Finally, I’m able to compose my first blog, after spending most of my time organizing the other material for the website.
I often catch myself relating to someone, usually younger than I, the details of some memorable event in my life. Events that come to mind as I write are: catching Miles Davis and his quintet playing live at the Colonial Tavern in Toronto (1969); playing bass at the Kress Hotel in September, 1981, with the John Tank Quartet; performing “Song for Dave Drew,” a tribute co-composed in 1975 by Barry Wills and myself to our good friend Dave, who had recently passed away; a memorable night in late-1964, after sitting in with Trev Bennett’s band.
It was during the latter event when Trev’s pianist, Barry Wills, turned to me and asked whether I was working with anybody on a steady basis. When I answered, “No,” he asked if I could recommend a drummer for our new trio. After a couple of beers, the Barry Wills Trio was formed, with Dave Graziotto as the drummer. In time, Dave left and Bernie Carroll joined us.
Interestingly, Barry was also in attendance on most of my other memorable occasions.
While enroute to Toronto to hear Miles play, we were pumped up with anticipations about who would be on piano, or on bass. I was hoping to see my former workshop teacher, Ron Carter, and Barry was anticipating Herbie Hancock. And of course, we all wanted to hear Tony Williams, the great young drummer. None of the above happened. What did happen was an event that remains to this day, the finest jazz influence on my 50 years of playing the bass (and I don’t like using superlatives). After Jack DeJohnette stepped onto the stage to tune his drums, bassist Dave Holland joined him to do the same. Chick Corea explored the Fender Rhodes while Wayne Shorter ran arpeggios through the entire range of his tenor sax. Soon, the cacophony of tuning up evolved into a cohesive burst of energy, soon joined by the master himself, Miles. For the best part of two hours, the music soared relentlessly throughout the club and probed inside of each of us. Life changed that night for Barry and I.
Many gigs that musicians play are forgettable. Bill Evans once said that only one in ten proves to be a memorable experience. I wish I could be that fortunate. There are however, a few that stand out.
On a Thursday night in September 1981, John Tank, Dave Lewis, Barry Wills, and I gathered at the Kress Hotel in Cambridge for a gig. There was no time for rehearsal; John had just blown in from New York, and Dave had just completed a rigorous stint at the CNE as Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins’ drummer. Why I brought my Hitachi ‘ghetto blaster,’ I have no idea. But I set it up on ‘auto’ across the room from the stage and ran 90-minute tapes for the duration of the gig. I still consume that recording to this day with awe at the energy and talent that we four young musicians produced there, at that moment in our personal music history. The piano, unfortunately, was under-recorded. But there is one take where Barry assumed the lead that produced one of the nicest examples of his wonderful playing. The recording of “There is No Greater Love,” 13 minutes in length, is included on the “Sounds and Samples” page of my website. I invite you to experience it. Barry counts it in; the laughter is Dave Lewis’.
Memories! I’ve been told that I am blessed with the gift of a good memory; that I can easily recall events from the deepest crevices of the past. Alas, Barry did not share that talent. Instead, he had a talent for giving us these wonderful moments to remember. If we ever have a chance to sit over a coffee somewhere, ask me for a memory. Hopefully, my gift will still be available.
Whenever Barry was called upon to introduce the next tune, he would pace the stage with his hands in his pockets, and explain some anecdotal piece of information, until his hands would come together in front of him, as if to warm them, and say, “Let’s let the music speak for itself.” There is a tune in my personal 'Tunebook' that I wrote the night Barry called me to inform me of his illness. He expressed his anxieties and fears about the future. I suggested that he might let the music speak for itself. One of these days I will record, "The Music Speaks."