Prince Lasha's Inside-Outside Story
One of the main festivals I did was "Prince Meets The Shaw, and that was Last Train to Yugoslavia. I did "Nuttin' Out Jones, "Oriental Flower by McCoy Tyner, "Music Matador, "Church House Blues by myself, "You Stepped Out of a Dream, "The Gypsy, "What's New, "Last Trane to Yugoslavia, and "Two Colors of Bird. I had Walter Smuggles on bass, Robert De Jarno on piano, Woody Shaw trumpet, my son Prince Lasha on drums and myself on alto and baritone sax. This was in Novosard, Yugoslavia. There was an article called "Seeing Coltrane and Dolphy Prince Lasha and the Firebirds about it.
AAJ: Do you think you were more familiar to European audiences at that time than you were with American audiences?
PL: Yes, yes, and even now. This country is built on political lines, and they have yet to find the classical music of America and appreciate it. But there are a lot of young people now who are coming out to find this music. Some of them were there when I was performing with the saxophone choir at the Blue Note. We had this young man James Carter who had some following, and I had a followingthey holler your name out at the club, you know? I signed all the records and CDs, and that told me something about the youth, who are trying to embrace this workit's very important that they do.
AAJ: I'll jump back a little, but going back to your experience in Texas, how well was the music that you and Ornette were playing received by your peers? I know Ornette had some difficulties with public reception, but did you encounter anything like that?
PL: I was with the alto player Buster Smith, and I think we moved on another level. Ornette was on a different, lower level of the blues than we were. He was with Pee Wee Crayton, and Harold Land was with Joe Liggens and I was with Jimmy Liggens, so we were on a different level. I didn't have to go through that. In the high school band, I was playing alto, Ornette was playing tenor, and his brother James Jordan was playing tenor. The band director came to me after about a year and said "I'm gonna move you up on the other line and you can play the alto clarinet part on your alto because you read so well. Ornette moved up to first chair, and I moved up to playing the alto clarinet parts on my alto saxophone. In later years I found out that I can really read! Now, I'm getting ready to deal with this saxophone choir, and Odean Pope sent me out the music to memorize and I did that already.
AAJ: As far as the group with Simmons, how did that dissolve? What were the circumstances for your not working together anymore?
PL: Lack of being able to participate in work. I just got a few gigs at the time, one at Shelly's Manne-Hole and here and there, and it just wasn't enough to keep us doing what we needed to do. He left New York before I did, and joined his wife Barbara [Donald, trumpeter in Simmons' own group] and recorded with her and Cecil McBee. I was traveling with Rollins and 'Trane all over the world. I introduced Simmons to Rollins one day; I was walking down 2nd Avenue going to Clifford Jordan's rehearsal hall, and I looked across the street and saw this dude looking and pointing at me, and it was Sonny Rollins with his horn! We all went over to Clifford's rehearsing spot, and that's the way Sonny Simmons met Sonny Rollins. One person came down to where we rehearsed and said, rather than that the music was too loud, that it was too fast!
AAJ: What happened next, after the California jazz festivals [released on record by Lasha's Birdseye imprint]?
PL: What happened with the Monterey festival was that Duke Ellington was hosting the stage and John Lewis wanted me to play there. I think he wanted Coleman to play there too, when Coleman made his debut. He told Jimmy Lyons about me [Monterey Jazz Festival artistic director], and so I played there. The most ironic thing about that was that I finished my set and was walking backstage, down the grass, and this guy keeps hollering "hey, wait a minute, hey! and just keeps on hollering, and so I asked Simmons "who is this guy? He looked and said "I think... I think it's... Sonny Stitt! Stitt said "let me ask you this. How long you had this group together? I said "about seven or eight years. He said "I thought so and turned around and went back. That Monterey session is one I really love, because that's the one that Down Beat said I played on with an Eastern flavor.
AAJ: What have you done since the '70s and '80s?