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Talkin' Blues

Talkin' Blues with the Groovemaster, Jerry Jemmott

Talkin' Blues with the Groovemaster, Jerry Jemmott
By Published: April 9, 2012
Jerry Jemmott's groove is the bedrock of guitarist B.B. King
B.B. King
B.B. King
b.1925
guitar, electric
's career defining hit, "The Thrill is Gone." He was in the studio with Duane Allman
Duane Allman
Duane Allman
b.1946
and singer Wilson Pickett recording "Hey Jude," a track that was instrumental in launching the late Allman Brothers Band
Allman Brothers Band
Allman Brothers Band

band/orchestra
guitarist's musical career; and they were together again for flautist Herbie Mann
Herbie Mann
Herbie Mann
1930 - 2003
flute
's Push Push (Atlantic, 1971), Allman's first and only jazz sessions, and the last full album he recorded prior to his death on October 29, 1971. Jemmott was also there on December 13, 1968, when guitarist Mike Bloomfield called another six-stringer, an unknown Johnny Winter
Johnny Winter
Johnny Winter
b.1944
guitar, electric
, up onstage at the Fillmore East—a Friday the 13th that turned out to be Winter's lucky day.

Jemmott was with singer Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin

vocalist
, the Queen of Soul herself, when she conquered San Francisco's hippie community at the Fillmore West in March of 1971. The album, drawn from this series of concerts (with a surprise appearance by singer Ray Charles
Ray Charles
Ray Charles
1930 - 2004
piano
), earned her a gold record, and was something she would later refer to as a highlight of her career.

Jerry Jemmott's blues credits are truly remarkable: in addition to B.B. King, Freddie King
Freddie King
Freddie King
1934 - 1976
guitar, electric
, Mike Bloomfield, Duane Allman, Otis Rush
Otis Rush
Otis Rush
b.1934
guitar, electric
, Johnny Winter, Warren Haynes
Warren Haynes
Warren Haynes

guitar
, Derek Trucks, there's his legendary association with Cornell Dupree
Cornell Dupree
Cornell Dupree
1942 - 2011
guitar, electric
, Bernard Purdie, and King Curtis
King Curtis
King Curtis
1934 - 1971
saxophone
. In my last column, Jimmy Herring
Jimmy Herring
Jimmy Herring
b.1962
guitar
had this to say about him: "He's a genius, there's just nobody like him. He's the sound that defined an entire generation. I love Jerry Jemmott, it doesn't get any better than that."

Another of his seminal achievements, which will no doubt be watched by generations yet unborn, was his collaboration with Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
1951 - 1987
bass, electric
on the instructional video Modern Electric Bass (1985). Even beyond its instructional value, because it was done so close to Pastorius' death on September 21, 1987, it provides an invaluable insight into this extraordinary musician and composer. Pastorius had this to say about Jerry Jemmott: "He was my idol. That stuttering kind of bass line, bouncing all around the beat but keeping it right in the groove—well, they don't call Jerry the Groovemaster for nothing. He's the best."

In this extensive interview Jerry Jemmott speaks about all this, as well as his wide ranging session work for Atlantic Records, and his current gig with blues/rock legend Gregg Allman
Gregg Allman
Gregg Allman
b.1947
guitar
.



Chapter Index
  1. B.B. King
  2. King Curtis, Jerry Wexler
  3. Muscle Shoals
  4. Duane Allman
  5. Touring with Aretha Franklin
  6. Gregg Allman, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi
  7. Mike Bloomfield and Johnny Winter
  8. Jaco Pastorius
  9. Musical History—Front Row Seat
  10. Formal Training
  11. Bass Playing and More
  12. Lost Friends and Legends
  13. Buddhism


B.B. King

All About Jazz: I want to ask first about the sessions with B.B. King for "The Thrill is Gone." When you guys finished and heard the playback, was it just another song that day, or did you have the feeling that this could become something momentous?

Jerry Jemmott: You have to look at it from our perspective. We came together to revolutionize his music, so it was with great intent that we set forth. We were thinking in terms of taking things apart and reconstructing the music so to speak. But it happened naturally through the selection of the people involved, starting with the contractor, Herb Lovelle. Earlier in the '60s he had worked with the same producer for Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
b.1941
composer/conductor
to make his music more accessible.

That's part of the reason you know Bob Dylan today, because of Herb and his partner, whose name escapes me right now, but they had a reputation around New York for being able to turn peoples' music around. So, for that reason, they called him to do the B.B. King sessions. He played the drums, Paul Harris was on keyboards, and Al Kooper
Al Kooper
Al Kooper
b.1944
composer/conductor
was there—so we knew we were there for a reason. They had about 20 minutes of a live party album, but it wasn't enough for a full album, so they had the idea of coming into the studio.

In the studio you can construct things and make a memorable recording. So if you do something, you're thinking, let's make this the definitive version of the song. That's always my approach when I go into the studio. As it turned out, later I learned from B.B. that he'd been working on "The Thrill is Gone" going back six years prior to this session. He'd performed it live a few times, but he could never quite get it the way he wanted it.

B.B. King Completely WellHe was comfortable letting us do our thing because the previous album had been successful and the song "Why I Sing the Blues" had gotten a lot of air play, so he was happy with that. So the next time we came together in the studio he brought in "The Thrill is Gone" and said, "Let's see what we can do with this."

It was Herb's idea to put strings on it.

AAJ: Sometimes those string things can really transform a song. Like James Brown
James Brown
James Brown
1933 - 2006
vocalist
's "It's a Man's World," I've heard a version without the strings, and man, the strings really did the trick.

JJ: Oh for sure, without a doubt! Strings are beautiful.

AAJ: Were the strings on "The Thrill is Gone" live with you guys?

JJ: No, that was Herbie Lovelle
Herbie Lovelle
1924 - 2009
drums
's idea, and Bert de Coteaux did the arrangement after the fact. Bert is great.

AAJ: Oh man, those cellos are wild.

JJ: Yeah, what they would do in those days is pick up the rhythm parts and duplicate and amplify them. Then they would take the rhythm section down in the mix and you would hear the strings.

AAJ: It's so cool, the way he did it, it's like a spontaneous dialog between you and the cellos.

JJ: Bert was phenomenal, he was able to pick up on that, and on the lines that Hugh McCracken was playing. That's their technique, it's called sweetening. Sometimes it's accentuating or it can be a call and response.

AAJ: Have you seen B.B. out, or on video lately? A few years back at the Crossroads Festival, even in his 80s, his voice was just unbelievable.

JJ: I haven't seen him recently, but I started going out to see him in the 1980s because I hadn't seen him since the '60s. It had been almost a 15 year gap from the time that we recorded "The Thrill is Gone," and he was so warm and affectionate when he greeted me. I was embarrassed because of all the praise and appreciation he showered on me for my work when he introduced me to the musicians in his band—I think that was in Newark, New Jersey.

I've seen him a few times after that, I've kept up with him until—it was 19...no 2000, [laughing] I feel like Champion Jack Dupree
Champion Jack Dupree
Champion Jack Dupree
1909 - 1992
piano
. He'd be talking about the 1800s and then say, "No, I mean the 1900s!" And we all would crack up, we were in our 20s, so he was an old man to us, talking about the 1800s, when he was a boy.

So anyway, I saw him last in 2006 and he sounded great, and I hear from people that he's dropped a lot of weight and he's feeling good. The fact that he's singing great, I'm not surprised.

King Curtis, Jerry Wexler

AAJ: When you met King Curtis, that was in the mid-'60s when he was really riding high. He'd opened for the Beatles when they played Shea Stadium.

JJ: Yes I met him shortly after that as I recall. Other people have told me that he'd seen me play years prior to that, but I hadn't had any contact with him. I used to play every little nook and cranny club around New York when I started out. Court Basie's, the Barron Club, Smalls up in Harlem—so he was familiar with my playing back then, but I didn't actually meet him until 1967.

AAJ: People from my generation tend to think of him in terms of R&B and rock 'n' roll, but I'm guessing his tastes and skills went much deeper, is that right?

JJ: Yes his roots went deep into the jazz circle, he'd played with Lionel Hampton, you know, swing and straight ahead jazz. He knew what to play for each style, so when you think of rhythm and blues, it's blues and rhythm. So he could take his jazz improvisational skills and move things around to create these unique sounds. We were coming out of New York and thought we were sophisticated; we brought things like the Latin influence, but he brought influences from Chicago, New Orleans, and the South.

Even musicians from the West, you know when you think about it, it all came out of this place (Mississippi) and spread out everywhere.

AAJ: I've heard that King Curtis could also play guitar, did you ever see him play guitar?

JJ: Oh yeah! I can't recall him recording on guitar, but sure, he'd show someone how to play a part, or play an idea. He'd write songs on the guitar and then transcribe it for the saxophone.

AAJ: And man, he knew how to spot a great guitarist.

JJ: That's for sure!

AAJ: Did you ever hear that he had Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
1942 - 1970
guitar, electric
in his band for a while, back when he was still known as Jimi James?

JJ: Sure, that's when Jimi came to New York. That's when Chuck Rainey was in the band. I wasn't in the band then, but Cornell always used to talk about Jimi being in the band—so that was at the beginning, and that was quite a band.

Jimi had been with the Isley Brothers before that. It's funny how musicians can be floundering here, and then go to Europe with a more receptive audience and really turn things around.

AAJ: It's interesting, I always thought you, King Curtis, Cornell Dupree, and Bernard Purdie transcended racial barriers, and you connected a lot of white Southern players with R&B. When I was growing up, most black kids weren't interested in The Beatles
The Beatles
The Beatles

band/orchestra
or Jimi Hendrix and that kind of thing, but among white kids soul music and R&B was also very popular. Still, they remained still two very distinct worlds.

But you guys connected with a rock audience in a different way, you kind of lived in two worlds. I guess when you're out with Gregg Allman on the road you still feel that special connection you guys forged.

JJ: I certainly do, and that's all part of the King Curtis legacy. He was the one who was proactive and recording their material. Before him it was the white artists who recorded the black artists' music and would have hits with it. A lot of times the black artist's music would be shelved because all of a sudden a white artist's cover version would take over the airwaves. Historically that's the way it came down.

[Laughing] King Curtis would take music that white artists had done and cover it. Looking at it in retrospect, he wasn't the first to do it, but he did it a lot! You know, coming from the jazz world, it was common for jazz musicians to take Broadway show music, which was often the popular music of the day, and jazz it up. He would just do it on music like "Whole Lotta Love!"

AAJ: It interesting, I heard an older interview with Eric Clapton and he was asked what his favorite recording studio experience was, and he said it was with King Curtis doing a song called "Teasin' " when he was working with Delaney and Bonnie.

JJ: That's beautiful.

AAJ: So how about you, what session would it be?

JJ: That's difficult, because I would like to pick different periods in my life. As you get older, the glitter and the awe kind of wears off, and you feel like this is business. So let's say when I was young and worked with Nina Simone
Nina Simone
Nina Simone
1933 - 2003
piano
, and later sessions with her, those were magical.

AAJ: Another interesting thing about King Curtis is his role at Atlantic Records. Could you could share something about how he and Jerry Wexler worked together and influenced each other creatively?

JJ: He had a talent for bringing artists into the studio and surrounding them with the right musicians to achieve a goal. He had a knack for putting the right people together, he would often cross country, rock and rhythm & blues.

He and Jerry worked well together, and they were making the right phone calls. In the beginning King Curtis would call me, and then Jerry began to call me directly. Jerry was also interested in the overall production in a supervisory capacity.

AAJ: He was also a creative guy too, right? Not just about budgets and things?

JJ: Definitely. He also understood that by making the right calls, the less he would need to be involved. He could sit back and give directions, and he knew how to communicate with people. He allowed us to do our thing, and trusted us to come in and do the right thing.

He might have an idea and then ask one of us to interpret it. He and King Curtis were both very good at communicating the ideas they wanted us to interpret. They were "people people."

King Curtis was more musical and could explain what he wanted you to do. Jerry might mention another style, or occasionally another artist to convey what he wanted. He might get the feeling and start dancing or doing stuff.

AAJ: Did you start out with King Curtis in his band, or in the studio?



JJ: I didn't want to play with King Curtis's band live after he recorded "Memphis Soul Stew" without me. He had promised me studio work to get me to join his band. Becoming a studio musician was my focus and goal. The seed was planted in my head by a trumpet player named Richard Dugan, he was a bit older and had hung out with a bunch of the studio cats like Snooky Young and Ernie Royal in the early '60s.

So the promise of studio work is how King Curtis lured me out onto the limb and into touring. This meant I had to give up my day job, and I had just started a family.

So when he recorded that without me, I was pissed. I was only 20 years old. He explained that he wasn't the producer on that session and hadn't made the calls. But I left the band and joined Lionel Hampton's band. [Laughing] I ended up having some differences with Lionel along the way and he fired me. So I ended up back in New York without a job, and King Curtis called and said, "Look, you don't have to be in the band, just make my records." So he started calling me for his records and for other peoples' records.

Freddie King is a Blues Master=Muscle Shoals

AAJ: Jerry Wexler said that he preferred what he called the "Southern Style" of recording, working without sheet music and letting the musicians work it out on the spot. He said it was more creative, but also cheaper if you don't have someone running around altering charts and sheet music—that costs time and money.

JJ: [Laughing] The Southern Style was when people would come in and play all day for half the money! That's what he was really talking about, bless his soul.

AAJ: Was Jerry the guy who got you down to Muscle Shoals?

JJ: Yes. I made four trips for him. I took over for Tommy Cogbill. I guess he got the idea when the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section came up to New York and I recorded with them then—that was the first session I recorded with Aretha Franklin.

Initially I was there as an observer. King Curtis called me and asked me to come in, and said, "Bring your bass, you might play, you might not. But I want you there." So I sat around in the morning from ten to one while they were working on this song. They were going over and over on it, and it just wasn't happening. So around two Jerry Wexler told me to go in and see what I could do.

I've always had a knack for knowing how music should sound. I get an actual physical reaction when music doesn't feel right to me. I had sat there in agony, and kept asking, "Don't you hear that?" So when I finally got a chance to play, it caused everyone else except Aretha to change their part. They had been approaching it as playing against Aretha to create a contrast, and I began playing with her.

And that's when we recorded, "Think." On the third take it was done. So after that I stayed on for the sessions and Tommy switched to guitar. That's when I first played with Roger Hawkins, Jimmy Johnson and Spooner Oldham.

So after that Jerry called me and asked me to go down South to Muscle Shoals to play with them, as opposed to having them come up here. So we worked it out in terms of what I was going to get paid for multiple sessions as opposed to the regular rate.

AAJ: Muscle Shoals is in Alabama, but near the Tennessee line, kind of between Nashville and Memphis. I've read stories of Aretha's husband drinking with the good ole boys at Muscle Shoals and things got kind of tense. So I was curious, what was your initial impression of Muscle Shoals? It seems kind of strange, they had all these good ole boys and these R&B artists like Wilson Pickett coming through, yet it worked so well.

JJ: That's true, I read about that with Aretha, and after that, she didn't go there, they went to New York or Miami to record with her.

When I got there in 1968 it was cool, in the studio everyone was minding their Ps & Qs and was on their best behavior.

Duane Allman

AAJ: You and Duane Allman were friends, and about the same age, so I was hoping you could share a bit of your first impressions. Dickey Betts once said that Duane Allman had a personality a lot like one of his heroes—Muhammad Ali. He seemed to have so much confidence, there's a great quote from Duane, "It's a rat race out there, but my rat's winning!"

JJ: [Laughing] Right, we were only about six months apart. What Dickey said is a good description of Duane, he was a fighter. He was a strong personality, and his look back then made him stand out, a long-haired blond hippie—that was new back then, it was the '60s and the beginning of the Flower Power thing.

From left: Duane Allman, Jerry Wexler, Jerry Jemmott

Of course, he was from the South, and he was very soulful—that's the thing I remember most of all about him. He had a lot of compassion for music and for people, and he was strong in that sense. That Muhammad Ali reference is really cool, because he fits that, he was strong, really strong.

And his brother Gregg says the same thing about him. Of course my connection with him was primarily about the music, and his passion about the music was really strong, he went for it. I remember Wilson Pickett started calling him Skyman, and later that somehow became Skydog. He was cool people, he was great.

­

AAJ: I read that he was renting a cabin down around Muscle Shoals, how about you?

JJ: Oh no, we stayed at the Downtowner when we worked together there. The funny thing is, we always met up at the airport coming in from Atlanta, so I'd always page him.

The last time we went down there, we both had misgivings about going down there, and we didn't want to go down there anymore.

AAJ: That was a different time for sure. Remember that Peter Fonda movie Easy Rider (1969), you know the rednecks in a pickup shoot a hippie at the end. Rednecks used to say they hated the movie, but at least it had a happy ending.

So here's Duane with shoulder length blond hair, and blacks and whites didn't hang together in the South back in the day—so how was it, were you guys able to hang out outside of the studio?

JJ: Well, we'd go from the airport by cab to the Downtowner, and we'd take a cab to the studio, and a cab back to the Downtowner. So we'd hang out there and jam, and do the same thing the next day. So we really didn't have much contact with the local town.

You know in 1967 and 1968 I had a huge Afro. I was the first kid in my school to have an Afro [laughing]. My barber died, I didn't know I was starting a trend, I couldn't get a haircut because my barber died. From 1961 on, I started letting my hair grow.

AAJ: When you guys worked with Aretha, were you and Duane with her in the studio, or where things dubbed in later?

JJ: Well he came in later. My first sessions with Aretha were just with the cats from Muscle Shoals, and then with the next series of sessions, somewhere along the line he came aboard.

AAJ: So she wasn't necessarily in the studio with Duane?

JJ: Oh yeah. He would have been there, all those sessions were done live. By live, I mean everybody who was going to be there on the session was in there at the same time. Cissy was in there with the Sweet Inspirations ready to jump on the background vocals as soon as we finished. The horns would come on later. It would be the rhythm section, and while we were playing they'd be figuring out their parts. Most of my sessions, like with B.B. King, were the same way. A lot of sessions were done live in those days.

Wilson Pickett Hey JudeAAJ: It's really kind of fascinating, you know Wilson Pickett's recording of "Hey Jude" is what put Duane on the map in the music world, and you were there with him for that. And it kind of went full-circle you were also there with him for the Herbie Mann sessions for Push Push, his first and only jazz outing, and the last full album he recorded. So you were there at the beginning and at the end.

JJ: That's true. And I remember talking with him after our last session together before the started his band, and I told him, "I'm not gonna do this anymore, I'm gonna stay in New York and do jingles and films." You know, there and in the studios in New York, I wasn't just playing. Without charts I was doing a lot of arranging and not getting any credit or pay for it—so I was tired, really burnt out. At that point I was only 22 or 23.

I remember Duane felt the same way, and he told me he was going home to start a band with his brother. And that's what he did, and I didn't see him again until the sessions with Herbie.

It's ironic, forty years later Duane's brother Gregg tells me a story that when he was in California he brother called him and said he was going to get a band together, so come back home, I've got this great bassist with these long fingers.

So when Gregg shows up, he asked Duane, "So where's the bassist with the long fingers?" and Duane told him, "He's up in New York, he's making too much money doing commercials and stuff."

Gregg told me Duane would tell him all kinds of stuff as they were coming up. They were only a year apart, but he played that older brother thing to the max with Gregg. That was just one of many things like that; Duane always had a plan, even to keep Gregg out of the Army.

But that was the thing about Duane, he had direction and he had conviction, and if he told you something, he could make you believe it.

AAJ: Of course by the time of those Herbie Mann
Herbie Mann
Herbie Mann
1930 - 2003
flute
sessions you'd played with all kinds of jazz legends, so I imagine Duane was relieved to see you and Bernard Purdie in the studio. Do you think that was intimidating for him in that setting?

JJ: Well we didn't call it crossover back then, but we'd been called in to basically crossover—and, like I said before, as musicians we weren't thinking it terms of labels, we were constantly crossing over. Now I call it downloading, you know, whatever you need to create the right fit is what you pull down.

So Duane was cool like that, playing different types of music, I don't think he was intimidated. They wanted lead guitar and slide, so that's what he did. He did his thing.

AAJ: How did you get the news about Duane?

JJ: When he had the accident I was in Atlanta going to a gig with Roberta Flack, and we were listening to the radio when a news bulletin came on.

Gregg told me that Duane never liked to ride with the pack—he had two speeds, park and 60, and I knew back then that he liked to drive fast, but that news hit me really hard.

Touring with Aretha Franklin

AAJ: Another really sad thing was the tragic murder of King Curtis in the summer of 1971. On Aretha Live at Fillmore West (Atlantic, 1971) you hear her say how much she enjoys playing with you, Bernard Purdie, Cornell Durpree, and King Curtis, and how she's looking forward to years of working together with you guys. That was just such a magical combination.



JJ: It really was. And King Curtis put that together. Like I said before, I'd told him, "I didn't want to go on the road anymore—so don't call me to go on the road." So I told him no, the first time he asked. We were in the studio recording something of his, and I remember him telling me about the project, what he had in mind, and who would be in the band.

Eventually I relented. We had a special connection, there were a lot of guys out there, but he knew what he wanted—and he wanted me. He knew my spontaneous interplay with Cornell, Purdie, Billy Preston and the singers was what this band needed. So he had that vision, and he sold the idea to Jerry Wexler.

He and Jerry saw that by playing to the hippies, they could open up a new market, and this band was the vehicle to get it there.

AAJ: You know what I thought was really cool about that idea, at that time there were lots of black female singers in sequined gowns standing out front. But now we also got to experience Aretha as a musician in the band. She had great feel on the piano and seemed to really enjoy being part of the band.

JJ: She of course was the center, and we all gravitated towards her, and that's the way it's supposed to be. It was about her and what she stood for, the whole tradition of black rhythm and blues performers, putting on a real show. She brought all that, and a church feel. So King Curtis was attuned to all that.

That show at the Fillmore was great, but by the time we got to Switzerland for Montreux we were on fire. When you listened to the recordings from Montreux, they are faster and more intense. Some are available on my website.

Gregg Allman, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi

AAJ: You and Bernard Purdie were at the Allman Brothers 40 Year Anniversary at the Beacon a few years back when they did a tribute to King Curtis. You must have been touched to see how the fans remembered you guys after 40 years.

JJ: I was, and I was pumped up being there, you know, representing, and also being able to express my gratitude to Duane and King Curtis and that whole circle of people, and friends from that time who were part of Duane's life.

That's actually how I got the gig working with Gregg. He called me a couple of weeks later and asked me to join the band. So it was great, everything is a leap of faith, and it turned out that something good came out of being there.

AAJ: And after 40 years, you really are coming full-circle.

JJ: [Laughing] My life's had a lot of full-circles!

AAJ: Are you enjoying playing with Gregg Allman?

JJ: It's a great opportunity to see a lot of my fans. They come out and bring me recordings I've done, and I go, "Wow, you've got this!" We share a lot of the same fans, because going back Gregg and Duane's music intertwined with mine. The same with their styles, they were into jazz, country, blues, R&B, and rock—you know those cats were swinging.

Gregg has still got the same flavor and mentality about music, and he's looking to make new music and to play different types of music. So playing with him gives me a great opportunity draw on my arsenal of styles that I've played over the years. We play some country, some jazz, some blues, some rock, some pop, you name it. And however people want to describe it, his hits.

Because of all the different styles you get all kinds of people coming out: bikers, hippies, straight-up guys, and Southern blues guys. So the audience is different, it's a conglomeration, old and young, they bring their kids, the grandparents are there. It's wild, people will follow the bus for three or four hours just to get an autograph.

It's a great experience to play with a super star like that, an icon.

AAJ: I caught you guys at the show in Bonn last summer, when you were touring Europe. That was the one where you guys were with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi
Susan Tedeschi
Susan Tedeschi

vocalist
. I remember a couple of days afterwards the news came out that you were going to have to cut off the tour because of Gregg's health. All the people I know who saw it were amazed—my immediate thought was wow, that guy is a real trooper. That was a great show, and I would have never guessed Gregg was ailing.

JJ: That was a truly great show, I remember because I kept a big poster of it and had everybody sign it.

AAJ: I remember when Derek and Susan sat in with you guys, and you and Susan were connecting on stage, it was really special.

JJ: We did, and we had a great time. Every time I've played with Derek and Susan it's always been a lot of fun. It's great to see these younger people coming up and embracing the musical tradition and caring it on.

AAJ: They've got that gift of carrying on the tradition, but also leaving their own mark on the music.

JJ: They really are something. In fact it was a friend of theirs, Jack Devaney, who is responsible for me getting into the Gregg Allman camp. I think he introduced me to Derek first, then Otiel Burbridge, and then Susan; and eventually I met Gregg.

They are really good people, and they are an extension of Duane and Gregg. That's still what Gregg is about, they are all solid people who want to do good and make great music.



Derek's playing is unique. There's a great rhythmic aspect to his playing, his technique and that strumming thing he does—what can you say, he's just got it, he's making new music on the instrument every day.

AAJ: One thing he and Duane share is that horn quality.

JJ: Yeah Derek loves listening to melodic things, and his interest runs deep in John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
and the whole jazz world. He's deeply involved in making improvisational music.

AAJ: I wanted to mention a couple of other guys in Gregg's band: Steve Potts
Steve Potts
b.1945
on drums, and Scott Sharrard on guitar. I was particularly impressed with them. Scott plays those songs that have been played a thousand times, and he manages to bring out something new, staying true to the feel, but using his own voice and making it interesting. Respect.

JJ: I'm glad to hear that, because they really put a lot of work into what they do. And you know his hero is Cornell Dupree.

AAJ: And he gets to play with you night after night, it doesn't get much better than that.

JJ: He has a blast, and he's really embraced the challenge of playing that music that's been played so often, and is so well known. So he gives them what they want, but does his own thing too. It's a hard job because the music is very guitar-centric.

AAJ: Also I wanted to mention your sound engineer on the tour. With Derek and Susan's band, the sound slipped into a bit of a sonic-blur at times, and although you guys were almost as loud, your sound was very clear and distinct. I was very impressed.

JJ: His name is Michael Jackson, and he hails from Berkley, California. He's an impressive guy and a beautiful individual. Highly intelligent and intuitive. He makes it easy for us.

AAJ: Another thing that stuck me when I saw you with Gregg Allman is that you guys covered the song "Ridin' Thumb." That really blew me away, because I'd forgotten that King Curtis had covered that song. I remembered it from the original, it was on an obscure Seals & Crofts album that was released before they signed with Warner Brothers. I thought, "How in the world did Gregg find this?"

JJ: You know what, that's the last recording King Curtis ever did, we finished recording that right before he was killed. The last song he ever recorded was "Ridin' Thumb."

I'm not sure how he came upon it, but he was always listening. And he was like that, he'd hear a song on the radio on Monday and he'd cover it, and by next Monday [laughing] it would be pressed, packaged, and ready for delivery.

He had the connections and the company behind him to do stuff like that. Let me think, "A Whole Lotta Love" was a single like that.

Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper The Lost Concert TapesMike Bloomfield and Johnny Winter

AAJ: You're actually the first person I've interviewed who knew Mike Bloomfield.

JJ: Ah, Mike Bloomfield. Wow.

AAJ: Well thank goodness Al Kooper discovered those tapes of the Super Session (Columbia) at the Fillmore East from 1968. And then when I heard it, Mike Bloomfield introduced you to the crowd, and I had no idea you'd played together. Did you know Mike prior to that night?

JJ: I knew him prior to that night and up until he died. I remember when he died. Jaco Pastorius and I were hanging out when we heard that Mike had died.

Mike and I worked a lot together in the studio, but there wasn't much chance to get too personal. I can't recall exactly which sessions; it might have been a session with the organ player Barry Goldberg.

Mike was cool, a generous guy, full of love, and he was a great musician..

AAJ: I like to pin down where guitarists' influences are from, but Bloomfield is a challenge in that regard. I don't know if Mike ever mentioned it, but I wonder if Cornell Dupree influenced his playing—not his single note playing, but he and Cornell both had that knack of playing in a way that's not quite lead, and not quite rhythm. Playing groups of notes moving up or down the neck.

JJ: Cornell certainly had that, and it's almost a lost art in a sense. I try to do something similar when I play bass, I have the basic part, but I also have a harmonic or melodic part that's going to intertwine. [Laughs] That's called good taste. Knowing what to play, and when to play it.

AAJ: What really struck me about that Fillmore concert is that it was truly musical history. You guys called Johnny Winter up on stage, and in Al Kooper's liner notes it mentions that concert was on a Friday night, and by Monday morning Johnny Winter had a record contract. You've been part of so many things in your career, but I'm guessing that seeing an unknown skinny albino from Texas with shoulder length white hair deliver the blues so powerfully is something you probably remember.

JJ: Right, I didn't know who he was, like you said, a tall skinny white guy from Texas coming up and playing his butt off. You know, I've done plenty of talent shows, or showcases, so for me that kind of thing was just another day at the office. You do your best to make the people sound good, but you just knock it out, like you know, "Who's next?"

But I'm glad to hear that it paid off for Johnny!

AAJ: Did Al Kooper give you a heads up that he was bringing that out, did you get an advance copy or anything?

JJ: No, I had no idea. I'd heard about it, because there were some bootleg copies going around, and people started sending them to me.

I saw Al at a book signing he was doing out in Long Island sometime after 2000, and I believe that was the first time I'd seen him since the session at the Fillmore. I think I've heard just about all of it, and I've got some nice reviews on it.

AAJ: I have the feeling that if Bernard Purdie had been with you that night, that might have been an iconic recording rather than disappearing in the vaults for over 30 years.

In the liner notes Al Kooper wrote that it was his mistake hiring John Cresci to play drums on that particular gig because he wasn't too familiar with Chicago style blues, and he stepped on your groove. Still, it was an amazing piece of history.

JJ: When those situations occur, it really puts an extra load on me, but it's my job to make the band sound good—sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard to do.

AAJ: Let me jog you memory on another time you worked with Mike Bloomfield. He and Nick Gravenites produced Otis Rush's Mourning in the Morning (Cotillion Records, 1969) in Muscle Shoals. What fascinated me is that you and Duane Allman played on those sessions with Mike Bloomfield.

JJ: Mike produced that record? That's funny, it was at F.A.M.E. in Muscle Shoals and I remember Otis, Duane, and Nick, but I don't remember Mike being there. It's been 40 years, that's a long time, but sorry Mike, I don't remember him being there. [Nick Gravenites confirmed that Mike was indeed there. We can look forward to a future interview with Nick].

Jaco Pastorius

AAJ: Let's talk a bit about Jaco Pastorius. First, I was wondering how he first came up on your radar, not when you first met him, but when you first heard him.

JJ: From Jimmy Tyrell, who, at the time, was a vice president at Columbia Records. When I came into the business, he was one of the bass players who was in a position of power. He and Bob Bushnell were the black guys doing most of the work, so after Jimmy moved up, Chuck Rainey and I had became the "guys."

So Jimmy would send me a bunch of records, and one of the records he sent me was Jaco's. I remember it distinctly, I'd never heard of him before, and I thought, "Wow, this cat is something!" And then later I found out I was one of his heroes.

Then we met around 1981 or 1982. I was introduced to him by a bass and guitarist named Pablo Nahar. He worked around Europe from his home base in Amsterdam, but he was from Suriname. He gave me Jaco's phone number and I called him up and he came over to my house and we started hanging out.

Jaco Pastorius Modern Electric BassWe developed a good relationship, he was good people, he had a clear vision of, as he would say, "leaving something for the kiddies."

AAJ: What might be something you knew about Jaco that the general audience might not know? When you were hanging out, did you have the feeling you were with someone extraordinary, a genius?

JJ: You knew he was gifted, and he was a bundle of energy. In all the time we spent together we never got high together. We were straight and focused on getting the video done, and it took us four years. He was all about sharing what he had with other people.

AAJ: There a great quote from Jaco, a reporter once asked him where he thought the future of music was heading, and Jaco said something like, "Well, tomorrow I'm heading to Miami." Did you also see him as perhaps the greatest bassist on the planet at that time?

JJ: Oh, without a doubt. He didn't just have a command of the instrument; he had the music in his head. It flowed from the beginnings I came from, and while I might have thought along similar lines, his talent and skill allowed him to accomplish some things I had only thought about.

As human beings we live like monkey-see-monkey-do, so once someone does something, you realize it can be done. He did the things that seemed impossible, and without his example I might not have even considered going in that direction. Like I'd fooled around with harmonics when I began playing electric bass, but I'd never really explored them. He took it to another level. Like most bass players, I had used a harmonic octave in the high register, but he found all the upper harmonics on the instrument that I didn't even know existed.

AAJ: And when he talked to you about filing the frets off of his bass. Now that it's been done, it's like sure, that's an option. But to be bold enough to do that. From playing guitar I would never consider that, because I would have imagined the strings would have rattled or buzzed against the fingerboard.

JJ: Right, it would be the same thing on a fretless bass, it would have to be perfectly arched, and your fingers would have to be in the perfect spot. He just went for it. Then he did the thing with putting polyurethane and epoxy coating on the neck after filing it down to help spaces. He was on it!

AAJ: I wonder if you agree with this, but this idea of overcoming the frets is something important that he shared with Duane. Jaco filed his down, and Duane did it with his slide.

JJ: Hey, that's right! Great analogy. I never thought of it like that, but the slide does give it that bending quality that gets beyond the static note.

AAJ: And, like Jaco, he took the instrument to a new place. He started out in the Elmore James tradition, but when you listen to things he did, like on "Mountain Jam," he used the guitar like a horn and took it to a whole new place.

JJ: It's what made him unique, he went beyond the confines of the stereotypes of what the instrument was, just like what Jaco did with the bass.

AAJ: You know, from reading about Jaco, you get the impression that by the '80s he was kind of out of it, and wild. But on the video you did together he seemed so lucid, and grounded, and funny. So the black-and-white biographical sketches of him that portray him as flipped-out in the '80s aren't necessarily true?

JJ: There might have been some episodes and some events, and he was going through some stuff. But the music was very grounding to him. It gave him a focus, and this video was something he wanted to do, and he didn't want to do it without me, and he stuck to his word.

So what you saw on that video was someone on the job, some of the stuff what was said about him was probably true, and some was probably blown out of proportion. But a lot of things were true that his family and I knew about. He had lost his wife Ingrid, who I believe just passed away this year. But for that video he was grounded.

AAJ: So you guys saw each other regularly during the '80s?

JJ: Yes, but it was generally something to do with this project or some other educational project—teaching and clinics. I might come and hang out with him at a session. He put a band together, but it didn't work out, and that's when I knew things were really getting bad for him. At that time he wasn't getting the respect he should have received from his fellow musicians.

He took a job he probably shouldn't have taken, and when you take those kinds of jobs it rarely works out well. But he took it for the money. Over the time we had been planning this he'd gone through a lot, he'd broken his arm in Europe and it was tough, but he manned-up when we did the video. He showed up early, and we left early. We were there at 8:30 and left an hour and a half early at 3:30—it was scheduled to go from nine to five.

AAJ: Your conversation with Jaco for his Modern Electric Bass video is a great piece of history, a treasure for bass fans, and of course a must for modern electric bass players. You must be pretty proud of that achievement.

JJ: I wanted to promote his music and preserve his legacy, and you know, within the year he was gone. Of course I was shocked, but somehow not surprised. We did that video before we had signed a contract, so the publishers wanted to pay us royalties once a year, and through my work with B.B. King I knew the difference between getting paid quarterly as opposed to semi-annually. And I remember telling them, one of us could die between payments. Then that's exactly what happened.

Jaco was asking for money between payments, and was in jail, and got bailed out. But I believe if he had gotten his payment quarterly and hadn't needed the money, I don't think he would have gotten killed.

AAJ: The interview on the video, that's really difficult what you did, but you made it look so natural. How did you do that, was someone holding up cue-cards or something?

JJ: Well first of all, we'd been working on that for three or four years. From the time we met we'd decided that we were going to do something. We were doing some teaching together and had that going on. So in a sense I was prepared, but I didn't know when it was going to happen. So when it finally took shape, I found out two days prior to the taping. So the night before I wrote down 20 questions, so you might notice me looking at a yellow pad.

AAJ: No I didn't notice that. Because I interview people I was really impressed, and I appreciate how difficult that was.

JJ: I knew what he wanted to get out, so I wrote the questions with that in mind, and I tried to be a little provocative. I wanted to make him look good and keep him in good spirits—you know that was a difficult time for him.

AAJ: In one sense you got paid very well, because when you asked him about some of his primary influences and asked him to pick one, he played one of your own licks back to you and said, "Enough said?" Something like that is cool, but to have it on video, that's priceless, it doesn't get any better than that.

JJ: [Laughing] I wasn't prepared for that! The way he could just summon up something like that, he was just an incredible musician.

For me it's funny because I've never tried to copy anybody, so to hear someone like Jaco do that, it was cool!

AAJ: There's something special about listening to two artists discuss their music and instrument. You worked with Paul Desmond
Paul Desmond
Paul Desmond
1924 - 1977
sax, alto
on Bridge Over Troubled Water (A&M, 1969) and I was wondering if you ever listen to his interview with Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
? It's really cool to hear the two of them talk shop together.

JJ: No! Yeah, Paul was great. I remember we recorded that album at the Hit Factory on 48th Street, and I remember that session well.

Aretha Franklin Live at Fillmore WestMusical History—Front Row Seat

JJ: It's crazy, all the people like Paul I grew up listening to in the '50s and '60s, I ended up playing with most of them. Not only playing with them, but making records with them. And also the musicians whose names I knew from their records, I ended up playing with them, or being in bands with them.

And not just anything, but some important once-in-a-lifetime stuff, like Gil Scott-Heron
Gil Scott-Heron
Gil Scott-Heron
1949 - 2011
vocalist
's "The Revolution Will Not be Televised," the Rascal's "People Gotta be Free," and "Attica Blues" by Archie Shepp
Archie Shepp
Archie Shepp
b.1937
saxophone
, All these uplifting revolutionary recordings I've been involved with—people like Les McCann
Les McCann
Les McCann
b.1935
piano
and Eddie Harris
Eddie Harris
Eddie Harris
1934 - 1994
saxophone
.

At the studio at Columbia on 30th Street they had this great huge poster of Aretha on the wall. It was a big studio where we would do things with 30-piece orchestras. Before I knew her, I used to go in there and just stare at that photo; she was sitting turned away from the piano with her leg crossed. Honest to God, I used to go in there just to look at that picture. Then I record a song like "Think" with her.

AAJ: It's amazing, not only did you get to play with your heroes, but your contemporaries and friends like Jaco and Duane became music icons.

JJ: There's so many, it's true, Nina Simone and Roberta Flack—I've been truly blessed.

Willie Bridges was a saxophonist in one of the first bands I played with. He introduced me to Conny Boy, Charles Otis, Idris Muhammad
Idris Muhammad
Idris Muhammad
b.1939
drums
, and Lester Young
Lester Young
Lester Young
1909 - 1959
saxophone
. So he's responsible for me first meeting people like that. He's one of my mentors and when I spoke with him recently he said, "You know Jerry, you fascinated me when you came on the scene." I was a teenager, and he said, "You know, nobody was playing like you."

You know, what was fascination for him, it was me just doing my thing and struggling to make people sound good. You know it's amazing, now fifty years later, to find out what the people who inspired me, and who are responsible for me becoming the musician I am, thought of me back then.

So now I find myself in that position. I see people with obvious talent who don't quite know what they are doing yet, but I recognize their talent.

Formal Training

AAJ: Did you have formal training?

JJ: Yes, my mother insisted that I have formal training. I started playing when I was 11 and had classical training on an upright bass that lasted about a year. Then I was asked to join a band called Smiling Henry and the Rhythm Makers. They heard me playing with some kids, and asked me to play with them, you know, real work. After I got my mother's permission I started working with them when I was only 12.

AAJ: Did you keep up with your reading?

JJ: Oh yeah. I was in the school orchestra, and the all-city high school orchestra. I kept up the classical playing through high school, then I got interested in jazz, and began playing rhythm and blues because the jazz people I was playing with didn't care about what the audience wanted, so I decided I was going to play with the guys who were having all the fun.

So that meant taking up electric bass with rhythm and blues and sometimes Latin and calypso bands. So my real training was actually on the job.

Eddie Harris and Les McCann Second MovementAAJ: That's probably why you and Jaco got along so well, he might have been a great musician, but he certainly wasn't a snob, in your interview with him his advice was to keep your ears open.

JJ: Yes he was open and listening, and that's how he described himself, "formally self-taught." It's amazing, he devised a system that gave him what he needed to learn. There's a difference between being able to read, and being able to read properly—you might be able to recognize the notes, but being able to see them two measures in advance and know what they are going to sound like, and what to look for while reading—that's what you need to master.

It's not so much being able to read, you know, like someone reading one letter at a time, so they see "c" "o" "o" "l" instead of seeing "cool." So good reading is being able to hear and prepare in advance, that's what good reading is about. It's a skill, so if you know what you're reading it's going to be a lot easier. You can recognize a chord pattern, a scale pattern, or a rhythm pattern, then bam, you got it.

AAJ: Who gave you the nickname "the Groovemaster"?

JJ: That happened in the late '70s, I was in South America working on a show, Ain't Misbehavin', and I had a chance to jam with some local musicians while I was in Venezuela and they gave me that name in Spanish. My manager heard about it, and said I should work that.

AAJ: I'm curious, coming up in New York, did you get to see a lot of the jazz greats, for example a couple of my heroes, like Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
Julian
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
1928 - 1975
saxophone
and Yusef Lateef
Yusef Lateef
Yusef Lateef
1920 - 2013
reeds
?

JJ: I loved them, I grew up with them, I got as close as living next door to their bassist, Walter Booker
Walter Booker
b.1933
. I grew up with their music, that was my favorite music, that and the music of Horace Silver
Horace Silver
Horace Silver
b.1928
piano
, the The Jazz Messengers, Count Basie
Count Basie
Count Basie
1904 - 1984
piano
, Carmen McRae
Carmen McRae
Carmen McRae
1920 - 1994
vocalist
, and Billy Holiday. Actually I got into Billy by working back from Carmen. But Carmen just blew me away. So those are my heroes.

Paul Desmond Bridge Over Troubled WaterBass Playing and More

AAJ: Getting ready for this interview I've gone back and listened to Push Push a couple of times, and I've got to say, after 40 years it still holds up really well. As I listened to it, it made me think of the notion that bass players seem to kind of tap into the vibe of the human heart beat. It was cool, often, even within a nice groove, that seemed to be going on. Is that a conscious thing with bass players?

JJ: For me, a lot of my playing is coming out of being a dancer and my experience of playing a lot of dance music. So when you hear me playing, it's me imagining people dancing or moving. That's very important to me. So that's what I'm tapping into, but if it comes out as a heartbeat, that's great.

AAJ: That dance analogy is really apt, and that makes me think of something Jaco Pastious said during your interview. He said he thought bass was the most important instrument in the band because it's connected to rhythm and to harmony, so in a way, simultaneously you're in a rhythmic dance with the drummer, and in a dance of harmony with the soloist. That makes it a tricky instrument in a way, and maybe the general public doesn't think of that, but musicians certainly appreciate that.

JJ: Bass can be in-your-face, but there is also a kind of subliminal approach that I favor. You know like that heartbeat things, that's what struck me, you know Paul Chambers
Paul Chambers
Paul Chambers
1935 - 1969
bass, acoustic
, he was always there. Of course the bass wasn't recorded that well then, so you couldn't hear him that well to begin with.

So when I started and listened to music, I often had to kind of imagine what the bassist was playing. So working as a dance partner evolved out of that. So it is tricky being a dance partner with the rhythm and doing a duet with the melody.

There are different approaches. Some players stick to the realm of the accompaniment, and some explore more interplay with the soloist or the melody. My style involves a lot of interplay and improvisation. So it's like a level of tiers, where the melody is first, the drums and rhythm is second, and then comes everything else.

The other instruments are often sweetening the sound, and if I'm listening to them, I can play less. Usually, the more instruments there are, the less I have to play. So it depends, but actually I'm playing everything in my head, so what I'm doing is subtracting things.

AAJ: It's been interesting for me as I prepared for this interview, as I've listened to music lately I've had my "bass" ears on. I was listening to Bob Marley's album Natty Dread (Island, 1974) and it really struck me how he framed his music completely around the bass. I imagine Bob Marley's music is a very satisfying for bass players.

JJ: For sure. Aston Barrett, known as Family Man, was often playing a very sophisticated sub-melody and at the same time maintaining rhythmic posts. It's an incredible style of music and I love playing it, it's a lot of fun. And with that sub-melody, you're carrying a lot, and along with the melody, it's really pronounced.

AAJ: It seems like bass players often have real melodic gifts, and it also seems like lots of them are accidental bass players, like Jaco, Mingus, Paul McCartney, Sting, and Brian Wilson.

JJ: I encourage my students to research the influences of players who inspire them. For me it was Paul Chambers, and I discovered he came to bass from the saxophone. So that would explain his soloing, but what captivated me about him was his rhythmic playing, his walking bass, that's the function of the bass that appeals to me, and my specialty.

I grew up around music, my grandfather even had a bass, but I don't recall him playing it. I went to young people concerts at Carnegie Hall and knew all the instruments, but I had no inclination to play an instrument at all. But that all changed when I heard Paul Chambers play, I thought, "I want to do that!" His walking style, it was melodic and rhythmic. After that I never wanted to play anything but the bass.

So I never had the desire to play anything else, but I like to listen to singers and saxophone players who were my mentors. I never liked to listen to bass players because I didn't want to copy anybody.

AAJ: In all your studio work, did you ever happen to work with Burt Bacharach?

JJ: Yes, I did a session with Dionne Warwick once, and Paul Griffin was on piano. It was all chart reading and I guess I did my thing.

AAJ: A recent interview with him caught my attention, he said: " 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' by Diana Ross could easily be the greatest record ever made. You listen to the bass line on there by James Jamerson
James Jamerson
James Jamerson
1938 - 1983
bass, electric
. That Motown house band, that rhythm section. Wow." I thought that was telling, when he talked about the record he thought was perhaps the greatest, he made special mention of the bass.

JJ: That's especially interesting because his records aren't very bass-oriented.

George Benson The Other Side of Abbey RoadLost Friends and Legends

AAJ: Last month we lost a couple of legendary figures in R&B, Johnny Otis
Johnny Otis
Johnny Otis
b.1921
producer
and Etta James
Etta James
Etta James
1938 - 2012
vocalist
.

JJ: I feel deep appreciation and gratitude for what they've done and accomplished. I didn't have the good fortune to work with them, but they left an imprint on the world. Johnny Otis had quite a life story, I just read it for the first time. It's amazing, when people are given the opportunity, and this a something distinguishes us from the animals—the ability to change and morph into a new being by adapting to another culture. We can follow our hearts, but animals are stuck in their environment, they change and adapt, but we do it with intent. We go for it; we'll build that tree-house, and do it right now.

AAJ: Now we've just lost Whitney Houston, and as I thought about her it struck me that you probably knew her through Cissy Houston, before she was even an adult?

JJ: Exactly. I got a call from someone who said to me, "You remember little Whitney, Cissy brought her along to the studio when we recorded 'Think.'" She was probably a little five year-old, you wouldn't notice her.

But I'd see her from that time on, and then I'd start hearing about her. I did have close contact with her because I worked at a club where her mother was doing a show. Whitney and her brother Gary were singing backup for their mother, and they each had solo spots.

This would have probably been around 1983 before she had broken out. I remember Clive Davis coming to the club Sweet Waters. You know you hear about people in the industry, but I had never met Clive before that.

She was a sweet kid, and she was around her parents and behaving accordingly, but I sensed there was some wild energy under there. When she married Bobby Brown, you know it struck the people in the community who knew and observed her over the years as kind of strange. But I believe in my heart she just had an inner urge to kind of like let it all hang out, and feel comfortable about what she was doing. Of course a lot of times when you're doing something like that, you're really running away from something, you're escaping.

The thing about Mike Bloomfield, Jaco, and Duane Allman is that they excelled on their instruments, but they also excelled in crossing cultural boundaries in terms of the music styles they incorporated. That was a part of their brilliance and kind of gave them a song to sing with their own voice. And all of them heard music, and I can say that about Whitney Houston too. Her instrument was such that she could sing anything, and not in a stereotypical fashion as a black vocalist moving around. She just stood and delivered, almost like a jazz singer in the pop medium.

AAJ: I can only tell you of a few people I remember seeing for the first time, and Whitney Houston was one of them. I'd heard her before, but hadn't seen her. It was on German television, when they carried the 1987 Grammy Awards, and she sang "The Greatest Love." She walked down these stairs and she was like a living doll, just perfect. A beautiful figure and angelic good looks, and that voice, it could give you goose bumps that didn't go away.

This always stuck with me, and you can watch it on YouTube, when she finished, the camera panned to the audience, and the very first person to get to his feet for a standing ovation was B.B. King!

JJ: That's B.B., he'd give it up! He's a true gentleman, and he shows his love.

Buddhism

AAJ: Didn't I read somewhere that King Curtis appeared to you after he died, and that started you on the path to Buddhism?

JJ: Norman called me at 8 o'clock on the night he died and told me exactly what happened, blow for blow. And the next morning I'm in my kitchen in Yonkers, and there he is hovering above the cabinets. That event turned my life around because I started looking for answers.

Before that I thought everything revolved around the essence of my being in the "now." I believed in cause and effect, but I only associated it with the present. I'd never considered the possibility of the past, present, and future being one, which is what Buddhism led me to.

So you start connecting the dots. An analogy I like is an iceberg, when you look at it, the part you see represents the present, but the three quarters you don't see represents the past. And because the iceberg is melting, you're also seeing the future.

The future is endless, and the actuality of eternal life is something we need to reckon with.

AAJ: How long did it take you to make the leap to Buddhism after you had the vision of King Curtis?

JJ: It took me two years, the summer of 1973, and I received my Gohonzon on February 9, 1974.

It took me a while, I started looking and digging. First I tried Kundalini Yoga, I looked into existentialism, numerology, astrology—you know, looking for something that made sense to me. When I came upon True Buddhism I became aware of karma, and that tied everything together for me. Our existence rests upon the concept of karma and everything is related.

AAJ: How has this affected you as a musician? Are you more selfless and empathetic?

JJ: By nature, playing the bass I was always empathetic anyway—that's the nature and supportive position of the instrument. I would say it has given me more openness and freedom to express myself.

AAJ: And the chanting, is that a calming thing?

JJ: I'd say it's more invigorating. When I finish chanting I'm fired up and ready to go. I don't do anything until I've had my morning prayer service which takes place twice a day. But really I don't think about it anymore because it is so intertwined with my life. In the course of the day there are a lot of opportunities to do things, to correct things, and to be more focused.

It's wonderful to have that rope to hang on to, and to pull ourselves out of the darkness and into the light. That's why the arts are so important, it's something that enlightens us and focuses us on the higher aspect of ourselves—as opposed to mass media, with art you have to focus and spend time with it. It's very rewarding.

My commitment to it comes from the actual proof of the process. You can believe and have faith, and that's cool, but when you actually see proof and results, you realize it's something you want to stick with.

So we try to serve, and to manifest the Buddha of intrinsically perfect wisdom in our lives, and that encompasses the past, present, and the future. Yet I'm not thinking of the past and future, I'm focused on being in the present with all I've got.

AAJ: People interested in learning more can find information on your website right?

JJ: Right. There's information about the True Buddhism, some of my discography with audio clips, info about my gear, I do clinics and teaching via Skype, tour dates, my latest book, an Ebook, There's Music In Everyone! (C Souler Energy, 2008), and other stuff.

As far as what I'm doing now, I'm trying to get my teaching methods placed in institutions and programs outside my workshops. I've been working with the Mississippi Arts Commission to get something going on the community or university level. Other than that, it's all about the fans and making music better, that's been my mission, to pass something on to the next generation.

AAJ: I'd say, mission accomplished.

JJ: [Laughing] Yeah, I'd say I've done that! But I have to continue and try to make my methods accessible to more people, not just musicians, by putting an appreciation of music in the hands of the average person. A little understanding can go a long way.

Selected Discography

Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield Fillmore East: The Lost Concert Tapes 12/13/68 (Columbia, 2003)

Ben E. King, Supernatural (Atlantic,1975)

Jimmy McGriff, Black and Blues (People Records, 1973)

Herbie Mann, Turtle Bay (Atlantic, 1973)

Archie Shepp Attica Blues (Impulse/Abc, 1972)

Eddie Palmieri, Harlem River Drive (Roulette, 1971)

King Curtis, Live at Fillmore West, (Atco, 1971)

Aretha Franklin, Aretha Live At Fillmore West (Atlantic, 1971)

Herbie Hancock, Mwandishi (Warner Archives, 1971)

Les McCann & Eddie Harris, Second Movement (Atlantic, 1971)

Richard "Groove" Holmes, Comin' On Home (Blue Note, 1971)

Herbie Mann, Push Push (Atlantic, 1971)

Rascals, Freedom Suite (Atlantic, 1969)

George Benson, The Other Side Of Abbey Road (A&M, 1969)

Freddie Hubbard, A Soul Experiment (Atlantic, 1969)

Paul Desmond, Bridge Over Troubled Water (A&M, 1969)

Shirley Scott, Shirley Scott And The Soul Saxes (Atlantic, 1969)

Aretha Franklin, Aretha Now (Atlantic, 1968)

Freddie King, Freddie King Is A Blues Master (Atlantic, 1968)

Photo Credits

Page 1: Susea of Hittin' the Note

Pages 2, 3: Courtesy of Jerry Jemmott

Page 8: Dragan Tasic


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