Monday, December 05, 2016

Conversations In Jazz; The Ralph Gleason Interviews

Conversations In Jazz; The Ralph Gleason Interviews
Edited by Toby Gleason
Foreword and Introductory Notes by Ted Gioia
New Haven: Yale University Press
2016:276 + xvi pages

It has been several decades since Ralph Gleason passed away. Gleason was a pioneering jazz and music journalist, host of a legendary television show "Jazz Casual," and one of the founders of "Rolling Stone" magazine. "Conversations In Jazz; The Ralph Gleason Interviews" brings together interviews Gleason conducted in the early 1960s, the time he was producing the "Jazz Casual" series, although these interviews were conducted at home, separate from the conversations he had with performers on that show, with the exception of the one with Duke Ellington.

As Ted Gioia observes in his Foreword, these interviews take place at a most interesting period of time as 1959 saw the release of so many classic jazz recordings. John Coltrane is interviewed at the time he is stepping forth as a leader, while Sonny Rollins was interviewed a few weeks before he took his sabbatical from playing while Philly Joe Jones is interviewed during the most productive time of his career and the conversation with Bill Evans was less than a year after "Kind of Blue" and when he was working with his most influential trio.

These conversations are quite fascinating. For example Coltrane notes he had only played in three big bands as of 1961 (Dizzy Gillespie, King Kolax and Jimmy Heath), that one thing he likes about being the only horn in his own group is that he likes to play long, that he plays different tempos with different horns, how he went about writing tunes, and various thoughts relating to playing in clubs or concerts. His interview with Quincy Jones opens with Gleason asking why can't they record a big band so it sounds like the big band does live, before getting into the issues with running a big band, contrasting what he will be doing with Count Basie and other points such as touring Europe. With Dizzy Gillespie, Gleason explores at first how Dizzy first heard jazz and his development as a musician.

Gleason interviewed all four members of the Modern Jazz Quartet opening with John Lewis who provided a history of the MJQ along with some of the lessons learned as they developed their 'quiet' mode of jazz. Milt Jackson recalled his experiences as well a discussed challenges playing with the MJQ as opposed to other settings while discussing some of his other recording projects. Percy Heath tells about growing up with other musicians in the family, not adopting the bass until after coming back from the Service is own while Connie Kay recalls playing with Lester Young replacing Roy Haynes and then starting with the MJQ when Kenny Clarke left the group. A couple common threads are in the four interviews here such as how the nature of the MJQ restricted what they played. It is fascinating to read the thoughts of all four (and their acknowledgement of their common ties to Dizzy Gillespie).

Other chapters are devoted to Sonny Rollins, Philly 'Joe; Jones, Bill Evans, Horace Silver, Duke Ellington, Les McCann and Jon Hendricks. The discussions of how they started, influences, what motivates what they play and like, made for intriguing conversations and fascinating reading. This is an invaluable addition to the jazz literature. There is no index which is the only flaw in this wonderful volume.

I purchased this. Here is a video clip from "Jazz Casual" of Ralph Gleason speaking.


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