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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Conversations with Mr KC - Keith Copeland Interviewed - Part 3




The third part of my extended interview with the legendary Keith Copeland. In this section he talks about playing with different great bassists, with Stan Getz and his turbulent time with Stevie Wonder. Great stories and insights from one of jazz's great drummers.

You can see Part 1 HERE, and Part 2 HERE

RG: You played with, of course, some incredible bass players in your career.  Maybe I'll just throw some names at you and then you can just say what the experience was like playing with them.  How it might be different, or what was special, or whatever.  So, Sam Jones?

KC: Sam Jones was probably the most energetic bass player I have ever played with.  His time was right in the middle, centered.  Sometimes it felt like it was on top, but it was right there.  And powerful energy, and great notes, and wonderful to play with.  Never had a moment to think about trying to hook up with him.  He was so strong you just put your hand on the cymbal and it went automatically where it was supposed to be with the time.  He was a great player.  Very special player to play with.  Very special feeling.  I had been listening to him for years, from his first records with Cannonball.  They did a record called Nancy and Cannonball that I loved very much, that he played on.

RG: You played in a trio with him, with Kenny Barron, right?

KC: Yeah, I made a trio record with him.  That was a very fast record.  I remember that date.  That was just before the Heath Brothers date.  We did this record at a studio, on 12th or 13th Street in the Village, not far from from where the New School is.  And it was real cold, like the weather you experienced when you went to New York, and Sam was trying to get to the date from Teaneck and he couldn't get in his car it was so cold.  He couldn't get the locks to open up.  So Sam was late getting to his own date.  So when Sam got there, instead of having six hours, we only had about four hours.  So there was only time for maybe two takes on each tune, and we did the whole record real fast.  And then, of course, me being the globetrotter I had to pack my shit up real fast, go outside, hail a cab, run out to La Guardia, jump on a plane, fly to Washington to meet the Heath Brothers to play in Blues Alley that same night.  I made it, but it was a scuffle.  The record came out pretty good.

RG: Yeah, it did.  I must try and get it on a more reliable format.  I have it on a cassette somewhere, I think.  Well, now that you've mentioned the Heath Brothers...Percy Heath?



KC: Percy Heath was a great bass player, man.  Perfect notes, very good time but a little bit more on the laid back side.  Percy and I couldn't get along so good.  Percy wanted to turn the Heath Brothers into another Modern Jazz Quartet.  You know, he had us wearing these...made us go out and buy suits and shit, and wear these uniforms.  He wanted everything very structured and what I was trying to play with Stanley Cowell and Tony Purrone and Jimmy, who wanted some energy sometime, I would push and go with them and try to get Percy to go with me.  And Percy wouldn't go with me.  Percy would just stay right where he wanted to be.  He'd just look at me and sort of growl at me.  But I wouldn't pay no attention to him because I said, 'Man, shit!  I am with these guys.  I want to support them'.  And I had been used to playing with Sam, so I would just ignore him and we had fallings out about that.  'You too busy, man, you got to relax'.  And he was always trying to give me some of his best marijuana to slow me down.  He always had some good grass.  Whenever we were on the road, Stanley and Tony would always ride with Jimmy and they'd put me with Percy, because they knew Percy would be smoking and that would keep me cool.  Slow me down for the long car rides across Oklahoma and Kansas and shit.



RG: That's a great story! Ray Drummond?

KC: Ray Drummond is another excellent bass player.  Same tradition as Sam Jones.  Same feeling.  Same good notes.  Great time.  Just a real great, warm feeling playing with him.  No problems with him at all.  Always had a great time with him, yeah.

RG: In a general way, since you've played with so many bass players, if I can ask you a question...  I talked to Eric Ineke – the great Dutch drummer – a guy who's played with so many people also.  I like to ask drummers this question because I think it's an interesting thing with the bass and drum dynamic.  There's a very special thing there.  Maybe I can ask you two questions.  What do you really like in a bass player?  And, what do you really not like?

KC: Well, what I like is when they play real nice melodic lines that I can follow, easily.  And I have an idea where they're going all the time when they're playing.  And I like it when their time is very focused and right in the middle of the beat.  And what I don't like is when a bass player is playing a tonne of shit real fast on the bass.  Flying all over the place but not giving me anything to hold on to so I can find where that sense of the time should be.  I don't like that.

RG: Too active...

KC: Yeah, right.  Too active.  That I don't like.

RG: Another thing I wanted to ask you about...a couple of people that we haven't mentioned.  One, of course, looms very large in your biography just because he's so famous, is Stevie Wonder.  How did that come about, playing with him?



(Stevie Wonder)

KC: Well, with Stevie...I was actually working with a group called The Nine Lords in Detroit.  I think at a place called Ben's High Chaparral.  Stevie had just put this new Wonderlove band together.  They were rehearsing in New York.  This was around the time he was doing Music Of My Mind.  He was recording all the stuff in the studio.  He was playing all the drum tracks on it.  He's a very good drummer.  Not technically, but feeling wise.  What he wanted to hear, he could play it.  So anyway, Gene Key was living in Detroit.  That used to be his Musical Director before Stevie decided to form this Wonderlove band where there would be no Musical Director.  Stevie would be the Musical Director.  Gene knew he was looking for a drummer.  So he had a drummer and they did one gig somewhere – I think it was in, if I'm not mistaken, I think it was in Fort Wayne, Indiana – and the drummer missed the plane to get to the gig.  So they had to call to Detroit to get somebody from Detroit to fly down to make the gig who didn't know the music.  I think they got one of The Four Tops drummers or somebody to come in.  So then Stevie said, 'I gotta get another drummer that I can depend on and can make planes.'  So Gene knew I was in town with this group and he came over and heard me play.  He said, 'Listen, I'm gonna fly you to New York with me tomorrow and we're gonna go meet Stevie and you're gonna play with Stevie tomorrow at a rehearsal.'  I said, 'OK'.  

So we got up early in the morning.  Flew to New York.  I met Stevie, we played, jammed for about two hours.  Then they took me to the airport, got me back.  I got back to Detroit in time to make the gig that night.  Didn't hear anything.  So I was working with The Nine Lords and Kim Weston, who was married to Mickey Stevenson, a big producer for Motown.  We went from Detroit back to Boston.  Played for a week in Boston at The Sugar Shack.  Then we went to Washington to play at a place called Pitts Motor Inn.  While I was in Pitts – we were there for ten days – I got a call.  Evidently, Stevie had tried a couple of other drummers after me and didn't like them and then I got a call.  The call said, 'When you finish Sunday night in DC come to New York and meet the band.  You're going to rehearse for two days.  Then you're going to go to Chicago and play at the Oriental Theatre with Stevie.'  I said, 'OK'.  So I went up there that day.  Broke my butt and got up to New York.  Rehearsed for two days with the band.  Stevie didn't come to the rehearsal!  He was out in California, messing around.  I don't know what he was doing but he was out there doing something.  



(Gladys Knight)


So we all met in Chicago at the Oriental Theatre.  Of course, we didn't have enough time to really do a decent rehearsal.  So Gene Key was there – he was still trying to hang on to be Musical Director.  He gave me this big book of music that he had written up for me to play the show.  And then the guys in the horn section – Dave Sanborn was in the band, Trevor Laurence, Steve Madaio - they had their ideas of what they wanted.  Then Stevie had his ideas of what he wanted.  So I had three different things coming at me about what everybody wanted.  We had a show and we were playing opposite Gladys Knight.  Her band was opening up for us.  They had horns.  She had a rhythm section.  And another group called The Constellations which was, I think, Dionne Warwick's backup singers.  They were good.  Anyway, Gladys kicked our ass, man!  She was so tight!  And Gladys' drummer, Al Thompson, used to be Stevie's drummer.  And he was great, man!  He had a great backbeat, great time and he knew her shit.  He was functioning as the Musical Director for the horn section and for Gladys and they killed!  So I was feeling kind of bad, man.  Because I felt like I couldn't play because I had so much on my mind – to concentrate with trying to satisfy all of these three different opinions.  

So the next day we finally had a really good rehearsal and we got it together.  And then we started playing, we started kicking butt.  And we finished out the week long stay and we did well.  So I stayed with Stevie for about seven months.  But the only thing I didn't like about Stevie...Stevie, every time there was a drum solo, Stevie wanted to take the drum solo!  So I had to learn how to play...and then when he finished playing all that shit on the piano he would make his way over to the drums which wasn't that far away and stand next to me.  And I had to figure out a way to get up, get him seated, get the sticks in his hand without losing too much time, so he could take a drum solo.  And this shit went on for four or five months and I got tired and I said, 'When am I going to get a drum solo?!'  And really what he wanted me to do was to try to play all of his licks.  And I didn't want to do that.  I said, 'I want to play my shit.  I'm not going to play your shit.  I don't want to sound like you.'  


(The Rolling Stones)

So we did this for a while and then we were on a tour with The Rolling Stones.  We had opened up for The Rolling Stones in Vancouver.  We were the opening act on that tour and I did three weeks with them.  And when we got to Dallas we played a gig...the only thing I didn't like about the tour was Stevie had signed the contract with the money on a weekly basis.  So he got a certain amount of money for each week.  But the Stones could add shows and fill up them big arenas.  We were playing twice if they wanted to and we didn't get no extra money for that.  I said, 'They're getting extra money for it.'

So, anyway, we got to Dallas and he did some shit when we were playing.  He started waving his hands up and down.  I didn't know what he was doing.  And he had set a tempo on something, I don't know what tune it was...Signed, Sealed, Delivered or whatever...but, evidently, after he had set the tempo he didn't like the tempo, he was trying to change the tempo.  He wanted to make it faster or something.  So I got pissed, man!  So I made it fast, REAL fast!  I was trying to teach him never to do that again.  I'm trying to teach the bandleader something.  So I made it real fast and we finished the tune, finished the set.  And then he called a meeting – he liked to call meetings.  Whenever there was something wrong he'd call a meeting of the whole band.  He called a meeting and the meeting was directed at me.  He said, 'That was almost a perfect show except there was something wrong in the rhythm section.  Something was wrong with the time.'  So I said, 'Listen, motherfucker!  The only fuckin' thing wrong with the time was you were fuckin' with the time.  Set it one time and then you made it like you wanted it to get faster.'  I said, 'I made it faster.  I made it real fast.  If you hadn't been fuckin' with it and left it where it was so we could finish that tune like it was.  You have to be responsible for the getting the tempo right when you call it.  If you call it wrong you have to live with it.'  So I was really out.  Everybody was looking at me like I had snapped because they had never heard me speak to him like that before.  Well, I had.

RG: So what was his reaction to that?

KC: He didn't say shit.  I just walked out of the meeting after that.  I said my shit and that's it.  So I went back to the hotel room and I packed my shit and I left.  I left him in Dallas.  I didn't ever play with him no more, I split.  I'm not going for this shit no more.  This shit's going to happen again.  So they called me.  They found out that I had split.  They sent Ralph Hammer, the guitar player, out to the airport to talk me into staying.  I said, 'No, man. I'm not taking no more of this abuse.  This is ridiculous.'  That on top of the drum shit, the solo shit.  'I don't need this.  We ain't making that much money.  I could make this much money staying at home.'  So I stayed at home and I did good.  I never looked back.  That's what happened with Stevie.  But I really loved working with him when things were going well.  He was a great musician.  He still is a great musician.  I loved playing his music, and I loved his tunes, and I loved that band.  But I didn't like the abuse.




RG: Stan Getz?  You played with him...

KC: Stan Getz was a trip.  Stan Getz was a real trip, man.  I worked with him with Jim McNeely, and sometimes George Mraz, sometimes...who else played bass?

RG: Marc Johnson, maybe?

KC: No, not Marc Johnson, sometimes Rufus.  Worked real good with Rufus.  Worked real good with Jim McNeely and Rufus.  And it worked real good with George Mraz.  Stan was like a split personality.  Sometimes he was the nicest, sweetest guy in the world.  And other times he was a real prick, man.  Sometimes he'd ask me to rub his back, to give him back massages, and I would, when he was being nice.  Then other times I wouldn't do shit for him, man.  He was really a trip.

The first time I went out with him on a long tour he booked me into Washington, to Blues Alley, for four nights and he paid me 150 a night which wasn't bad for Blues Alley.  And then we left there, we started doing these one nighters through the mid-west.  And all of these one nighters were in big places...all these places I had been before.  Chicago, University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana...all these places.  And all of these big joints he was still paying me 150 a night.  And I know he wasn't paying the other guys that.  But, because he had started me off at 150 in the club he figured I was stupid enough to think that that's what it was supposed to be.  So I kept doing it, I did that first tour, but I used to get mad at Stan.  And Stan's health wasn't that great, but he wanted to play with a lot of energy.  So whenever he was having a good night he wanted to play with a lot of energy.  I'd bombard him with all that Elvin shit that I knew.  I said, 'Oh, you feel like playing tonight?  Play on this, motherfucker!' Boom!  I was throwing everything I had at him.  That shit was kicking his ass sometimes.  But that's because he had been so weird to me sometimes.  

So I remember the last night I played with him after a tour.  We played in Dallas, at the Caravan of Dreams which was a big club, held about three, four hundred people.  He had been acting strange.  We played that first set...I put so much shit on him that first set he had to go lay down on the couch somewhere to rest, to get ready for the second set, because I really layed some shit on him.  I shouldn't have done that, that was terrible.  But I had the strength and the technique to do it so I did it, because he wanted some power.  

But he also said some shit to me, and I never forgave him for it, in Washington.  At the end of the Washington gig he said some shit to me about...'Yeah Keith, I almost had to let you go, man.  You almost weren't good enough to hang with me'.  I said, 'Oh yeah?  Ok.  I'll remember you said that, Stan'.  Because I had been there about a month before with George Russell playing at the Smithsonian, playing some really hard shit.  We had to play The African Game and some other shit for about an hour and a half straight.  And I killed!  And the guy that reviewed us at Blues Alley said 'Yeah, Stan sounded great and Stan had Keith Copeland, George Russell's drummer, with him and he sounded great'.  So the reviewer had heard it and thought I sounded wonderful.  But Stan was telling me some shit.  I think that's why he only paid me 150 a night, because I wasn't coming up to par for him.  I said, 'Well, we'll see if I come up to par for you the next time, motherfucker!  I'll let you know I can come up to par!  You need more!  If you want more, here's some more!'  I gave him plenty to work with!

RG: That's a great story.  You're not in a very exclusive club of people he was weird to, that's for sure.

KC: Stan was rough, man.

RG: Just a couple more questions...I know you made at least one recording with him, maybe two.  I don't know if you guys played live or not.  Paul Bley?



KC: (laughs) Paul Bley!  We did a date and there was some problem with the technical stuff on the date.  He wanted me to play some brushes and the brushes I was using were wire brushes with metal tips coming out of the end.  And every time I was playing with these brushes there would be some metallic clicks that would come through the line.  So we'd get something going good and we'd have to stop because of these clicks.  So finally they found some brushes in the studio that were plastic brushes and I started using those, no problem.  But we had wasted about two hours trying to figure out what these clicks were.  But Paul played some of the strangest shit I ever heard!  Me and Paul and Bob Cranshaw.  Bob Cranshaw, who was another wonderful bass player.  He usually plays electric but he brought his upright to the date.  If it hadn't been for Bob Cranshaw I could have never gotten through this date.  Because he was the rock, he knew what to do.  And Paul was playing some strange shit, even going out of the form of the tune sometimes.  Turning the time around, and I had to fix it and catch it.  But the record came out pretty good actually.

RG: Yeah, I remember.  It was called ‘Bebop, or something?

KC: Bebop!  There's nothing but bebop tunes on it.

RG: I was thinking about that just before we talked.  You must be the only person on any instrument who has played with both Stevie Wonder and Paul Bley.

KC: (laughs)

RG: Definitely!  I don't think there's anybody else who has that range of experience!  The final thing I wanted to ask you about, Keith, because you've lived in Europe since '93...you're twenty years, I guess, in Europe now.  And, of course, you originally grew up, came up, in the scene in the States.  What would you say was your experience of the difference between being a professional jazz musician living in Europe and being a professional jazz musician living in the States?

KC: Well, when I first got over here I was very busy and I was running around like I used to run around in the States.  But after you stay over here about four or five years they get used to you over here.  It's not a novelty.  If you come over here from the States on tour, you're a novelty.  So you get  treated a little bit better sometimes.  But if you stay over here too long you become sort of local.  And that's what happened, I became local over here.  That was the only difference.  So I don't play as much because when I was a novelty I got the really good money, and I got the chance to play with the really nice people, at the right places.  But now, I don't play so much because I can't get the right money all the time.  And I don't feel like going out and busting my butt if the money ain't right, you know.  The States was ok except those last few years I was in New York I was traveling so much I got to see New York from the airplane more than I did from being on the ground because I always saw it landing or taking off.  That's what I was always doing, going places from New York.  And I said, 'I love New York, but I never get to see it except from the air.'  And then I was teaching a lot in New York.  You know, I was teaching at the New School, I was teaching at Long Island University, I was teaching at Rutgers for seven years.  I was teaching at so many different places.  Teaching upstate, there was a little school up there.  I was teaching there a little bit.  Anyway, it was a little bit too much and, over here, it was a lot sometimes but then it slowed down.  Especially about three or four years before I had my stroke, but then after my stroke it slowed down a lot.  But that was the main difference between New York and here.

RG: Well listen, Keith, thank you so much...

KC: Yeah, Ronan!

To finish - here's a track from one of the trio albums that I had the privilege of playing with Keith on, with Tommy Halferty on guitar - it's a swinging workout of 'All of Me', typical of the way this trio played. 

https://soundcloud.com/ronang/5-audio-track



Sunday, May 4, 2014

Conversations with Mr KC - Keith Copeland Interviewed - Part 2


This is Part 2 of my extended conversation with the great Keith Copeland. In this section he talks about playing with Bill Evans, George Russell, and Hank Jones (among others), recording the classic 'Return of the Griffin' with Johnny Griffin, and teaching for, and studying with the legendary Alan Dawson. For Part 1 of the interview go here

RG: So, you left the army and you started to do gigs. Did you start to study with people then? I seem to remember we were watching a video of Carmen McRae at one point together, and Walter Perkins was playing drums, and you suddenly said “That's Baby Sweets”

KC: That's right! Yeah, Baby Sweets.  I started studying a little bit with Baby Sweets when I came back from the Air Force, in New York, during that time, because I knew I wanted to try and go to Berklee.  So I wanted to get some more jazz, study some more technique.  And he was really into the march technique like Wilcoxon and stuff...All American Drummer...and all of that.  Haskell W Harr was the first book he gave me, which was also a lot of military type marches and stuff.  So we started working on that, and I did that every couple of weeks with him until I went to Berklee in September of '68.



RG: So, Walter Perkins had a very good technique - he was a serious rudiments guy?

KC: Yeah, for sure.  So I studied with him about six or seven months and then I went up to Berklee.  And my first teacher up there was a drummer...actually, he was a percussion player, he could play everything.  I went up there and got into school as a percussion major because my father said 'Don't just go up there and study drums, learn how to play mallets and all that shit because that way you'll always be working in case there's no jazz drum gigs.  You can go play in Broadway or play in a theatre or whatever'.  So I was studying mallets, xylophone and drums...and he was really into classical drum shit so I studied a lot of hard shit with him.  And the mallet shit...I really didn't like it.  It was hard.  But, I did it, for about four or five months with him...I mean, about four or five semesters with him. And I was playing drums in all of the ensembles.  So I was getting the chance to play drums.  The stuff that Fred (Buda) was giving me, technically, I could read pretty good on the drums.  And I did that, and after about five semesters of that, I got out of Berklee, in 1970, because I had become a father.  I had met my first wife.  And I was working all the time, trying to put food on the table, help her go to school.  She was close to getting her degree.  I had married in Berklee, but she had almost three years of studies as a psychology major at the school she was in, at Northern Michigan.  So when I was working I was trying to help her to go back to school to get her degree and that.  So I did, and she was helping raise my son, Wesley, who's a very good recording engineer, by the way, now.

So anyway, she continued going to school.  And finally, I think it was in 1972, she graduated with a degree in psychology, school psychology, a Bachelors.  I was gigging and going to school.  Then I started just gigging full time, in 1970, and doing a lot of gigs.  All kinds of different gigs.  But, mostly Top 40 bands.  I did that with a lot of different bands and a lot of times jazz groups would come through Boston and they needed a drummer.  And most of the time they'd call Alan Dawson.  If he couldn't make it he'd recommend me.

RG: How did you know him at that point?

KC: I didn't really know him.  I knew who he was.

RG: But he obviously knew who you were.

KC: Yeah, but he was teaching at the school, at Berklee also.  But I wasn't studying with him.  But he had heard about how good I could play.  So, he recommended me for some nice gigs.  I got a chance to play with Bill Evans a couple of nights at the Jazz Workshop.  Because he {Dawson}was doing it, but he couldn't do two of the nights because he had to go out with Brubeck.  So I got a chance to play two nights with Bill Evans which was quite an experience.  Because Bill said 'We ain't going to rehearse'.  He said, 'Just come down, and listen to it a little bit.  We'll just hit it'.  Eddie Gomez was on bass.  And I also was working, at the time, at the Jazz Workshop in a group with Ann Loring, a very fine singer from Boston.  Well she had a nice little quartet with a bass player and piano player.  And her drummer had left and she hired me.  So I got a chance to play with her.  We were opening act for whoever.  There were two clubs - the Jazz Workshop and Paul's Mall.  And Paul's Mall was the more popular venue, next door to the Jazz Workshop.  So we'd play and then the other group would come on.  And they were the feature act and we were the opening act.  And when they were on I could go next door to the Jazz Workshop and hear everybody.  So I got a chance to hear Bill every night when I was with her.  So I could get an idea what was happening.  Marty Morell was playing drums. 

RG: That was a great trio.

KC: Yeah, and Marty had to take off because Marty was getting married, in Toronto, so he couldn't make it the last two nights.  I think it was a Saturday night, a Sunday matinee and a Sunday night.  So I went in and did it and I had a great time, man, playing with Bill!  No rehearsal.



RG: Can I ask you something about the music, because the thing about that trio…..I really love that trio...but one thing that I've noticed on those live albums, and I'm interested to see if you experienced this, is that they really rush.  I mean, they really rush.  Did you have that experience too?

KC: Yeah, it sounded like that, yeah.

RG: And do you think that it was coming from Bill?  He kind of pushed it a bit?

KC: I think Bill pushed it, probably, yeah.  because Eddie was pretty solid.  Yeah...but that's cool.  I was just trying to hold it together and I didn't want to get faster with them.  I tried to hold it back a little bit.  But it was cool.  It was alright, I had a good time.  I think Bill was happy with me.

RG: How old were you then?

KC: Oh, I was about 26 or 27.  So anyway, I kept playing around Boston until 1975 when I was about 28, 29.  By then I had played with a lot of people, all kinds of groups.  Top 40 groups, groups where I had to sing vocal parts to Top 40 tunes, and play drums, and jazz groups.  All kinds of shit.
I even had a gig with Jaki Byard for two weeks.  He was wild!  Jaki was playing...he played piano, and Richard Reid was playing bass.  Jaki would play, and then he'd get up from the piano, take up the saxophone, and start walking around the club playing his alto saxophone.  Then he'd put the saxophone down, come back, play some more piano.  He was a crazy guy.  But he could play his ass off. 

So, anyway, in 1975 I got this call from Gary Chaffee, who was chairman of the drum department at Berklee.  And he said, 'We want you to take the job at Berklee because Alan Dawson is leaving.  He's gonna leave Berklee after eighteen years and just teach privately'.  And I said, 'Man, nobody can take the place of Alan Dawson.  Are you kidding?'.  I said, 'I haven't been teaching nobody for about four or five years'.  And I said, 'I'm playing a lot, but I can't teach the way Alan used to teach.  Nobody can play and teach like Alan'.  He said, 'Well, we still would like to have you come and do it.'  So I said, 'Ok, I'll think about it'.  So I called Alan up.  I said, 'Alan, listen, you won't believe this, but Gary Chaffee called me up and asked me would I be interested in taking your chair at Berklee,  and I said, 'Man, are you crazy?  I can't do that'.  Alan said, 'Well, Keith, if you don't do it I'll be very unhappy, because I recommended you for the job'.  I said, 'Oh, shit!'.  I said, 'But I forgot all of that shit.  because I learned from hanging out with you.  I didn't really take a lot of lessons from you, but from watching you'.  You know.  He said, 'That's ok.  You know where I live.  You come over here, I'll refresh your memory'.  So I started studying with him regularly, after I took the job, every two weeks.

RG: That's amazing! So, basically, you start studying with him at the same time as you replace him in Berklee?

KC: Yeah, right.


 (Alan Dawson)

RG: That's an amazing chronology. I don't think I've ever heard anything like that.

KC: So I did that for three years.  Studied with him every two weeks...and teaching.  And it started out pretty good.  It was fifteen hours a week.  But, at Berklee, fifteen hours a week meant you had thirty students because you had to teach half hour lessons, and that was hard.  And when Alan left, he was teaching seventy students a week.  He was teaching thirty-five hours a week.  That's why he got tired of it.  He wanted to teach at his house.  He bought a house out in Lexington and he had a basement.  He could teach there, one hour lessons.  So I started...at first it was fifteen.  But then I got pretty good at teaching and it started growing.  Then it went up to twenty hours a week.  And then, finally, after about two years it was up to twenty-five hours a week.  That's fifty students a week!  That was rough. 

RG: It's like a conveyor belt really, isn't it?

KC: Yeah, right.  And I started working with a lady named Maggie Scott, who's still teaching there, teaching voice but a very fine piano player.  And I started working with her, at a place called The Colonnade Hotel, with just a trio - piano, bass and drums.  And we were working six nights a week.  From 8.30 until 1.30 in the morning.  And I was teaching four days a week in Berklee.  So I was on the instrument every day.  Seven, eight, nine hours a day.  So I was really busy but it was making my chops and everything much better.  So I did that, I think fifteen months, with Maggie at The Colonnade, and then we got a gig at a place called The Scotch 'n Sirloin, and the group grew to a quartet.  We had a bass player who sometimes doubled vibes, and we had another bass player doubled trombone.  So we could switch up.  One would play bass and the other would play on the double, with Maggie.  And we stayed at The Colonnade eighteen months.  That was a little easier.  It was only five nights a week.  Tuesday through Saturday.  But it was still twenty-five hours a week at Berklee. 

So I did that, and then finally after eighteen months of that, I got tired.  I said, 'Man, I got all of these chops and I can play, but I'm not doing anything.  I'm not growing as a player'.  So I said, 'I gotta try New York again'.  So I tried New York again.  When I first got down there the first guy that gave me a gig was Sam Jones.

RG: That's not a bad first gig in New York!


(Sam Jones)

KC: Yeah, he gave me a gig with his little quintet.  It was Tom Harrell, Bob Berg, Fred Hersch and me and Sam.  Nice quintet.  We started playing some gigs...played some nice gigs.  Then he put together a big band with Tom Harrell.  Tom did all the writing.  It was like a five brass, four reed band.  I think it was Fred Jacobs and Tom Harrell...I can't remember the third trumpet players name...different players.  He had, I think, Harrell, Pete Yellin, Bob Mintzer, and Pat Patrick or Ronnie Cuber would player bari, and Sam and myself, and Fred Hersch or Ronnie Matthews would play piano.  And we had a steady...I think it was a Monday or a Tuesday night out in Gullivers in New Jersey.  I would do that and I would still, occasionally, do some gigs up in Boston because I wasn't working a lot.  Just a little bit with Sam.  And I'd still go up there and do a couple of gigs and then come back to do that steady Tuesday night with Sam's big band...and some quintet gigs.  But, all the guys in the band were raving about me, saying I was playing really good.  And I started getting more calls.  And then finally, after about six months, I got a call from Jimmy and Percy Heath to take the spot that Tootie Heath had vacated with the band.  Because he wasn't getting along with his brother, Percy.  So I got that gig.

RG: So you were with the Heath brothers for a couple of years, right?

KC: I was with the Heath brothers about eighteen months.  We did one very good record, called “In Motion”,  for Columbia.  And we travelled all over the country.  We didn't go overseas together, but all over the country.  Two cross-country tours with them, and a lot of gigs around the New York area.  Played The Vanguard with them, did a lot of nice gigs.  Then after I left the Heath brothers I got the call from Billy Taylor...while I was with the Heath brothers.  Actually, the Heath brothers was a nice gig but it wasn't consistent money.  It was spotty.  You'd have one or two weeks and then you'd have a week or two off.  But Billy was working all the time and he was paying good money.  He was paying $350 a gig and we were getting one or two gigs a week so I decided to go with him, and some of the gigs were with symphony orchestras so I got a lot of good experience with him.

RG: And who was playing bass in this trio?

KC: Victor Gaskin was playing bass.  We travelled all over.  We went to Europe.  The first overseas gig we went to Budapest, for the State Department, played some gigs there.  Came back...and right after that I started working with George Russell while I was working with Billy Taylor.  That was some of the hardest music I ever played in my life, George's shit.  Oh man, George was nuts, man!  He wrote some shit that was so hard.  Actually, I had gone with him in 1980, while I was still with Billy.  I had just joined Billy and, I think it was on the gig that we went to Budapest...I had some gigs with George, in Italy, with the RAI radio orchestra in Rome.  So I had to figure out a way to get to Budapest...I went to Budapest with Billy, stayed there a weekend, and I had to travel out of Budapest by myself...change planes in Zurich and get to Rome to meet George.  And I went down there and I did that for about ten days...some real hard shit.


(George Russell)

RG: I remember you telling me a story at one point that he wrote music that he actually couldn't play himself.  When he would play at the keyboard it would get in the way of the  music.

KC: Yeah, but that was in a later group.  But he had a small group for a while, when he wasn't doing the big band.  It was Graham Haynes, Roy's son, playing trumpet, John Stubblefield, myself...he had another piano player in the band, a young guy, Brad Hatfield, played real good...  Bill Urmson played electric bass.  So, yeah, George wrote some shit for that little band.  We went, also, a cross-country tour a couple of times with that small group.  But, most of the time it was big band, and most of it was in Europe.  He had a bunch of horn players that he used from England.  So we'd go to Europe and he'd pick them up and take them around different places in Europe.  Let me see...Courtney Pine was in that first band that we played in England, for the Arts Council in England we did a tour...a lot of good people.  So I was doing gigs between Billy Taylor and George Russell a long time.  That must have been up until about 1984/85.  And then I kind of just left on my own after that, and that's when I started working with Hank Jones.

RG: OK, so tell me about that.

KC: Hank Jones, man!  You'd work with Hank Jones...he'd bring in music...you only got a chance to look at it one time.  Put it up in front of you...you'd run in down...and he just thought you had a photographic memory.  You'd run that shit down and you'd have to play it that night on the gig.  And that's how you learned the music - from that one rehearsal and playing it on the gig.  And he could play anything, man.  He could read anything and he could play anything.  And he could swing!

RG: And who was usually the bass player in the group?  Were there different bass players?

KC: A lot of different bass players.  Rufus played sometimes.  Victor played a couple of times, Victor Gaskin.  There was a lot of different bass players.  I can't recall them all now...a lot of well known bass players.  Eddie Gomez did it a couple of times.



RG: You were with Hank then for a long time...

KC: Six years.  Up until about '91/92.  The last time playing with him was in Paris, at a club La Villa.  That was after I had come over here.  I think it must have been in...I came over here in '92...so it must have been in '92...late '92, like November or December '92 or early '93 we played at La Villa.  And that's the last time I played with him.  Pierre Michelot played bass – that was a great hit, the first time I had ever played with Pierre Michelot.

RG: And then you moved to Europe in '92/93 to teach in the university...

KC: In Cologne, the University of Cologne.  I started there in October and I taught there a year.  First, I lived in Cologne for about two months.  Then I moved back to Frankfurt because I was always flying back and forth to the States, because my Grandmother was getting up in age and it was always cheaper to fly from Frankfurt than it was from Cologne.  And I always had to get up at three in the morning to catch the train from Cologne to get to the airport to catch the first Singapore flight to New York that would get me there around eleven in the morning.  And I’d have a whole day to deal with her.  And I used to go back to the States to take her to the Doctor and get her checked out, and go grocery shopping.  I was going about once a month to the States.  After that, I moved to Frankfurt, and the lady I was staying with, Irmela Stumm had a house here near where I'm living now in Frankfurt, and she was very good friends with Ute.  By that time me and my second wife had broken up and I wasn't trying to really get involved with any women that much then, I was just doing my commute up to Cologne and doing my gigs.  She said, 'You staying in the house too much, man.  You gotta get out.  You gotta meet some people'.  So she took me out on a blind date with Ute.  That's how I met Ute.

RG: There you go, and here you still are!

KC: This is nineteen years later.  I have my twenty year wedding anniversary in June.  So I guess she knew what she was talking about!  So we hooked up and then I moved in with Ute about six months after we moved in, and I've been here ever since.  Yeah, it's been great, man.  She's been very supportive of everything that I've done and encouraged me. 

She saved my life, man, in 2005 when I had a serious stroke.  I started making funny noises in my sleep because of this blockage in my brain.  And she called the emergency people right away and they came, and they checked me out,  and they said, 'He's having a stroke.  We gotta get him to the hospital, right away'.  They were here in seven minutes.  They got me to one hospital, and they checked me out, and they said, 'Yeah, he's having a stroke.  He needs to have some ventilation.  He's gotta have some oxygen'.  They transferred me to the Uni Klinik in Mainz, where they had a bed available in the intensive care unit there.  And I was there about three and a half weeks.  They put me in an artificial coma, drilled holes in my head, relieved the pressure on my brain.  Then they woke me up out of the artificial coma, and then they sent me up to Bad Salzhausen to a rehab, and I'll never forget that trip.  I was in a van, and I was riding in this van up to Bad Salzhausen and I kept dreaming that I was in a plane flying from Japan back to New York.  The van was making a lot of noise, man, and I said, 'Where am I man?! Must be on a plane somewhere'.  Then we finally got to Bad Salzhausen and I realised that I had been in a van.  Then they put me in there and I stayed there five months.  They had just woken me up so I was a little dazed coming out of the coma. 

At Bad Salzhausen the doctors...because they had told Ute, in the Uni Klinik that, 'You pretty much can forget about him playing any more drums anymore because of this shit.  The shit he had in his head ain't gonna let him.  He ain't gonna never recover from that shit'...but they worked with me at Bad Salzhausen. When the doctors found out I was a drummer they told her, 'Bring some drums out here'.  So she brought a small set out there for me, and they gave me a little room where I could put them and set them up.  'That's the best thing he can do.  Just let him work on them, and go two or three times a week to play these drums because he's got to use everything to do that.  And he loves that so that'll help him get back together'.  So that's what I did for about ten weeks out there.

RG: I remember seeing a great photograph, at that time, of you playing the drums there.


 (Keith playing the drums at his Rehab clinic in Bad Salzhausen)

KC: Yeah, and at the end of my stay there I invited an organ player and a saxophone player out to Bad Salzhausen, we did about an hour and a half concert for my doctors.  I wanted to show them that I'm pretty much fully recovered.  So then about a month after that I started doing some gigs, and I'm still playing, but just not as much as I used to.  Because I don't want to push myself so hard, don't put no stress on myself.

RG: You did enough of that over the years!  I always remember when we played together that you always had these extraordinary itineraries that you would tell us about – 'I've got to go to Munich and then the next day I've got to take a train to Stockholm to take the boat to Malta to...'.  You used to do these legendary itineraries!

KC: Oh, man, unbelievable! I remember flying from Vancouver to Toronto to Frankfurt.  Right after playing in Frankfurt, I saw Randy Brecker in the airport.  He yelled at me and said, 'Hey, Keith! I just played with you yesterday'.  I said, 'You did?'.  He said, 'Yeah, I was in the recording studio doing some trumpet solos on a record that you had done up in Brussels'. We had recorded a record there with Tony's brother, who played violin.  And I think Toots Thielemans was supposed to come in and play on this date but he couldn't make it so they got Randy to come in and play.

RG: So he'd just been playing with you...

Yeah, so he said, 'I've just been playing with you.  Where are you heading?'.  I said, 'I've got to go catch a plane to Budapest to meet some people there to play a gig, with Ann Malcolm and Reggie Johnson.  I haven't seen Randy I think since then.  But I remember that, and I remember flying back from New York, getting right off the plane, getting in a rental car and driving straight to Paris to play a gig with Jimmy Woode the same night.  That kind of shit.  I used to do that.

RG: You made Marco Polo look like a stay-at-home kind of guy!

KC: Man, I was rolling, man!  I was doing a lot of wild shit.  Can't do that no more.



RG: Let me ask you about various things and people you've played with.  A couple of people I'd like to ask you a little bit about - you were on a very famous record, it was famous among my generation, which was ‘Return of the Griffin’.  Maybe can you tell us something about that?  How it came about?  I think Griffin was doing what Dexter had done a few years before.

KC: Yeah, right.  Well, Johnny was back and his first rhythm section was Walter Davis, and James Leary was playing bass, and who was playing drums?...West Coast drummer, I can't remember his name...but that was his first rhythm section.  And they went out for about three weeks and Johnny  wasn't really totally happy with what he was getting from them.  So halfway through the tour he wanted to get another rhythm section, so he got Ronnie Matthews and Ray Drummond and somebody told him to call me.  So we were the second rhythm section for Johnny, and we went up and we played one gig, at Amherst, at the University of Massachusetts.  It went really well.  Hardly no time to rehearse, just one short rehearsal and then we hit.  The next gigs were three nights at Jazz Showcase in Chicago, same rhythm section.  Played three nights out there.  I think NPR recorded some of that, there's some live tapes of that.  I don't know if I can find them, but I know they're here somewhere.  And then after the three nights in Chicago, we went back to New York, then we flew out to L.A. and played three nights at Concerts By The Sea, in California, in Redondo Beach with the same rhythm section.  That was great!  Three nights! 

Then after that, we flew up to San Francisco, went to Fantasy Studios in Berkeley and did Return Of The Griffin.  We just had one day off after we got up here, rested, and we hit it.  And we did the whole record in about five and a half hours.  But we had been playing a little bit, played almost three weekends together, and it was great, man!  Johnny would challenge you, man!  He could play fast, man, he liked to play fast! I remember one time - we were in Chicago - he had been playing some tremendous tempos, man, and I was trying to keep up with him and keep it going.  Then he called a ballad, and I was so tired after playing all these fast things I was almost falling asleep.  And Johnny was playing, and Johnny turned around and looked at me and did this, {makes the classic head-on-hands sleeping gesture} and smiled!  Put his head on his hands and smiled like this, he said, 'I know you so tired.  That's ok'.  Didn't say nothing, but I never got tired no more after that.

Here's Keith burning through 'Autumn Leaves' with Johnny Griffin from 'Return of the Griffin'