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A Fireside Chat With Perry Robinson

By Published: November 13, 2003

After Benny Goodman and all the early stuff that I had heard, somebody brought me the first Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker, the very first. That was the very first modern thing that I heard and that really changed me around. That got me into a whole other way of thinking. It was right before I came to New York or right after. I would listen to the radio and I remember being infatuated with the 'cool' sound. I would hear Lee Konitz and Stan Getz. It was a whole Swedish thing going on at the time. There was a point in high school and I was playing sax and everything and my dad and the whole family was saying that I should play sax and flute so I could work a lot.

But there was one moment where I decided that I would give up the sax and make the plunge and just go for the clarinet. Then I started searching out modern clarinetists and things. I decided that I was just going to play the clarinet. There were enough saxophones. Then a friend met Tony Scott in New York and he told Tony about me, that I was playing clarinet modern. By that time, I had gotten into a little bebop. Tony Scott gave him a record to bring to me, the first record of Tony Scott on Brunswick, Tony Scott Quartet, fantastic. Before that, there was a point where I wanted to hear what modern clarinetists there were out there in the world at the time. Who was playing with the modern sound?

That is where I got the Swedish thing. There was a Swedish player named Putte Wickman and then I would listen to Sam Most, anybody that was playing anything modern. I found Buddy DeFranco before Tony. I was into Buddy a lot, with all the quartet stuff, the early stuff. That was a real influence. He was playing bebop and I was listening to all that stuff.

But then this Tony Scott thing hit me. I was sixteen, fifteen and that got me completely off. Tony turned me onto the sound that he had. So I met him and started hanging out with him. That kept me going and then my first album, Funk Dumpling.

FJ: With Henry Grimes .

PR: You know all of this. Henry Grimes was a big part of this whole thing. You had that big article. I am going out with him again now. This is a fantastic thing. We've been having these reunions. He is on my first album and I am on his. What I did after hearing Tony and all the clarinetists and everything was that I wanted to get a bebop style, with a saxophone conception, but to get it on clarinet. So I started listening to the saxophones, Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, everything. But Hank Mobley was a big influence. I took a solo off a record of Hank Mobley, one chorus of 'Pennies from Heaven.' Within that one chorus, I learned all the basic bebop patterns. I still remember it by ear. It was just an amazing lesson in basic bebop patterns.

Of course, in those days there weren't many transcriptions of solos, so a lot of stuff I would just take off of records. It was good training for the ear. But I really wanted to get a saxophonic swing on the clarinet. Even Buddy DeFranco, the way he swung, I felt was more of a swing kind. I think I achieved it on Funk Dumpling. That record was in '62. I think I achieved the basic concept of what I wanted to achieve in terms of a certain kind of swing. It is interesting. There is a whole evolution of clarinet.

Then the free period came in and that was a wonderful thing. So I did the first record, Funk Dumpling, with Henry and Paul Motian and Kenny Barron. That was an amazing trip and then three years later, doing the record with Henry, The Call, you could hear the change of music. Of course, I was in the Army during the interim. I went into Panama from 1963-65.

FJ: How did you come to play with Grimes?

PR: Henry was a big influence. We've been doing these things with Henry here. I met Henry at a jam session in '57. He went to Juilliard and I met him in '57 at a session and we just hit it off right away. Then I started going over to his house and jamming with him and hanging out and playing. At the same time, he was working with Sonny Rollins, but we had a really strong relationship through the years.

I was living in Brooklyn at the time. I met Tom Wilson, a famous producer, who was working with Savoy at the time and Tom came in as the producer and he got me the date. Of course, I used Henry and I asked Henry who we should get for a quartet and Jon Mayer wasn't there at the time. I was going to use him, but Henry got Kenny Barron and Paul Motian, he got, which was great. I had known Paul through the years from playing with Tony Scott with Bill Evans. But we got Paul and that was how the quartet came together. I must say, Fred, it has held up through the years.

FJ: How did you go from Grimes to Brubeck?

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