Talking in 1982
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Those albums I made with the Marty Paich Dektette were completely inspired by Miles Davis’ “Birth Of The Cool” sessions and more so by the Gerry Mulligan Tentette. Yes, even more so than the nonet that Miles used, because that was a bit ragged. But great I mean, they’re among my favourite records in the world. They may be my favourite jazz records coupled with the Mulligan Tentette. The Tentette was a bit better rehearsed, I felt, and more cleanly played. Which doesn’t make it better jazz but as a singer, I related better to the cleaner sound of the jazz sound. I don’t know—I think the Mulligan Tentette records are among the greatest jazz records ever made for arranged jazz with solos interspersed, you know.
I went to Bethlehem and said: “Listen, nobody’s used this combination, with the tuba, french horn, two trumpets, trombone, baritone, alto, tenor, bass and drums no piano for a singing background.” There was one record that Miles made of “Darn That Dream”; it wasn’t a very good vocal, and it wasn’t a very good arrangement, in my opinion. I said: “Let’s get Marty Paich to listen to these” he knew them already, by the way “and we’ll cast him in that mould.” Because he’s in that mould anyway he writes like that.
It was my idea—that’s the gospel truth but it wasn’t an original idea; it was one that I gleaned from Miles and from Mulligan, absolutely. They fought me on that, though, and finally acquiesced because I was so vocal about it and that record got the best reviews, with the exception of the “Live At The Maisonette” album, of any record I’ve ever made in my life. So we must have been right about something, Marty and I.
As for my believing in good musicians, and fostering them—you must, because there’s such a dearth of good ones, and such a spate of anywhere from mediocre ones to really quite bad ones. I want to mention right now the current Buddy Rich band—it’s the greatest band he has ever headed in his life. It is so full of fire, and good soloists, and good attitudes. When I worked with Buddy’s band for two weeks at the Waldorf and a week at the Hartman Theatre in Stamford, Connecticut, it was really like a love affair. I would grab Buddy around the shoulders after every show, and we’d go hang out—we’ve been friends for over thirty–five years.
That band inspired me so much because of their attitude because of the way they play. When we did “Route 66” and the derbies went : “Boo–boo baah”, that wasn’t written; I wrote that to go: “Ba–ba–ba” they picked my derbies up and did that. That’s called creative musicianship, within the perimeters of an arrangement that knocked me out, that they would do that.
And a lot of times they would play some of my unison figures an octave higher such as in “Mountain Greenery” and it just kicks you up the backside. They don’t have to do that; they could just say: “Ah, let’s save our lips no way.”
Without a doubt, that’s one of the best bands I’ve ever worked with maybe one of the three best bands I’ve encountered in my life. And you can quote me—I really mean that.
In addition to Buddy’s band being more exciting, he’s playing better . . . no, that’s a redundancy—can’t say he’s playing better, or worse. He’s just the absolute last word when it comes to sitting behind a set of drums. And I’ve been seeing him since we made friends when I was eighteen years old; he had just gotten out of the Marines, and I had just gotten out of the Army. I idolised him, and we became fast friends and great friends. He has said some extremely flattering things to me in recent years; our friendship has never been tighter. All I can tell you is: I’m constantly in awe of that man’s talent. As a man, he’s straight ahead, and that’s what I like I like to do it straight ahead myself. Buddy is the best.
Something I was very proud of was that the late Bing Crosby referred to me as: “the greatest singing entertainer I’ve ever seen”. I’m glad he didn’t say “in the world”, because who could live up to that? That would probably have applied to Bing himself, and it applies to Frank Sinatra—you’ve got to say that. I would not put myself in that category—if other people want to, that’s very flattering. But that was a quote that was widely used with his approval and acknowledgement.
And for Bing to have said that, after all the people he’d seen—and he’d never come out for anybody like that before—was the single most rewarding thing of its kind that ever happened to me in show business. I mean, this was somebody 1 really idolised not just for his singing, which was superb, but for his whole demeanour and his attitude towards life. For Bing Crosby to have said that about Mel Tormé— I must tell you, I lost sleep over it. I’d get up sometimes at five in the morning, shake my head from side to side, and say: “God, I don’t believe he said that” —it was really thrilling. I have a medley that I do, called “That’s Entertainment”; a sequence of it is based on the song “True Love” it has a special significance now. In the last years of his life, it was true to say that Bing had never sung better. Like other great performers as they get older, they just get better and better, like fine wine.
Copyright © 1982, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved