From The Archive: CBC Interview 1976

CBC: ONE OF THE THINGS THAT REALLY INTEREST ME…THE FACT THAT YOU CAME OUT OF RETIREMENT, IS THAT PART OF THE STORY TRUE, WHEN JIM HALL REFERRED BICKERT & THOMPSON TO YOU?

PD: Yes.

CBC: DID YOU HAVE A TAPE OF THEIR WORK?

PD: No I’d never heard a thing that they’d done. But eh, Jim knows what I can function with and what I can’t. And eh it could have been disastrous. I’ve heard some otherwise perfectly acceptable rhythm sections in Toronto that play for visiting “singles”, who would have just stopped me stone cold dead in my tracks. But there’s a thing that Ed does with chord voicings that is unique in…I’m sorry…

CBC: HAD YOU EVER WORKED WITH GUITAR BEFORE? I MEAN WORKING WITH PIANO AND BRUBECK AND THEN WORKING WITH BICKERT AND GUITAR AND BASS, IT BE AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT FEEL THAT YOU PUT YOURSELF INTO?

PD: Ah, yeh it is and It’s not so much any comparison between Ed and Dave or even Jim as far as that goes but…My whole thing is trying to find a melodic line on any tune that qualifies as a melody on it’s own. And you…if you try to do that with the wrong people you can get shot down so quick, you just won’t believe you’re dead until you try to move. At which point you stop trying to move. You realize you’re dead and you…

CBC: THAT MUST HAVE BEEN QUITE A DECISION FOR YOU TO TAKE, TO GO BACK INTO MUSIC FULL TIME AGAIN, OR HAVE YOU GONE INTO IT FULL TIME?

PD: I really more or less have now. (crunch) It eh took awhile for me to realize it as I’ve said probably too many times before: Playing music is the best thing I know of in life, eh if you can do that, you’re a very fortunate person and that’s what you should be doing.

CBC: YOUR CONTRIBUTION WITH THE BRUBECK QUARTET WAS AN IMMMENSE ONE IN MUSIC AND YET ARE YOU STRIVING FOR ANOTHER ACCOMPLISHMENT NOW?

PD: (Crunch) It’s marvellous, on the audio you get a head shakking (laughter) and teeth grinding and ice cube…eh…and a lot of silence…I hope you can edit this…No I find myself with no answer at all…I think that’s unfair to you because I’ve forgotten what the question was.

CBC: OK, I TELL YOU WHAT I’M GOING TO LAUNCH INTO SOME REAL QUICKIES HERE. I DON’T WANT TO GET INTO THE TRITE THINGS THAT EVERYONE SEEMS TO BE TALKING ABOUT THESE DAY BUT, TONIGHT I KIND OF SENSED THAT YOU WERE SITTING AND WATCHING AND WATCHING BICKERT AND THOMPSON SORT OF COOK TOGETHER AGAIN. WAS IT REMINISCENT OF WHEN YOU WE’RE JUST BEGINNING WITH DAVE? WAS IT THE SAME KIND OF REACTION, THE SAME KIND OF FEELING?

PD: No. I suppose there was an element of that there. My enjoyment…MY purely musical reaction to what they were doing…But Dave and me when we began in ’51 officially I suppose, eh, first of all we were starving, and he had a wife and then two kids, and I didn’t have any family but even so would go out on the road and eh, do Storyville and the Midway Lounge in Pittsburg and The Bluenote in Philly and we’d come back owing Dave money, and Dave didn’t have any money. There was a feeling of the country kids, against the world; eh, the mountain hicks against the city slickers. And that can never be recaptured and probably shouldn’t. But I’m sure that…well I don’t know, you could talk to Ed about that, about when he first came to Toronto and was terrified, I think that was his approximate term, by the level of competence of the musicians there, and started working in some other capacity. I think he was a disk jockey, could have been a short order cook, could have been anything, irrelevant. But it wasn’t the same feeling as when the quartet first left San Francisco, we felt like it was really us against the world.

CBC: WAS THAT WHEN YOU STARTED GOING TO COLLEGES?

PD: That was a bit before. Not very much, but…

CBC: WAS THE COLLEGE THING, THE THING THAT KIND OF BROUGHT EVERYTHING BACK TO REALITY? THE FACT THAT YOU CAN MAKE A LIVING AT MUSIC?

PD: That was a revelation, that you could make a living at music. That never occured to either of us in our wildest dreams. Both Dave and I, would have really, joyfully signed a lifetime contract for scale, at any club in San Francisco, for the rest of our lifes at whatever it happened to be, eh 90 bucks a week, a hundred and a quarter or whatever it…eh 90 bucks a week, now of course is poverty. A hundered and a quarter a week is not too cool either. But as I say, we would have settled for that, quite happily. We never in our wildest dreams imagined that this group would be working for, would ever end up working for whatever many thousand dollars a night.

CBC: WHEN DID YOUR TWO MUSICAL MINDS GET TOGETHER AND WORK WITH COUNTERPUNTAL FIGURES AND EH?

PD: The first time we met, actually.

CBC: SO IT WAS KIND OF A NATURAL THING THEN, AN EVOLUTION BETWEEN THE TWO MINDS?

PD: Yah. It eh…Well a few things changed over the years, but in terms of the improvised counterpoint, which come to think of it there was none of tonight, because I’ve never been able to do that with Ed. That’s funny how…

CBC: DO YOU THINK MAYBE IT’S BECAUSE OF ONE BEING IN AWE OF ONE, THAT YOU WOULDN’T DARE CROSS LINES?

PD: Eh…It’s partly that. It’s partly…some people. Wait let me try and start that sentence again. You have to have a willingness to be trite…a complete lack of inhibitions about playing just dumb things, just if you’re going to play counterpoint, and you start playing the out choruses, you go: bum buddle de doop bum, bum…whatever… there’s some people who can do that. Now that in itself is a really very dumb thing to do, but that as a…a basis or a prelude to more complex forms of counterpoint is almost essential because there are some cats who lay back and look for the unlikely note and I know what that feels like too because that’s a lot of what you do when you’re playing choruses. You can’t do it when you’re playing counterpoint. Once one cat starts laying back, then you go: bum ba bum..and then the other guy’s going: bumb bink…then you shrivel up like a lemoned clam, and nothing happens. Not that that’s an art form that is all that valid. But if you’re going to do it, that’s a very important factor to be reckoned with.

CBC: IT MUST HAVE BEEN EXCITING WHEN YOU FOUND OUT YOU WERE WORKING THAT WAY WITH DAVE, THAT IT WAS HAPPENING?

PD: Oh that was terrific, and always has been.

CBC: THE QUARTET WHEN IT WENT INTO COLLEGES, WHAT YOU WERE CREATING THERE WAS AN ENTIRELY NEW FEELING FOR THE KIDS. THERE WAS SOMETHING THERE THAT WAS EXCITING FOR A CHANGE, LIKE YOU CAN GO TO SO MANY CONCERTS AND NOTHING HAPPENS, THEY’RE WAITING FOR SOMETHING TO EXPLODE…AND THE QUARTET EXPLODED.

PD: Yeh, well…It did, that’s true, and that takes a bit of doing. I was talking about that earlier…about tonight’s concert. I was delighted with it even though…in many ways it’s not the same thing at all…

CBC: IT’S A WHOLE NEW AURA…

PD: It’s a succession of tunes and you play very…kind of laid back subtle music and it’s hard to put together a concert like that. It would take a bit of doing and it could be done in about two weeks actually but eh… Dave and I went through that Lord knows we used to, and people used to run shrieking out of clubs that we were playing in. He’d be playing his Bartok-Milhaud kind of collage on the piano and I’d be experimenting the high notes and we’d have a drummer and bass player who were terrible and eh …we spent a couple of years in that situation…so to play a concert like tonight eith Ed & Don & Jerry… they’re really more confined than they certainly ever should be.

CBC: WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO SOME ORIGINALS WITH THIS QUARTET?

PD: Oh I would love to play with this quartet anyplace in the world, any time. I’d like to make a few changes in the repertoire. Give Jerry a chance to play some more. We’re basically doing what we did tonight… Obviously we’re playing basically standard tunes, and I would play for a while, and then Ed would play for a while, Don would play for a while and then we’d take it out. And that’s OK but, that’s rough to do for a whole concert. There’s something that happens when you evolve an approach to a concert that evolved with Dave and Me. You don’t start writing out lists of tunes and saying, “We did this, we can’t do that. We want to do this. Do you think we should play Emily or whatever? Stuff like that.” … There’s a point at which a concert sort of evolves. It reaches its peak. And do you know what to do about encores, and what to do when and what not to do and why, and depending on the audience that your playing for you try one tune and then you see it’s not going to happen and that thing stops in about four minutes and you get into something else. That’s a whole thing. It’s like putting together a Broadway show in some ways.

CBC: ALSO THE CONCEPT THAT COLUMBIA RECORDS ONCE TOLD YOU THAT YOU COULD NOT DO AN ALBUM OF ORIGINALS AND PEOPLE WOULD BUY IT. I DON’T THINK THAT HOLDS TRUE TODAY BECAUSE I THINK EVERYTHING THAT IS BEING DONE IS ENTIRELY ORIGINAL MATERIAL NOW.

PD: Yeh and it didn’t hold true then actually.

CBC: WELL YOUR GROUP PROVED IT. THE QUARTET PROVED IT.

PD: Yeh we did a whole bunch of originals (mumbled).

CBC: THE TIME SIGNATURE THING, WAS THAT AGAIN A COMBINATION OF DAVE AND YOUR MIND?

PD: Eh that was Dave’s idea, to give him ultimate credit. I still think, basically it was a dubious idea at best, but at that point we had three or four albums a year to get done. We’d done all our tunes that we put together, and eh standards, originals of Dave’s. And uh he said why don’t we do this album and do all different time signatures, and I said OK. I was always argumentative. And for some reason I lucked out. I really did. Sort of like “Keno”. He said “We got 2/4, 3/4 or 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, 7/4, 8/4, whatever. Why don’t you take 5/4.” And I wrote TAKE FIVE. And I realize now that was a genius move on my part. At the time I really thought it was kind of a throw-away. I was ready to trade the entire rights, lifetime wise of TAKE FIVE for a used Ronson electric razor. And the thing that makes TAKE FIVE work is the bridge, which we almost didn’t use. We really came within… I shudder to think how close we came of not using that, because I said “Well I got this theme that we could use for a middle part”. And Dave said, “Well let’s run it through.” And that’s what made TAKE FIVE, that (whistles).

CBC: TONIGHT WITH DON THOMPSON ON THE BASS THERE WAS AN ORIENTAL, AN EAST INDIAN…

PD: Oh he makes a monumental, tour de force out of that. But eh… We’ve done monumental tour de forces, he said modestly, one way or another on TAKE FIVE over the last 10 or 15 years or how many years it’s been. Don just happened to do it really stunningly. So it became Don’s tune. It was never certainly before ever in life a Bass solo.

CBC: WAS THAT EAST INDIAN INFLUENCE SOMETHING YOU SUGGESTED BECAUSE OF YOUR PREVIOUS EXPERIENCES IN THE EAST? YOU DID HAVE THAT EASTER INFLUENCE IN YOUR MUSIC ONCE BEFORE.

PD: Yes with all due modesty I must say that’s not the first time we fell into that pattern it’s just Don does it superbly. However it was not his specific musical discovery. I hope you’ll forgive me for that Don, but we were doing that many years ago.

CBC: HOW DID YOU WORK WITH MULLIGAN? WAS THERE A FAIRLY MUTUAL THING HAPPENING BETWEEN YOU AND GERRY AND THE BARITONE AND THE ALTO? DID YOU FEEL THAT THAT COMBINATION WAS A GOOD ONE?

PD: Yeh. I always liked the combination. It wasn’t as good, nothing ever was actually as (good as) Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan. But the basic range is similar, the basic premise was the same, and we were very good at playing counterpoint together because again Mulligan is a person who is not at all afraid of being trite. I could go farther than that actually and say that he’s made a career out of it. (laughter) No. That’s not fair. He’s a genius writer and uh… his special quality at playing counterpoint with another instrument is … well you can’t qualify the word unique but it comes close to uh … Get me out of this sentence… Superb?

CBC: SAME SORT OF THING. I WAS GOING TO ALSO MENTION EUGENE WRIGHT, DON THOMPSON. DO YOU FEEL THAT THE WAY DON IS WORKING NOW, THAT BETWEEN SAY EUGENE WRIGHT, RON CARTER, THAT DON CAN COME OUT AS AN INDIVIDUAL AS A VERY IMPORTANT BASS PLAYER IN MUSIC TODAY?

PD: Absolutely.

CBC: WHAT I WAS TRYING TO DO WAS COMPARE THE THREE.

PD: Where is this broadcast going to be heard?

CBC: RIGHT ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

PD: Terrific. OK. I think they’re all marvellous people, and that’s not fair.

CBC: MAYBE THAT’S UNFAIR FOR ME TO PUT YOU ON THE SPOT THAT WAY?

PD: Well, that is a spot actually.

CBC: YOU CAN SORT OF SAY I WITHDRAW.

PD: Well, you’re hitting me with my three main men.

CBC: YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO. OK. I’M JUST GOING TO CHANGE EMPHASIS HERE BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY I DON’T WANT TO PUT YOU ON A SPOT THAT’S TOO UNCOMFORTABLE. BUT ARE YOU EVER GOING TO FINISH THAT BOOK?

PD: Yeh.

CBC: OVER THE PAST FIVE YEARS I’VE BEEN READING ABOUT YOUR BOOK.

PD: Yeh I know. It’s been a… It’s getting very boring. I’m getting tired of hearing about it…

CBC: YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO FINISH IT I GUESS TO GET EVERYBODY SATISFIED. IS IT GOING TO BE ABOUT THE QUARTET? IS IT GOING TO BE ABOUT PAUL DESMOND?

PD: It’s going to be a frivolous book about the Quartet.

CBC: JUST THE GOOD TIMES?

PD: I won’t know until I really get into writing it. I’m sure a lot of things will creep into it. Or be forcibly inserted into it. It’ll have to do with my feelings about jazz, and how jazz should be played. That’s not quite the way I meant to say that but… How I prefer to play jazz would be closer I suppose.

CBC: YOU STILL HANG ON VERY MUCH TO HARMONY, MELODY AS OPPOSED TO SOME OF THE STUFF THAT’S GOING DOWN NOW.

PD: No. And I always will.

CBC: DO YOU THINK WHAT’S GOING DOWN NOW IS GOING TO BE AS LASTING AS YOUR MUSIC HAS?

PD: I have no idea. I kind of doubt it, if by what you mean by what is going down now is the avant garde of jazz. When Dave and I began playing in 1948 or ’49… Let’s see how to phrase this… OK for openers, Dave was miles to the left of anything that Cecil Taylor is doing or has done that I’ve ever heard. He was studying with Milhaud and that was our only difficulty for the first couple of years that we worked together. The fact that while I was trying to play some sort of melodic chorus, he would be doing clusters or sounds or elbows on the piano kind of things. This is sounding too frivolous, but I promised you frivolous so OK you got frivolous. And ultimately Dave and I reached a… I remember one night at the Gearry Cellar, I used to go down and bribe the tenor player, who led the trio that Dave was playing with, his name was Darryl Cutler, later went on to be a big time pimp and bartender in San Francisco and a lovely fellow in all respects and he played a lot like Vito Musso, if you remember what Vito Musso sounded like. And I played counterpoint with Dave, just a sort of strict sort of neo-classicist or whatever you’d like to call it kind of counterpoint… That worked instantly the first time we ever tried it, worked as well as it ever has. Didn’t work so good tonight possibly because Dave wasn’t there. I think we’ve spoken of this before… But when I was playing on a ballad or something he would be in 15 different keys on an out of tune piano, and there were occassions when I was totally desperate about the whole situation. I remember one night Benny Goodman came into the Gearry Cellar, and having grown up as a kid with Saul Gaygood of San Francisco, a Goodman worshipper. I said to Dave “For god sakes don’t… just play simple or lay out.” And he did, to his eternal credit and let me play.

CBC: BENNY REACTED VERY WELL I ASSUME?

PD: He reacted as Terry Gibbs would have expected him to react.

CBC: DID YOU EVER FEEL THAT YOU HAD A GREAT DEAL OF EUROPEAN INFLUENCE TO YOUR MUSIC? THERE MUST HAVE BEEN SO MUCH CONTROVERSY AT THE TIME WITH THE WEST COAST – EAST COAST, THAT WE’VE ALL READ ABOUT AND EVERYONE IS ALWAYS INFERRING CHARLIE PARKER AND JOHNNY HODGES, AND I’VE HEARD THAT YOU PLAY IN THE UPPER REGISTERS OF HODGES. WAS HODGES OF ANY INFLUENCE TO YOU AT ALL?

PD: Yes of course, but he never made a point of playing upper register notes. Willie Smith with Jimmie Lunceford was a big influence, Pete Brown who didn’t especially play high notes. Actually the guys who played high notes were mainly… Woody “Corney” Katz, Dick Stabile, springs to mind he used to work with Martin & Lewis. You remember them, a great vaudeville team. No Willie Smith was my major influence at that point.

CBC: GETTING AWAY FROM HISTRIONICS AND LOOKING AT THE LIVE ALBUM, YOU WERE THERE NATURALLY. I HAVEN’T HEARD IT YET. CAN YOU GIVE US YOUR FEELINGS ON IT?

PD: I think that’s … lovely music. I don’t think it says anything earth shaking or ground breaking or new. But I think everytime Ed Bickert plays a chorus of the blues, that’s all I want to hear.

CBC: IT’S AT A CLUB WITH THE LIVE FEELING. YOU NEVER PLAYED IN A CLUB BEFORE, THAT’S WHAT I READ.

PD: Well I haven’t for a long time. Dave and I used to.

CBC: OH OF COURSE…

PD: Now this album, I think is beautiful. It’s, well you heard tonight. It’s very much like tonight. Perhaps a bit less jagged and tense on my part at least. Although even so I think tonight there were some things that I’d like to hear again.

CBC: WERE YOU TENSE TONIGHT?

PD: Well yeh, very.

CBC: WHAT… NEW LOCALE OR JUST THE ATMOSPHERE?

PD: The first concert with those guys in this situation. At George’s Spaghetti House or Bourbon Street or whatever, you sort of get drug about the fact that during the middle of MY FUNNY VALENTINE there’s some cat walking across the bandstand, holding a tray with 17 plates of spaghetti on it or something like that, and a lot of people barking and growling in the back. Well you know, you’ve been there I’m sure.

CBC: MUST BE IRRITATING AS HELL?

PD: Well tonight I kind of missed the … (laughter) I mean the audience was so stunningly quiet, and receptive.

CBC: THEY WERE THERE TO LISTEN.

PD: Yeh.

CBC: IT MUST BE A GOOD FEELING FOR THE ARTIST TO KNOW THE WHOLE AUDIENCE WAS WITH THEM AND HANGING ON TO EVERY NOTE. IT’D BE A LITTLE FRIGHTENING TOO?

PD: Yeh, and you really feel that you have to come up with something every minute, every second, certainly every ten bars or so to justify that much attention, concentrated…

CBC: HOW DO YOU FEEL BURIED IN MANHATTAN AND THEN COMING INTO A COUNTRY LIKE CANADA WITH IT’S WIDE OPEN SPACES, HOW DO YOU REACT TO CANADA? OR DO YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO REACT TO CANADA?

PD: So far I must relunctantly confess I really haven’t had a chance to react. As far as New York is concerned I stay in my room and watch TV until I get dumber than the TV. That happens sooner here than it does in New York, by about an hour and a half. (laughter)

CBC: PAUL THANK-YOU VERY MUCH. IT’S REALLY BEEN A PLEASURE.