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Interviews

Hank Jones

By Published: October 27, 2003
AAJ: Did Sonny talk a lot about Charlie Parker?

HJ: No he didn't. He didn't talk a lot about him, but you could tell he admired the style, because that was the style that he emulated. They were contemporaries, so I don't know who's first or second because when I first met Sonny Stitt he was playing in Saginaw, Michigan. Sonny was playing that way then. It might have been one of those cases of parallel development and this happens I think frequently. Scientists sometimes do things like that, they make simultaneous discoveries or whatever, and I think it happens in music. Not a lot. But it certainly happens with things sometimes, and this could have been a case like that. It's just that Charlie Parker was in an environment where he could be heard and recognized much earlier and much more often. Sonny was in an environment where he wasn't being heard. Just playing that way, you know, you don't develop that style over night!

AAJ: What made you want to learn this language?

HJ: When I first came to New York I guess in the mid '40s, '44 or something like that, that's what I heard. That was the first thing I heard, other than playing with [Oran] "Hot Lips" Page right across the street at the Onyx club [on 52nd street] - he was definitely not playing bebop; Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and the people that played at the Three Deuces were. And I used to go over and listen to them between sets, and whenever I wasn't working, I would go down there and listen. And that's what I heard, Charlie Parker with his group - Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell or Al Haig, or Max Roach, people like that. But that's the first style that I heard and of course I liked it. I thought it was great stuff.

AAJ: Was there any division between musicians at the time in terms of that style?

HJ: Most established musicians didn't care for the style. They had a hard time breaking in, [and] they sort of looked down on it, [as] sort of the "stepchild" of jazz music at that time. Actually I think it sort of took over, you can hear it in all places in [this] music. In arrangements, the better players more or less use that style. In other words it has seeped into the jazz pres-ence, [and] consciousness [of] most musicians of this period as well as during that period. It took a long time for it to be recognized as a musical form, [as] a lot of people just put it down all together. It wasn't widely accepted at first, but it gradually grew, [and] so it grew in acceptance. I think that means it has something of worth that's lasting and worthwhile, keeping and preserving. It will always be there. I think there will always be some form of it around.

AAJ: Well, it must tickle you a little to see that people can actually go to school to study [this] kind of music.

HJ: Well I think that's sort of the proof positive of the fact that [this music] is a positive thing, that it is a lasting form of music and that it has a future. Because what would be the point of teaching it if it had no future and if it wasn't worthwhile? I think they teach it because a lot of the students in colleges and music schools ask for it. This is what they want, and a lot of these people are converts from rock [music], by the way. I think [jazz] is viable, it's energetic, and to play it well it requires prodigious technique as you can probably imagine. [You need a] great knowledge of harmony, and flexibility, [and] fluency.

AAJ: I noticed that there was a younger pianist, Geoffrey Keezer that put out an album of your compositions [Sublime - Honoring the Music of Hank Jones, Telarc].

HJ: I was amazed. I said "oh my goodness!" It was a wonderful compliment to me. Not sure I deserved it, but I think it was quite an honor for me to have somebody do that, and Geoffrey is a fine pianist on his own.

AAJ: There's a bunch of different duos with four different pianists: Chick Corea, Kenny Barron, Mulgrew Miller, and Benny Green. He said he was inspired by the duo work that you did with Tommy Flanagan. What was it about duo playing with Tommy that was special to you?

HJ: Well Tommy had a very, very good knowledge of harmony. He played a great clean style you know, and his style was somewhat similar to mine although I think he was the better player. It was easy working with him. We thought along the same lines harmonically. The first time we did that was on a date that he owed to Fantasy [Records]. He owed them one date left on his contract for some agreement he had with them. I was in California at the time with Ella, and Tommy was there, I guess with his trio and he called me and said, "Would you like to do a [recording] date? I have a date to finish for this company." And so I said why not? We did the date without any rehearsal, any preparation, just walked in and did it.

AAJ: What's important to you as a rhythm section player?

HJ: With bass players obviously you have to be on the same page harmonically. At least if you are not on the same page, you have to be in the same ball park because there are so many variations of chords and bass notes. A lot of bass players don't play what we like to call pure bass notes, they run all up and down the scale. Well this makes it a little more difficult for pianists because it interferes with our musical train of thought. You don't have to play the same note, you don't have to play four notes of C or G or E whatever. You can move, but running up and down the scale playing irrelevant notes that are not primarily bass notes really interfere with the continuity of harmony because harmony is built on the bass note. If the bass isn't there you are building something in thin air. In other words the bassist has to be in harmony with the piano - no pun intended - otherwise it's going to sound pretty strange. The other thing is the bass play-er has to keep very, very, good time, and that applies of course, now we can move on, to the drummer. The first requirement to me for a drummer is to play correct good time, and keep, not necessarily perfect time, [but] at least not rush and not slow down.


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