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Buell Neidlinger: From Taylor to Zappa to the Carpenters

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Let’s look at these musicians. Let’s look at the bass players – Paul Chambers, Jimmy Garrison. They’re dead, man, you know, long before it was time for them to die. Why was that? It was because they couldn’t get work anymore. They destroyed their physique through using drugs and trying to compete with loud drummers. And we could name a bunch of other bass players too, and many players of other instruments. I didn’t want a life like that. I wanted a home if possible, children, stuff like that. So I had to learn what to do.

And I only got caught twice, (laughing) once was when I was still a jazz musician, and there was this guy that played with Machito, he got another gig and wanted me to go up to Roseland, the afternoon session. I had never played that kind of music and I didn’t tell him that, and I said ‘oh, sure, I’ll do it,’ got up there... you know what an Ampeg Baby Bass is? It’s kind of the forerunner of these basses that you see around a lot that don’t have bodies on them. Well, that’s the favorite instrument in a Latin band. So he left the bass there and I picked this thing up that I’d never played and I started in. After the first three tunes, they were taking intermission and the bongo player came over and said ‘Machito wanna talk to you.’ I said ‘oh, okay’ and I went over there and he was looking at me, he was very angry, and he said ‘loo goo, too loo no goo,’ which I found out later meant ‘loose is good, too loose is no good.’ So he played the rest of the afternoon with no bass. I got caught there, and then years later this guy calls me up and says ‘you play disco?’ Sure, you know, I did play disco ‘cause I don’t know if you ever watched “Hart to Hart,” the main title of that is disco and then some. Five eight-bars, modulation from one key to another, all kinds of stuff, and I did all those shows. So I thought I could play this, and I went down there and took out my Fender... oh yeah, I never told you about learning to play the Fender in 1953 when I was in high school. I was probably the first guy in New York who could read music on the Fender bass. But anyway, this was years later, and the guy said ‘no, I don’t want you to use the pick – I want you to thump it.’ I was friends with the Johnson brothers, whom they used to call “thunder thumbs” in LA, and one was the guy that invented that technique. I had watched him and I thought, well, shit, anyone could do that, and I found out that’s not true (laughs)! So they had to send for someone else. But other than that, I always got through – polka band, klezmer gig, you name it.

AAJ: Variation, then, has been a help rather than hindrance...

BN: Oh, definitely. You can’t go the Five Spot or Birdland and play every night. You have to have something else to play.

AAJ: Well, I think you’ve covered everything that I had sought to ask of you; is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you’d like to discuss?

BN: Yeah, let’s discuss jazz record companies and merchandising. Record companies are interesting because it seems that no matter how inept their executives are, they get fired from one company and they move to a higher position at another company. And so now we have record companies purportedly producing jazz records that are being run by people who have had five or ten different jobs in [these] companies, each one always better than the last, in spite of the fact that they’re totally inept. They wouldn’t know jazz if they fell over it. So now we’re stuck with... gee, I don’t want to mention names, I could get in a lot of trouble, but let’s look at Harry Connick. Now there’s a talented boy, he could play jazz in his own way, and they made him a singer, and they made him a movie star, and I don’t know what happened to him...

AAJ: Wasn’t he in Goodfellas or some mafia movie?

BN: I think so, sure, I don’t watch movies too much anymore... but yeah, now there’s a guy whose talent as a pianist, if it had been nurtured by a producer who knew something about music and wasn’t just interested in the almighty dollar, shit, he might’ve turned into the next Horace Silver or something, you know? And what is he now? He’s a half-assed movie actor, a half-assed singer, and the other ability has gone out the window.

And so now, let’s talk about the merchandising [of jazz]; let’s talk about a guy like Roy Ayers, who was a marvelous vibraphonist and jazz musician. I walked by a record store the other day, and I saw some very strange pictures of him dressed up in Zulu uniforms with all kinds of crazy-lookin’ bitches dancing around him, and so I went in there and wanted to hear what it sounded like. The guy put it on, and I mean shit, man, I could send a vibraphone and a couple of mallets to you through the mail today and you could play that good by this afternoon! You know, that’s what I call destruction, and it’s very sad to me. And another thing that I noticed is that, [although] I’m not into the mainstream of jazz anymore, and I don’t know who’s who, I sometimes listen to the local jazz station here, and it’s a playlist world. I know all about playlists because you know, I was involved in that big time in LA. There was one building in LA, Western Sound, where I would go there in the morning and record with the Beach Boys and in the afternoon go into another room and record with Neil Diamond, and that night go into the third room there and record with Elvis Costello. I’d hear all these records out there on the radio within a week, unless it was Earth, Wind and Fire, then it would be three days (laughing)! So, you can get product out if you want to, there’s no question about it, but what I’m talking about is that I’m not hearing anything new coming out on these jazz stations because it’s a playlist world. And that’s disgusting.

AAJ: Yeah, they actually tried to do that at the college station I worked at, but I left before I had to sell out. This is even college radio, and they do that there too.

BN: But that’s for Neil Diamond and Earth Wind and Fire; that’s how that business works. But to apply it to creative music, that’s a big mistake. Because then what you’re gonna hear is based on the taste of a programmer...

AAJ: ...Who is basing his tastes on the money that the record label may be sending him.

BN: That’s right, and so I don’t know who’s going to rescue us from that. Then when we come to the general tone of Jazz journalism as epitomized by Joseph Woodard of Jazz Times, hey, that ain’t very good either. I’m a little bit worried. I thought after 9/11... you know, at K2B2, we’re always getting tapes from people, and they’ve become less and less interesting over the years, so I thought that maybe 9/11 would produce the emotional conditions that would bring out the next Ornette Coleman or the next Albert Ayler or whatever, but we didn’t get anything strikingly emotional sent to us for consideration. As a matter of fact, it was more like... minimalism. That’s what it’s seemingly coming to with the younger jazz artists. Kind of a minimalist approach – repetition, tones which aren’t expressive, really dead. I’m 67 and I hope I can live long enough for the next Bird, Trane, or the next Albert Ayler. I can’t wait. If anybody out there is playing along those lines, please send us the tapes right away. We want to release their album.

Visit Buell Neidlinger on the web at www.k2b2.com/neidlinger.html .
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