Sam Rivers: A Giant Among Us
AAJ: Tell me more about 24 Bond Street ...
SR: Well, that's when I got the studio together. You see, the reason why was because I was rehearsing up at a public school up in Harlem at 133rd street, someplace like that. It was good, you know, 'cause I could rehearse up there once a week. And every now and then give an occasional concert for the students, which was OK, you know. The problem was, we had to be out of there by 9 o'clock. No beer and no smoking. So that was a problem, cause you know that by 9 o'clock, the guys are just getting warmed up! That was the reason why, I said, man, I've got to get a space where I can rehearse 24 hours if I like ... any time of night. So anyway, I found this space downtown, owned by Virginia Admiral. She was an artist, and her son is Robert De Niro. And she was happy to rent me the space downtown like that.
AAJ: And you and Bea lived there?
SR: Yeah, we had two floorsthe main floor and the basement. And first we had the music in the basement, then I moved it up on the main floor. I built some balconies and lofts so that I could have the music on the street level floor. It was a real nice performance space. Lot of musicians performed there when they came into New York. Most of them were already established themselves in their own scenesin Chicago and St. Louisand they were in their 30s, like Leroy Jenkins, [Henry] Threadgill and Hamiett Bluiett. Like myself, we were already complete musicians. In the past, that didn't happen. Most of the musicians who came in were like Miles and Wyntonthey learned on the job. See, but we came in, fully professional ... after already learning on the job in our respective towns. And we were all playing our own music all the time. Not just a concert every once and awhile. That's what started us having concerts on Bond Streetbeing able to play anytime we wanted.
AAJ: Were there any young New York musicians that came around at that time?
SR: Sure, good players like David Murray were on the scene. And Chico Freeman, too. When Chico came along he'd just established himself; he came into New York with Elvin Jones, whom he'd been playing with for awhile. William Parker came around in the mid-'70s, and he was very young. I played with him, and he played with all the musicians. He was getting some good "on the job training" in those days.
AAJ: How did you hook up with Alan Douglas?
[Editor's note: Douglas was a producer for Arista Records]
SR: Oh, he was from Boston, and I knew him from there. I called him up when I moved to New York, and he set up a few jam sessions for me. Like one with Jimi Hendrix. Alan set that up, for me to play with Jimi down at his place in Woodstock, New York. Jimi had a studio in the city as well, but we went out to Woodstock for a few days and played some creative music. Later on, once I had Rivbea studio going, Alan came in to record the series of jazz records, Wildflowers on Douglas Records. So I invited over all the guys who were playing on the scene at that time. Guys like Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, Roscoe Mitchell, Tony [Anthony] Braxton and Andrew Cyrille. Some critic made a point of saying that I didn't invite certain musicians who were on the scene, but the truth was, they were on tour. Like Dave Holland, who should have been there but was out of town.
AAJ: Earlier you said that you just called Dizzy Gillespie up and asked to join his band?
SR: That's right. We knew each other's work and respected one another. You know, sometimes musicians want to hire you but assume that you're too busy with your own music. How would they know? I don't wait for them to ask me, I ask them! In a way, it's intimidating to ask them a question like that, but that's the only way to do it. I was with him for four years, from 1988 until 1992. I actually played in all three of Dizzy's groups: the United Nations Orchestra (with Paquito D'Rivera, James Moody and Jon Faddis), his quintet and the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band.
MM: When did you arrange your first big band?
SR: Well, in Boston, I worked in big bands and did some arranging with Jaki Byard. I'd been composing pieces for large orchestras since 1965, and I'd performed with several orchestras. But my first recording of this type of music was released in 1974Crystals on Impulse. Then when I moved down to Florida, I met up with many musicians and music professors who came and played in my big band. The rhythm section is made up of the members of my trio: Anthony Cole on drums and piano, and Doug Mathews on bass.
MM: The trio will be with you at the Gallery 701, in Columbia?
SR: Yeah, Anthony and Doug are with me. This will be our second time playing at Gallery 701, and my fourth time playing in Columbia. The very first concert was back in the '70s with Dave Holland. It was held on the college campus.
AAJ: Yeah, that show was held in the Golden Spur, where you could drink boogies for $1. I think the date was 1977.
SR: Sounds about right. The Golden Spur? Don't remember the name, but I remember it was packed. And there were some freaks in there, too. Then some twenty years later, I came back and did a trio show with your organization [Editor's note: Minsker promoted shows through the Creative Music and Film Society] and we played at the USC Music School. I was also there for the jazz festival [Wailin' on Whaley]. Yeah, I like Columbia and look forward to going back.