JJ 06/64: In My Opinion – Paul Gonsalves

Sixty years ago the legendary Ellington saxman opined on Hawkins, Frank Foster, Bud Freeman, Al Sears, Mulligan, Hodges and more. First published in Jazz Journal June 1964

Paul Gonsalves, a few years later, at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1971. Photo © Harry Monty

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.

Paul Gonsalves, tenor saxohonist with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, has during the past few years forced himself, by a rigid application to his music, into the forefront of saxophone performers with a personal style which is instantly recognisable. A gentle, shy man with a delightful sense of humour, he is a particular favourite of his leader’s – and all those fortunate enough to meet him personally. – Sinclair Traill

Cocktails For Two. Hawkins-Webster. Blues Saxophones. Columbia 33CX 10143

You know just before we left for England, I met up with those guys. Mercer Elling­ton has a disc jockey programme, the sponsor for which is the Budweiser Beer Company, and they have a kind of jam together every now and then and I got on one of those just before I left. They had Ben Webster, Ray Nance, Kenny Burrell, that great drummer Grady Tate, Richard Davis and a wonderful pianist Dave Frishberg, and Harold Ashby. Then as the night went on all kinds of other musicians came by and joined in – it was the best kind of session I have played in, in years. We did one set with three tenors, Harold, Ben and myself, and another with Ray on violin with Kenny Burrell on guitar. We had a ball, it was a terrific session – and everybody played so well. What a thing if we had had Hawk along as well, but I guess he was working someplace. It’s a funny thing but whereas Ben always plays the same, and it is good that way, in fact it couldn’t be better, Hawk somehow seems to get better as he grows older. I remember him at Newport doing a set with Sonny Rollins, and he just sounded wonderful – he has such a very young mind you know.

It’s Wonderful. Stuff Smith. Columbia SEB 10113

I caught him at The Embers just re­cently. He’s playing with Joe Bushkin and they are doing very well. At the Monterey Festival, Stuff did a session with Ray Nance – the Dizzy Gillespie All Stars. Dizzy, Ben Webster, Ray Nance, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Gerry Mulligan and, of course, Stuff Smith. Ray and Stuff played together and it brought the house down. Someone should record those two together, perhaps with Kenny Burrell as well.

Count ’Em. Count Basie. Verve SVLP 90S1

That was Frank Foster on tenor wasn’t it? He plays so nicely. I don’t think Basie gives him enough to do these days. I know it is difficult, sometimes the pro­gramming doesn’t allow for certain people to be featured, but both Franks, Frank Foster and Frank Wess, are buried in that saxophone section. Wess, is I know, a terrific musician, but all the chance he gets is to play a little flute or something. He should be playing great, long solos. I think he is a terrific tenor player, but now they have twisted him around to play alto – it’s a terrible waste. Band sound good and bright there, got a good kind of dance rhythm going and the brass sound very powerful. I like that band. I played in it once you know; I was with Basie for a time back in 1947, along with Buddy Tate on second tenor. The band were more exciting in those days.

Crazy Rhythm. George Wein’s Newport All Stars. Impulse A 31

Bud Freeman, he’s been around for some time – always played good. I used to listen to him on the radio years ago, when he played that Dixieland stuff. I think I may have been influenced to a certain extent. You know you pick up things sometimes without knowing, and I used to listen to him a lot. The radio was the thing in those days; I was always listen­ing. We did a record date the other day, with Duke’s band, of all the theme songs of those radio bands that were popular during the 30s. We did One O’clock Jump, Let’s Dance (Benny Goodman), and I played a couple of choruses like Bud, just for a joke. And on One O’Clock Jump, I did a solo like Herschel Evans and then one like Lester and on the last chorus I played Hawk’s solo, that one he played with that All Star date he did a few years ago. Then we did Fletcher’s theme song, Chicago, and then when it came to my solo I thought of all those tenor players who had been such an influence on others. So I started to play like Chu not expecting them to keep that special ‘take’ – but when Duke heard it in the control box, he said keep it in. I was surprised, but Duke said it sounded just like Chu and he liked it. Then we did Glen Gray’s theme, and Ben Bernie’s, Lonesome Old Town, which we did for Lawrence Brown. Then Johnny Hodges did the theme Benny Goodman used to sign off with, Goodbye, and Strayhorn did Chick Webb’s theme, and we finished with Guy Lombardo’s theme Auld Lang Syne. That’s a Strayhorn arrangement, in a kind of double time. I think it is a great album.

The Rail. Bill Doggett – Party. Parlophone PMG 1118

Al Sears is another great tenor player; gets a terrific beat in his playing. I caught him last in the Metropole, where he works quite a lot. That Doggett band play nearly all the time for dancing, and they always play good. I like ballroom work best. The acoustics are usually better in a ballroom, those orchestra shells are constructed especially for band sound. Also there is not nearly so much pressure in ballroom work, so one has time to think things out, and consequently I think one usually plays better. Talking about the Metropole, last time I was there Shorty Baker was playing with Marty Napoleon and Henry Red Allen. Allen is a great showman and, you know, despite his age, he is still right up there with the top trumpet men.

Perdido. Earl Hines. Philips BBL 7222

Now his playing always reminds me of Teddy Weatherford, whom I heard when I was out in India. I was in Calcutta in the Armed Forces in 1943, in Camp Howrah. And I used to go to the Grand Hotel and sit in with the band – they were good. This recent tour we just did was a kind of reincarnation for me. We did Damascus, Afghanistan and had five weeks in India – so I got to Calcutta again and believe it or not we played the Grand Hotel. I met quite a few musicians who used to be with Teddy Weatherford. Rudy Cotton, Pat Blake (who played with the band for some weeks, after Ray Nance got sick), and some of the others. Whilst I was there in the wartime I also met that Chicago musician who used to play with Duke, way back – Rudy Jackson. He was with Weatherford. But Teddy had a great all-round band, I used to play with them every chance I got. I remember the first time. I got into the Grand and into that kind of courtyard in the middle of the hotel in which the band played, and I just went up to the band and asked to sit in. Well, Rudy Jackson offered me his tenor, but I guess Teddy Weatherford was getting sore with all these soldiers who made some excuse and tried to sit it with the band – they were probably trying to make some girl or something, so they thought it would look big up on that stand – but of course they couldn’t play, most of them. Anyway, Rudy gave me his horn, and although Teddy just sat at that piano and glowered, I played a set, and when I got through playing, Teddy just lent over rather casual and asked me if I would like to make a broad­cast with the band. Well, I managed to sneak out of camp, and remember getting to this radio station and doing the broad­cast. And that was the last time I saw Teddy before he died. He was a fine pianist and a good musician. In lots of ways, particularly in his looks, he always reminded me of Art Tatum – he was a big man like Art.

But this whole tour we did was full of interest. Being a State Department tour, we played a lot of receptions and uni­versities and met a lot of most interesting people. In Delhi, we heard Chantau Lai who plays the tablas, the rhythms he played were quite fantastic. The timing like nothing you’ve ever heard. In Calcutta, when we played a concert at the uni­versity, I was given an old Indian flute. It is made of some wood and is very beautiful, but the holes are so wide it is difficult to play – sounds like a regular alto flute.

Sweet Sue. Spike Hughes Negro Orchestra. Ace of Clubs ACL 1153

Well, I had difficulty there in naming Hawk or Chu, but I see the record was made some time ago. I have heard some old records of Hawk’s before – he was always wonderful wasn’t he? And Chu as well. That Wayman Carver surprised me. A flute in 1933! He used to play with Cab didn’t he? But I didn’t know he played flute pretty like that.

Back Beat. Gerry Mulligan Meets Johnny Hodges. HMV CSD 1372

Johnny, the man Charlie Parker referred to as the Lily Pons of the saxophone, with two great baritone players. I can never understand why Mulligan pulls in so many more votes than Harry on those polls, but perhaps they aren’t a true reflection musically anyway. Mulligan played well with us up at Newport, but he plays with too many people. He also got in with Ben Webster at Newport, but Ben stretched out and reduced him to nothing. Ben’s liable to do that, you know. In the same kind of way I re­member going out on a gig with a band led by Dizzy, and Monk was also along. Well, on the bus some of the young modern musicians started decrying the older musicians – you know, ‘You old cats can’t play any more’ and things like that. Well, in the first set, I think it was How High The Moon, Monk, he just changed the key with every succeeding chorus; and he played around so much that all those young modern cats they crept off the stand. Later in the evening a waltz was called for (it was a college date). Dizzy looked at me and I started to play Ramona, but no other of the horns joined in. ‘Call yourselves musi­cians, and can’t play a waltz,’ shouted Dizzy. It was very funny. It is such a pity that so many of the young musicians, the modern ones, spoil their music by their attitude. If one has any talent then try to develop it, try and get better, but don’t decry other musicians, because you don’t or can’t play like they do.