Bennie Maupin: Miles Beyond
AAJ: Was Miles your link to Herbie Hancock?
BM: No, Sonny Rollins. One night I was going over to the Half Note again, going to hear Sonny this time. I walked across town, got there early enough, standing on the corner in front of the club. I look down to my left, I see Sonny carrying his horn, coming this way. I look to my right and there's Herbie. Both coming at the same time. Amazing. They both arrived there at the same time, I'm standing there. Sonny looks at Herbie, he looks at me, and says, "Herbie, do you know Bennie." One of those times, right place at the right time. I met my buddy, the rest is history, all them things we did together. A few years on down the line, after a lot of different gigs and situations in New York, Joe Henderson was beginning to make his own records and not so interested in being a sideman in Herbie's band. The opportunity came, and Buster Williams said, "Hey, you need to call Bennie Maupin."
First gig we did we went to Baltimore, played a place called the Left Banke Jazz Society. Baltimore to New York is approximately two or three hours. On the way down to Baltimore, Herbie had the music and basically rehearsed me there in the car. Without my horn, we just talked about it, about what's going on in the music. My focus was so good, I memorized his music before we got to Baltimore. Played everything from memory, shocked me, shocked him too. It was out first time playing together, but it didn't sound like it. It was with Johnny Coles, Buster [Williams], Garnet Brown, and Tootie [Heath]. Then band changed around a little more and ended up being Julian Priester, Eddie Henderson, Billy Hart, myself and Buster in that sextet thing that was probably one of the greatest musical adventures I've ever had up until the present moment. I think the greatest one I'm having is right now.
AAJ: What a great long run you had with those guys.
BM: Yeah, we played together in situations where it was all about the music. The sextet was one of the greatest bands I've ever been in. It might not have been commercially the most successful, in terms of music and musicality, and mutual respect and creativity, it was on the highest level. I'm glad we made the few recordings we did, but I never felt the recordings were in step with where we were musically. We always recorded and then went to develop the music later. The process should have been reversed, but it was just not meant to be.
The first night we played together I knew something magical was happening. We had our first concert in Seattle. We had no time to rehearse. Herbie had given the horn players the music, so the three of us, we looked through the music. We were in the hotel and started playing through the part. The sound from that very moment was just the most gorgeous sound. We just blended. There was nothing about it that was ever out of kilter. We got to a point where we breathed at the same time, we'd phrase the same way. It was three of us, but it was like one mind. The blend would be so incredible, I wouldn't know if I was playing, if Eddie was playing. We went to the club, and Billy and Buster and Herbie were there. We played the first set, we must've played and hour and a half, two hours. After it was over, people just went completely crazy. We went in the dressing room and we couldn't even talk to each other. It left everybody speechless.
AAJ: Even now there's an angry contingent within jazz that remains offended by the use of electronics. From your time with Miles, to the Headhunters, to your own projects, electronics have been a part of your sound. Was playing with electronic instruments ever an issue for you?
BM: As long as it's making sound, I don't care what it is. I was fascinated by it. When I met Patrick Gleason, I thought, "Damn, where is he from? He had all the wires, modules. He had this machine, the ARP2600, I'd never seen anything like that. He'd sit down with me sometimes and show me the difference between a saw wave, and sine wave, and it just opened up my head to what sound was all about. That was the beginning of a whole other education for me. Prior to that I'd always been concerned with the notes, chords, and scales. It didn't occur to me there are infinitely more sounds than there are notes. Once I saw that, I realized you could create music in a completely different way using sounds. It can be non-pitched sounds, or sounds no one's ever heard before. Patrick was in that world.
Regardless of what people said, I said, "You can say what you want about it. Guys were really harsh in their assessment of what it was, I think they were intimidated because it wasn't something they knew. They weren't close enough to it to embrace it, and a lot of guys close enough to embrace it didn't because they thought they were going to lose something. The thinking was so distorted, so convoluted. But I got to see it coming, and I got to meet the inventors of things that had never been invented before, and these guys were thinking about ways to manipulate sounds. They weren't disconnected from nature. That's where it is. These guys making sound like the ocean, and birds, and sounds that have never been heard before. I loved it. I knew things would not be the same. As good as it sounds when you put an acoustic element on top of it, I fell completely in love with it.