Born January 5, 1931, in Kingston, Jamaica, trumpeter Alphonso Son "Dizzy" Reece moved to England in 1948 to continue his jazz studies, as his countrymen alto saxophonist Joe Harriott and tenor man Ken Terroade would also do. Following some time in Paris, Reece recorded with Ronnie Scott, Victor Feldman and Tubby Hayes for the Tempo and Savoy labels before making his Blue Note debut in 1958. Reece moved to New York the following year on the recommendation of Miles Davis, and recorded for Alfred Lion for the next three years. Reece was in Paris again in the late '60s, working with Hank Mobley and John Gilmore, before returning to New York in the '70s. He has recorded somewhat less since that time, though there were stints with Clifford Jordan and the Paris Reunion Band and his works for Blue Note were recently collected as a boxed set by Mosaic Records. Reece took time out on a Sunday afternoon in August 2005 to talk with AAJ-NY writer Clifford Allen about philosophy, art, cultural change, and the place of modern jazz in society.
AAJ Meets Reece Meets AAJ
Bird and Modernity
Recording and a Philosophy of Playing
Playing and a Philosophy of Temperament
The Drummers and the Beat
Education and Communication
AAJ Meets Reece Meets AAJ
All About Jazz: I started my line of questioning somewhat early, upon leaving Jamaica for England, but could you give an idea of the climate in Kingston at the time you left?
Dizzy Reece: I don't want to go back that far; they've got all that stuff on the market. I'd rather deal with New York City. We can go back another time, because everybody's been dealing with that. It's all out there. I'm interested in updating [people] on what's been going on in New Yorkthe Birdland scene and so forth.
AAJ: So we're jumping aheadI suppose I was curious about the '40s.
DR: Oh, the '40s? It's funny, I was talking with somebody about UFOs and extraterrestrials; are you familiar with that? Around 1947 all of this started, a big trend about UFOs, and it was the first time I'd heard of it. I was about sixteen years old, and strangely enough when I got to Liverpool in 1948, I was walking around (it was just after the war in England) and I saw an interplanetary space station. This was actually an interplanetary society, and they were issuing interplanetary passports. Strange, and this happened during that periodthat's just a brief piece of what I've been going through. I was in Lancashire, England for a while before I went to London and Paris. In Paris was the first time I saw Charlie Parker and Miles Davis; they played the first Paris jazz festival in 1949.
AAJ: So is that how you first met Miles, then?
DR: No, no, I was looking at them from the back of the hall. I was young, and I didn't meet Miles until 1958 or 1959, when he came to London and then again when I went to New York. He was into my recordings, and I did a few recordings in London with Victor Feldman, that have been reissued on Jasmine Records [originally on Tempo]. So I met Miles and I was playing in London in 1958, and I don't know if he'd heard me personally playing, but he'd heard some of my recordings. Surely enough, I met Billie Holiday, and I performed with her, Billie and her dog. She had a lovely dog, a boxer, and I think she's in one of the magazines featured with him, maybe Jazz Times. It was a beautiful dog; he'd just sit there and listen to her sing.
I arrived in the States in October of 1959 after I did my first recording for Blue Note, Blues in Trinity, and I made the second one Star Bright and the rest of those records for Blue Note. This stuff has all been reissued on Mosaic Records as a Mosaic Select.
AAJ: I've got the records, but I have seen the box, yes.
DR: Oh, you've got the vinyl? That's the real stuff. That's good, now let me inquire about you. How did you get these recordings of mine?
AAJ: Out of curiosity, I'd heard your name passed around and I think the Tubby Hayes factor was probably the reason I picked up Blues in Trinity first. I was interested in hearing more of his music and hadn't heard yours, so that got the ball rolling. The opener is so affecting with that out-of-tempo feel that it really perked my ears up. I think I got the other two Blue Notes shortly thereafter, and this was a period that I was grabbing anything and everything I could hear of musicians who didn't come up in the States, Europeans and expatriates who had come to this music from other sources and other areas. That's led to others like Joe Harriott.
DR: Oh, you're familiar with Joe Harriott? I didn't know you were into his stuff. How did you hear Joe?
AAJ: I think it would have probably been before I heard you, actually.
DR: Where was this in time?
AAJ: This wouldn't have been that long ago, maybe five or so years ago. I got some of his work in Chicago at a record store, the stuff with Shake Keane.
DR: Right, when they were getting into a new way of playing. Have you heard my work after that?
AAJ: Yes, some of it. I know the Beehive [Manhattan Project, 1977] and the Futura [From In to Out, 1970], and the New Jazz [Asia Minor, 1962]. I'm still curious about the Honeydew record [Possession, Exorcism, Peace, 1974], I haven't heard that one. I've heard a good chunk, and I got into the music first quite independently. Maybe I told you this already, but...
DR: Well, tell me again.
AAJ: My father was a jazz pianist, so...
DR: What's his name?
AAJ: Jon Allen.
DR: You know this is interesting because my father was a jazz pianist also, and he played music for silent films. Where was your father from?
AAJ: He's from Connecticut, actually. His interest in jazzwell, when I was a kid I didn't like it all that much. I don't think I even liked music that much when I was a kid. I got into it independently because he had his thing, which was piano trios mostly, and he didn't like the horn players as much. I heard a lot of stuff that now I might think was very good, but it didn't grab me at the time because I was looking for things that sounded a bit more forceful. I listened to rock music when I was young.
DR: Well, it's part of your time period.
AAJ: Yeah, it is, and I was about 19 or 20 when I picked up jazz records out of curiosity, thinking that maybe I should give some of this stuff a chance, and I started out with some of the more free thingslate-period Coltrane and Albert Aylerand it might seem like a weird place to start, but it grabbed me right away, a complete washing away of anything else I'd heard before. It didn't take me that long to decide that I wanted to hear as much and everybody as I possibly could.
DR: This is interesting because it's your decade, you know. So you are totally into jazz now, and you love jazz?
AAJ: Yes, that's pretty much primarily what I listen to, though there are other things that I could be informing my mind with as well. That's principally it, though.
DR: Well, that's a good spot. It relates to a lot of other things.
AAJ: It's led me to some other things like Indian classical music, Turkish and North African music as well, so it's not independent of those things.
DR: It's a universal music; like I've said, everybody plays the blues. Indians, Chinese, every group and nationality has the blues. The Portuguese have the Fadodid you ever hear Portuguese music?
AAJ: A little bit.
DR: We have the blues, they have the Fado. It's reflected in most of the Brazilian music you hear, Jobim and all of that has that soundit's the soul, the Fado. We call it the blues. Every nationality has it, it's a common soul for everybody, and it relates. I've studied music from everywhere, and I used to listen to recordings on UNESCO. The United Nations cultural department issued these recordings, and I used to hear a lot of drummers from all over the worldAfrica, Czechoslovakia, Chinese musicit boils down to jazz and blues. Everybody has the blues cry; the Jews have the blues cry, the Arabs have a blues cry and you hear it. It's a good focus, jazz, it goes out and it's reflected back. You have fusion jazz, you have everything, but I get interested right about in the modern jazz period. That tells the story of everything that has been before in the blues idiom.
AAJ: I feel the same way. I start around the early 50s with my attachment to it. class="f-right"> Return to Index...
Bird and Modernity
DR: The '50s is a good periodso much has been going before that, in the 30s and 40s, but it came up to the '50s and the Modern Jazz Era, which is what we termed it. It came out of everything from before Louis Armstrong up to Lester Young, and here comes Charlie Parker, and he was a summationthe blues (and he loved the blues, he's Mr. Blues). So we get to a level of intelligence now, where we take it to the next level, and that's the Modern Jazz Era. That's what I've been dealing with; that's the era that I came up in and I still think it's the greatest period. Everybody's still wrestling with it. Coltrane had been through the bebop era and Charlie Parker, and then he got into his other expressions, but you can go check out his recordings with Miles Davis and you'll see the link.
AAJ: Right, and he'd come up in Dizzy Gillespie's band.
DR: Yeah, and you have to go through the modern jazz to get to another levelhe stretched it out. There's a differencewith Charlie Parker, he was a finished product, and he didn't have to take it where Trane took it. He already had everything.
AAJ: Right, when you hear his solos with Jay McShann he seems almost fully formed at an early age.
DR: Oh, man, exactlyeverything was packaged. He could do everything that everybody's doing now, stretching out on chord changes and modes.
AAJ: I also think of modern jazz not just in terms of stretching out chordally and harmonically, but also rhythmically, and the drummerhow the drummer was able to expand time by playing all these confluences of rhythms, and that maybe was the major change.
DR: It was a big change, and it happened with Charlie Parker and Max Roach. Sure, of course, the rhythm aspect is the whole thingCharlie Parker played drums on the saxophone, and the whole thing is rhythm. It goes into intelligence, tooyou look at the 40s and you had Aldus Huxley and Brave New World, the whole world was changing, skyscrapers were going up and the political scene was changing, and modern jazz was a reflection of everything.
AAJ: The old forms wouldn't suffice to express it.
DR: No, no, they had to keep breaking through.
AAJ: It's like how in painting, representation fell by the wayside because it just couldn't capture how people were seeing their world.
DR: Exactly, it's the same thing because as much as it's actually great, [representation is] frozen. It's like music, the sound is dynamic, it's not frozen. Picasso and everybody tried the different forms, but in music you can hear a definite shift, and that's really freedom in the music. Everybody came to Charlie ParkerProkofiev and all the great composers would visit Birdland and check Charlie Parker out too. I was amazed at how all the old forms in classical music [were strong] and you had people like Prokofiev writing letters asking Charlie Parker how he played music. It's so basic, Charlie Parker was using the blues and the AABA forms, and the "I Got Rhythm" changes and he created so much out of that basic 12-bar blues and the American songbook. Classical music had access to this, but it was frozen in a way. Modern jazz is still going on, and we're just feeding the currents of it now. There are a few cats left around like myself, people who are in the current of it.
AAJ: As far as where contemporary music is going or has gone, I guess I feel that it's hard towell, I don't feel like there is as much vitality in it as there seemed to be.
DR: It's been diffused. Are you speaking culturally, or the music scene?
AAJ: I'm speaking aesthetically but it all goes hand in hand.
DR: Well, of course, the artistic world has been drainedfor what they are, the artists have devoted so much time and energy to it and there is no direct feedback from the populace. Now, in your generation, that's why I asked when you startedhere you are, young, and you're interested in the music and you're caught up in the currents of it, and you can feel the dynamic force is lacking. Is that what you're saying?
AAJ: Yeah, partly.
DR: A lot of it's been diffused from the society, there's no feedback for the artistic giver and creative forces. It's true, and that's why you get that feeling while you're alive.
AAJ: For me, I capture slices of things that I can't necessarily experience now in the flesh. I listen to a number of people who are gone now, and it's strange.
DR: It's like you've been reincarnated, huh? I don't know, sometimes I do think like I'm reincarnated. I used to walk around on Broadway and that was my beat, Birdland, and the music was dynamic and alive and it's funny looking back now. So many musicians were alive and you could walk on Broadway and meet guys from Hollywood, everybody. All over the streets you'd hear music, and it was a different thing. It was alive, and that's what's missing. If you didn't have that period, you can feel it and you know it's missing. I had it, and I knowI was a part of that as one of the last figures on Broadway, at 52nd and Broadway, some of the energy was still there. I haven't been but once in a while, and as a matter of fact I made a documentary about it. Here you come, and you didn't even experience that, and you can feel it's missing somewhere. Of course it's missing, as a lot of the younger players nowthey're great, but that slice is missing too.
AAJ: I'm not sure, but I feel it's accurate that the education system of the music, how it is passed down orally through the streets and whom you know, that it's lost in the academic situation where a lot of improvisers are coming out of music schools instead of The Music.
DR: That's why I'm talking about Broadwayyou're talking about the community aspect, and that's where the music is. It's from the community, and the community ejects out. It's good to have the academic education, but that's from another level. This is why the music's great, because it came from the people as a community, and now that's why I reference this period. They used to have jazz in the schools, and all of that's been taken out. It's running another way politically and socially, and your generation is lacking [community] now, and you can feel it because it's missing, and even if you don't know anything about it, you can tell that something is not there.
AAJ: Even, I suppose, like pop or rock music, when it was first coming out, it had this vitality to it. It seems like people have an esthetic or poetic apathy, where you hear music from that genre now, people are very blasé about it, rather than that this is something that needs to be done, a conviction in making even that sort of music. This is, I guess, why popular music
DR: It's an expression of the community, whether it's pop or rock or whatever.
AAJ: And if the community is blasé, then the music will follow it.
DR: The whole world is blasé, everything is blasé, and I've been through that in my life, and your generation has reaped the "benefits." That's why I'm interested in speaking to you, as it's now several decades from when I started, and here you are in the fruits of the music, and it has captured your imagination. I could have been talking to a veteran critic, but I'm interested in your angle. This is what you're dealing with now.
AAJ: It's funny too, because the AAJ-New York paper, most of the staff is under 40, and a lot between the ages of 25 and 35.
DR: That's interesting, and encouraging. That's why I'm interested in doing this, and I'm not into talking that much [laughs], but from my connection with the paper, I realize this and I'm encouraged. In this decade, you're still interested in this music, and I suppose that's part of it. I'm trying to capture the essence of it, and you're looking for the essence of it, but it's been diffused. Now it's mostly a microcosm, it's one and one.
AAJ: If you read an old Downbeat or something, you read the same thingthat bebop was diffusing the jazz that came before, and it's funny to me that a lot of critics thought it was negative.
DR: Well, of courseit was anti-everything. To break through into this Brave New World of Huxley, everything was changing, Picasso and Hemingway, it's all related to Charlie Parker and that period. A lot of people resisted, and they're still resisting it. It commands a different intelligence and it's another level of the body and mind. We can play as much free jazz and as much technicallysome of the cats are very technicalbut nobody plays faster than Charlie Parker today. Piano players, anybody innovative, they really captured it already. We're still trying to take it to another level, but it's already there. It's like heavenheaven is already there, but everybody's trying to get to heaven, and it's not a "New Thing," it's already there. So that modern jazz field with Bird, that new status with painters and the arts and everything, that's established. The classical periodall the fruits of technology that we've seen, high tech and everything, all that was expressed already in the musicand things to come, it's all here now. We're working around it and the music has really expressed that and it's still expressing it.
AAJ: If the music expressed it already, for me coming up in this period now, what the music foreshadowed I'm not sure I like.
DR: No, of course there is always the shadow and the substance. Technology is the reality, but then there is the soul. That's why we have to talk about soul. That's the other side of it. Of course you've got the material, but something else supports the material. This is what you're talking about, right? It's called spirit, it's called soul, whatever, that's the essence, and I call it the Essence. Of course you don't like [technology], because it's uncomfortable, it's the shadow of the real thing, and it's okay. It provides civilization and amenities, but it really doesn't add anything to your soul. It's still not comfortable, and really people are still not comfortable with high tech, but that's a part of nature. There it is, you deal with it, and you still have to deal with your soul.
AAJ: Technology is just a tool.
DR: Of course, but what you see is that it diffuses too, and it sucks your soul. With technology you have to pay a price, and you pay with your soul for technology as much as you allow it and can deal with it. Humanity pays such a pricewe spill so much blood for such a little. It's like squeezing an orangeyou get so little juice for all that squeezing. We put out all this high tech, but that's the way of humanity. So this is why the artists and people with a little soul are trying to create and the creative force is why we are here, to try and keep the balance. That balance of stuff is a big Nintendo game [AAJ and DR laugh] and if you want to play that game, you've got to look after your soul. That's why we have so many psychiatrists and everything. Everybody has a void, an inner void, and they are looking for substance, but high tech doesn't give you substance. We pay with our soul for that.
AAJ: It's so easy to get caught up with the convenience of things, too.
DR: It's a jungle, and that's what makes you grow, because you have to fight it like chopping away through the jungle. These things are set up for your muscles, mentally, and you have to situate your life just to get a little bit of shalom, peace, you got to get so much. But that's life, and you extract that from it, that's for your growth. That's why you're speaking with me now. Hopefully you try to extract what you canof course, there is the world and there is the individual. It's you against the world, and although each individual makes up the world, it's always the individual against the world.
AAJ: Right, because it's your experience of the world.
DR: Of course, this is why you have the resistance to musiclike you said, modern jazz diffused. Edgar Hoover, McCarthy, all the politics were against modern jazz. J. Edgar Hoover was against modern jazz musicians and [thought] they were communists, and if you had free thoughts, they threw you out. You've heard about McCarthy; it was all politics, and the music was a free sort of speaking and they tried to curtail it.
AAJ: I feel like I'm able to, for better or for worse, live through the exact same thing now with the political scene, although now it's not communists, but I guess even then it was a blanket term for intellectuals, like intellectualism is being shunned politically.
DR: It was always a fightit's not newthat's why artists have had to struggle with politics. It starts with oneself and one's family and community. It's always one against the community, when one is trying to take it to another level. What is an example of a leader? That's why you always have a leader, and now people are looking for leadership. That's gone from the intelligentsia, when you look at it, you've got a lot of academia and a lot of politics, but real spiritual leadership... using the term of intellectual leadership, of course, there's always a fight against that. The whole Bible story and everything is about that. It's about intelligence and leadership qualities on every level. It's lacking in many respects, and that's why there is a void and people are looking for spirituality. We're looking for ourselves and what one can fill oneself with. So, this is what I deal with in music, this is our callingfor me personally and my community. Nobody is an island; we live together and it all reflects upon one another. I was always a community person, and that's why I like to talk about my lifestyle in New York since I've lived there (I've been an American citizen for about forty years, ever since I've been here).
The musicwell there were so many other bad things that went down politically, racism, everything in trying to build a civilized society, but the music was always telling the story, and telling it truthfully as it came, raw. The music was always raw, it's expressing life as it was and politically [people] couldn't deal with that. There's always a resistance that gets us through modern jazz and modern music, and it's still being resisted. That's why it's been pulled out of the political system, out of the schools and the educational system.
AAJ: Pulled off the radio...
DR: Everything, of course, it's like the conscious has been pulled out of the consciousness, the society, the community, and the world at large. So this is what we get. Did you grow up with the Voice of America?
AAJ: No, I didn't.
DR: Willis Conover was the host. That was the biggest propaganda machine America had during the so-called Cold War with Russia, the big voice. It was the voice of jazz, and everybody was played, and it won over a lot of people from the so-called Eastern Bloc. It was the biggest tool, and it was greatthe voice of jazz was the voice of America.
AAJ: I've been reading about jazz in East Germany and Eastern Europe lately, and it's very interesting.
DR: Jazz was always the crusading voice, and it's a cry. All of humanity has that blues cry, so America was chosen for the modern world, and this is the modern form of the blues. We've got the modern intelligence, which goes back to Charlie Parker as far as I'm concerned. The interest and intelligence is incredible, really, the constructionyou can dissect it and analyze it and check it outit's everything.
AAJ: In the past several years I've been really curious about the European improvisers, and where they are coming from in their contribution to the music, and I get the feeling that London at the time you were living there in the '50s didn't really have it for you musically.
DR: No, jazz has been in Europe for a long time. When I started to research it, I found that jazz musicians had been going to Europe for a thousand years. Seriously, during the time of Beethoven and in Vienna, they used to use black musicians from America. One composer named Hightower, I think, was a composer who was African-American. He and Beethoven used to hang out in the cafés, and he used to write music for Beethoven. They were like the jazz cats then, this is known and you can research it. Black musicians and jazz have been going for thousands of years, seriously, the troubadours up from Africa came all the way down through the classical period. There was a lot of input from Spain, from Italian composers mixed with the Germans, it's all a mix. Rome was the New York of that timeeverything met there, all the influences. New York is the modern world, and the music as far as I'm concerned really reflects that. Modern jazz in Europe is old, and in Japanthey've had jazz in Japan since the '20s, and maybe you'd have someone going into a little fishing village or a hamlet in Japan playing jazz in the 1800s. It's been going on quite a while, and people talk now about expatriates as a modern thing, and Black musicians have been going [there forever]it's a big mix. This was always a big thing, Germans had propaganda against jazz. You should read about Berlin, where it was taboo, and it was the voice.
So that takes things right up to Now, this moment in time, and they're still resisting. Coltrane is one thing; Trane brought it to a period [where he] excited a religious fervor, if you want to take it in that step. But they were ready for that, and yet Charlie Parker and the intelligenceif you want to get right to the nitty-gritty, from the McShann band, and when I say Charlie Parker, I'm involving the whole retinue of the innovators. You can start with Earl Hines and Louis Armstrong, and the whole pantheon, but Bird brings it right up to now. He was in rapport with all the painters, everybody, and I've been through that period as well. I used to sit with all the painters in Paris in the '50s, and the new scene in Paris with the revolution. There was a revolution in Jamaica, tooyou read all of that, right? I was in Paris and used to sit with all the revolutionaries, North Africa, the violenceI was in the middle of all that stuff, twice. At St. Germaine with the students and the violence, and in New York with Woodstock, all of it.
AAJ: You were in Paris in the late '60s, after the Left Bank, right?
DR: I went through all of thatthere were reports from the news, and I was there with the cats. That was the revolution, race riots in Paris, taking it right up to Now. I came to New York to see what was happening and put it together in a total package, and it's quite interesting and deep, but it's interesting to converse with you and your generation about what went down before.
Everything has pretty much diffused, and that's why I tell you it's a micro-macro, a one-on-one, you got a reservoir to draw from and you might get a little bit from me and people who still have some essence. That's why everybody is still reading and looking and I've been through all of that. I've read something like thirty thousand books, and I used to read voraciously. When I was in London and when I was a boy, I used to read all the heavy booksmy mother put the first metaphysical books in my hand. I've been reading on flying saucers and everything, I read on everything that needs to be read.
AAJ: And you've written a number of tomes, too, right?
DR: I've got a trunk full of writings, the real stuff on jazz and what it is. It started in Louisiana, but my stuff goes way back to the cosmos and the essence of the soul, what it is. I suppose everybody knows this innately, we all know this, but my level of imagination started when I was very young, and I got aware of this and did a lot of reading. I read everythingall the poets, the English poets, Byron, Keats, Shakespeare, I used to read them in school. I read everything, from UFOs to right now, and that's what it takes, spending hours reading. I've been through the philosophies and everything, the Vedas, the Upanishads, all the Indian religions, the African religions, the Scandinavians [Swedenborg], everything, and I've come full circle on what it is and what it takes. Coming back to the reality of America, it all accumulated in the New World. That's why we're here and why you were born and are into it, and it's the New World. That was always my outlook and that's why I appreciate it, and that's why New Yorkevery city I've lived, I was brought up in Jamaica and I lived in Kingston, right downtown in the middle of the metropolitan area and that community, and when I went to England and London it was the same thing. Paris, New York, I was always downtown. It was the city, it was dynamic, and I'm always right there. I ended up in New York, and it's the finishing school for everything, from every part of the globe.
AAJ: And it still is...
DR: In a way, of course. That's the full gamut and the essence of what I have accumulated. class="f-right"> Return to Index...
Recording and a Philosophy of Playing
AAJ: How did your first record for Blue Note come about?
DR: It was recorded about a year before I came to New York, and it was a contract with Alfred Lion, and my manager in England, Tony Hall, sent him a copy [of the tape]. Of course, we referred it back to Miles Davis; he had heard of me and a lot of musicians had heard of me, and they came through [pianist/vibraphonist] Victor Feldman, who was a natural musician and he slipped into the American scene. He lived in the US and he was a natural, a great musician. He was one of the first people I hooked up with in England, where I made my first recordings, and Victor came back to the States and touted my name around. He played with Woody Herman and the big band, and he'd play the recordings that we did, and he introduced my name and sound to a lot of American musicians [Feldman played with Miles Davis as well]. So they were familiar with Dizzy Reece before, and when they came to Europe, they'd say 'where's Dizzy Reece?' I was the voice and the liaison for jazz in Europe.
That's how I finally got contracted to Blue Note, but I did quite a bit of recording before that, and all of it's been reissued. I used to record for the Savoy label [Changing the Jazz at Buckingham Palace, 1956], and Tempo which was a later subsidiary of Decca. Those have all been repackaged and issued under the Jasmine label, and those have been out for several years. They have a package of all those recordings [with Feldman, Ronnie Scott et al], so if anybody wants to check out my early recordings, that's out. Everybody's familiar with that time period of my music, but most people haven't heard Dizzy Reece since that period.
AAJ: I suppose I detected a real early change with Soundin' Off [Blue Note, 1960] in terms of your trumpet playing, it sounds a lot more vocal and notes sound more dissonant or tonally bent. I don't know if that's accurate, but it seems like the shift in approach.
DR: It's always an ongoing process, trying and developing everything. In the liner notes to that record, Ira Gitler made reference to my prodigious technique, and he was talking about the vocal shifts too. He was mentioning the same things you are talking about, my style of playing.
AAJ: I believe he also mentioned something about your interest in Eastern and Indian culture.
DR: All that stuff, yeah, but 1960 was about forty years ago, and my technique has been gone through about a hundred times since then, so there's quite a lot of music in between. That brought me to the period of the '60s, and there is a discography of all my recordings from England up to now, which was given to me by Rutgers University. They've got everything I did that's recorded there, and I was surprised at the amount of recordings. My records have been selling since the '50s, and I've taken royalties since then all over the world, for over fifty years.
AAJ: Some of them haven't ever really been out of print.
DR: No, all that musicDizzy Reece has kept a low profile in some ways, but it's there, you know. I'm here, the substance, and I'm fortunate to still be here with my music. I'm still strong, but my output iswell, I never look at jazz as what you've done in the past, but it's what you're doing now. Some people think 'oh, I've done so much and that's it.' With a creative force, you don't think about that.
AAJ: Even though it's still something quite old, I have got a lot of mileage out of the recording you did for Futura.
DR: You're talking about From In to Out? That was recorded in Paris. Sure, my head was into that totality, and I was also writing [for] big bands, scores and orchestrations and stuff, but that's 1970 and a lot of people were surprised by it.
AAJ: It's very avant-garde, free, or whatever you want to call it.
DR: It's strange, because I remember a review came up in Le Monde, the French post, and they said it was the best record of the year. Another review came out, and they said it was the most nonsensicalthey couldn't figure it out. It was no big deal, but it sounded like something else then. You know, that record is a minor blues, the entire thing, the oldest minor blues, and it's called "St. James Infirmary." If you study it, it goes back to New Orleans. If you listen to "St. James Infirmary," it's a minor blues everybody is crying about. It's what you call a slow minor, and if you listen to From In to Out and the construction, it's basically a minor blues.
AAJ: It's interesting because it has that lead-in that you find in a lot of minor blues as well as in Indian music, and they call it the alap.
DR: Yes, exactly.
AAJ: This is also a major part what you find in a lot of later Coltrane music as well.
DR: That's what I was getting at, the connection, and of course the minor sound is the Eastern sound and the major sound is the Western sound. This is why you have the diatonic scale, and Western civilization has been built on the diatonic scale. In a lot of my writings, I go through all that, the scales and how they relate to the civilization. The Greek modes, all classical music is built on that, but you still have the chromatic. The chromatic system is where you bring in the Eastern, the other tones, the quarter-tones and the mixed modes, and that's what Trane got into with Ravi Shankar, who was one of the great exponents of that in music. It's all jazz and improvisationit's improvising, and they take it out, they really take it to another level with it. Of course it's universal, the ragas, it's all there, but the New York sound, this is it. When you get to the peak of what's happening in civilization, that's Broadway in New York. For me, that's it, and everything that's gone before is assimilated and packaged into modern jazz.
AAJ: Then you can build a diagram to all those other things.
DR: Everything is in there, of course, it's in the package and you don't need fusion, it's already fused. That's just a gamethe fusion and the games they playbut it's already a package. The music is classic already, and it's got all the dynamics of every civilization, so then you bring it down to right now, what's happening, and that's the modern thing. The intelligence is incredible when you put it together; the young exponents of the jazz now, they're still into it and it's very good, aside from what you said before that it's missing. Technically [the young players] are expressive, but nothing is new under the sun.
AAJ: There is always a precedent somewhere.
DR: What has made it jazz you can see sticks out so sublimely. You can listen to all the great civilizations that came before and the music, and no matter how great the music is, it's nothing like now. You can go play all the music of thousands of years before, Roman music and it's hip for them and well-organized, and all the classic elements were there, but then when you take it to another intelligent level and you listen to the music now, of course humanity has developed since then. The intellectand creative people have a dynamic imaginationthat's what it's about.
AAJ: The essence is still constant in some ways, through all of it.
DR: That's what keeps the universe going, it's got to be constant or everything would decay.
AAJ: When the United States invaded Iraq, and there was all this sentiment going on around then, one of the first things I did was to pull out recordings of Persian music, because the culture is forgotten about when a country invades another country. You assume that everything is gone and washed away, but I'm curious to see what's actually there.
DR: I know what you mean, but the music is part of the war, too. If you go back to the drummers and the trumpet players, you bring them right down to the bugle boythe end of the cavalry is always the bugle and the drums. They'd bring up the corps, they'd excite the warriorsthat's why the drummers were in the middle of the fighting, and they would give them their energy. The drummers, the bugle players, the flutesmusic was very martial. It still is and that's why it's a political thing. That's why you've got two sides, the good guys and the bad guys, the drummers from over there, and they all still fight like warriors. It's the essence, and life is a journey for a warrior. Your body has got free radicals, and that's why hygiene is so importantif you don't have that, your body is wracked in a minute. Hygiene is the element that holds up everything; it's in the ten commandments of the body, next to lastmental hygiene is very important, don't you think? That's why there is music and the creative forces that make it, because that's how you think. That's the hygienic force that everything wants.
AAJ: The more mentally active you are the less sick you are.
DR: Exactly, mental food is the main food. It keeps you aliveif you don't think for one second, you go unconscious. Consciousness becomes attenuated, and it means that you're thinking. How do you think? If you want a proper system, you've got to give it the proper mental food. That's why you have so much sickness, the mental food is what you talk about when you feel something is missing, the problem. Sure, you try to attain as an individual or an artistthat's why I keep saying it's one and one. These commandments are all you need mentally; they keep you out of the hospital and in shape. It's psychosomatic, everything is.
You have to work physically, as it keeps you mentally active. Construction work, I did all that too in England. I used to build the roads there with a jackhammer; I did all that stuff, and I'd get frustrated, but I'm a warrior. Everybody isyou have to be hygienically together, because you're always being attacked by something in the world. To get a bit of beauty out of it and symmetry, you have to be prepared hygienically. To be prepared means how you think, it's up to you. This is supposed to be in the school curriculum, all of what we're talking about in music and art, this is the basics. It's missing in the school and the education system, and each individual gets into something like this, he gets a taste of it and if he can use it to better the circumstances, then good luck.
AAJ: It's funny that I didn't get any of that until college; to that point, it was sort of like being babysat. I didn't get the hygienic aspect of education and a curriculum in the arts until I went to the university.
DR: It doesn't pervade society as such; you have to look for it. That's why everybody is looking for it; some people come to jazz and some people go to church in looking for it. I count myself important for myself, because I try to keep hygienic and keep everything in perspective. I can't stand anything shady and dark or obscure; I like everything transparent. If you listen to my music, whether you like it or not, everything is bold, it's raw and freshnothing is hidden. A baby can hear it, a kindergartener, everybody and on that level I have nothing to hide. It's a lot of knowledge that's accumulated in everything I play, put together and synthesized, and I've got an audience over the years as people buy my music. Certainly there is a force that doesn't want that music to be out there; those forces exist in nature, so this is the fight that the artists and the culture have. Everything is designed to show the great human spirit. If you can get some peace out of that individually, the world is beautiful but then it's got a devil too. There are two sides of the coin, and it's a warrior's world. Before you come out of the womb, you start fighting; kicking in the womb, from there it starts, you're bound alive.
AAJ: There's a lot of resistance in there, and it teaches you how to move around.
DR: Of course, we live in terror. When you're in the womb, you're in terror already, and by the time you get your ways together... this is why the cultural scene is important. I grew up in that scene and the music was always around; it was in the house and there weren't a lot of distractions. Music was on the radio, and it was in the consciousness of the people. It helped to build Americablack, white, jazz, the totality of it structured the American scene (besides steel, anyway). The music was the steel, the essence, and that's been diffused.
AAJ: It's cultural steel.
DR: Sure, that's what we are about, what artists contribute. This is what I am about and what my compatriots are about, and the younger musicians are into it whether they know it or not, that's what they're doing. I don't know any other purpose for it.
AAJ: When you study history in school as a kid, at least here and now, that aspect is not taught.
DR: Again, it's that you have to look for it. That's why from when I was a young man, she put the first books in my hand, metaphysical books. I was seven years old, and I didn't know why she gave them to me. But they put me on another level, and she helped to prepare me. Everything around me was on that level, even though she was struggling, and she bought me my first trumpet. Up to this day, all through my struggles, she's always shown me encouragementshe was always there. A lot of musicians don't have that, and it shows you how, in that environment, [music was important, and] especially jazz and classical, everybody studied classical. A lot of people don't know that most jazz musicians studied classical, because jazz was taboo in the house. You could play that piano, some boogie-woogie, but you dare not play that [jazz]. Jazz was always a resisted intelligence; you'll never see bebop on Broadway or Charlie Parker on Broadway, you'll never see the real stuff [anymore].
AAJ: I was talking with [pianist] Bobby Few and he was saying how he had to find another piano teacher to secretly teach him boogie-woogie, because his regular teacher would hit him on the hands.
DR: Of course, I know Bobby well, and it showed him how to play classics because pianists wanted to get the foundations, and most of them had to. Sonny Clark, Kenny Drew, I can mention all of them from Art Tatum to Earl Hines into the youngest cats. You'd be surprised by the repertoire. I met Sonny Clark and he knew the whole repertoire. He was playing with Buddy DeFranco and he could call any tune, and he knew all the classical pieces. The thing about it is that they don't make it obvious. You can hear it's all there, but it's not obvious unless you're Oscar Peterson, whose chops are so great, and Bud too. All the hip modern playersClark, Drew, Horace Silver, Bud Powell, Elmo Hopethey were child prodigies. Even Herbie Hancock, he was a child prodigy. Ahmad Jamal and all these cats are very classically-oriented, but then the jazz came in and they could develop. Of course their teachers didn't want to show them boogie-woogie, because it was open to free thinking, and all the great stride players who played boogie, they were the greatest piano players. They used to play a whole show, all those silent films and all that, and they used to bring that emotional aspect to the film and used to make the film come alive on screen. This was before it got to Hollywood with all the string sections, and one pianist could make the whole thing come alive. You've got to be a psychiatrist too as well as a musicianyou're not just up there banging away. It's dealing with heavy psychology.
AAJ: It's interesting to think about the silent films because that's something I've never seen and not heard too much about, how music was integrated into the film like that.
DR: That's a whole era, sure, show-business and Broadway and the pianist, and I don't know how good my father was, but he used to play it for me. I don't know much of him, but he gigged as a pianist for silent films at that time, and in the States all those great piano players used to go in and sit and watch films as they played. I don't know if you know about it, but the first modern jazz I wrote in England, Nowhere to Go, it was the same formatwatch the film and we'd improvise with a quartet right there. I referenced the format, and it was the first modern jazz film made in England. I had Tubby Hayes on it and everybody, and that's part of the [Jasmine reissue] package. We'd set up, watch the film, do it in one take, and we got a masterpiece out of that. All of that came out of the lone silent film pianist, and he'd have to build the whole repertoire. Fats Waller would sit there overnight and write thirty or fifty songs for a show, start to finish. They'd play the show and play everything, dramatics to the show, the whole Broadway show, till they got the band musicians. That's the entrance of this music, they carry a heavy loadit's a big thing there, it's not just banging around. These cats left a heavy legacy.
AAJ: There's a film that I was always curious about on a small town in Alaska, and they had an improvising ensemble compose the soundtrack live to a screening of the documentary [by Michael Krassner with music by the Boxhead Ensemble, soundtrack on Atavistic]. I didn't see the film; it's from a few years ago and it's called The Last Place to Go, and I've heard the music which is a wonderful evocation of very uninhabitable land.
DR: Well it's the rapport, it's like you're doing a paintingyou're in the painting, right there, and that's what improvisation is all about. It's the creative force. They say God created the world in seven days.
AAJ: Not long, as some would say.
DR: But that's because he's using the diatonic scale, the seven-toned scale, and that's part of my philosophy in my writingswe'll go into that. The way of creation, that's what it meansit takes a creative force to go through that diatonic stuff. That's the biological form, you get the egg which is the octave (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do), that's an egg or a complete cell, a biological musical form. That's the basics of creation and that's what it meant to the creative force. Seven steps to heaven.
AAJ: I was speaking with [Prince Lasha] about this, that the whole idea of the length of a day was different in this context.
DR: It's not to be looked at literally or physically, ten thousand yearsthey throw out these numbers like the earth is sixty million years, but you can't even imagine what twenty thousand years looks like. Everybody gets hung on numbers, but we try to transcend the numbers. When I say Creation, I mean Now. You can start with the Bible and go through time, but there is no beginning and no end. When they give you the number, the physicists are just talking about one scheme. My aspect is the creative force, which references the seven stepsit's now, it goes through all the periods and transcends all creation. You take seven steps to build [upon]that's the basis. It's in physics and it's in the digital, in everything.
AAJ: You look at a calculator, and it all seems rather small.
DR: You don't have to go back in time; the music is Right Now. That's why it's so important when you play it now. All that's building right now is the creative source, and creation is always going on now. Stepping back into those time zones, it's really Nowthat's the essence of it. class="f-right"> Return to Index...