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Ron McClure: Lookout Farms and New Moons

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Bassist Ron McClure has a practical philosophy about what he does. "Making music begins with doing your job," he says. "It's nice if you can be a hot soloist, but do your job first and do it well." These are words that the bassist has lived by for over 40 years in the jazz music business. McClure has done everything from playing with saxophonists such as Charles Lloyd to being part of pop recordings by the Pointer Sisters and Blood, Sweat and Tears. In between he has played on countless jazz recordings, including 33 sessions and counting for SteepleChase, both as a leader (13 including his most recent release New Moon) and sideman, composed a large number of tunes and even played piano at a New York McDonald's! McClure appears at Birdland in February, 2010 for the reunion of celebrated '70s group Lookout Farm, working with saxophonist Dave Liebman, pianist Richie Beirach and drummer Jeff Williams.

Ron McClure

All About Jazz: How did you get started in music?

Ron McClure: I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut and played music from the time I was five years old. I played accordion, a little piano and bass. A teacher from high school basically talked me into following my dream and going into music as a career. I don't push my students now but I do tell them to think about their lives when they're 40 and what it would be like then to have not done what you wanted to do. I went to the Hartt School in Hartford, Connecticut. My private teacher Eddie Miller had been teaching me about jazz harmony. I remember that the school did not really encourage jazz—once, when I was playing in a room with Houston Person, who was also a student there, we were reported for playing that "evil body music." But I had been listening to jazz since I was a kid and that's what I wanted to play. I was a bass major at Hartt and while I was still there I met musicians who came to Hartford to play—people like [vibraphonist] Mike Mainieri, [pianist] Dave Mackay and [drummer] Joe Porcaro. Mainieri got me to play with Buddy Rich and I also met Mike Abene who got me to Maynard Ferguson, with whom I did my first recordings for Mainstream.

AAJ: Tell me a little about your time with Ferguson.

RM: There were good arrangements by people like Willie Maiden and Chuck Mangione was in the band; we did his tune "Between the Races." Maynard was great—he let me play and I was featured more in that big band than I had been in smaller groups. Maynard was great to work for because he made everybody feel at home. You know, while I was still with Maynard I got to work with the Wynton Kelly/Wes Montgomery group!

AAJ: That was the Smokin' at the Half Note (Verve, 1965) group with Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb?

RM: Yeah, Maynard opened for them at a club in Atlantic City. When it came time for them to play one night they couldn't find Paul. He was not so well then—in fact it was shortly before he died. I'd met Paul before and all he could say to me then was "You're the cat, man." Anyway, the music that Wynton and Wes did was joyous and truly timeless. Talk about a time feel and a groove! Jimmy did a couple rim shots and signaled for me to come up. I knew the tunes pretty much and when I started to play, Wes just looked around at me and beamed, grinned from ear to ear. So I did the set and then about a month later, the same two groups were paired at a club in New York. Ron Carter had replaced Paul for that gig and he was late because he was doing a record date, so they asked me to play until Ron got there. The same thing happened the next day—Ron was still doing the recording and said, "I'll give you 20 bucks to do the first set." In July of that year—I think it was 1965—I was in my apartment on a horribly hot day, when the phone rang and it was Wynton asking me to go to the West Coast with them for nine weeks! I'll never forget that. I got to make a record with Wynton from that!

Ron McClureAAJ: Isn't there a story about playing with the Miles Davis group?

RM: Herbie Hancock called me on a Saturday night, 8 pm. Says there's a gig at the Village Vanguard at 10, pays $37.50, union scale. I think it was 1968. I was playing with Charles Lloyd and Wynton then so in one week I played with three generations of Miles rhythm sections—Wynton and Jimmy, Herbie and Tony Williams and Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette! You know, I thought about the significance of it later—not for my career, really, but for the fact that I was there and could do it. Anyway, I get to the gig and it's Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Tony and Herbie. No Miles. To this day, I didn't really know what tunes we were playing—they were really taking them out. Same kind of freedom that we had with Charles Lloyd.


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