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Interviews

Sunny Murray

By Published: October 14, 2003
SM: Well, in the sixties it was more or less (and I'm quoting someone) 'a groundbreaking but it was a lot of fun.' Well I know me and Jimmy [Lyons] and Cecil, we were having so much fun being outlaws and seeing what we could come up with next and enjoying playing different that we was, and I was, and Jimmy was, and until '65 when I left Cecil (oh, we had some strange stuff, I love him anyway), Andrew [Cyrille] got the gig and he made all the money with Cecil, 'cause we had never played a festival and we got gigs for two dollars a night. I think we played, the first band I had put together for Cecil because at this point, Cecil was a very private guy and he would ask me about this guy and that and come to rehearse, people like Archie and Henry Grimes, Jimmy, and so finally we opened this band at the old Five Spot, which used to be at 5th Street and 3rd, and that was' the best band I had enjoyed with Cecil. We made a record called Into the Hot after that ['led' by Gil Evans, Impulse A-9, 1961], and that was the first time John came to the gig, Eric [Dolphy] came, Mingus. That was the first time, after loving John's music and seeing his pictures everywhere, that was the first time that I could touch him, and him and Eric took me from the drums and took me to the bar and bought me drinks, and told me I'm the best drummer they've ever heard with CT, and 'we don't know what you're doing, young man, but just keep on doing it.' I was like a baby you know, I was like 22 and I really was very happy after having so much love and concern for bebop. When I heard my first tapes with Cecil I was a little disappointed, I thought I sounded a little strange, and I got a little sad and my friends said 'you're so pitiful, Murray' and I said 'is that how I sound, man? Damn!' It took a little while to get accustomed to the new me. And, you know, I had to justify my change, and I imagine Cecil did too, by having so much heart and courage in the music.

AAJ: I was just listening to Roy Haynes playing with Andrew Hill [Black Fire, Blue Note 4151] and I was thinking to myself, wow, Roy Haynes in '64 sounds like Sunny Murray in '61!

SM [laughing]: Let me tell you a little story now that you mentioned that; well Cecil got this gig at a place on Bleecker and Broadway called Take 3, and we played there about a month. It was the kind of place that would be open all night, there'd be drunken soldiers and gay guys fighting, and hookers, and we made a dollar and a half, some nights two. And one night while I was playing, and Cecil says to me 'Sunny' and I said 'what, we just got started, what's up?' And Cecil whispers, 'Max Roach is in the audience. He's sittin' right up front.' And I almost lost my sticks, you know. And so he stayed a set, and then the night after, it's very true, speaking of Roy Haynes, I was setting up and sitting at my drums, and you know I love these cats and I would carry these cats on my shoulders somewhere, and I looked behind me, Roy Haynes is sitting there in the same funky donkey grace. And he smiles and he says, 'you don't like someone sitting behind you, right?' And I said, 'no sir, that's right.' And he laughs and said okay, and he went and sat in front. And we've been friends and I told this story to his son, Graham, and Graham saw me later (we played together a lot) and said 'dad said exactly what you said, man.' You know, some of my stories sound so strange, people think they're lies, but it's only because no one tells the truth about the past of new music. They look at new music like it didn't have that thing bebop had. Stories, suffering, gangsters, ups and downs, like it was just a flower that popped up some-damn- where. That's not true at all; we paid some dues, Cecil paid some dues, the violence, the hate, depression. This music was not born to some sweet walk in the tulips, you know?

AAJ: It sounds to me like there was also more cross-pollination between bebop musicians and the then-avant-gardists than people are willing to write about.


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