It was a great crew. I wish I could have enjoyed it more than I did, but I had to put up with so many hassles, you know—so many different things. After a while, when you start putting up with so many hassles, you start knocking something. You say, “Oh, man, it’s a pain in my ass; who needs it!” But you know something, I saw that group, and when they were really doing some stuff, charming, so together, everybody knew everybody’s slight movements– just beautiful, man. And that was Trane.
It’s funny how some guys make it–I mean, really big– and other guys maybe hang in there but never get the big bread. Like it’s not only a good musician–that’s number one, you gotta have that–but it’s all the stuff that goes with it: the planning, the personality, or the gimmick. Like Trane had that freedom thing going for him–he was a hell of a player, and so were those sidemen, Elvin and Jimmy and McCoy, but that freedom thing really put him over the top. Like I said before, 90% of the people who came were black, so he had a kind of built-in audience. That really got into their thing, and then it spread more and more, then it became the young white kids getting with the black Kids, so the audience for Trane got bigger and bigger. But the freedom thing–that was Trane’s gimmick, even though I knew he didn’t intend it that way. But that’s the way people took it, and that’s what really boosted him the most.
You took Cannon and Nat Adderley, their gimmick. I think re very intelligent people, and Cannonball figured everything out. He was a professor of some sort and had even before he was with Miles, the whole band dressed uniformly and everything, and then with Miles all those years–I’m almost positive that move was part of his plan to eventually get his own group together. He always planned things smartly, and that’s why he got it all together.
You see, that’s one of Zoot’s faults. He didn’t know where he would be from one week to the next. He never made any kind of plans. Zoot was great, but he didn’t care; the only thing that would’ve hurt him that would’ve driven him utterly insane was if somebody said, “You can’t play that much anymore. Maybe you’ll play once a week.” He’d have gone crazy, you know if somebody restricted his playing. If only the power he had over his playing he could have had over his whole thing, like planning the whole thing out, he could’ve made it very big. If he had met the right kind of person who could’ve put it all together for him, like a manager or somebody, then he might have stood a chance to get on top, but Zoot… I don’t think he really wanted that; I don’t know, maybe he did.
Then again, how many agents or managers are really in your corner? They’re in their corner; I didn’t care what anybody says. I’ve never met a manager who was in anybody’s corner but his own. It’s a shame, man; Zoot was one of the cats who should really have been on top. Getz got lucky, but not really; he was another one of those shrewd operators; he thought about things, like his bossa nova thing.
Look at Herbie Mann: his gimmick was that Afro-Cuban thing; he’s not a great musician, but he used to draw a lot of people because a lot of them didn’t know anything about jazz—these young Jewish broads from Queens, the cha-cha school… .yeahhh, yeah–the bongos, all that thing. In a barroom, they’re business because people with that kind of taste would spend money.
Pepper Adams, another beautiful player; the people in the business would always say, “Pepper, he’s great; Zoot, great musician; Bobby Jones… there are so many names that you could go on and on; they’ll always be there, and they’ll always be great, and people would always know them, and they’ll always be broke, or at least they’ll always be scuffling. It’s a shame, man. There’s always got to be that something more, that planning. Planning and doing it right.
Sonny Rollins was never really a hustler, but he did have his thing. Sonny at one time had this Mohawk haircut– that was his gimmick for a while; then he disappeared from the club scene for a few years–guys would tell me he’s up on a bridge playing, so along with the Indian thing, people started writing about him. But besides those gimmicks, he’s a powerhouse player. He could play that horn forty-five minutes at a stretch. You see, he’s smart too, man: he’s a real health fanatic, he’s in great shape. But he did find his gimmicks, and they worked for him. You know, some people say, “Oh look, Sonny’s a strange guy.” He’s not; he’s the nicest guy in the world. He’s just a sweetheart.
One night I was sitting in the backroom of the club. All of a sudden, I saw this little head bobbing around like an Indian, with a Mohawk haircut, and then he pops up –he has gotten the beads–he says, “Hey, if you need anybody to be like a doorman, bartender, or to play a horn, give me a call.” Funnyman, beautiful.
I remember way back at the beginning when I was about 22, every night I used to be in the place and at the last set, with Mingus working the club, the Baroness would show up with Monk, and Sonny Rollins would pop in and about 4:30 (the porter would be cleaning up) they’d be into all kinds of things. Mingus would be screaming about “that white mother-fucker!” Monk would just sit there and mumble, “Yeah, man, wahhh…baby.” Sonny would rumble, “Well, I thought…,’ and the Baroness would be sitting there with a sheet of paper with blotches of ink on it, folding it, looking at it, and then cracking up. I’d wanted to get out of the place; I’d say, “Oh look, fellas, it’s getting late.” Mingus says, “Wait a minute, I got to get into this point.” He’s pounding away. Every morning till 7:00, I’d be sitting there, “Aw, shit, man.” Mingus would be ranting and raving, and Monk would never say anything, just mumble.
One night while this same scene is going on, there’s just the three of them, with Mingus as usual, doing almost all the talking. And it’s all about “white mother-fuckers”– record companies, agents, managers, critics, whatever, and then he starts in on musicians, “Ain’t one of them white mother-fuckers could swing!” and blah blah. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I say, “Hey, Charlie, white cats can’t swing? Yeah, huh? What about Zoot?” He stops dead in his tracks for a few seconds, but then he says, “Yeah, Zoot… but you ever look real close at his hair?” (Zoot had coppery, crinkly hair.)
The first time I met Monk was in the club; he came in with the Baroness, and I was standing up in the backroom, and I’m looking; Monk had a straw hat on and bamboo glasses. Suddenly he jumped up and starts walking at me, and as he’s walking his eyes are getting big. What the hell is with this cat, man, so I grab a chair. I didn’t know what’s up, and he comes walking right up to me, right close to me, man, and looks down at me and goes, “Ahhnnn,” turns around and walks away. I guess that must have been his way of introducing himself or something like that. But he was actually always a sweet cat.
Sonny would never say anything. He would go into, “Well, ah…” half the time. I didn’t know what he was saying. Whatever he did, though, it was nice. Once he came in, dressed like a cowboy: long beads, a cowboy hat, boots, a bullhorn, or something around his neck, but he had a trumpet mouthpiece on it. Ben Webster was playing at the club, and Sonny wanted to present this to Ben. Sonny was into his real serious bag and walked over, and Ben says, “How ya doing, Sonny?” Sonny says, “Ben, I came over to make you a present of this,” and he takes it off, and Ben looks at it and says, “Yeah, thank you, thanks.” Sonny says, “Okay, ‘bye,” and leaves. Ben says, “Man, I didn’t know what happened to him; he gave me this thing. Ought to be nice to a guy like him because he looks strong, man.”
Ben used to get stoned, and sometimes he’d get a little nasty to people. There was a story about Ben when Joe Louis was champ way back when at a time when Ben was a celebrity too. Every time there was a big get-together up in Harlem, one of those big parties, Ben and Joe would be there, and every time Ben saw him, he’d walk over and say, “Hey, champ!” and punch him on the arm, kind of hard, and he’d do this all the time, and the drunker he got, the more he’d want to punch joe, and harder too. One time–maybe Louis had had a taste, and he’d been pissed off all those years–Joe sees Ben coming through the crowd, and before Ben can do his usual thing, Joe leans over and lays him right out.
Ben used to get into these funny things; one night at the club, he was getting stoned and down at one end of the bam are these two detectives, who are stoned, and they’re really nasty bastards, and Ben doesn’t know they’re cops and bumps into one of them and says, “Get out of my fucking way!” So they took him outside, and some of the customers were afraid they’re going to fuck him up, so they followed the three of them out the door, and my father’s out there too. The cops had their guns out, but my father told them, “He’s a little drunk, so leave him alone,” and they just went away.
But Ben could also be a beautiful guy. Two years ago, when he was stoned, he had stopped in a grocery store in Connecticut for some ham he really loved. Out of nowhere, he says, “Man, I had some ham up in Connecticut that was out of sight!” He calls Connecticut, gets Information, finds out where it was; he says, “Man, you still got some of that ham I had up there?”
He used to like to play “In a Mellotone” all the time. One time he’s up on the stand, and he’s stoned, and he plays “Mellotone,” finishes playing it, and he’s talking about something on the mike, and then he calls off to the guys, “Mello tone!” They look around but say, “Okay,” play it again. Ben finishes, starts talking in the mike again, looks at the cats, says, “Mellotone!” The guys are cracking up; Ben plays “Mellotone” three times running, man! Finally, they told him; Ben says, ‘What do you mean?– I didn’t play it three times!”
Once Mingus was there, and he had a lot of great sidemen with him. Wynton Kelly was playing piano for him, and Mingus was playing a solo–boom, boom–everybody’s doing their solo, and when it comes to Wynton’s turn to take a solo, he’s sleeping at the piano. Mingus shouts, “Hey, junkie mother fucker, wake Lip!” Wynton wakes up and swings right into his solo.
Coleman Hawkins–whoo, did he like cognac? I never saw anybody drink so much cognac in my life. You know the old-fashioned glass, the big one? He’d fill that son-of-a-gun up with cognac and drink it down without batting an eye. The first week he worked in the club, I forget what the hell his tab was because– Jesus Christ!–like bottles of cognac every night. I would charge musicians half price or even less–but I can’t give it to them for free. At the end of the week, he says, “I don’t pay any tabs.”
“What do you mean you don’t pay any tabs?”
“I’m Coleman Hawkins!”
I say, “Listen, everybody pays tabs here.” Everybody broke up laughing. He was putting me on—maybe because I was a young kid (“Let me see if I can get away with this.”).
One night he’s walking off the bandstand, and he’s wiped out, although he never really showed it. Just a little stiff: he gets down to the last step of the bandstand, and he just falls straight over–boom!–without moving a muscle; I picked him up. He shakes me off: “I’m all right!” he snarls, “Give me another shot of cognac !!
He was a good guy; in the end, when he was really sick, I used to try to feed him every time he’d come in. I’d push food over to the table. The last time, I knew he wouldn’t make it; I gave him that bowl of spaghetti, and he couldn’t hold it down. Then he used to come in, and he wouldn’t move anymore: just all of a sudden, he looked to be like the oldest man in the world. When it comes to the end of their time, some people suddenly…bam…one week they’ve got all that vitality, the next they’re just sitting there, and they don’t move, man. He was just sitting there; he looked like he was all hair, old, gray, hunched–a great man, though. He was able to maintain his mind, his faculties in his playing until the end. He always developed; he was never one of these guys that get to wherever they’re going and then just die artistically: “Okay, that’s it!” and play the same thing the rest of their lives.
Zoot was with us the longest of any musician; he worked at the club consistently over the years, and we became very close. He was so part of the family. There was so much rapport that I really don’t know what to say about Zoot. One thing I especially remember is the New Year’s Eve we were broadcasting across the country. We were getting ready to tap off “Auld Lang Syne”–Al Cohn, Zoot and the Quintet, and it was five seconds before, and Al, who always looked like the Professor, you know–he’s really dressed up–he’s counting off 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, bam, and Al starts playing “Auld Lang Syne,” and Zoot starts playing “Happy Birthday to You.” Anyway, once I reminded Zoot of it and was a little juiced, he said, “Well, I figured it was some kind of festive occasion.” What can you say about Zoot? Nothing, man, just a beautiful cat, and a fantastic musician.
Horace Silver is another nice cat, a beautiful person. He used to come in to work the club, and he’d bring three suits with him. He’d play one set, sweat so much that when he’d get off, he’d have to take off his suit. He’d go in the back room because he’d be drenched. He’d really get into it. He’d really play that stuff, man.
That bandstand we had was always a worry: Hawk wasn’t the only cat with an accident. Billy Butterfield, one of my favorite trumpet players and a hell of a nice guy–I used to call him “the Preacher”: one night he’s stoned, and he’s sitting on top of the bandstand, and all of a sudden he comes flying off the stand and into the checkroom, smashes through the whole wall, knocks it all down. We pick him up, and he says, “Where’s my horn?” We hand him his trumpet; it goes right back to his lips, toot de toot, and we put him back up on the stand.
Another time, Herbie Mann and the sextet with all those drummers: Michael Olatunji is up there, and he falls over with the drums; I caught him, threw him back up, and he didn’t miss a beat, just kept going, man. That bandstand always worried me because it was so high up.
Another time Major Holley (bass player) was playing: when he’s finished, it’s like 3:30, and he’s wiped out, but instead of getting off, he climbs up to where the piano is. I say, “Major, let’s get out of here.” He stands Lip and goes for a walk, falls down, and breaks his hand. Oh, Jesus, thank God it healed all right, that he was still able to play.
That bandstand was dangerous, man. It was especially dangerous if you got stoned. I’m surprised that Zoot, drunk – as he might get, man … Only one time, my old man told me, Zoot was up on the stand and my old man was standing just below and behind him, and Zoot leaned all the way back, and my old man caught him and put him right back up again. But Zoot was pretty together that way. Yeah, that bandstand…
Drummers are funny people–well, not all, I guess. But the first night Art Blakey The Jazz Messengers worked the club, a guy comes in and slaps me with a summons. I say, “What’s this?”
He says, “You can’t pay him.”
“I already paid him.”( We went through that scene with Getz too. )So I had to go to court for Blakey because he owed some people money.
He was something else, Blakey. One night he says, “Listen, I have to go uptown.” He takes a break; I’ve got the place full of people. He says, “I got to go up to 90th Street, be right back.”
I say, “90th Street?”
“Yeah, I got to see a friend of mine about something.” So I drive him up there because if I’m not up there with him while he’s running around trying to find this guy, he’d never have got back. He was a good cat, but the hassles you had to go through with some of these guys!
Speaking of drummers, Max Roach is a real gentleman cat, man. Beautiful guy. Freddie Hubbard was his trumpet player at the time, James Spalding on alto, Ronnie Matthews on piano–it was a hell of a band, man. In fact, I wanted them to come back into the club as regulars, but it never happened. (I don’t think we could have afforded to pay them what they were used to getting.)
Elvin Jones was another great drummer, but, as I said before, it was always a hassle with him; when he’d come in to play with Trane, He used to show up late all the time, And not just a little I ate. He’d show up at 11:00, 11:30 12:00. I’ll never forget one night we had to go to the funeral of one of my relatives. We left the funeral early to start the music on time, and Elvin shows up that night at 11:00. Shit, if you got to take care of business, then take care of business!
Art Farmer con trumpet), Jimmy Heath (on all the reeds), Albert Dailey (piano), Walter Booker (bass), and Mickey Roker (drums) were a terrific group, but nobody used to come to see them. That was before Art gave Lip and went to Europe. Not that he gave up exactly, he just got tired of the whole scene. He’d work for me for two weeks, then get a week here, a week there. So finally he went to Europe; he’s been living in Vienna for a long time now. He would occasionally come back, and I’d speak to him about coming in to work the club, but I told him it was the same scene bread-wise and that I couldn’t afford him enough to make it worthwhile, so he never did work for us after about 1965. He did work up at the Baron, I think; they paid more than we did, they had a big place.
Clark Terry: at a recording session up at Webster Hall one time (Al Cohn was doing the arranging), my brother Sonny met Clark and said, “Why don’t you come to the club, and we can work something out.” That’s how we got Clark and Bobby Brookmeyer together, formed that group at the club, you know. They played at the club for a long, long time. They recorded at the club, but at that time, the piano was so bad.https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/1116769186&color=%23ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=trueNicky F0str · Tristano Wilson Carmichael @ Half Note Club NY
The Donald Byrd (trumpet)-Pepper Adams (baritone sax) Quintet, with Walter “Pots and Pans” Perkins on drums, Duke Pearson on piano, I forget the bass player–that was another good group that we had at the club in the early days.
One of the best recording dates from the club was when I brought in a piano for Wynton Kelly so that Wes Montgomery could record at the club with him; Paul Chambers was on bass, with Jimmy Cobb on drums. I wanted to get into that kind of thing more–recoding at the club–because it really helps business. Jazz buffs who come from those remote towns would pick up an album and see “Half-Note,” and they’d look for the club when they’d get to New York. That’s what makes a place. Out-of-towners always think more of a club than New Yorkers do. In New York, we take for granted so many things we’ve got. We don’t look at them like people from Oklahoma, Texas, Japan, Italy do. Kids from Japan would say that in Japan, the Half-Note was known as the most famous jazz club in the world. Wow! In Italy, it was very prominent, the same thing in France. Just after Louis Armstrong died, Italian television came down and shot Jimmy Rushing singing at the club, him singing, then the sign saying “the Half-Note in New York.” I was kidding them, telling them that if they used it more than once, I’d give them a year’s supply of pasta fazoo.
Speaking of France: Hugues Panassie’s son Louis came over here, and we were shooting films every week at the club; he used the club as a studio to film musicians like Charlie Shavers, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Cozy Cole, Buddy Tate.
Shavers one Sunday did a session at the club with Budd Johnson on tenor, Dill Jones on piano, Bill Pemberton on bass, and Oliver Jackson on drums; the place was packed. Charlie was utterly wiped out, man. I went over to talk to him, but he was just incoherent. Ollie said, “He’s really sick. He’s going into the hospital.” The next day he went into the hospital and was operated on that week.
Once, when they were shooting those films: when it was Charlie Shavers’ turn, in the middle of one summer, he comes walking in looking like he’s got a 1940s zoot-suit on, but sweating like crazy. He tells me, “Man, it’s so hot!” So I turn on the air-conditioning; finally, he opens his jacket, and he’s got one of those weight-reducing belts on–no wonder he’s hot. “I got to take some more off the mid-section,” he says. He played and sang a few tunes, and then he left. He was a nice guy; I really liked him.
Years before that, I’ll never forget that I can’t remember which one night he came in and filled in for either Zoot or Al. He played all night, then he left. The following might about 10:00. He comes running in frantic, he’s got a gig out in Long Island, and he forgot his horn on the piano. He had the valise, and he went all the way out to the Island thinking the horn was inside, then found out it was empty, came all the way back in for it, then had to go all the way back out.
He sure was a friendly cat. In his will, he said that if he should die before Louis Armstrong to bury his mouthpiece with Louis. Isn’t that something! He died two days after Louis! He had just sent Louis a lovely bunch of flowers shaped like a trumpet. But he was dying too. Back at the time, I would hear things from musicians about how bad Charlie looked toward the end, that Charlie knew for a few years that he had this bad thing; and Budd Johnson once told me that Charlie was bleeding like crazy and went to the doctors, and they told him they’d have to cut out his windpipe or something. And then he wouldn’t be able to play. Now, Charlie Shavers had nothing more in life than being a musician, and if you took that away from him, you might as well cast him out– there was nothing else for him. Nothing; there were no kids. He played his horn, man, did his thing on stage, that was Charlie. So if he knew that, he probably figured, “I’ll go as far as I can go.” What can you do if you’re alive, but your life is your horn, and you can’t play anymore?
Soon after Charlie died, Roy Eldridge called me up; he had just had two cataract operations, and he wasn’t supposed to be playing, but he started playing again way before he was supposed to. He shouldn’t have, but he was running out of bread, so that’s probably why he did it–a jazzman’s life! Another nice cat, Roy. We had a good group in the late ’60s: Ray, with Richie Kamuca on tenor, Roland Hanna on piano, Eddie Locke on drums, and Buddy Catlett on bass.
Buddy’s another cat when he drank–man! When he was sober, he was beautiful. But with a couple of drinks, he’d go into these changes. One night he comes in when Brew Moore is playing, with Bill Takas on bass. I give Buddy a drink, and the next thing I know, he’s up on the bandstand, and he’s got Brew by the throat–looks like he wants to kill him and also to get Bill. I get up there to try to get him off Brew, and now he’s coming on with me. Sonny and I had to finally push him out of joint He would go crazy when he drank. He said, “I don’t think it’s for Joe Namath. It’s probably for Philly Joe Jones because he’s the greatest athlete in the world running away from people he stole money from”. Philly gave me like three rubber checks way back: I never did collect. While I was looking for him, I met some guy he bought a find Steinway from, and he couldn’t find Philly or the Steinway, man. Philly Joe was unbelievable!
We never booked too many guitar players, but the ones we had were great: Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell. Chuck Wayne used to come down and sit in a lot; jimmy Raney would sit in once in a while. Tal Farlow never played the club; Mousey Alexander and I used to talk about him–another great player–we wanted to get him in some time. One time, he was working in Frammis, one of those joints on the Upper East Side. I don’t think he really had to work, and he sure didn’t like the jazz club scene, so somewhere back in the ’60s, he just quit the scene, painted boat signs down the Jersey shore, and just played locally.
And we never had too many singers. Jimmy Rushing was the first singer that ever worked the club. One night back around 1960, I was sitting in the club, and Jimmy came down (he was cutting an album uptown for Colpix Records, and Al Cohn was making the arrangements; it was called “Five Feet of Soul”). The same night that Jimmy came down by coincidence, Helen Humes was in town, and she showed up. It was a funny bit: they hadn’t seen each other since the ’30s, and they both wind up in this joint at the same time (As a matter of fact, she’d never been in the club before. She was living in Texas, I think.). So we got them up on the stand together, knew he wasn’t supposed to drink.
Brew Moore was another great guy and a great player. What messed him up was that he drank too much for many, many years till finally the doctor told him he couldn’t drink anymore, or he’d die. He sure could play that horn. When he was sober, he had so much energy he wanted to blow the horn apart. At the club, he was great, but he had nowhere else in the city to play. He’d stay in New York and wait until he’d starve to death. Back then, he was living in the East Village in a walk-up, really terrible; and he couldn’t go back to where he came from, Mississippi, “cause there’s nothing for a jazzman there; so he went back for good to Denmark. The government there took good care of him–they even gave him an apartment. In Europe, they treat musicians differently. Like they’re supposed to be treated.
It’s a shame: so many jazzmen were scuffling in those years–the late ’60s, early ’70s. The New York Times even did a piece on Jimmy Forrest running that elevator down on Wall Street. When Jimmy worked at the club, he told me the story of his one big hit, “Night Train”: he sold it to someone for $50 because he needed the money, and it made an awful lot of bread for that someone. A lot of guys get messed up like that.
Talking about getting messed up, Red Garland always had his wives looking for him–alimony things going on. What a group he had with him at a joint called Pegleg’s! I’m surprised they all made it: Red on piano. Wilbur Ware on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums–amazing, Tan! Clark Terry was playing the tune one night that he calls “Broadway Joe.” It was a beautiful sight, man, because they were both huge, like half of the stand was just those two. They wailed their asses off. When they got off, I was just like one of those kids telling Jimmy, “Man, if we ever use a singer, you’re going to be the first one I call. The only reason,” I said, if we don’t use singers now is because of the tax.” Then, in 1964, when they ended the tax, I called up Jimmy and said, “We’d love to have you come in,” and he did, and it was beautiful: Jimmy with Zoot and Al, and it worked out very nicely, and we had him pretty several years.
Jimmy went over so big that a lot of people were getting in touch with him to get him to work for them, but he wouldn’t go; he said, “This is the first place I worked in a long time, and these people have been very good to me, and I want to stay here.” Now, one of the owners of a nearby club came down with a bunch of people one night and told him, “Man, you wouldn’t come to see me. I came to see you. Why don’t you come to work for me; I’ll give you double or triple what you’re getting here.”
He says, ”No good, man. I’m not leaving these people because they wanted me to work here in New York when no one else wanted me, so now that we’re doing well, many people call me. I won’t leave these people. They’re good to me.
Jimmy was a hell of a guy that way, a lot of scruples. He was really something; he could get up there on the stage, and after he’d finished the first tune or two, he knew exactly what the people wanted; he could grab them and put them in his hand and get them on his side, just by singing specific phrases. Another thing: I never saw a guy move a rhythm section like he did. I saw some absolute lame rhythm sections come in, and by the time Jimmy got finished with them, he had them wailing, man. He really was beautiful. Even the guys that played a newer thing, the more contemporary type jazz musician, loved Jimmy. When Roy Haynes first came in, I guess he really didn’t know until he started playing with Jimmy how much he loved him, man. They used to sit down, and he really got to know Jimmy towards the end. When he came in one night and heard that Jimmy had died, he was sick. Really sick, you know, it really broke him up.
Jimmy’s singing was great right up to the end. He was pushing 70 and still singing strong. I’d see these young kids come in–18, 19 years old–and they’d listen to Jimmy and run over to him and say, “Man, you’re the thing, you’ve really got it, you’re out of sight.” And I’d look at them, and I’d look at him and, gee, he was almost 70… It must’ve been a great feeling for him to sit there and have a young kid come over and say “Yeah!” even at that stage of the game.
Musicians, as a rule, don’t like playing behind singers, but Jimmy was an exception because he was like a musician, you know; also Carmen McRae, because she was a musician. Singers who know how to play are good musicians; they get the whole right kind of feeling going; everybody loved to play with Jimmy. Besides, he was a magnificent cat.
I remember one time in the early ’60s we threw a party out in Jersey, and Jimmy and my old man were built about the same; they sat down at this table and ate for about nine hours without getting up to take a pee. I say, Man, how can you eat so much?”
Jimmy says, “Man, I’ve got a big tank I’ve got to fill up there,”
Jimmy threw a big barbecue out in Huntington; he must have had a hundred people out there. He told me he cooked 32 slabs of ribs, three dozen chickens, a huge potful of spaghetti going all day for about thirteen hours. Afterward, he went inside and sang for another three hours. Just sitting on an old big parlor chair. It was the end of an era for us and the whole jazz scene losing a guy like that.
The only thing that bothered me with Jimmy was when I was out at this party in Huntington. There were a lot of black and white people, and we were sitting around, and when we went inside, Jimmy said something that I overheard that upset me for a minute; he was going to sing some songs and something happened–somebody stopped him, and either he or his wife said, “Stop that! The Man wants to hear me sing.” In other words, me being the Man, I think maybe it was just a slip or something, but that disturbed me that he would still feel that way, you know.
If you were brought up in the time, Jimmy was brought up, which is way back in the early 1900s, being black had to be a bitch–so I think that this was just a thing that slipped out. Nothing else with Jimmy ever bothered me, just that one time; I never said anything. I just let it be. I don’t think he realized what he’d done; in other words, this was just a thing that came out. But later on, we became very tight.
This, to me, is what the young blacks didn’t dig back then when they called the older cats Uncle Toms. Which wasn’t right, because the young guys didn’t live at the time those old cats were living, they didn’t know what it was like: So they should never put down their ancestry. If they thought they had it hard, look at what those older cats had to go through!
Most musicians are pretty relaxed about race; I don’t know what they’re feeling deep down, but at least they keep it to themselves. But, as I said before, Charlie Mingus was always kind of nutty on the subject of race–and not just on race– fighting and screaming all the time. Like one time–and this turned out to be funny–Lennie Tristano was working at the club with Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, and it was an all-white group. Mingus came in, and he was ranting and raving about something or other, and I happened to walk by, and he was talking to Lennie right by the bandstand, and they were arguing about something. I don’t know what. Eventually, it got into a race thing, and Mingus was saying, “You’re prejudiced, man, you don’t like black people.”
Lennie said, “Man, I never saw color…I never even saw color. As a matter of fact, you don’t know what color you are.” Mingus kept on ranting and raving, so Lennie said, ” I’ll tell you what: Let’s get a room without windows and lights and fight it out.”
Mingus said, “Shit, I ain’t gonna fight you on your terms.” Charlie was á bundle of all kinds of things, all sorts of mixed emotions–one minute everything was beautiful, the next he’d be insane, you know. And Charlie’s music was just like him: one minute it could be beautiful, and the next minute it would be all angry.
I really don’t believe that music should be political at all. As far as I’m concerned–because I was a saloon owner, you see– they can play political music and all, but play it in a concert hall where people would expect to be a little deeper into it. I remember one-time Zoot was taking the Blindfold Test for Down Beat magazine. I think it was Leonard Feather put on some far-out track for zoot to give his opinion on. Not even a minute into it, Zoot told him to turn the music off. He already knew how buggy things are in the world and that he didn’t have to be reminded. This is not what he wanted when he listened to music or played it. He said that if anyone came out to hear him play and by the end of the night didn’t feel better than when they came into the club, then Zoot hadn’t done his job.