Ted Curson: We Shall Not Soon Forget
By Ted Curson
Too many jazz folks have left us this year. But in my career I have had the pleasure of at least a brush with many of them.
During the '60s, all musicians worth their salt were worried about their sound and their soloing and how many choruses they planned to play. I called Robin Kenyatta for my last date on Atlantic Records - the album called Quicksand. I had Kenny Barron, Richard Davis, Bill Barron on tenor, Robin Kenyatta on alto and flute, Butch Curson (my brother) and Tootie Heath on drums. The sessions sounded pretty good to me, but the next day when I went to listen to the tapes, Michael Cuscuna (the producer) said, "Oh, did you know that Robin Kenyatta was here and he did all his solos over?" That's the way the artists were in those days - the Coltranes and the Dolphys and the rest.
Bent Jaedig and I go all the way back to 1964, when I first played in Copenhagen at the Montmartre. I was living in Dexter Gordon's house and Bent came over to see Dexter and that's when I met him. After Bill Barron and I finished our month gig in Copenhagen, I played a week at the Jazz House in Arhus, Denmark. It was Bent's gig and he reminded me a lot of Dexter. From that moment on, we managed to play at least one concert together in Denmark every year and when he came to New York, he sat in with me at my Blue Note jam session. He even came over to Jersey City and played a concert with the Spirit of Life at the famous Miller Branch Library. A very good friend and a VERY good musician - and sadly underrated.
James Williams was a very quiet guy. He was everywhere from Bradley's to the Pori Jazz parties in Greenwich Village to the Jazz Times conventions. His death broke me up because he was such a brilliant piano man, and he had finally achieved a major success as an educator. It was over almost like a flash.
Hans Koller from Berlin was one of the top tenor players in Europe. His playing was between Zoot Sims and Brew Moore in style. I first met him at the Prague Jazz Festival and from that moment on he arranged jobs for me in the jazz cellars of Frankfurt and other German cities. Later on, he became a painter of note, and then I didn't see him for many years. You really missed a lot if you didn't hear him.
I met Elvin Jones years ago when he was playing at the Five Spot with Pepper Adams. When I walked in with my trumpet, they invited me to play one, which was quite unusual in those days at that club. I went up on the stand and somebody said, "Let's play 'Stablemates'." This was a tune that I didn't know, but it didn't matter at first because I could play in all the keys and I had a pretty good ear plus I knew all the chords. Once we started playing, I took the first solo, and I must have soloed for one hour because I couldn't get out of the song. It was an uneven number of bars, and I didn't know it. I felt like I was in a maze and couldn't get out. All of a sudden, Elvin made one of his famous rolls and looked me dead in the eye and I knew it was time to stop. After that, many years later at the Blue Note, Elvin was working there with Frank Foster and Frank said out loud, "Why, Ted Curson could fix that for you." I walked over to see what they were talking about and they were talking about playing at the Pori Festival in Finland. I said I could check it out, but ten minutes later somebody told me to forget about it. I really wanted to arrange this for Elvin because it was such a good paying job and Elvin Jones was one of the world's favorites, but he never got to play in Pori and now it's too late.
Malachi Favors was the bassist in the Art Ensembleof Chicago. (My old drummer, Steve McCall, sort of invented that group with Muhal Richard Abrams.) When I first saw Malachi in France at the big communist festival, they had their faces painted and I didn't particularly like that because I thought it was sort of tomming or burlesquing the music, but when they started to play, I quickly got the message. These were some heavy dudes under that regalia. One of the tunes they played, "Even the Rats and Roaches Know What's Happening" - they completely won me over with that. I still have it on a record in the basement.
Arthur Harper, bassist, was from North Philadelphia, and he went to Mastbaum Voc/Tech with me. He played with Art Blakey and many others. Arthur and I worked many nights at the old Birdland - that was the Ted Curson/Bill Barron Quintet. We also played together at Ortlieb's Jazz House in Philadelphia where he worked with Shirley Scott and Mickey Roker. He had impeccable time, and he was very selective in the way he picked certain notes from the chords in his solos.