Vol 5 No.4
A Newsletter Dedicated To Chet Baker And His Music
A Night with Hod OíBrien
As far as CHETíS CHOICE is concerned Wilmington, N. C. is famous for two things: itís annual Azalea Festival and it is the home to European Editor Gunther Skibaís mother- and father-in-law, Virginia and Derrick Sherman.
Wilmington is a port city, situated a few miles up the Cape Fear River from the Atlantic Ocean. Itís main tourist area is downtown on the riverbank, currently host to shopping and food establishments that are located in the old warehouses that line the river. There are some new building along with the old and the riverbank has been provided with new docks and docking facilities for small and large boats.
The Annual Azalea Festival is host to a parade and other ceremonies, but itís river street, Water Street, is the center of the festival, with food and knick-knack stalls lining the sidewalks and the two traffic lanes are a constant parade of individuals from every race and walk of life that you can imagine. The music is provided by every imaginable type of music and musicians Ėfrom hippie guitarists to beach music, hard rock, jazz and kids blowing toy horns.
Carole and I were in town because I had seen where singer Stephanie Nakasian and her pianist Hod OíBrien were to perform on Friday night and Saturday evening. You Chet-o-philes out there will recognize that Hod played with Chet (from your discography) on the Chris Cross album BLUES FOR A REASON, Chetís outing with tenorist Warne Marsh
that I feel is one of the better pairings Chet made over the years.
We only found out about the appearance a week before the Festival and it was impossible to get a room in Wilmington at that late date. So, as Wilmington is only a two hour drive from Raleigh, Carole and I drove down Saturday morning after getting reservations at the night club for the Saturday evening performance. When we hit town the parade was taking place and we had to park several blocks away from the river front. The streets where the parade went were lined with many observers and, after watching for a few minutes, we made our way through the throng and headed down to the water front. For one thing, we wanted to scout out the club and see what was happening in that area.
Well, basically, Water Street, which was blocked off to vehicle traffic, was literally a sea of pedestrians Ė one sea moving north and the other moving south. There was no way to fight the oceans Ė all you could do was get in the flow and move with it while trying to dodge the baby strollers which always seem to miraculously appear fight in front of your feet or begin tapping at your ankles from behind.
Eventually we found the Water Front Restaurant, which was located in one of the old warehouses with an outdoor seating area out front, and went inside. It was typical old warehouse construction Ė exposed wooden floor beams and flooring above, stucco walls
and wooden floor below, no acoustics, not much light, but plenty of atmosphere. Carole
and I had a light lunch and then left the downtown area for a pleasant visit to one of the older gardens in this historic town, which dates back to the 1700ís.
When we got back downtown that afternoon we had to wait outside the restaurant while they cleared the dining patrons that did not have reservations for the matinee performance
(individual tables with place cards for each reservation). Our table for two was located next to a wooden column in the second row back from the bandstand Ė perfect for seeing and recording with my portable hand-held recorder.
We got seated and ordered a couple of drinks. About this time I noted a gentleman seated at the table in front of us that had a familiar look. Only having seen Hod OíBrien from the photos on the album cover which was recorded over ten years before, I thought this might be him. Your editor is not noted for his reticence when it concerns Chet Baker so I immediately went over and asked him if he was indeed the pianist and he said Ďyesí. So I introduced myself and Carole and we proceeded to discuss Chet Baker and his music.
I inquired if it would be possible to interview him for CHETíS CHOICE sometime and we exchanged addresses and telephone numbers, wherein I found out he lived now in Charlottesville, Virginia, a college town about 200 miles north of Raleigh, a town which Carole and I visit periodically as it is the home of U S Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
While talking I had noticed we were being entertained by a young girl playing on the piano on the bandstand and found out she was Hodís two-year-old daughter Veronica (Ronnie), starting early to follow her fatherís profession. We also found out later that Stephanie Nakasian was Hod'í wife and that one of the ladies seated at the table in front of us was Ronnieís grandmother. As you can see it was a very homey atmosphere in the club that evening.
The date was billed as Passion Flower, A Celebration of Spring and would feature the songs of Ellington, Porter, Arlen, the Gershwins and the art of the American popular song. As reviewer Owen Cordle noted in his write-up prior to the event, ďNakasian and OíBrien bring taste, sensitivity, appreciation and a wealth of jazz experience to the gig.Ē
The audience (of a hundred or more) was two-thirds there for the music and one-third for the dining and talking, which really made it hard for some to really hear what was going on on the stage. We were lucky in our location.
Stephanie Nakasian can only be describes as a cabaret singer and, because of the talking that went on incessantly, she leaned more to the louder songs to make herself better heard by those who came to hear. Her repertory ranged from Dixieland, to swing, to big bands, to popular and to jazz. She does some scatting and admitted to me later that she had been influenced by Chetís scatting. There is a lot of Annie Ross there with a great jazz sense and scatting and some musical instrument impersonations, which made for a very intertaining three-hour performance.
Joe Williams once remarked that he had head that great pianists are made but great accompanists are born. If so, then Hod OíBrien was one of the born ones. I had only heard him on the Chet album and think his solo on the LOOKING GOOD TONIGHT number was brilliant, so listening to Hod OíBrien the accompanist, I was amazed at his versatility Ė stride, boogie-woogie, Shearing, Fats Waller Ė a micro-cosim of the history of the popular piano, all on an up-right piano with the cover propped open.
Hod began the second set with a duet with a gray-haired lady from the audience, playing several numbers including, of course, Chop Sticks. Also during that set a local musician, Dick Conrad, dentist and musician in Wilmington, brought his clarinet and alto saxophone to the stage and added his expertise to the session. As Stephanie noted, they had a band. Conrad plays with a local Dixieland group and a local dance band. If he is any indication of the quality of the musicians in those groups they should be well worth listening to.
Hod played with Chet Baker (according to THE discography) from 1984 to 1986 but as I found out in talking with him, he began playing with Chet back in 1974 and 1975 in New York City when Chet was starting his comeback. At one time Hod owned a jazz club in New York City named THE SAINT JAMES INFIRMARY and noted that Chet would alternate playing at STRIKERíS PUB and THE SAINT JAMES, getting five and six nights work a week out of the gigs. We talked about the pianists that had worked with Chet - Phil Markowitz, Harold Danko and Michel Grallier among others Ė and Hod felt that the 70s and 80s were Chetís best playing of his total career. I remarked that I felt that period was more Chet Baker than most of his early period in which many of his recordings were set up by others and Chet was playing the dates Ė but playing them extremely well Ė but to me the real Chet Baker was the live dates and dates with his regular groups where Chet could stretch out and play until he had said what he wanted to and not be confined to the time and other constraints.
I was able to pick up a couple of Hodís CDs (getting him to autograph one) and saw that Jeff Brillinger was playing drums on one so I noted to Hod that Jeff was Gunther Skibaís cousin by marriage. He remarked that Jeff was an excellent drummer and that he and Steve Gilmore (the bassist on the album) were a great rhythm section to work with. That particular CD, HODE & COLE, from 1992, is a quintet session with Mark Kirk on alto and soprano sax and Tony Purone on guitar, a 60 some minute offering of mostly Cole Porter tunes, a good mix of tempos and trio, quartet and quintet set-ups. It is on the Jazzmania label, JCD-600r and well worth the effort to obtain.
The other CD, RIDINí HIGH, on the Reservoir label, RSR CD 116, a 1990 session with Ray Drummond on bass and Kenny Washington on drums, a sterling line-up, is a 67 minute selection of tunes that range from the title track to THEREíS NO YOU and WILLOW WEEP FOR ME to Charlie Parkerís YARDBIRD SUITE. Hod really blossoms on this trio session, again an excellent mix of tempos and tunes and it gives him the opportunity to show off his improvisational talents. I can almost name the bad pianists that played with Chet on one finger and on this album Hod shows why Chet wanted to work with him. He really brings out the lyricalness of each tune, whether in slow or up-tempo. It really made me regret that Hod only recorded one album with Chet. Chet loved a lyrical pianist and Hod OíBrien is right up there.
Hod recorded an album for Cris Cross, OPALESSENCE, #1012, with Tom Harrell and Pepper Adams which is in the Cadence catalog. Also the RIDINí HIGH album is carried by Cadence.
Carole and I really had a great evening and if, as we were told, Hod and Stephanie come back during the summer we hope to be down there in the Port City for another great evening. Larry Whitford
A CONVERSATION WITH JIMMY BOND October 28, 1995
Jimmy bond, base player and Julliard graduate, was born in Philadelphia, PA. Today he lives in Los Angeles. When I called for an appointment we arranged to talk at 8:30 AM EST. Since 5:30 AM PST his time would be awfully early. I said that later in the day would be fine for me. He was firm about the hour and I wondered why? When I called back I asked. Jimmy laughed and replied, ďI play golf and I like to get to the course early."Ē That is only one change in his life since he quit touring with jazz groups. He main business is real estate development, but he does some composing and arranging for commercials and film scores. He also serves on the Board of Directors of THE JAZZ BAKERY and is developing a chamber series for presentation there on December 4, 1995. Chopinís ĎCello Donataí and Ravelí ĎTrioí are scheduled.
Although classically trained at Julliard, Jimmy began gigging with jazz groups when he was sixteen years old. He was the base player with the first Chet Baker group to perform and record in Europe in 1955. Others in this celebrated ensemble were Dick Twardzik (p) and Peter Littman (d). Their recordings, ĎThe Complete Barclay Recordings of Chet Bakerí, volumes 1 & 2, are available on the EmArcy label. This gig signaled what was to become Chetís home away from home, Europe, and where he first attained mythic status.
Jimmy Bondís soft voice and professorial style belie the swinging jazzman that he is. Photographs reveal and unlined face and dancing eyes which suggest that he looks exactly as he did in 1956 when he appeared on the famous bill Claxton album cover of ďChet Baker and Crew.Ē Only his snow white hair marks the passage of time. Just this year the album ďYoung ChetĒ (Pacific Jazz CDP7243 8 36194 2 90) was issued to coincide with the U. S. Publication of bill Claxtonís book of photographs entitled ďYoung Chet.Ē Jimmy appears on seven tracks.
Waymon, his older brother who played saxophone and piano, stimulated Jimmyís interest in music.
ďI listened to my brotherís trio and was fascinated by the bass fiddle. He and I played piano together.Ē
Jimmyís first gig was with Owen Marshallís band in Philadelphia. Following graduation he played and recorded with George Shearing in 1958. Some producers suggested that studio work in Los Angeles was a promising field so Jimmy went west.
ďI enjoyed it a lot at first, but as the years passed Rock & Roll took over and it wasnít as much fun.Ē
THE EUROPEAN GIG
Betty Little: How was the gig in Europe?
Jimmy Bond: Drugs took over the band and that was hard. We had a lot of fun playing exciting nights musically, but we lost Dick Twardzik. On tour I got to know him very well. I revived him several times but that last time I didnít stop by his room to wake him. The week before in Holland we had roomed together and I had revived him. I felt quite guilty. It took me a long time . . . . . . . . .
BL: It must have been very hard.
BL: Ted Gioia in his book WEST COAST JAZZ writes that when Chet got back from Europe in 1956, ďBaker was clearly interested at that point in pursuing a more hard bop approach.Ē Do you agree?
JB: Dick Twardzik too the bank a little out. He started playing farther to the left. Back in the States, we patterned more after Miles Davis. Bobby Timmons was the piano player and we did dig a lot harder.
BL: How do you see Chetís musical contribution?
JB: Chet had probably one of the most generous talents of any musician that ever lived. He could play any tune he had ever heard. He had an uncanny sense of rhythm and melodic line. If he heard a chord he could improvise whether he knew the name of the chord or not. He was a brilliant player. Chet at his best was as good as anyone. Even thought his life was difficult, he was a nice human being. He was really nice to me.
BL: I gather that you did not do drugs.
JB: Thatís right. Bud Powellís brother and I were good friends. I went to their house. His condition really frightened me. I was sixteen. I consider myself very fortunate Ė more lucky than wise that I never got into drugs. I didnít want to be spacey and unable to communicate. I certainly did not want to be out of control.
I played with Charlie Parker when I was eighteen. Someone had recommended me to Bird - I as a student at Julliard at the time. I played with him for the summer then I had to go back to school. I did gigs during the summer but each time I decided to go back to school because if I didnít I was afraid I wouldnít finish. I played with Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons and my best friend, John Houston.
BL: Your parents must have been terribly supportive?
JB: They were. They encouraged me to stay in school but gave me latitude. It was always my decision. My parents were great. Musicians were always welcome at our house Ė we would jam until three or four am. They would prepare food. All the musicians spent time with us. When Ray Brown was in town he would just spend the day.
BL: Were either of your parents musicians?
JB: My dad fooled around with the piano.
BL: Do you have any Chet stories?
JB: Chet was a real car lover. He had a í32 Ford, an Aston Martin and another car. I canít recall what that one was. He would do anything on the spur of the moment. He could be funny, but I saw more of the tragedy. His girl friend Lili had quite an influence
on him. He was fairly straight when we got to France but . . . he had a heart of gold. I loved him and it broke my heart to see him deteriorate at such a rapid pace. But I still remember the evenings of joy. A real leader like Chet can inspire a band.
Vol V, #4
DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET LIVE IN MEMPHIS - 1995
To: Larry Whitford, CHETíS CHOICE
Fm: Roger Burns, Memphis, TN
A smiling, well-rested Dave Brubeck gave yet another outstanding performance. Only two nights after receiving his Life-Time Achievement Award and the Grammy Award ceremony in Los Angeles. Brubeck dazzled a sellout crowd with his easily recognizable keyboard work on both standards and original compositions. Ably assisting Brubeck were a trio of old friends . . . Bill Smith on clarinet, whoís inventive playing particularly in the lower register of his instrument, whispered memories of the late Paul Desmond. Longtime bassist Jack Six not only provided a rock solid beat but demonstrated his brilliance as a soloist, particularly in the upper register. Rounding out the quartet was Randy Jones on drums, providing the cornerstone of a rhythm section to be envied.
At the wine reception following the performance, which included, of course, Desmondís TAKE FIVE, Dave chatted with this DJ at length remembering Mulligan, Desmond and drummer Alan Dawson. I can only say without fear of successful contradictions, Brubeck has aged only on the calendar.
* * * * *
Roger Burns is, for those of you who do not know, a swinging disc jockey from Memphis, TN, who has contributed to CHETíS CHOICE in the past.
What Roger did not mention was that he was in the receiving line to meet Brubeck at the reception after the concert. When he got to Dave, Dave asked him if they had met before and, when Roger reminded him of an earlier trip to Memphis, Brubeck excused both of them from the reception line, remarking that he wanted to talk to his old friend a few minutes. They sat down while those in the line waited. Dave mentioned that Roger was the one who played his records. They chatted about the Grammy Awards Ceremony (Dave was on tour in Europe when his wife called to tell him about the Award and to get back to the States as he was to receive the Award in Los Angeles on television).
The tour was put on hold while Dave flew back, being met at the airport in Los Angeles
by Iola with his tuxedo and they went straight to the ceremony. Now the Quartet was working its way back to New York and then to Europe to finish the tour. After chatting a few minutes about Gerry, Paul and Alan, Dave went back to the receiving line, calling out to Roger to keep on playing his records.
CONVERSATION WITH RUSS FREEMAN
March 10, 1995
Russ Freeman was the pianist, composer, arranger and business manager with the first quartet which Chet Baker formed after leaving the famous Gerry Mulligan pianoless quartet. Russ toured with the group in the United States but did not accompany Chet on his first tour to Europe.
We had previously talked with Russ about his early days with Chet. That article appeared in Vol I Issue 2. In our conversation with Ken Poston about the West Coast Jazz Festival in 1994, he said that although Russ did not play publicly, he understood that Russ still played beautifully. We wondered about Russí impression of the Festival and also how a premier keyboardist in one of the defining eras of jazz could just quit playing. So we decided to do a follow-up.
Russí keen intellect, his astounding musical talent and his advocacy for musiciansí rights, ie, being paid for their artistic property, have characterized his career. He is especially concerned about the practice of selling used CDs and thus depriving musicians of their royalties.
Betty Little: Shall we start off with the jazz festival?
Russ Freeman: Alright.
BL: I understood that you would not play.
RF: Well, what?
BL: That you would not play at the Festival.
RF: I havenít played in years.
BL: Ken Poston (producer at KLON TV) told me that he heard on the vine that you still play beautifully.
RF: I donít know where he heard that because I havenít played any in years. A little over a year and a half ago they did a night of my music at the Jazz Bakery out here. The whole evening was things that I had composed and it was mostly other musicians playing. Mike Wofford was the pianist and Conte Candoli (t) and a bunch of other musicians and singers. I did play a couple of songs that night, reluctantly. Aside from that I havenít played anywhere for many years.
BL: You donít play at home even?
RF: Only when Iím writing. Iím still composing. So I do play the piano Ė you donít forget how to play. As far as actually performing, I donít do that. At the Jazz Festival I did appear on three different panels. We talked and made foolish nonsense. It was fun.
BL: Thatís great. For someone who played well and is so talented, help me understand how you were able to five it up?
RF: Not play any more:
RF: I had played for so many years. I still played the piano up until eight years ago because I was still working in the studios, so I played the piano in that sense. When I say I donít play anymore I mean jazz, which is the only thing that really matters. Eight years ago I retired from the music business. For a lot of years before that I had only really worked in the studios.
Itís hard to believe but Iíve been away from jazz since 1967. With the exception of three or four albums with Art Pepper for Japan and one album with Shelly Manne in 1982 for Japan (just the two of us) thatís the last time I recorded. Aside from that between 1967 and now those few albums were really the only times Iíve ever played. Now thatís thirty years ago.
So I think what happened, to try to answer your question properly, from 1956 to 1967 I was working with Shelly Manneís group. In 1966 I took a job as musical director for Mitzi Gaynor Ė a nightclub act Ė and I still worked with Shelly part of the time when I wasnít on the road with Mitzi, but I worked with her for three years.
After that I took a job on the LAUGH-IN television show that lasted six years. I must say the money I was making after I left jazz was great. I didnít even know that much money existed in the world. Jazz musicians donít make very much money. Especially back in the days when I was playing it was pretty bad. They are doing a little better now. After being a jazz musician for so many years, starting in the 1940s, I had managed to eke out a living but thatís about all. When the opportunity came to make some money, I Ďsold outí. I guess that is the word.
BL: Oh, no.
RF: Yes thatís true, I did. So as to how I was able to stop, there was one other reason. In the mid to late 60s, music was taking a direction that I really could not understand. I remember working at Shellyís Mannehole and a group came in Ė it was a tenor saxophone, a trombone, piano, bass, and drums. At one point Ė we were alternating groups Ė the saxophone was at the front door of the club, the trombone player was in the band room, which was all the way in the back of the club, and the rhythm section was on the stage playing and the piano player was playing the piano with his elbows and the drummer was playing a solo. It was literally a solo which had no relationship to anything that was going on and the tenor player and the trombone player were both playing. The audience was sitting there nodding their heads like they thought this was really terrific. Hip, very hip, you know. I was sort of fed-up with what was happening so when the opportunity to take these other jobs came along I did it. Thatís my sad story.
BL: When you worked in the studios, what was that like?
RF: Generally speaking it was dreadful. Itís not that all the music was dreadful because it wasnít. Some of the music was good but itís really tough Ė it was tough for me, letís put it that way. When you work at a studio, you walk in the door, you open the book and thereís a whole stack of music youíve never seen in your life. You sit there and you record that music. As you know when you listen to television or watch a movie, it sounds as though itís been played by the orchestra all their lives. Thatís how good they are.
I was not really one of those. I am not a trained musician. I am pretty much self-taught so I was like a fish out of water. I did get quite a bit of studio work and some of it I got from my friends who were composers and some I got because I had somewhat of a reputation. I really wasnít equipped to be doing that. Consequently it was always very difficult for me. I would go in with a feeling in the pit of my stomach every morning on these calls, like, what am I going to get into today that I canít handle.
BL: I didnít realize you werenít professionally trained.
RF: I took lessons when I was eight years old from a cousin for about four years, but I was not really serious about it. I quit completely when I was about twelve and I donít think I touched the piano for a long time. Then one time in high school, I was about fifteen years old, and I went to those afternoon dances, hops they were called back in those days. A little dance band was playing and I thought that was just absolutely wonderful. Once again, I was not equipped: I could just barely read music. I didnít know anything about chords or harmony but the opportunity came when they needed a pianist. It took the job, then I took the music home, practiced and worked on it. That was it: that was the extent of my training. One thing led to another. I went on the road with a band when I was just sixteen years old. I really wasnít well trained technically as far as reading or things that had to be done with both hands. Some of the studio pianists, they are scary. They can play flypaper. Itís just amazing what they can do. They can sit down and read anything and just roar through it.
Anyway, to answer your question about what it was like when I went in the studios, I never enjoyed it. Even though some of the music was wonderful. I worked on some terrific movies like GIGI, MY FAIR LADY, PORGY AND BESS, movies that really have some wonderful music in them. I did a lot of record dates and television things, but in the last ten years I worked in the studios I was a rehearsal pianist working with choreographers, dancers, and singers and prepared the material mostly for television shows. The Academy Award shows where they used to do those big production numbers, I would lay those out. Also the Grammys, the Emmys and the American Music Awards. All that kind of nonsense, so for about the last ten years thatís what I did, and I didnít like it at all. It paid the bills and allowed me to retire about eight years ago and I grabbed the opportunity first chance I got.
BL: What do you enjoy most abut retirement, other than not having to work at someone elseís behest?
RF: We like traveling. In fact Sunday we are going to Hawaii. We take cruises. Iím still active in some other things. In fact, I donít know how I had time to work because Iím busy all the time now. I still do some work for the Union now. Iím a staunch Union person. Iím a trustee of the Health and Welfare Fund of the Musicians Union here in Los Angeles and have been for the past ten years. Iím Chairman of the Election Board at the Local. Iím on the Legislative Committee but I stay out of the political. All of these are non-political positions. Years ago I was on the Executive Board but that gets political and I donít want to be involved in the politics of it. I do like the idea of giving something back to the musicians and the Musicians Union. Thatís something Iíve been involved in almost all of my life. I am writing music and recently Iíve started writing lyrics too. We just finished a song. Itís not jazz at all. Weíre going to try to get it to Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston Ė someone like that. Mariah Carey recorded a song of mine about three years ago Ė an old song called The Wind (the album EMOTIONS is on Columbia, CK 47980).
BL: Who wrote the lyrics?
RF: She wrote a lyric to it and she recorded it. Iíve made more money off that than all the other music I wrote and recorded by far. The pop market is another world. Itís not what you and I are interested in from a musical standpoint, but the money is important too. So this is not like selling out because Iím still writing what hopefully is good music. In addition to that, Iím having a good time.
BL: Whatís the name or your new song?
RF: NEXT TIME.
BL: You did the music and the lyrics?
RF: No, Arthur Hamilton did the lyrics. He wrote CRY ME A RIVER and a bunch of other songs.
BL: When you look back over your career, money aside, what did you enjoy most?
RF: Of course the only thing that was important was playing jazz Ė the other stuff was to make money and it has no importance at all. Playing jazz was my life for a number of years. Working with Chet, Shelly, Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray, Ben Webster, Benny Goodman, Art Pepper, Charlie Barnett, Howard McGhee, Charlie Parker and a lot of different people. I got a chance when I was a kid to work with Bird. That was very fortunate.
BL: Ah, yes. Was that the time he was on the West Coast and Chet played with him?
RF: It was before that. Do you remember the time when Bird had a mental breakdown and he went to Camarillo? After he came out he became a sideman in Howard McGheeís band and I was a member of that band. I got to play a number of jobs with Howard and Bird. It was quite an experience for a twenty one year old kid.
BL: What was Bird like then?
RF: Very gentlemanly, very soft-spoken. I never saw him get mad at anything or anybody. He was very well spoken, had a good command of the English language. He could be funny. He would say really funny things when he talked on the microphone and he just took care of business. Like unshakable Ė it wouldnít matter if the rhythm section was bad, he would play as though it was the greatest rhythm section in the world. He was the greatest musician in this century Ė and maybe in other centuries too.
BL: Thatís amazing. I think about the time he lost a cutting contest when he was very young and I remember reading about his resolve never to lose again. He did have to practice and work but he made it.
RF: He was truly a genius. His music will live forever, both his playing and his compositions will live.
BL: When I talked with Herb Geller he said Chet was worried that he didnít have soul. He thought the black musicians didnít like him.
RF: They probably didnít Ė itís probably true.
BL: Was that a concern of his when you all were playing together?
RF: Not that I was aware of. There was a series of events, which occurred on the West Coast. Gerry Mulligan started his group with Chet and it became very popular, as you know. And Dave Brubeck was also very popular in the San Francisco area at the same time. He had his own thing Ė nobody played like Chet. Chet was unique.
BL: Miles Davis could be awfully negative Ė provocative.
RF: ĎPain in the assí is what I think you are looking for.
BL: Yeah. Was he doing that to Chetís group?
RF: No, not that I was aware of.
BL: So it was more the aura of Milesí fame that Chet was responding to?
BL: You mentioned earlier that you thought it was a mistake to book both groups together.
RF: I thought it was a mistake to put Chet his very first time on the East Coast opposite someone who was already becoming a legend. That was not very smart.
BL: They might have gotten crowds who wanted to hear both of them but it wasnít sensitive to Chet.
RF: Right Ė exactly right.
BL: What impressed you most, or what memories do you have of the 1994 West Coast Jazz Festival?
RF: There were some good pieces of music performed. Bill Holman did a whole thing with his big band, a suite that was absolutely wonderful. Herb Geller wrote sort of an opera, operetta which included wonderful musicians and singers. Itís a whole story line that he wrote, and that was terrific. One of the outstanding moments for me was when Conte Candoli, who is one of the great trumpet players of the world, played. Unfortunately heís spent most of his recent years with the TONIGHT SHOW orchestra but it hasnít changed his playing. Great player. In one of the sessions there he played a solo on LOVER MAN. I have to call Ken (Poston) and get a copy. His solo was just incredible. One of the other high points for me as far as soloists was Gabe Baltazar, who played a solo that was absolutely brilliant.
The panels were all interesting and sometimes very funny and certainly informative. To see all of these musicians together in one place was really terrific. A lot of old friends were there. I think the people enjoyed it, too. I tried to go to the ones I wasnít on and, without exception, they were all crowded. Gerry Mulligan and his quartet played at one of the concerts and he sounded absolutely marvelous. I think heís playing better now than he ever played in his life. His pianist was absolutely wonderful. I think his name was (Bob) Rosenthal, but Iím not sure.
I went backstage and saw Gerry for the first time in probably thirty years. We talked for a few minutes but he had to go on to another job. I hadnít seen Dave Brubeck in a long, long time and I saw him for a few minutes. If they ever do it again you should come out.
BL: Iíd love to. What were some of the funny things they talked about?
RF: I donít have the best memory in the world.
BL: Did they talk about Chet much? Was there much interest in him?
RF: His name came up some. I certainly talked about him Most of the people there hadnít worked with him. Some had recorded with him, like Bud Shank. Unfortunately weíve lost an awful lot of musicians. Shelly, Joe Mondragon, Bob Cooper and Shorty have died and they were the ones who played with Chet.
BL: Ken Poston said some company was going to issue cassettes.
RF: Was that the panels or the music?
BL: Iím not really sure.
FR: Iíd be surprised if it were the music because that would be terribly expensive. When did you talk with Ken?
BL: About two weeks ago.
RF: Iíll have to call him and see.
BL: When I talked with Larry Bunker about the Festival he was surprised at all the interest in Chet. Of course Larry has been out of jazz since the 60s and hadnít been involved with Chet since the early 50s.
RF: He really has been in the studios all these years. Forever it seems like. Is he ever a talent. Larry is a major talent.
BL: Yeah, he was a real interesting guy. Have you thought of anything about Chet or the music since we last talked?
RF: I think we pretty much covered it. Two books are being written about Chet. Two ladies here in Los Angeles are writing one. They interviewed me a while back and yesterday a guy from New York named Jim Gavin was here with Bill Claxton, the photographer. We talked for a long time about Chet because heís writing this book. He knew about your paper, CHETíS CHOICE, and he had some of the copies. I suggested to him that he try to get the back copies from you because there may be things he might be able to use. Iím sure he would give you credit. Heís a nice young man and of the two I think his is the only one who has a book deal. The ladies are just doing it and hoping to get a book deal. He thinks it will be a big seller in Europe because in Europe Chet has much more importance there then he ever did in the United States. Itís amazing to me but the American musical taste is somewhat questionable.
BL: Isnít it weird that jazz originated here, yet itís so unappreciated. Did you get any feel from the ladies about why they decided to write a book?
RF: I got the feeling that maybe they had heard a record or seen a picture of him and they just got taken with him and got deeper into it. They are going to try to interview people who knew him when he was a kid. They are really serious.
BL: Is Gavin a professional writer?
RF: He writes for THE VILLAGE VOICE and the NEW YORK TIMES.
BL: I thought Iíd heard that name before. I think Bill Claxton mentioned Gavin when I interviewed him.
RF: They are having a big exhibition here at Santa Monica Heritage Museum of Bill Claxtonís photographic work and his album covers. They had a grand opening catered with tuxedos and everything. My wife and I went and itís terrific: they have the walls just covered with his fantastic photographs, his album covers and itís just great. I think it is open until April.
BL: The pictures he took of Chet look as contemporary as anything you could see today.
BL: I read in PEOPLE magazine that Johnny Depp, the actor, who owns the VIPER ROOM, is a big fan of Chetís. I thought Iíd just call out there to the VIPER ROOM and see if I could get an interview with Johnny. If a really well written book from a big publisher comes out, I hope we can get the ďJames Dean phenomenonĒ going again for Chet. (In the 50s the press often commented on Chetís ĎJames Dean good looksí).
RF: It certainly could happen. As a matter of fact I never thought of that before but Johnny Depp would be very good to play him. He has that same kind of aura. I always thought for a number of years that Matt Dillon would be perfect to play Chet because he looked like him, same kind of look, and he is a good actor. Mattís getting a little older now, but heís not too old to do it. Could revive his career. If a good book comes out and somebody writes a screenplay, and the right casting and all the other imponderables that go with making a successful movie come together, it could happen.
BL: Several years ago producer Ralph Bakshi talked with Carol Baker in Oklahoma about doing Chetís life and having Brad Pitt star. I have a 1991 NEW YORK TIMES news release announcing it as Pittís next movie.
RF: Brad Pitt would also be very good.
BL: I think the deal fell through. I think a book that hits it big might have something starting again.
BL: Iíve tried to get Bruce Weber and he does not respond. Do you know him?
RF: Well, I know him because when he did the film about Chet, LETíS GET LOST, I was one of the people who went down to be interviewed and photographed, except I did not wind up in the film. I was not unhappy about that at all because I hated that film. I just thought it was a piece of junk. It was not Chet at all. There was hardly any trumpet playing, and he was a trumpet player. I thought the Dutch documentary (CHET BAKER, THE LAST DAYS) was very well done. I donít know if youíve seen it or not.
BL: Yes, the producer sent me a copy.
RF: That was much better because it dealt with him as a person and as a musician. It wasnít a bunch of nonsense like Bruce Weberís was. So, anyway, I have no contact with Bruce Weber, except for that film.
BL: You were probably too on-target. The film portrayed Chetís decline almost like the picture of Dorian Gray. It certainly is a visually powerful film; however most of the people I have interviewed do not think it accurately portrayed Chet or his music.
RF: It wasnít about his music and it wasnít about him because there was one scene where he was in the back seat of a car with two women. Well, Chet Baker always drove. He would never have been in the back seat of a car.
BL: Thatís what everybody says. He couldnít stand not to drive.
RF: It was all nonsense and he (Weber) was just trying to make something that just wasnít true.
BL: And unfortunately for those people who didnít know Chet, they will think this is the ultimate jazz film. Did you tell me that Chet parked at seventy miles per hour?
RF: No, I didnít, but thatís a good line. Itís certainly true.
Aside from their mutual interest in music, Chet and Russ could not have more different personalities. Fortunately the studio quartet performances are preserved for us all to enjoy. The Mosaic set of studio recordings is almost sold out, but if you hurry you might get lucky. (I believe they are all sold out by now. Ed)
Mosaic, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CT 06902-7533 betty little