Gary Steele Blindfolded

Ryan Burns By

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Listen To This! is relative to the popular "Blindfold Test of Down Beat Magazine, with the added element of a musician-to-musician interview, as inspired by Drummer Art Taylor's book Notes and Tones (Da Capo 0526). The "blindfolded featured artist is asked to identify the players and tunes they are listening to, as well as rate each performance on a scale of 1-5 stars.

Gary Steele was born November 7, 1931 and has been playing music professionally since he was 14 years of age. Steele got his start playing saxophone in after hours clubs and bottle joints, then touring the country with various groups. The self taught musician spent time in the military from 1954 to 1956, and upon his return learned to play the bass, which has helped Steele to forge quite an illustrious career. Steele has played with in his words, "more singers than anyone, compiling a resume that includes stints with Sarah Vaughn, Billy Eckstein, and Mel Torme, amongst others. From big band saxophone in the 50's to playing electric bass for TV jingles in the 70's, Gary Steele has gotten the call. Steele and his wife, singer Patti Summers, ran the legendary Patti Summers Cabaret nightclub in Seattle's Pike Place market for over 20 years, where they hosted or played live jazz six nights a week. This blindfold test took place there about 2 years before they closed their doors to the public in September 05', and originally ran in AAJ: Seattle July/August 2003. In honor of Patti Summers nightclub and their years of service to the jazz community, here is the Gary Steele interview in it's entirety for the first time on the web.

Artist: Count Basie
Track: "Jive at Five"
Recording: The Complete Decca Recordings (originally Decca 1939, CD release 1992)
Personnel: Lester Young, tenor saxophone; Harry "Sweets Edison, trumpet; Jack Washington, baritone saxophone; Count Basie, piano
Composer: Harry "Sweets Edison

Gary Steele: There's a statute on tricking old people. I know you're going to trick me here.

All About Jazz: No, you'll be fine.

GS: We'll see.

(Music starts playing)

GS: Let's see. How much of this do I have to listen to? I'm only seventy-one you know? I'm not ninety-five here.

AAJ: (Laughs)

GS: Well, it's gotta be either Fletcher Henderson or Jimmy Lunceford or... That sounds like Lester Young, but I never heard the Basie band sound that way. But what do I know? That could be early Basie. Maybe that was Snooky Young perhaps? That little trumpet thing. I didn't have many records that go back that far. My listening started with Woody Herman, Charlie Barnet, Kenton, you know? Back in the late Forties, early fifties. I dunno, do I have to rate this thing?

AAJ: Yeah.

GS: Huh?

AAJ: Yeah.

GS: I do? Gee whiz. The baritone sounded like it coulda been Harry Carney or one of those guys. It could even have been early Ellington. You got me. It's just too pre-bebop for me.

AAJ: You guessed it right. It's Basie.

GS: Oh. Well you can print that, maybe.

AAJ: How come it didn't sound like Basie's band?

GS: Basie's band got a little more modern than that later. The first time I heard the band was about 1952. They were beboppin'. They had Frank Wess and Frank Morgan. Basie always had great bands but that music is too old to hit my wiring, so I'm only going to give it a couple of stars.

AAJ: 2 Stars?

GS: I think so, yeah. That was a trip though.

Artist: Duke Ellington/Jimmy Blanton
Track: "Pitter Patter Panther"
Recording: Solos, Duets, and Trios (1940, RCA Bluebird CD release 1990)
Personnel: Duke Ellington, piano; Jimmy Blanton, bass
Composer: Duke Ellington

GS: Well there again, this was really, really before my time.

AAJ: That's too bad, 'cause the rest of the stuff I brought is Dixieland.

GS: You're cruel, man. No, I can get this one. This one might be Jimmy Blanton and Duke Ellington. Other than that I can't imagine who it would be. Being that Jimmy Blanton was the prototype transitional modern bassist, I gotta give that 5 stars.

AAJ: Are you more of an Ellington man than a Basie man?

GS: I wasn't as in love with Ellington as I shoulda been... or Strayhorn or whoever it was that was doing that stuff. They keep saying Ellington was doing it, but then they say Strayhorn was his alter-ego and it was really Strayhorn writing most of it you know, so I don't know. But that's more Jimmy Blanton than I've ever heard in my life. I knew it was an old record, but the bassist was verging on approaching into the Ray Brown school in some kind of way, but I knew it wasn't Ray Brown, 'cause he wouldn't play that. I gotta give Jimmy Blanton 5 stars.

AAJ: Maybe if I had played you his bow solo on "Body and Soul you'd rate it differently.

GS:Yeah, Mingus played an astounding solo on "Body and Soul, too. I only heard it once though on the radio. Knocked me out.

AAJ: pizzicato?


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