Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones

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This article appears in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 of Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones By Papa Jo Jones As Told to Albert Murray (University of Minnesota Press, 2011).

A Different Kind of Living in That Southwest

Here is what happened. Basie did exactly what Fats Waller did: all the guys that come under James P. Johnson, you know what I mean, and Willie "The Lion" Smith, they stayed playing that Harlem way, they didn't do the traveling, like Fats and Basie. Fats left and Fats was in the byways and gone. The other guys were society. Something happened when Basie got with the Blue Devils, there's something the way those guys played out there—different than they play out here—he's got to encroach on ya, that's how you've got all those records made, like the "Shark" and "Lafayette" and all that in 1932. And he's gone! But you see, the guys in New York, they never played that way. They couldn't dig in like that.

And when you hear Fats Waller—all due respect to James P. or any of them—they did not have that because Fats Waller—see, it's like on my record—you play according to the way you live. Harlem Stride, that was nice, that was pretty, but they didn't have that thing. Them boys was all right, they talkin' about the rent parties, but they never did the kind of living that Basie and Fats Waller got a chance to do—and Basie did a whole lot of living!—out there in that Southwest, from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, down in there, to Missouri. Hey, man! That's a different kind of living! The guys in Chicago never played like they played in Kansas City. The guys in the East? Forget it! They never had that. The Southwestern musicians, they had something. Every last one of them. They had a sound. And every trumpet player from that area. They had something.

As of today, you can go and hear 'em play today, tonight, put a musician on a plane and send 'em to Kansas City. Same group: they play different. Don't ask me what makes you play differently, I don't know. It's the spirit, it's something in there, I don't know what it is. And after they leave they can't play like that. Why did we play good in Kansas City and you don't play as good in Denver or Waco or Florida? Kansas City is the heartbeat. There's something about Kansas City spiritually. If you played like chicken shit last night, if you get in Kansas City you'll play your ass off, and you don't know why.

Nobody's Afraid to Use Them Damn Guns They Got!

I'd say, what you wanna do now, Basie? We used to get the newspaper and read about Jimmie Lunceford, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington. We'd block it out and say: Count Basie's doing this, Count Basie's doing that. I said, OK. We did it! We did the movies. We played the hotels. What else is new? What do you wanna do, Bay? Well, you see. See my ass. What do you wanna do, boy?

John Hammond and Willard Alexander decided we needed a white manager. So they brought this white dude around and he was sittin' up there in the Grand Terrace. I said, you better get him away from this band. I said you look up on that bandstand; there's an arsenal up there, and nobody's afraid to use them damn guns they got. Get this peckerwood away from here! What? You heard what I said! A peckerwood! Nobody is gonna manage Basie but Maceo Birch. When we hit New York City, in front of the Woodside, Maceo got off the bus and made a speech. Said, all right fellas, I been with you all the way, I'm still with you. But the only thing I'll tell you to do: you don't owe nobody nothing. Not one penny. Be yourself. This is New York. Be yourself!

When we got to New York, it was the most ignorant band they ever saw in their life. I used to feel sorry for arrangers bringing arrangements. We put Eddie Sauter back in the hospital at forty-three. He come out of the hospital, came down to rehearse the band, he had to go back to the hospital. We said, OK. We'll take part of Basie's band, cut it up, and go for ourselves. It was very difficult for a Dickie Wells or a Benny Morton or a Shad Collins to get in Basie's band, with the Famous Door and things. So, they look for the arrangement and half of it's gone, see, part of it's gone, where is it? Where is it? Just put something in there! Put a note in there! Find you somethin'! They'd been used to playing with Fletcher or Benny Carter—they'd been used to reading music. We'd go for ourselves, you know. They didn't understand that. See, they in that school.

Learn more about Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones. © 2011, University of Minnesota Press

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