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Dizzy Reece: From In to Out

By Published: March 7, 2006

Education and Communication

AAJ: With modern jazz being so small-group oriented, it took me a while to get into large orchestras, but now I gravitate to it more.

DR: I've got an article I'll publish in a minute about big bands, and you know it represents the community. It comes out of the church, and that's why it's a family affair, when you're on the road with a big band, it takes on a family lifestyle.

AAJ: You learn a lot that way.

DR: Of course! Schooling is the whole thing, and the small group came out of the big band, and a lot of big bands had a small group within, the quintet. It's good, though, it all starts with big bands—orchestras, symphonies, classics, chamber music, quartets, and then back to the big band. Your generation has to listen to Count Basie and all of that, you get history, feeling, you get now, you get the past—it's heavy and it's like a time zone, the past to now. My music is right Now, with all that experience and now, I'm fated to be around to play all of it but I sympathize with the past. You put on a record from the past and it brings you to right then; that's what music and the arts do—you look at a Pakistani rug or a Turkish rug, and the work that goes into that rug—I used to be enthralled by that, the patterns are all music and composition, orchestration. Those rugs go into people's apartments and houses, and that's part of music and part of life.

AAJ: I have Oriental rugs at home.

DR: You do? That's music; it's orchestration that comes from the people—humanity. It's not separated; I deal with the community and that's what jazz is about, universally. It's a personality code and now it's sort of a business code. That's why people need to take care—they've got a guy like me still alive, and they should appreciate that. When I grew up, I would go around to older men and listen to their stories, their travels. They'd go up to America and come back; I used to hang out with young cats and older cats, and I'd always want to listen to their stories. I still do—that's what it's all about.

AAJ: Life is an oral tradition.

DR: It always was. That's why they always used to say black musicians couldn't read music, but that's not it. Everything African or Oriental used to be part of the oral tradition, even the so-called Berbers until it was written down. Most of the tradition was written down in libraries in China and Africa, astrological libraries and physics—it's all about libraries, everything. Nothing is new under the sun; it's all been written down and the only thing that's new is modern jazz. Going to the moon and into space, they've been doing that for thousands of years. Music, the Indians and Ravi Shankar who brought it up to a heavier level, but if you went back through the civilizations you weren't hearing modern jazz. There was no bebop, no Charlie Parker, that time like Max, controlling time.

Space, the whole of physics, all of that is wrapped up in Clifford Brown and what he played on trumpet. Listen to Booker Little, Freddie Hubbard—those cats play fast and that's controlling the time. Physicians are musical scientists and that's what I am. Physicists and the guys at MIT, they can't swing because they don't have that beat. You have quite a few musicians who went to MIT who play jazz, and a lot of them went on to design jet propulsion and shit, and Kenny Clarke used to tell me "man, I used to recognize some of the jets when they flew over, whose signature that was." You could tell the guy's work and who was the draftsman. It's very heavy and I could do a whole article on that stuff, how it relates, MIT and physics and jazz. A lot of cats couldn't get that time so they went into physics, and they had a good head but they couldn't relate to modern jazz.

AAJ: That's funny to think about technology with relation to personality; I wouldn't think it could be differentiated as much as any drum solo or painting. If you think about it as an imprint—

DR: It's very heavy and a lot of people only think about it on a superficial level, you know. That's what the creative force is about. During your life you synthesize it and maybe there is a soul that carries on, goes on in records that you can play, but life consciousness is what you build up over time. It never dies; nothing dies, there is nowhere for it to go, and all these physicists and the "Big Bang"—it's all a big game. Nothing ever started and nothing ever stopped; you can't give it a time zone, that's a convenience. If you think freely, there is no beginning and no end. All this is philosophy and I've read them all—it comes down to Charlie Parker and bebop, that's the heaviest shit.

AAJ: With philosophy, the things that have spoken the most to me are things related to experience, John Dewey and stuff like that.

DR: Philosophy is the baking of bread—if it can make a loaf of bread, it's a philosophy. You put in the ingredients, you have a philosophy, and you bake a loaf of bread. Chemistry and everything, it's all philosophy. Philosophy is life; it never seems to solve anything, but it's life. You've got to find a system of negotiating, and that's your life—even if it's stupidity, it's philosophy. You try to make it intellectually coherent, that's why I insist on transparency because you get it right away and don't have any conflict. One and one is two and I don't need to have an argument about that. This seems to be the problem, that people want to make one and one something other than what it is, so that's my musical thoughts and my life.

I think most musicians and artists think like this—we try and make one and one two and that's it. That's where the beat is, and they try to get away from it—a lot of people hear free-form and they can't recognize the beat. I've got a lot of cats that I'm trying to teach, and that's why I say 'you've got to practice with time.' It's a teacher—what is a physical teacher but a beat, it keeps you organized. When the armies are marching over the bridges, they have to break up steps because the bridge can have a default. It's time and a beat that's been developed, and it can disrupt the mechanics of the bridge. That's a secret of orchestration and everything—you can orchestrate something that has an effect on physical structures. The mind is a physical structure, the brain, and when you play music it affects that, the sound waves and everything, it's all time. I like it loud, I don't escape—if it's not too loud, I don't want to hear it [laughs]! If you can tolerate it, then you can hear what it is, and if you're scared to play it loud it might not be worth listening. Not all music is comfortable or compatible, and that's a whole psychology that we can go into—not because it's music you've got to love it. Everybody's got a devil, too—some people like the devilry and they gravitate to it, the opposite to what you're listening for. We all have two sides on every coin, and that's why we try to balance it out with free radicals in the blood cells, and how do you express emotion? Is it always going to be the same? You look for a balance. People gravitate, like you or me or the real musicians, they gravitate to the truth, and the truth is the facts.

AAJ: Which are not always pretty.

DR: Life is not always pretty, and when we record, it's like a slice of life. It's compatible with your emotions and you present it as a dish. There are those who like it, but you know the restaurants that make the most money sell the worst food. The gourmet restaurants specialize, and you have to pay the price. Other restaurants don't have a good cook but they make a lot of money catering to a lower denomination. Do you want gourmet? It's up to you.

AAJ: I prefer to cook at home!

DR: I'm a master cook, you know that. I like cookbooks, they involve physics and it's all related. I've written about food, how it relates to music, when you're cooking up a composition it's just like food. I've got articles on all that. I mention it because it correlates to that One, that beat that everybody is running away from because it's coherent. The One in cooking is the swing. If the cooking doesn't swing, your palate doesn't swing. It goes in the sinus and your sensory-optical apparatus, and you switch the ocular into the hearing, you'd look at a painting and hear music. You understand? Color has got sound, that's what it is—wavelengths. They're just frozen, and if you switched it, you'd hear the painting.

AAJ: That's probably why I get so into abstract or color-field paintings, because they have a visual motion to them, and colors actually shift around the canvas.

DR: It's dynamic, and it's all music for me. If I write a letter, it's musical. If I flush the toilet, it's musical. You're traveling in trains and you listen to the wheels, you can write music—it's a musical world and you're supposed to hear music. Everybody sings, and it's different from talking. Your body is a singing machine, an instrument, and you know it should relate. You can take it to different intellectual levels, take it out. You come to one of these schools, you study the basics—science, English—it was always there and we're living off the fruits of it now. Once you get a realization of this in school, the curriculum, you grow better and there is no conflict of what you need. You need less psychotherapy and you're more comfortable with yourself. This should be in every curriculum, you can't just teach music and mathematics—there should be a philosophy. I'm [not good] at arithmetic, but I'm a musician and music is mathematics. Clifford Brown was a very good mathematician; he got into it and was a great physicist. I could never get into trigonometry, though people get into it, but we do it naturally and rhythmically and in other ways.

Life is an equation, love, our emotions, it's a mathematical equation. This is why we mention the idea of soul, because the universe is a mathematical equation, chemical soup and molecules, and that's what we're dealing with. The molecules sing, and they have a sound. Instead of a vibrational rate, it's a musical sound and it's out there, music "up there," and the way we deal with it in a humanitarian form as human beings is the same chemical equation, so we know it consciously in a humanistic way. We reference it the same, we know it emotionally as humans and this is why we try to relate. That's why I mention astroanalysis, because it's compatibility, temperament and character, and two persons are drawn together because of that empathy. They are compatible, and you can stay compatible for a while until your molecules drift apart unless the attraction is still there. It can wax and wane if you want it to wax and wane; that's why the masters and the teachers try to get your mind so there is no waxing and waning—you try to control your mind as much as you can. You can help it coming to hear me play or whatsoever, but your mind has still got to control your situation. That's basic; if you don't control your mind, you're a beast. It's all about taming the beast. You've got to be intelligent and get away from the beast, though the beast is always there. Life is a war, and if you don't survive you have to be a beast, a robot or a high-tech beast. The universe is a war ground—everything is controlled by fear and terror, the unknown. You're born and you don't know; everybody is surmising and speculating life, what's the next step. You'll never get enough balance as much as you know—you still say 'man, I don't know anything.'

The less you start to know—let's try to feel and absorb the mysteries. I don't want to know everything. I watch the clouds, meteorology, watch the day go by and I don't want to hear what's coming up. Let's see it now. Once the mystery is revealed, it's nothing, it's like yesterday, you know? That's what makes the music interesting, an element of mystique. People are afraid of me, too, and some people take time because I suppose I give a lot of seriousness. People approach me and take quite a while, to feel the façade. I don't put it out there—once you get to know me, you get to know my person, and usually it's your fear that makes you want to feel me. My fear is why I want to feel you. The wild animals and man used to live together and he wasn't carnivorous then, and once he started to eat animal flesh, of course a conflict developed. That was another factor that came up in the kingdom; if you grow up in the wild in the woods and such, there is no fear there between both.

During time, fear develops between man and beast, man and man, the whole thing. That's why you have the gods and they die too, Hercules and Zeus, everything dies. That's the fear, the fear of the unknown, and that's why you have God as a father figure. That's why we look to the family structure, and the father is the leader, and it goes back from the animal kingdom right up to Now. It's the unknown and we're looking for leadership. Of course, it's forced on you, and a lot of people get used to it—it's a daily diet. Once you've tried out to be a musician or an artist, you try not to make terror part of your daily diet. We live in a penal complex anyway, so that's why I'm trying to get out mentally. We know that, it's all terror, and musicians can terrorize too. Everybody has their own agenda, like you've got some good doctors and some who create malpractice. The intent is it—life is really miraculous, you have all the powers but the main thing is intent. White magic or black magic, it depends on how you use it. You can use a knife to cut bread or slit a throat, that's what life and all the philosophy and all the books and tomes come down to—intent.

AAJ: What makes things interesting is their use.

DR: If you apply this to music, what I hope you hear coming through the bell of my trumpet is the intent. That's the whole thing—it might not be what they want to hear, but it's the intent.

Thanks to Dizzy Reece and the staff of All About Jazz New York for making this interview possible. Please visit for more information. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...

Selected Discography

Dizzy Reece,
Mosaic Select 11 (Blue Note Sessions 1958-1960) (Mosaic, 2004)
Dizzy Reece, Manhattan Project (Beehive, 1977)
Dizzy Reece, From In to Out (Futura, 1970)
Hank Mobley, The Flip (Blue Note, 1969)
Andrew Hill, Passing Ships (Blue Note, 1969)
Dizzy Reece, Asia Minor (New Jazz/OJC, 1962)
Dizzy Reece, Progress Report (Tempo/Jasmine, 1954-1956)

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Encore: Dizzy Reece (2005)

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