and just wiggles his fingers and makes noises, you have to scratch your head and say: “Well, we’ll analyse this very carefully.”

 Copyright © 1987, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved