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Interviews

Sunny Murray

By Published: October 14, 2003
I met Kenny Clarke in Denmark a long time ago, and me and Cecil was playing, it was rehearsal, and Kenny came in and walked past me and I recognized his face from pictures. So I stopped playing and went in the kitchen where he was and I stood there and looked at him. And he said, 'hello, how you doin'?' And I went to sit down and play, and I didn't meet him later until I was here, I studied two years here with Mr. Clarke, he's a very, very good friend. This was all my incentive because I had kind of an agenda in all my life to meet the very good drummers, to get to know them, learn something about them. so Kenny was the last one in 1970, so I came here and spent two years and a half with him. So he was here, Arthur Taylor was here, it was just a big migration at that period, Dexter, Hank Mobley. My real reason was to meet Mr. Clarke, and he liked me and we became buddies and he helped me in some very positive ways when I didn't have money and shit for the family sometimes.

And there was a drummer, a studio drummer, Alex Riel, and Alex Riel was one of the best young drummers and he and Neils-Henning Orsted, they were a duo playing studio work and everything, they were about the best young guys at that period, and Alex liked what I was doing but it was comical to him, he couldn't believe I was serious. But there was another studio drummer who liked what I was doing and we became sort of friends, and I said particularly to him 'leave this avant-garde shit alone. You'll lose your gig, people ain't gonna like you.' No one listened to me, not Han Bennink, when we arrived he was playing with Eric and he saw me and Albert and Don Cherry, so he went free. But this particular drummer in Denmark, he played free, and I came back, me and Albert, maybe a year later with Don and Gary Peacock. And this drummer was sitting there and Albert said 'hey, there's your buddy.' He was sitting there and, we say 'closed-shop,' he was a bum. Same black suit on and dirty white shirt, I went over and sat with him and it brings tears to my eyes, and he'd been whacked-out since I left. And this has happened to some drummers who don't know how to deal with this.

AAJ: Had you ever played in multiple-percussion ensembles? Was that ever an interest?

SM: No, not really, it's just become possible now but not when I was young; one of the reasons was I had a little too much force. And when you play with other drummers, you have to have a certain amount of politeness and control and interplay. And at that period I was a little too busy trying to stay alive. To me it was a little like selling out to play with other drummers at that period. It was a little bit of an ego thing, but it was like everyone was trying to hear where I was coming from when I was young. I started to accumulate a certain positive influence, like Milford, Andrew, Rashied Ali. But that was okay because they had their career to do and I happened to be the one who sort of influenced that epoch. But they were not really in my epoch. My epoch was Steve McCall, Denis Charles, Ed Blackwell, these are the guys I really came up with, before Andrew and Rashied were on the scene. When you look at my epoch, you have to look at Steve McCall, Denis Charles, Blackwell, and then you'll understand why I was going my way.

AAJ: And it seems that bebop drummers, with the exception of Art Blakey, didn't often form all-percussion groups at that period either.

SM: No, Max had M'Boom, which was great, and I did a great African album with the percussion thing, but you know Art had that particular talent to have that African sound. He could do it, when he played with supporting percussionists like a conga or what, it was a really African sounding record. Max and those cats, they did something also, but they didn't have that particular sound. Like Elvin, you know, he started playing six-eight and all those different rhythms with John. Before John started playing those different rhythms, drummers didn't really play even a lot of three-four, they didn't play six-eight, they didn't play Caribbean, they didn't play any of that shit. That's what made me really unique; I had made this record through Max called 'Times Now' or something, in Florence, and I started to write acoustical charts, which had a lot to do with Cage and Varese, and Cecil really liked it. I remember Cecil and Jimmy and Bill Dixon and me did some duplex thing with Edgar Varese, because he used to live there on Waverly and McDougal St. I remember I was really young and just beginning to understand where I was going, and we did that with Mr. Varese, he had a duplex apartment, and we all got on different levels ' him and Cecil were down below ' and I remember that experience but it opened my mind up to the possibilities and of course after that I went and bought the record Ionization.

AAJ: Wow, well, I think we've covered all my bases. Is there anything you want to say?


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