He used to take me and Bud Powell around to all the clubs to play.
At that time jobs were so few, and musicians had cliques. Times were tight, things were changing, but Monk was just outstanding in himself. I met Ben Webster, Don Byas there. We played in and out of Kansas City for about a year. He invited Harold Clark, the tenor player, and myself to come down and play. Clearly this could not have been anywhere near a year. Yeah, I had a band there. I had a big band up there. I got there and had a band, you know.
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I know how to talk and get something done. To get things organized, get it going. I met him, and Al Dawson, these kids, you know. And I joined B from there, and we went on the road from there.
He was the only drummer I knew used to lose time. So anytime he would come in, cats would turn their heads a different way. Dizzy Gillespie taught him how to play drums. Dizzy knew how to explain things so you learn it in one time. Billy heard about me from musicians in the band. Hazel played trumpet and Harris played trombone. It had excellent soloists, too, like Gene Ammons and Leo Parker. Those six months I was with Eckstine were a groove. Billy brought me in as trumpet soloist to replace Fats Navarro, who had replaced Diz.
I was only 22, but already I was accepted on my merits. When we got to Chicago, I went home to see my family and my new son for the first time. This was around Christmas, so I spent the holidays with my family. After that, the band stayed together through the first two months of before we broke up. Kind of like to make up for that now. I went over there to study religion and philosophy. I went over there to see what I could do about religion.
When I was growing up I had no choice, I was just thrown into a church and told this is what I was going to be. When I got back people got the idea I went there to learn about music. I was supposed to stay there three months and I stayed two years because I wanted to live among the people and find out just how they lived and — about the drums especially. We were in the interior of Nigeria and I met some people called the Ishan people who are very, very interesting people.
They live sort of primitive. The drum is the most important instrument there: anything that happens that day that is good, they play about it that night. This particular thing caught my ear of the different rhythms. The first movement is about a hunter who had went out — there was three of them. They were after one girl. She was a very pretty girl. They wanted her. And this particular one, he went out — the guys would tease him a lot because he was the shortest one in the — tribe.
And he went out and he was the best hunter, so he ended up with the girl. And this time they started playing the drums and expressing to her that he had caught the most game and to prepare for the feast that night.
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And the little brother comes up and he persuades the mother to let her go out. And the last part of it, I have a little bit of — American movements in there, the last bit of it is about the first time they had seen an automobile that day.
And — they played about it that day. Further research needed. The cats put the band together and they come and got me and said, well, you be the leader. It was a piece band, Dizzy gave us a whole repertoire from his band, his whole book. And were copying like for weeks at night ten or fifteen of his best arrangements. We rehearsed for a whole month from nine in the morning to like six PM. The cats that put the band together came to me and told me I was going to be the leader. Being a musician has nothing to do with being a leader; I was a good organizer. The 17 Messengers was a good band; there were a lot of great players in it like Sonny Rollins and Bud Powell.
We were just playing around New York — making a few gigs — but economically the band was a disaster, so we had to break it up. Guys started rehearsing, and the guy doing most of the writing was Kenny Dorham. But at that time big bands were going out, not coming in. It was a financial disaster.
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Blakey had a quartet with Sahib Shihab on alto. I really kind of got it together in that group. And it was kind of a dance band. Like, you know, playing around Harlem and in the Bronx and all over Manhattan for different dance functions, you know, club affairs and things like that.
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And anyway, Bo McCain was working with that band. But he also played this weekend job out in Carteret, New Jersey, that I worked on. So Bo recommended me and he brought me to a rehearsal one day, and I, you know, sat down, and I was able to read the music okay. I read music pretty good and they hired me, you know, for the gig. Osie Johnson came in and took my place. Oh, Gate was so mad, he wanted to beat me up.
I wanted to get myself together so I went and joined Buddy DeFranco. But he was a fine person, something else.