Cédric Caillaud - pic 1

Swinging The Melody

Parisian bass player Cédric Caillaud has very original and specific ideas about how to expand on the tradition. “There are plenty ways of creating new things in the standard repertoire.”

He will be back in New York next week. More than two decades ago, Caillaud, as ambitious young lions are wont, started to check out the Big Apple scene. Now he’s reached the age of forty-eight and takes along his teenage daughter for the trip down memory lane and a ride through the bowels of the asphalt jungle. “It’ll mostly be big fun and sight-seeing. But I will visit friends and go and see music at places like Small’s. I had a band with pianist Spike Wilner at one time. As the owner of Small’s, he is doing a great job for jazz.”

Regardless of his transatlantic connections and though Caillaud tours quite a bit in Europe, even as far as West-Africa, the La Rochelle-born bassist is firmly based in Paris. One of the most gorgeous places in the world, City of Light, City of Romance and for jazz buffs, forever linked with unsurpassed American expatriates as Kenny Clarke and Bud Powell, Paris is a place that has always had jazz running through its veins. At any given night, lone half note rangers and flocks of paradiddle-doers enter the premises of one of the beautific ‘arrondissements’, instrument case in hand, in the case of Caillaud, a big bag that holds his upright bass. He’s a staple of Chez Papa in St. Germain du Près and Le Petit Opportune nearby Les Halles.

A sought-after player that played and recorded with a variety of people from Scott Hamilton, Bobby Durham, René Urtreger to Manu Dibango, Natalie Dessay and Thomas Dutronc, Caillaud recorded four albums as a leader. A far cry from his beginnings in La Rochelle. “It is impossible in this region to be a professional musician. La Rochelle is a quiet and nice provincial town. But I was interested in music and started playing electric bass in the weekend. Your typical garagerock. Me and my friends loved the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I discovered Jaco Pastorius and Weather Report. That’s how I basically got into jazz. At that time, I didn’t know who they were. I thought that they were a bunch of young guys! It was only later that I learned that Wayne Shorter was a famous jazz musician and that Joe Zawinul had played in the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. I started going to the mediatheque and borrowing real jazz records. That’s when I changed to double bass.”

Caillaud is a strong bass player with a sound like a big woman that wears stockings and high-heeled boots made for walking. A tone that rattles the bottles behind the bar. A worthy contender in the lineage of Ray Brown, John Clayton, Pierre Boussaguet, he strives for a challenging combination of groove and confident intermezzi. “Essentially, I’m proposing another role of the bass. The evolution of double bass in popular music is very significant. It is a genuine solo instrument by now. Why not play melodies and solo’s? I love to let people discover the beauty of the double bass.”

Moreover, Caillaud makes it his business to carefully arrange all his projects, giving every of his four albums a distinct vibe and challenging allocation of roles whether it’s the hard-swinging Emma’s Groove or the lithe and airy With Respect To Jobim. “I want everything to have a live feeling, to give people music that lives and breathes. In order to achieve this, I use original arrangements and stress different colorings. That’s why on, for instance, the Jobim record, I featured flutist Hervé Mischenet. He’s a genuine flute player, not a saxophonist that plays flute on the side. And he used four different flutes to realize the coloring that I was looking for.”

Swinging The Count, featuring pianist Patrick Cabon and drummer Alvin Queen, serves as a top-notch, rather stunning example. Why this tribute to Count Basie? “Basie is a very important sound. Most people talk about Duke Ellington. And I love Duke Ellington. I play the Ellington book in the Duke Orchestra in France, a great orchestra. But Basie is about the essence. He didn’t read, played blues and gave a special feeling of happiness and exuberance. He played music from other composers but gave it his own identity. It’s pure swing. I have a lot of experience playing the Basie repertoire in great groups like drummer François Laudet’s big band. On Swinging The Count, it was a very great experience to play with the amazing Alvin Queen. He has a real black beat. My goal was to celebrate Count Basie’s music in trio form. That has never been done with this line-up. Oscar Peterson did quartet recordings and there’s the two Count Basie records with Ray Brown and Louie Bellson. I love the Basie recordings from the 1950’s and 1960’s because of the maturity of Basie and the sound of the bands. Amazing quality and great composers and arrangers like Quincy Jones and Neal Hefti.”

He’s the kind with good faith in mainstream jazz. “It’s perfectly possible to create new things in the mainstream repertoire. Essentially, jazz is very simple. It’s like Alvin Queen told me: ‘It’s just swing and melody!’ Of course, you can have different inspirations like African or Asian music or whatever and create a lot of things. But basically it’s all about context. I love someone like Benny Green. Each recording is always musical, lively and in the tradition.”

The generation of Caillaud, inspired by the resurgence of interest in classic jazz, music that had balls and grew from the earth like potatoes and cucumber and chili pepper, was embraced by the old guard. “It was important to me to play with older musicians and listen to their stories. I was friends with Pierre Michelot. He told me: ‘When I was young, I started to play with older musicians, I learned the repertoire and I learned to play. Then I became a veteran. But it was impossible to play with the young people in the 1980’s. They didn’t know the repertoire and only played their own compositions.’ It was frustrating for him to deal with the fusion period. But he was happy when my generation arrived.”

And now Caillaud spreads the word to inspiring youngsters around town. Lucky little boogers!

Cédric Caillaud


  • June 26 (Aphrodite 2006)
  • Emma’s Groove (Aphrodite 2009)
  • Swinging The Count (Fresh Sound Records 2013)
  • With Respect To Jobim (Fresh Sound Records 2020)

Check out Cédric and his albums on Fresh Sound here.

Tom van der Zaal 1

Zing went the strings of his heart

Lyrical alto saxophonist and canny jazz entrepreneur Tom van der Zaal thought big and cooked up an album with strings. “It’s taken three good years of my life. I wanted everything to be top-notch.”

Bright blue, yellow and red rays of light dart across a stage that almost resembles Madison Square Garden. Pools of sweat bring back memories of the last monsoon season. Crazy young fans dominate the clean scene. Van der Zaal shows pics of his performances at various Indonesian jazz stages. He grins excitedly. “I’m a bit jetlagged. It’s quite a trip and the difference between climates is enormous. But it was all worth it. It is like playing at a pop festival and the people keep you in high regard. Most of the fans over there are young and absolutely crazy. But not merely crazy in the sense of plain enthusiasm. Some of them knew all about my work and said that they had been waiting for my visit for years. It’s fantastic. The tour was cancelled a few times. But it finally came through with the support of the Erasmushuis.”

He hovers over an espresso at Jazz Coffee & Wines on the beautiful Noordeinde street in The Hague. Quite the opposite of Jakarta. A gusty wind comes down from the North Sea. Its residential grandeur warms your bones. The city that seats the national government is the home base of Van der Zaal, a well-groomed, vivacious fellow with a healthy blush on his cheeks. Bon vivant. Go-getter. Having arrived at the second phase of his career, not a young lion anymore, Van der Zaal is out there to compete and cook up new strategies. He’s serious about the definition of ‘new’ and gains traction after his well-received Time Will Tell album from 2019, which featured ace guitarist Peter Bernstein.

His next ‘phase’ involves Sketchbook Of Dreams, which adds a couple of rearrangements of compositions from Time Will Tell to new material that was specifically written for this inspired ‘with strings’ project. “A lot of ideas come up at night. It seems that creativity is inspired by darkness. When I get an idea at night, I get up out of bed and write it down or sing a melody in my phone, even if it’s only four bars. It may be a starting point for something to work on the coming day. They’re like sketches.”

An all-consuming affair. One doesn’t put together a string album overnight. Van der Zaal is much akin to a quarterback that takes up the extra tasks of coach, agent and personal trainer. “This kind of project usually involves a team of approximately eight people. I’ve almost done everything myself. Preparation, arranging, budgeting. I’m quite ambitious and don’t care whether it takes sixteen hours a day. It turned out to be a very good occupation for me during the pandemic. It kept me busy and in fine mental health. And I knew that I had some good thing going on once the restrictions were abandoned. At least, after all this work a good response is what I’m hoping for!”

“It basically comes down to an expansion of all kinds of capabilities. Both business-wise and artistically. Musically, it has been quite challenging. Writing charts and arranging is not something that you just do on the side. I really dug into the practice day and night. Obviously, I’m familiar with the great ‘with strings’ records of Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Frank Sinatra. But I wanted to make my own kind of album. I listened a lot to the treatments of classical pieces by Bill Evans and threw myself into the string quartets of Ravel and Mahler. I am very much influenced by their movements and intervals.”

“Even still, I’ve got a lot to learn and look forward to work more often in this vein in the future. It really fits my style like a glove. I’m a lyrical saxophonist and match well with the warmth of strings. 50% of what I do is sound, so I really need to take care of it! That’s why I’m also a gear geek. I ordered one of those famous Ribbon microphones that amplified the tone of guys like Cannonball Adderley. But it got stuck at customs. I had to use another mic. It’s probably undiscernible but things like this keep bothering me. Still, it turned out beautifully.”

You oughta take Sketchbook Of Dreams to your second date. You won’t take no for an answer. Put it on. The flickering of candle flames heightens the intensity of melancholia. The streetlights wink languorously to the lamp post. The piano is tipsy, telling corny jokes. It’s a lush affair, to say the least. Bordeaux wine-red strings embrace the tender but punchy alto saxophone of Van der Zaal. The palette ranges from Coltrane-ish drama to sweet-tart balladry. The great Dutch pianist Rob van Bavel accompanies beautifully and embellishes the intriguing movements of Dance Of Hope And Prospect. Van der Zaal rebounds from his chair. “Rob is a giant. Every time I hear him play I keep thinking that Holland is blessed to have a guy like this in its ranks. We specifically wrote Dance Of Hope And Prospect for Rob.

A subtle Latin feel is predominant throughout the album. “Our bassist Matthias Nicolaiewski is Brazilian. I keep asking him for new music, the things that almost nobody is familiar with out here in the West. That’s how we came up with Luiza from the legendary Antônio Jobim, one of his lesser-known tunes. It’s one of the most beautiful melodies ever and suits the range of the alto sax perfectly.”

Van der Zaal hired the Grammy Award-winning engineer Dave Darlington to look at the scores. He specifically wrote string introductions so that he may switch between performances with quintet or orchestra and tease audiences with radio edits on Spotify. He considers a vinyl release and is planning performances in Brazil, Indonesia, the illustrious Ronnie Scott’s in London. A man with a plan. “There’s an idea behind all aspects of the album. In general, I have reached the age that I don’t need to make miles any more like a youngster playing for a couple of bucks in bars. I do enjoy playing, of course, but I’m more conscious of what I’d like to achieve.”

He has come a long way from the boy that grew up in the home of a saxophone-playing father, who passed on his musical genes and business acumen. “I grew up with a strong sense of the tradition and listened to Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke. My father had a job but he played alto saxophone and clarinet. He has great ears and intuition. I have been lucky, because he took me to rehearsals and concerts when I was just a little kid. I studied with Simon Rigter and David Lukasz when I was 16. Around that time I went to my first afterparty at North Sea Jazz, taken by the sleeve by Wynton Marsalis, soaking everything up until 10 in the morning. That was when the jazz bug really got to me.”

North Sea Jazz has moved to Rotterdam. The jazz life of The Hague is close to his heart. For four years now, Van der Zaal and singer-songwriter Toine Scholten have organized the Jazz En Route festival, performances in various places along The Hague’s elegant avenues. “It’s mainstream but we look for a connection with postmodern stuff. We’re not aiming for a new North Sea Jazz. But I have noticed that there is a certain nostalgic feeling among musicians, certainly Americans. They miss that special vibe. Jesse Davis said that one of our places gave him that old North Sea feeling for the first time in twenty-five years. He was talking about our spot at the Indigo Hotel. You wander through a kind of speakeasy bar, then a cocktail bar, until you’re in a great jazz room. It’s a really cool experience.”

Van der Zaal washes away his last espresso with a small glass of water. He smiles, tired but fulfilled. “Once the sound of the last notes has died from the December festival, the organization for next year starts. It is a very time-consuming affair. It’s somewhat like Sketchbook Of Dreams. ‘All or nothing at all’, so to speak.”

Tom van der Zaal

Check out Tom’s website here.

Alvin Queen

King Queen pt. 2

Here’s part 2 for you and yours, Alvin Queen talking about his stint with Horace Silver, the European continent of opportunities, the way the legends nudged him to change his style of drumming and the way jazz was and will never be again if something isn’t done about it very soon. “I don’t play any music that the people can’t figure out. They paid and have first priority.”

Temperature is rising and there ain’t no place to go. Beet-red heads nod off in the subway train. Someone put our crotches in the oven. It’s the kind of sticky heat that leads to perennial complaints from the Dutch tribe. Alvin Queen flew over from Geneva to The Netherlands, Rotterdam to be exact. He’s here for the North Sea Jazz Festival and a performance with trumpeter and bandleader Charles Tolliver and the Rotterdam Youth Orchestra. His schedule reads like the itinerary of a foreign minister who is visiting a much-anticipated climate conference and wastes two pairs of shoes in a period of 36 hours. The soles of Mr. Queen’s footwear, not to mention his sticks and brushes, have to endure a lot. There isn’t any time to be wasted. Plane, hotel, rehearsal, hotel, soundcheck, performance, hotel and… plane.

Rehearsal with a capital R. It is scheduled from 2 to 9, which surpasses the 10 to 4 at the Five Spot extravaganzas of the classic era of jazz. An imaginary octet of jazz courts jesters overheard his remark that ‘I never heard of no rehearsal of seven hours’ and add an extra hour of Rehearsal. Tough luck. The immaculate professional takes it in stride. If anything, it’s a jazz family affair. A gift from King Queen to Prince Charles. “I usually don’t play in big bands. I’m not a good reader and have never really liked it. There is no opportunity to be a creative artist. I prefer the spontaneity of small ensembles.”

Alvin Queen is 74 years old, by no means an old-timer but an elder statesman beyond doubt. He’s the same age as some former fusion artists, who also wear the officious label of veterans, but comes from a totally different jazz planet. When fusion and electric jazz reigned supreme in the early 1970’s, Queen, student of mentor Elvin Jones, participant in the gospel scene of Scepter Records and the black organ jazz club circuit, drummer of the Horace Silver and George Benson bands, changed his course. Queen regularly toured in Europe with Charles Tolliver’s original installment of Music Incorporation and rejoined Horace Silver’s quintet. The continent of new opportunities continued to beckon and after a two-year stay in Montréal and many gigs in Europe, Queen settled permanently in Geneva, Switzerland in 1979, “Baby Queen” to the touring elder statesmen of jazz such as Ray Brown, Clark Terry, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Milt Jackson. The halcyon days.

FM: When you were playing with Horace Silver again in the early and mid-1970’s, what was the repertoire?
AQ: “When you make a hit record, that’s what people want to hear. I was sick of Song Of My Father! Horace said that we had to play it and we sometimes played it two or three times a night. That was the way it went. Miles had to play So What, Coltrane My Favorite Things and Cannonball Adderley Mercy Mercy Mercy by Joe Zawinul. We also played Sēnor Blues and Filthy McNasty. But then Horace changed up and started going into spirituality and recorded the United State Of Mind records. One night I said, ‘Horace, all that Hare Krishna stuff, God, what is going on?’ He said, ‘Alvin, I haven’t changed my music, it’s just the lyrics’.”

(Horace Silver, Michael Brecker, Tom Harrell, AQ, bassist Anthony Jackson not pictured, Philadelphia 1973)

FM: I heard a story that while you were with Horace Silver, you also took care of business for Stan Kenton. Something to do with loose women.
AQ: “That’s right. We were playing the Jazz Showcase in Chicago around the time of In Pursuit Of The Seventh Man. We were staying in the Merlin hotel. Kenton was in the hotel and he had a whole lotta money in his hands. Whores were standing around and keeping an eye on him. I said, ‘Stan, come on, man, put the money away.’ I took him up, put him to bed, kept the money in envelopes. I left him a message to call me in the morning. It was right in time before they would stick him up, haha!”

FM: It tells me you were on the ball and dependable, two things you also need as a drummer.
AQ: That’s right. Apart from swing.

FM: You played a lot in Europe in the 1970’s and eventually settled there permanently in 1979. Why did you decide to go and live in Europe and why Geneva?
AQ: “Well, the American scene was electrified, the music had changed, you had big acts like Weather Report. I had a taste in the early seventies with Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell. I met my future wife in Geneva at a party and that is how I managed to stay there eventually. The location was perfect. I could go to France and Germany. I was in the center of things. Important guys like Francy Boland and Pierre Michelot asked for my services. Europe was good to me.”

“I worked with Duke’s bassist, Jimmy Woode in 1972. It’s a funny story. When I was twelve years old, I recorded in New York City. They hired Joe Newman as musical director and he hired Zoot Sims, Hank Jones and Art Davis. Harold Mabern substituted for Hank. I was 12! It was never released. So, when I came to Europe, Jimmy and Joe were arguing about me, Joe saying, ‘I did his record!’. From my association with Jimmy Woode, I ended up with the older generation of musicians, you see. Harry “Sweets” Edison, Clark Terry, Dolo Coker, Lockjaw Davis. At that time, all Count Basie’s men came as individuals to do gigs. A very important thing for me was that I became the house drummer of the festival in Nice in the South of France. You had Oliver Jackson, Gus Johnson, Panama Francis and me. Sometimes, you know, one of them got boozed up and drunk, that was fine because I would play two sets a day and get even more money that way! I played with people like Marian McPartland, Wild Bill Davis, Guy Lafitte, Michel Goudry, George Arvanitas, Michel Saraby and Pierre Boussaguet. I played all over France from then on.”

(Jimmy Woode & Harry “Sweets” Edison, Nice 1980s; Ray Brown & Milt Jackson; Charles Tolliver)

FM: A lot of the greats that you played with at that time, Milt Jackson, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Ray Brown, Dexter Gordon, they played with Charlie Parker. Did they talk about Charlie Parker?
AQ: “They always talked about Parker at the dinner table and such. It was between Parker and Billie Holiday. Later on, when I played with Oscar Peterson, he would talk about Billie Holiday all the time.”

FM: How did you got involved with the great Ray Brown?
AQ: He heard a lot about me long before we came into contact, about 15 years before that. Everybody was talkin’, Ray knew about me and he said, ‘Queen, I’m gonna get you someday!’ That was the way it went those days. So, I came to Europe and needed work. Jimmy Woode spread the news, ‘I saw this kid, he can play…’ Ray and I would bypass each other all the time. I was playing with Milt Jackson and John Clayton at the time. John also talked with Ray. So, when Ray did his 70th Birthday Party in Paris with Roy Hargrove, Art Farmer, Jacky Terrason and Pierre Boussaguet, Ray said, ‘Come on, Queen, only time we got a chance, let’s do this…’ We established a fine relationship. Ray was playing a lot in Zürich back then.”

FM: Speaking of Milt Jackson. You always hear that he didn’t enjoy playing in the Modern Jazz Quartet and that he wanted to get out there and swinging. Do you think that’s true?
AQ: “The Modern Jazz Quartet was a conservative group and John Lewis was a very classical type of person. The group was created company-wise, there was equal share for each musician and it was one of the most exclusive, highly-paid bands. The thing is, they did the Carnegie Hall, tuxedo and bow tie kind of thing but went to places áfter the gig to jam. Connie Kay went to Jimmy Ryan’s a lot. He played with guys like Major Holley and Roy Eldridge. Milt said to me, ‘I can make John Lewis swing, man!’ But if you heard Milt with the MJQ, he sounds different than with Ray Brown and Monty Alexander at Shelly’s Manne-Hole. (That’s The Way It Is and Just The Way It Had To Be – Impulse 1969/70, FM) I played with Milt and Sadik Hakim in Montréal at the time of his Olinga album. I knew where he came from and he was swinging. Anyway, we all did that, jamming after the gig, Coltrane, Stan Getz, everybody.”

FM: You also went to Africa in the early 1970’s. how did that come about and what you did do out there?
AQ: “That was something that came about through the National Endowment of the Arts. Randy Weston and Nina Simone signed up for me in support. I did performances and workshops in ten countries, from Ghana, Gabon, Burkina Faso and Cameroun to Benin, Togo and Zaire. Every African country had embassies in the USA and I played at the residencies of ambassadors in Africa.”

FM: Your album Ashanti is very African in nature. It’s one of your finest records. What was the idea behind that record?
AQ: Well, after we did the music in the studio, I got the idea of doing a drum battle. I played against each track and so, with two drummers going on, we got this special vibe. The name had nothing to do with the Ashanti people. My wife had an old custom mask that she had gotten many years ago in Africa on the marketplace. It’s not an Ashanti mask, by the way. But the first thing I said when we had recorded the album and I saw the mask was, ‘ashanti’. That record was very successful.”

FM: It was released on your record label Nilva. Why did you start your record label?
AQ: I started Nilva because no one was producing me. I made so much money in Europe, I didn’t know what to do with it. I had never made that kind of money. I watched what Charles Tolliver did with Strata-East. I had a radio tape and produced my own record. (Alvin Queen in Europe, FM) Then a friend told me, if you got an ice cream company, you gotta have all flavors… So I went to New York and did the Ashanti record. It took off and I did those records with Dusko Goykovich, Junior Mance. John Hicks was on most of the stuff. I was very close with John Hicks. I produced Ray Drummond’s record with Branford Marsalis.” (Susanita, 1984, FM)

FM: Why did you quit eventually?
AQ: “The business changed. I was a one-man operation. It was impossible for me to put all that stuff on CD.”

FM: As a drummer, you encapsulate both Elvin Jones-inspired playing and straight swing, it’s very interesting to hear.
AQ: “I was there with Tony Williams at the time. I saw the change from time keeping to free playing. I watched Elvin Jones and Roy Haynes, who had started that thing with Sarah Vaughan. He was low in the mix but you could hear it, the triplet style. Tony and Ron Carter played double with Miles. All drummers followed these guys. Later on, in Europe, the older guys would tell me, stop dropping them bombs… We couldn’t play free like that. It was tempo first. All drummers followed Tony and Elvin but no one turned back to Denzil Best or Shadow Wilson or J.C. Heard. But you need them tóo. There’s no background to a lot of players today, you see. If you say, let’s play the blues, they collapse. I’d be glad to teach them! If you pay respect, I’ll help you out.”

FM: You can’t do without the lessons from the elders.
AQ: “I sat around listening to all those stories from Ray Brown and Oscar Peterson. That already is one thing how you learn to play, that’s by keeping your ears open. These guys teach you how to be solid, not to move around. It’s good to play with all these different personalities. Nowadays, it’s technique. The time is weaker than the technique. That’s the problem.”

FM: Perhaps there should be more of those, but I do know young players here in Holland who soak up everything local and international old masters do and have to say 24/7. That’s the spirit.
AQ: “That’s good but the school and industrial system remains problematic. Bandleaders are not supported. The real masters are not supported. I’ve never been supported and I know a lot, you see? What I have to give don’t make money. What they’re giving us is a market of people that aren’t masters yet. In the history of jazz, all new leaders came out of working groups. They came from the bands of Coleman Hawkins, Max Roach, Art Blakey and not from school. I had no problem getting along with the older musicians because I had that type of training at home. Respect your elders. I was in the bands of Harry “Sweets” Edison, Arnett Cobb, Jay McShann, Buddy Tate. If you were with the elders, you stayed out of the conversation. You didn’t have that experience, so it was best to be quiet and learn.”

“Most professional teachers are not real bandstand players. They teach you the notes but not the experience of the bandstand. I tell younger musicians, who you wanna copy? Who you wanna be? I wanted to be Art Blakey, Elvin Jones. I found a sound for myself. I was in the bands of Horace Silver, George Braith, Larry Young. They said, ‘don’t do this, do that, pay attention, take the grime out of your ears, put your mind to it, use the brain, not the notes.’ That’s how I learned. We don’t have that connection between bands and new leaders and that’s a serious problem. Education is great but it’s totally different than the bandstand. I played with everybody on earth. I gave mine but I just watch where things could improve.”

(AQ, Oscar Peterson & Dave Young, North Sea Jazz Festival, 2005; photography Evert-Jan Hielema)

FM: In your definition, the last generation of masters probably is the one that came up in the 1990’s. You played with a lot of those, the Marsalis brothers, Nicholas Payton. Roy Hargrove.
AQ: “Roy Hargrove only played his gigs when he came in and sat in with granddaddies that were lightyears older than him. I was playing a gig with Dado Moroni and Walter Booker and young Roy was sitting on the side of the steps. He hit me in the leg, ‘hey, Mr. Queen, can I sit in?’. ‘Yeah man,’ I said, ‘that’s where the microphone is right there.’ I loved Roy Hargrove. He admired the elders and loved to play with them. He wanted to know where it was at before it was too late. His experience is sadly missed in New York. He had an every-night jam session going on, man.”

FM: So, we don’t have to expect to have any new young masters?
AQ: “Not if we don’t have bands and leaders, we won’t. A master is a guy who can hold a beautiful tone which blends in with everything. In the Basie band, all trumpeters went into a room and each held one note, so it would sound like one. The ‘one note school.’ I used to sit real close and watch the group of Thelonious Monk. I would hear the gut string of the bass. Wilbur Ware would play one note, no amplification, and it went like, BOOM. The bottles rattled behind the bar. They’re masters. One of the problems today is that 90 % of the musicians move around and don’t stay sturdy.”

FM: Are you going to release some new stuff in the near future?
AQ: “I’m working on a new record right now. It has Tommy Morimoto on saxophone. He’s been running around for twenty years but nobody ever gave him a break. Carlton Holmes is on piano and Danton Boller on bass. He was with Roy Hargrove. I met him through Benny Wallace. I don’t want any people with names. I don’t want four bandleaders on stage, there’s gonna be conflict. I’d rather be the only one there.”

“It will feature four-or-five minute tunes like The Night Has A Thousand Eyes and It Ain’t Necessarily So. I want people to listen to the radio and think, wow, where has that song been? The trick in music is to keep it simple. Let it happen, don’t try to make it happen. If your grow, the music is a part of you. With life, you grow. Music is like food. If you’re a chef in the kitchen, the food tastes better years from now than it does at the present because you learn how to cook the food right.”

“I paid my dues, I have a right to make a statement. I never said I was a mentor because I never reach my goal. When I die, I still haven’t reached it. I just go to another dimension. If I reach my goal, there’s no reason to create anymore. Too many people think that they are already there. That’s when you’re blocking your goal. I went to Oscar Peterson and asked him one time, ‘tell me something, how does it feel to be a genius?’ He said, ‘come into the room and shut the door and sit down!’ He said: ‘Look, people say I’m a genius. But I’m an ordinary piano player like you are an ordinary drummer.’ Great wisdom. And when I die, I die with the basics, with the wisdom.”

Alvin Queen


Harry “Sweets” Edison: “Alvin reminds me of the original drummers that I worked with in the 30’s and 40’s. He has it all. I have to play at 150% of my capacity. If not, he’ll put me out of stage. Alvin keeps me young every note I play with him. He’s fantastic.”

Clark Terry: “Alvin is one of the most swinging drummers of all time that I know and have played with.”

Ray Brown: “Alvin is not only one of the top drummers for sure but also one of the most swinging and crazy guys that I know.”

Frank Wess: There’s only one Alvin Queen in the jazz world. Period!”

Kenny Drew: “If Alvin leaves the trio, I’ll never hire another drummer.”

Selected Discography:

As a leader:
In Europe (Nilva 1980)
Ashanti (Nilva 1981)
Lenox & Seventh (with Lonnie Smith – Black & Blue 1985)
I’m Back (Nilva 1992)
Nishville (Moju 1998)
Hear Me Drummin’ To Ya! (Jazzette 2000)
This Is Uncle Al (with Jesper Thilo – Music Mecca 2001)
I Ain’t Looking At You (Justin Time 2005)
O.P. (Stunt 2018)
Night Train To Copenhagen (Stunt 2021)

As a sideman:
Charles Tolliver, Impact (Strata-East 1975)
Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Jaw’s Blues (Enja 1981)
John Patton, Soul Connection (Nilva 1983)
Guy Lafitte/Wild Bill Davis, Three Men On A Beat (Black & Blue 1983)
Pharaoh Sanders, A Prayer Before Dawn (Evidence 1987)
Tete Montoliu, Barcelona Meeting (Fresh Sound 1988)
Kenny Drew Trio, Standard Request: Live At Keystone Corner (Alfa 1991)
George Coleman, At Yoshi’s (Evidence 1992)
Pierre Boussaguet, Trio Charme (EmArcy 1998)
Cedric Caillaud Trio, Swinging The Count (Fresh Sound 2012)

Check out Alvin’s website here.

King Queen

King Queen (pt.1)

Survivor. Last of the Mohicans. Royalty. Alvin Queen signed, sealed and delivered his statements in classic jazz. In part 1 of our interview, the veteran drummer talks about growing up in Mount Vernon, NY, the roots of the black beat, sitting front row at Coltrane’s epic Birdland performance besides ‘mentor’ Elvin Jones at age 13 and finding his way as a young professional with Wild Bill Davis, George Benson and Horace Silver. “We were set up during one of the most beautiful times in music.”

The camera reveals a strong man. Pronounced jaw lines. Plenty muscle. The type that was like a leopard on the court in the hood, dunking methodically and swiftly. The type that carries nephews on his shoulders at the fairground. His body is like his beat. And his beat is very strong. It’s like an unbreakable wheelbarrow. To put extra weight into his words, Alvin Queen regularly bends forward, adding a resolute “okay?!” or “you see?!” He’ll tell you where it’s at, where it’s been and where it should go. A preacher, beyond any doubt. A very generous one, at that. It is impossible to avoid the legendary drummer’s twinkling eyes. They speak of love for his art and trade. They speak of the serious fun of endlessly discussing those. They speak of the giants of jazz of lore.

Alvin Queen oozes classic jazz. At age 73, he looks back upon a spectacular career that gained momentum when he was taken under the wings by Elvin Jones and developed into the to-go-to rhythm pal of Wild Bill Davis, George Benson, Horace Silver, Ray Brown, Harry Sweets Edison, Eddie Lockjaw Davis, Kenny Drew and Oscar Peterson, among many others. Queen migrated to Geneva in Switzerland in the 1970’s and started the record label Nilva. A figurehead of the European scene and a middle-aged class act with truckloads of experience, he adopted the new breed and played with the Marsalis Bros, Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, Mike LeDonne, Eric Alexander, Christian McBride and Jesse Davis.

Those were the days when hand-written letters were something to cherish. Now we have the avatar of Elvis Presley putting another gig in his hip pocket in Las Vegas. People adjusting their blinds with their smart phones while they’re drinking cocktails at a sidewalk café in Malaga, Spain. A world of difference. But no mistaking, Queen has both feet on the ground of the 21st century. Although he is critical of the system that breeds well-intentioned but ignorant young players, he still likes to play with talented young lions, preferably those that deserve wider attention. His latest tribute to Oscar Peterson, Night Train To Copenhagen, features a couple of fine young Danish fellows that fly by the digital highway from the word go. Queen: “My Oscar Peterson tributes did very well. The first one from 2018, O.P., went BOOM to the charts, then Night Train To Copenhagen went BOOM up the charts as well, up to number 3 out of 100 best albums in the USA last year. I am not doing anything out of the ordinary. I’m playing normal music. I can’t change music. Most of the best composers in the world, they’re dead and gone. I’m playing the kind of melodies that people can understand.”

(Tobias Dall, AQ and Calle Brinkman, the Night Train To Copenhagen trio.)

FM: You grew up in Mount Vernon, New York. What was it like?
AQ: “Great. We had after-school programs those days. Every kid had something to join, like a band or a swimming team. I followed the roots of my brother, who played drums. Kids had drumsticks and banged on the sidewalk. I lived in a black neighborhood and there was a lot of exposure to music. You had these little cafés that sold hot sausages and had a jukebox. We would bang on the side of the jukebox. Everybody had some kind of rhythm going on. There was music all up and down the streets. All cafés opened the doors because there was no such thing as air-conditioning. I would sit on the stoop, eat ice cream and listen to the music. Billy Eckstine, Arthur Prysock. My brother didn’t keep the drums going and I joined the school band. We would do parades. This was about 1958/59. My mother went Christmas shopping down the avenue. There was this store window, Woolworth’s dime store I think it was, and up there was a little kid and a guy who was teaching him drums. I kept looking, thinking, how in the hell can I get up to this guy… one day when my mom is not around… So, one day I did. I was a shoeshine kid with a little box. I went to the illegal skin joints, got a quarter or fifty cents. I went up Fourth Avenue, the guy was Andy Lalino, he had worked with Neil Sedaka. I said, ‘you want a shoe shine?’ Just a nosey kid, you know. ‘No, no, no,’ he said. ‘You play drums?’ ‘Yeah’, I said, ‘I’m in the school marching band’. He said: ‘Tell your mother to call me.’ She did and I got lessons for two months. But it was 5 dollars an hour. And my mom was on social service. She was on welfare. I had two brothers and sisters. Money didn’t stretch that far. Lalino said, ‘Miss Queen, he’s a nice kid, I don’t wanna see him go bad in the street. He can stay here, run coffee errands, sweep the floors, I give him his lessons.’

“I grew up with Denzel Washington, the actor. His father was a minister at the church where I went. My grandmother played piano and directed the choir. My father was working the bars as a bar manager. There were about six jazz clubs in one square mile. We weren’t allowed in white areas so much, we had everything in our own neighborhood. One day, in one of those clubs, Jimmy Hill had a gig but something happened to the drummer. Jimmy went to the bar where my father was manager. My father’s nickname was Dead Eye and Jimmy said, ‘Dead Eye, the drummer didn’t show, could we use the kid?’ I was eleven years old! My father said, ‘can you do this, Alvin?’ I said, ‘Dad, if there’s any music that they play that is in your record collection, I can help!’ ‘Ok’, he said, ‘put your suit and necktie on.’ My dad was chaperone. That was the first gig that I played. I knew all the music. At drum school we played along with records of Dinah Washington. Dance music.”

FM: What music did you play that night? Swing?
AQ: No, no. Art Blakey. Chicken ‘n’ Dumplins. The Blue Note stuff. Shuffles were very popular. Jimmy Smith’s The Sermon. We knew all those records by heart because we heard ‘m all the time. All those tunes that guys like Symphony Sid put on air.

FM: How much influence did church and gospel have on you?
AQ: “In the first place, the thing about the black churches was, if you didn’t go to church on Sunday, you couldn’t go out and play on Saturday. Inside the church we had big mamas. Everybody watched each other’s kids. If you played hookie, somebody told your mother or father and they would say, where were you!

“I would see grandmothers play tambourines and how they beat the rhythms. You would see upright basses and a piano player that played on a piano that had broken keys and was out of tune. There was the organ, that was a black thing. All great organ players came out of church. When you see exactly what was happening from gospel, blues, the shuffle rhythm to rock and roll and Little Richard, Tina Turner, The Beatles, you see one pattern. This is the gospel root. The whole thing about it, it’s 6/8 or 12/8, counted in triplets. That is what makes it swing. In school they teach them to play in sixteenth notes but that’s not swinging. I always try to explain to students and everybody, count in triplets and play the ¾. Listen to Gene Harris & The Three Sounds and Lil’ Darlin’ for instance, you’ll hear it. All triplets going on. See where all the accents are falling. It’s how you interpret it. I play all rhythms in one beat. A lot of people want to play with me because they think, that guy has got an ‘older’ right hand. I care about the definition of the beat. That’s what the musicians need. I believe in a solid, sturdy beat.”

FM: Your father regularly took you up to Harlem and the Apollo Theatre. That’s very generous.
AQ: “At that time, black people had process hair. They mixed lye and potato and straightened their hair. Look at Oscar Peterson, Nat King Cole, Erroll Garner. They had to do this once a week or every two weeks. The famous boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson, opened a barbershop in Harlem. My father frequented his shop and always said, ‘Alvin, after I have my hair done, we’ll get you a hot dog and see the show’. I saw Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, The Supremes, Count Basie, John Coltrane, entertainers as Pigmeat Markum and actors like Red Foxx. They had a Gospel Caravan. Afterwards, we would buy the records across the street at Teddy McRae’s record store. Music was like food.”

FM: You mentioned that you were a shoeshine boy. I read that you shined the shoes of Thelonious Monk. Pretty crazy! How did something like that come about?
AQ: “Yeah, they had Beefsteak Charlie’s at 50th Street and Broadway. I was a kid and listening where these guys hung out. I’d use the shoeshine box again, just like I did in Mount Vernon. Coleman Hawkins hung out there when he was doing studio work in New York. I’d say, ‘you want a shine?’ to Hawkins, Monk, Buck Clayton, Cozy Cole… All those guys worked at the Metropole, which was close by. They would say, ‘hey, young boy, gimme a shine!’. They never pushed you away, they always behaved like decent adults.”

(Birdland, Elvin & Alvin and anonymous shoe shine boy)

FM: You also went to something like the Gretsch Drum Night, right?
AQ: What happened was, the guy that taught me drums in Mount Vernon, he got permission from my mother to take me to a drum show downtown at the Roseland. Elvin Jones was the guest and we got very close. That was in 1962. Then the teacher chaperoned me to the Gretsch Drum Night. They had Red Garland on piano and I think Paul Chambers on bass. Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Mel Lewis and Charli Persip took turns. For some reason, Elvin said, ‘get him up there’… I played and it was the biggest thing they’ve seen, man this kid is playing! Birdland was just across the street. I hung out there and saw Eric Dolphy, Wes Montgomery.”

FM: At Birdland, you saw John Coltrane perform what would be recorded as part of the famous Live At Birdland album in 1963. At the tender age of 13! Please tell me how that came about.
AQ: Yeah, it was my teacher that took me out again. That was the night that Coltrane met his future wife, Alice. There were always two bands playing at Birdland and she was playing with Terry Gibbs. Of course, she was still Alice McLeod then. Anyway, I was sitting at the table with Elvin. He said, with that deep, gritty voice of his, ‘the kid’s got to learn, the kid’s got to learn’. He picked me up and put me up there with Coltrane. I’m making all these sounds. I remember John Coltrane turning around and saying, ‘Elvin, get the kid, man!’ Haha!”

FM: Do you remember what tune you played?
AQ: I don’t remember the tune! I was in a state of shock. It lasted for maybe five or ten minutes. I was young, my hands weren’t that strong as Elvin’s. Elvin put me back at the table. One thing Elvin and Art Blakey always did, they took you right under them, you could watch their feet and see what they were doing.”

FM: So, you were mentored by Elvin after that?
AQ: Off and on. I would follow Elvin around, me and guys like Reginald Golson, that’s Benny’s son, who also was a drummer and died. We stayed at The Peanut Gallery at Birdland. We were allowed to sit there because we were kids. We weren’t allowed at the bar. During breaks musicians would come over. All of them talked with the kids.

FM: Your first professional gigs were with singer Ruth Brown and organist Wild Bill Davis.
AQ: Yes, I don’t even know how I got that gig with Wild Bill. We went to Atlantic City and played at Grace’s Little Belmont club. It was a chicken ‘n’ waffles bar. After that I joined the organ circuit. Everything was organ at the time. They needed drummers all the time. So, you go and hang out in a bar in Harlem. That was how I got in touch with Grant Green and people like that. He would say ‘hey young boy, what are you doing next week?’ ‘Oh, Sir,’ I would say, ‘I’m not doing anything.’ ‘Okay, have your drums ready on Monday at 7:30, we’re going out of town…’. That probably was with John Patton. All organ players had a trailer. I started working with Don Pullen. He is best-known through his work as pianist with Mingus and George Adams but he also played the Hammond organ. I played with him and Ruth Brown. Then I played with guitarist Tiny Grimes at Sue’s Rendezvous at 115th Street. You don’t even know who they really are, you’re just making gigs.”

(Elvin Jones, George Benson and Horace Silver)

FM: You also played with George Benson around that time.
AQ: Yes, he was with Ronnie Cuber and Lonnie Smith. George sang a lot in the car, but he wasn’t a singer yet. I remember that we went to Buffalo one time. There was a snowstorm and so we were snowed in. We were playing the Beemose club but there weren’t any people. Nobody. ‘Who you’re playing for?’ said the owner. ‘Man,’ I said, ‘I want my money.’ ‘Okay,’ he said, ‘cool it, have a drink…’. Then B.B. King came in with two young ladies. He also had a gig and was snowed in as well. He said to George, ‘George, if you change up your style a little bit, you’ll probably be successful.’ That’s when he came up with Breezin’, the big hit.’

FM: At the same time, you joined Horace Silver. How did that come about?
AQ: I auditioned and got a call from Horace Silver in September 1969. I had to have a suit, went to a pawnshop on 8th Avenue, purchased two cases for the drums and joined the union. I had to have a cabaret license. Me and Tony Williams, we were young and always had trouble with police cards and fingerprints. Union delegates would come and check, we couldn’t play with any name bands a lot of the time. At that time, Horace had Bennie Maupin on saxophone, Randy Brecker on trumpet and John Williams on bass. Silver would take a vacation each year, I was with him for nine months and would do the other three months with George Benson. That’s how it worked.”

Next time, part 2, Alvin Queen talks about his reconnecting with Silver in the 1970’s, his migration to Switzerland and pivotal role as drummer with the elderly jazz legends and explains the difference between classic and contemporary jazz…

Alvin Queen


Oscar Peterson: “Alvin is one of the best drummers that I ever shared the stage with. He has a great sound and time feel. He plays with fire and I really love it.”

Elvin Jones: “Alvin has something that I don’t have and will never have: precision. I love him!”

Pierre Boussaguet: “Alvin’s backbeat is unique in this world and when he plays a ballad, you hear each time clear and wide. Amazing.”

Benny Carter: “Alvin knows exactly what to give to every musician in the band to play at their best. I love him.”

Butch Miles: “I wish I could have Alvin’s chops! He’s so fabulous!”

Calle Brickman: “Apart from his amazing musicianship that I listened to on records throughout my life, Alvin is also a great person. He is happy to share his views on music and life, which is the way jazz tradition has been brought through the generations. A true friend and a historic figure in jazz.”

Selected Discography:

As a leader:
In Europe (Nilva 1980)
Ashanti (Nilva 1981)
Lenox & Seventh (with Lonnie Smith – Black & Blue 1985)
I’m Back (Nilva 1992)
Nishville (Moju 1998)
Hear Me Drummin’ To Ya! (Jazzette 2000)
This Is Uncle Al (with Jesper Thilo – Music Mecca 2001)
I Ain’t Looking At You (Justin Time 2005)
O.P. (Stunt 2018)
Night Train To Copenhagen (Stunt 2021)

As a sideman:
Charles Tolliver, Impact (Strata-East 1975)
Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Jaw’s Blues (Enja 1981)
John Patton, Soul Connection (Nilva 1983)
Guy Lafitte/Wild Bill Davis, Three Men On A Beat (Black & Blue 1983)
Pharaoh Sanders, A Prayer Before Dawn (Evidence 1987)
Tete Montoliu, Barcelona Meeting (Fresh Sound 1988)
Kenny Drew Trio, Standard Request: Live At Keystone Corner (Alfa 1991)
George Coleman, At Yoshi’s (Evidence 1992)
Pierre Boussaguet, Trio Charme (EmArcy 1998)
Cedric Caillaud Trio, Swinging The Count (Fresh Sound 2012)

Check out Alvin’s website here.

The New York Second @Mascini

Some Other Time

More and more jazz lovers find the road to the conceptual jazz city of Dutch pianist Harald Walkate, whose band The New York Second delivered its fourth album After The Hours, The Minutes this Spring. A trio record that explores the various trademarks of the phenomenon of time and includes a classy booklet and thought-provoking liner notes. “I’d like for people to lose themselves for a while in the story that I’m presenting them. Of course, there will be those that have no desire for a concept and just want to listen to some music. That’s fine by me as well.”

He has some time to spare this week. Good for us. Next week the pianist is in London on a business trip. Part of a rare Dutch species that seems to have sprung up with bop legend Rein de Graaff, who combined piano playing with electro ware wholesale, Walkate follows a two-fold strategy. The 52-year-old citizen of Amsterdam, based in the upper-class Plan Zuid neighborhood, is in financial services. Married and father of three children, to boot. Challenging life style. “It’s a matter of efficiency and doing the things that are important to you. Inevitably, this leads to the exclusion of other occupancies. For instance, I love to swim but don’t engage in time-consuming team sports. I play piano in my basement late in the evening. That’s relaxation for me. I’m not much for tv. Music and finance are totally different worlds. The creative, playful element of music is important to me. Contrary to adults, children are natural explorers, whereas we as adults have basically become of an exploitative nature. Playful exploration is a quality that is typical for jazz. It’s like being able to forget yourself and just see where the road will take you.”

It seems that the meticulousness and hands-on mentality of business have pervaded Walkate’s creative output. A genial personality that is lovingly described to yours truly as The Good Guy by trumpeter Teus Nobel, Walkate is a man with a plan. All records of his group The New York Second (the band name evolved from his mid-90’s group The New York Minute, which was inspired by Herbie Hancock’s version of the famed Eagles song, which was about “how big changes can happen in short periods of time – in a New York Minute, anything can change – an appropriate name for an improvisation-based band … Fast forward to 2014. The New York Minute had disbanded long ago, but again I felt I had a lot of compositions that were worth exploring. The name for this group could only be The New York Second”) use a theme as a springboard for songs and improvisation. Literature, philosophy and traveling experiences are constants in his line of work, which resulted in Bay Of Poets, Emergo, and Music At Night. Academic as his preoccupations may seem, Walkate’s musical palette is anything but affected by stilted snobbery and ranges from thoughtful to funky.

His latest, After The Hours, The Minutes, reflects on the phenomenon of time, inspired by the essay collection Over Het Verstrijken Van De Tijd by Dutch thinker Paul van Tongeren. Finally, eschewing the contributions of great group companions as Nobel and saxophonists Frank Paavo and Jesse Schilderink, Walkate focuses on trio interaction with ace bassist Lorenzo Buffa and young drum talent Max Sergeant. A collection of songs that benefit from the power of simplicity and delicate interplay and invites comparisons with the diverse likes of Ethan Iverson and Steely Dan.

FM: How did you come up with the idea of theme-inspired records?
HW: “Actually, I didn’t have preconceived goals at all. I started a group because I had a load of compositions that I thought would be nice to work out. I was honored to have some top-rate musicians contribute to my work. Then somebody said, why not make a CD. This was an incentive to make a serious effort, so I decided to put a lot of work in it and link the music to the story that was laid out in the booklet. This became Bay Of Poets. So, years later, here I am with the fourth New York Second album. It’s inspiring to work with a plan. Moreover, I think it appeals to a story-hungry audience. Sliding down in your seat, being in another world for a while… That’s the idea. I received a lot of uplifting comments on my Aldous Huxley-inspired Music At Night album. It’s not to say that albums of standards aren’t worthwhile, on the contrary, but I’m positive that jazz musicians are able to garner more attention with preconceived ideas.”

FM: How did you get into jazz?
HW: “My father and brother played piano. My father was a big fan of the Broadway repertoire. He regularly was in the United States for his work and came back with copies of the Real Book. We had two piano’s in the house and played together. I saw pictures of the great jazz men in these books and thought, hey, they play the American Songbook as well. I played in soul and funk groups. Slowly, I became aware of the influence of jazz on pop music. I found out that many jazz greats were session musicians. The Motown records, Wayne Shorter with Steely Dan, etcetera… It wasn’t until my early/mid 20s that I started to explore the history of jazz and improvisation. I made my first serious moves when I studied in Madrid. That’s where I met Josh Edelman, a great teacher. He really taught me a lot.”

FM: Yours is a relatively soft-hued approach, consisting of a light toucher and elegant construction.
HW: “I studied and played bebop when I lived in Chicago. There was Bloom School of Jazz, founded by David Bloom, a great old-school guy. But there isn’t much of bebop left in my piano playing. If you look at someone like Bill Evans, you notice that the thing that makes his playing swing is not so much syncopation but the melodic element. His timing is relatively straight. I like to explore this melodic aspect of jazz.

FM: How did the idea of After The Hours, The Minutes come about?
HW: “Contrary to Music At Night, which was written after my discovery of Huxley’s essay, all my pieces were more or less finished. I had a general idea of what the songs were about, but things really fell into place when I found a little book by Paul van Tongeren about the passage of time. It was fascinating because he wrote about things that I had been thinking about for quite a while. Seeing that he is much better at expressing these thoughts than me, I decided to use his quotes in the liner notes with his permission.”

FM: Time is self-evident but mysterious at the same… time.
HW: “The subjective experience of time is a totally different thing than absolute time measurement. Especially in jazz, you have that thing of being in the moment. It’s contradictory and ironic, because you know that is where you want to be but it’s quite impossible to seek it consciously, let alone find it. It’s a matter of coincidence.”

Harald Walkate


The New York Second, Bay Of Poets (2017)
Hadrian’s Wall, The Big Hotel (2018)
The New York Second, Emergo (2019)
The New York Second, Music At Night (2021)
The New York Second, After The Hours, The Minutes (2023)

Check out Harald’s website here.

Pierre Boussaguet2

My Man With The Cassette

Nowadays Pierre Boussaguet writes arrangements for classical ballets and is finishing a record of songs and lyrics besides being a bassist steeped in mainstream jazz. He reflects on the many lessons that he has learned from giants and friends like Ray Brown, Jimmy Woode, Guy Lafitte and Tete Montoliu. “Thank you is not enough to express the feelings of gratitude that I’ve been having the last few years.”

Klook. Baron. Little Bird. Mr. Five by Five. Social intercourse among giants of jazz required nicknames that were invented with the typical playfulness and spontaneity of the jazz artist. When Americans were in Europe, they often made up aka’s for their European disciples. One such disciple, French bassist Pierre Boussaguet, was on tour with Monty Alexander in Japan in 1986. Harry “Sweets” Edison was the special guest. Boussaguet and Edison had never met before and said hello shortly before the start of the show. Suddenly, during the concert, Edison said to Pierre, “give me a B flat, please” and they went into I Wish I Knew. At the end of the tune, the trumpeter approached Boussaguet and said, “hey, by the way, I don’t remember your name, what’s your name again?” Boussaguet repeated it but Edison still didn’t understand. He said, “You French, right? Ok, I got it.” He took the microphone and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, on bass we have Mr. Charles de Gaulle” in that typical Americanized French tongue. Everybody cracked up. Since that day, Boussaguet went by the nickname of “Charles de Gaulle”.

When Boussaguet was born in Albi in 1960, “General” de Gaulle had just started his presidency of the Fifth Republic. Unlike De Gaulle, who was met with great distrust from the American liberators, Boussaguet turned into a dependable and exceptional colleague and friend of American jazz greats, which finally teached him everything he needed to know about jazz. A long journey, that started in that medium-sized town in the South of France, where Boussaguet played accordion as a kid in a family that was non-musical except as fans of music for dancing. One day, Boussaguet was invited to a jazz concert by a friend. A life-changing event. “It was a performance by Ray Bryant and it was a shock! I was enthralled by Jimmy Rowser. I grabbed the arm of my friend and said, “that’s it, that’s what I will be doing!”. It was the first time that I saw an upright bass. The first time I heard a walking bass line. I had no idea what the heck he was doing.”

Lots of great Jimmy’s out there. Another bassist, the great Jimmy Woode, turned out to be a game-changing mentor. After a cautious start with raggedy upright basses and bits of classical schooling, the talented Boussaguet finally came around to playing professionally with a local quintet. As fate would have it, he met Woode at a festival in his hometown Albi. “We were on the same bill. Woode played with Sweets, Dolo Coker, John Collins and Alvin Queen. I gathered courage to approach Woode with a cassette of our quintet and asked if he would accept it to take a listen and get back to me by letter. Unfortunately, there was no answer so I assumed that he had forgotten all about it. Then after four months I ran into him at another festival nearby. There were Sweets, Benny Carter, Oliver Jackson. I didn’t dare say hi to those guys! Suddenly, when I passed by, Woode said, “hey hold it, that’s my man with the cassette!” It turned out that his wallet had been stolen after the Albi gig on the train and that he was unable to get into contact. In fact, Woode had listened to the tape and he invited me to his home in Zürich, said I had potential but needed a teacher. I was in Zürich for ten days. It was marvelous. A great man.”

Paris. Darkness and light just that little bit more melancholic and vivacious than in other cities. Headstrong metropole. Post-war cross-pollination with the USA. Sartre and his turtleneck sweater philosophy. The ‘Parisienne look’ an international fashion phenomenon. Jazz town with a capital J. Miles Davis and Juliette Gréco strolling along the Seine. Home to many of the greatest. Sidney Bechet. Kenny Clarke at Le Chat Qui Pêche. Smoke mingling with Pierre Michelot’s warm-blooded bounce. Godard creating swinging movies. Talking turkey the essence on approximately three thousand inner city patios. Magnet for aspiring artists. Here, Pierre Boussaguet lives about six months per year. He went there in 1985, burgeoning bassist, trying to make a break. “Almost nowhere else to go. Juan-les-Pins and Nice? Yes, there were the festivals of course. But France is a very centralized country. That’s not a political opinion but just an observation. It’s different in Germany, for instance. There you have different jazz centers like Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg.”

“Paris has been my home jazz base for a lifetime where I played with all those great guys I had met, Ray Brown, Benny Carter, Roy Hargrove. It’s a great place to have as a springboard to the rest of Europe. Let me tell you how I met Ray Brown. He was friends with Marc Hemmeler, a great French pianist. That’s how we met. Later on, I had dared to call him on the phone when he was in Zürich for two weeks in 1985. So, here I am half a year later, on tour with Charlie Byrd in Zürich. I had to make do with a bass from over there but it was unplayable, a mess. Earlier on I had seen the program and the band from Monty Alexander, Ray Brown and Herb Ellis was playing before us. Charlie apparently was the big name over there. So, Charlie said to me to tell Ray about the bass. When I met Ray he said, “good to see you, now I have a chance to hear you, you have an axe?” I told him about my problem. Ray commented on ‘that piece of shit’ and said for me to take his bass. I played it backstage. Herb heard me and sent for Ray. Ray said, “ok, you play like me, I will listen to the gig” and afterward he said, “this was a great chance to hear how I sound up there!” Then in the hotel, we had drinks and he said, “ok, Pierre, second lesson tomorrow! 8:30 in the morning sharp! You’re talented and progressed since last year.” I was at his room the next morning. The rest is history. We created the Two Bass Hits group. We became very good friends, called each other all the time just to have a chat.”

(Jimmy Woode; Ray Brown; Guy Lafitte, Pierre Boussaguet & producer Jean-Michel Reisser “Beethoven”; About Guy Lafitte: To me Guy has one of the greatest sounds on tenor in the history of jazz. We are from the South, share the same sense of melancholy and feelings for nature. He was like a second father to me and regarded me as his son.”)

In the 1990s, Boussaguet made a name for himself in New York and sealed a solid international reputation. He played and recorded with Clark Terry, Ray Brown, Monty Alexander, Joe Pass, Guy Lafitte, Milt Jackson and Wynton Marsalis. Strikingly, duo and trio settings are omnipresent in his discography. Carefully planned career path? Boussaguet, in his charming French-American accent, to settle it once and for all remarking that once he starts talking he never stops, explains: “No, it’s not a consciously planned thing at all. After a while I realized that I had achieved a lot of duets especially. I love that setting. The element of risk is involved. You’re trained to cover up missing notes, but that’s totally wrong in that concept. What you need to do is use the space, accept it and find the soul notes. It’s about melodic playing. I learned a lesson from Jimmy Woode about playing in different settings. After a gig in 1989 he said to me, “I have a question for you, Pierre. I don’t get it, you’re in a quartet but play as if you’re in a trio.” I thought, oh shit, yeah? He made me realize that you need to be aware of the concept that you’re playing in, whether it’s duo, trio, quintet or big band.”

“I think I’m doing what the old jazz men did. I prefer to hear the music over and over again and not think about notes and details. Get an impression as deep as I can about the general feeling and meaning.”

The University of the Streets, as legends used to call it. Trusting your ears, trusting the elders, trusting the years on the road. Self-declared part of the last generation that had ample opportunity to play with the biggest names in classic jazz, Boussaguet reflects on some of his career-defining associations. He’ll never forget his meetings with Tete Montoliu. “Oh man, Tete surely was one of the top players in the world. For some reason I was scared to play with him. At some point he asked me to play in a TV studio. I said, “well, Tete, I have a problem, I don’t know why but I’m scared to play with you…” He cracked up laughing and said, “I’m so happy that you’ve told me. I will tell you something. Don’t try to play for me but play against me. Then you oblige me to react and be creative. Take my word.” I thought, shoot, let’s try. It turned out like he said. Tete was so excited and so was I, there was no fear anymore.”

“Johnny Griffin told me something similar once. More prosaic. He said, “Baby, I just have one thing to ask you. Don’t ever play for someone, play what the fuck you want.”

Those were the days. “I’m not conservative and I’m not avantgarde. If you want to do this music, the second you decide to be the hippest guy on the planet, it means the next stop someone is going to go further than you. Then suddenly you have become old-fashioned. I enjoy old cars, not because I’m conservative, but because I love it. I’ve got a car that is more than 50-years-old. Of course, the engine is not as good as contemporary motor technology but it has stood the test of time. A swinging car? Definitely!”

(Ray Brown/Pierre Boussaguet/Dado Moroni, Two Bass Hits 1992; Guy Lafitte & Pierre Boussaguet, Crossings 1998; Pierre Boussaguet, Pour Ou Contrabasse 2010)

“I’m not nostalgic or anything. Not at all. I’m like a sociologist. My point is not to express my ego. I’m just observing. There are certain things in life that I like from the past and certain things from today. As far as my generation is concerned, we were really involved. Maybe too much so. But when I met Monty Alexander, the excitement was enormous. To have a chance to play with that guy, be in the same room, was something else. Today, people are at home and listen to solos on YouTube and are less interested to have a coffee with the masters and make him talk. I didn’t go to jazz school. So many things that I learned were from being around the masters, listening to their anecdotes and jokes. I remember the scent of their eau de cologne, the smoke of their cigarettes. There was nothing like listening to the sound of Guy Lafitte in a club. I have friends that have seen Duke Ellington live. There’s always someone doing better, right! They tell me that the sound of his band was unbelievable. It’s different than listening to a record. I’m not criticizing the younger generation, same as I think all those guys like Griffin weren’t criticizing us. The world has changed. Most of the giants are dead and gone. It’s all records and videos now.”

That may be true. But now Boussaguet is part of the experienced tribe that has plenty of peas to pass. “That’s right. The door’s always open.”

Pierre Boussaguet

Pierre Boussaguet played and recorded with Guy Lafitte, Ray Brown, Monty Alexander, Alvin Queen, Clark Terry, Milt Jackson, Johnny Griffin, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Phil Woods, Joe Henderson, Joe Pass, Kenny Burrell, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Rowles, Kenny Drew, Plas Johnson, Daniel Humair, Jesper Lundgaard, Randy Brecker, Terri Lynn Carrington, Alain Jean Marie, Martial Solal, Jeff Hamilton, Wynton Marsalis and Diane Krall, among others. He worked closely with Lalo Schifrin and Michel Legrand. Boussaguet is an acclaimed composer who skirts the borders of jazz, classical and world music with Meeting Point.

Selected discography:

Ray Brown/Pierre Boussaguet/Dado Moroni, Two Bass Hits (1992)
Guy Lafitte/Pierre Bousssaguet, Charme (1998)
Pierre Boussaguet, From The Duke To The King (2007)
Benjamin Koppel/Bobby Watson, At Ease (2008)
Pierre Boussaguet/Alain Jean Marie, Still Dukish (2012)
Pierre Boussaguet, Mother Land Quartet (2014)
Pierre Boussaguet, Meeting Point (2017)

Here’s Pierre with Milt Jackson. And with the Clark Terry Band. Finally, here Pierre is performing with Randy Brecker, very hot session.

Photography: Joke Schot

Shaw ‘Nuff!

On audience with Jarmo Hoogendijk, trumpeter that reminisces on the impact of befriending Woody Shaw and sophisticated teacher that found a balance between old-school mentoring and modern education. “Better leave that study room once in a while and have a ball.”

Sparkling sounds, vibrant cadenzas, sassy sideways to the outskirts of chords, crystal clearly phrased and balanced lines of stories that reflected the ethos of the great helmsmen like his mentor and house guest Woody Shaw and updated it for the fin de siècle of the 21st jazz century. Dutch trumpeter Jarmo Hoogendijk was a frontrunner of the generation that gave jazz new élan in the late 1980’s and beyond, featured in the acclaimed Ben van den Dungen/Jarmo Hoogendijk Quintet and the Afro-Cuban big band Nueva Manteca. He began his career in the prime Dutch big band The Skymasters and further played alongside Freddie Hubbard, Teddy Edwards, Clark Terry, J.J. Johnson, Frank Foster, Junior Cook, Art Taylor, Rein de Graaff, Cindy Blackman, Rufus Reid and Lewis Nash. Irreparable problems with his embouchure untimely ended his career as a professional jazz musician in 2004.

From that moment on, Hoogendijk extended his teaching career with the same flair that he displayed as a professional musician. Today, Hoogendijk is mentor and teaches trumpet, ensemble and vocals classes at the conservatories of Rotterdam, Amsterdam and The Hague. Hoogendijk himself graduated at the prehistoric boulders of jazz teaching. The system had been under construction since the 1970’s and teachers were jazz heroes that invented methods on the spot, among others pianist Rob Madna, trombonist Erik van Lier, saxophonist Ferdinand Povel, trumpeter Ack van Rooyen and pianist Frans Elsen. “It was like the Wild West. Reportedly, Ben (van den Dungen, FM) once had a musical dispute with Frans Elsen and things got out of hand in a bar. Suddenly Ben was on top of Frans, fists clenched and shouting: ‘Don’t expect me to be afraid of you, rotten dwarf!’ The thing was, next day they let bygones be bygones. That’s how it worked back then. Beautiful era.”

Nowadays, the conservatory landscape is strongly professionalized, an area of draught-free buildings with double-glazing and solar panels, so to speak. No need of renovation. Or is there? Critics do not pull any punches. Hoogendijk acknowledges sore points but proudly defends his line of work. Intelligently rebutting presumptions seems second nature to the blond-grey resident of mainstream jazz city #1, The Hague, who receives the Flophouse crew at his neatly arranged apartment just outside the city center. A record cabinet looms large over his shoulders in the anteroom. Newspapers and Doctor Jazz Magazine are on the kitchen and coffee table.

FM: When was the first time you saw Woody Shaw perform?
JH: “In March 1985. I went to see Freddie Hubbard but his performance was cancelled and was replaced by the Woody Shaw/Joe Farrell band. Before the gig, Woody was in the foyer alone. I saw him doing Tai Chi exercises, that was quite a sight. The concert blew my head off. He was so incredibly in top form, unbelievable! He played 20+ blues choruses and the intensity and originality grew with each chorus. That gig was recorded on cassette. I immediately started to research his solo’s.”

FM: When was the first time you met him?
JH: “That was in 1986. I went to George’s Jazz Café in Arnhem with Ben. Woody played with the Cedar Walton Trio. We got to talking. From then on we met at concerts. Woody regularly stayed at the place of road manager Bob Holland. I met him over there and we chatted and studied together. Sometimes I took him out on a trip or to concerts or he visited my shows with Nueva Manteca. At some point, he was at my place and asked if he could stay overnight. Eventually, he stayed a couple of weeks and that was the last time that I saw him. It was pretty intense because Woody was quite a volatile character. People that act on such a high creative level are sensitive and vulnerable and sometimes self-destructive. And probably as a consequence things can get rough. Woody was like that. Wise but someone who in reality doesn’t know how to cope with life! But despite all of this, we also laughed a lot.”

FM: What do you do when you have Woody Shaw as a sleepover?
JH: “Listening to music, chatting. Doing groceries, cooking. And going to jam sessions. Back then I lived right beside café De Sport, a flourishing and legendary jazz spot. At that time in his life, Woody rarely touched his instrument. But one day he said, ‘Ok, I feel like playing a bit’. We went to De Sport where the regular trio of pianist Frans Elsen featuring bassist Jacques Schols and drummer Eric Ineke was playing. Physically, Woody was in bad shape. But his playing was totally enchanting. I remember that he played The Man I Love, very subdued and humbling. When we finished, Woody made clear that he wanted to go home and have some sleep. This was very unlike Woody! He said, ‘I believe that this was the last time that I played.’ Incredibly and unfortunately, it was.”

FM: He was one of the great innovators of jazz trumpet and a keeper of the flame, preaching modern jazz at a time when fusion was the big thing.
JH: “Definitely. If there is one trumpeter that embodies the whole history of jazz but who is totally original, it’s Woody. What more could you ask for? His playing echoed Louis Armstrong and at the same time was super hip. It’s the max. When Shaw lived in Europe during the last years of his life, few musicians actually knew who he was or how great he was. If you ask about Shaw nowadays, many trumpeters pick him as their big favorite.”

FM: What are your favorite Woody Shaw recordings?
JH: “My favorites are live recordings. I think, however great he was, that he was less comfortable in the studio. Live is a totally different ballgame. Those posthumous albums that were instigated by his son Woody III, like the Bremen and Tokyo albums, as well as the the High Note releases, are unbelievably good. How can someone who lives such a chaotic personal life act at such a continuous high level? It’s astonishing. I have a lot of bootleg cassette tapes from live performances and radio broadcasts from the 1970’s and 1980’s. That’s when you hear him playing totally different and original versions of the same compositions night after night. Truly amazing. His memory was fabulous and his ears were pitch-perfect.”

FM: What did you learn from Woody Shaw?
JM: “Study at least 8 hours a day when you’re young, over and over again. That’s the only way to become great at what you do. But also have a bit of a ball, go out, experience life. Woody was absurd. His constitution must’ve been very strong. Same goes for Freddie Hubbard and Wynton Marsalis, I think. Woody studied eight or nine hours every day, then went to a gig and a jam session afterwards. Every day, every week, on and on. Who can put that thing in his mouth for so long? Woody III told me that he should not dare to come in his dad’s room with this or that message, like ‘telephone’ or ‘dinner’s ready’. He just didn’t hear him and kept on playing! He was one with the trumpet. But he also partied hard.”

“Woody heard me study a couple of times. He rarely gave comments but one time he said: “Man, don’t try to play like me. You’re not ready for that stuff. First listen to Lee Morgan and his cadenza on Night In Tunesia. Then we’ll talk again.”

FM: I have the feeling that students today are too well-mannered. Well at least for my taste. Where’s the son of a bricklayer that kicks ass? I realize this might be false romanticism.
JH: “Think twice. I’ve seen plenty of very talented youngsters go berserk. That’s what happens with the ones who already have a lot to say on their instrument. If somebody threatens to go overboard, we will have a talk. But I will be honest and mention that I was no saint! But as a matter of fact, I’m more worried about students that are always dressed immaculate, whose hair is neatly combed and who are never a minute late and perfectly prepared. No mistaking, that’s good. But then again, something must be wrong!”

FM: How do you teach? A bit like your mentor, the late great Ack van Rooyen?
JH: “The things he said took a long time to sink in. Ack talked about developing stories, grabbing the listener’s attention, becoming a unity with the rhythm section. And putting that thing out of your mouth now and then. These realizations come with age. I’m sure that some of my students will sometimes mutter, ‘what’s that old sock saying?!’ Ack was beautiful, we went to jam sessions together till the wee wee hours but be in class next morning at ten. He was very kindhearted but also to the point. I remember one time, I was playing a piece and Ack said: ‘Yes, Jar, you have no trouble handling the trumpet, but I haven’t heard anything beautiful.’ Bam, uppercut. But then he touched my arm and said: ‘The power of youth…’. Beautiful. As a teacher you need to be supportive but able to say things like, ‘ok, fine but your timing is bad.’ I also strictly believe in the advice of Stan Getz, who said that ‘the only thing you need is better players around you.’

FM: Aren’t there too many students? Each year, graduates try to find work in a relatively small cultural environment.
JH: “Well, every faculty group needs a diverse section of instruments to sustain ensembles. I realize that not everybody becomes a star performer. There are students that are not entirely convincing but nevertheless demonstrate plenty of progress after the first year. There’s that side of the coin. From all my trumpet students in my career, there is only one that dropped out. The rest is involved in music one way or the other, whether as a recording artist and performer, teacher, event organizer, in an orchestra section or semi-professional. I do have one proposal. It would be good if we had the possibility to end associations with students in the 2nd or 3rd year. Not to be harsh, but to give them a chance for a couple more years with a more suitable education. However, the legal basis is tricky.”

FM: Conservatories teach skills. Shouldn’t they focus more on finding personal styles?
JH: “You’re nowhere without grammar, vocabulary, skills. And finding styles in the beginning equates with copying. Even the greatest innovators in jazz initially were imitators of their heroes. As a teacher, you have to be flexible. The choice is theirs. Some students graduate without a very distinctive style. Still, they usually end up somewhere in the creative industry. As others are concerned, it’s all about elaborating on the phrasing, timing and dynamic that our voices have developed since birth and not about the notes but how you play them. What they play is a matter of preference. A lot of students experiment with odd meter. That’s fine. But it’s not new by any means. Is that really the core of your story?”

FM: I read pianist Kaja Draksler saying that ‘the lack of originality today is not only due to the conservative teaching techniques but also to the tendency to urge the students to describe that unique sellable aspect of their music. Schools dedicate hefty chunks of self-advertising, press kits, promotion etc. It’s better to focus on music.’ Do you agree?
JH: “That’s a good argument. I’d like to add some comments because there’s more to it. You need to have some background. Nowadays, there is a worrisome focus on diversity and inclusion. In essence, these concepts are ok. But now they are part of governmental strategy. It’s coercion and part of the general tendency to undermine ‘elitist’ art. But you can’t put artists and art forms on the same scales. The result is that clubs and theaters are forced to adapt to top-down norms. The norm is what sells and then you get more of the same.”

“The mindset of students and musicians subsequently drifts towards diverse and inclusive projects. That’s why Eastern instruments, predominant in the experiments of the 1970’s, are used again. It’s exotic. It’s forced by the institutions. Without the ud or sitar, it’s hard to get a grant! That’s my complaint. Exactly because I feel that every new thing is ok with me but it should be introduced without outside force. One of the all-time lows was a rapper that fronted the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. That’s what they call ‘coloring outside the lines’. It was very painful. It’s like herring topped with whip cream. Imagine how all those violinists felt. All those years of studying and now this. I’m a fan of classical music and I respect the genre of rap. But in all fairness, the best backing group for the rapper is his posse.”

“What the establishment should do is focus on kids and start with free tickets, as the leftist politician Jan Marijnissen once wisely proposed. Or else it should be no problem to invite school classes to rehearsals at concert halls, sit between musicians or listen to explanations of the conductor. Same goes for jazz. There are plenty of jazz personalities with great stories.”

Jarmo Hoogendijk

Selected discography:

Ben van den Dungen/Jarmo Hoogendijk Quintet, Heart Of The Matter (Timeless 1987)
Rein de Graaff/Dick Vennik Quartet & Sextet, Jubilee (Timeless 1989)
Rob van Bavel, Daydreams (RVB 1989)
Nueva Manteca, Afrodisia (Timeless 1991)
Bik Bent Braam, Howdy (Timeless 1993)
Ben van den Dungen/Jarmo Hoogendijk Quintet, Double Dutch (Groove 1995)
Nueva Manteca, Let’s Face The Music And Dance (Blue Note 1996)
Beets Brothers, Powerhouse (Maxanter 2000)

Check out Jarmo’s website here.

Here’s Jarmo Hoogendijk as part of the interview series of the Dutch Jazz Archive Jazzhelden.