by Art Taylor
Da Capo Press (1993)
This slightly expanded edition of Taylor's 1982 publication of these striking interviews with jazz musicians known to both millions or only to their colleagues and fans, provides unusual insight into the techniques, attitudes, preoccupations and personal histories of some extraordinary personalities. Taylor, a percussionist held in the highest esteem by his peers since the early '50's, was in many respects an ideal interviewer: a master drummer who had made music with many of his subjects and had experienced the same social and economic struggles. There is little feeling of inhibition in any of these discussions. To some degree they reflect the time, the late 1960's and the early 1970's, in which the momentum of earlier successes of the African-American struggle for civil rights was beginning to flag.
Taylor has his own preoccupations which help give shape to his reportorial work. Do jazz musicians have any control over the distribution of their music? What do they think of the civil rights movement? What music do they listen to? Do they have spiritual inclinations? Often he asks for evaluations of Charlie Parker and Bud Powell. Sometimes the exchanges are extremely pithy, as in the opening of the Max Roach interview:
Q: Are you your own boss as a man? A: No, God is my boss, I'm next.
The way a great jazz musician uses her skills to overcome her deficiencies is illustrated at some length by Nina Simone: My piano training has helped me immensely, because at first it could hide all the things I couldn't do with my voice.
Hampton Hawes' subsequent untimely death makes his closing statement even more poignant:
I don't have any goals; the only thing I want is gigs. I know I won't ever sell a million records and be famous or rich. I only want to play the piano and support my family, to try and keep my dignity, and later on to write my memoirs and then get the fuck on out of here. You dig?
Many of the musicians describe experiences like Sonny Rollins': I was beginning to get a lot of good publicity, and everyone was hailing me and saying how great I was. Yet when I went to look for a good apartment, I ran into this same old stuff. Here I had all these reviews, newspaper articles and pictures. I can look back on it and see that it was a natural thing we all go through. At the time it struck me, what did it mean if you were still a nigger, so to speak?
The Contents lists twenty-nine musicians, from Kenny Clarke's generation to Ornette Coleman's, with the majority associated with music of the 1950's. Miles Davis alternates between playfulness and seriousness; Dexter Gordon (one of two new interviews in this edition) is all play; Carmen McRae speaks about her past and her thoughts at considerable length, as do many of the players and singers with whom Taylor speaks. All speak with distinctive voices and authenticity; as may be said as well of their musicianship. A jazz fan who is interested in the history of jazz in these thirty musically rich years after the Second World War, or the personalities who dominated the period, will benefit by reading Taylor's compilation. Includes photographs and index.
This review copyright (c) 1998 by Larry Koenigsberg.