Saturday, November 22, 2014

Billy Root Interview with Gordon Jack [From the Archives]

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

It is always a privilege to have Gordon Jack as a guest writer on JazzProfiles.

Gordon is the author of Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective [Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2004].

Billy Root, a saxophonist who was born in Philadelphia in 1934, has been hailed as a “forceful modern stylist.”  Billy made his first appearance in the Jazz world in 1944 working with the legendary trumpet player, Hot Lips Page.



© -Gordon Jack, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
                                                     
“Billy Root might be a somewhat forgotten figure today but there was a time during the nineteen-fifties when he was very active on the scene, touring all over the USA with Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, Bennie Green, Stan Kenton and many others.

Things changed dramatically in the sixties for Billy and for jazz in general with the emergence of the Beatles, the Stones and any number of Motown groups, because for a whole new generation jazz was no longer a popular art form. Regular bookings became increasingly rare as clubs closed, prompting Billy to move to Las Vegas in 1968 where he worked in the big hotel orchestras accompanying acts like Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Juliet Prowse and Dean Martin.

In 2008 my wife and I were staying at the Bellagio hotel and he agreed to meet me there to discuss his career. The Bellagio was built in 1998 on the site of the famous Dunes hotel, venue for some of the Rat-Pack appearances in the sixties and seventies.

Just as an aside, Ocean’s Eleven with George Clooney, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts was filmed at the Bellagio and is generally considered to be a vastly superior movie to the original which featured Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior.

“I was born in Philadelphia on the 6th. March 1934. My father was a professional drummer and when I was very young, no more than five or six, he started taking me to the Earle theatre to see all the wonderful bands like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lucky Millinder and Jimmie Lunceford. I don’t really know why I liked them so much but there was something about black bands that the white bands just didn’t seem to have. It would be true to say that I learned everything I know from black players.

“I started playing the saxophone around 1944 and when I was sixteen I sat in for a week with Hot Lips Page. I then went on the road with the Hal McIntyre Orchestra which is where I got my education from sitting next to guys who were better than I was.” (Hal McIntyre played alto and clarinet with Glenn Miller from 1937 to 1941, appearing with the band in the film Sun Valley Serenade. His own band, formed in 1942 later included such well known jazz musicians as Eddie Safranski, Allen Eager, Barry Galbraith and
Carl Fontana. In 1952 the band accompanied the Mills Brothers on their recording of Glow Worm for the Decca label which became a huge hit).

“In 1952 along with John Coltrane and Buddy Savitt, I became one of the ‘House Tenors’ at the Blue Note in Philly. The owner Jackie Fields booked visiting stars like JJ Johnson, Roy Eldridge, Miles Davis or Kenny Dorham and instead of bringing them into the club with their own group from New York, he would use John, Buddy or me along with a local rhythm section – it was cheaper that way. The pay was about $150.00 a week but I didn’t care how much it was as long as I could play with those guys – of course a few years later whenever Buddy Rich and then Stan Kenton called, I certainly asked them how much they were paying!

We usually had Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones and that was the first time I think that Miles had heard either of them. I remember being a little apprehensive about working with him because he had a reputation of not liking white players and he could be pretty nasty, but he was very nice to me.

We had a two-hour rehearsal and that was it for the entire booking. On the date, Miles used two tenors – Coltrane and me – and John used to practice every intermission. I never saw anyone practice as much as he did. He was a real neat guy and I liked him a lot, unlike Sonny Stitt who could be a pain-in-the-ass. He was OK when he was sober but when he had a couple of drinks he became very strange. He was all over the horn playing a million notes, always trying to carve you on the stand and he could do it, but I remember one night when he had maybe one drink too many. He wasn’t drunk but he wasn’t quite ‘Sonny’. I was so Goddamned mad at him that I played better than I usually did and when we were leaving the club he said, ‘Just wait for tomorrow night!’

“About two weeks later I had a call for another gig so I sent in a friend of mine, Mel ‘Ziggy’ Vines to play with Sonny. Now Ziggy is almost unknown today but he was magnificent and he and Coltrane were the two best tenors in Philly at the time. (Around 1952 Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, John Bonnie and Larry McKenna were all active in Philadelphia, prompting Billy to say in a 1990 Cadence interview, ‘We had more good saxophone players in Philadelphia than they had on the whole West Coast of California.’)

Sonny didn’t like it when I sent Ziggy in because he was so good. I got to the club for the last set when they were both on alto and although Sonny could really blow, Ziggy was chopping him up to the point where I almost felt sorry for him. Sonny told me afterwards, ‘Yeah baby, he’s about the baddest ofay alto player I’ve ever heard. He’s better than Phil Woods and all those guys.’

“A few years later when Ziggy went to California Coltrane said to me, ‘I hope he makes it this time because he really can play.’ Charlie Parker really loved him and if he saw him in the club he would always say, ‘There’s my friend Mel, come up and play the next set with me’, and Bird wouldn’t say that to just anyone. He only made one commercial recording with Herb Geller and Conte Candoli (Fresh Sound FSR CD 412) where he used a borrowed tenor and mouthpiece. (Vines was so obscure that Leonard Feather who did the sleeve note for the original LP thought he was a pseudonym for Georgie Auld.) He sounded good but he was not at his best. It wasn’t representative of what he could really do because he had just come out of a mental home where he had been committed by his parents. He came from an old-time, middle-class Jewish family who didn’t like the company he was keeping in the clubs. Talking about Charlie Parker his mother once said, ‘My Ziggy used to play with Charlie Barnet and now he is working down on Columbia Avenue with a shvartzeh!’

“The only other recording with Ziggy comes from a concert we did with Clifford Brown at Music City, Philadelphia (32DP-663 Japan). Someone taped us playing Night In Tunisia, Donna Lee and Walkin’ and when it was commercially released it was claimed to be Brownie’s last recording which was quite wrong. (Clifford Brown was killed on the 27th. June 1956 and it has often been assumed that the Music City booking took place two days earlier, on the 25th. Nick Catalano’s biography of Clifford Brown gives documentary evidence to prove that the correct date was May 31st. 1955.)  I often played
with Clifford and I loved him. I never met a nicer person, he was just superb in every way and after Dizzy he was my favourite. He came in one night when Bird was at the Blue Note and Charlie got him up on the bandstand. Brownie was hiding behind the big upright piano and Bird said, ‘Come out front with me man, I don’t want you back there.’  

“One of the guest stars I played with at the Blue Note was Bennie Green who was another peach of a fellow. This was around 1953 and he invited me to go to New York with a big band to do a spot at the Apollo Theatre where Ella Fitzgerald was the head-liner. We had Gene Ammons who was a ‘soul’ player with a great big tone and he might have looked big and mean but he was very good to me. Others I remember from that band were Earle Warren, Sahib Shihab, Charlie Rouse, Ernie Royal, Thad Jones, John Lewis, Paul Chambers and Osie Johnson and as usual I was the only white guy. I played in a lot of all-black bands and maybe being white made it a little easier for me. I was a skinny little red-headed kid playing their music which probably seemed impressive and anyway, I didn’t play like most of the white guys.



“We played the Royal theatre in Baltimore and the Howard Theatre in Washington DC and then Bennie went back to working with a quintet which is when I joined taking over from Charlie Rouse. He had just recorded Blow Your Horn (Decca DL 8176) with Frank Wess and Cecil Payne which was somewhere between rhythm & blues and jazz and very popular at the time. He had a beautiful tone on the trombone and when I first went with him we had a nice relationship, he was very straight and we played real well together.

God was very good to me in those days because he let me play with some of the very best musicians. I mean we had Paul Chambers and either Osie or Gus Johnson with Cliff Smalls on piano. (The latter’s association with Bennie Green dated back to the Earl Hines band of 1942. They were both in the trombone section, with Cliff moving to the piano whenever Hines fronted the band. He later went on to work with Earl Bostic, Ella Fitzgerald, Sy Oliver and Buddy Tate. A good example of his fine piano work can be heard on Laura form Bennie Blows His Horn (Prestige OJCCD-1728-2).

“Bennie’s only problem was drugs. When we were in Buffalo the police came and checked everybody’s hotel room and of course they found what they were looking for in Bennie’s room – his wife who was a lovely woman, was also a terrible addict. The next day the headline in the local paper said, ‘Musician caught with dope’ and that night hundreds of people came to the club to see these drug-addicted musicians – you know, ‘Here comes one now’. Bennie got more and more strung out, missing rehearsals and getting nasty which was not like him at all. I couldn’t stand seeing this nice man get so messed up so I left. He had a booking in Cincinnati which was when I told him I wouldn’t go because he was destroying himself. (Bennie Green’s distinctive sound and relaxed delivery is well documented on Mosaic Select B2-82418. This triple-CD set also features several of the excellent tenor players he used in the fifties – Charlie Rouse, Gene Ammons, Eddy Williams, Ike Quebec, Stanley Turrentine and Billy Root).

“Soon after I left Bennie, I took a two tenor group into Birdland with Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis opposite Sarah Vaughan and this would have been in 1955. Eddie was a lot older than me and he had a giant ego so he just took over but I didn’t mind because he was a terrific player and a nice guy. After that gig I joined Buddy Rich’s quartet for about five months. He ‘phoned and said, ‘Do you want to go on the road kid?’ He offered me $350.00 a week which was a lot for the time and he wanted me to find a pianist and a bass player that I liked. I didn’t really want to hire guys for him but he said he trusted me, so I got Sam Dockery who was later with the Messengers and Jimmy Mobley (no relation to Hank) on bass - fine players and first class human beings.

Buddy played great drum solos and he loved the band but he’s famous for being what he is – an ass-hole. On the third night he hollered at one of the guys and I just had to straighten him out. After the set he was sitting outside in his big white Cadillac convertible with the top down. I got within four inches of his face and told him if he ever did that again, I would pack my bags and go back home to Philadelphia. After that he never bothered any of us again but he was real hard on everyone else – club owners, men’s room attendants even the customers. I remember a young girl came to hear us with her date saying, ‘Oh Mr. Rich you played so wonderfully tonight.’ He said, ‘How do you know how I played? What do you know about the drums? I may have been rotten!’ Buddy was a great athlete, moving his hands and feet faster than anybody else in the world and watching him was amazing. He was certainly the greatest for what he did but I had played with Philly Joe and Art Blakey and guys like that, so I wasn’t enthralled with his playing or his time.

“The following year I joined Stan Kenton which was a band I swore I would never play with. Stan called after my friend Mel Lewis recommended me and asked if I played the baritone. I was twenty-two, arrogant and cocky so I said, ‘Sure I play the baritone’ although I’d never played one in my life. He needed me that night so I had to borrow an instrument and meet the band at the gig, 300 miles or so from Philadelphia up towards the coal-mining regions. It was one of those nameless, faceless ballrooms of which I saw thousands in those days. When I got there they had already started so I opened up the saxophone case and put the baritone together, but there was just one reed. Now any other time I would have had about ten boxes to try and all sorts of mouthpieces but I had to work with what I had. They gave me a band-jacket that must have belonged to Carson Smith, it was so big I looked like a circus-clown. Stan asked if I knew My Funny Valentine so I went out front and blew the solo and afterwards the guys were saying ‘Great job’ and things like that. Later I heard Stan talking to Johnny Richards – and what a great guy he was. He was such a well-schooled musician and when he said something, Stan listened. Johnny said,’ I like that kid. He gets the sound I want on baritone and I want you to hire him.’

“Two days later I was on the Cuban Fire album (Capitol CDP 7 96260 2) which I sight-read even though it was fairly hard music. Lucky Thompson was on that date and he played two of the best tenor solos (Fuego Cubano and Quien Sabe) that I think anyone ever played for Stan, and that includes Zoot who I love. I knew I could never play that good - they were just beautiful because he was one of the best tenor players I ever heard.

He’d joined Stan on a European tour when Jack Nimitz and Spencer Sinatra had to leave. (With the enforced absence of Nimitz and Sinatra the leader had used a number of replacements during the tour including Harry Klein, Tommy Whittle, Don Rendell and I believe Hans Koller. Kenton expert Michael Sparke told me that Lucky had been hired when the band reached Paris in April 1956, where the tenor-man had been working and recording extensively. The vacancy was on baritone which Thompson played on the final concert dates in Europe.)  Kenton probably paid him a nice taste but Lucky would never have stayed with that band.

“Julius Watkins was with us on french horn and he sounded like JJ Johnson on that thing. Stan though used other guys sometimes who came out of conservatories and they were good horn players but they weren’t good jazz players. One of them wrote himself a whole jazz chorus out and he kept asking Stan if he could play it. When he put his music stand up and started playing it was terrible, just awful but Julius was something else.

“After Cuban Fire Stan asked if I wanted to play tenor and I replied, ‘Only if Lucky’s leaving!’ - which he was. He told me to find a baritone and the previous day I had been in Jim & Andy’s in New York where I bumped into Pepper Adams. I knew him from a few years before in Detroit when I was with Bennie Green. This weird-looking guy came up and asked to sit-in and he was just great, man could he blow. I recommended him to Stan and that is how Pepper got the gig. He wasn’t the fastest sight-reader in town at that time which is how Stan would judge you - he just wanted to know how quickly you could play the book. After about two weeks he was going to let him go but Lennie Niehaus, another guy Stan listened to said, ‘You let him sit right where he is. He’s a great player and he’ll learn the book. You won’t get anyone like him and I want you to keep him.’ Later on when everyone kept telling Stan how great Pepper Adams was, he finally agreed. Stan wasn’t a very good musician and when he sat down at the piano it was a nightmare but he was a great bandleader, possibly one of the best. He was a very big guy and when he stretched those long arms out in front of the band they seemed to span the whole sax section. People thought the sound was coming out of Stan and not the band - we weren’t doing anything.  He had the sort of presence in front of an audience that made them think we just happened to be going along for the ride. He was a wonderful front-man though and he was a nice guy.   

“I stayed with Kenton for about a year and then went back home to Philly. I was playing in a big band at Music City there when Dizzy Gillespie was booked to play with us. I was on baritone because nobody else wanted to play it. There were so many damned-good tenor players with big egos walking around - ‘I must play first and I must play every jazz chorus.’ I didn’t really care what I played, just put me in the section. This was around the time Dizzy called asking me to join his band and I didn’t ask how much he was paying, I was so happy to play with him. I never fitted in with the Kenton band like I did with Dizzy because Dizzy had a JAZZ band. I really felt I belonged because I loved that band.

When I joined, Rod Levitt was already there and he was the only white guy. Al Grey who was very funny said, ‘When Rod saw Billy Root’s white ass he figured he had a friend. He sure found out fast enough that Billy was just as much a nigger as the rest of us niggers!’ Al was a really good trombone player as was dear, sweet Melba Liston who was a lovely lady and everybody loved her. The saxes were great with Ernie Henry who was always kind of quiet but played real well. My room-mate Benny Golson was another lovely guy and Billie Mitchell who could be pretty tough was a fine player too. I particularly liked Jimmy Powell who played lead alto. I can still hear him after all these years and I’ve played with all kinds of lead players believe me but he had something that was very special. Wynton Kelly’s playing was wonderful - I loved those guys because they all played so beautifully and they were all good people.

“Dizzy’s band-bus was a beaten up old heap and every time we reached a hill we had to get out and push it. This wasn’t like travelling first-class with Stan Kenton because it had no air-conditioning and no lights inside, so at night we were in darkness. Down South there were signs over water-fountains and restrooms saying, ‘Coloured’ and ‘White’. I remember taking a ‘Coloured’ sign down and putting it up in the back of the bus and the joke was that was where they made me ride - in the back of the bus. If we were somewhere like Georgia and we wanted to eat, I would go into the restaurant first. I’d ask the manageress if she could accommodate 15 people and if she could, I’d bring the rest of the band in – 13 black guys with me and Rod. I got into serious trouble once though when I wanted the men’s room and was directed to an outhouse in the woods. While I was there, three of the biggest men I’ve ever seen came in – 6’ 5” or so and about 20 stones each.  They didn’t have the hoods on but they were Klan. ‘We saw you with all those niggers boy, now we’re gonna kill your ass!’ It was pretty serious so I started singing old negro spirituals – I knew a lot of them because we used to live behind a black church. ‘Here comes the devil through the floor, stamp him down, stamp him down, Hallelujah Sweet Jesus’. They said, ‘This son-of-a-bitch is crazy’ and I said, ‘Crazy because I’ve heard the word of the Lord? Forgive them Father for they know not what they say.’ They let me out of there because they really thought I was mad and the band laughed for weeks after that.   

“Dizzy was a lot of fun and he always put on a show for the people. I used to make a little speech to the audience before we played Horace Silver’s Doodlin’, ‘Because this is such a difficult solo, Dizzy sent me to a teacher at the Paris Conservatory who worked with me for weeks to get this thing down. I would like everyone to stop talking because I can’t play it unless there is absolute quiet.’ Dizzy then pretended to chase me off the stage and
I threatened to call the National Association For The Advancement Of White People which always got a laugh. (A variation of that comic routine occurs on the band’s recording of Doodlin’ at the 1957 Newport Jazz festival with Pee Wee Moore on baritone – Verve 511393-2 CD.)


“I went back with Kenton for a while but he seemed to be losing control some of the time, because Al Porcino often called the shots. Stan would announce a chart and Al would say in his very distinctive voice, ‘We’re not going to play that one Stanley. We’re going to play…’ The band would put away what Stan had called and get out what Al wanted. It was almost the ‘Al Porcino Orchestra featuring Stan Kenton’ and he put up with it because Al was a great first trumpet and he wanted to keep him in the band.

“Stan had started using two baritones and on the 1959 Tropicana booking, Sture Swenson was the other one (Cap T-1460). I’d been playing all the low stuff and the solos so I gave my book to Sture to take some of the heat off me. He only lasted about three weeks or so because he wasn’t a very good player and Jack Nimitz took his place. (In an interview for JJI, Lennie Niehaus explained to me the mystery of the Kenton sax section voicing of one alto, two tenors and two baritones. The alto still played lead but the first tenor had a second alto part. The second tenor played what would have been the first tenor’s music. One baritone played the second tenor and the other baritone had a conventional baritone line. Inevitably this gave the saxes a somewhat bottom-heavy sound.)

“Curtis Counce was with us for a while and he was an OK bass player but he was a ladies man and it didn’t matter whose lady. Apparently Carl Fontana found out that he was becoming a little too friendly with Mrs. Fontana and one night in Chicago he said, ‘I’m going to kill him Billy!’ He was very calm but you could see he meant it and Carl was a bull of a man. I got hold of Stan and told him that he had better get rid of Curtis real quick because Carl was not going to beat him up, he was going to kill him. Stan told Curtis not to wait for his bass or any of his stuff but to get the hell out of town which he did - fast.

“It was around this time that Stan fired me. We had been having trouble with a young drummer he’d hired who was just not up to the job. He was so bad that we lost two good bass players in a row – Carson Smith and Scott LaFaro – who just couldn’t take it anymore. The guy was only interested in signing autographs, giving drum-sticks away and getting girls. He didn’t worry about playing the book properly, he was too busy trying to be a star and we were all going crazy with this kid. You have to understand that when you’re travelling on that bus, the band is everything because that’s all you’ve got.

With all the one-nighters there is little time for anything else and if something’s not going right with the band, you get unhappy real fast. Guys were talking about leaving and having meetings so Stan felt he had to fire someone, and that was me. Also, I had been hanging out with Lenny Bruce which he didn’t like at all. We had been friends for years but Stan was a very straight kind of guy and as far as he was concerned, Lenny was ‘trouble’. He very quickly changed his mind and wanted to hire me back but by that time I had called Philadelphia and booked some gigs there. I was ready to go back to Philly because it had always been a good town for me.

“When I got back to Philadelphia Red Rodney and I started working together a lot. We’d do a Bar Mitzvah on Saturday, a wedding on Sunday and open up at a real funky, black club for the rest of the week on Monday. Of course, with his reputation there would always be a couple of detectives sitting there waiting for him to show up asking, ‘What’s new Red?’ I also started working around town with society orchestras like Meyer Davis and Howard Lanin. I remember one of those bookings lasted for twelve hours with continuous music which I could handle because I knew a lot of tunes.  I even did a couple

of concerts with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra under their conductor, Seiji Ozawa. There’s a little baritone sax solo in American In Paris which is not hard but the pressure is playing it with that orchestra. When I walked into the first rehearsal with all those superb flutists and oboe players, I felt like asking each of them if they gave lessons. I didn’t want to warm the instrument up in front of all those guys because let’s face it, they probably thought the baritone was the ugliest of all saxophones anyway. So I went way down to the basement and after a few minutes I noticed a figure standing in the doorway. It was Murray Panitz the first flutist. I decided to level with him because I was a jazz player and I felt out of place with all these symphony people. He said, ‘Well first of all, after listening to you for five minutes it sounds fine. You’ll do a great job. Second of all, if any of those guys up there could play what you’ve been brought in to play, you wouldn’t be here. Third of all, screw ‘em!’  

“I was in ‘The Connection’ for a while at the Hedgerow Theatre in Philly. Nelson Boyd was with us and he used to get juiced out of his mind. He would drink a bottle on his way to the theatre and then start ad-libbing lines with the actors. The director once came up to me and said, ‘Your bass player is such a wonderful actor. He’s just like a junkie.’ I said, ‘Yes ma’am, that’s just what he’s like.’ He was on a job I once did with Paul Gonsalves and he got so drunk, he fell right off the bandstand. Paul incidentally is my all-time favourite tenor player.

‘In the early sixties I was with Harry James for a while. Harry was something else because he could drink two-fifths a day and still play. The first night I was there he was so drunk he could hardly stand but he played beautifully. It wasn’t ‘Dizzy’, but it was real good. He had some fine musicians in the band like Willie Smith who was a great lead alto and Buddy Rich but something was missing. Ernie Wilkins had done some of the writing and I’d be sitting there waiting for it to happen but it never did. Harry had a good white band – a dance band – and Dizzy’s was a jazz band. It’s as simple as that.

“Times change and people change but the new music in the sixties certainly wasn’t for me. I went to see Coltrane with Pharoah Sanders at a club and when I left 45 minutes later they were still playing the same thing. They sounded like two New Year’s Eve horns and I thought, is that my boy Coltrane? It was terrible but I don’t put it down if that’s what they want to do and they’re happy. In those days too, Miles was turning his back on the audience and people don’t like that. He didn’t show any respect to the paying customers unlike my man, Dizzy.



“I moved with my family to Las Vegas in 1968 because of the lack of work everywhere else - not just jazz but any kind of work. With the large showroom bands there you had to play clarinet and flute as well as all the saxes and I also played piccolo, alto flute and bass clarinet. Some nights when I went to work I looked like a pawn-shop with all of those horns but when you play them, you get paid extra. I did well here and made a lot of money. Jack Montrose was sometimes in a band with me as was his wife Zena who played violin. They were real nice people and Jack was a sweet man. I really liked him and he was my best friend out here in Vegas. He was a good player but not a great player. His arranging was his best thing because he knew a lot about music.

“Tony Bennett was lovely to work with, the music was well written and he was a sweetheart. He sang real good and we all loved him because he was just one of the guys, happy to play cards with us on the breaks. He was the musician’s favourite. Peggy Lee too was a real pro although she was often ill with lung problems. The music was good and she was cool and like Tony, one of the few performers the musicians really liked.

Dean Martin’s act was to appear drunk but it wasn’t an act. We were rehearsing once when someone brought him out a tray of eight cocktails and before we had finished he had drunk them all. He was another one who was always fine with the guys. I never worked with Sammy Davis though. He was a terrific entertainer and Al Grey who was with him for a while told me that whenever he came to the Dunes he would throw a party and invite all the chorus girls so he could have his pick while he was there. Al said that every time he managed to find himself a nice little waitress, Sammy would take her too.  

I only worked with Sinatra a few times so I really didn’t know him but I heard a story which gave me a pretty good idea of where he was coming from. His bass player was retiring after 20 years and he went over to Frank to tell him he had enjoyed playing with him and wanted to wish him all the best for the future. Frank apparently looked at him and said,’ I don’t talk to the help’ – isn’t that awful?

“Right now I’m doing nothing and I’m real good at doing nothing. My pensions come in every month from the union and social security so I’m comfortable. I don’t have to practice or play anymore and I don’t really miss it. My last engagement was a Kenton Retrospective in 2006 at the Holiday Inn, Monrovia which is in Los Angeles County. It was the 50th. anniversary of the Cuban Fire album so we performed the Johnny Richards music with numbers like Young Blood, 23 North – 82 West and of course, Artistry In
Rhythm. I had a baritone feature on Bill Russo’s arrangement of Lover Man and we had guys like Frank Capp, Kim Richmond, Pete Christlieb, Bill Trujillo, Carl Saunders and Mike Vax there, so it was a good concert.


“I don’t listen to very much of anything these days because all my music is in my head but I think of Dizzy a lot, and when he was alive we kept in touch by telephone three of or four times a year. He used to call me ‘Albino Red’. Red Rodney was the first one with that name and I was the second.””

Friday, November 21, 2014

Brew Moore - More Brew With Gordon Jack [From the Archives]

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Gordon Jack, author of one of our favorite books – Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective [LanhamMD.: Scarecrow Press, 2004] - recently “stopped by” and granted the editorial staff at JazzProfiles copyright permission to use his essay on Brew Moore which appeared in the May/2013 edition of The Jazz Journal.

We thought we’d combine it with our earlier feature on the late, tenor saxophonist, hence the title of this piece.

Order information regarding The Jazz Journal is at www.jazzjournal.co.uk/

© -Gordon Jack/Jazz Journal, May/2013, copyright protected; all rights reserved. Used with the author’s permission.

“BREW MOORE by Gordon Jack
                                                        
On the 8th. April 1949 five of the best young Prez-influenced tenors assembled in a New York studio to record original material by Al Cohn and Gerry Mulligan. Allen Eager, Al Cohn, Stan Getz and Zoot Sims were already well known but the fifth man, Brew Moore was destined to remain under the jazz radar throughout a fairly brief career. As if acknowledging his low profile he is the only one to have one of the titles recorded that day dedicated to him - Four And One Moore by Mulligan.

Milton Aubrey Moore Jnr. was born in IndianolaMississippi on the 26th. March 1924. After briefly attending Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi) he started playing in Memphis and New Orleans burlesque clubs like the Puppy House and the Kitten Club. He was making $23.00 a week which was good money for the time playing behind exotic dancers like Kalema And Her Pythons. He once said that he was 21 years old before he saw a naked woman from the front.

By 1948 he made his way to New York where he had to wait six months for his Local 802 union card which would allow him to work in the city. He was one of the regulars though along with Mulligan, Sims, George Wallington, Kenny Drew and Warne Marsh who played in private sessions at Don Jose’s studio, a fourth floor walk-up on West 49th. Street. The studio was characterised by a red door which became the title of a well known Sims/Mulligan original and much later Dave Frishberg added a very hip lyric (Zoot Walks In). He did manage to get the occasional booking in Brooklyn strip clubs with the young Mike Zwerin who described him as one of the ‘White Presidents’.

In 1949 Brew worked briefly with Claude Thornhill who he said, “Was some kind of freak genius. He could take the worst, out of tune piano and make it sound in tune.” The band loved his playing but apparently found him hard to handle because of his heavy drinking which nevertheless did not affect his playing. Ironically, Serge Chaloff who had his own personal demons was warned by his mother (the celebrated Madam Margaret) to keep away from Brew because of his extreme behaviour. She thought he was a bad influence!

By now he was playing regularly at the Royal Roost and Bop City in a Kai Winding group which included Mulligan, Wallington, Curley Russell, and Max Roach or Roy Haynes. They worked as far afield as Tootie’s Mayfair in Kansas City where Bob Brookmeyer sat in and they recorded no less than 14 titles in 1949. Occasionally trumpeter Jerry Lloyd (aka Hurwitz) was added. He had played with Charlie Parker and was highly regarded by his colleagues but his recordings never seemed to do him justice as a soloist. He composed two fine originals for the group – Mud Bug and Igloo – but by the late fifties he had dropped out of music and was driving a cab in New York to make ends meet. Some enterprising label (Fresh Sound perhaps?) should reissue all the material Moore recorded with Kai Winding because titles like Sid’s BounceNight On Bop Mountain and Lestorian Mode feature some of his finest work.


In the late ‘40s he began a long romance with Arlyne Brown (songwriter Lew Brown’s daughter) which continued until 1953 when she became Mrs. Gerry Mulligan. Arlyne once described him to me as, “A soft, sweet, southern boy with an enormous talent looking like a combination of Leslie Howard and James Dean”.

He often performed with Machito’s Afro-Cuban orchestra at Birdland and the Apollo and he can be heard on their recording of Cubop City. Harry Belafonte once sat in with the band at Birdland and Brew has a solo on the singer’s debut recording Lean On Me with Howard McGhee’s orchestra. Soon after yet another Birdland engagement this time with Miles Davis, JJ Johnson and Charlie Parker, he returned home to New Orleans where he apparently lived in a ‘dive’ with Joe Pass and writer William S. Burroughs. While he was working there he drove up to Baton Rouge for a two week engagement at the Flamingo with Mose Allison. The pianist told me that he had heard Brew in many situations, “But even on the dumbest gig with people that could barely play he always sounded terrific. He was a very bright, sensitive character who could also write poetry. He was something of a hero to all the southern guys because he was the first one of us to work and record in New York”.

He continued working in the south but early in 1953 he was booked to appear with Charlie Parker in Montreal for a TV performance on CBFT’s ‘Jazz Workshop’. Returning to New York he recorded with Chuck Wayne and then re-joined Kai Winding at Birdland. The arrangements were by Tom Talbert and Winding’s group included Phil Urso, Cecil Payne, Walter Bishop Jnr., Percy Heath and Philly Joe Jones. In an enthusiastic Metronome review George T. Simon said, “The soloists are all good notably Kai and Brew Moore who blows some mighty exciting, moving, well-toned horn. Urso keeps up with him some of the time (the two engage in cutting sessions now and then) but he has neither Brew’s ideas nor his drive.”

Brew worked fairly steadily at the Open Door in Greenwich Village usually with Don Joseph or Tony Fruscella along with Bill Triglia and Teddy Kotick. There were always a number of drummers available like Nick Stabulas, Al Levitt or Art Mardigan and Freddy Gruber kept his kit there when he was not working. Charlie Parker was often the featured attraction and on one occasion he and Brew ‘goosed’ each other as they slowly ambled around the dance floor. They finished up serenading a large piece of chewing gum stuck to the floor. Another of Brew’s favourite haunts in Greenwich Village was Arthur’s Tavern where Parker often held forth. Once when the great man didn’t have his alto, he borrowed Brew’s tenor. Arthur’s Tavern opened in 1937 and is still going strong – no cover charge, minimum one drink per set.

Some time in 1955 folk singer Billy Faier drove through Washington Square shouting “Anybody for the coast?”. Brew’s gig book was anything but full so he joined Billy who also had Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Woody Guthrie in the car. Brew left them in Los Angeles and took the bus to San Francisco which was to become the centre for the new beat culture.

The years spent in California were busy and productive ones. He worked regularly at the Black Hawk and the Jazz Cellar where Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Kenneth Rexroth gave poetry readings. It was probably at one of these clubs that Jack Kerouac heard him because he mentions listening to Brew in his book Desolation Angels. He had a popular two-tenor group with Harold Wylie at The Tropics and he recorded with Cal Tjader for Fantasy. He also appeared at the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival with trumpeter Dickie Mills and he sat in for a set there with Gerry Mulligan.

He always said, “I go where the work is” and in 1961 he emigrated to Europe. He did six months at The Blue Note in Paris with Kenny Clarke and appeared at the Berlin Jazz Festival with Herb Geller who told me, “He was a wonderful, natural player like Zoot. It was strictly talent and intuition with both of them. I was very fond of Brew”. He worked extensively in Sweden and Denmark throughout the sixties but often returned to the States doing casuals in Manhattan. He played at the Half Note with Bill Berry and on one occasion there Anita O’Day and Judy Garland were also on the bill. He was featured at Newport in a jam session in 1969 which was the year he played Danny’s Restaurant and The Scene with Dave Frishberg. John Carisi sat in at Danny’s and Dan Morgenstern’s Downbeat review said, “Brew is incapable of playing a dishonest note. His music is just pure and loving and a joy to hear.” Ira Gitler was similarly impressed at The Scene, “Moore’s brand of emotional, romantic, hard swinging music captivated the waitresses and bartenders as well as the regulars. Brew was beautiful.”

The story of how Brew Moore died in Copenhagen in 1973 has become an established part of jazz folk lore but not all the details are well known. He gave a party to celebrate an inheritance and during the festivities fell down some stairs and broke his neck. Mose Allison filled in the gaps for me a few years ago – “Brew had been staying at Carmen Massey’s house in Biloxi when he heard he had inherited all this money. He had been scuffling on the fringes of the jazz world all his life and never made much at all. He left for Europe and discovered he had lost a good luck charm he had been carrying around for years. He wrote to Carmen asking him to check if he had left it at the house. The next thing Carmen hears is that Brew had died and a few days later they found Brew’s lucky charm. That story sounds like something out of Truman Capote.” As Herb Geller once said, “It could only happen to a jazz musician.”

Brew Moore: A Wandering, Soulful Tenor Saxophonist

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Moore was a terrific, but star-crossed tenor player, at his best as good as Getz and Sims, but never able to get a career together as they did. He left only a small number of records behind him ….”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

If, as Louis Armstrong’s states – “Jazz is only who you are” – then the inventiveness and spontaneous nature of tenor saxophone Brew Moore’s music was certainly reflective of his wandering and constantly searching lifestyle.

Mark Gardner, the distinguished Jazz author offered these insights about Brew in the liner notes to Brothers and Other Mothers [Savoy Records SJL2210].

“Milton A. Moore Jr. was a drifter, a born loser, a hero of the beat generation and a brilliant saxophonist. Yes, he once remarked that any tenorman who did not play like Pres was playing wrong-that was the extent of his admiration.

Moore was born in IndianolaMississippi, on March 26, 1924, and his first musical instrument was a harmonica given to him by his mother as a seventh birthday present. He played in his high school band and at 18 got a job with Fred Ford's dixieland band. He arrived in New York during 1943 and heard what bebop was all about. He would return to New York several times in the late forties to lead his own quartet, work with Claude Thornhill (an unlikely environment), swing his tail off in front of Machito's Afro-Cubans, gig with Gerry Mulligan and Kai Winding at the Royal Roost and Bop City.

Moore was never around one place for too long. He would take off for Memphis or New Orleans, playing all kinds of weird jobs ("I go where the work is"). Around 1953-54 he was on the Greenwich Village scene, a frequent jammer at Bob Reisner's Open Door where other cats playing mostly for kicks and little bread included Thelonious Monk. Charlie Parker, Charlie Mingus and Roy Haynes. It was at the Open Door that Bird and Brew once serenaded a piece of chewing gum stuck to the floor. Recently discovered recordings also found Parker and Moore together on 1953 sessions in MontrealCanada.

One day in the 'fifties Brew casually took off for California. As Moore told it, "Billy Faier had a 1949 Buick and somebody wanted him to drive it out to California and he rode through Washington Square shouting 'anyone for the Coast?' And I was just sitting there on a bench and there wasn't s*** shaking in New York so I-said 'hell, yes,' and when we started off there was Rambling Jack Elliot and Woody Guthrie." After Woody heard Brew play at the roadside en route he refused to speak again to the saxophonist.

Guthrie didn't dig jazz. "But we were the only juice heads in the car so Woody would say to Jack or Billy, 'Would you ask Brew if he'd like to split a bottle of port with me, and I'd say, 'You tell Woody that's cool with me.' Then they let me off in L.A. and I took a bus up to San Francisco."

Before that fantastic journey. Brew had worked around with his buddy Tony Fruscella, a beautiful trumpeter who was also over-fond of the juice. Allen Eager was also a regular playing partner of Fruscella's. Brew stayed in Frisco for about five years, played all over town, made a couple of albums under his own name, recorded with Cal Tjader and drank a lot of wine. He was seriously ill in 1959 but recovered and in 1961 moved to Europe and for three years drifted around the Continent.

Twice in the 1960's he returned to the States but there was still no s*** shaking and nobody bothered to record him properly (a date as a sideman with Ray Nance was the only evidence of the final, unhappy return). His parents were very old and his mother sick. Brew was far from well and didn't look after himself. Friends kept an eye on him and tried to ensure that he ate regularly but Moore was almost past caring.


When he decided to split back to Scandinavia via the Canary Islands where he played at Jimmy Gourley's Half Note Club in Las Palmas, some of his admirers in New York produced a four-page newspaper called "Brew Moore News," in which Brew wrote a touching little verse:

Love I feel, but longing much;
Thy face I see, but cannot touch.
Your presence in heart is good, I know,
but hand in hand-it's greater so.

Time was running out for Brew. There was one more album - a great set made at a Stockholm club [Stampen] where Moore really grooved. Then came the news that he had died after falling down a flight of steps in a restaurant.

The final irony: Brew, who had scuffled and scraped for cash almost all his life, had just been left a substantial sum of money, to give him genuine security, by a relative who had died. It happened too late.”

“Scuffling” is very much the byword when talking about Brew as one has to jump here and there to find the few scraps of information and opinion that has been written about him in that Jazz literature.

Jazz author and critic, Ralph J, Gleason, had this to say about him in the insert notes to one of Brew’s best recordings – The Brew Moore Quintet [Fantasy 3-2222 –OJCCD 100-2]:

Mainly main idea is to get back to simplicity.' says Brew Moore of his work these days. "I like a small group—such as the quintet we have on this album—where there is no other front line and I can let myself go. The biggest kick to me in playing is swinging-freedom and movement. And with a small group, I can do this more easily.

"Music must be a personal expression of one's own world and way of life. When every­thing else gets to be a drag there is music for forgetfulness and also for memory and or a reminder that there is more good than bad in most things. The idea of playing for me is to compose a different, not always better I'm afraid, melody on the tune and basis of the original song, rather than construct a series of chord progressions around the original chords. I feel that in several spots in this group of tunes we attain the rapport necessary for good jazz. I hope so."

And when you listen to these numbers, you will agree that Brew … has done what he set out to do. These all swing and even Brew, who is most critical of his own work ("I guess I never have been happy with anything I did") had to say of this album, "It swings. You can say that."

Brew has two absolutely golden gifts. He swings like mad and he has soul. These are things you cannot learn by wood-shedding [practicing], or in any conservatory. You have to be born with them or learn them by living. Brew had them and he also has a priceless gift for phrasing.

"Everything he plays lays just right," one musician put it. It certainly does. …  When Brew says it, he says it simply, but it rings true. That's the best way there is.”

Ted Gioia, in his definitive West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960 encapsulates the essence of Brew and his career when he writes:

“After high school Moore began a peripatetic career that brought him little fame but gave him a heady taste for life on the move. …

By the time he moved to San Francisco [1954], Moore had achieved a reputation for excellence among Jazz insiders …. Jack Kerouac depicts a Moore performance in Desolation Angels, where Brew (or Brue, as Kerouac spells it) starts his solo with, the beat prosodist tells us, "a perfect beautiful new idea that announces the glory of the future world.”

This future glory eluded Moore to the end. His quartet and quintet albums on Fantasy, made during his California years, were his last commercial recordings in the United States. These along with his sideman re­cordings with Tjader, find the tenorist at absolutely top form, stretching out over standards with an impressive melodic and rhythmic inventiveness. In 1961, he moved to Europe, where, except for intermittent appearances in the United States, he lived until his death in 1973 as the result of a fall.”

To give you a sampling of what’s on offer in Brew Moore’s music, with the help of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD, we put together the following video tribute to Brew on which he performs You Stepped Out of a Dream with Swedish baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin [who also did the arrangement], Bent Axen [p], Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen [b] and William Schioppfe [d]. The music was recorded in Copenhagen in 1962.




Thursday, November 20, 2014

Allen Eager with Gordon Jack, JazzJournal, November 2003 [From The Archives]


It is always a pleasure and a privilege to have Gordon Jack as a guest writer on these pages.


His latest profile is about tenor saxophonist Allen Eager, one of the legendary musicians associated with the post World War II “cool” style of playing inspired and influenced by Lester Young.

For order information on Jazz Journal please go here.

You can find new and used copies of Gordon’s Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective on the web through the major online book sellers.



[C] Gordon Jack/Jazz Journal, copyright protected, all rights reserved.

“Allen Eager’s interests ranged far beyond the narrow confines of jazz, which explains his frequent disappearances from the scene over the years. Lester Young described him as “the best of the grey boys” and Buddy Rich once said, “he could have been one of the giants if he just paid attention to his ‘thing’, instead of his other ‘things’”. In September 2001 over a long, leisurely lunch near his home in Oak Hill, Florida, he looked back on a colourful life which included playing with most of the major figures of the bebop era as well as excursions into the world of racing cars, skiing, horse riding and the ice cream business. Sadly, he died earlier this year and this is possibly his last ever interview.

“I was about fifteen when I went to see Duke’s band at the Royal Roost and I was knocked out by Ben Webster who was a magnificent and gorgeous player. I wanted to ask him for some lessons so I went to the rooming house above Minton’s in Harlem where he was staying, and his room was so tiny that he opened the door without getting out of bed.  I could imitate him a little and had learnt his solo on Cottontail, which really impressed him because he called Ray Nance and some of the other guys and said, ‘Hey listen to this little white kid.’ He showed me some embouchure things and it was just great being around him and hearing him play.

“A little later in 1943 I auditioned for Woody Herman and traveled to LA with the band. It was wartime and a lot of musicians had been drafted otherwise he would never have hired me, because I couldn’t read very well and I didn’t know anything. Woody was fine to work for although he didn’t really mix with the band but none of the leaders did, they usually kept apart from the sidemen. It was when we were in California that I first heard

Lester Young on record and I changed my conception completely. I altered my mouthpiece and started to play like Pres which all the white kids at the time did. The coloured guys apart from people like Paul Quinichette and Wardell Gray didn’t and I don’t know why.  I stayed in California for a couple of years and took over from Zoot Sims at a club called The Hangover when he got drafted.  Big Sid Catlett was the drummer and I stayed there for about four months sharpening my skills.

“When I went back to New York I started working in the clubs on 52nd. Street with people like Stan Levey, George Wallington, Al Haig, Max Roach and Curley Russell. My playing got honed nicely because I was working all the time but you have to keep doing it, you can’t drop out for long periods like did later.  I remember when I was working at the Three Deuces, Billie Holiday used to come in with her dog Mister every night after her last set. She sat down right in front of the band and she was crazy about me, probably because I sounded like Lester. It was thanks to Leonard Feather that I got called for a date with Coleman Hawkins and I did the solo on Allen’s Alley because Hawk didn’t want to play on it (RCA (F) PM 42046). A month later in March 1946 I made my first record as a leader (SJL 2210). It was a quartet date and Bud Powell was supposed to be there, but when he didn’t show I used Ed Finckel. Another one of my early records was with Red Rodney and Serge Chaloff (C&B CD 102). We were all living together and I loved Serge’s playing, he was a great bebop player.

“One of the pianists I really liked working with was Monk and I used to hire him all the time. Everyone thought he was weird but I didn’t because he played the right changes with his own little rhythmical embellishments and he was always ‘there’. Years later he became successful when he had that group with Charlie Rouse who was a sweet guy and an excellent player. I liked him very much personally but his playing was a little one-dimensional, not very exciting but he certainly knew music.




“Like a lot of the young musicians then, I used to play at Don Jose’s studio on West 49th. Street with Zoot, Mulligan, Don Joseph and Jerry Lloyd. Everyone who could play in New York used to come at one time or another and the guys chipped in to hire the studio but the public wasn’t allowed in. That was around the time that Gerry and I became good friends. He had a small room in a brownstone on the West Side off Central Park West, and it was amazing to see him writing arrangements there without a piano. He had his own great sound on the baritone and I always loved the way he played. He could do no wrong as far as I was concerned and the funny thing is when I play baritone, my tone is like his and on alto I sound like Bird without really trying.

“Gerry was always organizing and getting things together. Once when nobody had any money to hire a studio he took us all out to Central Park for a rehearsal and we just sat on the grass and played. By then, he and his girl-friend Gail Madden had moved into my parent’s place in the Bronx and Gail was pretty bossy and opinionated, always wanting to affirm women’s position in society. She was a strong, ‘women’s-libber’ type which was the kind of woman Gerry seemed to like. She played maracas and wanted to be on a record date with us but she didn’t kick the beat off into something better than it was, in fact she was a bit of a drag (Prestige OJCCD-003-2).  Jerry Lloyd was there and he was a fine trumpeter but very introverted and like Curley Russell he ended up driving a cab.

“I started living with Fats Navarro in Benny Harris’ flat in the Bronx towards the end of the forties. You know, someone recently sent me a CD with Fats and me but I haven’t listened to it at all. I’m afraid it will be embarrassing because I don’t feel that I was a good player. I don’t like listening to myself whereas Al Cohn, Zoot, Lester or Ben Webster just knock me out. When Fats and I were at the Roost with Tadd Dameron he used to bring new music in all the time but we never rehearsed, we sight-read on the job.

Tadd was so talented and I never knew how I got the gig. I think they needed a token white guy and that was me although he must have liked my playing or he wouldn’t have hired me. I was there for a year or more and the club did fabulous business. The sad thing about Fats though is that just before he died, he was hardly working at all.

“Bird and I used to play at the Open Door in Greenwich Village and I also used to hang out there with Tony Fruscella because we were living together for a while. In 1955 we did a record for Atlantic (JFCD 22808) and just like me, he was a free spirit but we were hardly playing at all at the time. I hadn’t worked in months and we both had to take our horns out of hock the day before the session which was a nice date, not great or anything but Tony always sounded good. He was a sweet player but a little strange and difficult to be with. I also worked quite a bit with Buddy Rich who was one of the great natural talents. He wasn’t a real swinger like Philly Joe but he had fantastic co-ordination, playing things that nobody else could even if they practiced for a hundred years. I was also very friendly with Miles who really liked the way I dressed. I introduced him to cars and clothes although I never found out what he thought about my playing. He was sure lucky with all those great players like Coltrane, Bill Evans, Red Garland, Cannonball, the list just goes on. Nothing since has come close to those albums like In A Silent Way, Kind Of Blue and Sketches Of Spain.

“It was around this time that I lost my cabaret card which meant I couldn’t work in Manhattan which stopped me playing for a while. I managed the occasional gig in New Jersey where they didn’t seem to check if you had one. The cards were issued at the discretion of the police department who were a corrupt bunch at the time and a few years later when I was going with a very rich lady, I hired a lawyer.  We had the whole thing thrown out by the supreme court on the basis that it was unconstitutional and that was probably my biggest contribution to music!  It was too late for people like myself and Billie Holiday who had been kept from working in New York for years.




“In 1956 I persuaded my mother to give me the money to buy a couple of soft ice cream machines which were pretty new then. I took them with me to the French Riviera.  figuring I would make a fortune, but the French laws are very difficult for foreigners and I gave the whole thing up.  I was into this non-musical thing and I was completely broke so of course I went back to playing. I recorded with Jimmy Deuchar (Vogue LAE 12029) which wasn’t a very good date but he was real fine and I stayed in Paris for about eighteen months, often working with Kenny Clarke. I got to know Roger Vadim and
Louis Malle and I had a little fling with a lady who had been married to Henry Fonda.  I also became very friendly with Rex Harrison’s son Noel, although his father didn’t like me because I called him ‘Rex’ when we were introduced, instead of ‘Mr. Harrison’.

While he was making The Young Lions, Marlon Brando came to see me in one of those basement clubs on the Left Bank. He wasn’t really a jazz fan but we knew each other from New York and I asked him if he ever made a Western, would he use me as an extra because I loved horses?  In 1961 he made One Eyed Jacks which I loved but he never called me! When I got back to the States I took a band to Aspen, Colorado and when the job finished I stayed on teaching skiing and horse riding. My parents always had stables at the hotels they ran in the Catskills and I had become a pretty accomplished rider.

“Ornette Coleman came to New York in 1959 and just turned the scene upside down. I couldn’t really get with it but I used to hang out with Don Cherry who was one of the great players and we got along really well. He could play free and on the changes too. This was when I started going with Peggy Hitchcock who was related to the famous Mellon family who were real ‘old money’. She was a millionairess several times over and we lived at her apartment on Park Avenue in New York.  Thanks to her, I had unlimited funds but I didn’t give up music completely although I was interested in many other things, especially automobiles. She bought me a 12 cylinder GT Ferrari and I took it to Germany to race at the Nurburgring and when I came back to the States, I won at Sebring in 1961, beating guys like Stirling Moss and Phil Hill. I also became friendly with the composer John Cage and around that time I went to live in Millbrook which is in upstate New York. One of Peggy’s brothers had a mansion there in 300 acres which is where I met Timothy Leary who was a psychologist from Harvard. He introduced acid to the world and that’s when the psychedelic movement really started. I had been getting
high for years but acid was something else.  Occasionally guys like Mingus and Tony Williams came up to play but for most of the sixties and into the seventies, I was pretty inactive musically.

“ By 1977 I wanted to get back into jazz but I couldn’t find any place to play, so I enrolled in the music course at the University Of Miami. They were all kids of course and nobody knew me but the standard was pretty good. I played in the third rehearsal band because I didn’t play flute or clarinet and I wasn’t a great reader. I remember once though playing a solo which the whole band applauded and that had never happened before. I stayed on in Florida because my mother had a condo on Miami Beach but I started to get
a complex about my playing, because nobody was hiring me. I did come to Europe a few times and I played with Chet Baker in 1984 in Amsterdam at the Concertgebouw. (T. Sjogren in his Baker discography lists a private recording of this performance).  He had these complicated charts which came out during the concert and I had to sight-read them.

The changes were difficult and I was expected to be at home with all this tough material but it was terrible.  I don’t think I coped very well because I didn’t know what was going on and we didn’t communicate at all.  Chet sounded great and he knew all the stuff and anyway, he had a great ear. Al, Zoot, Gerry and Stan Getz were all like that too because they could hear anything and play it. I have to really know a tune, which is why I am not
in their league I suppose. I’m probably up near the top of the second division.

“Looking back on my career, it all came so easily in the beginning because I was an exotic-looking guy. People were attracted to me and that was my trouble. Everything came without trying and I never had to promote myself, but then heroin came into the picture and the gigs seemed to stop. Right now, I’m broke and I’m sick of living here and not working. I have no credit cards and I’m on Social Security - what the government call ‘Assisted Living’. I really want to move to the West Coast where Dick Bank says he can get some work for me and Freddie Gruber, who is a great guy and a drum teacher there, says I can stay with him. I played in LA recently with Sir Charles Thompson and Barry Harris and everyone was surprised to see me. They treated me real well although I had trouble on the first couple of tunes but finally it all came back and I started to play. I know I could work at least once a week there which is more than I’m doing in Florida.

I’m not as inspired as I was when I was younger but maybe I can turn my life around at least at the end of it, because I just want to play.”

Achnowledgements: I would like to thank Dick Bank, Brian Davis, Jack Simpson* and Bob Weir for their help while researching Allen Eager’s career.

* For those living in Orlando, Florida, Jack’s radio show, ‘Jazz On The Beach’ can be heard on WUCF-FM.”

The following video features Allen on tenor along with Serge Chaloff on baritone sax, Jimmy Johnson on bass and Buddy Rich on drums. The tune is The Goof and I by Al Cohn and it was recorded in 1947. It appears on the Uptown Records compilation Allen Eager: In The Land of OO-Bla-Dee [UPCD 27-49].