Don Aliquo: The Man, The Music, The Journey
AAJ: Would you say that coming up, you paid your dues by playing the small jazz clubs which used to be called the "chitlin circuit"those small "back-alley" clubs which nurtured many a talent?
DA: I can remember George Heid [a jazz drummer and recording studio owner in Pittsburgh] talking about the real "chitlin circuit" of the past. According to him, my generation missed a lot of it. I do remember, however, all sorts of jazz activity in the black sections of the "'Burgh," especially as a very young man. Clubs like the Crawford Grill, the Crescendo, the Pyramid, Eileen's Zebra Room, and the Too Sweet Lounge were places where people were always playing. Of course, this is only a partial list! There were also a lot of places with jazz in other neighborhoods as well. Places like Lou's and the Encore, and later the Balcony in Shadyside, Walt Harper's various clubs, the Living Room in the South Hillsthe list could go on and on. I am sure I made a pest of myself in every one of them, trying to play the music! (And often, I might add, not very well!) I am also sure people like organist Gene Ludwig and my Dad gigged in every one of them!
Basically, I think I caught the tail end of an extremely great jazz club scene in Pittsburgh. I had the opportunity to hear so many great players who were passing through in the clubspeople like Eddie Harris and Jimmy Owens. I remember my Dad taking me to hear [drummer and band leader] Chico Hamilton's group with Arthur Blythe [saxophone] when I was about 14. Man, I was just blown away not only by the music, but the whole scene! I also remember him taking me to hear Arnie Lawrence who was playing with a varitone [electric saxophone] at that time! Speaking of the varitone, I also heard Sonny Stitt twice in clubs in Pittsburgh. I remember him giving a young cat who wanted to sit in a hard time. He asked him, "How many keys are on the saxophone?" Of course everyone sat there and tried to figure that one out! He wouldn't let the guy play until he got the answer he was looking for. The second time, he asked for requests. I guess I was probably around 18 or 19, and I shouted back: "A Night in Tunisia." Then he shot back to us, "You ever been to Tunisia?" Then he proceeded to play the pop song "Mr. Bo Jangles" which to this day really cracks me up!
I remember playing in a concert with David Liebman at the Manchester Craftmen's Guild many years ago. After the concert I took him to the Too Sweet Lounge to jam with Roger Humphries. I will never forget what he said: "Man, neighborhood clubs like this don't exist anymore! This is incredible!" At that time, I didn't realize how right he was. Many of those clubs I've already mentioned were filled with the people of the neighborhood who loved hanging out with each other and were super supportive of the music and the musicians.
What I really remember and marvel at is how both the musicians and the patrons consistently gave me much love and encouragement in all the clubs. And I wasn't the only one. The sad thing for me as a teacher is the knowledge that my students don't have the same opportunities to be embraced and nurtured not just by fellow musician mentors and teachers, but by the whole community. Man, I was blessed!
AAJ: At any point in your career, were you able to sustain a living solely by playing the music only?