Ferry Knijn Fotografie 2015

Song For My Kids

Charming, talkative Peter Guidi guides us through his adventuresome career as flutist, saxophonist, bandleader and educator. “I teach my students the rudiments, thereafter it’s up to them. It’s essential to follow your heart and play what you believe in. Because the audience can hear that.”

Teach your children well, sang Stephen Stills. That’s exactly what Peter Guidi has been doing for thirty years now. Well, more than well. The Scottish-Italian, Amsterdam-based Guidi, like one of his all-time heroes Cannonball Adderley, a likable, outgoing gentleman, displays boundless, devoted enthusiasm for nurturing young jazz talent. Don’t come around suggesting to Guidi the popular view that jazz is dead or bereft of a promising future. His slightly curled hair shakes back and forth, his eyes widen: “Are you kidding?! Not when you’re hearing all those youngsters in my orchestras. They play with their heart and soul. With joy and guts. Even with a not yet fully-developed technique they regularly catch me by surprise. Their purity is heart-warming. I send them on stage as early as possible, let them make a lot of flying hours. You can’t learn jazz from a book. You know what Einstein said, and he’s a pretty smart fellow: ‘The only true knowledge is experience, everything else is merely information’. Who’s gonna argue with that? Not only do I feel that jazz is alive, there is the bigger picture. Some of those boys and girls have become friends for life because they share a passion.”

“Jazz provides a great lesson in life. Especially during these times of ‘me, me, me…’ I-this, I-that, the faces in front of the computer screens… Without communication and interaction with other people, life isn’t worth much. Practicing technique to become the fastest gun in the West, alone in your room, makes no sense. Playing together does. Playing jazz involves mutual respect, listening skills, sharing. Furthermore, and this makes it so beautiful, it involves the growth of a personal voice. You have to tell your own story. But, again, within the framework of the group.“

“I’ve had parents come up to me and tell me that their son or daughter, whether he or she has pursued a career in music or not, has grown as a human being. They learn to work as a team and improvise. And life is all about improvisation. We don’t know what the heck is going to happen tomorrow! Some time ago, I encountered a lady who had been in my Jazz Juniors band. She has a very hectic, important job and told me that she always thinks about my lessons in stressful situations, that her motto had become: use your imagination, improvise! You know how good it felt to hear that? Wow!”

Guidi’s accomplishments in the Dutch jazz educational landscape are unmatched. He’s sort of a Dutch equivalent of educational legends in the classic age of jazz, like Captain Walter Dyett from DuSable High School in Chicago, who showed the way to Nat King Cole, Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin, Clifford Jordan, Richard Davis and many others. Guidi built up the Jazz Department of the Muziekschool Amsterdam from scratch in the mid eighties, running numerous prize-winning youth orchestras in the process and kickstarted the careers of countless major talents such as Joris Roelofs, Lars Dietrich, Ben van Gelder, Gidon Nunez Vas, Gideon Tazelaar and Daniel Keller. Guidi has always taught using an unbeatable method he calls ‘the three F’s’: Firm, Fair and Funny. Strict but sincere, with some humor thrown in to illustrate important points. “And never bullshit. Kids can smell bullshit a mile away! If you find yourself at a loss in an educational situation, just say so. Say, ‘well, I don’t really know, but I’ll get back to you with an answer next week.’ They accept that and like you for it because it is honest.”

An optimist at heart, Guidi nevertheless expresses worry about the prospects of contemporary students. “Long term engagements have become practically out of the question. Most young players play one-offs. And later when they’re not young talents anymore, a different reality sets in. The club wants you, but your next performance will be two years later! It’s heartbreaking because the amount of talent today is amazing. What’s my advice to young players? Follow your heart, follow your dreams, always. But at the same time, keep one foot on the ground. In the conservatory, everybody digs Coltrane and Chris Potter but outside few people even know who Louis Armstrong is, let alone Charlie Parker or Lee Morgan. So? The world is your oyster, you have many choices and opportunities. You can of course diversify and do commercial stuff to help you financially, but if you want to dedicate your time exclusively to jazz, then try to get a teaching job or go study something else as well. All of these young jazz students have the talent, dedication and creativity to become anything he or she wants to be. If they studied the equivalent amount of time with the same amount of effort and discipline they could become brain surgeons. That shows you how hard they work. But at the end of it medical students have a career ahead of them whereas jazz students don’t know where the next gig is coming from.”

“What kind of jazz do I teach? Mostly hard bop! It has groove, blues, great chord sequences, instantly recognizable melodies, energy and integrity. My youngest students are nine, ten years old. They’re little jazz barometers, so to speak. I’ve been doing this a long time, I have a pretty good idea of their mindset. Often without any interference on my part, these kids request to play pieces like Work Song, Moanin’, Sister Sadie, Blues March, The Sidewinder, Song For My Father, Sugar! Tunes that are not too complex where you can improvise using pentatonics or a blues scale. Chronologically, bebop comes first of course, but in educational terms, it’s better to start with hard bop. And earlier some catchy blues like C-Jam Blues. It gives them security and convinces them to jump off the diving board. Not to be afraid of ‘wrong’ notes. Duke Ellington said: ‘There’s no such thing as a wrong note. If you play it long enough, it turns into a right note.’ The blues reflects that wise statement. ‘Wrong’ blue notes are ingrained. They are what make it sound blue.”

Before Guidi found his educational destiny in the capital of The Netherlands, the young man’s unorthodox path led him from Glasgow, to Jersey to Milan. As a kid in Glasgow he listened to Sinatra and opera in the Scottish-Italian household and was held spellbound by the slow-dragging bass voice of the legendary Voice Of America Jazz Hour radio presenter Willis Coniver. Soon playing clarinet for his beloved mother and whistling bebop tunes almost 24/7, on Jersey Guidi set his mind on obtaining a saxophone from the only music store on the island and, once he purchased it with the money earned working in his father’s restaurant, had the opportunity via the Jersey Jazz Club to jam with the likes of Johnny Griffin, Art Taylor, Ronnie Scott and flutist Harold McNair. At the age of eighteen he was the chauffeur of Ronnie Scott, who wanted to drive to the sole booking office on the island to bet on the horses as soon as he got off the airplane. A professional in Milan and London, the hard road of making a jazz living became apparent, the pleasures of living and breathing with legends like Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Sonny Stitt and Dexter Gordon as well. And then, Amsterdam. The liberal city which he loves like no other town in the world and has been calling his home for over three decades. “Opportunity knocked. I was asked for a teaching job in the Muziekschool Amsterdam. I had a lot of experience as a musician playing at major festivals and also in small jazz clubs some no more than holes in the ground. That experience allowed me to pass on some practical knowledge. I learned a lot too because you can’t really learn how to teach except by doing it.”

Perhaps the DIY attitude necessary to find your way on an outpost like Jersey during the winter season accounts for Guidi’s level-headed, entrepreneurial spirit. “Yes. And also the typical immigrant attitude of my family. Be your own boss, like my father said. Well, I became my own boss once I moved to Milan. I played in soul bands. I still love soul music. I did South-American stuff with real Argentine and Brazilian bands playing extended stints in top Saint Moritz hotels. The only down side with the Argentine band was wearing a poncho, spurs, one of those belts with coins on it. That might look cool when you play guitar, but sax? I looked and felt like a complete idiot! But with those earnings I bought a soprano saxophone. There was no Real Book or Aebersold method back then you understand! No Jazz Conservatory. You had to learn by playing on stage. If you wanted to learn Cherokee, you had to ask somebody to write down the chord changes for you. And trust your ears.”

“Milan was great. That was my conservatory. The two best clubs were Capolinea and Due. I started out as a jack-of-all-trades. As well as playing I arranged replacements when somebody skipped a gig, translated contracts. Soon, I became a translator for many of those incoming legends who played at Capolinea. It was a great opportunity to be around those guys. Dexter Gordon, Buddy Rich, Tony Scott, Elvin Jones, Sonny Stitt, Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis… A great saxophonist, ‘Lockjaw’. Inimitable phrasing, powerful stories. Fantastic balladeer. When ‘Lockjaw’ Davis had a few drinks he played slow. Not as slow as Ben Webster when he was drunk, but medium slow. On the other hand, Sonny Stitt… He played Koko loaded. Really fast! And spot on! Reportedly, when asked how he managed to play when drunk, Stitt replied, ‘I practice drunk’! Some attribute that quote to Zoot Sims, but no matter who said it it’s a great story either way. Another priceless memory is seeing Gerry Mulligan perform. At the end of the night after the club closed he played with Tony Scott, both playing baritone, in the restaurant of the Capolinea jazz club. The drummer played brushes on an overturned spaghetti pan! Can you believe it?! Two in the morning and they played an unforgettable version of Body & Soul. I was soaking in all these great things that were happening to me. I translated for the Club and got paid with experience, so to speak.”

“Playing with Jimmy McGriff was exciting as well. Not only because McGriff is one of the great soul jazz organists, and a very sophisticated one at that, but also because it showed me how real jazz is – how it can communicate to an audience. I was in New York with Frank Grasso, to play and gain experience. We ended up in New Jersey at a small club. It was kind of a sleazy joint. There were some dangerous-looking people outside. But when I mentioned this to the owner he said not to worry and showed me a shotgun he kept under the bar.Welcome to America! McGriff liked us and invited us for a gig in Hartford, Connecticut. I said, ‘wow, that’s fantastic. I love your music. But… on one condition.’ ‘And that is?’, asked McGriff. I said: ‘That I don’t have to carry your Hammond B3 organ around!’ McGriff laughed. The reason was I almost got killed once carrying a Hammond organ up the stairs of the Pipers Club in Rome. McGriff’s van was like a bordello. A flophouse! Portable bar, lace all over, velvet, red wine-coloured curtains. The gig was great. Vintage soul jazz. The all-black crowd of army veterans and their families was having a wonderful time, shaking and dancing to our music.”

Guidi, a well-set man who walks slightly bent forward like an archeologist on Roman grounds and whose ironic and naughty grin brings to mind the elder Michael Caine, always stresses the value of entertainment in jazz. That’s why he’s such a big fan of Cannonball Adderley. “Ah, those live albums like Cannonball Adderley Quintet In San Francisco and At The Lighthouse. The atmosphere is so positive that you wanna be there! Cannonball is pure promotion for jazz! A great ambassador and communicator. I always tell my students to pick any one of Cannonball’s albums, especially from the late fifties and early sixties. If those don’t lure you to a jazz club, I don’t know what will! In this respect, I should also mention albums like Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers’ Live At The Café Bohemia and Live At The Jazz Corner Of The World. And Free For All, also from Blakey. Not a live recording but the bible of hard bop! What controlled power, everyone in the band is cooking. Tubbs In New York, from the English tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes, is another cooker.”

“We shouldn’t forget that jazz always has had one foot in art, one foot in entertainment. That was made obvious by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Ammons, Erroll Garner… too many to mention. Cannonball scored an enormous hit single with Jive Samba. A jukebox favorite for jazz fans, particularly in the black community. The message is that you don’t have to compromise, but always recognize that you are playing for an audience. The audience is smart, you know. People listen with their hearts. So if you want to touch them it helps to say something on stage. Even if it’s just a couple of words: communicate with the audience. Not everybody has the natural flair of Cannonball, but at least take notice of the audience. I don’t appreciate artists who don’t seem to care about the spectators and are playing just for themselves. Cecil Taylor did that. I respect a lot of free players for their excellence and vision, but at least try to explain something to the bewildered public. I saw Cecil Taylor empty a piazza at an open air jazz festival in Italy within ten minutes! I’d rather hear the indomitable Dexter Gordon telling the lyrics to What’s New to the audience before playing the theme. He did that with many tunes, he knew all the words to the songs. Chords are the roots of the plant, melody is the flower. But the lyrics constitute the perfume.

“In addition to Cannonball’s charm, I’ve always loved his style. He’s a joyful player. You get the idea Cannonball was happy where he was. The flowers are blooming in the fields, bubbles are in the air. A whole different ball game than John Coltrane, whom I greatly revere as well. Two different sides of spirituality’s coin. Coltrane was always searching, never happy where he was. My favorite Coltrane albums? That’s easy. There are two albums that say, ‘here I am’. One is Giant Steps, with its harmonic daring and power. The other is Crescent where tracks like Crescent and Wise One define an arrival point for the deeply spiritual Coltrane. And the concise Bessie’s Blues is a gas. There’s nothing simpler than that blues theme. The essence of the blues. Just triads. But what he does with them… So pure, so simple, yet so deeply involved. Coltrane keeps ‘singing’ throughout. That’s something his imitators usually miss. They pick up on his harmonic theory and technique but they lack that spiritual cry. Really, do you know a more sincere quartet than Coltrane’s famous group with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones? They’re so pure, like kids.”

Typical of Peter Guidi’s life story that an a-typical jazz instrument like the flute turned out to become his main jazz instrument. Guidi’s an incomparable flute historian that can tell you all about pioneers like the classical flutist Gazzeloni and the Cuban Alberto Socarras, who was one of the first to be recorded playing flute with a jazz band. Generally speaking the foundation of the modern jazz flute started with players such as Frank Wess in the Count Basie Orchestra and developed through the wonderful works of Sam Most, Eric Dolphy, Roland Kirk, James Moody, Herbie Mann and many others. “After hearing James Moody with the Dizzy Gillespie band, I wanted a flute. I love its lyrical, mystical quality. Aristotle already commented on the flute: ‘The flute is not an instrument that has a good moral effect. It’s too exciting.’ It only came into prominence once microphones came into the picture, providing the necessary volume to hold its own against reed and brass. Regardless of its relatively short jazz history, there have been, and are, so many fine players. The general public has likely heard of Herbie Mann. Although he did a lot of great bossa-nova material, I prefer players like Sam Most. Back then, you were either for Mann or Most. It’s like the Stones and Beatles. Fans of Herbie Mann would shout, ‘Mann Is The Most!’. Fans of Sam Most would reciprocate: ‘Most Is The Man!’”

Lest we forget, Guidi is a monster flutist himself who polished an excellent bop and mainstream jazz style while experimenting expertly with both the quarter tone flute and bass flute, vocalising, multiphonics, microtones and other modern techniques. Both as a leader and as a guest soloist, Guidi performed prolifically. “Not anymore, alas. The flute still stands beside my desk, I write a lot of compositions and I am planning a new CD release. But I don’t have a quartet anymore. Hey, until last year I led eight student ensembles and big bands, you understand? Busy! I must admit though, that I really miss performing in a quartet situation. But today there are so few places left to play.”

“So, anyway. What was your question? Haha!”

Peter Guidi

Peter Guidi (Glasgow, 1949) teaches at the jazz department of the Amsterdamse Muziekschool, where he is head of the jazz department. He is the bandleader of numerous youth orchestras such as Jazz Kidz, Jazz Juniors, Jazz Focus Big Band and Jazzmania Big Band, all of which have won a total of eighty-seven Dutch and international prizes. Mr. Guidi, associated with countless educational projects beside the Amsterdamse Muziekschool, was knighted as Ridder In De Orde Van Oranje-Nassau for his outstanding contributions to the Dutch jazz community in 2010. An acclaimed saxophonist and flutist, Guidi has performed and recorded prolifically, both in The Netherlands and at international festivals such as Umbria Jazz, Jazz Jamboree Warsaw and North Sea Jazz Festival. Peter Guidi lives in Amsterdam. His Jubilee Big Band will celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Muziekschool’s jazz department, the 25th Anniversary of the Jazzmania Big Band and the 20th Anniversary of the Jazzfocus Big Band with a performance at North Sea Jazz Festival on July 8, 2017.

Selected discography:

A Weaver Of Dreams (Timeless, 1993)
Forbidden Flute (BMCD, 1999)
Beautiful Friendship (Timeless, 2000)
The Jazzmania Big Band – Further Impressions (with Benny Bailey, BMCD, 2004)
Jazz Focus Big Band – Focused, (JF, 2007)

Go to Peter Guidi’s website here.

Photography above: Ronaldus
Photography homepage: Ferry Knijn Fotografie

Gary Smulyan

Chasin’ The Bari

A meeting with baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan isn’t complete without a mention of Encounter!, the masterpiece of his all-time bari hero, Pepper Adams. “Pepper is the all-round master. And what a sound!”

Like many fellow Americans that are and have been eagerly doing the freedom jazz dance, Smulyan spends a lot of his work time in Europe. Currently, Smulyan is touring The Netherlands with the trio of pianist Rein de Graaff, a series of gigs billed as Chasin’ The Bird. Smulyan, a congenial gentleman with strong hands and fluent talker with a glance that alludes to a romantic rendezvous between sincerity and good humor, explains: “I have been touring with Rein’s trio about every two years for a long time now. I tell you, we’re flying from note one. These guys really know where it’s at. The venues are lovely and Rein isn’t only a great piano player but an extraordinary organiser as well. It’s a warm bath.”

Chasin’ The Bird, one hell of a job. Or, correction, heavenly duty. “I can’t get enough of Charlie Parker. In fact, I’m still awe-struck. Bird’s a daily treat on the menu. Strangely enough, Parker is regularly taken for granted. From talking to musicians I sometimes get the impression that they only scratched the surface of Parker, didn’t look further than the well-known recordings. But there is a wealth of revealing material, like the bootlegs, some of which luckily have come to the surface legally. Lately, I’ve been listening a lot to those amateur recordings Dean Benedetti made of the Bird solos. It’s astonishing! His rhythm, harmony, time, just otherworldly. Sometimes freshmen ask me, ‘what’s the secret, how do you do it?’. Well, there is no secret. Bird is the well you need to drink from. Find your own taste while you’re at it. Lest we forget, of course Bird was influenced significantly by Lester Young, among others, there’s the tradition, there are the bloodlines… However, Bird is The One.”

Starting out in jazz as an alto saxophonist, Smulyan was heavily influenced by Phil Woods, who, it goes without saying, developed a distinctive and brilliant musical personality in the Parker tradition. Born in Bethpage, New York in 1956, growing up in Long Island, the aspiring Smulyan was close to the centre of modern jazz, Manhattan, and as a consequence, Phil Woods. “In the early days, I even dressed like Phil Woods, down to the singular leather cap! At any rate, I played alto until I was twenty-two, hadn’t even touched the baritone. My jazz schooling really gained depth when I acquainted Billy Mitchell, Dave Burns, Joe Dixon, who became my mentors. It’s really important to come across guys that are on a higher level and have more knowledge than you and who, above all, honestly point out your shortcomings. Kind of steer you in directions with integrity, you know. That’s why I’m consciously open minded to youngsters. I’m grateful for meeting my mentors and strive to pass the peas in a worthy manner myself.”

(Clockwise from left: Charlie Parker; Pepper Adams; Gary Smulyan)

Sitting in with his mentors, and soon, legends like Chet Baker and Lee Konitz, Smulyan and the little horn seemed a perfect pair. Until the big horn came along. In 1978, the phone rang, and the question was if Smulyan would like to play in the big band of Woody Herman. On baritone. “Well, it didn’t take me long to figure out that puzzle. Luckily, I had two weeks to spare. I bought a Yamaha baritone and studied some tunes I knew were in the Herman book. Suddenly, I found myself sitting beside tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, who became a life-long friend. That phone call was one of those fortuitous moments that sometimes occur in one’s life. Right place, right time. Initially, it was quite unnerving, a risk. But I strongly believe that it’s important to take a risk, grab that opportunity.”

The association with Herman’s Young Thundering Herd was the start of Smulyan’s career as a baritone saxophonist that has been going on for almost forty years. Among many other endeavors, Smulyan played in the Mel Lewis Orchestra, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and cooperated with Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz and George Coleman, and records prolifically as a leader. A regular winner of the Downbeat Reader’s and Critic’s Poll and Grammy Awards, Smulyan is the to-go-to baritone saxophonist on the scene today. First it was Pepper, now Gary Smulyan is the all-round master. Ooh, ooh, ooh, what a little phone call can do to you.

“Like I always say: I didn’t choose the baritone, the baritone chose me.”

“It’s not such a cumbersome instrument as they say. At least, I don’t see any difference with the trombone, tuba, or drums for that matter. It’s in the way that you use it. And how can it be awkward when you do it with love? Furthermore, there are not many baritone players around as opposed to tenor or alto players, so if you’re proficient, there’s a lot of work. The baritone is the underdog. Sometimes I take the horn out of my suitcase and just see those eyes popping out of the head of a spectator! Mulligan is the only baritone saxophonist who is known by the general public. At any rate, if you would’ve told me at age fifteen that I would become a baritone saxophonist, I would’ve said you’re crazy. That’s why I’m still, occasionally, floored by happenings in my life. Such as my cooperation with Tommy Flanagan on my 1991 Homage album of Pepper Adams pieces. Flanagan!”

A number of baritone saxophonists influenced Smulyan, among them the father of the bari, Harry Carney and the modernists Leo Parker and Cecil Payne. However, Smulyan’s main man is Pepper Adams, the little man with the big horn who took the baritone to the next level, displaying the blistering speeds of bebop, rare harmonic ingenuity, a composer’s sense of continuity, agressive rhythm, a bark-like timbre and a huge, imposing sound. “It’s all there on Encounter!, Adams’ 1968 Prestige album with Zoot Sims, Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones. The epithome of Pepper’s art. I’m still enthralled by his sound on that album! Sound reflects the personality, it’s paramount, it’s your voice. And boy, does Pepper have a marvelous voice. Rhythmically, harmonically, his standard of playing is tremendous. Rudy van Gelder’s production is out of sight, very transparant and spacious. Partly straightforward, partly avant-leaning, the vibe is remarkably free. Also because of Elvin Jones, of course. There are a number of challenging tunes, like Punjab, the Joe Henderson tune. Zoot Sims, a more straightforward swinger and a big favorite of mine, really seizes the opportunity. He’s an interesting partner for Pepper. The tunes are short, I like that. Short is good! Although I like to stretch out, a maximum of allotted solo time isn’t necessarily a disadvantage. Enough time in short tunes for harmony as well. It stimulates creativity. Look at Duke Ellington, the enormous wealth of stuff that he put in those 3 or 4 minute tunes. I also love the Pepper Adams album Ephemera, with Mel Lewis, George Mraz and Roland Hanna, for many of the same reasons. 10 To 4 At The Five Spot? Great album. But that piano! Horribly out of tune. It’s hard to listen to. Poor Bobby Timmons.”

(Clockwise from left: Pepper Adams – Encounter!, Prestige 1968; Pepper Adams – Ephemera, Spotlite 1973; Charlie Parker – The Complete Benedetti Recordings Of Charlie Parker, Mosaic 1990)

A lot of Pepper and a lot of pepper, in the guise of a singular type of controlled fury, is evident in the playing of Gary Smulyan. Furthermore, a distinctive voice with his own brand of harmonic finesse, a strong beat, acute wit and a striking penchant for telling a coherent tale rings through. “I’m concerned with the architecture of my lines, with secondary motives, for instance. The kind of structural improvisation that runs through the career of Sonny Rollins. I’m not consciously aware of it, but these things probably lurk somewhere in the back of my mind, while I’m hoping to find beautiful lines. Beautiful lines and beautiful sound is what it’s all about.”

Does middle-to-old age matures the beautiful products of a jazz life, like it does a Bordeaux wine or Ardbeg Scotch? And does it peel off some of the rough edges? Evidently, there’s so much wisdom in the playing of elders like Charles McPherson, Barry Harris, Jimmy Heath. Smulyan chuckles: “Hey, I’m only sixty! Though I feel like I’m fifty-nine. Well, I’m not the same person I was like the twenty year old kid, or the forty year old man. What you go through in music and life is reflected in one’s musical voice, I’m not an exception. However, some sixty year olds might tend to take it easy. Not me. Regardless of my shifting approaches, I still love to play fast!”

Maybe it’s the soul patch sitting, Zen-masterly, under Smulyan’s lips. Or the composed stroll of Smulyan before and after the interview, bringing him to the side walls and show cases of the hotel. Casually dressed in jeans and a sweater, hands folded behind his back, Smulyan bows slightly forward like a collector of Louis XI grandfather clocks on an antique fair, or a monk peeking over the shoulder of a novice at work on a weighty book in the athenaeum. Keen-eyed, curious. Maybe it’s just a hunch that Smulyan’s birds are flyin’ high and dry. Fire down below in the heart, yet a heart at peace with beating evenly. “I’m very pleased about the way things turned out and how I’m doing now.” Chuckling: “The phone keeps ringing and I sometimes succeed in coaxing producers into projects. Most of all, I’m glad to live my life in the jazz realm. Essentially, jazz is a social affair. Nowadays, people have turned inwards more and more, individualism is overbearing. But jazz is communication. From the pals I visited to play and discuss records with day and night as a young aficionado, to the colleagues and friends in the studio and on stage, it’s about doing things together. Until recently, I teached music college students with developmental disabilities at Berkshire Hills. Their accomplishments are amazing. Jazz is a great tool, you know. It’s refreshing to see the bigger picture.”

Gary Smulyan

Gary Smulyan is the most sought-after baritone saxophonist in jazz today. A five-time winner of the Downbeat Critic’s and Reader’s Poll and a six-time winner of the Grammy Award, Smulyan has built a sizable and diverse resume as a leading recording artist and been a long-serving member of The Mel Lewis Orchestra, Mingus Big Band, Dave Holland Octet and Big Band and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, as well as the bands of soul and blues giants Ray Charles and B.B. King. Smulyan has cooperated with, among others, Gerald Wilson, Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Knepper, George Coleman, Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell, Bob Belden, Christian McBride and Mike LeDonne. Smulyan is a faculty member at Amherst College, Massachusetts and teaches at Manhattan School Of Music, NYC.

Selected discography:

As a leader:

Homage, (with Tommy Flanagan, Criss Cross, 1991)
Saxophone Mosaic, (Criss Cross, 1993)
Blue Suite (Criss Cross, 1999)
The Real Deal (Reservoir, 2003)
Smul’s Paradise (Capri, 2012)
Bella Napoli (with Dominic Chianese, Capri, 2013)

As a sideman:

Mike LeDonne, The Feeling Of Jazz (Criss Cross, 1990)
Cedar Walton, Roots (Astor Place, 1997)
Dave Holland Big Band, What Goes Around (ECM, 2002)
Gerald Wilson, In My Time (Mack Avenue, 2005)
Joe Magnarelli, Always There (Criss Cross, 1998)
Mark Masters Ensemble, Ellington Saxophone Encounter (Capri, 2012)

Gary Smulyan’s latest release, Royalty At Le Duc, was released in January 2017 by Sunnyside Records. Find here.

Go to Gary Smulyan’s website here.

Ruud Breuls - Robert Roozenbeek Photography

Ready For Rudy

Ruud Breuls, sideman par excellence and trumpeter in the renowned German WDR Big Band, lives and breathes straightforward modern jazz, with a particular passion for Freddie Hubbard. “Hard bop is the ideal canvas for my sound.”

Afoggy day in Amsterdam town. The Muziekgebouw Aan ’t IJ is empty, our voices richochet off the walls like the sounds of wild animals inside a hollow oak tree. Familiar terrain for Breuls, who among many other endeavors, starred as a soloist in Shades Of Brown, a tribute to Clifford Brown by the Metropole Orchestra. Breuls, a slender, tall man dressed in a classy woolen overcoat, the soft-hued southern Limburg accent still intact after years in central Holland, enthusiastically peers into the layers of mist that hover over the IJ River. He says, with the sense of wonder typical of his region of birth, where lady chapels are an equally common sight along the roads than traffic signs: “I’ve got my camera with me, you never know. A bit of sun might peek through the fog. That’s beautiful, almost mystical…”

Also very ‘Limburg’: the marching band. “Yes, I grew up with marching bands. They really meant business! It was my initiation into music, but hardly a defining moment. What is? You know, laying out a career path only explains the musician on a superficial level. A defining moment runs deeper. It’s about atmosphere, feeling. More than the fanfare, LP’s fundamentally brought about a change. My brothers came home with records, I loved hard rock, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath. Then there was that Brecker Brothers album, Heavy Metal Be-Bop. Wow! Weird! That cover with the helmet and trumpet, fascinating. They were funky and improvising, which was still a mystery to me. However, the first real defining moment was a Count Basie compilation album. Including Thad Jones and Snooky Young. Oh, Jezus, what is this?! Well, it was swing, of course. A seed was sown.”

The seed, eventually, carried the young, humble Southerner around the country and the globe in a varied assembly of outfits. While specialising in the classic hard bop quintet formation, co-leading hard-swinging groups like Buddies In Soul with veteran pianist Cees Slinger and saxophonist Simon Rigter onwards from the early nineties, Breuls’ career as an orchestral player flourished. Breuls played in the Metropole Orchestra, Dutch Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Orchestra Of The Concertgebouw. Simultaneously, the trumpeter worked in popular music genres, performing and recording with national celebrities like Marco Borsato, Andre Hazes and Gordon, notably with The Stylus Horns, as well as international artists like Seal and Nathalie Cole. Revealing a healthy dose of self-mockery, Breuls assesses his current, declining amount of commercial jobs. “I’m too busy. But honestly, the wrinkles of middle age do not really fit the commercial profile as well anymore. However, they’re perfect for a jazz man!”

For Breuls, his other major defining moment was the discovery of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. “It was life-changing. To this day, Hubbard is the reference for my style. He’s my main man, Freddie’s in my heart, from the day I bought a Blue Note twofer LP in Rotterdam at age nineteen. It contained Here To Stay, Ready For Freddie, Goin’ Up and Hup Cap, I think. I was stunned! The way Hubbard sculpted his lines and coloured his phrases and bent his notes. The flow of ideas, the swing and that bright sound. That was it. Basically, the Hubbard style of the early sixties defines the way I play. The way I would like to play.”

“There were others, of course. I learned that Miles Davis was the chief god, the genius of the use of space. An unforgettable identity. There’s Lee Morgan, the funky master. I really admire his bravura. It’s delivery time: here’s Lee! The way Morgan forges himself through those changes on Coltrane’s Blue Train album, you know, in Lazy Bird, is a gas. You should write out those lines, frame and put them up on the wall, they’re so beautiful. There are musician’s musicians like Kenny Dorham, Woody Shaw. Outstanding. And there’s Clifford Brown, of course. Brilliant in all registers and what a sound. Although I’m versed in bebop as well, when I did that Clifford Brown performance, I was glad we concentrated mainly on ballads instead of the faster bop tunes!”

“Sound is the identity of the musician. Some trumpeters use a lot of air. That’s beautiful. But I just can’t. A straightahead, round and open tone comes natural to me. It’s allowed to shine and shimmer. I’m white, not black. In a sense, my style is tongue-in-cheek. The sound is clean, pure, would almost fit in a symphony orchestra. But what I play is unadulterated jazz, obviously.”

The passion for straightforward jazz is shared with a coterie of musicians, notably drummers. “It really is hard to explain, borders on telepathy. Like the drummers of the classic hard bop era, guys like Eric Ineke, John Engels, Cees Kranenburg, and including free bird Han Bennink, are, for all their supurb skills, propulsive groove-masters first and foremost. The American drummer Adam Nussbaum as well. And they’re unique in listening to the soloist, stimulating him instead of dominating the proceedings. They have an in-built sense of the phraseology and rhythm of the classic horn players and recognize all the quotes, more so than myself! Eric Ineke especially, he’s liable to lay you down on the barbecue! A shout here and there. That’s a party! It’s a primitive, jungle feeling, jazz in its purest form. From the contemporary trumpeters and jazz musicians, I really regard Roy Hargrove as a hero. A perfect synthesis of hardbop and bebop. Most of all, he’s such an honest musician.”

Pure jazz has a hard time. “We’re a minority in The Netherlands. It’s not hip, supposedly not innovative enough. Which is weird and really irritating. My beloved hard bop, and the tradition and bebop as well of course, make up the fountainhead of jazz. It really is a good development that many young guys are into odd meters and have non-jazz influences. But ideally, those influences would be the icing on their real jazz cake. But all too often the real jazz is left out in the cold. But when played well, hard bop is fresh as a spring leaf. As busy as I am, I try to do at least two or three quintet gigs a month now, with my old pal Simon Rigter for instance. The quintet format is essential for my well-being! I would really like to do more of this stuff again, to be honest. I did a little tour with saxophonist Benjamin Herman and John Engels a couple of years ago. That was great. Benjamin and me are on the same wavelength. I would love to get together again.”

As tall and marked by more than a half decade of life experience on this globe we sometimes call the Big Bad Apple the 54-year old Breuls may be, occasionally seasoning his anecdotes with a fervent four-letter word, there’s a spark of a young boy inside. A sensitive kid who has a hard time fitting in with the hardliners on the schoolyard. One to cherish, soothe. Something in the personality of Breuls is tender, fragile. The carefully crafted style and crystalline sound of Breuls symbolize part of that innocence, suggest a longing for the angels to speak up. His sensitivity, Breuls contemplates, is the reason behind the trumpeter’s life as a sideman. “Those are deep waters. Essentially, it has to do with my family history. Basically, my confidence level is low. The trumpet is a challenge to deal with that. My role as a sideman, as opposed to a leader, is a logical extension of my personality. Besides,”, Breuls chuckles, “I was asked for everything I’ve done, you know.”

“I did a lot of gigs with Michiel Borstlap. He was very stimulating, really pushed me to the front. Figuratively, but also quite literally! Michiel is a very compassionate human being. We share a love for Hubbard, and Herbie Hancock as well. I liked to play fusion, occasionally. So, I was quite upfront there with Michiel, in spite of myself. As ‘Miles’ with the Metropole (Breuls was the leading soloist during integral performances of Porgy & Bess and Miles Ahead, among others, FM) and Clifford Brown, I was in the limelight as well, of course. It was a real good feeling to get under the skin of those giants. As an effect, I really pushed my envelope, playing better day after day. At any rate, the seat in the WDR chair really suits me to a T. The alternation of playing the parts and solo spots is wonderful.”

The volume of Breuls’ voice is turned up a notch or two. “Aaah… The WDR Big Band is really something. One hell of a big band! An interesting international cast. The gutsy delivery of the WDR Big Band floors me completely. And the variety of guest stars is striking. Since I’m in the band, we’ve had Jimmy Heath, Ron Carter, Billy Hart, Al Foster, Dick Oatts, Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez, Ambrose Akinmusire… I really dig my role in the sound spectrum and relish the solo spots. I’m like that little devil jumping out of the box. Everybody is on their toes and we’re really stimulated to be greasy, to scrape off the layer of varnish. The WDR has a hard-boiled attitude: give us the fucking juice, man! Come on! You wanna be a jazz player?! You know what I mean?”

One wouldn’t be surprised if that band will account for defining moment number 3 in the life and career of Ruud Breuls. “Who knows? Time will tell. Those things really have to be left to fate.”

Ruud Breuls

Ruud Breuls (Urmond, 1962) is featured on more than 300 albums, both jazz and popular music. Since the early nineties, Breuls has been part of big bands such as the Dutch Jazz Orchestra, Metropole Orchestra, Cubop City Big Band and the Jazz Orchestra Of The Concertgebouw. He currently is a member of the WDR Big Band. Breuls has also been active in long-term, small ensembles such as Buddies In Soul and Major League. The trumpeter performed and recorded with, among others, Kenny Barron, The Beets Brothers, Bob Brookmeyer, Billy Cobham, Michiel Borstlap, Ronnie Cuber, John Engels, Billy Hart, Jimmy Heath, Benjamin Herman, Bill Holman, Eric Ineke, Joe Lovano, Vince Mendoza, Michel Portal and Mike Stern. Breuls teaches at the Conservatory Of Amsterdam. In 2013, Breuls won the Laren Jazz Award. In the Spring of 2017, a Louis Armstrong project of Breuls and Simon Rigter will be released by Sound Liaison on CD and made available as high-resolution downloads.

Photograph of Ruud Breuls above by Mattis Cederberg; on the homepage by Robert Roozenbeek Photography.

Guido Tazelaar

Gideon’s Bible

Saxophonist Gideon Tazelaar, 19 years old, is one of Holland’s major jazz talents. Leaving his options open for the next five years, Tazelaar at least is positively sure of one next step. “Next year, I’m going back to New York.”

Tazelaar stayed in New York once before in 2015, joining sessions, held spellbound by the remaining legends of modern jazz like Harold Mabern, Jimmy Cobb and Jimmy Heath. “I saw Roy Haynes twice. That was magical. I’ve never seen anything like it. He played with his quartet plus Pat Metheny. But I only watched Haynes behind his drumkit. Everything he did was so spot-on. I was often wondering where he was, time-wise. But I’ve come to the conclusion that, really, what Haynes played was the time. Somehow, Haynes was the music. He went into a tapdance routine, which, astonishingly, revealed the entire jazz tradition. And of course it was special to see someone perform who goes way back to Charlie Parker, Monk, Coltrane… Even to Lester Young.”

With a hesitant timbre in his voice, as if ashamed of his good fortune: “And I had breakfast with Lee Konitz. He’d been my teacher once in Germany and said to call me whenever I was in town. That was awesome. We were at his place. I got a little quiet… But he kept talking, so that was perfect! Konitz said that he felt uneasy recording Motion, because it was his first encounter with Elvin Jones. But in hindsight he thought the results were rather satisfying… I’ve learned lots of things from Konitz. Musical stuff, because he’s a genius, but also about attitude. He doesn’t seem to have an all-encompassing explanation of his musical choices, except that they develop from a search for beauty. He really gives you the idea that the purpose is to follow up on what you love and dig deep into that well.”

“I’m really looking forward to another stay in New York. I will be going for about one year and maybe study at some music college, check out older musicians. Men like Reggie Workman and Charlie Persip still teach. The division between styles is less astringent than here. I’ve noticed this during some sessions with Ben van Gelder and American colleagues, they blew me away playing stuff ranging from blues to Bud Powell to avant-leaning compositions. In The Netherlands, people sometimes encounter me as that supposedly ‘promising musician’. They are friendly, responsive. That’s ok, for sure, people have helped me out a lot. But I haven’t really been at the bottom of the ladder, you know what I mean? And I think it would be beneficial to my musicianship if colleagues kick me in the butt now and then. And they will in New York, regardless of my age, I’m sure! I’m looking forward to it.”

Meanwhile, Tazelaar performs as much as possible. “I try to do my bit of study as well. My mindset changes continuously, so I press myself to study with focus. I like so many things, therefore I have to structure things to really get to the heart of the matter and not be distracted. I’m making schemes for two months in advance.”

Tazelaar grins, his downy, dark-brown moustache twists. He pulls himself from his couch, finds a notebook between the rubble on his desk, sits down and proceeds to read his upcoming scheme. If anything, an intriguing hodgepodge of activities. Among other things, Tazelaar is going to practice clarinet again, learn a Bud Powell solo on piano, read the biography of Sidney Bechet, finish an original Tazelaar tune, study the theory of Schönberg, harmonize chorals in Bach style and, last but not least, learn 3 solo’s of Frank Trumbauer, Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong each. Monomania. Eagerness. A young man enthralled by the beauty of America’s sole original art form as well as the works of classical composers who often were admired by the jazz legends.

Recognition for Tazelaar has come early. Already playing saxes as a kid and adding clarinet in the process, Tazelaar has been in the limelight ever since. He played at The Concertgebouw at the age of 8, enrolled at the Conservatory of Amsterdam when he was 14, passing maxima cum laude at 18. If he may choose to, Tazelaar can put a nice rack of prizes on his mantle and has been a regular fixture in the club circuit and at the North Sea Jazz Festival. Sitting under a framed portrait of John Coltrane, the eyes of the bright college student-type Tazelaar twinkle when looking back upon his contribution to a tenor summit at the Bimhuis last March, including Rein de Graaff, Eric Ineke, Eric Alexander, Sjoerd Dijkhuizen and Ferdinand Povel. “So inspiring to play with the elders. And especially great to share the stage with Ferdinand, who has been my teacher for a long time. He teached me a lot just by talking about jazz, and especially about harmony. He plays so beautifully. I think I nicked quite a few of his phrases.”

Asked about his playing style, the contemplative, even-tempered Tazelaar is cautious to ill-define matters. He patiently weighs his words on a scale, much like the way a thrift store owner would count the coins that a bunch of candy-buying kids have scattered on the counter. Lots of ‘umms’ and ‘aaahs’. The sound of a brain cracking. “Tough question. I don’t think I play in one style. I experience it as versatile, depending on the people I play with. It puts the big picture of a group in perspective, I don’t feel the need to deliberately go against the grain in a group, style-wise. Arguably, it’s all part of my development. I might one day stick to something that feels destined to be played. In general, I have my influences as well, of course.”

Aside from Povel, Tazelaar is fond of saxophonist Benjamin Herman, having thrown himself headlong into the weekly sessions at Amsterdam’s De Kring. “Basically, I’m a very critical and self-critical guy. Genes, I guess. That’s ok, critique’s a constructive asset. But it tends to stress negative aspects as well. Benjamin focuses on good things, he’s able to find interesting, quirky aspects in different kinds of music. That’s positive. And better for your mental health.”

Tazelaar has been picking some positively quintessential influences at an early age. “I’m listening to a lot of classic bop and hard bop saxophonists, but up until now I’ve always come back to my main men: Bechet, Parker and Coltrane.”

“I’m always interested in the transitional periods in the careers of musicians. Those recordings of Bechet in France in the late forties are great. (Tazelaar refers to Bechet’s May 1949 recordings with either the Claude Luter Orchestra or Pierre Braslavsky Orchestra) He’s playing New Orleans-style, of course, but hints at things to come as well. He would be an influence on Coltrane.”

“I really like both early and late Coltrane. Early or late, the integrity and inspiration are always there. Lately I’ve been listening to Coltrane with Miles Davis in 1960, near the end of Coltrane’s stay with Miles Davis. There’s this live version of ‘Round Midnight, it was on bootlegs I think. Coltrane goes from one extreme to the other, but keeps referring to the melody in between, it’s fantastic.”

“Parker’s playing on Dizzy Atmosphere (February 28, 1945, Savoy MG12020, FM) is also a good example of tension between old and new. Swing and bop, in this case. There’s this swing rhythm section including bass player Slam Stewart (and Clyde Hart, Remo Palmieri and Cozy Cole, FM) that swings like mad. Parker and Gillespie are inventing the bop language on top of it. But the thing is, Parker blends well with that old style, because he lived in that period as well, naturally. He knew where it was at. In these performances, Parker constitutes the best of two worlds, he fits.”

Gideon Tazelaar

Gideon Tazelaar (Hilversum, 1997) has been performing from age 8, appearing at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and Prinsengracht Concert. Since his early teens, Tazelaar has been a sought-after player, performing with the Dutch Jazz Orchestra and the Jazz Orchestra Of The Concertgebouw as well as at The North Sea Jazz Festival, and has been cooperating with, among others, Benjamin Herman, John Engels, Peter Beets, Ben van Gelder, Dick Oatts, Eric Alexander and, in the summer of 2016, organist Lonnie Smith. Tazelaar won the Composition Award of NBE in 2006, the Prinses Christina Jazz Concours in 2012 with his quartet Oosterdok 4 and the Expression Of Art Award in 2016. Nowadays, Tazelaar regularly plays with his Gideon Tazelaar Trio, which includes bass player Ties Laarakker and drummer Wouter Kühne.

Check out Gideon Tazelaar’s website here.

Eric 'Premier' Ineke

Stable Mate

In 1966, the 19-year old, jazz-addicted drummer Eric Ineke sat watching Elvin Jones at the legendary Five Spot Cafe in New York City, awe-struck, stunned. A defining moment. “I realised what I wanted to do with my life. This was it! Period.”

Asizzling, hottest-day-of-the-year in The Hague, The Netherlands. A cooler spot in jazz drummer Eric Ineke’s garden, just around the corner from where it was at at the original North Sea Jazz Festival, before it moved to nearby Rotterdam in 2006. Ineke’s bright, brown eyes behind glasses match ton-sur-ton with freckled, brownish arms. A slender, good-natured and level-headed gentleman in a dark–blue LaCoste polo shirt, the 69-year old Ineke somewhat resembles a top-rate neurologist who’s expert in making the patient comfortable without routine gestures, alert and passionately involved in that mysterious, complex tissue called ‘brain’. And happy to share the obsession. Except that Ineke’s trade is the ‘soul’: jazz. “I had a job on a ship that brought back American students to the States. I provided backing for the musical entertainment, dixieland. We were supposed to travel further after our arrival in New York, to the West Coast, but a friend persuaded me to stay in New York. Took me to the Five Spot Cafe in the Bowery, which I knew from records. Like the Thelonious Monk albums on Riverside (Misterioso, Thelonious In Action, FM) There a board said: Elvin Jones, Monday nights. Wow! I was there, every Monday night, sipping a beer, right in front of Elvin in his grey suit, sweating profusively. He played with McCoy Tyner, Paul Chambers and Frank Foster. From 10 to 4. Understand? 10 to 4! I watched his every move. Elvin Jones had just left Coltrane. There he was, crammed behind that basic Gretsch kit, making a living from scratch in that rundown, bohemian bar. Talking about a jazz atmosphere! I can still see every detail, never will forget it. ”

“It was an awesome month. I also saw Kenny Dorham perform with Joe Henderson at Club Ruby, in a garden. They played with McCoy Tyner, Grachan Monchur III, Joe Chambers. There’s a Blue Note line-up for you! I went to see Hank Mobley with Blue Mitchell and Billy Higgins. Boy oh boy. And as a dessert, the Roland Kirk Quartet. Of course, I never imagined that I would play with these guys later on, with Hank Mobley, and Joe Henderson, and Frank Foster.”

They were just a few of the legends that Ineke would collaborate with in his adventurous, distinguished career. Eric Ineke was born in Haarlem, The Netherlands. At the time, the Dutch city that gave Manhattan’s famous jazz neighborhood Harlem its name, boasted a lively jazz scene. The young Ineke learned the basics from many experienced jazz musicians and built lasting friendships and collaborations with players like the tenor saxophonist Ferdinand Povel. Moving to The Hague, things really started rolling. “The Hague was the nr. 1 bebop city in The Netherlands. Still is, by the way. (Ineke has been teaching at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague for 26 years now, FM) Dutch bebop originated there and the town was brimming with excellent players, like Rob Agerbeek, Frans Elsen and Rob Madna. There were others I met in the early stages of my career and built lasting cooperations with, like Ruud Jacobs, a great bass player. I played in Amsterdam, of course, where I took lessons from drummer John Engels as a 15-year old kid and met pianist and life-long pal Rein de Graaff.”

How did Ineke develop into one of Europe’s to-go-to modern jazz drummers, a versatile, hard-swinging drummer who was nicknamed ‘The Ultimate Sideman’ by long-time associate and friend, the saxophonist and flautist David Liebman and who looks back on a career that encompassed gigs and recordings with a myriad of high-standard fellow Europeans and countless masters like Dizzy Gillespie, Hank Mobley, Dexter Gordon, Lucky Thompson and Jimmy Raney, Ineke’s favorite guitarist? A question of talent, at any rate. And: right place right time. At the end of the sixties, during the reign of rock music, countless American jazz musicians sought refuge in Europe. Naturally, they checked out the best rhythm sections, which, honestly, initially were scarce for American standards. Americans depended on the best supporting musicians, like Alex Riel, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Han Bennink, John Engels. And Eric Ineke.

School days. But instead of the bell, the phone ringed. “I got a phonecall from Wim Johan Kuiper in 1968, an enthusiastic, small-time impresario. Pianist Pim Jacobs wanted me for a gig with Hank Mobley. Unfortunately, Hank overslept, you know what I mean… I played with Piet Noordijk that night, which was swell! However, I was given a second chance a week later. The Mambo Bar in Groningen, Rein (De Graaff) secured that gig. Guitarist Wim Overgaauw was there. He’d given me Workout to check out. Here, go study. Well, I did, thorougly! Figures, Mobley didn’t play one note of that album!” Ineke doubles up: “He played standards, On Green Dolphin Street, On A Rainy Day. He was really good and it was amazing to hear that laid-back, fluent style I knew from records up close, and participate in this event. Mobley was very kind, but an introverted, taciturn guy. During the break, he said, ‘yeah man, not everything is coming out yet, but it’s swinging.’ Ok! Wim Overgaauw told me a story later on. While we were playing, Mobley asked Overgaauw ‘who’s your favorite guitar player?’ Wim answered: ‘Grant Green.’ So, ten minutes go by, when suddenly Mobley turns around and says: ‘Mine too.’ Whoa!”

Here’s another one that should be included in a new edition of bassist Bill Crow’s insightful and extremely amusing book Jazz Anecdotes, section Eccentric Cats: Ineke once played with the Canadian bandleader and trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, who did small group gigs besides his singular big band affairs as well. “An enormously sweet, engaging man. Only thing was, he’d studied yoga in India. Suddenly, during rehearsals for a tv show, Ferguson is standing on his head. Just like that! Camera’s rolling. What the hell is this?! Played pretty good as a soloist, Maynard.”

For Ineke, the late sixties and early seventies were a playing ground, the period to develop a distinct personality. What exactly is the trigger behind the process that turns a content white middle-class boy into a dedicated follower and Dutch envelop-pusher of the real deal, black American jazz? “For one thing, I started tapping that swinging 4/4 beat at an early age. The music, which was on European radio regularly, appealed to me. I think it was just in me. Secondly, when I heard modern jazz, I just flipped. That was what I aspired to play, dig, feel. By modern jazz, I mean real jazz, which has to include blues and swing. If you take those ingredients away, you’re left with a cold, tasteless dish. It’s improv. Sure, jazz is improvisation. But it’s nothing without blues and swing. So what do many musicians do? They flee to the barren land of free jazz. That’s their hiding place. What a waste. Having said that, there’s no shortage of fine young players. Like, for instance, Gideon Tazelaar and Floriaan Wempe in Holland. Hard bop lives, but the scene is smaller. Even though there are a lot of stages for young musicians in The Hague, my generation had more opportunity to play, practically every town, big or small, had a club to make miles in. Some seedy, ‘jazzy’ ones as well, the kind where pigs were roasted above the bar and loose women danced on the billiard table. Lovely. At the same time, those joints programmed all-night bebop, amazing!”

(From left, clockwise: John Coltrane – Live At Birdland, Impulse 1964; Philly Joe Jones – Big Band Sounds, Riverside 1959; Shelly Manne And His Men – Live At The Blackhawk Vol. 4, Contemporary 1960)

To my short assessment of Eric Ineke’s hard-swinging style of propulsive cross rhythms, which mixes weighted quarter notes with articulate, relentless snare and bass kicks, Ineke adds: “That is my personality, right there! Propulsive! I’ve got my influences, naturally. In short: Elvin & Philly. Both Elvin Jones’ loose triplet feel and Philly Joe Jones’ horn-like phrasing have always fascinated me tremendously. When I studied with Johnny Engels, he gave me Philly’s Big Band Sound. I heard the phrasing and thought, Eureka! I loved Roy Haynes and Max Roach, of course, but Max is more cerebral. Philly is dirty, sleazy, hip. Elvin too. How would I specify Elvin’s pulling and pushing? That’s all about time. You can make a measure as big as you want to. Elvin relished that kind of experiments. When I heard Elvin on Coltrane’s Live At Birdland, on Afro Blue, I totally freaked out.”

“Indeed, you might say I’m a descendant of the 2nd generation of modern jazz drummers. I love Billy Higgins, Louis Hayes, Mickey Roker. And Shelly Manne. You know those five Live At The Blackhawk albums? Oh boy, Manne swings like he’s got the hounddogs on his trail. It may be recorded on the West Coast, but it’s essential hard bop, including a fabulous Joe Gordon and supurb Richie Kamuca.”

(Left: Elvin Jones, right from top: Philly Joe Jones; Louis Hayes; Billy Higgins)

Listening to Eric Ineke talk so fervently about America’s sole original art form, one realises once more that its main characters sculpted so articulate and dedicated a statue from happenings that were, more often than not, basically very tragic and in surroundings that, in the USA, were uncomfortable and harsh. For musicians that deserved as least as much status as the revered classical composers, it’s an act that demands uncommon, relentless drive. Ineke gladly presents a host of legendary tenor saxophonists that exemplify that struggle and victory to the max. Eyes twinkle. Really, Joie de vivre is built in Ineke’s system like a microwave in a modern-day kitchen. “Where to start? Dexter?”

Please do.

“If there’s one guy who had a tendency to play behind the beat, it’s Dexter Gordon. Mobley, slightly, of course, but Dexter even more, especially when he hoisted those big glasses down his throat… Dexter, by the way, still played excellent when drunk. Amazing. I played with him over a period of five years, from 1972 till 1977. All Souls is a recorded document of our cooperation. It was supposed to be with Rein, but he had to pass and Rob Agerbeek filled the piano chair. What do you do with such a laid-back Gordon? Groove on, that’s the only way. Once you start following his beat, the whole building goes up in flames. A class act like that, his drag is the magic. Keep rollin’ is my advice, it creates a certain tension, which makes it special.”

“Pescara 1973 was great. That’s a major festival, all the big guys were there, still are. Miles was there, Horace Silver. It was in the contract that our Rein de Graaff Trio would act as the basis for the night’s jam session after our gig with Dexter Gordon. Everybody was at the jam session. All members from Miles’ outfit. They were fed up with rock and wanted to play bebop. We did. Dave Liebman, Al Foster, and finally Dexter Gordon, sat in. It was a ball.”

“The last time I saw Dexter Gordon was in 1983. Dexter had returned to the US but occasionally played in Europe. He was walking through that long hall behind the bar of the Jan Steen Zaal in The Hague. I shouted: ‘Dexter!’. The long-tall legend turned around and said, in his deep, gritty voice: ‘Ineke! S.O.S. Same Old Shit.’. Haha! What a character! It was kind of a darkly humorous crack though. At that stage in his life, Dexter was tired.”

Alternating between performances with Al Cohn, Teddy Edwards or Clifford Jordan must have required some adjustments from Ineke. “Certainly time-wise. Joe Henderson, for instance, had a kind of floating time, free. And he was so advanced, harmonically, rhythmically. But somehow I fit in with his style very well. I played with Joe a couple of times over the years. One gig was in Amsterdam’s Hotel Krasnapolsky. Henderson was in Europe, had a couple of days off and just wanted to play. So, they called me and Frans Elsen, Henk Haverhoek. We played Recorda Me, ‘Round Midnight and Joe was on fire. Not more than 10 customers, every one of them a jazz musician!”

The fastest gun in the East. Johnny Griffin, ‘The Little Giant’. Flurries of Parker and big shots of rhythm and blues. “That was an exam at first. Griffin wanted me to play like Art Taylor, ‘bombing’ the bass drum. Mean what you play, that is what I learned, literally. Tough, but a party! Griffin, for instance, counted off Wee. Breakneck speed. Marathon choruses. Then, suddenly, Griffin signs off, ‘I got it, I got it, I got it!’. A cappella flights. After that, it’s Rein’s turn. Griffin is relaxed, standing beside Rein, clapping hands, ‘blow baby, blow’, and laughing. Time for trading fours and eights… then it’s my solo turn… Man, near the end of that I’m about done. But no, Griffin shouts, ‘go on, go on…’ I do, although my body threatens to implode through the process of spontaneous combustion. And then, in comes Griffin: BAM. Climax. People go crazy, pandemonium.”

“Talent and right place, right time, I guess so. But here’s the essence, right there: dedication. And a competitive spirit. Going from the word ‘go’, flying from the first note… I’ve experienced it with Dizzy, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Phil Woods, George Coleman, and contemporaries Pete Christlieb and Eric Alexander. They just take you away with their beat, from note one. Frank Foster? We played Billie’s Bounce. 20 choruses, Foster builds a solo going from the style of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young to those harmonics of Coltrane, major jazz history encompassed in one man, one solo. In hindsight, I understand. Go figure, when I toured with Frank, he wrote arrangements of Giant Steps in the back of the bus. Excellent arrangements. Besides, when I saw him at those eponymous performances with Elvin Jones at the Five Spot in 1966, I remember seeing him practising Coltrane’s ‘sheets of sound’ after his 10 to 4 gig, at about 4:30 in the morning. Obsessed, a workaholic. What a man. The tireless effort of these guys, it’s an American mentality. I very much took it to heart.”

“Luckily, there were other guys like me in my country.”

Like Eric Ineke, pianist Rein de Graaff was a self-taught jazz musician eager to make his mark in the modern jazz landscape. They have been cooperating for four decades now. Almost glued together like one, indivisible entity. “We stem from the same source. Even if we wouldn’t play together for five years, I’m dead certain that the vibe would be there from the first note.”

The list of American musicians that Ineke and De Graaff (including subsequent, long-time bassists Koos Serierse and Marius Beets) supported from the late sixties to the present, a great deal as part of the illustrious Stoomcursus Bebop and Vervolgcursus Bebop (performances and jazz history courses) that De Graaff organised in Holland, is remarkable. During the seventies and eighties, they also recorded prolifically with the Rein de Graaff/Dick Vennick Quintet, which ventured more and more into modal, McCoy Tyner-ish territories. While discussing Ineke’s period with tenorist Ben van den Dungen and trumpeter Jarmo Hoogendijk, Ineke says that the De Graaff/Vennik Quintet’s 1975 album Modal Soul was the reason that the young Dutch rising stars asked Ineke to fill in the drum chair of a quintet that also included another long-standing future Ineke-regular, the exquisite pianist Rob van Bavel. The rest is major Dutch jazz history. A dynamic, explosive hard bop quintet that was inspired by guys like McCoy Tyner, Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, Elvin Jones and Joe Farrell, the Van den Dungen/Hoogendijk outfit was highly acclaimed in Europe in the early nineties. ‘Not only in Europe. Montreal in Canada was fantastic, a highlight. We played for an audience of three thousand people, they all went crazy. Hunted us for signatures. I had to sign my drumsticks. It was crazy, a pop star scene. Of course, Ben and Jarmo were sharp cats. Appreciative of the stereotypical groupie and the sneeze and swallow as well. It didn’t prevent them from playing at the top of their game. It was a blast.”

(Left to right: Frank Foster; Rein de Graaff, Henk Haverhoek, Eric Ineke & Dexter Gordon; Jarmo Hoogendijk & Ben van den Dungen)

Ineke ponders. Silence, if just for a moment. “Did you know that, in fact, it was Ferdinand Povel, Henk Elkenbout, Fred Pronk and me who introduced the revolutionary music of Coltrane in The Netherlands? We played Giant Steps live in 1967/68, the whole album! It’s not in the history books, but it should be. Well, it is now.”

2016, Ineke is just short of 70. For a decade now, Eric Ineke has been acting as the leader of a quintet for the first time in his life. Succesfully so, Eric Ineke’s JazzXpress has been recording and performing prolifically. Old skool hard bop, yet again, seems to have touched a nerve. Ineke, dryly, lovingly: “Lieb (Dave Liebman, FM) not only urged me to collect my memories and advice in a book – The Ultimate Sideman – he also brought up the idea of forming a group as a leader. Somehow, that man seems to be able to tickle my senses in a profound manner.”

Eric Ineke

One of the foremost European drummers, Eric Ineke (Haarlem, 1947) has performed and recorded with numerous legends such as Teddy Edwards, Ben Webster, Lucky Thompson, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, Freddie Hubbard, Barry Harris, Woody Shaw, Art Farmer, Curtis Fuller, Pepper Adams, David “Fathead” Newman, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Al Cohn, Jimmy Raney, Dave Pike, Eddie Daniels and many others. From the late sixties till the present, Ineke’s career is marked by long-time associations with Ferdinand Povel, Rob Agerbeek, Frans Elsen, Rob Madna, Cees Slinger, Dick Vennik, Piet Noordijk, Charles Loos, Ben van den Dungen, Jarmo Hoogendijk, Wolfgang Brederode, Jesper Lundgaard, Benjamin Herman, Pete Christlieb, Scott Hamilton, Eric Alexander and Dave Liebman. For over 35 years, Ineke has been associated with the Rein de Graaff Trio. Ineke was a member of The Dutch Jazz Orchestra from 1984 to 2006 and has been leading his own hard bop quintet, Eric Ineke’s JazzXpress for ten years now.

Selected discography:

Rob Agerbeek Quintet, Homerun (Polydor 1971)
Dexter Gordon, All Souls (Dexterity 1972)
Rob Madna Trio, I Got It Bad (Omega 1976)
Rein de Graaff/Dick Vennik Quintet, Modal Soul (Universe 1977)
Jimmy Raney, Raney 81 (Criss Cross 1981)
Dave Pike & Charles McPherson, Blue Bird (Timeless 1988)
Ronnie Cuber/Nick Brignola, Baritone Explosion (Timeless 1994)
Slide Hampton meets Two Tenor Case, Callitwhachawana (Blue Jack Jazz 2002)
Eric Ineke’s JazzXpress, Cruisin’ (Daybreak/Challenge 2012)
Liebman/Ineke/Laghina/Pinheiro/Cavalli Quintet, Is Seeing Believing? (Daybreak/Challenge 2016)

The new album of Eric Ineke’s JazzXpress, Dexternity: The Music Of Dexter Gordon is coming out soon. Fried Bananas, the vinyl release of a 1972 Dexter Gordon performance with Eric Ineke and Rein de Graaff by Gearbox Records is due in November.

In his book The Ultimate Sideman (Pincio, 2012), Eric Ineke discusses and analyses his experiences with legendary musicians and contemporary colleagues. Essential reading.

Find out more about Eric Ineke on www.ericineke.com

Maja Lemmen, background portrait of Porgy founder Frank Koulen

Family Affair

Manager Maja Lemmen (70) has been taking care of business at the Dutch jazz club and cultural theatre Porgy & Bess ever since Eve bit the apple. She started out in 1960, when she had moved in with the family of Porgy founder, Frank “De Neger” Koulen. “But when I was 17, I wanted out. I was going crazy, you know how it goes, puberty! But Frank said, ‘you? You’ll never get out of this place!’ He was right. I was holding on to dear life, working hard and getting involved with the beautiful music called jazz.”

Early summer sun. Saturday’s shopping crowd is leisurely strolling in De Noordstraat, which, like many streets of our brave new civilisation, puts best foot forward to guard off the gulf of retail stores in favor of small enterprises. Clothing, shoes, household appliances, books, delicatessen… And, right in the middle, Porgy & Bess. The vintage bar, self-made floor, the painting of exotic black girls, pictures of jazz legends and the portrait of Frank Koulen on the wall. A jukebox underneath, tables in front of it. Terracota walls, various brass instruments hanging on the ceiling. The dark nightclub interior at the back of the club, the performance area, where the Steinway grand piano is hidden under a black sail cloth. Right in the middle of that area, Maja, Miss Porgy & Bess.

In 2017, the club will celebrate its 60th Anniversary. Quite a feat for a jazz club, to say the least. A cult hero of mythic proportions ever since he passed away in 1985, the Suriname-born Frank Koulen arrived in Dutch Flanders with the Allied Forces in 1944, married Vera van den Bruele and transformed their tearoom into a jazz cafe. With it, Koulen, the only dark-skinned person in town, hence “De Neger”, forever changed the cultural life of the medium-sized harbour city Terneuzen and the Benelux jazz landscape. Koulen, eternally short of cash but always brimming with ideas and socially conscious visions, introduced streetparades, staged Dixieland and modern jazz, as well as various cultural festivities. Lively entertainment for the youngsters of the day. After his passing, a dedicated army of volunteers and passionate sponsors rebuilt Porgy & Bess (also literally) from scratch and made Porgy & Bess what it is today, a world-wide known, highly acclaimed jazz club.

But what if Maja’s mother hadn’t taken a cab to fetch a ball of wool at Van den Bruele’s wool and linnen shop? One can only guess. “That shop was right in front of future tearoom and jazz club Porgy & Bess. We had recently arrived from Rijswijk. My mother had heart problems so she took a cab. Frank was working in the store and, curious as he was by nature, asked about her un-Flemish, big city accent. A friendly talk. Then, in that charming, pleading tone of his, Frank asked, couldn’t her daughter help out on Friday nights? That’s where I get into the picture.”

When did jazz come into the picture? Maja, adding a stirring touch to the story in the way old sailors recount a legendary shipwreck, explains: “Well, the Koulen family, including seven kids, was great, but it was quite a transistion of course. Then Santa Claus gave me a transistor radio. I had this sparsely furnished room, just a bed and a table, a footstool. So I took the little radio under my blanket, couldn’t sleep, it was about three in the morning and suddenly, I heard something…. Afterwards the announcer said it was John Coltrane. Dizzy spells, heart beating! That beat of Coltrane, and the inherent blues, amazing. It was Radio Brussel. The man said, ‘dear listeners, until next week.’ Yes! From that moment on, I was hooked. In an odd turn of events, I seemed to be taken by an invisible hand. And a voice that said, ‘come, come with me, you’re not alone anymore…’”

“When I got older, I started thinking about the background of jazz. About, for instance, Strange Fruit. I’ve heard it being performed countless times here, by Lillian Boutte for instance, but I never really thought about it, until one day it clicked. The hanging, the drama… It was a protest song at heart. An eyeopener for me. I think it also took Frank a while until he realised where he came from. From black men who’d had a hard time in a white world, essentially. That’s why he felt close to the black performers who came over. Initially, Frank was a straight New Orleans Jazz guy. One day Piet Noordijk played in Porgy. He had a row of saxes lined up on stage. Frank said, ‘Hey, you’re not going to experiment, right?!’” Maja laughs. “But when people like Hans Zuiderbaan and Frans de Ruyter programmed modern jazz, Frank also veered towards that style eventually. Improvisation, melody, but still recognisable mainstream jazz. The emotion of it, Frank dug that.”

Practically every musician I’ve met celebrates Porgy’s striking hospitality. Many compliments are written down in Porgy’s monumental series of guestbooks. Not a hint of hesitation on Maja’s part when she’s asked about its origins. Clearly, the good-natured, creative, fanatic import Terneuzen fellow, Frank Koulen, instilled a sense of pride and joy that remains in the minds of Porgy’s people to this day. “O yeah, that comes out of Frank. That’s an un-Dutch thing, you know. Frank is notorious for shaking the hands of every incoming customer. Talking about a welcome! As far as food and lodging go, it wasn’t a case of plainly setting up a table of cheese sandwiches. No, Frank cooked exotic meals for the guys, took them out and invented all kinds of ways to make them feel comfortable. It’s a matter of ‘giving’, you know. He raised and trained us in this respect, definitely.”

A good student, Maja, cum laude for sure. But it takes a responsive, giving soul as well, to keep it up for so many years. Lemmen turned into a true jazz ambassador, a temperamental host to both musician and audiences. At heart, it’s a family affair. “You may be right. Porgy, and the group of people attached to it, is like having a family. A sense of pride is involved. I keep meeting people who say that they’ve discovered the jazz life at our place. That’s wonderful! You know, a man named Joop van Tatenhove walked in here years ago. He had a father who was a regular visitor in the sixties and seventies. Joop, a seaman, had moved to Terneuzen, came in and said, ‘I would like to offer my services as a volunteer as a way to offer my gratitude for the fact that Porgy & Bess enriched the life of my father.’ Now, if that ain’t the power of music, right?!”

To say that Roy Hargrove would settle for an apartment near the Westerschelde sea is overstating, but the trumpeter’s kinship with the Porgy family is evident. He performed in Terneuzen as a young lion in the mid-nineties. Since then, Hargrove has made sixteen appearances at Porgy & Bess. “The European tours of Roy, and of other Americans as well, usually start or started in Terneuzen. It is a way for them to start off in a relaxed matter, settle down for a few days. Take bicycle tours along de Schelde. It reminds them of the Hudson, I think. Then they rehearse in the afternoon. That’s cool, here I’m tending business, filling fridges, making phone calls, and meanwhile listening to their music. That’s why I’m so rich!”

And, as an afterthought: “There might be a jam on Saturday before the official gig on Sunday afternoon.”

That’s a fact. Yours truly once attended an unforgettable jam, with Hargrove and Gregory Hutchinson leading a pack of local young heroes till the dawn’s surly light. It’s one of many great Porgy experiences. As a Terneuzen native, I spent many hours in Porgy & Bess and although up north for years now, drop in regularly. I’m grateful that the generous Maja and crew provided me and my friends with a great, warm-blooded place to hang out; with a stage for jam sessions, performances as a singer and the release party of a novel. Moreover, I have fond memories of performances of, to name but a few, Benny Golson, Rein de Graaff with David “Fathead” Newman and Houston Person, and Chicago blues outfit The Red Devils.

Indeed, the list of performers at Porgy & Bess is impressive and ranges from legends like Arnett Cobb, Freddie Hubbard and Archie Shepp to modern luminaries as Danilo Perez, Christian McBride, Joe Lovano and European top musicians as Toots Thielemans, Philip Catherine and Jesse van Ruller. And, of course, Art Blakey in 1982 and Chet Baker in 1985. “To hear Chet play and sing was like being in heaven. Otherwise, Chet was on his own, soft-spoken and, you know, classy in a sleazy way. There was this regular customer, a strong-willed fellow, who came back from the toilet. He said (raspy voice), ‘Hey Maja, you gotta take a look in the john, there’s this junkie fellow, I wonder did this guy buy a ticket?’ It was Chet, of course. Slender, greasy hair, his woodchopper’s shirt…”

Art Blakey was another lasting experience. Maja: “Before his show, Art Blakey was sitting behind the drum kit for a long time. The group, (including the young Terenche Blanchard and Donald Harrison, ed.), was upstairs. There were two little girls milling about the stage, giggling, humming, having fun. Blakey had a broad smile on his face, sat enjoying that scene the whole time. Then, when the band came on, Blakey set off a long sermon about the merits of jazz, it was exciting. You know that deep voice… And he and the band swung like mad, of course. That groove was out of sight!”

Warm-hearted memories. Decades ago. We’re writing 2016 on the wall of the world now. Terra could use some uplifting jazz vibes. Will Maja ever retire? “Ah, they don’t put musicians in nursery homes from the moment they’ve turned 65, right? As long as I’m not too feeble, I’ll go on. Excluding local events, programming is not on my plate anymore, I’m tending daily business, dividing tasks between Pascal and me. I’m, as I often say, the ‘multi-functional household tissue’. The prospect of continuous household activities means I’m keeping close to where it’s at!”

Maja Lemmen

Maja Lemmen (Lexmond, 1945) is the manager of jazz club and cultural venue Porgy & Bess. Porgy & Bess celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2017. It has been host to Nat Adderley, Rob Agerbeek, Monty Alexander, Chet Baker, Art Blakey, Paul Bley, Ray Brown, Ray Bryant, Don Byas, Betty Carter, Philip Catherine, Jimmy Cobb, Al Cohn, George Coleman, Johnny Copeland, Ronnie Cuber, Lou Donaldson, Dr. John, John Engels, Fapy Lafertin, Hein van de Geyn, Astrid Gilberto, Wolfgang Haffner, Slide Hampton, John Handy, Benjamin Herman, Jimmy Knepper, Lee Konitz, Diana Krall, Lazy Lester, Harold Mabern, Charles McPherson, James Moody, The Paladins, Horace Parlan, Cecil Payne, Nicholas Payton, The Red Devils, Rod Piazza, Dave Pike, Art Porter, Rita Reys, Arturo Sandoval, James Spaulding, Lew Tabackin, Rene Thomas, Cedar Walton, Kenny Werner, Mark Whitfield, Nils Wogram, Phil Woods and many others. Porgy & Bess also stages classical music matinees, roots music, and much acclaimed literary evenings.

Rein de Graaff 2

Rein’s Dream

At the distinguished age of 73, pianist Rein de Graaff preserves a childlike enthousiasm for his trade, which he typifies matter-of-factly as ‘bebop, ballads and blues’. As a boy of 15, De Graaff entrusted his equally jazz-crazed pals with the wish to one day play with his heroes Hank Mobley, Dizzy Gillespie and Dexter Gordon. “I never would have thought that dream to come true. But, amazingly, it did.”

They told me De Graaff had long since decorated one of his rooms in his countryside bungalow as a jazz museum. Well, make it two rooms. De Graaff has led me from one room, filled with the monumental archive of his career and hundreds of jazz magazines (e.g. all Downbeat Magazine issues up to 1970, which speaks for itself if you’ve learned to know anything about De Graaff’s tastes) to another that hosts a grand piano, walls adorned with vintage photographs, concert posters and a vast collection of original classic bebop and hardbop albums on labels as Blue Note, Prestige, Clef/Norgran, Savoy, Bethlehem and Argo. I’m the drooling kid in the candy store. Come to think of it, if it comes to collecting vinyl, Rein de Graaff transforms into a boy that has entered the Efteling amusement park as well. Collecting has been a lifelong passion. “I just got back from a Los Angeles festival. There was a record fair just outside the Capitol building. It was great!”

For De Graaff, the classic jazz of the late fourties to the late sixties that his speaker system churns out has always remained the real deal. “Jazz shouldn’t be too clean, it has to have an edge, something dirty and smoky. The music I play comes from the smoke-filled clubs, where sex often was cheap, and the blues was heard… I started out at the end of the era when New York clubs had music from 10 to 4. And then there was Slugs’. I usually went to bed at 8 in the morning. Nowadays, I’m having breakfast at 8! Naturally, there was something going on. I mean, who’s sitting at the bar? Hustlers, for instance. It was partly a criminal environment. All these things somehow ring through in the music.“

No reason for Sam Spade to stake out De Graaff’s Veendam residence, though. Just the music. A gentlemen from peat country, the north-eastern region of Groningen in The Netherlands. A man for whom a bargain is a bargain. This man has been a boy, frail and white as whipping cream, who happened to land in classic jazz paradise. That, indeed, is Rein de Graaff’s unusual, arresting story.

Partly anyway. It was clear from the outset that the young man from an upper middle-class family had a natural talent for music and playing piano that could bring him places. The boy had soaked up the sounds of Charlie Barnett, Winifred Atwell and played ragtime when one day the radio broadcasted Charlie Parker’s Shaw ‘Nuff and Stupendous. He heard Bud Powell play Tempus Fugue-It, Clifford Brown blast through All Chillun Got Rhythm. The kid was hooked, caught in ‘Webb City’. Getting involved into bebop with a cultish zeal reminiscent of its inventors, Rein de Graaff’s self-taught playing matured, under further influence of albums as Interpretations By The Stan Getz Quintet, The Jazz Messengers At The Cafe Bohemia and Griffin/Coltrane/Mobley’s A Blowing Session.

“People usually stay true to the music that makes an impression on them when they’re 15 or 16. It’s ingrained. That certainly holds true for me. Introducing Lee Morgan was and still is an all-time favorite. Hank Mobley is stunning, and the rhythm section is extremely lively. Of course, Blakey backed Mobley on some wonderful classics, like Soul Station, but the Art Taylor/Doug Watkins combi is dear to me.”

“I have most of the classic West Coast albums now, but I didn’t like West Coast jazz when I was young. The only record I liked was Shorty Rogers’ Modern Sounds. Take a listen here, that’s not cool, right, it’s hot! Great arrangements too. A bebop album that blew my mind was It’s Time For Dave Pike. Yeah man, that’s great, it’s Charlie Parker on vibes. I took it to his gig at a club in Groningen in 1967 and asked Dave Pike to sign it. I wasn’t a kid anymore but thought to give it one more go as far as signatures were concerned! I felt that our thought processes were alike. And it proved they were. Later on, when we became friends, it totally clicked. By the way, that vibraphone over there is the one that Dave used for the It’s Time For Dave Pike album.”

(From left, clockwise: Lee Morgan – Introducing Lee Morgan, Savoy 1956; Shorty Rogers – Modern Sounds, Capitol 1952; Dave Pike – It’s Time For Dave Pike, Riverside 1961)

By the early sixties, De Graaff, who didn’t fancy getting into Chopin and the like at Conservatory, gigged steadily, had won a prize at the Loosdrecht Jazz Festival, toured Germany with a swing orchestra, and even shared the stage with Sonny Stitt at the Blue Note in Paris. Back in The Netherlands, De Graaff scoured Amsterdam clubs, particularly the Sheherezade, where the expatriate tenor saxophonist Don Byas mentored young lions like De Graaff and his friends and colleagues such as saxophonist Dick Vennik, drummers Eric Ineke and John Engels and trumpeter Nedley Elstak.

But the big year for De Graaff turned out to be 1967. The pianist rises from his chair and beckons me to come up close to the photo wall. “So you’ve seen the big picture of me and Hank Mobley on stage over there, right. But look here, this one you have never seen. Hank, Evelyn Blakey (Art Blakey’s daughter) and me, we’re watching tv.”

In 1967 the 24-year old De Graaff traveled to New York. He said to his friends that he wanted to experience the jazz life of his heroes and, jokingly, added that his main goal was to play with Hank Mobley. For De Graaff, Hank Mobley was and has always remained the personification of jazz. “I got out of the subway in the Lower East Side and the first man I saw was walking with a trumpet case at the other end of the sidewalk. He looked familiar. He looked like Kenny Dorham, one of my all-time heroes. I followed him for a while and then had collected enough nerve to ask if he really was Kenny Dorham. Indeed he was! Subsequently, Dorham invited me to come up to the East Village Inn at night.” The following week, De Graaff hung out with musicians like Walter Davis Jr., Barry Harris and Evelyn Blakey, at whose place De Graaff had dinner one night. Evelyn knew of Rein’s wish to see Mobley and invited Mobley as a surprise guest for the astonished, skinny piano player from Holland. “She asked me to open the door. I obeyed. My heart burst out of my chest. There was Hank Mobley. ‘Hi, I’m Hank’, he said.”

In New York, De Graaff played with Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Elvin Jones and Joe Farrell. It was a dream come true. It was pretty devastating, however, regardless of their brilliant, swinging game, to see his heroes play sleazy bars for a nickle, while he opinioned that their stature should be of concert hall level, and to see some of them, like bassist Paul Chambers, succumb to a dreary, destructive alcoholic life style. “I saw some of that as well in Germany and The Sheherazade, it was a bit scary. I decided to follow a different path.”

The following decades would see the pianist lead a prolific but most unusual jazz life. Working by day in the electro ware wholesale company of his father (which De Graaff continued in later life and sold at the age of 56), De Graaff played at night and during days or weeks off. His popular De Graaff/Vennik quartet ventured more and more into modal jazz territories, while De Graaff also supported Americans such as Johnny Griffin, Dexter Gordon, Clark Terry, Arnett Cobb, Dizzy Reece, Carmell Jones and Red Rodney on their Dutch and European gigs. Great experiences, with lessons to be learned as well, like those from Griffin and Art Taylor, who played either at furious breakneck speed or extra slowly, getting into a distinctive ‘groove’, something De Graaff called ‘American Tempos’.

It was an outrageously busy lifestyle. Better to burn out than to fade away? “I didn’t drink. That helps. And I was young, able to get along without much sleep. Sometimes I got home at 4 in the morning and was at the office at 8! And for instance, when I had a business meeting far away, I would combine it with a gig the night before! Most of all, playing jazz was my high, gave me a lot of adrenaline. My work gave me a kick as well. All that keeps you on your toes!”

De Graaff’s skin has that antique porcelain quality. Aged but still quite smooth. Strands of yellow-ish hair embellish a white crop, like sheep wool. Slightly wavy hair, and always that broad curl at the back of his neck. Not too neatly trimmed. An edge. “But yes, I lived three lives. My wife and children are proficient in music and they were understanding.” Then, dryly: “I wouldn’t have married her otherwise. But indeed, I was away a lot and didn’t see enough of my little daughter. I decided to do it differently when my son was born. The kids loved it as well, though, having those Americans around. Instead of hotels, they stayed at our place. Teddy Edwards and Babs Gonzalez were housefriends. Babs always played checkers with my kid daughter,” laughs De Graaff. More laughs erupt when De Graaff recounts the extended sleepovers of Johnny Griffin and Art Taylor, who always slept in a bunk, ‘can you imagine?!’

A white boy amidst Afro-American legends, many of whom were desperate, troubled, grappling with racism, dissapointed in American society, and, like Art Taylor, quite militant about it. “You’ve read Taylor’s book Notes and Tones, right? (Ed., Art Taylor’s controversial 1982 book of interviews with fellow musicians) The thing is, these guys transformed into Europeans in a way. Don Byas spoke Dutch, Art Taylor spoke French. Life in Europe wasn’t so stressed, they were more relaxed in general. In The States, the cops were on their backs all the time and they were ripped off regularly. It wasn’t like that over here.”

“Musically, I just gave my best. At the start of my career in New York, and later in Detroit with trumpeter Louis Smith, I was sometimes the only white musician in the group. Oh, I’ve had a bassist say to me once, (De Graaff puts on a deep, gritty voice) ‘Show me how good you are’. I made sure I did. The thing is, jazz is the shared language. You communicate on that level. I remember what the emcee said when I was on stage with Hank Mobley. He said: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, how about a big hand for Hank Mobley, Herbie Lewis and Billy Higgins, and the young man from Europe. You heard the man, he’s preaching the same message as we do.’

(From left, clockwise: Dexter Gordon & Rein de Graaff; Rein de Graaff, Herbie Lewis, Hank Mobley & Billy Higgins; Art Taylor, Henk Haverhoek, Johnny Griffin & Rein de Graaff)

I mention De Graaff’s version of Gil Fuller’s I Waited For You (from Drifting On A Reed, Timeless, 1977), a classic De Graaff cut of long, flowing lines, spare blue notes, tumbling and rollicking lyrical modes and some ‘out’ phrases. “That was inspired by Joachim Kuhn, who although he didn’t really swing, was outrageously good. I was into McCoy Tyner as well, our quartet developed more of a ‘new thing’. Musicians advised me to quit bebop, start something new. It was kind of a breather for me, a liberation, really. And the quartet was so propulsive! That avantgarde stuff didn’t sit too well with the legends, though. I remember Dexter Gordon saying one night, ‘Rein, stop that Chick Corea shit, will you!’

The quartet existed until 1989, but in the late seventies De Graaff again took some advise to heart. “Now audiences said, ‘Hey Rein, you used to play such beautiful bebop, why don’t you get back into that? Of course that’s when I went to New York to record New York Jazz (Timeless/Muse, 1979) with Tom Harrell, Ronnie Cuber and the classic rhythm section Sam Jones and Louis Hayes. I used to play along with all those Cannonball Adderley albums at home, you know!”

A combination of Horace Silver, Bud Powell, Sonny Clark, Hampton Hawes and a touch of Lennie Tristano, De Graaff has made his mark as one of the premier European bebop/hardbop pianists. An ‘unpianistic’ pianist, relishing long, flowing lines that he tries to construct as horn men do. A more gentle touch, like his friend Barry Harris, in contrast to Powell’s hammering lightning bolts. “Someone in The States once said to me, ‘hey man, you blow a nice piano!’ Horns have fringes. Playing piano like Oscar Peterson is not my ambition. He was the best in the world, but I couldn’t care less. All over the keyboard, flurries of arpeggio’s, brilliant, perfect playing, but constant brilliance and perfection becomes boring after a while.”

“I think I was a fanatic. That’s crucial, you gotta have that dedication and obsession. Let me tell you a story guitarist Peter Leitch told me. He teached a class at Conservatory, there was a talented guitar player. Leitch said, ‘okay, I’ll see you at the workshop on Friday.’ The young man said, ‘No, I can’t make it, I have to hang wallpaper at my grandma’s’. You know, that’s not the right mentality. Small wonder, we’ve never heard from the gentlemen since.”

Like Barry Harris, De Graaff has been a true ambassador for bebop and hardbop. From 1986 till his 70th birthday in 2012, De Graaff gave four lecture/tours a year, playing and explaining the music that grew out of Charlie Parker et al. Essential jazz history, embellished by an endless list of acclaimed and underrated Americans: Teddy Edwards, Clifford Jordan, Johnny Griffin, James Moody, Ronnie Cuber, Charles McPherson, Harold Land, Houston Person, Frank Foster, David “Fathead” Newman, James Clay, Barry Harris, Webster Young, Bud Shank, Billy Root, Herb Geller, Al Cohn, Louis Smith, Art Farmer, Eddie Daniels, Lew Tabakin, James Spaulding, Bob Cooper, Gary Foster, Pete Christlieb, Gary Smulyan… That’s when people started nicknaming De Graaff ‘Professor Bop’. “That was the source. Guys like Johnny Griffin, he could tell how it was to play with Monk, Harold Land what Clifford Brown was about. And Teddy Edwards, come on, he invented bebop!”

Fortune’s favorite? A fullfilled man, certainly. But where have all the flowers gone? At 73, De Graaff concedes that he’s starting to become a regular visitor of the crematorium. De Graaff puts his arm in the air and moves a closed hand back and forth slowly. “It’s the Big Hand working. Here it goes, ‘swoosh’, takes a bunch of us, draws back again, only to resume its relentless work… Dave Pike passed away last year.” You can hear a pin drop. Says De Graaff, his face now a brittle mask that hides sorrow. Only human: “That really made me kind of sad. We were like bloodbrothers. But ok, we performed, made a record. Fine. At least, that’s consigned to posterity.”

“I’ve got nothing but nice memories. My favorites? The first time that I played with Hank Mobley is really dear to me. Also, my tour with Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt and Philly Joe Jones was fantastic. I knew these guys inside out from their records, but to sit beside them on stage really is something else. They play familiar phrases and licks, but the licks are theirs, original. The impact is enormous.”

His blue-grey eyes, mostly hidden behind wrinkled eyelids like ladybugs in the cracks of cobblestones, suddenly grow: clarity, earthiness, a little tenderness. “I carefully pick my recording projects, it has to be something fresh. That’s why I did duet albums and performed with two baritones, for instance. It’s still possible to be creative in bebop and hardbop, or what you’d call mainstream jazz. I will be doing my Chasin’ The Bird tour in the near future. That would give you an idea of what that tour is about, right?”

Rein de Graaff

Pianist Rein de Graaff (Groningen, 1942) recorded more than 40 albums, both as a leader and in cooperation with numerous Americans and fellow Europeans. He won the Boy Edgar Prijs in 1980 and the Bird Award at North Sea Jazz Festival in 1986. From 1986 to 2012, De Graaff organised Stoomcursus and Vervolgcursus Bebop: lectures about bebop, which included performances by a host of American and Dutch luminaries, as well as upcoming youngsters. De Graaff’s career is chronicled in Coen de Jonge’s Belevenissen In Bebop. (Passage, 1997)

Selected discography:

Body And Soul (with J.R. Monterose, Munich 1970)
The Jamfs Are Coming (with Johnny Griffin & Art Taylor, Timeless/Muse 1975)
Modal Soul (Timeless 1977)
New York Jazz (Timeless/Muse 1979)
Good Gravy (with Teddy Edwards, Timeless 1981)
Live (with Arnett Cobb, Timeless 1982)
Rifftide (with Al Cohn, Timeless 1987)
Blue Bird (with Dave Pike & Charles McPherson, Timeless 1988)
Nostalgia (Timeless 1991)
Blue Beans & Greens (with David “Fathead” Newman & Marcel Ivery, Timeless 1991)
Baritone Explosion (with Ronnie Cuber & Nick Brignola, Timeless 1994)
Alone Together (with Bud Shank, Timeless 2000)
Blue Lights The Music Of Gigi Cryce (Timeless 2005)
Indian Summer (with Sam Most, Timeless 2012)

Fried Bananas, the vinyl release of a 1972 Dexter Gordon performance with the Rein de Graaff Trio by Gearbox Records is due in November.