SM: [laughing] The way you put it, that's good' well, I've been coming here so long, but 1968 [was] the first time, then '69, then I brought my family, black family with my black kids and my black wife, and kept coming here '71, '72, and '73. You know, after leaving Cecil it was very difficult for me to raise a family and I took some day jobs driving taxis, washing dishes and after my divorce, I felt that my life was gonna be a very miserable life just to stay there [New York] and wash dishes. I was a recognized drummer but, you know somehow the system if you don't stay right on it, the system lets you slide through the floorboards. And so I didn't want to become a young has-been. So when my wife left me, I said 'I'm outta here. It's time for me to go and make the second half of my career like I wanted in the first half.' So now here I don't work a lot but there are positive gigs, a few tours, I have my social support, a nice pad, I have a fianc'e I've had for thirteen years. She has her own place, I have my own place and so it was a future for me. All my children are grown, but they're happy for me. Out of all that degradation, they knew my talents from the moment they were born almost. It's so very sad that I had to work these lousy jobs to feed them, and they used to want me to just live off my music. Now, it's like new music did work; it was positive, out of all the hate and conjecture that it was just a waste of time, and that it would not contribute to jazz is a lie.
Right now I'm hoping and aspiring to finally make some money. There's always been a problem, from concerts to clubs, that drummer-leaders have always been a little prejudiced against. Like, look at Roy Haynes. You don't see him playing as much as he should, in Europe particularly no, and he's getting older now, but this is just one example. Generally, this is how it should work, more money 'cash.
AAJ: Do you think that, as a composer and leader as well as a drummer, that this has had a more positive effect on your career?
SM: Oh yeah, I'm a great composer! This is just a statement of knowing how well I can write, but you see at the same time there was this image that avant-garde musicians were ignorant of theory and all of the positive things in music, and when I left Cecil, I really didn't have any music to play. And I said, now what am I gonna play? Am I gonna jump back eight years and play bebop? Which I could, because I'd always go to [bebop] sessions, sometimes even after going avant-garde I'd go to sessions. But I said no, out of all that suffering and hard work, it'd be nothin.' I'm gonna start to write some music. And I wrote from a guitar, from a piano, from almost any instrument I could find, and I used to play the tunes for my children. My first tunes I'd play for my children just before rehearsal, and they'd say 'Dad, that's nice! What is that?' Anyway, I went to rehearsal and played my tunes for the band, and so I began from there and, you know, as a drummer-leader-composer, I have the most compositions in the publishing houses of the world. I have about 69 with SACEM, about 26 or something in Germany, 3 in Italy, two in Switzerland, and this is why I got my lawyer to finally clamp down because I've had a publishing house for about a year and you have the right to reclaim your music with a publishing house. So that's my case: I had become a more prolific writer than I had planned to be.
AAJ: Some of your tunes almost sound like they were written from the saxophone, you know? They're very saxophone-friendly, which is probably appropriate'
SM: That's funny you say that too, because sometimes when I have a gig coming up, I try to write for the cats I'm playing with in the next gig. If we've already played together a few times, I use some older material that they might've heard, but which just seems to be for whoever.
AAJ: Like you recorded Giblet again quite recently, correct?
I was first exposed to jazz when I discovered that one of Jimi Hendrix's influences was Wes Montgomery. I played guitar growing up and idolized Hendrix, so I knew that anyone he looked up to must be good
I was first exposed to jazz when I discovered that one of Jimi Hendrix's influences was Wes Montgomery. I played guitar growing up and idolized Hendrix, so I knew that anyone he looked up to must be good. I was 16 at the time. I went to Tower Records and purchased a CD by Wes, and I was hooked from the very first ten seconds. The sound of the song Lolita illuminated my bedroom, as I just sat back amazed at how colorful and soulful this music was--I understood it, even though at the time I didn't understand how to go about playing it. I get chills listening to Wes' solo on Lolita, and I can still listen to that song ten times in a row and never get tired of it. There is a truly timeless quality to genuinely spontaneous jazz music, and it is that quality that has inspired me to devote my life to studying and playing this music.