JJ 07/60: In My Opinion – Joe Newman

Sixty years ago Basie trumpeter Joe Newman gave Sinclair Traill his thoughts on Ray Charles, Roy Eldridge, Duke Ellington and Scotland's George Chisholm. First published in Jazz Journal July 1960

This is one of a series of taped interviews with musicians, who are asked to give a snap opinion on a set of records played to them. Although no previous information is given as to what they are going to hear, they are, during the actual playing, handed the appropriate record sleeve. Thus in no way is their judgment influenced by being unaware of what they are hearing. As far as possible the records played to them are currently available items procurable from any record shop. Joe Newman, Basie’s outstanding trumpet soloist, comes from New Orleans, the very home of jazz. His father, a pianist, was leader of the Creole Serenaders, and Joe was nursed on jazz from his cradle. Like so many famous musicians, before him and since, he served his jazz apprenticeship with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. – Sinclair Traill

“Hard Time”. Ray Charles (Presents David Newman) London LTZ-K 15178
That’s something new for me, because the other times I’ve heard David Newman he was on tenor. I haven’t heard too much of him; first time I caught him was in the early fifties, when I was first with Basie’s band at Corpus Christi, Texas. But I have watched his progress since that time and recently made an album, with him and Ray Charles, called The Genius Of Ray Charles. Newman plays a tenor solo on that which is very, very pretty – it’s very soulful and he gets the meat into it. He plays the same way here on alto – I thought it was great. Ray Charles’ playing has a lot of that church influence amongst his talents. He is quite a card, by the way.

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“De-Dar”. Ben Webster (and Associates) HMV CLP 1336
Well, I got so wrapped up in listening to it I was kind of carried away. Everyone there seemed to be just casually play­ing – no one knocked themselves out – it all had that relaxed feel, all sounded so easy, those tenor choruses! Yet at times I felt they were playing in a very difficult key. Of course Coleman picks some hard keys to play in, which is partly why I came to that conclusion, but sometimes if the pitch of a record machine is off you can’t really tell what key it was in, but it sounded to me like G sharp or F sharp.

You say Roy says he can’t play blues? Well, I guess every­one feels that way within themselves; you always like to do more than you do, and it’s always hard to satisfy oneself. Of course, at one time I thought Roy did everything; he was a real idol of mine. As a matter of fact, when I first joined Lionel Hampton’s band I had a picture of Roy pasted on the bell of my trumpet. Roy was the thing – after Louis, Roy was the next new man. He had something different and he was a great swinger with lots of drive. He was just a little giant, in fact he’s really “Little Jazz”. His three choruses there were to me the tops of a great record. If they did play in a difficult key, Ben Webster sure picked the right people to play it. And just a word for Ray Brown, who is really the greatest.

“Weary Blues”. Duke Ellington (Back to Back) HMV CLP 1316
Well that really gives me the blues! There’s a kind of gener­ation of blues men here – from Harry Edison to Les Spann. Spann’s the youngest man there – a young guy of 27 from Pine Bluff, Arkansas – he certainly should have the blues in his soul. Duke sounded just wonderful and in fact I would venture to say as wonderful as I’ve ever heard him. He was very relaxed and when he played it projected very well – it had the master’s touch to it alright, as far as I’m concerned. The right everything was there, and set a mood for what they’d play. It seemed they all got wrapped up in that mood, for it carried on right through the whole number and didn’t really go any further than that opening vein. Duke was more relaxed there than I ever remember hearing him. Johnny was his usual great self for that was also completely in his style. They all played well, but it’s Duke I’ll remember – a great record.

‘I would be interested to hear more of that Chisholm on trombone. Not enough to judge him on, but he played real good’

“Jump For Me”. Al Fairweather. Columbia 33SX 1221
It’s been so long since I heard that Basie tune – it was written just as I was coming up – long before I joined the band. It was one of Basie’s best; it was simple and it was played slower than those boys do it. I liked the relaxed feeling the whole thing had and if they’re not a regular group they certainly play nicely together – have that feel, y’know. The original Basie record I copied off the disc for the ’Bama State Band when I was at school. This band has that small Ellington band sound – I’ve heard it here in England before – and I like their choice of tempo. I never heard it played like that before. The two altos were alike and yet different – bits of Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter from one and then some Willie Smith gyra­tions from the other. I would be interested to hear more of that Chisholm on trombone. Not enough to judge him on, but he played real good.

“Runnin’ Wild”. Barney Kessel. Vogue LAC 12206
Well, that was a surprise! I never heard Joe Gordon play that way before. He always played very modern, but that was good. I don’t know the idea behind the record, but I guess it came off. It was a little too fast for the alto, but they always play that tune fast – too fast, sometimes. It sounded like one of those old-fashioned jam sessions. Plenty of exciting things happening and when you’re playing in one of those you’ve really got to keep your ears open to catch what that next man is doing. It can be difficult. It all sounded very free, but that’s jazz you know – it’s just spontaneous music.

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