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Interviews

Michael Carvin: The Making of a Master

By Published: July 30, 2012
Among the personnel joining Bangs and Carvin were pianist John Hicks
John Hicks
John Hicks
1941 - 2006
piano
and saxophonist Sonny Fortune
Sonny Fortune
Sonny Fortune
b.1939
sax, alto
. Carvin was particularly happy that the musicians represented a variety of stylistic camps in the jazz world. "We've got to stop that, where people say I can't play with him because he's 'out' or he's mainstream. It's music, man. It's humans playing music." In addition to the recordings, the group toured together. "We worked the Jazz Standard—that was the only place in New York, aside from a concert in Brooklyn. We did the Monterey Jazz Festival, and we worked mostly in Canada, because the record company is in Canada. We did Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and all of that. The experience was unbelievable, man, and everywhere we played we got a standing ovation. And, plus, a lot of veterans came. It was just so interesting."

Carvin's 18-month tour of duty in Vietnam and the circumstances leading up to it make for a fascinating story. At 18 years old, he decided to strike out on his own and move from his parents' home in Houston to Los Angeles. He was already a highly accomplished drummer, having studied from the time he was six years old, taught by his father, Henry Carvin, Sr., who worked with Louis Armstrong, among others. Carvin wasn't settled in California for long before he was out on the road, a touring musician. Registering for the draft couldn't have been further from his mind.

"I'm not thinking, 'Let me see, now, there's a possibility that I might be drafted. I'd better go in and switch my draft board registration. I should have, but I didn't. I'm trying to get into the 26 rudiments, man, and I'm trying to get to Dizzy and Jackie and Trane. I'm not trying to get to no draft board. So, I'd been on the road for six months, and during that time we didn't have cell phones or texting, or any of that. I was out of the country for about three months. I might write to my parents, but they would get my letters a month later. So, so I never knew I was drafted, but I was.

"I get to New York. I'm working with Rhetta Hughes and Tennyson Stevens at the Playboy Club. We were the opening act for Bill Cosby, December 1967, right around my birthday. We were in the big room, and Kai Winding
Kai Winding
Kai Winding
1922 - 1983
trombone
was playing there in the lobby with Bob Cranshaw
Bob Cranshaw
Bob Cranshaw
b.1932
bass
, Monty Alexander
Monty Alexander
Monty Alexander
b.1944
piano
, and Mickey Roker
Mickey Roker
Mickey Roker
b.1932
drums
, who I met—I wanted to take some lessons with him. I was cocky; I was having suits made. I was a little arrogant so-and-so.

"So, this the guy came up to me there at the Playboy Club, and he said, you're Michael Carvin? I said, 'Yes, you want my autograph?' Clink-clink! They had me handcuffed. They arrested me for draft dodging. I told Loretta to call Mickey Roker
Mickey Roker
Mickey Roker
b.1932
drums
, and Mickey finished the gig. They took me back to the Wellington Hotel, where I was staying. Then they took me to my parent's house in Houston. They let me drop my drums and stuff off there. Then they took me to the airport, and the next thing, I was in Fort Benning, Georgia. It was maybe five or six o'clock in the morning. I fell asleep. I woke up and pinched my arm to where it swelled up for about six days. I thought I was in a dream, man.

"I can say it in hindsight, I deserved to be drafted—it ended up making a man out of me. It really showed me the value of life. I'm glad I went. It wasn't a nightmare for me. I didn't have to take medication. I didn't have to go see a shrink. It forced me to see things how they really are and understand how precious life is.

"I took the examination to get in an Army band and, out of a possible 500, I made 500. But they put me in the infantry anyway. I think because they branded me as a draft dodger. After my first fire fight, I said, 'Well, look, man, you can't be scared, now, for 12 months.' I was in for 18 months after I extended, but it was supposed to be 12 months originally. I said, 'You're going to be scared. You're going to be a basket case. You're going to get out of here in a basket or you're going to leave here in one of them garbage bags—the plastic bags. Now, look man. You're here. You ain't leaving. Either you get it together, or you'll lose your mind. Your choice.' So in my first fire fight I came to grips with death, and after I did that, I was cool."


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