Home » Jazz Articles » Leonard E. Jones: Taking Control Of Destiny

15

Interview

Leonard E. Jones: Taking Control Of Destiny

Leonard E. Jones: Taking Control Of Destiny

Courtesy Richarda Abrams

By

Sign in to view read count
We played at the Paradiso and they wanted us to play on the stage. But we didn’t want to play on the stage. We played in the middle of the floor with all the audience around us. I think that was new for them.
—Leonard E. Jones
Bassist and photographer Leonard E. Jones laid the foundation of his musical and artistic ideas as an original member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. The AACM ranks as the most well-known and influential organization of the 1960s under African American leadership that created American experimental music through challenging "racialized limitations on venues and infrastructure" (George E. Lewis, A Power Stronger Than Itself, 2008) to make this music thrive and reach the highest levels. Lewis characterizes the AACM as "a successful example of collective working-class self- help and self-determination" and its artistic approach as "maximal individualism within the frame work of spontaneous egalitarian interaction."

Born (1943) and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Leonard E. Jones was exposed to a wide range of musical styles from early on. Inspired by the record collections of his parents, he became an intense listener and collector of jazz records long before he touched the bass. At seventeen, he quit high school and joined the army, where his dream of becoming a bassist took shape. Back in Chicago, he studied classical bass with Rudolph Fahsbender, and others. In parallel, he joined Muhal Richard Abrams' Experimental Band in 1964 which became a vital learning experience to him. In May 1965, the AACM was founded and four weeks later Jones became a member. In 1969, he expatriated to Europe, studied photography at the art school Lerchenfeld in Hamburg, Germany (1970-1972), and continued his professional life as a musician.

As a photographer, Jones is the most important chronicler of the early AACM. And the pictures that he took during his tour across the north-western, western and southern parts of Africa with the Alvin Queen Sextet (1988), invite viewers to leave their clichéd way of seeing the continent—this way giving back dignity to it (Jones's website contains a huge collection of his photographs). In 1974 he returned to Chicago and three years later he moved to New York City, where he spent three exciting years as a member of the Muhal Richard Abrams group. In 1980, he returned to Germany—where he lives to this day, in Ratingen. He toured and performed festivals in Europe and Africa with the Sun Ra Arkestra, Mal Waldron, Sonny Simmons, to just name a few. As a member of the Muhal Richard Abrams Experimental Band since 1964, he has also participated in festivals in Europe and New York. He can be heard on recordings of Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill, and Mal Waldron among many others.

Living in the AACM spirit, Jones has also explored traditional areas of the Great Black Music, performing in rhythm and blues, gospel, and Dixieland formations. In 2011, he brought out his solo album Dialogues: Improvisations for one Bass (JazzSick Records), an excellent testimony of his musical universe.

All About Jazz: You grew up on the West Side and then the South Side of Chicago. Can you tell about that early time in your life—the family relations, the social and musical atmosphere, your musical experiences, preferences, and development in your childhood and youth?

Leonard Jones: My mother separated from my father when I was about four. From that time to the age of thirteen, I lived on the West Side. We lived in one room. There were four people in one bedroom—my sister, brother, mother, and me. That was in my grandparents' apartment. It was in the rear of the building and consisted of one bedroom, a kitchen area, another bedroom where my grandparents slept, a living room with a small hall, a small bathroom to the left and a door that led to the front of the building, which we never used. In the front half on our floor lived another family. Originally this was all one apartment but the owners subdivided to get more rent. That was the extent of the apartment. It wasn't very big.

AAJ: The bedroom where you and your mother and siblings slept was located over a special place.

LJ: It was over the bandstand of the local tavern on the ground floor of the building—a blues bar called "Harry and Vi's," named after the couple who owned it: Harry and Vi Keyhoe. So, from about 1949 I had the opportunity to experience a lot of blues music during the summer months, the winter also but less often. It would be so hot we couldn't sleep and would gather downstairs at the entrance to where we lived. There was a door next to our entrance, a screen door. So you could see the musicians playing and sweating. That was basically how we spent our summer evenings.

AAJ: Was it a painful experience to you—when it disturbed your sleep?

LJ: It was just an experience. As small children, eventually you just got tired and had to go upstairs and fall into the bed that we had and then you slept. Every Friday and Saturday night during the whole summer there was a blues band. So, I got a chance—not realizing it at that young age, who these people were—to hear Muddy Waters (who lived on the next street over), Willie Dixon, Otis Spann, Bo Diddley, Little Walter, Jimmy Reid, and who knows how many others. All of these people played in this tavern. Two blocks away there was another tavern. It became famous. It was called the Sansibar Lounge. The street where we lived—it was on the corner of 14th St and Ashland Ave.

AAJ: Was it a black neighborhood?

LJ: Definitely.

AAJ: Were you exposed to any other kind of music at the time?

LJ: When I became old enough to cross over on the other side of the street, I met young people there and started having friends. There was a beauty parlor—they also sold records. They had a 15-inch speaker in the window, over the entrance. So, you could always hear the latest records, from whatever was popular at the time. Most of the records were blues, rhythm and blues, the doo wop groups. Basically as a youth, I listened to doo wop records— groups like The Penguins, The Spaniels, The Diablos, The Moonglows, The Drifters, The Coasters. That was my area of music listening.

AAJ: Danceable music.

LJ: Oh, very danceable music. That was my level of interest. The blues wasn't that interesting to me—that was adult music. The thing that fascinated me about the blues was watching the musicians play through the screen door.

AAJ: Was there any jazz music in your neighborhood at the time?

LJ: My mother had a small record collection. She wanted to do something nice for her parents, my grandparents. So, she bought a living room set: a couch, a big chair and what was called a console from Motorola, a name brand company then, which was the first kind of thing with a record player and a television set in it together. My mother liked to sing. She actually had a voice similar to Billie Holiday. She loved Billie Holiday and used to sing all these songs. I never knew the names, but they were all songs that Billie Holiday used to sing. She had a nice collection of 78-rpm records—Tab Smith, Earl Bostic, those people she really liked. My father would come occasionally—my brother and me would visit him on the South Side. He was an avid fan of the big bands so I got the chance to hear Duke Ellington, Count Basie on his stereo set which was really something new in the 1950s.

AAJ: How old were you at that time?

LJ: Between six and thirteen, up until we moved to the South Side when I graduated from elementary school. When I was about ten years old, I started singing in a doo wop group. I sang with a quartet that we put together, called The Shades. I had this voice sort of like Frankie Lymon of The Teenagers. I was the lead singer in the group. We used to sing songs like "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," covering the popular songs. We would always practice in hall ways or street corners. And then—I guess I was about eleven—I got my first professional job which my father arranged, when he found out that I sang in this little singing group. He invited us to sing at a club on the South Side, called the Rhumboogie Club. We got payed ten dollars a piece. We were all between eleven and thirteen in this group—I was the youngest. It was a really exciting experience to sing in this adult club.

AAJ: They allowed you to play there even though you were minors?

LJ: We had to stay in the balcony area until we got our chance to perform—which we got right after a shake dancer. And if you have to go on after a shake dancer, you better be good [laughs]. We bought these cheap clothes. We had a uniform and dark sunglasses on, because that was the name of the group —The Shades. That was my first "professional" experience as a musician.

AAJ: Could you continue singing when you moved to the South Side at about thirteen?

LJ: Oh yeah, I continued to doo wop with other people—in the Stateway Gardens projects. That's where we lived. It was perfect for us in the beginning, because the buildings were all brand new. It took a while for the destruction to set in. I met a fellow, he came from a pretty well-known gospel family and they sang gospel music. And we spent the whole day, from morning until it got dark playing basketball. Somehow, I don't remember, we got a music group together, a doo wop group. I continued doo-woping from the time I was thirteen until I went into the army. In the meantime, I had discovered jazz music as something I wanted to listen to and the Columbia Record Club. You could become a member of that club. All you had to do was buy one record a month. Every month they would send you a list of records that you could choose to buy from.

AAJ: Were the records affordable for you?

LJ: I just saved my lunch money, better a record than eating. I didn't have anything like an allowance. The records were about 3-4 dollars. One of the first records I bought was of Duke Ellington with Paul Gonsalves where he plays "Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue." Somewhere along the line I used to go into the downtown area. There was a big record store called Rose Records. At Rose Records I discovered people like Johnny Smith, the guitarist. I have the record still, "Moonlight in Vermont." I fell in love with that record. And then I discovered early Dave Brubeck, "Take Five," Sonny Stitt and Billie Holiday. I still have my copy of "Lady in Satin," with Ray Ellis. I love that record. I listened to it over and over and over again. The lady had the most fascinating voice that I've ever heard. A lot of people- -the critics weren't excited about it because of the orchestration. But it was nice for me. "Lady in Satin" was a very influential record for me.

AAJ: Did you listen to your records together with friends?

LJ: I sort of became what they call a loner. I didn't have many friends after I moved from the West Side to the South Side. I had these records and that became my passion. My mother never had to worry about me getting in any kind of trouble, because as soon as I got home, the record player was on.

AAJ: The records protected you.

LJ: Yeah. Sometimes I would have to deal with these bullies and stuff, but basically I didn't hang out in the street. I stayed in the house and listened to this music. It was my savior. I didn't play an instrument, I just listened to music. Until I joined the army, I was really frustrated with life in the projects, the whole situation I was in.

AAJ: Then you quit your life in the South Side.

LJ: I quit high school when I was in my junior year. End of 1960, on my seventeenth birthday, I joined the army. First I was at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and for the second eight weeks I was transferred to Fort Gordon in Georgia. I was fortunate. Apparently I have a bit of intelligence because they didn't send me to the infantry. I got sent to the signal corps, which is communications. But I didn't do anything of significance. I climbed telephone poles. You get a belt around your waist with a pair of gaffs on your legs and you learn how to climb telephone poles. I did that for eight weeks. I've seen a couple of really bad accidents. People call them gung-ho, I called them crazy.

AAJ: You were also stationed in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, and you seriously started thinking about becoming a musician.

LJ: In between the time doing all of this doo- woping and listening to all of these records alone, in the projects, I always was fascinated by the bass players. In Bad Kreuznach—I don't know how I started associating with the musicians in the army band. I think I was in company A, and a guy named Melvin Lane —who by the way was a youth friend of Clarence Becton—was in company B. They had two basses in the social club or whatever it was. Two double basses. Both of them were horribly out of tune. The strings were probably a hundred years old. I saw Lane playing on one of these basses. So, I started hanging out with him. He didn't show me anything on the bass but eventually, I somehow got hooked up with another older fellow that was in the military band on post—a guy named Ray Crawford. He was a bassist, but in the army band he played tuba.

AAJ: Did you listen to records when you were in Bad Kreuznach?

LJ: Yeah. There was this clique of four or five of us, these guys turned me on to Thelonious Monk, Jackie McLean... So, I started having a different kind of listening experience in those years that I was stationed in Bad Kreuznach—two years, seven months and three days to be exact. There was a record store in Bad Kreuznach. Once I got introduced to Thelonious Monk that was it. I bought at least seven Thelonious Monk records at that record store. I have also bought records in the post- exchange—they also had jazz records. There is a little story of how I got introduced to Ornette Coleman. There was a fellow from Texas. His name was Gibson. He had this blue and yellow record called Ornette, and he didn't like it. One day, we were somewhere in the barracks in the hallway and Gibson said 'I don't like this record,' and I said 'What is it?' He said, 'This is Ornette."' I didn't know what this stuff was. So, he said 'You want the record?' and I said, 'Yeah, I'll take it.' And that's how I got introduced to Ornette.

AAJ: How did you feel about Ornette Coleman's music?

LJ: It was like love at first hearing [laughs]. The record Ornette, I guess you can call it an epiphany, because Scott LaFaro was all over the place, Ed Blackwell ... That group was very interesting for me. That was my introduction to so-called free playing which I never have considered free because there is too much structure in how Ornette plays. And what I always realize about Ornette—he is a real blues player. The blues was always there. You could hear it all the time.

AAJ: You bought your first bass in Bad Kreuznach.

LJ: Yeah, around 1962, I bought my first bass. By the time, I had reached a certain point in Germany where I didn't like being in the army anymore. They were constantly trying to break you. You're supposed to follow orders and that's it. I started resisting. This happened, when I had an accident in a truck with a trailer. The accident happened on an icy road on a hill, the Kuhberg—a pretty big hill around Bad Kreuznach. The trailer turned over on its side and they wanted me to pay for the damage that was done to it. But it was an accident, and I refused. I was in trouble.

AAJ: Was there anyone else in the car?

LJ: The sergeant that was riding with me, didn't defend me. He just went along with the program. So, I ended up being summarily court martialed. I had savings bonds. I didn't make enough money to pay 720 dollars. That's what they wanted. I had to retrieve the savings bonds which were sent for my mother and cash them myself and give them the money. I got the savings bonds, cashed them.

AAJ: And how did you get your bass?

LJ: Now, there were these two houses on the bridge in Bad Kreuznach—they are famous. When you went to town, you always had to go over this bridge. In one of these houses is a music store. And there was this plywood bass, it was always in the window. Every time I went to the tavern in town I'd see this bass. My eyes just lit up every time I saw this bass. So, when I cashed the bonds, I took 125 of 300 dollars, because that's all I had. I went directly to the music store and bought this bass. I didn't care about anything else.

AAJ: So, the court martial people shouldn't know about that.

LJ: I gave them the rest of the money, and they took the rest of the fine out of my pay. Ray started showing me what I had to do to play this bass and how to try tuning it. At first I couldn't play it at all—that came later when I was back in Chicago. I went to a carpenter in Bad Kreuznach. He built this gigantic coffin to put the bass in. The military payed for all your belongings that you shipped home. So, he made this big coffin, we put the bass in it and nailed it up and it got shipped home.

AAJ: Before you went back to Chicago, you made a stop in Harlem, NY.

LJ: Oh yeah, that was when I got discharged in Brooklyn. From New Jersey, I was taking the train to Chicago. But I had the whole day— the train didn't leave until the evening. I discovered a record store in Harlem and bought every Jackie McLean record that this guy had in the store, among others. I think I bought about 26 records. But I didn't have enough money to pay for all these records. So, I had to put three records back. And the man told me, 'You can have those three records, because I haven't had this much business in two months.' So, I went out of this store with a whole bag full of records.

AAJ: Your decision to study music and play the bass was already firm at the time?

LJ: Unfortunately, when my plywood bass got to Chicago, the neck was broken. I cried tears. But I discovered two German guys that had an instrument repair shop in downtown Chicago. They fixed my bass for 195 dollars, which was a lot of money at that time. They put the bass back together and then I started studying with Mr. Rudolf Fahsbender.

AAJ: Was he part of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra?

LJ: Yeah. I think he wasn't the principal bassist in Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but like the second in command as far as the bass section was concerned. He was a rather short, stocky man, always had half of a cigar stuck in his mouth, he had real chubby hands but we had a good relationship, serious but friendly. Once I started studying I had to have a bow. In fact, I didn't have a bow. Mr. Fahsbender just sold me one for 35 dollars. It's a bow from Robert Reichel, he was a famous bow maker and I have had it since 1964. I started studying the fundaments of classical bass playing.

AAJ: A fundamental for your actual goal: to become a jazz musician.

LJ: I wanted to be like those cats that played with Count Basie and Duke Ellington. That was what I wanted to do. But the classical, the fundamental studies gave you a good foundation. If you wanted to learn to play jazz music you had to be around people who play. That's how Muhal Richard Abrams came into my life. It was at the same time I started studying with Mr. Fahsbender privately.

AAJ: And then you soon joined the Experimental Band?

LJ: I'll go back a little bit. There was a bassist named Charles Clark that also studied with Fahsbender. We became real close friends. He lived in what was called the musicians' building. That was this building where a lot of musicians lived. I guess most of those guys couldn't pay their rent on time. Charles associated with the Experimental Band and he introduced me to them which was sometime in the late fall of 1964. That's how I met Muhal Richard Abrams. The Experimental Band existed at least two years before I came. Roscoe Mitchell was there and I guess in 1962 Henry Threadgill was in that band before he went into the army, and some other people.

AAJ: Can you tell something about the music of the Experimental Band?

LJ: There was a lot of written music. It wasn't that you wanted to put a horn in your mouth and start playing right away. There were charts to be played.

AAJ: There were composed elements?

LJ: There were a lot of composed elements. Muhal used to have two pieces. One was called "NN One" and the other one "NN Two." Both pieces were conceived of really long tones. We used to play these two pieces of music. Nothing was stipulated as that you have to play something far out. You could play music with chord changes, if you wanted. The only stipulation was it has to be original music.

AAJ: How did it come to the formation of the AACM?

LJ: The AACM formed in May 1965, I joined in June 1965.

AAJ: How did it come that you joined? Was it just the connection to the musicians in the Experimental Band?

LJ: I was in the initial group of people. Charles recommended me—because you had to be recommended by someone. I didn't know anything about the very beginnings at that time but I learned later.

AAJ: And the recommendation was enough—there was not any test?

LJ: No, no. You got recommended. The members that were already there accepted or didn't accept you.

AAJ: Going from your playing?

LJ: No, it had nothing to do with the playing. Most of the people knew you because most of the members were already in the Experimental Band. There were people that were not in the Experimental Band. But most of the people that became members were in the Experimental Band.

AAJ: When did you start playing in front of audiences?

LJ: I got prepared in the Experimental Band. Somebody said, 'There is a hole in the ground and you stand on the edge' and everybody said, 'Jump!' That's how I started learning in those days.

AAJ: They accepted you in the Experimental Band to perform with them, not just learn, but play in front of people?

LJ: The Experimental Band never really had any real concerts. And the concerts in the AACM, in the beginning, mostly were in small groups. The most serious group that I remember was Roscoe's group. Roscoe Mitchell's group was always interesting musically and I loved Malachi Favors playing and then there was Joseph Jarman's group with Charles Clark and Christopher Gaddy on piano, also a close friend.

AAJ: Can you share some details about the places where you played?

LJ: The organization was based in Abraham Lincoln Center in Chicago in a Frank Lloyd Wright Building. It had also an auditorium. It has another name now. I don't remember exactly how long the AACM was in that particular building. But the Experimental Band had its rehearsals every Monday evening, occasionally Saturday after AACM meetings, in the basement.

AAJ: Are there any recordings of these rehearsals from the Experimental Band?

LJ: Not that I'd know of, no. And the AACM used the auditorium in the building for concerts. They were always held on a Sunday, usually in the afternoon.

AAJ: And how can one imagine the AACM as a social institution? Did the members support each other?

LJ: Yeah sure, it was family. Everybody had their groups or the groups were sometimes interchangeable. I think the first group I played in was by alto saxophone and clarinetist Troy Robinson. I don't remember the other people that were in his group. I also had a little group—I think I played one or two concerts. You could form your group—you just pick the people you wanted to play in your group and then you had a rehearsal and on Sunday you had your concert. But you didn't make any money— depending on who you played with and how many people came, but you had the chance to showcase your compositions.

AAJ: But it wasn't about money anyway.

LJ: No, it wasn't about money. It was about controlling your destiny. Controlling what you had to do. Because none of this music was gonna be performed in any jazz clubs.

AAJ: So, it wasn't about entertainment.

LJ: It wasn't entertainment. We had a concert atmosphere and all the music that was played had to be original music. We didn't play any standard tunes, nothing out of the American Songbook. You played your own music. That's what our organization was about together to do. This means taking control of your destiny because other than that you just play in jazz clubs. And I didn't live from playing music at the time. I had a job at the Railway Express Company.

AAJ: How did the AACM musicians make their money?

LJ: Most of the musicians in the AACM were already professionals. Phil Cohran, Muhal Richard Abrams, Steve McCall and Jodie Christian, these were the founding members. They were all professional musicians.

AAJ: So, they played also music they could make money with?

LJ: Yeah. Muhal would go out and play with Woody Herman. Sometimes musicians were travelling through, you get the call and go play with the musicians coming through. They were called pick-up bands. Then they would go play standards. Steve McCall used to go to New York.

AAJ: So, one music that you played supported the other music that you played?

LJ: Yeah, well. These people were professional musicians. They weren't living and just playing what became known as so-called free music. They would do the whole standard repertoire—they are professionals, you know. Alvin Fielder—he was also a pharmacist, but Alvin would go out on the road, go to New York and play with people and come back. Malachi Favors played with Andrew Hill and with others locally.

AAJ: So it was about playing standards first and then going beyond that?

LJ: Everybody could play tunes—everybody. Some people could play classical music. But everybody could play tunes. For one thing: when you joined the AACM, you had to join the union, then. In order to join the union you had to take a test on your instrument. So, everybody that joined the AACM in the beginning, also were members of the union. I tell you a story: There were two unions—a black union and a white union. There was a union on the South Side, I think the local number was 208, and there was a white union Local 10, which was in downtown Chicago. They merged and became Local 10-208.

AAJ: I guess this was after the Civil Rights Act [1964].

LJ: Well, this is all going on in the period of Civil Rights. Now once they merged, a lot of the jobs that the black musicians used to have, didn't exist anymore. That's exactly what happened. You had to deal with Local 10. This was a big union, all the orchestras, all the classical players. Well- -Muhal, Charles Clark and a few others, we would arrange to go and sit at these union meetings, downtown, once they merged. So you had these black people sitting in the union meetings. We weren't vocal but present, you couldn't miss us. We did that for a while when enough people were available.

AAJ: Was this a successful strategy?

LJ: The strategy was to let these people know, we are not invisible.

AAJ: Did it have any positive effect?

LJ: It was good because the black officials that would have taken their place in the new structure would see us, and that was always positive.

AAJ: Staying strong in unity, to avoid that "the control factor goes over to the other side," as percussionist Famoudou Don Moye put it, [quoted after George E. Lewis]

LJ: And in Chicago there were pretty strong black union officials. These guys were tough, they didn't take no stuff. They were pretty good at watching out for the black members after the merger. Besides that, most of the really so-called hip places to play were on the South Side of Chicago.

AAJ: At the time, there was a well-known bassist in Chicago who was very important to you: Wilbur Ware.

LJ: I enjoyed being around him on a human level. From a standpoint of learning musically from Wilbur—he couldn't read music—you couldn't learn anything in that respect from him. But as a human being I loved him. He was just amazing. He had just come out from drug rehab. He was in Lexington, Kentucky. He came back to Chicago to live there. At the time Wilbur didn't have a bass and I met him in an apartment in this musicians' building. When I came first to that apartment I saw Wilbur standing there, walking through some Beethoven—walking bass through this piece of Beethoven music. That was my first encounter with him.

AAJ: You started hanging out together in jazz clubs.

LJ: I had no idea why this guy liked me. Those days I barely talked at all. He had my number and would call me and ask me, did I want to hang out with him. I tried to see—okay. I had this little blue Ford Mustang, I would pick him up where he lived. I put the bass on the passenger seat which you could recline, and he would sit behind me in the car. We would go to jam sessions. On the Northside they had this, what is called Old Town. There were a lot of jazz clubs in Old Town—Mother Blues, The Plugged Nickel, The Hungry Eye. Wilbur would play. We would go to one of the lesser clubs because the before mentioned were the main venues, Wilbur would sit in. After playing he would announce, 'I'd like to bring up an upcoming young bassist,' I would think he wants to bring me on the stage with these professional musicians, all those chord changes, those tunes and I don't know nothing [laughs].

AAJ: I think he wouldn't have done this if he hadn't appreciated your bass playing.

LJ: I guess not. I'd struggle through—never more than one piece with all of the professional musicians who had been playing forever.

AAJ: How long had you been playing at the time?

LJ: I think through 1964, '65, '66 at the time, maybe a little bit into 1967. Two and a half years. But what I've learned—just watching Wilbur play was always interesting to me, because he was always so regal when he played, he just had an air of—I don't like to say the word of authority— but it was like regal. When he played the bass it was like he had a glow about him. He had all these little things he could do. I haven't figured that stuff out yet.

AAJ: LeRoi Jones wrote in a Down Beat article from 1963, that "Wilbur Ware's bass playing is something that makes me go home and try to write poems."

LJ: He had fantastic ears. That's the most amazing thing. He could hear almost anything. And his playing was really fundamental. It was like right on earth. I saw Wilbur Ware from 1965 until around 1967. I think end of 1967, beginning 1968, he left Chicago and went back East to Philadelphia.

AAJ: Were there any other bass players in Chicago who were important to you?

LJ: The only other bassist from my associations in Chicago was Malachi Favors—Malachi Favors to me was the bassist. There hasn't been anybody else that had that kind of grounded earth sound. The capacity of his playing was so round and deep, so fundamental to being with both of your feet planted on earth. He was one of the most fascinating bass players I have ever heard. It had nothing to do with playing some notes. It was his sound. Wilbur was like that, but different. When I was taking bass lessons with Fahsbender, Malachi was also taking his lessons and I just thought he was a young man learning how to play the bass— until my association with the AACM and I found out that this man had been a professional musician since about 1953 or 1954 and was much older than myself.

AAJ: In 1968, you went on tour with soprano and alto saxophonist Paul Winter.

LJ: Shortly after the pianist Christopher Gaddy, a close friend of mine, died from kidney failure, Muhal called me and said that Paul Winter needed a bassist for his tour. Paul was famous for bossa nova at the time. So, I went on the road with him, I guess end of March and most of April, my first road experience. We did a tour through the mid-west from Corpus Christi, Texas up through Missouri, Kansas playing colleges. Then we played Monticello, Arkansas—at A&M University. We didn't know that Martin Luther King had been assassinated. This had happened the day before we were to play at this college. We played in a big gymnasium at this college, and we had no idea that Martin Luther King had been assassinated, because we had been driving all the time and didn't listen to the radio—one drove, the other slept, no one mentioned the killing to us until later.

AAJ: If you had known it before, you maybe had played different music?

LJ: The music wasn't any different because we were playing bossa nova. That's what Paul was famous for. The only piece of music that wasn't bossa nova that I got the chance to take solo on was the "E-Flat Blues." I didn't really prepare for the key of e-flat. There are no bottom notes in it— for the bass. That was my featured piece to take a solo. Other than that we played "The Black Orpheus" and all of these bossa nova tunes that were famous at the time— particularly in the 1960s. I never saw Paul Winter after that any more. He is a really nice human being. We had really nice, interesting conversations.

AAJ: In 1969, you moved to Europe for the first time. What were your reasons?

LJ: Muhal had called me up and said, 'There is a drummer by the name Lester Walton that needed a bassist on a ship.' So, I went to Florida and I worked on this ship for five and a half months, until the middle of May 1969. In the meantime—back in Chicago—my friend Charles Clark had gotten in the Civic Orchestra, which is sort of like a training orchestra for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Charles had played mostly in Joseph Jarman's group—there was Thurman Barker, Christopher Gaddy. On this ship I got a call and it was Charles. We talked and Charles was excited because he had been accepted into Chicago Civic Orchestra. He had been in there a little while before he called me up. The next day, his wife called me and said he is dead. He had had a cerebral hemorrhage.

Post a comment


FOR THE LOVE OF JAZZ
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

WE NEED YOUR HELP
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.

Tags

More

Popular

Read ECM Records Touchstones: Part 1
Building a Jazz Library
ECM Records Touchstones: Part 1
Read ECM Records Touchstones: Part 2
Building a Jazz Library
ECM Records Touchstones: Part 2
Read Kurt Rosenwinkel: Minor Blues

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and includes upcoming jazz events near you.