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Les Tomkins interviews the jazz vibraphone and marimba player (Bobby Hutcherson) and tenor saxophonist (Harold Land) about their musical pairing in 1969.
Source: Jazz Professional
LAND: Jazz has a lot to do with the vibrations of the moment. Perhaps with the communication between the group that’s participating, which would be aside from the amount of creative ability within each individual on the stand at that moment. It’s just, if things start working—or if they don’t. Which can happen at any given time, no matter what music is being played.
A lot of times I think musicians can feel on the stand that it’s really happening, but the audience might not be aware of what they’re feeling. Then it can often be reversed; the audience can be completely bowled over, yet the musicians won’t feel that way. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess—or rather, the ear of the listener.
Do you think that the tendency with a lot of musicians nowadays, especially the younger ones, to play in a more uninhibited way has, at times, demanded too much of an audience?
LAND: You could possibly arrive at that conclusion.
HUTCHERSON: The best answer to that, really, is not to ask us; but you have to ask yourself, being part of the audience. Like, you can have an audience listening to some music and because one person among them might feel strong enough to start, maybe, shouting or clapping loud or saying things from the audience. . . .
LAND: He’ll lead about fifty others with him.
HUTCHERSON: Right. You take a comedian and you put him on the stage in a theatre that might have a seating capacity for 700 people, and there are fifteen people sitting out there scattered around, and as he’s making his delivery you’ll hear very few laughs. Fill that place up, and it’s entirely different.
An audience can easily be led. Once we get into a pack, we tend to lose our inhibitions. Those who are inhibited, if there’s just a few people around, might feel embarrassed to make noise, thinking somebody’s going to turn round and see them letting their feelings go. Whereas within a large audience no one can really dig me, I’m just a member of this pack, you see.
LAND: The strangest phenomenon that I can think of in regard to audience reaction is playing at a place where a sizeable audience doesn’t respond that strongly, but then when you come down off the bandstand people come up in droves telling you how beautiful the music was. There weren’t those type of loose individuals in the audience, apparently, to start the leadership that in some instances it takes to set a crowd off to responding in action, rather than just sitting there. This doesn’t happen that often, I would say, but it’s happened on enough occasions for me to take note of it and to be amazed by it.
HUTCHERSON: I can give you an example. One night just a little while ago, we were working in Slug’s and we had just started to play; there was a good crowd in the club, but nobody was really talking or making that much noise.
LAND: And in walked Ron—right?
HUTCHERSON: In walked Ron Jefferson, who is immediately into a lot of things. When he comes through the door he’s talking to the band, shouting phrases out. And just by him being in the club, he completely stimulated the whole audience and everything loosened up.
LAND: But I guess in most instances where you’re playing for a jazz audience, they’re usually aware and are there for that specific purpose; the situation I just mentioned is not a regular one.
A lot of jazz audiences get hung up on this idea that jazz is meant for studious listening; they feel they’ve got to take it all in, and make sure they don’t miss anything.
LAND: That’s just a segment of them. In the main, the strong jazz enthusiast is really loose. He’s got to be, because everybody he digs has got to be somewhat loose to be able to express themselves strongly jazz wise. It’s just a certain percentage that think they’re supposed to sit there and listen without moving a muscle.
Might this be connected with jazz playing so much in concert halls, rather than in clubs? Presumably you prefer to play to a more uninhibited crowd.
HUTCHERSON: Sometimes. People can be a bug; they can distract you.
LAND: Yes, it can be overdone. They might be jumping up and down right in front of you, touching your mstrument while you’re playing.
HUTCHERSON: If that happens, I feel as though I should stop playing.
LAND: When an individual gets that far out, he’s no longer really listening; music is secondary to his own exhibitionism. If a person is thoroughly involved in what’s going on, he might want to respond to it, but he doesn’t want to do anything that might detract or slow down the momentum of what he’s feeling and what anyone else might be feeling. He’s got to have that much insight to even be digging it.
HUTCHERSON: I’d rather have them listen without reacting than for them to react at the time they should be listening.
You must have both played in places where people were dancing. Do you like to see an audience expressing itself that way?
HUTCHERSON: Sure, if the music is bending itself towards that way, to be danced to, and they’re enjoying themselves. Like, if they’re in a club, it’s good to look out and see them using their bodies to express their feelings, instead of sitting there and clapping or saying things.
LAND: I feel the same way, but it would seem that the powers–that–be have put the thought down that jazz is completely undanceable.
It’s never made sense to me. When you think about the psychology behind pop music of the day, and rock, you’d be inclined to think from the promotional area of that phase of music that it’s exclusively dance music. Whereas jazz is represented as something apart.
HUTCHERSON: The thing is, the popular dances that are coming out now are all geared to records. They’ll say “Do the Boogaloo” and everybody will do it, because they associate it with a certain record.
LAND: So it’s a planned thing, not spontaneous.
HUTCHERSON: But if they put it behind a jazz record and said: “Do the such–and–such” it could be the same thing happening. Right now, you wouldn’t think of doing the Boogaloo to a jazz record.
LAND: You could have, though, if it hadn’t been psychologically planned that you’d be looking ridiculous doing it.
HUTCHERSON: A dance could be developed to go with a jazz record as it came out; then you’d have the relationship between the record and the dance step and the people.
It’s something that would just have to happen naturally for it to get as big as the popular dances are.
LAND: Yes, but my point is that it’s not going to be allowed to happen. Each new dance they come up with is another commercial proposition to stimulate a multimillion dollar capitalisation.
HUTCHERSON: See, there’s a lot of people who say that they can’t understand jazz. . . .
LAND: How can they, when they get so little chance to hear it?
HUTCHERSON: One reason for them saying that, I feel, is that in understanding something you have to be able to relate it to you personally. Like, there was a definite identification when they started rock’n’roll, as they were calling it then. Rhythm and blues was a different thing, but that’s where it all came from.
LAND: If you think back through the years, the strongest identification for jazz with the general public has been that every jazz musician is a dope addict. The biggest publicity is always given to the bad side; so that’s why the jazz artist’s stature has remained so far beneath that which he deserved. Because there have been other people, in many walks of life, who have risen to great heights and have received full recognition for their accomplishments, but who have also had problems with drugs.
In fact, with such as movie stars, they even seem to accept them even more. The more notoriety the bigger they get.
But it doesn’t work that way with the jazz musician; it just blackens his image to a greater degree.
The general public is sufficiently misguided not to know that they should listen to the individual’s contribution first, even if his personal life doesn’t fit their mould.
This is so unforgivable when you realise that jazz is possibly the sole original art form to come from the United States. Why should it be blackened, when all the jazz musician has done is produce it? Why should his reputation be lowered for giving one of the greatest contributions on the planet? I believe this can be said of jazz, not because I’m a musician myself, but just trying to be objective about it. It’s done things that other modes of communication between people all over the world haven’t been able to do. Jazz has made brotherhood meaningful, where politicians have failed.
HUTCHERSON: To show you how people in general look upon jazz musicians: when I first went to New York I wanted to get a telephone in my apartment. So I called the company. They said: “Okay, what’s your occupation?” I said “I’m a jazz musician” and they told me: “Your deposit will be 75 dollars,” So I said: “Well, I don’t think I’ll get a phone right now” and I hung up. Five minutes later I called back and, when they asked my occupation, I said “I’m a janitor at the Chase Manhattan Bank.” “Oh, well, your deposit is 15 dollars.”
LAND: That’s a perfect example of it. And what have you done to warrant that? The same applies for insurance; if you’re a musician, you have to pay more.
HUTCHERSON: And yet you’ll find these same people who are putting down these rules for the musicians are the ones, when they want to go out and enjoy themselves, who say: “Let’s go hear some music.” It’s utter hypocrisy—taking and not giving.
LAND: Jazz is not going to change, no matter how much anybody attempts to blacken it. Jazz has been here for quite some time, and it doesn’t seem to be rubbed out, despite the obstacles it has to get over. It still thrives; there’s still millions of youngsters in the new generation coming up who want to play jazz. Even though they know they can go out and get a guitar, learn three changes and make thousands of dollars, their ambition is still to be jazz players. Why? That shows what a strong quality jazz has as an art. It’s no mirage—it’s for real.
Copyright © 1969 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.