But people project a different energy and aura.
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I mean, what can you say? I believed in having the best people I could get. Let me push you forward a bit. And I was playing with peers. They were all good players, and you had to play very well in order to be what you were. I was the leader of that group. The audience is left way behind. The mass audience is listening to Rock. They dominated the program. It was his doing. In , when that group was formed, I had quit the business.
They wanted money. And I had to go and get that. So I had to get together a band. But the audience would not accept it. They wanted to dance. They wanted a dance band. And by this time, this thing called Jazz had taken over, and it was such a confusion. You know, we are aliterate people. Aliterate, not literate. Not illiterate, aliterate.
And musically, we are almost illiterate. So when you have some really good music, the audience does not respond to that. Or they respond like apes to it. It has nothing to do with music any more.
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The audiences drive me nuts. The people who run the business do not insist on having any sort of dignity. Were you able to take that stance because of your financial means at the time?
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So the audience as it is, imperfect or alien as it may be, is necessary. I mean, someone like Ellington, say, being able to sustain a band for…. They had a hipper audience.
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Did you ever play for Black audiences, by the way? Did you ever go on that circuit at all? It was always very liberating. You could do anything you want. They were much more receptive, and much more aware. Like Billie Holiday. Billie had a natural musical intelligence.
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It was part of the fabric of who she was from a very young age, I would think, so she heard it. It was part of her. She had no regard for what the composer wrote. I remember I made a recording with her years ago, when she was still recording for Columbia…Brunswick. So there was a kind of unconscious musical intelligence at work.
She had that to an enormous degree. And you try to do that.
I had my own way. With a ballad, for example, I would hear it, and I would hear it the way I wanted to hear it and play it that way. But it was always recognizable. Why not write your own? I asked Bud Powell that one time.
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You lengthened the bars; instead of 8 bars, you made it You changed the chords and you changed the melodic structure. So did Hot Lips Page. What they did was different from other people. What I did was different. Very few people copied me on clarinet because the sound I got came out of the formation of my embouchure and mouth and jaws, and my own musical ideas of how it should sound.
People are all trying to sound like somebody else. In my day, it was Benny Goodman and me, and you could tell instantly which it was. We each had our own sound. Was Jimmie Noone one?
Are there any that you favor? Do you listen…. I listen to piano players mostly.
Brad Mehldau, for example. Good ones. And as the times pass, people would accept more, and your ears change. I asked you about Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and you said they were great musicians but connected insufficiently with the audience. Is there anything else you could say about them?
Why do you think that is? I think a lot of people listen to Dizzy. Dizzy had more regard for the trumpet. Benny was a superb technician, but musically there were a lot of gaps in his awareness. He was limited. His vocabulary was limited. He wrote beautiful, enduring pieces…. We can talk about some of them. Billie has transcended it. I transcended it to a degree.