A Fireside Chat With Grachan Moncur III

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GM: Right and actually, Lee Morgan was Alfred Lion's idea. Lee was really one of my best friends, but at the time, Lee was having some problems like up in Harlem. He had got banged up pretty bad and he was out of commission and so I didn't even know that he was available. I had just met Woody Shaw because Woody was working with Eric Dolphy at the Five Stop and I had just heard Woody Shaw and I had no idea that Lee would have even been available or that Lee would even want to do it. I hadn't been in touch with Lee, but me and Lee were closer friends than me and Jackie were. Lee always tried to inspire me to come to New York and stuff like that and invite me over to spend weekends with him and show me the good life that he was living. He was making all these records with Blakey and he had a new sports car and he said, "Come on, man, you got to get a piece of this. Practice hard and see what's happening and get out here with me." Lee was very special to me, but like I said, I hadn't seen him, so when Alfred mentioned him to me, as a matter of fact, Fred, Alfred told me the night before the date that he was going to get Lee. Even Jackie didn't know that Lee was available and Jackie had asked this little trumpet player from Washington to be a standby at the rehearsal because he knew that he wanted a trumpet. I hadn't been able to contact Woody anyway. When Alfred said that Lee was going to make the rehearsal, that was fantastic. I had no objections. Woody was very disappointed. I made enemies for doing that and he never forgave me for it.

FJ: Evolution headlined Blue Note's dabble into the "new thing" as it were.

GM: I want to tell you something, Fred. To me, it wasn't avant-garde per say for what the avant-garde was really standing for at that time to me. The avant-garde at that time was dealing with the idea of being revolutionary music. I had no thoughts in my mind of this being revolutionary. I thought the way I named the album Evolution, I was thinking of the music evolving from the mainstream. I didn't want to think in terms of we are taking over, we're changing. My mind was never there. That is why my album was called Evolution. When I wrote the piece, the piece "Evolution" came to me naturally. It was weird. That came because the first guy that ever heard "Evolution," the first guy that I ever played "Evolution" for was Gil Coggins. Gillie lived up in Brooklyn too. I used to run into him quite a bit in the neighborhood. I remember the day after I wrote "Evolution," I told Gil about it and I told him I wanted to come up to his pad. I didn't have a piano. I had a melodica. I was writing most of my stuff on the melodica because I didn't have a piano at the time. I came up and I played it for him. Gil, as being as traditional as he is, I really wanted him to hear it because I wanted him to tell me what he really thought. When I played it, he said, "Damn, man, you got something there. I don't know what it is, but it sounds like something." That was good enough for me coming from him. I played exactly the way I wrote it. I played all the voicings just the way it was. I didn't change nothing.

FJ: The critical inability to register Jackie's One Step Beyond along with Evolution and your follow up, Some Other Stuff, effectively pigeonholed you.

GM: Fred, I think the reason why I got pigeonholed was because of the business because Alfred Lion and them were pretty disappointed with me that after they recorded Evolution, they thought that they were going to be able to put the music in their publishing company and I had already published mine and I had already sent them the copyrights and I had got my company name and all that. They were very disappointed with that and they kind of dropped me like a hot potato in reference to the plans that they had had for me, Fred. They were really going to go out for me, but me being as young as I was and didn't have any guidance, I didn't think it was such a big thing and I didn't know that they was going to take it the way they took it. Like if I had, knowing what I know now, I think I probably would have done it a different way. I probably would have made some kind of compromise. You take two and I'll take two or something like that. I think my mind was really going to a revolutionary attitude more on the business tip than it was on a musical tip because I was kind of determined on trying to own my own music.

FJ: Did you know at the time, Some Other Stuff would be your last Blue Note session?

GM: In a sense, yeah. I didn't even know I was going to do that. I didn't have really a contract with them at the time.

FJ: But no one had contracts with Blue Note at the time.


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