A Remembrance of Percy Heath, Part 2-2
“ the contrabass moves the air in the room. You feel it! If you take your shoes off playing the bass, man, you feel it in the floor. ”
There's a variety on there, which really cover a lot of different aspects of how I feel about jazz. There's one piece I wrote which has a lyric too, "No More Weary Blues. There used to be a blues out, called "Weary Blues, a blues record when I was growing up, by a blues singer; a guitarist. This little melody I put on there incidentally, Tootie is playing the New Orleans beat on that particular piece it was supposed to be in a different style than just straight ahead swing, bebop. So that is on the CD. It just shows the different moods.
It reflected me, because I started out playing very early with a rhythm and blues band [lead by] Joe Morris, a trumpet player from Lionel Hampton's band. I was on the road with them, I guess for about a year... in late 47 or 46... back then. You want to know who was in that rhythm and blues band? [grinning and animated] Elmo Hope, the pianist; Philly Joe [Jones] was the drummer, Johnny Griffin was one of the saxophones, and Matthew Gee was a trombone player. Joe was the trumpeter. His brother-in-law, Michael Moore, was a baritone player. It was a full band, man. We went on the road with a show with Wynonie Harris. I made a record with them that was like a mini-hit for Atlantic, [sings] "shake a hand, shake a hand..."
I started out with that kind of background with Joe Jones playing "de-dook-de- dat, de-dook-de-dat, de-dook-de-dat..." that old rhythm and blues beat, man. We had a good time. But I was developing all along, I guess.
I finally got with the biggies in the bebop era. Sonny Rollins. When I first moved to New York he lived over on Sugar Hill, 148th and St. Nicholas Avenue. I got with Kenny Drew and Sonny Rollins. Jackie McLean was a young kid. He used to come up. And Kenny Dorham used to hang out up there. We'd go to Arthur Taylor's house when his mother went to work and jam and rehearse for this $10 gig that we had at the Rockland Palace or something like that. It was a long way getting to be the bandleader [on the new CD][Laughter].
AAJ: You recorded with Miles. Did you ever tour with him?
PH: We played around New York together. We played Birdland.
Oh man. I was in Birdland in early 1950... whenever Fats Navarro died. It was his last gig. Fats was sick. It was a sextet with Miles and Fats and Mad Lad [Leo Parker] on baritone. Bud Powell on piano and Art Blakey on drums. I was in heaven, man. [Laughter] I would say [looking at his watch], "Oh man, where are they? It's time to hit!" [Laughter] I was there an hour ahead.
Miles was responsible for me really becoming known on recordings. Those records that we made in the 50s. Miles had left Charlie Parker and was creating his style to get away from Dizzy and all the trumpet players trying to play like Dizzy.
Fats Navarro. Whew! Fats Navarro, I think, was Clifford Brown's idol. That style. Warm, baby. I mean soulful!
Miles came up with his own concept within the range he had on trumpet. It was beautiful. It was a very creative period for Miles Davis and I loved it and we had a good time. Kenny [Clarke] had come back from Paris and formed [Milt] Jackson's quartet. And Horace Silver. The Prestige stuff. And the early Blue Note stuff.
I was the house bassist on most of those dates with Horace Silver, Lou Donaldson, his first record dates. I made records with Thad Jones. Mostly all the trumpet players. I was on Clifford Brown's first record.
On those Miles records, we were called the All-American Rhythm Section. That original "Walkin'" man, Lucky Thompson [tenor sax] had his eyes closed. [Producer] Albert Lions was in the booth trying to get him to stop. At that time they had to limit time on recordings. Otherwise they couldn't get it on the air. You had to get a three-minute record. But anyway, they couldn't get Lucky's attention so Albert said, "Keep on going." They made it like a two-parter. [Laughter] But man, when me and Klook and Horace got up under him, boy, Lucky Thompson had a good time!
When that rhythm section locks in they used to say they 'locked in' that means there's some moments, some times, R.J., when on the bandstand you just get a feeling of elation. It's just spiritual, the connection between the pulse and what's going on. It doesn't happen constantly, because you couldn't stand it. You couldn't stay in there. Klook used to grunt and say, "Ahhh, don't go in there." [Laughter] If it was approaching that pinnacle. [Laughter] It's like when you play with Charlie Parker. You'd say, "What the hell am I doing here? Don't let me mess this up." Cause Bird just took it, man. He didn't need you, really. Charlie Parker... man, playing with Charlie Parker, man... what are you doing?
Anyhow, I was on a lot of records with a lot of people. But so-called bandleader? I'm, happy about it because the photography and everything, the packaging is wonderful. Carol Freidman did the photography and her assistant, Tina. They get credit on the CD. It was a tremendous effort on everybody's part to make it.