JJ 10/63: In My Opinion – Sandy Brown

Sixty years ago Sandy Brown thought Cannonball Adderley's Jive Samba the dullest thing he'd heard since yesterday's Juke Box Jury. First published in Jazz Journal October 1963

Sandy Brown. Photo from JJ Archive

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 judgement 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.

Sandy Brown has long been recognised by his fellow musicians as one of the few British jazzmen of world class. Critics have been slower to appreciate his original talents, but recently accorded him the singular honour of a place in the clarinet section of the international poll in America’s Downbeat magazine. Furthermore, Sandy was recently rated second to Pee Wee Russell in the Melody Maker international critics’ poll. Together with trumpeter Al Fairweather, Sandy today leads one of Britain’s foremost ‘Mainstream’ bands. He is also a gifted composer and pianist, as well as being an unusually perceptive observer of the work of other musicians in the field of jazz and in the wider world of music as a whole. – Sinclair Traill

In A Sentimental Mood. Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. HMV CSD 1502
It’s difficult to say much about Duke that Benny Green hasn’t said twice already. I don’t think this is a marvellous example of Coltrane because it sounds as if he’s cut down con­siderably on the adventure of his playing. All his friends have deserted him since he said that what he was doing a few years ago wasn’t really what he wanted to do. As you know he has started to play in the more fragmentary style and all the chaps who at that time thought he was the guv’nor have had to go through an agonising reappraisal of the situation. What they want him to do of course is to go back to what he was doing with Miles.

I don’t really know enough about this fragmentary style to criticise it, but it’s obviously something which Coltrane felt it extremely necessary to do. And we’ll find out in the next few years how much real difference there is. Probably not very much.

‘It seems to me that the idea was a gimmick one, and I feel that a member of his own band like Paul Gonsalves would have done a better job on these numbers than John Coltrane did’

I think that every time Duke Ellington goes into a recording studio, that time is more precious than that of any other jazz musician, and therefore I think that anything that is less than cataclysmic in content is less than he is capable of and therefore something is lost. I think he should be given a completely free hand, and it doesn’t seem to me that this was the case here. It seems to me that the idea was a gimmick one, and I feel that a member of his own band like Paul Gonsalves would have done a better job on these numbers than John Coltrane did. And that’s no assessment of their respective merits, it’s only an indication of how precious Duke’s time is. I think he would have done a better job with a member of his own band. He always does.

Ah-leu-cha. Charlie Parker Memorial Vol. 4. Oriole Realm RM 123
I saw a programme on television the other night which discussed the problems of people approaching retirement, and in particular how they would spend their time. This is going to present no problem to me, because I shall be able to listen to all these Charlie Parker 3rd and 4th takes. But I shall also be able to hear, often for the first time, some of the original Charlie Parkers, because I’m amazingly ignorant about his work. I don’t think I’ve got more than a couple of records of his about; and it’s hard to pick a reason for this. It must be something to do with arrested development. It probably gives me a very bad bias in favour of other lesser modern musicians. If I listen to Phil Woods and Gene Quill, I’m astounded by their playing and invention. And the more I hear of Charlie Parker – and, as I say, I’m saving it up – the more I realise what a huge debt these people owe to him, because he invented practically everything they’re doing.

When this music first came out I couldn’t understand it. I mean it was hard for me to work out the triads in a simple tune with a more extended harmony – I couldn’t make out what he was doing. For some reason or other it didn’t get through to me what a genius he was. At the time his records were issued I was very much learning, but I was certain of one thing – I would never be able to play like that. In my own defence I must say that the arrested development has now been liberated.

Fugue No. 5 in D. Les Swingle Singers – Jazz Sebastian Bach. Philips BL 7572
I’ve nothing against jazzing the classics – I prefer to think that nothing is sacred, so this is no more so than anything else. But I don’t think this enhances the music of Bach in any way. I doubt if this version, on the other hand, is more different to the way that Bach heard it from his own musicians than a modern version by a classical group. So I don’t see any point in saying that it shouldn’t be done this way, except from very first principles. I think they lose out on the music though because, although they’ve quite cleverly tried to give some upper partials to the music by using consonants, these don’t give sufficient ‘edge’ to the music. I tend to believe that Bach was sufficiently clever to know whether he wanted something sung or played – in fact that’s giving him very faint praise indeed! The music itself is marvellous. I don’t think anyone has been able to write music with such long melodies success­fully since Bach, and that’s some measure of his stature as a musician. I thought the idea of including drums was silly; they were played rather effetely as a strict-tempo Victor Sylvester dance orchestra would use them. Also, I don’t think a bass player was needed. Syncopations are mentioned on the sleeve, but they’re not the kind of syncopations which require a steady beat – not sufficiently complex.

The standard of singing, I felt, was pretty high, because a lot of the intervals they have to sing are quite difficult. Bach was the first person to realise that it would be essential to open up new vistas in music – to be able to sing with reference to various tonalities at the same time – and therefore they have to pitch more or less in relation to different tonalities – which is difficult to do. And I thought they did that very well. The pitching was good.

Of Wild Bill Davison: ‘I was always amazed that he was able to produce this fiery, competent sound the way he did, because he quite obviously played the trumpet all wrong. He has an unorthodox way of playing, but I like it’

Panama. Wild Bill Davison – Mild and Wild. Melodise MLP 12-127
I remember when Wild Bill came here I saw him playing quite a few times in various back rooms, and I was always amazed that he was able to produce this fiery, competent sound the way he did, because he quite obviously played the trumpet all wrong. He has an unorthodox way of playing, but I like it – much in the same way as I like Pee Wee Russell’s playing. And he is probably the most unorthodox of any musician.

These sound to me to be sides cut at least 15 years ago, because that’s the way Pee Wee was playing at the time. About Pee Wee’s playing, it’s always been a mystery to me what approach he has to it. It could be purely instinctive, in which case there’s nothing to be said about it, except that one doesn’t too well understand the workings of somebody else’s mind: but I don’t believe it’s a purely instinctive process. I think he’s a pretty well-organised musician, in some way which I’ve never been able to fully understand. The only person I know who was able to get close to Pee Wee’s method – if there is a method – is Archie Semple. I couldn’t play that way, yet I admire it tremendously. Pee Wee is a musician whose ideas extend to very fine detail in matters of tone and nuances of phrasing. People used to call it angular. Actually it’s not that: it’s a very wide scope of phrasing. Some notes are given more emphasis than others. I don’t think his impact has fully been felt yet. People think of him as a lovable old lush from the gangster days in Chicago, but he’s more than that. The same legend of course applies to all the Chicagoans, yet when you get down to cases they’ve produced a lot of very sensitive players.

I Believe In You. The Explosive Side of Sarah Vaughan. Columbia SCX 3479
It’s great to hear a singer like Sarah Vaughan because of the tremendous control in her voice. She has a natural vibrato which is almost as steady as a Hammond organ, but she can cut that off and sing a straight note absolutely in tune – that’s hard to do. The criticisms levelled against her are the sort one often hears levelled against Ella Fitzgerald – that they’re predictable. I don’t believe this to be true. It’s one of those cases of somebody coining a phrase which everybody latches on to. If she is predictable, I should like to hear somebody predict what it is she does. I don’t think it’s a valid criticism at all: I think she’s a very beautiful singer. I find her less emotionally moving than Billie Holiday, but there’s another type of excitement which one can get out of Sarah’s singing, and it does have an emotional appeal.

The arrangements are marvellous. Benny Carter, I think, has been more suited to this than to the arrangements he did for that album with the Count Basie band. He’s a marvellous musician. I’d like to say a word about the guys who play this stuff – these inevitable session men, like Ernie Royal, who I assume is on this record. These men do such a good job. It must be a great pleasure to write for them. The local equivalent, I suppose, is the Ted Heath band, but they don’t seem to be getting the type of writers that give you such pleasure to listen to. But it’s impossible to overestimate the difficulty of playing these arrangements – hitting all these notes on the button. It’s a very highly developed skill.

‘Well, that’s easily the dullest piece of music you’ve played this evening. In fact it’s the dullest piece of music I’ve heard for some time – and that includes yesterday’s Juke Box Jury’

Jive Samba. Cannonball Adderley – Jazz Workshop Revisited. Riverside RLP 444
Well, that’s easily the dullest piece of music you’ve played this evening. In fact it’s the dullest piece of music I’ve heard for some time – and that includes yesterday’s Juke Box Jury. It sounds like a terrible indictment of Cannonball Adderley, and it is. But not as a musician. Cannonball is a very literate person, but he seems to have decided that this sort of thing is necessary in order to sell; and, according to the sleeve, it seems that he’s right, since the track I particularly take exception to is some sort of a hit. But really, it’s a stupid idea to have a person of Cannonball’s talents playing this rather ordinary tune on and on, time after time, in exactly the  same way, with no variation at all. The only thing which can have sold it is the sheer monotony of it.

Cannonball can play exceptionally interesting music, and has proved it on countless records. Particularly, I thought, the Gil Evans Old Bottles, New Wine. But if I had this record I’d never play it. I never want to hear it again.

Yeah! Tubby Hayes – Late Spot at Scott’s. Fontana TL 5200
You’ve got to admire Tubby for playing the way he does. The sheer physical speed of his performance is, at times, hard to follow; and all the guys in the band play marvellously with him – especially Alan Ganley. I don’t think there’s a drummer, certainly in this country, who could swing at the speeds Tubby chooses, as well as Alan does. But the most interesting musician is Jimmy Deuchar, because he’s got complete grasp of the effects you can achieve simply by choosing to follow certain harmonic sequences at a certain time. In other words, he cuts out and comes in again at pretty exciting moments in the transition, and for that reason I would say that he is the star of this performance.

There’s one thing I would say though. I’m surprised that musicians of their calibre are prepared to allow the music they play to become as unvaried as it is. You were playing some Pee Wee Russell and Wild Bill Davison earlier on, and that’s not a mistake that they would make. It’s certainly not a mistake that Bach would make. I believe it to be a mistake. The atmosphere of the performance is a relentless one, and I think musicians of this calibre would benefit by playing for at least six weeks in Duke Ellington’s band.

I remember Tubby playing a job opposite me about ten years ago, and he was billed as ‘Tubby Hayes – The Biggest Little Band in the Business’ – it was, it was tremendous. Tubby is a phenomenon, I’m sure that he’ll mature into one of the really great jazz musicians.