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James Spaulding: '60s Sideman Extraordinaire

By Published: February 11, 2004
JS: Yeah, that was the piece that Joe Lee Wilson wrote the lyrics to.

AAJ: Oh, I'm just familiar with the instrumental version you did with Bobby Hutcherson [on Patterns, Blue Note, 1968].

JS: Oh, that wasn't the best version, but it was okay. I thank Bobby for recording it and using it on his date. He liked it, so I said "okay, man, you got it." Of course, there were those dates with Wayne Shorter, which were my favorite dates. McCoy Tyner's Tender Moments, that kind of stuff just moves me, the spiritual compositions.

AAJ: So had you always thought about doing something in a larger context, like an orchestra, even though you were recording with small groups?

JS: Yeah, that's what I'm doing right now, working it out on my computer. I'm just doing it myself. Plus, I have my own record label now, Speetones. I make up about a thousand copies of the records.

AAJ: So how did you go about starting your label?

JS: Well, everybody's saying "shoot, man, get your own label." You can do what you want to do, get the musicians you want, you don't have the record companies telling you who to use or what to play. It's like Alfred Lion telling me what to play. The money wasn't that great anyway for a sideman. For me, it was $250; at 12:00 they'd pick us up at the Empire Hotel and take us out to Rudy van Gelder's studio in a taxi, and we'd be out there from noon to sunset. We'd be doing all these takes and he'd give each of us a check and we'd have to rush back to Manhattan before the check-cashing place closed (it was on the corner of 50th and Broadway), try to cash our little check and have enough money to get home and buy some groceries. I began to record a lot, my phone was ringing and I was thankful. I got married in '63 and after that we did Hub-Tones, and Duke Pearson (he was the A&R man), he liked me and started calling me for other dates, and I am thankful for that. But I wish I had recorded for Blue Note with the music I wanted to play!

If people call me "underappreciated," in terms of having more gigs, being able to present my music more, I think I'd rather just do this music the way I've always done it. If anybody wants to invest in you, invest some money in your dreams, then that's another story. But when you do your work because someone tells you how to do it, or the way to do it, after a while you lose interest in it. You want to have the freedom to do your own thing, like when I started my own record label — I go into the studio and record whatever I want; I've got the money to pay for it.

AAJ: So will the new orchestra piece come out on Speetones, then?

JS: Of course, unless somebody comes along and makes an offer I can't refuse. I'm still working on it; it's a work in progress anyway.

AAJ: It's all a work in progress'

JS: It never stops; I put on a piece, "Shaw'nuff" by Charlie Parker, I get the same feeling and inspiration when I hear Bird and Diz do that thing. It's almost like they stopped time. That's the magic of this music, when you can make time stand still like that... I think there are two things of importance — remembering and creating. All this negative stuff, all the wars and the greed, we just have to pray. I'm so glad for this music; aren't you?

Recommended Listening:

  • Sun Ra - Jazz in Silhouette (El Saturn-Evidence, 1958)
  • Freddie Hubbard - Hub-Tones (Blue Note, 1962)
  • Grant Green - Solid (Blue Note, 1964)
  • Duke Pearson - Wahoo! (Blue Note, 1964)
  • Bobby Hutcherson - Components (Blue Note, 1965)
  • James Spaulding - Brilliant Corners (Muse-32 Jazz, 1988)

Visit James Spaulding on the web at .

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