Dizzy Reece: From In to Out

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[Technology] provides civilization and amenities, but it really doesnt add anything to your soul. Its still not comfortable, and really people are still not comfortable with high tech -- but thats a part of nature. There it is, you deal with it, and you still have to deal with your soul.
Born January 5, 1931, in Kingston, Jamaica, trumpeter Alphonso Son "Dizzy" Reece moved to England in 1948 to continue his jazz studies, as his countrymen alto saxophonist Joe Harriott and tenor man Ken Terroade would also do. Following some time in Paris, Reece recorded with Ronnie Scott, Victor Feldman and Tubby Hayes for the Tempo and Savoy labels before making his Blue Note debut in 1958. Reece moved to New York the following year on the recommendation of Miles Davis, and recorded for Alfred Lion for the next three years. Reece was in Paris again in the late '60s, working with Hank Mobley and John Gilmore, before returning to New York in the '70s. He has recorded somewhat less since that time, though there were stints with Clifford Jordan and the Paris Reunion Band and his works for Blue Note were recently collected as a boxed set by Mosaic Records. Reece took time out on a Sunday afternoon in August 2005 to talk with AAJ-NY writer Clifford Allen about philosophy, art, cultural change, and the place of modern jazz in society.

Chapter Index

AAJ Meets Reece Meets AAJ
Bird and Modernity
Recording and a Philosophy of Playing
Playing and a Philosophy of Temperament
The Drummers and the Beat
Education and Communication
Selected Discography


AAJ Meets Reece Meets AAJ



All About Jazz: I started my line of questioning somewhat early, upon leaving Jamaica for England, but could you give an idea of the climate in Kingston at the time you left?

Dizzy Reece: I don't want to go back that far; they've got all that stuff on the market. I'd rather deal with New York City. We can go back another time, because everybody's been dealing with that. It's all out there. I'm interested in updating [people] on what's been going on in New York—the Birdland scene and so forth.

AAJ: So we're jumping ahead—I suppose I was curious about the '40s.

DR: Oh, the '40s? It's funny, I was talking with somebody about UFOs and extraterrestrials; are you familiar with that? Around 1947 all of this started, a big trend about UFOs, and it was the first time I'd heard of it. I was about sixteen years old, and strangely enough when I got to Liverpool in 1948, I was walking around (it was just after the war in England) and I saw an interplanetary space station. This was actually an interplanetary society, and they were issuing interplanetary passports. Strange, and this happened during that period—that's just a brief piece of what I've been going through. I was in Lancashire, England for a while before I went to London and Paris. In Paris was the first time I saw Charlie Parker and Miles Davis; they played the first Paris jazz festival in 1949.

AAJ: So is that how you first met Miles, then?

DR: No, no, I was looking at them from the back of the hall. I was young, and I didn't meet Miles until 1958 or 1959, when he came to London and then again when I went to New York. He was into my recordings, and I did a few recordings in London with Victor Feldman, that have been reissued on Jasmine Records [originally on Tempo]. So I met Miles and I was playing in London in 1958, and I don't know if he'd heard me personally playing, but he'd heard some of my recordings. Surely enough, I met Billie Holiday, and I performed with her, Billie and her dog. She had a lovely dog, a boxer, and I think she's in one of the magazines featured with him, maybe Jazz Times. It was a beautiful dog; he'd just sit there and listen to her sing.

I arrived in the States in October of 1959 after I did my first recording for Blue Note, Blues in Trinity, and I made the second one Star Bright and the rest of those records for Blue Note. This stuff has all been reissued on Mosaic Records as a Mosaic Select.

AAJ: I've got the records, but I have seen the box, yes.

DR: Oh, you've got the vinyl? That's the real stuff. That's good, now let me inquire about you. How did you get these recordings of mine?

AAJ: Out of curiosity, I'd heard your name passed around and I think the Tubby Hayes factor was probably the reason I picked up Blues in Trinity first. I was interested in hearing more of his music and hadn't heard yours, so that got the ball rolling. The opener is so affecting with that out-of-tempo feel that it really perked my ears up. I think I got the other two Blue Notes shortly thereafter, and this was a period that I was grabbing anything and everything I could hear of musicians who didn't come up in the States, Europeans and expatriates who had come to this music from other sources and other areas. That's led to others like Joe Harriott.

DR: Oh, you're familiar with Joe Harriott? I didn't know you were into his stuff. How did you hear Joe?

AAJ: I think it would have probably been before I heard you, actually.

DR: Where was this in time?

AAJ: This wouldn't have been that long ago, maybe five or so years ago. I got some of his work in Chicago at a record store, the stuff with Shake Keane.

DR: Right, when they were getting into a new way of playing. Have you heard my work after that?

AAJ: Yes, some of it. I know the Beehive [Manhattan Project, 1977] and the Futura [From In to Out, 1970], and the New Jazz [Asia Minor, 1962]. I'm still curious about the Honeydew record [Possession, Exorcism, Peace, 1974], I haven't heard that one. I've heard a good chunk, and I got into the music first quite independently. Maybe I told you this already, but...

DR: Well, tell me again.

AAJ: My father was a jazz pianist, so...

DR: What's his name?

AAJ: Jon Allen.

DR: You know this is interesting because my father was a jazz pianist also, and he played music for silent films. Where was your father from?

AAJ: He's from Connecticut, actually. His interest in jazz—well, when I was a kid I didn't like it all that much. I don't think I even liked music that much when I was a kid. I got into it independently because he had his thing, which was piano trios mostly, and he didn't like the horn players as much. I heard a lot of stuff that now I might think was very good, but it didn't grab me at the time because I was looking for things that sounded a bit more forceful. I listened to rock music when I was young.

DR: Well, it's part of your time period.

AAJ: Yeah, it is, and I was about 19 or 20 when I picked up jazz records out of curiosity, thinking that maybe I should give some of this stuff a chance, and I started out with some of the more free things—late-period Coltrane and Albert Ayler—and it might seem like a weird place to start, but it grabbed me right away, a complete washing away of anything else I'd heard before. It didn't take me that long to decide that I wanted to hear as much and everybody as I possibly could.

DR: This is interesting because it's your decade, you know. So you are totally into jazz now, and you love jazz?

AAJ: Yes, that's pretty much primarily what I listen to, though there are other things that I could be informing my mind with as well. That's principally it, though.

DR: Well, that's a good spot. It relates to a lot of other things.

AAJ: It's led me to some other things like Indian classical music, Turkish and North African music as well, so it's not independent of those things.

DR: It's a universal music; like I've said, everybody plays the blues. Indians, Chinese, every group and nationality has the blues. The Portuguese have the Fado—did you ever hear Portuguese music?

AAJ: A little bit.

DR: We have the blues, they have the Fado. It's reflected in most of the Brazilian music you hear, Jobim and all of that has that sound—it's the soul, the Fado. We call it the blues. Every nationality has it, it's a common soul for everybody, and it relates. I've studied music from everywhere, and I used to listen to recordings on UNESCO. The United Nations cultural department issued these recordings, and I used to hear a lot of drummers from all over the world—Africa, Czechoslovakia, Chinese music—it boils down to jazz and blues. Everybody has the blues cry; the Jews have the blues cry, the Arabs have a blues cry and you hear it. It's a good focus, jazz, it goes out and it's reflected back. You have fusion jazz, you have everything, but I get interested right about in the modern jazz period. That tells the story of everything that has been before in the blues idiom.

AAJ: I feel the same way. I start around the early 50s with my attachment to it. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...

Bird and Modernity



DR: The '50s is a good period—so much has been going before that, in the 30s and 40s, but it came up to the '50s and the Modern Jazz Era, which is what we termed it. It came out of everything from before Louis Armstrong up to Lester Young, and here comes Charlie Parker, and he was a summation—the blues (and he loved the blues, he's Mr. Blues). So we get to a level of intelligence now, where we take it to the next level, and that's the Modern Jazz Era. That's what I've been dealing with; that's the era that I came up in and I still think it's the greatest period. Everybody's still wrestling with it. Coltrane had been through the bebop era and Charlie Parker, and then he got into his other expressions, but you can go check out his recordings with Miles Davis and you'll see the link.

AAJ: Right, and he'd come up in Dizzy Gillespie's band.

DR: Yeah, and you have to go through the modern jazz to get to another level—he stretched it out. There's a difference—with Charlie Parker, he was a finished product, and he didn't have to take it where Trane took it. He already had everything.

AAJ: Right, when you hear his solos with Jay McShann he seems almost fully formed at an early age.

DR: Oh, man, exactly—everything was packaged. He could do everything that everybody's doing now, stretching out on chord changes and modes.

AAJ: I also think of modern jazz not just in terms of stretching out chordally and harmonically, but also rhythmically, and the drummer—how the drummer was able to expand time by playing all these confluences of rhythms, and that maybe was the major change.

DR: It was a big change, and it happened with Charlie Parker and Max Roach. Sure, of course, the rhythm aspect is the whole thing—Charlie Parker played drums on the saxophone, and the whole thing is rhythm. It goes into intelligence, too—you look at the 40s and you had Aldus Huxley and Brave New World, the whole world was changing, skyscrapers were going up and the political scene was changing, and modern jazz was a reflection of everything.

AAJ: The old forms wouldn't suffice to express it.

DR: No, no, they had to keep breaking through.

AAJ: It's like how in painting, representation fell by the wayside because it just couldn't capture how people were seeing their world.

DR: Exactly, it's the same thing because as much as it's actually great, [representation is] frozen. It's like music, the sound is dynamic, it's not frozen. Picasso and everybody tried the different forms, but in music you can hear a definite shift, and that's really freedom in the music. Everybody came to Charlie Parker—Prokofiev and all the great composers would visit Birdland and check Charlie Parker out too. I was amazed at how all the old forms in classical music [were strong] and you had people like Prokofiev writing letters asking Charlie Parker how he played music. It's so basic, Charlie Parker was using the blues and the AABA forms, and the "I Got Rhythm" changes and he created so much out of that basic 12-bar blues and the American songbook. Classical music had access to this, but it was frozen in a way. Modern jazz is still going on, and we're just feeding the currents of it now. There are a few cats left around like myself, people who are in the current of it.

AAJ: As far as where contemporary music is going or has gone, I guess I feel that it's hard to—well, I don't feel like there is as much vitality in it as there seemed to be.

DR: It's been diffused. Are you speaking culturally, or the music scene?

AAJ: I'm speaking aesthetically but it all goes hand in hand.

DR: Well, of course, the artistic world has been drained—for what they are, the artists have devoted so much time and energy to it and there is no direct feedback from the populace. Now, in your generation, that's why I asked when you started—here you are, young, and you're interested in the music and you're caught up in the currents of it, and you can feel the dynamic force is lacking. Is that what you're saying?

AAJ: Yeah, partly.

DR: A lot of it's been diffused from the society, there's no feedback for the artistic giver and creative forces. It's true, and that's why you get that feeling while you're alive.

AAJ: For me, I capture slices of things that I can't necessarily experience now in the flesh. I listen to a number of people who are gone now, and it's strange.

DR: It's like you've been reincarnated, huh? I don't know, sometimes I do think like I'm reincarnated. I used to walk around on Broadway and that was my beat, Birdland, and the music was dynamic and alive and it's funny looking back now. So many musicians were alive and you could walk on Broadway and meet guys from Hollywood, everybody. All over the streets you'd hear music, and it was a different thing. It was alive, and that's what's missing. If you didn't have that period, you can feel it and you know it's missing. I had it, and I know—I was a part of that as one of the last figures on Broadway, at 52nd and Broadway, some of the energy was still there. I haven't been but once in a while, and as a matter of fact I made a documentary about it. Here you come, and you didn't even experience that, and you can feel it's missing somewhere. Of course it's missing, as a lot of the younger players now—they're great, but that slice is missing too.

AAJ: I'm not sure, but I feel it's accurate that the education system of the music, how it is passed down orally through the streets and whom you know, that it's lost in the academic situation where a lot of improvisers are coming out of music schools instead of The Music.

DR: That's why I'm talking about Broadway—you're talking about the community aspect, and that's where the music is. It's from the community, and the community ejects out. It's good to have the academic education, but that's from another level. This is why the music's great, because it came from the people as a community, and now that's why I reference this period. They used to have jazz in the schools, and all of that's been taken out. It's running another way politically and socially, and your generation is lacking [community] now, and you can feel it because it's missing, and even if you don't know anything about it, you can tell that something is not there.

AAJ: Even, I suppose, like pop or rock music, when it was first coming out, it had this vitality to it. It seems like people have an esthetic or poetic apathy, where you hear music from that genre now, people are very blasé about it, rather than that this is something that needs to be done, a conviction in making even that sort of music. This is, I guess, why popular music —

DR: It's an expression of the community, whether it's pop or rock or whatever.

AAJ: And if the community is blasé, then the music will follow it.

DR: The whole world is blasé, everything is blasé, and I've been through that in my life, and your generation has reaped the "benefits." That's why I'm interested in speaking to you, as it's now several decades from when I started, and here you are in the fruits of the music, and it has captured your imagination. I could have been talking to a veteran critic, but I'm interested in your angle. This is what you're dealing with now.

AAJ: It's funny too, because the AAJ-New York paper, most of the staff is under 40, and a lot between the ages of 25 and 35.

DR: That's interesting, and encouraging. That's why I'm interested in doing this, and I'm not into talking that much [laughs], but from my connection with the paper, I realize this and I'm encouraged. In this decade, you're still interested in this music, and I suppose that's part of it. I'm trying to capture the essence of it, and you're looking for the essence of it, but it's been diffused. Now it's mostly a microcosm, it's one and one.

AAJ: If you read an old Downbeat or something, you read the same thing—that bebop was diffusing the jazz that came before, and it's funny to me that a lot of critics thought it was negative.

DR: Well, of course—it was anti-everything. To break through into this Brave New World of Huxley, everything was changing, Picasso and Hemingway, it's all related to Charlie Parker and that period. A lot of people resisted, and they're still resisting it. It commands a different intelligence and it's another level of the body and mind. We can play as much free jazz and as much technically—some of the cats are very technical—but nobody plays faster than Charlie Parker today. Piano players, anybody innovative, they really captured it already. We're still trying to take it to another level, but it's already there. It's like heaven—heaven is already there, but everybody's trying to get to heaven, and it's not a "New Thing," it's already there. So that modern jazz field with Bird, that new status with painters and the arts and everything, that's established. The classical period—all the fruits of technology that we've seen, high tech and everything, all that was expressed already in the music—and things to come, it's all here now. We're working around it and the music has really expressed that and it's still expressing it.

AAJ: If the music expressed it already, for me coming up in this period now, what the music foreshadowed I'm not sure I like.

DR: No, of course there is always the shadow and the substance. Technology is the reality, but then there is the soul. That's why we have to talk about soul. That's the other side of it. Of course you've got the material, but something else supports the material. This is what you're talking about, right? It's called spirit, it's called soul, whatever, that's the essence, and I call it the Essence. Of course you don't like [technology], because it's uncomfortable, it's the shadow of the real thing, and it's okay. It provides civilization and amenities, but it really doesn't add anything to your soul. It's still not comfortable, and really people are still not comfortable with high tech, but that's a part of nature. There it is, you deal with it, and you still have to deal with your soul.

AAJ: Technology is just a tool.

DR: Of course, but what you see is that it diffuses too, and it sucks your soul. With technology you have to pay a price, and you pay with your soul for technology as much as you allow it and can deal with it. Humanity pays such a price—we spill so much blood for such a little. It's like squeezing an orange—you get so little juice for all that squeezing. We put out all this high tech, but that's the way of humanity. So this is why the artists and people with a little soul are trying to create and the creative force is why we are here, to try and keep the balance. That balance of stuff is a big Nintendo game [AAJ and DR laugh] and if you want to play that game, you've got to look after your soul. That's why we have so many psychiatrists and everything. Everybody has a void, an inner void, and they are looking for substance, but high tech doesn't give you substance. We pay with our soul for that.

AAJ: It's so easy to get caught up with the convenience of things, too.

DR: It's a jungle, and that's what makes you grow, because you have to fight it like chopping away through the jungle. These things are set up for your muscles, mentally, and you have to situate your life just to get a little bit of shalom, peace, you got to get so much. But that's life, and you extract that from it, that's for your growth. That's why you're speaking with me now. Hopefully you try to extract what you can—of course, there is the world and there is the individual. It's you against the world, and although each individual makes up the world, it's always the individual against the world.

AAJ: Right, because it's your experience of the world.

DR: Of course, this is why you have the resistance to music—like you said, modern jazz diffused. Edgar Hoover, McCarthy, all the politics were against modern jazz. J. Edgar Hoover was against modern jazz musicians and [thought] they were communists, and if you had free thoughts, they threw you out. You've heard about McCarthy; it was all politics, and the music was a free sort of speaking and they tried to curtail it.

AAJ: I feel like I'm able to, for better or for worse, live through the exact same thing now with the political scene, although now it's not communists, but I guess even then it was a blanket term for intellectuals, like intellectualism is being shunned politically.

DR: It was always a fight—it's not new—that's why artists have had to struggle with politics. It starts with oneself and one's family and community. It's always one against the community, when one is trying to take it to another level. What is an example of a leader? That's why you always have a leader, and now people are looking for leadership. That's gone from the intelligentsia, when you look at it, you've got a lot of academia and a lot of politics, but real spiritual leadership... using the term of intellectual leadership, of course, there's always a fight against that. The whole Bible story and everything is about that. It's about intelligence and leadership qualities on every level. It's lacking in many respects, and that's why there is a void and people are looking for spirituality. We're looking for ourselves and what one can fill oneself with. So, this is what I deal with in music, this is our calling—for me personally and my community. Nobody is an island; we live together and it all reflects upon one another. I was always a community person, and that's why I like to talk about my lifestyle in New York since I've lived there (I've been an American citizen for about forty years, ever since I've been here).

The music—well there were so many other bad things that went down politically, racism, everything in trying to build a civilized society, but the music was always telling the story, and telling it truthfully as it came, raw. The music was always raw, it's expressing life as it was and politically [people] couldn't deal with that. There's always a resistance that gets us through modern jazz and modern music, and it's still being resisted. That's why it's been pulled out of the political system, out of the schools and the educational system.

AAJ: Pulled off the radio...

DR: Everything, of course, it's like the conscious has been pulled out of the consciousness, the society, the community, and the world at large. So this is what we get. Did you grow up with the Voice of America?

AAJ: No, I didn't.

DR: Willis Conover was the host. That was the biggest propaganda machine America had during the so-called Cold War with Russia, the big voice. It was the voice of jazz, and everybody was played, and it won over a lot of people from the so-called Eastern Bloc. It was the biggest tool, and it was great—the voice of jazz was the voice of America.

AAJ: I've been reading about jazz in East Germany and Eastern Europe lately, and it's very interesting.

DR: Jazz was always the crusading voice, and it's a cry. All of humanity has that blues cry, so America was chosen for the modern world, and this is the modern form of the blues. We've got the modern intelligence, which goes back to Charlie Parker as far as I'm concerned. The interest and intelligence is incredible, really, the construction—you can dissect it and analyze it and check it out—it's everything.

AAJ: In the past several years I've been really curious about the European improvisers, and where they are coming from in their contribution to the music, and I get the feeling that London at the time you were living there in the '50s didn't really have it for you musically.

DR: No, jazz has been in Europe for a long time. When I started to research it, I found that jazz musicians had been going to Europe for a thousand years. Seriously, during the time of Beethoven and in Vienna, they used to use black musicians from America. One composer named Hightower, I think, was a composer who was African-American. He and Beethoven used to hang out in the cafés, and he used to write music for Beethoven. They were like the jazz cats then, this is known and you can research it. Black musicians and jazz have been going for thousands of years, seriously, the troubadours up from Africa came all the way down through the classical period. There was a lot of input from Spain, from Italian composers mixed with the Germans, it's all a mix. Rome was the New York of that time—everything met there, all the influences. New York is the modern world, and the music as far as I'm concerned really reflects that. Modern jazz in Europe is old, and in Japan—they've had jazz in Japan since the '20s, and maybe you'd have someone going into a little fishing village or a hamlet in Japan playing jazz in the 1800s. It's been going on quite a while, and people talk now about expatriates as a modern thing, and Black musicians have been going [there forever]—it's a big mix. This was always a big thing, Germans had propaganda against jazz. You should read about Berlin, where it was taboo, and it was the voice.

So that takes things right up to Now, this moment in time, and they're still resisting. Coltrane is one thing; Trane brought it to a period [where he] excited a religious fervor, if you want to take it in that step. But they were ready for that, and yet Charlie Parker and the intelligence—if you want to get right to the nitty-gritty, from the McShann band, and when I say Charlie Parker, I'm involving the whole retinue of the innovators. You can start with Earl Hines and Louis Armstrong, and the whole pantheon, but Bird brings it right up to now. He was in rapport with all the painters, everybody, and I've been through that period as well. I used to sit with all the painters in Paris in the '50s, and the new scene in Paris with the revolution. There was a revolution in Jamaica, too—you read all of that, right? I was in Paris and used to sit with all the revolutionaries, North Africa, the violence—I was in the middle of all that stuff, twice. At St. Germaine with the students and the violence, and in New York with Woodstock, all of it.

AAJ: You were in Paris in the late '60s, after the Left Bank, right?

DR: I went through all of that—there were reports from the news, and I was there with the cats. That was the revolution, race riots in Paris, taking it right up to Now. I came to New York to see what was happening and put it together in a total package, and it's quite interesting and deep, but it's interesting to converse with you and your generation about what went down before.

Everything has pretty much diffused, and that's why I tell you it's a micro-macro, a one-on-one, you got a reservoir to draw from and you might get a little bit from me and people who still have some essence. That's why everybody is still reading and looking and I've been through all of that. I've read something like thirty thousand books, and I used to read voraciously. When I was in London and when I was a boy, I used to read all the heavy books—my mother put the first metaphysical books in my hand. I've been reading on flying saucers and everything, I read on everything that needs to be read.

AAJ: And you've written a number of tomes, too, right?

DR: I've got a trunk full of writings, the real stuff on jazz and what it is. It started in Louisiana, but my stuff goes way back to the cosmos and the essence of the soul, what it is. I suppose everybody knows this innately, we all know this, but my level of imagination started when I was very young, and I got aware of this and did a lot of reading. I read everything—all the poets, the English poets, Byron, Keats, Shakespeare, I used to read them in school. I read everything, from UFOs to right now, and that's what it takes, spending hours reading. I've been through the philosophies and everything, the Vedas, the Upanishads, all the Indian religions, the African religions, the Scandinavians [Swedenborg], everything, and I've come full circle on what it is and what it takes. Coming back to the reality of America, it all accumulated in the New World. That's why we're here and why you were born and are into it, and it's the New World. That was always my outlook and that's why I appreciate it, and that's why New York—every city I've lived, I was brought up in Jamaica and I lived in Kingston, right downtown in the middle of the metropolitan area and that community, and when I went to England and London it was the same thing. Paris, New York, I was always downtown. It was the city, it was dynamic, and I'm always right there. I ended up in New York, and it's the finishing school for everything, from every part of the globe.

AAJ: And it still is...

DR: In a way, of course. That's the full gamut and the essence of what I have accumulated. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...

Recording and a Philosophy of Playing



AAJ: How did your first record for Blue Note come about?

DR: It was recorded about a year before I came to New York, and it was a contract with Alfred Lion, and my manager in England, Tony Hall, sent him a copy [of the tape]. Of course, we referred it back to Miles Davis; he had heard of me and a lot of musicians had heard of me, and they came through [pianist/vibraphonist] Victor Feldman, who was a natural musician and he slipped into the American scene. He lived in the US and he was a natural, a great musician. He was one of the first people I hooked up with in England, where I made my first recordings, and Victor came back to the States and touted my name around. He played with Woody Herman and the big band, and he'd play the recordings that we did, and he introduced my name and sound to a lot of American musicians [Feldman played with Miles Davis as well]. So they were familiar with Dizzy Reece before, and when they came to Europe, they'd say 'where's Dizzy Reece?' I was the voice and the liaison for jazz in Europe.

That's how I finally got contracted to Blue Note, but I did quite a bit of recording before that, and all of it's been reissued. I used to record for the Savoy label [Changing the Jazz at Buckingham Palace, 1956], and Tempo which was a later subsidiary of Decca. Those have all been repackaged and issued under the Jasmine label, and those have been out for several years. They have a package of all those recordings [with Feldman, Ronnie Scott et al], so if anybody wants to check out my early recordings, that's out. Everybody's familiar with that time period of my music, but most people haven't heard Dizzy Reece since that period.

AAJ: I suppose I detected a real early change with Soundin' Off [Blue Note, 1960] in terms of your trumpet playing, it sounds a lot more vocal and notes sound more dissonant or tonally bent. I don't know if that's accurate, but it seems like the shift in approach.

DR: It's always an ongoing process, trying and developing everything. In the liner notes to that record, Ira Gitler made reference to my prodigious technique, and he was talking about the vocal shifts too. He was mentioning the same things you are talking about, my style of playing.

AAJ: I believe he also mentioned something about your interest in Eastern and Indian culture.

DR: All that stuff, yeah, but 1960 was about forty years ago, and my technique has been gone through about a hundred times since then, so there's quite a lot of music in between. That brought me to the period of the '60s, and there is a discography of all my recordings from England up to now, which was given to me by Rutgers University. They've got everything I did that's recorded there, and I was surprised at the amount of recordings. My records have been selling since the '50s, and I've taken royalties since then all over the world, for over fifty years.

AAJ: Some of them haven't ever really been out of print.

DR: No, all that music—Dizzy Reece has kept a low profile in some ways, but it's there, you know. I'm here, the substance, and I'm fortunate to still be here with my music. I'm still strong, but my output is—well, I never look at jazz as what you've done in the past, but it's what you're doing now. Some people think 'oh, I've done so much and that's it.' With a creative force, you don't think about that.

AAJ: Even though it's still something quite old, I have got a lot of mileage out of the recording you did for Futura.

DR: You're talking about From In to Out? That was recorded in Paris. Sure, my head was into that totality, and I was also writing [for] big bands, scores and orchestrations and stuff, but that's 1970 and a lot of people were surprised by it.

AAJ: It's very avant-garde, free, or whatever you want to call it.

DR: It's strange, because I remember a review came up in Le Monde, the French post, and they said it was the best record of the year. Another review came out, and they said it was the most nonsensical—they couldn't figure it out. It was no big deal, but it sounded like something else then. You know, that record is a minor blues, the entire thing, the oldest minor blues, and it's called "St. James Infirmary." If you study it, it goes back to New Orleans. If you listen to "St. James Infirmary," it's a minor blues everybody is crying about. It's what you call a slow minor, and if you listen to From In to Out and the construction, it's basically a minor blues.

AAJ: It's interesting because it has that lead-in that you find in a lot of minor blues as well as in Indian music, and they call it the alap.

DR: Yes, exactly.

AAJ: This is also a major part what you find in a lot of later Coltrane music as well.

DR: That's what I was getting at, the connection, and of course the minor sound is the Eastern sound and the major sound is the Western sound. This is why you have the diatonic scale, and Western civilization has been built on the diatonic scale. In a lot of my writings, I go through all that, the scales and how they relate to the civilization. The Greek modes, all classical music is built on that, but you still have the chromatic. The chromatic system is where you bring in the Eastern, the other tones, the quarter-tones and the mixed modes, and that's what Trane got into with Ravi Shankar, who was one of the great exponents of that in music. It's all jazz and improvisation—it's improvising, and they take it out, they really take it to another level with it. Of course it's universal, the ragas, it's all there, but the New York sound, this is it. When you get to the peak of what's happening in civilization, that's Broadway in New York. For me, that's it, and everything that's gone before is assimilated and packaged into modern jazz.

AAJ: Then you can build a diagram to all those other things.

DR: Everything is in there, of course, it's in the package and you don't need fusion, it's already fused. That's just a game—the fusion and the games they play—but it's already a package. The music is classic already, and it's got all the dynamics of every civilization, so then you bring it down to right now, what's happening, and that's the modern thing. The intelligence is incredible when you put it together; the young exponents of the jazz now, they're still into it and it's very good, aside from what you said before that it's missing. Technically [the young players] are expressive, but nothing is new under the sun.

AAJ: There is always a precedent somewhere.

DR: What has made it jazz you can see sticks out so sublimely. You can listen to all the great civilizations that came before and the music, and no matter how great the music is, it's nothing like now. You can go play all the music of thousands of years before, Roman music and it's hip for them and well-organized, and all the classic elements were there, but then when you take it to another intelligent level and you listen to the music now, of course humanity has developed since then. The intellect—and creative people have a dynamic imagination—that's what it's about.

AAJ: The essence is still constant in some ways, through all of it.

DR: That's what keeps the universe going, it's got to be constant or everything would decay.

AAJ: When the United States invaded Iraq, and there was all this sentiment going on around then, one of the first things I did was to pull out recordings of Persian music, because the culture is forgotten about when a country invades another country. You assume that everything is gone and washed away, but I'm curious to see what's actually there.

DR: I know what you mean, but the music is part of the war, too. If you go back to the drummers and the trumpet players, you bring them right down to the bugle boy—the end of the cavalry is always the bugle and the drums. They'd bring up the corps, they'd excite the warriors—that's why the drummers were in the middle of the fighting, and they would give them their energy. The drummers, the bugle players, the flutes—music was very martial. It still is and that's why it's a political thing. That's why you've got two sides, the good guys and the bad guys, the drummers from over there, and they all still fight like warriors. It's the essence, and life is a journey for a warrior. Your body has got free radicals, and that's why hygiene is so important—if you don't have that, your body is wracked in a minute. Hygiene is the element that holds up everything; it's in the ten commandments of the body, next to last—mental hygiene is very important, don't you think? That's why there is music and the creative forces that make it, because that's how you think. That's the hygienic force that everything wants.

AAJ: The more mentally active you are the less sick you are.

DR: Exactly, mental food is the main food. It keeps you alive—if you don't think for one second, you go unconscious. Consciousness becomes attenuated, and it means that you're thinking. How do you think? If you want a proper system, you've got to give it the proper mental food. That's why you have so much sickness, the mental food is what you talk about when you feel something is missing, the problem. Sure, you try to attain as an individual or an artist—that's why I keep saying it's one and one. These commandments are all you need mentally; they keep you out of the hospital and in shape. It's psychosomatic, everything is.

You have to work physically, as it keeps you mentally active. Construction work, I did all that too in England. I used to build the roads there with a jackhammer; I did all that stuff, and I'd get frustrated, but I'm a warrior. Everybody is—you have to be hygienically together, because you're always being attacked by something in the world. To get a bit of beauty out of it and symmetry, you have to be prepared hygienically. To be prepared means how you think, it's up to you. This is supposed to be in the school curriculum, all of what we're talking about in music and art, this is the basics. It's missing in the school and the education system, and each individual gets into something like this, he gets a taste of it and if he can use it to better the circumstances, then good luck.

AAJ: It's funny that I didn't get any of that until college; to that point, it was sort of like being babysat. I didn't get the hygienic aspect of education and a curriculum in the arts until I went to the university.

DR: It doesn't pervade society as such; you have to look for it. That's why everybody is looking for it; some people come to jazz and some people go to church in looking for it. I count myself important for myself, because I try to keep hygienic and keep everything in perspective. I can't stand anything shady and dark or obscure; I like everything transparent. If you listen to my music, whether you like it or not, everything is bold, it's raw and fresh—nothing is hidden. A baby can hear it, a kindergartener, everybody and on that level I have nothing to hide. It's a lot of knowledge that's accumulated in everything I play, put together and synthesized, and I've got an audience over the years as people buy my music. Certainly there is a force that doesn't want that music to be out there; those forces exist in nature, so this is the fight that the artists and the culture have. Everything is designed to show the great human spirit. If you can get some peace out of that individually, the world is beautiful but then it's got a devil too. There are two sides of the coin, and it's a warrior's world. Before you come out of the womb, you start fighting; kicking in the womb, from there it starts, you're bound alive.

AAJ: There's a lot of resistance in there, and it teaches you how to move around.

DR: Of course, we live in terror. When you're in the womb, you're in terror already, and by the time you get your ways together... this is why the cultural scene is important. I grew up in that scene and the music was always around; it was in the house and there weren't a lot of distractions. Music was on the radio, and it was in the consciousness of the people. It helped to build America—black, white, jazz, the totality of it structured the American scene (besides steel, anyway). The music was the steel, the essence, and that's been diffused.

AAJ: It's cultural steel.

DR: Sure, that's what we are about, what artists contribute. This is what I am about and what my compatriots are about, and the younger musicians are into it whether they know it or not, that's what they're doing. I don't know any other purpose for it.

AAJ: When you study history in school as a kid, at least here and now, that aspect is not taught.

DR: Again, it's that you have to look for it. That's why from when I was a young man, she put the first books in my hand, metaphysical books. I was seven years old, and I didn't know why she gave them to me. But they put me on another level, and she helped to prepare me. Everything around me was on that level, even though she was struggling, and she bought me my first trumpet. Up to this day, all through my struggles, she's always shown me encouragement—she was always there. A lot of musicians don't have that, and it shows you how, in that environment, [music was important, and] especially jazz and classical, everybody studied classical. A lot of people don't know that most jazz musicians studied classical, because jazz was taboo in the house. You could play that piano, some boogie-woogie, but you dare not play that [jazz]. Jazz was always a resisted intelligence; you'll never see bebop on Broadway or Charlie Parker on Broadway, you'll never see the real stuff [anymore].

AAJ: I was talking with [pianist] Bobby Few and he was saying how he had to find another piano teacher to secretly teach him boogie-woogie, because his regular teacher would hit him on the hands.

DR: Of course, I know Bobby well, and it showed him how to play classics because pianists wanted to get the foundations, and most of them had to. Sonny Clark, Kenny Drew, I can mention all of them from Art Tatum to Earl Hines into the youngest cats. You'd be surprised by the repertoire. I met Sonny Clark and he knew the whole repertoire. He was playing with Buddy DeFranco and he could call any tune, and he knew all the classical pieces. The thing about it is that they don't make it obvious. You can hear it's all there, but it's not obvious unless you're Oscar Peterson, whose chops are so great, and Bud too. All the hip modern players—Clark, Drew, Horace Silver, Bud Powell, Elmo Hope—they were child prodigies. Even Herbie Hancock, he was a child prodigy. Ahmad Jamal and all these cats are very classically-oriented, but then the jazz came in and they could develop. Of course their teachers didn't want to show them boogie-woogie, because it was open to free thinking, and all the great stride players who played boogie, they were the greatest piano players. They used to play a whole show, all those silent films and all that, and they used to bring that emotional aspect to the film and used to make the film come alive on screen. This was before it got to Hollywood with all the string sections, and one pianist could make the whole thing come alive. You've got to be a psychiatrist too as well as a musician—you're not just up there banging away. It's dealing with heavy psychology.

AAJ: It's interesting to think about the silent films because that's something I've never seen and not heard too much about, how music was integrated into the film like that.

DR: That's a whole era, sure, show-business and Broadway and the pianist, and I don't know how good my father was, but he used to play it for me. I don't know much of him, but he gigged as a pianist for silent films at that time, and in the States all those great piano players used to go in and sit and watch films as they played. I don't know if you know about it, but the first modern jazz I wrote in England, Nowhere to Go, it was the same format—watch the film and we'd improvise with a quartet right there. I referenced the format, and it was the first modern jazz film made in England. I had Tubby Hayes on it and everybody, and that's part of the [Jasmine reissue] package. We'd set up, watch the film, do it in one take, and we got a masterpiece out of that. All of that came out of the lone silent film pianist, and he'd have to build the whole repertoire. Fats Waller would sit there overnight and write thirty or fifty songs for a show, start to finish. They'd play the show and play everything, dramatics to the show, the whole Broadway show, till they got the band musicians. That's the entrance of this music, they carry a heavy load—it's a big thing there, it's not just banging around. These cats left a heavy legacy.

AAJ: There's a film that I was always curious about on a small town in Alaska, and they had an improvising ensemble compose the soundtrack live to a screening of the documentary [by Michael Krassner with music by the Boxhead Ensemble, soundtrack on Atavistic]. I didn't see the film; it's from a few years ago and it's called The Last Place to Go, and I've heard the music which is a wonderful evocation of very uninhabitable land.

DR: Well it's the rapport, it's like you're doing a painting—you're in the painting, right there, and that's what improvisation is all about. It's the creative force. They say God created the world in seven days.

AAJ: Not long, as some would say.

DR: But that's because he's using the diatonic scale, the seven-toned scale, and that's part of my philosophy in my writings—we'll go into that. The way of creation, that's what it means—it takes a creative force to go through that diatonic stuff. That's the biological form, you get the egg which is the octave (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do), that's an egg or a complete cell, a biological musical form. That's the basics of creation and that's what it meant to the creative force. Seven steps to heaven.

AAJ: I was speaking with [Prince Lasha] about this, that the whole idea of the length of a day was different in this context.

DR: It's not to be looked at literally or physically, ten thousand years—they throw out these numbers like the earth is sixty million years, but you can't even imagine what twenty thousand years looks like. Everybody gets hung on numbers, but we try to transcend the numbers. When I say Creation, I mean Now. You can start with the Bible and go through time, but there is no beginning and no end. When they give you the number, the physicists are just talking about one scheme. My aspect is the creative force, which references the seven steps—it's now, it goes through all the periods and transcends all creation. You take seven steps to build [upon]—that's the basis. It's in physics and it's in the digital, in everything.

AAJ: You look at a calculator, and it all seems rather small.

DR: You don't have to go back in time; the music is Right Now. That's why it's so important when you play it now. All that's building right now is the creative source, and creation is always going on now. Stepping back into those time zones, it's really Now—that's the essence of it. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...

Playing and a Philosophy of Temperament



AAJ: I was going to ask about the astrological history of jazz and musicians' personalities that you had written. Would you care to talk a bit about that?

DR: Well, I've written an encyclopedia called Black Brass, Black Reeds. It covers the innovations in music, starting in 1860 and going to right now. It's listed in chronological order, and it's listed zodiacally by the months and seasons of the year. I don't call it astrology; I call it astro-analysis. The word "astro" just means "star," really, so you can call it any name. It means organization in time, so everything is written from the day and the month, and it goes to the birth date. Musicians weren't born alphabetically; you are born in time, chronologically. That's the essence to start to think philosophically about the music—you don't start alphabetically, you understand? That's a convenience, though there is an index in the back where you can refer alphabetically. It's set up in a time capsule so you can see the music, where it comes, from the beginning to right now. You don't start haphazardly; everything comes back in a time frame, and it deals with the temperament. That's one of the main things in the music, the temperament, character.

AAJ: That's how and why innovations happen.

DR: Exactly, musicians are not just empty suits. You're dealing with their character and their temperament, and that's all chronological if you look at everything. It has a birth, the cells, biologically it has a growth, and I've tried to think like that. All my writings I try to write chronologically, so you get a view—just like a movie comes out at you not haphazardly. In my music and my compositions, I try to get a transparency. So it's written like that, and it's heavy, and it goes back to the first cats in New Orleans, all the innovators are set up in a time frame, and it's a lot of work and I've been working for forty years on it. It's about black musicians; it's got white musicians too, of course, but most of the innovators are black. That's a true perspective; there's no racism in it, it has no meaning of that. We've been through that. It's called Black Brass, Black Reeds so you can see the innovators, the styles and how it's developed. It's very well put-together; it's concise and everything is by the minute, by the second, by the hour, by the day, by the month, because everything is in cycles. Music is in cycles of fifths and fourths, a scale is a cycle—your life is a cycle.

AAJ: Your cycles definitely adjust to those who you spend time with; like my moods are cyclically correlated to those of my girlfriend, and we're definitely related. I move in ways that are very similar patterns to hers.

DR: Sure, there's no escaping it. It's life, and if you want to regulate your existence, you have to think like that. You regulate your life in an order and a fashion, and if you say there's no synchronicity and no order, that's your problem. That's what we do, why we create; there are four seasons in the year, and four moods. Everything in music—you listen to Duke Ellington, and it's created in moods. The theater is from moods, your life is developed in moods, from morning to night moods change.

AAJ: I'm best in Fall and Winter; in Summer and Spring I'm not in a good mood.

DR: There are things for that. Look at the North, the suicide rate is worse and they kill themselves in the winter. That's why they drink so much—the cold is their terror in the Northern Zone. They have a lot of suicide in Japan, too. Some people get adapted and like the cold, but you can see a different frequency between the cold and the heat. You have the Tropical Zone, your body has zones, and they are all related. I correlate everything; I see everything as one.

AAJ: It's so easy to get away from that because of the way society structures itself is very compartmentalized into specifics—we get away from the cyclical and interactive nature of things.

DR: That's what the world is about. You have to realize the distractions, and you have to set yourself and your cycles into an orderly fashion of living. Who you are, your character and your temperament, what you're about, whether you're a painter, a basket-weaver, a baker, I respect everybody. Everything—physics, chemistry—started with agriculture, the soil, and these are the basics. I play music and all of this is part of me, it's one thing and it's not disjointed.

But maybe it takes time for you to put the pieces together, the different departments, and maybe you study one specific. Like the doctors of today; when I was growing up, the physicians had to know the physiology of the body. Now you have specialists for the toe [laughs], for all the different organs. They all relate to the rest of the body, and real physicians have to know the full anatomy, why one relates to the other, the lungs related to the heart, and pull things together.

AAJ: That's one reason why I think of improvisation as the living music, as it is alive and relates to your humanity.

DR: It goes on in the body; the physician is looking at your body to see how the throat works musically, everything. The sounds serve the body, and when the sound stops, you die. It's all sound, and the doctor has to put a trumpet on when he listens to your heart; he puts it on your chest to listen to the beat, and it's got a drum. The whole thing is musical. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...

The Drummers and the Beat



AAJ: The whole idea of arrhythmia and your heart not beating in a certain rhythm, it's interesting to me because I tend to gravitate towards music that is not in a steady rhythm, more 'free time' music.

DR: Why?

AAJ: I don't know, that's a very good question and I've often wondered about it. There's something about straight 4/4 time, that I often have trouble getting into it.

DR: This is a problem that I'm glad you mention, because it brings us to the psychology of resistance to the music too. There is that One, you're looking for a beat, and when the music doesn't have a beat—jazz has a beat, a One that everybody relates to. It's called God but in the music it's called the beat. Everybody relates to that one, if you can't tap your beat... it's the rhythm you have, and that's your beat. Once you can't relate to that one, well that's why they tell people to practice with a metronome. I don't need it, but it's good to know about it. When you go to the doctor, you have to tap out that beat and relate it to that One. In every creation you have that One. It's the heartbeat, a universal micro-macro beat. The universe is a heartbeat; the solar system is a heartbeat; you have a heartbeat and a synchronicity that goes on in your body and all around you. If it doesn't synchronize, you're out of kilt and you're sick. You start with your body; you hear a sound and you've got to listen to yourself, your heartbeat, and that's the thing about that One. 1-2-3-4 time, that's the creative, and everything is related to it. If you don't have that One, the orchestra falls apart, and a lot of people go into freedom because they don't relate to the One. It's a psychological thing, but once you find that One within yourself, you start to regulate your life and you start to open up. You start to get happier and more comfortable, because every time you listen to music, that's what you look for—where's the beat, where's the One? That's your relationship as a listener.

AAJ: I like to listen to drummers like Sunny Murray because, you know, you can feel a beat without it being so implicit. That's what I was getting at.

DR: Good, right, but the beat is always there.

AAJ: I almost think of it more as a wave.

DR: Sure, we get into that, it gets so subtle that you don't have to hear the 'boom-boom' pounding.

AAJ: I don't like things to be so obvious.

DR: You're like me, I'm sure, because my playing—I hate the obvious, but the One is there. You understand that you have to recognize it and you feel comfortable with the music. I know Sunny, I remember him and all the free drummers and Sunny is fantastic but for him to relate that to a band, he's got to have that beat. He's got it there, he can play and that's another thing, that a lot of drummers stop playing the bass drum. The bass drum is the beat, the boom-boom, and it can be subtle, you understand? When Max Roach is playing, you almost never hear the bass drum, but it's there!

I play drums, and believe you me, if you don't play the bass drum, it's not gone. You can play hip and all that, and it's different—you must play it, and you hear it in your foot. It's got to synchronize to the bass and not obtrude, but you can hear it, it's there. If you don't beat your foot on the bass drum, it's not swingin'. You understand? It goes through life; it goes through everything—you have to have your own beat. A lot of drummers nowadays have stopped playing the bass drum, and that takes the guts out of it. That's the beat of the marching band and you hear it all over the city; you hear the 'boom,' and that's the beat. It brings the people and that's why it has the bass drum. The church, they have the bass drum, and the sound of the warriors when they go to war is the bass drum. I've got one right here, the mamba drum, the beat right there in the middle of the bullets and they're playing the drum, are you kidding? It's heavy! Each side, each company is listening for the beat. It sounds free-form going on, but it's organized, you know. The warriors, they have it for organization, and the music is organized—it has a beat. The group that loses, the side that is victorious one is the one that has the beat going. It's the same in life and the same in the music; you've got to have that beat, and that One. If you don't have a beat, you don't have anything.

AAJ: I can tap my foot to a pulse, not da-da-da, but it's moving when I listen to about anything.

DR: I have a thing where you give everybody a drumstick and have them beat rhythm, because a lot of societies are uptight rhythmically. A lot of people can't get their coordination, but if they practice drumming da-da da-da, hand to hand, they develop a drumming. That's a normal person I'm talking about; you give them a drumstick for therapy and you'd be surprised. Psychologically it loosens them up, too, and they find themselves with a beat—'I can do this, I've got coordination and synchronization, and you know, I've got the whole thing.' That's why you have friction and why everybody is running from that One, that four on the cymbal, it's so subtle. They took a million years to play that straight four, that's what makes it modern. Fast or slow, you control the time and that's what it's all about. The rhythm, that's what drummers do—they control time.

AAJ: It's funny too, because I played cello in an improvising context, and one of the bands I was in some years ago, whenever we would lock into a more rhythmic element and play something a bit less free-form, what I would do on the cello, instead of doing something rhythmically I would play a drone underneath it, maybe singing along wordlessly as well. It would add an underpinning to the music, but I would never want to play actually 'in' that time. I would want to play it in an expanded way.

DR: I know what you mean—I know the cello is good for improvising. Have you heard Oscar Pettiford play it? If I may say so, you have a rhythmic blockage, and once you get over it and you get comfortable with that One, you can control a lot of stuff. A lot of people, they go against the One. It's easy to play bossa or whatever, and that's why we have so many players that play Latin, but that four-four is civilization right there. To play four-four, even in classical music they play cut time, one-two one-two, not one-two-three-four. That's where jazz is; once you say one-two-three-four [in classical music], you'd have chaos. With a big symphony orchestra, if you write it out in four-four time, you have chaos. That's why everything in Vaudeville and Broadway is in cut time, and that's where the old music changed, the drummers and the control of universal rhythm is straight four. The old political systems changed right there, and most people can't get comfortable with straight four. They go back to the da-da-da and all this retread, even the great early musicians from New Orleans came from Vaudeville—even Louis Armstrong. Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie started to get into four, Charlie Parker, but all those other guys were in half time.

AAJ: I bought this record of Baby Dodds playing solo [Talking and Drum Solos, Folkways, 1959], and it's amazing to me because it's cut time and it does stick out like a sore thumb, but the things he was able to do with that time are unreal.

DR: Well, that's the era, the era of cut time, and the thinking was tight. But he's a master; he used to play in Congress Square and he started to play those big [ride] cymbals, and those cymbals mean so much. And then drumming went to Big Sid Catlett, and as a matter of fact Baby Dodds is a Capricorn, like Catlett. Kenny Clarke, I played a lot with him—he's a master of modern drumming, and he's a Capricorn. Max, who took it from Kenny Clarke, he's a Capricorn. It's that temperament, and that's how that book [Black Reeds, Black Brass] is laid out.

AAJ: It speaks well of Capricorns.

DR: That's one aspect of it; there are different signs of course and everybody has a different rhythm, swinging in a different way or same swing and having a different temperament. The Pisces, they swing—all that is laid out, it's in the signs, and when you put everything together you can see what it is about. That's my lifeline.

Sure, Baby Dodds started it, and you've got to listen to Max from Baby Dodds, and Max plays so fast it's like another civilization from Baby Dodds. Those things with Clifford Brown and Max, so fast—it's the modern thing, the race car driving. Everything changes; the people who couldn't keep up with that, some went to free-form because they couldn't keep up with that One. It's easier to play free-form, but...

AAJ: But then you get somebody like Art Taylor, who can play both.

DR: Oh, Art, Art, you heard him on those records of mine. Nobody ever really heard Art play, because that was a sublimation of his drumming, and that's why it's called From In to Out. Art is one of the swingingest—Art swings his ass off, and half of my records are with him. I don't think many people heard that record of Art's.

AAJ: And he's on some records with Frank Wright too [Uhuru Na Umoja, America-Universal, 1969 and Space Dimension, America, 1969] that are wonderful, and he really plays free on those.

DR: Art took an interest [in freedom]; and I bring it out in drummers, that's why he played my music. He really played the shit out of [free], but he had that swing to it, a swing through the whole thing.

AAJ: As someone who is interviewing musicians, Art is a great influence because of his Notes and Tones book [Da Capo, 1977/1993]. That's like a blueprint.

DR: I told him to write that book—I gave him the inspiration. We hung out in Paris and that's how we made that record, and that's when he started interviewing musicians and ended up with a book and so forth. I used to have drama classes and we'd do plays, and I'd have him reciting. When he came back to the States, he had a few book tours and gave some lectures, and said "Dizzy, I'm grateful for all that you did for me in Paris," all those readings and things, he was very grateful. It came in handy, because he had to give speeches about the drums and so it's all in the mix. It's funny you mention Art because man, [Futura are] getting that back out on CD. He played his ass off and he swings all the time. He's one of the swingingest drummers in jazz.

AAJ: He's a very liberated drummer, too.

DR: At the end of From In to Out, he took the tempo fast—he took that shit and played so fast, and that's what the title was about. I had all that written out for big band orchestra.

AAJ: It's very dense music.

DR: It's written for an orchestra, swinging like that with a band and dance, and that's the big band shit that I'd planned to record. I've got all that stuff. All these guys trying to write swing and classics, but it never makes it, or very few, but I've got the stuff, the full aspect of New York and the physical aspect, the skyscrapers, this all goes into it. Then they bring it up-to-date and tighten it up—that's what should be in the Lincoln Center [laughs]. So you know, that was my idea, and touring with Dizzy Gillespie's band was the next thing I did after that. Of course, Gillespie is the epitome of modern jazz, his big band, you've got to go back through that and listen to all the Dizzy Gillespie band, all those charts and you can hear the new sound, it's alive and it's all written in there. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...

Education and Communication



AAJ: With modern jazz being so small-group oriented, it took me a while to get into large orchestras, but now I gravitate to it more.

DR: I've got an article I'll publish in a minute about big bands, and you know it represents the community. It comes out of the church, and that's why it's a family affair, when you're on the road with a big band, it takes on a family lifestyle.

AAJ: You learn a lot that way.

DR: Of course! Schooling is the whole thing, and the small group came out of the big band, and a lot of big bands had a small group within, the quintet. It's good, though, it all starts with big bands—orchestras, symphonies, classics, chamber music, quartets, and then back to the big band. Your generation has to listen to Count Basie and all of that, you get history, feeling, you get now, you get the past—it's heavy and it's like a time zone, the past to now. My music is right Now, with all that experience and now, I'm fated to be around to play all of it but I sympathize with the past. You put on a record from the past and it brings you to right then; that's what music and the arts do—you look at a Pakistani rug or a Turkish rug, and the work that goes into that rug—I used to be enthralled by that, the patterns are all music and composition, orchestration. Those rugs go into people's apartments and houses, and that's part of music and part of life.

AAJ: I have Oriental rugs at home.

DR: You do? That's music; it's orchestration that comes from the people—humanity. It's not separated; I deal with the community and that's what jazz is about, universally. It's a personality code and now it's sort of a business code. That's why people need to take care—they've got a guy like me still alive, and they should appreciate that. When I grew up, I would go around to older men and listen to their stories, their travels. They'd go up to America and come back; I used to hang out with young cats and older cats, and I'd always want to listen to their stories. I still do—that's what it's all about.

AAJ: Life is an oral tradition.

DR: It always was. That's why they always used to say black musicians couldn't read music, but that's not it. Everything African or Oriental used to be part of the oral tradition, even the so-called Berbers until it was written down. Most of the tradition was written down in libraries in China and Africa, astrological libraries and physics—it's all about libraries, everything. Nothing is new under the sun; it's all been written down and the only thing that's new is modern jazz. Going to the moon and into space, they've been doing that for thousands of years. Music, the Indians and Ravi Shankar who brought it up to a heavier level, but if you went back through the civilizations you weren't hearing modern jazz. There was no bebop, no Charlie Parker, that time like Max, controlling time.

Space, the whole of physics, all of that is wrapped up in Clifford Brown and what he played on trumpet. Listen to Booker Little, Freddie Hubbard—those cats play fast and that's controlling the time. Physicians are musical scientists and that's what I am. Physicists and the guys at MIT, they can't swing because they don't have that beat. You have quite a few musicians who went to MIT who play jazz, and a lot of them went on to design jet propulsion and shit, and Kenny Clarke used to tell me "man, I used to recognize some of the jets when they flew over, whose signature that was." You could tell the guy's work and who was the draftsman. It's very heavy and I could do a whole article on that stuff, how it relates, MIT and physics and jazz. A lot of cats couldn't get that time so they went into physics, and they had a good head but they couldn't relate to modern jazz.

AAJ: That's funny to think about technology with relation to personality; I wouldn't think it could be differentiated as much as any drum solo or painting. If you think about it as an imprint—

DR: It's very heavy and a lot of people only think about it on a superficial level, you know. That's what the creative force is about. During your life you synthesize it and maybe there is a soul that carries on, goes on in records that you can play, but life consciousness is what you build up over time. It never dies; nothing dies, there is nowhere for it to go, and all these physicists and the "Big Bang"—it's all a big game. Nothing ever started and nothing ever stopped; you can't give it a time zone, that's a convenience. If you think freely, there is no beginning and no end. All this is philosophy and I've read them all—it comes down to Charlie Parker and bebop, that's the heaviest shit.

AAJ: With philosophy, the things that have spoken the most to me are things related to experience, John Dewey and stuff like that.

DR: Philosophy is the baking of bread—if it can make a loaf of bread, it's a philosophy. You put in the ingredients, you have a philosophy, and you bake a loaf of bread. Chemistry and everything, it's all philosophy. Philosophy is life; it never seems to solve anything, but it's life. You've got to find a system of negotiating, and that's your life—even if it's stupidity, it's philosophy. You try to make it intellectually coherent, that's why I insist on transparency because you get it right away and don't have any conflict. One and one is two and I don't need to have an argument about that. This seems to be the problem, that people want to make one and one something other than what it is, so that's my musical thoughts and my life.

I think most musicians and artists think like this—we try and make one and one two and that's it. That's where the beat is, and they try to get away from it—a lot of people hear free-form and they can't recognize the beat. I've got a lot of cats that I'm trying to teach, and that's why I say 'you've got to practice with time.' It's a teacher—what is a physical teacher but a beat, it keeps you organized. When the armies are marching over the bridges, they have to break up steps because the bridge can have a default. It's time and a beat that's been developed, and it can disrupt the mechanics of the bridge. That's a secret of orchestration and everything—you can orchestrate something that has an effect on physical structures. The mind is a physical structure, the brain, and when you play music it affects that, the sound waves and everything, it's all time. I like it loud, I don't escape—if it's not too loud, I don't want to hear it [laughs]! If you can tolerate it, then you can hear what it is, and if you're scared to play it loud it might not be worth listening. Not all music is comfortable or compatible, and that's a whole psychology that we can go into—not because it's music you've got to love it. Everybody's got a devil, too—some people like the devilry and they gravitate to it, the opposite to what you're listening for. We all have two sides on every coin, and that's why we try to balance it out with free radicals in the blood cells, and how do you express emotion? Is it always going to be the same? You look for a balance. People gravitate, like you or me or the real musicians, they gravitate to the truth, and the truth is the facts.

AAJ: Which are not always pretty.

DR: Life is not always pretty, and when we record, it's like a slice of life. It's compatible with your emotions and you present it as a dish. There are those who like it, but you know the restaurants that make the most money sell the worst food. The gourmet restaurants specialize, and you have to pay the price. Other restaurants don't have a good cook but they make a lot of money catering to a lower denomination. Do you want gourmet? It's up to you.

AAJ: I prefer to cook at home!

DR: I'm a master cook, you know that. I like cookbooks, they involve physics and it's all related. I've written about food, how it relates to music, when you're cooking up a composition it's just like food. I've got articles on all that. I mention it because it correlates to that One, that beat that everybody is running away from because it's coherent. The One in cooking is the swing. If the cooking doesn't swing, your palate doesn't swing. It goes in the sinus and your sensory-optical apparatus, and you switch the ocular into the hearing, you'd look at a painting and hear music. You understand? Color has got sound, that's what it is—wavelengths. They're just frozen, and if you switched it, you'd hear the painting.

AAJ: That's probably why I get so into abstract or color-field paintings, because they have a visual motion to them, and colors actually shift around the canvas.

DR: It's dynamic, and it's all music for me. If I write a letter, it's musical. If I flush the toilet, it's musical. You're traveling in trains and you listen to the wheels, you can write music—it's a musical world and you're supposed to hear music. Everybody sings, and it's different from talking. Your body is a singing machine, an instrument, and you know it should relate. You can take it to different intellectual levels, take it out. You come to one of these schools, you study the basics—science, English—it was always there and we're living off the fruits of it now. Once you get a realization of this in school, the curriculum, you grow better and there is no conflict of what you need. You need less psychotherapy and you're more comfortable with yourself. This should be in every curriculum, you can't just teach music and mathematics—there should be a philosophy. I'm [not good] at arithmetic, but I'm a musician and music is mathematics. Clifford Brown was a very good mathematician; he got into it and was a great physicist. I could never get into trigonometry, though people get into it, but we do it naturally and rhythmically and in other ways.

Life is an equation, love, our emotions, it's a mathematical equation. This is why we mention the idea of soul, because the universe is a mathematical equation, chemical soup and molecules, and that's what we're dealing with. The molecules sing, and they have a sound. Instead of a vibrational rate, it's a musical sound and it's out there, music "up there," and the way we deal with it in a humanitarian form as human beings is the same chemical equation, so we know it consciously in a humanistic way. We reference it the same, we know it emotionally as humans and this is why we try to relate. That's why I mention astroanalysis, because it's compatibility, temperament and character, and two persons are drawn together because of that empathy. They are compatible, and you can stay compatible for a while until your molecules drift apart unless the attraction is still there. It can wax and wane if you want it to wax and wane; that's why the masters and the teachers try to get your mind so there is no waxing and waning—you try to control your mind as much as you can. You can help it coming to hear me play or whatsoever, but your mind has still got to control your situation. That's basic; if you don't control your mind, you're a beast. It's all about taming the beast. You've got to be intelligent and get away from the beast, though the beast is always there. Life is a war, and if you don't survive you have to be a beast, a robot or a high-tech beast. The universe is a war ground—everything is controlled by fear and terror, the unknown. You're born and you don't know; everybody is surmising and speculating life, what's the next step. You'll never get enough balance as much as you know—you still say 'man, I don't know anything.'

The less you start to know—let's try to feel and absorb the mysteries. I don't want to know everything. I watch the clouds, meteorology, watch the day go by and I don't want to hear what's coming up. Let's see it now. Once the mystery is revealed, it's nothing, it's like yesterday, you know? That's what makes the music interesting, an element of mystique. People are afraid of me, too, and some people take time because I suppose I give a lot of seriousness. People approach me and take quite a while, to feel the façade. I don't put it out there—once you get to know me, you get to know my person, and usually it's your fear that makes you want to feel me. My fear is why I want to feel you. The wild animals and man used to live together and he wasn't carnivorous then, and once he started to eat animal flesh, of course a conflict developed. That was another factor that came up in the kingdom; if you grow up in the wild in the woods and such, there is no fear there between both.

During time, fear develops between man and beast, man and man, the whole thing. That's why you have the gods and they die too, Hercules and Zeus, everything dies. That's the fear, the fear of the unknown, and that's why you have God as a father figure. That's why we look to the family structure, and the father is the leader, and it goes back from the animal kingdom right up to Now. It's the unknown and we're looking for leadership. Of course, it's forced on you, and a lot of people get used to it—it's a daily diet. Once you've tried out to be a musician or an artist, you try not to make terror part of your daily diet. We live in a penal complex anyway, so that's why I'm trying to get out mentally. We know that, it's all terror, and musicians can terrorize too. Everybody has their own agenda, like you've got some good doctors and some who create malpractice. The intent is it—life is really miraculous, you have all the powers but the main thing is intent. White magic or black magic, it depends on how you use it. You can use a knife to cut bread or slit a throat, that's what life and all the philosophy and all the books and tomes come down to—intent.

AAJ: What makes things interesting is their use.

DR: If you apply this to music, what I hope you hear coming through the bell of my trumpet is the intent. That's the whole thing—it might not be what they want to hear, but it's the intent.

Thanks to Dizzy Reece and the staff of All About Jazz New York for making this interview possible. Please visit www.dizzyreece.com for more information. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...


Selected Discography


Dizzy Reece,
Mosaic Select 11 (Blue Note Sessions 1958-1960) (Mosaic, 2004)
Dizzy Reece, Manhattan Project (Beehive, 1977)
Dizzy Reece, From In to Out (Futura, 1970)
Hank Mobley, The Flip (Blue Note, 1969)
Andrew Hill, Passing Ships (Blue Note, 1969)
Dizzy Reece, Asia Minor (New Jazz/OJC, 1962)
Dizzy Reece, Progress Report (Tempo/Jasmine, 1954-1956)

Related Article
Encore: Dizzy Reece (2005)


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