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Interviews

Ron McClure: Lookout Farms and New Moons

By Published: February 11, 2010
Bassist Ron McClure has a practical philosophy about what he does. "Making music begins with doing your job," he says. "It's nice if you can be a hot soloist, but do your job first and do it well." These are words that the bassist has lived by for over 40 years in the jazz music business. McClure has done everything from playing with saxophonists such as Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd
b.1938
saxophone
to being part of pop recordings by the Pointer Sisters and Blood, Sweat and Tears. In between he has played on countless jazz recordings, including 33 sessions and counting for SteepleChase, both as a leader (13 including his most recent release New Moon) and sideman, composed a large number of tunes and even played piano at a New York McDonald's! McClure appears at Birdland in February, 2010 for the reunion of celebrated '70s group Lookout Farm, working with saxophonist Dave Liebman
Dave Liebman
Dave Liebman
b.1946
saxophone
, pianist Richie Beirach
Richie Beirach
Richie Beirach
b.1947
piano
and drummer Jeff Williams.

Ron McClure

All About Jazz: How did you get started in music?

Ron McClure: I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut and played music from the time I was five years old. I played accordion, a little piano and bass. A teacher from high school basically talked me into following my dream and going into music as a career. I don't push my students now but I do tell them to think about their lives when they're 40 and what it would be like then to have not done what you wanted to do. I went to the Hartt School in Hartford, Connecticut. My private teacher Eddie Miller had been teaching me about jazz harmony. I remember that the school did not really encourage jazz—once, when I was playing in a room with Houston Person, who was also a student there, we were reported for playing that "evil body music." But I had been listening to jazz since I was a kid and that's what I wanted to play. I was a bass major at Hartt and while I was still there I met musicians who came to Hartford to play—people like [vibraphonist] Mike Mainieri

Mike Mainieri
Mike Mainieri
b.1938
vibraphone
, [pianist] Dave Mackay and [drummer] Joe Porcaro. Mainieri got me to play with Buddy Rich and I also met Mike Abene who got me to Maynard Ferguson
Maynard Ferguson
Maynard Ferguson
1928 - 2006
trumpet
, with whom I did my first recordings for Mainstream.

AAJ: Tell me a little about your time with Ferguson.

RM: There were good arrangements by people like Willie Maiden and Chuck Mangione

Chuck Mangione
Chuck Mangione
b.1940
flugelhorn
was in the band; we did his tune "Between the Races." Maynard was great—he let me play and I was featured more in that big band than I had been in smaller groups. Maynard was great to work for because he made everybody feel at home. You know, while I was still with Maynard I got to work with the Wynton Kelly
Wynton Kelly
Wynton Kelly
1931 - 1971
piano
/Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery
1925 - 1968
guitar
group!

AAJ: That was the Smokin' at the Half Note (Verve, 1965) group with Paul Chambers

Paul Chambers
Paul Chambers
1935 - 1969
bass, acoustic
and Jimmy Cobb
Jimmy Cobb
Jimmy Cobb
b.1929
drums
?

RM: Yeah, Maynard opened for them at a club in Atlantic City. When it came time for them to play one night they couldn't find Paul. He was not so well then—in fact it was shortly before he died. I'd met Paul before and all he could say to me then was "You're the cat, man." Anyway, the music that Wynton and Wes did was joyous and truly timeless. Talk about a time feel and a groove! Jimmy did a couple rim shots and signaled for me to come up. I knew the tunes pretty much and when I started to play, Wes just looked around at me and beamed, grinned from ear to ear. So I did the set and then about a month later, the same two groups were paired at a club in New York. Ron Carter

Ron Carter
Ron Carter
b.1937
bass
had replaced Paul for that gig and he was late because he was doing a record date, so they asked me to play until Ron got there. The same thing happened the next day—Ron was still doing the recording and said, "I'll give you 20 bucks to do the first set." In July of that year—I think it was 1965—I was in my apartment on a horribly hot day, when the phone rang and it was Wynton asking me to go to the West Coast with them for nine weeks! I'll never forget that. I got to make a record with Wynton from that!

Ron McClureAAJ: Isn't there a story about playing with the Miles Davis

Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
group?

RM: Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
called me on a Saturday night, 8 pm. Says there's a gig at the Village Vanguard at 10, pays $37.50, union scale. I think it was 1968. I was playing with Charles Lloyd and Wynton then so in one week I played with three generations of Miles rhythm sections—Wynton and Jimmy, Herbie and Tony Williams
Tony Williams
Tony Williams
1945 - 1997
drums
and Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
and Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
b.1942
drums
! You know, I thought about the significance of it later—not for my career, really, but for the fact that I was there and could do it. Anyway, I get to the gig and it's Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
, Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
1937 - 2001
sax, tenor
, Tony and Herbie. No Miles. To this day, I didn't really know what tunes we were playing—they were really taking them out. Same kind of freedom that we had with Charles Lloyd.

AAJ: Tell me about San Francisco, The Fourth Way and Joe Henderson.

Ron McClure Quest, from left: Ron McClure, Dave Liebman, Billy Hart, Richie Beirach



RM: In 1970, I was living in San Francisco and playing with the Fourth Way. It was one of those '70s jazz/rock/alternative bands with Michael White

Michael White
Michael White
b.1954
on violin, Mike Nock
Mike Nock
Mike Nock
b.1940
piano
on piano and Eddie Marshall
Eddie Marshall
Eddie Marshall
b.1938
drums
on drums. In San Francisco I was working with Bobby Hutcherson
Bobby Hutcherson
Bobby Hutcherson
b.1941
vibraphone
and through him was recommended to Joe. Joe was brilliant—a great writer and great improviser.

AAJ: Would you agree then that you're comfortable playing a wide variety of things?

RM: I take the music seriously. I played electric bass with Blood, Sweat and Tears—I got a Grammy nomination for a tune from the album New City—and later I played, with Herbie Hancock, on a Pointer Sisters album.

AAJ: What about the Charles Lloyd experience?

RM: Steve Kuhn

Steve Kuhn
Steve Kuhn
b.1938
piano
hooked me up for an audition and Charles hired me. It was a great learning experience; we went all over the world. Charles said to me at one point, "You don't even have to play the bass, if you don't wanna. If you can think of something else to do on the bandstand, go ahead." It was that free. But really, it was tight too because we played everything.

AAJ: And the group playing at Birdland?

RM: It's the 35th anniversary of the group that [saxophonist] Dave Liebman and [pianist] Richie Beirach started—Lookout Farm. Frank Tusa

Frank Tusa
Frank Tusa
b.1947
bass, acoustic
was the first bassist and so I came later. But Dave and Richie created this group that kind of pushed the limits but also had a strong, individual personality. For the reunion, Jeff Williams will be playing drums. After Lookout Farm, they formed Quest—in 1983—and I played bass with them after Eddie Gomez
Eddie Gomez
Eddie Gomez
b.1944
bass
and George Mraz
George Mraz
George Mraz
b.1944
bass
. The music was and will still be free but also structured and a beautiful expression of the visions of Dave and Richie. They're like soul mates. I had played with Dave Liebman and his quintet on recordings for Timeless.

AAJ: Who are the musicians—bassists and others—who've most influenced you?

RM: I'd say Herbie Hancock would have to be at the top of the list. He can play any style and he's played with everybody. He's been part of so many of the great recordings. Then, of course, there's Bill Evans and Miles and Wayne Shorter. I learned more about music from Richie Beirach than from anyone else. He's so knowledgeable and generous with his knowledge. When you play with people like Richie or Jack DeJohnette, they're in your blood. They make you play in the here and now. For bassists, it's Paul Chambers, Wilbur Ware

Wilbur Ware
Wilbur Ware
1923 - 1979
bass, acoustic
, Albert Stinson, Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow
b.1940
bass
, Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
1951 - 1987
bass, electric
... And of course Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
because he represents a body of music, which I am trying to do.

AAJ: And your latest recording for Steeplechase?

RM: It's called New Moon (SteepleChase, 2009) and has Rich Perry

on tenor, George Colligan
George Colligan
George Colligan
b.1969
keyboard
on piano and Billy Drummond
Billy Drummond
Billy Drummond
b.1959
drums
on drums. Rich Perry is the best-kept secret in the world. He is the best saxophonist anywhere right now. He plays my melodies, takes artistic license with them and makes them better! Colligan is another genius. He sees what your music is about, plays it, swings and is totally supportive. Billy is as clear as a bell, he's the nicest cat and plays brilliant solos. I love this record!

Selected Discography:

Ron McClure, New Moon (SteepleChase, 2009)

Ron McClure Sextet, Double Triangle (Naxos Jazz, 1999)

Ron McClure, Tonite Only (SteepleChase, 1991)

Quest, Midpoint: Live at Montmartre (Quest III) (Storyville, 1987)

The Fourth Way, The Sun and the Moon Have Come Together (Harvest, 1969)

Charles Lloyd, Soundtrack (Atlantic-Rhino, 1968)

Photo Credits

Page 1: Courtesy of The Bird's Eye Jazz Club

Page 2: Courtesy of Dave Liebman



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