Bill Cosby: If You Could Hear It, You'd Smile
BC: Jack Benny was the other guest. He fell off the chair, and after I did my monologue, he said, "I have no idea of anything you said, but it was funny as hell!"
AAJ: Was that story about you and Stitt true? Did it really happen?
BC: Yeah. The Blue Note used to have these matinees. Mickey Roker will tell you about those jam sessions at 4 o'clock. And if you got up enough nerve, you could go up and tap somebody, indicating you wanted to play.
AAJ: So it actually happened that you played drums behind Sonny Stitt, and when Max Roach realized you were in physical pain from trying to keep up, he tapped you on the shoulder and took your place. That's incredible! [laughter] So, who are some of your favorite jazz musicians and recordings?
Seriously into Jazz
BC: I'm the kind of listener who for two weeks in a row, I'll love Bud Powell. Then another time, I'll get into Erroll Garner. Then again, I'll get into the CD, Ahmad Jamal in Pittsburgh and just keep listenin' to that. And then I'll go in, and for some reason, pick up Sun Ra and his Arkestra. Then I'll do nothing but Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, just with the Philadelphia musicians who played with him.
AAJ: Reggie Workman on bass.
BC: More often, it was Jymie Merritt.
AAJ: And Lee Morgan on trumpet.
AAJ: Timmons being the Philly pianist and composer of "Moanin.'" Sounds like you're a pretty serious devotee.
BC: Then I might listen to Ornette Coleman. It just comes, and I'll get interested. I may do nothing but Mingus for a while. And then turn around and listen to Richard "Groove" Holmes [the jazz "soul" organisteds.] doing "Misty." Then I'll turn on the jazz station of Sirius Radio, and although the sound isn't that good, you've got all these great cuts. A couple of days ago, around four in the morning, they played an organist, but I couldn't hear who it was, and I was just so frustrated. But there was a beat and a rhythm to it. It was just the blues, but when the back beat is something on the order of James Brown's drummer, the solos get lost, because the rhythm is so complex but funky, and it was a monster that forced you to go to the rhythm section. So the soloists got lost, like the paper napkin with the hors d'oevres.
And then, too, among the guitarists, Wes Montgomery is fantastic. He's always good to let you know what the art form is all about. It's the same still life that everybody is painting, but in comes Wes Montgomery, and it's right there! I love the music. But I never compare. I never say that Monk is better than Horace Parlan, for example. That's not the way I listen. I'll get just as excited about Wynton Kelly playin' with Miles. I amaze people because there was a time when you could put a record on, and like Leonard Feather used to do the Downbeat thing, the music during the '50's, and I could always tell you who the musician was. So sometimes I'll get in the car, and our driver keeps his 88.3FM or the Columbia University station on, which is fantastic, and I'll just open the door and get in, and I'll say, "That's Hank Mobley." Then the announcer will say, "That was Hank Mobley...." And the driver just shakes his head! He loves jazz too, but he's amazed that I know the players that well.
AAJ: Your knowledge and love of jazz is obvious just from the musicians you've mentioned.
Anticipating the Upcoming Playboy Jazz Festival
BC: When I do the Playboy Jazz Festival, in addition to being the emcee, I'll be playing with the group, "Cos of Good Music." We'll be performing on Sunday, June 13th. There are two guys who join me every year. They are Dwayne Burno on bass and Ndugu Chancler on drums. They know exactly what I want, and that will hold things together. Because all the other musicians, I've not worked with before. OK, so the rehearsal will be 10am that Sunday, and only Dwayne, Ndugu, and I will know what we're going to do. We'll rehearse for two hours, and then play at 3:40 in the afternoon. We'll have only one rehearsal.
AAJ: Do you have an idea of what tunes you're going to do?
BC: I sure do, and so will they, because I'm going to mail them my selections along with CDs whose versions I like. For instance, we're going to do Wayne Shorter's "The Chess Player," which he did when he was with Art Blakey. I want the attack to be the same as when the Messengers did it, because it's very exciting, and that's our opening song. It's to get the people in a festive mood. The second song is going to be John Coltrane's "Ole." The message I'll give to the musicians will be that I want them to enter their solos in the same pitch and intensity that John enters in his first solo on "Ole" because I think it is absolutely perfect and will keep the audience attentive. See, it's an open-air festival, there's food, there's wine, and people will be just arriving because there's sets from 2 to 10pm. So you really want to spark their interest, capture the spirit, and give it to the people so that they feel alive. And when John played his solo on "Ole," I want that pitch and intensity, and then you play whatever you wanna play. It's different if you're at home listening alone. At a place like the Hollywood Bowl, there are lots of distractions, and I want the audience's spirit to be lifted and for them to realize that they're in an energy area.