Dizzy Reece: From In to Out
AAJ: How did your first record for Blue Note come about?
DR: It was recorded about a year before I came to New York, and it was a contract with Alfred Lion, and my manager in England, Tony Hall, sent him a copy [of the tape]. Of course, we referred it back to Miles Davis; he had heard of me and a lot of musicians had heard of me, and they came through [pianist/vibraphonist] Victor Feldman, who was a natural musician and he slipped into the American scene. He lived in the US and he was a natural, a great musician. He was one of the first people I hooked up with in England, where I made my first recordings, and Victor came back to the States and touted my name around. He played with Woody Herman and the big band, and he'd play the recordings that we did, and he introduced my name and sound to a lot of American musicians [Feldman played with Miles Davis as well]. So they were familiar with Dizzy Reece before, and when they came to Europe, they'd say 'where's Dizzy Reece?' I was the voice and the liaison for jazz in Europe.
That's how I finally got contracted to Blue Note, but I did quite a bit of recording before that, and all of it's been reissued. I used to record for the Savoy label [Changing the Jazz at Buckingham Palace, 1956], and Tempo which was a later subsidiary of Decca. Those have all been repackaged and issued under the Jasmine label, and those have been out for several years. They have a package of all those recordings [with Feldman, Ronnie Scott et al], so if anybody wants to check out my early recordings, that's out. Everybody's familiar with that time period of my music, but most people haven't heard Dizzy Reece since that period.
AAJ: I suppose I detected a real early change with Soundin' Off [Blue Note, 1960] in terms of your trumpet playing, it sounds a lot more vocal and notes sound more dissonant or tonally bent. I don't know if that's accurate, but it seems like the shift in approach.
DR: It's always an ongoing process, trying and developing everything. In the liner notes to that record, Ira Gitler made reference to my prodigious technique, and he was talking about the vocal shifts too. He was mentioning the same things you are talking about, my style of playing.
AAJ: I believe he also mentioned something about your interest in Eastern and Indian culture.
DR: All that stuff, yeah, but 1960 was about forty years ago, and my technique has been gone through about a hundred times since then, so there's quite a lot of music in between. That brought me to the period of the '60s, and there is a discography of all my recordings from England up to now, which was given to me by Rutgers University. They've got everything I did that's recorded there, and I was surprised at the amount of recordings. My records have been selling since the '50s, and I've taken royalties since then all over the world, for over fifty years.
AAJ: Some of them haven't ever really been out of print.
DR: No, all that musicDizzy Reece has kept a low profile in some ways, but it's there, you know. I'm here, the substance, and I'm fortunate to still be here with my music. I'm still strong, but my output iswell, I never look at jazz as what you've done in the past, but it's what you're doing now. Some people think 'oh, I've done so much and that's it.' With a creative force, you don't think about that.
AAJ: Even though it's still something quite old, I have got a lot of mileage out of the recording you did for Futura.
DR: You're talking about From In to Out? That was recorded in Paris. Sure, my head was into that totality, and I was also writing [for] big bands, scores and orchestrations and stuff, but that's 1970 and a lot of people were surprised by it.
AAJ: It's very avant-garde, free, or whatever you want to call it.
DR: It's strange, because I remember a review came up in Le Monde, the French post, and they said it was the best record of the year. Another review came out, and they said it was the most nonsensicalthey couldn't figure it out. It was no big deal, but it sounded like something else then. You know, that record is a minor blues, the entire thing, the oldest minor blues, and it's called "St. James Infirmary." If you study it, it goes back to New Orleans. If you listen to "St. James Infirmary," it's a minor blues everybody is crying about. It's what you call a slow minor, and if you listen to From In to Out and the construction, it's basically a minor blues.
AAJ: It's interesting because it has that lead-in that you find in a lot of minor blues as well as in Indian music, and they call it the alap.
DR: Yes, exactly.
AAJ: This is also a major part what you find in a lot of later Coltrane music as well.
DR: That's what I was getting at, the connection, and of course the minor sound is the Eastern sound and the major sound is the Western sound. This is why you have the diatonic scale, and Western civilization has been built on the diatonic scale. In a lot of my writings, I go through all that, the scales and how they relate to the civilization. The Greek modes, all classical music is built on that, but you still have the chromatic. The chromatic system is where you bring in the Eastern, the other tones, the quarter-tones and the mixed modes, and that's what Trane got into with Ravi Shankar, who was one of the great exponents of that in music. It's all jazz and improvisationit's improvising, and they take it out, they really take it to another level with it. Of course it's universal, the ragas, it's all there, but the New York sound, this is it. When you get to the peak of what's happening in civilization, that's Broadway in New York. For me, that's it, and everything that's gone before is assimilated and packaged into modern jazz.
AAJ: Then you can build a diagram to all those other things.
DR: Everything is in there, of course, it's in the package and you don't need fusion, it's already fused. That's just a gamethe fusion and the games they playbut it's already a package. The music is classic already, and it's got all the dynamics of every civilization, so then you bring it down to right now, what's happening, and that's the modern thing. The intelligence is incredible when you put it together; the young exponents of the jazz now, they're still into it and it's very good, aside from what you said before that it's missing. Technically [the young players] are expressive, but nothing is new under the sun.
AAJ: There is always a precedent somewhere.
DR: What has made it jazz you can see sticks out so sublimely. You can listen to all the great civilizations that came before and the music, and no matter how great the music is, it's nothing like now. You can go play all the music of thousands of years before, Roman music and it's hip for them and well-organized, and all the classic elements were there, but then when you take it to another intelligent level and you listen to the music now, of course humanity has developed since then. The intellectand creative people have a dynamic imaginationthat's what it's about.
AAJ: The essence is still constant in some ways, through all of it.
DR: That's what keeps the universe going, it's got to be constant or everything would decay.
AAJ: When the United States invaded Iraq, and there was all this sentiment going on around then, one of the first things I did was to pull out recordings of Persian music, because the culture is forgotten about when a country invades another country. You assume that everything is gone and washed away, but I'm curious to see what's actually there.
DR: I know what you mean, but the music is part of the war, too. If you go back to the drummers and the trumpet players, you bring them right down to the bugle boythe end of the cavalry is always the bugle and the drums. They'd bring up the corps, they'd excite the warriorsthat's why the drummers were in the middle of the fighting, and they would give them their energy. The drummers, the bugle players, the flutesmusic was very martial. It still is and that's why it's a political thing. That's why you've got two sides, the good guys and the bad guys, the drummers from over there, and they all still fight like warriors. It's the essence, and life is a journey for a warrior. Your body has got free radicals, and that's why hygiene is so importantif you don't have that, your body is wracked in a minute. Hygiene is the element that holds up everything; it's in the ten commandments of the body, next to lastmental hygiene is very important, don't you think? That's why there is music and the creative forces that make it, because that's how you think. That's the hygienic force that everything wants.
AAJ: The more mentally active you are the less sick you are.
DR: Exactly, mental food is the main food. It keeps you aliveif you don't think for one second, you go unconscious. Consciousness becomes attenuated, and it means that you're thinking. How do you think? If you want a proper system, you've got to give it the proper mental food. That's why you have so much sickness, the mental food is what you talk about when you feel something is missing, the problem. Sure, you try to attain as an individual or an artistthat's why I keep saying it's one and one. These commandments are all you need mentally; they keep you out of the hospital and in shape. It's psychosomatic, everything is.
You have to work physically, as it keeps you mentally active. Construction work, I did all that too in England. I used to build the roads there with a jackhammer; I did all that stuff, and I'd get frustrated, but I'm a warrior. Everybody isyou have to be hygienically together, because you're always being attacked by something in the world. To get a bit of beauty out of it and symmetry, you have to be prepared hygienically. To be prepared means how you think, it's up to you. This is supposed to be in the school curriculum, all of what we're talking about in music and art, this is the basics. It's missing in the school and the education system, and each individual gets into something like this, he gets a taste of it and if he can use it to better the circumstances, then good luck.
AAJ: It's funny that I didn't get any of that until college; to that point, it was sort of like being babysat. I didn't get the hygienic aspect of education and a curriculum in the arts until I went to the university.
DR: It doesn't pervade society as such; you have to look for it. That's why everybody is looking for it; some people come to jazz and some people go to church in looking for it. I count myself important for myself, because I try to keep hygienic and keep everything in perspective. I can't stand anything shady and dark or obscure; I like everything transparent. If you listen to my music, whether you like it or not, everything is bold, it's raw and freshnothing is hidden. A baby can hear it, a kindergartener, everybody and on that level I have nothing to hide. It's a lot of knowledge that's accumulated in everything I play, put together and synthesized, and I've got an audience over the years as people buy my music. Certainly there is a force that doesn't want that music to be out there; those forces exist in nature, so this is the fight that the artists and the culture have. Everything is designed to show the great human spirit. If you can get some peace out of that individually, the world is beautiful but then it's got a devil too. There are two sides of the coin, and it's a warrior's world. Before you come out of the womb, you start fighting; kicking in the womb, from there it starts, you're bound alive.
AAJ: There's a lot of resistance in there, and it teaches you how to move around.
DR: Of course, we live in terror. When you're in the womb, you're in terror already, and by the time you get your ways together... this is why the cultural scene is important. I grew up in that scene and the music was always around; it was in the house and there weren't a lot of distractions. Music was on the radio, and it was in the consciousness of the people. It helped to build Americablack, white, jazz, the totality of it structured the American scene (besides steel, anyway). The music was the steel, the essence, and that's been diffused.
AAJ: It's cultural steel.
DR: Sure, that's what we are about, what artists contribute. This is what I am about and what my compatriots are about, and the younger musicians are into it whether they know it or not, that's what they're doing. I don't know any other purpose for it.
AAJ: When you study history in school as a kid, at least here and now, that aspect is not taught.
DR: Again, it's that you have to look for it. That's why from when I was a young man, she put the first books in my hand, metaphysical books. I was seven years old, and I didn't know why she gave them to me. But they put me on another level, and she helped to prepare me. Everything around me was on that level, even though she was struggling, and she bought me my first trumpet. Up to this day, all through my struggles, she's always shown me encouragementshe was always there. A lot of musicians don't have that, and it shows you how, in that environment, [music was important, and] especially jazz and classical, everybody studied classical. A lot of people don't know that most jazz musicians studied classical, because jazz was taboo in the house. You could play that piano, some boogie-woogie, but you dare not play that [jazz]. Jazz was always a resisted intelligence; you'll never see bebop on Broadway or Charlie Parker on Broadway, you'll never see the real stuff [anymore].
AAJ: I was talking with [pianist] Bobby Few and he was saying how he had to find another piano teacher to secretly teach him boogie-woogie, because his regular teacher would hit him on the hands.
DR: Of course, I know Bobby well, and it showed him how to play classics because pianists wanted to get the foundations, and most of them had to. Sonny Clark, Kenny Drew, I can mention all of them from Art Tatum to Earl Hines into the youngest cats. You'd be surprised by the repertoire. I met Sonny Clark and he knew the whole repertoire. He was playing with Buddy DeFranco and he could call any tune, and he knew all the classical pieces. The thing about it is that they don't make it obvious. You can hear it's all there, but it's not obvious unless you're Oscar Peterson, whose chops are so great, and Bud too. All the hip modern playersClark, Drew, Horace Silver, Bud Powell, Elmo Hopethey were child prodigies. Even Herbie Hancock, he was a child prodigy. Ahmad Jamal and all these cats are very classically-oriented, but then the jazz came in and they could develop. Of course their teachers didn't want to show them boogie-woogie, because it was open to free thinking, and all the great stride players who played boogie, they were the greatest piano players. They used to play a whole show, all those silent films and all that, and they used to bring that emotional aspect to the film and used to make the film come alive on screen. This was before it got to Hollywood with all the string sections, and one pianist could make the whole thing come alive. You've got to be a psychiatrist too as well as a musicianyou're not just up there banging away. It's dealing with heavy psychology.
AAJ: It's interesting to think about the silent films because that's something I've never seen and not heard too much about, how music was integrated into the film like that.
DR: That's a whole era, sure, show-business and Broadway and the pianist, and I don't know how good my father was, but he used to play it for me. I don't know much of him, but he gigged as a pianist for silent films at that time, and in the States all those great piano players used to go in and sit and watch films as they played. I don't know if you know about it, but the first modern jazz I wrote in England, Nowhere to Go, it was the same formatwatch the film and we'd improvise with a quartet right there. I referenced the format, and it was the first modern jazz film made in England. I had Tubby Hayes on it and everybody, and that's part of the [Jasmine reissue] package. We'd set up, watch the film, do it in one take, and we got a masterpiece out of that. All of that came out of the lone silent film pianist, and he'd have to build the whole repertoire. Fats Waller would sit there overnight and write thirty or fifty songs for a show, start to finish. They'd play the show and play everything, dramatics to the show, the whole Broadway show, till they got the band musicians. That's the entrance of this music, they carry a heavy loadit's a big thing there, it's not just banging around. These cats left a heavy legacy.
AAJ: There's a film that I was always curious about on a small town in Alaska, and they had an improvising ensemble compose the soundtrack live to a screening of the documentary [by Michael Krassner with music by the Boxhead Ensemble, soundtrack on Atavistic]. I didn't see the film; it's from a few years ago and it's called The Last Place to Go, and I've heard the music which is a wonderful evocation of very uninhabitable land.
DR: Well it's the rapport, it's like you're doing a paintingyou're in the painting, right there, and that's what improvisation is all about. It's the creative force. They say God created the world in seven days.
AAJ: Not long, as some would say.
DR: But that's because he's using the diatonic scale, the seven-toned scale, and that's part of my philosophy in my writingswe'll go into that. The way of creation, that's what it meansit takes a creative force to go through that diatonic stuff. That's the biological form, you get the egg which is the octave (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do), that's an egg or a complete cell, a biological musical form. That's the basics of creation and that's what it meant to the creative force. Seven steps to heaven.
AAJ: I was speaking with [Prince Lasha] about this, that the whole idea of the length of a day was different in this context.
DR: It's not to be looked at literally or physically, ten thousand yearsthey throw out these numbers like the earth is sixty million years, but you can't even imagine what twenty thousand years looks like. Everybody gets hung on numbers, but we try to transcend the numbers. When I say Creation, I mean Now. You can start with the Bible and go through time, but there is no beginning and no end. When they give you the number, the physicists are just talking about one scheme. My aspect is the creative force, which references the seven stepsit's now, it goes through all the periods and transcends all creation. You take seven steps to build [upon]that's the basis. It's in physics and it's in the digital, in everything.
AAJ: You look at a calculator, and it all seems rather small.
DR: You don't have to go back in time; the music is Right Now. That's why it's so important when you play it now. All that's building right now is the creative source, and creation is always going on now. Stepping back into those time zones, it's really Nowthat's the essence of it.