Ted Curson: We Shall Not Soon Forget
Illinois Jacquet was a phenomenon - one of those people who are just special. He created a style with "Flying Home" with Lionel Hampton that made him very famous and saxophone players used to use his style to walk the bar in Philadelphia and Baltimore and all across the country. I don't think he ever walked the bar, but his style of playing was perfect for that. I even heard Coltrane use it in Philadelphia. When his band was at the Blue Note one time, Illinois would warm the band up by having them play scales just the way you do in a high school band, which is very unusual - and he had some of the finest musicians in New York City in his band. One night during my jam session I saw him sitting at the bar, so I went down and spoke to him. He told me he had just finished an album playing bassoon. This is not typical of tenor sax players, because you need jaws like an alligator to play that instrument. He sat there all night at the bar, just listening to everybody play. The next day when I was getting on an airplane, going to Finland, Illinois was on the same plane and he had hired 35 musicians from the jam session! That's why I loved that jam session - because such crazy things happened.
Steve Lacy was an old friend from the East Village, one of the first young guys I heard playing the soprano sax - way before Coltrane. He had a beautiful sound on it and he played Monk tunes all the time. When my French record company (Gerard Terrones, owner) was arranging a tour for me in Spain, going from Bilbau to Deseri, I asked them to get Steve Lacy and Oliver Johnson on drums. I wrote some very hard music for the festival. Right before the festival, we played in Bilbau for the bullfight. The matador invited us to a party he was having before the fight and my musicians had a lot food and a lot of wine to drink. After the bullfight we played at the festival - of course, everyone was too drunk to play the music I gave them, so we played some other music that turned out to be free jazz and the people loved it!
Saxophonist Frank Strozier came to town with the MJT Plus 3. I played opposite to them in Birdland and Walter Perkins, the drummer, was their musical director. My good friend Bob Cranshaw played bass with them. Walter was a great drummer who played Art Blakey style and it was a swinging group. Then all of a sudden Frank Strozier stopped playing his brilliant alto and started playing piano. He gave his first concert on piano at Carnegie Hall. One of those multi-talented musicians!
Claude "Fiddler" Williams
I played a few gigs with Claude Williams at a very popular club (not a jazz club) on the West Side in Greenwich Village. I remember Calvin Hill played bass with us. It was funny because Claude was a senior citizen musician and my first thought was I hope I'm not doing this when I'm that age, but then after I heard him play, I was very impressed. I also admired the guy who was fixing gigs for him and I thought it was so nice to have someone take care of you that way. (This man turned out to be very famous for looking after the welfare of older artists.)
I once lived on 137th Street and 7th Avenue in Harlem. Nearby was Connie's where Steve Pulliam had one of the best jam sessions in New York. When I left there, I moved to Brooklyn. They had some wonderful jam sessions, too - at the Blue Coronet. I played with people like Chris White on bass, Bobby Hamilton and Andrew Cyrille on drums, Harold Cumberback on baritone, Roland Alexander on tenor, Gilly Coggins on piano, Buddishein on conga drums and Webster Young on trumpet. At this particular jam session, when I finished playing I sat down next to Webster Young. I didn't know Webster Young at this time. I think he had just moved to Brooklyn from Washington. So the first thing he said to me was, "I see you like Miles." I said, "Do you like Miles?" and he said, "That's my old lady." I didn't understand what he was talking about, but then he went up and played. Then I really understood him. He had all the Miles Davis things down - all the clichés, all the nuances, all the mistakes - and it was some great playing. He told me that the next day he was going to make a record with Jackie McLean and Ray Draper. That had to be 40 years ago. I hadn't seen or heard from him since.
2004's Jazz Passings
Claude "Fiddler" Williams
Coleridge-Taylor Colin Smith
Ellis Marsalis Sr.
Joel E. Siegel
John "Buddy" Connor