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Bill Goodwin: Not Less Than Everything

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Bill Goodwin is like a breath of fresh air blowing through jazz. From the time around 1954 when he was in Los Angeles and just learning the drums, and inspired by Shelly Manne, to today, around his 80th birthday, he has loved jazz and the musicians unconditionally. He has befriended and worked with so many of the great jazz artists that it's hard to count them. Here is a partial list: Gary Burton, Bill Evans, Dexter Gordon, Jim Hall, Bobby Hutcherson, June Christy, Joe Williams, Tony Bennett, Mose Allison, The Manhattan Transfer, Art Pepper, George Shearing, Bud Shank, and Frank Rosolino. Not to mention his 40-year association as drummer and producer for the Phil Woods Quartets and Quintets. While many if not most jazz musicians prefer a small coterie of close friends, Goodwin has developed lasting friendships and working relationships with almost all the musicians he has encountered over the years. There is a lot of jazz history from the 1960s and beyond in this interview.

Goodwin grew up in Los Angeles, took up the drums in high school in Palm Springs where the family lived for four years, and came up at the height of the prolific and innovative Los Angeles jazz scene, playing with and learning from many of the greats from that era. From there, he moved to New York in 1969 at the behest of Gary Burton. After a year, he brought his wife and children from Los Angeles to a home in the Pocono Mountains where they have resided ever since. The Poconos to this day have had a lively jazz scene and many great players and is the locus of the famed Deerhead Inn. Goodwin also has been a producer of many recordings and live performances. In addition to his gigs in New York and internationally, he works with the musicians locally and is an active board member of the COTA (Celebration of the Arts) Festival.

So read on, as Goodwin takes us through his exceptional life and music, the jazz greats he has known, and some of the issues that jazz musicians and aficionados debate on a daily basis.

All About Jazz: I always start out with the desert island question. What recordings you would take with you to that desert island?

Bill Goodwin: It's fairly easy for me to do that. I would take Miles Ahead (Columbia, 1957), Miles Davis and Gil Evans, Miles Plus Nineteen (Columbia, 1957). I don't know if I would take the whole set, but I would take The Genius of Art Tatum (11 vols. Clef Records, 1954). I would take at least a couple of those. Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet (Prestige, 1958), John Coltrane's Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1960), and Freddie Hubbard's album Ready for Freddie (Blue Note, 1962). And then of course, I would have to say Bird and Diz (Clef/Verve.1952), the record with Thelonious Monk, Curley Russell, and Buddy Rich on drums. As well as Sonny Rollins: A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 1958) and Ornette Coleman: Something Else!!!! (Contemporary, 1958).

But there are so many more. When I was a kid, I just went through everything. I grew up in LA and I went through everything in the Stan Kenton collection, West Coast jazz, and really got excited by all the players in the Kenton organization who then went out on their own in the West Coast jazz scene. The music then was so rich.

Coming Up and Stepping Up in Los Angeles

AAJ: Yes, it was an unbelievable era for jazz, when you were just coming up. Let's go back to that time in your life. We know that your father Bill Senior, was a prominent film actor and the radio announcer on the "George Burns and Gracie Allen" radio show and the Bob Hope shows. But what led to your interest in music and then jazz and specifically the drums?

BG: Well, I always loved music. It was part of my home. My mom was a professional dancer. Dad was in radio and films. My mom worked in films until she got married and started having kids. She was a professional dancer, and as a teenager, she would dance in the films of the Hollywood studios. She had a contract with 20th Century Fox when she was 14 or 15 years old, in the heights of the depression made a couple hundred bucks a week, which was a lot then. She was in the film Roman Scandals (Samuel Goldwyn Productions, United Artists, 1933). She's in the chorus of the Goldwyn Girls, and Lucille Ball was in the chorus as well, except mom was in the front, and Lucy was more in the back! And my dad loved all kinds of music, but particularly jazz. My mom loved jazz and Broadway musicals. And we had classical music, flamenco music, and any other kind of music that you can imagine. And we were all encouraged to just delve into it. It was like being in a record library. Just take it off the shelf and listen to it.

AAJ: So they really stimulated your interest and curiosity in music.

BG: It was just an accepted thing. I had three sisters. We were all required to take piano lessons starting about five years old. But I was an indifferent piano student. I would just do enough to get by. My older sister Jill was a very good pianist, but she gave it up later. Music was just in the house. In those days—I was born in 1942—there was radio, there was no TV. We did get a TV around 1950-51. It was the only one in the neighborhood. It was a tiny screen with a convex bubble magnifier over it.

AAJ: I remember all that too, in Brooklyn. We had a big Philco console radio. The radio brought people together in the living room to listen. There was a sense of belonging, family, and community. Today, everyone listens in isolation on their cellphones and headsets. So how did the drums come into all this?

BG: Well, I did learn something from the piano lessons. And when I started listening to West Coast jazz records, I really got interested in tenor sax. So at school they had a band, and if you played an instrument, you could be in the band. So I did that through junior high and part of high school, where I played tenor sax. And while I was doing that, I got interested in the drums. I was inspired on the saxophone by the Lestorians (influenced by Lester Young—Eds.), Bob Cooper, Bill Perkins, Dave Pell, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, who wasn't strictly from the west coast, but that stream of saxophone playing.

AAJ: What about Dexter Gordon?

BG: I liked Dexter. I got into him a little later than that. I had a good teacher, but I wasn't really into being a tenor player because I didn't get the kind of sound I wanted. But I did have some jam sessions with my friends in junior high school, playing rudimentary rock 'n roll. And at that time, I also started to double on drums. And after that I only played drums, except when they needed a baritone saxophonist for the marching band. I was a very big guy, so they immediately thought of me for baritone sax. I was 6'5" and weighed over 300 pounds.

But I'd always liked drums, and as early as 12 my mom took me and my sisters to the movie, The Man with the Golden Arm (Carlyle Productions; United Artists, 1955) which is of course about a drummer who is kicking the heroin addiction. Frank Sinatra played the drummer, Frankie "Dealer" Machine. He was a heroin addict and a card dealer, and when he went to prison, he learned how to play the drums. When he got out of prison, he wanted to be a drummer. So all my West Coast jazz heroes were in that movie, including Shorty Rogers and Shelly Manne. Next to Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa and those guys, my first serious drum idol was Shelly Manne.

AAJ: Did you go hear Shelly Manne live?

BG: I first heard him on records. And then I heard him in the movie. The opening of the movie is a black screen and you hear the high hat, and I had a Eureka! moment. I saw my whole future before me, just from hearing that high-hat beat.

AAJ: Many jazz musicians tell me they all have that moment, when they knew that was it.

BG: I just realized I loved to play the drums and I was good enough to succeed. I wanted to work with the best musicians and travel all over the world. And it all happened, it all came true.

AAJ: So once you had the moment hearing Shelly Manne, did you buy some of his recordings and listen to them?

BG: I already had his records. That's how I knew who it was.

AAJ: So what happened after that?

BG: It all took a while. I started playing drums professionally at 17. But before that my high school friends and I played simple format rhythm and blues, but I was listening a lot to very cool, sophisticated West Coast jazz, and I had my favorite bands and musicians. One of my favorite groups was the Dave Pell Octet. He played a lot for the Les Brown band, which was the band for the Bob Hope show. My dad was the announcer for Hope, so I got to go with him to the radio station and to meet Dave and the band. My dad was a big music fan, and he was glad that I liked it too. I was real gung ho.

So he started taking me out to hear jazz when I was about 13. We went to the Lighthouse to see Howard Rumsey's All Stars. I met the great drummer Stan Levey who had a gig there. Do you know how Stan started playing the drums? He was a boxer, and his dad was a kind of sleazy boxing promoter. Stan loved music, and he's walking down the street in Philadelphia, and he hears a saxophone sound coming out of a club. So he goes in and this guy is playing the saxophone—which turned out to be Charlie Parker! There's a drum set on the stage, and Bird sees Stan sitting there, and he says, "Hey kid, do you play drums?" Stan says, "Well, I always wanted to, but I never did." Parker says, "Well, come on up and see if you can play." So he went up and played, so the first time he played drums was with Charlie Parker. And Parker says, "Say, you're pretty good, man. You should think about coming to New York some time." Bird told Dizzy Gillespie about him, and that's how he got his first breaks at 16 or 17 years old.

Stan was tough, he was a boxer. One time, I saw him at the Lighthouse and when I talked with him, he looked me in the eye and said, "Well, kid, you've got talent, but you better work at getting your act together." And the way he said it, was like, "You better do it, or I'll kill you." He didn't really say that, but you could see it in his eyes. So I became friends with Shelly and Stan, Mel Lewis, and those guys from the coast became my mentors. And there was a guy named Freddie Gruber who became a well known drum teacher and guru. He was a best friend of Buddy Rich and many other drummers. He was a very brilliant ex-junkie who had figured out everything mechanically on the drums. So I would hang out with him, and he gave me a lot of new information.

I had never studied drums formally, so these guys taught me what I needed to know. It was in my mid-twenties, and already into my career, when I studied with Nick Ceroli who was a great big band drummer and a great small group player as well. Also, my sister Jill was a good pianist, and she liked the musicians, and she was dating the great bassist Charlie Haden. And Charlie introduced her to Terry Trotter, the pianist. And she married Terry Trotter! Terry was best friends with Bobby Hutcherson, bassist Herbie Lewis, and Charles Lloyd. That's how I started playing with Charles Lloyd, who was my first leader in a professional setting. Herbie also introduced me to Les McCann. And there was a marvelous pianist you wouldn't know about named Amos Trice.

AAJ: Did you work with Trice?

BG: We had a steady gig at a coffee house in Pasadena every weekend. Paid $10 a night in 1959.

AAJ: Dexter Gordon came up in a community of black musicians in LA. I think it was before you. But did you have any contact with those incredible African American musicians like Dexter and Wardell Gray who helped forge the advent of bebop?

BG: Yes, I was a part of that whole thing. I was accepted by most of the people in that, including Dexter. We used to play jam sessions at the Watkins Hotel on Washington Avenue. It was a regular gig. The drummer Kenny Dennis, who was married to Nancy Wilson, ran the jam session on Monday nights. He provided the rhythm section, and Dexter would join them as a guest. Dexter had just got out of jail and was on parole. He couldn't leave LA, so he took gigs around there. Kenny had this jam session on Monday nights, and you could go down and get in line for the sessions. So I got to play with Dexter a couple of times. And I got to know him personally. He was very kind and nice to me, and we retained our friendship right up to the end. This was in 1960. He had already been in Harlem and on 52nd Street.

AAJ: Do you know Dexter's wife. Maxine, who wrote a wonderful biography of him? (Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon (University of California Press, 2016).

BG: Yes, of course. But that was later, in the late 1960s. Maxine had a management organization called Ms. Management with Theresa Del Pozo who was drummer Bob Moses' girlfriend. It was all part of the clique that I met when I came to New York and worked with Gary Burton. Maxine Gordon was a part of that, and I've known her ever since that time.

AAJ: The scene out in LA at that time sounds unbelievable.

BG: It was a great scene. I'm very fortunate to have been there and to have been able to make those connections, many of which became long-standing friendships and musical collaborators.

Workin' with (You Name Them!)

AAJ: My next question is pertinent to those collaborations. It's awesome how many great musicians you've performed with. So many, that I find myself at a loss to focus on a particular one or a couple of them. So just to summarize, you performed at various times with Gary Burton, Bill Evans, Dexter Gordon, Jim Hall, Bobby Hutcherson, June Christy, Joe Williams, Tony Bennett, Mose Allison, and The Manhattan Transfer. And you could add Art Pepper. George Shearing, Bud Shank, and Frank Rosolino to the list. I don't know where to begin! Why don't you reflect for a moment and see if you can call up a few treasured moments, lessons learned, and the overall experience of working with one or a couple of these jazz icons. See what comes to your mind that you'd like to talk about.

BG: For me, some of the most important things were the connections I made. I always realized that I could be successful if I made good connections. I wanted to meet everyone, and I got to know all the younger and older musicians. While I was coming up in LA, I got to know all the guys at the Lighthouse. I got to know Bob Cooper, Frank Rosolino, Conte Candoli. I loved Shelly Manne's group, Richie Kamuca, Russ Freeman, and all those guys. I met Art Pepper in Palm Springs, because my family had moved out there for a while, and Art was staying across the street from where we lived. I was a fan of Art's from the Stan Kenton records. So I went over and introduced myself to him, and we played together for a bit. And when we moved back to Los Angeles, I would see him all the time. Art and my group played at my high school. Art told me that when I got old enough and good enough that he would hire me for his group. And when I was 22, he did hire me.

AAJ: Sounds like you started out at the end of the swing era. Pepper made the transition to bebop. Did you have to learn a new pattern of drumming to play bebop?

BG: Actually, I came up in bebop. But I could play swing too. For me it was really the same thing.

AAJ: Didn't the drum style change a lot between swing and bebop? You know, Kenny Clarke with the ride cymbal keeping time instead of the bass drum, etc.

BG: I would say it progressed or morphed into a less smooth, more jagged with a broken-up time approach, compared to the smoother thing. But if you listen to "Papa" Jo Jones, and then you listen to Kenny Clarke, you're not gonna hear that much difference. If you consider Shadow Wilson and Big Sid Catlett, you'll find that their stuff fits in just about anywhere. Stylistically, they're flowing back and forth, one to the other. And there were guys in LA my age like Billy Higgins, who became a friend of mine. He had a beautiful drum style based on Kenny Clarke. Then when I was nineteen, around 1961, I moved up to Hollywood Hills, and without knowing it, I was across the street from the great bassist, Leroy Vinegar, who I had been playing along while listening to the Shelly Manne records for quite a while. So then I ran into him at Shelly Manne's club, and he invited me over for breakfast the next day. We hit it off, and I became his drummer for a couple of years. I did my first official jazz recording with him.

AAJ: So your many friendships and associations developed into gigs.

BG: But of course, I had to meet their musical expectations. But jazz is a people thing. It's a network.

AAJ: The off-stage interactions are an incredible part of what makes jazz happen. We have our stars and heroes, but the collectivity is so rich and unending, and these connections are what propels the whole thing. Thinking of those connections when you listen to the music makes it whole new experience. Much remains to be said about this.

BG: Absolutely. Someone once compared the jazz community to a small town that happens to be spread out all over the world, a small town where everyone can know everybody. I found that if I wanted to, I could get introduced to just about any jazz musician in the world.

AAJ: What are some of the most important lessons you've learned from these folks, learning moments that enabled you to move forward or do something in a different way?

BG: Well, for one thing, with any of them, when I saw that I could do gigs with them, it increased my confidence. Around the time that Stan Levey told me to get my chops together, I had a crisis of confidence. I could always play well, but my confidence improved when I could play consistently with various groups and was getting hired a lot. Bass players like Gary Peacock, Hersh Hamel, Jack Bruce, Leroy, and my friend Herbie Lewis. They all promoted me and got me hired. Herbie was once playing with Sonny Stitt and they had a great pianist named John Huston from Chicago. John and Herbie were playing with Sonny Stitt at some club in LA, and they didn't like the drummer so much. So they invited me up to the bandstand. It was awesome to play with Sonny Stitt. And Sonny gave me the "thumbs up."

AAJ: Did you have any interactions with Chet Baker?

BG: Yes, I played with Chet a lot.

AAJ: The pianist Richie Beirach was Chet's pianist during one period. Do you know Richie?

BG: I know Richie, but that was much later. I worked with Chet in LA. I didn't come to New York until 1969.

Working and Living in New York and On the Road

AAJ: What circumstances brought you to New York?

BG: I was doing really well in LA, some commercial work, a lot of steady gigs. But you had to work constantly because none of the gigs paid that much. So I did want to travel, and then Gary Burton asked me to come to New York. I was with George Shearing at the time. We were working 45 weeks a year, great gigs, great pay. George treated me well. I'd been travelling to New York with George, Roger Williams, Tony Bennett. I got on the NY scene, met people. Then Gary called me, and asked me if I wanted to join his group. He said, "Would you consider moving to New York," and I said, "Yes, when do you want me?" I gave Shearing notice, and started working with Gary in January, 1969.

AAJ: I don't know why I'm thinking of him, but what can you tell us about Frank Rosolino?

BG: I knew him very well.

AAJ:
Did you know about all the problems he had towards the end? [Rosolino' was one of the truly great trombonists, but his private life was highly troubled. On November 26, 1978, Rosolino shot both of his sons as they slept. He shot himself in the head immediately after shooting his sons and died.— Wikipedia]

BG: We never knew he was going through something. I was talking with a friend and said, "Maybe we should have known what was going on with him always making jokes. He was an inveterate joker. He could not stop. So I think there might have been a bit of mania there. And I think there was something personal going on between him and his wife. I really don't know. But I do know he was a great player and I loved working with him. And he was very friendly to me.

AAJ: Getting back to Gary Burton, you were playing with him very intensively for a couple of years as part of his group. Did you go overseas with him?

BG: It was my first trip to Europe in 1969 and then to Japan in 1971.

AAJ: So here's my question: You were moving along so well with an incredible career in LA, New York, and abroad. In the midst of that, you decide, of all things, to move to the sticks, specifically the Pocono Mountains and pursue your career from there. Why?

BG: Well, I married young, I had a family: my wife and daughter. They stayed behind in LA, and then we decided for them to move to the East Coast which was now my home base. While I was in New York, I lived in Steve Swallow's house, and also subletting places in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and visiting friends in Sheepshead Bay and different places in upstate New York. But I was looking around for someplace where my wife, daughter, and I could live for the long haul. And the romance of living in a fifth floor walkup in the East Village wore off pretty quick. Then we came out to visit my friend Bob Dorough, the singer and song writer, who lived in the Poconos. I knew him in LA when he was working with the folksinger Chad Mitchell. We all liked the mountains, and we bought a house there. For the first year, I continued working with Gary, commuting to New York. We lived in Mt. Bethel, PA.

AAJ: Some of the greatest jazz musicians have lived in the Poconos. I'm thinking in particular of Urbie Green and Dave Liebman.

BG: Urbie Green lived in Mt. Bethel at that time. I played with him occasionally, mostly in the studios in New York. And we did some club date gigs with him and his wife, Kathy Preston, who was a very good singer. Urbie's son Jesse is a great pianist.

AAJ: Was the Deerhead Inn happening back then?

BG: Oh, yes. Bob Dorough took me to the Deerhead Inn even before I moved there. We went there in the late summer of 1969. He took me there without telling me that I would hear one of the best piano players on earth, who I never heard of, John Jr. Coates He was unbelievable! Then I took my friends from the West Coast to hear him when they came to visit.

AAJ: John Coates, Jr. is indeed a legend. He inspired and influenced pianists like Keith Jarrett. I've heard a couple of his recordings. He improvised almost free style, without a fixed melody, which became Jarrett's thing in the Cologne Concerts (The Koln Concert, ECM, 1975).

BG: Coates could do that, but mostly he played his own tunes. But if he had a good rhythm section, he could play free, but in a very melodic way. And a lot of people found a parallel between him and Keith, which is interesting because they were friends and they lived across the street from each other. I knew both of them pretty well, and they were working in parallel in some ways. But Keith never admitted to any direct influence by Coates. Keith never liked to acknowledge his influences. I once said to him, "You must really like Paul Bley." And Keith said, "I don't like to say who influenced me, but I will say I listened to Paul Bley's album Footloose (Savoy, 1963) about a thousand times!"

The Phil Woods Connection

AAJ: So let's get to your long association with Phil Woods, who also lived in the Poconos.

BG: There's my sister's influence again. She had gotten divorced from Terry, and she and Phil Woods decided to become travelling buddies. Jill called me up, and told me about Phil, and then they came East together, and Jill literally brought Phil to my house. He eventually started living with me, and we played together for a few months, and then we played together for forty years!

AAJ: What was it between you and Phil that made for such a long and profound connection?

BG: I think it was musical. Or maybe it was that he became my brother-in-law. (laughs))

AAJ: What was the musical connection?

BG: Have you heard us play??? Well then, what can I tell you? You either have it or you don't. We could read each others' minds when we played. Our whole group was like that, our original quartet with Mike Melillo on piano and Steve Gilmore bass. All the subtleties were all in there between us, and for the cognoscenti to get hip to.

AAJ: The mind-reading thing is so important in jazz groups.

BG: We all came in with our own agendas, and we all knew so much music. We rarely rehearsed, and we didn't have to. We needed to learn certain things for a specific recording and so on. Phil could call any Thelonious Monk tune. He'd call any Bud Powell tune, any Charlie Parker tune, any Dizzy Gillespie tune, any moldy old standard, we all knew them, and I could change my sound according to the tune. And Mike and Steve, they were incredible with their abilities. They could play different changes on every chorus. And Phil could do that too. I'd just be there keeping time, and thinking, "Wow, these guys are great!" I had that same feeling about Phil every time I played with him for the whole forty years. I never got tired of working with him.

AAJ: Many great recordings came out of that almost instinctive know-how. So, was there a particular recording studio you guys used?

BG: There were a bunch of them. I produced a lot of the records starting around 1980. We were recording before that, and Phil's producer Norman Schwartz taught me what I shouldn't do as a producer, if you know what I mean.

The Producer

AAJ: It would seem to be a thankless task for a musician to be a producer. What made you decide to do that?

BG: It was actually a lot of fun. You get to be in the driver's seat for many things. I'd been performing for over 15 years at that time and had lots of experience as a player. I had no experience at a producer, but I did get together with some friends, like the bassist Chuck Israels, who was interested in "audiophile" recordings, what he used to call "lunatic fringe audio" or "absolute sound," and he used to read all those audio magazines. I didn't want to become a sound engineer, but I was interested in what was happening. I started noticing what microphones people were using, which I had done for a long time. Like back in LA, Art Pepper and I used to go to Lester Koenig's studio for Contemporary Records. Lester befriended me, and I got to be there and observe. So I was with Phil Woods on our first record date together on RCA. Norman Schwartz was producing, and it was called The New Phil Woods Album (RCA Victor, 1976). I'm in the studio, and Norman comes in and starts making suggestions to me about how to play the drums. The fuckin' guy was an accountant! (laughs) I thought to myself, I'm making a hundred bucks and he's making a thousand bucks. I could be a producer too, and I started really talking to people and getting information about it like I did with the drums.

AAJ: It seems to me that the producer has the arduous tasks of setting up the recording, making demands on the musicians, and investing money. Why would you want to do such things?

BG: I didn't have difficult relations with the musicians because I am one of them. It was easy and fun for me. I did encounter the occasional diva, but not too many problems. I mean Phil's a big diva, but he got comfortable with me in that regard. We did a project in London, which came out eventually as Phil's dedication album, I Remember (Gryphon, 1979) with a large ensemble of English musicians and Phil's group. It was Phil's tribute to some of the great musicians and friends who had passed on. Phil was a very sentimental guy. Phil had many problems with Norman and broke up with him at that time.

A short time later, we were down in Austin, Texas at an unlikely place called Armadillo World Headquarters, which was a big beer hall western swing and rock 'n roll joint. They had a recording studio with some very talented engineers. They offered to record our group and charged me a pittance. And they recorded two gigs of beautiful two-track direct to two-track recordings. So I had these recordings, and I put them in shape. I brought them to a sound engineer near Stroudsberg, Chris Fichera who ran a recording studio called Mountain Sound. We used these recordings to make two LPs and sold both of them. It cost me a couple of hundred dollars to produce them, and I sold one for $7000 and the other for $8000. So the guys in the band thought I was a genius (laughs) or at least smart enough to get them some good money. They liked it, so I graduated into that role, and those records say "recorded under the supervision of Bill Goodwin."

I started putting our work on the market, and both of those records were nominated for Grammy Awards. We got more gigs. I started getting calls from other record companies. I met with them, and we started getting offers. It was the old "network" concept again that worked. With Island Records, Antilles, their jazz division, I negotiated a deal with Ron Goldstein for two records and made twice the amount of money that I made with OmniSound. The band gave me their seal of approval, and I was on my way like a bat out of hell.

AAJ: You may be one of the most social and business jazz musicians in history!

BG: In LA, a friend of mine used to call me the bebop Walter Winchell. (laughs) They said, "Bill's a jazz newspaper. Anything you want to know that's going on, just call him." Downbeat's John Tynan would go to a gig, and call me to get my ideas and paraphrase them in Downbeat.

AAJ: You've accomplished so much! You're going to be celebrating your 80th birthday soon. You've been making music for over sixty years. You've been involved in many of the major developments in jazz like swing, bebop, hard bop. Did you do any jazz fusion things?

BG: Gary Burton was involved in fusion, what we called jazz rock. Gary was one of those visionary guys who helped create it. But I was more of a swing and bebop drummer.

AAJ: You've really been around!

BG: Well, yeah!! And it's been good, man!

Beyond Bop and Moving Into the New Millennium

AAJ: So, on the occasion of your 80th birthday, and for the benefit of our readers, how would you sum up your career? And importantly, you've been in on so many of the musicians and major events of many years. What are your observations about jazz and its development during the time you been in the business?

BG: Leonard Feather once coined the phrase, "the ear-witness to history." I was there for a lot of what happened, but I don't know the newer musicians as much, although I do work with some of them and I love it. I'm getting ready to do a recording with Kirk Knuffke. We've already done three records together. He's the cornetist who plays with Matt Wilson's group and with Allison Miller's Boom Tick Boom.

AAJ:
Some people say that with all the influences of classical music, World Music from all over the globe, free jazz, contemporary classical music like Steve Reich, that jazz is losing its definition, its idiom, its special significance. They say that jazz had its roots in African, African American, and blues. That was what "jazz" meant until recently. Now you can play anything and call it "jazz."

BG:
But that's what they said about bebop and then the fusion era. It's all just "music."

AAJ: Do you ever play free jazz?

BG: I started out playing free jazz. Check out early sixties with Anthony Ortega and Bobby West, a record called New Dance (Revelation, 1967; Hatology, 2003). That was just us playing free, which we used to do all the time. I was an early adopter of Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and Eric Dolphy. That was really where I was coming from, from high school on.

AAJ:
It sounds like you are and always have been very open to new influences.

BG: You have to be!

AAJ: Some musicians feel that they want to stick to the traditions: the blues, pre-determined chord structures, etc.

BG: That's pretty silly, isn't it? The rhythm comes from Africa, doesn't it? And, even though I'm a white suburbanite, I play with a heavy African influence. That belongs to everybody who can hear it. Chick Corea said, "Only play what you can hear. Don't play anything you can't hear."

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