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Tom "Bones" Malone: Amazing Career That's One In A Million, Part 2

Tom "Bones" Malone: Amazing Career That's One In A Million, Part 2

Courtesy Chris Kurka


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If there's any students reading this, just be nice to everybody, regardless of, if somebody speaks a different language, be nice to them. Somebody's skin, it's a different color, be nice to them. Somebody's a different religion, be nice to them. Somebody's from a different country, be nice to them. Be nice to everybody, it'll open up a whole new world of good things that will happen to you, because you're nice to everybody.
Part 1 | Part 2

World-famous trombonist and multi-instrumentalist Tom "Bones" Malone talks about his incredible career spanning Saturday Night Live, The Blues Brothers, Gil Evans, Frank Zappa, Blood, Sweat, & Tears, The Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn, Late Show with David Letterman, and so much more with All About Jazz contributor and saxophonist Matthew Alec of Cleveland Time Records at Cleveland's Bop Stop jazz club back in January 2022.

AAJ: So, in regards to Saturday Night Live, how did you get the gig? How did that come about?

TM: Well, when I moved to New York in January, 1970, I had played, summer of 1969, I had played on the road with Woody Herman's band and the lead trombone player was a guy named Bobby Burgess. Legendary guy, played lead with every big band you know. Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton, every, you know, every big band there was and, I called him up and I said, "Can I, I want to move to New York. Can I crash on your floor?" And he said, "Yeah, come on up," So, I came on up and a couple months later Bob went back on the road with Woody Herman and I inherited this cheap apartment, and so, this friend of mine named Hannibal Marvin Peterson called me up one day and said, "I want to move to New York. Can I crash on your floor?" And I said, "Sure." So, he came up and he immediately started playing with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the guy that played three saxophones at one time.

AAJ: He sure did, yeah.

TM: And he also started playing with Gil Evans, okay, so one night he had two gigs and so he said, "Look, I got two gigs tonight, the one with Gil Evans doesn't pay anything. Do you want to cover for me with Gil Evans?" And I said, "Sure." So, I went down there and I met all these people that changed the rest of my life. Gil Evans, who I played with for the last 15 years of his life. He became my musical father and, you know, arranging teacher and then, that same night I met David Sanborn, Billy Harper, Lew Soloff, Howard Johnson. Okay, so, a few years later Howard Johnson was asked to put together a horn section for Saturday Night Live, and he chose me. He liked me because I played tuba and saxophone, and trumpet, and a bunch, you know, he was a multi-instrumentalist, too, but he liked the fact that I played tuba and he became my jazz tuba mentor, but he recommended me to be on the original horn section at Saturday Night Live.

AAJ: That's a great story, and from there, being on Saturday Night Live you got to play with a whole bunch of other musicians as well, right?

TM: Oh yeah, I was the arranger for the show, too. I arranged three songs for The Band, and in the spring of '76, we hit it off and they took me on the road with them in the summer . Yeah, because we had four months off from Saturday Night Live every summer.

AAJ: Their hit "The Weight," right?

TM: "The Weight," exactly. Yeah, and I was in The Last Waltz movie. We backed up all kinds of people and I did some arranging for The Band, also. After that, Levon Helm formed a band called Levon Helm & The RCO All-Stars, which in a way, was a predecessor to The Blues Brothers because it was Steve Cropper, "Duck" Dunn, Lou Marini, Alan Rubin, and myself.

AAJ: Oh, wow.

TM: Were all in the band.

AAJ: That's a great band.

TM: Yeah, plus Paul Butterfield... Dr. John... Booker T. Jones!

AAJ: Yeah.

TM: Yeah. Killer band. And Howard Johnson. So, I was the arranger for that band, too.

AAJ: That's fantastic.

TM: I've just met so many cool people on Saturday Night Live. Also, the recording scene in New York was changing over from big band style to rock and roll. For records, commercials and people to see on TV, "Oh, here's a long-haired rock and roll trombone player! We'll hire him for our session." So, it didn't hurt my recording career, either.

AAJ: How exactly did you hook up with Blood, Sweat & Tears, how did that come to fruition?

TM: Well, remember that Gil Evans job where I was subbing...

AAJ: Yes.

TM: I met Lew Soloff and Wayne Bergeron. So when Chuck Winfield left The Band, I was actually living in L.A. at the time. I had moved out there to play with Frank Zappa. It was January, 1973 and Wayne Bergeron called me up, "Chuck Winfield is leaving the band, do you want to join the band as a trumpet player?" So, bang! I got on the plane, checked all my stuff, gave my car away...

AAJ: Yeah. [Laughs]

TM: Yeah, I've done that many times in my life.

AAJ: Just up and moved?

TM: Just gone, yeah.

AAJ: Oh, that's crazy.

TM: Yeah, I crashed on Lou Marini's floor until I could get an apartment.

AAJ: Yeah, that's awesome. All the stories, I mean, my goodness. Speaking of Frank Zappa, how did Frank Zappa come about?

TM: Okay, I moved to New York in 1970, doing little jobs here and there, and in 1971 Lou Marini moves to New York and he's playing with Doc Severinsen's weekend band. Doc is the leader of The Tonight Show Band in New York and every Saturday and Sunday he had a job with a big band and they'd get paid $250 each night, which was a lot of money in 1971.

AAJ: Yeah.

TM: So, anyway, Snooky Young was in the band, Ross Tompkins, Ed Shaughnessy, Lew Tabackin, that was a good band and so, during that year, The Tonight Show moves Johnny Carson to L.A. The weekend band keeps playing. You'd just go to the airport, but one night we found ourselves as the guest music on The Tonight Show in Los Angeles. Doc's weekend band, and we did "Only the Beginnings" by Chicago. I got to play a trombone solo on national TV. So, we went back to the hotel in Burbank near the studio. Lou Marini and I were roommates and our old friend from North Texas, Sal Marquez, a jazz trumpet player, best known for being Branford Marsalis's trumpet player on the later version of The Tonight Show. Anyway, he comes over to the room and we're hanging out and said, "So, Sal, what are you doing? What's going on for you in L.A.?" And he said, "I'm playing with Frank Zappa's Grand Wazoo." And I said, "What's that?" He said, "It's a 20-piece all-instrumental band." He said, "Our tuba player Howard Johnson is moving back to New York, we're looking for a tuba player. Do you know anybody that plays tuba?" And about that time, he tripped over the tuba that was on the floor in my hotel room. I was playing tuba, bass trombone and trombone with Doc's band. He looked down and said, "You play tuba, don't you, Tom?" And I said, "Yeah." He said, "You want to play with Frank?" And I said, "Sure." So, he calls up Frank from the hotel room. Now this is 1972. He said, "Frank, I know this guy, blah, blah, blah. How does he sound? Well, Frank, I've never heard him play the tuba. Tom, how do you sound on the tuba?" He said. So, I picked up the tuba and played it over the telephone.

AAJ: Oh, that's too funny.

TM: And, he hired me. We went over to his house the next day and Frank said, "Sal tells me you play some other instruments besides a tuba." And I said, "Yes." He said, "Well, give me a list." So, I put down bass trombone, trombone, trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet, flute, tenor sax, piccolo, and I showed up two weeks later for rehearsal and Frank had rewritten all his music so I had a part on every instrument. Now I'm sight reading a piccolo trumpet solo and I'm sitting next to Malcolm McNab, the famous trumpet player. I had no idea who he was. Malcolm McNab recorded the Tchaikovsky violin concerto on trumpet, with orchestra. Said, "He practiced it for 30 years." If you've ever been to the movies and heard a trumpet solo it was probably Malcolm McNab. He played on a thousand movie soundtracks.

AAJ: That's very cool. You're now playing with Frank Zappa. Did you know who Frank Zappa was at the time?

TM: Oh, yeah! I knew who he was, sure. He wasn't known as a guy who had horn players playing with him, so The Grand Wazoo was a whole different thing for him. I'm not sure if he ever had a horn section before this band. Suddenly, it's like a whole bunch of different horns and we did the tour with the 20-piece Grand Wazoo. Then he cut the band down to a 12-piece band and I was still playing a whole bunch of different instruments in the 12-piece band he called the GrandMothers of Invention. We rehearsed, we did a tour. Then he cut the band down to ten pieces and we rehearsed and did another tour. Then Frank said, "The next tour is only gonna have one horn and it's gonna be Bruce Fowler." I said, "Cool." He said, "Bruce tells me you play electric bass." I said, "Yes." He said, "You want to audition?" I said, "Sure." So, I went over to Frank's house and auditioned and I remember George Duke was there. Anyway, I thought I sounded pretty good and, so, I didn't hear anything from Frank. I heard from the grapevine that he was auditioning other people who had played with him before, people who played and sang and, so, a couple weeks went by, and nothing. I called Frank, left a message on his phone, "Frank, it's Tom, what's happening? Let me know." Nothing. Another week went by, Dave Bargeron called me up, "We need a trumpet player with Blood, Sweat, & Tears. Can you be in New York tomorrow?" Bang! And then, anyway, the day after I left, Frank called to say that I had the job, playing the tour with Jean-Luc Ponty and George Duke. Three tours of Europe and a tour of Japan for double the money that Blood, Sweat, & Tears was gonna pay me. Anyway, I never looked back. I recommended Bruce Fowler's brother, Tom Fowler, who was a fine bassist and Frank loved him. He sounded great with Frank for the next three, four years.

AAJ: I think things worked out pretty well for you.

TM: Absolutely. No regrets.

AAJ: In the Michael Brecker book they talked quite a bit about the jingle scene. It was very lucrative, getting calls left and right to go and record commercial jingles at any given time. How prolific was that and were you a part of that?

TM: Yes, well, as a studio musician in New York, there were more, we call them jingles. There were more commercials being recorded than there were records. So, I would do anywhere from five to twelve sessions during the week. Most of them were jingles. There was a commercial scene, if you could walk in and sight read music and play in tune and play with the rhythm section, bang! You could make a living doing that. So, I played on about 3,500 commercials during my career. [Laughs]

AAJ: Are there any ones that stand out that we would remember?

TM: Oh, well, let's see. Amtrak... another funny story years later... I had arranged and contracted the horns for Holding out for a Hero by Bonnie Tyler and we had Jon Faddis, Randy Brecker, Mike Brecker and myself. Doritos decided they wanted to use the music and instead of re-recording it they wanted to use the original masters. Checks started coming in the mail and they finally stopped at $14,000. So, you never know how it's going to work out.

AAJ: Oh, interesting. Not to mention I don't know why you'd want to re-record that.

TM: Yeah! Well, that's true. The Amtrak commercial ran for seven years. You get another repayment every 13 weeks.

AAJ: So there's residual income that would keep coming in?

TM: Yeah, if your commercial keeps running, then you get some extra money. But again, Mike and Randy Brecker and I were the horn section on a lot of recordings.

AAJ: Oh yeah, that's a great horn section.

TM:It was really fun playing with those guys. I had a band, when I was the music director at Saturday Night Live from '81 to '85, the last two years I was there, '83 to '85 I had a six-piece band with Michael Brecker. He was just an amazing musician to play with in that band. Bass, piano, drums, Michael Brecker and myself and, we played some good music during that period.

AAJ: At what point did you become the musical director and how did that happen?

TM: After The Blues Brothers movie, the producer and engineer on The Blues Brothers recordings, all three of them, Briefcase Full of Blues, the music, the movie soundtrack, and Made in America, is a guy named Bob Tischler, engineer, producer, and we became good friends and we worked together very closely on the soundtrack for the movie. It was recorded in Chicago in the summer, in July, 1979, and Bob Tischler became line producer for Saturday Night Live in the fall of '81 and he hired me to be the music director.

AAJ: I watched an interview with Michael Brecker where he talked about Saturday Night Live being fairly nonchalant. He was a laid-back person and he was funny, so I think he was joking a little bit, but he talked about the fact that Saturday Night Live for him was a fairly low commitment because he would show up and play on Saturday night more or less. Was that your experience? You seemed like you had a different gig being the musical director. How labor intensive was it?

TM: You know the music director job had a lot more pressure on it, but I made it easy for Mike to show up and we would play songs that we both knew. We would play "Pick up the Pieces," we would play, Brecker Brothers songs. I'd play trumpet and he'd play tenor. So I made it easy for him. I just wanted him to feel relaxed and just play and sound his best.

TM: What did you learn from him, out of curiosity? Playing with him for a few years.

TM: Oh, well, just listening to him play, and his harmonic concept, every time he picked up the horn and played, it blew my mind. I would lean over to him and say, "That was a great solo." And he would say, "No, that sucked." He was very self-critical, but I think that's the reason he became as good as he was.

He was supposed to play a solo on my Soul Bones record and, you know he said, "Well, you know, I'm sick right now, but when I get well, I'll show up." Two weeks later... "

AAJ: Oh, geez... It was 2007 I think, right?

TM: Yeah.

AAJ: You mentioned your album the Soul Bones, how many albums have you recorded as a leader?

TM: I recorded one that I never released. I just listened to it, and I decided I didn't like the way I sounded, so I trashed it.

AAJ: Really?

TM: Yeah, threw the whole album in the trash. It was Lenny White on drums, too.

AAJ: Wow!

TM: Yeah, but, one called Eastern Standard Time, jazz album. Soul Bones was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It's more R & B oriented.

AAJ: That's funny that you threw an entire album away. It's got to be tough to just walk away.

TM: I wish I had played better on it, but we went direct to two-track. It wasn't done on multi-track so that I could overdub something on top of it. I didn't want to release anything that didn't sound as good as I wanted it to.

AAJ: No, that's definitely understandable.

TM: I wish I'd played better.

AAJ: Yeah,well I have a project right now where I'm thinking about that, so there you go. Do you have plans to release anything else as a band leader?

TM: I'm moving to L.A. in a couple months and I was thinking about maybe playing some of my jazz charts. Putting a band together out in L.A. and playing some at a jazz club. Just for fun.

AAJ: So you were in The Blues Brothers movie in 1980, and then Blues Brothers 2000, the movie that came out in I think 1998. What's it like being in a movie?

TM: Well, most of the time you're just waiting around in the trailer waiting for them to call you in. There's more waiting around than anything else. You show up at 7 AM and you go to make up, and you go to hair, and then you sit in the trailer. Sometimes, some days you sit in the trailer until they wrap at six o'clock, but then other days you're under the lights, and you're in the studio, shooting over and over and over. We were at Bob's Country Bunker there for a week.

AAJ: With the chicken wire.

TM: Yeah, I actually gave that to Danny one night after Saturday Night Live, after The Blues Brothers had started, but we were still at Saturday Night Live. This is I guess around '78 or '79. Danny started interviewing people to get ideas for the movie and so, this is like 1 AM and the show's over. "Bones, can you come up to my office?" So, I told them stories about playing in sleazy clubs in Mississippi where they had chicken wire over the bandstand and he put that in the movie.

AAJ: Did they really throw beer bottles then, too?

TM: They had these, they looked like brown long-neck beer bottles, and they were made of sugar so that they smashed and were not dangerous. During the breaks we'd hit them over our heads, you know, or hit somebody else over the head with them.

AAJ: [Laughs] It's a very funny scene in the movie.

TM: Yeah, they have cases and cases of those.

AAJ: What was your experience with John Landis, he directed those, right?

TM: Yeah. He was absolutely great. We're still friends, we still communicate. I thought he was very creative and he would always tell the musicians when we had a speaking line, he said, "Don't act! Just, just talk. Don't act."

AAJ: Yeah, that's good advice. Watching the movie, the band does a nice job, and you do a nice job. It comes across as genuine, like you all were friends hanging out on a movie set. I think that's one of the reasons why people like The Blues Brothers.

TM: Arranging music for television has been a big part of my career. I've done 2,700 arrangements for television and, one day, I'm on the Late Show with David Letterman we rap about, we used to shoot them from about 4:30 to about 5:30. So, we wrapped up at about 5:35, went up to the dressing room, changed clothes, it's about a quarter to six, "Can you meet with Paul in his dressing room?" Paul said, "Renee Fleming is going to be on the show tomorrow, she's going to do the top 10. We need 13 opera excerpts by 11 in the morning. Here's Renee Fleming's brand-new album. So, figure out what keys she should sing them in." So, there was no rehearsal with her before the show. Paul said, "How are we gonna pull this off?" I said, "I'll play the flute. Aaron, our saxophonist, will play oboe. We'll hire a clarinetist. We'll hire a French horn player and you'll play the string parts on the synthesizer." So, that's what we did. I stayed up all night and I got everything done thinking Renee Fleming was going to be difficult to work with. She's going to be a real diva. She turned out to be absolutely delightful, exactly the opposite. Great sense of humor, very professional and easy to work with. I had one of the songs in the wrong key, I had the songs on my laptop, I changed the key, printed them out in Paul's office next door to the rehearsal space and bang! You can see that if you go to YouTube and search on "David Letterman Top 10 Renee Fleming." We pulled it off.

AAJ: Well it's funny. Behind every one of those segments there's some little story of, you know, someone like yourself putting together the music for that or even a script for it, or anything that happens in the production. That's always been amazing.

TM: The same thing happened on Saturday Night Live, "Olivia Newton-John has a big hit on Physical, so, she's going to be on the show." "Well, what time is a band loading in?" "She doesn't have a band. It was a studio album, you have to put it together." So, I had to put together a band and three songs with these multi-synthesizer recordings. Yeah, and nothing was ever written out, so I had to transcribe everything, write everything, and hire a band and put it together.

AAJ: Was there ever a time where you didn't get it done? [Laughs]

TM: I always got it done. Yeah, oh yeah. You don't have any choices. Your back's up against the wall. The same thing happened with Robert Plant and the Honeydrippers, you know, the lead singer with Led Zeppelin. He had this record out, "What time is the band loading in?" "He doesn't have a band. It's a studio album. You have to put the band together." So, I put together a band with John Faddis and Michael Brecker and all these guys and it worked out.

AAJ: Well, that band could probably play in their sleep.

TM: [Laughs] Yeah, lots of, lots of incidents like that in my, in my arranging career.

AAJ: Oh, yeah. As far as arranging, obviously it's different arranging commercially for something like Letterman's show or Saturday Night Live versus arranging an original piece of music or something that you want to do, but how do you approach arranging? What's your vision when you sit down to arrange a piece of music?

TM: Well, most of the time, particularly on Letterman, Paul wanted to cover a song, you know, a pop song, and so, it's basically transcribing, it's writing down the exact notes of the bass and the guitar and the keyboard voicings and the drum exactly. Writing, you know, transcribing, writing down exactly what was played on the record. So, that's what most of the arranging work is, really. Real arranging is when you come up with something original, like somebody makes a record and I make up some, create some horn parts and put it on their record.

AAJ: Yes. You've obviously done quite a bit of that. I met you on the internet, how has that changed your career and the type of things you're doing now at this point, as far as email and Facebook?

TM: I've done a lot of work at home. I have a studio setup with Pro Tools 11, I have a U 87 microphone and people send me their records. I make up horn parts and I record the whole horn section myself one track at a time. Typically, trumpet, tenor sax, trombone, baritone sax, for rock-oriented records, but I've done entire big bands at my house by myself. Yeah, so, that's a lot of work just right at my house, especially during the pandemic. I almost have enough for a big band record, a one-man big band record to release.

AAJ: You could. You could record the whole thing yourself.

TM: Absolutely.

AAJ: [Laughs] We haven't covered David Letterman and the CBS Orchestra. Tell me how that came about.

TM: When I was music director at Saturday Night Live from '81 to '85, one day early 1982, if I remember correctly, Liz Anderson called me up. She was my unit manager that worked downstairs in the office. I was a contractor for the show and, so, I would send her some information and she would fill out the union contracts for me and send them into the union. So, she called me up one day and said, "I got a new job, I'm the associate producer of the David Letterman show." I said, "What's that?" She said, "You've never seen it, it comes on early in the morning, but we're changing the show to late, late night and we're looking for a band leader to lead a four-piece band to be a personality on the show. I wonder if you would be interested?" Well, the financial offer was about 20 percent of what I was making at Saturday Night Live, so I politely turned it down, but I said, "You should call this kid Paul Shaffer, he'll take care of it." Paul had gone out to L.A. to be in a sitcom with Greg Evigan called A Year at the Top and they went about six or seven episodes and the network pulled the plug on them. So, he'd come back to New York about two weeks before this phone call. I said, "Call Paul Shaffer, here's his number."

I didn't hear another word for about a month and then I had a network feed, monitor in my office, at the corner office, 17th floor, 30 Rock, and I was working on a music arrangement. I heard a band playing, I looked over at the monitor and it was Paul Shaffer, Steve Jordan, Hiram Bullock, and Will Lee.Paul got the job and nobody even told me. But anyway, they were downstairs so I would, you know, I would go down and hang with them if I had a moment free.

The Letterman show at NBC was 50 percent owned by Johnny Carson Productions. Dave always thought that when Johnny Carson retired that he would get the job. Well, when Johnny Carson retired at NBC, some NBC executives decided that they wanted to keep Dave where he was and instead of moving him into Johnny Carson's slot, "We'll just keep him where he is and we'll get somebody else to be Johnny Carson." Well, Dave did not like this and Dave's contract ran out about the same time. So, he started a bidding war between ABC and CBS, and CBS won.

Paul started the band, but Paul got pressure from the network, you know, because the other shows in that slot had bigger bands than just four pieces. So, he added an extra guitar and he added an extra keyboard. Bernie Worrell was the keyboard player. After about a month on the show, Bernie had put out his own album and he left the show to go out on the road and promote his album. So, instead of hiring another keyboard player, he hired me on trumpet and a guy named Bruce Kapler on tenor sax and we were the horn section for the first three, four years. Then, he hired a full-time trumpet player named Al Chez in the third or fourth year. So, I moved over to playing more trombone, baritone sax, tenor sax, you know, whatever else they needed. I had like 11 instruments set up on the stage.

AAJ: I do remember that.

TM: Every day. [Laughs]

AAJ: Is David Letterman as sweet a man as he seems to be?

TM: Dave was very nice and he was especially nice to the band, but he was nice to everybody. Cameramen, lighting, sound people, just a total class act. I have to say. He paid for my house, both my cars, put both my daughters through college, and still have a little stash besides that.

AAJ: Yeah, very nice. Do you still speak to him at all?

TM: Not really, no.

AAJ: What about Dan Aykroyd? Do you talk to Dan Aykroyd at all?

TM: Yeah, we do communicate. Especially after I move out to L.A., I'll be able to see him a little bit more frequently.

AAJ: We're here in Cleveland, do you have any stories about being in Cleveland in the past, touring through?

TM: Oh, well, I was here on the road with with Woody Herman, was here with Lee Castle and the Jimmy Dorsey bands summer of '67, Woody Herman '69, Frank Zappa 1972, Blood, Sweat & Tears 1973. Paul's band was the house band for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame awards for about 25 years and I was the arranger for those, too. We played quite a few of those, most memorable was probably (Ringo Starr) getting inducted here in Cleveland and Paul came out to induct him and also I got to play. Another time in Cleveland at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I got to play with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page at the same time. That was over the top, but, most of the time the awards were at the Waldorf, in the grand ballroom, but it only seated a thousand people, as opposed to this place in Cleveland which seats about nine thousand. So it was nice to let people see the show for a reasonable price as opposed to just record executives.

AAJ: Any fond memories here?

TM: Oh, so many fond memories. Yeah, nice people, good food, good times.

AAJ: How do you want history to remember you and your music?

TM: Fondly. If there's any students reading this, just be nice to everybody, regardless of, if somebody speaks a different language, be nice to them. Somebody's skin, it's a different color, be nice to them. Somebody's a different religion, be nice to them. Somebody's from a different country, be nice to them. Be nice to everybody, it'll open up a whole new world of good things that will happen to you, because you're nice to everybody.

AAJ: Yeah, words to live by.



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