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Mickey Roker: You Never Lose the Blues

By Published: January 18, 2010

AAJ: It's a matter of survival.

MR: Right! Survival of the fittest.

AAJ: Survival of the most talented musicians, the guys that are able to "step up" and do their thing, and say something meaningful with their horn.

MR: You have to. Drummers come out of the woodwork in this town. There's so many good musicians in Philly, so many young guys. This guy, Wayne Smith, he went to high school with my granddaughter. That cat will be an amazing drummer one day if he don't lose his head. If he stay humble, he'll be cool. A lot of young drummers are too cocky. It's OK to be confident but not cocky.

AAJ: So humility is an important trait for a musician. You get such a feeling from Byron Landham

. He plays like the music is so much more important than his ego.

MR: The music is the most important thing. Not you- it isn't about you. You, know we're the slaves—the music is the master. And I don't care how much you know, the more you know, the more you find out how much you don't know. How are you going to blow if you think you know everything?

AAJ: So you're always learning.

MR: You're always gonna grow, man, if you just open up your mind.

AAJ: Where do you think jazz is going today? Do you think it's going in a good direction?

MR: I hope it stays the same. All music is the same. It seems like jazz always has to go someplace. They've bastardized it enough already. Just play jazz. Where else can it go? The avant-garde is not the answer. There's no such thing as "free" music. Nothing is free—everything costs you something.

AAJ: Don't you think jazz has to evolve? It changed over the entire 20th century, from Dixie to swing, to bebop, to hard bop, to fusion, and so on.

MR: I don't think it's changed. The names they use for it have changed. You're a product of the times. I remember when there was no penicillin. Now they have antibiotics better than penicillin, but it's still the same thing. With jazz, the main thing is swing. It's a feeling and you can't explain a feeling. Unlike classical, jazz is made up as you go along, and yet, when five guys play together, they sound like one. You gotta listen, open your heart and mind. That's what jazz is.

Selected discography

Odean Pope, Ninety-Six (Enja, 1995)
Milt Jackson, Memories of Thelonious Sphere Monk (Pablo-OJC, 1982)

Lee Morgan, Sonic Boom (Blue Note, 1979)

Joe Pass/Milt Jackson/Ray Brown, Mickey Roker, Quadrant (Pablo, 1979)

Mary Lou Williams, Zoning (Mary-Smithsonian Folkways, 1974)

Bobby Hutcherson, San Francisco (Blue Note, 1971)

Lee Morgan, Live at the Lighthouse (Blue Note, 1970)

Horace Silver Quintet, Serenade to a Soul Sister (Blue Note, 1968)

Blue Mitchell, Boss Horn (Blue Note, 1966)

Sonny Rollins, On Impulse! (Impulse!, 1965)

Duke Pearson, Wahoo (Blue Note, 1964)

Photo credits

Page 1: Philly Jazz

Page 2, 3, 4, Featured Story: Giorgio Ricci, All About Jazz Italy

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