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Alvin Queen: The Move, The Groove and The Beat

By Published: October 2, 2007
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The European Scene

AAJ: I constantly write about the difference in attitude towards jazz in Europe. Was it immediately apparent to you?

AQ: Yes, definitely. Young musicians had more of chance to say what they've been trying to say in America for years. The Europeans were always open to greater things, and they would definitely give you the support needed to stay on your feet to be successful. Most of the guys from America either came over and spent some time or remain to this day in Europe.

AAJ: You were with Charles Tolliver for only a few months. Were you mainly gigging in Europe at this time? There was an informal expatriate community of jazz musicians that included such heavy hitters as Dizzy Reece, Johnny Griffin, Donald Byrd and Larry Young, who used Quai de Chat Qui Pêche (in Paris) as a sort of home base. Did you have a chance to interact with this loose knit confederation at all?

AQ: Firstly, I'd like to inform you I was with Charles Tolliver much longer than six months. Our relationship was for at least a decade, on and off, and we're still the best of friends.

Charles helped me out a lot, and made me the person I am today, and I must confess that if it weren't for Charles Tolliver I wouldn't be in the position I've enjoyed for the last thirty years. This guy's supported me every step—and still would do if I asked.

The Chat Qui Pêche, the River Bop, The Living Room, there were many places that, as you mention, the expatriates were hanging out. You forgot to mention the Drugstore, which we called the Green Star, on Blvd. Saint German near the Lippo Restaurant. These were places where you would go to find out what was happening after arriving in Paris, and asking who was in town playing.

I first met Maurice Cullaz through Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell, then I was introduced to Kenny Clark, and "Klook [Clarke's nickname] and I became the best of friends. He also started turning me on to different gigs within the Paris area, and Slide Hampton and Art Taylor were also a part of this community of musicians.

AlvinAAJ: You once again answered the call, rejoining Horace Silver for a five year stint. This was the early 1970s. I think more is known about Horace during his 1960s Blue Note years. At this point, artistically, what was he up to? With this group, was it clearly "Horace Silver...and or was it a musical democracy?

AQ: At this moment of Horace's life he was working on different material, and I believe it was Silver 'n Brass (Blue Note, 1975), and Silver 'n Strings [{;ay the Music of the Spheres] (Blue Note, 1978), a series of albums.

You must keep in mind that Horace never recorded with his complete quintet during these years. He was using mostly the Blue Note musicians such as Mickey Roker and Bob Cranshaw. On record, he'd just started to use the musicians he traveled with after I left the band in 1975. Horace was always clearly Horace—he was simply not about musical democracy.

AAJ: From your return stint in Horace Silver's band you found yourself in Canada acting as house drummer at Rockhead's Paradise [in Montreal]. During the early to mid 1970s, it was a bleak time for jazz in general. Commercial considerations became part of the equation for most musicians at the time, with the only other alternative being self-imposed exile in Europe, which many did (Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Ben Webster, many more). Ultimately you too returned to Europe. When reading about this time, the amount of talent now living in exile is staggering. Did this make it harder to get steady gigs?

AQ: No, it didn't. In fact I left the Horace Silver Quintet and returned to Boston, where I lived for about four months, and then I received a call from a friend of mine telling me that a guy by the name of Eddie Davis, an organ player, was looking for a drummer. I managed to travel to Montreal to check this gig out, and when I arrived I found out what the gig was all about: playing Barry White's music, which was not my bag at all.

I managed to stay with Eddie Davis for about three weeks, and I met a guy there by the name of Billy Martin. He had a drummer with him that enjoyed this type of music, so they decided to switch drummers, which made things much better for me and I made more money. Billy Martin was playing more jazz, but we were working mostly at very exclusive supper clubs, so I managed to get myself an apartment on my own. I use to go by Rockhead's Paradise every night to sit in when I got off, because the gig I was doing didn't give you much of a chance to play.

This is when I met Nelson and Ivan Symonds and Nick, the bassist; also Sadik Hakim who used to work with Charlie Parker. They were all working downstairs and they would have the American rhythm and blues people come upstairs on the weekends. I started getting other offers to work with Milt Jackson and many others that came to town.

I decided to leave and return to Europe to do another tour with Charles Tolliver in 1977.

It was never hard for me to get gigs anywhere I lived, because the musicians knew I could play, so they were very happy to see me. Most of the time I'd show up and they would put me to work right away.

I went back to Europe because the Europeans were doing much more for me than any American was. I was born and raised in New York, but was never offered any major contract from the recording labels, and I saw other people coming from other states within the USA and they were well supported, so that's when I thought this is enough for me, and I left for Europe and built a whole new life.

AAJ: Was there a general overall mood among the expatriate musical community, happy to be there or resentful?

AQ: Mostly all the guys I ever met living in Europe were very happy to be there. If you were going to be resentful the attitude was that it would be better if you go home and do it there.

AAJ: It seems, in general, that the small European record companies enthusiastically recorded people not generally regarded as "leaders Stateside, yet these smaller labels have contributed to important discographies of artists whose work would otherwise have been buried by time. They also seem to offer a freer rein to artists with regards to repertoire. Many of these recordings are rewarding and well worth hunting down. Did you participate in more recordings while over in Europe?

AlvinAQ: Yes, I did participate in many recordings in Europe which are treasures to many American collectors today. I feel America doesn't support jazz the way the Japanese and Europeans do. I've done DVD recordings with Kenny Drew, Randy Brecker, Bob Berg, Clark Terry, Eddie Lockjaw Davis, Jay McShann, Carrie Smith, George Wein, Wild Bill Davis, just to name several, and many records.

Most documentaries that are made about jazz musicians use as source material European television dates from the past.

I feel that my work would definitely have been buried if I'd stayed in United States. The Europeans are getting ready to empty their vaults full of material that I did starting over thirty-five years ago, right up to now, so America will definitely hear about me loud and clear, and it's only the beginning.

AAJ: Did you find a marked difference in many aspects of recording in Europe as opposed to Stateside?

AQ: No I don't find a difference in recording anywhere. I think it's up to the individual musician to know what he's looking for, and to have the right people around to help him get it.

AAJ: In the late 1970s you moved to Switzerland, whereas a lot of artists were moving to Amsterdam and France. What was behind your choosing this country?

AQ: I had met a very nice young lady at the time and she was helping me get back on my feet after going through so much hell and stress trying to keep up with the American dream.

I decided to get married and to start a different life in Europe, which turned out to be very nice, and things are definitely looking good for me at the present time. I have studied photography with Oscar Peterson for the last 2½ years, I'm getting ready to start playing golf, and financially I'm not worried about anything, so I'm happy.

AAJ: There was throughout the 1970s an influx of rock influences to be found in jazz, both subtly and the more blatant fusion genre which emerged. Did you ever delve into the realm of fusion at all? Did fusion or what was going on stateside register at all with the tastes of European audiences?

AQ: You have to remember that whatever happens in America comes to Europe within ten or fifteen years, and this is what happened to Europe in the late '70s—the same things. I wasn't a part of this because I'd already made my mark within the jazz business over here.

There are a lot of musicians who are still thinking about moving to Europe, but it's hard to get over now because you have European musicians who can play and the business is a little different over here. I saw when all of this fusion stuff started, so I was never interested in being a part of this in the first place. I left America when jazz was at one of its artistic high points.

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