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AAJ: Were you already tailoring your style to Trane's music?
MT: I think John picked me because he heard something. He told me about Elvin. I did't even know who Elvin was. I knew who Hank was, but I didn't know who Elvin was. And Thad. I met Thad later. But he said, 'This cat Elvin Jones, I think he's (something).' Because we had some other drummers before that, but he thought Elvin would be the best drummer and he was right. He was the best drummer (for the group). So he heard certain things in your playing. He heard some things in your playing that he liked. Otherwise, just like with Jimmy (Garrison), he heard, you know. And my brother-in-law before that, they played together in Philly, because Steve (Davis) was on the original gig . . . but then when he heard Jimmy, because Jimmy was with Ornette and he wanted that kind of free playing, too.
AAJ: Your first record with the band for Impulse was Africa Brass. You had already had an interest in Africa before that.
MT: Yeah. This guy was studying political at Temple University, Saka, and it was during the sixties. It was about identification, historically. You wanted to culturally identify the roots. A lot of people were doing it at that time. It wasn't all about politics. Some writers made it out to be political, but just like anything else, you want to know about your history. It doesn't mean you're political. To (some writers) everything had to be political. I told them I wasn't playing music because of that. We were playing because of the cultural identification. Not even that. We're just playing music because we're musicians, basically. You want to talk about identification, okay. But it's not because of politics. I never liked politics that much.
AAJ: You were also once a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. What was that experience like? How did it affect your playing?
MT: Yeah, he was an eventful cat, he always kept something going. He was so heavily rooted. Lee Morgan and I grew up together, so a lot of those songs . . . it was like for instance before I played with Max (Roach), (I played with him for a week in Philly), we knew a lot of the songs already. So when he came thought I knew a lot of the songs because i was playing them. But, like I was saying, Lee and I came up together and he kind of wrote in the Art Blakey style. That was just him. He was a very funky trumpet player and knowledgeable.
AAJ: Who was in the edition of the Messengers you played with?
MT: Let see it was Slide Hampton, Bill Hardman, this young guy Frank, I think it was Frank. He got killed. (Frank Mitchell'tenor player). Yeah, young guy. He was in the band. Juni Booth was on bass. Then Billy Harper joined the band. That was after (I was with) Trane. You see what happened, after John. After I left the band they had a tour, I did a tour of Japan called the drum battle with Elvin, Art Blakey and Tony Williams. They called it the jazz battle, the drum battle. So you know I was around Art, we were around Art a lot. So he asked me, you know, he wanted to join his band. So I said well, you know (?) ' I said okay. I stayed with him about seven months, something like that, because I was already working on doing my own thing. And we didn't even record with that band. It's not documented. But we had a lot of fun. One time we were playing in L.A. and he was, his sound was so surrounding you. I felt like I was levitating. I thought the band, I tell you, I thought I was up in the air because the sound was (swoosh). All those years of playing! Elvin was the only guy I knew who could do that. He had a lot of respect for Art. We all did.
AAJ: Can you describe your composing process? What inspires you to write a song? Do you just sit down a whip up a batch when you have a record date?
MT: In most cases that's the way it's happened. If I have a record date I write for it. But, I have written . . . like 'Fly With The Wind,' is one of my favorite songs and 'Search For Peace,' I just wrote off the top of my head. But most of times when I've got a record date I know I've got to write some music, that's what I've got to do. I've written a few things just when I felt like it. 'Fly With The Wind,' I was in Cleveland, Ohio one day and that song just came into my head. I started out that way. I had a r & b band when I was a teenager, like when I was about fourteen I had a band with a few of my school guys. I had a seven piece band and I wrote for the band. I knew how to write and then my compositions would go on forever. I said, 'Man I'm writing a symphony here. When am I can shorten things.' I just kept on hearing things and writing. Like three tunes in one. Then you've got to mark them. (laughs) But I learned that, that was just a period.
AAJ: I read somewhere that you played in an r & b band with Ike and Tina Turner?
MT: That was a mistake. Azar Lawrence (who was in my band) played with Ike and Tina Turner. If I had worked with Tina Turner I wouldn't have forgotten it. That was a mistake someone wrote. Just like the Africa Brass Session, if you look it says McCoy Turner. I said, 'Wait a minute. First I played with Ike and Tina Turner, now my name is Turner.' They never corrected that. If you buy Africa Brass now, it still says Turner. I told them, I said 'Wait a minute man. You got my name..."
I love jazz because it is a pure American music and can be expressed in different ways depending upon the artist.
I was first exposed to jazz while as a teenager I listened to Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Louis Armstrong, on a jazz
radio station in New York City.