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John H. Armwood Jazz History Lecture Nashville's Cheekwood Arts Center 1989

Friday, July 08, 2005

John Stubblefield Insights

John Stubblefield Insights

Tim - Let's talk about the legacy of the tenor via jazz...your ideas.

John - There's a lot of cats carrying on the legacy of this music, whether they know it or not. I just came back from San Francisco with McCoy Tyner's big band, and I got a chance to meet Prince Lasha! He was on my case every night; He came by the club every night. He gave me a tape he did in 1987 with Woody Shaw, and showed me photos of him when he knew and played with Coltrane. He played with Sonny Rollins; this cat is a walking history book. The next day he came by the hotel, and took me over to the house of woodwinds. Prince plays alto sax, flute and baritone sax. Prince is amazing.

Tim - Reflect on Jr. Cook's playing with McCoy when you both were in the sax section together.

John - Jr. Cook is someone who McCoy still talks about, and the fact that he still misses him. We all talk about Jr. Cook a lot. I used to listen to him a lot when I was in high school. When he was with Horace Silver. Jr. Cook was one of the first to play a style out of Sonny Rollins, and the first to assimilate it was Joe Henderson. Jr. came up on the grasp of Rollins style very honestly, and he developed his own voice of that Rollins style. Over the years, I found what a great musician Jr. Cook was. He never practiced the sax, he played the piano a lot (kinda like Lonnie Hillar did). He took his ideas on piano and took them to the tenor. He had a rhythmic concept that was fantastic! I really liked that feel.

I'd notice when we played together, he'd play 16 bars on one foot, and he'd switch legs and pat that foot on the bridge of the tune. So there was something about how he distributed his body like that. I watched that in Jr. Cook a lot. He did that all the time too.

Tim - That's the sub-consciousness of his thoughts, it's heavy.

John - I never heard Jr. Cook fluff that much cause he was such a good pianist.

Tim - You do a variety of styles, gigs and concepts. You do McCoy Tyner's band, also Kenny Barrons quintet, plus funk dates and pop music. What players have left their mark on you, and why?

John - I can tell you my favorite saxophone players, then I can tell you my favorite saxophone players who were arrangers. Some were soloists, some were arrangers. I first heard Lester Young in 1957, I heard him before I heard Coleman Hawkins, though I knew of Hawkins.
Lester Young always moved me cause he was more melodic in his playing. When I heard Coleman Hawkins, I found he played appoggiatura's better than anyone I knew or heard. Coleman Hawkins was a vertical player and Lester was a horizontal player, and when I studied the Lydian concept, I found I could respond more to what Lester was doing! I see them as both great. You got to give Coleman Hawkins all the credit in the world for making the tenor a solo instrument. Hawkin's sound was really something new too. I talked to people who had played with him, and they always told me, Hawk was always working at his reeds and mouthpiece to get a better sound, and get a big cutting sound. If you look into the whole picture of the saxophone, all of the saxes from the armies in the civil war went to New Orleans. The way that instrument became popular there, was because all clarinetists played sax. But, if you listen to Albert Nicholas, or Benny Bailey, the way they played the was was coming from a clarinet concept. The Brown Brothers and all of that was a novelty at first, but Coleman Hawkins grabbed that, and played the novelty thing too, cause he was a great slap-tongue artist. He could kill that style.

Tim - When you slap tongue - Hawk used that as a device but as a harmonic thing, via the rhythm.

John - It's funny that you mentioned that, cause I learned that when I started saxophone, and lost if over the years and was trying to learn it back from Howard Johnson, Howard does it very well. Howard talks about how Tom Scott was asking him about it too.
The guy Hawkins really dug was a player with Jelly Roll Morton and the Hot Peppers called Stomp Evans. Coleman said if Stomp would have come to N.Y. he would have been the cat. I got a chance to talk to Prince Robinson, he was in the same era, and coleman Hawkins loved him too. Prince played a lot with the McKinely Cotton Pickers, plus road work in band. I got to speak to him in 1973. He was really a force on the saxophone historically. Rudy Weidoff had a lot of influence on those cats cause he was the most recorded saxophone player in that time, before 1923 and all that. That slap-tongue thing was Stomp Evans with Jelly Roll Morton. They used it just like you said Tim, Stomp and Hawk used that slap-tongue as a harmonic and rhythmic device. Prince Robinson was bad too, cause he had the ability to run changes in a very modern way.

Tim - The saxophone has and always will be something that people enjoy, via the mass audience, it's just a matter of how it's presented along with some help from the press and media.

John - People will always enjoy it! Look, I just went to see Dewey Redman, and not only did he play his butt off, but he sand, "Mr. Sandman" I thought about it, see I used to watch the hit parade on T.V. in the early 50's. I didn't realize it then as I do now, people as they progressed became specialized in the music that they played. In those years everybody played the same thing. See, if you played "Body and Soul" it was played for the serious listener, it was played for dancing, it was played for everything. Today, it's a bit different. You got a funk player who only plays funk. You got a big band player who only does that. Years ago, a player did everything, and everything was what it was! Meaning that if you played a popular song, a sixteen year old DUG that as well as a 60 year old. So the hit parade show was one of the same. It was no this or that, JUST music all could enjoy. Recently, I was talking to Eddie Harris in California, and he and I were talking about this record he was asked to be on by Gerald Albright, and you know, Gerald had some hits out, he can play. He had Eddie Harris and Kirk Whalum as his guests on his record, and they were playing tunes, and that's great cause some people only knew Kirk and Gerald as pop cats. They can really blow! Here now people are playing all of the music. King Curtis could play all of the music!

Tim - If you listen to the record King Curtis did with Jimmy Forrest and Oliver Nelson, King Curtis will knock you out. Forget it!

John - That's right, forget it! He could play all of the music, and he was a student of Garvin Bushells. Have you heard Garvin Bushell with Jabbo Smith, it's a killer. Garvin Bushell was very together as you know Tim.

Tim - You don't have to tell me that John, Garvin used to help me on oboe and bassoon. HE made me some unreal oboe reeds, he was so together, and a beautiful teacher and player.

John - I got all my info. about Garvin Bushell from drummer Sam Wooding, when I was in Sams band. He told me everything I wanted to know. He and Charlie Gaines. Garvin was playing clarinet on this FAts Waller record with Garvin and Jabbo Smith, and Fats was playing the organ, and James P. Johnson is on piano (It's on R.C.A. Records). Garvin Bushell played clarinet better than anyone! If he wouldn't have left for Russia, and if he would have gotten pushed on clarinet it would have been all over. He would have been a big star.

Tim - Garvin was a total musician! He played with Coltrane, Fats Waller, Ella's big band, plus symphonic gigs. He did what a musician was to do in those days.

John - When I first came to New York from Chicago and the A.A.C.M. I was trying to play the music and instruments well, you know and be responsible.

Tim - You've known Pharoah Sanders for a long time.

John - No doubt about it, I've known Pharoah for about 37 years now. I meat Pharoah Sanders when he was a first clarinet player! And when he left little rock and moved to Oakland, I'd be in touch with Pharoah. All he'd talk about would be the way John Coltraine would go and listen to John gilmore night after night with Sun Ra. Coltrane was very much into the Sun Ra band then, around the mid 60's.

Tim - That's when they had Gilmore, but also giants like Pat Patrick and Charles Davis. John Gilmore also played beautiful bass clarinet on some Sun Ra C.D.'s that just came out on evidence.

John - He was a virtuoso clarinet player - when Gilmore came out of the air force he played first clarinet in the Earl "Fatha" Hines band. Sun RA met him when he was in the Hines band. He's a great clarinetist! Everybody in chicago knew that.

Tim - You know Gilmore had that one-ness from the plam keys on the tenor up thru the high harmonics like A Ribbon, it was seamless. IF you listen to him you'll hear that, a very complete player with his own style...

John - It's nice you're giving that man the credit, cause John Gilmore is by far one of the finest saxophone players on this planet. When people could summon his talent, they did. As Art Blakey did. I never forget hearing Gilmore play in memphis with Blakey, and I still can hear this cadenza John Gilmore played then; I can hear it yet today. It was on "Autumn In New York". I'll never forget it as long as I live. Gilmore played a great solo and master-piece cadenza. It was UNBELIEVABLE!

Tim - You know, out of that Chicago school as is Eddie Harris. That dude is so bad - he plays piano, and all of his books are vital for the saxophone. He's like a Marcel Mule of jazz. If I ever won the lottery, I'd rent a club and hire Eddie Harris and Andrew White and just sit back and watch their genius at work. Eddie got a lot of Chicago in him.

John - The chicago school is something. Yes, Eddie Harris is someone who not a lot of cats would want to mess with cause he's a genius. We've all known that for years. Charles Davis and I are compiling a list of Chicago saxists ....heard of, and unheard of. See, Chicago was a Lester Young town, that's what it was. When I hear Kirk Whalum play, I feel whether he knows it or not, he's carrying on a tradition of Evelyn Young in memphis. She's a memphis lady, and that's a school unto itself. I come out of her, Hank Crawford comes out of her. She's the one who was around the Texas musicians who came to Memphis with Jelly Roll Morton. America don't know how much they owe Evelyn Young. The schools that the saxophone comes thru are vital yet today. Chicago, Detroit, Philly, and Texas. See, today Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young are still very vital today, and always will be.

Tim - What are some things you practice?

John - Well, one of the things I practice that John Gilmore turned me onto, is I practice out of drum books. The Louis Bellson ones. I practice rhythms, and study rhythm. I also practice long tones a lot. It helps you express yourself. If you can control your sound you have a more powerful weapon. I practice a bunch of different keys, standard tunes, plus I practice my own music, that's a dimension too. I like to work on styles of the horn.

Tim - Where are some records where people can get into your playing a lot. Any favorites?

John - The Kenny Barron record "What If". (on ENJA records) - It shows the whole thing I'm coming from with the Lydian concept of playing bi-tonal sounds that are not moving in II V areas. That recorded tells a lot of my studies. The Sonny Phillips record on Muse I like a lot. Also the Delmark recrods with Joseph Jarman and Maurice McIntyre in the 60', I was playing that music with a passion in those times. I just did one with Craig Harris, also I did a Billy Hart record on Arabesque records. There are a lot of style on there, plus I was really into my altissimo register on Billy's record. That's a special area. You know Eddie Harrris has that down, but have you heard this guy Marc Russo? Marc can really go up there! He used to play with the "yellowjackets". plus I heard him at my friends house, David Eye, David is Smokey Robinson's sax player, and is also from Little Rock. David played me some stuff of Marc's that really was impressive. I've done close to 70 records with different people, but as of now those are some of my favorites.


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