Duke Ellington: Interview 3
Interview Three: Ellingtonians
Les Tomkins compiles comments from other musians about working with Duke Ellington.
Source: Jazz Professional
Interview Text or Transcript
Harry Carney, baritone sax
Harry Carney, baritone sax
Things are going very well with the band, I'm glad to say. As regards not having Johnny Hodges with us —to tell you the truth, I still haven't gotten over it. As a matter of fact I still sort of expect to see him and hear him every time we take our instruments out. He's greatly missed, of course. But Norris Turney is doing a tremendous job. He's quite a wonderful musician, and extremely talented on all of his instruments. So all of us are very happy with Norris. And also we have another very wonderful altoist—"Geezil" Minerve.
We seem to fall into a sort of a pattern of just travelling, most of the time. Fortunately, before leaving for our Russian tour, we did spend four weeks at the Rainbow Grill in New York —which enabled us to be at home for a spell prior to our departure. It was with a small group out of the band. The Rainbow Grill is a very fabulous place, up on the sixtyfifth floor of Rockefeller Centre. So that was very nice.
Johnny Coles, trumpet
I’ve been with the Duke Ellington band about three months now. It's an experience in itself, and I'm very happy here. There's no comparison with anything else. Duke Ellington has his own music, that he's recognised for, and his own style which no one that I know of today can imitate.
I'm playing Cootie Williams' book; he doesn't have a lot of music to play. A lot of spots are just left out for him; so I have a lot of rests sometimes.
It's enjoyable, though.
I guess I'm most recognised for the little jazz work that I've done nothing of tremendous success, I would say. But I'm pleased with most of my recordings.
I wouldn't say the Gil Evans things were in the same vein as the ones Miles did. Miles is one who has original ideas, too; he has no imitators, really.
There's only one of a particular style, in any area you can think of. You have imitators, but no one really plays like anyone else. They play themselves—that's what I try to do.
However, I have been influenced by Miles Davis—a great deal. I don't think I really play like him, though. And a lot of people have said that to me; but I don't care to hear that. I think it's more the Gil Evans association that has caused this bracketing of me with Miles.
As for what I think of Gil Evans—he's tremendous. He's one of the best writers we have today. His music is easy to read but it's the interpretation that makes it difficult. Gil is an exacting person; he wants his music played a certain way, and he won't stand for very much deviation, you know.
I played for a very short while with Basie, which was nice. And with Dizzy's band—I loved that; it's more my style, more what I like to hear. Ray Charles—I enjoyed playing his music, but that was more like a job, not so much a pleasure as it was work. But that forty minutes' spot before Ray comes on gives the band a chance to play a little bit.
Jazz trumpet today? I think we have a new innovator in Freddie Hubbard. No one else is playing like him. He's been around for a while, but he has a particular approach that is unique. There are a lot of youngsters coming up today who are trying to follow his style—and doing very well with it, as a matter of fact.
I haven't done any small group work lately. I've been around New York doing a little studio work, playing a few Broadway shows—just oddjobbing, so to speak. Anything that comes up, I just take it, if it's paying any reasonable money. I've got to think of myself as an allround musician.
But I never really push my jazz ideas into the background.
Whatever happens, happens, you know. I always try to keep that to the fore.
This band is restricting in that I don't have much solo space. I'm the newest member of the band; so it takes a little time. The composition "Goof" is a new piece Duke has written for me. I solo on the trumpet as well as the flugelhorn. For section work I use the trumpet mainly, although there are some ensembles where I use the flugel. In a solo sense, I'd say the flugelhorn is the more satisfying instrument, for me. It has a very warm, mellow sound; because of this quality I love to play solos on it. That's the reason it's being used more and more.
As a leader, Duke is the best. No restrictions. That's about all I could say. Certainly he's electrifying; as soon as he walks on stage, you know, all eyes are on him. He creates his own atmosphere, and you just sort of feel it. The band comes to life—immediately. I guess I'll be staying with the band. I don't have any particular plans, but you never know what can happen.
Of my albums, there's the one I made with Gil Evans called "Out Of The Cool" that I think quite a bit of. Another one I like very much is "Great Jazz Standards"—I did that quite a while ago with him. It never got too much exposure, but that's a tremendous album. There's one I did with Manny Albam—I forget the title, but it has "Greensleeves" and a lot of beautiful ballads on it. I had a good deal of solo space on there. That didn't get much exposure, either.
Yes, good things get buried. I think it has to do with the record companies. Sometimes, if the record doesn't seem to do well at the very outset, then they don't do too much with it—just let it die. For instance, an album I did for Epic Records called "The Warm Sound of Johnny Coles"—I thought that was a pretty nice album, but it wasn't pushed at all. I did that maybe eight or nine years ago, and it's still selling.
Norris Turney, lead alto
In May, 72, I’ll have spent three years working in the Ellington band. I was first here while Johnny Hodges was still alive, and during that time I played a lot of roles, all around the sections. I've handled just about every part in this band, except for Harry Carney's baritone part.
What happened, to begin with: we were to leave for Europe in '69, and one of our trombone players wasn't able to make it. So I went back into the trombone section to fill the sound out there. And I read trumpet parts; I played Willie Cook's part on clarinet. On the Japanese tour, I had to take care of Paul Gonsalves' tenor part.
I've been through the whole thing.
Since John's death, I have a definite place now, I think.
Having been here a year with him, it feels a natural thing. I feel as if I belong here. Russell plays some lead, but that's largely my responsibility.
One reason for my sounding like Johnny on alto is that I loved and admired him for so many years, of course. The other is that I think Johnny's sound should still be here it's an essential part of the band's sound, and that should be preserved. I do this, because I believe that this is the way the band should sound always.
Harold Minerve, reedman
This job is far more than just work; I love what I do. I'm a newcomer, but I can say I'm an oldcomer too, because I used to moonlight with Mercer, and occasionally I would work with the band. Yes, I have a good time here —among all my friends. Especially my good friend, Harry Carney. .
I'm like a policeman in the deal—troubleshooting here and there. I don't have any parts; so I have to read from this part and that, and do the best I can. But I'm a part of the family—an Ellingtonian.
Even though this is a big band, I have a little freedom —which I enjoy. As a new man, I'm going to have to be woven into the situation. I play the double reeds. Clarinet was my first instrument, to which I added saxophone, flute; also I play oboe, so that's the same difference as the English horn or the bassoon. I'm a woodwind player, actually.
Before joining this band, I was the musical director for Arthur Prysock for four or five years. Prior to that, I was doing a little private teaching woodwinds, you know—in New York. And before that I was Ray Charles' lead alto for three years. I had a good time. We didn't work as long as we do here, but we did work as hard.
Like, after twoandahalf hours, anywhere, we would be able to be in our beds. They flew us everywhere.
I was with some other big bands before Ray Charles. One was led, in _ New York, by Buddy Johnson—that band was the springboard for Arthur Prysock, in fact. Earlier, I'd played with a midWestern band, Ernie Fields—a lot of good musicians started out there, too.
I live in New York, but I was reared in Florida and born in Havana, Cuba. I've always been a reed player, except for when I was a kid of about seven; someone gave me a trombone, and after school I used to go around in the neighbourhood, having a ball with all the kids—tailgate type of thing.
But I never could play it; I never learned anything on it.
So when I was about eight my mother bought a clarinet for me—an Albert system, the same type that Russell Procope plays.
But I got away from that, because I wanted all my horns to be interrelated; and the other horns are similar in one register, anyhow. Anyway, I'd had a very fruitful musical existence from the beginning.
I've studied all my life, and I continue to do so. Well, music is like medicine; it can't be unattended. It has to be studied at all times, in order to stay abreast with everything.
It’s like the youngsters—as they grow, they develop, Music is the type of art that has to be continually attended to. You can't leave it alone; if you do, something might pass you by.
No, I've never laid off. With Arthur Prysock, it was just a trio. I was the only horn; so I had full freedom to play, whenever I wanted to. I had a guide, as far as the charts were concerned. He would make records, and we would take the big band score and condense it for three players.
That was the job—and we sounded like thirty pieces! There was Buster Smith—that sounds like the old alto player, but this is a younger cat playing drums, Bu Pleasant on organ, and myself. Bu is a very good jazz organ player, and she sings, too. I don't know why I'm giving her this plug, because she gives me a hard time! But I 1ove her, and if she reads this, she'll know it!
Copyright © 1971, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.