The Ethan Iverson quartet featuring Tom Harrell with Ben Street and Eric McPherson plays the Village Vanguard January 24-29. This interview was done in November at Tom and Angela’s apartment and transcribed by Kevin Sun.
Ethan Iverson: Why don’t you begin by telling me about how you started learning about this music.
Tom Harrell: I became aware of the music through listening and hearing music on the radio and especially when listening to records, especially modern jazz. My parents had a jazz anthology and also the RCA anthology. That was my first exposure to bebop, the music of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. There was a radio station located in northern California, KPFA: There was a show with Philip Ellwood and that’s when I first heard Clifford Brown and Horace Silver, that was exciting.
EI: What were the specific Bird and Diz tracks on those early anthologies?
TH: On the Jazztone album there was “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” with Charlie Parker, also “Slam Slam Blues” with Dizzy, Bird, and Teddy Wilson. On the RCA anthology was “Night in Tunisia,” the first recording on RCA with Don Byas and Milt Jackson. That’s when I first heard Dizzy’s concept of the polyrhythms.
EI: Barry Harris says that all jazz is in 4 and 6 at the same time.
TH: Right, yeah, that’s really true. It’s always a mixture of the time feels. Latin music is like that as well. There’s always an interplay between the two. In bebop, the feeling of the eighth note became different. In medium tempos Coleman Hawkins played more with a 12/8 feel. Lester Young would kind of play even eighths, like the solo on “Honeysuckle Rose” in 1938 Carnegie Hall concert. He was playing kind of an even 8th note feel.
I mean, you still hear the 12/8… it’s hard to explain, because at uptempos it would gravitate more to the even eighth, but in a 12/8, you hear the interaction between 4 and 6 because there’s four beats to the bar but the beat can be divided into threes.
EI: Charles McPherson was telling me about how the eighth note in someone like Pres or Bird was fairly straight, which gives it another kind of rub against the implied triplet — maybe more so than a Coleman Hawkins-ish 12/8 triplet.
TH: Right! Also, I think there’s a parallel between Lester Young and Latin music because he played in a scalar way. It was related to the montunos, guajeos, that Latin music uses.
EI: That’s interesting, I never heard that about Pres before.
TH: Well, the improvisation in a montuno is based on one mode: it predated modal jazz in a sense. Dizzy was one of the first to use modes, too, like in “Manteca,” and that was a Latin piece. But also “Things to Come” has kind of a modal feel in the A sections. The chords move in a tonal, I-V-I context but the melody is scalar.
EI: When you’re blowing on it you just play in the one key, even if the harmony beneath is moving a little bit.
TH: Yeah. Lester Young helped to bring that about I think. You have the choice of playing one scale or playing specifically on the chords.
I always think of what George Russell said: He compared Lester Young with Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker and Coltrane, and he said that Coleman Hawkins was like a train that stopped at every station and Lester Young would be like an express station that made fewer stops at stations. The tonalities were flowing!
I’ve been looking at Ravel a little. There’s this place in “Daphnis and Chloe” where he has ii-Vs moving chromatically, but he states the ii chord of one tonality and leaves out the dominant and goes to the dominant of the next tonality, so it’s like they’re again making certain stops, but leaving out certain things.
The use of space is very important. Monk would leave out notes from the chords to create a more resonant sound.
EI: It’s almost like the fewer chords there are, the more swing can be emphasized. Sometimes Ron Carter will only play “C” when the chords are G minor to C7. Coltrane invented that “Giant Steps” cycle, but eventually the band would only play D minor beneath. I think Miles told him to do that.
TH: With “Giant Steps” you could play the scale of the melody, too, and use that as a basis. I played a gig in upstate New York with the great guitar player Tisziji Munoz, and for “Giant Steps” he suggested playing the changes for one chorus and then playing the form by playing the scale of the melody as the basis. That was interesting.
EI: Let’s go back to some of your early development. I suspect you must have had some good teachers.
TH: Yeah, in public school and in college and stuff. I mean everyone I’ve ever talked to, played with, and hung out with has been a teacher. And life is a great teacher.
I did have some arranging lessons, which were good, and also piano lessons. A trumpet teacher for a while helped me with some of the more difficult parts of trumpet playing, relating it to yoga, too, and breathing.
Trumpet playing — all brass playing — interacts with singing and talking, too, because you’re forming words, you’re forming syllables as you play for different articulation, different types of tonguing.
EI: Did you ever use a plunger mute or that kind of thing to get vocal effects?
TH: Oh yeah, I love plunger! Jimmy Knepper helped me too, he gave me a special plunger with a coin inside it, which vibrated. When I was playing with Chuck Israels, I met Jimmy Maxwell and he turned me onto the little mute which guys in Duke’s band would use to get a certain color with plunger.
I got to hear Cootie Williams live. When I was with Woody Herman we played on a bill with Duke Ellington. We played a song together and I got to sit next to Cootie Williams and I got to hear him that week, and he was unbelievable. The energy in his playing!
EI: I heard you took some lessons with Lee Konitz.
TH: Yep, that was great too. in the 60s he was living in California, we were both there. One thing he would have us do was to play bass lines for each other and play over each other’s bass lines on each other’s instruments. He was very helpful. When I had a collapsed lung and had to stop playing for awhile, I saw how compassionate he was when I mentioned it to him. Also he had told a mutual friend at that time that “Tom’s going to be a good trumpet player,” which made me feel really good. Lee Konitz is special. The aura that he has is very impressive.
EI: When I studied with Lee we did a fair amount of singing. Did you sing?
TH: We would sing solos. He would have me transcribe solos then sing to him. In fact he would say, “Don’t write them down right away, sing along with the record first then write them down later.”
He got me transcribing Louis Armstrong solos first, “Potato Head Blues” and “King Porter” from the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens. It was really interesting, Then I transcribed a Miles Davis solo and I could see the parallel in their sounds: and their time feeling, too, because Louis would play behind the beat. It was a modern feel — I mean, it is a modern feel, and it is a beautiful emotion.
EI: What Miles Davis solos would you recommend learning?
TH: Well, what I did then was the solo on “Somethin’ Else,” the title track from the album with Hank Jones and Cannonball Adderley. But also I like his solos on “Summertime” and “My Man’s Gone Now” with Gil Evans. I was thinking recently about the sound Miles has on “My Man’s Gone Now,” what he’s doing on the bridge is so gorgeous. You can say so much with so little. That was one of his goals, to play fewer notes but make each note mean something.
I know he’s influenced by Ahmad Jamal, using space. On Ahmad’s “Poinciana,” every note means something. Plus Ahmad helped open up forms with interludes and different ways to expand the music.
EI: That Somethin’ Else arrangement of “Autumn Leaves” almost has an Ahmad Jamal atmosphere. Rather than blowing a fast “Autumn Leaves” right out of the gate, you create a mood. That’s like Ahmad Jamal.
TH: Yeah, that’s very true.
Plus the “two” feel is really beautiful. I guess that part goes back to Jimmy Lunceford, who is someone I want to check out more. Horace Silver said he was really influenced by Jimmie Lunceford.
EI: I think Thelonious Monk really liked Jimmy Lunceford. His drummer Frankie Dunlop had a Lunceford connection.
TH: Yeah, and the phrasing, too. Frankie Dunlop is great, I love his playing.
EI: Billy Hart told me that Sam Jones raved about the way Miles set the tempos and got the ambiance going on Somethin’ Else. That was the one time Sam got musical direction from Miles.
TH: [long pause] Miles is a heavy person.
EI: Did you ever meet him?
TH: Sort of. When I was in high school, my parents took me to the Blackhawk and we listened to a set or two, and my parents had a friend who introduced me to Miles and we got to talk to him for a little while. He was really nice.
EI: Who was in the band at the Blackhawk that day?
TH: It was Cannonball, Coltrane, Wynton Kelly, and Paul Chambers.
EI: Wow, you got to see that band! You must have been very young, though.
TH: I was thirteen years old, I guess. Yeah, it was great. I got to talk to Cannonball too. He the mentioned the importance of having your own publishing company, because a lot of musicians then didn’t have their own publishing.
EI: While we’re sort of in this groove I’d like to ask you about some other trumpet players that you know a lot about. You have a reputation as a devoted student of this music, so I’d like to use part of this time today to learn about some key solos or elements that were important to your education. Do you have some favorite Dizzy Gillespie trumpet solos to recommend?
TH: Well, let’s see. I like Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac, the solo on “Mas, que Nada!” is really nice, James Moody sounds really great on that, too. For early Dizzy, of course the solo on “Night in Tunisia” — Don Byas was there — and also “Anthropology” with Milt Jackson. The “Eternal Triangle” with the two Sonnys. There’s a video of Dizzy with Clark Terry and Eddie Lockjaw Davis and it’s really exciting, they all sound really beautiful. And then the live at Massey Hall with Charlie Parker is nice.
EI: At Massey Hall I think Dizzy is especially inspired of those guys. They’re all playing great of course, but Dizzy sounds so happy to be there.
TH: Well, yeah! “Happy to be there.” As Beethoven said in the 9th Symphony, “Brotherhood and joy.” Communal joy of music is the link that brings music-lovers together.
EI: What about Clifford Brown?
TH: I heard him for the first time on that radio program, his solo on “Daahoud,” and it was really inspiring. When I went to Monterey, some friends of mine were there, we listened to some more Clifford Brown. They played the solo on “Once In A While” live at Birdland with Art Blakey Quintet with Horace, and I remember saying I thought it sounded “celestial.” Also there was a guitar player that I knew in the Bay Area, Bobby Addison, really great guitar player, and he turned me onto some records of Clifford and also Fats Navarro, the album with Fats Navarro and Howard McGhee, “Boperation.”
EI: Do you have a favorite Fats Navarro solo?
TH: I like the solo on “Cool Blues” with Charlie Parker, live at Birdland.
EI: That’s a hell of a record.
TH: Oh yeah. It’s amazing. How can you get better than that?
EI: Dexter Gordon had that phrase, “Bebop is the music of the future,” and when you listen to that record you see what he means.
TH: It still sounds modern. How they could think of that at that time, too….I mean, it’s really a quantum leap. Well, they were playing all the time, but also you can hear how they were working on certain things and different kinds of phrases…
Fats Navarro was quoted as saying…well, i can’t quite remember all the exact words, but he said something like, “I like to make a beautiful melody all my own, with all the changes just right.”
And Charlie Parker said something like, “I like to play pretty notes and swing.”
I share a communion with that.
EI: Is there any specific way you think about melody yourself?
TH: It’s basically feeling. You can intellectualize about it all you want, but basically it has to come from the heart.
EI: Chet Baker improvised some great melodies. Did you check him out at all?
TH: Yeah, he was amazing. Wow. Yeah, his thing was melody, too.
EI: What’s your favorite Chet Baker?
TH: I like his scat solo on “Do It the Hard Way.” Once I was in Italy: Someone had written lyrics to that solo, and they were singing it during one of the breaks when we were playing. I was amazed at how compositional that solo is.
I mean, I guess it’s one of the goals too, if you can create a piece of music when you play, every time you play, that you can write down and see the structure of it, beautiful architecture. But it’s hard to be analytical sometimes and also play at the same time, so I try to forget about it. Charlie Parker said that too, learn as much as you can about music, about composition, and then forget everything and just play, because it’s good to go by your intuition.
EI: Miles says, “I’ll play it and tell you about it later.”
TH: Yeah, talk about it later.
EI: Tom, it’s pure gold to get your favorite Clifford solo and favorite Chet Baker solo. If you don’t mind, I’ll ask you a few other names. Kenny Dorham.
TH: Well, yeah, I like the one on “Royal Roost” on live at the Cafe Bohemia, that’s good. There was this group called the Jazz Prophets, with Bobby Timmons and Sam Jones and J. R. Montrose and Arthur Edgehill and Kenny Burrell. KD, the way he plays the blues, he plays those beautiful lines! Also “My Heart Stood Still” is on that album and that’s a great standard, too.
EI: What about Blue Mitchell?
TH: I like the solo with Jackie McLean on “Condition Blue,” it’s a great solo, and also on “Francisco” from the same album Capuchin Swing. Also the title song on Smooth as the Wind.
EI: Donald Byrd?
TH: So many great solos. I liked his solo on the blues with Sonny Rollins on the album Volume 1. With Horace, on “Senor Blues” and “Virgo.”
EI: Freddie Hubbard?
TH: Ready for Freddie, the entire album, but the ballad “Weaver of Dreams” is great, I love his ballad playing. “Marie Antoinette” and “Arietis.” From Free for All, “Hammerhead.”
EI: Lee Morgan?
TH: “The Sidewinder” and “Desert Moonlight” and “Totem Pole,” all those songs from the Sidewinder album. Also, let’s see, the solo on “Evidence” live at Birdland with Art Blakey with Hank Mobley. From the album Night of the Cookers, Freddie and Lee on “Pensativa” was really inspiring.
EI: Thad Jones.
TH: Let’s see, “A Child is Born,” well, I like all his solos. I liked his blues on “Blues O’mighty” from More Blues and the Abstract Truth.
EI: Booker Little is perhaps someone in your world.
TH: I like Booker Little a lot. I heard him live at Monterey Jazz Festival with Max Roach and George Coleman and Ray Draper and Arthur Davis.
TH: Yeah ,it was great, the music from Deeds, Not Words album. I love his solos on “Filide” and “Jodie’s Cha-Cha.”
EI: Another musician inspired by Booker was Kenny Wheeler.
TH: Yeah, he’s great, too. I liked the Gnu High album.
EI: I’ll just give you one more name, Woody Shaw.
TH: Rosewood, the title song! Plus the things he did with Horace, like on The Jody Grind. From the Cape Verdean Blues album, “Mo’ Joe,” “Nutville” and “Pretty Eyes” are all nice, too.
EI: Horace has come up a few times now. Why don’t you tell us about getting hired by Horace?
TH: He heard me with Woody Herman. We were playing at adjacent clubs in Boston. Woody’s band was at Paul’s Mall and Horace was playing at the Jazz Workshop next door, so I got to talk to Horace then, I told him I loved his music and he asked for my telephone number. I went back to Berkeley, California and he called a couple years later. I moved to New York, and we rehearsed with Mike Brecker, Alvin Queen and Anthony Jackson, and we started doing gigs. We went to Brazil in November, that was great. I stayed in the band for five or six years. In 1974 Bob Berg joined the band, that’s how I met Bob, it was a fun band.
EI: I feel like your concept of composition and how to be a bandleader is quite influenced by Horace.
TH: Yeah, I like the global feeling he has. He has different music from different cultures and blended the influences. Horace also always has a blues feeling.
EI: Did you talk about music with Horace?
TH: Well, a little bit. Sometimes he would make suggestions about how to improvise on certain things, like using triads or certain scales, he would notate them in the music. Yeah, it was interesting. Or he would indicate the length of the solo. I remember at the Vanguard he wanted us to play short solos on the last song.
But generally we didn’t talk about music that much. He would say everything through his writing and playing. I learned a lot about dignity from him. He was always clear about what his music needed.
One time he was at my apartment on 86th street when I lived there for a minute and he looked at the keyboard and he said, “That’s a universe.” A universe in that keyboard, so that’s great.
EI: At that time in the 70s, you were a studio musician, you were even on disco records and stuff like that, right?
TH: There was a lot of activity in the studios. Jingles and different things. On the disco records I got to play solos, so that was good. I gravitate to that music now, too, stuff with a funk feel or even samba funk feel.
I talked to Creed Taylor, he wanted me to make a disco arrangement of a song by Jacque Brel, “If We Only Have Love.” I could never come up with that arrangement but I did arrange two songs for a record session for Idris Muhammad produced by Creed. I remember Creed saying that he was really enthusiastic about disco. I learned from that.
That made an impression on me because of the importance of communicating, even globally through music, that’s kind of my perspective now. Musicians can be a force for peace in a sense. Dizzy said it was his first goal was to be a humanitarian, a higher role. His music, too, transcends boundaries. Afro-Cuban jazz, he helped to create that: that’s his baby, basically. Music can speak to people across barriers, across boundaries, it can unify the world.
Louis Armstrong too was loved by everyone, and Dizzy, too. I mean, he could fire up a crowd.
EI: I didn’t know you were on a Idris Muhammad album. Do you blow on that as well, or are you just the arranger?
TH: Yeah on the album on a song entitled “Sudan,” I’m the arranger and also I play a solo.
EI: I’ll have to look for that, that sounds great, I love Idris Muhammad.
TH: He has a great feel, I love it. He’s very personal. He told me a secret, that a funk feel is related to a beat that Vernel Fournier played on “Poinciana,” a baion rhythm, used on the high hat and the cymbals.
EI: All those New Orleans musicians are so special.
TH: They have the link to Africa. Congo Square, you see how jazz evolved, Jelly Roll Morton said there was a Spanish tinge. His business cards said he was the inventor of jazz, but I guess in a way maybe he actually was. I want to check him out more.
EI: Do you have any advice about how to work on rhythm?
TH: Lee Konitz made me aware of the importance of practicing with a metronome. I think that’s probably the first thing. Maybe you can practice at a really slow tempo, too, you know. You can practice at metronome at 40. That helps to solidify your time when you practice really slow. Play long tones or scales at that tempo: Especially scales, something moving with each beat. I noticed one time when I practiced with a metronome in the afternoon and I went to a jam session that night, I could feel how my time feel evolved a little, even in that one day.
But it’s no substitute for actual playing because what you want to do with other musicians is to play across the bar or superimpositions of triplets over 4/4 and 12/8 over 4/4.
It’s good to transcribe rhythms, too. Even though jazz is 4/4, sometimes it might even be more intricate. The way Elvin and Billy Higgins play, when they sort of lay back, they might even be playing 5 against 4. It’s hard to intellectualize. Max Roach said he was interested in adding notes inside the phrases, and Dizzy mentioned that, too. When you start adding notes inside the beat, the beat stretches. If you want to be really intellectual, it might even be something other than 4/4, it might be 13/8 or 14/8 when it gets stretched: but everybody does it at the same time! That’s one of the amazing things about American swing. It’s so unique, Afro-American music in the United States, because it only happened here, you know?
EI: While I’m grilling you like this, what about harmony? I have a feeling you listen to a fair amount of classical music: you mentioned Ravel.
TH: Debussy, Ravel, Bartok, and Stravinsky.
EI: You have some favorite Stravinsky?
TH: The Rite of Spring and Danses Concertantes and L’Histoire du Soldat.
EI: There’s even important trumpet in all three of those, I guess.
EI: [Opens computer.] Did you ever see the Tom Lord discography entry on yourself, Tom? This is supposed to have everything.
It says the first albums are with Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, some Horace, Chuck Israels, there’s the Idris Muhammad right there, Lenny White, more Horace, Mark Levine…
Cecil Payne, that looks like a fun date, I’ve never heard that. Cecil Payne with my gosh, Buster Williams and Al Foster. Duke Jordan, even.
TH: Yeah, that was an amazing album! You can find it on YouTube.
EI: How’d you hook up with those guys?
TH: Al Foster recommended me for the date, I’m really grateful to him.
EI: Your first record, called Aurora…Pete Escovedo, more Horace, Barry Miles, Ben Sidran, Bob Mover, Jimmy Madison.
Ronnie Cuber with Mickey Tucker and Dennis Irwin and Eddie Gladden, that looks kind of a cool record, too.
TH: Yeah it was nice.
EI: He’s good, Ronnie Cuber. Is he still around?
TH: Yeah. We talk on the phone sometimes, yeah, he’s a great player.
EI: And then here’s Bob Berg, New Birth, which I’ve heard. That’s a hard-hitting 70’s jazz record, with Cedar and everybody.
TH: Yeah that’s great, too. Bob.
EI: What was Cedar Walton like?
TH: Well yeah, he was a consummate musician. He’s one of my influences, his writing and playing.
EI: Going on, I see Mike Nock, Lee Konitz, than that two trumpets record with John McNeil with Kenny Barron and Buster and Billy. It’s a strong record.
TH: Yeah, that’s great. John McNeil’s a nice player.
EI: He’s also got a great way of explaining the music, he’s been very helpful to many of us as a mentor talking about the music and that sort of thing.
TH: That’s beautiful.
EI: Oh, you played with Bill Evans on one of his last records.
TH: We Will Meet Again.
EI: Are you a Bill Evans fan?
TH: Yeah, definitely. He really opened up the music.
EI: Apparently you also played on one of the last Gerry Mulligan things. I like those West Coast albums with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker. The lines are clean, it’s swinging, it’s got a nice vibe.
TH: Yeah I like that too, the pianoless sound, the transparent sound, although I guess sometimes Al Haig would play with them. I like Gerry’s writing for Miles, too, with the nonet. There are some things I want to check out more, he had an eleven piece group that I haven’t checked out yet.
EI: I know Keith Jarrett likes that Mulligan stuff as well.
I see you did an obscure record with Charlie Shoemake with Hank Jones and Paul Motian.
TH: Yeah that was fun, too.
EI: You played with Motian a couple times, with Lovano, the Liberation Music Orchestra, and your own record….
TH: Yeah I like Paul. Gives a lot of freedom and keeps it loose, and you can hear the link with New Orleans, too.
EI: I feel like you really know something about that Ornette Coleman music. Even though I don’t hear it in your compositions exactly, I feel like you’re sympathetic to that world.
TH: There’s a certain melodic vibe that that music has that I can relate to. Also the Keith Jarrett group with Dewey Redman and Charlie and Paul, again there’s a certain melodic thing that I can feel comfortable with.
It transcends genre in a sense because I know Ornette was into blending influences from different areas of music, pop and folk and classical. Plus he’s from Fort Worth, Texas, and I can relate to that because in the Midwest and the Southwest, the music has certain space because there’s space in those towns.
It’s a different vibe than the East Coast towns. I think the music that evolved in Kansas City and the southwest has a kind of openness to it, like Count Basie, too. The swing thing started to evolve with Count Basie, Jo Jones, Freddie Green, and Walter Page, there was a certain time feel that they had that became the basis of bebop.
EI: It’s really true, if you heard those guys today, you could sit in with them, there wouldn’t be a problem.
EI: Here’s Bob Brookmeyer record, do you have anything to say about Bob?
TH: Yeah, I love his writing and playing. I’ve checked out some of his scores and he really knocks me out, He’s an amazing writer. Plus that song “ABC Blues” for Thad and Mel: when I heard that Joe Farrell solo, that was one of the reasons I wanted to come to New York, the openness of it. The music of that time in the late 60s and early 70s was and is so fresh. And in “ABC Blues” Bob took a 12-tone thing and turned it into blues, and it was great.
EI: Next up is the first Tom Harrell record I bought, Play of Light with Albert Dailey, who’s one of my favorites, it’s a shame that he died so young.
TH: Yeah, he was a nice person, and he encouraged me. I found out on the way to that record date that we have the same birthday, June 16th. We were neighbors, too, in an apartment on 86th Street. He was a very wise man. He had a lot of love. I first heard him on the album Backlash with Freddie Hubbard. I really love his solo on “Little Sunflower.”
EI: Dailey is very rhapsodic in that solo.
Can you say something about playing on changes versus playing on modal music?
TH: Hmm, good question. You can play totally scalar or play more specifically within the changes that are implied. Even in a modal piece there can be specific changes, like when we were talking about “Things To Come,” that’s sort of modal, but it’s kind of like a turnaround. You could play each chord or you could play a scale that unifies the chord. There are of course the different minor scales, too. Also you can play a modal major song.
EI: “Little Sunflower” has both minor and major.
TH: And has a phrygian, or really it become lydian with the different bass note… The two structures are two different worlds.
EI: Also on Play of Light with Albert Dailey is Billy Hart. Got anything to say about Billy?
TH: He’s a profound person. He really helped me so much. I think we’ve had a similar outlook on music. He helped turned me toward even eighth note music, too. I’m realizing that in a way it’s futuristic, music of the future.
Billy Hart turned me on to some beautiful philosophy, like the fundamental importance of women. Women are related to music the way that women are related to Africa. Women are all linked with the earth, and music is related to the earth. Drums are from Africa, and have supernatural powers. You have to respect women and the drums. Everything is connected.
EI: It’s Billy Hart’s birthday today. I called him this morning but haven’t talked with him yet.
You joined Phil Woods.
TH: I was with Phil for six years, ’83-’89, which was about as long as I was with Horace Silver. I learned a lot from Phil, too. He gave me free reign to write for the group, which was great.
EI: And you guys played a lot.
TH: We worked all the time, it was nice.
Before I joined his group, I first played with Phil in Chuck Israels’s big band. He was very supportive, I remember he came up and complimented me after I took a solo on “Confirmation.” With that band Phil played the clarinet solo on Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto, which was great.
EI: I heard Phil was an important lead alto player as well.
TH: Oh yeah, on the stuff with Monk and also Quincy Jones. I was impressed with Phil’s solos on Quincy Jones’s Quintessence. He played some great solos with Monk as well.
Also from Phil I learned more about the relationship between jazz and European classical music. He had gone to Juilliard majoring in clarinet.
He also studied with Lennie Tristano. That made me a bit more interested in studying with Lee Konitz. At the time I was really into hard bop — I still am — but I learned about the relationship between what Tristano and Konitz were doing with hard bop. There’s also a deep relationship between Tristano and Bud Powell, especially harmonically, but rhythmically, too. There are so many worlds.
EI: I like those videos of the European Monk tour with a nonet. Phil blows real strong there with Monk. I didn’t realize Phil was so into European classical music.
TH: Yeah, he checked out Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and a lot of Stravinsky. One of his albums is called Rights of Swing, with classical titles like “Prelude” and “Presto.”
EI: Going back to the discography, I see with Phil you played with Dizzy Gillespie. On “Love for Sale” Phil sits out and lets the trumpeters take it.
TH: Right, wow! Dizzy made up a great intro which I later realized was the melody to “Algiers Bounce” by Henry Red Allen. Whitney Balliett mentioned that Henry Red Allen was an influence on Dizzy as well as Roy Eldridge. I guess Red Allen’s hometown was Algiers, Louisiana.
The song “Love For Sale” is really interesting, too. Cole Porter.
EI: I suspect you know all the standards, right?
TH: Well, some. I’m trying to learn! I like Cole Porter, his long forms. “Begin the Beguine” is one of the longest songs.
EI: Do you have the songbooks, like Cole Porter songbooks and so forth?
TH: I don’t have a Cole Porter book per se, but I have some anthologies and folios that have some of the songs. Cole Porter was really prolific. I like Joe Henderson’s arrangement of “Night and Day.”
EI: He uses some Coltrane changes on that, right?
TH: Yeah. There’s a three-tonic kind of feeling.
EI: In those classic standards, do you think it’s important to go back to the original composer’s version or is that not so important?
TH: Well, I think it’s good. They say Thelonious Monk would do that. It’s good to respect the composer study the original. Sometimes the sheet music is very informative. The original published version might really interesting voicings that you can use and can build from. I like to study the different inversions that people use, chord inversions, and different notes in the bass, and different notes in the voice right above the bass note.
Although certain versions have become standard. You don’t want to be stepping on anyone’s toes. Certain versions become coin of the realm.
EI: I see time is nearly up, Tom. There’s a lot more to cover from more recent years and your own music, perhaps especially your extensive and important output as a composer. However, Ken Dryden’s cover story in the NYC Jazz Record from last September, “Golden Blues,” is excellent. I’ll direct DTM readers to check out that feature for more wisdom from the great Tom Harrell.
Looking forward to the gig!
(Download: http://www.nycjazzrecord.com/issues/tnycjr201610.pdf. Page 8 has the Tom Harrell feature.)