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.

Prophet - Swingsation

Pistol Speaks

Dominique Jennings Brandon fondly remembers her father, the artist Richard Slater Jennings, a.k.a. “Prophet”, known among jazz fans for the sleeve artwork of Eric Dolphy’s Out There. In our e-mail interview, she speaks candidly and in great detail about the colorful and heady life and work of the painter, journalist, filmmaker, hustler and spiritual ‘consigliere’ to many of the modern jazz giants.

Arebellious, wordly spirit who usually was exactly where it was at in the classic jazz era of the fifties and sixties, the highly esteemed Prophet befriended the cream of the modern jazz crop. Legends like Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Freddie Hubbard, James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton and Johnny Griffin were pals of Prophet, who shared both their heartfelt passion for America’s truly original art form as well as the arduous and proto-rock&roll lifestyle attached to it. In appreciation of his friendship and personality, both Eric Dolphy (The Prophet) and Freddie Hubbard (Prophet Jennings) dedicated compositions to Richard “Prophet” Jennings.

According to legend, Jennings treated musician King Porter to an inexhaustable string of anecdotes about cons and tricks, whereupon King Porter replied caustically, ‘Man, you a motherfuckin’ prophet.’ The name stuck. Prophet liked to tell a story. There’s a telling example in John Szwed’s biography of Miles Davis, So What):

“I remember one night, one time, Max Roach and Clifford Brown… They were playing at a club in Detroit – The Crystal Lounge. So this particular night we’re at the Crystal Lounge and Max Roach and him had set the stage on fire. Now, Miles, he was – you know, he was staying around Detroit at this time. It was raining like a motherfucker, so this particular night, Brownie had just come off the stage. That stage was a burning inferno. Clifford Brown had set that motherfucker on fire… The door opened and in walked Miles. He had his coat turned up and it was raining… He went over to Clifford Brown and asked for Clifford’s trumpet. He reached in his inside pocket, took out his mouthpiece, put it in Clifford’s trumpet… Now, the stage was still on fire. It was still burning… Miles got up on that stand with the support of the piano to hold his ass up. He put that motherfucking trumpet to his mouth and that motherfucker played My Funny Valentine. Clifford Brown stood up there and looked at him and just shook his head… That little black motherfucker, behind all that fire, he made people cry… When he got through playing and took his mouthpiece out, he put it back in his coat, gave Brownie his trumpet, and split. That’s what he did. I saw this. I was there!”

A couple of years later, Thelonious Monk visited an exhibition of paintings by Prophet in Detroit, which resulted in Prophet’s portrait of Monk for the Jazzland album Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane. Prophet also designed Max Roach’ It’s Time. His best known covers are the Dolphy albums Outward Bound and Out There. I’m sure most of you shared my puzzlement and curiosity when stumbling upon Out There as a teenage jazz fan, a cover that conveys a Dali-esque space landscape including a cello (or upright bass) battleship and giant-size metronome. Prophet’s album covers are significant for being among the first that were designed by Afro-American artists. Instead of focusing rigidly on a marketable image, Prophet strived to evoke the mood of the adventurous music contained within the grooves.

Bits of information reveal that, allegedly, Prophet danced around the steelmills of Youngstown, Ohio as a kid; that he worked as a (music) journalist in Detroit. Prophet’s work as a painter, instilled with the spirit of the Harlem Rennaisance, was exhibited in the US from the mid-fifties onwards. He settled in Sweden in 1964 with his future wife, the Swedish air line hostess and former singer Ann-Charlotte. His paintings were exhibited in the US and Europe. Prophet suffered from tuberculosis in his younger life. Tragedy befell the artist and his daughter when Ann-Charlotte, mother of the then four years old Dominique, died in a plane crash in 1969. Prophet returned to the US and worked in comedy with his friend Richard Pryor, among other creative endeavors. Prophet passed away in California, in 2005.

In 2001, director and film writer Ken Goldstein made a documentary about Prophet, Prophet Speaks, which included footage of the days and nights the artist spent with Rollins, Gillespie, Coltrane, Monk, Davis et al. Unfortunately, it wasn’t released on dvd. Most admirers of jazz and the arts, therefore, have remained ignorant of the life of a pivotal underground artist and jazz guru of the fifties, sixties and beyond.

Flophouse Magazine: Where and when was your father born?

Dominique Jennings Brandon: He was born Richard Slater Jennings on April 5th in Youngstown Ohio in the mid-20’s.

FM: There’s a story about your dad about him dancing around the steel mills of Youngstown, Ohio as a kid. Is that true? In a vaudeville show, or on his own?

DJB: He danced around Ohio mainly on his own. The WLW was a big Nightclub, as well as Eddie’s. He danced with Billy Hicks and the Sizzling Six Review. He went on the road with them. He also was a dance show promoter.

FM: He lived in Detroit in times and circumstances that were often quite difficult for Afro-Americans. How did he get by? And how did he become an artist?

DJB: Lionel Hampton read an article Prophet wrote about him for the Buckeye Review and came to Youngstown looking for him. Prophet became Theatrical Editor for the Detroit Tribune newspaper that was owned by Lionel Hampton. He helped raise the circulation. He branched out with his partner Kenneth Brown to start their own Magazine called “Swingsation”. And then there was one issue of a paper called “The Word”. He was asked to be Advanced Publicity Man for Lionel Hampton’s Band. So he went on the road with Hamp and his band. Hadn’t been making much money. During his time in Detroit he became known for his good conversation and good weed, “Chicago Light Green”. He was a Healer and Confidence Man. He was living at the YMCA for a time which was $7 a week but difficult to cough up. He ran the concession bar at the Flame Showbar. That is how he met a lot of musicians.

He had a second bout of tuberculosis in the late forties and was hospitalised. It was during his 15-month convalescence that he took up drawing. He was always gifted at drawing and his friendly, treating doctor Dr. Greenich gave him a set of Pastel Chalks. He was discharged in 1950. He graduated from Chalks to oils when he bought a stolen set of oils paints from a known junkie in the neighborhood.

FM: “Prophet”, as your father was called, has also been a journalist and filmmaker. But he is mostly known as a painter. What do you feel is his lasting contribution to the world of arts?

DJB: His unique life poured into his work, which cemented an unseen perspective in art during the post-Harlem Renaissance period. He brings a raw emotional depth to his painings which spans many subject matters over the decades. Being a self-taught artist who was inspired by the Masters added more depth to his work. His portraits have eyes that follow you. His approach to painting skin is luminescent. His command of oils is uncanny and his early Pastel Chalk pieces are lush. His dimension, depth, perspective, and lighting are reminiscent of a much earlier era. His ability to capture such intimate moments on film with the modern jazz giants was another layer of his artistry. I think his ear and eye for greatness only intensifies his gifts and contributions to the art world.

FM: Has he worked in comedy? He was friends with Richard Pryor and Redd Fox, right?

DJB: He had a potent sense of humor and was a fantastic storyteller, which came from a rich life experience. He met Redd Foxx during his time in Detroit and Richard Pryor in New York in the late sixties. He worked as a consultant on the Richard Pryor Show in 1977 and was quite inspirational in the comedy circles. He is referenced in the Richard Pryor documentary “Omit the Logic”. Richard Pryor hosted an art show for him in Los Angeles in 1975.

FM: Your father was friends with many of the modern jazz legends, like Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Johnny Griffin, Slide Hampton. Why do you think those jazzmen gravitated towards your dad?

DJB: His gravitas was undeniable. I believe they were all kindred spirits. Tastemakers. Together they were the integral part of an elite subculture. And the music they loved was the heartbeat. He provided them with a lively space to let their hair down. They called Prophet’s apartment the “Temple”. They were creative entities that fed off of each other. He enjoyed talking with his musician friends because they talked about everything. Not just music. Politics, religion, philosophy and everything in between. He was outspoken, blunt, no nonsense, witty, stylish, charming, compassionate, encouraging, generous and wise. The antithesis of a yes man. Widely talented, loyal and the ladies were quite fond of him!

(Left: Albert “Tootie” Heath, Actor Lee Weaver, Prophet Jennings, Jeb Patton and Jimmie Heath at Jazz Bakery, Culver City, late 90s; Right: Prophet and Richard Pryor)

FM: Do you have recollections of meeting his musician friends in Sweden and the USA?

DJB: I was too young to remember any specific encounters with the musicians in Sweden. When we lived in the Los Angeles/West Hollywood, I remember Dizzy Gillespie visiting us and we went to his performance at the Hollywood Bowl. He also gave my Father a movie camera. I remember encountering Miles Davis driving in our neighborhood when he invited us to join him at a fancy clothing store for a shopping excursion. His ex-wife Francis Davis was a longtime neighbor of ours who lived on the same street. Tootie Heath was close to my Father. He was my Father’s best man at his wedding in Sweden. Jimmy Heath remained close even though he was on the East Coast. They were both basketball fans. I remember Yusef Lateef coming by and my Father filming him.

Most of his earlier musician friends remained on the East Coast as we were on the West Coast. I did see Marvin Gaye with my father about 8 months before he was killed at a party. I was starstruck by him. He told me he met me in Sweden when I was a little girl.

I met a lot of his friends later in life, generous men like Freddie Hubbard, James Moody and Gerald Wilson. My husband took me to see one of Freddie Hubbard’s last performances at the Catalina Bar and Grill. There was a request for him to play Prophet Jennings but he was unable to play because of the wind it required.

FM: In the fifties, your father was an integral part of the outsider movement of jazz and the arts that turned out to be very influential and he has always lived a very bohemian lifestyle. How was it to grow up with Prophet?

DJB: There was a Bon Voyage party in New York for my Mother and Father when they were moving to Sweden in 1964. They were in love and he had grown weary during the turbulent sixties in New York. My Mother Ann-Charlotte (née Dahlqvist) or Lotta, was a air line hostess for SAS and had sung in a swing band in the fifties. They moved to Sweden in 1964, right after the party. We lived in Sweden and my Mother and Father were instrumental in helping to get their jazz musician friends booked at the Golden Circle. My Father made treks to the States to sell and exhibit his work. At times he loathed the cold and darkness of Sweden and longed for New York. Life wasn’t always easy, especially having to raise a little girl but they made it work. They were a real team. A tragedy that would forever change and completely devastate my Father happened on January 13, 1969, when a plane crashed with my Mother in it. My Father and I were splattered on the covers of Swedish newspapers after the crash. It is still quite hard to look at the clippings.

My Father and I left Sweden in 1972 and moved to West Hollywood. We even had a short stay with Richard Pryor when we first arrived. He continued to paint through the 70’s and 80’s and 90’s. He never remarried. He taught himself how to do astrological charts in the sixties. I still have many of his very detailed charts. He was quite gifted in this area as well and was able to hone in areas that were hidden to most. I encountered several instances where his predictions were stunning. He was a life coach, confidant and astrologer to many people throughout his long West Hollywood residency. Especially during the last ten years of his life. Chaka Khan lived in our apartment complex when she sang with Rufus. She and my father were both Aries and had a fondness for each other.

My Father was utterly devoted to raising me and being a widower and artist could not have been easy. He was very particular when it came to babysitting. He was completely hands on. He was a deft cook, so funny and an extremely deep thinker. In fact we rarely ate meals out. He was quite temperamental at times, which being a sensitive young girl I did not quite understand. I took his impatience to heart but understand so much more now. He was so concerned about being a good parent. The realities of life were not “sugarcoated” for me. He believed in giving it to you straight.

I do not know how we made it but I was always made to feel like a Princess and he encouraged me in my endeavors. I never wanted to disappoint him, which was quite a big weight I put on myself. His candor could bring me to tears but I understand now how fortunate I was to have him so invested. He was a huge inspiration to me and helped shape my love for the arts. He always told me to keep an air of mystery about myself and educated me about the male species. He was a stickler about having good credit and instilled in me that you should try to accomplish something everyday. No matter how small. Even when I moved I lived under a mile away. We spent a lot of time together and as I got older we became even closer. I began to realize a bit late that I could discuss things with him I never thought I could when I was younger. He expressed to me “you sure are cool Pistol” towards the end of his life. Pistol was one of my many nicknames.

(Left: Prophet and Dominique, Jet Magazine 1970)

My Father contracted pneumonia in 2000. We were able to get him to Cedars Sinai after an episode at his apartment. Richard Pryor passed on December 11, 2005. It was a huge blow to my Father. That week he wasn’t feeling well. I attended Richard’s funeral and when I was asked where my Father was, I responded that he wasn’t feeling good. I will never forget the comment that was uttered. “Is Prophet next”? My Father passed the next day. Exactly one week apart from Richard Pryor.

FM: Your father was one of the first Afro-American artists that designed covers for jazz records. Was it something he took particular pride in?

DJB: He did take great pride in the album covers. It was something that came about quite fluidly. He did not seek out work as an album cover artist. He felt it a huge honor to have songs and whole sides of albums dedicated to him.

FM: His work for Dolphy is surrealistic. He painted in other styles as well, right?

DJB: He did paint in many genres. He didn’t subscribe to any style per se. When he started to paint in Detroit he was painting in Pastel Chalks about the life he saw: The “Underworld”, “Drugs”, “The Jazz Life” “The Streets”. Some of his work had an erotic and mystical sense. He was drawn to painting streetscenes, cityscapes, nudes, children, flowers, old people. He was first inspired to paint by an artist in Ohio called “Dollhead”. He admired Rembrandt, especially his extraordinary lighting, and Dali. When he arrived in Detroit he learned about more of the Masters. His inspirations became Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, Modigliani and Maurice Utrillo.

FM: I read that the walls of Sonny Rollins’ apartment were decorated with the paintings of your father. And Cannonball Adderley exhibited them in his home. There were exhibitions in the US and in Europe of his work. But where is his work now?

DJB: That is the big question, where is all the work?

My family and I have about eighteen works. Over the years I’ve been doing my best to catalogue his work. So there are paintings spread throughout Los Angeles. Jennifer Pryor (Richard Pryor’s widow) has the large Charlie Parker painting mentioned in the documentary “Omit the Logic”. Berry Gordy, Jimmy Heath, my father’s friend and former journalist Joy Brown and our old neighbors all own paintings. Milt Jackson’s widow owns the portrait of her late husband that he painted in 1960. The latest painting resurfaced a few years ago, when the wife of the late Prestige Records Founder, Bob Weinstock, contacted me on Facebook. She has the painting of Eric Dolphy used for Outward Bound. This was fantastic news.

I have put feelers out to a few other people who I know have paintings requesting photos. My Father had contracts that I have and use to connect the dots but there were many paintings that he did not have contracts for. I once asked my Father how many paintings did he paint altogether and he answered, “I don’t know”. I told him my dream was to find them all and he told me I wouldn’t be able to do it. We’ll see! A multimedia retrospective is the goal.

Dominique Jennings Brandon

Dominique Jennings Brandon (Stockholm, Sweden, 1965) is an actress who is best known for her role as Virginia Harrison in NBC’s soap opera Sunset Beach. Jennings Brandon’s resume includes Se7en and Die Hard 2. She lives in San Gabriel, California.

jasper

Take Three with Jasper van Damme

“I’m not planning to be a bandleader just yet. I guess I’m still hanging in between the non-conformism that is essential for a leader and the adaptability that comes with being a freelancer. And I’m having great fun doing all those different things,” says 29-year old alto and soprano saxophonist Jasper van Damme. Van Damme is an accomplished, mature musician who concentrated on his playing instead of spending much time writing original tunes. His fiery alto style is heard in numerous groups ranging from big band, Latin, and modern quartet jazz to the crossover jazz of the tongue-in-cheek, highly proficient outfit Tommy Moustache.

Just mentioning the name of Tommy Moustache brings a smile to the face of the unassuming, amiable personality that is Jasper van Damme. Van Damme’s in a band. “I have the experience,” Van Damme laughs. “As a teenager I was in all sorts of groups, like the heavy metal band I stood in front off, shouting at the top of my lungs.”

Good humor combined with a cool alt-rock stage presence is the icing on the musical cake that Tommy Moustache has brought to the fore for the last two years. Tommy Moustache released their debut album Tommy Moustache in 2014 and has kept on playing their idiosyncratic jazz funkrock on a regular basis. Van Damme resists the temptations of honks, squawks and funky licks in favor of a kind of structured buoyancy. It ties the music together.

Van Damme agrees with my description of his style as ‘an interesting contrast between an even, clean tone, kept up in the high register, and an impassioned delivery and eagerness to keep a good story going.’ He loves the way Lee Konitz gracefully constructs solo’s. “Like Donna Lee on that album with Warne Marsh.” (Lee Konitz With Warne Marsh, Atlantic, 1955) Van Damme is also enamoured of Cannonball Adderley’s zest and communicative power. “And I’m wild about Sonny Rollins. His harmonic inventions on the Village Vanguard albums (A Night At The Village Vanguard, Blue Note, 1958, 2CD-reissue, 1999) are stunning and he’s just flying on all cylinders. The Freedom Suite (Riverside, 1958, Read review here) is great as well. I admire the way Rollins takes those short themes on that album and turns them inside out completely. I saw Rollins at The Concertgebouw (in Amsterdam) a few years ago. It was very exciting just to see Rollins in person. At that old age, Sonny Rollins keeps trying to get better. I read that it comes with doubts. It amazes me that a legend like Rollins is also a human being for which not everything works perfectly.”

The first favorite album that comes to the altoist’s mind, however, is Thelonious Monk’s Plays Duke Ellington. (Riverside, 1955) Van Damme often enjoyed the live albums of the Five Spot with the hard swinging tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin (Thelonious In Action and Misterioso – Riverside, 1958)) but feels that Monk’s more subdued, touching interpretation of the work of Duke Ellington is very special as well. “It’s not only pure, original Monk, but also a relaxed listening experience.”

A style is one thing, to incorporate it into different types of jazz is another. “It’s pretty tough, you know. I adapt continuously, since I’m taking all kind of jobs. That’s because freelancing, apart from a little teaching, is my full-time livelihood. That has been a conscious decision. But now I’m beginning to wonder about my goals. Should I also become a leader with my own bag? That bag should logically involve something instantly recognizable, which, actually, is a bit different than how a freelancer works. I did the Pack Project last year. (Rotterdam’s Pack Project annually sets a talent in the limelight, giving free reign as far as line-up and original repertoire is concerned) It was a very cool experience. But I had to make all the decisions myself. That was really scary!”

Be it as a leader, be it as a busy freelancer, further life experiences will certainly bring new touches to Van Damme’s style. “I’m searching,” contemplates the laid-back saxophonist. “I also play free jazz in drummer Friso van Wijck’s group The Steeplepoy’s Revanger, very complex and cool stuff. It’s very interesting to see how it helps my playing. On the other hand, I’m still crazy about informal, swingin’ sessions. That’s why I love playing in bars or small clubs. You know how you can have those moments of bliss? Well, more than 50 percent of those moments occured in bars. Just playing those good old standards all the time, what a joy…”

Jasper van Damme

Jasper van Damme is a prize-winning saxophonist (Erasmus Prijs, Dutch Jazz Competition and Conservatorium Talent Award) and a sought-after sideman. His resume includes appearances at North Sea Jazz Festival, Concertgebouw Amsterdam and Carnegie Hall. Van Damme currently plays in Tommy Moustache, Benoit Martiny Band, Rumbata Beat Band, Loran Witteveen 5tet, The Steeplepoy’s Revanger, Dutch Concert Big Band and BVR Flamenco Big Band.

http://www.jaspervandamme.com
http://www.tommymoustache.com
http://thesteeplepoysrevanger.com

BRUUT! Jump - door Maarten van der Kamp

Take Three with Bruut!

BRUUT! Jump - door Maarten van der Kamp

Bruut! Noun; brute; bully; (slang) master, dope, heavy, da bomb – ‘brute sneakers, man’ or ‘listen to Wayne Shorter in Free For All, he’s brute!’

I’m sitting on a barstool at a high oak table in the Amsterdam rehearsal studio, the Melody Line. Alto saxophonist Maarten Hogenhuis and bass player Thomas Rolff, one half of Dutch jazz group Bruut!, talk about their career and some of their favourite records. They share mutual preferences. “We’re married, really,” says Hogenhuis. I guess they are. Not only these two longtime friends, but all four members of Bruut!, and happily I presume. Because their seemingly effortless mix of hard bop and boogaloo with surf and rock music is tight and possesses a delicious, big sound. Jazz Crusaders meets Dick Dale. Bruut! dubs their music ‘superjazz.’

Hogenhuis and Rolff grew up in the aftermath of grunge. They bring its raw sensibility to their music, yet jazz remains the core of Bruut!’s style. As far as contemporary, jazz-related influences are concerned, John Scofield’s A Go Go is high on their list. But on top of that list is Benjamin Herman’s Get In, the Dutch alto saxophonist’s 1998 boogaloo album that he recorded with legendary soul jazz drummer Idris Muhammad, organist Larry Goldings and Dutch guitarist Jesse van Ruller. Hogenhuis: “A very famous record for our generation, a sort of Bible! Benjamin has no idea how many of his young colleagues dig that album.”

Rolff: “We were already of the ‘old stuff’, but Get In was an eyeopener. We started out as a boogaloo outfit, which implies a totally different approach than that of a mainstream jazz group.” Is that approach easier? Hogenhuis answers: “We are careful not to play too ‘difficult’, which hopefully benefits our music. Making ‘difficult’ music can be quite easy in fact, but to play ‘simple’ in a meaningful way is a totally different story.”

Hogenhuis’ sing-songy style reminds me of altoist Lou Donaldson, who as Rolff puts it succinctly “came into his own in the sixties while simultaneously holding on to his allround Charlie Parker-style. It became an unmistakably pure mix”. Hogenhuis dwells on some of the Lou Donaldson albums in his collection, like Everything I Play Is Funky: “Those boogaloo and soul jazz records of Donaldson represent true live music for me, creating a vibe. Although I’ve listened to some of them analytically, for inspiration. He has that ‘simplicity’ we talked about, he’s the epithome of ‘less is more’.”

“Yet,” Hogenhuis continues, “as far as my style and influences are concerned, I’m formed by the giants: Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane. I like the production and huge sound of Coltrane’s Africa/Brass and Crescent. Lately I’ve been listening to Live At Newport a lot. It doesn’t include Elvin Jones, because he was trying to deal with his drug addiction at that time. Of course, Coltrane and Jones were almost like one creature and their thing is so ingrained in your system. It’s interesting to hear how Coltrane makes Haynes sound very unlike himself. Haynes never sounded more different than on Live At Newport.”

“Besides his brilliant harmony and interesting phrasing, it’s Coltrane’s rhythm that I dig mostly. His rhythm is so heavy, all-encompassing. His timing is immaculate and goes ‘out there!’ It’s hard to put a finger on. What I’m sure of is that Coltrane has soul in abundance. I’d like to possess that combination of rhythm, timing and soul, but it hasn’t happened so far, haha. I started playing jazz relatively late, from my eighteenth year, and took with me the rhythmic approach of pop and funk. Rhythm is the core, the Bruut!-approach, we start from the groove. Sound is all-important too.”

Rolff: “Take away those two and you’re left with a bag full of shit.” Hogenhuis continues: When talking about rhythm and groove, Hank Mobley should be mentioned. Soul Station is classic. And Workout is one of our favourites. Harmonically and melody-wise, that album is more than ok. But the rhythm and sound are key. It includes the crackerjack Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers. And Grant Green’s on it. Like you say, he’s an example of great rhythm. Did you know that he plays the same lick like eleven times in Workout. 11 or 12 times! It’s outrageous! (Hogenhuis hums the melody and Green’s phrases) He goes on and on. Well, it works, right, haha?!”

There are a lot of classic things that ‘worked’ for these (relatively) young gentlemen. Just before the other half of Bruut! – organist Folkert Oosterbeek and drummer Felix Schlarmann – enters the studio and completes today’s set up, bassist Thomas Rolff recounts his influences. They range from Paul Chambers to Jimmy Blanton. “I’m totally into Ray Brown, though. My dad was an enormous fan of Oscar Peterson. So I’ve heard Ray Brown all through my life. He’s a big influence. A long time ago, I got We Get Requests as a present from Maarten!”

Hogenhuis: “I think the greatest thing about We Get Requests is the way it is recorded. There’s a lot of ‘panning’, you can distinguish everything really well. The bass sounds so beautiful, out of sight! That record feels like a warm bath.” Rolff chimes in: “Those cats from the classic era had such an immaculate beat and great sound, which is the essence. All the while, their taste and musicianship was outstanding.”

The foursome that constitutes Bruut! is involved in many other, diverse jazz projects. But not surprisingly, considering their spontaneous aesthetics they have displayed as a unit for four years now, they have a weak spot for live recordings. When asked which hard bop and soul jazz albums drummer Felix Schlarmann favours, he immediately and matter-of-factly answers “Cannonball Adderley Quintet – Live In San Francisco”, the album that raised the level of live recording in 1962 and was an enormous commercial success.

Organist Folkert Oosterbeek, the group stresses, doesn’t really play in an organist’s way. Hogenhuis teasingly asks him: “Do you ever put the needle on a Hammond album?” “Never,” answer Oosterbeek with a grin on his face. Hogenhuis explains that Oosterbeek is a pianist who ended up behind the organ by chance, because the guys wanted him to. “That’s our secret,” Hogenhuis states. “Folkert doesn’t sound like a Hammond organist. And that’s fun.”

“I’m not really conscious of the classic Hammond organists,” says Oosterbeek. “But I know one thing, I don’t wanna play like another Jimmy Smith copy cat.” Hogenhuis explains that the group pushes him to, for example, sound like a guitar or a Farfisa organ, whatever the circumstances demand. “It adds to our colours,” says Hogenhuis, who has the final word of our mid-day talk. “Be not mistaken, there are a lot of great records today. But a lot of jazz records sound clinical to me, because they are recorded in a ‘poppy’ way. It takes the bite out of the music and one misses a unique ensemble sound. And that’s what it is about. It’s what Bruut! strives for in any event, making a fully developed story as far as sound and timing is concerned.”

Speaking of which, we put a lid on it as Bruut! is about to enter the practice room to rehearse and conjure up tunes that might end up on their third album, which is due to be released in Spring 2015. I’m wondering, shouldn’t it be, like some of the illustrious examples mentioned in this interview, a live album?

Bruut!

Bruut! consists of alto saxophonist Maarten Hogenhuis (Maarten Hogenhuis Trio, The More Socially Relevant Music Ensemble, Amsterdam Jazz Orchestra, Krupa And The Genes), organist/pianist Folkert Oosterbeek (Felix Schlarmann Group, Amsterdam Jazz Orchestra, Kogging), double bassist Thomas Rolff (Maarten Hogenhuis Trio) and drummer Felix Schlarmann (Felix Schlarmann Group, Kogging). They started playing their brand of hyperkinetic, retro-but-not-so-retro ‘superjazz’ in 2011. By mistake, as a party organizer introduced them to a hungry crowd as a dance group instead of the mainstream jazz outfit they believed to be. Bruut! was born. They released two albums – Bruut! (2012) and Fire (2013) and have built a repertoire mixing classic hard bop and boogaloo with rock and campy Quentin Tarantino soundtracks. Bruut! successfully toured Japan, Poland, Burkina Faso, Germany, England, South-Africa, Spain, Surinam, Turkey and Belgium. Their third album will be released in spring 2015.

http://www.bruutmusic.com

Florence

Take Three with Rob Agerbeek

Florence

In 1976 Dutch-Indonesian pianist Rob Agerbeek was recommended to tour Europe with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Agerbeek had strong doubts. A phone call to friend and drummer Art Taylor was in the making. “I thought, well, they see me coming, yet another local pianist. I resented that. But then Taylor said to me on the phone: ‘Well man, if you don’t take this gig, I will never recommend you again! You’ll have to do this!’” Subsequently, Agerbeek successfully toured with Blakey, painstakingly getting used to the repertoire along the way. Blakey wanted him to stay in the band but Agerbeek politely declined. “I had an office job, you know.”

Typically Agerbeek. The congenial, 77 years old jazz veteran means what he says but the way he tells it betrays a strong dose of dry humour. And whether he’s recounting his versatile solo endeavours as a boogie-woogie maestro and hard bop musician or the gigs he played with Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons, Ben Webster, Johnny Griffin and Hank Mobley, among others, there’s always a sense of modesty. His modesty is of the healthy kind, mixed with essential but far from boisterous confidence. “I heard great blues sounds on the radio when I was a kid in Batavia. (the modern-day Jakarta) The Bob Crosby Band, Tommy Dorsey and Albert Ammons, Maede Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson. In my college years in The Netherlands, I discovered the Jazz At The Philharmonic series, Oscar Peterson, Sonny Clark and got interested in modern jazz around 1958. I was particularly fond of Horace Silver.”

“Horace Silver is about the blues. Even when Silver’s tunes weren’t formally blues, they were nevertheless imbued with the feeling of the blues. Doodlin’ is a case in point. I particularly like his first album, Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers. At the same time compositions like these and from other albums were very intricate. The Preacher, Room 808, Strollin’, Cool Eyes. Silver composed in a way that got me thinking: I should’ve come up with such a thing!’ It’s so logical. And steeped in gospel. No, I didn’t really had the idea that I should incorporate Indonesian influences into my music like Silver did with his Cape Verdean background. I tried to emulate the Americans. Mind you, emulate, not imitate. Naturally, I learned playing jazz that way. I learned a lot from Don Byas in the mid-sixties, harmony, and also to carefully handle the intro and theme and shy away from frenzy playing. But I always wanted to record in my own way. I wrote a lot of tunes. I’m largely self-taught and sharpened my reading skills along the way.”

Agerbeek puts the needle on his 1975 album Keep The Change. A vibrant bag of straightforward hard bop. The title track incorporates the bounce of classic Blue Note hits like Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and Hank Mobley’s The Turnaround, tunes that drummer Billy Higgins blessed with his indomitable, swinging beat. “I worked with Hank Mobley, you know.” Agerbeek played with Mobley in 1968/69. “Like you say, The Flip was recorded during that period. I was invited for that session. But Alfred Lion had already hired another pianist. (Vince Bededetti) So that slipped through my fingers. Who invited me originally? Hank did. He said, ‘yeah, you have to record, you will be the piano player if you want.’ But it didn’t fell through.”

“Before the invitation, I had been playing with Mobley for about a year. In Rotterdam, Paris, including Art Taylor. Mobley’s form was excellent, really. He had his problems but was a very nice, loveable character. I like Soul Station best, and that one with Funk In Deep Freeze on it. (Hank Mobley Quintet) Hank Mobley really didn’t blow, his breath went through the horn like ‘swhoosh’, you know what I mean! Beautiful.”

Halfway through our conversation, while Agerbeek gives an account of his recordings with saxophonist Harry Verbeke and Billy Higgins, we both suddenly start to laugh. As if Agerbeek reads my mind he chuckles: “It is amazing, right?! I played with so many of these Americans. Talking about it brings back memories… Ben Webster, Willis Jackson, Arnett Cobb. A lot of it came about through my management. And through Paul Acket, (the founder and organiser of the North Sea Jazz Festival) of course. He asked me to accompany those guys, like Frank Foster, Clark Terry, Cecil Payne. I’ve done twenty-three editions of North Sea. All during the years that I worked at the social insurance office, haha!”

One of the most pleasant meetings Rob Agerbeek had with American jazz legends is chronicled on All Souls, a 1972 live album of The Rob Agerbeek Trio with Dexter Gordon. “My producer gave me some alternate takes. I thought, Jesus, did I play that way? One of my sons said: ‘Dad, you played different back then, tougher.’”

“I toured with Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons in 1973. Often I used to loosen up before the show started, playing a boogiewoogie tune. One time Gene Ammons bent over me, saying: ‘Hey there, you’re playing my dad, right!’” (boogie woogie pianist Albert Ammons was Gene Ammons’ father) Agerbeek laughs. Then, matter-of-factly: “I really thought he was a good saxophone player. He also played on some his dad’s tunes and striked me as a unique player as early as that. He was steeped in r&b but close to bebop. That album on Prestige with Tommy Flanagan and Art Taylor is very nice.” (Boss Tenor)

Art Taylor seems to be the thread that links together Agerbeek’s forays into hard bop jazz. I’m curious as to whether Agerbeek ever noticed anything about Art Taylor’s supposed racial bias against the white music establishment, as it comes across in Art Taylor’s book of interviews, Notes And Tones. “Indeed, the one that I knew best certainly was Art Taylor. And Johnny Griffin as well. I never noticed anything about Taylor being wrathful about the music business. He usually called me for gigs from where he lived in Luik, Belgium. What I do remember is that Taylor always complained that Thelonious Monk didn’t like him. Monk would confuse him: ‘What’s with that big moustache, Art? Trying to be Mr. Charming, um?’ It really bugged Art!”

“I regularly shared rooms with those American guys. With Johnny Griffin, whom I worked with for three years, in Germany. Never again, man. That certainly takes some doing. My my, either they talk till you drop or keep you awake snoring.” Agerbeek imitates the ‘Little Giant’, Johnny Griffin. It sounds like a giant, drunk caterpillar.

“But they paid me some nice compliments. Griffin said that I have a good blues feel. I guess it’s because of my background in boogie-woogie. Guys that I learned a lot from and admired very much, Frans Elsen and Rob Madna, pointed out the feeling of the blues in my compositions. Well, I’m not going to say this of myself. If they do, I’ll accept that. Art Taylor introduced me to McCoy Tyner in Norway in 1973 and said: ‘O, he’s a motherfucker on piano, you should meet him.’” Agerbeek continues in charmingly laconic fashion. “Dexter Gordon recommended me as an accompanist. And you can imagine Gordon, such a tall man, pushing me forward in crowds. Well, I wasn’t that prudent. I would hesitate to plug myself, but in situations like that, I went along with it. I guess you could say I was a lucky-so-and-so. Carried by the wind, so to speak.”

“Do I regret that I didn’t cross the ocean to join Art Blakey when opportunity knocked? No, not really. How long would I have lasted, one year? Then you’re sacked and you have to start from scratch back home.”

Rob Agerbeek

Rob Agerbeek (Batavia, Indonesia, 1937) is one of the grand seigneurs of Dutch jazz and has been a prolific recording artists and performer on European stages since the early sixties. He is a self-taught musician and well-versed in both boogiewoogie and modern jazz. Agerbeek became an admired accompanist to a host of American legends that toured and/or lived in Europe in the sixties and seventies, notably Gene Ammons, Art Blakey, Don Byas, Johnny Griffin, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley and Ben Webster. Thereafter, the versatile pianist surprised audience and critics when he switched to traditional jazz in the eighties, joining the Dutch Swing College Band. His discography includes Homerun, Beatles’ Boogies, All Souls (with Dexter Gordon), Keep The Change, Pardon My Bop and On Green Dolphin Street (with George Coleman). Nowadays Agerbeek performs as both modern jazz leader and accompanist.

Here’s Rob with Dexter Gordon

Here’s The Chair Dance from Homerun

Here’s a wonderful rendition of Albert Ammons’ Tuxedo Boogie