Fred Bouchard: Welcome back, Allan Chase to two of our extended interviews for the Berklee Oral History Projects.
Allan Chase: Thanks you.
FB: We talked about lots of different aspects of your career, performance and education, in the first round. We have so much that we thought it would be a good idea to continue because you've had such a varied career in the Boston community and with two or three of the major music schools: Tufts, New England Conservatory and twice here at Berklee.
AC: Right. Glad to be back and continue.
FB: We got into the legacy of Gunter Schuller who did a lot towards turning the conservatory around and turning a lot of ears on edge or with some great highers at the school including Ran Black, Jimmy Giuffre, George Russell and a lot of other people, Jackie Bayard, Joe Allard. Maybe we could use that as a jumping off spot for...
AC: Well, I mentioned that I was aware of Berklee and New England Conservatory when I was a student at Arizona State in the early 70s. One of the things that motivated me to move to Boston was two things: the recommendation of Joe Allard as a sax teacher, and my interest in Jackie Bayard as the ultimate jazz role-model, somebody who encapsulated history and modernism and humour and experimentism and who could write and play so well. He played with so many great players on so many records that I'd admired.
I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be the chair of the New England Conservatory Jazz Department, you know? I was just happy to study there. We were talking about the legacy that Gunther Schiller created; he was president at NEC from 1967-77 and the initial people that he brought in, he assembled a cast of students, drawing a lot of people away from Berklee which created some pretty bad vibes with targeted scholarships and promises of touring oppurtunities.
FB: Can we name a few names there?
AC: I don't actually know which ones exactly were at Berklee and which ones were not. I don't know enough about that. I know that Harvey Mason was a drummer who was in the first group of musicians there.
FB: Fred Hersch was certainly drawn to Jackie Bayard.
AC: Yeah he was there from '73-'77 or '74-'77. He transferred from Grinnell, Herbie Hancock's amer mater, to NEC in his sophmore year I believe. The class of '73 at NEC was unbelievable. Marty Ehrlich, Fred Hersch, Jerome Harris, Michael Moore - the clarinetist and saxophonist who lives in Amsterdam. There is a whole bunch more. And then in 1979 there was Tom Varner - French hornist. Anthony Coleman was another who was '77. All these people were in school and in a band together. It is quite an amazing period. Gunther's legacy had a lot to do with the faculty that he hired and that had a lot to do with the ongoing attractiveness of that school after he kind of packed the first class to make it viable. It is an understandable strategy but when you are really taking them out of another school and luring them away that is bound to create some bitterness and i think that has hurt the Boston scene and the friendship between the two schools. I think it is really in the past today, but it took decades honestly.
So hiring George Russell first, that was huge. Everyone recognized him as a genius composer and very innovative writer, theorist and band leader, but he had really not been able to sustain a career in the United States and survive. He moved to Europe; he was really treated well in Sweden and Norway also, i think. Gunther brought him back the states a gave him a job that lasted thirty-five years or so doing exactly what he does - which was teaching the lydian chromatic concept and helping people expand their language as composers through that system. And teaching ensembles, big band and two small groups, sometimes even three, to play his music with him at the helm. Music that had been played by John Coltrane and Bill Evans and all these people in the bands in the 50s. Like, you know Coltrane was on one of the big band albums. I think about all of the people that went through those bands: Eric Dolphy, David Baker, Don Ellis, Jackie Bayard...
FB: Joe Hunt?
AC: Joe Hunt. I don't know about Jackie Bayard, they were friends. One of the things, I can't remember if I talked about it last time, but the connection between Lennox School of Jazz, NEC and Berklee. There was a recent film documentary on that that was co-produced by George Schuller, Gunther's younger son. It's very interesting and it's not just about the Lennox School of Jazz but Music Inn. It's called Music Inn, which was a venue as well as a school jazz was run there in Lennox, Massachusetts, near Tanglewood. It ran for three summers, there is a lot of information on the web about it. I think it was '58, '59, '60, although I think I might be off by a year. Ran Blake was a student all three years. Ornette [Coleman] and Don Cherry were there in the summer of 1959 on a scholarship and that really facilitated them moving to New York a few months later and starting a gig at the Five Spot.
FB: EMJQ were residents?
AC: Yes, John Lewis and Bill Evans, and Jim Hall and Gunther, himself, and George Russell and Bob Brookmeyer were all teachers there. Students included Joe Hunt was there with a band, well, maybe George Russell's band, he was sort of in this learning and teaching roll with some other guys from Indiana. I think Dave Young, who was in George Russell's band was another Indiana musician that was there, David Baker. The list of students is available on the web, it includes a lot of Boston people who are locally known very well like, Ted Casher, who is the ultimate club date and studio sax player who has played around town forever.
FB: Another interviewee in this series...
AC: Oh yeah? Well, he sat next to Ornette Coleman in the big band at this school. What I am trying to get at is the connections that built the NEC Jazz Program and to some extent Berklee as well. The relationship between Berklee and NEC really at least go back to this period. Steve Kuhn was a student there along with Ran, the saxophonist from Mother of Invention, Ian Underwood. These were the people that were all in the school together. It's quite unbelievable. Robert Di Domenica, who taught at NEC for a long time...
FB: ...Flute player and composer...
AC: Yes. He's played a big role in some of Charles Ives' music being performed and recovered with Gunther. It is all these unbelievable connections that have to do with Jazz, the sort of modernist jazz.
FB: That whole third stream concept blossomed there.
AC: And there were jazz historians who, I can't remember exactly, was it Marshall Stearns? He ran these round tables there and had these conversations and Randy Weston was a waitor at the place who sat down at the piano and sort of kicked off his career by being around this. He was living there. Carl Atkins, has his connections, who was the first chair of the jazz department at New England Conservatory. He was a student of David Baker's and Indiana and also had a connection with Gunther and western Mass. I not sure exactly how all the story...Herb Pomeroy had connections with the scene there too.
FB: It's a little modern marlboro enclave. Get them out the the Berkshires, get them some clean air and the creativity just happens.
AC: Yeah, not too far from New York or Boston, sort of a third point in the triangle, and a safe environment to send your 20-year old college student but also access to the top minds in modern jazz. What's like that Black Mountain College with John Cage and Merce Cunningham and the poets and stuff? I don't know much about it.
FB: They were probably slipping off to Tanglewood to hear some of the classical stuff too.
AC: Oh yeah, I am sure they were feeling very connected to that. And they also had guests would come to these jazz history discussions. They had musicians from Trinidad and Haiti.
AC: And there is film of this. Very interesting. It's really really interesting. They were pushing the world music angle on jazz which was just showing up a little bit in a taste of things - Ahmed Abdul-Malik's jazz records with oud and middle-eastern scales, or Chico Hamilton who had kind of a world music vibe.
FB: Joe Harriet from England who was a West Indian.
AC: Yeah, but they were promoting this exposing all these young musicians to these other parts of the African diaspora and world music.
FB: Early on
AC: Yeah in the '50 up until 1960 Don Ellis might have been exposed to some of the Indian and African concepts there. I don't know how much he would have known about it before that. It is very interesting to me that all these connections were being made but when Gunther Schiller...it was really only eight to ten years later that he had the jazz program running at the New England Conservatory. So this was a short time. He still had all these connections and he brought in Ran Blake who had been doing things like babysitting for Thelonious Monk and sweeping floors at Atlantic Records and playing intermission piano for Mingus. These stories need to be told. Ran Blake has done many more things than people realize. He was a night clerk at a hotel in uptown Manhattan, which is great fuel for his film 'Noir Interest.' But anyway Gunther really put him into academia. This is a really intelligent guy with a degree from Bard, who was very well-read, very knowledgable about all sorts of things from film and literature to philosophy and race issues and all sorts of things. He is very scholarly. But he was a piano player who was struggling, definitely recognized by critics but not really finding a way to have a consistent good life in music, and then this teaching thing is huge.
FB: And like Monk, he had a absolutely unique style, completely full-blown and completely identifiable. Monk didn't have the communication skills and Ran did.
AC: Yeah, it's so interesting Ran took care of Barber and T.S. Monk when they were little children. He was the babysitter. He sat there. He saw. He was in the halls of Atlantic Records when Aretha Franklin was meeting with (sounds like 'Irta Guhn') and Arif Martin and all these people. He knew all these people. Ran has a document which is a petition he started sometime in the early 60s, I believe. Hundreds of signatures, it's a who's who of jazz, lobbying to reissue George Russel's 1956 jazz workshop records which RCA had taken out of print and left out of print for years. On and off over the decades actually it's been out of print a lot. And I would say one of the most important jazz recordings of the 50s, unbelievable music that stuff with Art Farmer, Bill Evans, Barry Galbraith, who taught at NEC in the 50s. And so there are a lot of local connections amoung these people and they go way back. So George knew that Ran, I don't know how close they were, they knew one another. Ran was a big supporter of George's music. He had been a student at this place that George was teaching. They're all in touch with each other and then they reassembled sometime between '69 and '74. Jimmy Dufrene came as well, who was part of this scene. And Paul Blay has a distant connection to this scene he actually sat in, it's in his autobiography, he bumped Ran off the piano bench at the last concert at the Lenox School of Jazz one of those years, probably '60, might be '50.
FB: He was an upstart from Toronto.
AC: ...who had been in L.A. doing fairly well and he decided to move to New York with his soon-to-be wife, Carla. And they drove across the country and they arrived in Lenox, at the final concert, thinking, "well i'll meet a couple of people there." And that is how Paul got the gig with Dufrene and George Russell. He literally, Ran was on the stage to play a final concert piece and Ran being a gentle soul let they more aggressive Paul Blake...I'm just imagining, knowing the two personalities, how this went down. It wouldn't necessarily be the most welcomed thing at the final concert of your study period to be giving up your spot on a piece to a somebody who wasn't a student.
FB: And from that emerged the trio with Dufrene, Paul and Steve Swallow.
AC:Yeah, they heard Paul play and were like, "very interesting." And some relationships developed that Paul, in his autobiography, attributes to his success or his foot in the door to that moment and that crowd that was listening.
AC: And Paul was hired by Hankus Netsky to teach at New England Conservatory. He taught there sometime in the early 90s to the early 2000s. I can't remember. Very part-time. I hired Bob Brookmire to teach there. I can't remember the exact year but I am guessing '98, probably my second year as chairman of the jazz department there. I had been living in New York and I heard that Hankus Netsky, the previous chair, was going back to school for his doctorate. I was very fortunate to get the job and the department was very strong and very well assembled by Hankus. From 1986 to -96 he was the chair.
I mentioned Carl Atkins, Dr. Carl Atkins, conductor, baritone saxophonist, woodwind doubler. He's the conductor on George Russell's 'Living Time' album on Columbia with Bill Evans featured on it. He was the original chair of the jazz department at NEC - something like 1969-'77. Then there was like a revolving door, a whole bunch of short-term chairs. Then Miroslav Vitous for about four years, and that was a complicated period.
FB: Tom McIntosh was in for a bit.
AC: Tom McIntosh, I think he was there twice. I think he was there with the Monk institute for a semester, also a great writer and trombonist. Ernie Wilkins was involved. I've heard rumours that Thad Jones had something to do with the department, but I don't know if he actually was really there. It's hard to believe that I never saw real documentation about that. They guy who puts out the Bill Evans newsletter, Jack Riley? Not the club owner, the pianist. Pat Hollenbeck, the current president of Boston American Federation of Musicians Local and great percussionist and arranger. He writes for the Pops a lot. He orchestrated a lot of George Russell's music. He was the chair when I came as a grad student. There is Tom McKinley, William Thomas McKinley, composer, pianist, classical composer and jazz pianist, was the chair for a couple of years.
FB: Who had his own MMC label for a long time that brought in an awful lot of contemporary works from Europe under his aegis.
AC: I am not saying these names in the right order, and I can't reconstruct the order very easily from memory, but they were all department chairs in that short five year period. I mean, more than five people. Some of them for a semester. Some of them for two years. So it was very complex situation where maybe they didn't want the job or various forces were going on.
And it was a tough time for the conservatory when Gunther left, there was a lot of financial problems. It didn't really get on it's feet and get stable until...
FB: Larry Lesser came in at that point as president.
AC: Yeah a little later, after that I think there were a few different presidents. I think it stabilized when Peter Row, the great Indian music scholar who has been a big infulence on jazz students there, by the way, improvisers, became the provost in the eary 80s and Larry Lesser became president around that time and the school really stabilized. They brought in Hankus Netsky to be the chair of the department after Miroslav. Miroslav ran it with a very, let's say, light hand. Many stories I will not put on the record here. Student workers did a lot of the nuts and bolts. He was the aristic overseer and director of it. Ran Blake's third stream department was very strong at that time. My wife, Dominique Eade, graduated in '82. She went from Vasser, English major for two years, to Berklee for three semesters to New England Conservatory from '79 to '82, 3 years. It's a long bachelor's degree with many different angles. But got her bachelor's degree in '82 and joined the faculty, the college faculty in '84 when her teacher, Jerry Martin, retired - who sang with Ran Blake occasionally. She's been there...it's twenty-sixth year right now teaching jazz voice there. She and I have been together around '84 and I had a window into the department even though I wasn't s student or a faculty member over there during those years.
FB: She brought home the stories.
AC: Yeah. There were a lot of things happening. Great students came to this school. Many people came from Berklee bachelor's degree to a master's at NEC, that's a very common pathway - I don't know proportianally, maybe a quarter or a third of the students sometimes might be Berklee bacherlor's, NEC masters. The master's program at NEC has been very strong all these years. That's the part I think in some ways maybe the most exciting and effective, although many people went there for bachelor's too. And there's transfers back and forth between the two schools occasionally. It's a small number of them, a handful.
FB: A lot of shared faculty to present date, like Jerry Bergonzi, George Garzon, Danielo Perez.
AC: George Garzon has taught at both schools for many years. Danielo, John Lockwood, Frank Carlberg. There are more: Bevan Manson at one time, he's not here any more, he is in California. Quite a few people have taught at both school and me (ha ha.) I taught here; I taught there; I am back here. There are also people who gone between the two like Mick Goodrick was here, then there, then back here. They're the two big games in town. Berklee is a much bigger program. But if you take the cutting-edge modern jazz improvising-oriented part of it, that aspect of Berklee is closely related to the relatively small part of NEC which is the jazz and creative music, improvised music.
FB: Was that portion of NEC hampered admistratively because the were piggybacked on the classical program?
AC: Yes, I would say that there is always this feeling at NEC that jazz gets slightly less attention and it occasionally is alleviated, like this fall the jazz department feels very good 'cause they've had this fortieth anniversary celebration for fall of 2009 - where we are right now: with Wayne Shorter coming in and playing with the orchestra and students getting to be in a clinic with his band, with (Danilo Owen) bringing in all these alumni for reunion concerts that are quite impressive - Fred Hersch back on the faculty now, since Danilo left NEC for Berklee. NEC hired Miguel Zenon, a very famous, successful Berklee alum, to their faculty. Got Fred Hersch back for the third time as a teacher there.
FB: Thank God his health has improved.
AC: Yes, Fred is doing much better after a very difficult year. Anyway, the students have always been, I think I said this last time, they have always been mingling. The band at Wally's, it's Berklee and NEC people. It's always 50/50 or 60% Berklee, 40% NEC or Berklee bachelors, NEC master's people.
FB: It really is a cauldron of creativity over there.
AC: Just taking Wally's as an example. People are roommates, they record together, they play in each other's recitals, they hang out, they're boyfriends and girlfriends. It's one community with slight division. They aren't an opposition really. Educationally they overlapped more and more because a lot of people who teach at Berklee have a masters from NEC. A lot of people at NEC started out at Berklee and have the best of both worlds, in some ways.
FB: Are people drawing different aspects of their education with the two schools? Is there a divergence in pedegogy between the two schools because of what - superficially appears to me that, NEC is an aggregate of a lot of creative individuals who teach their own way, whearas Berklee kinda grew up after World War II with systems that were developed by groups of people and were inculcated more as a matrix kind of thing.
AC: I think culturally - I don't want to get too into the grand pronouncements here, I will say this somewhat cautiously - Berklee grew out of the Schillinger System which had authorized teachers of a system that claimed to be mathematically- and acoustically-based natural system.
FB: It still does with Phil Ditullio
AC: It's supposed to work no matter who teaches it to you. NEC, the classical conservatory system, which is often lambasted in various different ways, is actually just a venue for very charismatic individual teachers to pass on oral history. It is the legacy of piano and violin teaching for example. There is a piano teacher, Veronica Jochum, who is close to Gunther Schuller, whose father and uncle and grandfather are famous German conductors...
FB: Eugen Jochum
AC: ...literally traces her music pedagogy and family back to Beethoven. I mean in a very concrete way. 200 years, but it is real. It's not made up. Beethoven taught this guy, this guy taught his grandson, and that's her. It goes right to her. They're passing on these aesthetic ideas, "no, don't play it like that. It's supposed to be legato here even though it doesn't say anything on the music. This should never be done this way. This should never be done fast. This is the right kind of technique." There's Russian pianists who teach a certain way and German pianists who teach another and there are opera singers and aria singers, liede singers and new music and early music singers who have their own pedagogical backgrounds. It's the same, Joe Allard, saxophone teacher, there is no system. It's just like, "this is what i showed Harry Carney back in 1939, or whatever, about mouth pieces.
FB: The first part reminds me of what Wayne Wadhams once said about (Von Talandowska.) "You play Bach your way. I'll play it his way."
AC: These people, to an extent, of course these things get changed over the generations and like playing telephone perfect but it is like they are passing on culture. Often people make the conservatory, people who are outside of a conservatory system, look at it as a formalized systematic thing and think, "in the African culture you learn from the elders and in the conservatory it's so opposite to that." Well, no, it's not the opposite to that it is just a building you learn from your elders. It's actually closer to folk lore than it is to university psychology 101. There is no approved textbook at NEC. Evrything is based on the personal legacies and theories of individuals. And I think Julliard and other conservatories are generally like that.
FB: I teach music journalism that way, no textbook just my notes.
AC: I won't say that there's no text book at all, but I don't think they use a standardized music history textbook or, and only in the very beginning stages of music theory did they use a standardized music theory textbook - and that's just for really general things. But it's just a collection of people with very strong and often iconclastic, somewhat outside of the main stream and very contraversial views like Robert Cogan who said that we should be systematically looking at tone colour (timbre), as well as harmony and melody and counterpoint and rhythm.
FB: Here here, I like that.
AC: Based on that poiunt view greatest in composition really is different than it is if you just look at pitch. He would make very contraversial statements about that and he also brought music theory attention to things like Billie Holiday and shakuhachi music throught this system of studying tone colour which nobody had ever done before. And he developed computer programs for it and that is hot bed of very original idea. George Russell's theories are another. It's very unique. It's contraversial in some ways but the general thrust of it helped a lot of people do new things in music and open things up.
Berklee on the other hand has had a lot of that going on. Herb Pomeroy was absolutely like that. He had his three main courses which everyone sites as the greatest thing they ever studied - that I know who studied it. They treasure their notes from these things. The Style of Duke Ellington, I don't know if I have the exact course title, Line Writing and Jazz Composition kind of class. You had to audition to get into these classes by showing that you could write a good big band chart that works. Very creative and different kind of way of teaching, but the core, the thing that every Berklee student gets in the first two years, is more general and systematic. It's a function of the size of the school. You have to have coherence when you have 4000 students.
FB: That's a major factor. It is a 10:1 ratio versus the Conservatory. The Conservatory has 400 undergraduates, Berklee has 4000. Even when Berklee had 2000, that's enough people that they're gonna go from section to section and change teachers all the time. It's not black and white. NEC has to have coherence in the freshman and sophmore theory too, because even with five different sections you have to be able move. "I can't do a Tuesday at 10 o'clock, so I gotta take another teacher. They have to teach me the same language or I won't progress."
FB: But even though early faculty at Berklee, Pomeroy, some of the early guys...
AC: John LaPorta
FB: LaPorta, he actually came later. Some of the early guys were taught the Schillinger System by Larry Berk, (Bobbit) and Bob (Sher.) They didn't adhere to it that closely and they started going off in their own directions. So you have trunk and then you have the branches going in different directions.
FB: It isn't the Schillinger System today. Just some general philosophy behind it, that there is a really logical core to how harmony works in jazz and popular music and that it's coherent and it's not just random and stylistic and "well, that's just how it grew." There is some theory behind it that makes it all make sense. There is a very strong element of truth to that but it's not a 100% and there's also not a 100% of the statement that everything is contingent on random mutations of human thought and it's just turned out that way it could've been totally another way. That is exaggerated too. There is some sort of grey area in between where ethno-musicology and music theory meet, acknowledge culture and science make music the way it is. Berklee is a little more on the science side and NEC is a little more on the 'just do it this way' or 'just do what you hear' or 'here's my theory, it's totally weird and i made it up.'
FB: We are talking shades of grey not black and white.
AC: Yeah, I would say so, absolutely. At the higher levels of Berklee you have much more of that oral history. If you take saxophone lessons with BIll Pierce you are not getting anything like a pre-digested system. You are getting the wisdom of excellent background in the instrument plus bandstand experience and some theoretical knowledge and his own creativity. That is no different from taking a lesson at any other school with a great player.
FB: His lesson will be a far cry from Dino Govoni or George Garzon.
AC: They each have their own things that developed and they are inspired by slightly different things. They all know the basic stuff really, really well and they also have their own systems and creative ideas.
AC: So, definitely I agree. It's not black and white and gotten less black and white. The difference between teaching at NEC and Berklee in 1982 was much starker than it is today.
FB: Can you talk...obviously you are talking from personal experience.
AC: Yeah, I went from being a grad student at NEC to a teacher here in '81. NEC was completely incoherent with the good and bad sides of that. I mean you could go from one class to another and they are speaking completely different languages. Joe Maneri, George Russell and the theory department, all to whom I was exposed.
FB: Microtones, lydian and (straight)
AC: They all had different ideas of what the future of music should be, what parameters of music it should be based on, what nature intended. They all made claims about that.
FB: How's a young person supposed to get his arms around that?
AC: Joe Maneri is like, "the natural evolution of music is the 72-tone octave, with six steps between every..."
FB: (Ezra Senz)
AC: George Russell is like, "mother nature gave me the lydian chromatic concept. It's all based on the way things really are." He literally said that. Robert Cogan was like, "music theory has ridiculously excluded this whole aspect of the nature of sound and acoustics and I am going to correct this huge mistake." Everyone of those things is very convincing and not wrong but they're just different interpretations of what could be paid attention to in music. They all respect each other. They like each other.
FB: Which prophet does one follow?
AC: Robert Cogan is still going strong thankfully. Joe Maneri and George Russell passed away very recently and they respected one another and not just civil but they enjoyed being in a diverse environment. But for an undergrad, a freshman, what do you do with all that information, hearing that from you're collegues?
FB: How did you process those two aspects of your education?
AC: Well, I went to a university, Arizona State, where I got pretty much the standard college music theory and composition major education. We studied Palestrina- and Bach-styled counterpoint and wrote chorals and learned all the history of tonal music from basically Bach through Chopin up to Wagner.
FB: You would've gotten aspects of all of that from both of these schools, I suppose.
AC: And several semesters of twentieth-century theory and analysis going up to Stockhausen and Henry Cowell and Cage and exposed to all these modern ideas in music, Bulez, twelve-tone stuff, set theory and all the main academic things that happen. There was a good solid jazz educator there, from the Jamey Aeboersold clinics, Dan Hurley, went on to North Texas to be the jazz piano teacher there. Teaching us chord scale theory, similar to Berklee, how you figure out what notes to play on changes and improve class and small ensembles. I got a real solid Bb mainstream above average grounding in all that stuff. The stuff at NEC didn't throw me off and I was also able to learn the Berklee system quickly and absorb it quickly. I did not know movable 'do' solfege when I started here. I learned it, I distinctly remember practicing it on the street corner. I remember absorbing all the details of this roman numeral analysis, chord scale theory system. It was new names for things I already knew, but also really good insights about things I'd never had before. I'd never thought about the fact that all those chords come from the relative minor and all have this in common. Nobody pointed that out to me before and it hadn't really dawned on me. I sort of felt it without naming it. And then my hearing improved and my musicianship improved a lot in the first four years teaching here. I doubled my musical ability, from teaching. Thirty hours a week, the black board and the piano and ear training and harmony and counterpoint too and classical harmony and ensembles a little bit. You know, it's just music all day long and trying to figure out what students didn't know and help them learn it. It just made me sharper.
FB: You learned by doing it over and over again.
AC: ...and conversations with collegues. I think a lot people who taught at Berklee in those days, a lot them, my collegues, were hired shortly after graduating. They were top students. Two years on the road and then they taught here. A few them had been out for a decade or so doing really great musical things, Bruce Thomas, a pianist here, for example, was hired the same year as me. Dave Weigert, drummer, had gone to Berklee. I think two or three of us had not gone to Berklee and about eight of us had Berklee of the group I was hired with who taught classroom stuff. We had five days a week, or maybe it was four days a week of meetings where Ted Pease, Alex Ulanowsky and others, mainly those two, would teach us the system. We would do mock teaching and they critique our teaching and say, "No, you're not explaining that well." It was intensive. It was really getting thrown into the deep end with the workload, the low pay and the very great mentoring.
FB: These are the guys who were the masters of the system, Alex, Ted and whoever else you mentioned.
AC: They created it. It was basically Alex and Ted. They taught us 90% of what we did. Later I had experience with John LaPorta, similar kind of thing.
AC: Jazz education, you were saying like, "how is it shaped Boston jazz?" I think the fact that there are so many great writers here. That people know their theory so well, have so much education in playing their instruments. There is a lot of very strong intellect and structural thinking and sophisticated playing that's come out of Boston. And of course Boston has fed, seems like, more than half of the successful jazz musicians in New York went to school here at some point.
FB: One would think that with the diversity and the cross pollination between Berklee and the Conservatory it would raise the ante for what happens here and what we send down the pipeline to Manhattan.
AC: Yeah, absolutely. I think it affects the whole international culture of, particularly I am talking about jazz and maybe fusion music. I don't know as much about Berklee's influence on recording technology. I know it's real and rock 'n' roll and songwriting I can name a bunch of sophisticated, interesting, creative people to come out of here in those fields, but I don't have the overview of it, but with jazz I know it intimately. You trace people back, ususally they play down their educations but it hard to come up with a list who didn't go to one of these two schools. Especially the more progressive, complex, thoughtful forms of the music, I guess. Which not a value judgement; I love basic, simple music and a whole range of things that go on. Chicago produced a different vibe than Boston, generally. Certainly they overlap, but Boston isn't the bluesiest city in the world, of course that's part of jazz all the time.
FB: We're the closest to Europe. So you are going to get that.
AC: It's very international. Going back to Serge Chaloff and Herb Pomeroy's earliest recordings and Boston Blow-Up and things like that, Charlie Mariano. There's interesting, tricky arrangements in those pieces. Dick Twardzik. You can go way back to the beginnings of Berklee and long before NEC had a real jazz department, like the one Gunther started. There was a popular music department and there was another school in town. But these are people who had many times been through a military band system, were already pretty good big band players and somewhat improvisers and then they came and really refined their thing and writing and theory and all that.
FB: You know it's funny, just at the weekend, the Beantown Jazz Festival, Phil Wilson and Jeff Stout led a quintet Thursday night before the activities at the BPC. Bruce Gertz on bass and John Ramsey on drums. Ray Santisi was playing piano for them and they were recreating the book of Vick Dickinson and Bobby Hackett. But Ray was dropping all sorts of wonderful, cosmic, advanced chords that brought it way beyond the 50s. He grew up with it but he kept going and kept advancing. And you can hear it in his playing today. He embodies that stretch.
AC: Even the idea that there is such a thing as advancing and that just laying it down isn't the be all and end all. That's a local flavour to Boston jazz. It's not only here. There is albums from Detroit in the 50s with Pepper Adams and Kenny Burell that have intricate counterpoint. And there's LA's Shorty Rogers and Buddy Collette and all these people...
FB: Shorty Rogers was born in Great Barrier.
AC: Well, that's the other thing. People move around a lot. People talk about west coast jazz and half of the people are from New York and Connecticut. Or they are trying to play like Count Basie and just comes out that way or whatever. I think that can be really exaggerated and stereotyped. Boston has been a magnet for people from all over. It's not the bluesiest town in the world. If you go to a night club to hear jazz, it isn't the same feeling that I've randomly gotten in Atlanta or Chicago or Phoenix, where the audience isn't expecting the same thing. But on the other hand, there are tonnes of musicians here from Memphis that made a big difference, Donald Brown, James Williams. They had their own roots that came through. They knew all the stuff that's taught here and had something else that they brought to it. All the people that we've mentioned, most of them are from somewhere else. Bill Pierce is from Florida, I'm from Arizona. Some of them are local, George Garzon, Herb. But just having this much education in the mix and the international student body, I think that has changed the nature of jazz here. An interesting thing is that the Berklee faculty, by and large, have been much more like local band-leaders and performers and internationally-known. Where the NEC faculty often are kind of hidden from the gigging scene. You don't hear, outside of the school, you never hear a George Russell concert, years would go by. Or Joe Maneri, for many years didn't perform at all.
FB: That's the practical background of Larry Berk drawing in big band people in the 40s. These guys would hit town, they go, "I got a family to support. $8 an hour from Larry Berk isn't going to do it. Where are the pit bands? Where are the GB gigs?" They are out playing all the time.
AC: So you can hear Greg Hopkins, who's absolutely a world-class player for the last twenty-five years, you could hear him play the trumpet, small groups, trios, octets, big bands all over New England. But to hear Ran Blake perform outside of Jordan Hall...
AC: He might play in Rome more often than he plays in Boston. It's weird.
FB: That's a conservatory versus a pit band, Berklee mentality.
AC: But a lot of the Berklee people are doing artistic, hip jazz things. They are just more open to playing in night clubs. Jimmy Mosher and Mick Goodrick used to play at Casa Blanca for years.
FB: Bob Winter, not only did he play Pops, but he played the Playboy club in Gallagher's and lots of little gigs with a guitar player.
AC: That's honestly, when I was at NEC, as chair of the jazz department, it didn't really do anything for my gigging. Being an administrator is not great for your performing career, it doesn't have to kill it but isn't help automatically being in that role. Also at NEC, Dominique, my wife, is one of the rare exceptions in that she lives in Boston. She doesn't commute from New York these days, not since '96, and she performs frequently in the area with all sorts of musicians who live here and work here. In that way she is more like a lot of the Berklee scene.
FB: I never see her.
AC: Well, she performs a few times a year. As much as a singer can.
FB: I would like to see her more.
AC: She doesn't have a steady hotel bar gig these days, but she performs.
FB: That is another issue, where are the gigs?
AC: Yeah, it's not easy right now.
FB: Well now that we've solved all of the issues between sister schools across Hunington Avenue and Mass. Ave.
AC: I've said all I can say about that - all I know.
FB: Let's revert to talking about Allen Chase's career and some of the terrific projects and people you've worked with over the years. Tell us about Jimmy Mosher.
AC: Jimmy Mosher helped me a lot. He was probably the top straight-ahead jazz alto player in Boston that I knew about. Bob Mover was another impressive player I heard a little bit, briefly when I first moved here. But Jimmy really had this maturity, he was fiery too and very creative a real improviser. He just sounded great and he played with, one of the greatest musicians I've played with, Mick Goodrick regularly. He had a trio gig with Ed Felson on bass, who was an NEC student, the top bass student at NEC at that point, played in the big band. They had this steady gig at the Casa Blanca in Harvard Square, the Middle-Eastern restaurant and bar. I didn't go there a lot, I went there a couple of times. I heard an Emmanuel church concert, and I heard him Berklee with different people, and I heard him on recordings and then I realized, "Oh, yeah my dad had some Buddy Rich records that he was on." I actually grew up hearing his solos,. Probably around the time I was fourteen he was in the Buddy RIch band. I heard quite a bit of that on alto, maybe baritone also. I actually got those records out when I was visiting my dad and listened to them again. I think there is a West Side Story album of Buddy Rich, a few different things. I was like, "Wait a minute. These are all the guys I teach with." The whole trumpet section was in the harmony department with me: Wayne Ross, Lynn Biviano. I think Greg Hopkins was writing for the band. I think Wayne Naus, Paul Fontein, Jeff Stout. Honestly, I can't remember for sure which trumpet players but yeah, there was this amazing crew of trumpet players at the school here and they're still here, all those people. Also there are others who I didn't mention who weren't in that band, Dave Johnson really should be heard more. There is just an amazing number of trumpet players here actually. Not all teaching trumpet, a lot of them teaching harmony and arranging. I liked Jimmy a lot and in 1984, I'd been teaching here three years and I'd played a few faculty concerts and things and I don't think that Jimmy had heard me. December '84 I'd made a cassette album, that used to be the low-budget, affordable way to get your music out there. I was in Arizona and the guy that I replaced, Dan Hurley, he's on all of the Aebersold play along records, the early ones, on piano. He used teach at those clinics. He'd worked in New York for a few years with Chris Connor, Clark Terry Quartet and played a lot with Dave Liebman and other people like that informally. He had taught at Miami in the Pat Metheney student years. He was our jazz teacher, when he left he was replaced after an interim period by a guy named Chuck Marohnic, who made a few albums for Steeple Chase. He was the jazz teacher at Arizona State. I had studied with him, but he was an excellent pianist, just a great player. I was out there for the holidays and I booked a duet session with him. And I made a casette album, I made 100 maybe 200 copies and I gave one to Gary Burton and one Jimmy Mosher and most of my friends and collegues and I sold them at gigs a little bit. It was duets, piano and alto, standards and my originals half and half, about seven tunes. And Jimmy listened to it. He was very encouraging, he didn't talk to me much but he started recommending me for gigs, and he starting sending me as a sub on gigs. Twice he sent me as a sub on important gigs where he didn't tell the leader that I was coming, he just felt like he didn't want to go and he called me and I went. Of course I didn't know. I showed up for one of them with Joe Hunt. It was Suzanne Davis' gig, pianist and singer, it was at the DeCordova Museum, very fancy, maybe a holiday party or something, and it was Teddy Kotick, who I also played with quite a bit at the Flower Garden at Faneuil Hall, I hired him. He played with Charlie Parker, Bill Evans' first album. I will brag and say he liked playing with me to the extent he would phoned me mulitple times and whether we could play together some more. That totally blew my mind. He played with Charlie Parker! He was in his older years, but he was not well, he had heart problems.
FB: He really enjoyed playing and he was very soulful and warm.
AC: Yeah, it just felt great to play with him. Of course I respected what he had done, he was just a great, perfect bass player. I showed up for that gig and they were like, "Allan." Suzanne didn't even know me. Teddy didn't, probably know me yet. Joe knew me. They were like, "What happened?" I said, "Jimmy told me that I was subbing for him on this gig. He didn't tell you?" I could see Suzanne's face, I was pretty young, I was twenty-eight and she's hiring the best guy in town and here I show up. I did fine, but I am sure she wished Jimmy was there.
FB: You were playing standards?
AC: Yeah, we were playing standards totally off the cuff. Luckily, as I recall, I knew most of the tunes and I was fine with that. I also used to play at the Wonderland Ballroom for ballroom dancing in an amazing band, a hugely over-qualified band, but it was a great education. Dave Chapman playing first alto, lead player from Herb Pomeroy's who was a bank vice-president by day but a great lead alto player, me on second alto, John LaPorta on tenor, I think another tenor who was often a younger musician, sometimes Jay Branford was on that gig, maybe he played alto and I played tenor. I don't think ever had baritone on this gig, but maybe it was five saxes, I can't remember. I know Jay Brandford and Dave (Fannif) who two people that played that gig with us. But LaPorta and Dave Chapman, I was the voice in between them. And I've always prided myself on playing good second alto and really match the lead player, but to play with somebody of Dave's generation and still have good intonation and sound and articulation and all that.
FB: Or like WIlly Smith or something.
AC: It was like an education in how to really play. And we were playing these stock swing ballroom dancing charts, Cha-Cha's and most these...
FB: Who's band was it?
AC: Kevin Shea, was the son of the founder of the band, played drums, and he was the guy who sold paper products to Berklee, like paper towels and toilet paper. That was his business and he ran this band...
FB: Was that he regular Saturday night gig?
AC: Dave (Modayabus), who was the controller, played electric bass. I can't remember, there was somebody on piano. One trumpet, usually Bud Billings, who was a Nashville arranger. It was like serious, sophisticated ballroom dancers, not rich people, just people who really knew how to dance. It was a set list, you'd had to play a Cha-Cha at 8:29PM. It was 4-hour gig, paid a very moderate amount of money. The stories during the breaks from LaPorta about playing with Ben Webster and Charlie Parker and Mingus, it was unbelievable. Jimmy made it possible for me to meet these people. I never sat next to him in a band. He actually recommended me to Herb Pomeroy to play in his band when Jimmy quit his band. I guess it was right when he was getting sick. It would've been second alto with Dave Chapman and Dave liked me as a second alto player in the section and Herb had heard me. He offered me the gig, but I said, "Herb, I don't play any clarinet." He said, "I rescind the offer." I don't play the clarinet which is ridiculous. My stupidest mistake was not learning the clarinet when I was nineteen or something and practicing it and getting to be a doubler.
FB: Nowadays it doesn't make a difference. Nobody plays it.
AC: It's much less of an issue now. I am not a show player, but I don't really want to be a show player. I honestly do not want to do that. I have nothing against people...I admire people who do it well. Being a doubler, I just don't have the inspiration for it, to love the other woodwinds and wanna play them enough...
FB: You never get in to flute, did ya?
AC: I played flute minimally. I have performed on flute, I have even played flute on a movie soundtrack. It is passable but not strong. I played it with Victor Mendoza's band a little bit, I used to be in that band. Victor and I knew each other in Arizona and we moved here at the same time, and Tim Ray also moved here a couple years after us. We all knew each other in Phoenix.
FB: OH COOL.
AC: Victor went to college in Flagstaff Arizona, which had a good mallet and percussion program, and led a band in Phoenix, and I didn't play in it, Les Arbuckle played in it, who was another Berklee faculty member, whose mother had retired in Phoenix and he was up there taking care of her when she was ill. Victor and I knew each other and I'd played in his band for several years here with Danila Perez at one point, Ed Uribe, Oscar Stagnaro, Roy Lewis on percussion, - (both Roy and Elmer) had been in Passport, the band Passport, were here from (Corasal).
FB: Were you on any of Victor's albums?
AC: First one, on Tortilla Records, it's an LP, I can't remember if it was called Victor Mendoza Quintet. That was probably the first record I played on possibly. I might have been the sideman on a rock record or two before that. That's just before the sax quartet stuff.
FB: That is the next leap. We need to talk about that marvellous saxophone quartet.
AC: That is probably the most touring that I have ever done and the most recording in anyone thing. It was with Your Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet. It started in 1980, the first year I wasn't in it, it was three people who met at NEC, Cercie Miller, alto and soprano, Tom Hall, tenor, Danny Bittker, tenor and Steve Adams. Danny moved to San Francisco. I heard them, one of the first gigs I heard when I moved to Boston in the summer of 1988, I remember them distinctly. I heard Semenya McCord at Studio Red Top, I knew her name from an Archi Shep record called 'There's A Trumpet in My Soul' and I was excited to see her.
AC: I played two gigs with Ken Filiano, Art Lillard and Jim Bro, who was Cercie's boyfriend at the time. And I was in a class with Cercie, arranging class with Pat Hollenbeck as teacher at NEC, graduate class, I got to know her. Soon after that I heard a concert of Steve Adams called 'My Night at The Cove,' it was a little loft in 295 Hunington Avenue upstairs and he did all these things that I had dabbled in: He played solo with a dancer, which I had done; a contact improv guy who carried him off stage playing the alto; he did sax quartet, I'd been in classical sax quartets all through college, but never done a jazz improvising one, but I like the World Saxophone Quartet, I knew about them and Rova. I was familar with them and I thought of that. And he played duo with Ken Filiano, bass and sax. He was obviously like a jazz guy but he was also experimental and free and I thought, "Oh, this guy is pretty interesting," but I had never met him I just went to the concert with my then-girlfriend, who was a dancer. After the concert she said, "So what did you think?" "Well, he's interesting. He does a lot of things-" "He's like you. He's kinda like you, you should know this guy. He's doing all the same things you are interested in." So we ended up being best friends within a year. But that was the first time I heard him and I heard the sax quartet, I went to another one of their gigs, then they knew Danny was leaving, also Tom Hall was on the road with a funk band. Tom was in a band called The Lords that toured all over playing real funk from Washington DC, where he is from. So I started rehearsing with them, we did concerts, blah, blah, blah, went on for years. We finally decided to make a record ourselves, we made an LP. We played all over New England, we played two gigs in New York, but mostly from Brattleboro to Portland to Maine to Providence - that kind of circle around Boston.
FB: You think that'd be a hard sell, but damn, maybe in New England...
AC: We played rock clubs, we opened for tap dance gigs by Leon Collins, many times
as The Tam we opened for Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, which is like a synthesiser rock...
FB: Sure, with Michael Bierylo?
AC: He wasn't in it yet, but it was Roger Miller from Burma and uh ... I'm blanking on names that I know so well. But they were this experimental, post-punk art band. We played at the Common Ground, sometimes we were the headliners. We opened for people, we opened at Jonathan Swift's for (Aierto), Flora Purim and Joe Farell. We opened for Old e New Dreams, Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Ed Blackwell and Charlie Haden at Jonathan Swift's. Maybe for Carla Bley once, but I'm not sure. No, I don't think we did, I think we might have opened for the Art Ensemble of Chicago. We opened for one of the first real popular, funny a capella groups called The Bobs. We played (Night's stay) with them, double-bill, twice. We played at the iron horse with Rova and with The Bobs. We did have gigs, we played something like 100 times in five years, which is pretty good for a sax quartet. And we used to rent spaces, Gallery East, downtown Boston and a dance place on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge and First Congregational Church in Harvard Square. We'd put on our own concerts and we'd get a hundred people, pay for the room, make a little money.
FB: I reviewed one of those Harvard Square ones.
AC: I think I remember that, yes. We didn't get any national recognition, but we made an LP, we put it out, Cadence Magazine distributed it, and we sold it at gigs. Then Cercie left the band, she was in a band called Girls' Night Out with Didi Stewart, who teaches at Berklee now, very successful, all-women, oldies and rock band.
FB: Was Mayana in that band?
AC: Mayana and Cercie were the horns. Actually quite a few people who might have to do with...uh. (Alison Lizence) who teaches in the harmony department here, played keyboards. It was excellent veterans of rock 'n' roll and pop and jazz and so on getting together to do what originally was almost like a joke but it reall caught on. They were on national TV a couple of times, they played a...
AC: They had a lot of connections and they made a record and stuff. Cercie had to commit to this and couldn't block out dates for us to play gigs, left the sax quartet, reluctantly, and we had two guys, Ben Schachter and Bob Jung, who played with us at different times depending on their availability. And a guy in Amsterdam who was a publisher of translated avant-guard novels, George Coppins, had a little record label and had booked the 29th Street Sax Quartet and some Tristano Disciples around Europe. And even the first World Saxophone gigs in Europe were booked David Murray gigs and Sunny Murray also. He was into this sort of thing. A sort of a dabbler in the music business; he had a little record label, put out a few CDs and LPs. And The Microscopic Septet, he also put them out, saxes with rhythm section, who I later knew. He got a hold of our LP, it was in the Amsterdam City Library. The librarian was his friend and called him and said, "Have you heard this, there is a sax quartet from Boston and it's just your cup of tea?" And he called Ben Schachter, some how he got Ben's phone number, which I have no idea how, because he isn't on the record, Cercie's on the record. And Ben came to rehearsal and said, "This guy from Holland called me and asked for a live casette of us to see if we could play as well live as we do on the album." We were like, "What? What are you talking about?" Steve called the guy back, George Coppins. We sent him a casette of a hot gig we had at the Green Street Grill, what it was called, Charlie's Tap - a really lively gig where we were getting intense and having fun, there was an audience. He loved it and he booked us like eleven tours of Europe over the next five to six years. We played some major festivals. We made five CDs for him between '86 and '92, maybe, I am guessing. I can't quite remember when the very last one, maybe a little later like '94 because we did the Sun Ra one around the time I was writing my master's thesis on Sun Ra at Tufts.
FB: Plutonium Nights.
AC: Yes, you remember that. It was mostly original music. It was an improvising saxophone quartet. We played the Bimhuis in Amsterdam. We played every town that has jazz in Holland many times. And then we played in Germany, Austria, a little bit in France, not in Paris but in Lyon and Valence and some different places, and London in The 100 Club, where the Rolling Stones play sometimes - 100 Oxford Street, strangely enough we played there, twice. It was great.
FB: They used to have traditional jazz there with Humphrey Lyttelton.
AC: We played Hanover Jazz Festival, sometimes we would play avant-garde venues. One time Gunther Christman presented us in some place called The Ice House, it was like a cave.
FB: Tell us a little bit about the musical background of this group. You really broke down all barriers. You could play funk; you could play sweet, classical stuff in the Joe Viola tradition; you could rock out; you could go avant-garde; you could play swing, bebop. No holds barred.
AC: We really did all those things. We played Charlie Parker's My Little Suede Shoes with a sax soli that I arranged. And we would play a reggae tune, a Jimmy Cliff tune. And we would play free improvisation. All kinds of stuff, it was really all over the map and that's what we listened to. It was a very eclectic time. This was in the 80s and the people we listened to were like that too. I think influences were probably Carla Bley's band, The Art Ensemble of Chicago. Those were two things that were, they would play a little bit of funk, a then like gongs and chanting and poetry and then a little sort of parody bebop thing. Carla's band would have rock beats in jazz and ballads. We did Nino Rota arrangements from film music from Eight and a Half. It was kind of like you know what downtown tastes were in those days. For a sax quartet it did have energy and it was fairly popular. We were on TV in Germany and Netherlands. It reached a lot of people.
FB: I should think so. These people are used to Willem Breuker.
AC: Yes, it was very in sync with that sort of thing. Steve left to join Rova. We did some double bills with Rova. We even improvised as an octet once in Cercie's basement which have a casette of, ah, two sax quartets. They hired Steve when Andrew Voigt left Rova and he moved to California and had been there for twenty years now. Joel Springer, who is an old friend of (Net Derios) from Bloomington, Indiana, who perfect for the group joined us. Lately, we still exist very sporadically with Cercie back in the group again.
FB: We need more of this 'all-horn' stuff. I would love to hear more of this. Since Julius Hemphill died. Marty Ehrlich carries on a little of this stuff. You've spawned groups like Dead Cat Bounce.
AC: True. Yeah, that's a related concept. At this point I don't think many of those younger groups are even aware of Your Neighbourhood Saxophone Quartet even though that guy from Dead Cat Bounce was my student.
FB: Can we get these albums for the library.
AC: Absolutely. I'll donate a complete set of them.
FB: Please do that 'cause I think there are some horn players out there, maybe some teachers, who'd love to hear the blend and revive the interest.
AC: We do one gig a year at the Lily Pad, that's what we're down to at this point, just for fun and some of our old friends come out and hear it. I would like it to be more. I've done a lot of saxophone improvisation stuff with Charlie Kohlhase and Jim Hobbs and sometimes I get together and do free stuff with multiple horns. Again, Lily Pad, small venues.
FB: Well, Allen, we're wrapping this up now but we've covered about half of this list. Maybe we need to do a third one someday.
AC: I don't think so. Not immediately. The one thing I would like to say about my career, I have not reached a very high level of visibility but I have gotten to do a lot of very diverse things between playing with Rashied Ali, sax quartet thing in Europe and New England and New York, little bit of film work, being a studio musician, a little playing with older veterans like John LaPorta. Hopefully I'll get to keep doing these things but I've been very wide. It's good fuel for teaching. At least you could say that.
FB: Isn't variety the spice of life?
AC: It's not good for branding and marketing but it's good for teaching.
FB: Bring it to the classroom that's what I say. Thank you so much. This has been a blast.
AC: Thank you. Thanks for your interest, I appreciate it. Thanks for asking interesting questions.