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Dwayne Burno: Tradition

George Colligan By

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I had the good fortune of knowing Peter Washington and Wallace Roney. Before entering Berklee, I had the opportunity to join Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. This opportunity developed out of going to hear the band when they came through Philly every few months or so to perform. I knew Wallace from him coming to play with my high school jazz quintet. I would go hear Art and the band, and Wallace introduced me to Peter Washington. Usually after the gig we'd stand around and talk music, bass, recordings, things I needed to learn, know, and grasp. Then, Peter would usually hand over the bass and ask me to play something for him. I'd usually walk some choruses of a tune or play a solo chorus of something. I guess Peter liked what he heard. He was and still is encouraging to me with regard to what he hears in my playing. Peter had made the decision to leave the Messengers and strike out on his own as a sideman. He called me on the Friday before I was to drive to Boston and enter Berklee. I was leaving the next day—Labor Day Saturday— with my dad and all my belongings. Peter says to me "All right, Burno. The gig is yours. I've told Art about you. He knows you're coming. I've given notice. All you have to do is come up. The band is playing Mikell's. If you're ready, you've got the gig." I found myself in a serious quandary. I wanted to join the band. I had bought all of the records and learned most of the old Messenger book. I thought I was ready enough. I'll never know. I had to broach the subject of Art Blakey with my Dad. I brought it up to him that Friday night. My father's response was "I don't give a fuck about anybody's Art Blakey. You're taking your ass to college!" I was sad that I had to pass on what could have been a great opportunity but the wisdom of life also told me that it could have been the worst decision I ever made. I've always felt that not knowing, either way is the best thing for me. I was freshly eighteen years old, never lived on my own, paid a bill, paid rent, properly maintained a bank account, extremely naïve, and common rather than worldly. I might have been chum for the sharks in a city like New York. This city has chewed up and spit out more people without so much as an afterthought or a Kleenex. I think of the fellow comrades that came here and developed bad habits or simply got sidetracked and strung out while in pursuit of that very gig. So I took my ass to school, where I was asked to join the Art Blakey ensemble. Apparently, all things work together. After I told Peter I couldn't make it since my Dad laid down the law and put the kibosh on my chance to be a Messenger, I suspect Peter told Bu. Bu called up Bill Pierce, a former Messenger, teaching at Berklee and essentially told him to groom that bassist and get him ready for Mikell's in December. Bu used to play at least two weeks at years end at this Upper West Side club, Mikell's every year. This was when a lot of band changeover occurred. He allowed guys—and dolls—to sit in and stake their claim for a band chair. He expected Bill to teach me the book and get me ready to make the sit in at semester's end. By December, I was primed and ready, having played the actual charts in the ensemble, checked out the recordings more thoroughly and in depth and having the knowledge and confidence that at least I could handle the gig on a musical level. I found myself in the same predicament, twice over in December. This time, I had to get my mother's permission to go to New York. My mother, while being a musician, was not one for the jazz lifestyle. She was a God-fearing, churchgoing lady that knew folks firsthand that were in the music and their bad habits. My mother's best friend going in to adulthood was her girlfriend, Estella Timmons, who happened to be married to pianist and composer of Messenger fame, Bobby Timmons. My mother grew up knowing and going to middle school with Albert "Tootie" Heath. She knew the pitfalls of jazz nightlife and was bound to steer me clear of them. Aside from making my voyage to Mikell's to sit in, I was sounded about participating in Roy Hargrove's debut recording by Roy himself. We played a fair amount while both in Boston. He still loves to play all the time. We found ourselves on the bandstand at Wally's or in the school ensemble and piano practice rooms for many an impromptu jam. He told me at the close of the semester that he was recording and he wanted e to make his date with him. I was totally down. He said he would be in touch. I later learned that I was vetoed, shot down as an option because management didn't know who I was. I laugh and cringe when I hear that disc. Two bass players and two bands made up the disc from two sessions. Neither of them had a personal or musical relationship to Roy, and you can hear it.

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