Alvin Queen: The Move, The Groove and The Beat
AAJ: You were now working with Wild Bill Davis in an organ trio. Was this your first time playing with this instrument and did you find you had to alter your touch at all for the music being produced?
AQ: No not really because the first organ player that I ever worked with was Richard Levister from Mount Vernon and he was a part of the Jimmy Hill Trio in which I replaced the drummer.
AAJ: In general, do you find you must change your touch depending upon the instrumental line-up of an ensemble?
AQ: This is a very interesting question, because it is the most important one for me. The reason why I've taken so much time and [so many] years to play with everyone that I've played with is because every individual person has something to say. They speak differently and their emotions are different. You can't play the same way with everyone, because it simply won't always work, and there'll definitely be some kind of conflict with the musicians in the band.
If each musician tries to be creative at a certain spot within the music, you are supposed to hear this within an eight to a sixteen bar phrasing, if you're listening. I've learned from my experience of life and as a musician to learn from playing on the bandstand, not going to school. My school was the bandstand.
The musicians used to yell at me years ago and at times say some very ugly things, but they only meant well, funnily enough. They all knew in the long run I could do it, so one would have to take this like a man during these moments, and to keep your mouth shut if you wanted the gig.
The older musicians were like your parents, so you didn't speak back to them in a nasty wayand if you did you knew you'd better look for another gig. There were great musicians years ago and they all could play. Whenever you were on a gig with someone years ago, there was always someone waiting around for something to go wrong, so that they would get the gig and replace you.
AAJ: Your next gig was backing singer Ruth Brown. The rest of her band at that time was the Don Pullen Trio. In this group Don played not piano, on which he was a wizard, but organ. I had known Don's work on piano through his stint with Charles Mingus and his Don Pullen/George Adams groups, never realizing he'd also played organ. I read that it was partially commercial considerations that made him adopt organ for a while. Don was always very forward thinking, with a modernistic progressive bent to his piano playing. What were his chops on organ like?
AQ: Yes, it was Don Pullen's trio, but I didn't know Ruth Brown until Don called me up to join his group. I'm not sure if it was C.I. Williams on alto or Tony Williams from Philadelphia, but we used to play a lot in Gracie's Belmont club in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which was the same place I was working with Wild Bill Davis and Dicky Thompson.
I really didn't know Don as a pianist until years later when he showed up in Europe with Charlie Mingus, and this is when he got his big break, but he had a beautiful touch on the Hammond B3. I'm pretty sure there's a record out under Dave Hubbard's name, on the Mainstream label, produced by Bob Shad, who did the date featuring Don on organ.
AAJ: I think when one is young the coming or leaving of a job seems a more serious, heavy thing. Did leaving one group to join another bother you? Were they for the most part amicable departures?
AQ: Man, this is one of the most painful things that can happen, because once you're involved in a group it's like being part of a family, and you learn to do things together.
The vibe among musicians is different today than years ago. When I came up, there were musicians traveling from different parts of the country to New York, and if they had nowhere to go after a jam session, they used to hang out all night at Horn & Hardart's restaurant or at Bickford's, and if you had enough money to buy a sandwich, you'd break that into pieces and share that with himthat's what the music world was all about.
Most of the musicians would take another musician home with him and throw an extra mattress on the floor to give him a place to sleep, that's what it was all about until you got a gig.
Most of the time there were not "put-together bands. For example, some of Art Blakey's bands would stay together for ten or fifteen years, the same was true for Horace Silver and Miles Davis' groupsyou didn't leave school until it was time for you to be a bandleader.
Most bandleaders would tell the record labels, "He's ready that's how things were. This is one of the reasons I went out of my way to perform with so many different people, to get my approval that I was ready, for the word to be out there.
This didn't take four years; it took more like thirty-five years, and now I'm putting it through the test. I've always left any group under good conditions. If not, I'd feel guilty and couldn't face the person later in life.
AAJ: Multi-reedman George Braith was also present at the Birdland Gretsch event. He offered you a place in his band which at this time also included Grant Green and John Patton. This is one of my favorite line-ups which George has had. Did you have a chance to record with George or Grant at all? In looking at an overview of your career there is a wide variety of playing situations in which you participated, but all seemed somewhat based in a sort of soul-groove feel or a progressive hard-bop thing. Was your time with George your first foray into music which went a little further out? George is a definite one of a kind, and like yourself seems in his music to be comfortable with incorporating some of the same sonic base elements. Did your time with all these various artists up to this point add things to your artistic palette or was your artistic evolution more of a solitary inner thing?
AQ: George was really the one to discover me at Birdland and to put my music through the test. I really have a lot of respect for George because he was the one to help me to develop the mind and the sense for putting things together.
When George bought me into his group it had some very powerful guys and I suffered a lot because my chops were not strong enough at the time, but they also took the time with me to get them right.
Try to remember that the Hammond B3 is a very strong instrument, and when you add John Patton to the mix, it's even stronger. Grant Green only wanted to know if you could find a groove. He was all about closing his eyes and asking you to help him find that groove. It used to be funny, because after Grant's solo he would turn around say "You are that bad motherfucker, and I would just smile, because I knew I was doing something right.
George was the one who introduced me to so many people at this time. He's the one who would take me by Elmo Hope's house.
I can remember a gig I did with George at the Blue Cornet in Brooklyn, and he had Larry Young on piano, Ernie Farrow on bass and me on drums.
I was with George when he decided to change his form of music by letting the organ go and then adding piano and bass. After this, George decided to only use bass and drums. He was always the guy to say to me "Free up the time and drop the two and four on the hi hat.
I had this same experience with Joe Henderson. Joe uses to love for the time to flow, without the hi hat on every two and four, that's what I like about Joe Chambers. He's a master at this and whenever I get a chance to check Joe out, I'm sitting right there.
The only recording I ever did with George is part of his private collection, and I think that someone should definitely speak with him to get them out on CD. I was the one who originally helped George to build his club Musart down on Spring St. during the '60s and early '70s.
I can remember Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane use to go there to rehearse and play together, and I also received an offer from Sonny Rollins at this time to join his band at George's place. Many people used to come by, for example Roy Haynes, Janet Getz, Evelyn Blakey, Joe Lee Wilson, Freddie Hubbard and Cedar Walton. Lots of musicians began to have lofts around this time, were you could play all night.
AAJ: Would it be safe to say that at this point you had appeared more in live situations than you had on record? Do you have a preference for one over the other?