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An Interview With Some All-Stars
Airdate: November 1955

Last Update: 05-29-2019

Show Description
IN THE JUNE ISSUE OF PLAYBOY, Jack Tracy, the editor of Down Beat, picked seventeen all-time great jazz musicians for a mythical All-Time All-star Jazz Band. The article created more interest, indicated by letters from readers, than anything PLAYBOY has published to date, with the possible exception of the Playmate picture of subscription manager Janet Pilgrim. Many readers agreed with Tracy's selection, many more disagreed, and almost all had additional choices to add to the list. New York disc jockey Jean Sheppard was interested enough to devote an entire half-hour of his Saturday afternoon radio show to the article and he invited three of the All-Time All-Stars to join him in a discussion of jazz in general and the PLAYBOY All-Time All-Star Jazz Band in particular. All-Star Coleman Hawkins is the most outstanding tenor saxophonist who ever lived. His popularity began in the twenties and has lasted through all the years between. Unaffected by the Dixieland, swing, bop and other schools of jazz that grew around him, the Hawk developed an independent and completely individual style that has no name and is simply Coleman Hawkins. All-Star Dizzy Gillespie is the daddy of bop and his goatee, beret and horn-rimmed glasses have even become symbols for the music. He blew in a whole new kind of jazz with his trumpet. All-Star J. J. Johnson is one of the finest of jazz' cool school. In Tracy's words, J. J. proved that "a trombone can be played with almost the speed of a trumpet, while delivering meaningful, rounded solos. His phenomenal skill has shown other tramists that there is still much to be accomplished on the instrument and that a trombonist can hold his own with the formidable technicians that the 'modern' school of jazz is producing." These three musicians sat clown at a WOR microphone with Jean Sheppard. They represent three full decades of jazz and what they have to say about themselves and their fellow musicians in this ad lib discussion makes fascinating reading to anyone interested in jazz music. This is the broadcast of the Jean Sheppard Show as it was heard over the Mutual Network on the afternoon of June II, I955: JEAN: This afternoon we've got something kind of special. We've got three of the most important living musicians, when I say living, I mean in the field of living jazz - and we're going to talk to them about an All-Time All-Star Jazz Band. Over on my left, we have Coleman Hawkins, the ace of the tenor, and on my right, we have J. J. Johnson, trombonist, and Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet - three great names in the world of jazz. Gentlemen, I'm going to start with you; Coleman - what do you think of jazz polls in general? You've probably read fifty of them in the past ten years. COLEMAN: Well, usually jazz polls have a funny way of getting who they think is tops, but this idea that PLAYBOY Magazine has used is very good. I mean, they've taken them from a long, long stretch of time and they haven't taken one, they've taken several and said they were all great. JEAN: And they haven't made any dogmatic statement that Joe Blow is the greatest fignewton horn player that ever lived - that kind of stuff. COLEMAN: That's right. JEAN: J. J., how do you stand on that? J.J.: I think, in a general sense, jazz polls are often misleading - I mean some of the polls in the music publications, Down Beat and Metronome. They are, I think - for the most part- intended to be popularity polls but there are those people, you know, who size them up as something other than that. In other words, if So-and-so wins, they say that So-and-so must be the greatest, or something like that. JEAN: I've noticed some pretty strange names way up at the top of those polls in the last few "years and wondered about it. How about you, Diz? What do you think? DIZ: I think the same thing. One guy will go out and buy . . . well, they have, in these different magazines, what do you call them . . .? JEAN: Little forms . . . DIZ: Little forms that you vote with. So, one guy will go out and buy five hundred magazines . . . (LAUGHTER) JEAN: You've got a pretty rich agent, huh? (LAUGHTER) JEAN: I see what you mean. DIZ: Maybe they're able to get them wholesale . . . JEAN: Well, we don't want to get involved in polls. The only reason that I brought this up is because I was very impressed by the article in the current issue of PLAYBOY Magazine that nominates an All-Star Jazz Band. The article was written by the editor of Down Beat, Jack Tracy, whom all of you know, no doubt, and he approaches it in what I think is a very intelligent manner. He says that during the different periods in jazz, there were different people who were undoubtedly the most important forces at that time. If it weren't for people like Teagarden, I don't suppose you'd play today the way you do, J. J. And he uses this as a basis for picking an All-Time All-Star Band. J.J.: Possibly not. JEAN: Well, Teagarden was one of the people that broke away from the tradition of his day back in the late twenties, early thirties. Then there were the greats who came after him: Bill Harris in the early forties and you today, J. J. and, Diz, on your instrument, they have listed three men. The first is Louis Armstrong from back in the twenties, just after he left King Oliver's band. The second, the transition musician - that is, the transition between the traditionalists, as represented by Louis, and the jazzmen of today- was Roy Eldridge. And then, of course, you (Diz) represent the No. I influence on your instrument today. What do you think of that particular grouping? DIZ: Well- it could go back a little further than that, I think. JEAN: Well, let's hear your ideas. DIZ: If you want to be really sincere about the thing, because I was talking to Louis and he was telling me about King Oliver. Well, King Oliver played the same style of trumpet as Louis Armstrong before Louis Armstrong. That's what Louis told me anyway . . . JEAN: That's true -I'm sure that's true. DIZ: He says when he left New Orleans, they told him that King Oliver was his man. Louis was down in New Orleans and King Oliver sent for him from Chicago to play in his non-union place. JEAN: Yeah, that's right. DIZ: So, Louis' family and his friends says, "You shouldn't go up there and play with those guys if they're nonunion." And Louis says, "I don't care what they are, I'm going to play with King Oliver," so he cut out and went to Chicago. JEAN: Well, in other words, you say that there are a lot more people who were important to the art, or to your instrument anyway, than are ever represented on any poll. DIZ: Yes, yes. JEAN: What have you heard about Buddy Bolden? Have you heard anybody talk about him? DIZ: Yeah, I've heard of him but I've never - - JEAN: He was great way back in the 1890s and 'round about 1905, 1906, something like that. And many people say that he was the one who was responsible for such people as King Oliver. Of course, you could go all the way back to the year 900 - - DIZ: Of course. There are a lot of influences that affect modern musicians. Take a guy like Freddy Webster - he was a great factor in determining the sounds now being played on the trumpet. And there's Miles Davis. JEAN: I think he was also a very important man, Miles Davis. DIZ: Yes, of course, and as time goes on, I think he will be considered even greater than he is right now. JEAN: He's influencing more people than the public realizes. Excuse me a minute, DIZ: I want to get back to this in just a moment, but I've got some questions I want to ask Coleman Hawkins- DIZ: Yes, you'll have to ask Coleman Hawkins about those way-back days. (LAUGHTER) JEAN: Coleman, in your instrument which, of course, is tenor - we have three people listed by Jack Tracy: yourself, Lester Young as the great transition musician, and then Stan Getz of today. Who influenced you back in your formative days when you were just getting your feet wet as a musician? There must have been somebody you heard that knocked you out. Or did you just grow like Topsy? COLEMAN: Sort of, you might say. What I mean is, I was never influenced by one particular instrument. JEAN: Is that right? COLEMAN: No, I used to take mine from everything from the piano on. JEAN: That's why, then, Tracy makes a statement in his article that there was nothing happening on your instrument until the day you came along. You poured everything that you heard into this and a new sound came out. COLEMAN: But I used to get it from every place, though. I used to get ideas from everywhere. JEAN: How about today? Even today, do you pick up ideas from the young kids like Getz? COLEMAN: Yeah, oh yeah, sure. JEAN: He has a real nice sound, hasn't he? COLEMAN: Uh huh. JEAN: Well, you've played with some of the greatest musicians in the history of American music. And one record that I mentioned just before we went on the air was this thing that you cut with McKinney's Cotton Pickers. What date was that? What year was that? COLEMAN: It was some date McKinney came in. I think . . . The way it happened; I think all the band didn't get there or something and we just had to sit in for them. JEAN: Well, that record was a collector's item for many years until they brought it out again on LP. It was cut back in the late twenties, wasn't it? COLEMAN: I think so. JEAN: Do you remember, off hand, how many records you've cut in your career? COLEMAN: Oh, no. JEAN: They tell me that some musicians have a complete collection of everything they've ever cut. COLEMAN: Yes, they do. JEAN: How about you, Diz? DIZ: I don't have any of my records. (LAUGHTER) COLEMAN: You know, that's like me. DIZ: I mean, once you play- here's the way I figure it- once you play something, well, that should be the end of that. I mean, because you're supposed to be composing at the time you're playing, so why play the same thing over again when you know you can play that. You've got to go on and try to play something else. JEAN: In other words, let's get on to the next idea. DIZ: Yes, try - you try - - COLEMAN: That's always been my idea, too, but it doesn't seem to be popular with the people anymore. DIZ: No, no. COLEMAN: It used to be, but now they just want ___ They hear a record and they want you to play it just like you played it before, you know? I don't understand it. JEAN: You know, that's a funny thing. I've heard a lot of musicians say exactly that same thing, that people aren't interested in new ideas the way they used to be. COLEMAN: There's a whole lot of 'em (musicians) couldn't do it today, too, though. JEAN: Yeah, yeah, I agree, I agree. J.J., we want to talk to you now about your instrument. Who do you think- really - had the greatest influence on you? You play real great. I think you're about the finest technician I've ever heard on that horn. Who influenced you as an artist? J.J.: Well, when I first started playing, there were quite a few people that I was quite impressed by such as Dickie Wells, who, at that time, was with Basie. I admired his playing and his technique tremendously. Trummy Young, I thought, was a giant; Tommy Dorsey for his flawless technique; and Teagarden and one guy in particular that's dead now that nobody seems to know much about, but I thought he was a tremendous trombonist. His name was - he was with Harlan Leonard's band- Fred Beckett. JEAN: Fred Beckett- J.J.: Yes. He made some records with Harlan Leonard's band- I think the band was called the 400 Rockets, or something like that. JEAN: Yeah, in Kansas City, wasn't it? Out in Kansas City? J.J.: Yeah, out in Kansas City. That was a great band. JEAN: Very good. J.J.: And this Beckett was one of the greatest trombonists that I'd ever heard and I think if he'd lived, he would probably be one of the giants of this age. JEAN: Well, I'm glad you brought up Harlan Leonard. I think that this is one of the most neglected bands in the history of jazz. Harlan Leonard's Rockets he called 'em. J.J.: Right. JEAN: Out of Kansas City. J.J.: A great band and Beckett was a tremendous trombonist. JEAN: And you know, they tried to get that band out of Kansas City the hardest way for years and those guys would never leave Kansas City - would never leave that area. Well, so much for the ratter. I'd like to run over the list of people Jack Tracy has selected for PLAYBOY's All-Time All-Star Jazz Band and if any of you've got any comments to make along the line, I'd like to hear 'em. Trumpet, of course: Louis, Eldridge and Diz. He also mentions a few other people in passing. People like Bix, who added a few things to the horn. But he says by and large, the great influences were these three. On trombone: Jack Teagarden, Bill Harris - do you remember Harris when he was moving with that Herman band back in the war-time days? He made a lot of guys listen. And, of course, J. J. Johnson. On alto horns, he just has two: Johnny Hodges for his beautiful lyric quality and, of course, the great Charlie Parker. And I don't have to say anything about Parker here on this program. Any of you have any particularly interesting recollections of the late, great Charles? (PAUSE) JEAN: The article just says, "One of the greatest of all." I think every record that he ever made proves the greatness of this musician. On tenor horn: Coleman, Lester Young and Stan Getz. And these are not named in order. These are not named as one, two, three. These are the greatest, each from his own particular period, that Tracy would like to have sitting in his All-Time All-Star group. Clarinet: he says there's only been one really great clarinet player and that's Benny Goodman. This is probably going to bring an argument. Any of you have anything to contribute to that, or not? DIZ: Where did Benny Goodman get his style from? JEAN: Well, Tracy says that there were a lot of stylists working before Goodman, but Goodman solidified them all with great technique. He doesn't say that Goodman was not influenced. He also mentions Johnny Hodges - uh - Johnny Dodds. He says Dodds was great, in an earlier day. These people were important but Tracy feels that the greatest of all was Goodman. I don't know. DIZ: Hawkins, I was - - COLEMAN: There was a boy named Jimmy Noone . . . JEAN: Jimmy Noone, yeah. COLEMAN: Uh huh. JEAN: Well, of course, Jimmy Noone was earlier, back in the late teens-early twenties. COLEMAN: Well, I think Goodman got an awful lot from Jimmy Noone. JEAN: I think Goodman would be the first to admit that. COLEMAN: They were both in Chicago. His stuff's a bit older than Goodman's, but they were both playing at the same time. JEAN: Oh, yes. In those South Side spots - - COLEMAN: Oh, yeah. JEAN: Noone came up from New Orleans and he had a very lyrical quality about his playing. COLEMAN: He had a sound big as this room. JEAN: Played real good. Well, on piano: Tracy says there's still one man who all the rest follow, particularly in technique. Art Tatum. How do you feel on that? All of you guys know Art and you knew the rest of the people. He says there are a lot of great pianists playing today, but the real influence has been Tatum. DIZ: Yes, well, there's no doubt about Tatum's versatility on the instrument, but I think that Earl Hines . . . COLEMAN: Oh, yes. DIZ: Earl Hines turned all piano players around. COLEMAN: I think so, too. JEAN: Back in the twenties - - DIZ: Yes. He turned all piano players around. Fats Waller, James J. Johnson, those guys- they were great influences, too. But I think Earl Hines had it over all the rest. Art Tatum is so complicated - you know . . . JEAN: Technician. Great technician. DIZ: Yeah, yeah. Great. He's a great technician. And guys, I was just talking to Teddy Wilson the other night at a party at Hazel Scott's house. JEAN: Listen to this name dropper, Coleman. (LAUGHTER) DIZ: And we were talking about the genius of Art Tatum and Teddy said, Art Tatum- he's just so phenomenal. Some guy in Canada has spent his whole life - I've forgotten the guy's name; Teddy knew the guy's name - but he has spent his whole life copying Art Tatum. His whole life. That's his dedication. Note for note and all - mash the pedal when it's supposed to be mashed and hold the note - - JEAN: That sounds like a neurosis to me. DIZ: Yes. Well, this guy has dedicated his whole life to trying to play like Art Tatum. JEAN: Well, I don't think there's any question about Tatum's status then, as a pianist, although I do agree with you that Hines, I think, was probably as important an influence on later pianists as Tatum is. DIZ: Yes, yes. JEAN: Now, we want to get on to bass men. This is my instrument. I used to play bass a bit and this guy here is my particular god as far as bass men is concerned and I'm real pleased to see that Jack Tracy has nominated him as the all-time bass player. Jimmy Blanton. Did any of you ever hear him work? DIZ: Yes. I think he brought the bass out of the rhythm section. JEAN: That's right. And made it into an instrument in its own right. DIZ: Yes, he made something put of it. JEAN: Coleman, didn't you work with him on some outside dates. . . COLEMAN: Well, I knew him but nothing particular, no. JEAN: I thought that you had recorded - or something - with him at one time. COLEMAN: He used to come up' where I played. We played together and all that. DIZ: When I was playing with you at the Apollo Stables, Jimmy Blanton came in one night. COLEMAN: He was corning in all the time. JEAN: Listen, he made a bass sound like one of those great Bach organs. COLEMAN: Oh, yeah. JEAN: Oh, what a tone he'd get out of that instrument. Did you ever hear him play, J.J? J.J.: No. JEAN : You're a little young for that. J.J.: I was never fortunate enough to hear him in person. I've heard most of his recordings and I regret the fact that I never got to meet him or hear him play in person. JEAN: Boy, he makes bass players' hair stand right up on end. Just the name Jimmy Blanton. And now, down to the guitar: Tracy says there's only one man, as far as he's concerned, that was a great guitarist and that's Charlie Christian. DIZ: Well, he's right there. JEAN: He says a lot of fine guitars are playing today- people like Tal Farlow -you could name dozens of them - Johnny Smith and so on, he said, but Charlie Christian was the real daddy of 'em all. How do you feel about that, Coleman? COLEMAN: Well, I think so too. Yeah. JEAN: How old was he when he died? Very young. COLEMAN: He wasn't too awfully old. JEAN: In his thirties, I think. COLEMAN: Yes, yes. DIZ: He was in his very late twenties. I think. Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, something like that. COLEMAN: Right around close on to thirty. JEAN: Very young man. COLEMAN: He was young, yeah. JEAN: Never played anything the same way twice. DIZ: He was teriffic. COLEMAN: One of my favorite records of all time was Solo Flight. JEAN: Solo Flight with Goodman! Tremendous! Boy, that is the song. COLEMAN: The arrangement was great-- DIZ: And that wasn't his best playing. You never actually hear most musicians at their best ... COLEMAN: Not on records. DIZ: And not even in person. Because you're inspired so seldom to your heights -so rarely do you play as great as you actually can. I don't know, maybe three times, maybe four times in a lifetime that you actually play your best. I mean, that you reach your actual peak. JEAN: Do you ever surprise yourself? DIZ: That's when you surprise yourself. (LAUGHTER) JEAN: How about you, Coleman? You've played for a long time. Have you ever done something that just knocked you out? COLEMAN: Well, I did some of my best things at the Apollo Stables. JEAN: How many of you guys ever attended a rent party on the South Side of Chicago? (LAUGHTER) COLEMAN: Those were the greatest . . . JEAN: I don't think J. J. knows what a rent party is. We'll tell him about it after the show. COLEMAN: Oh, yeah, he knows. (LAUGHTER) JEAN: Drop a dollar in the hat on the way in and you're in business. COLEMAN: Bathtub whiskey? (LAUGHTER) JEAN: Well! We've got one more instrument . . . one more, and that's the drums. Tracy says that, as far as he's concerned, the best all-around drummer - now again, you're getting into something that could be argued all night long, as all of these nominations could be - but he says the best all-around drummer, in his estimation, is Jo Jo Jones. Jo Jones was the great drummer who worked with the Basic band and molded that Basic rhythm section back in the late thirties. You must have heard him, J. J., didn't you? J.J.: Oh, surely. Definitely. JEAN: Well, what do you think about that? COLEMAN: I think he made a good choice. JEAN: Yeah- for all-around. There were some other great drummers during the past twenty-five years. Who's the greatest drummer you ever worked with, Coleman? COLEMAN: Well, let me see. I worked with all of 'em. JEAN: Ever work with Chick - COLEMAN: I appreciate Sid Catlett. JEAN: Oh, Catlett! There's the man. How was he left out- he isn't even mentioned in this list. COLEMAN: There were so many of 'em, I guess . . . JEAN: I think Catlett was one of the few people who made the great transition from traditional drumming to what you hear today. Yeah, he influenced a lot of guys. Did you ever hear Chick Webb or work with him? COLEMAN: Oh, yeah. JEAN: Don't you think that, as a big band driver, Webb could move a big band just about as well as anybody you've ever heard? COLEMAN: Chick was good and heavy. JEAN: That's what I mean. A big band. I don't mean a small combo, I mean moving a sort of mediocre crew into doing things they ordinarily wouldn't know how to do. (PAUSE) JEAN: Well, that's it. Those are the people on our list. Roy Eldridge and all the rest of them, and the three that we've been very privileged to have with us this afternoon - Coleman Hawkins, an all-time great on the tenor, J. J. Johnson, all-time trombonist, and, of course, the great Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet. Why are musicians always referred to as great? Even if the guy plays a real miserable piano in one key in some little honkytonk in Pittown . Pennsylvania, he's always referred to as the great So-and-so. COLEMAN: In his presence. JEAN: Yes, in his presence. (LAUGHTER) JEAN: Jack Tracy's article - for those of you who want to read it - is in the current issue of PLAYBOY, at your local newsstand and, by the way, you'll enjoy the magazine. It's a real good, new magazine and their interest in jazz, I think, is a real healthy thing. Dizzy, Coleman and J. J., thanks a lot for being with us. COLEMAN: Thank you. DIZ: It's a pleasure. (PAUSE) JEAN: Ordinarily I'm kind of pretty much of a cynic about these things these awards. Almost every television show, every radio show, at the end of the season, pops up with an award. There's always some little short guy with a cigar who appears at the end of the program and he hands a great big plaque to the MC or the comedian or whatever he is and says, "Jack, we want to award you this plaque as the greatest cigar smoker in the country." And he takes the award and walks off. But these are people who've made genuine contributions, the people you heard this afternoon, to the American art form of jazz. And jazz is one of the few things that America has exported all over the world, as a genuine art form, and something that is admired and highly respected in all the cultural centers all over the world. These people are truly important Americans. It would be a simple thing for you to find fifteen people in any town in France who know all about Coleman Hawkins. If you holler the name Dizzy Gillespie in Copenhagen, probably five hundred heads would turn and say, "Where? Is he playing in town this week?" These are big people all over the world. Well, that's about it on this particular portion of our show. We will be back on the Mutual Network next week. Those of you who'll be around your local radio stations, we hope you'll pick up. on us and if you're interested in this jazz thing, drop me a card. I'd like to hear from you. VOICE: This is Mutual, the radio network for all America.
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