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Alvin Queen: The Move, The Groove and The Beat

By Published: October 2, 2007
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Organ Trios

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 way—and 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.

AlvinAAJ: 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 him—that'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' groups—you 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.

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